The Capital of the Government

A small and quite a pretty britchka on springs entered the gates of the hostelry in the provincial city of N. N.; it was of the sort used by retired colonels, staff-captains, landed gentry who own some two hundred souls of peasants, and, in a word, by all who are called gentlemen of the middle class. In the britchka sat a gentleman who was neither handsome nor yet very plain in his personal appearance, neither too stout nor too thin; it was impossible to say that he was old, nor could he be called very young. His arrival produced no commotion whatever in the town, and was not signalised by anything in particular; though two moujiks who were standing at the door of a pot-house opposite the inn, made some remarks, which had, however, more reference to the equipage than to the person seated in it. “Just look,” said one of them to the other, “what a wheel that is! What do you think? Will that wheel last as far as Moscow, or not?”—“Oh! it will hold out,” replied the other. “But it won’t hold out as far as Kazan, I fancy?”—“It will not,” returned the other. And here the conversation ended. However, as the britchka drove into the inn-yard, it was met by a young man in white duck trousers very narrow and very short, and a swallow- tailed coat with claims to fashion, beneath which was visible a shirt-front fastened with a Tula pin, in the shape of a bronze pistol. The young man turned round, surveyed the equipage, caught hold of his cap, which the wind was on the point of blowing off, and then went his way.

When the carriage had entered the courtyard, the gentleman was received by one of the servants of the inn—a polovoi as they are called in Russian hostelries—who was so lively and restless that it was even impossible to see what sort of a face he had. He ran out briskly, napkin in hand, his lanky figure clad in a long cotton surtout, with its waist almost at the nape of his neck, tossed back his hair, and quickly led the gentleman upstairs along the whole length of a wooden gallery, to show him the chamber sent him by God. The chamber was of the well-known sort, for the inn was also of the familiar species—that is to say, exactly like all taverns in provincial towns, where for two roubles a day, travellers obtain a sleeping-room full of beetles which peep out of every corner like plums, and having a door leading into an adjoining apartment, which door is always blocked up with a chest of drawers. In that room too a neighbour is always lodged, some silent and quiet, but very curious, man, who takes an interest in finding out every particular relating to the stranger. The frontage of the hostelry corresponded with its interior: it was very long, and two storeys high; the lower one was not stuccoed, but preserved the hue of its dark-red bricks, which were already of a muddy tint by nature, and had grown still darker through the severe weather of many years; the upper storey was painted the inevitable yellow. On the lower floor there were shops with horse-collars, ropes, and cracknels, etc., and in the corner shop, or rather at its window, sat a sbiten1 seller, with a samovar of red copper, and a face as red as his samovar. At a distance it might have even been supposed that two samovars were standing in the window, had not the man had a beard as black as pitch.

While the newly-arrived gentleman was inspecting his room, his luggage was brought in; first of all came a trunk of white leather, somewhat the worse for wear, and showing signs that this was not the first time it had travelled. The trunk was brought in by the coachman Selifan, an undersized man in a short tulup2 and the footman Petrushka, a young fellow of thirty, with a rather surly face, a very thick nose and lips, and wearing a plain, somewhat worn surtout, which had evidently come from his master’s shoulders. After the trunk came a dressing-case of mahogany with inlaid decorations of veined birchwood, a boot- jack, and a roast chicken wrapped up in blue paper. When all this had been brought in, the coachman Selifan betook himself to the stable to see to the horses, and the footman Petrushka began to settle himself in the small ante-room, an extremely dark little hole, whither he had already contrived to transport his cloak, and with it some of his own peculiar odour, which had been communicated to, and was wafted after, the bag containing the articles pertaining to his toilet. In this tiny den he placed against the wall a narrow, three-legged bedstead, covered it with a small semblance of a mattress as flat as a pancake, and perhaps as greasy, which he had succeeded in procuring from the landlord of the inn.

While his servants were installing themselves and getting things to rights, the gentleman had betaken himself to the general parlour. Every traveller knows what these common parlours are like: the same walls painted in oil colours, darkened above by pipe-smoke, and covered below with the marks made by the backs of travellers and tradespeople, for merchants come here on market-days in sixes and sevens to drink their customary two glasses of tea. There was the usual smoke-begrimed ceiling, the same

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.