The Governor's Ball

Tchitchikoff’s purchases became the subject of conversation throughout the town. Discussions went on, and opinions were expressed as to whether the purchase of serfs for colonisation was profitable. In the course of the debate many people showed themselves to be thoroughly conversant with the subject. “Of course,” said some, “it is profitable. There is no question as to that; the soil in the southern provinces is very fine and fertile; but what will Tchitchikoff do with his serfs if he has no water? For there certainly are no rivers thereabouts.”

“The lack of water would be nothing, nothing at all, Stepan Dimitrievitch,” replied another wiseacre; “but this colonisation of serfs is a hopeless matter. It is a well-known fact that on new land, where the work is confined to agriculture—where there is nothing, neither izbá nor manor-house—the moujik will run away, as sure as twice two make four, and will, indeed, take himself off in such a manner that you will never discover the slightest trace of him.”

“No, Alexei Ivanovitch; excuse me, excuse me: I do not agree with you at all when you say that Tchitchikoff’s moujiks will run away. A Russian man is capable of anything, and can adapt himself to all climates. Send him to Kamchatka if you like, only give him some warm gloves, and, axe in hand, he will set to work and build himself a new izbá.”

“But, Ivan Grigorievitch, you have lost sight of one very important fact: you have not yet inquired what sort of moujiks Tchitchikoff has bought? You have forgotten that a landowner does not part with good serfs. I am ready to forfeit my head if Tchitchikoff’s serfs are not thieves, drunkards to the last degree, and of idle and dissolute behaviour.”

“Yes, yes, I agree to that; that is true: nobody sells good moujiks, and Tchitchikoff’s men are drunkards; but you must take into consideration that there is a moral here—that a moral point is involved: they are worthless now, but, when settled on new land, they may all at once turn into good subjects. There have been plenty of examples of that sort, not only in the world itself, but also in history.”

“Never, never!” said the director of the imperial factories; “and believe me, it never can be: for Tchitchikoff’s serfs will now have two powerful enemies. The first enemy will be their proximity to the Little Russian provinces, where the sale of wine is freely allowed. I assure you, that in two weeks’ time they will have drunk themselves to death. The other enemy will be the habit of a vagabond life, which they must infallibly acquire during the process of removal. It will be necessary for Tchitchikoff to keep them constantly before his eyes, and to govern them with all due strictness; punish them for each shortcoming, and not depute this to any other person, but slap their faces and whip them himself, whenever it is required.”

“Why must Tchitchikoff administer castigation in person? He might find an overseer.”

“Yes, find an overseer who can! Overseers are all rascals!”

“Rascals, because the master does not occupy himself with his affairs.”

“That is true,” broke in several. “An owner ought to know something, at least, about the management of his estate, and be able to discriminate between people: then he would always have a good steward.”

But the director of the imperial factories declared that a good steward was not to be found for less than five thousand roubles. And then the president of the court said that one might be had for three thousand. But the director retorted, “Where will you find him? In your own nose?” Whereupon the president said, “No, not in my nose, but in this very district—namely, Piotr Piotrovitch Samoiloff: that’s the overseer whom Tchitchikoff needs for his moujiks.”

Many of the townspeople entered heartily into Tchitchikoff’s position, and the difficulties of removing so large a number of serfs greatly alarmed them; they even began to feel much afraid that a revolt should break out among such uneasy subjects as Tchitchikoff’s serfs. Thereupon the chief of police remarked that there was no mutiny to be apprehended; that the captain-ispravnik existed for the purpose of preventing

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