An Ancient Relic of 1812

In a little more than half an hour, the good horses carried Tchitchikoff a distance of ten versts,1 first through the dense forest, then between the fields of grain, which were already beginning to show green through the freshly ploughed soil; then along a rocky ridge, whence views of the distant landscape were at each moment disclosed; then up a broad avenue of lime-trees, which had as yet hardly put forth their leaves. He thus proceeded to the very centre of the village. Here the avenue of lime-trees made a turn to the right and changed into a street of poplars, hemmed in below by a fence, which terminated in some open-work iron gates, through which peeped the façade of the general’s house, resting on eight Corinthian columns, and richly ornamented with florid carving. Paint had been applied everywhere; everything was kept in due repair, and nothing was allowed to fall into decay. The courtyard resembled a polished wooden floor in cleanliness. Driving up to the entrance, Tchitchikoff sprang out, asked to be announced to the general, and was forthwith conducted to the latter’s study.

The general surprised him by his magnificent personal appearance. He was clad in a wadded satin dressing gown, of a superb purple hue. His glance was frank, his face manly; his moustache and bushy whiskers were streaked with grey; his hair was clipped close behind his head, allowing a full view of his thick neck, which was of the sort known as “three-storey,” having three folds, with a transverse crease. In a word, he was one of those picturesque generals in whom the famous year ’12 abounded.

General Betrishtcheff was indeed possessed of a multitude of good qualities and of a multitude of defects. As is usual with Russians, both were mingled within him in a sort of picturesque disorder. In decisive moments he displayed magnanimity, valour, wisdom, an unbounded generosity in everything, and mingled with this, caprices of ambition, and that petty personal touchiness which no single Russian can ever dispense with when he is sitting in idleness, and when no demands are made upon his decision. He did not like those who had outstripped him in the service, but expressed himself in biting terms and pointed epigrams with regard to them. The one who suffered most of all was a former comrade, whom he regarded as an inferior to himself in brains and capacity, but who had, nevertheless, risen above him, being already governor-general of two provinces, and, as though on purpose to spite him, of the very two in which his own estates were situated, so that he found himself dependent upon his rival, as it were. In revenge, General Betrishtcheff slandered his excomrade on every possible occasion, blamed every regulation which he made, and regarded every measure he took as the height of folly.

There was something strange about our general. He loved incense; he loved brilliancy; he was fond of boasting of his brains; he was also fond of knowing things which other people did not know, and he did not like the people who knew anything of which he was ignorant. Although he had received a semi- foreign education, he was desirous of playing the part of a Russian gentleman in perfection. And it is not to be wondered at that with such unevenness, with such strong and salient contradictions of character, he should have experienced in the service a multitude of vexations, in consequence of which he had handed in his resignation, laying the blame of his worry on some inimical party, since he lacked the magnanimity to assume any portion of the blame himself. He preserved, in his retirement, the picturesquely grand demeanour of his profession. He was always the same, whether clad in a dress-coat, a surtout, or a dressing-gown. From the tone of his voice to the slightest movement of his body, everything about him was masterly and commanding; and inspired, if not respect, at least fear, in the lower ranks.

Tchitchikoff experienced mingled fear and respect. Bending his head reverentially on one side, and making a fleeting outward movement with his hands, as though preparing to lift a tray full of cups, he inclined his body with wonderful agility, and said, “I have regarded it as my duty to present myself to your excellency. Cherishing as I do a reverence for the valour of the men who saved their country upon the field of battle, I have regarded it as my duty to present myself in person to your excellency.”

This proceeding was evidently not displeasing to the general. With an exceedingly condescending movement of the head, he said, “I am very glad to make your acquaintance. I beg you to do me the favour to take a seat. Where have you served?”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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