Book 2, Chapter 10

Nekhludoff Returns to Town

People :

Author : Leo Tolstoy

Translator : Louise Maude

Text :


The town struck Nekhludoff in a new and peculiar light on his return. He came back in the evening, when the gas was lit, and drove from the railway station to his house, where the rooms still smelt of naphthaline. Agraphena Petrovna and Corney were both feeling tired and dissatisfied, and had even had a quarrel over those things that seemed made only to be aired and packed away. Nekhludoff’s room was empty, but not in order, and the way to it was blocked up with boxes, so that his arrival evidently hindered the business which, owing to a curious kind of inertia, was going on in this house. The evident folly of these proceedings, in which he had once taken part, was so distasteful to Nekhludoff after the impressions the misery of the life of the peasants had made on him, that he decided to go to a hotel the next day, leaving Agraphena Petrovna to put away the things as she thought fit until his sister should come and finally dispose of everything in the house.

Nekhludoff left home early and chose a couple of rooms in a very modest and not particularly clean lodging-house within easy reach of the prison, and, having given orders that some of his things should be sent there, he went to see the advocate. It was cold out of doors. After some rainy and stormy weather it had turned out cold, as it often does in spring. It was so cold that Nekhludoff felt quite chilly in his light overcoat, and walked fast hoping to get warmer. His mind was filled with thoughts of the peasants, the women, children, old men, and all the poverty and weariness which he seemed to have seen for the first time, especially the smiling, old-faced infant writhing with his calfless little legs, and he could not help contrasting what was going on in the town. Passing by the butchers’, fishmongers’, and clothiers’ shops, he was struck, as if he saw them for the first time, by the appearance of the clean, well-fed shopkeepers, like whom you could not find one peasant in the country. These men were apparently convinced that the pains they took to deceive the people who did not know much about their goods was not a useless but rather an important business. The coachmen with their broad hips and rows of buttons down their sides, and the door-keepers with gold cords on their caps, the servant-girls with their aprons and curly fringes, and especially the smart isvostchiks with the nape of their necks clean shaved, as they sat lolling back in their traps, and examined the passersby with dissolute and contemptuous air, looked well fed. In all these people Nekhludoff could not now help seeing some of these very peasants who had been driven into the town by lack of land. Some of the peasants driven to the town had found means of profiting by the conditions of town life and had become like the gentlefolk and were pleased with their position; others were in a worse position than they had been in the country and were more to be pitied than the country people.

Such seemed the bootmakers Nekhludoff saw in the cellar, the pale, disheveled washerwomen with their thin, bare, arms ironing at an open window, out of which streamed soapy steam; such the two house-painters with their aprons, stockingless feet, all bespattered and smeared with paint, whom Nekhludoff met—their weak, brown arms bared to above the elbows—carrying a pailful of paint, and quarreling with each other. Their faces looked haggard and cross. The dark faces of the carters jolting along in their carts bore the same expression, and so did the faces of the tattered men and women who stood begging at the street corners. The same kind of faces were to be seen at the open, windows of the eating-houses which Nekhludoff passed. By the dirty tables on which stood tea things and bottles, and between which waiters dressed in white shirts were rushing hither and thither, sat shouting and singing red, perspiring men with stupefied faces. One sat by the window with lifted brows and pouting lips and fixed eyes as if trying to remember something.

“And why are they all gathered here?” Nekhludoff thought, breathing in together with the dust which the cold wind blew towards him the air filled with the smell of rank oil and fresh paint.

In one street he met a row of carts loaded with something made of iron, that rattled so on the uneven pavement that it made his ears and head ache. He started walking still faster in order to pass the row of carts, when he heard himself called by name. He stopped and saw an officer with sharp pointed mustaches and shining face who sat in the trap of a swell isvostchik and waved his hand in a friendly manner, his smile disclosing unusually long, white teeth.

“Nekhludoff! Can it be you?”

Nekhludoff’s first feeling was one of pleasure. “Ah, Schonbock!” he exclaimed joyfully; but he knew the next moment that there was nothing to be joyful about.

This was that Schonbock who had been in the house of Nekhludoff’s aunts that day, and whom Nekhludoff had quite lost out of sight, but about whom he had heard that in spite of his debts he had somehow managed to remain in the cavalry, and by some means or other still kept his place among the rich. His gay, contented appearance corroborated this report.

“What a good thing that I have caught you. There is no one in town. Ah, old fellow; you have grown old,” he said, getting out of the trap and moving his shoulders about. “I only knew you by your walk. Look here, we must dine together. Is there any place where they feed one decently?”

“I don’t think I can spare the time,” Nekhludoff answered, thinking only of how he could best get rid of his companion without hurting him.

“And what has brought you here?” he asked.

“Business, old fellow. Guardianship business. I am a guardian now. I am managing Samanoff’s affairs—the millionaire, you know. He has softening of the brain, and he’s got fifty-four thousand desiatins of land,” he said, with peculiar pride, as if he had himself made all these desiatins. “The affairs were terribly neglected. All the land was let to the peasants. They did not pay anything. There were more than eighty thousand rubles debts. I changed it all in one year, and have got 70 per cent. more out of it. What do you think of that?” he asked proudly.

Nekhludoff remembered having heard that this Schonbock, just because, he had spent all he had, had attained by some special influence the post of guardian to a rich old man who was squandering his property—and was now evidently living by this guardianship.

“How am I to get rid of him without offending him?” thought Nekhludoff, looking at this full, shiny face with the stiffened mustache and listening to his friendly, goodhumored chatter about where one gets fed best, and his bragging about his doings as a guardian.

“Well, then, where do we dine?”

“Really, I have no time to spare,” said Nekhludoff, glancing at his watch.

“Then, look here. To-night, at the races—will you be there?”

“No, I shall not be there.”

“Do come. I have none of my own now, but I back Grisha’s horses. You remember; he has a fine stud. You’ll come, won’t you? And we’ll have some supper together.”

“No, I cannot have supper with you either,” said Nekhludoff with a smile.

“Well, that’s too bad! And where are you off to now? Shall I give you a lift?”

“I am going to see an advocate, close to here round the corner.”

“Oh, yes, of course. You have got something to do with the prisons—have turned into a prisoners’ mediator, I hear,” said Schonbock, laughing. “The Korchagins told me. They have left town already. What does it all mean? Tell me.”

“Yes, yes, it is quite true,” Nekhludoff answered; “but I cannot tell you about it in the street.”

“Of course; you always were a crank. But you will come to the races?”

“No. I neither can nor wish to come. Please do not be angry with me.”

“Angry? Dear me, no. Where do you live?” And suddenly his face became serious, his eyes fixed, and he drew up his brows. He seemed to be trying to remember something, and Nekhludoff noticed the same dull expression as that of the man with the raised brows and pouting lips whom he had seen at the window of the eating-house.

“How cold it is! Is it not? Have you got the parcels?” said Schonbock, turning to the isvostchik.

“All right. Good-bye. I am very glad indeed to have met you,” and warmly pressing Nekhludoff’s hand, he jumped into the trap and waved his white-gloved hand in front of his shiny face, with his usual smile, showing his exceptionally white teeth.

“Can I have also been like that?” Nekhludoff thought, as he continued his way to the advocate’s. “Yes, I wished to be like that, though I was not quite like it. And I thought of living my life in that way.”

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January 12, 2021 : Book 2, Chapter 10 -- Added to

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