My Life by
On returning home late one evening from Mariya Viktorovna's I
found waiting in my room a young police inspector in a new
uniform; he was sitting at my table, looking through my books.
"At last," he said, getting up and stretching himself. "This is
the third time I have been to you. The Governor commands you to
present yourself before him at nine o'clock in the morning.
He took from me a signed statement that I would act upon his
Excellency's command, and went away. This late visit of the
police inspector and unexpected invitation to the Governor's had
an overwhelmingly oppressive effect upon me. From my earliest
childhood I have felt terror-stricken in the presence of
gendarmes, policemen, and law court officials, and now I was
tormented by uneasiness, as though I were really guilty in some
way. And I could not get to sleep. My nurse and Prokofy were
also upset and could not sleep. My nurse had earache too; she
moaned, and several times began crying with pain. Hearing that I
was awake, Prokofy came into my room with a lamp and sat down at
"You ought to have a drink of pepper cordial," he said, after a
moment's thought. "If one does have a drink in this vale of
tears it does no harm. And if Mamma were to pour a little pepper
cordial in her ear it would do her a lot of good."
Between two and three he was going to the slaughter-house for
the meat. I knew I should not sleep till morning now, and to get
through the time till nine o'clock I went with him. We walked
with a lantern, while his boy Nikolka, aged thirteen, with blue
patches on his cheeks from frostbites, a regular young brigand
to judge by his expression, drove after us in the sledge, urging
on the horse in a husky voice.
"I suppose they will punish you at the Governor's," Prokofy said
to me on the way. "There are rules of the trade for governors,
and rules for the higher clergy, and rules for the officers, and
rules for the doctors, and every class has its rules. But you
haven't kept to your rules, and you can't be allowed."
The slaughter-house was behind the cemetery, and till then I had
only seen it in the distance. It consisted of three gloomy
barns, surrounded by a grey fence, and when the wind blew from
that quarter on hot days in summer, it brought a stifling stench
from them. Now going into the yard in the dark I did not see the
barns; I kept coming across horses and sledges, some empty, some
loaded up with meat. Men were walking about with lanterns,
swearing in a disgusting way. Prokofy and Nikolka swore just as
revoltingly, and the air was in a continual uproar with
swearing, coughing, and the neighing of horses.
There was a smell of dead bodies and of dung. It was thawing,
the snow was changing into mud; and in the darkness it seemed to
me that I was walking through pools of blood.
Having piled up the sledges full of meat we set off to the
butcher's shop in the market. It began to get light. Cooks with
baskets and elderly ladies in mantles came along one after
another, Prokofy, with a chopper in his hand, in a white apron
spattered with blood, swore fearful oaths, crossed himself at
the church, shouted aloud for the whole market to hear, that he
was giving away the meat at cost price and even at a loss to
himself. He gave short weight and short change, the cooks saw
that, but, deafened by his shouts, did not protest, and only
called him a hangman. Brandishing and bringing down his terrible
chopper he threw himself into picturesque attitudes, and each
time uttered the sound "Geck" with a ferocious expression, and I
was afraid he really would chop off somebody's head or hand.
I spent all the morning in the butcher's shop, and when at last
I went to the Governor's, my overcoat smelt of meat and blood.
My state of mind was as though I were being sent spear in hand
to meet a bear. I remember the tall staircase with a striped
carpet on it, and the young official, with shiny buttons, who
mutely motioned me to the door with both hands, and ran to
announce me. I went into a hall luxuriously but frigidly and
tastelessly furnished, and the high, narrow mirrors in the
spaces between the walls, and the bright yellow window curtains,
struck the eye particularly unpleasantly. One could see that the
governors were changed, but the furniture remained the same.
Again the young official motioned me with both hands to the
door, and I went up to a big green table at which a military
general, with the Order of Vladimir on his breast, was standing.
"Mr. Poloznev, I have asked you to come," he began, holding a
letter in his hand, and opening his mouth like a round "o," "I
have asked you to come here to inform you of this. Your highly
respected father has appealed by letter and by word of mouth to
the Marshal of the Nobility begging him to summon you, and to
lay before you the inconsistency of your behaviour with the rank
of the nobility to which you have the honour to belong. His
Excellency Alexandr Pavlovitch, justly supposing that your
conduct might serve as a bad example, and considering that mere
persuasion on his part would not be sufficient, but that
official intervention in earnest was essential, presents me here
in this letter with his views in regard to you, which I share."
He said this, quietly, respectfully, standing erect, as though I
were his superior officer and looking at me with no trace of
severity. His face looked worn and wizened, and was all
wrinkles; there were bags under his eyes; his hair was dyed; and
it was impossible to tell from his appearance how old he was --
forty or sixty.
"I trust," he went on, "that you appreciate the delicacy of our
honoured Alexandr Pavlovitch, who has addressed himself to me
not officially, but privately. I, too, have asked you to come
here unofficially, and I am speaking to you, not as a Governor,
but from a sincere regard for your father. And so I beg you
either to alter your line of conduct and return to duties in
keeping with your rank, or to avoid setting a bad example,
remove to another district where you are not known, and where
you can follow any occupation you please. In the other case, I
shall be forced to take extreme measures."
He stood for half a minute in silence, looking at me with his
"Are you a vegetarian?" he asked.
"No, your Excellency, I eat meat."
He sat down and drew some papers towards him. I bowed and went
It was not worth while now to go to work before dinner. I went
home to sleep, but could not sleep from an unpleasant, sickly
feeling, induced by the slaughter house and my conversation with
the Governor, and when the evening came I went, gloomy and out
of sorts, to Mariya Viktorovna. I told her how I had been at the
Governor's, while she stared at me in perplexity as though she
did not believe it, then suddenly began laughing gaily, loudly,
irrepressibly, as only good-natured laughter-loving people can.
"If only one could tell that in Petersburg!" she brought out,
almost falling over with laughter, and propping herself against
the table. "If one could tell that in Petersburg!"