by Ivan Turgenjev

‘Let us go to Lgov,’ Yer­molaï, whom the reader knows al­ready, said to me one day; ‘there we can shoot ducks to our heart’s con­tent.’
Al­though wild duck of­fers no spe­cial at­trac­tion for a gen­uine sports­man, still, through lack of other game at the time (it was the be­gin­ning of Sep­tem­ber; snipe were not on the wing yet, and I was tired of run­ning across the fields after par­tridges), I lis­tened to my hunts­man’s sug­ges­tion, and we went to Lgov.
Lgov is a large vil­lage of the steppes, with a very old stone church with a sin­gle cupola, and two mills on the swampy lit­tle river Rossota. Five miles from Lgov, this river be­comes a wide swampy pond, over­grown at the edges, and in places also in the cen­tre, with thick reeds. Here, in the creeks or rather pools be­tween the reeds, live and breed a count­less mul­ti­tude of ducks of all pos­si­ble kinds—quack­ers, half- quack­ers, pin­tails, teals, divers, etc. Small flocks are for ever flit­ting about and swim­ming on the water, and at a gun­shot, they rise in such clouds that the sports­man in­vol­un­tar­ily clutches his hat with one hand and ut­ters a pro­longed Pshaw! I walked with Yer­molaï along be­side the pond; but, in the first place, the duck is a wary bird, and is not to be met quite close to the bank; and sec­ondly, even when some strag­gling and in­ex­pe­ri­enced teal ex­posed it­self to our shots and lost its life, our dogs were not able to get it out of the thick reeds; in spite of their most de­voted ef­forts they could nei­ther swim nor tread on the bot­tom, and only cut their pre­cious noses on the sharp reeds for noth­ing.
‘No,’ was Yer­molaï’s com­ment at last, ‘it won’t do; we must get a boat…. Let us go back to Lgov.’
We went back. We had only gone a few paces when a rather wretched- look­ing set­ter-dog ran out from be­hind a bushy wil­low to meet us, and be­hind him ap­peared a man of mid­dle height, in a blue and much-worn great­coat, a yel­low waist­coat, and pan­taloons of a non­de­script grey colour, hastily tucked into high boots full of holes, with a red hand­ker­chief round his neck, and a sin­gle-bar­relled gun on his shoul­der. While our dogs, with the or­di­nary Chi­nese cer­e­monies pe­cu­liar to their species, were sniff­ing at their new ac­quain­tance, who was ob­vi­ously ill at ease, held his tail be­tween his legs, dropped his ears back, and kept turn­ing round and round show­ing his teeth—the stranger ap­proached us, and bowed with ex­treme ci­vil­ity. He ap­peared to be about twenty-five; his long dark hair, per­fectly sat­u­rated with kvas, stood up in stiff tufts, his small brown eyes twin­kled ge­nially; his face was bound up in a black hand­ker­chief, as though for toothache; his coun­te­nance was all smiles and ami­a­bil­ity.
‘Allow me to in­tro­duce my­self,’ he began in a soft and in­sin­u­at­ing voice; ‘I am a sports­man of these parts—Vladimir…. Hav­ing heard of your pres­ence, and hav­ing learnt that you pro­posed to visit the shores of our pond, I re­solved, if it were not dis­pleas­ing to you, to offer you my ser­vices.’
The sports­man, Vladimir, ut­tered those words for all the world like a young provin­cial actor in the rôle of lead­ing lover. I agreed to his propo­si­tion, and be­fore we had reached Lgov I had suc­ceeded in learn­ing his whole his­tory. He was a freed house-serf; in his ten­der youth had been taught music, then served as valet, could read and write, had read—so much I could dis­cover—some few trashy books, and ex­isted now, as many do exist in Rus­sia, with­out a far­thing of ready money; with­out any reg­u­lar oc­cu­pa­tion; fed by manna from heaven, or some­thing hardly less pre­car­i­ous. He ex­pressed him­self with ex­tra­or­di­nary el­e­gance, and ob­vi­ously plumed him­self on his man­ners; he must have been de­voted to the fair sex too, and in all prob­a­bil­ity pop­u­lar with them: Russ­ian girls love fine talk­ing. Among other things, he gave me to un­der­stand that he some­times vis­ited the neigh­bour­ing landown­ers, and went to stay with friends in the town, where he played pref­er­ence, and that he was ac­quainted with peo­ple in the me­trop­o­lis. His smile was mas­terly and ex­ceed­ingly var­ied; what spe­cially suited him was a mod­est, con­tained smile which played on his lips as he lis­tened to any other man’s con­ver­sa­tion. He was at­ten­tive to you; he agreed with you com­pletely, but still he did not lose sight of his own dig­nity, and seemed to wish to give you to un­der­stand that he could, if oc­ca­sion arose, ex­press con­vic­tions of his own. Yer­molaï, not being very re­fined, and quite de­void of ‘sub­tlety,’ began to ad­dress him with coarse fa­mil­iar­ity. The fine irony with which Vladimir used ‘Sir’ in his reply was worth see­ing.
‘Why is your face tied up? ‘I in­quired; ‘have you toothache?’
‘No,’ he an­swered; ‘it was a most dis­as­trous con­se­quence of care­less­ness. I had a friend, a good fel­low, but not a bit of a sports­man, as some­times oc­curs. Well, one day he said to me, “My dear friend, take me out shoot­ing; I am cu­ri­ous to learn what this di­ver­sion con­sists in.” I did not like, of course, to refuse a com­rade; I got him a gun and took him out shoot­ing. Well, we shot a lit­tle in the or­di­nary way; at last we thought we would rest I sat down under a tree; but he began in­stead to play with his gun, point­ing it at me mean­time. I asked him to leave off, but in his in­ex­pe­ri­ence he did not at­tend to my words, the gun went off, and I lost half my chin, and the first fin­ger of my right hand.’
We reached Lgov. Vladimir and Yer­molaï had both de­cided that we could not shoot with­out a boat.
‘Sutchok (i.e. the twig) has a punt,’ ob­served Vladimir, ‘but I don’t know where he has hid­den it. We must go to him.’
‘To whom?’ I asked.
‘The man lives here; Sutchok is his nick­name.’
Vladimir went with Yer­molaï to Sutchok’s. I told them I would wait for them at the church. While I was look­ing at the tomb­stones in the church­yard, I stum­bled upon a black­ened, four-cor­nered urn with the fol­low­ing in­scrip­tion, on one side in French: ‘Ci-git Théophile-Henri, Vi­comte de Blangy’; on the next; ‘Under this stone is laid the body of a French sub­ject, Count Blangy; born 1737, died 1799, in the 62nd year of his age’: on the third, ‘Peace to his ashes’: and on the fourth:—
     ‘Under this stone there lies from France an em­i­grant.
     Of high de­scent was he, and also of tal­ent.
     A wife and kin­dred mur­dered he be­wailed,
     And left his land by tyrants cruel as­sailed;
     The friendly shores of Rus­sia he at­tained,
     And hos­pitable shel­ter here he gained;
     Chil­dren he taught; their par­ents’ cares al­layed:
     Here, by God’s will, in peace he has been laid.’
The ap­proach of Yer­molaï with Vladimir and the man with the strange nick­name, Sutchok, broke in on my med­i­ta­tions.
Bare­legged, ragged and di­shev­elled, Sutchok looked like a dis­charged stray house-serf of sixty years old.
‘Have you a boat?’ I asked him.
‘I have a boat,’ he an­swered in a hoarse, cracked voice; ‘but it’s a very poor one.’
‘How so?’
‘Its boards are split apart, and the riv­ets have come off the cracks.’
‘That’s no great dis­as­ter!’ in­ter­posed Yer­molaï; ‘we can stuff them up with tow.’
‘Of course you can,’ Sutchok as­sented.
‘And who are you?’
‘I am the fish­er­man of the manor.’
‘How is it, when you’re a fish­er­man, your boat is in such bad con­di­tion?’
‘There are no fish in our river.’
‘Fish don’t like slimy marshes,’ ob­served my hunts­man, with the air of an au­thor­ity.
‘Come,’ I said to Yer­molaï, ‘go and get some tow, and make the boat right for us as soon as you can.’
Yer­molaï went off.
‘Well, in this way we may very likely go to the bot­tom,’ I said to Vladimir. ‘God is mer­ci­ful,’ he an­swered. ‘Any­way, we must sup­pose that the pond is not deep.’
‘No, it is not deep,’ ob­served Sutchok, who spoke in a strange, far- away voice, as though he were in a dream, ‘and there’s sedge and mud at the bot­tom, and it’s all over­grown with sedge. But there are deep holes too.’
‘But if the sedge is so thick,’ said Vladimir, ‘it will be im­pos­si­ble to row.’
‘Who thinks of row­ing in a punt? One has to punt it. I will go with you; my pole is there—or else one can use a wooden spade.’
‘With a spade it won’t be easy; you won’t touch the bot­tom per­haps in some places,’ said Vladimir.
‘It’s true; it won’t be easy.’
I sat down on a tomb-stone to wait for Yer­molaï. Vladimir moved a lit­tle to one side out of re­spect to me, and also sat down. Sutchok re­mained stand­ing in the same place, his head bent and his hands clasped be­hind his back, ac­cord­ing to the old habit of house-serfs.
‘Tell me, please,’ I began, ‘have you been the fish­er­man here long?’
‘It is seven years now,’ he replied, rous­ing him­self with a start.
‘And what was your oc­cu­pa­tion be­fore?’
‘I was coach­man be­fore.’
‘Who dis­missed you from being coach­man?’
‘The new mis­tress.’
‘What mis­tress?’
‘Oh, that bought us. Your ho­n­our does not know her; Aly­ona Tim­o­fyevna; she is so fat … not young.’
‘Why did she de­cide to make you a fish­er­man?’
‘God knows. She came to us from her es­tate in Tam­boff, gave or­ders for all the house­hold to come to­gether, and came out to us. We first kissed her hand, and she said noth­ing; she was not angry…. Then she began to ques­tion us in order; “How are you em­ployed? what du­ties have you?” She came to me in my turn; so she asked: “What have you been?” I say, “Coach­man.” “Coach­man? Well, a fine coach­man you are; only look at you! You’re not fit for a coach­man, but be my fish­er­man, and shave your beard. On the oc­ca­sions of my vis­its pro­vide fish for the table; do you hear?” … So since then I have been en­rolled as a fish­er­man. “And mind you keep my pond in order.” But how is one to keep it in order?’
‘Whom did you be­long to be­fore?’
‘To Sergaï Sergi­itch Pe­hterev. We came to him by in­her­i­tance. But he did not own us long; only six years al­to­gether. I was his coach­man … but not in town, he had oth­ers there—only in the coun­try.’
‘And were you al­ways a coach­man from your youth up?’
‘Al­ways a coach­man? Oh, no! I be­came a coach­man in Sergaï Sergi­itch’s time, but be­fore that I was a cook—but not town-cook; only a cook in the coun­try.’
‘Whose cook were you, then?’
‘Oh, my for­mer mas­ter’s, Afanasy Nefed­itch, Sergaï Sergi­itch’s uncle.
Lgov was bought by him, by Afanasy Nefed­itch, but it came to Sergaï
Sergi­itch by in­her­i­tance from him.’
‘Whom did he buy it from?’
‘From Tatyana Vass­i­lyevna.’
‘What Tatyana Vass­i­lyevna was that?’
‘Why, that died last year in Bol­hov … that is, at Karatchev, an old maid…. She had never mar­ried. Don’t you know her? We came to her from her fa­ther, Vass­ily Se­menitch. She owned us a good­ish while … twenty years.’
‘Then were you cook to her?’
‘At first, to be sure, I was cook, and then I was cof­fee-bearer.’
‘What were you?’
‘What sort of duty is that?’
‘I don’t know, your ho­n­our. I stood at the side­board, and was called Anton in­stead of Kuzma. The mis­tress or­dered that I should be called so.’
‘Your real name, then, is Kuzma?’
‘And were you cof­fee-bearer all the time?’
‘No, not all the time; I was an actor too.’
‘Yes, I was…. I played in the the­atre. Our mis­tress set up a the­atre of her own.’
‘What kind of parts did you take?’
‘What did you please to say?’
‘What did you do in the the­atre?’
‘Don’t you know? Why, they take me and dress me up; and I walk about dressed up, or stand or sit down there as it hap­pens, and they say, “See, this is what you must say,” and I say it. Once I rep­re­sented a blind man…. They laid lit­tle peas under each eye­lid…. Yes, in­deed.’
‘And what were you af­ter­wards?’
‘Af­ter­wards I be­came a cook again.’
‘Why did they de­grade you to being a cook again?’
‘My brother ran away.’
‘Well, and what were you under the fa­ther of your first mis­tress?’
‘I had dif­fer­ent du­ties; at first I found my­self a page; I have been a pos­til­ion, a gar­dener, and a whip­per-in.’
‘A whip­per-in?… And did you ride out with the hounds?’
‘Yes, I rode with the hounds, and was nearly killed; I fell off my horse, and the horse was in­jured. Our old mas­ter was very se­vere; he or­dered them to flog me, and to send me to learn a trade to Moscow, to a shoe­maker.’
‘To learn a trade? But you weren’t a child, I sup­pose, when you were a whip­per-in?’
‘I was twenty and over then.’
‘But could you learn a trade at twenty?’
‘I sup­pose one could, some way, since the mas­ter or­dered it. But he luck­ily died soon after, and they sent me back to the coun­try.’
‘And when were you taught to cook?’
Sutchok lifted his thin yel­low­ish lit­tle old face and grinned.
‘Is that a thing to be taught?… Old women can cook.’
‘Well,’ I com­mented, ‘you have seen many things, Kuzma, in your time!
What do you do now as a fish­er­man, see­ing there are no fish?’
‘Oh, your ho­n­our, I don’t com­plain. And, thank God, they made me a fish­er­man. Why an­other old man like me—An­drey Pupir—the mis­tress or­dered to be put into the paper fac­tory, as a ladler. “It’s a sin,” she said, “to eat bread in idle­ness.” And Pupir had even hoped for favour; his cousin’s son was clerk in the mis­tress’s count­ing-house: he had promised to send his name up to the mis­tress, to re­mem­ber him: a fine way he re­mem­bered him!… And Pupir fell at his cousin’s knees be­fore my eyes.’
‘Have you a fam­ily? Have you mar­ried?’
‘No, your ho­n­our, I have never been mar­ried. Tatyana Vass­i­lyevna—God rest her soul!—did not allow any­one to marry. “God for­bid!” she said some­times, “here am I liv­ing sin­gle: what in­dul­gence! What are they think­ing of!”‘
‘What do you live on now? Do you get wages?’
‘Wages, your ho­n­our!… Vict­uals are given me, and thanks be to Thee,
Lord! I am very con­tented. May God give our lady long life!’
Yer­molaï re­turned.
‘The boat is re­paired,’ he an­nounced churl­ishly. ‘Go after your pole— you there!’
Sutchok ran to get his pole. Dur­ing the whole time of my con­ver­sa­tion with the poor old man, the sports­man Vladimir had been star­ing at him with a con­temp­tu­ous smile.
‘A stu­pid fel­low,’ was his com­ment, when the lat­ter had gone off; ‘an ab­solutely un­e­d­u­cated fel­low; a peas­ant, noth­ing more. One can­not even call him a house-serf, and he was boast­ing all the time. How could he be an actor, be pleased to judge for your­self! You were pleased to trou­ble your­self for no good in talk­ing to him.’
A quar­ter of an hour later we were sit­ting in Sutchok’s punt. The dogs we left in a hut in charge of my coach­man. We were not very com­fort­able, but sports­men are not a fas­tid­i­ous race. At the rear end, which was flat­tened and straight, stood Sutchok, punt­ing; I sat with Vladimir on the planks laid across the boat, and Yer­molaï en­sconced him­self in front, in the very beak. In spite of the tow, the water soon made its ap­pear­ance under our feet. For­tu­nately, the weather was calm and the pond seemed slum­ber­ing.
We floated along rather slowly. The old man had dif­fi­culty in draw­ing his long pole out of the sticky mud; it came up all tan­gled in green threads of wa­ter-sedge; the flat round leaves of the wa­ter-lily also hin­dered the progress of our boat last we got up to the reeds, and then the fun began. Ducks flew up nois­ily from the pond, scared by our un­ex­pected ap­pear­ance in their do­mains, shots sounded at once after them; it was a pleas­ant sight to see these short-tailed game turn­ing som­er­saults in the air, splash­ing heav­ily into the water. We could not, of course, get at all the ducks that were shot; those who were slightly wounded swam away; some which had been quite killed fell into such thick reeds that even Yer­molaï’s lit­tle lynx eyes could not dis­cover them, yet our boat was nev­er­the­less filled to the brim with game for din­ner.
Vladimir, to Yer­molaï’s great sat­is­fac­tion, did not shoot at all well; he seemed sur­prised after each un­suc­cess­ful shot, looked at his gun and blew down it, seemed puz­zled, and at last ex­plained to us the rea­son why he had missed his aim. Yer­molaï, as al­ways, shot tri­umphantly; I— rather badly, after my cus­tom. Sutchok looked on at us with the eyes of a man who has been the ser­vant of oth­ers from his youth up; now and then he cried out: ‘There, there, there’s an­other lit­tle duck’; and he con­stantly rubbed his back, not with his hands, but by a pe­cu­liar move­ment of the shoul­der-blades. The weather kept mag­nif­i­cent; curly white clouds moved calmly high above our heads, and were re­flected clearly in the water; the reeds were whis­per­ing around us; here and there the pond sparkled in the sun­shine like steel. We were prepar­ing to re­turn to the vil­lage, when sud­denly a rather un­pleas­ant ad­ven­ture befel us.
For a long time we had been aware that the water was grad­u­ally fill­ing our punt. Vladimir was en­trusted with the task of bal­ing it out by means of a ladle, which my thought­ful hunts­man had stolen to be ready for any emer­gency from a peas­ant woman who was star­ing away in an­other di­rec­tion. All went well so long as Vladimir did not ne­glect his duty. But just at the end the ducks, as if to take leave of us, rose in such flocks that we scarcely had time to load our guns. In the heat of the sport we did not pay at­ten­tion to the state of our punt—when sud­denly, Yer­molaï, in try­ing to reach a wounded duck, leaned his whole weight on the boat’s-edge; at his over-ea­ger move­ment our old tub veered on one side, began to fill, and ma­jes­ti­cally sank to the bot­tom, for­tu­nately not in a deep place. We cried out, but it was too late; in an in­stant we were stand­ing in the water up to our necks, sur­rounded by the float­ing bod­ies of the slaugh­tered ducks. I can­not help laugh­ing now when I rec­ol­lect the scared white faces of my com­pan­ions (prob­a­bly my own face was not par­tic­u­larly rosy at that mo­ment), but I must con­fess at the time it did not enter my head to feel amused. Each of us kept his gun above his head, and Sutchok, no doubt from the habit of im­i­tat­ing his mas­ters, lifted his pole above him. The first to break the si­lence was Yer­molaï.
‘Tfoo! curse it!’ he mut­tered, spit­ting into the water; ‘here’s a go. It’s all you, you old devil!’ he added, turn­ing wrath­fully to Sutchok; ‘you’ve such a boat!’
‘It’s my fault,’ stam­mered the old man.
‘Yes; and you’re a nice one,’ con­tin­ued my hunts­man, turn­ing his head in Vladimir’s di­rec­tion; ‘what were you think­ing of? Why weren’t you bal­ing out?—you, you?’
But Vladimir was not equal to a reply; he was shak­ing like a leaf, his teeth were chat­ter­ing, and his smile was ut­terly mean­ing­less. What had be­come of his fine lan­guage, his feel­ing of fine dis­tinc­tions, and of his own dig­nity!
The cursed punt rocked fee­bly under our feet… At the in­stant of our duck­ing the water seemed ter­ri­bly cold to us, but we soon got hard­ened to it, when the first shock had passed off. I looked round me; the reeds rose up in a cir­cle ten paces from us; in the dis­tance above their tops the bank could be seen. ‘It looks bad,’ I thought.
‘What are we to do?’ I asked Yer­molaï.
‘Well, we’ll take a look round; we can’t spend the night here,’ he an­swered. ‘Here, you, take my gun,’ he said to Vladimir.
Vladimir obeyed sub­mis­sively.
‘I will go and find the ford,’ con­tin­ued Yer­molaï, as though there must in­fal­li­bly be a ford in every pond: he took the pole from Sutchok, and went off in the di­rec­tion of the bank, war­ily sound­ing the depth as he walked.
‘Can you swim?’ I asked him.
‘No, I can’t,’ his voice sounded from be­hind the reeds.
‘Then he’ll be drowned,’ re­marked Sutchok in­dif­fer­ently. He had been ter­ri­fied at first, not by the dan­ger, but through fear of our anger, and now, com­pletely re­as­sured, he drew a long breath from time to time, and seemed not to be aware of any ne­ces­sity for mov­ing from his pre­sent po­si­tion.
‘And he will per­ish with­out doing any good,’ added Vladimir piteously.
Yer­molaï did not re­turn for more than an hour. That hour seemed an eter­nity to us. At first we kept call­ing to him very en­er­get­i­cally; then his an­swer­ing shouts grew less fre­quent; at last he was com­pletely silent. The bells in the vil­lage began ring­ing for evening ser­vice. There was not much con­ver­sa­tion be­tween us; in­deed, we tried not to look at one an­other. The ducks hov­ered over our heads; some seemed dis­posed to set­tle near us, but sud­denly rose up into the air and flew away quack­ing. We began to grow numb. Sutchok shut his eyes as though he were dis­pos­ing him­self to sleep.
At last, to our in­de­scrib­able de­light, Yer­molaï re­turned.
‘I have been to the bank; I have found the ford…. Let us go.’
We wanted to set off at once; but he first brought some string out of his pocket out of the water, tied the slaugh­tered ducks to­gether by their legs, took both ends in his teeth, and moved slowly for­ward; Vladimir came be­hind him, and I be­hind Vladimir, and Sutchok brought up the rear. It was about two hun­dred paces to the bank. Yer­molaï walked boldly and with­out stop­ping (so well had he noted the track), only oc­ca­sion­ally cry­ing out: ‘More to the left—there’s a hole here to the right!’ or ‘Keep to the right—you’ll sink in there to the left….’ Some­times the water was up to our necks, and twice poor Sutchok, who was shorter than all the rest of us, got a mouth­ful and splut­tered. ‘Come, come, come!’ Yer­molaï shouted roughly to him—and Sutchok, scram­bling, hop­ping and skip­ping, man­aged to reach a shal­lower place, but even in his great­est ex­trem­ity was never so bold as to clutch at the skirt of my coat. Worn out, muddy and wet, we at last reached the bank.
Two hours later we were all sit­ting, as dry as cir­cum­stances would allow, in a large hay barn, prepar­ing for sup­per. The coach­man Yehudiil, an ex­ceed­ingly de­lib­er­ate man, heavy in gait, cau­tious and sleepy, stood at the en­trance, zeal­ously ply­ing Sutchok with snuff (I have no­ticed that coach­men in Rus­sia very quickly make friends); Sutchok was tak­ing snuff with fren­zied en­ergy, in quan­ti­ties to make him ill; he was spit­ting, sneez­ing, and ap­par­ently en­joy­ing him­self greatly. Vladimir had as­sumed an air of lan­guor; he leaned his head on one side, and spoke lit­tle. Yer­molaï was clean­ing our guns. The dogs were wag­ging their tails at a great rate in the ex­pec­ta­tion of por­ridge; the horses were stamp­ing and neigh­ing in the out-house…. The sun had set; its last rays were bro­ken up into broad tracts of pur­ple; golden clouds were drawn out over the heav­ens into finer and ever finer threads, like a fleece washed and combed out. … There was the sound of singing in the vil­lage.

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