THE UNEXPECTED GUESTS Edit
By Michael Zagoskin Edit
Translated from the Russian, Appeared in Short Stories in 1892 Edit
My father was a man of the old time, said Anton Feodorovich Kolchugin, "though thanks, first to God and second to his parents, he had the wealth of a noble, and might have lived no worse than his neighbours — that is, he might have built a stone mansion ninety feet long, kept hounds, had -^ an orchestra of his own, a conservatory,
and every other lordly contrivance; but he gave no thought to this, all his life he lived in a small house, kept not more than ten servants, hunted sometimes with falcons, and in an hour of good feeling he would amuse himself listening to Vanka, the guitarist, who, let it not be mentioned, could drink his share, and was a splendid musician, the rascal! When he played and sang, 'The Morning Dawn has Come,' or, 'On the Shore at the Dam," you quite forgot yourself.
" But if my father made no display with his house or servants, he held fast to the old proverb, 'A house is beautiful, not by its corners, but by its cakes.' Even in the old lime I think such hospitable men were a wonder. My father's house was built on the high-road itself. If any one stopped in the village by day or in the evening, people ran to inform my father; and if the travellers were, even by a little, not altogether simple people, nobles, merchants, or even small towns-people — then it was : ' We beg as a favor to the master's court.' If they showed any resistance, the whole neighborhood was barred; and though they howled, at no house would any one sell a pound of hay or a grain of oats.
" No use in denying — the old gentleman liked a social glass. When he brought guests to his house, such drinking began that it was just keep on your feet. You'll see a swelling ocean; what you wish for, demand. Of foreign drinks as many as ten were never exhausted in his cellar, and of berry wines no reckoning was made.
" One time, in winter, just six months after my mother's death, my father was sitting alone in his favorite room, on the sofa. I was not with him at the time. It was my third year in the service of the Tsar, and I was fighting against the Swedes. It was toward evening, a snow-storm was raging, and the frost was so fierce that the walls were cracking. In such weather guests were not to be looked for. What was to be done? My father, to pass the time till supper — and he never supped before eleven — began to read * Lives of the Saints. ' He opened the book at random, and came upon the life of Isaac, the hermit of Kieif. When he had read to the place where it is stated that devils appearing before the holy man in the guise of angels, deceived him, and crying out, *You are ours, Isaac,* forced him to dance with them, my father felt a doubt rising in his soul, was tempted, and closing the book, began to philosophize and reason with himself. The more he thought the more incredible it seemed to him that God should permit such a thing.
" While brooding over these questions drowsiness came on him, his eyes began to close, his head grew heavy, and he told me that he did not remember himself how he dropped on the sofa and fell asleep soundly.
" Suddenly something sounded in his ears; he woke — heard the clock striking ten in his chamber. Just as he was going to order supper his favorite servant, Andrei, entered the room and put two lighted candles on the table. Well, brother, what is it?* asked my father. I have come, sir,” said the servant, *to tell you that a lawyer from the city and Cossacks from the Don have stopped in the village. '
"*Well, run as quickly as you can to the village, ask them to come, and take no excuses. “
"*I have invited them already, and they will be here at once,' muttered Andrei.
"Tell the cook to add something to the supper; bring a bottle of vodka from the cellar, two of cherry brandy, two of service-berry cordial, and half-a-dozen bottles of wine. Now go! '
" The servant went out. Five minutes later three Cossacks entered the room with an elderly man in a long coat.
" We beg the favor, dear guests,” said my father, advancing to meet them.
" Knowing that the God-fearing Cossacks always pray first before the holy images, and afterward pay their respects to the master of the house, he said, pointing to the image of our Saviour, which it was difficult to see in the dark comer, 'There it is!' but to his amazement the. Cossacks not only failed to make the sign of the cross, but they did not even look at the image. The lawyer followed their example.
"'It is not strange,' thought my father, 'that the nettleseed knows no God ; but the Cossacks are reverent people. It is clear that the journey has dazed them,'
"Meanwhile the unexpected guests saluted the host; the Cossacks thanked him very politely for his kindness — the lawyer bending into a ring before him let off such a speech that my father, though fluent and not obliged to look in his pocket for a word, was quite at a loss what to say, and instead of an answer to this flowery greeting, cried out to the servant : " 'Give us some vodka!' " Andrei entered and placed on the table a plate of tidbits, a quart of vodka and silf ver cups from my great-grandfather, each the size of a good goblet, s "'Well, now, friends,' said my father, filling each cup to the brim, 'warm up your dear souls. You are chilled through, I think; I beg humbly!' " The guests bowed in due fashion to the host, drank one cup, and without waiting for an invitation took a second and then drank a third time. Look, look again, even walk through the bottle, not a drop left.
"' 'Pon my word, mighty drinkers'! thought my father. "Well, heroes — no disputing that! But what faces! In very truth it was impossible to call these sudden guests beauties. One of the Cossacks had a head broader than his body ; the immense stomach of the second reached almost to the floor ; the third had green eyes and a nose like that of an owl ; all of them had red hair, and cheeks the color of bricks burning in a kiln. But strangest of all seemed to my father the lawyer in the long coat, such a twisted up and shameful face he had never seen in his life. The head, bald and round as a billiard-ball, was pressed down between a pair of narrow shoulders, one of which was higher than the other, his double chin clasped the lower part of his face like a collar stuffed with down; his beard, unshaven for weeks, was sticking out like bristles around his blue lips, which extended almost to the back of his neck ; his thick, upturned nose was so red that it might have been mistaken in the dark for a firebrand ; his small half-closed eyes played and glittered like the eyes of a wild-cat, when stealing at night on some little beast or a sleeping bird. *\;^r5A,^" He smiled continually; but this smile, so my father declared more then once, was just like the snarl of a dog when he sees an enemy, or wishes to snap a bone from some other dog.
"Well, as the guests had emptied the quart bottle, and had nothing else to do, my father, wishing to occupy them with something till supper-time, entered into conversation.
"My friends”, said he, turning to the Cossacks, “what are
you doing on the Don?'
" Oh, nothing!' answered the Cossack with the big stomach; 'everything goes on in old fashion. We eat, drink, frolic, sing songs. “
"Sing, my good friends,' said my father, ”but forget not God.'
" The Cossacks burst into laughter, and the lawyer, baring his teeth like a hungry wolf, said:
"*0h, no need to speak of that, sir! We don't think of Him, let Him forget us too; if only we have wine and money, the rest is all trash!'
“ My father frowned. He was fond of good living, a glass, and a pleasant time; but he was a pious man, and remembered God.
" He remained silent awhile, and then asked the lawyer where he practised.
"'In the criminal court, sir,* answered the lawyer, with a low bow.
“*What is your chief justice doing?' continued my father.
"And here I must say to you, gentlemen, that the chief justice of the criminal court was a downright robber.
"*.What is he doing?' answered the lawyer; “what he has been doing hitherto, sir — serving with truth and justice. '
"Yes, yes! with truth and justice”, repeated with one voice all the Cossacks.
"'But do you know him, then?' asked my father of the Cossacks.
"'Of course, ' answered the owl-nosed Cossack. 'Wc are his friends, every one, and are waiting eagerly for the pleasure of his visit to us.'
"'Oh, does he want to visit you?' "'He does not,' said the big-headed Cossack; 'but he will come, will he not, my friends?'
"All the guests roared again; and the lawyer, half closing his cat-like eyes, added with a cunning leer:
"'As to coming, he will come; it is not to be denied, though, that 'tis hard to get him started. A month ago he was ready to sit in the wagon, but he changed his mind.'
"'How? ' cried my father; 'why, a month ago he was sick unto death!'
"'So it was, sir; and for that very reason he was getting ready for the road. '
"'Oh, I understand,' broke in my father; 'the doctors advised him to go to a warmer place.'
"'Of course,' said all the Cossacks, with a loud laugh. 'With us, you know, there is no lack of heat, you can warm up as much as you like.'
"This continuous and wanton laughter of the guests, their repulsive faces, and, more than all, their double-meaning speeches in which there was something foul and cunning, displeased my father greatly; but there was no help for it; he had invited them, now let him give entertainment.
" Wishing to be rid of such visitors at the earliest, he ordered that supper be brought in at once.
" Half an hour had not passed when the table was covered with food and wine. Andrei served alone, and did everything. A number of times my father wished to ask him where the other servants were; but some of the guests, as if by design, always drew off his attention with conversation which became more amusing each moment.
"The Cossacks told of their gallantry and daring; the lawyer of the roguery of his companions and the crooked cases of the criminal court. By degrees they succeeded so well in occupying my father that when sitting down the, at the table, he forgot even to pray to God. At supper he ate nothing ; but not wishing to hang back from his guests he drank four bottles of wine and two of naitvka — that'was no wonder, my father was a sound drinker; half-a-dozen bottles of wine could not get him off his chair, ,^
But behold where the wonder was — the guests iM'-9*^ seemed to drink twice as much as he, and of the ^fV-^six bottles of wine and four of nalivka only six ^"tT^ were empty; that was precisely the amount my *^"'father had drunk himself; he saw that the guests poured out full glasses of wine and kept the bottle moving, but it always came around nearly full. There was something here to wonder at, and he did wonder at it the next day, but, at supper it seemed to him natural enough. I have already said that my father was a sound drinker; but four bottles of wine and two of nalivka are quite sufficient to redden any man's face. Toward the end of supper he grew to feeling so well that the hideous faces of his guests seemed comely, so that he embraced the lawyer twice, and kissed all the Cossacks. From time to time their conversation became more objectionable and shameless; they began to tell about various love adventures ; made sport of priests and, even — terrible to mention — forgetting that they were at table, began like real "^^ heretics and renegades from God, to sing scandalous songs and keep time with their feet.
" On any other occasion my father would not have endured such disorder in his house; but now he seemed bewitched to such a degree that he ben to join in the chorus himself and to ig, ' Brave Boy, Do Not Pass my Garand fell into such humor that he was ice the prisyadka.
lile the Cossacks, tired of roaring their loudest, began to play tricks. One spoke with his stomach; another swallowed a large plate with pastry; the third took hold of his own nose, pulled his head off, and began playing with it as with a ball.
"What do you think, was my father frightened? Not a bit of it! All this seemed very amusing to him, and his sides were aching from laughter.
A ha! cried the lawyer, *there on the farther window is a reserve bottle of cherry brandy ; can we not order it this way? But don't rise, our host! ' said he, stretching his arm across the whole room.
" Oho ! what an arm you have, my friend ! ' cried my father, with a loud laugh — *a dozen feet long! It is not for nothing that lawyers are said to have long fingers *
Yes, but short memories,' said one of the Cossacks.
Vou will see, ' answered the lawyer, putting the bottle in the middle of the table. * Perhaps you have forgotten whose health we must drink, but I remember. Let us begin with the youngest. Let us drink a cup to all the law court sharpers, to the chancery secretaries, to the tricky attorneys, hoping they will have to drink ink and eat paper all their lives; that more of them will die, and fewer repent '
What do you mean, what do you mean? * asked my father, almost bursting from laughter; *why, in that way our courts will soon be empty. *
" Oh, our host, why are you troubled? If there is a swamp, there will be devils enough for it. Now, after me — hurrah!''
"We have drunk!' cried the hooked-nose Cossack; now let us drink to the health of our elder. Who will drink with us is ours, and who is ours is his.'
"*What is the name of your elder?' asked my father, taking up a glass.
"Oh, what is his name to you? ' answered the Cossack. ' Say after us: " Here is to him who, when a slave, strove to make himself master, and who, though he sat in high places and has fallen low, does not repine. " '
"Who is our father and commander?' repeated the Cossack. Is it little that men say of him ! They say that he loves darkness and calls it light. They assert too that he favored Sodom and Gomorrah and every confusion, so as to fish in muddy water; but this is old women's gossip. Our master is a most kindly person, and 'tis easy to serve him; sit down to the table without the sign of the cross, go to bed without saying your prayers; drink, frolic, amuse yourself, and believe not what is printed under titles — that's the whole service. Now, what do you think? This is not life, but a holiday — is it not?'
" No matter how wine might have touched my father, he grew serious. 'Somehow I don't understand this,' said he. "'Well,' broke in the lawyer, 'after you drink you will Understand. Now, brothers, all together! Good health to our father and commander!' "AH drained their glasses except my father.
"'Ba, ba, ba! Host,' cried the lawyer, 'why don't you drink?'
" ' No, good man, ' said my father ; ' I have drunk enough already. I wish for no more. ' "'But what has happened to you?' asked the thick Cossack; 'why have you grown so serious? Ei, comrades, we must amuse our host. Shall we dance? '
"'In good truth,' said the lawyer, 'we have sat long enough. It would not be a bad move to shake our legs; if not, we may lose the use of them. '
"'Then if we are to dance, let us be at it,' cried all the guests.
'"Wait a moment, good men,' said my father; 'I will send for my musician. '
"'Why,' said the lawyer, 'we have our own music. Hei, ye strike up there!'
" On a sudden from behind the stove was heard a terrible tumult — all sorts of instruments tooted, bagpipes, horns, cymbals; voices, a whole chorus of singers whistled and screamed; when they got to dancing tunes, the hurly-burly began.
"'Now, host,' said the red-nosed Cossack, fastening his green eyes on my father, 'we shall see your valor.' "'No,' replied my father, beginning to understand as through a dream that the affair was far from right. 'Amuse your selves as much as you like; I shall not dance. ' " 'You will not dance? ' roared the thick Cossack. 'Well, we shall see.'
" All the guests sprang from their places. " A fever shook my father, and there was reason : instead of four guests, who though not beauties were men, there now stood around him four frights of such enormous stature that. when they straightened themselves out, the ceiling above their heads cracked. Their faces had become still more hideous.
"*You will not dance/ said the lawyer, smiling ironically. * A truce to ceremony, better men than you have danced with us; and what is more, they were outsiders; but you are ours you know.'
How yours?' asked my father.
Whose, then, should you be? You know how to read; you have no doubt read that it is impossible to serve two masters ; and you serve ours. '
“*But of what master do you speak? * asked my father, trembling like an aspen-leaf.
"*0f what master?' said the Cossack with the large head. *Of course, of him of whom I told you at supper. Why, of him whose servants lie down to sleep without praying, go to the table without making the sign of the cross, drink, are merry, and believe not what is written under titles. *
"*What master is he of mine?' asked my father, still not understanding the question properly.
"*0h, my friend,' asked the lawyer, 'are you withdrawing and denying? No, most amiable host, you will not escape us in that style! If you do the will of our master, of course you are his obedient servant. Think over the matter well. Did you pray to-day when you lay down to sleep? Did you pray when you took your place at the supper table? Did you not drink and frolic with us to your heart's content?
And an hour and a half ago, when you read in that book lying there, "You are ours, I«aac, and will dance with us!" well, did you believe? '
"The blood grew cold in my father's veins. A bandage fell as it were, from his eyes ; the fumes of wine were gone, and all became clear to him. *0 Lord, my God!' cried he, trying to defend himself with the sign of the cross. His hand would not rise, his fingers would not come together, but his feet rushed to dance with figures and variations impossible to describe.
" Then the guests caught him and amused themselves. " In describing this he told me that he wondered how the soul remained in his body.
" He only remembered that the room was filled with fire and smoke, that they threw him from hand to hand, played pile with him, and whirled him like a top; that he bounded through the air, struck the ceiling, spun around on his crown like a teetotum, danced the Kazachok on his head, and then lost consciousness.
" When he recovered he saw that he was lying on the sofa, the servants were standing and moving about him.
"*Well,' asked he, looking around ^ quickly, *have they gone?* ^
Who?' asked one of the servants. Who!' repeated ray father, with an involuntary trembling. *Who! why the Cossacks and the lawyer.
"* What Cossacks and lawyer?' asked Foma. “Therewere no guests to-day, and you have not had stopper. When I came in I found you lying on the floor; you were in a cold sweat, and your clothes were as much ruffled as though some dark power had been pulling you around. '
"”And there were no guests to-day?' asked my father, rising with difficulty. No, sir.'
Is it possible that I was only dreaming? It cannot be! ' continued my father, feeling of his sides; “ my bones are half broken. And these two candles — who put them on the table? '
"'I don't know,' answered Foma; “ it must be that you lighted them yourself, and have forgotten it in your sleep. '
"*Not true!* cried my father. “I remember Andrei brought them; he also spread the cloth and brought the supper. '
" The servants looked at one another with evident terror. Vanka wished to speak, but could not.
" Why do you stand there with open mouths, you dunces? ' demanded my father. “ I tell you there were guests, and that Andrei served the supper! '
"'Pardon,” said Foma, “ but have you forgotten that Andnei has been lying ill of the fever about a week? “
"Then clearly he is better, for he was here at just ten o'clock. But what is the use of discussing? Call Andrei.'
"'Were you pleased to ask for Andrei? ' asked Vanka.
"' Yes, of course ! Where is he? '
'"In the chamber, laid out on a table.'
"'What do you tell me?' cried my father; 'Andrei Stcpanoff ? '
'"He wished you a long life before he died,' said the butler, coming in.
"'He is dead? '
'"Yes, he died at ten o'clock precisely.' "