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Punin And Baburin
by [?]

Translated from the Russian

By CONSTANCE GARNETT

PIOTR PETROVITCH’S STORY

… I am old and ill now, and my thoughts brood oftenest upon death, every day coming nearer; rarely I think of the past, rarely I turn the eyes of my soul behind me. Only from time to time–in winter, as I sit motionless before the glowing fire, in summer, as I pace with slow tread along the shady avenue–I recall past years, events, faces; but it is not on my mature years nor on my youth that my thoughts rest at such times. They either carry me back to my earliest childhood, or to the first years of boyhood. Now, for instance, I see myself in the country with my stern and wrathful grandmother–I was only twelve–and two figures rise up before my imagination….

But I will begin my story consecutively, and in proper order.

I

1830

The old footman Filippitch came in, on tiptoe, as usual, with a cravat tied up in a rosette, with tightly compressed lips, ‘lest his breath should be smelt,’ with a grey tuft of hair standing up in the very middle of his forehead. He came in, bowed, and handed my grandmother on an iron tray a large letter with an heraldic seal. My grandmother put on her spectacles, read the letter through….

‘Is he here?’ she asked.

‘What is my lady pleased …’ Filippitch began timidly.

‘Imbecile! The man who brought the letter–is he here?’

‘He is here, to be sure he is…. He is sitting in the counting-house.’

My grandmother rattled her amber rosary beads….

‘Tell him to come to me…. And you, sir,’ she turned to me, ‘sit still.’

As it was, I was sitting perfectly still in my corner, on the stool assigned to me.

My grandmother kept me well in hand!

* * * * *

Five minutes later there came into the room a man of five-and-thirty, black-haired and swarthy, with broad cheek-bones, a face marked with smallpox, a hook nose, and thick eyebrows, from under which the small grey eyes looked out with mournful composure. The colour of the eyes and their expression were out of keeping with the Oriental cast of the rest of the face. The man was dressed in a decent, long-skirted coat. He stopped in the doorway, and bowed–only with his head.

‘So your name’s Baburin?’ queried my grandmother, and she added to herself: ‘Il a l’air d’un armenien.

‘Yes, it is,’ the man answered in a deep and even voice. At the first brusque sound of my grandmother’s voice his eyebrows faintly quivered. Surely he had not expected her to address him as an equal?

‘Are you a Russian? orthodox?’

‘Yes.’

My grandmother took off her spectacles, and scanned Baburin from head to foot deliberately. He did not drop his eyes, he merely folded his hands behind his back. What particularly struck my fancy was his beard; it was very smoothly shaven, but such blue cheeks and chin I had never seen in my life!

‘Yakov Petrovitch,’ began my grandmother, ‘recommends you strongly in his letter as sober and industrious; why, then, did you leave his service?’

‘He needs a different sort of person to manage his estate, madam.’

‘A different … sort? That I don’t quite understand.’

My grandmother rattled her beads again. ‘Yakov Petrovitch writes to me that there are two peculiarities about you. What peculiarities?’

Baburin shrugged his shoulders slightly.

‘I can’t tell what he sees fit to call peculiarities. Possibly that I … don’t allow corporal punishment.’

My grandmother was surprised. ‘Do you mean to say Yakov Petrovitch wanted to flog you?’

Baburin’s swarthy face grew red to the roots of his hair.

‘You have not understood me right, madam. I make it a rule not to employ corporal punishment … with the peasants.’

My grandmother was more surprised than ever; she positively threw up her hands.