Uncle's Dream / Дядюшкин сон
Федор Михайлович Достоевский
Русская классическая литература на иностранных языках (Каро)
Великий русский писатель Ф. М. Достоевский (1821– 1881) известен во всем мире прежде всего благодаря «великому пятикнижию» – романам «Преступление и наказание», «Идиот», «Братья Карамазовы», «Бесы», «Подросток». Предлагаем вниманию англоязычных читателей повесть Достоевского «Дядюшкин сон» в переводе Фредерика Уишоу.
Maria Alexandrovna Moskaleva was the principal lady of Mordasoﬀ – there was no doubt whatever on that point! She always bore herself as though she did not care a ﬁg for anyone, but as though no one else could do without her. True, there were uncommonly few who loved her – in fact I may say that very many detested her; still, everyone was afraid of her, and that was what she liked!
Now, why did Maria Alexandrovna, who dearly loves scandal, and cannot sleep at night unless she has heard something new and piquant the day before, – why, or how did she know how to bear herself so that it would never strike anyone, looking at her, to suppose that the digniﬁed lady was the most inveterate scandal-monger in the world – or at all events in Mordasoﬀ? On the contrary, anyone would have said at once, that scandals and such-like pettiness must vanish in her presence; and that scandal-mongers, caught red-handed by Maria Alexandrovna, would blush and tremble, like schoolboys at the entrance of the master; and that the talk would immediately be diverted into channels of the loftiest and most sublime subjects so soon as she entered the room. Maria Alexandrovna knew many deadly and scandalous secrets of certain other Mordasoﬀ inhabitants, which, if she liked to reveal them at any convenient opportunity, would produce results little less terrible than the earthquake of Lisbon. Still, she was very quiet about the secrets she knew, and never let them out except in cases of absolute need, and then only to her nearest and dearest friends. She liked to hint that she knew certain things, and frighten people out of their wits; preferring to keep them in a state of perpetual terror, rather than crush them altogether.
This was real talent – the talent of tactics.
We all considered Maria Alexandrovna as our type and model of irreproachable comme-il-faut[1 - comme-il-faut – properly]! She had no rival in this respect in Mordasoﬀ! She could kill and annihilate and pulverize any rival with a single word. We have seen her do it; and all the while she would look as though she had not even observed that she had let the fatal word fall.
Everyone knows that this trait is a speciality of the highest circles.
Her circle of friends was large. Many visitors to Mordasoﬀ left the town again in an ecstasy over her reception of them, and carried on a correspondence with her afterwards! Somebody even addressed some poetry to her, which she showed about the place with great pride. The novelist who came to the town used to read his novel to her of an evening, and ended by dedicating it to her; which produced a very agreeable eﬀect. A certain German professor, who came from Carlsbad to inquire into the question of a little worm with horns which abounds in our part of the world, and who wrote and published four large quarto volumes about this same little insect, was so delighted and ravished with her amiability and kindness that to this very day he carries on a most improving correspondence upon moral subjects from far Carlsbad!
Some people have compared Maria Alexandrovna, in certain respects, with Napoleon. Of course it may have been her enemies who did so, in order to bring Maria Alexandrovna to scorn; but all I can say is, How is it that Napoleon, when he rose to his highest, that too high estate of his, became giddy and fell? Historians of the old school have ascribed this to the fact that he was not only not of royal blood, but was not even a gentleman! and therefore when he rose too high, he thought of his proper place, the ground, became giddy and fell! But why did not Maria Alexandrovna’s head whirl? And how was it that she could always keep her place as the ﬁrst lady of Mordasoﬀ?
People have often said this sort of thing of Maria Alexandrovna; for instance: “Oh – yes, but how would she act under such and such diﬃcult circumstances?” Yet, when the circumstances arose, Maria Alexandrovna invariably rose also to the emergency! For instance, when her husband – Afanassy Matveyevitch – was obliged to throw up his appointment, out of pure incapacity and feebleness of intellect, just before the government inspector came down to look into matters, all Mordasoff danced with delight to think that she would be down on her knees to this inspector, begging and beseeching and weeping and praying – in fact, that she would drop her wings and fall; but, bless you, nothing of the sort happened! Maria Alexandrovna quite understood that her husband was beyond praying for: he must retire. So she only rearranged her aﬀairs a little, in such a manner that she lost not a scrap of her inﬂuence in the place, and her house still remained the acknowledged head of all Mordasoﬀ Society!
The procurer’s wife, Anna Nicolaevna Antipova, the sworn foe of Maria Alexandrovna, though a friend so far as could be judged outside, had already blown the trumpet of victory over her rival! But when Society found that Maria Alexandrovna was extremely difficult to put down, they were obliged to conclude that the latter had struck her roots far deeper than they had thought for.
As I have mentioned Afanassy Matveyevitch, Maria Alexandrovna’s husband, I may as well add a few words about him in this place.
Firstly, then, he was a most presentable man, so far as exterior goes, and a very high-principled person besides; but in critical moments he used to lose his head and stand looking like a sheep which has come across a new gate. He looked very majestic and digniﬁed in his dress-coat and white tie at dinner parties, and so on; but his dignity only lasted until he opened his mouth to speak; for then – well, you’d better have shut your ears, ladies and gentlemen, when he began to talk – that’s all! Everyone agreed that he was quite unworthy to be Maria Alexandrovna’s husband. He only sat in his place by virtue of his wife’s genius. In my humble opinion he ought long ago to have been derogated to the oﬃce of frightening sparrows in the kitchen garden. There, and only there, would he have been in his proper sphere, and doing some good to his fellow countrymen.
Therefore, I think Maria Alexandrovna did a very wise thing when she sent him away to her village, about a couple of miles from town, where she possessed a property of some hundred and twenty souls – which, to tell the truth, was all she had to keep up the respectability and grandeur of her noble house upon!
Everybody knew that Afanassy was only kept because he had earned a salary and perquisites; so that when he ceased to earn the said salary and perquisites, it surprised no-one to learn that he was sent away – “returned empty” to the village, as useless and ﬁt for nothing! In fact, everyone praised his wife for her soundness of judgment and decision of character!
Afanassy lived in clover at the village. I called on him there once and spent a very pleasant hour. He tied on his white ties, cleaned his boots himself (not because he had no-one to do it for him, but for the sake of art, for he loved to have them shine), went to the bath as often as he could, had tea four times a day, and was as contented as possible.
Do you remember, a year and a half ago, the dreadful stories that were afoot about Zenaida, Maria Alexandrovna’s and Afanassy’s daughter? Zenaida was undoubtedly a fine, handsome, well-educated girl; but she was now twenty-three years old, and not married yet. Among the reasons put forth for Zenaida being still a maid, one of the strongest was those dark rumours about a strange attachment, a year and a half ago, with the schoolmaster of the place – rumours not hushed up even to this day. Yes, to this very day they tell of a love-letter, written by Zina, as she was called, and handed all about Mordasoﬀ. But kindly tell me, who ever saw this letter? If it went from hand to hand what became of it? Everyone seems to have heard of it, but no one ever saw it! At all events, I have never met anyone who actually saw the letter with his own eyes. If you drop a hint to Maria Alexandrovna about it, she simply does not understand you.
Well, supposing that there was something, and that Zina did write such a letter; what dexterity and skill of Maria Alexandrovna, to have so ably nipped the bud of the scandal! I feel sure that Zina did write the letter; but Maria Alexandrovna has managed so well that there is not a trace, not a shred of evidence of the existence of it. Goodness knows how she must have worked and planned to save the reputation of this only daughter of hers; but she managed it somehow.
As for Zina not having married, there’s nothing surprising in that. Why, what sort of a husband could be found for her in Mordasoﬀ? Zina ought to marry a reigning prince, if anyone! Did you ever see such a beauty among beauties as Zina? I think not. Of course, she was very proud – too proud.
There was Mosgliakoﬀ – some people said she was likely to end by marrying him; but I never thought so. Why, what was there in Mosgliakoff? True, he was young and good looking, and possessed an estate of a hundred and fifty souls, and was a Petersburg swell; but, in the ﬁrst place, I don’t think there was much inside his head. He was such a funny, new-idea sort of man. Besides, what is an estate of a hundred and ﬁfty souls, according to present notions? Oh, no; that’s a marriage that never could come oﬀ.
There, kind reader, all you have just read was written by me some five months ago, for my own amusement. I admit, I am rather partial to Maria Alexandrovna; and I wished to write some sort of laudatory account of that charming woman, and to mould it into the form of one of those playful “letters to a friend,” purporting to have been written in the old golden days (which will never return – thank Heaven!) to one of the periodicals of the time, “The Northern Bee,” or some such paper. But since I have no “friend,” and since I am, besides, naturally of a timid disposition, and especially so as to my literary eﬀorts, the essay remained on my writing-table, as a memorial of my early literary attempts and in memory of the peaceful occupation of a moment or two of leisure.
Well, five months have gone by, and lo! great things have happened at Mordasoﬀ!
Prince K… drove into the town at an early hour one ﬁne morning, and put up at Maria Alexandrovna’s house! The prince only stayed three days, but his visit proved pregnant with the most fatal consequences. I will say more – the prince brought about what was, in a certain sense, a revolution in the town, an account of which revolution will, of course, comprise some of the most important events that have ever happened in Mordasoﬀ; and I have determined at last, after many heart-sinkings and ﬂutterings, and much doubt, to arrange the story into the orthodox literary form of a novel, and present it to the indulgent Public! My tale will include a narrative of the Rise and Greatness and Triumphant Fall of Maria Alexandrovna, and of all her House in Mordasoﬀ, a theme both worthy of, and attractive to any writer!
Of course I must ﬁrst explain why there should have been anything extraordinary in the fact that Prince K… came to Mordasoﬀ, and put up at Maria Alexandrovna’s mansion. And in order to do this, I must ﬁrst be allowed to say a few words about this same Prince K… . This I shall now do. A short biography of the nobleman is absolutely necessary to the further working out of my story. So, reader, you must excuse me.
I will begin, then, by stating that Prince K… was not so very, very old, although, to look at him, you would think he must fall to pieces every moment, so decayed, or rather, worn-out was he. At Mordasoﬀ all sorts of strange things were told of him. Some declared that the old prince’s wits had forsaken him. All agreed that it was passing strange that the owner of a magniﬁcent property of four thousand souls, a man of rank, and one who could have, if he liked, a great inﬂuence, and play a great part in his country’s affairs; that such a man should live all alone upon his estate, and make an absolute hermit of himself, as did Prince K… . Many who had known him a few years before insisted upon it that he was very far from loving solitude then, and was as unlike a hermit as anyone could possibly be.
However, here is all I have been able to learn authentically as to his antecedents, etc.:
Some time or other, in his younger days – which must have been a mighty long while ago, – the prince made a most brilliant entry into life. He knocked about and enjoyed himself, and sang romantic songs, and wrote epigrams, and led a fast life generally, very often abroad, and was full of gifts and intellectual capacity.
Of course he very soon ran through his means, and when old age approached, he suddenly found himself almost penniless. Somebody recommended him to betake himself to his country seat, which was about to be sold by public auction. So off he went with that intention; but called in at Mordasoﬀ, and stopped there six months. He liked this provincial life, and while in our town he spent every farthing he had left in the world, continuing his reckless life as of old, galivanting about, and forming intimacies with half the ladies of Mordasoﬀ.
He was a kind-hearted, good sort of a man, but, of course, not without certain princely failings, which, however, were accounted here to be nothing but evidences of the highest breeding, and for this reason caused a good eﬀect instead of aversion. The ladies, especially, were in a state of perpetual ecstasy over their dear guest. They cherished the fondest and tenderest recollections of him. There were also strange traditions and rumours about the prince. It was said that he spent more than half the day at his toilet table; and that he was, in fact, made up of all sorts of little bits. No one could say when or how he had managed to fall to pieces so completely.
He wore a wig, whiskers, moustache, and even an “espagnole,” all false to a hair, and of a lovely raven black; besides which he painted and rouged every day. It was even said that he managed to do away with his wrinkles by means of hidden springs – hidden somehow in his wig. It was said, further, that he wore stays, in consequence of the want of a rib which he had lost in Italy, through being caused to ﬂy, involuntarily, out of a window during a certain love affair. He limped with his left foot, and it was whispered that the said foot was a cork one – a very scientiﬁc member, made for him in place of the real one which came to grief during another love aﬀair, in Paris this time. But what will not people say? At all events, I know for a fact that his right eye was a glass one; beautifully made, I confess, but still – glass. His teeth were false too.
For whole days at a time he used to wash himself in all sorts of patent waters and scents and pomades.
However, no one could deny that even then he was beginning to indulge in senile drivel and chatter. It appeared his career was about over; he had seen his best days, everyone knew that he had not a copeck left in the world!
Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, an old relative of his – who had always lived in Paris, but from whom he never had had the slightest hope of inheritance – died, after having buried her legal heir exactly a month before! The prince, to his utter astonishment, turned out to be the next heir, and a beautiful property of four thousand serfs, just forty miles from Mordasoﬀ, became his – absolutely and unquestionably!
He immediately started oﬀ to Petersburg, to see to his aﬀairs. Before he departed, however, the ladies of our town gave him a magnificent subscription banquet. They tell how bewitching and delightful the prince was at this last dinner; how he punned and joked and told the most unusual stories; and how he promised to come to Donchanovo (his new property) very soon, and gave his word that on his arrival he would give endless balls and garden parties and picnics and ﬁreworks and entertainments of all kinds, for his friends here.
For a whole year after his departure, the ladies of the place talked of nothing but these promised festivities; and awaited the arrival of the “dear old man” with the utmost impatience. At last the prince arrived; but to the disappointment and astonishment of everyone, he did not even call in at Mordasoﬀ on the way; and on his arrival at Donchanovo he shut himself up there, as I have expressed it before, like a very hermit.
All sorts of fantastic rumours were bruited about, and from this time the prince’s life and history became most secret, mysterious, and incomprehensible.
In the ﬁrst place, it was declared that the prince had not been very successful in St. Petersburg; that many of his relations – future heirs and heirs presumptive, and so on, had wished to put the Prince under some kind of restraint, on the plea of “feebleness of intellect;” probably fearing that he would run through this property as he had done with the last! And more, some of them went so far as to suggest that he should be popped into a lunatic asylum; and he was only saved by the interference of one of the nearest of kin, who pointed out that the poor old prince was more than half dead already, and that the rest of him must inevitably soon die too; and that then the property would come down to them safely enough without the need of the lunatic asylum. I repeat, what will not people say? Especially at our place, Mordasoﬀ! All this, it was said, had frightened the prince dreadfully; so that his nature seemed to change entirely, and he came down to live a hermit life at Donchanovo.
Some of our Mordasoﬀ folk went over to welcome him on his arrival; but they were either not received at all or received in the strangest fashion. The prince did not recognise his old friends: many people explained that he did not wish to recognise them. Among other visitors to Donchanovo was the Governor.
On the return of the latter from his visit, he declared that the prince was undoubtedly a little “oﬀ his head.” The Governor always made a face if anyone reminded him of this visit of his to Donchanovo. The ladies were dreadfully oﬀended.
At last an important fact was revealed: namely, that there was with the prince, and apparently in authority over him, some unknown person of the name of Stepanida Matveyevna, who had come down with him from St. Petersburg; an elderly fat woman in a calico dress, who went about with the house-keys in her hand; and that the prince obeyed this woman like a little child, and did not dare take a step without her leave; that she washed him and dressed him and soothed and petted him just like a nurse with a baby; and lastly, that she kept all visitors away from him, even relations – who, little by little, had begun to pervade the place rather too frequently, for the purpose of seeing that all was right.
It was said that this person managed not only the prince, but his estate too: she turned oﬀ bailiﬀs and clerks, she encashed the rents, she looked after things in general – and did it well, too; so that the peasants blessed their fate under her rule.
As for the prince, it was rumoured that he spent his days now almost entirely at his toilet-table, trying on wigs and dress-coats, and that the rest of his time was spent playing cards and games with Stepanida Matveyevna, and riding on a quiet old English mare. On such occasions his nurse always accompanied him in a covered droshky, because the prince liked to ride out of bravado, but was most unsafe in his saddle.
He had been seen on foot too, in a long great coat and a straw hat with a wide brim; a pink silk lady’s tie round his neck, and a basket on his arm for mushrooms and ﬂowers and berries, and so on, which he collected. The nurse accompanied him, and a few yards behind walked a manservant, while a carriage was in attendance on the high road at the side. When any peasant happened to meet him, and with low bow, and hat in hand, said, “Good morning, your highness – our beloved Sun, and Father of us all,” or some such Russian greeting, he would stick his eye-glass in his eye, nod his head and say, with great urbanity, and in French, “Bon jour, mon ami, bon jour!”
Lots of other rumours there were – in fact, our folks could not forget that the prince lived so near them.
What, then, must have been the general amazement when one fine day it was trumpeted abroad that the prince – their curious old hermit-prince, had arrived at Mordasoff, and put up at Maria Alexandrovna’s house!