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- Knock, Knock, Knock and Other Stories - 1/38 -


The Novels Of Ivan Turgenev

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK And Other Stories

Translated From The Russian By Constance Garnett

* * * * *

CONTENTS:

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK

THE INN

LIEUTENANT YERGUNOV'S STORY

THE DOG

THE WATCH

* * * * *

KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCK

A STUDY

I

We all settled down in a circle and our good friend Alexandr Vassilyevitch Ridel (his surname was German but he was Russian to the marrow of his bones) began as follows:

I am going to tell you a story, friends, of something that happened to me in the 'thirties ... forty years ago as you see. I will be brief--and don't you interrupt me.

I was living at the time in Petersburg and had only just left the University. My brother was a lieutenant in the horse-guard artillery. His battery was stationed at Krasnoe Selo--it was summer time. My brother lodged not at Krasnoe Selo itself but in one of the neighbouring villages; I stayed with him more than once and made the acquaintance of all his comrades. He was living in a fairly decent cottage, together with another officer of his battery, whose name was Ilya Stepanitch Tyeglev. I became particularly friendly with him.

Marlinsky is out of date now--no one reads him--and even his name is jeered at; but in the 'thirties his fame was above everyone's--and in the opinion of the young people of the day Pushkin could not hold candle to him. He not only enjoyed the reputation of being the foremost Russian writer; but--something much more difficult and more rarely met with--he did to some extent leave his mark on his generation. One came across heroes _ la_ Marlinsky everywhere, especially in the provinces and especially among infantry and artillery men; they talked and corresponded in his language; behaved with gloomy reserve in society--"with tempest in the soul and flame in the blood" like Lieutenant Byelosov in the "_Frigate Hope_." Women's hearts were "devoured" by them. The adjective applied to them in those days was "fatal." The type, as we all know, survived for many years, to the days of Petchorin. [Footnote: The leading character in Lermontov's _A Hero of Our Time_.--_Translator's Note_.] All sorts of elements were mingled in that type. Byronism, romanticism, reminiscences of the French Revolution, of the Dekabrists--and the worship of Napoleon; faith in destiny, in one's star, in strength of will; pose and fine phrases--and a miserable sense of the emptiness of life; uneasy pangs of petty vanity--and genuine strength and daring; generous impulses--and defective education, ignorance; aristocratic airs--and delight in trivial foppery.... But enough of these general reflections. I promised to tell you the story.

II

Lieutenant Tyeglev belonged precisely to the class of those "fatal" individuals, though he did not possess the exterior commonly associated with them; he was not, for instance, in the least like Lermontov's "fatalist." He was a man of medium height, fairly solid and round-shouldered, with fair, almost white eyebrows and eyelashes; he had a round, fresh, rosy-cheeked face, a turn-up nose, a low forehead with the hair growing thick over the temples, and full, well-shaped, always immobile lips: he never laughed, never even smiled. Only when he was tired and out of heart he showed his square teeth, white as sugar. The same artificial immobility was imprinted on all his features: had it not been for that, they would have had a good-natured expression. His small green eyes with yellow lashes were the only thing not quite ordinary in his face: his right eye was very slightly higher than his left and the left eyelid drooped a little, which made his eyes look different, strange and drowsy. Tyeglev's countenance, which was not, however, without a certain attractiveness, almost always wore an expression of discontent mingled with perplexity, as though he were chasing within himself a gloomy thought which he was never able to catch. At the same time he did not give one the impression of being stuck up: he might rather have been taken for an aggrieved than a haughty man. He spoke very little, hesitatingly, in a husky voice, with unnecessary repetitions. Unlike most "fatalists," he did not use particularly elaborate expressions in speaking and only had recourse to them in writing; his handwriting was quite like a child's. His superiors regarded him as an officer of no great merit--not particularly capable and not over-zealous. The brigadier-general, a man of German extraction, used to say of him: "He has punctuality but not precision." With the soldiers, too, Tyeglev had the character of being neither one thing nor the other. He lived modestly, in accordance with his means. He had been left an orphan at nine years old: his father and mother were drowned when they were being ferried across the Oka in the spring floods. He had been educated at a private school, where he had the reputation of being one of the slowest and quietest of the boys, and at his own earnest desire and through the good offices of a cousin who was a man of influence, he obtained a commission in the horse-guards artillery; and, though with some difficulty, passed his examination first as an ensign and then as a second lieutenant. His relations with other officers were somewhat strained. He was not liked, was rarely visited--and he hardly went to see anyone. He felt the presence of strangers a constraint; he instantly became awkward and unnatural ... he had no instinct for comradeship and was not on really intimate terms with anyone. But he was respected, and respected not for his character nor for his intelligence and education--but because the stamp which distinguishes "fatal" people was discerned in him. No one of his fellow officers expected that Tyeglev would make a career or distinguish himself in any way; but that Tyeglev might do something extraordinary or that Tyeglev might become a Napoleon was not considered impossible. For that is a matter of a man's "star"--and he was regarded as a "man of destiny," just as there are "men of sighs" and "of tears."

III

Two incidents that marked the first steps in his career did a great deal to strengthen his "fatal" reputation. On the very first day after receiving his commission--about the middle of March--he was walking with other newly promoted officers in full dress uniform along the embankment. The spring had come early that year, the Neva was melting; the bigger blocks of ice had gone but the whole river was choked up with a dense mass of thawing icicles. The young men were talking and laughing ... suddenly one of them stopped: he saw a little dog some twenty paces from the bank on the slowly moving surface of the river. Perched on a projecting piece of ice it was whining and trembling all over. "It will be drowned," said the officer through his teeth. The dog was slowly being carried past one of the sloping gangways that led down to the river. All at once Tyeglev without saying a word ran down this gangway and over the thin ice, sinking in and leaping out again, reached the dog, seized it by the scruff of the neck and getting safely back to the bank, put it down on the pavement. The danger to which Tyeglev had exposed himself was so great, his action was so unexpected, that his companions were dumbfoundered--and only spoke all at once, when he had called a cab to drive home: his uniform was wet all over. In response to their exclamations, Tyeglev replied coolly that there was no escaping one's destiny--and told the cabman to drive on.

"You might at least take the dog with you as a souvenir," cried one of the officers. But Tyeglev merely waved his hand, and his comrades looked at each other in silent amazement.

The second incident occurred a few days later, at a card party at the battery commander's. Tyeglev sat in the corner and took no part in the play. "Oh, if only I had a grandmother to tell me beforehand what cards will win, as in Pushkin's _Queen of Spades_," cried a lieutenant whose losses had nearly reached three thousand. Tyeglev approached the table in silence, took up a pack, cut it, and saying "the six of diamonds," turned the pack up: the six of diamonds was the bottom card. "The ace of clubs!" he said and cut again: the bottom card turned out to be the ace of clubs. "The king of diamonds!" he said for the third time in an angry whisper through his clenched teeth--and he was right the third time, too ... and he suddenly turned crimson. He probably had not expected it himself. "A capital trick! Do it again," observed the commanding officer of the battery. "I don't go in for tricks," Tyeglev answered drily and walked into the other room. How it happened that he guessed the card right, I can't pretend to explain: but I saw it with my own eyes. Many of the players present tried to do the same--and not one of them succeeded: one or two did guess _one_ card but never two in succession. And Tyeglev had guessed three! This incident strengthened still further his reputation as a mysterious, fatal character. It has often occurred to me since that if he had not succeeded in the trick with the cards, there is no knowing what turn it would have taken and how he would have looked at himself; but this unexpected success clinched the matter.

IV

It may well be understood that Tyeglev clutched at this reputation. It gave him a special significance, a special colour ... "_Cela le posait_," as the French express it--and with his limited intelligence, scanty education and immense vanity, such a reputation just suited him. It was difficult to acquire it but to keep it up cost nothing: he had only to remain silent and hold himself aloof. But it was not owing to this reputation that I made friends with Tyeglev and, I may say, grew fond of him. I liked him in the first place because I was rather an unsociable creature myself--and saw in him one of my own sort, and secondly, because he was a very good-natured fellow and in reality, very simple-hearted. He aroused in me a feeling of something like compassion; it seemed to me that apart from his affected "fatality," he really was weighed down by a tragic fate which he did not himself suspect. I need hardly say I did not express this feeling to him: could anything be more insulting to a "fatal" hero than to be


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