Count Tolstoy at Home

The Imperial Firearms Factory we did not see. We had omitted to obtain from the Minister of War that permission without which no foreigner of either sex can enter, though Russians may do so freely, and we did not care enough about it to await the reply to a telegram. We contented ourselves with assuring the officer in charge that we were utter simpletons in the matter of firearms, afraid of guns even when they were not loaded,—I presume he did not understand that allusion,—and that it was pure curiosity of travelers which had led us to invade his office.

However, there was no dearth of shops where we could inspect all the wares in metal for which this Russian Birmingham has been celebrated ever since the industry was founded by men from Holland, in the sixteenth century. In the matter of samovárs, especially, there is a wide range of choice in this cradle of “the portable domestic hearth,” although there are only two or three among the myriad manufacturers whose goods are famed for that solidity of brass and tin which insures against dents, fractures, and poisoning.

During the morning we ordered round a troika from the posting-house. It did not arrive. Probably it was asleep, like most other things on that warm day. It was too far off to invite investigation, and sallying forth after breakfast to hire an izvóstchik, I became a blessed windfall to a couple of bored policemen, who waked up a cabman for me and took a kindly interest in the inevitable bargaining which ensued. While this was in progress up came two dusty and tattered “pilgrims,”—“ religious tramps” will designate their character with perfect accuracy,—who were sufficiently wide awake to beg—I positively had not a kopék in change; but not even a Russian beggar would believe that. I parried the attack.

“I’m not an Orthodox Christian, my good men. I am sure that you do not want money from a heretic.”

“Never mind; I’m a bachelor,” replied one of them, bravely and consolingly.

When we had all somewhat recovered from this, the policemen, catching the spirit of the occasion, explained to the men that I and my money were extremely dangerous to the Orthodox, both families and bachelors, especially to pious pilgrims to the shrines, such as they were, and they gently but firmly compelled the men to move on, despite their vehement protestations that they were willing to run the risk and accept the largest sort of change from the heretic. But I was obdurate. I knew from experience that for five kopéks, or less, I should receive thanks, reverences to the waist or even to the ground; but that the gift of more than five kopéks would result in a thankless suspicious stare, which would make me feel guilty of some enormous undefined crime. This was Count Tolstóy’s experience also. We devoted ourselves to the cabby once more.

Such a winning fellow as that Vánka was, from the very start! After I had concluded the bargain for an extra horse and an apron which his carriage lacked, he persuaded me that one horse was enough—at the price of two. To save time I yielded, deducting twenty-five cents only from the sum agreed on, lest I should appear too easily cheated. That sense of being ridiculed as an inexperienced simpleton, when I had merely paid my interlocutor the compliment of trusting him, never ceased to be a pain and a terror to me.

The friendly policemen smiled impartially upon Vánka and us, as they helped to pack us in the drozky.

Túla as we saw it on our way out, and as we had seen it during our morning stroll, did not look like a town of sixty-four thousand inhabitants, or an interesting place of residence. It was a good type of the provincial Russian town. There were the broad unpaved, or badly paved, dusty streets. There were the stone official buildings, glaring white in the sun, interspersed with wooden houses, ranging from the pretentious dwelling to the humble shelter of logs.

For fifteen versts (ten miles) after we had left all these behind us we drove through a lovely rolling country, on a fine macadamized highway leading to the south and to Kieff. The views were wide, fresh, and fair. Hayfields, ploughed fields, fields of green oats, yellowing rye, blue-flowered flax, with birch and leaf trees in small groves near at hand, and forests in the distance, varied the scene. Evergreens were rarer here, and oak-trees more plentiful, than north of Moscow. The grass by the roadside was sown thickly with wild flowers: Canterbury bells, campanulas, yarrow pink and white, willow-weed (good to adulterate tea), yellow daisies, spiraea, pinks, cornflowers, melilot, honey-sweet galium, yellow, everlasting, huge deep crimson crane’s-bill, and hosts of others. 

Throughout this sweet drive my merry izvóstchik delighted me with his discourse. It began thus. I asked, “Did he know Count Tolstóy?”  

“Did he know Count Tolstóy? Everybody knew him. He was the first gentleman in the empire! There was not another such man in all the land.”

“Could he read? Had he read the count’s Tales?”

“Yes. He had read every one of the count’s books that he could lay his hands on. Did I mean the little books with the colored covers and the pictures on the outside?” (He alluded to the little peasant Tales in their original a cheap form, costing two or three cents apiece.) “Unfortunately they were forbidden, or not to be had at the Túla shops, and though there were libraries which had them, they were not for such as he.” 

[Author’s note: At this time, in Moscow, the sidewalk bookstalls, such as this man would have been likely to patronize, could not furnish a full set of the Tales in the cheap form. The venders said that they were “forbidden;” but since they openly displayed and sold such as they had, and since any number of complete sets could be obtained at the publishers’ hard by, the prohibition evidently extended only to the issue of a fresh edition. Meanwhile, the Tales complete in one volume were not forbidden. This volume, one of the set of the author’s works published by his wife, cost fifty kopéks (about twenty-five cents), not materially more than the other sort. As there was a profit to the family on this edition, and none on the cheap edition, the withdrawal of the latter may have been merely a private business arrangement, to be expected under the circumstances, and the cry of “prohibition” may have been employed as a satisfactory and unanswerable tradesman’s excuse for not being supplied with the goods desired.]

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