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Page 1

BY

IVAN TURGENEV

From "Torrents of Spring." Translated by Constance Garnett.


In one of the outlying streets of Moscow, in a gray house with white
columns and a balcony, warped all askew, there was once living a lady, a
widow, surrounded by a numerous household of serfs. Her sons were in the
government service at Petersburg; her daughters were married; she went
out very little, and in solitude lived through the last years of her
miserly and dreary old age. Her day, a joyless and gloomy day, had long
been over; but the evening of her life was blacker than night.

Of all her servants, the most remarkable personage was the porter,
Gerasim, a man full twelve inches over the normal height, of heroic
build, and deaf and dumb from his birth. The lady, his owner, had
brought him up from the village where he lived alone in a little hut,
apart from his brothers, and was reckoned about the most punctual of her
peasants in the payment of the seignorial dues. Endowed with
extraordinary strength, he did the work of four men; work flew apace
under his hands, and it was a pleasant sight to see him when he was
ploughing, while, with his huge palms pressing hard upon the plough, he
seemed alone, unaided by his poor horse, to cleave the yielding bosom of
the earth, or when, about St. Peter's Day, he plied his scythe with a
furious energy that might have mown a young birch copse up by the roots,
or swiftly and untiringly wielded a flail over two yards long; while the
hard oblong muscles of his shoulders rose and fell like a lever. His
perpetual silence lent a solemn dignity to his unwearying labor. He was
a splendid peasant, and, except for his affliction, any girl would have
been glad to marry him. . . But now they had taken Gerasim to Moscow,
bought him boots, had him made a full-skirted coat for summer, a
sheepskin for winter, put into his hand a broom and a spade, and
appointed him porter.

At first he intensely disliked his new mode of life. From his childhood
he had been used to field labor, to village life. Shut off by his
affliction from the society of men, he had grown up, dumb and mighty, as
a tree grows on a fruitful soil. When he was transported to the town, he
could not understand what was being done with him; he was miserable and
stupefied, with the stupefaction of some strong young bull, taken
straight from the meadow, where the rich grass stood up to his belly,
taken and put in the truck of a railway train, and there, while smoke
and sparks and gusts of steam puff out upon the sturdy beast, he is
whirled onwards, whirled along with loud roar and whistle, whither--God
knows! What Gerasim had to do in his new duties seemed a mere trifle to
him after his hard toil as a peasant; in half an hour all his work was
done, and he would once more stand stock-still in the middle of the
courtyard, staring open-mouthed at all the passers-by, as though trying
to wrest from them the explanation of his perplexing position; or he
would suddenly go off into some corner, and flinging a long way off the
broom or the spade, throw himself on his face on the ground, and lie for
hours together without stirring, like a caged beast. But man gets used
to anything, and Gerasim got used at last to living in town. He had
little work to do; his whole duty consisted in keeping the courtyard
clean, bringing in a barrel of water twice a day, splitting and dragging
in wood for the kitchen and the house, keeping out strangers, and
watching at night. And it must be said he did his duty zealously. In his
courtyard there was never a shaving lying about, never a speck of dust;
if sometimes, in the muddy season, the wretched nag, put under his
charge for fetching water, got stuck in the road, he would simply give
it a shove with his shoulder, and set not only the cart but the horse
itself moving. If he set to chopping wood, the axe fairly rang like
glass, and chips and chunks flew in all directions. And as for
strangers, after he had one night caught two thieves and knocked their
heads together--knocked them so that there was not the slightest need to
take them to the police-station afterwards--every one in the
neighborhood began to feel a great respect for him; even those who came
in the daytime, by no means robbers, but simply unknown persons, at the
sight of the terrible porter, waved and shouted to him as though he
could hear their shouts. With all the rest of the servants, Gerasim was
on terms hardly friendly--they were afraid of him--but familiar; he
regarded them as his fellows. They explained themselves to him by signs,
and he understood them, and exactly carried out all orders, but knew his
own rights too, and soon no one dared to take his seat at the table.
Gerasim was altogether of a strict and serious temper, he liked order in
everything; even the cocks did not dare to fight in his presence, or woe
betide them! Directly he caught sight of them, he would seize them by
the legs, swing them ten times round in the air like a wheel, and throw
them in different directions. There were geese, too, kept in the yard;
but the goose, as is well known, is a dignified and reasonable bird:
Gerasim felt a respect for them, looked after them, and fed them; he was
himself not unlike a gander of the steppes. He was assigned a little
garret over the kitchen; he arranged it himself to his own liking, made
a bedstead in it of oak boards on four stumps of wood for legs--a truly
Titanic bedstead; one might have put a ton or two on it--it would not
have bent under the load; under the bed was a solid chest; in a corner
stood a little table of the same strong kind, and near the table a
three-legged stool, so solid and squat that Gerasim himself would
sometimes pick it up and drop it again with a smile of delight. The
garret was locked up by means of a padlock that looked like a kalatch or
basket-shaped loaf, only black; the key of this padlock Gerasim always
carried about him in his girdle. He did not like people to come to his
garret.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Sep 2019, 16:36