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Knock, Knock, Knock and Other Stories, Page 1

Ivan Sergeevich Turgenev

  Produced by Thomas Berger, Eric Eldred, Charles Franks andthe Online Distributed Proofreading Team.

  The Novels Of Ivan Turgenev

  KNOCK, KNOCK, KNOCKAnd Other Stories

  Translated From The RussianByConstance Garnett

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

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

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

  Marlinsky is out of date now--no one reads him--and even his name isjeered at; but in the 'thirties his fame was above everyone's--and inthe opinion of the young people of the day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


  Lieutenant Tyeglev belonged precisely to the class of those "fatal"individuals, though he did not possess the exterior commonlyassociated with them; he was not, for instance, in the least likeLermontov's "fatalist." He was a man of medium height, fairly solidand round-shouldered, with fair, almost white eyebrows and eyelashes;he had a round, fresh, rosy-cheeked face, a turn-up nose, a lowforehead 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 hisfeatures: had it not been for that, they would have had a good-naturedexpression. His small green eyes with yellow lashes were theonly thing not quite ordinary in his face: his right eye was veryslightly higher than his left and the left eyelid drooped a little,which made his eyes look different, strange and drowsy. Tyeglev'scountenance, which was not, however, without a certain attractiveness,almost always wore an expression of discontent mingled withperplexity, as though he were chasing within himself a gloomy thoughtwhich he was never able to catch. At the same time he did not give onethe impression of being stuck up: he might rather have been taken foran 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 inspeaking and only had recourse to them in writing; his handwriting wasquite like a child's. His superiors regarded him as an officer of nogreat merit--not particularly capable and not over-zealous. Thebrigadier-general, a man of German extraction, used to say of him: "Hehas punctuality but not precision." With the soldiers, too, Tyeglevhad the character of being neither one thing nor the other. He livedmodestly, in accordance with his means. He had been left an orphan atnine years old: his father and mother were drowned when they werebeing ferried across the Oka in the spring floods. He had beeneducated at a private school, where he had the reputation of being oneof the slowest and quietest of the boys, and at his own earnest desireand through the good offices of a cousin who was a man of influence,he obtained a commission in the horse-guards artillery; and, thoughwith some difficulty, passed his examination first as an ensign andthen as a second lieutenant. His relations with other officers weresomewhat strained. He was not liked, was rarely visited--and hehardly went to see anyone. He felt the presence of strangers aconstraint; he instantly became awkward and unnatural ... he had noinstinct for comradeship and was not on really intimate terms withanyone. But he was respected, and respected not for his character norfor his intelligence and education--but because the stamp whichdistinguishes "fatal" people was discerned in him. No one of hisfellow officers expected that Tyeglev would make a career ordistinguish himself in any way; but that Tyeglev might do somethingextraordinary or that Tyeglev might become a Napoleon was notconsidered impossible. For that is a matter of a man's "star"--and hewas regarded as a "man of destiny," just as there are "men of sighs"and "of tears."


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

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

  The second incident occurred a few days later, at a card party at thebattery commander's. Tyeglev sat in the corner and took no part in theplay. "Oh, if only I had a grandmother to tell me beforehand whatcards will win, as in Pushkin's _Queen of Spades_," cried alieutenant whose losses had nearly reached three thousand. Tyeglevapproached 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 th
ebottom card. "The ace of clubs!" he said and cut again: the bottomcard turned out to be the ace of clubs. "The king of diamonds!" hesaid for the third time in an angry whisper through his clenchedteeth--and he was right the third time, too ... and he suddenly turnedcrimson. He probably had not expected it himself. "A capital trick! Doit again," observed the commanding officer of the battery. "I don't goin for tricks," Tyeglev answered drily and walked into the other room.How it happened that he guessed the card right, I can't pretend toexplain: but I saw it with my own eyes. Many of the players presenttried to do the same--and not one of them succeeded: one or two didguess _one_ card but never two in succession. And Tyeglev hadguessed three! This incident strengthened still further his reputationas a mysterious, fatal character. It has