BESIDES old managers, overseers, and foresters there is another type of man which is disappearing more and more from the face of the earth,—the old servant.
During my childhood, as I remember, my parents were served by one of those mammoths. After those mammoths there will soon be only bones in old cemeteries, in strata thickly covered with oblivion; from time to time investigators will dig them out. This old servant was called Mikolai Suhovolski; he was a noble from the noble village of Suha Vola, which he mentioned often in his stories. He came to my father from my grandfather of sacred memory, with whom he was an orderly in the time of the Napoleonic wars. He did not himself remember accurately when he began service with my grandfather; when he was asked for the date, he took snuff, and answered,—
"Yes, I was then without mustaches, and the colonel, God light his soul, was still very young."
In the house of my parents he fulfilled the most varied duties: he was butler; he was body-servant; in summer he went to the harvest fields in the rôle of overseer, in winter to the threshing; he kept the keys of the vodka room, the cellar, the granary; he wound up the clocks; but above all he kept the house in order.
I do not remember this man otherwise than scolding. He scolded my father, he scolded my mother; I feared him as fire, though I liked him. In the kitchen he worked off a whole breviary on the cook, he pulled the pantry boys by the ears through the house, and never was he content with anything. Whenever he got tipsy, which happened once a week, all avoided him, not because he permitted himself to have words with his master or mistress, but because whenever he fastened on any one, he followed that person all day, nagging and scolding without end.
During dinner, he stood behind my father's chair, and, though he did not serve, he watched the man who served, and poisoned life for him with a most particular passion.
"Take care, take care!" muttered he, "or I will take care of thee. Look at him! he cannot serve quickly, but drags his legs after him, like an old cow on the march. Take care again! He does not hear that his master is calling. Change her plate for the lady. Why art thou gaping? Why? Look at him! look at him!"
He interfered in conversation carried on at table, and opposed everything always. Frequently it happened that my father would turn during dinner and say to him,—
"Mikolai, tell Mateush after dinner to harness the horses; we will drive to such and such a place."
"Drive! why not drive? Oi yei! But are not horses for driving? Let the poor horses break their legs on such a road. If there is a visit to be made, it must be made. Of course their lordships are free; do I prevent them? I do not prevent. Why not visit? The accounts can wait, and the threshing can wait. The visit is more urgent."
"It is a torment with this Mikolai!" shouted my father sometimes, made impatient.
But Mikolai began again,—
"Do I say that I am not stupid? I know that I am stupid. The manager has gone to pay court to the priest's housekeeper in Nyevodov, and why shouldn't masters go on visits? Is a visit less important than paying court to a housekeeper? If 'tis permitted to the servant to go, it is permitted to the master."