“Oh, don’t say so, ma chere! You always talk like that; and there . . . sit down! Why, whatever he may be, we ought not to despise him. . . . There’s something good in everyone. Who knows,” sighed the colonel’s lady, looking her daughters up and down anxiously, “perhaps your fate is here. Change your dresses anyway. . . .”
SUNDAY, midday. A landowner, called Kamyshev, is sitting in his dining-room, deliberately eating his lunch at a luxuriously furnished table. Monsieur Champoun, a clean, neat, smoothly-shaven, old Frenchman, is sharing the meal with him. This Champoun had once been a tutor in Kamyshev’s household, had taught his children good manners, the correct pronunciation of French, and dancing: afterwards when Kamyshev’s children had grown up and become lieutenants, Champoun had become something like a bonne of the male sex. The duties of the former tutor were not complicated. He had to be properly dressed, to smell of scent, to listen to Kamyshev’s idle babble, to eat and drink and sleep—and apparently that was all. For this he received a room, his board, and an indefinite salary.
Kamyshev eats and as usual babbles at random.
“Damnation!” he says, wiping away the tears that have come into his eyes after a mouthful of ham thickly smeared with mustard. “Ough! It has shot into my head and all my joints. Your French mustard would not do that, you know, if you ate the whole potful.”
“Some like the French, some prefer the Russian. . .” Champoun assents mildly.
“No one likes French mustard except Frenchmen. And a Frenchman will eat anything, whatever you give him—frogs and rats and black beetles. . . brrr! You don’t like that ham, for instance, because it is Russian, but if one were to give you a bit of baked glass and tell you it was French, you would eat it and smack your lips. . . . To your thinking everything Russian is nasty.”
“I don’t say that.”
“Everything Russian is nasty, but if it’s French—o say tray zholee! To your thinking there is no country better than France, but to my mind. . . Why, what is France, to tell the truth about it? A little bit of land. Our police captain was sent out there, but in a month he asked to be transferred: there was nowhere to turn round! One can drive round the whole of your France in one day, while here when you drive out of the gate—you can see no end to the land, you can ride on and on. . .”
“Yes, monsieur, Russia is an immense country.”
“To be sure it is! To your thinking there are no better people than the French. Well-educated, clever people! Civilization! I agree, the French are all well-educated with elegant manners. . . that is true. . . . A Frenchman never allows himself to be rude: he hands a lady a chair at the right minute, he doesn’t eat crayfish with his fork, he doesn’t spit on the floor, but .