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The Old Man (3)

May 18, 2016


I spent a bad night. After my recent illness, my nerves were in a sorry state, God knows, and I imagined all sorts of things my first night in that large and unfamiliar house. One moment I heard uneven steps in the hallway, and the next fragments of the sounds of voices. I would jump up in bed and listen with my heart terribly still; but the sounds would suddenly fade away. In the end I gave up sleep, lit a candle, and once I had calmed down, I began to examine the objects that surrounded me. On a wide section of wall opposite my bed hung some family portraits in blackened frames that were not particularly large or elegant.  One of them depicted an old man wearing powder and a black suit, with a hooked nose and a double chin. His look was haughty, his head tilted back; but the painter had tried to emphasize this expression, violently pulling up his lower lip so that it rested right under his nose. Next to the portrait of the old man, in an ugly gold frame bedecked with stars, hung in all its splendor a pastel depicting a young woman with a long, curved neck and a thirty-inch bodice who had a dove on her shoulder; the whole pose betrayed pretentions to a head by Greuze. The third portrait was painted in oils and seemed an outsider in the family circle; in the first place, it was hung simply, with no frame, on a nail that protruded through the canvas, and in the second place, it was the portrait of a handsome, dark-haired young man wearing a military coat of modern cut. In the morning I learned from Rostislav that this was a portrait, painted by Tropinin some 15 years ago, of a previous owner of Politino, who, dying, had directed his wife not to sell this village, where he had been born and had grown up. But the will of the deceased was not carried out; and now, Rostislav added, there is a belief among the peasants of Politino that the shade of the deceived owner appears at night a few times a year with a candle, in that very summer house where, according to my aunt, there were snakes. It was true, Rostislav said, that night watchmen occasionally saw a light in the frame of the locked glass door. During the day I was braver than I was in the evening, and I laughed at the tale Rostislav had invented; but he swore it was no tale and referred me to the house-serfs and peasants as witnesses.


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Ночь я провела плохо. После недавней болезни, мои нервы были в плачевном состоянии, и Бог знает, чего мне не мерещилось на новосельи, в большом незнакомом доме. Мне слышались то неровные шаги в коридоре, то отрывистые звуки голосов. Я вскакивала на постели и прислушивалась с страшным замиранием сердца; но звуки затихали вдруг. Я кончила тем, что отказалась от сна, зажгла свечу и, успокоившись, принялась разглядывать окружающие меня предметы. На широком простенке, против моей кровати, висели в почерневших рамках, небольшие и неизящные семейные портреты; один из них изображал старика в пудре и черном фраке, с горбоватым носом и двойным подбородком; он смотрел надменно, опрокинув голову назад; но живописец старался усилить это выражение, неистово вздернув нижнюю губу, так, что она лежала под самым носом. Рядом с портретом старика, в безобразной золотой рамке, усыпанной звездочками, красовался пастель, изображающий молодую женщину, с выгнутой шеей, с лифом в полтора вершка ширины, и голубем на плече; вся поза обличала претензию на Грёзовскую головку. Третий портрет был писан масляными красками, и смотрел пришельцем в семейном кругу; во-первых, он просто, без рамы, был повешен на гвоздь, который пробивался наружу сквозь полотно; во-вторых, это был портрет красивого, черноволосого молодого человека, в военной шубе современного покроя. Утром я узнала от Ростислава, что это портрет, писанный Тропининым, лет 15 тому назад, с бывшего политинского владельца, который, умирая, завещал своей жене не продавать этой деревни, где он родился и воспитывался. Но воля покойного не была исполнена; и теперь, прибавил Ростислав, между политинскими крестьянами есть поверие, что несколько раз в году тень оскорбленного владельца является ночью со свечею, в той самой беседке, в которой, по словам моей тетушки, развелись змеи. Верно то, говорил Ростислав, что караульным случается видеть свет в раме запертой стеклянной двери. Днем я была бодрее, нежели вечером, и смеялась басне, выдуманной Ростиславом; но он божился, что это не басня, и ссылался на дворовых и крестьян, как на очевидцев.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2016 8:12 am

    I’m enjoying this puzzle greatly, and so far I have no idea who the author is! I don’t know if you’re looking for comments on the translation — if not, let me know — but I don’t think “God knows what I did not imagine” works in English; you’d have to say “I imagined all sorts of things” or the like.

    • May 19, 2016 9:02 am

      Thanks! That’s exactly the kind of comment I’m looking for, and I completely agree with you – it’s one of those lines where, looking at it again, I’m not sure how I made myself think it sounded right in English. For ease of reading I think I’ll change the post without using strikethrough, and these comments can be a record of what changed and why.

      Hmmm – I wonder if “God knows I imagined all sorts of things” (or similar) would work. It would be nice to keep the casual invocation of God. Or maybe move “God knows”: “After my recent illness, my nerves were in a sorry state, God knows, and I imagined all sorts of things my first night in that large and unfamiliar house.” I’ll try that for now, and further suggestions are welcome.

  2. July 23, 2016 2:12 pm

    7/23/16: changed “развились змеи” in the Russian to “развелись змеи” – the source text does have “развились,” but I think it must be a typo. Also changed forms of политинский to start with a lowercase letter, as is usually done in modern orthography for adjectives from place names.

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