The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories
The Jeune Premier
YEVGENY ALEXEYITCH PODZHAROV, the jeune premier, a graceful, elegant young
man with an oval face and little bags under his eyes, had come for the season to one of
the southern towns of Russia, and tried at once to make the acquaintance of a few of the
leading families of the place. "Yes, signor," he would often say, gracefully swinging his
foot and displaying his red socks, "an artist ought to act upon the masses, both directly
and indirectly; the first aim is attained by his work on the stage, the second by an
acquaintance with the local inhabitants. On my honour, parole d'honneur, I don't
understand why it is we actors avoid making acquaintance with local families. Why is it?
To say nothing of dinners, name-day parties, feasts, soirées fixes, to say nothing of these
entertainments, think of the moral influence we may have on society! Is it not agreeable
to feel one has dropped a spark in some thick skull? The types one meets! The women!
Mon Dieu, what women! they turn one's head! One penetrates into some huge merchant's
house, into the sacred retreats, and picks out some fresh and rosy little peach-- it's
heaven, parole d'honneur!"
In the southern town, among other estimable families he made the acquaintance of that of
a manufacturer called Zybaev. Whenever he remembers that acquaintance now he frowns
contemptuously, screws up his eyes, and nervously plays with his watch-chain.
One day--it was at a name-day party at Zybaev's--the actor was sitting in his new friends'
drawing-room and holding forth as usual. Around him "types" were sitting in armchairs
and on the sofa, listening affably; from the next room came feminine laughter and the
sounds of evening tea. . . . Crossing his legs, after each phrase sipping tea with rum in it,
and trying to assume an expression of careless boredom, he talked of his stage triumphs.
"I am a provincial actor principally," he said, smiling condescendingly, "but I have
played in Petersburg and Moscow too. . . . By the way, I will describe an incident which
illustrates pretty well the state of mind of to-day. At my benefit in Moscow the young
people brought me such a mass of laurel wreaths that I swear by all I hold sacred I did not
know where to put them! Parole d'honneur! Later on, at a moment when funds were
short, I took the laurel wreaths to the shop, and . . . guess what they weighed. Eighty
pounds altogether. Ha, ha! you can't think how useful the money was. Artists, indeed, are
often hard up. To-day I have hundreds, thousands, tomorrow nothing. . . . To-day I
haven't a crust of bread, to-morrow I have oysters and anchovies, hang it all!"
The local inhabitants sipped their glasses decorously and listened. The well-pleased host,
not knowing how to make enough of his cultured and interesting visitor, presented to him
a distant relative who had just arrived, one Pavel Ignatyevitch Klimov, a bulky gentleman
about forty, wearing a long frock-coat and very full trousers.
"You ought to know each other," said Zybaev as he presented Klimov; "he loves theatres,
and at one time used to act himself. He has an estate in the Tula province."