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About the end of the reign of the Emperor Paul I--that is to say, towards the middle of the
first year of the nineteenth century--just as four o'clock in the afternoon was sounding
from the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, whose gilded vane overlooks the ramparts of
the fortress, a crowd, composed of all sorts and conditions of people, began to gather in
front of a house which belonged to General Count Tchermayloff, formerly military
governor of a fair-sized town in the government of Pultava. The first spectators had been
attracted by the preparations which they saw had been made in the middle of the
courtyard for administering torture with the knout. One of the general's serfs, he who
acted as barber, was to be the victim.
Although this kind of punishment was a common enough sight in St. Petersburg, it
nevertheless attracted all passers-by when it was publicly administered. This was the
occurrence which had caused a crowd, as just mentioned, before General Tchermayloff's
The spectators, even had they been in a hurry, would have had no cause to complain of
being kept waiting, for at half-past four a young man of about five-and-twenty, in the
handsome uniform of an aide-de-camp, his breast covered with decorations, appeared on
the steps at the farther end of the court-yard in front of the house. These steps faced the
large gateway, and led to the general's apartments.
Arrived on the steps, the young aide-de-camp stopped a moment and fixed his eyes on a
window, the closely drawn curtains of which did not allow him the least chance of
satisfying his curiosity, whatever may have been its cause. Seeing that it was useless and
that he was only wasting time in gazing in that direction, he made a sign to a bearded
man who was standing near a door which led to the servants' quarters. The door was
immediately opened, and the culprit was seen advancing in the middle of a body of serfs
and followed by the executioner. The serfs were forced to attend the spectacle, that it
might serve as an example to them. The culprit was the general's barber, as we have said,
and the executioner was merely the coachman, who, being used to the handling of a whip,
was raised or degraded, which you will, to the office of executioner every time
punishment with the knout was ordered. This duty did not deprive him of either the
esteem or even the friendship of his comrades, for they well knew that it was his arm
alone that punished them and that his heart was not in his work. As Ivan's arm as well as
the rest of his body was the property of the general, and the latter could do as he pleased
with it, no one was astonished that it should be used for this purpose. More than that,
correction administered by Ivan was nearly always gentler than that meted out by
another; for it often happened that Ivan, who was a good-natured fellow, juggled away
one or two strokes of the knout in a dozen, or if he were forced by those assisting at the
punishment to keep a strict calculation, he manoeuvred so that the tip of the lash struck
the deal plank on which the culprit was lying, thus taking much of the sting out of the