‘I’ve something to tell you,’ observed Yermolaï, coming into the hut to see me. I had just had dinner, and was lying down on a travelling bed to rest a little after a fairly successful but fatiguing day of grouse-shooting — it was somewhere about the 10th of July, and the heat was terrific. . . . ‘I’ve something to tell you: all our shot’s gone.’
I jumped off the bed.
‘All gone? How’s that? Why, we took pretty nearly thirty pounds with us from the village — a whole bag!’
‘That’s so; and a big bag it was: enough for a fortnight. But there’s no knowing! There must have been a hole come in it, or something; anyway, there’s no shot . . . that’s to say, there’s enough for ten charges left.’
‘What are we to do now? The very best places are before us — we’re promised six coveys for to-morrow. . . . ’
‘Well, send me to Tula. It’s not so far from here; only forty miles. I’ll fly like the wind, and bring forty pounds of shot if you say the word.’
‘But when would you go?’
‘Why, directly. Why put it off? Only, I say, we shall have to hire horses.’
‘Why hire horses? Why not our own?’
‘We can’t drive there with our own. The shaft horse has gone lame . . . terribly!’
‘Since when’s that?’
‘Well, the other day, the coachman took him to be shod. So he was shod, and the blacksmith, I suppose, was clumsy. Now, he can’t even step on the hoof. It’s a front leg. He lifts it up . . . like a dog.’
‘Well? they’ve taken the shoe off, I suppose, at least?’
‘No, they’ve not; but, of course, they ought to take it off. A nail’s been driven right into the flesh, I should say.’
I ordered the coachman to be summoned. It turned out that Yermolaï had spoken the truth: the shaft-horse really could not put its hoof to the ground. I promptly gave orders for it to have the shoe taken off, and to be stood on damp clay.
‘Then do you wish me to hire horses to go to Tula?’ Yermolaï persisted.
‘Do you suppose we can get horses in this wilderness?’ I exclaimed with involuntary irritation. The village in which we found ourselves was a desolate, God-forsaken place; all its inhabitants seemed to be poverty-stricken; we had difficulty in discovering one hut, moderately roomy, and even that one had no chimney.
‘Yes,’ replied Yermolaï with his habitual equanimity; ‘what you said about this village is true enough; but there used to be living in this very place one peasant — a very clever fellow! rich too! He had nine horses. He’s dead, and his eldest son manages it all now. The man’s a perfect fool, but still he’s not had time to waste his father’s wealth yet. We can get horses from him. If you say the word, I will fetch him. His brothers, I’ve heard say, are smart chaps . . . but still, he’s their head.’
‘Because — he’s the eldest! Of course, the younger ones must obey!’ Here Yermolaï, in reference to younger brothers as a class, expressed himself with a vigour quite unsuitable for print.
‘I’ll fetch him. He’s a simple fellow. With him you can’t fail to come to terms.’
While Yermolaï went after his ‘simple fellow’ the idea occurred to me that it might be better for me to drive into Tula myself. In the first place, taught by experience, I had no very great confidence in Yermolaï: I had once sent him to the town for purchases; he had promised to get through all my commissions in one day, and was gone a whole week, drank up all the money, and came back on foot, though he had set off in my racing droshky. And, secondly, I had an acquaintance in Tula, a horsedealer; I might buy a horse off him to take the place of the disabled shaft-horse.
‘The thing’s decided!’ I thought; ‘I’ll drive over myself; I can sleep just as well on the road — luckily, the coach is comfortable.’
‘I’ve brought him!’ cried Yermolaï, rushing into the hut a quarter of an hour later. He was followed by a tall peasant in a white shirt, blue breeches, and bast shoes, with white eyebrows and short-sighted eyes, a wedge-shaped red beard, a long swollen nose, and a gaping mouth. He certainly did look ‘simple.’
‘Here, your honour,’ observed Yermolaï, ‘he has horses — and he’s willing.’
‘So be, surely, I’ . . . the peasant began hesitatingly in a rather hoarse voice, shaking his thin wisps of hair, and drumming with his fingers on the band of the cap he held in his hands. . . . ‘Surely, I. . . . ’
‘What’s your name?’ I inquired.
The peasant looked down and seemed to think deeply. ‘My name?’
‘Yes; what are you called?’
‘Why my name ‘ull be — Filofey.’
‘Well, then, friend Filofey; I hear you have horses. Bring a team of three here — we’ll put them in my coach — it’s a light one — and you drive me in to Tula. There’s a moon now at night; it’s light, and it’s cool for driving. What sort of a road have you here?’
‘The road? There’s naught amiss with the road. To the main road it will be sixteen miles — not more. . . . There’s one little place . . . a bit awkward; but naught amiss else.’
‘What sort of little place is it that’s awkward?’
‘Well, we’ll have to cross the river by the ford.’
‘But are you thinking of going to Tula yourself?’ inquired Yermolaï.
‘Oh!’ commented my faithful servant with a shake of his head. ‘Oh-oh!’ he repeated; then he spat on the floor and walked out of the room.
The expedition to Tula obviously no longer presented any features of interest to him; it had become for him a dull and unattractive business.
‘Do you know the road well?’ I said, addressing Filofey.
‘Surely, we know the road! Only, so to say, please your honour, can’t . . . so on the sudden, so to say . . . ’
It appeared that Yermolaï, on engaging Filofey, had stated that he could be sure that, fool as he was, he’d be paid . . . and nothing more! Filofey, fool as he was — in Yermolaï‘s words — was not satisfied with this statement alone. He demanded, of me fifty roubles — an exorbitant price; I offered him ten — a low price. We fell to haggling; Filofey at first was stubborn; then he began to come down, but slowly. Yermolaï entering for an instant began assuring me, ‘that fool —(‘He’s fond of the word, seemingly!’ Filofey remarked in a low voice)—‘that fool can’t reckon money at all,’ and reminded me how twenty years ago a posting tavern established by my mother at the crossing of two high-roads came to complete grief from the fact that the old house-serf who was put there to manage it positively did not understand reckoning money, but valued sums simply by the number of coins — in fact, gave silver coins in change for copper, though he would swear furiously all the time.
‘Ugh, you Filofey! you’re a regular Filofey!’ Yermolaï jeered at last — and he went out, slamming the door angrily.
Filofey made him no reply, as though admitting that to be called Filofey was — as a fact — not very clever of him, and that a man might fairly be reproached for such a name, though really it was the village priest was to blame in the matter for not having done better by him at his christening.
At last we agreed, however, on the sum of twenty roubles. He went off for the horses, and an hour later brought five for me to choose from. The horses turned out to be fairly good, though their manes and tails were tangled, and their bellies round and taut as drums. With Filofey came two of his brothers, not in the least like him. Little, black-eyed, sharp-nosed fellows, they certainly produced the impression of ‘smart chaps’; they talked a great deal, very fast —‘clacked away,’ as Yermolaï expressed it — but obeyed the elder brother.
They dragged the coach out of the shed and were busy about it and the horses for an hour and a half; first they let out the traces, which were of cord, then pulled them too tight again! Both brothers were very much set on harnessing the ‘roan’ in the shafts, because ‘him can do best going down-hill’; but Filofey decided for ‘the shaggy one.’ So the shaggy one was put in the shafts accordingly.
They heaped the coach up with hay, put the collar off the lame shaft-horse under the seat, in case we might want to fit it on to the horse to be bought at Tula. . . . Filofey, who had managed to run home and come back in a long, white, loose, ancestral overcoat, a high sugar-loaf cap, and tarred boots, clambered triumphantly up on to the box. I took my seat, looking at my watch: it was a quarter past ten. Yermolaï did not even say good-bye to me — he was engaged in beating his Valetka — Filofey tugged at the reins, and shouted in a thin, thin voice: ‘Hey! you little ones!’
His brothers skipped away on both sides, lashed the trace-horses under the belly, and the coach started, turned out of the gates into the street, the shaggy one tried to turn off towards his own home, but Filofey brought him to reason with a few strokes of the whip, and behold! we were already out of the village, and rolling along a fairly even road, between close-growing bushes of thick hazels.
It was a still, glorious night, the very nicest for driving. A breeze rustled now and then in the bushes, set the twigs swinging and died away again; in the sky could be seen motionless, silvery clouds; the moon stood high and threw a bright light on all around. I stretched myself on the hay, and was just beginning to doze . . . but I remembered the ‘awkward place,’ and started up.
‘I say, Filofey, is it far to the ford?’
‘To the ford? It’ll be near upon seven miles.’
‘Seven miles!’ I mused. ‘We shan’t get there for another hour. I can have a nap meanwhile. Filofey, do you know the road well?’ I asked again.
‘Surely; how could I fail to know it? It’s not the first time I’ve driven.’
He said something more, but I had ceased to listen. . . . I was asleep.
I was awakened not, as often happens, by my own intention of waking in exactly an hour, but by a sort of strange, though faint, lapping, gurgling sound at my very ear. I raised my head. . . .
Wonderful to relate! I was lying in the coach as before, but all round the coach, half a foot, not more, from its edge, a sheet of water lay shining in the moonlight, broken up into tiny, distinct, quivering eddies. I looked in front. On the box, with back bowed and head bent, Filofey was sitting like a statue, and a little further on, above the rippling water, I saw the curved arch of the yoke, and the horses’ heads and backs. And everything as motionless, as noiseless, as though in some enchanted realm, in a dream — a dream of fairyland. . . . ‘What does it mean?’ I looked back from under the hood of the coach. . . . ‘Why, we are in the middle of the river!’ . . . the bank was thirty paces from us.
‘Filofey!’ I cried.
‘What?’ he answered.
‘What, indeed! Upon my word! Where are we?’
‘In the river.’
‘I see we’re in the river. But, like this, we shall be drowned directly. Is this how you cross the ford? Eh? Why, you’re asleep, Filofey! Answer, do!’
‘I’ve made a little mistake,’ observed my guide;
‘I’ve gone to one side, a bit wrong, but now we’ve got to wait a bit.’
‘Got to wait a bit? What ever are we going to wait for?’
‘Well, we must let the shaggy one look about him; which way he turns his head, that way we’ve got to go.’
I raised myself on the hay. The shaft-horse’s head stood quite motionless. Above the head one could only see in the bright moonlight one ear slightly twitching backwards and forwards.
‘Why, he’s asleep too, your shaggy one!’
‘No,’ responded Filofey,’ ‘he’s sniffing the water now.’
And everything was still again; there was only the faint gurgle of the water as before. I sank into a state of torpor.
Moonlight, and night, and the river, and we in it. . . .
‘What is that croaking noise?’ I asked Filofey.
‘That? Ducks in the reeds . . . or else snakes.’
All of a sudden the head of the shaft-horse shook, his ears pricked up; he gave a snort, began to move. ‘Ho-ho, ho-ho-o!’ Filofey began suddenly bawling at the top of his voice; he sat up and brandished the whip. The coach was at once tugged away from where it had stuck, it plunged forward, cleaving the waters of the river, and moved along, swaying and lurching from side to side. . . . At first it seemed to me we were sinking, getting deeper; however, after two or three tugs and jolts, the expanse of water seemed suddenly lower. . . . It got lower and lower, the coach seemed to grow up out of it, and now the wheels and the horses’ tails could be seen, and now stirring with a mighty splashing of big drops, scattering showers of diamonds — no, not diamonds — sapphires in the dull brilliance of the moon, the horses with a spirited pull all together drew us on to the sandy bank and trotted along the road to the hill-side, their shining white legs flashing in rivalry.
‘What will Filofey say now?’ was the thought that glanced through my mind; ‘you see I was right!’ or something of that sort. But he said nothing. So I too did not think it necessary to reproach him for carelessness, and lying down in the hay, I tried again to go to sleep.
But I could not go to sleep, not because I was not tired from hunting, and not because the exciting experience I had just been through had dispelled my sleepiness: it was that we were driving through such very beautiful country. There were liberal, wide-stretching, grassy riverside meadows, with a multitude of small pools, little lakes, rivulets, creeks overgrown at the ends with branches and osiers — a regular Russian scene, such as Russians love, like the scenes amid which the heroes of our old legends rode out to shoot white swans and grey ducks. The road we were driven along wound in a yellowish ribbon, the horses ran lightly — and I could not close my eyes. I was admiring! And it all floated by, softened into harmony under the kindly light of the moon. Filofey — he too was touched by it.
‘Those meadows are called St. Yegor’s,’ he said, turning to me. ‘And beyond them come the Grand Duke’s; there are no other meadows like them in all Russia. . . . Ah, it’s lovely!’ The shaft-horse snorted and shook itself. . . . ‘God bless you,’ commented Filofey gravely in an undertone. ‘How lovely!’ he repeated with a sigh; then he gave a long sort of grunt. ‘There, mowing time’s just upon us, and think what hay they’ll rake up there! — regular mountains! — And there are lots of fish in the creeks. Such bream!’ he added in a sing-song voice. ‘In one word, life’s sweet — one doesn’t want to die.’
He suddenly raised his hand.
‘Hullo! look-ee! over the lake . . . is it a crane standing there? Can it be fishing at night? Bless me! it’s a branch, not a crane. Well, that was a mistake! But the moon is always so deceptive.’
So we drove on and on. . . . But now the end of the meadows had been reached, little copses and ploughed fields came into view; a little village flashed with two or three lights on one side — it was only four miles now to the main road. I fell asleep.
Again I did not wake up of my own accord. This time I was roused by the voice of Filofey.
‘Master! . . . hey, master!’
I sat up. The coach was standing still on level ground in the very middle of the high-road. Filofey, who had turned round on the box, so as to face me, with wide-open eyes (I was positively surprised at them; I couldn’t have imagined he had such large eyes), was whispering with mysterious significance:
‘A rattle! . . . a rattle of wheels!’
‘What do you say?’
‘I say, there’s a rattling! Bend down and listen. Do you hear it?’
I put my head out of the coach, held my breath, and did catch, somewhere in the distance, far behind us, a faint broken sound, as of wheels rolling.
‘Do you hear it?’ repeated Filofey.
‘Well, yes,’ I answered. ‘Some vehicle is coming.’
‘Oh, you don’t hear . . . shoo! The tambourines . . . and whistling too. . . . Do you hear? Take off your cap . . . you will hear better.’
I didn’t take off my cap, but I listened.
‘Well, yes . . . perhaps. But what of it?’
Filofey turned round facing the horses.
‘It’s a cart coming . . . lightly; iron-rimmed wheels,’ he observed, and he took up the reins. ‘It’s wicked folks coming, master; hereabouts, you know, near Tula, they play a good many tricks.’
‘What nonsense! What makes you suppose it’s sure to be wicked people?’
‘I speak the truth . . . with tambourines . . . and in an empty cart. . . . Who should it be?’
‘Well . . . is it much further to Tula?’
‘There’s twelve miles further to go, and not a habitation here.’
‘Well, then, get on quicker; it’s no good lingering.’
Filofey brandished the whip, and the coach rolled on again.
Though I did not put much faith in Filofey, I could not go to sleep. ‘What if it really is so?’ A disagreeable sensation began to stir in me. I sat up in the coach — till then I had lain down — and began looking in all directions. While I had been asleep, a slight fog had come over, not the earth, but the sky; it stood high, the moon hung a whitish patch in it, as though in smoke. Everything had grown dim and blended together, though it was clearer near the ground. Around us flat, dreary country; fields, nothing but fields — here and there bushes and ravines — and again fields, mostly fallow, with scanty, dusty grass. A wilderness . . . deathlike! If only a quail had called!
We drove on for half an hour. Filofey kept constantly cracking his whip and clicking with his lips, but neither he nor I uttered a word. So we mounted the hillside. . . . Filofey pulled up the horses, and promptly said again:
‘It is a rattle of wheels, master; yes, it is!’
I poked my head out of the coach again, but I might have stayed under the cover of the hood, so distinctly, though still from a distance, the sound reached me of cart-wheels, men whistling, the jingling of tambourines, and even the thud of horses’ hoofs; I even fancied I could hear singing and laughter. The wind, it is true, was blowing from there, but there was no doubt that the unknown travellers were a good mile, perhaps two, nearer us. Filofey and I looked at one another; he only gave his hat a tweak forward from behind, and at once, bending over the reins, fell to whipping up the horses. They set off at a gallop, but they could not gallop for long, and fell back into a trot again. Filofey continued to whip them. We must get away!
I can’t account for the fact that, though I had not at first shared Filofey’s apprehensions, about this time I suddenly gained the conviction that we really were being followed by highwaymen. . . . I had heard nothing new: the same tambourines, the same rattle of a cart without a load, the same intermittent whistling, the same confused uproar. . . . But now I had no doubt. Filofey could not have made a mistake!
And now twenty minutes more had gone by. . . . During the last of these twenty minutes, even through the clatter and rumble of our own carriage, we could hear another clatter and another rumbling. . . .
‘Stop, Filofey,’ I said; ‘it’s no use — the end’s the same!’
Filofey uttered a faint-hearted ‘wo’! The horses instantaneously stopped, as though delighted at the chance of resting!
Mercy upon us! the tambourines were simply booming away just behind our backs, the cart was rattling and creaking, the men were whistling, shouting, and singing, the horses were snorting and thumping on the ground with their hoofs. . . . They had overtaken us!
‘Bad luck,’ Filofey commented, in an emphatic undertone; and, clicking to the horses irresolutely, he began to urge them on again. But at that very instant there was a sort of sudden rush and whizz, and a very big, wide cart, harnessed with three lean horses, cut sharply at a rush up to us, galloped in front, and at once fell into a walking pace, blocking up the road.
‘A regular brigand’s trick!’ murmured Filofey. I must own I felt a cold chill at my heart. . . . I fell to staring before me with strained attention in the half-darkness of the misty moonlight. In the cart in front of us were — half-lying, half-sitting — six men in shirts, and in unbuttoned rough overcoats; two of them had no caps on; huge feet in boots were swinging and hanging over the cart-rail, arms were rising and falling helter-skelter . . . bodies were jolting backwards and forwards. . . . It was quite clear — a drunken party. Some were bawling at random; one was whistling very correctly and shrilly, another was swearing; on the driver’s seat sat a sort of giant in a cape, driving. They went at a walking pace, as’ though paying no attention to us.
What was to be done? We followed them also at a walking pace . . . we could do nothing else.
For a quarter of a mile we moved along in this manner. The suspense was torturing. . . . To protect, to defend ourselves, was out of the question! There were six of them; and I hadn’t even a stick! Should we turn back? But they would catch us up directly. I remembered the line of Zhukovsky (in the passage where he speaks of the murder of field-marshal Kamensky):
‘The scoundrel highwayman’s vile axe! . . . ’
Or else — strangling with filthy cord . . . flung into a ditch . . . there to choke and struggle like a hare in a trap. . . .
Ugh, it was horrid!
And they, as before, went on at a walking pace, taking no notice of us.
‘Filofey!’ I whispered,‘just try, keep more to the right; see if you can get by.’
Filofey tried — kept to the right . . . but they promptly kept to the right too . . . It was impossible to get by.
Filofey made another effort; he kept to the left. . . . But there, again, they did not let him pass the cart. They even laughed aloud. That meant that they wouldn’t let us pass.
‘Then they are a bad lot,’ Filofey whispered to me over his shoulder.
‘But what are they waiting for?’ I inquired, also in a whisper.
‘To reach the bridge — over there in front — in the hollow — above the stream. . . . They’ll do for us there! That’s always their way . . . by bridges. It’s a clear case for us, master.’ He added with a sigh: ‘They’ll hardly let us go alive; for the great thing for them is to keep it all dark. I’m sorry for one thing, master; my horses are lost, and my brothers won’t get them!’
I should have been surprised at the time that Filofey could still trouble about his horses at such a moment; but, I must confess, I had no thoughts for him. . . . ‘Will they really kill me?’ I kept repeating mentally. ‘Why should they? I’ll give them everything I have. . . . ’
And the bridge was getting nearer and nearer; it could be more and more clearly seen.
Suddenly a sharp whoop was heard; the cart before us, as it were, flew ahead, dashed along, and reaching the bridge, at once stopped stock-still a little on one side of the road. My heart fairly sank like lead.
‘Ah, brother Filofey,’ I said, ‘we are going to our death. Forgive me for bringing you to ruin.’
‘As though it were your fault, master! There’s no escaping one’s fate! Come, Shaggy, my trusty little horse,’ Filofey addressed the shaft-horse; ‘step on, brother! Do your last bit of service! It’s all the same . . . ’
And he urged his horses into a trot We began to get near the bridge — near that motionless, menacing cart. . . . In it everything was silent, as though on purpose. Not a single halloo! It was the stillness of the pike or the hawk, of every beast of prey, as its victim approaches. And now we were level with the cart. . . . Suddenly the giant in the cape sprang out of the cart, and came straight towards us!
He said nothing to Filofey, but the latter, of his own accord, tugged at the reins. . . . The coach stopped. The giant laid both arms on the carriage door, and bending forward his shaggy head with a grin, he uttered the following speech in a soft, even voice, with the accent of a factory hand:
‘Honoured sir, we are coming from an honest feast — from a wedding; we’ve been marrying one of our fine fellows — that is, we’ve put him to bed; we’re all young lads, reckless chaps — there’s been a good deal of drinking, and nothing to sober us; so wouldn’t your honour be so good as to favour us, the least little, just for a dram of brandy for our mate? We’d drink to your health, and remember your worship; but if you won’t be gracious to us — well, we beg you not to be angry!’
‘What’s the meaning of this?’ I thought. . . . ‘A joke? . . . a jeer?’
The giant continued to stand with bent head. At that very instant the moon emerged from the fog and lighted up his face. There was a grin on the face, in the eyes, and on the lips. But there was nothing threatening to be seen in it . . . only it seemed, as it were, all on the alert . . . and the teeth were so white and large. . . .
‘I shall be pleased . . . take this . . . ’ I said hurriedly, and pulling my purse out of my pocket, I took out two silver roubles — at that time silver was still circulating in Russia —‘here, if that’s enough?’
‘Much obliged!’ bawled the giant, in military fashion; and his fat fingers in a flash snatched from me — not the whole purse — but only the two roubles: ‘much obliged!’ He shook his hair back, and ran up to the cart.
‘Lads!’ he shouted, ‘the gentleman makes us a present of two silver roubles!’ They all began, as it were, gabbling at once. . . . The giant rolled up on to the driver’s seat. . . .
‘Good luck to you, master!’
And that was the last we saw of them. The horses dashed on, the cart rumbled up the hill; once more it stood out on the dark line separating the earth from the sky, went down, and vanished.
And now the rattle of the wheels, the shouts and tambourines, could not be heard. . . .
There was a death-like silence.
Filofey and I could not recover ourselves all at once.
‘Ah, you’re a merry fellow!’ he commented at last, and taking off his hat he began crossing himself. ‘Fond of a joke, on my word,’ he added, and he turned to me, beaming all over. ‘But he must be a capital fellow — on my word! Now, now, now, little ones, look alive! You’re safe! We are all safe! It was he who wouldn’t let us get by; it was he who drove the horses. What a chap for a joke! Now, now! get on, in God’s name!’
I did not speak, but I felt happy too. ‘We are safe!’ I repeated to myself, and lay down on the hay. ‘We’ve got off cheap!’
I even felt rather ashamed that I had remembered that line of Zhukovsky’s.
Suddenly an idea occurred to me.
‘What is it?’
‘Are you married?’
‘And have you children?’
‘How was it you didn’t think of them? You were sorry for your horses: weren’t you sorry for your wife and children?’
‘Why be sorry for them? They weren’t going to fall into the hands of thieves, you know. But I kept them in my mind all the while, and I do now . . . surely.’ Filofey paused. . . . ‘May be . . . it was for their sake Almighty God had mercy on us.’
‘But if they weren’t highwaymen?’
‘How can we tell? Can one creep into the soul of another? Another’s soul, we know, is a dark place. But, with the thought of God in the heart, things are always better. . . . No, no! . . . I’d my family all the time. . . . Gee . . . gee-up! little ones, in God’s name!’
It was already almost daylight; we began to drive into Tula. I was lying, dreamy and half-asleep.
‘Master,’ Filofey said to me suddenly, ‘look: there they’re stopping at the tavern . . . their cart.’
I raised my head . . . there they were, and their cart and horses. In the doorway of the drinking-house there suddenly appeared our friend, the giant in the cape. ‘Sir!’ he shouted, waving his cap, ‘we’re drinking your health! — Hey, coachman,’ he added, wagging his head at Filofey; ‘you were a bit scared, I shouldn’t wonder, hey?’
‘A merry fellow!’ observed Filofey when we had driven nearly fifty yards from the tavern.
We got into Tula at last: I bought shot, and while I was about it, tea and spirits, and even got a horse from the horse-dealer.
At mid-day we set off home again. As we drove by the place where we first heard the rattle of the cart behind us, Filofey, who, having had something to drink at Tula, turned out to be very talkative — he even began telling me fairy-tales — as he passed the place, suddenly burst out laughing.
‘Do you remember, master, how I kept saying to you, “A rattle . . . a rattle of wheels,” I said!’
He waved his hand several times. This expression struck him as most amusing. The same evening we got back to his village.
I related the adventure that had befallen us to Yermolaï. Being sober, he expressed no sympathy; he only gave a grunt — whether of approval or reproach, I imagine he did not know himself. But two days later he informed me, with great satisfaction, that the very night Filofey and I had been driving to Tula, and on the very road, a merchant had been robbed and murdered. I did not at first put much faith in this, but later on I was obliged to believe it: it was confirmed by the police captain, who came galloping over in consequence.
Was not that perhaps the ‘wedding’ our brave spirits were returning from? — wasn’t that the ‘fine fellow’ they had ‘put to bed,’ in the words of the jocose giant? I stayed five days longer in Filofey’s village. Whenever I meet him I always say to him: ‘A rattle of wheels? Eh?’
‘A merry fellow!’ he always answers, and bursts out laughing.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01