Tchichikoff was reclining comfortably, and in an excellent temper of mind in his britchka, which was now rolling rapidly along the high road. In the preceding chapters a little something has already transpired with reference to what his principal object consisted in, what his taste and inclination were, and for that reason it cannot be surprising that he, soon after his departure from Maniloff’s house, plunged body and soul into a reverie upon what had passed between himself and his new friend.
Supposition, circumspection, anticipation seemed in turn to occupy his mind; and his speculations must have been of a pleasant nature, for his face betrayed it; and he seemed, as it were, to smile inwardly. Thus engrossed with his own thoughts, he did not pay the slightest attention to his coachman Selifan, who in his turn and in consequence of the excellent reception which he had met with among Maniloff’s servants, was engaged in giving a lecture peculiar to himself, to the tiger-spotted outside horse, the reins of which he held fast in his right hand.
This tiger-spotted horse, as he used to call it, was, in his opinion a very sly and vicious animal indeed, for it only pretended to pull as hard as its two helpmates, whilst the brown insider or leader, who was of a more straightforward disposition, was doing his work most heartily. The natural fondness of Russian coachmen for their horses, goes frequently so far that they will speak to them as if to rational beings, and such a discourse, if it may be called so, took place between Selifan and his three horses that were attached before the britchka.
“Oh, you artful scamp; but wait a moment, I’ll dodge you!” said Selifan, rising slightly upon his seat and giving a smack with his whip to the idler. “I’ll teach you what your duty is, you German pantaloon. The brown one is a respectable horse, for he is doing his work like a horse, and I shall give him with pleasure an extra measure, because he is an honourable horse, and so is the leader too. Na, nuh! you are shaking your head, are you? You are a fool; listen, I’ll tell you, when you are spoken to! for I shall not teach you anything that is wrong, you Master Careless! Look up! where you are going!”
Here he gave him another hearty correction with his whip and added: “Oh, you robber of a horse!” After this he indulged all three with a shout as the jamtchicks are accustomed to do. “Halloah yo, my darlings!” and laid the whip gently across their shoulders, but not with a feeling of anger, but by way of encouragement, as if satisfied with all three. Having thus shown them a little of his approbation, he again addressed his observations to the tiger-spotted idler.
“No, my fine fellow, you must be steady if you wish the world to acknowledge your merits. Look you here and listen; at the gentleman’s house where we have been, there are some worthy people, and such persons I like to speak to and have some intercourse with; because everyone likes to be on friendly terms with good people. I had tea with them and ate and drank many a good thing there, because it gives me pleasure to do so among worthy people. A virtuous man meets with due respect everywhere. Look for an example at our master, he is esteemed by everybody; because, now, will you listen? because he served his country and the Emperor well, and is now a Councillor of State in consequence.”
Thus reasoning, Selifan lost himself at last in the most abstract arguments. And if Tchichikoff had been listening he might have heard the most curious and interesting observations concerning himself personally; but his thoughts were so much occupied with his own projects, that a sudden, and loud clap of thunder alone could awake him to the scene around him, and cause him to look up again at the exterior world; the sky was covered with heavy dark clouds in all directions, and the dusty high road became sprinkled with heavy rain-drops. Soon after the thunder-peals were more frequent, they grew louder and nearer, and at last the rain came down as if out of a bucket.
At first the rain came sideways, and fell heavily on the left flank of the britchka, then it changed suddenly and washed its other side, until at last it began to fall horizontally upon the leathern roof of the carriage and continued to drum upon it with renewed power, and the drops at last reached even the face of our traveller. This induced him to draw down the leathern blind with its round glass holes, through which he began to examine the scenes around him and give the order to Selifan to drive quicker. Selifan also, had been unpleasantly interrupted in the midst of his reflections, and without losing an instant he produced from under his seat a something in the shape of a miserable-looking grey cloth cloak into the tattered sleeves of which he slipped his arms as speedily as the numerous holes would allow him to do, and then snatching up again the reins, he used once more his whip; and his troika sped on again with fresh vigour, as if the rain as well as Selifan’s mode of encouraging them had had the most invigorating effects upon the horses.
As for Selifan, he could not for the life of him remember whether he had passed the second or the third turning. Imagining a great deal and recollecting a little of the road he had just passed, he guessed that he had already left many a turning on either side of the road behind him. Thus then like many Russians, never at a loss for imagination what to do next in a decisive moment, and without venturing into long speculations, he took the first turning to his right and shouting again: “halloah yo, my darlings!” he drove his horses into a full gallop, never caring for a moment, whither this road may lead him next.
The rain seemed to have set in with the appearance to last for sometime. The dust of the high-road was now converted into a thick paste of mud, and with every moment it became more difficult for the horses to pull through it. Tchichikoff already began to feel uneasy at not seeing anything yet of Sobakevitch’s estate, for, according to his calculations, they ought to have been there long ago. He tried again to look through the glass holes of his leather curtains; but to no purpose, it seemed as if an Egyptian darkness surrounded them.
“Selifan!” he at last shouted and popped his head out through the curtain.
“What does your glory wish?” replied Selifan.
“Look about you, don’t you see the village yet?”
“No, your glory, I cannot see it anywhere.” After having spoken thus, Selifan belaboured his horses once more and began a song—no, rather a tune, like the “Lieder ohne Worte” of Mendelsohn Bartholdy—without an end. In this tune were comprised all the sounds of approbation and reproach addressed to all the horses by their drivers, throughout the vast expanse of the Russian Empire, from one extremity to the other; suitable under all circumstances just as it comes to the mind and upon the tongue, naturally, without choice or preparation.
Meanwhile, Tchichikoff began to feel that his britchka was balancing about on all sides, and dealt him many an unpleasant shaking and severe knocks; these unpleasant sensations brought him to the conclusion that they must have deviated from the high-road, and were now driving over some uneven field. Selifan seemed also to be under the same impression, however, he did not say a word about it.
“You blunderbuss, upon what road are you driving me now?” Tchichikoff inquired angrily.
“What am I to do, your glory! it is so very dark, indeed, I cannot even see my whip!” Saying this, he drove the britchka so carelessly that it was nearly upset from the sudden shock, and Tchichikoff was obliged to cling with both hands to his seat. Then, and not till then, it was that he conjectured his coachman Selifan was not sober.
“Stop, stop, you will upset me!” he cried out to him.
“Oh, no, your glory! how could I? how could I upset your honour?” said Selifan. “It is a bad thing to be upset, I know it well myself; how could I therefore upset you, I certainly shall not upset you.” Hereupon he began cautiously to turn the britchka round and round again, until he had at last succeeded in turning it all upon one side. Tchichikoff fell out of his carriage and lay there with his hands and feet deeply imbedded in the mud. Selifan had, however, succeeded in stopping his troika, though the horses would have done so, no doubt, from their own accord, for they seemed very much exhausted.
Such an unexpected mishap had completely bewildered him; he crept down from his seat and posted himself before the britchka, with both his hands firmly fixed on his sides, whilst his master was still trying to raise himself up again upon his legs; thus glancing for a moment upon his master and the carriage before him he added with an air of incredible surprise: “And I have upset him!”
“You are as drunk as a trooper!” exclaimed Tchichikoff.
“Oh, no, your glory! how could I be drunk? I know it is a bad thing to be drunk, I have been talking to some friends, that is true; but then, it is a good thing to speak to worthy men, in that there can be no harm. I must confess we had a bit and a sup, but then there can be no harm in having something to eat and drink with worthy people.”
“But what did I tell you the last time you got drunk—eh? Have you forgotten it?” inquired Tchichikoff.
“Oh, no, your glory! how could I have forgotten what you told me I know my duty well. I know, it is bad to get drunk. I have only been speaking to some worthy friends, because I—”
“Only wait until you get a good thrashing again,” interrupted Tchichikoff; “and then you will know what it is to speak to worthy people.”
“Just as it may please your glory!” replied Selifan, with an air of resignation, “if I am to have a thrashing, I must, have it; I shall not escape it. And why should I not be punished if it is my fault, you as my master have a right to do so. It is also necessary that mouzhiks should be punished, now and then, to keep them in subordination and good order. If it is my own fault, then it is but just that I should be punished; and why should I not receive a thrashing?”
To such logical reasoning, his lawful master could not possibly imagine what he was to reply. But at that very moment also, it seemed as if Providence itself had taken his pitiable position into commiseration. In the distance the loud barking of dogs was audible. Tchichikoff, overjoyed, gave immediate instructions to his coachman that he should drive on at full speed. A Russian driver has often an excellent sense of presentiment instead of the sense of sight; for that reason it often happens that he will close his eyes, drive on full gallop, and yet arrive somewhere. Selifan, without hearing or seeing anything, had nevertheless succeeded in guiding his horses upon a road which led them straight into the village; and they stopped only then, when the horses and britchka came violently in contact with the gates of a house, and when it was already impossible to drive on any further.
All that Tchichikoff could perceive through the dark flood of rain was the roof of a house; he immediately ordered Selifan to go and find out the gates, which, no doubt, would have taken him a considerable time, if in Russia we had not excellent country dogs, instead of drowsy porters, who, in this instance, announced the arrival of our strangers so loudly, that Selifan himself was obliged to stop up both his ears. A light began to dawn in one of the windows and threw a foggy glimmer straight in the direction of our travellers, who were able to find the gates at last.
Selifan began to knock, and soon after a small gate was opened through which the head of a figure wrapped in a sheep-skin made its appearance, and master and servant were obliged to listen to a woman’s creaking voice, uttering the question of: “Who is there? and why are you making all this noise?”
“We are travellers, my good woman, allow us to pass the night here,” Tchichikoff pronounced in a faint voice.
“What hurried travellers you seem to be, for look here at the time of night!” the old woman again said, “besides, this is not an inn, a noble lady resides here.”
“What are we to do, good mother—you perceive we have lost our way; and surely you cannot expect us to sleep on the steps.”
“Yes, the night is dark, and the rain is pouring down in torrents,” added Selifan.
“Be silent, you fool,” said Tchichikoff.
“But who are you?” demanded the old woman.
“I am, a nobleman, good woman.”
The word, nobleman, seemed to startle the old woman, and make her reflect. “Wait a little, I’ll go and tell her ladyship,” the old female muttered, and in a few minutes later she made her appearance, again, with a lantern in her hands. The gates were thrown open. A light even began to glitter in another window.
The britchka entered the court-yard, and stopped before a small house, which it was impossible to examine more particularly on account of the utter darkness around it. Only one portion of it was dimly illumined by the light proceeding from the window, a puddle formed by the heavy rain and flowing rapidly along before the house, was also visible in the same light. The rain pattered noisily upon the wooden roof, and streamed in loud jets into a large water-tub. Meanwhile, the house dogs joined into a loud discordant howling; the one threw his head back and set up such a long and plaintive howl, as if he were, Heaven knows generously paid for it; another replied to the first in a particular hoarse voice, as if he had already done his best in the concert; whilst a third joined them with a shrill ringing tone, not unlike a post-horse bell; it seemed to be the tenor voice of a juvenile dog; and all their canine voices were drowned at intervals by a deep base bark, undoubtedly a paternal barker, provided with an inexhaustible doggish nature, because he rattled away his tune in such a determined manner, that it would forcibly remind one of a counter-bass voice in a concert, when in the full tide of tone, the tenor raising himself on tip-toes, impelled by a strong desire to sing forth his highest note, and all in fact raise themselves, and their voice as high as possible. At such decisive moments, whilst they throw their heads back, the tenor alone will be sometimes original, and hide his unshaved chin in his white neck-cloth, sit down, or bend forward nearly to the ground, and yet send forth from his hiding place, his note, as loud and audible as to shake the very windows of the concert-room.
From the simple barking of these canine musicians, it was easy to surmise that the village must have been something extraordinary, too; but our wet and frozen hero thought for that moment of nothing else but a warm bed. The britchka had had scarcely time to stop before the entrance of the house, when he already hastened to alight, and jumped cleverly upon the landing, gave himself a considerable shaking, and nearly fell the to ground.