It was with an indefinable feeling that Tchichikoff now began to look round him, at the houses, walls, gardens and streets, which on their part seemed also to be tossing about, until at last they disappeared before his sight, and which, Heaven knows he will perhaps never have the chance of seeing again during his life. At the turning of one of the streets, the britchka was suddenly obliged to stop, because of a funeral procession, which was just slowly bending its way across the street; it was headed as usual by a dozen mourners in deep black, carrying burning torches in their hands, and followed by the bearers of the military and civil orders, worn by the deceased, and then by the funeral car and its followers.
Tchichikoff leaning forward ordered Petruschka to inquire who it was whom they were thus leading to his grave, and he received the answer that it was the right honorable the Imperial Procurator. Overwhelmed with unpleasant sensations and recollections, he immediately lent back into the farthest corner of his carriage, and covered himself with the carriage apron, and drew down the leather curtains.
At the time when the britchka was thus stopped, Selifan and Petruschka took their caps off with great fervour, and made the usual sign of the cross, and began to gape about and see who were present, and how they were following the mournful and exceedingly long procession, trying to count the number of those that were walking, and those that were driving in their own carriages behind the funeral car; their master, after having cautioned them not to recognise nor salute any of the servants with whom they might have made acquaintance, also begun to look, or rather peep attentively through the small glass square fixed in the leather curtains; he beheld nearly all the Imperial employés of his acquaintance forming the majority of the chief mourners. He began to feel alarmed lest they should accidentally recognise his carriage, however this was but a false alarm, their minds were differently pre-occupied.
They were even not occupied with any worldly talk, such as is usually carried on between persons that follow a funeral. All their thoughts, at that time, were principally concentrated upon themselves; they were thinking and asking themselves the question—what kind of a man the newly-appointed Governor-general would be, with what energy he would undertake his duties, and how he would receive them.
Behind the Imperial employés, who followed all walking, came the carriages from which ladies in mourning gowns were putting out their heads to look about them. By the movements of their lips and hands, it could easily be conjectured that they were engaged in lively conversation; very likely they also spoke of the arrival of the new Governor-general, and tried to imagine what kind of balls and routs he would be likely to give on the occasion of his new appointment; and they seemed very anxious about their new dresses with the recent fashionable improvement of festoons and ornaments all over.
The private carriages were followed by a few empty droschkies, which concluded the procession, and at last the road was free and open again for our hero’s britchka, which began to speed on to make up for lost time.
Opening now freely again the leather curtains of his carriages, Tchichikoff heaved a deep sigh, and pronounced, as if from the innermost of his soul:
“There he went, the Imperial Procurator; he has lived and lived until he has come to his death! and now they will advertise in the newspapers, that his existence has terminated to the unspeakable regret of his inferiors and superiors, as well as to humanity at large, a respected citizen, a rare father, a beloved husband, and much more, they will print in his memory; add perhaps, that he was followed to his grave not only by his numerous friends, but also by many widows and orphans of the town; but if we were to examine your virtues and qualities more minutely and conscientiously, we would find perhaps nothing more remarkable than your bushy and heavy eyebrows.”
After having concluded this observation, our hero ordered Selifan to speed on his horses, and meanwhile thought to himself—”however, it is rather lucky that I have met with a funeral procession; it is said that it prognosticates good fortune to meet with the dead.”
Meanwhile, the britchka turned and passed through the more lonely and distant streets; soon after Tchichikoff saw only the long and uniform wooden walls of gardens and enclosed building grounds, which announced the end of the town. And now there was an end to the wretched pavement; and he had passed the last military frontier of the town of Smolensk, which now remained behind him; and he was again on the free and high wide road. And again, on either side of the britchka, were woods and forests, and fields and plains, brooks and wells, military posts, and grey villages, with chatting old women, and idle peasants, looking out from their huge beards, like a bear from his den.
At first, the changing scenes around him did not make any particular impression upon his mind; but by degrees, and as he continued to turn round to convince himself, that the town of Smolensk was really behind him, and nearly hidden from his sight, he began to pay a little more attention to the high road, and to his own reflections, which begun so fully to preoccupy his mind, that Smolensk was as much out of his mind as out of his sight; and he really fancied that he had merely passed through once in his early childhood. At last, even the high road ceased to possess any attractions whatever for him, and he began slightly to incline his head upon the leather pillow, and close his eyes.
Our hero was suddenly aroused from his slumber by an approaching noise on the high road, behind his britchka. The noise approached rapidly, and seemed to be caused by the galloping of numerous horses.
“Hallo! what are you about?” said Tchichikoff, calling out to his coachman, Selifan; “why don’t you drive on?”
“Yes, your glory!” answered Selifan, in a slow voice, and with a sleepy countenance, without being able to comply at once with the request, so much was he benumbed by the chilly night-air.
“How are you driving, you stupid goose? Why don’t you flog the horses?”
But before Selifan had the time to comply with his master’s command, the last which either he or Petruschka was to receive from him; the horses galloping behind had rejoined the britchka, and in a few moments later Tchichikoff beheld before him the Commissioner of Police from Smolensk, and another gentleman on horseback, who was introduced to him as an imperial messenger.
The imperial messenger transmitted to Tchichikoff a document, with the imperial seal beneath; after the hasty perusal of this mysterious document, our hero’s countenance changed suddenly; his eyes became dim, and his face as pale as death. The imperial messenger then pointed silently to a sinister-looking carriage, called a Siberian kibitka, into which our hero was assisted, without being able to utter a syllable, and the next moment he was a dead man.