The Result is our Hero's Flight

On assembling at the residence of the chief of police, the officials had occasion to remark from each other’s appearance that they had all become greatly emanciated by such an amount of care and anxiety. In fact, the appointment of a new governor-general, the arrival of these documents of secret import, and all these rumours, signifying God knows what—everything had left visible traces of worry upon their countenances, and the swallow-tailed coats of many of them had grown perceptibly loose. All had yielded to the effects: the president of the court had grown thin, and the inspector of the Medical Institute had grown thin too; and a certain Semen Ivanovitch, who was never called by his family name, and who wore upon his index-finger a ring, which he allowed the ladies to look at, even he had grown thin. Of course, as is always the case, there were some of a bold cast of character, who had not lost their presence of mind; but of such there were very few indeed. The postmaster alone did not modify his usual evenness of character; and he was always accustomed to say, in such cases, “We know you, you governor-generals! There may, possibly, be three or four changes in your ranks, but I have been sitting in my place for the last thirty years, my dear sirs.”

The council which had assembled on the present occasion speedily set to work, but a most incomprehensible lack of decision was evinced in the views of those who had assembled at it. One person said that Tchitchikoff forged imperial banknotes, and then he added himself, “But perhaps, no—perhaps he is not a counterfeiter.” Another asserted that our hero was an official belonging to the governor-general’s chancellery, and immediately added, “However, the deuce only knows what he is: you certainly can’t read it on his forehead.” All protested against the surmise that he might be a bandit in disguise: they considered that, in addition to his personal appearance, which was respectable in itself, there was nothing in his conversation to indicate a man given to deeds of violence. All at once the postmaster, after having remained buried in some sort of reflection for the space of several minutes—either in consequence of a sudden inspiration which had illumined his mind, or from some other cause—unexpectedly exclaimed, “Do you know, gentlemen, who he is?” The voice in which he uttered this had something about it which caused all to exclaim simultaneously, “Who?”—“This man, gentlemen, is no other than Captain Kopyeikin!” And when all, with one voice, thereupon inquired “Who is Captain Kopyeikin?” the postmaster said, “What! you don’t know who Captain Kopyeikin is?”

They all replied that they had not the least idea who Captain Kopyeikin was.

The postmaster thereupon began to relate a long story of a half-pay Russian officer, who, although he had lost an arm and a leg, had some years previously placed himself at the head of a band of robbers in the forests of Ryazan.

“But excuse me, Ivan Andreitch,” said the chief of police, “you tell us that Captain Kopyeikin had lost an arm and a leg, whereas Tchitchikoff——”

Here the postmaster uttered an exclamation, and dealt himself a blow on the forehead with the full sweep of his arm, and called himself a calf publicly, in the presence of them all. He could not comprehend how such a circumstance had not occurred to his mind before, at the very beginning of his tale; and he confessed that the adage was perfectly just, “The Russian is strong in second thoughts.” Nevertheless, a moment later, he began to employ craft, and tried to extricate himself by saying that mechanism had reached a high degree of perfection in England; that it was evident, from the newspapers, that a man had invented a wooden leg of such a description that, by the pressure of an imperceptible spring, such legs would bear a person God knows to what regions, so that he could never be found afterwards.

However, they all entertained strong doubts as to whether Tchitchikoff was Captain Kopyeikin, and they came to the conclusion that the postmaster’s theory was too far-fetched. Still they had not hit the mark; and, led on by the postmaster’s acute guesses, they wandered still farther from the truth. From among a number of hypotheses, some of which were very clever in their way, one was finally settled upon; and this, strange to say, was that Tchitchikoff was Napoleon in disguise. Now Englishmen had long been envious, because, forsooth, Russia was so great and extensive; and some caricatures had even appeared in which a Russian was depicted engaged in conversation with an Englishman. The Englishman was

  By PanEris using Melati.

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