“My career in the service,” replied Tchitchikoff, seating himself in the arm-chair, not in the middle, but sideways, and grasping the arms with his hands, “began in the department of justice, your excellency. Its latter course was completed in discharging various duties—in the superior courts, on a building commission, and in the custom-house service. My life may be likened to a vessel amid the billows, your excellency. In patience, as I may say, I was born and swaddled; and I am, so to speak patience itself personified. But as for the enemies who have sought my life, no words, no colours, so to speak, can possibly portray them in a proper manner. Hence, in the decline of life, I am merely seeking a nook where I may pass the remnant of my days. I have been stopping for a while with a near neighbour of your excellency.”

“Who is that?”

“Tentyotnikoff, your excellency.”

The general frowned.

“He greatly regrets, your excellency, that he did not show proper respect.”

“To what?”

“To your excellency’s merits. He finds no words——He says, ‘If I could in any way atone—for truly I have not known how to value the men who saved our fatherland.’ ”

“Pray, what is he thinking of? I’m not angry with him,” said the mollified general. “From my soul I sincerely like him, and I am convinced that he will become a very useful man in the course of time.”

“You have been pleased to express yourself admirably, your excellency. Really, a most useful man: perhaps he will conquer the world with his gift of language; he is a master with his pen.”

“I suppose he writes some sort of nonsense—verses, eh?”

“No, your excellency, not nonsense. He is writing something practical—history, your excellency.”

“History? The history of what?”

“The history”—here Tchitchikoff paused; and whether it was because the general was sitting opposite him, or else because he wished to impart more weight to the subject, he added, “The history of generals, your excellency.”

“Of generals? Of what generals?”

“Of generals in general, your excellency; of generals as a body. That is, to speak accurately, of the generals of our country.” Tchitchikoff had become completely entangled and had lost his head; he could not help saying to himself, “Heavens, what nonsense I am talking!”

“Excuse me, I do not understand you very clearly. What is it about? Is it to be the history of some particular period, or a series of separate biographies? and of all our generals or only of those who were engaged in the war of 1812?”

“Exactly so, your excellency; of those who took part in the war of 1812.” Having thus spoken, our hero said to himself, “May I be hanged if I understand it!”

“Then why doesn’t he come to see me? I could furnish him with a very great quantity of curious materials.”

“He is afraid, your excellency.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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