Misery and Grandeur of Tchitchikoff. His Opinions in the Lap of Fortune

More than a month had elapsed since Tchitchikoff had enjoyed the seven hours of sleep per day which are considered indispensable to the health of man; and of late, repose seemed to have totally abandoned him at night. Thus the gentle, easy motion of the sleigh now proved conducive to repose, and, stretched out comfortably in his calash, he slept for fourteen hours. He woke himself at last by a powerful snore resembling the detonation of a blunderbuss, followed by a sneeze of the most sonorous description; and the commotion which accompanied this double explosion was a double test, to boot, for the admirable springs of the ancient calash. A dog broke his chain, a cock set his numerous family the example of a headlong flight; two peasants ran out into their yards to see who could be thus firing close to their dwellings; a woman, trembling like a leaf and standing with her mouth open, let fall a large jar of clotted milk on the threshold of a barn. However, Selifan and Petrushka, who were not deceived as to the nature of the phenomenon, rushed straight to their master’s couch. Tchitchikoff, as soon as he could understand things about him, learned that the horses had been obliged to halt in order to regain their breath and strength, and that his people, after having kept their seats on the box for nearly fifteen hours by the clock, had taken advantage of this enforced halt to refresh themselves a little on some cabbage, milk, and hot bread.

Our hero entered the public room of the rustic hostelry where his servants had fed, and there devoured by himself the third of a fine kulebyaka,1 weighing between six and eight pounds, which the landlord had prepared for a wedding in the village; then, the horses having been once more harnessed to the carriage, he paid his reckoning, resumed his seat, and set out again on his journey, after having fully informed himself as to the situation of the estates of a certain Dobryakoff, who, five days prior to the imprisonment of Tchitchikoff, had received from the latter a deposit of three very heavy coffers.

Our hero found Dobryakoff’s house well enough, and also the coffers which were awaiting him, but not Dobryakoff himself, for he was absent. The uncle of that gentleman, an old man over eighty years of age, gave Tchitchikoff and his servants a perfect dinner, delivered the coffers up to his visitor, and only allowed him to depart after a formal promise to return shortly and visit his nephew.

Our hero soon cruelly repented of the precipitation with which he abandoned that hospitable roof, where he had not considered it prudent to remain on account of the burden which he was carrying away. He had hardly resumed his journey when the sky clouded over, the wind rose, and terrible squalls of snow whirled around him; every trace of the road disappeared, and the tempest was all the more alarming since it was united with sharp cold.

The travellers, who had lost their way completely, wandered about at random, still advancing until after midnight with infinite difficulty, and not without great danger, when at length the despair which had seized hold of them was followed by a feeble ray of hope; the hurricane diminished in violence, the darkness became less impenetrable, and they fancied they could see a clearing, surrounded by thick underwood, stretching before them. Fortunately they kept the wind behind them, and they skilfully tacked and tacked whilst in the valleys formed by the thousands of snow heaps, which were alternately raised and carried off by the tempest. During an interval of enforced halt made by the horses, who were overcome with fatigue, they heard the barking of dogs. This auspicious sound restored a little courage, even to the steeds, and five minutes later they could distinguish some lights in the distance.

They were those of the hunting-box of a wealthy nobleman, who was staying there with a considerable number of friends and neighbours. His whole pack of hounds was assembled there, with all his huntsmen—a truly royal establishment; while the company was gathered in the principal apartment, having just concluded a copious and splendid supper, which had been wound up with lavish libations. It was at this moment that Pavel Ivanovitch was announced to the nobleman, Prince Kutinin, as a traveller who had lost his way, and who requested his excellency’s hospitality for the night. The prince, who was busy having several card-tables prepared, ordered that the stranger should, first of all, be supplied with a good supper and a fire, and that he should afterwards be presented to him, unless indeed he preferred to go to bed.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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