opened the door into the passage he whistled for him. The dog leapt up like a mad creature and rushed before him rapturously.

Kolya opened the door to peep at the kids. They were both sitting as before at the table, not reading but warmly disputing about something. The children often argued together about various exciting problems of life, and Nastya, being the elder, always got the best of it. If Kostya did not agree with her, he almost always appealed to Kolya Krassotkin, and his verdict was regarded as infallible by both of them. This time the kids’ discussion rather interested Krassotkin, and he stood still in the passage to listen. The children saw he was listening and that made them dispute with even greater energy.

“I shall never, never believe,” Nastya prattled, “that the old women find babies among the cabbages in the kitchen garden. It’s winter now and there are no cabbages, and so the old woman couldn’t have taken Katerina a daughter.”

Kolya whistled to himself.

“Or perhaps they do bring babies from somewhere, but only to those who are married.”

Kostya stared at Nastya and listened, pondering profoundly.

“Nastya, how silly you are,” he said at last, firmly and calmly. “How can Katerina have a baby when she isn’t married?”

Nastya was exasperated.

“You know nothing about it,” she snapped irritably. “Perhaps she has a husband, only he is in prison, so now she’s got a baby.”

“But is her husband in prison?” the matter-of-fact Kostya inquired gravely.

“Or, I tell you what,” Nastya interrupted impulsively, completely rejecting and forgetting her first hypothesis. “She hasn’t a husband, you are right there, but she wants to be married, and so she’s been thinking of getting married, and thinking and thinking of it till now she’s got it, that is, not a husband but a baby.”

“Well, perhaps so,” Kostya agreed, entirely vanquished. “But you didn’t say so before. So how could I tell?”

“Come, kiddies,” said Kolya, stepping into the room. “You’re terrible people, I see.”

“And Perezvon with you!” grinned Kostya, and began snapping his fingers and calling Perezvon.

“I am in a difficulty, kids,” Krassotkin began solemnly, “and you must help me. Agafya must have broken her leg, since she has not turned up till now, that’s certain. I must go out. Will you let me go?”

The children looked anxiously at one another. Their smiling faces showed signs of uneasiness, but they did not yet fully grasp what was expected of them.

“You won’t be naughty while I am gone? You won’t climb on the cupboard and break your legs? You won’t be frightened alone and cry?”

A look of profound despondency came into the children’s faces.

“And I could show you something as a reward, a little copper cannon which can be fired with real gunpowder.”

The children’s faces instantly brightened. “Show us the cannon,” said Kostya, beaming all over.

Krassotkin put his hand in his satchel, and pulling out a little bronze cannon stood it on the table.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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