“You had a gay time there, I must say,” he growled with a disdainful smile.
“How stu-upid that is!” cried Natalya Mihalovna, offended. “I know what you are thinking about! You always have such horrid ideas! I won’t tell you anything! No, I won’t!”
The lady pouted and said no more.
GLYEB GAVRILOVITCH SMIRNOV, a land surveyor, arrived at the station of Gnilushki. He had another twenty or thirty miles to drive before he would reach the estate which he had been summoned to survey. (If the driver were not drunk and the horses were not bad, it would hardly be twenty miles, but if the driver had had a drop and his steeds were worn out it would mount up to a good forty.)
“Tell me, please, where can I get post-horses here?” the surveyor asked of the station gendarme.
“What? Post-horses? There’s no finding a decent dog for seventy miles round, let alone post-horses. . . . But where do you want to go?”
“To Dyevkino, General Hohotov’s estate.”
“Well,” yawned the gendarme, “go outside the station, there are sometimes peasants in the yard there, they will take passengers.”
The surveyor heaved a sigh and made his way out of the station.
There, after prolonged enquiries, conversations, and hesitations, he found a very sturdy, sullen-looking pock-marked peasant, wearing a tattered grey smock and bark-shoes.
“You have got a queer sort of cart!” said the surveyor, frowning as he clambered into the cart. “There is no making out which is the back and which is the front.”
“What is there to make out? Where the horse’s tail is, there’s the front, and where your honour’s sitting, there’s the back.”
The little mare was young, but thin, with legs planted wide apart and frayed ears. When the driver stood up and lashed her with a whip made of cord, she merely shook her head; when he swore at her and lashed her once more, the cart squeaked and shivered as though in a fever. After the third lash the cart gave a lurch, after the fourth, it moved forward.
“Are we going to drive like this all the way?” asked the surveyor, violently jolted and marvelling at the capacity of Russian drivers for combining a slow tortoise-like pace with a jolting that turns the soul inside out.
“We shall ge-et there!” the peasant reassured him. “The mare is young and frisky. . . . Only let her get running and then there is no stopping her. . . . No-ow, cur-sed brute!”
It was dusk by the time the cart drove out of the station. On the surveyor’s right hand stretched a dark frozen plain, endless and boundless. If you drove over it you would certainly get to the other side of beyond. On the horizon, where it vanished and melted into the sky, there was the languid glow of a cold autumn sunset. . . . On the left of the road, mounds of some sort, that might be last year’s stacks or might be a village, rose up in the gathering darkness. The surveyor could not see what was in front as his whole field of vision on that side was covered by the broad clumsy back of the driver. The air was still, but it was cold and frosty.