“Well, what were you frightened of, stupid? I . . . I was joking and you were frightened. Get in!”
“God be with you, sir,” Klim muttered as he clambered into the cart, “if I had known I wouldn’t have taken you for a hundred roubles. I almost died of fright. . . .”
Klim lashed at the little mare. The cart swayed. Klim lashed once more and the cart gave a lurch. After the fourth stroke of the whip when the cart moved forward, the surveyor hid his ears in his collar and sank into thought.
The road and Klim no longer seemed dangerous to him.
ONE fine morning the collegiate assessor, Kirill Ivanovitch Babilonov, who had died of the two afflictions so widely spread in our country, a bad wife and alcoholism, was being buried. As the funeral procession set off from the church to the cemetery, one of the deceased’s colleagues, called Poplavsky, got into a cab and galloped off to find a friend, one Grigory Petrovitch Zapoikin, a man who though still young had acquired considerable popularity. Zapoikin, as many of my readers are aware, possesses a rare talent for impromptu speechifying at weddings, jubilees, and funerals. He can speak whenever he likes: in his sleep, on an empty stomach, dead drunk or in a high fever. His words flow smoothly and evenly, like water out of a pipe, and in abundance; there are far more moving words in his oratorical dictionary than there are beetles in any restaurant. He always speaks eloquently and at great length, so much so that on some occasions, particularly at merchants’ weddings, they have to resort to assistance from the police to stop him.
“I have come for you, old man!” began Poplavsky, finding him at home. “Put on your hat and coat this minute and come along. One of our fellows is dead, we are just sending him off to the other world, so you must do a bit of palavering by way of farewell to him. . . . You are our only hope. If it had been one of the smaller fry it would not have been worth troubling you, but you see it’s the secretary . . . a pillar of the office, in a sense. It’s awkward for such a whopper to be buried without a speech.”
“Oh, the secretary!” yawned Zapoikin. “You mean the drunken one?”
“Yes. There will be pancakes, a lunch . . . you’ll get your cab-fare. Come along, dear chap. You spout out some rigmarole like a regular Cicero at the grave and what gratitude you will earn!”
Zapoikin readily agreed. He ruffled up his hair, cast a shade of melancholy over his face, and went out into the street with Poplavsky.
“I know your secretary,” he said, as he got into the cab. “A cunning rogue and a beast—the kingdom of heaven be his—such as you don’t often come across.”
“Come, Grisha, it is not the thing to abuse the dead.”
“Of course not, aut mortuis nihil bene, but still he was a rascal.”