“That, my dear old fellow, is no longer your affair,” said the vagabond, “whether I drink it or whether I do not. His excellency honours me with a coat off his own back. It is his excellency’s will, and it is your duty as a serf not to kick against it, but to obey.”
“You don’t fear heaven, robber that you are,” said Saveliitch, angrily. “You see the child is still young and foolish, and you are quite ready to plunder him, thanks to his kind heart. What do you want with a gentleman’s touloup? You could not even put it across your cursed broad shoulders.”
“I beg you will not play the wit,” I said to my follower. “Get the cloak quickly.”
“Oh! good heavens!” exclaimed Saveliitch, bemoaning himself. “A touloup of hareskin, and still quite new! And to whom is it given?—to a drunkard in rags.”
However, the touloup was brought. The vagabond began trying it on directly. The touloup, which had already become somewhat too small for me, was really too tight for him. Still, with some trouble, he succeeded in getting it on, though he cracked all the seams. Saveliitch gave, as it were, a subdued howl when he heard the threads snapping.
As to the vagabond, he was very pleased with my present. He ushered me to my kibitka, and saying, with a low bow, “Thanks, your excellency; may Heaven reward you for your goodness; I shall never forget, as long as I live, your kindnesses,” went his way, and I went mine, without paying any attention to Saveliitch’s sulkiness.
I soon forgot the snowstorm, the guide, and my hareskin touloup.
Upon arrival at Orenburg I immediately waited on the General. I found a tall man, already bent by age. His long hair was quite white; his old uniform reminded one of a soldier of Tzarina Anne’s time, and he spoke with a strongly-marked German accent. I gave him my father’s letter. Upon reading his name he cast a quick glance at me.
“Ah,” said he, “it was but a short time Andrej Petrovitch was your age, and now he has got a fine fellow of a son. Well, well—time, time.”
He opened the letter, and began reading it half aloud, with a running fire of remarks—
“’Sir, I hope your excellency’—What’s all this ceremony? For shame! I wonder he’s not ashamed of himself! Of course, discipline before everything; but is it thus one writes to an old comrade? ’Your excellency will not have forgotten’—Humph! ’And when under the late Field Marshal Muenich during the campaign, as well as little Caroline’—Eh! eh! bruder! So he still remembers our old pranks? ’Now for business. I send you my rogue’—Hum! ’Hold him with gloves of porcupine-skin’—What does that mean—’gloves of porcupine-skin?’ It must be a Russian proverb.
“What does it mean, ‘hold with gloves of porcupine-skin?’” resumed he, turning to me.
“It means,” I answered him, with the most innocent face in the world, “to treat someone kindly, not too strictly, to leave him plenty of liberty; that is what holding with gloves of porcupine-skin means.”