“Humph! I understand.”
“’And not give him any liberty’—No; it seems that porcupine-skin gloves means something quite different.’ Enclosed is his commission’—Where is it then? Ah! here it is!—’in the roll of the Semenofsky Regiment’—All right; everything necessary shall be done. ’Allow me to salute you without ceremony, and like an old friend and comrade’—Ah! he has at last remembered it all,” etc., etc.
“Well, my little father,” said he, after he had finished the letter and put my commission aside, “all shall be done; you shall be an officer in the ——th Regiment, and you shall go to-morrow to Fort Belogorsk, where you will serve under the orders of Commandant Mironoff, a brave and worthy man. There you will really serve and learn discipline. There is nothing for you to do at Orenburg; amusement is bad for a young man. To-day I invite you to dine with me.”
“Worse and worse,” thought I to myself. “What good has it done me to have been a sergeant in the Guard from my cradle? Where has it brought me? To the ——th Regiment, and to a fort stranded on the frontier of the Kirghiz-Kaisak Steppes!”
I dined at Andrej Karlovitch’s, in the company of his old aide de camp. Strict German economy was the rule at his table, and I think that the dread of a frequent guest at his bachelor’s table contributed not a little to my being so promptly sent away to a distant garrison.
The next day I took leave of the General, and started for my destination.
THE LITTLE POET.
The little fort of Belogorsk lay about forty versts from Orenburg. From this town the road followed along by the rugged banks of the R. Yaik. The river was not yet frozen, and its lead-coloured waves looked almost black contrasted with its bunks white with snow. Before me stretched the Kirghiz Steppes. I was lost in thought, and my reverie was tinged with melancholy. Garrison life did not offer me much attraction. I tried to imagine what my future chief, Commandant Mironoff, would be like. I saw in my mind’s eye a strict, morose old man, with no ideas beyond the service, and prepared to put me under arrest for the smallest trifle.
Twilight was coming on; we were driving rather quickly.
“Is it far from here to the fort?” I asked the driver.
“Why, you can see it from here,” replied he.
I began looking all round, expecting to see high bastions, a wall, and a ditch. I saw nothing but a little village, surrounded by a wooden palisade. On one side three or four haystacks, half covered with snow; on another a tumble-down windmill, whose sails, made of coarse limetree bark, hung idly down.
“But where is the fort?” I asked, in surprise.
“There it is yonder, to be sure,” rejoined the driver, pointing out to me the village which we had just reached.