I noticed near the gateway an old iron cannon. The streets were narrow and crooked, nearly all the izbas were thatched. I ordered him to take me to the Commandant, and almost directly my kibitka stopped before a wooden house, built on a knoll near the church, which was also in wood.
No one came to meet me. From the steps I entered the ante-room. An old pensioner, seated on a table, was busy sowing a blue patch on the elbow of a green uniform. I begged him to announce me.
“Come in, my little father,” he said to me; “we are all at home.”
I went into a room, very clean, but furnished in a very homely manner. In one corner there stood a dresser with crockery on it. Against the wall hung, framed and glazed, an officer’s commission. Around this were arranged some bark pictures, representing the “Taking of Kustrin” and of “Otchakof," “The Choice of the Betrothed,” and the “Burial of the Cat by the Mice.” Near the window sat an old woman wrapped in a shawl, her head tied up in a handkerchief. She was busy winding thread, which a little, old, one-eyed man in an officer’s uniform was holding on his outstretched hands.
“What do you want, my little father?” she said to me, continuing her employment.
I answered that I had been ordered to join the service here, and that, therefore, I had hastened to report myself to the Commandant. With these words I turned towards the little, old, one-eyed man, whom I had taken for the Commandant. But the good lady interrupted the speech with which I had prepared myself.
“Ivan Kouzmitch is not at home,” said she. “He is gone to see Father Garassim. But it’s all the same, I am his wife. Be so good as to love us and take us into favour. Sit down, my little father.”
She called a servant, and bid her tell the “ouriadnik" to come. The little, old man was looking curiously at me with his one eye.
“Might I presume to ask you,” said he to me, “in what regiment you have deigned to serve?”
I satisfied his curiosity.
“And might I ask you,” continued he, “why you have condescended to exchange from the Guard into our garrison?”
I replied that it was by order of the authorities.
“Probably for conduct unbecoming an officer of the Guard?” rejoined my indefatigable questioner.
“Will you be good enough to stop talking nonsense?” the wife of the Commandant now said to him. “You can see very well that this young man is tired with his journey. He has something else to do than to answer your questions. Hold your hands better. And you, my little father,” she continued, turning to me, “do not bemoan yourself too much because you have been shoved into our little hole of a place; you are not the first, and you will not be the last. One may suffer, but one gets accustomed to it. For instance, Chvabrine, Alexey Ivanytch, was transferred to us four years ago on account of a murder. Heaven knows what ill-luck befel him. It happened one day he went out of the town with a lieutenant, and they had taken swords, and they set to pinking one another, and Alexey Ivanytch killed the lieutenant, and before a couple of witnesses. Well, well, there’s no heading ill-luck!”