So, then, one day I hired such a cabman.... He was a youth of twenty years, tall, well-built, a fine, dashing young fellow; he had blue eyes and rosy cheeks; his red-gold hair curled in rings beneath a wretched little patched cap, which was pulled down over his very eyebrows. And how in the world was that tattered little coat ever got upon those shoulders of heroic mould!
But the cabman’s handsome, beardless face seemed sad and lowering.
I entered into conversation with him. Sadness was discernible in his voice also.
“What is it, brother?” I asked him.—“Why art not thou cheerful? Hast thou any grief?”
The young fellow did not reply to me at once.
“I have, master, I have,” he said at last.—“And such a grief that it would be better if I were not alive. My wife is dead.”
“Didst thou love her ... thy wife?”
The young fellow turned toward me; only he bent his head a little.
“I did, master. This is the eighth month since ... but I cannot forget. It is eating away my heart ... so it is! And why must she die? She was young! Healthy!... In one day the cholera settled her.”
“And was she of a good disposition?”
“Akh, master!” sighed the poor fellow, heavily.—“And on what friendly terms she and I lived together! She died in my absence. When I heard here that they had already buried her, I hurried immediately to the village, home. It was already after midnight when I arrived. I entered my cottage, stopped short in the middle of it, and said so softly: ‘Masha! hey, Masha!’ Only a cricket shrilled.—Then I fell to weeping, and sat down on the cottage floor, and how I did beat my palm against the ground!—’Thy bowels are insatiable!’ I said.... ’Thou hast devoured her ... devour me also!’—Akh, Masha!”
“Masha,” he added in a suddenly lowered voice. And without letting his rope reins out of his hands, he squeezed a tear out of his eye with his mitten, shook it off, flung it to one side, shrugged his shoulders—and did not utter another word.
As I alighted from the sledge I gave him an extra fifteen kopeks. He made me a low obeisance, grasping his cap in both hands, and drove off at a foot-pace over the snowy expanse of empty street, flooded with the grey mist of the January frost.
Once upon a time a fool lived in the world.
For a long time he lived in clover; but gradually rumours began to reach him to the effect that he bore the reputation everywhere of a brainless ninny.
The fool was disconcerted and began to fret over the question how he was to put an end to those unpleasant rumours.
A sudden idea at last illumined his dark little brain.... And without the slightest delay he put it into execution.
An acquaintance met him on the street and began to praise a well-known artist.... “Good gracious!” exclaimed the fool, “that artist was relegated to the archives long ago.... Don’t you know that?—I did not expect that of you.... You are behind the times.”