Again considerable time elapsed and I heard nothing of Misha.... God knows where he had vanished.—One day, as I was sitting before the samovar at a posting-station on the T—— highway, waiting for horses, I suddenly heard, under the open window of the station-room, a hoarse voice uttering in French:—“Monsieur ... monsieur ... prenez pitie d’un pauvre gentilhomme ruine!".... I raised my head and looked.... The kazak cap with the fur peeled off, the broken cartridge-pouches on the tattered Circassian coat, the dagger in a cracked sheath, the bloated but still rosy face, the dishevelled but still thick hair.... My God! It was Misha! He had already come to begging alms on the highways!—I involuntarily uttered an exclamation. He recognised me, shuddered, turned away, and was about to withdraw from the window. I stopped him ... but what was there that I could say to him? Certainly I could not read him a lecture!... In silence I offered him a five-ruble bank-note. With equal silence he grasped it in his still white and plump, though trembling and dirty hand, and disappeared round the corner of the house.
They did not furnish me with horses very promptly, and I had time to indulge in cheerless meditations on the subject of my unexpected encounter with Misha. I felt conscience-stricken that I had let him go in so unsympathetic a manner.—At last I proceeded on my journey, and after driving half a verst from the posting-station I observed, ahead of me on the road, a crowd of people moving along with a strange and as it were measured tread. I overtook this crowd,—and what did I see?—Twelve beggars, with wallets on their shoulders, were walking by twos, singing and skipping as they went,—–and at their head danced Misha, stamping time with his feet and saying: “Natchiki-tchikaldi, tchuk-tchuk-tchuk! Natchiki-tchikaldi, tchuk-tchuk-tchuk!”
As soon as my calash came on a level with him, and he caught sight of me, he immediately began to shout, “Hurrah! Halt, draw up in line! Eyes front, my guard of the road!”
The beggars took up his cry and halted,—while he, with his habitual laugh, sprang upon the carriage-step, and again yelled: “Hurrah!”
“What is the meaning of this?” I asked, with involuntary amazement.
“This? This is my squad, my army; all beggars, God’s people, my friends! Each one of them, thanks to your kindness, has quaffed a cup of liquor: and now we are all rejoicing and making merry!... Uncle! ’Tis only with the beggars and God’s poor that one can live in the world, you know ... by God, that’s so!”
I made him no reply ... but this time he seemed to me such a good-natured soul, his face expressed such childlike ingenuousness ... a light suddenly seemed to dawn upon me, and there came a prick at my heart....
“Get into the calash with me,” I said to him.
He was amazed....