“Suddenly the energetic trampling of horses’ hoofs resounded along the street: it was the Commander-in-Chief himself riding by with his staff. He was proceeding at a foot-pace,—a fat, pot-bellied man, with drooping head and epaulets dangling on his breast.
“The housewife caught sight of him, and flinging herself across his horse’s path, she fell on her knees and, all distraught, with head uncovered, began loudly to complain of my orderly, pointing to him with her hand:
“‘Sir General!’ she shrieked. ’Your Radiance! Judge! Help! Save! This soldier has robbed me!’
“Egor was standing on the threshold of the house, drawn up in military salute, with his cap in his hand,—and had even protruded his breast and turned out his feet, like a sentry,—and not a word did he utter! Whether he was daunted by all that mass of generals halting there in the middle of the street, or whether he was petrified in the presence of the calamity which had overtaken him,—at any rate, there stood my Egor blinking his eyes, and white as clay!
“The Commander-in-Chief cast an abstracted and surly glance at him, bellowing wrathfully: ’Well, what hast thou to say?’.... Egor stood like a statue and showed his teeth! If looked at in profile, it was exactly as though the man were laughing.
“Then the Commander-in-Chief said abruptly: ’Hang him!’—gave his horse a dig in the ribs and rode on, first at a foot-pace, as before, then at a brisk trot. The whole staff dashed after him; only one adjutant, turning round in his saddle, took a close look at Egor.
“It was impossible to disobey.... Egor was instantly seized and led to execution.
“Thereupon he turned deadly pale, and only exclaimed a couple of times, with difficulty, ’Good heavens! Good heavens!’—and then, in a low voice—’God sees it was not I!’
“He wept bitterly, very bitterly, as he bade me farewell. I was in despair.—’Egor! Egor!’ I cried, ’why didst thou say nothing to the general?’
“‘God sees it was not I,’ repeated the poor fellow, sobbing.—The housewife herself was horrified. She had not in the least expected such a dreadful verdict, and fell to shrieking in her turn. She began to entreat each and all to spare him, she declared that her hens had been found, that she was prepared to explain everything herself....
“Of course, this was of no use whatsoever. Military regulations, sir! Discipline!—The housewife sobbed more and more loudly.
“Egor, whom the priest had already confessed and communicated, turned to me:
“’Tell her, Your Well-Born, that she must not do herself an injury.... For I have already forgiven her.’”
As my friend repeated these last words of his servant, he whispered: “Egorushka darling, just man!”—and the tears dripped down his aged cheeks.