My reflections during the journey were not very agreeable. My loss, according to the value of money at that time, was of no little importance. I could not but confess, within my own mind, that my behaviour at the Simbirsk inn was very stupid, and I felt guilty in the presence of Savelitch.' All this tormented me. The old man sat in gloomy silence upon the seat of the vehicle, with his face averted from me, and every now and then giving vent to a sigh. I wanted at all hazards to become reconciled to him, but I did not know how to begin. At last I said to him:
"Come, come, Savelitch, that will do, let us be friends. I was to blame; I see myself that I was in the wrong. I acted very foolishly yesterday, and I offended you without cause. I promise that I will act more wisely for the future, and listen to your advice. Come, don't be angry, but let us be friends again."
"Ah! father, Peter Andreitch," he replied, with a deep sigh, "I am angry with myself; I alone am to blame. How could I leave you alone in the inn! But what else could be expected? We are led astray by sin. The thought came into my mind to go and see the clerk's wife, who is my gossip. But so it was: I went to my gossip, and ill-luck came of it. Was there ever such a misfortune! How shall I ever be able to look in the face of my master and mistress? What will they say when they know that their child is a drunkard and a gambler?"
In order to console poor Savelitch, I gave him my word that I would never again spend a single copeck without his consent. He calmed down by degrees, although every now and again he still continued muttering, with a shake of the head, "A hundred roubles! It's no laughing matter!"
I was nearing the place of my destination. On every side of me extended a dreary-looking plain, intersected by hills and ravines. Everything was covered with snow. The sun was setting. The kibitka was proceeding along the narrow road, or, to speak more precisely, along the track made by the peasants' sledges Suddenly the driver began gazing intently about him, and at last, taking off his cap, he turned to me and said:
"My lord, will you not give orders to turn back?"
"The weather does not look very promising: the wind is beginning to rise; see how it whirls the freshly fallen snow along."
"What does that matter?"
"And do you see that yonder?"
And the driver pointed with his whip towards the east.
"I see nothing, except the white steppe and the clear sky."
"There—away in the distance: that cloud."
I perceived, indeed, on the edge of the horizon, a white cloud, which I had taken at first for a distant hill. The driver explained to me that this small cloud presaged a snowstorm.
I had heard of the snowstorms of that part of the country, and I knew that whole trains of waggons were frequently buried in the drifts. Savelitch was of the same opinion as the driver, and advised that we should return. But the wind did not seem to me to be very strong: I hoped to be able to reach the next station in good time, and I gave orders to drive on faster.
The driver urged on the horses at a gallop, but he still continued to gaze towards the east. The horses entered into their work with a will. In the meantime the wind had gradually increased in violence. The little cloud had changed into a large, white, nebulous mass, which rose heavily, and gradually began to extend over the whole sky. A fine snow began to fall, and then all at once this gave place to large heavy flakes. The wind roared; the snowstorm had burst upon us. In one moment the dark sky became confounded with the sea of snow; everything had disappeared.
"Well, my lord," cried the driver, "this is a misfortune; it is a regular snowstorm!"
I looked out of the kibitka; all was storm and darkness. The wind blew with such terrific violence that it seemed as if it were endowed with life. Savelitch and I were covered with snow: the horses ploughed their way onward at a walking pace, and soon came to a standstill.
"Why don't you go on?" I called out impatiently to the driver.
"But where am I to drive to?" he replied, jumping down from his seat; "I haven't the slightest idea as to where we are; there is no road, and it is dark all round."
I began to scold him. Savelitch took his part.
"You ought to have taken his advice," he said angrily. "You should have returned to the posting-house; you could have had some tea and could have slept there till the morning; the storm would have blown over by that time, and then you could have proceeded on your journey. And why such haste? It would be all very well if we were going to a wedding!"
Savelitch was right. But what was to be done? The snow still continued to fall. A drift began to form around the kibitka. The horses stood with dejected heads, and every now and then a shudder shook their frames. The driver kept walking round them, and, being unable to do anything else, busied himself with adjusting the harness. Savelitch grumbled. I looked round on every side, hoping to discover some sign of a house or a road, but I could distinguish nothing except the confused whirling snowdrifts Suddenly I caught sight of something black.
"Hillo! driver," I cried; "look! what is that black object yonder?"
The driver looked carefully in the direction indicated.
"God knows, my lord," said he, seating himself in his place again; "it is neither a sledge nor a tree, and it seems to move. It must be either a man or a wolf."
I ordered him to drive towards the unknown object, which was gradually drawing nearer to us. In about two minutes we came up to it and discovered it to be a man.
"Hi! my good man," cried the driver to him; "say, do you know where the road is?"
"The road is here; I am standing on a firm track," replied the wayfarer. "But what of it?"
"Listen, peasant," said I to him; "do you know this country? Can you lead me to a place where I can obtain a night's lodging?"
"I know the country very well," replied the peasant. "Heaven be thanked, I have crossed it and re-crossed it in every direction. But you see what sort of weather it is: it would be very easy to miss the road. You had much better stay here and wait; perhaps the storm will blow over, and the sky become clear, then we shall be able to find the road by the help of the stars."
His cool indifference encouraged me. I had already resolved to abandon myself to the will of God and to pass the night upon the steppe, when suddenly the peasant mounted to the seat of our vehicle and said to the driver:
"Thank Heaven, there is a house not far off; turn to the right and go straight on."
"Why should I go to the right?" asked the driver in a dissatisfied tone. "Where do you see a road? I am not the owner of these horses that I should use the whip without mercy."
The driver seemed to me to be in the right.
"In truth," said I, "why do you think that there is a house not far off?"
"Because the wind blows from that direction," replied the wayfarer, "and I can smell smoke; that is a sign that there is a village close at hand."
His sagacity and nicety of smell astonished me. I ordered the driver to go on. The horses moved heavily through the deep snow. The kibitka advanced very slowly, at one moment mounting to the summit of a ridge, at another sinking into a deep hollow, now rolling to one side, and now to the other. It was very much like being in a ship on a stormy sea. Savelitch sighed and groaned, and continually jostled against me. I let down the cover of the kibitka, wrapped myself up in my cloak, and fell into a slumber, lulled by the music of the storm, and rocked by the motion of the vehicle.
I had a dream which I shall never forget, and in which I still see something prophetic when I compare it with the strange events of my life. The reader will excuse me for mentioning the matter, for probably he knows from experience that man is naturally given to superstition in spite of the great contempt entertained for it.
I was in that condition of mind when reality and imagination become confused in the vague sensations attending the first stage of drowsiness. It seemed to me that the storm still continued, and that we were still wandering about the wilderness of snow.... All at once I caught sight of a gate, and we entered the courtyard of our mansion. My first thought was a fear that my father would be angry with me for my involuntary return to the paternal roof, and would regard it as an act of intentional disobedience. With a feeling of uneasiness I sprang out of the kibitka, and saw my mother coming down the steps to meet me, with a look of deep affliction upon her face.
"Hush!" she said to me; "your father is on the point of death, and wishes to take leave of you."
Struck with awe, I followed her into the bedroom. I looked about me; the room was dimly lighted, and round the bed stood several persons with sorrow-stricken countenances. I approached very gently; my mother raised the curtain and said:
"Andrei Petrovitch, Petrousha has arrived; he has returned because he heard of your illness; give him your blessing."
I knelt down and fixed my eyes upon the face of the sick man. But what did I see?... Instead of my father, I saw lying in the bed a black-bearded peasant, who looked at me with an expression of gaiety upon his countenance. Greatly perplexed, I turned round to my mother and said to her:
"What does all this mean? This is not my father. Why should I ask this peasant for his blessing?"
"It is all the same, Petrousha," replied my mother; "he is your stepfather; kiss his hand and let him bless you." I would not consent to it. Then the peasant sprang out of bed, grasped the axe which hung at his back, and commenced flourishing it about on every side. I wanted to run away, but I could not; the room began to get filled with dead bodies; I kept stumbling against them, and my feet continually slipped in pools of blood. The dreadful peasant called out to me in a gentle voice, saying:
"Do not be afraid; come and receive my blessing." Terror and doubt took possession of me.... At that moment I awoke; the horses had come to a standstill. Savelitch took hold of my hand, saying:
"Get out, my lord, we have arrived."
"Where are we?" I asked, rubbing my eyes.
"At a place of refuge. God came to our help and conducted us straight to the fence of the house. Get out as quickly as you can, my lord, and warm yourself."
I stepped out of the kibitka. The storm still raged, although with less violence than at first. It was as dark as if we were totally blind. The host met us at the door, holding a lantern under the skirt of his coat, and conducted me into a room, small, but tolerably clean. It was lit up by a pine torch. On the wall hung a long rifle, and a tall Cossack cap.
The host, a Yaikian Cossack by birth, was a peasant of about sixty years of age, still hale and strong. Savelitch brought in the tea-chest, and asked for a fire in order to prepare some tea, which I seemed to need at that moment more than at any other time in my life. The host hastened to attend to the matter.
"Where is the guide?" I said to Savelitch.
"Here, your Excellency," replied a voice from above.
I glanced up at the loft, and saw a black beard and two sparkling eyes.
"Well, friend, are you cold?"
"How could I be otherwise than cold in only a thin tunic! I had a fur coat, but why should I hide my fault?—I pawned it yesterday with a brandy-seller; the cold did not seem to be so severe."
At that moment the host entered with a smoking tea-urn; I offered our guide a cup of tea; the peasant came down from the loft. His exterior seemed to me somewhat remarkable. He was about forty years of age, of middle height, thin and broad-shouldered. In his black beard streaks of grey were beginning to make their appearance; his large, lively black eyes were incessantly on the roll. His face had something rather agreeable about it, although an expression of vindictiveness could also be detected upon it. His hair was cut close round his head. He was dressed in a ragged tunic and Tartar trousers. I gave him a cup of tea; he tasted it, and made a wry face.
"Your Excellency," said he, "be so good as to order a glass of wine for me; tea is not the drink for us Cossacks."
I willingly complied with his request. The landlord brought a square bottle and a glass from a cupboard, went up to him, and, looking into his face, said:
"Oh! you are again in our neighbourhood! Where have you come from?"
My guide winked significantly, and made reply:
"Flying in the garden, pecking hempseed; the old woman threw a stone, but it missed its aim. And how is it with—you?"
"How is it with us?" replied the landlord, continuing the allegorical conversation, "they were beginning to ring the vespers, but the pope's wife would not allow it: the pope is on a visit, and the devils are in the glebe."
"Hold your tongue, uncle," replied my rover; "when there is rain, there will be mushrooms; and when there are mushrooms, there will be a pannier; but now" (and here he winked again) "put your axe behind your back; the ranger is going about. Your Excellency, I drink to your health!"
With these words he took hold of the glass, made the sign of the cross, and drank off the liquor in one draught; then, bowing to me, he returned to the loft.
At that time I could not understand anything of this thieves' slang, but afterwards I understood that it referred to the Yaikian army, which had only just then been reduced to submission after the revolt of 1772. Savelitch listened with a look of great dissatisfaction. He glanced very suspiciously, first at the landlord, then at the guide. The inn, or umet, as it was called in those parts, was situated in the middle of the steppe, far from every habitation or village, and had very much the appearance of a rendezvous for thieves. But there was no help for it. We could not think of continuing our journey. The uneasiness of Savelitch afforded me very great amusement. In the meantime I made all necessary arrangements for passing the night comfortably, and then stretched myself upon a bench. Savelitch resolved to avail himself of the stove; our host lay down upon the floor. Soon all in the house were snoring, and I fell into a sleep as sound as that of the grave.
When I awoke on the following morning, at a somewhat late hour, I perceived that the storm was over. The sun was shining. The snow lay like a dazzling shroud over the boundless steppe. The horses were harnessed. I paid the reckoning to the host, the sum asked of us being so very moderate that even Savelitch did not dispute the matter and commence to haggle about the payment as was his usual custom; moreover, his suspicions of the previous evening had completely vanished from his mind. I called for our guide, thanked him for the assistance he had rendered us, and ordered Savelitch to give him half a rouble for brandy.
"Half a rouble for brandy?" said he; "why so? Because you were pleased to bring him with you to this inn? With your leave, my lord, but we have not too many half roubles to spare. If we give money for brandy to everybody we have to deal with, we shall very soon have to starve ourselves."
I could not argue with Savelitch. According to my own promise, the disposal of my money was to be left entirely to his discretion. But I felt rather vexed that I was not able to show my gratitude to a man who, if he had not rescued me from certain destruction, had at least delivered me from a very disagreeable position.
"Well," said I, coldly, "if you will not give him half a rouble, give him something out of my wardrobe; he is too thinly clad. Give him my hare-skin pelisse."
"In the name of Heaven, father, Peter Andreitch!" said Savelitch, "why give him your pelisse? The dog will sell it for drink at the first tavern that he comes to."
"It is no business of yours, old man," said my stroller, "whether I sell it for drink or not. His Excellency is pleased to give me a cloak from off his own shoulders; it is his lordly will, and it is your duty, as servant, to obey, and not to dispute."
"Have you no fear of God, you robber!" said Savelitch, in an angry tone. "You see that the child has not yet reached the age of discretion, and yet you are only too glad to take advantage of his good-nature, and rob him. What do you want with my master's pelisse? You will not be able to stretch it across your accursed shoulders."
"I beg of you not to show off your wit," I said to my guardian. "Bring the pelisse hither immediately!"
"Gracious Lord!" groaned Savelitch, "the pelisse is almost brand-new! If it were to anybody deserving of it, it would be different, but to give it to a ragged drunkard!"
However, the pelisse was brought. The peasant instantly commenced to try it on. And, indeed, the garment, which I had grown out of, and which was rather tight for me, was a great deal too small for him. But he contrived to get it on somehow, though not without bursting the seams in the effort. Savelitch very nearly gave vent to a groan when he heard the stitches giving way. The stroller was exceedingly pleased with my present. He conducted me to the kibitka, and said, with a low bow:
"Many thanks, your Excellency! May God reward you for your virtue. I shall never forget your kindness."
He went his way, and I set out again on my journey, without paying any attention to Savelitch, and I soon forgot all about the storm of the previous day, the guide, and my pelisse.
On arriving at Orenburg, I immediately presented myself to the general. He was a tall man, but somewhat bent with age. His long hair was perfectly white. His old faded uniform recalled to mind the warrior of the time of the Empress Anne, and he spoke with a strong German accent.
I gave him the letter from my father. On hearing the name, he glanced at me quickly.
"Mein Gott!" said he, "it does not seem so very long ago since Andrei Petrovitch was your age, and now what a fine young fellow he has got for a son! Ach! time, time!"
He opened the letter and began to read it half aloud, making his own observations upon it in the course of his reading.
"'Esteemed Sir, Ivan Karlovitch, I hope that your Excellency'—Why all this ceremony? Pshaw! Isn't he ashamed of himself? To be sure, discipline before everything, but is that the way to write to an old comrade?—'Your Excellency has not forgotten'—Hm!—'and—when—with the late Field Marshal Mün—in the campaign—also Caroline'—Ha, brother! he still remembers our old pranks, then?—'Now to business.—I send you my young hopeful'—Hm!—'Hold him with hedgehog mittens.'—What are hedgehog mittens? That must be a Russian proverb.—What does 'hold him with hedgehog mittens' mean?" he repeated, turning to me.
"It means," I replied, looking as innocent as I possibly could, "to treat a person kindly, not to be too severe, and to allow as much liberty as possible."
"Hm! I understand—'And do not give him too much liberty.'—No, it is evident that 'hedgehog mittens' does not mean that.—'Enclosed you will find his passport.'—Where is it then? Ah! here it is.—'Enrol him in the Semenovsky Regiment.'—Very well, very well, everything shall be attended to.—'Allow me without ceremony to embrace you as an old comrade and friend.'—Ah! at last he has got to it.—'Etcetera, etcetera.'—'Well, my little father,' said he, finishing the reading of the letter, and putting my passport on one side, 'everything shall be arranged; you shall be an officer in the Regiment, and so that you may lose no time, start to-morrow for the fortress of Bailogorsk, where you will be under the command of Captain Mironoff, a good and honest man. There you will learn real service, and be taught what real discipline is. Orenburg is not the place for you, there is nothing for you to do there; amusements are injurious to a young man. Favour me with your company at dinner to-day."
"This is getting worse and worse," I thought to myself. "Of what use will it be to me to have been a sergeant in the Guards almost from my mother's womb! Whither has it led me? To the Regiment, and to a dreary fortress on the borders of the Kirghis-Kaisaks steppes!"
I dined with Andrei Karlovitch, in company with his old adjutant. A strict German economy ruled his table, and I believe that the fear of being obliged to entertain an additional guest now and again was partly the cause of my being so promptly banished to the garrison.
The next day I took leave of the general, and set out for the place of my destination.
 Savelitch uses the word here in its old meaning of fellow-sponsor.
 A tenth of a penny.
 A kind of rough travelling cart.
 The Russian peasant usually carries his axe behind him.
 The usual sleeping place of the Russian peasant.