In Which Are Detailed The Deliberations Of Two Important Personages Of Mirgorod
As soon as Ivan Ivanovitch had arranged his domestic affairs and stepped out upon the balcony, according to his custom, to lie down, he saw, to his indescribable amazement, something red at the gate. This was the red facings of the chief of police's coat, which were polished equally with his collar, and resembled varnished leather on the edges.
Ivan Ivanovitch thought to himself, "It's not bad that Peter Feodorovitch has come to talk it over with me." But he was very much surprised to see that the chief was walking remarkably fast and flourishing his hands, which was very rarely the case with him. There were eight buttons on the chief of police's uniform: the ninth, torn off in some manner during the procession at the consecration of the church two years before, the police had not been able to find up to this time: although the chief, on the occasion of the daily reports made to him by the sergeants, always asked, "Has that button been found?" These eight buttons were strewn about him as women sow beans--one to the right and one to the left. His left foot had been struck by a ball in the last campaign, and so he limped and threw it out so far to one side as to almost counteract the efforts of the right foot. The more briskly the chief of police worked his walking apparatus the less progress he made in advance. So while he was getting to the balcony, Ivan Ivanovitch had plenty of time to lose himself in surmises as to why the chief was flourishing his hands so vigorously. This interested him the more, as the matter seemed one of unusual importance; for the chief had on a new dagger.
"Good morning, Peter Feodorovitch!" cried Ivan Ivanovitch, who was, as has already been stated, exceedingly curious, and could not restrain his impatience as the chief of police began to ascend to the balcony, yet never raised his eyes, and kept grumbling at his foot, which could not be persuaded to mount the step at the first attempt.
"I wish my good friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, a good-day," replied the chief.
"Pray sit down. I see that you are weary, as your lame foot hinders--"
"My foot!" screamed the chief, bestowing upon Ivan Ivanovitch a glance such as a giant might cast upon a pigmy, a pedant upon a dancing-master: and he stretched out his foot and stamped upon the floor with it. This boldness cost him dear; for his whole body wavered and his nose struck the railing; but the brave preserver of order, with the purpose of making light of it, righted himself immediately, and began to feel in his pocket as if to get his snuff-box. "I must report to you, my dear friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, that never in all my days have I made such a march. Yes, seriously. For instance, during the campaign of 1807-- Ah! I will tell to you how I crawled through the enclosure to see a pretty little German." Here the chief closed one eye and executed a diabolically sly smile.
"Where have you been to-day?" asked Ivan Ivanovitch, wishing to cut the chief short and bring him more speedily to the object of his visit. He would have very much liked to inquire what the chief meant to tell him, but his extensive knowledge of the world showed him the impropriety of such a question; and so he had to keep himself well in hand and await a solution, his heart, meanwhile, beating with unusual force.
"Ah, excuse me! I was going to tell you--where was I?" answered the chief of police. "In the first place, I report that the weather is fine to-day."
At these last words, Ivan Ivanovitch nearly died.
"But permit me," went on the chief. "I have come to you to-day about a very important affair." Here the chief's face and bearing assumed the same careworn aspect with which he had ascended to the balcony.
Ivan Ivanovitch breathed again, and shook as if in a fever, omitting not, as was his habit, to put a question. "What is the important matter? Is it important?"
"Pray judge for yourself; in the first place I venture to report to you, dear friend and benefactor, Ivan Ivanovitch, that you-- I beg you to observe that, for my own part, I should have nothing to say; but the rules of government require it--that you have transgressed the rules of propriety."
"What do you mean, Peter Feodorovitch? I don't understand at all."
"Pardon me, Ivan Ivanovitch! how can it be that you do not understand? Your own beast has destroyed an important government document; and you can still say, after that, that you do not understand!"
"Your own brown sow, with your permission, be it said."
"How can I be responsible? Why did the door-keeper of the court open the door?"
"But, Ivan Ivanovitch, your own brown sow. You must be responsible."
"I am extremely obliged to you for comparing me to a sow."
"But I did not say that, Ivan Ivanovitch! By Heaven! I did not say so! Pray judge from your own clear conscience. It is known to you without doubt, that in accordance with the views of the government, unclean animals are forbidden to roam about the town, particularly in the principal streets. Admit, now, that it is prohibited."
"God knows what you are talking about! A mighty important business that a sow got into the street!"
"Permit me to inform you, Ivan Ivanovitch, permit me, permit me, that this is utterly inadvisable. What is to be done? The authorities command, we must obey. I don't deny that sometimes chickens and geese run about the street, and even about the square, pray observe, chickens and geese; but only last year, I gave orders that pigs and goats were not to be admitted to the public squares, which regulations I directed to be read aloud at the time before all the people."
"No, Peter Feodorovitch, I see nothing here except that you are doing your best to insult me."
"But you cannot say that, my dearest friend and benefactor, that I have tried to insult you. Bethink yourself: I never said a word to you last year when you built a roof a whole foot higher than is allowed by law. On the contrary, I pretended not to have observed it. Believe me, my dearest friend, even now, I would, so to speak--but my duty--in a word, my duty demands that I should have an eye to cleanliness. Just judge for yourself, when suddenly in the principal street--"
"Fine principal streets yours are! Every woman goes there and throws down any rubbish she chooses."
"Permit me to inform you, Ivan Ivanovitch, that it is you who are insulting me. That does sometimes happen, but, as a rule, only besides fences, sheds, or storehouses; but that a filthy sow should intrude herself in the main street, in the square, now is a matter--"
"What sort of a matter? Peter Feodorovitch! surely a sow is one of God's creatures!"
"Agreed. Everybody knows that you are a learned man, that you are acquainted with sciences and various other subjects. I never studied the sciences: I began to learn to write in my thirteenth year. Of course you know that I was a soldier in the ranks."
"Hm!" said Ivan Ivanovitch.
"Yes," continued the chief of police, "in 1801 I was in the Forty-second Regiment of chasseurs, lieutenant in the fourth company. The commander of our company was, if I may be permitted to mention it, Captain Eremeeff." Thereupon the chief of police thrust his fingers into the snuff-box which Ivan Ivanovitch was holding open, and stirred up the snuff.
Ivan Ivanovitch answered, "Hm!"
"But my duty," went on the chief of police, "is to obey the commands of the authorities. Do you know, Ivan Ivanovitch, that a person who purloins a government document in the court-room incurs capital punishment equally with other criminals?"
"I know it; and, if you like, I can give you lessons. It is so decreed with regard to people, as if you, for instance, were to steal a document; but a sow is an animal, one of God's creatures."
"Certainly; but the law reads, 'Those guilty of theft'--I beg of you to listen most attentively--'Those guilty!' Here is indicated neither race nor sex nor rank: of course an animal can be guilty. You may say what you please; but the animal, until the sentence is pronounced by the court, should be committed to the charge of the police as a transgressor of the law."
"No, Peter Feodorovitch," retorted Ivan Ivanovitch coolly, "that shall not be."
"As you like: only I must carry out the orders of the authorities."
"What are you threatening me with? Probably you want to send that one-armed soldier after her. I shall order the woman who tends the door to drive him off with the poker: he'll get his last arm broken."
"I dare not dispute with you. In case you will not commit the sow to the charge of the police, then do what you please with her: kill her for Christmas, if you like, and make hams of her, or eat her as she is. Only I should like to ask you, in case you make sausages, to send me a couple, such as your Gapka makes so well, of blood and lard. My Agrafena Trofimovna is extremely fond of them."
"I will send you a couple of sausages if you permit."
"I shall be extremely obliged to you, dear friend and benefactor. Now permit me to say one word more. I am commissioned by the judge, as well as by all our acquaintances, so to speak, to effect a reconciliation between you and your friend, Ivan Nikiforovitch."
"What! with that brute! I to be reconciled to that clown! Never! It shall not be, it shall not be!" Ivan Ivanovitch was in a remarkably determined frame of mind.
"As you like," replied the chief of police, treating both nostrils to snuff. "I will not venture to advise you; but permit me to mention--here you live at enmity, and if you make peace. . ."
But Ivan Ivanovitch began to talk about catching quail, as he usually did when he wanted to put an end to a conversation. So the chief of police was obliged to retire without having achieved any success whatever.