The small coach slowly wallowed through the deep soft mud, wading in, wading out, twisting and turning. A loose board on the side of it constantly, monotonously, dismally and senselessly rattled and banged mercilessly on the nerves of the corpulent gentleman in the fur coat. Finally, losing all patience, he opened his collar, thrust out his fat face, and shouted: “What is that horrible rattle? Devil take it!”
“It’s only a loose clapboard, sir. It bangs away like a learned man : no sense to its rattle at all!”
“You’re clever, Ondra, very clever! You know how to fool the young girls, I’ll bet. You fellows marry young and have pretty wives.”
The gentleman thrust back the tall collar of his fur coat in his attempt at jocularity.
“Say what you will, the married women are better! I know it! And you, sir, have an errand in our village, I take it?”
“I’m the court commissioner.”
Ondra turned round and inspected his fare with a penetrating look.
“On official service, I suppose?”
“Service, of course. One of your fine fellows played a trick on me, but this time I’ll fix him properly. I’ve got one official paper in my hands that’ll catch him right. I got wind of the fact that this fellow was deceiving us—and I’ll search him out in the evening. Believe me, he’ll have cause to remember me and this Christmas! I’ll confiscate all his rye—every grain of it!
Not only to teach him what’s what, but to set an example to all the rest of you not to try to fool the authorities. You cheat the merchants, you cheat the townspeople; you sell them spoiled eggs and rancid butter. But just wait, you peasant brood, you can’t cheat the courts! We know how to punish you! What you need is the lash—a stout Russian knout—that’s the only way to teach you! You’ve all become drunkards, low-down trash. You’re failing to meet your taxes—you’re destroyers of the State! Our patriotic interests are suffering! 1 wish I could be Czar for at least two days, and I’d fix you all my way! I’d make angels of all of you; yes, sir, angels! Pity I’m not the Czar!”
The court commissioner unbuttoned his fur coat, inside of which he squirmed like a chick breaking out of its shell.
“Oh, but Mr. Commissioner, God created the world and calculated that women don’t need beards, so he didn’t give them beards. He figured that an ass needs long ears, so he gave a pair to every donkey,” answered Ondra with feigned simplicity.