“Stop your silly chatter and get along. It’s getting dark, and I’ve got to get back to celebrate Christmas with my family. You charge too much, you imp! Three leu for twenty kilometers! You surely know how to skin us. Hurry up, will you: drive faster or those jades of yours will go to sleep!”
“Vyee, there! Vyee, sirs!” shouted Ondra, swinging his whip in the air.
“Sirs, you call them? Sirs! Better call them ‘brothers,’ ” commented the commissioner in a rage.
“They’d resent that, Mr. Commissioner! I’d insult ’em if I didn’t call ’em sirs. Why, they’re regular gentlemen! Their service is official: they run on a regular schedule. In the morning they get up; at a certain hour we water them and give them their feed. Then we harness them up, they go, you might say, to their offices: they pull till evening. Have supper at a regular hour, drink water, ‘read the news,’ so to speak, and —sleep. Regular official life!”
“Where did you get your drinks, friend? Stop your jabbering and get on, or I’ll be late. You’ve got a sly look, fellow, sly!”
“There’re no wolves about, Mr. Commissioner, don’t fear,” the driver said in such a tone that the honorable court official looked round with apprehensive eyes.
“I’m not afraid of wolves, friend, but of the cold weather. I haven’t time tft nurse a cold.”
They jogged on silently for a while.
“So you’re on an official mission? Who’s going to get scorched this time?” Ondra turned a serious face toward his passenger.
The commissioner waited for a while before answering. “Why shouldn’t you know? Stanoycho they call him, little man with a thick neck.”
“I know him. So you’re going to take his rye, are you? He’s a poor fellow, Mr. Commissioner; let him off this time. It’s Christmas, you know, and all that!”
“Poor fellow, yes, but a regular devil!” The commissioner lapsed into silence. Darkness was falling. The horses could barely crawl to the top of the hill beyond which lay the village. Ondra no longer urged them on, nor swung his long whip above them. He stopped his talk, he no longer sang, and was lost in meditation.
When they reached the summit and started down on the other side, night had come, but there was still no sign of the village. A cold pene-trating wind blew over the land buried under the mire. Scattered clouds moved up toward the mountains. The blue vault of the frosty sky cleared up, widened and lifted to greater heights. Soon stars, cold and glistening, appeared on its surface. The air was perceptibly chillier. The horses plodded on slowly, sluggishly.