“Whip ’em up! Hurry up! You lazybones! We’ll freeze to death!” shrieked the furious commissioner.
Ondra indifferently shouted to the horses and drowsily swung his whip over their heads, but as before they wearily, inertly dragged on the coach as if they had heard nothing at all.
Ondra was thinking of the miserable Stanoycho whose rye the com-missioner was going to confiscate early next morning.
“It was you brought me this misfortune, Ondra,” Stanoycho would say to him, and when he’d be through blaming him, he’d ask Ondra, to join his family in their meal, and then he’d weep. Yes, he would surely weep. Stanoycho’s heart was soft. Ondra knew that.
He must help the poor fellow, contrive to tell him to hide his rye overnight and sweep the granary clean, or else all the coming year he’d be stretching his lean ears in hunger. Yes, he must do something!
Nothing was distinguishable but mud—-deep, thick mud. The road lost itself in the mire, and led nowhere except into more mud.
Ondra pulled up the lines and stopped the horses.
“I’m afraid we’re in danger of losing our way, Mr. Commissioner!” And the lad peered intently into the darkness.
The commissioner looked gravely at the driver’s face on which not a trace of his former mischief was visible.
“Boy, open your eyes, or I’ll not answer for the consequences. You’ll get a thrashing.”
Ondra jerked the reins, swished his whip and cried, “Hold on tight, Mr. Commissioner!” Far off in the distance before them the lights of the village glimmered. The distant echoes of dogs’ barking was carried to them. A few feet to the right of them glistened the pearly surface of a great pool of motionless water. The coach turned its course in that direction.
“What’s that?” asked the commissioner.
“A swamp, Mr. Commissioner. The road leads right through it. It’s shallow, don’t be afraid. Only a few holes here and there. I usually miss ’em whether I go by wagon or on foot. Vyee, there, sirs! Hold tight,Mr. Commissioner!”
The horses plunged into the cold water, which mirrored the starry sky. They proceeded more and more cautiously as they began to sink deeper and deeper into the mire. The dead surface of the pearl-green water broke into lively motion.
Commissioner in terror
“Stop, you cattle!” cried the commissioner in terror, drawing his coat tightly round him. “You’ll drown me, you fool! Can’t you see the coach is filling with water! Stop! Stop!”
Ondra stopped. The coach sank in to the bottom, standing in the middle of a swamp whose margin was lost in the impenetrable blackness.
“Ho! Go ahead!” bawled Ondra to his horses. His powerful young voice reechoed through the night. Near by some wild ducks fluttered excitedly and vanished in the dark.