“Guess we, too, have to turn into moor-hens ’and wade out,” said Ondra thoughtfully, “or else—”
“Oh, you idiot! Just wait till we get out of this! I’ll break every bone in your body! We’ll drown here like rats! You ass!”
“No, we won’t drown, Mr. Commissioner, we won’t drown, don’t be afraid. In this darkness anyone would miss the way. Just be calm,” said Ondra, and began to examine the harness. Then he proceeded to buckle and unbuckle various straps, swearing loudly, tying, untying, cursing incessantly. Finally he resumed his place on the driver’s seat, swung his whip and shouted, “Vyee, there! Go on!”
The horses pulled and went forward. Suddenly one of them slipped loose from the shaft and staggered ahead in the mire, free of the har-ness. The other horse stood still with the coach.
“Ho, you! What’s happened now?” shrieked the commissioner.
“Stop, you! Dorcha, Dorcha!” called Ondra to the liberated horse, and began to coax it to come back.
But the animal, frightened by the water, turned round and warily made its way back in the direction of the shore, where it gradually lost itself to view, wholly oblivious of the pleadings of his master.
The commissioner stood up excitedly in the coach, terror written on every feature.
At that instant Ondra quickly leaped onto the other horse and, following in Dorcha’s path, continued to call loudly, “Dorcha, Dorcha, wait! Come back—Dorcha, Dorcha!”
“Where are you going? Stop! What are you doing, you cattle? You crazy fool! Oh, you lousy peasant! I’ll fix you!”
In the darkness only merry laughter was his response.
“Oh, you cattle, so you’re leaving me here! To perish! For the beasts to devour me! Boy, don’t do it, please, I beg you!” implored the com-missioner in a trembling voice.
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, Mr. Commissioner,” sounded Ondra’s voice. “No wild beasts here in the swamp. Just wrap up, so you don’t take cold. To-morrow morning—early, bright and early—I’ll come. There’s hay in the coach, make yourself a bed. I’ll not charge you for the night’s lodging!”
“Boy, don’t joke,” pleaded the commissioner. “Don’t leave me! Come back! Pull me out of here!”
“It’s dark, sir, very dark. I can’t see a thing! And my horse has run away! How can I help you? I can’t do it!”
The commissioner heard the mocking voice wafted back out of the darkness. Terrified at the prospect, alone there in the middle of the dis-mal swamp, he burst into tearful entreaty.
“Ondra, come back! Please—please! I’ll pay you well—pay you anything! Help me out of this! I’ll die here! I have children! They’re waiting for me! It’s Christmas! Have you no heart?” His voice broke in desperation. He listened, but no answer came. Then, as if bereft of his senses, he howled out into the unanswering darkness: “Ho, fellow! Cattle! You ox! You beast! Come back! Take me out of this! Have pity! My children! Christmas! You peasant cur! You dog!”
And sinking back into the coach, he drew his fur coat about him and burst out crying like a child.
But the black night gave no answer.