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Page:Pushkin - Russian Romance (King, 1875).djvu/72

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Ivan Kouzmitch was not prepared for such a question. He got puzzled and muttered something incoherently. Persuaded of her husband's cunning, but knowing full well that she should learn nothing of him, Vassilissa Yegorovna ceased interrogating, and turned the conversation to salted cucumbers, which Akoulina Pamphylovna prepared in quite a peculiar manner. She could not sleep all night, unable to conceive what could possibly occupy her husband's mind, that she was not to know.

The next day, upon her return from mass, she saw Ivan Ignatitch busily engaged extracting from the gun the rags, pebbles, bits of wood, knuckle-bones, and all sorts of rubbish with which the children had crammed it.

"What can these warlike preparations mean?" mused the commandant's wife. "Can it be possible that the Khirghis are expected to attack? But is it likely that Ivan Kouzmitch conceals such trifles from me?" She called Ivan Ignatitch, determined to coax out of him the secret which so tormented her female curiosity.

Vassilissa Yegorovna made some remarks having reference to housekeeping, like a judge who prefaces his interrogatory by putting irrelevant questions in order to throw the accused off his guard. After a momentary silence, she sighed deeply and said, shaking her head—

"Good God! What news! What will come of it?"

"Well, my little mother!" answered Ivan Ignatitch, "God is merciful. We have a pretty good number of soldiers, plenty of powder, and I have cleaned out the