It is scarcely possible to convey an idea of the impression produced upon me by this popular song, with the gallows for its subject, sung as it was by people destined for them. Their ferocious looks, their ringing voices, the dismal tone in which these sufficiently expressive words were sounded, all filled me with a sort of undefined terror.
The revellers drained another glass, and then rose and took leave of Pougatcheff. I was about to follow out after them, but Pougatcheff said—
"Stay, I have to speak to thee."
We remained alone. We were silent for some minutes. Pougatcheff watched me, now and then closing his left eye with an extraordinary expression of roguery and derision. At last he burst into such a genuine merry laugh, that, as I looked at him, I also laughed, without knowing why.
"Well, your lordship!" said he, "thou wast frightened—admit it, when my boys threw the rope round thy neck? I suppose the sky must have appeared to thee of the size of a sheepskin. . . . And thou would'st have swung from the cross-beam, had it not been for thy servant. I recognized the old owl immediately. Well, sir, could'st thou have supposed that the man who guided thee to the inn, was the great emperor himself?" (here he assumed an important and mysterious air). "Thou art very guilty towards me," he continued; "but I showed thee mercy for thy good deed, for thou didst me a service at a time when I was forced to hide myself from my enemies. But this is not all! I shall show thee greater