Page:Dead Souls - A Poem by Nikolay Gogol - vol2.djvu/27

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17
BOOK ONE

the other hand he was far from thin. Perhaps some of my readers will call this improbable; the author is quite prepared to oblige them by confessing that it is most improbable; but unfortunately it all happened precisely as described, and what makes it the more astonishing is that the town was not far away in the wilds, but, on the contrary, no great distance from both capitals. But it must be remembered that all this happened very shortly after the glorious expulsion of the French. At that period all our landowners, officials and merchants and shopmen and every one that could read and write, and even illiterate peasants, became at least for eight years inveterate politicians. The Moscow News and the Son of the Fatherland were read with merciless zeal, and reached the last reader in tatters quite useless for any purpose whatever. Instead of such questions as: 'At what price were they selling the measure of oats, sir?' 'Did you get any fun out of the snow we had yesterday?' they used to ask: 'What news is there in the paper? Haven't they let Napoleon out of the Island again?' The merchants were in the greatest apprehension of this, for they put implicit faith in the predictions of a prophet who had been for three years in prison. No one knew where the prophet came from, he made his appearance wearing bark shoes, and an unlined sheepskin and smelling terribly of stale fish, and announced that Napoleon was Antichrist, and was bound by a stone chain behind six walls and seven seas,