Page:Dead Souls - A Poem by Nikolay Gogol - vol2.djvu/43

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33
BOOK ONE

away. He went slowly, as slowly as possible downstairs, leaving traces of his wet boots on the steps worn hollow by long use, and he stood for a long time scratching the back of his head. What did that scratching signify? and what does it indicate as a rule? Was it vexation at missing the meeting planned for the next day in some imperial tavern with a fellow-coachman, clad in an unattractive sheepskin with a sash tied round the waist, or had some little affair of the heart developed in this new place, and had he to give up standing in the evenings at the gate and diplomatically holding white hands at the hour when twilight drops upon the town, when a lad in a red shirt twangs on the balalaika before the assembled house-serfs, and working people of all sorts after their toil exchange quiet talk? Or was he simply sorry to leave the snug place he had made for himself under a sheepskin by the stove in the servants' kitchen, and the cabbage soup with the tender little town-made pies, to go dragging again through the rain and the sleet and all the hardships of the road? God knows,—there is no guessing. Scratching the head signifies all manner of things among the Russian people.