Page:Dead Souls - A Poem by Nikolay Gogol - vol2.djvu/79

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69
BOOK ONE

hair was grey. The terms were fixed and the society set to work. The enterprise began brilliantly. The reader has no doubt often heard the story of the clever journey of the Spanish sheep who, crossing the frontier in two sheepskins, carried over Brabant lace to the value of millions of roubles under their fleeces. This incident took place at the time when Tchitchikov was in the customs. Had he not had a hand in this enterprise no Jews in the world could have succeeded in carrying out such an undertaking. After three or four flocks of sheep had crossed the frontier the two customs house officials found themselves in possession of a capital of four hundred thousand roubles. Tchitchikov is said to have made five hundred thousand because he was a little sharper. Goodness knows to what immense figure their gains might have swelled, had not an unlucky chance in an evil hour ruined everything. The devil confounded the two officials. To speak plainly the officials lost their temper and quarrelled about nothing. In some heated conversation, possibly after too much to drink, Tchitchikov called his colleague a priest's son, and, though he really was a priest's son, the latter, why I cannot say, was bitterly offended and answered him at once forcibly and extremely cuttingly in these words: 'That's a lie, I'm a civil councillor and not a priest's son, but you are a priest's son,' and added to annoy him further: 'so that's all about it.' Though he did score off him in this way, throw-