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the pavements (the roughest in the world) with a load, consisting, in nine cases out of ten, of a fat old gentleman in military uniform, a very ugly old lady with a lap-dog, or a very dashy young lady glittering with jewels, on her way, perhaps, to the Confiseur's or somewhere else. But in a city like St. Petersburg, where it is at least two or three miles from one place to another, every body with twenty kopecks in his pocket uses the drosky. It is the most convenient and economical mode of locomotion for all ordinary purposes, hence the number of them is very large. On some of the principal streets it is marvelous how they wind their way at such a rattling pace through the crowd. To a stranger unacquainted with localities, they are a great convenience. And here, you see, commences the gist of the story.
On a certain occasion I called a drosky-man and directed him to drive me to the United States Consulate. Having never been there myself, I depended solely upon the intelligence and enterprise of the istroyoschik. My knowledge of the Russian consisted of three words—the name of the street and dratzall kopeck, the latter being the stipulated fare of twenty kopecks. By an affirmative signal the driver gave me to understand that he fully comprehended my wishes, and, with a flourish of his whip, away we started. After driving me nearly all over the city of St. Petersburg—a pretty extensive city, as any body will find who undertakes to walk through it —this adroit and skillful whipster, who had never uttered a word from the time of starting, now deliberately drew up his drosky on the corner of a principal street and began a conversation. I repeated the name of the street in which the consulate was located, and dratzall kopeck. The driver gazed in my face with a grave and placid countenance, stroked his long beard, tucked the skirts of his long blue coat under him, and drove on again. After rattling over a series of the most frightful cobble-stone pavements ever designed as an improvement in a great city, through several new quarters, he again
stopped and treated me to some more remarks in his native language. I answered as before, the name of the street. He shook his head with discouraging gravity. I then remarked dratzall kopeck. From the confused answer he made, which occupied at least ten minutes of his time, and of which I was unable to comprehend a single word, it was apparent that he was as ignorant of his own language as be was of the city. In this extremity he called another driver to his aid, who spoke just the words of English, “ Gooda-morkig !” “Good-morning,” said I. From this the conversation lapsed at once into remote depths of Russian. In despair I got out of the drosky and walked along the street, looking up at all the signs—the driver after me with his drosky, apparently watching to see that I did not make my escape. At length I espied a German name on a bakery sign. How familiar it looked in that desert of unintelligible Russian-like a favorite quotation in a page of metaphysics. I went in and spoke German-vie gaetz? You are aware, perhaps, that I excel in that language. I asked the way to the United States Consulate. The baker had probably forgotten his native tongue, if ever he knew it at all, for I could get nothing out of him but a shake of the head and nicht furstay. However, he had the goodness, seeing my perplexity, to put on his hat and undertake to find the consul's, which, by dint of inquiry, he at length ascertained to be about half a mile distant. We walked all the way, this good old baker and I, he refusing to ride because there was only room for one, and I not liking to do so and let him walk. The drosky-man followed in the rear, driving along very leisurely, and with great apparent comfort to himself. He leaned back in his seat with much gusto, and seemed rather amused than otherwise at our movements. At length we reached the consulate. It was about three hundred yards from my original point of departure. Any other man in existence than my istrovoschik would have sunk into the earth upon seeing me make this astounding discovery. I knew it by certain landmarks—a church and a garden. But he did not sink into the earth. He merely sat on his drosky as cool as a cucumber. I felt so. grateful to the worthy baker, who was a fat old gentleman, and perspired freely after his walk, that I gave him thirty kopecks. The drosky-man claimed forty kopecks, just double his fare. I called in the services of an interpreter, and protested against this imposition. The interpreter and the drosky-man got into an animated dispute on the question, and must have gone clear back to the fundamental principles of droskyism, for they seemed likely never to come to an end. The weather was warm, and both kept constantly wiping their faces, and turning the whole subject over and over again, without the slightest probability of an equitable conclusion. At length my interpreter said, “ Perhaps, sir, you had better pay it. The man says you kept him running about for over two hours; and since you have no proof to the contrary, it would only give you trouble to have him punished.” This view accorded entirely with my own, and I cheerfully paid the forty kopecks; also ten kopecks drink-geld, and a small douceur of half a ruble (fifty kopecks) to the gentleman who had so kindly settled the difficulty for me. After many years' experience of travel, I am satisfied, as before stated, that a man may be born naturally honest, but can not long retain his integrity in the hack business. He must sooner or later take to swindling, otherwise he can never keep his horses fat, or make the profession respectable and remunerative. Such, at least, has been my experience of men in this line of business, not excepting the istrovoschik of St. Petersburg.
A PLEASANT EXCURSION. I had the good fortune, during my ramble, to meet with a couple of fellow-passengers from Stettin. One of them was a rough, weather - beaten man of middle age, with rather marked features, but not an unkindly expression. His mysterious conduct during the voyage had frequently attracted my attention. There was something curious about his motions, as if an invisible companion, to whom he was bound in some strange way, continually accompanied him. He drank enormous quantities of beer, and smoked from morning till night a tremendous meerschaum, which must have held at least a pint of tobacco. When not engaged in drinking beer and smoking, he usually walked rapidly up and down the decks, with his hands behind him and his head bent down, talking in a guttural voice to himself about “hemp.” He slept — or rather lay down, for I don't think he ever slept—with his head close to mine on a bench in the cabin, and it was a continued source of trouble to me the way he puffed, and groaned, and talked about “hemp.” Sometimes he was half the night arguing with himself about the various prices and qualities of this useful article, but I did not understand enough of his blat deutsch to gather the drift of the argument. All I could make out was “ Zweimal zwei macht vier-(a puff) -sechs und vierzig—a groan)—acht und sechzig macht ein hundert—(a snort) — sieben tausend-acht tausend fünf und dreissig thaler-(a sigh)-schilling-kopeck -ruble-hemphf! Mein Gott! Zwei und dreissig tausend—hemphf-ruble—(a terrible gritting of the teeth) -sechs und fünfzig, Gott im Himmel !—Ich kann nicht schlafen .!” Here he would jump up and shout, “Kellner' Kellner ! ein flask bier 1-sechs und zechzig-zweimal acht und vierzig! Kellner, flask bier !-Liebe Gottwas ist das ?—Nine und sechzig-flask bier! Kleich! Kleich !” When the beer came he would drink off three bottles without stopping, then light his pipe, fill the cabin with smoke, and after he had done that go on deck to get the fresh air. I could hear him for hours walking up and down over my head, and thought I could occasionally detect the words "Hemphf - ruble— thaler — fünfmal sechs und zwanzig-mein Gott !” It was evident the man was laboring under some dreadful internal excitement about the price of hemp. What could it be? Was he going to hang himself ? Did he contemplate buying some Russian hemp for that purpose especially? The mystery was heightened by the fact that he was frequently in close conversation with the young man whom I have already mentioned as my other fellow-passenger, and they both talked about nothing else but hemp. What in the name of sense were they going to do with hemp in Mechlenberg, their native country, where people were beheaded — unless they meant to hang themselves ? The mystery troubled nie so much that I finally made bold to ask the young man if his friend had committed any serious crime, and whether that was the reason he talked so much about hemp ? These North Germans are a queer people. I don't think they ever suspect any body to be joking. They take the most outrageous proposition literally, and never seem to understand that there can be two meanings to any thing. As Sydney Smith says of the Scotch, it would take a surgical operation to get a joke well into their understanding. When I propounded this question to my young fellow-passenger-a very amiable and intelligent young man-he looked distressed and horror-stricken, and replied with great earnestness, “Oh no, he is a very respectable man. I am certain he never committed a crime in his life.” “But,” said I, “if he doesn't intend to bang somebody, why should he rave about hemp all night ?”