Throughout Nozdrev's maunderings Chichikov had been rubbing his eyes to ascertain whether or not he was dreaming. What with the charge of being a forger, the accusation of having schemed an abduction, the death of the Public Prosecutor (whatever might have been its cause), and the advent of a new Governor-General, he felt utterly dismayed.
"Things having come to their present pass," he reflected, "I had better not linger here--I had better be off at once."
Getting rid of Nozdrev as soon as he could, he sent for Selifan, and ordered him to be up at daybreak, in order to clean the britchka and to have everything ready for a start at six o'clock. Yet, though Selifan replied, "Very well, Paul Ivanovitch," he hesitated awhile by the door. Next, Chichikov bid Petrushka get out the dusty portmanteau from under the bed, and then set to work to cram into it, pell-mell, socks, shirts, collars (both clean and dirty), boot trees, a calendar, and a variety of other articles. Everything went into the receptacle just as it came to hand, since his one object was to obviate any possible delay in the morning's departure. Meanwhile the reluctant Selifan slowly, very slowly, left the room, as slowly descended the staircase (on each separate step of which he left a muddy foot-print), and, finally, halted to scratch his head. What that scratching may have meant no one could say; for, with the Russian populace, such a scratching may mean any one of a hundred things.
Nevertheless events did not turn out as Chichikov had intended they should. In the first place, he overslept himself. That was check number one. In the second place, on his rising and inquiring whether the britchka had been harnessed and everything got ready, he was informed that neither of those two things had been done. That was check number two. Beside himself with rage, he prepared to give Selifan the wigging of his life, and, meanwhile, waited impatiently to hear what the delinquent had got to say in his defence. It goes without saying that when Selifan made his appearance in the doorway he had only the usual excuses to offer--the sort of excuses usually offered by servants when a hasty departure has become imperatively necessary.
"Paul Ivanovitch," he said, "the horses require shoeing."
"Blockhead!" exclaimed Chichikov. "Why did you not tell me of that before, you damned fool? Was there not time enough for them to be shod?"
"Yes, I suppose there was," agreed Selifan. "Also one of the wheels is in want of a new tyre, for the roads are so rough that the old tyre is worn through. Also, the body of the britchka is so rickety that probably it will not last more than a couple of stages."
"Rascal!" shouted Chichikov, clenching his fists and approaching Selifan in such a manner that, fearing to receive a blow, the man backed and dodged aside. "Do you mean to ruin me, and to break all our bones on the road, you cursed idiot? For these three weeks past you have been doing nothing at all; yet now, at the last moment, you come here stammering and playing the fool! Do you think I keep you just to eat and to drive yourself about? You must have known of this before? Did you, or did you not, know it? Answer me at once."