Taras Bulba and Other Tales HTML version

The Calash
The town of B-- had become very lively since a cavalry regiment had taken up its
quarters in it. Up to that date it had been mortally wearisome there. When you happened
to pass through the town and glanced at its little mud houses with their incredibly gloomy
aspect, the pen refuses to express what you felt. You suffered a terrible uneasiness as if
you had just lost all your money at play, or had committed some terrible blunder in
company. The plaster covering the houses, soaked by the rain, had fallen away in many
places from their walls, which from white had become streaked and spotted, whilst old
reeds served to thatch them.
Following a custom very common in the towns of South Russia, the chief of police has
long since had all the trees in the gardens cut down to improve the view. One never meets
anything in the town, unless it is a cock crossing the road, full of dust and soft as a
pillow. At the slightest rain this dust is turned into mud, and then all the streets are filled
with pigs. Displaying to all their grave faces, they utter such grunts that travellers only
think of pressing their horses to get away from them as soon as possible. Sometimes
some country gentleman of the neighbourhood, the owner of a dozen serfs, passes in a
vehicle which is a kind of compromise between a carriage and a cart, surrounded by
sacks of flour, and whipping up his bay mare with her colt trotting by her side. The aspect
of the marketplace is mournful enough. The tailor's house sticks out very stupidly, not
squarely to the front but sideways. Facing it is a brick house with two windows,
unfinished for fifteen years past, and further on a large wooden market-stall standing by
itself and painted mud-colour. This stall, which was to serve as a model, was built by the
chief of police in the time of his youth, before he got into the habit of falling asleep
directly after dinner, and of drinking a kind of decoction of dried goose-berries every
evening. All around the rest of the market-place are nothing but palings. But in the centre
are some little sheds where a packet of round cakes, a stout woman in a red dress, a bar of
soap, some pounds of bitter almonds, some lead, some cotton, and two shopmen playing
at "svaika," a game resembling quoits, are always to be seen.
But on the arrival of the cavalry regiment everything changed. The streets became more
lively and wore quite another aspect. Often from their little houses the inhabitants would
see a tall and well-made officer with a plumed hat pass by, on his way to the quarters of
one of his comrades to discuss the chances of promotion or the qualities of a new
tobacco, or perhaps to risk at play his carriage, which might indeed be called the carriage
of all the regiment, since it belonged in turn to every one of them. To-day it was the
major who drove out in it, to-morrow it was seen in the lieutenant's coach-house, and a
week later the major's servant was again greasing its wheels. The long hedges separating
the houses were suddenly covered with soldiers' caps exposed to the sun, grey frieze
cloaks hung in the doorways, and moustaches harsh and bristling as clothes brushes were
to be met with in all the streets. These moustaches showed themselves everywhere, but
above all at the market, over the shoulders of the women of the place who flocked there
from all sides to make their purchases. The officers lent great animation to society at B--.