OLD NICHIFOR, THE IMPOSTOR
BY I. CREANGA
0LD NICHIFOR is not a character out of a story-book but a real man like other men; he was once, when he was alive, an inhabitant of the Tzutzuen quarter of the town of Neamtzu, towards the village of Neamtzu Vinatori.
When old Nichifor lived in Tzutzuen my grandfather's grandfather was piper at the christening feast at the house of Mosh Dedui from Vinatori, the great Ciubar-Voda being godfather, to whom Mosh Dedui gave forty-nine brown lambs with only one eye each; and the priest, uncle of my mother's uncle, was Ciubuc the Bell-ringer from the Neamtzu Monastery, who put up a big bell at this same monastery at his own expense, and had a fancy to ring it all by himself an big feast days, on which account he was called the bell-ringer. About this time old Nichifor lived at Tzutzuen.
Old Nichifor was a cab-driver. Although his carriage was only fastened together with thongs of lime and bark, it was still a good carriage, roomy and comfortable. A hood of matting prevented the sun and rain from beating down into old Nichifor's carriage. In the well of the carriage hung a grease box with a greasing stick and some screws which banged against each other ding! dong ! ding! Dong! whenever the carriage moved. On a hook below the boot-on the left-was suspended a little axe to be ready for any emergency.
Two mares, white as snow and swift as flame, nearly always supported the pole of the carriage; nearly always but not quite always; old Nichifor was a horse- dealer, and when he got the chance he would either exchange or sell a mare in the middle of a journey, and in that case the pole would be bare on the one side. The old man liked to have young, well-bred mares; it was a weakness with him. Perhaps you will ask me why mares and always white ones, and I will tell you this: mares, because old Nichifor liked to breed from them, white, because the whiteness of the mares, he said, served him as a lantern on the road at nights.
Old Nichifor was not among those who do not know that" It is not good to be coachman behind white horses or the slave of women;" he knew this, but the mares were his own, and when he took care of them they were taken care of and when he did not-well, there was no one to reproach him. Old Nichifor avoided carrier's work; he refused to do any lifting for fear of giving himself a rupture.
" Cab driving," he said," is much better; one has to deal with live goods who go up hill on foot, and down hill on foot, and only stay in the carriage when it halts."
Old Nichifor had a whip of hemp twig, plaited by his own hand, with a silk lash, which he cracked loud enough to deafen you. And whether he had a full load or was empty, old Nichifor always walked up the hills and usually pulled together with the mares. Down the hills he walked to avoid laming the mares.
The passengers, willing or unwilling, had to do the same, for they had enough of old Nichifor's tongue, who once rounded on one of them like this:" Can't you get out and walk; the horse is not like a blockhead that talks." If you only knew how to appreciate everything that fell from old Nichifor's mouth, he was very witty. If he met a rider on the road, he would ask :" Left the Prince far behind, warrior?" and then, all at once, he would whip up the mares, saying
" White for the leader, white for the wheeler, The pole lies bare the one side. Heigh ! It's not far to Galatz. Heigh!"
But if he met women and young girls then he sang a knowing song, rather like this:
" When I took my rid wife Eight lovers did sigh Three women already wed, And five girls, in one village."
They say, moreover, that one could not take the road, especially in the month of May, with a pleasanter or gayer man. Only sometimes, when you pretended not to see you were passing the door of a public house, because you did not feel inclined to soften old Nichifor's throat, did you find him in a bad mood, but even on these occasions he would drive rapidly from one inn to the other. On one occasion, especially, old Nichifor coveted two mares which were marvels on the road, but at the inns, whether he wanted to or no, they used to halt, for he had bought them from a priest.
My father said that some old men, who had heard it from old Nichifor's own lips, had told him that at that time it was a good business being a cab driver in Neamtzu town. You drove from Varatic to Agapia, from Agapia to Varatic, then to Razboeni ; there were many customers, too, at the church hostels. Sometimes you had to take them to Peatra, sometimes to Folticeni, sometimes to the fair, sometimes to Neamtzu Monastery, sometimes all about the place to the different festivals. My father also said he had heard from my grandfather's grandfather that the then prior of Neamtzu is reported to have said to some nuns who were wandering through the town during Holy Week:
" Your blessing, reverend Father!"
" Why do you not stay in the convent and meditate during Passion Week?"
" Because, reverend Father," they are said to have replied with humility," this wool worries us, but for that we should not come. Your Reverence knows we keep ourselves by selling serge, and though we do not collect a great deal, still those who go about get something to live on . . ."
Then, they say, the prior gave a sigh, and he laid all the blame on old Nichifor, saying:
" I would the driver who brought you here might die, for then he could not bring you so often to the town."
They say old Nichifor was greatly troubled in his mind when he heard this, and that he swore an oath that as long as he lived he would never again have dealings with the clergy, for, unfortunately, old Nichifor was pious and was much afraid of falling under the ban of the priests. He quickly went to the little monastery at Vovidenia to Chiviac, the anchorite of St. Agora, who dyed his hair and beard with black cherries, and on dry Friday he very devoutly baked an egg at a candle that he might be absolved from his sins. And after this he decided that from henceforth he would have more to do with the commercial side.
" The merchant," said old Nichifor," lives by his business and for himself."
When he was asked why, old Nichifor answered jokingly:
" Because he has not got God for his master."
Old Nichifor was a wag among wags, there was no doubt of it, but owing to all he had to put up with he became a bit disagreeable.
I don't know what was the matter with her, but for some time past, his old wife had begun to grumble ; now this hurt her ; now that hurt her ; now she had the ear-ache ; now some one had cast a spell over her ; now she was in tears. She went from one old witch to the other to get spells and ointments. As for old Nichifor, this did not suit him and he was not at all at his ease ; if he stayed two or three days at home there was such bickering and quarrelling and ill will that his poor old wife rejoiced to see him leave the house.
It's plain old Nichifor was made for the road, and that when he was off it he was a different man ;let him be able to crack his whip and he was ready to chaff all the travellers he met and tell anecdotes about all the chief places he passed through.
Early one day-it was the Wednesday before Whit- Sunday-old Nichifor had taken a wheel off the carriage, and was greasing it when suddenly Master Shtrul of Neamtzu town came up behind him ; he was a grocer ; a dealer in ointments ; he took in washing ; he traded in cosmetics, hair-dyes, toilet accessories, blue stone, rouge or some good pomade for the face, palm branches, smelling salts and other poisons.
At that time there was no apothecary in Neamtzu town and Master Shtrul to please the monks and nuns brought them all they wanted. Of course he did other business too. To conclude, I hardly know how to tell you, he was more important than the confessor, for without him the monasteries could not have existed. " Good morning, Mosh Nichifor!" " Good luck to you, Master Shtrul. What business brings you to us?"
" My daughter-in-law wants to go to Peatra. How much will you charge to take her there?"
" Probably she will have a great many packages like you do, sir," said old Nichifor, scratching his head." That doesn't matter; she can have them. My carriage is large ; it can hold a good deal. But without bargaining, Master Shtrul, you give me sixteen shillings and a gold irmal and I'll take her there quite easily ; for you'll see, now I've attended to it and put some of this excellent grease into it, the carriage will run like a spinning-wheel."
" You must be satisfied with nine shillings, Mosh Nichifor, and my son will give you a tip when you get to Peatra."
" All right, then ; may God be with us, Master Shtrul. I am glad the fair is in full swing just now ; perhaps I shall get a customer for the return journey. Now I would like to know when we have to start?"
" Now, at once, Mosh Nichifor, if you are ready,"
" I am ready, Master Shtrul; I have only to water the mares. Go and get your daughter-in-law ready."
Old Nichifor was energetic and quick at his work and he rapidly threw some fodder into the carriage, spread out a couple of leather cushions, put to the mares, flung his sheepskin cloak round his shoulders, took his whip in his hand and was up and away. Master Shtrul had scarcely reached home when old Nichifor drew up his carriage at the door. Malta-that was the name of Master Shtrups daughter- in-law-came out to take a look at the driver.
This is Malta's story: it appeared that Peatra was her native place; she was very red in the face, because she had been crying at parting with her parents-in-law. It was the first time she had been in Neamtzu; it was her wedding visit as they say with us. It was not much more than two weeks since she had married Itzic, Master Shtrul's son, or, it would be better to say, in all good fellowship, that, Itzic had married Malta. He had quitted his parents' house according to the custom, and in two weeks' time Itzic had brought Malta to Neamtzu and placed her in his parents' hands and had returned quickly to Peatra to look after his business.
"You have kept your promise, Mush Nichifor?"
"Certainly, Master Shtrul; my word is my word. I don't trouble myself much. As for the journey, it's as well to set out early and to halt in good time in the evening."
" Will you be able to reach Peatra by the evening, Mosh Nichifor."
" Eh! Do you know what you're talking about, Master Shtrul? I expect, so help me God, to get your daughter-in- law to Peatra this afternoon."
" You are very experienced, Mosh Nichifor; you know better than I do. All I beg of you is that you will be very careful to let no harm befall my daughter-in-law."
" I did not start driving the day before yesterday, Master Shtrul. I have already driven dames and nuns and noble ladies and other honest girls, and, praise be to God, none have ever complained of me. Only with the nun Evlampia, begging sister from Varatic, did I have a little dispute. Wherever she went it was her custom to tie a cow to the back of the carriage, for economy's sake, that she might have milk on the journey; this caused me great annoyance. The cow, just like a cow, pulled the forage out of my carriage, once it broke the rack, going uphill it pulled back, and once it nearly strangled my mares. And I, unhappy man that I am, was bold enough to say, `Little nun, isn't it being a penny wise and a pound foolish?' Then she looked sadly at me, and in a gentle voice said to me, 'Do not speak so, Mosh Nichifor, do not speak thus of the poor little cow, for she, poor thing, is not guilty of anything. The anchorite fathers of St. Agora have ordained that I should drink milk from a caw only, so that I may not get old quickly; so what is to be done? I must listen to them, for these holy men know a great deal better than do we poor sinners.'
" When I heard this, I said to myself, that perhaps the begging Sister had some reason on her side, and I left her to her fate, for I saw that she was funny and at all events was determined to drink only from one well. But, Master Shtrul, I do not think you are going to annoy me with cows too. And, then, Mistress Malta, where it is very steep, uphill or down, will always get out and walk a little way. It is so beautiful out in the country then. But there, we mustn't waste our time talking Come, jump in, Mistress Malca, that I may take you home to your husband; I know how sad it is for these young wives when they have not got their husbands with them; they long for home as the horse longs for his nose-bag."
"I am ready to come, Mosh Nichifor."
And she began at once to pick up the feather mattress, the soft pillows, a bundle containing food, and other commodities. Then Malca took leave of her parents-in-law, and got on to the feather mattresses in the bottom of the carriage. Old Nichifor jumped on to the box, whipped up the mares, and left Master Shtrul and his wife behind in tears. Old Nichifor drove at a great pace through the town, the mares seemed to be almost flying. They passed the beach, the villages, and the hill at Humuleshti in a second, From Ocea nearly to Grumazeshti they went at the gallop.
But the other side of Grumazeshti old Nichifor took a pull from the brandy flask; which had come from Brashov, lit his pipe, and began to let the mares go their own pace.
" Look, Mistress Malca, do you see that fine, large village? It is called Grumazeshti. Were I to have as many bulls and you as many sons as Cossacks, barbarians and other low people have dropped dead there from time to time, it would be well for us!"
" God grant I may have sons, Mash Nichifor"
" And may I have bulls, young lady-I haven't no hope of having sons; my wife is an unfruitful vine; she has not been busy enough to give me even one; may she die before long ! When I am dead there'll be nothing left but this battered old carriage and these good-for-nothing mares!"
" Don't distress yourself, Mash Nichifor, said Malca, "maybe God has willed it so; because it is written in our books, concerning some people, that only in their old age did they beget sons."
" Don't bother me, Mistress Malca, with your books. I know what I know; it's all in vain, we never can choose. I have heard it said in our church that 'a tree that bears no fruit should be hewn down and cast into the fire.' Can one have anything clearer than that? Really, I wonder how I can have had patience to keep house with my old woman so long. In this respect you are a thousand times better off: If he does not give you a child you'll get someone else. If that does not do -why then another; and in due time will come a little blessing from the Almighty. It's not like that with us who see ourselves condemned to live with one barren stock to the end of our life with no prospect of children. After all the great and powerful Lord was not crucified for only one person in this world. Isn't it so, young lady? If you have anything more to say, say it !"
" It may be so, Mush Nichifor."
" Dear young lady, it is as I tell you. Houp la! We have gone a good part of the way. Lord, how a man forgets the road when he's talking, and when one wakes up who knows where one has got to. It's a good thing the Holy God has given one companionship! Hi! daughters of a dragon, get on! Here is the Grumazeshti Forest, the anxiety of merchants and the terror of the boyars. Hei, Mistress Malca, if this forest had a mouth to tell what it has seen, our ears could not hear more terrible adventures : I know we should hear some things !"
" But what has happened here, Mosh Nichifor?"
"Oh, young lady, oh! God grant that what has been may never be again ! One used to have some trouble to pass through here without being robbed, thrashed or murdered. Of course this happened more often by night than by day. As for me, up to now, I have never spoken in an unlucky hour, God preserve me! Wolves and other wild beasts have come out in front of me at different times, but I didn't hurt them; I left them alone, I pretended not to see anything, and they went about their own business."
" Ah, Mush Nichifor, don't talk about wolves any more, for they terrify me."
I have told you how amusing old Nichifor was; sometimes he would say something that made you hold your sides with laughing, at other times he would bring your heart into your mouth with fear.
" There is a wolf coming towards us, Mistress. Malca!"
" Woe is me! Mosh Nichifor, where can I hide?
" Hide where you are, for I can tell you one thing, I am not afraid of the whole pack."
Then poor Malca, terrified, clung round old Nichifor's neck, and stuck to him like a leech, and, as she sat there she said, trembling:
" Where is the wolf, Mosh Nichifor?"
" Where is it? It crossed the road just in front of us, and went into the wood again. But if you had strangled me, young lady, and then the mares had bolted, it would have been a fine look out."
He had scarcely ceased speaking when Malca said softly:
" Never tell me again that a wolf is coming, Mash Nichifor, I shall die from fright."
" It is not that I say so; there is one just coming ; there you have one !"
" Alas ! What are you saying?"
And again she hid close to old Nichifor.
" What is young is young. You want to play, young lady, isn't that it? It seems to me you're lucky, for I keep my self-control. I am not very afraid of the wolf, but if some one else had been in my place--
" No more wolves will come, Mash Nichifor, will they?"
" Oho ! you are too funny, young lady, you want them to come too often. You mustn't expect to see a wolf at every tree. On St. Andrew's Day many of them prowl together in the same place and the huntsmen arc on the watch. During the great hunt, do you think its only a few wolves that are put to shame by having to leave their skins as hostages? Now we will let the mares get their wind. Look, this is ' Dragon Hill.' Once an enormous dragon alighted here, which spouted flames out of his mouth, and when it whistled the forest roared, the valleys groaned, the wild beasts trembled and beat their heads together with fear, and no one dared pass by here."
" Alas ! And where is the dragon, Mash Nichifor?"
" How should I know, young lady; The forest is large, it knows where it has hidden itself. Some say that after it had eaten a great many people and peeled the bark off all the oaks in the wood it expired at this spot. By others I have heard it said that it made a black cow give it milk, and this enabled it to rise again into the skies whence it had fallen. But how do I know whom to believe? People will say anything ! Luckily I understand witchcraft, and I am not at all afraid of dragons. I can take serpents out of their nest as easily as you can take a flea out of your poultry-house."
" Where did you learn these spells, Mosh Nichifor?"
" Eh? My dear young lady, that I may not tell. My old woman-she was just on twenty-four when I fell in love with her-what hasn't she done ! How she has worried me to tell her, and I wouldn't tell her. And that's why she'll die when she does die, but why hasn't she died long before, for then I could have got a younger woman. For three days I can live in peace with her, and then it's enough to kill one ! I am sick to death of the old hag. Every minute she worries and reproaches me by her manner. When I think that when I return I have got to go back to her, I feel wild-just inclined to run away nothing more nor less."
" Stop, stop, Mosh Nichifor, you men are like that."
" Eh! Mistress Malcas, here we are near the top of the wood. Won't you walk a little while we go up the hill? I only say it because I am afraid you will get stiff sitting in the carriage. Look at the lovely flowers along the edge of the wood, they fill the air with sweetness. It is really a pity for you to sit huddled up there."
" I am afraid of the wolf, Mush Nichifor," said Malca, shaking.
" Let's have done with that wolf. Have you nothing else to talk about?"
" Stand still that I may get down."
" Wo! Step gently here on to the step of the carriage. Ah, now I see for myself that you are sturdy ; that's how I like people to be, born not laid."
While Malca gathered some balm to take to Itzic, old Nichifor stood still and tinkered a little at the carriage. Then he called quickly
" Are you ready, young lady? Come, get in and let us get on with the help of God ; from here on it is mostly down hill."
After Malca has mounted she asked
" Are we a little late, Mosh Nichifor?"
" If we meet with no obstacles I shall soon have you in Peatra."
And he whipped up the mares, saying:
" White for the leader, white for the wheeler The pole lies bare on the one side. Heigh! It's not far to Galatz. Heigh !"
He had scarcely gone twenty yards when-bang An axle- pin broke.
" Well, here's a to-do !"
" Woe is me! Mosh Nichifor, we shall be benighted in the wood."
" Don't take it amiss, Mistress Males. Come, it's only happened to me once in my life. While you eat a little something, and the mares put away a bit of fodder, I shall have replaced the axle-pin,"
When old Nichifor came to look at the hook, the little axe had disappeared !
"Well, what has been had to be;" said old Nichifor, knitting his eyebrows, and getting angry as he thought of it," If God punishes the old woman, may he punish her ! See how she takes care of me ; there is no axe here."
When poor Malca heard this she began to sigh and to say: " Mosh Nichifor, what are we to do?"
" Now, young lady, don't lose heart, for I have still a ray of hope."
He drew his pocket-knife out of its sheath, he went to the side of the carriage, and began to cut away at a young oak of the previous year. He cut it as best he could, then he began to rummage about in a box in the carriage to find some rope; but how could he find it if it had not been put in? After looking and looking in vain, he cut the cord from the nose-bag, and a strap from the bridle of one of the mares to tie the sapling where it was wanted, put the wheel in position, slipped in the bit of wood which tan from the head of the axle to the staff-side of the carriage, twisted round the chain which connected the head of the axle with the shaft, and tied it to the step ; then he lit his pipe and said:
" Look, my dear young lady, how necessity teaches a man what to do. With old Nichifor of Tzutzuen no one comes to grief on the road. But from now on sit tight in the bottom of the carriage, and hold fast to the back of your seat, for I must take these mares in hand and make them gallop. Yes, I warrant you, my old woman won't have an easy time when I get home. I'll play the devil with her and teach her how to treat her husband another time, for 'a woman who has not been beaten is like a broken mill.' Hold tight, Mistress Malca!"
And at once the mares began to gallop, the wheels to go round, and the dust to whirl up into the sky. But in a few yards the sapling began to get hot and brittle and-off came the wheel again !
" Ah ! Everything is contrary ! It's evident I crossed a priest early this morning or the devil knows what."
" Mosh Nichifor, what are we to do?"
" We shall do what we shall do, young lady. But now stay quiet here, and don't speak a word. It's lucky this didn't happen somewhere in the middle of the fields. Praise be to God, in the forest there is enough wood and to spare. Perhaps some one will catch us up who can lend me an axe."
And as he spoke he saw a man coming towards them.
" Well met, good man !"
" So your carriage has broken the road !"
" Put chaff aside, man ; it would be better if you came and helped me to mend this axle, for you can see my hearts breaking with my ill luck"
" But I am in a hurry to get to Oshlobeni. You'll have to lament in the forest to-night; I don't think you'll die of boredom."
" I am ashamed of you;" said Nichifor sulkily." You are older than I am and yet you have such ideas in your head:"
" Don't get excited, good man, I was only joking. Good luck! The Lord will show you what to do." And on he went.
" Look, Mistress Malca, what people the devil has put in this world ! He is only out to steal. If there had been a barrel of wine or brandy about, do you think he would have left the carriage stuck in the middle of the road all that time? But I see, anything there is to do must be done by old Nichifor. We must have another try.
And again he began to cut another sapling. He tried and he tried till he got that, too, into place. Then he whipped up the mares and once more trotted a little way, but at the first slope, the axle-pin broke again.
" Now, Mistress Miles, I must say the same as that man, we shall have to spend the night in the forest."
" Oh ! Woe is me ! Woe is me I Mosh Nichifor, what are you saying?"
" I am saying what is obvious to my eyes. Look yourself ; can't you see the sun is going down behind the hill, and we are still in the same place? It is nothing at all, so don't worry. I know of a clearing in the wood quite near here. We will go there, and we shall be just as though we were at home. The place is sheltered and the mares can graze. You'll sleep in the carriage, and I shall mount guard all night. The night soon passes, we must spend it as best we can, but I will remind my old woman all the rest of her days of this misfortune, for it is her fault that things have gone so with me."
" Well, do what you think best, Mosh Nichifor; it's sure to be right."
" Come, young lady, don't take it too much to heart, for we shall be quite all right."
And at once old Nichifor unharnessed the mares and, turning the carriage, he drew it as well as he could, till he reached the clearing.
" Mistress Males, it is like a paradise straight from God here; where one lives for ever, one never dies! But you are not accustomed to the beauty of the world. Let us walk a little bit while we can still see, for we must collect sticks to keep enough fire going all night to ward off the mosquitoes and gnats in the world."
Poor Malca saw it was all one now. She began to walk about and collect sticks.
" Lord ! you look pretty, young lady. It seems as though you are one of us. Didn't your father once keep an inn in the village somewhere?"
" For a long time he kept the inn at Bodesti"
" And I was wondering how you came to speak Moldavian so well and why you looked like one of our women. I cannot believe you were really afraid of the wolf. Well, well, what do you think of this clearing? Would you like to die without knowing the beauty of the world? Do you bear the nightingales, how charming they are? Do you hear the turtle-doves calling to each other?"
" Mosh Nichifor, won't something happen to us this evening? What will Itzic say?"
" Itzic? Itzic will think himself a lucky man when he sees you at home again."
" Do you think Itzic knows the world? Or _ what sort of accidents could happen on the road?"
" He only knows how to walk about his hearth or by the oven like my worn-out old woman at home. Let me see whether you know how to make a fire."
Malca arranged the sticks ; old Nichifor drew out the tinder box and soon had a flame. Then old Nichifor said:
" Do you see, Mistress Males, how beautifully the wood burns?"
" I see, Mosh Nichifor, but my heart is throbbing with fear."
" Ugh I you will excuse me, but you seem to belong to the Itzic breed. Pluck up a little courage! If you are so timid, get into the carriage, and go to sleep: the night is short, daylight soon comes."
Malca, encouraged by old Nichifor, got into the carriage and lay down ; old Nichifor lighted his pile, spread out his sheepskin cloak and stretched himself by the side of the fire and puffed away at his pipe, and was just going off to sleep when a spark flew out on to his nose !
Damn ! That must be a spark from the sticks Malca picked up ; it has burnt me so. Are you asleep, Mistress?"
" I think I was sleeping a little, Mosh Nichifor, but I had a nightmare and woke up."
" I have been unlucky too ; a spark jumped out on to my nose and frightened sleep away or I might have slept all night. But can anyone sleep through the mad row these nightingales are making? They scum to do it on purpose. But then, this is their time for making love to each other. Are you asleep, young lady?"
"I think I was going to sleep, Mosh Nichifor."
"Do you know, young lady, I think I will put out the fire now at once: I have just remembered that those wicked wolves prowl about and come after smoke." " Put it out, Mosh Nichifor, if that's the case."
Old Nichifor at once began to put dust on the fire to smother it.
" From now on, Mistress Malca, you can sleep without anxiety till the day dawns. There! I've put out the fire and forgotten to light my pipe.
But I've got the tinder box. The devil take you nightingales: I know too well you make love to each other!"
Old Nichifor sat thinking deeply until he had finished his pipe, then he rose softly and went up I to the carriage on the tips of his toes.
Malca had begun to snore a little. Old Nichifor shook her gently and said ;
"Mistress Malca ! Mistress Malca !"
" I hear, Mush Nichifor;" replied Malca, trembling and frightened.
" Do you know what I've been thinking as I sat by the fire?"
" What, Mosh Nichifor?"
" After you have gone to sleep, I will mount one of the mares, hurry home, fetch an axle-pin and axe, and by daybreak I shall be back here again:"
" Woe is me! Mosh Nichifor, what are you saying? Do you want to find me dead from fright when you come back?"
" May God preserve you from such a thing ! Don't be frightened, I was only talking at random."
" No, no, Mash Nichifor, from now on I shall not want to sleep ; I shall get down and sit by you all night."
" You look after yourself, young lady ; you sit quietly where you are, for you are comfortable."
" I am coming all the same."
And as she spoke down she came and sat on the grass by old Nichifor. And first one, and then the other was overcome by sleep, till both were slumbering profoundly. And when they woke it was broad daylight.
" See, Mistress Malta, here's the blessed day! Get up and come and see what's to be done. There, no one has eaten you, have they? Only you have had a great fright !"
Malca fell asleep again at these words. But old Nichifor, like a careful man, got up into the carriage, and began rummaging about all over the place, and under the forage bags, and what should there be but the axe and a measure and a gimlet beneath the seat.
" Who would have believed it! Here's a pity! I was wondering why my old woman didn't take care of me. Now because I wronged her so terribly I must take her back a red fez and a bag of butter to remind her of our youth. Evidently I took them out yesterday with my pipe. But my poor, good old wife, difficult though she is, knew all I should want on the journey, only she did not put them in their right place. But the woman tried to understand all here husband wanted ! Mistress Malca ! Mistress Malca !"
" What is it, Mosh Nichifor?"
" Do you know that I have found the axe, and the rope and the gimlet and everything I want."
" Where, Mosh Nichifor?"
" Why, under your bundles. Only they had no mouths with which to tell me. We have made a mistake: we have been like some one sitting on hidden treasure and asking for alms. But it's good that we have found them now. It shows my poor old woman did put them in:'
" Mosh Nichifor, you are feeling remorse in your heart."
" Well, yes, young lady. I see I am at fault. I must sing a song of penitence:
Poor old wile of mine ! Be she kind or be she harsh, Still her home is mine."
And so saying old Nichifor rolled up his sleeves, cut a beech stick, and made a wonderful axle-pin. Then he set it in position, put the wheel in place, harnessed the mares, quietly took the road and said
" In you get, young lady, and let's start."
As the mares were refreshed and well rested they were at Peatra by middle day.
" There you will see your home, Mistress Malca."
" Thank God, Mush Nichifor, that I came to no harm in the forest."
" The fact is, young lady, there's no doubt about it, there's no place like home."
And while they were talking they reached the door of Itzic's house. Itzic had only just come back from the school, and when he saw Malca he was beside himself with joy. But when he heard all about the adventures they had met with and how the Almighty had delivered them from danger he did not know how to thank old Nichifor enough. What did he not give him I He himself marvelled at all that was given him. The next day old Nichifor went back with other customers. And when he reached home he was so gay that his old woman wondered what he had been doing, for he was more drunk than he had been for a long time.
From now on Malca came every two or three weeks to visit her parents-in-law in Neamtzu : she would only let old Nichifor take her back home, and she was never again afraid of wolves.
A year, or perhaps several years, after, over a glass of wine, old Nichifor whispered to one of his friends the story of the adventure in the "Dragon" Wood, and the fright Mistress Malca got. Old Nichifor's friend whispered it again to some friends of his own, and then people, the way people will do, began to give old Nichifor a nickname and say
" Nichifor, the Impostor: Nichifor, the Impostor :" and even though he is dead the poor man has kept the name of Nichifor, the Impostor, to this very day.
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