General Toptigin

This poem was written by Nikolay Alexandrovich Nekrasov (1821-1877)

On a very cold, late winter evening, a young troika driver (Yamshik in Russian) named Fedya (short for Fyodor) was slowly riding back to his hometown. Even though his horses were rested, he continued slowly along the road for it had many groves and bumps. Along the way he met a bearded man named Triphon, who had a bear travelling with him. The man asked the Yamshik to give him and the bear a ride.

The driver hesitated at first, but Triphon reassured him that his bear was a submissive, well-trained animal. He also offered to pay extra for the ride. Triphon got the bear on the sleigh and the three rode-off. Along the way, Triphon saw a tavern (kabachok) and invited Fedya to have a drink. He told the bear to wait for them for a little while. He reassured the bear that it would only be for an hour. So, the two went into the saloon, while the old bear just sat there quietly in the troika, licking his paw and ringing his chain.

The two men lost track of time and were away much longer than one hour. The party went on and on. The horses stood quietly outside the saloon, awaiting their masters.

As the evening wore on, the cold got worse, the horses began to shiver. The bear (now the author gives him a name - Mikhailo Ivanovich) started moving around in the back of the sleigh. The horses began to move as well, startling the bear. Suddenly, he gave out a great roar. This gave the horses quite a fright, and sent them and the troika flying off down the road.

Fyodor heard the bell, and walked outside the saloon to get the troika, but it was already too far away for him to catch up to it.

The three horses carried the troika very fast down the road. The bear roared every time they hit a bump. The people beside the road cried out, "Move out of the way! General Toptigin himself is driving to his den." Every man (muzjik) walking along the road shuddered, every woman (baba) was frightened, every time the troika hit a bump and the furry rider roared. The horses were terrified and tired - they rode very fast for fifteen miles straight.

The troika approached a "troika horse exchange" station. The clerk stopped the horses and the station manager walked out the door to greet the passengers. He noticed the boots on the legs of the bear and its fur coat. As he rushed to service the General, he did not notice the chain in the animal's mouth. He did not even think about the missing yamshik (driver). He only noticed that the passenger was very serious - a general probably. The manager took off his peak cap and saluted the general, and said "Greetings General", and offered the traveler a choice of refreshments - tea or vodka. After all, this quick old manager wanted to provide the best of service to the highest-ranking passengers. The bear roared in return with all its might. The manager jumped away, making a sign of a cross, and said, "Lord have mercy! I've served with dignity and honor at various stations for forty years, and I've seen many strict generals along the way. Some had no teeth, some were missing a rib, but one that has a ring in his mouth, that I've never seen before in my life. But my goodness! This kind of general, I've never seen! It must be a new uniform!"

Other yamshiki (drivers) gathered to see this event. The unusual event at the station drew people from the nearby village. They had heard, "A general in the back of a sleigh roars like a bear in its den!" The frightened ran away, others stood in wonder, gathered close to the sleigh. The frightened manager stood off at a distance, and called out to the bear, "Would you like to enter the station, sir?" The bear gave a very loud roar in reply. The manager, along with the crowd ran away in fear.

For two more hours the rude General lay in the troika. Fyodor and Triphon ran all the way from the bar and finally made it to the station. Triphon told the people about the bear and chased the bear away from the sleigh with a stick.

The manager called the Yamshik a beast...