At last the wild beast was forced between the shafts. As the reins were loosened he rose on his hind legs, and the lash fell on his neck; he pranced about on all fours with arched neck and flaring nostrils. Then Peter Lo’s wife came up, gathering her shawl around her shoulders, and—believe it or not—stepped calmly into the gig while the earthquake was still going on. Now Peter Lo knew that the victory was his; he put his hand on the dashboard and leaped up besides his wife; the horse reared, his eyes shot fire, the foam flew, the whip cracked, and the next second the whole show dissolved in a cloud of dust rushing along beyond the farmhouses.
We stood rooted to the spot. The other men began bashfully to hitch up their own horses. There was really nothing at all left to look at.
Peter Lo and Skobelef
From that day Skobelef was an influential personality throughout the parish. To tell the truth, Peter Lo and Skobelef took on together a sort of higher individuality that drew the popular gaze as they flashed by. It seemed as if they were whipping the whole neighborhood up to a more rapid tempo. The farmers came to be men of honor so far as their horses were concerned, fed them well, and groomed them with the utmost care.
They drove at a brisker pace along the roads, their speech acquired an added dash of humor, they laughed in the face of heaven and earth, their thoughts assumed a new boldness. On Sundays, as the congregation stood outside the church admiring Skobelef and Peter Lo, a fresh source of vitality seemed to be manifesting itself; men saw with their own eyes the very embodiment of animal spirits, they sensed something venerable in brute strength, they caught the chanted praise of rippling muscles. It began to dawn on them that life is not a mere medley of sins and sorrows, that life on earth has a glory of its own.
As time passed, Peter Lo gave increasing attention to his clothes. He took to reading books, to wearing a white collar, to using a handkerchief when he blew his nose about the precincts of the church. He imitated the sheriff’s mannerisms of speech. He knew quite well that he and Skobelef had become the local cynosures; and this persuasion lent him a feeling of responsibility and a desire to serve as a pattern for the herd.
If the truth must be told, it was not only we boys who prayed, “Good Lord, help us to be like Peter Lo when we get big!” By no means! The grownups, too, tried to ape his manner. “You are brushing your shoes just the way Peter Lo does,” one man would say to another. “And you are wearing a white collar, just like Peter Lo’s,” they would say. Skobelef, imported to ennoble the rural breed of horse flesh, had become a spiritual force, an educational institution for the entire countryside.