Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
The Don Cossack Platov sets the tone for this whimsical tale by keeping the English off balance from the beginning. Alexander I’s faithful but grumbling companion, in London with the czar, refuses to acknowledge English superiority in anything. When the czar exults over a gun in a museum, Platov pulls out a small tool, disassembles the gun, and proves that the mechanism was fashioned in Tula by a Russian craftsman. While the Englishmen stay up late endeavoring to come up with something the Russians cannot surpass, Platov sleeps soundly. In fact, each of the first two chapters ends with the Englishmen unable to sleep and Platov slumbering contentedly. When in need of guidance, the czar’s man quotes a Russian proverb, and when in need of sleep, he prays in the Orthodox manner, downs a shot of vodka, and drops off forthwith. However, the result of his behavior is that the English hosts are frustrated, and the czar is embarrassed. Thus, Alexander is pleased when the Englishmen present him with the gift of a miraculous steel flea. There could be nothing finer than this, he says; his own workmen could make nothing like it. The flea is wondrous in its workmanship, for, despite its exquisite daintiness, it has a key that winds up a motor within. Activated by the key, the mechanical insect executes kicks and dance steps and twitches its minuscule mustache. When Alexander praises the object lavishly, Platov must retreat for a time and accompanies the czar home in obstinate...
(The entire section is 1117 words.)
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