Anton Pavlovich Chekhov.

The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories online

. (page 15 of 16)
Online LibraryAnton Pavlovich ChekhovThe Horse-Stealers and Other Stories → online text (page 15 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


only happen once a year. I'm not afraid of an accident, for there
is no reason for one. Accidents are exceptional! Confound them! I
don't want to talk of them! Oh, I believe we're stopping at a
station."

"Where are you going now?" asks Pyotr Petrovitch. "To Moscow or
somewhere further south?

"Why, bless you! How could I go somewhere further south, when I'm
on my way to the north?"

"But Moscow isn't in the north."

"I know that, but we're on our way to Petersburg," says Ivan
Alexyevitch.

"We are going to Moscow, mercy on us!"

"To Moscow? What do you mean?" says the bridegroom in amazement.

"It's queer. . . . For what station did you take your ticket?"

"For Petersburg."

"In that case I congratulate you. You've got into the wrong train."

There follows a minute of silence. The bridegroom gets up and looks
blankly round the company.

"Yes, yes," Pyotr Petrovitch explains. "You must have jumped into
the wrong train at Bologoe. . . . After your glass of brandy you
succeeded in getting into the down-train."

Ivan Alexyevitch turns pale, clutches his head, and begins pacing
rapidly about the carriage.

"Ach, idiot that I am!" he says in indignation. "Scoundrel! The
devil devour me! Whatever am I to do now? Why, my wife is in that
train! She's there all alone, expecting me, consumed by anxiety.
Ach, I'm a motley fool!"

The bridegroom falls on the seat and writhes as though someone had
trodden on his corns.

"I am un-unhappy man!" he moans. "What am I to do, what am I to
do?"

"There, there!" the passengers try to console him. "It's all right
. . . . You must telegraph to your wife and try to change into the
Petersburg express. In that way you'll overtake her."

"The Petersburg express!" weeps the bridegroom, the creator of his
own happiness. "And how am I to get a ticket for the Petersburg
express? All my money is with my wife."

The passengers, laughing and whispering together, make a collection
and furnish the happy man with funds.


A TROUBLESOME VISITOR

IN the low-pitched, crooked little hut of Artyom, the forester, two
men were sitting under the big dark ikon - Artyom himself, a short
and lean peasant with a wrinkled, aged-looking face and a little
beard that grew out of his neck, and a well-grown young man in a
new crimson shirt and big wading boots, who had been out hunting
and come in for the night. They were sitting on a bench at a little
three-legged table on which a tallow candle stuck into a bottle was
lazily burning.

Outside the window the darkness of the night was full of the noisy
uproar into which nature usually breaks out before a thunderstorm.
The wind howled angrily and the bowed trees moaned miserably. One
pane of the window had been pasted up with paper, and leaves torn
off by the wind could be heard pattering against the paper.

"I tell you what, good Christian," said Artyom in a hoarse little
tenor half-whisper, staring with unblinking, scared-looking eyes
at the hunter. "I am not afraid of wolves or bears, or wild beasts
of any sort, but I am afraid of man. You can save yourself from
beasts with a gun or some other weapon, but you have no means of
saving yourself from a wicked man."

"To be sure, you can fire at a beast, but if you shoot at a robber
you will have to answer for it: you will go to Siberia."

"I've been forester, my lad, for thirty years, and I couldn't tell
you what I have had to put up with from wicked men. There have been
lots and lots of them here. The hut's on a track, it's a cart-road,
and that brings them, the devils. Every sort of ruffian turns up,
and without taking off his cap or making the sign of the cross,
bursts straight in upon one with: 'Give us some bread, you old
so-and-so.' And where am I to get bread for him? What claim has he?
Am I a millionaire to feed every drunkard that passes? They are
half-blind with spite. . . . They have no cross on them, the devils
. . . . They'll give you a clout on the ear and not think twice about
it: 'Give us bread!' Well, one gives it. . . . One is not going to
fight with them, the idols! Some of them are two yards across the
shoulders, and a great fist as big as your boot, and you see the
sort of figure I am. One of them could smash me with his little
finger. . . . Well, one gives him bread and he gobbles it up, and
stretches out full length across the hut with not a word of thanks.
And there are some that ask for money. 'Tell me, where is your
money?' As though I had money! How should I come by it?"

"A forester and no money!" laughed the hunter. "You get wages every
month, and I'll be bound you sell timber on the sly."

Artyom took a timid sideway glance at his visitor and twitched his
beard as a magpie twitches her tail.

"You are still young to say a thing like that to me," he said. "You
will have to answer to God for those words. Whom may your people
be? Where do you come from?"

"I am from Vyazovka. I am the son of Nefed the village elder."

"You have gone out for sport with your gun. I used to like sport,
too, when I was young. H'm! Ah, our sins are grievous," said Artyom,
with a yawn. "It's a sad thing! There are few good folks, but
villains and murderers no end - God have mercy upon us."

"You seem to be frightened of me, too. . . ."

"Come, what next! What should I be afraid of you for? I see. . . .
I understand. . . . You came in, and not just anyhow, but you made
the sign of the cross, you bowed, all decent and proper. . . . I
understand. . . . One can give you bread. . . . I am a widower, I
don't heat the stove, I sold the samovar. . . . I am too poor to
keep meat or anything else, but bread you are welcome to."

At that moment something began growling under the bench: the growl
was followed by a hiss. Artyom started, drew up his legs, and looked
enquiringly at the hunter.

"It's my dog worrying your cat," said the hunter. "You devils!" he
shouted under the bench. "Lie down. You'll be beaten. I say, your
cat's thin, mate! She is nothing but skin and bone."

"She is old, it is time she was dead. . . . So you say you are from
Vyazovka?"

"I see you don't feed her. Though she's a cat she's a creature . . .
every breathing thing. You should have pity on her!"

"You are a queer lot in Vyazovka," Artyom went on, as though not
listening. "The church has been robbed twice in one year. . . To
think that there are such wicked men! So they fear neither man nor
God! To steal what is the Lord's! Hanging's too good for them! In
old days the governors used to have such rogues flogged."

"However you punish, whether it is with flogging or anything else,
it will be no good, you will not knock the wickedness out of a
wicked man."

"Save and preserve us, Queen of Heaven!" The forester sighed abruptly.
"Save us from all enemies and evildoers. Last week at Volovy
Zaimishtchy, a mower struck another on the chest with his scythe
. . . he killed him outright! And what was it all about, God bless
me! One mower came out of the tavern . . . drunk. The other met
him, drunk too."

The young man, who had been listening attentively, suddenly started,
and his face grew tense as he listened.

"Stay," he said, interrupting the forester. "I fancy someone is
shouting."

The hunter and the forester fell to listening with their eyes fixed
on the window. Through the noise of the forest they could hear
sounds such as the strained ear can always distinguish in every
storm, so that it was difficult to make out whether people were
calling for help or whether the wind was wailing in the chimney.
But the wind tore at the roof, tapped at the paper on the window,
and brought a distinct shout of "Help!"

"Talk of your murderers," said the hunter, turning pale and getting
up. "Someone is being robbed!"

"Lord have mercy on us," whispered the forester, and he, too, turned
pale and got up.

The hunter looked aimlessly out of window and walked up and down
the hut.

"What a night, what a night!" he muttered. "You can't see your hand
before your face! The very time for a robbery. Do you hear? There
is a shout again."

The forester looked at the ikon and from the ikon turned his eyes
upon the hunter, and sank on to the bench, collapsing like a man
terrified by sudden bad news.

"Good Christian," he said in a tearful voice, "you might go into
the passage and bolt the door. And we must put out the light."

"What for?"

"By ill-luck they may find their way here. . . . Oh, our sins!"

"We ought to be going, and you talk of bolting the door! You are a
clever one! Are you coming?"

The hunter threw his gun over his shoulder and picked up his cap.

"Get ready, take your gun. Hey, Flerka, here," he called to his
dog. "Flerka!"

A dog with long frayed ears, a mongrel between a setter and a
house-dog, came out from under the bench. He stretched himself by
his master's feet and wagged his tail.

"Why are you sitting there?" cried the hunter to the forester. "You
mean to say you are not going?"

"Where?"

"To help!"

"How can I?" said the forester with a wave of his hand, shuddering
all over. "I can't bother about it!"

"Why won't you come?"

"After talking of such dreadful things I won't stir a step into the
darkness. Bless them! And what should I go for?"

"What are you afraid of? Haven't you got a gun? Let us go, please
do. It's scaring to go alone; it will be more cheerful, the two of
us. Do you hear? There was a shout again. Get up!"

"Whatever do you think of me, lad?" wailed the forester. "Do you
think I am such a fool to go straight to my undoing?"

"So you are not coming?"

The forester did not answer. The dog, probably hearing a human cry,
gave a plaintive whine.

"Are you coming, I ask you?" cried the hunter, rolling his eyes
angrily.

"You do keep on, upon my word," said the forester with annoyance.
"Go yourself."

"Ugh! . . . low cur," growled the hunter, turning towards the door.
"Flerka, here!"

He went out and left the door open. The wind flew into the hut. The
flame of the candle flickered uneasily, flared up, and went out.

As he bolted the door after the hunter, the forester saw the puddles
in the track, the nearest pine-trees, and the retreating figure of
his guest lighted up by a flash of lightning. Far away he heard the
rumble of thunder.

"Holy, holy, holy," whispered the forester, making haste to thrust
the thick bolt into the great iron rings. "What weather the Lord
has sent us!"

Going back into the room, he felt his way to the stove, lay down,
and covered himself from head to foot. Lying under the sheepskin
and listening intently, he could no longer hear the human cry, but
the peals of thunder kept growing louder and more prolonged. He
could hear the big wind-lashed raindrops pattering angrily on the
panes and on the paper of the window.

"He's gone on a fool's errand," he thought, picturing the hunter
soaked with rain and stumbling over the tree-stumps. "I bet his
teeth are chattering with terror!"

Not more than ten minutes later there was a sound of footsteps,
followed by a loud knock at the door.

"Who's there?" cried the forester.

"It's I," he heard the young man's voice. "Unfasten the door."

The forester clambered down from the stove, felt for the candle,
and, lighting it, went to the door. The hunter and his dog were
drenched to the skin. They had come in for the heaviest of the
downpour, and now the water ran from them as from washed clothes
before they have been wrung out.

"What was it?" asked the forester.

"A peasant woman driving in a cart; she had got off the road . . ."
answered the young man, struggling with his breathlessness. "She
was caught in a thicket."

"Ah, the silly thing! She was frightened, then. . . . Well, did you
put her on the road?"

"I don't care to talk to a scoundrel like you."

The young man flung his wet cap on the bench and went on:

"I know now that you are a scoundrel and the lowest of men. And you
a keeper, too, getting a salary! You blackguard!"

The forester slunk with a guilty step to the stove, cleared his
throat, and lay down. The young man sat on the bench, thought a
little, and lay down on it full length. Not long afterwards he got
up, put out the candle, and lay down again. During a particularly
loud clap of thunder he turned over, spat on the floor, and growled
out:

"He's afraid. . . . And what if the woman were being murdered? Whose
business is it to defend her? And he an old man, too, and a Christian
. . . . He's a pig and nothing else."

The forester cleared his throat and heaved a deep sigh. Somewhere
in the darkness Flerka shook his wet coat vigorously, which sent
drops of water flying about all over the room.

"So you wouldn't care if the woman were murdered?" the hunter went
on. "Well - strike me, God - I had no notion you were that sort of
man. . . ."

A silence followed. The thunderstorm was by now over and the thunder
came from far away, but it was still raining.

"And suppose it hadn't been a woman but you shouting 'Help!'?" said
the hunter, breaking the silence. "How would you feel, you beast,
if no one ran to your aid? You have upset me with your meanness,
plague take you!"

After another long interval the hunter said:

"You must have money to be afraid of people! A man who is poor is
not likely to be afraid. . . ."

"For those words you will answer before God," Artyom said hoarsely
from the stove. "I have no money."

"I dare say! Scoundrels always have money. . . . Why are you afraid
of people, then? So you must have! I'd like to take and rob you for
spite, to teach you a lesson! . . ."

Artyom slipped noiselessly from the stove, lighted a candle, and
sat down under the holy image. He was pale and did not take his
eyes off the hunter.

"Here, I'll rob you," said the hunter, getting up. "What do you
think about it? Fellows like you want a lesson. Tell me, where is
your money hidden?"

Artyom drew his legs up under him and blinked. "What are you wriggling
for? Where is your money hidden? Have you lost your tongue, you
fool? Why don't you answer?"

The young man jumped up and went up to the forester.

"He is blinking like an owl! Well? Give me your money, or I will
shoot you with my gun."

"Why do you keep on at me?" squealed the forester, and big tears
rolled from his eyes. "What's the reason of it? God sees all! You
will have to answer, for every word you say, to God. You have no
right whatever to ask for my money."

The young man looked at Artyom's tearful face, frowned, and walked
up and down the hut, then angrily clapped his cap on his head and
picked up his gun.

"Ugh! . . . ugh! . . . it makes me sick to look at you," he filtered
through his teeth. "I can't bear the sight of you. I won't sleep
in your house, anyway. Good-bye! Hey, Flerka!"

The door slammed and the troublesome visitor went out with his dog.
. . . Artyom bolted the door after him, crossed himself, and lay
down.


AN ACTOR'S END

SHTCHIPTSOV, the "heavy father" and "good-hearted simpleton," a
tall and thick-set old man, not so much distinguished by his talents
as an actor as by his exceptional physical strength, had a desperate
quarrel with the manager during the performance, and just when the
storm of words was at its height felt as though something had snapped
in his chest. Zhukov, the manager, as a rule began at the end of
every heated discussion to laugh hysterically and to fall into a
swoon; on this occasion, however, Shtchiptsov did not remain for
this climax, but hurried home. The high words and the sensation of
something ruptured in his chest so agitated him as he left the
theatre that he forgot to wash off his paint, and did nothing but
take off his beard.

When he reached his hotel room, Shtchiptsov spent a long time pacing
up and down, then sat down on the bed, propped his head on his
fists, and sank into thought. He sat like that without stirring or
uttering a sound till two o'clock the next afternoon, when Sigaev,
the comic man, walked into his room.

"Why is it you did not come to the rehearsal, Booby Ivanitch?" the
comic man began, panting and filling the room with fumes of vodka.
"Where have you been?"

Shtchiptsov made no answer, but simply stared at the comic man with
lustreless eyes, under which there were smudges of paint.

"You might at least have washed your phiz!" Sigaev went on. "You
are a disgraceful sight! Have you been boozing, or . . . are you
ill, or what? But why don't you speak? I am asking you: are you
ill?"

Shtchiptsov did not speak. In spite of the paint on his face, the
comic man could not help noticing his striking pallor, the drops
of sweat on his forehead, and the twitching of his lips. His hands
and feet were trembling too, and the whole huge figure of the
"good-natured simpleton" looked somehow crushed and flattened. The
comic man took a rapid glance round the room, but saw neither bottle
nor flask nor any other suspicious vessel.

"I say, Mishutka, you know you are ill!" he said in a flutter.
"Strike me dead, you are ill! You don't look yourself!"

Shtchiptsov remained silent and stared disconsolately at the floor.

"You must have caught cold," said Sigaev, taking him by the hand.
"Oh, dear, how hot your hands are! What's the trouble?"

"I wa-ant to go home," muttered Shtchiptsov.

"But you are at home now, aren't you?"

"No. . . . To Vyazma. . . ."

"Oh, my, anywhere else! It would take you three years to get to
your Vyazma. . . . What? do you want to go and see your daddy and
mummy? I'll be bound, they've kicked the bucket years ago, and you
won't find their graves. . . ."

"My ho-ome's there."

"Come, it's no good giving way to the dismal dumps. These neurotic
feelings are the limit, old man. You must get well, for you have
to play Mitka in 'The Terrible Tsar' to-morrow. There is nobody
else to do it. Drink something hot and take some castor-oil? Have
you got the money for some castor-oil? Or, stay, I'll run and buy
some."

The comic man fumbled in his pockets, found a fifteen-kopeck piece,
and ran to the chemist's. A quarter of an hour later he came back.

"Come, drink it," he said, holding the bottle to the "heavy father's"
mouth. "Drink it straight out of the bottle. . . . All at a go!
That's the way. . . . Now nibble at a clove that your very soul
mayn't stink of the filthy stuff."

The comic man sat a little longer with his sick friend, then kissed
him tenderly, and went away. Towards evening the _jeune premier_,
Brama-Glinsky, ran in to see Shtchiptsov. The gifted actor was
wearing a pair of prunella boots, had a glove on his left hand, was
smoking a cigar, and even smelt of heliotrope, yet nevertheless he
strongly suggested a traveller cast away in some land in which there
were neither baths nor laundresses nor tailors. . . .

"I hear you are ill?" he said to Shtchiptsov, twirling round on his
heel. "What's wrong with you? What's wrong with you, really? . . ."

Shtchiptsov did not speak nor stir.

"Why don't you speak? Do you feel giddy? Oh well, don't talk, I
won't pester you . . . don't talk. . . ."

Brama-Glinsky (that was his stage name, in his passport he was
called Guskov) walked away to the window, put his hands in his
pockets, and fell to gazing into the street. Before his eyes stretched
an immense waste, bounded by a grey fence beside which ran a perfect
forest of last year's burdocks. Beyond the waste ground was a dark,
deserted factory, with windows boarded up. A belated jackdaw was
flying round the chimney. This dreary, lifeless scene was beginning
to be veiled in the dusk of evening.

"I must go home!" the _jeune premier_ heard.

"Where is home?"

"To Vyazma . . . to my home. . . ."

"It is a thousand miles to Vyazma . . . my boy," sighed Brama-Glinsky,
drumming on the window-pane. "And what do you want to go to Vyazma
for?"

"I want to die there."

"What next! Now he's dying! He has fallen ill for the first time
in his life, and already he fancies that his last hour is come. . . .
No, my boy, no cholera will carry off a buffalo like you. You'll
live to be a hundred. . . . Where's the pain?"

"There's no pain, but I . . . feel . . ."

"You don't feel anything, it all comes from being too healthy. Your
surplus energy upsets you. You ought to get jolly tight - drink,
you know, till your whole inside is topsy-turvy. Getting drunk is
wonderfully restoring. . . . Do you remember how screwed you were
at Rostov on the Don? Good Lord, the very thought of it is alarming!
Sashka and I together could only just carry in the barrel, and you
emptied it alone, and even sent for rum afterwards. . . . You got
so drunk you were catching devils in a sack and pulled a lamp-post
up by the roots. Do you remember? Then you went off to beat the
Greeks. . . ."

Under the influence of these agreeable reminiscences Shtchiptsov's
face brightened a little and his eyes began to shine.

"And do you remember how I beat Savoikin the manager?" he muttered,
raising his head. "But there! I've beaten thirty-three managers in
my time, and I can't remember how many smaller fry. And what managers
they were! Men who would not permit the very winds to touch them!
I've beaten two celebrated authors and one painter!"

"What are you crying for?"

"At Kherson I killed a horse with my fists. And at Taganrog some
roughs fell upon me at night, fifteen of them. I took off their
caps and they followed me, begging: 'Uncle, give us back our caps.'
That's how I used to go on."

"What are you crying for, then, you silly?"

"But now it's all over . . . I feel it. If only I could go to
Vyazma!"

A pause followed. After a silence Shtchiptsov suddenly jumped up
and seized his cap. He looked distraught.

"Good-bye! I am going to Vyazma!" he articulated, staggering.

"And the money for the journey?"

"H'm! . . . I shall go on foot!"

"You are crazy. . . ."

The two men looked at each other, probably because the same thought
- of the boundless plains, the unending forests and swamps -
struck both of them at once.

"Well, I see you have gone off your head," the _jeune premier_
commented. "I'll tell you what, old man. . . . First thing, go to
bed, then drink some brandy and tea to put you into a sweat. And
some castor-oil, of course. Stay, where am I to get some brandy?"

Brama-Glinsky thought a minute, then made up his mind to go to a
shopkeeper called Madame Tsitrinnikov to try and get it from her
on tick: who knows? perhaps the woman would feel for them and let
them have it. The _jeune premier_ went off, and half an hour later
returned with a bottle of brandy and some castor-oil. Shtchiptsov
was sitting motionless, as before, on the bed, gazing dumbly at the
floor. He drank the castor-oil offered him by his friend like an
automaton, with no consciousness of what he was doing. Like an
automaton he sat afterwards at the table, and drank tea and brandy;
mechanically he emptied the whole bottle and let the _jeune premier_
put him to bed. The latter covered him up with a quilt and an
overcoat, advised him to get into a perspiration, and went away.

The night came on; Shtchiptsov had drunk a great deal of brandy,
but he did not sleep. He lay motionless under the quilt and stared
at the dark ceiling; then, seeing the moon looking in at the window,
he turned his eyes from the ceiling towards the companion of the
earth, and lay so with open eyes till the morning. At nine o'clock
in the morning Zhukov, the manager, ran in.

"What has put it into your head to be ill, my angel?" he cackled,
wrinkling up his nose. "Aie, aie! A man with your physique has no
business to be ill! For shame, for shame! Do you know, I was quite
frightened. 'Can our conversation have had such an effect on him?'
I wondered. My dear soul, I hope it's not through me you've fallen
ill! You know you gave me as good . . . er . . . And, besides,
comrades can never get on without words. You called me all sorts
of names . . . and have gone at me with your fists too, and yet I
am fond of you! Upon my soul, I am. I respect you and am fond of
you! Explain, my angel, why I am so fond of you. You are neither
kith nor kin nor wife, but as soon as I heard you had fallen ill
it cut me to the heart."

Zhukov spent a long time declaring his affection, then fell to
kissing the invalid, and finally was so overcome by his feelings
that he began laughing hysterically, and was even meaning to fall
into a swoon, but, probably remembering that he was not at home nor
at the theatre, put off the swoon to a more convenient opportunity
and went away.

Soon after him Adabashev, the tragic actor, a dingy, short-sighted


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 15

Online LibraryAnton Pavlovich ChekhovThe Horse-Stealers and Other Stories → online text (page 15 of 16)