Franz Kafka

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Auf der Galerie", by Franz Kafka: "Up in the Gallery", English version. "Auf der Galerie", by Franz Kafka ("Up in the Gallery") with Original Text in German, "Auf der Galerie" translated in English by LiteraryJoint

"At the circus fernando: the rider," by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1888)

From "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through  Amazon and  Lulu.

Auf der Galerie

Wenn irgendeine hinfällige, lungensüchtige Kunstreiterin in der Manege auf schwankendem Pferd vor einem unermüdlichen Publikum vom peitschenschwingenden erbarmungslosen Chef monatelang ohne Unterbrechung im Kreise rundum getrieben würde, auf dem Pferde schwirrend, Küsse werfend, in der Taille sich wiegend, und wenn dieses Spiel unter dem nichtaussetzenden Brausen des Orchesters und der Ventilatoren in die immerfort weiter sich öffnende graue Zukunft sich fortsetzte, begleitet vom vergehenden und neu anschwellenden Beifallsklatschen der Hände, die eigentlich Dampfhämmer sind - vielleicht eilte dann ein junger Galeriebesucher die lange Treppe durch alle Ränge hinab, stürzte in die Manege, rief das: Halt! durch die Fanfaren des immer sich anpassenden Orchesters.
Da es aber nicht so ist; eine schöne Dame, weiß und rot, hereinfliegt, zwischen den Vorhängen, welche die stolzen Livrierten vor ihr öffnen; der Direktor, hingebungsvoll ihre Augen suchend, in Tierhaltung ihr entgegenatmet; vorsorglich sie auf den Apfelschimmel hebt, als wäre sie seine über alles geliebte Enkelin, die sich auf gefährliche Fahrt begibt; sich nicht entschließen kann, das Peitschenzeichen zu geben; schließlich in Selbstüberwindung es knallend gibt; neben dem Pferde mit offenem Munde einherläuft; die Sprünge der Reiterin scharfen Blickes verfolgt; ihre Kunstfertigkeit kaum begreifen kann; mit englischen Ausrufen zu warnen versucht; die reifenhaltenden Reitknechte wütend zu peinlichster Achtsamkeit ermahnt; vor dem großen Salto mortale das Orchester mit aufgehobenen Händen beschwört, es möge schweigen; schließlich die Kleine vom zitternden Pferde hebt, auf beide Backen küßt und keine Huldigung des Publikums für genügend erachtet; während sie selbst, von ihm gestützt, hoch auf den Fußspitzen, vom Staub umweht, mit ausgebreiteten Armen, zurückgelehntem Köpfchen ihr Glück mit dem ganzen Zirkus teilen will - da dies so ist, legt der Galeriebesucher das Gesicht auf die Brüstung und, im Schlußmarsch wie in einem schweren Traum versinkend, weint er, ohne es zu wissen.

Up in the Gallery

If some frail, consumptive equestrienne were to be driven in circles around and around the ring for months and months, without interruption, in front of a tireless public, on a fluctuating horse, by a merciless whip-wielding master, spinning on the horse, throwing kisses and swaying at the waist, and if this game, amid the incessant roar of the orchestra and the ventilators, were to protract into the ever-expanding, gray future, accompanied by applauses of hands, which fade and rise again and actually are steam hammers, perhaps then a young gallery's spectator might rush down the long staircase through all the rows, burst into the ring, and shout “Stop!” through the fanfares of the always adjusting orchestra.
But it is not so; a beautiful woman, in white and red, flies in through the curtains, opened by proud men in livery in front of her; the director, devotedly seeking her eyes, breathes towards her direction, as a docile animal; with caution, he lifts her up on the dapple-gray horse, as if she were his most beloved granddaughter, as she embarks on a dangerous journey; but he cannot decide to give the signal with his whip; finally, exercising his willpower, gives it a crack, runs right beside the horse with his mouth open, follows the rider’s leaps with a vigilant eye, hardly capable of comprehending her skill; he tries to warn her by calling out in English; furiously, he calls the grooms holding the hoops, exhorting  them to pay the most scrupulous attention; before the great jump, with upraised arms he begs the orchestra to be silent; finally, he lifts the girl  from the trembling horse, kisses her on both cheeks, deeming the audience's homage never to be adequate; meanwhile, sustained by him, she herself, high on the tips of her toes, with dust whirling around, arms outstretched and her cute head thrown back, wants to share her luck with the entire circus—since it is so, the gallery's spectator puts his face on the parapet and, sinking into the final march as into a bad dream, weeps, without realizing it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

"A Trivial Incident," by Anton Chekhov, full text, full version, English translation by Constance Garnett, from "The Chorus Girl and other stories," by Anton Chekhov

LiteraryJoint is proud to present the full text edition of "The Chorus Girl and other stories," a collection of short stories by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, many of them not yet very well known by the general public. For the past few months, we committed one of our weekly post to these stories, in their English translation by Constance Garnett. After My Life, On the Road, The Chorus Girl, VerotchkaAt a Country House, A Father, Rothschild's Fiddle, Ivan Matveyitch, Zinotchka, Bad Weather, and "A Gentleman Friend," we now continue with the last story,"A Trivial Incident," which concludes the "The Chorus Girl and other stories."

Portrait of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

IT was a sunny August midday as, in company with a Russian prince who had come down in the world, I drove into the immense so-called Shabelsky pine-forest where we were intending to look for woodcocks. In virtue of the part he plays in this story my poor prince deserves a detailed description. He was a tall, dark man, still youngish, though already somewhat battered by life; with long moustaches like a police captain's; with prominent black eyes, and with the manners of a retired army man. He was a man of Oriental type, not very intelligent, but straightforward and honest, not a bully, not a fop, and not a rake—virtues which, in the eyes of the general public, are equivalent to a certificate of being a nonentity and a poor creature. People generally did not like him (he was never spoken of in the district, except as "the illustrious duffer"). I personally found the poor prince extremely nice with his misfortunes and failures, which made up indeed his whole life. First of all he was poor. He did not play cards, did not drink, had no occupation, did not poke his nose into anything, and maintained a perpetual silence but yet he had somehow succeeded in getting through thirty to forty thousand roubles left him at his father's death. God only knows what had become of the money. All that I can say is that owing to lack of supervision a great deal was stolen by stewards, bailiffs, and even footmen; a great deal went on lending money, giving bail, and standing security. There were few landowners in the district who did not owe him money. He gave to all who asked, and not so much from good nature or confidence in people as from exaggerated gentlemanliness as though he would say: "Take it and feel how comme il faut I am!" By the time I made his acquaintance he had got into debt himself, had learned what it was like to have a second mortgage on his land, and had sunk so deeply into difficulties that there was no chance of his ever getting out of them again. There were days when he had no dinner, and went about with an empty cigar-holder, but he was always seen clean and fashionably dressed, and always smelt strongly of ylang-ylang.
The prince's second misfortune was his absolute solitariness. He was not married, he had no friends nor relations. His silent and reserved character and his comme il faut deportment, which became the more conspicuous the more anxious he was to conceal his poverty, prevented him from becoming intimate with people. For love affairs he was too heavy, spiritless, and cold, and so rarely got on with women. . . .
When we reached the forest this prince and I got out of the chaise and walked along a narrow woodland path which was hidden among huge ferns. But before we had gone a hundred paces a tall, lank figure with a long oval face, wearing a shabby reefer jacket, a straw hat, and patent leather boots, rose up from behind a young fir-tree some three feet high, as though he had sprung out of the ground. The stranger held in one hand a basket of mushrooms, with the other he playfully fingered a cheap watch-chain on his waistcoat. On seeing us he was taken aback, smoothed his waistcoat, coughed politely, and gave an agreeable smile, as though he were delighted to see such nice people as us. Then, to our complete surprise, he came up to us, scraping with his long feet on the grass, bending his whole person, and, still smiling agreeably, lifted his hat and pronounced in a sugary voice with the intonations of a whining dog:
"Aie, aie . . . gentlemen, painful as it is, it is my duty to warn you that shooting is forbidden in this wood. Pardon me for venturing to disturb you, though unacquainted, but . . . allow me to present myself. I am Grontovsky, the head clerk on Madame Kandurin's estate."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, but why can't we shoot?"
"Such is the wish of the owner of this forest!"
The prince and I exchanged glances. A moment passed in silence. The prince stood looking pensively at a big fly agaric at his feet, which he had crushed with his stick. Grontovsky went on smiling agreeably. His whole face was twitching, exuding honey, and even the watch-chain on his waistcoat seemed to be smiling and trying to impress us all with its refinement. A shade of embarrassment passed over us like an angel passing; all three of us felt awkward.
"Nonsense!" I said. "Only last week I was shooting here!"
"Very possible!" Grontovsky sniggered through his teeth. "As a matter of fact everyone shoots here regardless of the prohibition. But once I have met you, it is my duty . . . my sacred duty to warn you. I am a man in a dependent position. If the forest were mine, on the word of honour of a Grontovsky, I should not oppose your agreeable pleasure. But whose fault is it that I am in a dependent position?"
The lanky individual sighed and shrugged his shoulders. I began arguing, getting hot and protesting, but the more loudly and impressively I spoke the more mawkish and sugary Grontovsky's face became. Evidently the consciousness of a certain power over us afforded him the greatest gratification. He was enjoying his condescending tone, his politeness, his manners, and with peculiar relish pronounced his sonorous surname, of which he was probably very fond. Standing before us he felt more than at ease, but judging from the confused sideway glances he cast from time to time at his basket, only one thing was spoiling his satisfaction--the mushrooms, womanish, peasantish, prose, derogatory to his dignity.
"We can't go back!" I said. "We have come over ten miles!"
"What's to be done?" sighed Grontovsky. "If you had come not ten but a hundred thousand miles, if the king even had come from America or from some other distant land, even then I should think it my duty . . . sacred, so to say, obligation . . ."
"Does the forest belong to Nadyezhda Lvovna?" asked the prince.
"Yes, Nadyezhda Lvovna . . ."
"Is she at home now?"

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"In Trouble" by Anton Chekhov, from the Collection: "The Horse Stealer and Other Stories." Translated in English by Constance Garnett. Full text in English, "In Trouble" by Anton Chekhov

Picture of Young Anton Chekhov in 1882


PYOTR SEMYONITCH, the bank manager, together with the book-keeper, his assistant, and two members of the board, were taken in the night to prison. The day after the upheaval the merchant Avdeyev, who was one of the committee of auditors, was sitting with his friends in the shop saying:
"So it is God's will, it seems. There is no escaping your fate.
Here to-day we are eating caviare and to-morrow, for aught we know,
it will be prison, beggary, or maybe death. Anything may happen.
Take Pyotr Semyonitch, for instance. . . ."
He spoke, screwing up his drunken eyes, while his friends went on drinking, eating caviare, and listening. Having described the disgrace and helplessness of Pyotr Semyonitch, who only the day before had been powerful and respected by all, Avdeyev went on with a sigh:
"The tears of the mouse come back to the cat. Serve them right, the scoundrels! They could steal, the rooks, so let them answer for it!"
"You'd better look out, Ivan Danilitch, that you don't catch it too!" one of his friends observed.
"What has it to do with me?"
"Why, they were stealing, and what were you auditors thinking about?
I'll be bound, you signed the audit."
"It's all very well to talk!" laughed Avdeyev: "Signed it, indeed! They used to bring the accounts to my shop and I signed them. As though I understood! Give me anything you like, I'll scrawl my name to it. If you were to write that I murdered someone I'd sign my name to it. I haven't time to go into it; besides, I can't see without my spectacles."
After discussing the failure of the bank and the fate of Pyotr Semyonitch, Avdeyev and his friends went to eat pie at the house of a friend whose wife was celebrating her name-day. At the name-day party everyone was discussing the bank failure. Avdeyev was more excited than anyone, and declared that he had long foreseen the crash and knew two years before that things were not quite right at the bank. While they were eating pie he described a dozen illegal operations which had come to his knowledge.
"If you knew, why did you not give information?" asked an officer who was present.
"I wasn't the only one: the whole town knew of it," laughed Avdeyev. "Besides, I haven't the time to hang about the law courts, damn them!"
He had a nap after the pie and then had dinner, then had another nap, then went to the evening service at the church of which he was a warden; after the service he went back to the name-day party and played preference till midnight. Everything seemed satisfactory.
But when Avdeyev hurried home after midnight the cook, who opened the door to him, looked pale, and was trembling so violently that she could not utter a word. His wife, Elizaveta Trofimovna, a flabby, overfed woman, with her grey hair hanging loose, was sitting on the sofa in the drawing-room quivering all over, and vacantly rolling her eyes as though she were drunk. Her elder son, Vassily, a high-school boy, pale too, and extremely agitated, was fussing round her with a glass of water.
"What's the matter?" asked Avdeyev, and looked angrily sideways at the stove (his family was constantly being upset by the fumes from it).
"The examining magistrate has just been with the police," answered
Vassily; "they've made a search."
Avdeyev looked round him. The cupboards, the chests, the tables— everything bore traces of the recent search. For a minute Avdeyev stood motionless as though petrified, unable to understand; then his whole inside quivered and seemed to grow heavy, his left leg went numb, and, unable to endure his trembling, he lay down flat on the sofa. He felt his inside heaving and his rebellious left leg tapping against the back of the sofa.
In the course of two or three minutes he recalled the whole of his past, but could not remember any crime deserving of the attention of the police.
"It's all nonsense," he said, getting up. "They must have slandered me. To-morrow I must lodge a complaint of their having dared to do such a thing."
Next morning after a sleepless night Avdeyev, as usual, went to his shop. His customers brought him the news that during the night the public prosecutor had sent the deputy manager and the head-clerk to prison as well. This news did not disturb Avdeyev. He was convinced that he had been slandered, and that if he were to lodge a complaint to-day the examining magistrate would get into trouble for the search of the night before.
Between nine and ten o'clock he hurried to the town hall to see the secretary, who was the only educated man in the town council.
"Vladimir Stepanitch, what's this new fashion?" he said, bending down to the secretary's ear. "People have been stealing, but how do I come in? What has it to do with me? My dear fellow," he whispered, "there has been a search at my house last night! Upon my word! Have they gone crazy? Why touch me?"
"Because one shouldn't be a sheep," the secretary answered calmly.
"Before you sign you ought to look."
"Look at what? But if I were to look at those accounts for a thousand years I could not make head or tail of them! It's all Greek to me! I am no book-keeper. They used to bring them to me and I signed them."
"Excuse me. Apart from that you and your committee are seriously compromised. You borrowed nineteen thousand from the bank, giving no security."
"Lord have mercy upon us!" cried Avdeyev in amazement. "I am not the only one in debt to the bank! The whole town owes it money. I pay the interest and I shall repay the debt. What next! And besides, to tell the honest truth, it wasn't I myself borrowed the money. Pyotr Semyonitch forced it upon me. 'Take it,' he said, 'take it. If you don't take it,' he said, 'it means that you don't trust us and fight shy of us. You take it,' he said, 'and build your father a mill.' So I took it."
"Well, you see, none but children or sheep can reason like that. In any case, signor, you need not be anxious. You can't escape trial, of course, but you are sure to be acquitted."
The secretary's indifference and calm tone restored Avdeyev's composure. Going back to his shop and finding friends there, he again began drinking, eating caviare, and airing his views. He almost forgot the police search, and he was only troubled by one circumstance which he could not help noticing: his left leg was strangely numb, and his stomach for some reason refused to do its work.
That evening destiny dealt another overwhelming blow at Avdeyev: at an extraordinary meeting of the town council all members who were on the staff of the bank, Avdeyev among them, were asked to resign, on the ground that they were charged with a criminal offence. In the morning he received a request to give up immediately his duties as churchwarden.
After that Avdeyev lost count of the blows dealt him by fate, and strange, unprecedented days flitted rapidly by, one after another, and every day brought some new, unexpected surprise. Among other things, the examining magistrate sent him a summons, and he returned home after the interview, insulted and red in the face.
"He gave me no peace, pestering me to tell him why I had signed. I signed, that's all about it. I didn't do it on purpose. They brought the papers to the shop and I signed them. I am no great hand at reading writing."
Young men with unconcerned faces arrived, sealed up the shop, and made an inventory of all the furniture of the house. Suspecting some intrigue behind this, and, as before, unconscious of any wrongdoing, Avdeyev in his mortification ran from one Government office to another lodging complaints. He spent hours together in waiting-rooms, composed long petitions, shed tears, swore. To his complaints the public prosecutor and the examining magistrate made the indifferent and rational reply: "Come to us when you are summoned: we have not time to attend to you now." While others answered: "It is not our business."
The secretary, an educated man, who, Avdeyev thought, might have helped him, merely shrugged his shoulders and said:
"It's your own fault. You shouldn't have been a sheep."
The old man exerted himself to the utmost, but his left leg was still numb, and his digestion was getting worse and worse. When he was weary of doing nothing and was getting poorer and poorer, he made up his mind to go to his father's mill, or to his brother, and begin dealing in corn. His family went to his father's and he was left alone. The days flitted by, one after another. Without a family, without a shop, and without money, the former churchwarden, an honoured and respected man, spent whole days going the round of his friends' shops, drinking, eating, and listening to advice. In the mornings and in the evenings, to while away the time, he went to church. Looking for hours together at the ikons, he did not pray, but pondered. His conscience was clear, and he ascribed his position to mistake and misunderstanding; to his mind, it was all due to the fact that the officials and the examining magistrates were young men and inexperienced. It seemed to him that if he were to talk it over in detail and open his heart to some elderly judge, everything would go right again. He did not understand his judges, and he fancied they did not understand him.
The days raced by, and at last, after protracted, harassing delays, the day of the trial came. Avdeyev borrowed fifty roubles, and providing himself with spirit to rub on his leg and a decoction of herbs for his digestion, set off for the town where the circuit court was being held.
The trial lasted for ten days. Throughout the trial Avdeyev sat among his companions in misfortune with the stolid composure and dignity befitting a respectable and innocent man who is suffering for no fault of his own: he listened and did not understand a word. He was in an antagonistic mood. He was angry at being detained so long in the court, at being unable to get Lenten food anywhere, at his defending counsel's not understanding him, and, as he thought, saying the wrong thing. He thought that the judges did not understand their business. They took scarcely any notice of Avdeyev, they only addressed him once in three days, and the questions they put to him were of such a character that Avdeyev raised a laugh in the audience each time he answered them. When he tried to speak of the expenses he had incurred, of his losses, and of his meaning to claim his costs from the court, his counsel turned round and made an incomprehensible grimace, the public laughed, and the judge announced sternly that that had nothing to do with the case. The last words that he was allowed to say were not what his counsel had instructed him to say, but something quite different, which raised a laugh again.
During the terrible hour when the jury were consulting in their room he sat angrily in the refreshment bar, not thinking about the jury at all. He did not understand why they were so long deliberating when everything was so clear, and what they wanted of him.
Getting hungry, he asked the waiter to give him some cheap Lenten dish. For forty kopecks they gave him some cold fish and carrots. He ate it and felt at once as though the fish were heaving in a chilly lump in his stomach; it was followed by flatulence, heartburn, and pain.
Afterwards, as he listened to the foreman of the jury reading out the questions point by point, there was a regular revolution taking place in his inside, his whole body was bathed in a cold sweat, his left leg was numb; he did not follow, understood nothing, and suffered unbearably at not being able to sit or lie down while the foreman was reading. At last, when he and his companions were allowed to sit down, the public prosecutor got up and said something unintelligible, and all at once, as though they had sprung out of the earth, some police officers appeared on the scene with drawn swords and surrounded all the prisoners. Avdeyev was told to get up and go.
Now he understood that he was found guilty and in charge of the police, but he was not frightened nor amazed; such a turmoil was going on in his stomach that he could not think about his guards.
"So they won't let us go back to the hotel?" he asked one of his companions. "But I have three roubles and an untouched quarter of a pound of tea in my room there."
He spent the night at the police station; all night he was aware of a loathing for fish, and was thinking about the three roubles and the quarter of a pound of tea. Early in the morning, when the sky was beginning to turn blue, he was told to dress and set off. Two soldiers with bayonets took him to prison. Never before had the streets of the town seemed to him so long and endless. He walked not on the pavement but in the middle of the road in the muddy, thawing snow. His inside was still at war with the fish, his left leg was numb; he had forgotten his goloshes either in the court or in the police station, and his feet felt frozen.
Five days later all the prisoners were brought before the court again to hear their sentence. Avdeyev learnt that he was sentenced to exile in the province of Tobolsk. And that did not frighten nor amaze him either. He fancied for some reason that the trial was not yet over, that there were more adjournments to come, and that the final decision had not been reached yet. . . . He went on in the prison expecting this final decision every day.
Only six months later, when his wife and his son Vassily came to say good-bye to him, and when in the wasted, wretchedly dressed old woman he scarcely recognized his once fat and dignified Elizaveta Trofimovna, and when he saw his son wearing a short, shabby reefer-jacket and cotton trousers instead of the high-school uniform, he realized that his fate was decided, and that whatever new "decision" there might be, his past would never come back to him. And for the first time since the trial and his imprisonment the angry expression left his face, and he wept bitterly.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

"Mattini d'ottobre," by Vincenzo Cardarelli; "October Mornings," by Vincenzo Cardarelli, English version, translated in English by LiteraryJoint

Allee im Park von Schloss Kammer (Avenue in the Park of Schloss Kammer), Gustav Klimt, 1912.
Wien, Österreichische Galerie

October Mornings

Day by day the sun
is turning paler and paler.
It is a pallor that unnerves us
and saddens a soul:

an agony of light that is dimming,
a sigh that slowly is dying away.
In such October mornings
as I wander in the midst of a throng
I go on like a shadow that might fall
without any noise,
relishing the Autumn sun
which is the pale sun of long death.

From "Vincenzo Cardarelli: The Forgotten amongst the Great. A Collection of the Best Poems by Vincenzo Cardarelli, Translated in English," available as e-book on Amazon Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Koboand as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.

Mattini d'ottobre

Di giorno in giorno il sole
si fa sempre più pallido.
E' un pallore che fiacca i nervi
e l'anima rattrista:
un'agonia di luce che si spegne,
un singhiozzo che muore lentamente.
In queste mattine d'ottobre
io vagolante in mezzo alla ressa
vo come un'ombra che cader potrebbe
senza rumore,
assaporando il sole d'autunno
ch'è il solicello della lunga morte.

Dalle raccolta "Poesie Aggiunte," 1949.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

"A Troublesome Visitor" by Anton Chekhov, from the Collection: "The Horse Stealer and Other Stories." Translated in English by Constance Garnett. Full text in English, "A Troublesome Visitor" by Anton Chekhov.

The Soviet Union 1959 CPA 2292 stamp (Anton Pavlovich Chekhov and Scene from his Works.)  USSR commemorative stamp of Anton Chekhov (Анто́н Па́влович Че́хов)


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
"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?"
"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.