Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>IV. The Growing Up

 

IV. The Growing Up

 

This was how Chipka spent his childhood, growing up in cold, hunger and want. His was a very solitary existence. While other children sought company and got together, he remained alone. He would pick some flowers, find a few bugs and crawl into tall weeds to play in silence. The company of either children or adults had little attraction for him. With his good memory he had never forgotten being called a freak. He also remembered his grandmother's advice. Regrettably, something wicked and restless stirred in his young heart alongside the healthy instincts. Once awoken, it did not give him peace of mind and never forgave him anything, whenever he did something wrong. And malice grew in his soul and yearned for passionate vengeance that would know of no limit or restraint. Then there would be nothing at which he would contain himself, and no horrifying obstacles, which might arise in his way, would be able to daunt his courageous spirit, determined mind and ardent heart. Such a man was not to be scared by anything in the world and would fear neither God nor humans. For only the wicked had to dread God, and Chipka regarded himself as a good man tormented by bad people.
Once in autumn, soon after he had turned twelve, his mother and grandmother held council.
"Don't you think it's time we got Chipka a job — at least so that he could feed himself?" Motrya asked.
"I've been thinking about it myself," Orishka said. "Only he doesn't seem fit for any work. He's so surly and close-mouthed and bearish. He also can't get along with other boys, so he sticks at home all the time."
"What can we do?" Motrya said sorrowfully. "Everybody knows how hard I work. But it's just no use... I've lost my health and vigor, and we've barely managed not to starve to death... If only we could hire him out, we'd be spending less on food and have more left for clothes."
Motrya went to ask around and soon found Chipka a job. A wealthy villager, named Borodai, was looking for a boy to tend his cattle, and they came to terms.
"Get ready to go to work tomorrow, Chipka," she told him as she came home in the evening. "You've been hanging around long enough at home wasting food. It's high time you started earning your bread."
Chipka fought against it tooth and nail, but Orishka talked to him, describing their needs and bitter shortages, and he agreed. Borodai hired him for the winter for food and clothes. Motrya returned home in a happy frame of mind.
"How did it go off?" Orishka asked.
"I left him there... I wish he'd behave!"
"He may yet get used to it," the older woman tried to encourage her daughter. "It's now all in the hands of God."
Chipka stayed with Borodai. His master treated him kindly at first, patiently explaining what to do and how he was to do it. But the boy just did not listen to him. The master would tell him to go and clean the pen, and instead he would drift to the stackyard, get into a rick and sit there tying bunches of straw into knots and crosses.
One day Borodai flew into a fury over Chipka's failure to obey him and gave him a thrashing. This so enraged the boy that he nearly burned down his master's place. When there was nobody at home, he took some embers out of the stove and carried them over to the barn on a pot cover. Luckily, neighbors noticed it in time and put out the fire with water.
Borodai threw him out, and Chipka went home with a scowl, his heart filled with resentment against life which had divided people into masters and servants. Motrya just wept and did not even try to beat him. She was afraid of Borodai suing them. Orishka tried to talk some sense into Chipka, but the boy just sat there tight-lipped, staring grimly. He stayed at home for the whole winter.
In the spring, Motrya and Orishka again discussed it.
"Shall we get Chipka to work?"
"Why not."
Motrya went to look for a job once more — and again quickly found it. Ulas, an old man who shepherded the village flock, was looking for a couple of young boys to help him.
Old Ulas was a serf of landlord Polsky and used to tend his cattle. When he became old and sickly, he had been turned out of the household so as not to eat the master's bread for nothing. Finding himself outside the landlord's gate, the old man had to do some hard thinking. Where should he go? He had no family, and his distant relatives were all serfs anyway. In this situation he might just as well go and jump in the pond. The free peasants' commune, however, took pity on him. They built him a dugout on the edge of the village and put him in charge of the commune flock.
Now the old man hired Chipka as a herdsman. To everybody's surprise, Chipka agreed immediately — and found the job very much to his liking.
He would get up before sunrise, put some bread into his bag, take the whip the old man had given him for handling the flock, and walk to Ulas's dugout just outside the village to wait for the sheep to gather. When he came, the dugout door was still shut. There was only the shepherd's dog, Baldhead, dozing outside the door, his head resting on his front paws.
"Baldhead!" Chipka called out to him.
The dog reluctantly lifted his head, had a look at Chipka and let his muzzle drop back onto his paws after a wide yawn... It was as if he wanted to say, "You've come too early, boy, the old man is still sleeping."
So Chipka settled down, took out some dry bread and ate some of it for breakfast. Before long, villagers began bringing their sheep. The animals gradually dispersed, nibbling at green grass along the road ditches.
Then Hritsko Chuprun, the other herdsboy, came along. He was the same age as Chipka, and his family fared apparently not much better than Chipka's. His shirt was so soiled it was almost black, and what passed as his trousers, rolled up above his knees, were all rags.
Hritsko was an orphan and came from the family of free peasants. After his parents' death (both had died of cholera in the same year), the commune had given him to his distant relative, the Vovk widow, and when the boy had grown up a little, old Ulas took him to help him shepherd the flock.
Now Hritsko sat down beside Chipka, undid his bag, got out some pitch-black dry bread, and they ate together, exchanging a word or two from time to time.
Then the door squeaked — and the old man stood in the doorway.
"Already here, boys?"
"That's right."
"There're still too few sheep, I see."
"They're going to bring the rest now."
"Having your breakfast?"
"Yes, we are."
"All right, you go on eating till we have all the sheep. Meanwhile I'll wash and get my things and then we'll start."
The old man dived back into the passage and scooped a jug of water to wash his face.
It was now almost broad daylight, only the sun seemed to be late. Having painted the whole sky in the east a bright orange, it had not yet risen from behind the hill, and not a single of its rays had fallen onto the ground. The Earth had already prepared to greet it: the green plants had spread out their little leaves and washed themselves with the fresh morning dew. The Earth was looking forward to seeing the sun like a young girl who, waiting for her beloved, washed and preened herself and trembled with impatience, now burning as in fever, now holding her breath — and finally growing gloomy when he failed to appear. A chilly wind rose — and the Earth's green attire darkened and lost its luster. But then the wind died down, and the Earth brightened up again...
Presently, all the sheep were in, and old Ulas was ready. He emerged from his dugout wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, his lunch bag and his coat (for bad weather) on a crook over his shoulder, his whip in his hand.
"Shall we go, boys?" he called to them.
Chipka and Hritsko sprang to their feet, put away the remains of their black-bread breakfast and hurried to gather the sheep which had spread throughout the common, regaling themselves on the dewy grass. Soon they were all herded together.
The shepherd shouted, the whip cracked, one of the boys opened the gate of the fenced common, and the sheep slowly trailed toward the fields, their heads low, just above the ground. Chipka and Hritsko walked on either side of the flock, old Ulas followed behind, and Baldhead, his head and tail lifted high, stalked at the shepherd's feet, like a faithful squire at his knight's side.
Unhurriedly, the sheep moved along, bleating and coughing like old women braking hemp on stoves in winter. A cloud of dust hung above the road.
"Come on!" the old shepherd udged them on, snapping his whip.
"Hey, where d'you think you're going?" Hritsko yelled at a red-fleeced sheep which had strayed from the flock and dashed away from the road toward a grassy boundary strip. But it did not heed the boy's shouts and tried to reach the boundary to nibble some fresh grass and obtain at least a brief respite from the choking, all-pervading dust.
Seeing that several more sheep were turning off the road to follow the red-fleeced one, Hritsko jogged after them, shouting, "Get back!" and snapping his whip. Reluctantly, the fugitives turned back.
Playfully and smilingly, the sun began to emerge from behind the hill. Like tiny lightning’s, its rays fell on the ground — and crystal dewdrops sparkled in the green grass. With the appearance of the sun, all creatures came to life. Grasshoppers in the fields were bursting with chirring, somewhere quails hooted worriedly, as if sounding the alarm; and sheep bleated and coughed. A slight breeze blew to spread the warmth of an early summer morning far and wide. The world became cheery and pleasant.
Chipka strolled on one side of the flock, his head hung low. What was he thinking about? What was on his mind? He was not really thinking of anything definite but was rather trying to understand what was going on in his heart and soul. Then he forgot — and put everything out of his mind... Now he felt good. He felt happy and free. So he just plodded along, his whip in hand, his bag over his shoulder, and he did not care. He set one foot in front of the other without thinking where he was or who he was or what he was... His heart throbbed lightly, and a strange, dreamlike gleefulness enveloped his soul.
Presently they reached the pasture. Old Ulas snapped his whip, and the sheep scattered over the green field.
"Now, boys, we can get some rest," he declared.
All three settled down under a tree. The old man got out some bread and a pinch of salt and began to eat.
Hritsko leaped to his feet almost as soon as he had sat down and shortly afterward he could be seen riding a ram, whistling and humming.
Chipka lay on his back staring into the sky. The sky was deep, wide and clear, without a cloud or a spot. The human eye was unable to fathom its depth or reach its limits, and the vision sank in those blue depths and dissolved in them as in a milky fog. Only the thought grew and broadened...
What was up there, Chipka wondered. It must be really nice there. The skies were so blue, and the sun shone so brightly.
"Uncle Ulas?"
"What is it, sonny?"
"What's there?"
"Where?"
"In the sky?"
"God."
Chipka fell to thinking. It was so nice lying there and looking up.
"Are there any people there, too?"
"Where?"
"In the sky."
"No, sonny, there aren't. There's just God, his angels and virtuous souls."
"Has anybody been there to see them?"
"No, but they say so. Our priest also says so in his sermons in church."
"It must be wonderful there... Just look how blue and beautiful the heavens are!"
Having eaten his breakfast, the old shepherd was saying a prayer. When he finished, he said:
"Of course it's wonderful, sonny! Nothing like here on earth... Up there everything is good and holy. Down here all is evil and sinful..."
Ulas's voice trailed off. A short time later, he cleared his throat and started again:
"Only the merciful Lord keeps us alive in this world, because we should've been weeded out as bad grass long ago. Look at these sheep here. Do they harm anybody or anything? No they don't. They just wander around nibbling the green grass — and that's all they do. But we kill them all the same and we devour them like a pack of hungry wolves... But then we eat just about everything — you name it. But it's a sin, and we'll have to pay for it in the other world... We're sinful, damned souls. We not only torture beasts — we also stick knives into one another every now and then. We sure do. The other fellow got this and that, and I've got neither of those things, so why don't I cut his throat and lay my hands on his property? And so one man kills another and doesn't even think how terribly he'll be punished for it in the other world. The devil tempts him, and he grabs a knife and goes ahead... Condemned, sinful souls — that's what we are!"
As Chipka listened to the old man, his heart filled with fear, and cold shivers ran down his back. "Condemned, sinful souls..." he whispered after Ulas. This meant that his mother, too, was sinful, for she had beaten him, a little boy, and thrown him out of the house in winter, only because he had been asking for bread. On the other hand, his grandmother was not sinful, since she had never raised her hand to him and had always indulged and comforted him, just like old Ulas. Then he was probably not sinful either... What about Hritsko? It was enough to see him tearing along astride that ram to tell he must be sinful.
"Hritsko!" Chipka shouted, leaping to his feet. "Don't do that, because it's a sin!"
Hritsko, however, kept on geeing and whoaing at the top of his voice.
"Is he riding the ram again?" the old man asked. "Now I see. I couldn't understand at first why he was shouting so all the time... Wait, I'll show you!" Ulas shook his crook at the boy from afar.
Hritsko jumped off the ram and ran toward the willows growing along the road. Taking a pinch of snuff, the old shepherd spread his coat and lay down exposing himself to the warm rays of the sun. Chipka sat beside him.
Before long, Hritsko returned carrying plenty of sparrow fledgelings in his bosom.
"Look how many chicks I've gotten out of sparrows' nests," he boasted.
"What have you done it for?" the old man asked without lifting his head from the ground.
"That's to keep this plague from breeding!"
"But they haven't harmed anybody! It's a sin!" Chipka exclaimed, stressing the last word.
"Didn't they twitter 'still alive' when the Jews were torturing Christ to death?" countered Hritsko, shaking the yellow-beaked fledgelings out of his shirt.
Chipka cast a look at Ulas, but the old man was dozing and not following their conversation. The fledgelings began to crawl away, and Hritsko seized his crook.
"Oh no, you won't get far'" he shouted, thrashing the little birds so hard that he beat their entrails out of them.
"I'll teach you how to twitter 'still alive'!" the boy yelled as he pounded away with his crook again and again.
Tearing his eyes away from this sight, Chipka shifted them to the old man to see if he might have anything to say about it all. But Ulas just lay there and did not speak. Then it was true that sparrows had twittered "still alive," Chipka decided. Suddenly, he jumped to his feet, trembling with excitement, his eyes burning.
"Wait, Hritsko! Wait, don't beat them. Let's better wring their necks!..."
Picking up a fledgeling, he gave a sharp twist to its head. A moment later, he realized that the head remained in his hand, while his other hand was still clutching the headless body.
"This is 'still alive' to you!" Chipka shouted. "How d'you like that?"
"This is 'still alive' to you!" Hritsko echoed him.
Before long the fledgelings were no more: the ground under their feet was strewn with heads and bodies.
"Now we can do some beating," declared Chipka, reaching for his crook. Hritsko followed suit. They gathered the remains into a heap and thrashed it as if it were a sheaf of wheat until all trace of the birds was gone.
"Let's go get more of them," Hritsko proposed. "There're still plenty of these."
"All right," Chipka agreed.
They raced toward the willows.
"Where are you going?" old Ulas called after them, lifting his head from the ground. "Better go and drive the sheep back here. Look how far they've gone. We don't want them to be attacked by wolves, do we?"
The old man lay back on his coat and quickly dozed off again.
"Did Jews really torture Christ to death?" Chipka asked as they ran to the sheep.
"Sure they did. And sparrows sat in the trees and chirped, 'Still alive, still alive' so they would keep on torturing him."
"I surely wish some Jew would fall into my hands!" Chipka boasted, his eyes sparkling viciously, like those of a wolf cub.
"Eh, you couldn't really handle big Jews," Hritsko said. "But we could surely lick some Jewish kids. Yesterday I beat the hell out of one and pulled out his whiskers, too..."
"Oh did you?"
"I did, by God."
"If only I could catch one, I'd wring his neck like I did to those sparrows!"
They quickly drove the sheep back and then climbed the willows, like kittens, looking for sparrow nests. Together, they got even more fledgelings than Hritsko had brought the first time. Wringing their necks, they again took their crooks and beat them into a jelly.
The sun climbed higher and higher. Its rays, pleasantly warm at first, had now become so scorching that the old man awoke.
"Too hot," he declared, shifting his coat into the shade of the willow. "All right, let's take some snuff and play some music. The boys are probably climbing those trees..."
He breathed the tobacco into his nostril.
"Very good!" he praised the snuff. He sneezed and reached into the bag for his flute. Wetting the mouthpiece with saliva, he blew it several times. Then he started "The Herdsboy." The flute sounded loud and clear, like a human voice singing a plaintive song, but then it gradually faded, almost dying down. Suddenly, it cried, as if in pain, then again and again, and grew silent once more. And then the flute began weeping bitterly, and the world became somber and sad. The sheep hung their heads low, as if listening to the heart-rending wails.
Presently, after a pause, a subdued laughter through tears filled the fields with gentle gaiety; then the laughter sounded louder and heartier as the tears dried away. Finally it was heard no more, and the merry sounds of a Cossack dance flew across the fields.
"It's the old man playing," Chipka said. "Let's go over to him."
"Come on."
And they broke into a run.
"It must be time, boys, to water the sheep," Ulas told them when he saw them.
Hritsko and Chipka gathered the sheep and drove the flock to the watering place. On their way there they got into bad trouble. As they crossed the meadow, a gray wolf appeared out of the blue. Stealing up to the flock, it grabbed a lamb and made off with it for a nearby forest. The sheep panicked and rushed aside, nearly swamping Hritsko. Baldhead raced after the wolf, and Chipka ran after the dog. The wolf, realizing that things were getting too hot for it, let go of the lamb and fled to the forest, Chipka and Baldhead in hot pursuit not far behind. Hearing Baldhead's barking, the old man hurried to help. But looking for a wolf in a forest was a hopeless undertaking. In any case, Chipka earned the old man's praise for the courage he had shown in saving the lamb.
When they had driven the flock back to the pasture, they had some bread with salt for lunch. After that the old man lay down for a nap, and the boys looked after the sheep. Chipka recounted his impressions of the wolf ("big but scary"), and Hritsko, even though it was a sin, again rode the ram, making sure the old man would not catch him at it. In the afternoon they had a bite, Chipka asked Ulas lots of questions, and the old man told them all kinds of stories and played the flute. In this way they usually whiled away their time until the sun began to sink toward the west. Then the old man would say, "Time to go home, boys."
Chipka and Hritsko would round up the flock and drive it to the village. In the common, the owners waited for them to take their sheep home. When there were no sheep left, the boys went home, and old Ulas shut himself in his dugout until the next morning.



 

Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).
А.С. Пушкин. Полное собрание сочинений в десяти томах