|Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >> I.The Field Princess|
The spring was at its height. All around, everything had come out and burst into luxuriant bloom. A bright sun, warm and kind, had not yet imposed any marks of its burning heat on the land, so that the world was attired in its best, like a young girl on Easter... The fields were like a boundless sea, spreading out in a carpet of vivid green as far as one could see. Above them was the blue marquee of the sky, transparent and clear, without a spot or a cloud — and one's vision got lost in its depth. Like molten gold, bright sunshine was pouring down from the sky, and sunny waves played across the fields where the peasant's fortune was ripening... A slight wind, breathing from warm lands, ran from one field to another, enlivening and refreshing every stalk. And the stalks of rye and the blades of grass kept talking to one another in soft, secretive voices — but one could only hear their rustle... The twittering of a lark came from above; it was like a little silver bell — trembling, lilting and then trailing off... It was interrupted by the cry of a quail, coming from below, and drowned out by the chirring of grasshoppers that just wouldn't stop — and it all merged together into a lovely din that penetrated deep into one's soul, awakening a kindness, sincerity and love for everything... And one felt good from within, lively and cheerful! Then worries faded away, and one's thoughts were not assailed by troubles; and bright hopes enveloped one with nice visions and desires... Then one wanted to live and love and wished everybody to be happy. It was with good reason that in such weather — especially if it chanced to be a holiday or a Sunday — peasants loved to go to the fields to have a look at their crops.
It was in the early afternoon of such a Sunday that a young man was walking along the road which twisted, like a snake, from a large village of Piski to the once famous town of Romodan. "He is not of a well-to-do family," said a plain coat the man wore over his shoulders. "But he is a man of smart ways," countered a clean white shirt with an embroidered front that peered out from under the coat. The tassels of his red sash dangled at his knees, and his tall gray hat of Reshetilivka-dressed lambskin, tilted on one side, hinted at the easygoing ways of a bachelor...
The man walking along that road was really a bachelor. At first sight, he could be about twenty. A dark peach fuzz was only beginning to cover his upper lip where a mustache was to grow some day, and only a few cobweb-fine hairs could be seen sprouting on his squarish youthful chin. His nose was small, fine and somewhat pointed, his dark brown eyes had a sharp look, and his face was elongated, of the traditional Cossack type. He was neither short nor tall, but had a broad chest and shoulders... So much about his appearance. Such lads could often be seen in our villages and hamlets. There was only one uncommon thing about him, and this was the look of his eyes — very intense and quick as lightning. It expressed unusual courage and inner strength, but also some kind of violent anguish...
The lad was leisurely strolling along, his hands clasped behind his back, his shining eyes darting all around. Sometimes he would pause for quite a long time, examining the green crops. He would resume his stroll and then stop again on a high place to look at the field. Presently, he crossed over a rickety bridge at the bottom of a gully. Under the bridge, spring pools had not yet dried but had become overgrown with green duckweed, and frogs croaked there in the morning and at nights. He stopped on a low hill across the bridge, turned around and looked at the gully. Then he shifted his gaze to the nearest field of rye. The crops looked better then those just outside the village, he decided. The last rain must have been better here. He turned again and went on.
Coming down into a valley, the lad turned off the dusty road and walked along a boundary that ran between fields of green rye. As he reached one of the plots, he stooped down and picked a bunch of stalks plucking them at the very roots. Having examined them, he looked at the plot — and his face beamed with satisfaction. "This is my work," his eyes seemed to say, "and it has not been in vain. It has made me a man and a farmer." Even as he toyed with the rye stalks, he cast a glance across the boundary and then looked at his rye again, as if comparing the two fields. He said aloud: "Of course my rye is better than Kabanets's. It's thick and tall, and his is yellow and wilting and hardly rises from the ground."
Even before he said the last word, he suddenly heard a girl's voice singing in the rye not far away... Catching his breath, he pricked up his ears and listened... The voice was sweet and sonorous, and the song floated through the air. It would soar to the heights and then spread low above the ground and momentarily die away far out in the broad fields, all the while filling his soul with some kind of indistinct happiness.
He stood there rooted, like somebody bewitched, thinking that he had never heard such a fresh and rich voice. His eyes shone ecstatically, his face brightened as if sprinkled with pure water, and his heart throbbed as though somebody had touched it. He wondered who it could be — and went toward the voice. Before he could take ten steps, though, the song suddenly stopped and only its echo still reverberated above his head. He took another step, then one more... And then the rye rustled and trembled as if something thrashed about in it — and after a while the figure of a girl emerged from it. The lad stopped. Like a scared quail, the girl darted away. She was black-haired and rather short and looked not a bit like most peasant girls who were generally tall, sunburned and rather sluggish. Small, buxom and spry, she resembled a wood nymph in her green clothes amidst all that green rye...
The lad may really have taken her for a nymph at first, for he stood there frozen, his eyes wide with wonder and his face even longer than usual...
The girl ran off to some distance and also stopped. Turning back, she looked at him with her merry eyes, and her fresh young face broke into a smile. He could see her better now. Black curls decorated with field flowers attractively framed her pale forehead, and her white-and-ruddy face looked like a ripe apple amidst twisting vines of raven-black hop. Her eyes, velvety black, were full of latent fire. Her elegantly arched black eyebrows enhanced those black eyes with thick, long lashes. Small and spry, she looked very attractive with that jolly smile of hers. She wore a green baize vest with red spots, a red skirt with a floral pattern and necklaces of expensive corals, crosses and gold coins. Everything complemented her beauty very nicely.
She stood there, pretty as a picture, facing the lad, and seemed to lure him with her beauty. He stepped forward without taking his eyes off her. She was the first to speak:
"Why are you wandering about here?"
"And why are you trampling rye?" he retorted somewhat rudely. "Is this your rye?"
"It sure is... What's the matter with you?"
"You did scare me..." Her voice trailed off. The lad did not speak for some time.
"Who are you?" he asked after a while, swallowing hard. "Why are you here, where do you come from?"
She sensed, as only girls know how, why his voice trembled. Her eyes sparkled.
"Why d'you want to know?" she asked playfully.
"I just want to know what you're doing in my field," he blurted out. "Who are you, what d'you want here?"
"I will not tell you!" she declaimed smilingly. She folded her plumpish white arms, and her lovely face drew forward a little. "If I'm here, that's just because I live not far away... Who are you?"
"Come over here!" he said, smiling invitingly. "We'll sit down... and have a talk... and then I'll tell you who I am..."
She sprang up as if stung by a wasp. She clapped her hands, burst into laughter and rushed back into the rye. Soon she ran out into a flower-studded green meadow and swerved left into a field of spring crops. Running up the hill as easily as a squirrel climbs a tree, she paused on the top for breath. She smiled and waved to him, as if challenging him to pursue her. Then she started down the other side and was suddenly gone, like a ghost.
He did not budge. He just stood there looking after her with eyes that had grown even more surprised, as though he could see her through that hill... Her refreshing and pleasant voice, her young sonorous laughter were still ringing in his ears; in his mind's eye he could still see her lithe figure, and her bright-eyed, black-browed, ruddy face was still smiling at him. Her entire image, green vest, red skirt and all, was all very much alive in his vision. "What was it?" he asked himself. "Did I really see a girl or did I just have a dream?... Who is she anyway? The old soldier's daughter? But I hear his girl died... h'm... and I certainly don't remember anybody like that in the hamlets... Khomenko's daughter? But his hamlet seems a bit too far for that. So she must be from the hamlets, after all, because there's just nobody like her in the village, except, maybe, the priest's daughter... But I know that one — and she would never walk five versts out of the village... Then who?"
Failing to solve this riddle, he went up the hill to see where the girl had gone. It was getting late already. The girl was nowhere in sight. Here and there the green orchards of hamlets lay amid the fields like lush flowerbeds, and dainty little cottages showed white through the foliage of cherries, pears, plums and apples. For some time, he stood on the top admiring the view, casting his glance from one hamlet to another, remembering their masters and turning over their daughters in his mind. Then, totally confused, he set out for home.
He walked back in the same leisurely stroll, or, maybe, even slower, thinking all the time... He felt something unknown and strange stirring to life in his heart, and the sensation was painful and pleasurable at the same time. And he was sad and happy and wanted to cry and to sing. Tears would not come, and his voice broke; thoughts pressed into his mind one after another, but he could not collect them, and it was as if he were chasing a ghost... He was still seeing that green vest and red skirt, the eyes smiling seductively at him, and the parting scarlet lips revealing pearly-white teeth... He felt cold shivers run down his spine... "What's the matter with me?!" he exclaimed. "Have I gone crazy or something all of a sudden? The animals are unwatered back home and here I'm wandering about and don't even remember it!" And, raising his head, he quickened his pace.
Before long, he reached Piski. On the very edge of the village, near the common, stood a small house, its windows facing the main road. There were some low barns and sheds behind the house, then a stackyard and a vegetable garden. The entire lot was enclosed with a low wattle fence. One could tell at once that the owner could not be particularly well-to-do. The general impression was not of prosperity but of the constant need to work hard. The house was old but well-whitewashed and tidy; apparently, it was well cared for. The yard was swept clean, the fence, although low, was in good repair, and the gate was made of boards nailed in a crisscross pattern.
Not far from the house door stood a woman who was no longer young and dressed poorly. Scattering grain from a bowl, she was loudly calling chickens. Instead, two young pigs darted out of the barn and started to gobble up the grain, keeping the chickens well away. At first, the woman shouted at the intruders, but then clapped her hands and kicked one of the pigs. Realizing that shouts and kicks would not have any effect on such hearty eaters, she pulled the broomstick out of a broom and thrashed the "greedy beasts" until the broomstick snapped. "Damn the scoundrels — I've ruined a good broomstick because of them!" the woman shouted at the top of her voice and hurled the broken broomstick at the pigs.
It was at this very moment that the lad entered the yard. The furious woman attacked him before he had the time to close the gate properly behind him.
"Just where have you been traipsing, Chipka?" she scolded him. "D'you have any idea of how late it is? The cow and the mare are unwatered — and you out taking a stroll..."
"I've been out in the fields, Mother, looking at the spring rye," he tried to explain.
The woman cast a sharp look at him, as if to check whether this was true. But he had already turned away and gone toward the cowshed. She picked up an empty slop pail and went inside the house.
"Just don't loaf anymore!" she called to him reprovingly from the passage doorway. "Take the cow out to water, because we'll still have to milk her."
But her son did not hear. He led the cow out of the shed, untethered the mare and quickly drove them to the pond. Soon he returned. Driving the animals back inside, he picked an armful of grass. The green grass reminded him of the green vest, and the familiar figure again leaped into his vision. Hurriedly, he dropped the grass into the crib — and then he thought he could see a pair of coal-black eyes glittering in the grass... "Stop haunting me!" he cried out, snatching his hands out of the crib. "Leave me in peace!"
He hastily closed the shed and went inside. They ate supper in silence and then went to bed.
"Do you know, Mother, if the old soldier has a daughter?" he
"What old soldier, son?"
"The one who lives at the hamlet near our field." "I don't really know. He had one, but I hear she died. Why do you ask?"
"Well... never mind."
There the conversation ended. The mother fell asleep on the wooden bed. The son lay on his bench, unable to sleep. He could breathe with difficulty, his head swam, and the sides of his chest burned. He was also unable to get the girl out of his mind. "Go away, you foolish thing," he muttered. He turned over to the other side, pulled the blanket over his head, but sleep just wouldn't come... Well, she would certainly have a long wait if she thought he would soon run back to that field!
|Бібліотека ім. О. С. Пушкіна (м. Київ).