Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Хіба ревуть воли, як ясла повні? Зміст >>VII.The Breadwinner

 

VII.The Breadwinner


Now what about Hritsko?
Hritsko was no fool. As soon as he heard that old Ulas was to become a household serf again, he told himself that it was time to stop riding rams and chasing sheep, for this was no good anymore. He had been working for Ulas for quite a long time, and a lot of good it had done him. He had better look around for some other way to earn his bread. So he decided and left the old shepherd the same spring. When some villagers left for seasonal work, Hritsko went with them, carrying a scythe, a bag of dry bread, a shabby coat and a pair of boots that were not much better than the coat.
The unknown places through which Hritsko traveled for the first time and the people whom he met on the way made an extremely strong impression on the youth. He gaped at all of it open-mouthed.
"It's something unbelievable the way those people live! What houses they've built! And those doors... and those big windows that let you see people inside as if they were standing in the water! I wonder how much it all could cost. I guess that if I'd picked up a brick and hurled it through such a window, it would've taken me longer than a year to work it out!... What wealth, what luxury!" Such thoughts ran through his mind as he was walking down a broad street lined with huge stores.
The street was really impressive. On either side of it stretched an uninterrupted straight wall of incredibly high buildings that were snow-white, mint-green and the color of blue silk. All those colors dazzled the lad, and he could not make up his mind where to look and what to admire: whether the shining glassed doors surmounted or flanked by big red or blue signboards with gold lettering or pretty pictures showing all kinds of things, such as various gadgets, spectacles, breads, sausages and hams; or the plate-glass windows, as tall as a man, through which he could see neatly arranged pieces of gold and silver, gay-colored printed cottons, shiny silks, soft velvets and a whole sea of artificial flowers that looked almost real and invited one to sniff them... Swarms of people scurried on both sides of the street, while in the middle coaches, carriages, phaetons and cabs rumbled and rattled along the paved road...
Presently they passed a store selling children's toys.
"Uncle Ostap!" said Hritsko, turning to one of the men. "What's that?"
"Those are dolls."
"What are they for?"
"That's for the gentry to play with."
"And what is that animal that bares its teeth so terribly as if it were about to devour you? Just look at that red mouth. And those teeth, too! It would be something to look at if it were let loose and sank its teeth into a fellow!"
"You don't think it's a live beast, do you? It's made of something."
"No, it is not! It can't be — look how its eyes glisten."
"So what if they glisten? They've just fixed eyes of glass..."
"But it's so frightful! Why should anybody want to make such a terrible thing?" Hritsko insisted, gaping at the toy through the glass.
"To hell with it! Better let's move on, or we might get into trouble sticking here like this."
They went on, but Hritsko was unable to get the terrible toy off his mind. What animal could that be? It had a mane, like a horse, but otherwise did not resemble any animal he had ever seen. Surely, it must be a ferocious beast — probably even worse than a wolf! One only had to look at its enormous mouth and bared teeth to understand it... Could any man hunt down such a beast? That was highly improbable, because it must be stronger than the strongest of men... Would he be albe to overcome it? Probably not. Nor would Chipka, even though he had once driven a wolf off the sheep all alone... Now, such an animal could hardly be scared away... Where did such beasts live anyway? Oh, Lord!
"Uncle Ostap!"
"What is it?"
"What was that animal?" Hritsko asked. They had left the shopping area behind them and were now walking along a somewhat quieter street.
"I used to know its name but now I've forgotten."
"Whose name?" a third man joined in.
"That animal's. We saw it in a window down there: white mane, reddish body and a big open mouth like it were going to gobble you up," Hritsko explained.
"Did it have a long tail with a brush at the end?"
"That's right."
"It was a lion."
"A lion?" Hritsko repeated with wonder. "Just what kind of animal is it, that lion?"
"It's just a big beast. The king of animals..."
"The king?! So that's what it is! Why, it surely looked like one. I bet whatever he says gets done in no time at all. How would anyone dare not to obey such an awful animal?"
"Sure," the man said. "That's why he's the king."
"I bet he's terribly big and strong too."
"That he is. He's stronger than any other beast."
"Then how do they go about catching them?" Hritsko asked.
"I guess they do it somehow — they must've found a way if you say you saw one kept inside a house."
"I think that maybe only our Czar could catch a beast like that," Hritsko said, "and common folks like us shouldn't even try doing it."
"Oh, come on!" Uncle Ostap broke in. "Why would the Czar do such a thing? He'd send out some fellows like you and tell them to bring him one."
"But such an animal could bite a fellow badly or even kill him."
"It wouldn't matter at all."
"What if they refused to hunt him?"
"They'd just have their heads cut off..."
"But how can anyone hunt a beast that's too terrible even to look at? The wolf is not nearly as bad — and he makes us pretty much afraid of him. Then what about such a horrible creature, God forbid?"
"The Czar just wouldn't care. He'd order you to hunt it and hunt it you would..."
"How come I've never heard of any lions being hunted around here?"
"That's just because none live here."
"Where do they live then?"
"Somewhere beyond the sea."
"Is there land beyond the sea, too?"
"God knows. There must be if that's where this animal comes from..."
"Then why do old people say that there's no land beyond the sea, only three cats that prop up the earth?"
"Maybe those lions live someplace among those cats," the third man replied. The conversation died.
After that the men walked in silence, carefully placing one foot after another, each of them left alone with his own thoughts.
Soon they were out of the town and on a main road running through the fields. Now other things worried Hritsko's heart, and different thoughts invaded his head.
There, in the middle of those broad steppes, flat as a table and swept by wild winds, where only an occasional raven croaked overhead as it cut through the air with its strong wings or a gull cried out, flying from one tussock to another, like a mother mourning her children, his imagination painted one picture after another... Before his eyes arose images of town life, noisy hectic and bustling. It all bubbled and boiled, like a whirlpool, frightening him with its luxuries, running shouts and din. Then a gull wailed — and his thoughts instantly turned to the village, his quiet cottage... and his wife and children. He could see them very well now. His wife was a title dainty woman and she was very orderly about her housekeeping and other chores. Work melted in her hands, and everything got done swiftly and smoothly... He would watch her work and wish she did not do so much... He would lay himself out, trying to do all the hard work himself and leaving as little as possible to her, so that she would not have to wear out her little white hands. Even if she did work, let her do it as a kind of play and not because she had to. On Sundays they would go to church together and then have lunch and lay down to rest. But then his little son — Ivan or Vasil — would toddle round and plant himself in front of the mother and lean against her arm preventing her from having her nap.
"Go to play, Ivan, and let Father sleep," she would tell him.
"Slee-eep," the child would babble.
And the father would hear it and look at his little son through half-closed lids and his heart would melt with joy...
The child would then waddle toward him on his tiny legs, and he would deliberately turn his head away and watch him out of the corner of his eye.
"Just look what you've done," his wife would speak. "You've woken up Father — and you haven't let him have his nap..."
"Wo-kin... nap," the boy would murmur.
"Now he's going to take a rod and show you: swish-swish!"
The boy would stand there, staring now at his father, now at his mother.
"Swish-swish!" he would repeat, waving his tiny hand at his father's face.
"Hey you, little rogue!" his father would exclaim. "Why are you beating your father? Just wait: now I'll throw you far away." He would spring up, grab the boy and rock him. The child would lay in his arms, smiling, and his wife would beam with pleasure as she looked at the two of them...
"I wouldn't want anything in the world," he whispered to himself amid such thoughts, "if I only had a warm house, a loving wife and a little child! Then I'd have all I need. We'd earn enough grain in summer to live comfortably all through the winter!"
Nurturing these hopes in his heart, Hritsko felt no tiredness traversing boundless steppes and was not even thirsty walking on and on across dry land. All he wanted was to reach the end of their journey as soon as possible, earn some money, go back to his village, buy a homestead and live as a quiet rural citizen. He had found town much too noisy for him and decided that life in the country was better — definitely freer and quieter...
Hritsko did not leave his fellow villagers when they reached the place. Their whole party got hired to mow hay and later wheat.

* * *


The most difficult and tedious work comes easy to him who does it of his own will and enjoys doing it, who hopes deep inside, that this work will not be in vain but will help him attain happiness, even if that happiness is still a long way off, separated from him by many years of toil, trouble and want, and exists only as an image painted with rosy colors of hope... Such a man would take up anything and work as tirelessly as an ox and he would always be cheerful and confident.
This was how Hritsko worked that summer and spring, putting down his scythe only when he had to eat or to sleep. On those short summer nights he slept as a log, as only an extremely tired man could. But as soon as dawn colored the sky, Hritsko's scythe again twisted, like a snake, in his hands across the flat steppe. The employer noted his good work, praised him and raised his pay a little.
"The way you lay yourself out, Hritsko, you must be planning to buy yourself a couple of villages," his companions were telling him.
"What if I am?" Hritsko would say, grinning. "There's nothing to gape at, really. Just grab a scythe and go on and on!"
"You'd better go easy or your pants might snap," someone would tease him.
"Never fear, I'm not like you!" Hritsko would retort and put his scythe back to work.
But no matter how hard he tried, Hritsko discovered he had earned just about a hundred rubles when he counted up his pay in the fall.
He could have done worse, he decided. Now he at least had some money. But what could he do with a hundred? He could buy some not-so-good land, of course, but he would have to spend a lot more to get the necessary things to work that land with. No, that was still far from enough. Should he stay to work over the winter?
He did stay after all. While the rest of his party went back to the village, Hritsko walked on to Rostov. On the road he came across a bunch of fellows like him.
"Where are you going?" they asked him.
"Down to Rostov."
"Don't do that, better let's go all the way to Kherson," one of the men advised him.
"Why?"
"The pay is low, and on ships in Kherson a fellow can make good money."
"But that's farther on."
"It's just half a week's walking more. That's no difference! Come on!"
"All right, let's go," he agreed, after thinking the matter over. And he went with them.
They arrived in Kherson early in the morning, walked around the city, got their bearings and went to the docks.
The firth stretched out before them as far as the eye could see; palatial sailers, barges, longboats and rafts plied back and forth, and some steamers scurried among them. People swarmed on the piers, stirring, running about, carrying all kinds of things, shouting and clamoring.
"Unloading boards at fifty copecks per hundred!" a man shouted from a raft. The dock laborers ran to him.
"Sixty copecks!" — this from another raft. The human wave rushed there, receding from the first raft.
"A ruble a day!" a voice came from a ship.
"A ruble and a quarter!... One and a half!"
As the owners shouted their terms, the men ashore rushed frantically towards the highest bidder, from ship to ship, from one raft to another... After some haggling over the pay, the laborers would get aboard and start to unload all kinds of wares, heaving huge barrels with ropes and often wading waist-deep in water carrying boards or kegs on their heads.
Hritsko, too, found a job on a raft. That day he earned almost three rubles.
Well, he thought, a month of such work would almost make him a rich man.
But it was not that simple. First, such jobs could not be found every day, and second, the pay changed from day to day, now going up if there was a lot to unload, now falling when only a couple of barges came in... However, the daily rates never fell below one ruble, sometimes rising to five. In any case, that was much better than haymaking!
Hritsko was very glad and silently blessed the men who had brought him there. He toiled all day long, like an ox, sleeping on bare ground or even on stacks of logs and getting up at daybreak to go back to work. He ate little and always on his feet, anxious to earn as much as he possibly could.
Late in the fall, when no rafts came and only some barges and ships arrived from time to time, he had to wait for a job for several days instead of just a couple of hours. Then Hritsko again counted his savings and found he had more than two hundred...
He was as happy as a little child. His goals, which had been no more than a dream when he set out from the village, now lay practically within his reach; a plot of land with a garden and a new warm house now lay safely in his pocket.
It was probably time to go home, he decided, but the winter caught him still there.
"Are there any jobs here in winter?" he asked some local men he knew.
"There's just cutting rushes," they told him. So he got hired to cut rushes.
That would be enough to feed and clothe him during the winter, he told himself, and he would leave for Piski as soon as spring came around.
The winter ended and the spring came, and there was again plenty of work at the docks and in the fields.
Hritsko abandoned his idea of leaving for home in the spring. He made up his mind to wait till the fall. Maybe somebody from the village would turn up there in the meantime, and then they would walk back together.
Indeed, some men from Piski did come to Kherson that spring. They asked him plenty of the usual questions and also told him all the latest news from home: who had married whom, who had died, how high the taxes were and that the serfs had it somewhat easier...
"Chipka is getting along real fine," one of the men informed him.
"Has he married yet?"
"No, and he'll be a fool if he doesn't... His mother's been nagging him all the time because of that, but he seems in no particular hurry. He says he hasn't found himself a girl yet."
Hritsko was pleased to hear that.
"We used to tend sheep together," he said. "He's a fine fellow, only a little strange. Do you say he's been doing well? That's good!"
Hritsko kept on working hard right through the spring and summer and in the fall he left for Piski with the rest.

* * *


He started looking around for a plot as soon as he came back. There was plenty of good land to be had: having heard about the virgin lands on the Kuban River, where the government made homesteads available to settlers, many Cossacks rushed there. Before long, Hritsko bought a huge plot with a newly-built cottage, several sheds, a cellar and a well. For all that he had to pay just about a hundred and fifty.
Now that he owned land, Hritsko immediately felt a different man. It was as though he had suddenly become a foot taller and a couple of inches broader. Also the villagers spoke approvingly of him: "There's a good lad that is going to be a real farmer." Fathers and mothers, especially the poorer ones, talked of him endlessly, regarding him as a highly satisfactory match for their daughters. But now Hritsko viewed people with different eyes, clinging to the wealthy and looking down on the poor.
The village lads he treated rather condescendingly. Whenever he met them on the street or at a night gathering, he tried to impress them, giving them to understand they had not traveled anywhere, had seen little of the world and therefore knew little or nothing. Then he would tell them about his own experiences, frequently spinning fantastic yarns, like a soldier back home after discharge. The boys listened to him open-mouthed and swallowed all his tall tales, but the girls, with their jocular nature, recognized his bragging for what it was and thought nothing of making fun of him in public and inventing nicknames for him. Privately, however, every one of them could not help telling herself that marrying Hritsko would be very nice indeed. The fellow had a house, some land and, supposedly, money as well. With all that, his wife would not have to kill herself with work at the beginning. Oh, yes, that would be wonderful!
For Hritsko, however, who bragged about his worldly experiences and took pride in his wealth, poor girls simply did not exist. Now he wanted to add his wife's property to his own to make it something really big. Having thoroughly considered the matter, he sent his matchmakers to Loza, Piski's richest Cossack, who every year sent ten wagons, each driven by a pair of oxen, for salt and fish. But Loza was no different than Hritsko. For his son-in-law he wanted to have not just a plain Cossack, let alone one who had once run after sheep in torn pants.
"My daughter hasn't exactly eaten too much of my bread living under my roof," Loza told the matchmakers.
This somewhat cut Hritsko down to size. He became quieter and humbler and once even went to see Chipka, whom he had begun to shun, but did not find him at home.
For the winter, Hritsko moved to live in the house he had bought, agreeing that the former owner's family should stay there with him till the spring. Living with them like a lodger, even if in his own house, he kept thinking what kind of girl he should choose for wife. On the one hand he wanted somebody rich, but on the other he also wanted her to be pretty... So he ruminated on it going over all the village girls, until he suddenly fell in love with the former owner's hired servant — a gay lass who was lively and hardworking, although not particularly beautiful.
Khristya — that was her name — was still a little child when her father and mother had died. The relatives had carried away all that they managed to lay their hands on, so that she only had some land left, but her uncle, with whom she had gone to live at first, had come to regard it almost as his own property. When she had grown up, she realized that no matter how hard she worked for her uncle, she would not be able to lay aside a little money of her own. Therefore she left him and went to work as a house servant. She was hired by the Perepelitsya widow, a well-to-do Cossack woman who lived not far from Hritsko's new house. There Khristya lived as she would in her own home. The widow was an elderly woman, kind and sympathetic. Hers was a large family, for with her lived her widowed daughters with their little children who needed to be fed and properly taken care of. Khristya was young, merry and friendly. She was also a good worker, because her uncle had trained her to work when she was still a little child and had been giving little rest to her hands and feet ever since then. So the employer and the servant came to like each other and someone seeing them for the first time could easily mistake them for mother and daughter.
Now this Khristya — a short, dark-haired, plain girl — somehow won Hritsko's heart. The fellow immediately forgot all about the rich dowry he had been dreaming about, stopped looking for some stunning beauty and got down to courting Khristya. Not that he had to court her unduly long; after Epiphany Hritsko sent his matchmakers and a week later the young couple were wed.
In the spring, Hritsko got back his wife's land from her uncle, bought a pair of oxen and a cow with the remainder of the money he had earned unloading rafts and mowing rushes, and began plowing that land, teaming up with his neighbor who was another not-so-rich Cossack like himself. Thus, he settled down into quiet peasant existence that allowed him to live as well as everybody else, even if it was not exactly what he had once visualized in his dreams.
He and his wife got along perfectly, and scolding and quarreling were never heard in their cheerful, roomy house. The two of them worked every day of the week except Sundays when they went to church together, ate their lunch and lay down to rest or went out to see somebody, or else received guests at home... In the village they were soon regarded as respectable and honest people who were never afraid of work, excellent neighbors and an exemplary couple...
"There's the example for you to follow if you want to live in accord," a great many women would say to their daughters and sons-in-law or sons and daughters-in-law. "Take Hritsko and Khristya... Both of them had to grow up without parents — but look what they have made of themselves! With nothing but honest work they've put together quite a bit of wealth. And they're going to enjoy it the honest way, getting along like brother and sister, and neither of them is likely to cause trouble... That's because they think as one and act as one... And this is how everybody should try to live in this world!"




 

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