Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >> VI.Learning the Truth

 

VI.Learning the Truth

 

Winter came around. Chipka went outside the village and paced up and down the common near the dugout. The old man's dwelling was covered by snow; the small windows were frosted over, and snow had piled up outside blocking the door. Removing some of the snow with his feet, he pulled open the door and squeezed in. Inside it was empty and cold. Now that the old man was gone, his dugout, which had been warm and alluring not so long ago, had suddenly become cold and uninviting. This was what the strong could do to the helpless, he thought. This was what masters did to their serfs. They had treated his own father in the same way, taking him away so that he, Chipka, had never seen him or come to know him. And they had also disgraced his son, may they be cursed!
He turned back to the village. As he passed the tavern, he kept his eyes and ears open. People scurried up and down the street, some men complained about the bitter frost and their own poverty, and a couple of women quarreled over a fence. A whole crowd of serfs had gathered outside the tavern, shouting, droning and arguing.
Voices could be heard:
"They're just trying to cheat us! They're abusing us! Now they've come up with those two years — just trying to drag it out!"
"That's right," others were saying. "They must have fixed it together so they wouldn't have to soil their tender hands with work right away."
"To hell with them, hands and all!" somebody shouted. "They are used to having other people dirtying their hands for them."
"That's true... Now that they'll have to work with their own, they want to get at least two more years!"
"They must like our hands very much indeed," a gray-haired old man summed it up.
"You just wait!" one of the hotheads raised his voice. "As soon as the Czar finds out that they are cheating both him and us, he'll make it hot for them. He'll make them serfs in no time at all, and he'll make us masters..."
"Not before we grow hair on our palms," someone more sober dampened him.
"We won't have to grow any hair," the other man persisted. "The Czar will only have to tell us to be masters — and that's all it'll take!"
"Just imagine what we'll do then!" the pessimist jeered.
"Of course, it'll be nothing like now!"
"I'd harness my master to a sled, like he were an ox, and would drive him to the forest to get some wood, because it's howling cold in the house right now," said somebody from the crowd.
"The frost is terrible!" buzzed the crowd. "This winter it's never been so cold..."
"Why don't we go inside the tavern to warm ourselves?"
"Come on! Let's go!" several voices were heard at the same time.
The crowd pressed toward the tavern door. Chipka went home, his head drooping, thinking over what he had just heard... Curses welled up in his throat, burning and tormenting him.

* * *


In the spring Chipka spoke with his mother:
"What am I to do? The old man is in serfdom... Shall I find somebody to shepherd the flock with?"
"Here's my advice to you," she said. "You just leave your sheep — you can't tend them forever. Better get down to work the land. It's about time we started working it ourselves. Maybe we'll get together some money for oxen to grow our own grain. You'll be your own master then. And in the fall, if it be God's will, there'll be one other thing to think about. I've already become old and weak — but who's going to keep the house in order? Thank the Lord, you're already old enough... Others at your age have children..."
But Chipka did not heed his mother's advice. He dreamed about the freedom of the steppes. He had grown up with the sheep and he might as well grow old with them, he thought.
The next day he went to speak to the commune.
The commune rejected his offer. "You're still too young and unreliable. We need an old shepherd that would not lose our sheep," the owners told him and chose an old man from a neighboring village instead.
This was unfair and hurt Chipka very much. Hadn't he served them well? Had he lost a single sheep? Was there any justice at all if even the commune could be so unjust? It was the same everywhere...
He almost wept when he came home. Like it or not, he had to take to the plow now.
The work melted in Chipka's hands. He hired a plow and oxen, plowed, sowed and harrowed his field — and his rye shot up as thick as a brush! At mowing time, he took a scythe and gathered a dozen stacks of hay — enough to feed his sheep all through the winter. When harvest came around, he reaped his rye even on moonlit nights. Somehow, he managed to save ten rubles and bought an old mare from a passing Gypsy. Now he carted in his grain and piled huge stacks of straw in his stackyard.
The villagers wondered that Chipka was so good at farming. Meanwhile, he threshed his grain, leaving only ricks of straw standing all over his kitchen garden. Still, he had no cattle. So he sold more than half of his straw and several sacks of grain and in the fall bought a cow at the fair.
Was Motrya glad! She tended that cow as if it were a small child. Then a calf came along, too. Now they had their own milk, and cheese, and butter. What else could they desire? They had enough and to spare. Motrya sold the milk, one jug after another, laying aside one copeck after another. Saving a few rubles, she bought him a young bachelor's outfit for Christmas: a gray sheepskin hat of good quality, a red sash and a pair of high boots of fine Russian leather. She thanked God, seeing her son stand on his own feet.
Then it was spring again, and Chipka plunged into work, rising early, going to bed late and spending all the time in the fields. Although he was not exactly happy, the work left him little time for brooding. He set all his hopes on himself and his work. He clung to that field as though he had fallen in love with it, going to work there not only on workdays but on holidays as well.
"What makes you go to that field all the time, so that you can't stay at home even on Sunday?" Motrya asked. "Have you found something special there?"
"So I have," Chipka laughed. "There's a beautiful she-quail down there!"
"You'd better find yourself a wife that would help me around the house..."
Without a word, Chipka took his hat and went out.

***


It was Sunday. The weather was rather dismal. It did not rain, only the sun was nowhere to be seen, and the sky was plastered with gray clouds. The church bells rang. Chipka dressed and went to mass with his mother. They came back from church and ate their lunch. Chipka watered the mare and the cow. It was still early. Pacing up and down the yard, he felt bored. Should he go? Even if he did not see her, he could admire the fields.
He went — just like that. He crossed over the bridge and reached the meadow. Then he heard that voice again. His whole body trembled, and his heart throbbed heavily!
"You just wait... It's going to be different now!" he whispered. "Now I'll get you before you know what's happened..." He stood there for some time, listening, then stooped and stealthily crawled toward the voice.
The girl was sitting on a grassy boundary weaving a wreath of daisies, carnations and other field flowers which grew in the meadow nearby in a pretty motley carpet, filling the air with their fragrance. She was facing away from Chipka as he crawled up to her from behind. Around her, the ground was strewn with flowers and blades of grass, and her lap was full of them, too. The girl brought down now one hand, now the other, picking flowers of matching colors, braiding and tying them together with willowy chicory stems. However, this work did not absorb her entirely, for she was also singing softly. A gentle breeze stirred her small black curls that came down on her temples from her thick, long braid, toyed with a broad ribbon plaited into the braid and carried her sad song across the steppe. Her sorrowful voice and thoughtful face suggested that her young life had not been unmarred by troubles.
"Hullo!" Chipka shouted almost into her ear, stealing up behind her back.
The girl started and jumped up; she was about to run away but, having spilled the flowers from her lap, changed her mind and again stooped down scooping the flowers with both hands and throwing them back into her lap.
"You aren't going to run far this time," Chipka told her.
"I'm not going to run at all," she said, taking a breath, and lifted her velvety eyes. "Did you scare me, you..."
Her sparkling eyes and fresh, ringing voice made Chipka squirm. "She's really good!... and nice and beautiful!" the thought flashed through his mind. He stood before her in silence, admiring her unusual beauty. She also kept silent, continuing to select flowers. Then he dared to sit down beside her.
"What is it going to be?" he asked, pointing to the unfinished wreath.
"Don't you see? — a wreath!" she exclaimed.
They again lapsed into silence. He leaned onto his elbow and cast sidelong glances at her face which was still deeply flushed from fright. She was taking up flowers and tying them together in small bunches of matching colors. Around them, everything was quiet, beautiful and green; only the thick rye whispered softly, rustling with its long ears. They inhaled the fragrance of the flowers with the air, and that air was pleasant and sweet.
"Is this your field?" she asked after a while, without taking her eyes off the wreath. Her voice sounded somewhat frightened.
"Sure."
"The rye too?"
"Yes."
"And that land over by the forest?"
"That's also mine."
"I love that place most of all. There are such pretty flowers there."
Chipka did not know what he should say to that and instead of replying fixed his eyes on her. The conversation broke off. There was a lengthy pause. His eyes did not leave her face.
"Why are you looking at me?" she demanded, shooting a glance at him. "What's the idea of ogling me like you were going to eat me up?"
But Chipka did not remove his gaze. Just looking at her gave him pleasure.
"Stop staring at me!" she cried out, covering his eyes with her hand.
Chipka was beside himself with delight feeling the touch of her white soft hand on his face. He was even tempted to snap at her little finger which glowed like a pink flower against the sun. But she hastily took her hand away. He grinned, his eyes again on her.
"Don't do that or I'll turn away — do you hear?" Then she did turn her back to him. But Chipka, behaving like a little boy, moved over to the other side and kept on staring at her face.
"Oh, what a nasty harassing type! Don't look at me, I tell you!" And she started whipping him on the face and the head with the wreath.
"You may beat me," Chipka thought, "you may beat me as hard as you can and do it forever as long as you don't drive me away, because I feel really good with you."
She kept on thrashing him with the wreath, but he was just smiling. The wreath quickly fell apart and the flower heads broke away. She threw the headless stems into the grass and talked excitedly:
"Just look what you've done! D'you see? D'you see?" Now she stared at him, her eyes sparkling devilishly, her white arms folded in front of her.
The temptation now was too strong for him. Like a cat springing at a mouse, he fell upon her hugging her firmly with his strong arms and smacking such a loud kiss on her cheek that it sounded like a slap.
"Let me go!" the girl screamed, resisting. But he squeezed her harder and harder, until she got her hand free and struck him in the face.
Then he released her.
"Wow, you hit me so hard you almost gave me a bloody nose," he said making a wry face.
"You ought to be ashamed of jumping me in this way," she complained. "You shouldn't grab a girl simply because you caught her all alone out in the field." But even as she spoke, her eyes sparkled merrily.
"Are you silly?"
"I'm not. And you've wet my whole cheek with your mouth — ugh!" She started rubbing her face with her sleeve.
"At least I didn't bite it," Chipka laughed.
"I almost wish you had. Then I would've scratched your eyes out."
"If I'd let you."
"We would've seen."
The conversation died down once more. She stared somewhere into the distance while he looked at her. A light wind blew and dispersed the hazy cloud which had covered the sun. Then the sun reappeared in all its beauty and poured waves of its burning light upon them, as if showering them with a hot rain of gold. The rye rustled, picking up its drooping ears.
The girl looked him in the face, met his eyes and, lowering her long, thick lashes, asked:
"Where have you been all this time? Why weren't you coming here?"
"I've been busy," Chipka lied, wondering why he had not met her here before.
"Busy with what?"
"Just working about the house."
"Have you got more land someplace else?"
"No."
"But you do have a house?"
"Yes."
"What about your parents? Any brothers or sisters?"
"There's just my mother."
"Where d'you live?"
"In Piski. And you?"
"Why d'you want to know?"
"Didn't you ask me?"
"You didn't have to answer."
"At least tell me your name."
"Never mind."
"Whose daughter are you?"
"My father's and my mother's."
"You're a strange girl."
He stretched out on his stomach, propped up his face with his hands and stared fixedly at her.
"Are you really going to eat me? Why are you goggling at me?"
"Because you look very nice."
She smiled, shifted her black eyes onto him and looked at him seducingly.
"You'd better go home now. Why have you come anyway — to devour me? I even ruined my wreath because of you."
"You didn't have to beat me with it."
"I did that because you pawed me, shameless creature. Get away!" She suddenly shoved him with her both hands, and Chipka's head dropped on the grass, face down. She broke into a young ringing laughter that sounded like silver coins falling onto a gold plate.
Before he could lift his head, he heard somebody calling, "Halya! Halya!"
The girl started and sprang to her feet. Chipka looked now at her, now in the direction where the voice came from.
"Who's that?" he asked.
"I don't know," she said. Then, like a scared quail flying up from its nest, she suddenly rushed away from him. Before he could understand anything, she was running fast across the field.
Chipka rose to his feet and straightened up, following her with his eyes. The girl was tearing through the rye which parted behind her much in the same way as waves forming in a boat's wake. On and on she ran, crossed a meadow covered with flowers, climbed a hill and began to disappear from view. Chipka hurried after her at a trot. Then he could see her no more. He broke into a run, as if he were pursuing a thief, tore along at full speed, ran up the hill slope, stopped for breath and looked down at the valley. Something there caught his eye. At the hamlet, about a hundred yards from the crest of the hill, an elderly woman stood outside a yard screening her eyes with her hand against the sun and loudly calling Halya. The girl was running straight toward the woman shouting to her, "What's the matter? Here I am! I'm coming — wait!" Presently she reached the woman and both of them went into the yard.
"Now I'll know whose daughter you are!" Chipka said aloud and walked back in excellent spirits.

* * *


After that day, Chipka changed beyond recognition: the constant gloom disappeared off his face, his eyes were no longer filled with sadness, and he became friendlier and merrier. Sometimes he could even be heard humming a song. Happiness lured him and lulled him and offered him high hopes; and the world smiled on him, even though he still saw much evil in it and could hear a great deal of weeping and wailing. Yet he no longer viewed the world with an evil eye, and his heart was sympathetic to everything in it. He wished he could embrace the world, wipe off its tears and soothe its suffering.
Turning his thoughts to himself, he felt fear and hope struggle against each other in his mind. Now it was the one, now the other — but hope was always there. Maybe... after all, anything was possible. Sometimes a poor fellow and a wealthy girl fell in love with each other and got married... But then fear would scare away hope. What if the old soldier was rearing his daughter for the court clerk? God forbid! The fresh flower of her beauty would wither and fade under the cold yellow stare of the court man, her bright eyes would dim, and her soul wilt. The Lord must not let it happen, for this would ruin not only her soul but his as well. But hope did not give up — happiness was like a fever. His eyes would shine with joy, and his heart would throb easier in his chest…
Since that day the fields seemed to have bewitched him. He went there at least once in every three or even two days. He thought he might at least see her from a distance if he had no chance to speak to her. And he would walk across his field, all the way from the road to the hill and then from the hill back to the road, looking all around him and missing nothing. Here he had seen her for the first time... there she was weaving her wreath... over there they had sat together... that way she had run away from him... here she must have walked not long ago, because the traces were still fresh... Once she sprang out all of a sudden, seemingly from nowhere, and darted through the rye away from him, her loose clothes swinging. Chipka realized she must have been on her guard.
"So she's run away," he said aloud. "She's over the hill already — too far. Well, that's some girl!"
He went back to Piski, glad to have seen her at least in this way.




 

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