Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>XV. The Hard Luck

XV. The Hard Luck

 

In the morning, Chipka rose with a heavy heart and a hazy head. He took the petition, bowed to Porokh and went to the court building. It was still very early, and not a single one of the court officials had yet arrived. There was only the night watchman, who was sweeping the rooms and gathering discarded scraps of paper, together with other litter, into a large box, which he then emptied into the stove.
"An early bird," he said when he saw Chipka. "You'll have to wait. There's nobody yet."
Chipka went to sit in the porch. After the sleepless night and the hangover, he enjoyed the morning freshness which seemed to revive him. Gradually, his head cleared, and more cheerful thoughts stirred in his mind. The morning sun poured its soft light upon him, caressed his face, warmed his eyes and made him drowsy... His head swayed — and he dozed off. He was woken up by a hum of voices. Opening his eyes, he saw several men entering the yard. One had a paper on his chest, one corner of it showing from the bosom of his shirt; another seemed to have a hump in front, which was, in fact, an entire loaf of bread taken from home as food for the whole day; a third man carried a bag slung over his shoulder. Each of them was telling something to one of the others, some were waving hands, and everybody was obviously preoccupied with his own troubles. Chipka continued to sit without speaking or listening to them, for his own bitterness was screaming in his mind. Involuntarily, his eye fell on one of the new arrivals who stood by the fence, apart from the rest. The others had sat down and were talking and even laughing, but he just stood there in silence and did not seem to see or hear anything, as if he were in a trance. The fellow's case must be something serious, too, Chipka decided.
Suddenly, somebody shouted, "The clerk!... The clerk is coming!" Startled, the men jumped to their feet. Chipka also stood up. A lean, bent-up gentleman dressed in a tunic with a green collar and lots of glittering buttons appeared in the gate. Chipka looked him over. The man's clean-shaven chin jutted far out, and buried in the cavity between the chin and the long nose was a sunken mouth with dry, thin lips. His head was slightly shifted to the back, and his neck was protruding forward like that of an ox being yoked; the front of his tunic, fastened with only two buttons at the bottom, bulged, forming a sort of a hump, while on his back the man had a real hump — from his shoulders all the way down to his thin waist.
Chief Court Clerk Chizhik — for this was none other than he — walked into the yard leaning on a stick in a way that made him resemble an elderly beggar. He surveyed those assembled with his mousy stare and went up to them.
"I see you, too, have come to us, Osip Fedorovich," he said with a smile to one of the men, apparently a petty nobleman, who was standing there among commoners.
The man nodded and explained his business. Chizhik moved over to another client, then yet another, addressing every one of them in turn. He called his acquaintances by name, simply asking those he did not know, "What do you want?" Soon he reached Chipka.
"What do you want?"
"I have a petition."
"About what?"
Chipka handed him the paper. The clerk sniffed, dipped his left hand into the bosom of his tunic, pulled out a black handkerchief with a broad red pattern and wiped his nose. Then he slowly read it through.
"Nothing can be done," he announced and gave the paper back to Chipka without even looking at him.
"Why?" Chipka asked with surprise.
"Because. You've got no documents."
"But the commune did give us the land..."
"It doesn't matter."
"Does he have any documents?" Chipka asked, meaning his opponent.
The clerk shot him a sharp glance and sniffed again.
"Wait," he told Chipka, going into the court building.
Chipka waited for an hour, then another, then one more... He saw quite a few people going in and out, but nobody called him. Finally, the watchman appeared.
"Come with me," he said and led Chipka inside. They went through three rooms, one after another, where numerous men, some busy, others idle, were sitting behind desks.
"There goes another one," they giggled, looking after Chipka. "A fly can surely smell honey."
Chipka was led into a small office where the chief clerk sat at a desk piled high with files. The janitor went out, closing the door behind him. The young man remained alone with Chizhik.
"Aha!" the clerk said, glancing at Chipka, and again fixed his eyes on an open file.
Chipka, standing by the door, remained silent.
"Did Porokh write your paper for you?" Chizhik asked, without looking up from the file. He scribbled something on it.
"Yes."
Again there was silence. Chipka felt rather uncomfortable.
"What did you pay him?"
"I didn't pay anything."
Chizhik cast him an incredulous look.
"I say —" he began and paused. "Fifty rubles can help to put this matter straight..."
"He-e-e!" Chipka snorted, whether amused or amazed.
"Why do you giggle?"
Chipka kept silent.
"Where's justice then, if it can be done this way?" he mused aloud.
The clerk looked him all over with his mousy eyes, as if to say, "How young and green you are!"
Chipka looked at the clerk; their eyes met. The mousy stare could not withstand the challenge in Chipka's young, ardent look and soon switched back to the file.
Again silence.
"Why are you standing then? Don't waste my time and yours, too..."
"I'd sooner let my hand wither away up to here!..." shouted Chipka, pointing to his right elbow. Then, without finishing, he burst out of the room.
"As you like!" the chief clerk shouted after him. "How hot you are! Just make sure you don't burn yourself." He hurried after Chipka.
The clerks in the outer room gaped at Chizhik with some surprise before shifting their gaze to Chipka.
Swiftly and proudly, Chipka strode across the rooms. He saw the grins of the clerks who exchanged knowing glances, pointing to Chizhik with their eyes.
"The crook!" Chipka blurted out, running outside. Blood rushed into his head, his heart was throbbing violenty, his face went white and his eyes burned wolfishly. The people looked at him and parted to give him way... He made straight for Porokh's place.
"How did it go?" Porokh asked when he saw Chipka.
Chipka's eyes glared even more ferociously.
"Scoundrel... thief... He's bent up something terrible — and serves him right, too!"
"What exactly happened?"
"He wants fifty rubles... Fifty rubles for my own land! Fancy that! How come the Lord doesn't punish him?"
"That's the way it is. How did you think such matters were fixed?" Porokh added fuel to the flames. "You've got to oil the wheels to get along... A dry spoon hurts your throat..." He coughed. "See how dry my throat's gone? I'd sure like to gargle it some..."
"Is there any vodka?" Chipka asked grimly.
"Nothing at all — not a drop of it left. Look!" Porokh held up the empty bottle to the window.
Without a word, Chipka got out a ruble and tossed it on the table. Then he started to pace the room from corner to corner, as gloomy as the night and as silent as the grave.
Porokh snatched the coin with both hands and darted out of the room. Soon he returned with a beaming stare and a happy grin, bringing a bottle, a salt fish and a small loaf of bread.
"Cheer up!" he said. "We've got a full bottle. Let's drink!" he proposed in a sweet voice, looking at the young man. "It's good that the devil's taken my sister out of the house. Will you join me for a drink?"
Chipka did not reply.
"Here's to our health!" Turning to face him, Porokh emptied the glass into his mouth.
"Good health!"
"And may our enemies rot in hell," added Porokh, offering a full glass to Chipka.
Chipka also drank.
"D'you feel better now?"
"Like hell I do."
"Have some more — and you will."
Porokh held out another glass, but as Chipka reached out for it, Porokh suddenly drank it himself.
"The stuff is surely bitter — like you say," he said jokingly. "All right, take this — it'll raise your spirits."
Chipka drained another glass. The liquor went to his head, fogging his eyes. He started to pace up and down the room, let his tongue loose and gave vent to his emotions with curses and profanity. Porokh, nibbling away at the fish, fanned Chipka's fury with his remarks.
They drank again and again... Chipka's eyes became bloodshot, and his pupils sparkled. What was going on in his heart was something nobody could fathom or gage. The liquor mixed with the fury had set his heart on fire... All this soon wore him out. He sank down on a stool, dropped his head on his hands and fell asleep...
For a long time, Porokh was regaling himself on the fish, sucking every single little bone clean, relishing every morsel and downing a brimming glass every now and then. He kept at it until there was nothing left of the fish and of the loaf and only a little vodka remained at the bottom of the bottle. Then he rose from the table and hid the bottle in the stove after emptying it into his mouth. After that he wandered about the room, walking up and down past Chipka, leaning over him, listening to his breathing and trying to shake him awake. Chipka did not stir. Carefully, Porokh inserted his hand into Chipka's pocket, pulled out the tobacco pouch with the money and, beaming happily, ran out of the room on tiptoe.
Chipka slept until dinnertime. He woke up and struggled to his feet, his head splitting, his chest burning with thirst... He tried to remember... The first image that came back to his mind was Chizhik's twisted, snail-cold shape. He waved his hand in disgust, found his hat and went out of the house. Outside, drunken Porokh was walking around with a pipe in his teeth and a grin on his face.
"Good-bye."
"Where are you going?"
"Home."
"Good luck."
And Chipka carried to Piski his heavy head and broken heart. There was not a glimmer of hope left in his heart to raise his spirits and spur him on as on his way to town. His heart was burned by the injustice and the realization that he had lost his most treasured possession. He plodded along, barely able to move his feet.
By nightfall, he reached Soldier's Hamlet — and his field. There he shivered, as if with cold, and then felt hot. He paused... No sounds reached him from beyond the fence. There was nobody insight. He had seen her only the day before... She must know already... May death punish the whole confounded lot of them! He walked away at a faster pace.
Presently, he left his land behind him without even looking at it. He walked on and on... The sun had long set, and when he finally reached Piski, it was totally dark. Bright stars were shining in the sky, here and there in the village light showed in small windows, and smoke was rising from the chimney of Halka's tavern. The impression was as if the tavern were smoldering inside. His own house stood dark and still.
His mother must be asleep already, he thought. Let her sleep then...
And he directed his steps toward the tavern.

* * *


"Get me some vodka, Halka!" he called to the Jewish woman keeper.
"What are you going to do with it?" The woman grinned eyeing him curiously.
"Don't ask questions — just be quick about it!" He made straight for the table to take a seat in the far corner.
"You don't have to yell, because you won't scare me. How much do you want?"
"Just get me some, satanic breed!"
"Are you sure you haven't gone crazy? Some vodka! Out with the money first!"
Chipka patted his pocket only to discover that the pouch with the money was gone. He threw off his coat.
"Take this — and start moving!" He hurled the coat across the table.
"What shall I do with your coat? I don't need it."
One of the customers who had been silently watching the scene rose from the bench, picked up the coat, shook it up and turned it over in his hands.
"Serve him, Halka," he said. "I'll pay a ruble for it."
"What do I need your ruble for?" she screamed, snatching the coat from the man's hands. "You mind your own business! Is it yours, this coat? He's pawning it..."
"Then why are you making so much fuss over it? The lad's asking you for vodka, so give him vodka."
"Vodka, vodka," the woman mimicked him. "How much of it?" she asked Chipka.
"Lots of it, damn your soul! Come on!" Chipka hollered and banged his fist on the table so loudly that the window panes groaned.
"I'll give you a quart..."
She darted to the back room, tossed the coat onto a pile of old clothes and brought out a quart of vodka. Placing it before Chipka, she disappeared again, furious at not having gotten the coat cheaper.
Chipka drank three glasses in quick succession. His senses became blunted, his vision blurred. Other men were staring at him in silence, no one daring to speak to him.
Presently, Yakiv Kabanets came in.
"Is that you, Chipka?" he asked. "So you, too, are here already... Shall we drink then?"
"Let's drink," Chipka said grimly. Then, in a bolder tone, he repeated, "Let's drink." Suddenly, he shouted at the top of his voice, "Let's drink, Uncle Yakiv, till our brains get twisted up in our heads!"
And — bang! —he struck the table again. Bottles and glasses jingled, some nearly falling down.
One by one, the others found their tongues. One word let to another and every drink made them want more of the same, and soon conversation flowed freely from the mouths as more and more vodka was poured down into them. More customers arrived. Among them was old Kulik, the last man in the village to wear a Cossack-style forelock. Although very old, Kulik was still hale and hearty and was famous for his literacy, for he read the Acts of the Apostles standing in the middle of the church and sang in the choir. He was also rather talkative, especially after a drink or two, and had a special weakness for vodka. Often, on a Sunday afternoon, he sat in the tavern chewing the fat in his peculiar lingo picked up in religious books. Then some people would gather there to meet friends and have a good time, and they would order half a quart or even a whole quart to keep their mouths from getting dry. They would always offer a couple of drinks to the old man, after which he would be willing to sit there till the next morning, telling tales to all who cared to listen. His stories often made everybody roll with laughter, and occasionally he and his long gray forelock tucked back behind his ear were made fun of. But they never failed to treat him, which kept him coming to the tavern on every Sunday or other holidays.
There he was now, soon followed by other regulars. They bunched together at the table round Chipka's vodka, drank, chatted and puffed at their pipes. Most of them were former household serfs. Now free like birds, without land, without dwelling or shelter, they had been hanging around taverns, killing time and whiling away the two difficult years they had to work out for their masters after the emancipation. Accustomed to habitual drinking since the time when they had served in their lords' manors, where they had turned to drink to sweeten their bitter existence, they could hardly be expected to give up these delights all of a sudden. Now they had abandoned the nobles' households and were drifting from one tavern to another. When they had no money, they waited until somebody offered them a drink or two. Tavern friendships were easy.
Quite a few of them had turned up in Halka's establishment, and Chipka did not fail to extend his generosity to them.
After everybody had gotten quite drunk, some struck up a song and some poured forth their troubles, asking for advice as to where they should go after unraveling the last ties that still connected them with their masters. But Chipka did not listen. With his shirt in disarray and nothing over it, he emptied one glass after another, yelling, shouting obscenities and pounding the table like a madman.
"What does it all mean, Chipka?" Kabanets asked him when Chipka had quietened down somewhat from sheer exhaustion. "It seems you didn't care much for this stuff."
"I didn't. But now I'll drink."
"Why so?"
"Because there's no justice anywhere... no happiness... and no more land... My land's gone! Why shouldn't I drink?"
"What's happened to your land?"
"Happened?... Those damn leeches have taken it away from me — that's what happened! When land is lost, everything is lost!"
"That's right!" the ex-lackeys took up. "What's a man with no land? How can anyone live without land?"
"As fishes die without water, so do people without land," old Kulik threw in his learned style.
"Sure!" Chipka agreed. "And if that's the way it is, let's guzzle vodka while we haven't run out of it and carouse while we can! Without land... nothing matters... everything's useless. There's no need for a cow, a horse, sheep... No need at all! So let me go all the way now!" Bang! — his fist landed on the table.
The table trembled, the glassware rattled, and a glass fell to the floor. But no one bothered to pick it up, for everybody was gaping at Chipka. He went on:
"Uncle Yakiv! There's something you don't know... nobody here knows... Damn them! They wanted fifty rubles for the land! Land is not so important — never was! What's land? Land!... A good harvest takes a lot of work... and land makes you your own master... Land means a lot... And without it everything is lost — everything!" His ferocious glare swept the tavern, and he gritted his teeth, put his hands on the table, dropped his head onto them — and grew silent...
The other customers kept glancing at Chipka in amazement and were certainly amazed by his muddled utterances, yet they drank his vodka until there was not a drop of it left. Then, one by one, they began to leave.
"Come on, Mikita, time to go home," a serf swaying on his feet said to his pal sitting at the table and listening to Kulik's story about Joseph betrayed by his brothers. "D'you hear, Mikita? Get moving!"
"Wait a little," Mikita said.
"What for?... Let's go, I say, or I'll leave you here!... By God, I'll go without you... Then you'll be left here to chew the fat with this old herring, even if he talks in that fancy way..."
Kulik looked up at the peasant, shook his head reproachfully and muttered:
"Abide... and heed... for He hath created the world... Satan envied... Adam sinned with Eve... but may He reign! Oh, my people! No evil cometh from hearing..."
Mikita strained his ears. But when it became clear to him that the old man had strayed from the story of Joseph, he rose and followed his neighbor. Some of the more sober men reached for their hats. Soon only drunks remained. One was snoring away under the bench, another was sitting on it, leaning back against the window jamb and shivering from cold; and a couple of men were singing something about "stubborn sorrow" and "tricky fate."
Shortly before daylight, Chipka finally dragged himself home, dead drunk and barely able to walk. Motrya was shocked.
"What's the matter, son?! What have you been celebrating?"
He sunk onto the bench, drooping his head...
"Where are your coat and hat?... Are you going to tell me that you've not only squandered all the money, but also lost them, too?"
"My coat?... The hat?... They're gone!... What do I need them for?... What do I need anything for if... Hoo! Hoo!" he howled, shaking his disheveled head, his eyes flashing tearfully.
Motrya's heart was wrung with pity. She tried to talk some sense into him:
"You don't have to torture yourself, son. Are you trying to kill yourself or what? Forget about that land. There's nothing we can do. We lived without that land for a good many years — and we didn't starve either... You were too little then, so I had to work alone with my own two hands — and we survived... Now it's nothing like it used to be. Now you can earn enough, and I can still help you... What are we to do? It's just His sacred will!"
"Aw, it's just talk! Now I've got nothing left — not a thing! What am I now? A beggar to be pushed around? A hired hand? Everything's been lost — everything!... My property's lost, and my soul is lost, too... because there's no justice in the world — not among the people... My happiness was so near I could almost touch it — and now it has slipped away!..." He made a helpless gesture and paused thoughtfully. "It's all because of the people... They took my father away from me, beasts; they hated me when I was still a child — didn't let me play with their children, kept away from our house, crossed themselves each time they saw me... I was just a kid but I saw it all... They thought I was a little devil... Me — a devil, eh? Yes, I'm a devil, a lord of devils!... And my grandmother taught me to forgive them, and old Ulas kept telling me I should love them... Fools — fools, all of them... They don't deserve a single kind word... They must be tortured, tor —"
He tumbled to the floor and began to snore.
Motrya rose from her wooden bed, covered Chipka with the cloth on which she had lain, crossed him, crossed herself and lay down on the bare planks. Yet she was unable to go back to sleep... Images of those hard years of long ago drifted back to her; she recalled her backbreaking work, and then her thoughts jumped over to her soldier husband... Where was he? What had happened to him? Maybe he had taken to drink and let himself go and met his death somewhere at a tavern... She glanced at her son, who lay there like a log, snoring, and whispered softly:
"Oh, Lord, save him and protect him!"
When Chipka woke up, the sun was quite high in the sky. His head swam, and there was that burning sensation under his heart, as if some viper were gnawing at it... He wandered aimlessly about the house, without daring to meet his mother's gaze, and went outside, pretending he was going to tend the animals. But instead of going to the pen, he made straight for Halka's... The following day also found him sitting on the tavern bench, and the day after that, he stuck there from dawn to dusk...



 

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