Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>XXIV. The Daughter of a Robber

 

XXIV. The Daughter of a Robber

 

For a whole week it poured with rain. For a whole week Chipka did not leave his yard. He spent all this time working about the house, doing this and that.
"There's something I want to tell you, son," his mother said as she was spinning wool one evening. "Look here! I've been thinking a lot about you and me, and the way I see it, I'm already far too old and weak — sometimes I find it hard to keep the fire going in the stove... I can feel my strength leaving me, so my death must be near. Why don't you marry, son? What are you waiting for? Lots of boys of your age feast their eyes on their children and thank the Lord, but you keep wandering about, alone, as if looking for something you've lost. Aren't there enough girls in this village? Find yourself one to your liking and marry her while there's still time before the Christmas fast. That'll make you feel better, and I'll have a daughter-in-law to help me."
"Too bad, Mother! All those girls just aren't made for me."
"Why not, son? What about Khristya Bondar, Motrya Knish or Ostap's Katrya? Those are surely nice girls. True, none of them is too rich. But a rich girl, son, doesn't need us and our poverty. Even so, they are good girls — from decent families, hardworking, well-behaved... Do get married, my dear! I wish I'd see you a married man at least in my old age."
"I'm sorry, Mother."
"What are you sorry for? This won't get you anywhere. Or are you going to run about alone until your head turns gray?" "In time somebody'll come along."
"It can only be some loose woman from town. A decent girl won't just come along."
"I don't really care, one way or another."
The mother gave up, seeing that she would not persuade him. Chipka also grew silent, thinking.
On Sunday after this conversation, the lowering sky cleared, the sun flashed brightly, and a breeze blew. The ground dried up a little.
"I'm going to the fair in Omelnik, Mother," Chipka said. "Maybe I'll buy a horse."
"May God help you, son! Only why would you buy a horse for the winter? What shall we feed it with?"
"We'll find something."
He left after an early lunch, but instead of going to Omelnik made straight for the Hudzs' hamlet.
Reaching the place, he found it shut and locked. He tried the wicket, but that, too, was locked. Two dogs rushed to the gate, their chains clanging.
"Who's there?" a voice called from inside the yard.
"It's me. Open the wicket."
"Me who?"
"Is Uncle Maxim in?"
"No, he's not here."
"Where is he?"
"Gone to the fair, to Omelnik."
"And Aunt Yavdokha?"
"Mother has gone with him."
"Is that you, Halya?" he asked, recognizing her voice.
"And who are you?"
"Open up — and you'll see!"
Now she also recognized him and quickly ran to unlatch the wicket.
"Why have you come?"
"To see you... How are you getting along, my love?"
Halya did not reply. Looking at her, he was astonished to see her face haggard and sallow.
"What's the matter, Halya?" he exclaimed. "You look awful. Are you sick?"
"Come into the yard," she said with angry impatience. "I'm certainly not going to talk on the street."
Chipka entered the yard. Halya closed and latched the wicket and led him to her room.
The small room was as pretty as a picture — tidy, light and cheery. In one corner there were icons in silver frames decorated with cornflowers, carnations and immortelles; before the icons hung a silver lamp on a silver chain. A table made by a professional joiner stood in the same corner, while in the opposite corner there was a bed covered with a soft silk bedspread. Several small stools stood along the wall. Everything looked nice and clean; the fragrance of cornflowers and mint pervaded the room, tickling one's sense of smell. Chipka had the impression that he had stepped into a paradise. It would have been marvelous, if only Halya had not been so sad!
"Are you unwell, Halya?" Chipka asked her again, looking her in the face.
"I'm all right... only I feel uneasy somehow... Something is gnawing at my heart."
"Well, I forgot to thank you for the tobacco pouch, he remembered. "That was very nice of you. Did you embroider it yourself?"
"What tobacco pouch?" she asked, lifting her thoughtful eyes onto his face.
"The one you put into mine when I left it behind." "When? Are you crazy or what?" "Who did it then?" "But when was it?"
"That was when you gave my pouch back to me."
"How am I supposed to know? Why would I want to make a pouch for such a type? Why, that's ridiculous!" she chirped in a merrier tone.
Now Chipka recognized the Halya he had known — a merry, jocular girl. His heart filled with joy, and his eyes shone.
"My dear Halya!" he began.
The girl looked him straight in the eye, sharply and intently. He felt ill at ease.
"Anyway, why do you look so strange today as if you got out of bed on the wrong side?" he asked, sitting down beside her.
"Why should you care?"
"Dear Halya!"
"Go to the devil! You just want to fool me... make me lose my head..."
"Halya."
"Get away from me!"
She stood up and went to sit by a window that gave onto the fields. Her gaze traveled far into the distance, to the point where mists merged with clouds and the gray mantle of the sky touched the earth. Now and then, shadows flitted across her sad, sallow face. Chipka stared at her, wondering what had happened. But her eyes were fixed upon that window. Then he saw her face grow pale, her eyes glisten and two hot tears roll down her cheeks. As he looked at it, his heart ached so much as if it were squeezed in a vice.
"Halya, my darling! Why are you crying?" he asked, coming up to her. "Why don't you tell me about your troubles?"
The girl covered her eyes with her hands and shook her head. Chipka stepped closer to her.
"Dear Halya, my love!"
She leaned her head against the window jamb and wept softly.
"Well, I just thought..." said Chipka, touching her head lightly. "I thought I'd just go and... visit you... Mother keeps nagging me, saying I should get married, suggesting girls (Halya grew still, as if dozing). But my heart doesn't accept them. So I thought I'd go to my darling... and tell her..."
And, stooping quietly to her, he lightly kissed her exposed cheek. Halya started and raised her head. Her eyes were wet with tears, and her face was burning from emotion and weeping. She looked Up at him and asked in a strangely plaintive voice:
"Why didn't you say anything to Father and Mother?"
"I wanted to ask you first, honey... Will you marry me? Do you care for me, my love?..."
This seemed to bring Halya back to life. Straightening up, she looked at him intently for quite a while, as if trying to learn the truth. Suddenly, she wrung her hands so hard that her fingers crackled. Her eyes lit up with something which was neither happiness nor hatred — something good and gentle, but also fierce and evil.
"Why didn't you tell me this before?" she cried out. "Why didn't you do it when I was free... when I was plaiting that wreath? Why didn't you tell me about it when I was picking flowers in these fields and meadows? Then I was free to roam around, with no limits or bans... But now... now..."
Again she wrung her hands, and once more her fingers crackled, as if broken. Tears welled up in her eyes and were about to gush forth...
Chipka was beside himself with fear. Growing pale in the face, he drooped his head and muttered in a frightened, faltering voice:
"So what about now, Halya... what is it? Tell me... everything, everything!"
"It's a pity... I'm already betrothed!..."
Tears gushed from her eyes and flooded her face... Covering it with a sleeve of her blouse, she again sank onto the stool by the window, lowered her head onto her hand and sobbed inconsolable.
To Chipka, those few words came like a stab in the heart. It was as if his head were being pounded with the butt of an ax; this was how Halya's bitter sobs echoed in his brain. He kept asking himself what could be done, but his mind and his memory failed him. Thoughts disintegrated into fragments which he tried to put back together, straining his reason — but his reason, too, seemed to have left him. He could not remember anything... He only felt his head humming, buzzing, ringing and his heart thrashing about violently, as if trying to burst out of his chest...
Unable to decide what to do or how, he seized at the first thought that came along, voicing it with great effort:
"When was it... how... to whom?"
"It was then... on the same day when you left here... The soldier, Sidir, stayed with us, and in the evening he and my father got drunk together, and —"
"What did your father say?" Chipka interrupted her.
"He just told me to marry him... You can't stay single forever, he said. Mother told me the same thing: they say Sidir is a good, quiet man..."
"What did you say?" Chipka almost shouted.
"Me? I just told them I didn't love him..."
"And they?"
"I must stop waiting for somebody I'd love, they said... One would not be good enough, another not quite handsome... You two will come to love each other after you've lived together for some time, they said..."
"Dogs!" Chipka thundered. Halya cast him a sharp glance.
"Where does he live?" Chipka rapped out sternly, his eyes glowing with something sinister.
"I don't know..."
"I'll kill him... cut his throat... strangle him!..." he screamed, springing to his feet and running about the room like a madman, gritting his teeth.
"Oh, come on!" she scoffed, lifting her head. "Have you gone crazy or what? You touch a hair on his head, and you'll never see me again!"
Chipka came to his senses. He sank onto a stool, his heavy head low on his chest.
"See what you are like?" Halya told him. "So that's the kind of man you are!! How could I marry somebody who thinks nothing of killing an innocent man?... How can I become his wife? Because some day he might fall on his wife like a madman and kill her, too..."
"Halya, dear!... God may punish you for what you say... I'd sooner let you kill me... strangle me..."
"And what about Sidir, eh?"
"Ah! I wish you knew how it hurts... It's burning in here, as if there were live coals inside." He pointed to his chest.
Halya kept silent. Chipka did not speak either. He stood up and paced the room, his wild stare roaming about the walls. There was an oppressive silence. The girl's pensive face suggested that she was thinking of something important, which she as yet did not dare to speak about.
Presently, her cheeks colored, and her eyes shone as if with relief, and widened; her lips parted to let out the breath she had been holding. Her face glowed with some inner fire.
"I say, Chipka! Maybe not all is lost yet. I'll speak to Mother... she might persuade Father... There's only one thing."
Chipka pricked up his ears, gazing at her.
"Give up this life!" she exclaimed, her face growing pale.
"What life?"
"Robbery and murder!"
"Dear Halya!... No one can say that I've ever killed anybody... Maybe only in self-defense, when I couldn't hold back my hand..."
Halya fidgeted, her eyes again glowing fiercely and her face twitching.
"Confounded criminal!" she shouted. "Self-defense?! Whom did you defend yourself from? You break into a house and expect the owner not to try to catch you!... Rogue!"
"Are they any better, those owners? They've just become fat with our work and now try to push us around... And my house is falling apart, my mother's too old to work, and I can't even make half a ruble a day... And one must eat and get something to wear... How can we live, Halya?... We don't really rob — we just take what belongs to us by right... The lord has been working us to death, and the Jew has been cheating us. Are we to starve to death, to die on the road, begging?..."
"Chipka, my dear, stop it! There'll be no happiness, no good... You'll come at night, after a fight, and lie down next to your wife... and hug her with the same hands which strangled and were stained with human blood only a short time before. And you'll whisper about your love and kiss her with the same lips which shouted obscenities and cursed all and everybody... ouch!"
She trembled like an aspen leaf.
"Then how can we earn our living?"
"By honest hard work..."
"What about the brotherhood and... your father?"
"We'll go far away, where nobody knows us..."
"Ah, Halya! I don't see how this is possible. I'm the chieftain... When the boys realize I've abandoned them, I'm as good as dead. We've all taken such an oath."
"To whom did you swear that oath, thugs, robbers?" Halya shouted, springing to her feet. "To whom did you swear, confound you all?"
"To one another, Halya..."
"That's like devils swearing to one another!..."
She burst into hysterical laughter which filled the entire room. Chipka glanced at her and, without a word, dropped onto a stool, as if he had been shot.
"Do you think..." she began again after a while, "d'you think it's easy for me to look at the way Father's been living and compare it with the lives of honest people?... You see, they work hard, earn their bread, threat others in a decent way and are calm and quiet when they go to bed and get up... Here it's so different... Here we stay locked up all the time, as in a jail. I'm even afraid to show myself to other people. And when night comes, a bunch of drunk thugs barge into the house. They whisper and murmur something to one another and then disappear for the rest of the night... They come back before light and, like ghosts, hole up in cellars and haylofts, hiding the loot. All that I'm wearing has been stolen! D'you think it doesn't burn me? I've got a feeling that somebody's hand is pressing on my throat, choking me... Sure, I laugh and joke, but don't let it fool you. It's my worry that amuses me! The days I can while away somehow. But when I lie down and try to sleep, somebody seems to crawl up to me, hissing, 'Give me back my kerchief!...' — and then it pulls at my hair... 'Give me my beads!' — and I feel ice-cold hands on my throat... Do you imagine it's easy to wear it, these rags, do you?!"
In a fit of anger she seized her silk skirt and ripped it open from the hem up to her waist.
"Halya! Halya!" Chipka explained, seizing her by the hands. "Don't do this!"
"Get away! Let me go!"
Her eyes were burning like live coals, and her entire body was shivering.
"You know — maybe the woman who wore this skirt is now lying in her grave, rotting away, and her blood, shed in vain, is now appealing to God, demanding that the killer be punished!... And I'm wearing out these rags... tormenting myself, knowing it's a sin... Why? Just because I'm the daughter of a robber? I wish I could run named about these fields and steppes, rather than rot alive in this jail and burn in this hell! Ah, damn them!" Suddenly, she snatched at her expensive necklace. The string snapped, and the beads streamed to the floor.
"Stop that, Halya! They'll beat you for this..."
"I'd rather be killed than choked with loot!"
Again she sat down by the window, propped up her head with her hand and gazed at the black-and-gray fields lying there, lifeless and mute, before her eyes... To Chipka, she had never looked more beautiful as at that moment. His stare shifted between her torn skirt and the beads scattered all over the room. He felt sorry for the girl he loved, and the bitterness of her life made him sad; yet a fear crept into his heart that he lacked the strength to chase away once and for all.
Halya's silence did not last long. Her eyes fell on Chipka, who sat there downcast, not daring to look at her — and pity stirred in the girl's gentle heart.
"Chipka, my dear!" she said. "Give it up! Otherwise, my love for you would make no sense... Leave it, darling!"
She came up to him and gently looked him in the eyes.
"I'll see, Halya... Maybe I'll give it up... I'll see... It won't be... possible, maybe..."
"Oh no, you must stop it! Or I'll strangle you myself with my own hands..." she muttered frenziedly, throwing her arms round his neck and planting hot kisses on his face.
"All right, Halya!... All right, my dear!" Chipka whispered frantically, pressing her close to him.
"Now get the hell out!" she twittered gaily. "Father and Mother will soon be back!"
Chipka wanted to say something, but Halya would not let him.
"Go away, go!"
Seizing his hat with one hand, she pulled him toward the door with the other.
Reluctantly, he obeyed. He had to go, of course — there was nothing to be done about it.
Halya led him outside the wicket gate, closing and latching it behind him.
Slowly, Chipka dragged himself along, away from the hamlet, barely able to place one foot in front of the other... Bright hopes were struggling against inexpressible anguish in his drooping head. As he thought that Halya would hardly succeed in persuading her parents, his heart sank; but then he visualized themselves being wedded and living together as man and wife — and the black despair released its grip on his heart, letting it flutter with elation. But how was he to break with the gang? For this he would have to betray them, break his oath... Such thoughts again plunged him into gloom and sent a gnawing pain through his heart. Thus, his moods continually wavered between delightful visions and burning agony — and the multitude of conflicting thoughts crowding in his brain wore him down. He wished he could forget them all and chase them away, but they kept flooding his head with obsessive tenacity. To break the spell, he started looking all around him. There was not a soul in sight. The mute brown fields spread out before and behind him. The day was gloomy and cheerless. It was no longer raining; but the smoky carpets of clouds screened out the sun, shifting from one place to another, sailing across the high sky, chasing and overtaking one another and casting their gray shadows onto the black earth... A slight breeze was blowing from the south... Chipka lifted his head, glad that there was at least that wind which was bathing his flaming face and cooling off his hot head. The cool touch of the wind seemed to bring him some relief; merrier thoughts crept into his heart, which the lingering sadness refused to leave. He began to sing:

The green grove's humming over a gully;
Young Cossack, what makes you so sad?


At first his singing came as a low, drawn-out wail, filled with profound grief and resembling choked sobs; but then his voice grew stronger and louder, spread wider and wider, and, like the howling of a winter wind, rang with sorrow across the deserted fields...

Those brown eyes are all I want from life...


the song went on; and the fields looked still darker and gloomier.




 

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