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XXIX. Troubles Don't Keep Silent



Having buried Maxim, Yavdokha was afraid to live alone at the hamlet. She asked Halya and Chipka to come and live with her, but they did not feel like it. So she sold the whole homestead with everything that could be sold and moved to their house. Together with her, new troubles entered Chipka's household.
To begin with, the two mothers could not get along. Yavdokha was too haughty and willful. No sooner had she moved in than she began changing everything her own way and bossing the household. This was not right, that was not proper, and that other thing stood in the wrong place! Motrya, worn out by work and want from her youth, as thin and shriveled as a honey agaric, humble and poorly dressed, kept silent for quite a while, letting Yavdokha have her way. But then she lost her patience. Getting increasingly bossy, Yavdokha bawled out Motrya who became annoyed and called Yavdokha a big lady, after which Yavdokha called her a beggar and a drone. That started it. There were rows and scenes, and squabbling and bickering without end. Not a day passed without the two women clashing with each other.
Halya felt sorry for Motrya who she had come to like very much and, not to antagonize her mother, hid from those quarrels in her room or fled to Khristya. She preferred to run away in order not to see it all and not to hear anything. But whenever she got somehow involved, she naturally sided with her mother. Chipka, although seeing that his mother was not to blame, supported his wife which also meant his mother-in-law. All this made life so unbearable for Motrya that she might as well run away from it all.
"Didn't I tell you, son?" Motrya complained to Chipka after Yavdokha had gotten under her skin. "Don't marry a rich girl, I told you, because that'll turn your life into hell, with no peace for me in my old age either!"
"Just try to put up with it some more, Mother. What can we do? She wants to run things her own way, so she's been making trouble. When she wasn't here, we had peace and quiet, and everything was fine. But since, she came, everything's turned upside down. Yield to her, Mother."
"I'm certainly not going to be pushed around by God knows what kind of woman if I can help it. I'd sooner go and bow to neighbors and ask them to feed me than have to bow to her each time I want to eat some of the bread you earn that I'm entitled to anyway."
Then Chipka would run outside, even angrier than before. To dispel his anguish, he would go to Hritsko or start cleaning out around the cattle. Sometimes he would drive off to some fair and stay away for three of four days.
"You see!" Yavdokha would tell Halya gloatingly. "That old witch is dragging you apart... stirring up trouble, setting him against you! The old rag ought to be thankful for being fed and clothed and warm... But no! She wrinkles her nose, as if she were now worse off than when she lived from hand to mouth! These beggars! As soon as they're out of their lousy rags, they're hard to please!"
Then Chipka would come home, and Yavdokha would nag him and smear Motrya. Chipka would fly into a rage and take it out on Motrya. The poor woman would hide in a corner on the stove and have a good cry, but there was nothing else she could do about it.
That interminable feuding and bickering added poison to Chipka's already poisoned existence. He felt a stranger in his own house, which he now hated, for it suddenly seemed cramped and stuffy. His heart sought freedom and craved for wide expanses. He began to recall his old bunch...
Hritsko, with his constant complaints about losses, his palaver about his gains and property, his decent quiet wife and with the whole course of his uneventful farming existence, now seemed boring and dull. Even as he listened to his whimpering, yawning now and then, his memory painted the picture of a different life the one he had led before his engagement... Although vodka had flowed like water in that other life and mouths had blurted out all sorts of drunken twaddle, every one in that life had lived fully, suffered, loved and hated... Even seen through a mist of drunkenness, it had been real living. Now his life had become as still and sad as a bog, as somnolent and silent as a cemetery... And his home was worse than hell!
To brighten his dismal loneliness, Chipka took to the bottle. Drinking is easy for those who can hold their liquor. With Chipka, however, it was different. Liquor increased his agony, burning his bleeding heart. Then he hated all and everything. His mother-in-law found him hard to please; his mother was afraid of him; Halya alone had some influence over him, for he still loved and respected her. Nevertheless, he sometimes made it hot for her, too. He would nag her, wanting to know why she refused to hire a girl, or why this or that had not been done, or why she kept spoiling her eyes over needlework. He would just cavil at one thing or another.
Halya listened to all of it, sometimes replying, sometimes just weeping softly and sometimes growing afraid. Forebodings of evil stirred deep down in her aching heart...
"Chipka!" she would sometimes call to him at night, after everybody else had gone to sleep. "What's happened to you? Nothing seems to please you anymore... There's nothing you like... It looks as if you're fed up with everything. Do you really hate everything?"
That question came as a bitter reproach to him. He felt guilty, realizing that he had been carping at her unnecessarily. Now her sorrowful voice soothed and accused him at the same time.
"Halya, darling!" he would whisper. "I feel bad... real bad. I just don't know where to go or what to do with myself... If only we had children... Maybe they'd make me feel better their prattle might keep me from sulking..."
"What is it that makes you feel bad? Do you also feel bad with me by your side? Do you feel sad when you are with me, too?"
"No, no, dear Halya! With you I'm happy and feel great... I only wish our mothers could get along with each other, without those rows. But we've got bickering and cursing every day..."
"Is this my fault, Chipka? I myself would be happy if they made it up and stuck together. But you see there's nothing I can do. They are just made that way: neither of them would yield an inch."
"Oh no... No, Halya, it's not that... it's not that... I'm just afraid I might ruin your life," he whispered, skipping to something else. "I'd give half of my life to make you happy... But you see how it is there's no happiness, no peace! There's some kind of curse on me has been ever since my childhood! It's been pursuing me, and I can't drive it away, get rid of it! It's gotten right into my soul, like the Devil, and chokes me, and plagues me and stirs up trouble... And my former bunch I met them not long ago are merry and happy..."
Now Halya saw which way the wind was blowing and caught the drift of what he had been telling her. She knew that she and Chipka had been drifting apart for some time. Also, her heart told her that she would not be able to keep Chipka by her side, for such life did not satisfy him and made him sick. And she wept very softly, so that he would not hear... She went back to her recent happiness, examined it, turned it over and studied it without that initial love passion which had kept her from taking a clear view of their life. Now she scrutinized it with the detached eye of an outside observer. The results of this examination and her private reckoning appalled her. She had not been really happy, but failed to make Chipka happy, had not become a mother and was unlikely ever to become so. And, falling to her knees before the icon, she begged the Holy Virgin to have compassion on her tears...
Meanwhile, Chipka continued to become increasingly gloomy, irritable and impatient.
"If you can't carry on any further, Chipka, you probably should call your friends and have a good time with them. Maybe that will cheer you up a little," Halya told him once, seeing in what shape he was.
She hoped to appear before that unruly bunch as a gentle guardian angel, to teach those inveterate souls, hardened by crime and drink, some love for the people and respect for their peaceful habits and established order of life. Alas! The inveterate souls needed an outlet for their brute strength which seethed inside them, demanding to be let loose, recognized no customs and was drowned in drink. Their drunken heads yearned for unruly lawlessness unrestricted by limits or conventions, as wild and noisy as a drunken mob. Nothing would make them follow the beaten track of peaceful, undisturbed existence. Halya, with her inclinations toward a quiet sort of happiness and her gentle but pliant womanly mind, was hardly the right kind of person to undertake to demolish those citadels of dogged determination. This was a task not for a woman's heart, loving and warm, but for a stone-cold heart totally insensitive to sparks of love. A feeble woman's hand could do nothing in the face of such resistance.
Now Halya saw that she and Chipka had, like a pair of fish, got caught in a net. She became entangled in it and struggled and writhed and thrashed about until she found a hole and slipped out to find herself in smooth water. Chipka stayed behind in the net. She mourned for him and grieved and bewailed him. But he was not aware of it. He denounced the human injustice, cursed the zemstvo which had turned him down, condemned, together with all people of modest means, the extortionate taxes, talked with former serfs and aroused in them bitterness at having been cheated into accepting allotments of worthless land, helped them out with loans when they were hard pressed by poll tax collectors, caroused with them and sometimes, fired by drink, shouted that it was high time somebody punished that lot. Then he would come home and drunkenly press his Halya to his drunken heart without noticing hot tears in her eyes and sadness upon her withered face.

* * *


Times changed, bringing different ways into Chipka's household. From a pleasant, peaceful home attractive for its quiet family routine, his house turned into a den of wild carousing, deafening guffawing and drunken singing. Yavdokha, quite accustomed to drinking sprees in her time, rediscovered her taste for them in her old age and willingly cooperated with her son-in-law in such undertakings.
On a Saturday, a Sunday or a holiday Chipka's old pals Lushnya, Patsyuk and Matnya would come over. A cask of vodka and some food to go with it would appear as if by magic. Yavdokha would act as the hostess while Halya would hide in a corner and sit there in silence, watching her husband having a good time and listening to his buddies' drunken rambling. Motrya would climb onto the stove in order not to see it all.
Chipka would sit at the table with his guests; drinks would be downed in quick succession, muddling their brains; yells, singing and laughter would fill the house, escaping outside through the windows. One of them would then start spinning yarns and telling about his adventures. Yavdokha would listen with pleasure, laughing happily; Halya would become even gloomier; Motrya, up there on the stove, would spit in distaste without saying anything, wishing she would die soon and be spared the indignity of having to see and hear such things.
Most of such stories were told by Lushnya. Like a musician who could make the strings of a violin sound now like shouts of joy, now like a sorrowful wail, Lushnya could play with his tongue upon human souls. He told them something funny and everybody would roll with laughter; then he would start speaking about something else and make their hearts heavy with sadness and bring tears to their eyes... He mostly liked to reminisce about his tender age and his mother.
"My mother taught me to steal when I was still a little kid," he would begin. "She'd make me sit down by her side and put a chunk of bread right before her eyes and I had to pinch it so she wouldn't notice when I did it. If she caught me at it, I got trashed. She carried a brown rod that was so supple it swished something terrible... I'd try this and that to get that bread, but she'd notice and lash at me so hard that I'd get a long blue bruise wrapped, like a leech, all around my hand... I'd yell and beg her, 'Dear Mummy, please don't! I won't do it again!' Then I'd get one arm around her neck and take that bread with the other hand and stuff it inside my shirt. She'd look around and see it was gone. Then she'd let me keep it and I could eat it... Otherwise I had to go hungry all day long..."
"It just might be true," Halya would say tonelessly, shaking her head dubiously.
"May I drop dead if it's a lie! Then she'd tell me, 'Don't you think, son, that I beat you for nothing. I'm teaching you for your own good. When you grow up, wou'll be thankful... You should steal everything that lies around waiting to be taken. And if it's something that belongs to the master, you must find where he keeps it and get it!'"
"That's because masters fleece their men," Chipka would break in. "Take from the master what is yours by right..."
"Aha! Masters take everything from the people and they used to take people when they felt like it... Our master surely took my mother! But I'm even thankful to him, because that's how I came into this world."
Then he would tell them how his mother had been brought to the estate and taken to the master's chambers, how she had been afraid of everything until she came to know the master somewhat better, and how delighted the master had been when the stork brought him, "fine fellow Timoshka..."
"The master was surely glad to have me and to have my mother, too. He kept us in his chambers and did not let us go out. He sometimes fondled and rocked me in his arms... And when I'd learned to walk, he fed me with honey biscuits and candies and gave me small silver coins. Mother was really happy, seeing it all. Then she was awfully kind to me. She'd give me some tea, put me in the master's feather bed to sleep, wrap me up in good warm blankets and bend over me and just stare at me for a long time... Then she'd kiss me even longer. I surely lived in style! But then the master's son came back from school. He'd finished his studies because he'd been thrown out... As soon as he saw us, started yelling, 'Get out of the household!... And stay the hell out!' Then those two fell out and bickered every day, and my mother cried every day and hid me from the son... Suddenly, the fine living was over for us. After some squirming, the old master moved us from the manor to his new house that he'd had built behind the smithy. That's where we stayed. After we'd gone to live there, things in the manor quieted down a bit, and we got along fine. My mother and I lived there together, just the two of us, and the old master often dropped in. He was still very kind to my mother and brought small gifts for me... Suddenly, word got around that the young master was getting married. He married one of your master's daughters, as black and swarthy as Gypsy straight out of camp, tall and thin, with a huge nose jutting out over her mouth... After the wedding, things got worse for everybody. Not a day went by without somebody howling under rods in the stable. It looked like the old master didn't have it too good either: his hair turned gray, his body grew thin, his face became haggard, and he took to the bottle. He'd get up in the morning, very early, and run to Yakim, the steward, making sure his son was still asleep.
"And Yakim had been ordered to run and tell that woman whenever he saw the old master go behind the smithy. So the old man would beg him, 'Yakim, my dear! I'll let you have my old vest if only you keep mum and don't tell on me!' Yakim would look at him and feel sorry for the old man who had once bossed everything, including Yakim himself, and was now standing before him, bent and shaking, and humbly asking for a favor... 'Go ahead,' he'd say, 'only be quick about it, because the young master and mistress will get up in a short while...' So he'd hurry to us then. 'Where's Mother?' he'd ask me. I'd tell him she was in the kitchen garden or someplace else. 'Go and call her.' And he'd thrust a copeck into my hand. Then I'd fly to tell her. She'd come over, and he'd sit across from her and stare at her, remembering the good old times. He'd even have a cry, complaining about his son and daughter-in-law. 'I disgrace the noble estate, they say... Fools! What the hell does that estate matter if my life's not worth living, because I'm not free to do what I like? I'd wanted to provide for you to have a house built, to give you some land and to make you a free woman for your services... But now I can't do it... they won't let me... I'm not free to do anything...' Then he'd just lean over the table and cry, and Mother would stare at him and cry, too... And I'd sit somewhere in a corner and wonder why they were crying. The old master didn't live long after that. He kind of pined away and died. When Mother heard about it, she wailed something terrible for a whole week and beat me every day for close on a month for nothing at all... Soon after that we were sent to the kitchen. Mother was put to work with the poultry, and I was supposed to help her. It was tough on us working there cold place, nothing to eat! So Mother began pinching a little something now and then: she'd steal some pork fat and share it with me, then it was gizzard and liver from a baked duck... Then she got caught, and they put her down and lashed her like a cat she barely got to her feet... But she didn't repent and didn't mend her ways. Actually, she began teaching me, like I said. She did it well, too, thanks to her!"
As Yavdokha listened to such tales, she praised the "fine fellow" for having learned his lessons well. Halya was grimly thoughtful, feeling sorry for the old master and Lushnya's mother and pondering over the horrors of serfdom. Motrya, distressed by the fact that her son was drinking in the company of such characters, whispered softly to herself:
"Good heavens! What kind of son is that? What a horrible story to make up about his own mother! He is a real devil with no fear of God in his soul!"
Meanwhile, Lushnya, who surely knew how to use his tongue, poured more drinks for everybody, chattering gaily:
"Here's to the master's health, so they can buy more things for us to take!"
"And may they croak as soon as they've bought them!" Patsyuk added.
Sometimes Hritsko was also present at such gatherings. But he had little stomach for this kind of merrymaking and especially for needling remarks that were dropped only too often by Lushnya or one of the others.
"I say, Hritsko, how is your wheat doing?" Lushnya would begin in a roundabout way, hinting at Hritsko's everyday complaints.
Hritsko kept silent, as though the question did not concern him at all.
"Too bad!" Patsyuk answered instead. "The last few summers have not been good for wheat..."
"Why not good?" Hritsko snarled. "Maybe they haven't been good for such as you, because you've got nothing to grow wheat on. All you've got is your big mouth, and you can't sow anything in it."
"It's not that, Hritsko," Lushnya went on. "Nowadays something has gone wrong with the land, too. You soak it with your sweat and drop your tears on it, begging it to bear you some grain. But the damn land is deaf and dumb it just doesn't hear you and gives you nothing!"
"That's why people have to complain about land," Patsyuk picked up. "But there aren't any authorities you can complain about your land to. Unless, of course, you've got a well-fixed friend or your child's godfather who'll hear your complaints and tries to do something about it..."
"D'you want to know why your land wouldn't bear wheat?" puffy-faced Matnya broke in. "It's not because your land has gotten barren it hasn't! It's the Lord punishing you for greed. You shouldn't have taken that rye Chipka gave you without paying for it."
Hritsko was on thorns. Certainly, he could have riposted to that, but he was afraid to kick up a row with those drunken rogues.
But then Chipka shouted at them to stop it and came to Hritsko's rescue, so that those caustic jokes were dismissed just like that. That lasted until Chipka got in an expansive mood over drinks and gave Hritsko a hundred rubles for his godson.
"Do you know what you should do now, Hritsko?" Lushnya asked.
"Tell me," Hritsko said happily.
"Now you can give up farming your land bears no wheat anyway and work on Khristya real hard. Let her have a baby every month. Chipka is a kind fellow he'll baptize them all..."
"You go and tell this to your bald father!" Hritsko snapped.
"By God, you've guessed right that he was bald. I would've told him gladly, too, except that he's dead, which is rather a pity. But my telling him would probably have done me little good, I'm afraid, because actually he gave me nothing and me my mother's only child, too... I wonder what would've happened if my mother had had a kid like me every month..."
"You would've eaten each other till one of you choked on the other," Hritsko fumed.
"That's probably true we might very well have eaten up one another... Only we'd never have touched somebody else's grain and money!"
"What d'you mean by that?" Hritsko shouted excitedly. "Did I ask Chipka for those gifts? Did I grovel at his feet?... It was his own good will and it's none of your business!"
"But I'm not trying to meddle God forbid. I just wanted to give you a piece of advice. May your Khristya never have another child, if you'd rather have it that way. What do I care? I only tried to tell you that more children would do you a lot of good."
"No, Chipka, I can't visit you anymore because of your commany," announced Hritsko when Chipka, who had gone to fetch some vodka, returned to the room.
"What's happened?" Chipka asked.
Hritsko started to tell him. Lushnya showed repentance and mumbled he was sorry and all, putting in some more digs at Hritsko. The rest of them split their sides laughing. Finally, Chipka ordered them to make it up and to drink to it, and filled their glasses. Hritsko appeared to calm down a little and stayed at the table. He had another drink but soon after that left for home.
But after that night Hritsko kept away from Chipka's place and forbade Khristya to set her foot there. Still, she sometimes slipped out and ran to visit Halya and Motrya; she, too, had failed to hit it off with Yavdokha.
They say that of all evil things vodka is the evilest. And now it was vodka that ruled Chipka's household. The days when the bunch did not get together there to get drunk and shout themselves hoarse were few and far between. But even such days were filled with squabbling between the two mothers who all but tried to bite each other... To Chipka all that bickering was as bitter as wormwood and he tried to sweeten that taste with drink and drunken merrymaking. Without that he felt grim and gloomy. He would then pace the yard, from the house to the gate and from the gate to the house, sullen and scowling, and looking not quite himself, hardly uttering a word all day long. But in the evening his pals would show up, and a cask of vodka would appear and then it was good-bye to reason! They would get drunk and fill up their stomachs and then go away with Chipka! Shortly before dawn they would return bringing a wagon load of all kinds of things...
"What do you think you're doing, son?" Motrya reproached Chipka, weeping, her heart breaking from despair. "Others earn their living with their blood and sweat, and you... If you don't fear people, at least fear God! Just remember: we lived in poverty and suffered from terrible need but nobody could say a bad word about us... And now we've got wealth "
"It's none of your business!" Chipka interrupted her rudely. "Just lie there on the stove while you can!..."
Motrya would moan and grow silent, her face bathed in hot tears. She became sick and black in the face with worry. He was her own child, her only hope... She almost wished he had never been born and thought that putting him to death with her own hands while he was a baby would have been better than having to go through all this. And she cursed the men around her son who had led him to such things.
Yavdokha saw and knew this but deliberately undermined Motrya's efforts by encouraging Chipka and welcoming his bunch. Having spent her whole life in this way, she had grown used to crime, rejoiced at every success and helped the men to mount their forays. Chipka's rapacity increased with every passing day. Like a ferocious beast, he attacked all well-to-do people in sight. At first he "punished" only masters and Jews but then began to take away his "lawful share" from wealthy Cossacks like himself, robbing them blind and only sparing their lives.
Although efforts were made to conceal all these goings-on from Halya, she could not help being aware of them but was powerless to act. All she could do was cry... Like her mother before her, she would have to learn to live with it, she thought as she lay alone at night when Chipka was not at home. Did that also mean she was going to become the same as her mother? Or had her mother been born with a weakness for that kind of life? Probably not it must have been her husband who had made her what she was... She was sorry for herself, because, most likely, her own fate would be no different: a rogue's daughter, a rogue's wife! Oh, Lord! At such moments Chipka seemed hideous and horrible, and she almost abhorred him... But when, in a happier hour and a gentler mood, kindness stirred awake in his heart, he poured out his troubles to her, embraced her and caressed her and then she no longer believed her thoughts of the day before. Oh, no a rogue could not caress her so gently nor hold her to his heart so tenderly nor kiss her so passionately... No! Her Chipka was not a robber... No, no! He was nice and fair... He just punished men for injustice... Punished? But who gave him the right to punish anybody?... Who?? All right, he didn't do it then!.. And she reveled in her happiness, fleeting and wavering as it was.
And Yavdokha continued to bully Motrya, giving her not a moment of peace. She would burst into Motrya's room, turn everything upside down and holler at the old woman. At first Motrya talked back, but when she saw that Chipka neglected her, his old mother, by pandering to Yavdokha, she told herself, "That fiendish woman has stolen my son and ruined my hope!" Then she grew silent and kept silent, no matter what Yavdokha said or did. Instead, with tears rolling down her cheeks furrowed by suffering and age, she implored God to let her die. "Oh, Lord," she often prayed. "Please accept my unhappy soul and don't let me keep on suffering in this world!..."
But although Motrya sought death and looked forward to it, it was Yavdokha who died quite suddenly. On a Sunday, right after dinner, she was seized by a fit of stomach pain that choked her, gripped her heart and squeezed her chest.
"Dear me! I'm dying!" Yavdokha cried out and gave up the ghost.
Halya was stunned with grief. Pale-faced, with tearful eyes, not noticing that her hair came out from under her kerchief, she rushed about the house, wailing and wringing her hands. Why? Only in the morning her mother had laughed and joked and looked fit and cheerful, and in the evening a lifeless body was all that was left of her. How terrible! Chipka, too, wandered around in a kind of daze, unable to make up his mind whether he should be comforting Halya or see about the dead body... Motrya alone seemed to have kept presence of mind. She was not exactly glad far from it! She felt pity for Yavdokha, for she took her death for God's punishment. "So she has died unshriven, without the extreme unction, like a Forgive me, Lord!" But she was certainly not beside herself with grief and was actually glad for Chipka. Maybe he would give it up now that there was nobody to put him up to it... He just might come to his senses yet...
On the third day after Yavdokha's burial, Chipka gave a lavish funeral feast. People flocked to it not only from Piski but also from the surrounding hamlets. There were as many beggars as one could see outside the Lavra catacombs! Guests ate in the house, and for the beggars benches were rigged up outside. All kinds of food had been prepared in big cauldrons: Chipka had slaughtered a pig, three sheep and a hefty yearling calt. As to vodka, it flowed around like water, drunk to the peace of Yavdokha's soul... At the end of the meal, Motrya gave the beggars large chunks of good wheat bread to take with them in their bags, and Chipka counted off seventy copecks in silver into each man's outstretched hand.
Next day, Chipka harnessed the horses and drove off without telling anyone where he was going. He did not come back that day nor the day after that... On the third day he returned, bringing several wagon loads of all kinds of goods. Motrya even cried out when she saw all that. Losing her patience, she began to reproach and castigate both her son and his bunch. Chipka's pals did not hold their tongues and kicked up a row. Chipka, too, rushed into the fray. Strong words were exchanged, and passions heated up. Halya became frightened and locked herself up in her room. Lushnya worked himself up into a fit of rage and hollered at Motrya. She shouted back at him. Finally, he knocked her cap off her head...
Poor old mother! "In my own house... a rogue... a loafer..." She did not finish and burst into bitter tears.
In the morning, she walked to the volost office to complain not about the robberies but about having been "beaten up by a loafer." She was afraid to mention those other things, not wanting to harm her own son. Some petty officials came running to the house, where carousal was in full swing. Chipka got them so drunk that they could hardly crawl back home, and that was the end of Motrya's complaint. But when the officials were gone, Chipka flew into a drunken rage, called his mother a bitch and threatened to beat her up himself. Motrya wept, silently cursing her fate which had set her such a wicked child.
And Chipka again sat down to drink with his "brothers."
"No, Chipka!" shouted Lushnya. "You'll never have another mother like Yavdokha! She was a real mother for you, and this one is a dog not a mother! Are you sure it wasn't Motrya that did Yavdokha in?..."
Those words rang out sinisterly, each of them wondering if this could be true. Indeed, they thought, the late woman had been so gay and full of life that morning... And in the evening there was just a dead body left of her and it got stiff in no time at all, too!
"Indeed!" Chipka exclaimed. If his mother had been anywhere in sight at that moment, he would probably have killed her there and then.
Halya, alone in her room, had been weeping. When she heard that conversation through the wall, she started and also began to reason frantically... Indeed! And she felt as if a cold wind swept through her heart. But her sensitive soul did not let itself be swayed by that wind.
"No, no," she whispered. "Only an evil man could come up with something like this... My mother-in-law is right: my mother was punished by the Lord for the way she'd been living... No, Motrya is just not that kind of person..." And Halya drove off those horrible thoughts like so many annoying flies.
When the drunken company had gone away, Chipka came into her room. Unable to control herself any longer, Halya flew at him, reproaching him, scolding him and weeping.
"Chipka! I'd never expected something like this from you! How could you let that scum and robber insult your mother? A wild beast, a vicious killer wouldn't have done such a thing!"
"Did you hear what Lushnya said?" he asked her sternly.
"Lushnya?... Lushnya... If there's ever been a heart never warmed by good and justice, it's surely his! If a tongue exists that's never been made stiff by lies no words can describe, it's Timish's tongue! Only a bitch could've bread such a dog! And you listen to him and believe him!"
"Are you afraid that people might talk or what? I don't give a damn about their talking and about them either!"
"But this isn't going to be mere gossip or slander, although that, too, would be unpleasant enough," she interrupted him. "It'll be the truth the same truth you've been saying you're after and which you so often despise... You say there's no justice among the people! But where's your justice? Where?"
Those last words stabbed Chipka in the heart like a sharp knife.
"You always blame me! You're always against me!" he shouted, storming out of the room and slamming the door behind him. All night long he wandered about the yard while Halya sobbed.
The following day, word got around the village that Chipka had nearly thrown his mother out of his house.
"As long as she ate lousy bread, everything was just fine. But when she started getting real loaves, she suddenly became too particular and ran to complain about her son!" said those who blamed Motrya.
"Just what kind of son is he that would let such a bum hit his mother?!" others argued.
Humiliated and deeply offended, Motrya fell ill and took to her bed. She did not eat or drink, and her gaze was dull. Halya took care of her as lovingly, as if she were her own mother. She called in wise women who whispered over Motrya, sighed and gave her some herbs. Somehow, they pulled her through.
"Halya!" she said. "I feel I'm getting well. I already feel better... Why? I prayed to God that I may die... I'd be better off in the other world than in this one... But the Lord wouldn't let me go... May His will be done... He ought to know why He makes me live on. He might let me live to see Chipka come to his senses, so that I could again see my child, my son... Halya, my dear child! Of all people you are the closest to me now... Try to make him see reason, as a wife should! He respects you a lot and loves you dearly and he might listen to you where he wouldn't listen to me. Oh, Lord! What wouldn't I do for him! What wouldn't I give him! I would've torn out a piece of my heart for him if only that could help him become a real man! Then I'd be able to die happy. Not now."
Both women wept copiously.


 

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