. >> >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>XXI. A Dream Come True

XXI. A Dream Come True

 

Chipka was having a dream and reliving his past. It all looked very much like one of his recent sprees. The tavern was flooded with bright, almost dazzling, light; the musicians were snapping and scraping away; heels were chipping away at the earthen floor; there were yells and songs and a hundred voices chattering all at the same time crazy debauchery! But the black cloud of night was drawing near. Barely visible in the almost impenetrable dark of that cloud were the black outlines of the master's storehouses and of the estate backyard... There were three shadows bent under some weights men carrying something on their backs... Suddenly, they broke and ran, disappearing in an orchard of bare trees... Then something flashed and he could see two men rolling on the ground, struggling... The one on top was as ferocious as a beast and as fast as wind... Chipka strained his eyes. "But that's me... me!" he cried out. And the man under him was, of course, the watchman... the master's watchman... He was as pale as death and breathing heavily... his hands and feet jerking painfully... Chipka could hear the watchman's blood gurgling in his liver and saw it gushing in a black stream from the man's throat and nose... Presently, the man opened his eyes which momentarily lighted up with a spark of life... Did those eyes express reproach? Did they curse him? No, that spark was the man's soul departing from his body... and his eyes were already glazing over... And the night was spreading wider and engulfed him, until it blotted out the vision of the merry revelry... Chipka thrashed about and woke up. He let out a long drawn-out moan, turned over to the other side and fell asleep again.
The visions came back. The night was dark and stupid, mute and deaf. He stood there, in the midst of a kingdom of sleep: drunken men and women scattered about like logs, dead asleep... Above him, a star flared up in the sky; it burned like a candle, illuminating the drunken scene below... He looked to the right. The darkness trembled and swayed, and out of it emerged two shadowy figures ghastly, pallid, their broken bones sticking out... They hobbled along, their feet twisting loosely to all sides... Now they shook their heads reproachfully at him, pointing to the sleeping drunks with their hands... Chipka seemed to recognize his mother and old Ulas... He shuddered, fidgeted and turned away.
In a short while, the darkness trembled to the left of Chipka, and another two figures appeared from it. One was fat, paunchy and red-faced; the other, following behind the first, was thin, lean and bent, with a quill sticking behind his ear... Coming closer, they surveyed the mess, looked Chipka straight in the eye and broke into sobs: "So that's what our money is being squandered on!" Suddenly, they fell on one of the sleeping drunks, tore his clothes off and sank their teeth into his throat. There was a gurgling sound as they sucked the man's blood from his live body... Their eyes filled with that blood, burned, glowed like those of a cat... Chipka shuddered and turned away.
Now he looked up and saw yet another shadow hovering there, in that bright light. This one was a girl fresh and pure like a fine summer morning, her dark eyes merry and gentle... "What's that?... My dear Halya! Come to me, my lovely gray dove!" he begged, raising his hands toward her. The shadow trembled, her serene face darkened, and tears glistened in her eyes... "What have you done?!" a horrified voice demanded of him. "Look to your right!" Chipka looked there and flinched... A man was rolling on the ground, moaning in a voice that was hardly human... "What have you done?!" the voice above him reproached him again. "Look to your left!" Reluctantly, Chipka turned his gaze... Two black figures were sucking blood from sleeping people, breaking their bones, twisting their arms and legs, licking their bleeding bodies. "Look down!" the voice called. He did... All about him spread the kingdom of sleep: upturned pale faces, protruding eyes, bluish ribbons of smoke rising from gaping mouths... All those human shapes were slowly burning, like smouldering coals... "This is what you have done!" the voice thundered. "Why did you kill an innocent man? Why did you make his children orphans and his wife a widow? Was it the watchman's fault that he was sent to guard his master's property and look out for thieves?... And what have you done with those human leeches? And why?? They were full and fat and were quietly living out the rest of their lives, having sucked their fill of human blood; you again made them hungry by squeezing all the blood they had sucked over long years out of them... Well, to make up for what they lost, they've now become a hundred times as rapacious and greedy as they used to be... Like hungry dogs pouncing upon a piece of bread, they now fall on the hungry and the homeless, the drunken and the sober, those who are asleep and those who are awake, on orphans and on beggars... Do you see them sucking blood from human veins?... Do you? Why can they do that? That's because you've made these people drunk and helpless and set them on fire with vodka. Criminal! Scum!..." Exhausted, Chipka dropped on his knees, folded his hands and prostrated himself on the ground... But the voice raged all about him, like a storm, shouting again and again, "What have you done, you wicked rascal?!" Chipka pressed himself to the ground, as if trying to hide; yet the voice penetrated his every bone and every sinew, freezing them with horror and burning them with the fire of anguish... This was more than he could stand. He sprang up as violently as a rabid dog that rages and trembles and fears water, but then sees it and goes blank and attacks everything in sight. "Go away, confounded creature!" he shouted. "May you be consumed by fire and your ashes scattered by the wind!... What are you to me? Wife? Sister?? Mother?? I only saw you two or three times in the fields where you were scampering about like a goat... Then why do you barge in here? Why do you stick your nose into these things? All that you've been reproaching me with had been worrying me even before you came around... There's something that makes me turn away from good and urges me to do wrong... I've been running away from something but I can't escape from it... I've been trying to hide but I've found no place to hide in... And all this time I've been drowning myself deeper and deeper in drink... Get away! Leave me in peace!..." His loud shouting made the shadow tremble, and it went up and rose higher, still higher... The sky roared, flashed and thundered... An arrow of fire struck close by; everything about him crashed and burst into flames... All around him, things were burning, crackling, breaking and falling; there were cries, clamor and appeals for help... All voices merged into a single voice that was full of inexpressible grief; desperate wails were coming from all sides... The fire was consuming it all now devouring it with its ferocious flames, now licking it with its sharp tongues... It would lick something and instantly turn it into black cinders; then it would lick it once again and the cinders would turn white and turn into aches... And then the ashes would be picked up by the mighty wave of fire and, with a sputter, carried up high into the air... The fire had grown and spread... Now it was all about Chipka, and its long tongues were touching his body and licking his face... Suddenly he realized that those were not flames but waves of human blood surging all around him... "Ah!" he screamed, giving a violent start.
It was already evening. The sun, sinking behind the hill, painted the sky crimson red, as though it had drunk too much of the blood which had been shed during the day. Subdued by the punishment and depressed by the amazing spectacle, the village had quieted down, and no more shouts could be heard anywhere. Columns of smoke rose from chimneys high into the sky, as though carrying the peasants' curses, prayers and tears... Stoves were burning to prepare food for supper, and shadows were flitting back and forth in front of them, momentarily screening the fire from view. The frost was getting harder, the stars were shimmering, and there was that blood-red glow in the west...
Chipka sprang to his feet and felt red-hot needles swarming, like so many tiny lightnings, in all his sinews and bones. Then they all rushed to his head and flooded it with fire... His body was burning; the dream and the reality were mixed up in his thoughts; his heart was aching, sinking, seething with inexpressible fury... He went outside to cool himself. A fresh wind bathed his hot face and tickled his nostrils, bringing tears to his eyes... He glanced at the glow in the west and immediately shut his eyes, for he found it unfriendly and irritating. Another red glow was burning on the opposite side of the sky: that was a full moon, the "Cossack sun," going up.
Chipka went to stand in the middle of the yard and looked about. Everything was silent and still. He started pacing up and down, between the house and the stackyard. His heart was heavy as heavy as it had never been before... The pain of his body reached his heart, adding to its own agony; his head was on fire; his thoughts were in confusion, threatening him with unbelievable punishment and frightening him with echoes of laughter... He would be willing to ask for forgiveness to crawl at people's feet, to implore them with tears in his eyes, if only he could forget what had happened in the past! Yet the past loomed before his eyes like a horrible monster, and, like a nightmare, constantly changed its guises in his mind. It reached him now as constrained, hollow laughter, now as caustic casual jokes, now as reproaches that had so often been flung in his face... This torture wore him down. If he had never been born or had been killed, it would have been better than having to go through all this!
His soul longed to pour out his troubles to somebody, and his heart was overflowing with tears that needed to be emptied on someone's bosom. Yet there was not a soul around him! Wringing his hands, Chipka cast a grim glance at the sunset and sadly trudged toward the house. He was a pathetic and eerie sight, a sorrowful figure clearly outlined in black between two glows that of the sun and that of the moon. He was like an apparition, like a sinful soul burdened with grave transgressions, now trying in vain to repent; for instead of a prayer his lips were whispering bitter curses, as he was going over his sins...
In the middle of the room lit by the moonlight, which burst in through the windows and ran across the floor in broad stripes, hiding under the bed, Chipka stood on his knees and prayed muttering imprecations. His eyes moist with tears, he devoutly bowed his head, again and again...
Seeing the battle which had broken out in Piski, Chipka's bunch Patsyuk, Lushnya and Matnya had lost no time in beating a hasty retreat. They ran on and on, keeping well away from the streets, and did not stop running until they reached the hamlet of Krutiy Yar, where they holed up in the tavern of Ovram, their Jewish friend of long standing... There they spent the rest of the day and their last money, drinking and telling everybody who cared to listen about the dramatic events in Piski. When dusk had fallen, they were still there.
"Well, brothers," said Lushnya. "What about going back to Piski to see what's going on there? I wonder if they grabbed our Chipka, because he really got a bit too rash... When trouble began, he should've gotten the hell away instead of yelling for help!..."
"You may go if you like," Patsyuk and Matnya told him. "We'd rather stay here..."
"Let's go together and pay Chipka a visit," Lushnya insisted. "Even though he's a bit strange, he's still I must say it for him a fine fellow and a real pal. He'd never give a friend away!"
"I'm not going even if you torture me," Matnya declared. "What if the soldiers catch us down there and rough us up?..."
"I'm staying with Yakim here," Patsyuk sided with him.
Lushnya scratched his head. He also knew that it would be dangerous to return to Piski now, yet his conscience was tormented by the realization that they had abandoned a friend in trouble.
"What shall we tell him then?" he continued. "He might want to know where we've been all this time..."
"Tell him?" said Matnya. "We don't have to tell him anything. He's got no right to interrogate us."
"We'll have to think of something, because it really doesn't look too nice," Patsyuk reasoned. "I just wonder why we didn't take him along... And now he may not even be in Piski the soldiers might have taken him someplace else..."
Patsyuk's remorse so amazed the other two that they were left speechless and found nothing else to say...
"All right, brothers," said Lushnya after a while. "You stay here and I'll go and have a look." And he went.
Reaching the top of the hill, he looked down at the broad expanse and, as if through a mist, saw Piski flooded with moonlight. Among the dark shadows of the naked willows, the small church shone white with its walls, casting around its single glittering eye the gilded dome with a cross; not far away, the manor house loomed like a high hill and seemed to glare angrily at the entire village... In the village, not everybody was yet asleep. Here and there light showed in the windows, but everything was still: there was no din of human voices, and only the dogs' hollow barking came from there. It was quiet and cold; the frost raged, making him shiver all the time so that the stars seemed to dance in the sky; the snow crunched underfoot... To get a little warmer, Lushnya walked at a faster pace. Before long, he was at Chipka's house.
The house seemed empty and abandoned, standing all alone on the edge of the village, peeling and black. Only the remaining panes shone in the moonlight; looking at them from a distance, one might think there was light inside. Lushnya came nearer. The house was dark and silent. He reached the window which gave onto the fields stretching away outside the village and peered inside.
There did not seem to be anybody on the bed. He was about to go round the corner to the door, when he seemed to see a shadow flit across the room. He again pressed his face to the glass and strained his eyes. Moonlight was pouring in through the opposite windows, stretched across the room in long bars and disappeared under the bed... Chipka, brightly lit by the moon, was kneeling in the middle of the room, apparently praying... His clear shadow now bent down, now straightened up; tears glistened in his eyes...
"Chipka!" called Lushnya.
Chipka sprang up and timidly hid behind the stove. Lushnya burst into laughter. The guffaw let forth by his mighty chest sounded like peals of thunder in the silence of night, echoed and reverberated, shook the panes and filled the room... Chipka felt so ashamed that he wished the earth could swallow him up... He had been surprised with tears in his eyes, weeping like a little child! But Lushnya kept on laughing, making the panes groan.
"Chipka! Chipka!" Lushnya shouted, still laughing. "What kind of prayer was it that got you whimpering?"
Chipka recognized the voice. That laughter mocking at his prayers and his tears, the betrayal and the jeer suddenly rushed into his head and stung his heart.
"I'll kill you!" he growled and, grasping a big, heavy stamper, flew barefoot out of the house.
Fortunately, Lushnya heard the soft patter of Chipka's bare feet, turned toward the sound and jumped aside the moment Chipka hurled the stamper at him.
"I'll kill you!" roared Chipka, darting to pick up the stamper.
Lushnya took to his feet. He was quite far away when Chipka had recovered the stamper.
"Get the hell away and stay away!" Chipka yelled at the top of his voice. "I'll finish you off if I see you anywhere near my place..."
"Are you sure you haven't gone crazy?" shouted Lushnya, stopping a safe distance off. "What are you going to kill us for?"
"It's because of you that I made a fool of myself and got that workout!... Beat it! You just cut and ran and got drunk, and now you turn up here to laugh at me, too! It's not the first time either... Back at the estate you dragged me into that thing and left me to handle it all alone... Now you've done it again! Pals and buddies! Dogs that's what you are! Get away!" Chipka flung the stamper on the ground, went inside and bolted the door behind him.
Lushnya stood there for some time and then went back to the window.
"Chipka!... Chipka!"
Chipka, lying on the bed, kept silent.
"Well, you don't have to get mad... First listen to me. Do you really think we wouldn't have tried to help you? We surely would! As soon as we saw you out there, we rushed down the street together to shout for help... I ran to Sidir's smithy to get a hammer... Suddenly I heard Petro and Yakim yelling behind me... I looked back and saw they had been grabbed by foremen who were twisting their arms... There was also some chief hanging around... I flew back to help them fight, but those foremen tied me up, me too... What do you think we could do?... We tried to lie ourselves out of it, saying we'd gotten scared and were simply running away... But the chief ordered us to be locked up... We were let out only a short time ago. Petro and Yakim went to Krutiy Yar, and I've come here to pick you up... But you've suddenly decided you want us dead!" Lushnya concluded on a note of bitterness.
"I've heard such yarns before," Chipka snorted, tossing his head. "I know you too well..." However, his anger had somewhat abated.
"Don't you believe me? I'll be damned if I lie! May this sacred earth swallow me up if that's not true!" Lushnya swore.
Chipka did not speak, but his heart was calming down. He wondered whether Lushnya was lying or telling the truth.
Lushnya was lying, of course, but he was also afraid that Chipka might see through him. Gathering that Chipka must have been lashed, he decided to play on this to win the fellow's sympathy.
"What makes you think we didn't make a try to save you? Of course, we've been told how they roughed you up. Our hearts blew when we heard it... But what was there to be done, if we were locked up?..."
"Why the hell didn't you try to smash the lock-up to pieces?" asked Chipka half-heartedly.
"Come on! Forget it! They lined up as many as ten fellows to guard the three of us, all giants to a man as big as bulls and as tall as the bell tower."
"Where are Petro and Yakim then?" asked Chipka absent-mindedly. "Did you say they stayed in the lock-up?"
"Haven't I told you? They've gone to Krutiy Yar to take a walk, because this place isn't safe enough... They've sent me here to fetch you..."
"I'm not going!" Chipka snapped.
"Me too, I'd rather let them walk there without me," Lushnya played the fool.
Chipka said nothing more. For a while, both of them kept silent. Lushnya was the first to speak:
"Please let me in to warm myself, because I got so cold in that damned hole that I shivered something terrible and my liver rattled inside me..." He shook and knocked his teeth together, pretending he was really freezing.
Chipka believed Lushnya, feeling pity for his friend. He jumped down from the bed and quickly unbolted the door.
Lushnya came in, carrying the stamper which Chipka had left outside.
"I see it's hardly better in here than out in the woods," he remarked. "Don't you have some vodka to heat the blood?"
"Not a drop! Climb onto the stove if you want."
Lushnya clambered onto the stove and silently lay down, without undressing. Chipka went back to the bed.
Lushnya lay there, happy that the unpleasant problem had come to a satisfactory solution. Only one thing worried him: he would have to get to Petro and Yakim before Chipka and coach them to avoid any contradictions. He really began to fear Chipka. It would not be nice if he was shown to be a liar, he thought to himself.
Chipka was also awake and silent. The day's vortex of events was still wheeling and whirling before his vision... In the middle of a moonlit night, when his entire body was throbbing with pain, those experiences assumed a nightmarish quality, making him toss and turn, keeping the pain unabated and the memories undimmed... He lay there as if enveloped in flames... His soul was burning and yearning for revenge; his heart was clamoring for retribution; his mind was seething with wrath.
"Timish!"
"What?"
"Are you sleeping?"
"No."
Chipka fell silent.
"I'm not sure if I... should tell you about something..." he hesitantly began after a brief pause.
"What is it? Go ahead."
"Today I slept... and had a dream..."
Chipka spoke falteringly and somewhat reluctantly, drawing out every word; his thoughts raced ahead of his tongue.
"Well? What did you dream about?"
"I cried... I prayed to God but nothing helped!"
"But what was it about? Tell me!" Lushnya urged him.
"I spent a long time... thinking..." Chipka slowly dragged words out of himself.
"What did you think about?"
"Did you see that outrage today?" Chipka cried out, as if with some effort. "Did you?..."
"Even if I didn't see it all, I've heard enough about it," Lushnya replied.
But Chipka did not listen; words poured out of him like flood waters that had just burst a dam.
"Well, they'll have hell to pay for that! For all those tears, for the blood of those innocent people... they'll suffer for the rest of their lives... and burn in hell till Doomsday!"
"Who'll make them pay?" Lushnya interrupted him.
"I! I'll make them pay!" Chipka shouted, propping up his head with his hands. "I'll show them that I'd better be left alone!... As long as they didn't touch me, I treated them like everybody else did... Now they've done this to me and they'd better look out and take care!..."
"What can you do to them? There're so many of them and you're all alone."
"Alone! Are there few misfits like you and I and Petro and Yakim without home or shelter, roaming the world, not knowing where to go and what to do with themselves? There're plenty of us right now, and there'll be many more when everybody's through with the masters... So what about us? Aren't we human beings? Must we starve in the gutter forever? Wouldn't we lie around on soft beds like them, if we were as well fixed as they are? I bet we would be no worse than they are or even better!... But trouble is they've laid their hands on everything and put us in harness and keep telling us, 'You keep plowing, and I'll just sit around and eat up all you earn!...' But when this plowman who's been sweating day after day opens his mouth and humbly says that he, too, wants to live and needs to eat, and asks to be paid at least for the last two years of his work, they yell straight away, 'Rioters!... Rogues!...' There's force behind them, too... They can get the village crawling with soldiers and beat us up, and trample us down before gaping crowds... Is this justice? Is it? No, Timish! All right, let them have it their way... What they won't give us of their own free will we'll make them give us by force! They let loose those bullies on us and put us to shame in broad daylight and called us names, just because we begged them for a little something with tears in our eyes... All right! The dark night will show what is theirs and what is mine!"
Lushnya had been listening with bated breath, afraid to stir or to breathe. He was stunned. Never before had he heard anyone saying such things, let alone in such a loud voice and with such conviction.
But Chipka was not yet through; he only paused for breath.
"Is that right, Timish?"
"Yes," Lushnya mumbled.
"From today there'll be no more drinking or fooling around! Let's become decent fellows like everybody else... We'll get hired we can work as well as anybody... But we won't forget that other thing! If they can fool us, we'll just have to learn to fool them! Let's show those godless rascals what justice is. If it exists, let it be equal for all; if there's none, there must be none for nobody!"
"That's right, Chipka!... By God, that's right!" spoke Lushnya, delighted by the prospect of equal justice. "Why, brother, I'm ready to get into the master's place even tonight and tell him what justice is all about."
"It's not just this master, Timish, not he alone... There are plenty of them breathing down our necks, wanting to have a free ride on our backs!.. The master is like any other lord he only cares for himself... But if those above him had been fairer, we'd be having different lords now... Whoever is in charge up there should have found out why the people were suffering and from what and told the lords frankly: we can't do it this way, because it'll be unjust!.. But no! Dog doesn't eat dog... A lord can always grease your hand and he's got what to grease it with, because he's been skinning his serfs... And where can a serf get any money?... There're others, Timish, too! The masters and their higher-ups are one and the same breed... Then there are also our priests! They're supposed to speak to God for us, they see all the injustice and they don't breathe a word!... And if they wouldn't put in a word for us, who else would care to do it?... Why, even the Jew, the tavern keeper, is against us cheating us, turning us into drunken sots, wringing from us the last pennies we still got to our names... He makes us steal and he'll also be the first to betray us... Everybody's out to get us, Timish, everybody! Even well-to-do peasants are against us... To them we are just drunkards, thieves and loafers... It's a wonder that we're still alive at all... It's amazing that all those decent fellows haven't killed us off yet... If the sky had suddenly come down on our shoulders, it would've been an easier burden than all those lies and the rotten deal we've been getting from everybody... Don't let us be fools then!... There're four of us. Let us cut out drinking like I said. What's the use of us having carried some stuff from the estate, the chief's and the clerk's? The Jew has laid his hands on all of it and we've gotten beaten up, too! No! Better let's become like everybody else and get jobs... We'll be working by the day, and mother-night will tell us all we need to know and show us where we can find our money... All right?"
"All right, Chipka! It's time we stopped loafing around. Tomorrow I'll get hired and tell Petro and Yakim to do the same. Let's earn some money."
"And I'll make it up with my mother and take her back here to live with me... The people will be saying I've gone straight, which will suit me fine... There'll be money, too... Money is a powerful thing, brother! It's like they say: gold can break through a wall... With money there's nothing you can't do. D'you think they would've birched me if I'd been rich? They wouldn't have touched my land either... I would've tossed some fifty coins to that court scribe, just like that vagabond did... And I would have told that fellow, 'Keep off my land!' And I wouldn't have lost that land, and then God knows how things might've turned... I would've married, for all I know, and now I'd probably be living quietly and happily, getting along fine with everybody and raising children like Hritsko and others... Instead, even my mother my own mother who brought me into the world has turned into an enemy! If you think that's been easy, you're wrong. My heart bleeds when I think about it. It's all because of that land! Even though land in itself is not all that important... No! Land is... well, just land. But because of land I've lost my happiness, my chance and... her, too... I wish you'd seen her, Timish, and known what kind of girl she is! I dreamed about her today... There she was, hovering above my head like an angel, like a saint..."
"Who she?" asked Lushnya, not understanding Chipka's raving.
"Halya!... My dear girl... the best in the world..."
"What Halya?" Lushnya asked again.
Chipka came to his senses.
"Well, never mind," he said and fell silent.
"Have you fallen for somebody that you don't want to talk about?" Lushnya pressed him.
Without saying a word, Chipka sighed carefully and softly so that Lushnya would not hear. For quite a while, both of them kept silent.
"What's the matter with you, Chipka? Are you sick?"
"I'm all right... I only hurt all over... Those sons of bitches lashed me right through the skin... It feels like I was badly burned."
"You ought to go to the medicine woman and get some ointment or herbs."
"It's going to heal without that. There'll be some scars, but it's all right. They'll help me to remember, in case I ever begin to forget!"
They kept on talking for a long time before falling asleep. And when they finally did fall asleep, roosters were crowing for the second time, the stars dimmed in the dark sky, the fading Pleiades shimmered whitely in the north, and the bright moon began to pale as it sank behind the hill.


 

. . . (. ).
.. .