. >> >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>XXV. Old Things Revamped

 

XXV. Old Things Revamped

 

It was a sweltering day at the height of the hectic harvesting season. The scorching sun hovered overhead like a red-hot frying pan. The wheat shed its grain faster than it could be reaped. On such days, every minute counted for a farmer. But now a few of them had to leave their fields and travel to town to serve as zemstvo deputies.
Country squires arrived in great numbers. Their carriages, coaches and gigs were parked in three rows outside the Polskis' new manor in Hetmanske. In addition to the deputies, many curious noblemen from all over the district flocked to town to watch the new wonder and find out for themselves about this zemstvo.
The common deputies were also there, although not all of them. Nearly all of them were Cossack chiefs and clerks; only Chipka and Loza had never served in any capacity. Conspicuous among the peasant deputies were two serf elders one from Piski, the other from Rudka.
The gentry chattered animatedly in drawing rooms, their exclamations and guffaws reaching people on the streets. The peasants, who had come by their back-drawn wagons (some of them had also brought the poll tax), camped near the Polskis' manor well away from the gentry's vehicles. To keep out of the terrible heat, some sat under their wagons, while others hid in the shade of the building walls. Chipka and Loza were among the latter. They sat not far from the porch, apart from the Cossack chiefs, having the gentry's coachmen on their right and the "leeches," as Chipka had used to call petty village officials, on their left. Somehow, Chipka felt out of place here. The coachmen had gotten down from their boxes, and some of them went to talk to deputies they happened to know. The men chatted about this and that, described their harvest prospects and complained about having to waste such a day. Chipka sat there in silence, apparently listening but probably not hearing any of it. His face showed that his head was being worried by some uneasy thoughts. Then his train of thought was interrupted by Dmitrenko's stentorian voice.
"Hey, you!" the officer shouted from the porch to the deputies. "Come over here!"
The deputies went up to the porch and took off their hats. Only Chipka and Loza stayed where they were.
"How many are you?" the policeman asked.
"Well, not too many," the man in front, a volost clerk, replied after casting his eyes over a small group of his fellow deputies. "There are three of us from our area and five from your villages and two from Svinki... That's all."
"Aha! Nikifor Ivanovich is here... Good morning!" Dmitrenko nodded to Chipka.
"Good morning!" Chipka said, rising to his feet and removing his hat. Loza followed suit.
"Why have your men sent down all this rabble?" the police officer asked Chipka.
"What rabble?" Chipka shot Dmitrenko a sharp glance and, lowering his voice, added, "All men are equal before God."
"Before God, maybe but here we are before other people..."
"It doesn't make it different. A fellow feels so much better when he's got one of his own by his side... Because you can go inside and have a nice chat in the cool, but we've got to roast ourselves in the sun."
"You don't have to. You could've gone into the corridor."
"Thank you. I'd rather stay with the rest."
"Now you, dunderheads!" The police chief turned to the Cossack deputies. "You've surely played a dirty trick on us! What are you hanging around for? You can't know a damn thing about all this! Let's take you, Sverbinis!" Dmitrenko snarled at a red-faced stout Cossack chief who smelled heavily of vodka. "What do you know? You should be soaking in Khaika's tavern back home... But no, you must needs be a deputy! Or take Stupa. The fellow's afraid of his wife's shadow and can't put two words together, but he, too, thinks he can make a public servant!"
Neither Stupa, nor Sverbinis found anything to say. Both were staring at the ground in front of their feet, not daring to lift their eyes onto the police officer. Turning away from them, Dmitrenko pounced on the peasant deputies:
"You wretches! Are you sure we couldn't do without you? How long has it been since you last got your hides birched off you? But now you seem to think you've suddenly turned gentlemen!"
The pain of the old sore, rudely chafed by a pair of unclean hands, made Chipka's heart throb achingly. His eyes glinted hard under his knitted brows, now boring into the policeman, now shifting to the peasants who stood there speechless and motionless, as though riveted to the ground.
"What do you want of us, mister?" Chipka demanded angrily, glaring at the policeman. "Do you think we've come to visit you? We are here to serve the commune which has sent us."
"But I don't mean you," the police chief said in a lower voice. "You are in a trade business, so you've been going places and meeting all sorts of people and getting world-wise. That's why you can say a sensible word or two if and when you have to. But these!" Dmitrenko eyed the other commoners with disgust. "Pah!... Well, it's too late to change them, I guess. Only mind you: at least don't any of you get on the council! D'you hear?"
The men did not murmur a word, as if the question were not meant for them.
"Look here," Dmitrenko went on. "If I twitch my right mustache, put the ballot cards to the right, and if it's my left mustache, put them to the left... Make no mistake about it!"
Having said his last word, he wagged his finger at them threateningly, spun on his heels and dived into the corridor, slamming the door hard in their faces.
"What a sharp fellow!" Stupa said. "He must be thinking we are a bunch of fools. That's no way to talk. Here's what we should do, brothers... When he shows us his right mustache, let's put those cards to the left. Let's take him for a ride!"
"It's a shame the way they're treating us!" some village clerk complained. "In a little while, there'll be no room left inside for common folks like us."
"Every common fellow like us should stand up for the rest instead of just taking care of himself," Chipka remarked fiercely.
He was about to add something when they were called in to the hall.

* * *

The middle of the spacious hall was occupied by a long table which was covered with red cloth trimmed with golden fringe. At the head of the table sat the district marshal of the nobility. On his right was Danilo Pavlovich Kryazhov, a descendant of the ill-famed Cossack colonel Kryazh who had made himself famous not in battles or campaigns but by his zeal in attaching free peasants to the land as serfs. Then he had reduced to serfdom quite a few of his distant relatives, also throwing in his own brother and sister with the lot. Or maybe it had been done by his wife, widely known for her habit of knocking out peasants' teeth and eyes with her shoes... On the marshal's left sat Shavkun, elected by the town constituency. The marshal kept leaning over to him, and each time he did so Shavkun whispered something into his ear. Other urban and rural deputies sat round the table. The Polski clan was represented particularly well. Sovinsky, Krivinsky, Hayetsky and Mitil were also there. Only Makukha was missing: after all, Porokh had done him in with his denunciations, and the man was out of job and facing trial. Among the urban deputies one could see Lejba Ovramovich, the Polskis' leaseholder, sitting next to Reverend Father Dmitry, who had as strong a passion for trading in beggars' certificates as Dmitrenko had for swapping horses a weakness which was said to have cost him more than one summons before the consistory. Dmitrenko, being a non-deputy, sat apart, with some squires who had come to watch. There were only two unoccupied chairs in the entire hall, and those, too, were most likely being saved for some gentry deputies. Chipka boldly sat down in one; Loza took the other. The gentry deputies exchanged glances. Even though the two wealthy commoners were wearing good-quality blue coats, their unusual daring had a shocking effect. There were no seats at the table for the other commoners, so that they had to deliberate on their feet.
After a general prayer and the wearing in ceremony, elections to the district council began. Kryazhov was nominated, Sovinsky recommended, Shavkun extolled and Hayetsky and Mitil thrust upon the assembly. But despite the efforts of Dmitrenko, who incessantly plucked at his mustache ends and cast withering glances at every deputy who went to cast his ballot wearing a tailless coat, the count showed that only the first three managed to squeeze through by the slimmest of margins, at that. Having elected Shavkun, the assembly went into a brief recess.
When all was set to go on with the elections, deputy Sayenko, the grandson of a Cossack captain, asked for "the floor." This caused no surprise among the gentry. Sayenko had long had a reputation for restlessness. Back under Vasil Semenovich he had never attended an election without talking nineteen to the dozen. But for the Polskis his talking had always come as bitter as wormwood. Uncommonly intelligent and razor-sharp, Sayenko never missed a chance to give his all-powerful relatives a tongue-lashing. Common people loved him as a man who never failed to speak up to the strong and to protect the weak. On the other hand, the gentry and the Jews feared his shadow and with good reason, too. He took some special delight in harming a noble or suppressing a Jew. Now this "liberal," as he was called, made a speech about the zemstvo. Addressing the gentry deputies, he reminded them about the "all-estate character of the zemstvo" and talked profusely and eloquently about the "intellectual activities" which they were to dedicate to the "cause of public welfare" in expiation of the "sins of the past." Then he turned to the commoners to remind them about "equality" and to urge them to look after their "interests" and the "good of the people." In conclusion he called on the assembly to elect at least one commoner to the district council.
A murmur of voices rose in the hall. The nobles shrugged, shook their heads skeptically and exchanged whispered remarks. The lowborn deputies by the wall stirred, shuffled their feet and peered at one another, as if to ask, "What now? Who is it going to be?"
After talking it over in whisper first with Shavkun and then with Kryazhov, the marshal rang his bell and, looking over the commoners, asked in a loud voice which of them wanted to run for the council.
Slowly, the murmur died down. The marshal repeated the question. The men continued exchanging glances, but none of them spoke.
"Maybe Varenichenko will agree..." the Piski elder muttered timidly through clenched teeth.
Fifty pairs of eyes turned on him. Glaring at him, Dmitrenko pressed his hand to his mouth, which meant, "Shut up, you fool!"
"Who's Varenichenko?" the marshal uttered, almost against his will.
"Here! Here he is!" voices came from the wall, as many fingers pointed at Chipka.
He reddened, as everybody in the hall stared at him.
"Do you consent to be a candidate?" the marshal asked him.
"If the people want me," he said, standing up, "and if it's all right with you, gentlemen, I'll go along with it." His voice shook, h{3 face glowed, and his eyes beamed with joy.
His candidacy was put to the vote and went through. Then, flushed with excitement, they elected Sayenko to the provincial assembly.
The session was over. The commoners left for their villages, and the gentry stayed behind to celebrate.
Seeing Chipka through a window, Halya ran out of the house to meet him.
"How did it go?"
"Fine!" he exclaimed gaily. "Now, Halya, I'm not just a deputy but also a member of the council..."
"Really?" she cried out, delighted and worried at the same time.
"That's true! I got elected!" he boasted.
"Who got elected? To what?" Having heard Chipka's last word, Motrya leaned out of the window.
"I've been elected to the council, Mother!"
As Motrya looked him straight in the eye, a shadow flitted across her face.
"Why do you need to mix with the masters, son?" she asked sadly. "They might get you in trouble, God forbid! Then they'll keep out of sight and let you take the rap."
"Never fear, Mother!" Chipka reassured her. "I won't let them do it to me."
"Still you may get mixed up in something..." Motrya insisted.
"I see you simply don't know what it's all about, Mother," he said, without anger. "It's the will of the people. Maybe I'll help them sometime... do them a good turn..."
"Come on! There too many of them around for you alone."
"Alone but good!" Halya defended her husband. Smiling, they went inside.

* * *


Chipka was genuinely proud to have won the people's respect, even though he preferred to conceal his pleasure from his mother, sharing it just with his wife. The feelings which had first stirred in his heart only a month before now evoked an endless stream of visions and dominated his thoughts. He was determined to serve the commune, to do good and deep in his heart, keeping it secret even from Halya, he nurtured a hope of undoing the past and making proper amends for all the wrong things he had done. Yet it would so happen that the newly-gained respect would deprive him of peace of mind and become his undoing!
His election to the council, done on the spur of the moment, without reasonable advice or proper consideration, left nobody satisfied. The petty Cossack officials looked askance at him. All those village chiefs and clerks were bursting with envy, watching the rise of this soldier's bastard, a penniless pauper, a loafer and a good-for-nothing in the not-too-distant past who had suddenly become somebody just by marrying rich and was now allowed to rub shoulders with the gentry something they themselves had been trying to achieve since childhood, something they had been dreaming about and longing for a wild dream that would never come true! Having elected Chipka, the nobles were having second thoughts. Now they openly deplored the advent of such times that made it possible for their fellow noblemen to fraternize with a "churl" and virtually force the rest of them to follow suit. Voices were heard that Sayenko had done it deliberately to disgrace the entire district and make a laughing stock of it. Chipka's fellow councilmen regarded his election as an insult and terrorized the authorities, threatening to resign and leave Chipka to run things on his own. Shavkun racked his brains and turned over one thick statute book after another in search of something that would help him rid the council of the one member who was likely to cause him inconvenience by keeping him from getting his hand inside the public money chest.
Shavkun was an old hand at it. He had not been doing all that paperwork for nothing until his head had turned gray. He asked around and also wove a far-flung cobweb to catch every word he might use. Failing to find a solution on his own, he turned for advice to his old buddy Chizhik, the chief court clerk. "Has the fellow been mixed up in anything?" he asked hopefully. "Let's see if he's had some trouble with the law." Chizhik took a pinch of snuff, sneezed, put his finger to his forehead and spent some five minutes thinking. Then he reached into a case for some old files. He browsed through one, skimmed through another, opened a third, a fifth, a tenth, came across a clue, picked up a thread and, together with Shavkun, followed it on and on...
"We've got him!" shouted Shavkun, bursting into the office and brandishing the Case of the Theft of Wheat From the Storehouses of Landowner Aulic Councillor Vasil Sem. Polski and of the Murder of Watchman Derkach.
There were gaping mouths and bewildered stares. Shavkun read to them the file which said that "soldier's son Varenichenko remains under suspicion." There was general jubilation, as though the disclosure had somehow added to each councilman's personal happiness. Dmitrenko, who happened to be in town, was called for and taken into a lengthy conference behind closed doors. Then everybody came out, smiling.
Chipka had no inkling of what was in the offing. On the Maccabees Martyrs' Day early in August he had left for a fair at Khamlo and did not return until the beginning of the Savior's Holidays almost a month later. On the same day when he came back, Dmitrenko called on him, explaining to him how the matters stood and urged him to quit of his own accord before things got worse.
The mention of that old case came to Chipka as a stunning blow. Shame, frustration and fury rushed into his head all at the same time, stirring up his blood, pounding at his temples and blearing his vision with rings of yellow and black. He went pale, and his hands trembled. Deep at heart he knew that this was his past coming back, reaching out for him, gripping and strangling him. In order not to betray his feelings, he jumped to his feet and paced the room, his murky stare wandering aimlessly about the walls. Thoughts raced in his mind, pursuing one another; he wanted to catch at least one of them on the run, but they flew away and disappeared, with only tiny fragments of them showing for a fleeting moment. Finally, they all merged into a single thought: whatever happened, he must not let them take him alive!
Dmitrenko haunted Chipka like a ghost and hovered over him like a hawk, waiting until he gave in and agreed to "resign."
"If you took me under a gallows and told me you'd let me live if I quit, I wouldn't do it even then!" Chipka shouted. "Who can prove that I've killed a man? For all I know they may have sent tens and hundreds of people to their graves... And now they get mad because they aren't free to do it anymore... Is it because things have gotten tough for them now that all are equal? I'm serving the people... they've put me on that council, so it's up to them to get me off it!"
Dmitrenko went away, his mission unaccomplished.
On the following day, the marshal dispatched an urgent report to the provincial capital.
Only a day later, a courier brought the governor's order that "deputy Varenichenko be removed as suspect."

* * *


Chipka was thunderstruck. This was worse than theft or armed robbery, he thought bitterly. There was even no name for it. When a fellow wanted to steal something, he just went and took it, the owner saw what was missing, and everything was clear. But here nothing was missing... and he was still very much alive... But just being alive was not enough to a man who had seen himself dishonored and his name disgraced. But no! He would not leave it at that! That was a game two could play, and it remained to be seen who would come out on top. The times had changed and so had the people!
Chipka harnessed his horses and left for Hetmanske. He drove them hard and made them fly and they brought him straight to Porokh's yard.
The man had changed a lot since Chipka had last seen him: he had aged, withered and drooped. His face, once well-rounded, had become drawn and haggard; his cheeks had sagged; his eyes had dimmed; his body was stooping and shaking. Yet they recognized each other right away and met like a pair of old friends. Hearing a stranger's voice, Halka came into the room, took a look at Chipka and, without saying a word, went out. She had thinned terribly and was black in the face and looked awful.
First of all, Chipka sent a little black-haired girl, Halka's daughter, to fetch some vodka. Porokh was delighted and downed three glasses in a row. Then Chipka told him all about his big adventure, without holding anything back. He told him how Dmitrenko had instructed the Piski villagers, how he had twitched his mustaches, how the gentry had conspired to keep commoners off the council and how the elections had gone off. Chipka's indignation made his sharp tongue tell the whole story.
His searing words heated up Porokh's blood and injected fire into his weary hands and he wrote a complaint for Chipka. And although the old scribbler's hand shook and his pen left blots of ink, he still succeeded in getting enough poison down on paper. Writing that paper, Porokh gave vent to all his bitter hatred which had been building up over long years. The veteran telltale denounced and castigated the Polski clan so convincingly that he himself trembled all over as he read the finished complaint to Chipka.
Chipka paid him generously, thanked him profusely, went to the post office to mail the paper and drove back to Piski.

* * *


A week went by, and nothing happened.
A big party given by the marshal drew an enormos number of guests who stayed until daylight, drinking, merrymaking, playing cards and congratulating one another on having driven the "churl" out of the district council.
Shortly before dawn, a shaft-bow bell jingled past the Polskis' manor, momentarily disturbing the gay gathering. Some even peered out of the windows but failed to see anything from the brightly lighted hall, hearing only the rattle of wheels along the pavement.
Soon a message for the marshal was brought from the post station.
"An official from the governor has arrived," one of the guests announced, after talking to the postman.
The news came as a thunderbolt, scaring the exuberant crowd. A hush fell upon the hall, with everybody freezing into stillness. Cheerfulness in the eyes gave way to strangely frightened stares that roamed erratically about the hall; every guest would cast a furtive glance at somebody else and then switch his or her gaze to a third person, a fourth one, and so on. As the marshal withdrew to his study, a low murmur rose in the hall that sounded like the rustling of leaves in the wind... Whispers could be heard in every corner.
About five minutes later, the postman left, and the marshal came back into the hall.
"Well, I never!" he exclaimed, after taking breath. "I'm resigning immediately..."
In the pin-drop silence that followed, the words he gasped out rang particularly clear.
"What's that? They've ordered an inquiry... They are putting me all of us under investigation! How can they expect me to serve after this? I'm resigning now immediately!"
"What's the matter? What's happened, Petro Vasilyovich?" they asked, pressing around him. "Has there been something some complaint?..."
"Certainly what else?" he muttered, nodding his head. "Our elections have been annulled, and there's to be an inquiry... How can I serve now? No, I'm certainly not going to!" he cried, starting to pace up and down the hall.
Shavkun, white-faced and grimly thoughtful, pressed his way to the opposite end of the hall.
"Sure, that's him all right..." he whispered, coming up to Chizhik. "Him and Porokh... Three days ago no, it's been closer to a week he was seen with Porokh."
"None other than Porokh!" Chizhik told his friend. "Damn that old telltale! There's no getting rid of him he's been pursuing us like a dog."
Shavkun stepped aside, his shrewd eyes lit up by a glimmer of hope.
"I say, there's something we might do to put it right," he lisped, lifting his voice. "We must find out who has written this complaint. If it's really been Porokh, we've got nothing to fear. The man is a known slanderer! Who'd believe a slanderer?..."
"Why, that's true!" voices droned around him. "We must find out... Petro Vasilyovich should go to that official and ask him about it all..."
"Me? To whom?" the marshal fumed. "I'll never do it! This is impossible!"
"Please, Petro Vasilyovich, please!!" shouts came from all sides.
"I'm not going... choose somebody else... I can't go to him! I'm under investigation!"
"Please... please!!" they shouted still louder.
Finally, with great difficulty, they persuaded him to go.
It was already broad daylight.
The guests thanked the host, said good-bye and left.
About three hours later the Polskis' building was again swarming with gentry. All the guests came back to learn who had written the complaint and what it was about. The marshal was not yet there: he had gone to talk to the governor's representative. Soon he returned, bringing the complaint. He handed it to Shavkun.
"Read it!"
The voices died down as everybody pressed round Shavkun. He unfolded the paper, cleared his throat like a deacon before a hymn and had a look.
"Oh, I see," he said, as if to himself. "This is Porokh's hand all right..." Then he began to read.
Listening to those accusations, they went hot and cold all over. Each of them stood with his head hanging low, like a guilty schoolboy who has to listen to the harsh truth about his misdeeds.
Shavkun finished.
"It's slander! It's a pack of lies!" they screamed. "You must complain, Petro Vasilyovich, because that's sheer outrage... The language is intolerable: 'organized gang,' 'a clan of serfdom-mongers'! How can anyone write such things?"
"I wonder why the governor accepted this slander at all!" a man said with bitterness.
"Incredible!" another nobleman exclaimed, shrugging.
"This is nothing but pressure applied by the state administration... interference into zemstvo affairs!" somebody shouted from a corner.
"Yes, that's what it is. We must write to the minister."
"Certainly... yes... To the minister! On behalf of all the nobles. We all ask you, Petro Vasilyovich, to do it, please!"
"All right, all right," the marshal said, blowing out his cheeks like a turkey cock.
Shavkun and Chizhik exchanged glances and sparks of laughter glimmered in their sly eyes.
"Wait," said Shavkun. "We must not get excited like this. Why should we go all the way to the minister? First we must hush up this business and get that man off our backs..."
Shavkun's proposal met with approval. They followed his advice upon the testimony they would give about the elections.
At noon, the official, accompanied by a police officer, arrived to the Polskis' manor house and got down to work... At six o'clock, the guests sat down at the long table to dine. The official was seated at the head of the table, flanked by marshal Polski on his right and Kryazhov on his left... One would think those were three close friends of long standing, delighted to meet again after many years... They were engaged in lively conversation, with much laughing and joking. Along the two sides down the table the conversation was conducted in quieter tones, and yet it cold be inferred from the guests' happy faces that the contagious hilarity of the presiding trio had not left them unaffected... Some mirth could be discerned upon the wilted courtroom mugs of Shavkun and Chizhik, who were sitting side by side at the very end of the table...
Now the lavish dinner, offering an abundance of delicacies and choicest beverages, was drawing to a close. Afile footmen served tall goblets filled with foaming, sparkling wine. The official was the first to rise to his feet. He fitted a monocle into his left eye, thanked the marshal for the excellent fare, reminded that the authorities, in "alliance with the privileged estate," must "closely watch revolutionary elements," that both had "common interests," and that their duty was to support the "state order," defending it against the "pressure of insane socialist ideas" disseminated by criminals... This was a fine, learned speech, the likes of which the Hetmanske squires had never heard before. In conclusion, the speaker wished Mr. Polski excellent health and recommended to the "privileged estate" to "merge their interests with those of the lawful authorities," on behalf of which he now asked them to drink to the "people's common welfare."
They drank to the "welfare..." The footmen hastened to refill the goblets. Then marshal Polski stood up but failed to think up anything besides a toast to the health of the "dear guest..." This, too, was duly drunk. The footmen kept on pouring the fine. After this Kryazhov rose to dwell at some length upon the "deplorable discord" which had lately arisen between the two estates; he praised the authorities for looking after the "interests of the propertied classes" and "promoting the economic development of the country" by building railroads, establishing banks and "sheltering the national economy with protective tariffs" in other words, "assuring the people's welfare..." In recognition of these outstanding services Kryazhov proposed a toast to the authorities. They drank to the authorities... The official thanked ("from the bottom of my heart") and countered with a toast to the "noble estate."
The dinner was over. The guests rose from the table, thanked the host and scattered throughout the building, filling it with the noise of their voices. Some admired the official's eloquence, others praised Kryazhov, and still others declared they had been impressed by the "modesty" of the marshal's speech.
Only Shavkun and Chizhik were amused by the comedy. Standing in a corner, they were taking counsel together in low voices as to what they could do to get rid of Porokh.
After a game of cards that lasted well past midnight, the official began taking his leave. The post station's three finest horses harnessed to his carriage were waiting at the porch. A small suitcase containing his few things was placed at the coachman's feet. The official got into his seat, the coachman flicked his whip, the loud bell jingled and dust rose as the carriage rolled away...
"He's gone!" several voices said in chorus.
"A good man..."
"He's wonderful... even though he's still young... And he's clever like hell!"
"You bet! He's a jurist, so he's supposed to be clever anyway... And then, of course, he's the son of a noble family."
"I only hope that son won't do us any harm," some skeptic broke in.
"What? That fellow?" Kryazhov stumbled with surprise. "Never! Never in your life! I know him like the palm of my hand. He's in big trouble with our bank here up to his neck in debt! I've got him like that!" Kryazhov balled his first and lifted it above his head.
"If that's so, he's safe enough!" Shavkun and Chizhik said in chorus.

***


Misfortunes never come singly, or so they say.
When Chipka returned from Hetmanske, his heart heavy with bitterness, his mother told him that Halya had gone to her parents' home, because Maxim had suddenly fallen ill.
"What's the matter with him?" Chipka asked.
"God knows. They say he was fit and cheerful when he left for some fair. Then he was brought back, barely alive."
"Hm... Has there been some good news here?"
"Well, good news is a rare thing nowadays. There's been nothing good here... They say some rogues tried to rob the Krasnohorka estate. About twenty men raided the place but were beaten off by the watchmen. Good heavens! They say there was some terrible fighting down there!"
The news gave Chipka the cold shivers... It had happened, he thought. The man got what he had been asking for!
He unharnessed the horses and gave them some hay. Then he paced up and down the yard, because he did not feel like going inside. The sun was setting, and the air was filled with the usual evening noises. The bellowing of oxen reached him from one side, the bleating of sheep came from another, and somewhere else women were calling their pigs the din and bustle of the countryside. Chipka, however, was hardly aware of it all. He had his own worries plenty of them to think about...
He walked about the yard until it bored him and then went inside. But the murk of the house deepened his own gloom, and his imagination unrolled before him, like a carpet, some of the ghastly experiences of his life... There was Maxim, lying on the ground, badly beaten, his bones broken... There appeared the familiar shadows of his past: Lushnya, Patsyuk, Matnya and other "brothers..." He saw the blood-red glow of their faces and the ferocious hunger burning in their eyes... Presently, his mind flashed back to the estate storehouses he had been reminded of at the zemstvo office and he remembered the watchman... Now Maxim and the watchman were both rolling on the ground at his feet, moaning in agony... Was it true? It was, this was the bare terrible truth of his life! There was nothing he wouldn't give or do to erase it from his memory, to be able to forget... But no! Such things could not be forgotten they had a way of coming back, again and again, as if deliberately, to frighten him like hideous monsters... Why did they keep returning, whi did he have to remember them? Now they had found him and crossed his track just as he was trying to obliterate all their traces... He thought about the zemstvo and its traps and tricks, and its painful unfairness... It had reminded him of all those things... He had been ready to devote himself to it for the rest of his life and it had shoved him back into his past! Wasn't the zemstvo made up of people who had been around for a long time? Certainly, they could not have changed all of a sudden. Then why was it all right for them to serve? And why couldnt he?... All men had to live with the burden of their sins. Then why were some absolved from theirs and could forget them, as if they had expiated them? And why was there neither forgiveness nor forgetting for him? He had not been punished and yet was believed to be guilty... Was there any justice at all in the world?!
It had grown completely dark. The people and the world had gone to sleep. Motrya, too, had gone to bed. Only Chipka was still up and awake, wandering, brooding, suffering, going in and out all the time.
"Why are you roaming about, son? Why don't you go to sleep?"
"Can you sleep?" he asked gruffly.
His voice rang with that melancholy of old. The mother's heart sensed it at once and filled with apprehension.
"I can, of course," she said gently. "Why shouldn't I be able to at so late an hour?"
"Well, go to sleep while you can," Chipka said in a softer voice and sank on the bench.
The room was dark and quiet. Motrya sighed softly...
"Mother!" he called her.
"Yes, son."
"Will there ever be justice in the world? Or maybe there'll never be any?!"
"God knows, son. If things go on this way, there'll probably be even less justice than we've got now..."
"No, mother... It looks like there's never been any and never will be! Things would've been different if it had existed."
Motrya did not say anything. Chipka rose from the bench, went out again and paced the yard almost until daylight.
Next day he went to see his father-in-law. Yavdokha and Halya looked frightened when they met him and led him to Halya's former room. For a very long time Yavdokha whispered something to him, wringing her arms, her sheet-White face distorted by fear. Halya's eyes were full of burning anguish, as she stared at her husband, ruefully and fixedly, as if to say, "Now you see!"
Chipka, however, had other things on his mind. After a whispered conversation with Yavdokha, he went to the living room, from which terrible moans were heard. There Maxim lay on a bed, his body doubled up. Every now and then, heavy groans escaped from his chest, as he pressed his hands to his bent back. Chipka was so shocked by the suffering written on Maxim's face that his cheek twitched. Yavdokha approached the sick man's bed.
"Maxim!" she said.
"O-oh!" he moaned.
"Chipka is here."
"Hello, father," Chipka said, stepping forward.
"O-o-oh!"
"What's the matter with you?..."
Maxim gave a terrible cry, gripping his back with both hands. His mouth twisted from excruciating pain. He choked and went into a coughing fit... There was a gurgling sound in his chest. Maxim stretched out, trembled, opened his eyes wide and moved their ferocious stare about their faces... That was his last glance the glance of a sudden death... Yavdokha promptly covered his face with a black kerchief.
When the kerchief was lifted, Maxim was dead. Suffering froze upon his face, peering from his distorted, gaping mouth and glaring from his wide-open eyes...
Halya looked at him and gave a cry. "He's dead! Dead!" she screamed insanely and burst into her room.
Chipka cast a glance at the dead man and trembled all over. He had never seen such a horrible, cold stare. Another death his grandmother's flashed back to his mind. There it had been a good soul quietly passing away, as though slipping into unconsciousness or falling asleep. Here a man had departed from this world in pain and suffering, with curses on his lips. Chipka's head swam and got fuddled. He closed his eyes for a moment, as his pale face drooped onto his chest.
Only Yavdokha held herself in hand somehow. She replaced the black kerchief on Maxim's face, pulled Chipka's sleeve and led him out of the room, tightly shutting her eyes, from which grief had squeezed not more than two tears.

* * *


In Hetmanske, the gentry were rejoicing, having managed to have everything their own way. The election results were confirmed and a reply rejecting Chipka's complaint had been sent through the district police officer.
Soon after that, a session of the district assembly was held. The session was attended only by noblemen, since none of the commoners turned up. Some of them, like Loza, simply did not want to hear such abuse and insults as Dmitrenko had heaped upon them before the elections to the council; others were busy carting in their hay. They had to do it fast, anyway, because it kept raining day after day. As a result, only gentry assembled to deliberate.
A week later rumors about those deliberations spread throughout the district. First of all, people told about the high salaries voted for members of the district council. Then they complained about a strange land tax, under which those who had more land were to pay less, while those who had less had to pay more. Finally, they explained that the road, dam and bridge maintenance duty was to be paid "in kind," that is, in work done with peasants' hands.
Chipka did not care for all that. He was absorbed in his family problems. He had to bury his father-in-law, prepare the funeral dinner and take care of Maxim's property. For a whole month, he was as busy as a cockroach on a hot stove and had no time to listen to what people around him were saying.
On St. Parasceve Day there was a fair in Hetmanske. Chipka went there, having finished his chores at home. First of all, he went to the district office. When he was told that his complaint had been rejected, it was as if a hundred snakes had suddenly bitten his heart. Speechless with indignation, he did not ask them a single question and staggered out, as if poisoned by charcoal fumes. His head went round and swam and ached; heavy hammers were pounding away at his temples; everything went black and yellow before his eyes; his ears rang and hummed and buzzed... To recover from the shock, he walked aimlessly about the fair. He wandered among wagons and along stores, looking and listening. The assembly session and the new tax seemed to be the only things everybody was talking about.
"Do you see now?" one wealthy landowner asked another, with a grin.
"The son is no worse than his dear father..."
"The hell he is! It wasn't him at all. Shavkun and Kryazhov have fixed it all... There're two really smart fellows for you!"
"Enough of that 'all-estate character' nonsense! The rabble wanted equality now they've gotten equalized... It was disgusting indeed to see all those louts going around with their noses high in the air! Now they'll know what's what!"
"That's some self-government!" a petty squire, breathless and scared-looking, exclaimed, meeting his neighbor. "Have you beard about the tax?"
"Sure I have. Good news travels far, but bad news spreads even wider and faster..."
"That's outrageous!" fumed a third near-nobleman. "Nobody has ever had the effrontery to say such shameful things in broad daylight and in the face of everybody: he who's got land worth ten rubles must pay a ruble, and he who owns a thousand rubles' worth of it has to pay just a copeck! But now that we have this self-government we've heard it!"
"What do they care?" a fourth squire said. "They've gotten themselves elected to the council and now they'll be milking us and won't have a worry in the world!.."
"But for fellows like us this is going to be a pain in the neck," the first man went on. "We'll have plenty to worry about."
"That's right!" the third one agreed. "With such taxes they'll bleed us white in no time at all! But where shall I get the money, for God's sake? Before I used to own three serfs, even if they were nothing to boast about... Now it's much worse. And the peasants have become so lazy that I might soon have to plow the land myself... It's impossible to make them work for love or money. They'd rather spend a day in the tavern than get hired..."
"That's sheer robbery! The masters want to skin us alive!" some peasants were shouting under a marquee.
"Didn't I tell you?" a tipsy headman pestered the elder. "I guessed right that they'd invented this zemstvo just to line their pockets! The czar took their serfs away from them and made them free... But the masters wouldn't let them go just like that! Oh no. If they don't have to work anymore let them pay!"
"Before it was the district chief who fleeced us, now it's going to be this new council," some Cossacks complained to one another.
Chipka heard it all and every word stung. The general discontent added to his own troubles, hurt his burning heart and stirred old memories... His face was afire with wrath, his eyes burned with wrath, and he grew white with wrath, his hands shaking.
"Now I see why they tried so hard to get rid of me... That's what they were after all along! Damn them all! To be warm and well fixed that's all they care for! Let the stupid peasant sweat for all and pay for all and work out all duties. There's nobody to stand up for him! They stick together and know everybody in their masters' gang... And the peasant is just an ox that must pull the plow as long as he's strong enough! Give him a little chaff to keep him alive and harness him again and drive him hard until he drops dead in a furrow... And then skin him to make boots from his hide... To hell with them! They're devils not people!"
Chipka was shouting, flailing his arms, and his passionate words were full of fire. The crowd around him grew all the time. For a long time they listened to him in silence; then a few of them began putting in their own remarks, adding fuel to the flames. Attracted by the clamor, Dmitrenko hurried to them.
"What do you think you're doing here?" he asked Chipka.
"What do you mean?"
"I know what I mean. You're exciting the people, speaking against the zemstvo, the council, the tax..."
"May they never live to collect it!" Chipka blurted out.
"Why are you yelling like this?" Getting angry, the policeman raised his voice. "Why are you getting the people excited?"
"You're the one that's getting them excited not I!" Chipka snapped out.
"You make sure, Cossack, you come back home with your tongue in one piece. Do you hear? Don't you forget yourself!"
When the police officer had disappeared among the wagons, Chipka again attacked the council.
In the evening he drove home, together with Hritsko. He was grim and kept silent for most of the way. That silence made Hritsko uneasy, and he finally spoke bluntly:
"What makes you want to quarrel with them anyway?"
"I just cant stand it all."
"Spit on them. Let them go to hell with their council and zemstvo!"
"I was elected by the commune and swore an oath to the commune. Who's more important: the commune or they?"
"Spit on the commune, too!"
Chipka turned green in the face on hearing this, but did not say anything.
He looked awful when he came home shortly before nightfall. Meeting him at the threshold, Halya was frightened by his appearance.
"Chipka! What's the matter with you? Are you sick?"
"I'm all right... I'm just hungry."
She fed him. He sat dark-faced and frowning and ate in silence. Finishing his dinner at sunset, he did not rise from the table but leaned his head on his hand and froze in that posture. The western glow lighted his dismal motionless figure, whose hunched, bent-up appearance caused the impression of deep sorrow. Seeing it Halya quietly wept. Chipka heard this.
"Is something wrong, Halya?"
She did not speak.
He came up to her, took her head lightly with both hands and, peering into her eyes, said:
"What's the matter, darling?"
"You've completely forgotten me," she muttered, sobbing.
"What do you mean?"
"With that damn zemstvo on your mind, you never tell me anything..."
"To tell the truth, it's been giving me a lot of pain here!" He pointed to his heart.
"Why don't you stop thinking about it, son?" Motrya asked sadly. "Aren't you sick of it yet? You look horrible, you know. And before it all began, you'd been quite something to look at, too!"
Chipka found nothing to say to her.
It was already quite dark outside. Night had descended upon the earth, bringing rest to human hands and easing human worries and troubles. They went to bed. Chipka lay in silence, wide awake. Thoughts were swarming in his head. Memories of his life from early childhood down to that last day made him relive every episode, heated his blood and muddled his reason. "There's injustice everywhere everywhere!" he whispered. Wherever he looked he saw only injustice and more injustice... One lived and languished and spent one's energies and willpower to hide from that injustice, to run away from it all; one wandered in the dark and stumbled and fell, and rose and went along and fell again, unable to find the right way or shelter... The world was big and wide, but there was no place for him in it! If he could, he would have demolished that whole world and would have built up a new one. Maybe then there would be justice...
Hearing Chipka sighing heavily, without speaking, Halya again started to cry. Instead of soothing her, he told her about his worries and nearly began to weep himself. She tried to comfort him, caressed him and held him to her heart. Chipka responded reluctantly.
After having a good cry, Halya went to sleep. She slept as quietly and peacefully as a little child.
Chipka tossed and turned the whole night through and did not sleep a wink, brooding and torturing himself.



 

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