Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>XXV. No Lad is Quite Without Luck, No Girl Is Quite Unhappy

 

XXV. No Lad is Quite Without Luck, No Girl Is Quite Unhappy

 

Coming home, Chipka immediately rushed to do his routine work, without even stepping inside the house. His mother only caught glimpse of him, as he fed the sheep with millet straw.
In the evening, Motrya lighted the stove and started making supper. Then supper was ready, but Chipka still would not come inside. Placing the cooked meal on embers, she washed the pots and swept the room. When she finished doing this, Chipka was still outside.
"I wonder why he's staying there so late," she said to herself, aloud, and went out to call him.
Her calls went unanswered. She went back inside and waited some more, but he failed to appear. Her mother's heart felt hurt.
"If I'd known he wouldn't come, I wouldn't have bothered with the cooking. He should at least have set one foot inside to tell me if he was going to sleep at home or to run about again all night long. It's a real curse to me, his running loose every day and every night! He must've found himself some horrible slut, that's for sure."
Annoyed, she got the pot with dumplings out of the stove, put some on a plate and sat down to sup alone. She picked up a dumpling with an eating stick, bit off some of it, then some more — and nearly choked. She took a spoonful of broth and fell to thinking. The dumpling on her stick grew cold; the broth in her plate also cooled, becoming covered with a grayish film. When Motrya again tried to eat, she found that the food had gotten too cold and thick. She rose from the table, put the pot with the dumplings on the stove ledge, washed her spoon and plate and clambered onto the stove to try to sleep. But thoughts about her son assailed her, keeping her awake...
Meanwhile, Chipka had some business to see to in Krutiy Yar, where Lushnya was employed by the local Jewish brewer. Chipka walked there to see his buddy, only to find him snoring away. Lushnya had spent most of the previous day soaking himself in drink, which pastime had left him so exhausted by nightfall that he flopped down on a pile of straw in a barn, where he had been sleeping like a log ever since. It took Chipka a lot of time and effort to find him there.
"Timish! Timish!" Chipka shouted, shaking him by the shoulder. "Can you hear me, Timish?"
Timish, however, only moaned and hiccuped. Chipka messed about with him for quite a long time, rolling him over from side to side and even trying to pull him up to his feet. Finally, he got impatient with anger and kicked his side. Lushnya gave a cry and opened his eyes.
"What the hell?" he growled and, without a glance at Chipka, again burrowed into the straw.
"Timish!" Chipka thundered, standing over him.
"What?"
"Get up!"
Lushnya squinted at Chipka, barely lifting his eyelids.
"Is that you, Chipka? What's the matter?"
"Get up!... I need you."
"Has something happened?" Lushnya asked, turning his face to Chipka.
"Do you know where Sidir lives?"
"I don't even know any Sidir... Who's that?"
"The soldier... The same one... D'you remember him?"
"No, I don't know!..." Lushnya said, scratching himself and yawning.
"You don't know Sidir the Soldier?"
"Well, I surely know him, but I just don't know where he lives."
"Maybe some of the boys here know?"
"I don't know..." Lushnya yawned.
Annoyed, Chipka scratched the back of his neck.
"You've got some gunners in the brewery, they must know."
"I can't tell."
"D'you know anything at all?" Chipka cried out in a fit of temper.
"I don't know anything," Lushnya replied gloomily and rolled over to one side.
Chipka spat and went out. Disgust was gnawing at his heart. Should he go to ask Petro and Yakim? But they were not just round the corner; he would have to toddle all the way to Pobivanka. He went back inside.
"Timish, tell me, for God's sake..."
"What can I tell you? Why are you dying to see that Sidir anyway?"
"You bastard!" Chipka hollered. "You've gotten so drunk you can hardly work your tongue. That's why you don't give a damn about anything and make a fool of me."
"Aw, Gawd!..." Lushnya groaned, yawning. "All right, let's go." He got to his feet.
Chipka felt a little better. They went out of the barn and made for the bunkhouse where the brewery hands lived.
The barn stood well away from the other buildings, and they had to cross a bare stretch of land. There they met a bunch of Russians going to get some beer. By that time, the dusk had thickened considerably. Greeting the Russians, they quickly walked on. Suddenly, a hand slapped Chipka's shoulder from behind.
"Hello, Chipka!"
Chipka turned round — and saw Sidir.
"Oh, hello, Sidir!"
"Where are you going?" the soldier asked.
"Looking for you," Chipka said.
"All right then. Let's go drink some beer together."
"You go ahead, and I'll go get some sleep," said Lushnya, stepping away.
Chipka went with the soldiers.
"I say, Sidir!" said Chipka after they had drunk some beer. "I've got some business with you."
"What is it? Shoot."
"Well..." Chipka hesitated. "There're too many ears around."
"You may talk, brother — there're no strangers here."
"All the same, I'd rather not..."
"All right, let's go for a walk. You wait here, brothers," Sidir turned to the soldiers. "I won't be a minute."
They went outside and walked around the brewery. Night had fallen already, and there was also a mist rising from the ground. It was dark and damp. Chipka felt his heart hammering as wildly as it had never beaten before; his nervousness was choking him. "What if he'll refuse?" he asked himself — and his heart sank. He was at a loss, not knowing where to begin.
"Well, go ahead!" Sidir snapped impatiently.
"You see, Sidir, I hear you're going to get married..."
"That's right. So what about it?"
"But it seems the girl doesn't want to..."
"She doesn't?... It doesn't really matter, because her father and mother have given me their word! What else can she possibly want?"
"That's all right, I guess... Only how are you going to hit it off with her? Because you'll have to live with her — not with her father and mother."
"If she doesn't behave, there'll always be this thing." The soldier showed a fist.
Chilling fear sent shivers throughout Chipka's body.
"Sidir!... Don't destroy our happiness!" Chipka blurted out. He immediately wished he had not said that, but it was already too late.
"Whose happiness?" Sidir asked in astonishment.
"Save me, dear Lord!" Chipka prayed silently. Aloud, he said:
"She doesn't love you... We've known each other for a long time, and —"
"Maybe you want me to yield her to you?" Sidir interrupted him. "No, brother, I'll never do it!"
"You're a soldier, brother Sidir, you go places, you're always on the move with your regiment... You can easily find yourself an even better girl somewhere..."
"It's impossible, brother! Why, I've already sunk a lot of money into this business. I've given twenty-five rubles to the sergeant major and fifty to the captain, just for the permission. I've also bought some things for the occasion, and those have cost me another fifty..."
"If you like, I'll repay you twice as much..."
"But how is it going to work out, brother? They might ask me why I haven't married — and where would I be?"
"Just tell them you've broken it off — the bride is sick or something like that. Do it, Sidir, please! If you agree, I'll give you the money straight away."
"I see, brother... Only what am I to do?... Do you two really... care for each other, eh?"
"That's just what I'm trying to tell you: we've been in love with each other for a long time... She tells me that if they force her to marry you, she'll take her own life."
"You don't say so! I might have to answer for this..."
"That's right. Have pity on her, Sidir! I know you for a decent fellow..."
"How am I to explain it to her father?"
"Think of some yarn... You may tell him there's a campaign coming soon, and that's why you haven't got the permission. And I'm willing to treat your whole company to make them keep their mouths shut."
"Are you, really? All right, then..." Sidir pondered over it, beginning to yield.
Chipka threw his arms round his neck.
"Sidir, brother! Let's make a night of it! It's all on me! Come on, I'll give you the money right now."
They returned to the pub, where Chipka handed over the amount agreed upon. He also stood several rounds to Sidir and the soldiers whom he had brought with him. In his joy, he himself got so drunk that he had considerable difficulty getting outside. This made him wonder whether he should try to go home or find a place to sleep right there. While he was racking his brains, his feet brought him to the barn where Lushnya had been sleeping, and he made up his mind to stay there, if only to avoid being scolded by his mother. He stumbled inside and before long was snoring away beside Lushnya...
The night was damp and chilling. The thick mist streamed in under the door, freezing his hot body to the marrow. Chipka woke up, shivering, and so did Lushnya. Chipka told him what had brought him there. Outdoors, the darkness began to pale. The whitish light of the eastern edge of the sky, where the sun was about to rise, filtered in through some cracks in the door.
Chipka got up and, without washing his face or combing his hair, walked back to Piski.
Day was breaking when he came home. When he was still some distance away, he saw light glimmering in the window of his house. His mother must be spinning, he decided, and knocked on the door. The door was bolted from inside. He went to tap on the window.
"Who's there?" his mother called.
"That's me, Mother. Open the door."
"Oh, son!" Motrya sighed, letting him in. "How long are you going to wander about at night? Or have you gone back to your old habits? You stay out every single night! As soon as night comes, you are off and gone... And there are such terrible rumors going round... What if the people blame it on you?"
Even though his mother's reproach did not exactly please Chipka, his recent turn of good luck put him in a conciliatory mood.
"Never fear, Mother!" He grinned. "If God helps me, I might soon stop going out at all."
"That's the way it looks to me, too! So it'll take a wife to keep you at home, if you won't listen to your mother."
"It might be a wife..."
It was for the first time that she heard him say such a thing. This left her both puzzled and pleased, but she did not pursue the matter. Casting him a stern glance, she returned to her hatchel.
Lighting his pipe, Chipka went out to take a look at the livestock and just hung around the yard until the sun climbed high enough. Then he made for the hamlet.

***


Meanwhile, Halya had not been idle either. As soon as her parents had come back, she ran to her mother and, with tears in her eyes, begged not to be forced to ruin her beauty and health trailing along after an unloved soldier on marches and campaigns in strange lands, far from home.
A mother is always a mother. Yavdokha took her dear daughter's distress close to heart, was much moved by her tearful entreaty and went to speak to her husband. To be sure, Maxim would have been only too glad to have such a son-in-law as Sidir, who, although still quite young, was already a noncom. But remembering his own hard army life, always on the move and never free, he rather tended to agree with his daughter. Assailed by grave doubts, he spent a sleepless night, thinking.
In the morning, he talked things over with Yavdokha to try to find a way to get rid of Sidir. While they were holding counsel, the soldier himself turned up. After much beating around the bush, he finally worked up enough courage to break the bad news to them. In a voice that rang with sorrow, he told them at some length that, of course, he would have been only too happy to go ahead with that wedding, as God was his witness, but this coming campaign had shuttered all his hopes. The parents listened to him and expressed great regret over such an unfortunate occurrence. If they were glad to hear what they did, they did not show it. Halya, listening in from her room, was the happiest of them all.
Having shown Sidir out, the girl's parents drove off to Hetmanske on some business, leaving her alone at home. Halya was so overjoyed that she felt an urge to do something, to tell somebody all about her good luck. Putting on her Sunday best, she spent some time just running about the rooms and singing merry songs. Then she decided to make herself some lunch, lighted the stove and put on some food to cook. After this, she again ran up and down the house, singing and glancing out windows, looking out for Chipka.
But Chipka would not come, and she strained her eyes in vain. A couple of times she decided that the black dot of a human figure out in the field must be him; then she left the burning stove, cooking and all, and, beside herself with joy, ran outside the gate to meet him. Realizing her mistake, she went back inside, her heart heavy with disappointment and her eyes brimming with tears. His not coming could only mean he did not really love her. If he had, he would have flown over long ago. He had just been putting on a show... turning her head! Such thoughts fogged her mind and hurt her heart. They also made her cry.
She was still weeping when Chipka came. Did she rush to greet him! Her tears and gloom instantly vanished; her eyes beamed with love and delight, her face as radiant as a sunny morning in spring. This was a really happy day for them, and they had plenty of nice things to tell each other.
"Will you really do it?" she pressed him, peering into his eyes. "Will you give up that way of life, darling?"
Chipka kept silent, savoring the sound of her merry voice and admiring her beaming eyes, while she twittered on and on:
"I'm sure we'll be happy together! And we'll run things at home in a regular way!... In the morning... well, you'll see about the livestock, and I'll work in the house... Because you'll love our animals, won't you? I don't care much for horses, I like oxen better... Oxen are so quiet and docile... Also, I must have a cow! Do you hear? I won't marry you unless you buy me a cow... with a calf, too!... What was I saying?... I just don't seem to remember... Oh, yes! So in the morning we'll both of us work, then we'll eat lunch and take some rest; then you'll find something else to do before it gets dark, and I'll have supper ready in the evening... Why, I'll be making such fine, soft dumplings that you'll be able to eat them just with your lips! And there'll always be peace and quiet at home — no quarreling or cursing... You won't swear, will you?"
Chipka smiled.
"Why are you laughing? I guess you'll probably be beating me, too! And here I am, a foolish girl, asking you if you're going to swear... Only mind you — I'll just walk out on you if you beat or curse me."
"You don't really have to worry your head with such things, Halya. How could anyone beat or curse such a lovely creature? You'll be like sunshine to my gloomy house, you'll make my mother really happy!"
"Why, of course, your mother's living with you... I completely forgot about her."
She knitted her brows for a moment, as though thinking hard about something. But that thought must have flitted away almost at once, because she went on chirping as merrily as before:
"Is your mother old?"
"No, not too old. She looks older than she is, but that's because she's been suffering a lot and went through some pretty hard times when she was young."
"And I don't even think I really know what it means to be poor... I've been brought up in wealth, so I've never found out. But then maybe there's no getting away from it, and I'll still get my share later... But I don't want to! D'you hear me, Chipka? I want no poverty — and no troubles either! Hang it all! I want none of it! There's one thing: does your mother get angry easily? Will she be scolding me often?"
"No, Halya. No one will ever dare to say a single wrong word to you — let alone scold. And then you're such a girl that my mother is sure to like you on sight. I guess she'll come to love you more than she does me."
"And what kind of girl am I?" she demanded, her eyes twinkling merrily.
"A special kind..." he said jokingly.
"How special?"
Chipka rushed to embrace her.
"But take care, mind you!" She wagged her little white finger at him. "Don't you ever try to fool me!"
They spent quite a long time, admiring and caressing each other. Then they ate. After lunch they talked to decide what they were to tell her parents. At dusk, he left.

* * *


His mother was rather angry when she met him in the yard.
"I just wonder where you've been traipsing about all day long! Who do you think is supposed to look after the animals? Did you expect your old mother to do it for you? Good heavens! At least before you used to spend your days at home; and now you just loiter around until lunchtime and then drop out of sight and vanish. What have you been raising all these animals for if now you don't want to tend them?"
"The devil won't take them, Mother," he said gaily.
"The devil wouldn't have taken you either, if you'd at least dropped in for a while at noon. If you've no pity for the animals, you should certainly have thought of your mother who's had to work outside in such weather..."
"Wait a little more, Mother: when I get married, you'll live in clover."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Motrya said sullenly, going inside, her anger spent. Chipka followed her into the house.
What did all that talk about getting married mean, anyway? He had spoken about it the day before, and now she had heard him say it again... Could it be that he had really made up his mind? Her curiosity aroused, she sat down and picked up the conversation.
"So you say I'll live in clover after you get married, eh? It just might be true. But then, you might take such a wife that won't even wash a blouse for her mother-in-law..."
"She might even do no washing at all," said Chipka.
"Who'll do it then?" Motrya asked in a frightened voice.
"A girl servant."
"Have you picked some big lady that can't even do without a servant?"
"That's right, Mother," Chipka smiled.
"Don't you try to climb too high, because you might yet fall down..."
"That's not climbing, Mother. I just want to marry the girl I really care for."
"Well, I only hope you aren't trying to pull my leg. Do you mean you've really found yourself a good match?"
"I have."
"Whom have you chosen then? Could it be Motrya Shramchenko? She's rich and thinks too much of herself. I wouldn't advise you to marry her. That one will remind you of her wealth every day."
"No, Mother, it's not Motrya but Halya."
"Which Halya?"
"Do you know Hudz, the soldier?"
"Is that the one who lives over at the hamlet?"
"That's him."
"So what about him?"
"It's his daughter."
Motrya fell to thinking, a sad look creeping into her eyes.
"I just don't know that girl, son... I'm not sure what kind of people they are... I only remember that when he was a young lad, he spent all his time drinking, having fun and playing around with girls. Then his father had him drafted, and nothing was ever heard of him until he came back, already married and rather well off... His wife doesn't come from our parts — he'd brought her along from somewhere far away. Does her daughter take after her?"
"No, mother: the daughter doesn't look like her at all.
"Oh, son! You never know... Another person's heart is a mystery — you can never be sure what's inside. She probably looks all right for all I know, but that may change after she's wed. Every girl is nice before she lands a husband; but as soon as she's out of church, she begins to play up. Suddenly, this is wrong, and that's not the way she likes it... If she's rich, it makes it only worse!... To my mind, you ought to marry Fedko's Olena instead. I'm quite sure that she'd be a good wife to you and a good daughter-in-law to me... But if you've already fallen for Hudz's daughter, may God help you and good luck!... Surely, it's not I who'll have to live with 'her — it's you, son, who'll spend your whole life with her. I won't be around for much longer... I'll die soon and leave everything to you to think about. Then you'll go on living with her, without me... But even after I'm gone, I'd feel so much better in that other world, if I saw you happy down here. Just think: how could I rest in peace with you here quarreling and bickering every day? Then my bones would be turning in my grave..."
"That won't happen, Mother. Halya will surely be just the right kind of wife to me. I've known her for quite a bit already..."
"If that's so, may the Lord bless you and make you happy! I don't forbid you to marry her. Only don't blame your mother if — God forbid — you have to suffer because of that for the rest of your life... How much do you know about women from rich families? They're all capable of humiliating you. And there's hardly a more humiliating thing than hearing somebody rich casting your poverty at you... Even if what little you've got you've gained in an honest way. But such a girl usually brings over a pile of fine clothes from home and then doesn't let you touch them. And then every day she scolds you and nags you, complaining that something has been lost or spoiled... There's nothing worse, son, than a rich wife's reproach! That's why I wouldn't advise you to marry someone wealthier. Find a girl who's your equal, and you'll be able to treat each other in the same way. You'll hear no talk about being poor, and there'll also be nothing you'll be able to reproach her with — because she could always say you must've known what you were doing when you married her! I've lived and I've seen people, and I can tell you that poor girls make better housewives... Poverty and need teach a girl to take care of all she has and of other people's property as well. But if a girl has been brought up in luxury, with servants all around her, she just wouldn't care and would let everything go to waste!"
"Halya's different, Mother. You don't have to worry. She may be rich, but she's been working a lot about the house. She knows how to go about doing everything. Sure, she's better off than the rest of them here, but that'll make things easier for us: there'll be something to make a start with once we're on our own. And then I've got my head and feet to use, too. Don't you worry, Mother — it'll work out all right! I'm sure that if you'd known her or seen her at least once, you would've told me not to marry anybody but her!"
"Never mind her good looks, son — better make sure she really cares for you. Some of those pretty things turn out to be quite nasty. It's hard to guess right when you have to choose your own lot for the rest of your life."
"I can tell you that I haven't been able to imagine my life without her ever since I met her..."
"If that's so, go ahead and may God bless you! Send your matchmakers to them and see if they will let you have her."

***


Before the day was over, Chipka ran to Hritsko.
"Hritsko, brother! You'd never guess why I've come to you."
"You tell me."
"I want you to be my matchmaker."
"Are you getting married?" Khristya broke in.
"Uh-huh. I just thought I'd try it once and swear never to do it again," Chipka joked.
"Whom d'you have in mind?" Hritsko asked.
Khristya pricked up her ears.
"You'll see... First tell me if you'll do it for me."
"Let me think about it... You might send me to a place where I'll get a thrashing and nothing else..."
They all laughed.
"That's exactly the kind of place where I'm going to send you, because it's time somebody gave you a good beating," Chipka continued in the same tone. "That's something Khristya ought to do, as a good wife should... But that can't be helped, because she's so gentle that I bet she can't even give you a tongue-lashing."
"You'd better stop cracking jokes and tell us whom you're going to marry," Khristya insisted.
"D'you really want to know?"
"Of course, we do."
"Just have some patience."
"Come on, out with it, because I won't let Hritsko be your matchmaker."
"I myself won't go anywhere unless he tells me," said Hritsko.
"Well, you're impossible," Chipka said. "I guess I've got to tell you. D'you know the Hudz girl?"
"Who's that? Odarka?" asked Khristya.
"Wrong. It's Halya."
"Now who could that be?" Hritsko wondered.
"She's the daughter of the soldier — the one who lives out at the hamlet."
"Well, I don't know her," Khristya said slowly. "To think that you've had to walk all the way to that hamlet to look for a wife, as if there aren't enough girls here in the village! What made you go there anyway?"
"It just happened," Chipka grinned. "So will you do it for me, Hritsko?"
"When?"
"Next Saturday — that'll be a holiday."
"Saturday will be all right."
"Don't forget then. And for now, good-bye. There's somebody else I must see."
Chipka went away and left Hritsko and Khristya talking about him.
"You mind my word, Khristya — Chipka will make good yet! Now he's getting married, and a married man is not the same as a young bachelor."
"Didn't you see before that he was a decent fellow? He's fit for everything — a good worker and clever with his hands, too."
"He was also a heavy drinker and a loafer," Hritsko reminded her.
"Then he was young and foolish," she said. "Now he's grown up and come to his senses."
"That'll surely be a break for old Motrya. The poor woman used to know no rest or peace, be it day or night."
"God knows what kind of daughter-in-law she's going to have."
"That doesn't matter. Whatever she might be, Chipka must not let her treat his mother badly."
"Well, Hritsko, some women are so pig-headed they want everything their own way — no matter what you say or do..."
"I'd surely make her behave."
"Oh, yes, you're that kind of man."
"That's the only way. I'd never let some young, silly girl push my mother around! I'd make her bite her tongue and keep her mouth shut, that's for sure."
"Would you have treated me in such a way, too, if you'd had a mother?"
"But you're different, Khristya. I'm sure you would've made my mother as happy and pleased as you've made me."
"That would've depended on what kind of woman she were."
"You'd please any mother... Don't you think that Chipka's mother is quite a decent woman?"
"There's certainly nothing wrong with old Motrya. Actually I'm grateful to her, because she's been so kind to us as if she were part of the family. Not all of them are like her, though. Just look what Vasilenko's mother has done to her daughter-in-law! When the girl was getting married, she looked fit and fine and was a big as a barrel. Now she's thin and looks awful. The devil himself — let alone a daughter-in-law — would find it hard to please such a mother."
They spent a long time talking. One word let to another, and thoughts followed one another, now turning to other people, now switching back to Chipka.
"You'll tell me all about the bride," said Khristya as they were lying down to sleep. "I wonder how he stumbled upon her!..."
"All right, I'll see for myself what kind of doll she is and then I'll tell you," Hritsko replied.

***


The mother and son put out the light early that night. Tired by the day's events, they lay down to sleep earlier than usual. But neither of them could sleep.
Halya's merry face kept drifting before him, and he could see her puttering around in his house. It was only a pity the house was so small and cramped — he would have to build a new one... The idea flitted across his mind, letting in a stream of thoughts. He visualized this old house pulled down and a new one started — with at least two separate rooms and large windows. "I think the two of us will live in the smaller room, because Mother will probably stay on the stove most of the time," he would tell Halya. "And we'll keep the other room just for receiving guests. All right?" And her eyes would express agreement... His thoughts would intertwine with hers, producing satisfaction and smiles... High hopes warmed his heart. Chipka forgot his past life and did not remember anything of what had happened in it; carried by the light wings of an impatient imagination, he flew on and on into the future... toward the paradise of blissful tranquility...
Motrya was also thinking about Halya. But her head swarmed with ill forebodings rather than visions of happiness. God alone knew how this would turn out, she thought. After all, she had never seen the girl or heard her voice, the way she talked... She might be one of those vain creatures who wanted you to know your place. Or, maybe, she just wanted to tie him up — which would not keep her from leaving him in case she fancied someone else. Quite a few rich girls had done it before. Of course, they were all so spoiled by wealth! A girl like that, raised in luxury and plenty, might never have had to bend her back working or to prick her white hands on straw stubble — that was what they had servants for. And when she found out that she would have to use her own hands here, she might simply walk away... Something had definitely gone wrong with the world nowadays!
Such thoughts and fears made the careworn mother roll over from side to side and sigh painfully.
"Are you sleeping, Mother?"
"No, son."
"Why?"
"I just can't... Too many thoughts on my mind..."
"Don't you worry, Mother!"

 

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