Бібліотека ім. Панаса Мирного >>Твори Панаса Мирного >> Do oxen low when mangers are full? >>XXX.Is That Your Justice?!

 

XXX. Is That Your Justice?!

 

The winter was terribly severe. Never before had there been such a cold and snowy winter. A great many people froze to death then, lost in snowstorms and buried under snow. In the spring, swollen rivers carried some of those frozen corpses; other bodies, lying in the open fields, were devoured by wolves.
Motrya completely recovered over the winter. Now she often sat spinning while Halya was busy with needlework or also spun on a wheel. Their house was quiet and warm and would have been cozy if it had not been for some haze before their eyes and a heaviness in the air. They would sit in that room, brightly lighted by a candle, quiet, sad and silent; and their shadows would sway on the walls; and the wheel would hum, casting a gloom over them and making them drowsy. Sorrow would weigh on their minds, their hearts would be heavy with anguish, and dark thoughts would press into their heads. Sometimes, the silence would be broken by a deep sigh; a thread would snap, and the hum of Halya's wheel would die down until she set it going again; or Motrya's spindle would fall out of her hand and land on the wooden bed with a dull thud, disturbing momentarily the somnolent stillness. Very seldom would a word escape somebody's lips and sail across the room like a ghost, frightening the gloom and the silence... Then it would fade away, without response. Without company, Chipka felt bored. He would lie down and find it was too stuffy. Then he would get up — and start shivering with cold. Sometimes he listened to his mother's reminiscences about her youth — and then his childhood years appeared before him, and he again saw his grandmother, old Ulas, the steppes and the sheep... "I was happy then," he thought to himself, not knowing what to do with himself now.
Outside stood the black wall of night; a severe blizzard was raging and howling; the cold was so terrible that anyone would be afraid to stick his nose outside. The cold pressed into the house, painting fancy patterns on the window panes. The wind-witch roared and howled in the chimney like a hungry beast and threw lumps of snow at the windows, which sounded as though somebody were knocking at them, asking to be let in. Halya and Motrya sat in silence, bent gloomily over their hatchels. Chipka lay on a bench, face up, staring at the ceiling and listening to the frenzied bowls of the wild wind. Now and then, the candle dimmed and flickered as soot formed on the wick; Halya or Motrya took off the soot, cursing the flame which mercilessly burned their fingers. Two or three times, the candle was put out inadvertently — and then jokes and laughter sounded in the darkness. It was as if their gaiety feared light; for as soon as it was struck, it sealed their lips — and they sat in silence, without uttering a word, as deaf and dumb as shadows.
Suddenly, there was a loud noise outside, and somebody knocked at a window. Quickly, Chipka jumped to his feet, as if suddenly pushed off the bench, and rushed to the door. The bold clanged; there was the sound of voices and the stamping of feet. A while later Chipka came back into the room, followed by Lushnya, Matnya, Patsyuk and seven or so other men. Some of them were soldiers — Sidir was one of them; the rest were civilians.
"Oh, Lord!" Motrya gasped softly, freezing at her hatchel.
"Good evening to you!" some of the men said.
"Have you pulled through, old hag?" Matnya asked Motrya. "But it's time you kicked off — by God! Look at yourself: you haven't got a tooth left, and still you stick around, wasting bread!"
"Leave me alone, young man!" Motrya retorted. "Have you come into other folks' home to make fun of an old woman?"
"Don't touch her, Yakim," said Patsyuk. "Look how she bares her teeth! She'll bite you yet."
"May you bare your teeth, rogue, and stay that way forever!" Motrya spoke with bitterness.
The robbers burst into laughter.
Halya felt annoyed and hurt. Her heart throbbed.
"Are you sure that's the way for decent men to behave?" she asked them contemptuously.
The laughter died down as the men cast down their eyes. Halya looked sharply at them, her cheeks flushed, her heart hammering, her chest heaving. At that moment, she looked both terrible and beautiful. Like a she-wolf, which, protecting her young, bristled up and waited for the slightest movement to spring at her enemy, Halya stood there, haughty and disdainful, waiting for a single word from those men... That word never came.
Chipka, noticing signs of a coming storm, said quickly:
"Let's go into the living room, brothers, because we won't get anywhere with the women here... Let them get on with their spinning."
Hurriedly, the "brothers" followed Chipka into the living room.
Motrya's heart turned so heavy with bitterness that she was unable to stay at the hatchel. She rose to her feet, got onto the stove, lay down and burst into tears. Left alone, Halya thought, "Just you wait! Wait until your buddies are gone... It's happened before... confounded criminals!" She was equally furious with Chipka and his bunch.
Meanwhile, in the living room a single glass made its usual round, loosening tongues that did not need drink to be bold, muddling the already muddled minds with visions of freewheeling living and adding toughness to men who were already as tough as they came. There were wild shouts and peels of laughter; the noise invaded the other room where Motrya and Halya had remained.
"What d'you say, chieftain?" asked Lushnya, addressing Chipka. "In what turbid waters shall we cast our net tonight?"
"It'll have to be not too far but with plenty of fish," added Matnya, as flushed as right after a hot bath.
"Petro and I have been thinking of going to Khomenko over at the hamlet," Lushnya went on.
"That'll be too dangerous," one of the men said. "He's got such an army at home..."
"True, he has those three sons, all of them as strong as bulls," Lushnya agreed. "And he himself could still tie up a bear single-handed — but that doesn't matter. That fellow's got such a fine thing that'll surely surprise him." Saying this, Lushnya pointed to Sidir.
"What's that?" asked Chipka who had kept silent until then.
Sidir got a rifle from under his coat and silently showed it to Chipka who eyed it gloomily and said nothing.
The glass made another round of the table, making the men's eyes shine still brighter.
"Time to go, brothers, if we want to get anything done," Lushnya insisted.
"Let's go then," Chipka said grimly, standing up.
The rest of them followed suit. Drinking another one, "for the road," they filed out of the house. Chipka put out the light and joined them outside. "Cock-a-doodle-doo!" a rooster crowed on a perch nearby, flapping its wings. Many of them started with fright.
"Aw damn it!" Lushnya swore. "Did it scare me!"
Halya had heard the drunken company leave. Had Chipka gone with them or had he stayed? Taking the candle, she went to the living room.
There was not a soul there. On the table stood an empty bottle, three empty glasses and two bowls with pickle juice at the bottom — apparently, they had contained pickled cucumbers. There were pools of spilled vodka, crumbs of bread, some cucumber ends. An empty cask with a funnel rattling inside lay on its side under the table. The benches had changed place: one stood along the wall, the other across the room. The room was blue with smoke, and it was hard to breathe; the stench of vodka was terrible... One could have said this was a cheap tavern rather than the living room of a wealthy man.
Halya was unable to stay there long, because the smoke mixed with the smell of vodka suffocated her. She slammed the door shut and went to her room. She removed a fine plaid blanket from the bed and was about to lie down but then sank onto a chair absent-mindedly, put an elbow on the table, propped up her head on her arm — and fell to thinking... She sat there for a long time, thinking; then tears started rolling down her cheeks — and she threw herself onto the bed, drowned in them, and kept on weeping until she fell asleep. The candle on the table burned down and went out...
Motrya, tossing on the stove, spent a sleepless night, also crying. She had been deeply hurt by the jeering of those "wretched men." She did a great deal of thinking during that night. She even thought of reporting her son to the authorities for robbery. Then he and his bunch of rogues would be arrested, and she would know she no longer had a son. But then came another thought: maybe he would mend his ways yet. Also, she felt sorry for poor Halya who had been tormenting herself so much over him. And pity again wrung her mother's heart, and she begged God to allow her to die and wept again... She thought and cried all night through.
Shortly after the roosters had crowed for the second time, the tramping of feet and the thud of hoofs could be heard in the distance. The noise grew nearer... still nearer... sounded just outside... They were back, Motrya thought, wishing they would stay away from her room. Then she heard them pass into the living room.
A while later, the door squeaked as somebody came in.
"Who's there?" she asked from the stove.
"It's me," Chipka answered.
Then she heard him wash himself over the slop pail. Her heart sank.
"What are you doing, son?" "Nothing..."
"Oh, son! At least you should've stayed away from such things. It's enough that you steal and rob... So don't —"
"And who put Yavdokha out of the way?" Chipka asked sharply.
"What?"
"Who poisoned Yavdokha, I ask?"
"D'you think it was I who did it?!"
"Surely it wasn't me..."
"Well, I do really thank you..."
She did not continue. There was a burning pain in her chest; despair, wrath and bitterness seethed in her heart, heating up her old blood. She felt stunned, her ears rang, and everything went dark before her eyes...
"I should've taken my life to spare myself this!" she whispered, rolling and moaning.
Soon afterward, the others came into the room. A candle was lighted. Motrya peeped out from behind the chimney — and trembled with horror. Smears of fresh blood could be seen on every man. A chill ran through her. Hiding in the darkest corner on the stove, she shook as in a fever... Then she heard them light a fire in the stove — to burn their clothes. Afraid even to sigh, and fearing she might start to scream, Motrya clenched her teeth harder and harder, pressing herself into the corner...
Having cleaned up and burned their blood-stained clothes, the rogues went back to the living room, putting out the candle.
"Oh!" Motrya sighed. "I wish Halya were with me now... Oh, Lord!" she moaned. "Please let me live to see the morning... Then I'll break with you... and renounce you, my son... my curse... and shout about everything for the whole village to hear... Oh! Why is this night so long? Why is it dragging on forever? When will it be light at last? Save us, oh Lord, and have mercy on us..."
She climbed down from the stove, fell on her knees before the icons and prayed, softly and earnestly, bowing until her forehead touched the floor. She did not hear the roosters crow for the third time nor did she see day beginning to break outside. She was torn away from her eager prayer only by a frenzied shriek and a persistent knocking at the window.
"He-e-elp! Oh... he-e-elp!" a child's voice screamed by the window outside.
"Who's that?" Motrya asked from the house.
"It's me... Save me... if you believe in God... Open the door... let me in..." the voice pleaded, sobbing.
Motrya quietly went out — and nearly fainted. A girl of about ten stood there, wearing only a blood-stained shirt, her feet bare, her hair disheveled, her body shaking...
"What's this?... What's happened to you, my dear little one?... What's your name?... Where d'you come from?..." Motrya asked the girl, trembling all over.
"Oh, how horrible, Granny! Something terrible has happened," the girl sobbed out, barely able to speak. "I'm from the hamlet... rogues came... killed everybody... cut up... shot... Father... and Mother... Grandfather... Granny... uncles... aunt... my little brother-all... all... There's only me left... they didn't find me... I ran away...''
"Ran away?"
"They're gone... They set the house on fire and... just went away... Oh, Granny, it was so terrible!" the girl shouted, clutching at Motrya with her little hands, as though she were afraid she might run away from her.
"Hush! Hush, my child!" Motrya silenced her. "I know who those rogues are... Only you keep mum! That was my son — confound him! Hush, because if he hears you, it'll be all over both for you and for me..."
The girl pressed herself to Motrya, sobbing softly. Motrya led her inside.
"Let's go to the office... now..." Motrya whispered, her head swimming, her eyes burning painfully, and her legs shaking under her and making her afraid she might fall any moment. "Let's go, my dear, while they sleep..."
"I'm freezing, Granny... It's so cold..." the girl whispered, still pressing herself to Motrya.
"Here, put on my old boots... There's a shawl... a coat... Only be quick!"
Hastily, she helped the girl put on a pair of old, coarse boots, a coat and a shawl. Then she pulled on a sheepskin coat — and they quietly went out of the house.
A red glow hit their eyes. The girl again clutched at Motrya: she was afraid of that fire, for it was her house burning... They immediately turned away from the broad shaft of red light which rose high into the air, as though trying to set fire to clouds, and hurried to the opposite end of the village. The blood-colored glow of the fire lighted their way, while dogs barked all around them.
Soon volost officers and wardens came running, men packed the whole yard, and the house was surrounded. Not a single soul was let out of the house: all the rogues were seized and tied up. There was a wild commotion.
The din awakened Halya. Quickly throwing on a coat, she ran out of her room. Then she saw Chipka who stood there, glumly gazing at the ground, his hands tied up behind his back... She also saw the little girl in a blood-smeared shirt.
"Is that your justice?! This!!!" she cried frenziedly — and burst into an insane laughter.
Her body shook, her eyes went turbid and moved about strangely, a bloody foam came out from her mouth, but she laughed on and on...
The news came like a thunder, flashing and sweeping through the village. People came running from all sides, as if there was a house on fire to gape at. Then they went home, filled with terror, and started praying.
"Have you heard?" Hritsko shouted crazily, bursting into his house.
Khristya glanced at him and went as pale as a sheet.
"What's happened — a fire?"
"Chipka's knifed plenty of people... killed off Khomenko's whole family!"
"O-o-oh!" Khristya moaned strangely. Her eyes went wide as she looked around the room, timidly and fearfully.
"They've already been driven off to town... to the jail," said Hritsko.
"And Halya? Motrya?" asked Khristya in a barely audible voice.
"I don't know... they must be at home..."
Khristya seized her sheepskin coat, threw it over her shoulders with trembling hands and rushed out of the house.
Hritsko shouted at her, ordering her not to go, and called her many times. But she was already far off and did not hear him.
A short time later, she returned, looking dazed. Stepping inside, she crossed herself.
"What's happened?" Hritsko asked.
"Halya..." She crossed herself once more. "She's hanged herself..."
"I'll be damned!" Hritsko blurted out, opening his eyes wide, and grew silent.
For the rest of the day, both of them kept silent, looking grim, pale and frightened, as if waiting for their own death. Their two children, a boy and a girl, noticed this and, not understanding what had happened, sat quietly on the stove and spoke in whispers.
"Why are Father and Mother so angry?" the boy asked softly.
"I don't know..." said the girl and, wagging her little finger at him, added, "Hush! Keep mum... or they'll beat you!"

* * *

This happened the following year, late in summer. As though having sensed that fall was not far off, the sun made the best of what time was left to it, burning, rather than warming, the earth with its heat. Rain would not come, and fine dust lay on the road almost ankle-deep and hung in the air in a gray mist, getting into eyes and choking throats... People kept driving up and down the road, the harvest-wagoning period being at its peak. A convoy of convicts in hand and foot irons, bound for hard labor in Siberia, plodded along the same road. They were escorted by a platoon of soldiers armed with rifles.
Having gone through Piski, the convoy halted for rest on a common near the volost office. They were Chipka and his gang.
As the news spread, people — old and young alike — came running from all over the village, as if this were a fair or something.
At this time Hritsko was returning from the fields, bringing as many as three wagon loads of sheaves. He drove one of the wagons, Khristya another, and their son, Halya's godson, sat on the third one on top of the sheaves, with only his little head rising above them. Seeing the crowd, Hritsko and Khristya stopped the oxen and went to have a look... They were struck dumb, both of them! Some time passed before Hritsko recovered from the shock and stepped closer to the convicts.
"What is this, brother Chipka?" Hritsko asked in a sorrowful voice that went from the very bottom of his heart.
In his question and his voice there was neither reproach nor revenge but only deep regret — and genuine pity for a lost brother.
Chipka shot him a sidelong glance, knitted his thick brows — and turned away.
Hritsko stood there, stunned, staring silently.
Shortly afterward, the noncom commanding the escort ordered the men to get ready for departure.
The convicts struggled to their feet, their heavy shackles clanging. There were parting words and embraces, weeping and wailing... Villagers wept, hugging their hapless brothers, giving them what little money they could spare — half a copeck, a whole copeck or even ten... The rogues also cried, leaving forever their home village and their fellow villagers — relatives and strangers alike. Chipka alone did not cry. Scowling like an owl, he stood apart from the rest, his heavy head low on his chest, his eyes downcast... Only several times did he shoot grim glances at people from under his knitted brows. Not a soul came forward to say good-bye to him...
Clang!... cling! Clang!... cling! The convoy started.
"May God help you for all the best!" Hritsko shouted after Chipka.
Chipka looked back — and shouted from the road:
"Hritsko! Give my love to Mother... Tell her I'll be back... Let her wait for me — if she's still around..."
"Oh, Lord!" Khristya cried out, tears gushing from her eyes. "Set him on the right path!" Then she and Hritsko turned back to their wagons.
"This Chipka has always been shady, I'd say..."
"His father was the same..."
"And he was born in such a way, too — good God!"
Thus spoke the people of the village as they looked after the convoy of convicts wading away through the gray dust. They stood there for a long time, trading gossip and guesses, until the conversation turned to yields, crops and other farming matters. After that, they went home.

* * *


Hritsko took Motrya to live with him — to support her until her death. She died soon after.
Chipka's house was sealed and boarded up. Owls nestled in it, and bitches in heat gathered packs of dogs in the kitchen garden overgrown with a forest of weeds. In a single year the once merry yard turned into a deserted, neglected place. The peeling empty house looked even more gruesome than the one which Khrushch had bought many years earlier. People again crossed themselves as they hurried past it, and little children were afraid to look, even from afar, at the human face glaring at the road from above the gate with its saucer eyes.
Not far from Piski, right by the road, there was a high burial mound near the Khomenkos' hamlet. It was surmounted by a huge cross overlooking all the surrounding hamlets and fields... Rotting underneath it were the bodies of eight innocent people murdered during a single night by a "terrible man."
And in the middle of the village, across from the small ramshackle church, stood the renovated manor, buried in luxurious verdure, shining with lavishness and gilt and admiring its beauty mirrored in the pond. In it lived the new master of Piski, the wealthiest man in the whole Hetmanske district, the boss of the district, the most dedicated champion of the local zemstvo, the marshal of the nobility, a banker and the owner of sugar mills — Danilo Pavlovich Kryazhov. Now the manor was such a merry place! And such delightful parties were given there that the general's widow would have risen from her grave only to attend them — if only she could! Now the noblest aristocrats and the richest merchants not merely from one or two districts but from all over the province gathered there to enjoy the hospitality and exquisite foods and drinks of a cordial and generous host...
As years went by, the deserted house stood on the edge of the village as lonely as an orphan, envying the manor. But then it had an unexpected turn of good luck when it was bought for a song from the treasury by our old acquaintance Jew Hershko. He had its crumbling walls dressed up a little and the rotting roof patched up in places — and opened a tavern. Every Sunday and every holiday, and sometimes also on weekdays — to keep up with its noble neighbors — the building made itself available for drunken celebrations of ignorant rabble... But even now many a merrymaker suddenly felt his flesh crawl as he saw, toward nightfall, the black shape of the cross looming far away over the Romodan...


 

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