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University of Adelaide
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“But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the possibility of its participation in real life, then allow me to ask what becomes of common sense?” Anton Stepanitch pronounced and he folded his arms over his stomach.
Anton Stepanitch had the grade of a civil councillor, served in some incomprehensible department and, speaking emphatically and stiffly in a bass voice, enjoyed universal respect. He had not long before, in the words of those who envied him, “had the Stanislav stuck on to him.”
“That’s perfectly true,” observed Skvorevitch.
“No one will dispute that,” added Kinarevitch.
“I am of the same opinion,” the master of the house, Finoplentov, chimed in from the corner in falsetto.
“Well, I must confess, I cannot agree, for something supernatural has happened to me myself,” said a bald, corpulent middle-aged gentleman of medium height, who had till then sat silent behind the stove. The eyes of all in the room turned to him with curiosity and surprise, and there was a silence.
The man was a Kaluga landowner of small means who had lately come to Petersburg. He had once served in the Hussars, had lost money at cards, had resigned his commission and had settled in the country. The recent economic reforms had reduced his income and he had come to the capital to look out for a suitable berth. He had no qualifications and no connections, but he confidently relied on the friendship of an old comrade who had suddenly, for no visible reason, become a person of importance, and whom he had once helped in thrashing a card sharper. Moreover, he reckoned on his luck — and it did not fail him: a few days after his arrival in town he received the post of superintendent of government warehouses, a profitable and even honourable position, which did not call for conspicuous abilities: the warehouses themselves had only a hypothetical existence and indeed it was not very precisely known with what they were to be filled — but they had been invented with a view to government economy.
Anton Stepanitch was the first to break the silence.
“What, my dear sir,” he began, “do you seriously maintain that something supernatural has happened to you? I mean to say, something inconsistent with the laws of nature?”
“I do maintain it,” replied the gentleman addressed as “My dear sir,” whose name was Porfiry Kapitonitch.
“Inconsistent with the laws of nature!” Anton Stepanitch repeated angrily; apparently he liked the phrase.
“Just so . . . yes; it was precisely what you say.”
“That’s amazing! What do you think of it, gentlemen?” Anton Stepanitch tried to give his features an ironical expression, but without effect — or to speak more accurately, merely with the effect of suggesting that the dignified civil councillor had detected an unpleasant smell. “Might we trouble you, dear sir,” he went on, addressing the Kaluga landowner, “to give us the details of so interesting an incident?”
“Certainly, why not?” answered the landowner and, moving in a free-and-easy way to the middle of the room, he spoke as follows:
“I have, gentlemen, as you are probably aware, or perhaps are not aware, a small estate in the Kozelsky district. In old days I used to get something out of it, though now, of course, I have nothing to look forward to but unpleasantness. But enough of politics. Well, in that district I have a little place: the usual kitchen garden, a little pond with carp in it, farm buildings of a sort and a little lodge for my own sinful person . . . I am a bachelor. Well, one day — some six years ago — I came home rather late; I had had a game of cards at a neighbour’s and I was — I beg you to note — the least little bit elevated, as they say; I undressed, got into bed and put out the candle. And only fancy, gentlemen: as soon as I put out the candle there was something moving under my bed! I wondered whether it was a rat; no, it was not a rat: it moved about, scratched on the floor and scratched itself. . . . At last it flapped its ears!
“There was no mistake about it; it was a dog. But where could a dog have come from? I did not keep one; could some stray dog have run in, I wondered. I called my servant; Filka was his name. He came in with a candle.
“‘How’s this,’ I said, ‘Filka, my lad? Is that how you look after things? A dog has got under my bed?’ ‘What dog?’ said he. ‘How do I know,’ said I, ‘that’s your business — to save your master from disturbance.’ My Filka bent down, and began moving the candle under the bed. ‘But there’s no dog here,’ said he. I bent down, too; there certainly was no dog there. What a queer thing! — I glanced at Filka and he was smiling. ‘You stupid,’ I said to him, ‘why are you grinning. When you opened the door the dog must have whisked out into the passage. And you, gaping idiot, saw nothing because you are always asleep. You don’t suppose I am drunk, do you?’ He would have answered, but I sent him out, curled up and that night heard nothing more.
“But the next night — only fancy — the thing was repeated. As soon as I blew out the candle, he scratched himself and flapped his ears again. Again I called Filka; again he looked under the bed — again there was nothing! I sent him away, blew out the candle — and, damn it all, the dog was there again and it was a dog right enough: one could hear it breathing, biting its coat, looking for fleas. . . . It was so distinct —‘Filka,’ I said, ‘come here without the candle!’ He came in. ‘Well, now,’ I said, ‘do you hear?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. I could not see him, but I felt that the fellow was scared. ‘What do you make of it?’ said I. ‘What do you bid me make of it, Porfiry Kapitonitch? It’s sorcery!’ ‘You are a foolish fellow,’ I said, ‘hold your tongue with your sorcery. . . . ’ And our voices quavered like a bird’s and we were trembling in the dark as though we were in a fever. I lighted a candle, no dog, no sound, only us two, as white as chalk. So I kept a candle burning till morning and I assure you, gentlemen, you may believe me or you may not, but from that night for six weeks the same thing was repeated. In the end I actually got used to it and began putting out the candle, because I couldn’t get to sleep in the light. ‘Let him fidget,’ I thought, ‘he doesn’t do me any harm.’”
“Well, I see you are not one of the chicken-hearted brigade,” Anton Stepanitch interrupted in a half-contemptuous, half-condescending tone! “One can see the Hussar at once!”
“I shouldn’t be afraid of you in any case,” Porfiry Kapitonitch observed, and for an instant he really did look like a Hussar.
“But listen to the rest. A neighbour came to see me, the very one with whom I used to play cards. He dined with me on what luck provided and dropped some fifty roubles for his visit; night came on, it was time for him to be off. But I had my own idea. ‘Stay the night with me,’ I said, ‘Vassily Vassilitch; tomorrow, please God, you will win it back.’ Vassily Vassilitch considered and stayed. I had a bed put up for him in my room. . . . Well, we went to bed, smoked, chatted — about the fair sex for the most part, as is only suitable in bachelor company — we laughed, of course; I saw Vassily Vassilitch put out his candle and turn his back towards me: as much as to say: ‘Good night.’ I waited a little, then I, too, put out my candle. And, only fancy, I had hardly time to wonder what sort of trick would be played this time, when the sweet creature was moving again. And moving was not all; it came out from under the bed, walked across the room, tapped on the floor with its paws, shook its ears and all of a sudden pushed against the very chair that was close by Vassily Vassilitch’s bed. ‘Porfiry Kapitonitch,’ said the latter, and in such an unconcerned voice, you know, ‘I did not know you had a dog. What sort is it, a setter?’ ‘I haven’t a dog,’ I said, ‘and never have had one!’ ‘You haven’t? Why, what’s this?’ ‘What’s this?’ said I, ‘why, light the candle and then you will see for yourself.’ ‘Isn’t it a dog?’ ‘No.’ Vassily Vassilitch turned over in bed. ‘But you are joking, dash it all.’ ‘No, I am not joking.’ I heard him go strike, strike, with a match, while the creature persisted in scratching its ribs. The light flared up . . . and, hey presto! not a trace remained! Vassily Vassilitch looked at me and I looked at him. ‘What trick is this?’ he said. ‘It’s a trick,’ I said, ‘that, if you were to set Socrates himself on one side and Frederick the Great on the other, even they could not make it out.’ And then I told him all about it. Didn’t my Vassily Vassilitch jump out of bed! As though he had been scalded! He couldn’t get into his boots. ‘Horses,’ he cried, ‘horses!’ I began trying to persuade him, but it was no use! He positively gasped! ‘I won’t stay,’ he said, ‘not a minute! You must be a man under a curse! Horses.’ However, I prevailed upon him. Only his bed was dragged into another room and nightlights were lighted everywhere. At our tea in the morning he had regained his equanimity; he began to give me advice. ‘You should try being away from home for a few days, Porfiry Kapitonitch,’ he said, ‘perhaps this abomination would leave you.’ And I must tell you: my neighbour was a man of immense intellect. He managed his mother-inlaw wonderfully: he fastened an I. O. U. upon her; he must have chosen a sentimental moment! She became as soft as silk, she gave him an authorisation for the management of all her estate — what more would you have? You know it is something to get the better of one’s mother-inlaw. Eh! You can judge for yourselves. However, he took leave of me in some displeasure; I’d stripped him of a hundred roubles again. He actually abused me. ‘You are ungrateful.’ he said, ‘you have no feeling’; but how was I to blame? Well, be that as it may, I considered his advice. That very day I drove off to the town and put up at an inn, kept by an old man I knew, a Dissenter. He was a worthy old fellow, though a little morose from living in solitude, all his family were dead. But he disliked tobacco and had the greatest loathing for dogs; I believe he would have been torn to pieces rather than consent to let a dog into his room. ‘For how can one?’ he would say, ‘the Queen of Heaven herself is graciously pleased to be on my wall there, and is an unclean dog to put his infidel nose there?’ Of course, it was lack of education! However, to my thinking, whatever wisdom a man has he had better stick to that.”
“I see you are a great philosopher,” Anton Stepanitch interrupted a second time with the same sarcastic smile.
This time Porfiry Kapitonitch actually frowned.
“How much I know of philosophy I cannot tell,” he observed, tugging grimly at his moustache, “but I would be glad to give you a lesson in it.”
We all simply stared at Anton Stepanitch. Every one of us expected a haughty reply, or at least a glance like a flash of lightning. . . . But the civil councillor turned his contemptuous smile into one of indifference, then yawned, swung his foot and — that was all!
“Well, I stayed at that old fellow’s,” Porfiry Kapitonitch went on. “He gave me a little room, not one of the best, as we were old friends; his own was close by, the other side of the partition — and that was just what I wanted. The tortures I faced that night! A little room, a regular oven, stuffiness, flies, and such sticky ones; in the corner an extraordinarily big shrine with ancient ikons, with dingy setting in relief on them. It fairly reeked of oil and some other stuff, too; there were two featherbeds on the beds. If you moved the pillow a black beetle would run from under it. . . . I had drunk an incredible quantity of tea, feeling so dreary — it was simply dreadful! I got into bed; there was no possibility of sleeping — and, the other side of the partition, my host was sighing, clearing his throat, repeating his prayers. However, he subsided at last. I heard him begin to snore, but only faintly, in the old-fashioned polite way. I had put my candle out long ago, but the little lamp was burning before the ikons. . . . That prevented it, I suppose. So I got up softly with bare feet, climbed up to the lamp, and blew it out. . . . Nothing happened. ‘Oho!’ I thought, ‘so it doesn’t come off in other people’s houses.’
“But I had no sooner got into bed than there was a commotion again. He was scraping on the floor and scratching himself and shaking his ears . . . the usual thing, in fact. Very good! I lay still and waited to see what would happen. I heard the old man wake up. ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘hey, sir.’ ‘What is it?’ ‘Did you put out the lamp?’ But without waiting for my answer, he burst out all at once. ‘What’s that? What’s that, a dog? A dog! Ah, you vile heretic!’ ‘Wait a bit, old man, before you scold,’ I said. ‘You had better come here yourself. Things are happening,’ I said, ‘that may well make you wonder.’ The old man stirred behind the partition and came in to me, with a candle, a very, very thin one, made of yellow wax; I was surprised when I looked at him! He looked bristling all over, with hairy ears and eyes as fierce as a weasel’s; he had on a white woollen night cap, a beard to his waist, white; too, and a waistcoat with copper buttons on it over his shirt and fur boots on his feet and he smelt of juniper. In this attire he approached the ikons, crossed himself three times with his two fingers crossed, lighted the lamp, crossed himself again and, turning to me, just grunted: ‘Explain!’ And thereupon, without delay, I told him all that had happened. The old man listened to my account and did not drop one word, simply shook his head. Then he sat down on my bed and still said nothing. He scratched his chest, the back of his head and so on and said nothing. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Fedul Ivanitch, what do you think? Is it some devil’s sorcery or what?’ The old man looked at me. ‘What an idea! Devil’s sorcery! A tobacco-smoker like you might well have that at home, but not here. Only think what holiness there is here! Sorcery, indeed!’ ‘And if it is not sorcery, what is it, then?’ The old man was silent again; again he scratched himself and said at last, but in a muffled voice, for his moustache was all over his mouth: ‘You go to the town of Belyov. There is no one who can help you but one man. And that man lives in Belyov. He is one of our people. If he is willing to help you, you are lucky; if he is not, nothing can be done.’ ‘And how am I to find this man?’ I said. ‘I can direct you about that,’ he answered; ‘but how can it be sorcery? It is an apparition, or rather an indication; but you cannot comprehend it, it is beyond your understanding. Lie down to sleep now with the blessing of our Lord Christ; I will burn incense and in the morning we will converse. Morning, you know, brings wisdom.’
“Well, we did converse in the morning, only I was almost stifled by that incense. And this was the counsel the old man gave me: that when I reached Belyov I should go into the market place and ask in the second shop on the right for one Prohoritch, and when I had found Prohoritch, put into his hand a writing and the writing consisted of a scrap of paper, on which stood the following words: ‘In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen. To Sergey Prohorovitch Pervushin. Trust this man. Feduly Ivanitch.’ And below, ‘Send the cabbages, for God’s sake.’
“I thanked the old man and without further discussion ordered my carriage and drove to Belyov. For I reflected, that though I suffered no harm from my nocturnal visitor, yet it was uncanny and in fact not quite the thing for a nobleman and an officer — what do you think?”
“And did you really go to Belyov?” murmured Finoplentov.
“Straight to Belyov. I went into the market place and asked at the second shop on the right for Prohoritch. ‘Is there such a person?’ I asked. ‘Yes,’ they told me. ‘And where does he live?’ ‘By the Oka, beyond the market gardens.’ ‘In whose house?’ ‘In his own.’ I went to the Oka, found his house, though it was really not a house but simply a hovel. I saw a man wearing a blue patched coat and a ragged cap, well . . . he looked like a working-man, he was standing with his back to me, digging among his cabbages. I went up to him. ‘Are you so and so?’ I said. He turned round and, I tell you the truth, I have never seen such piercing eyes in my life. Yet the whole face was shrunk up like a little fist with a little wedge-shaped beard and sunken lips. He was an old man. ‘I am so and so,’ he said. ‘What are you needing?’ ‘Why, this is what I am needing,’ I said, and put the writing in his hand. He looked at me intently and said: ‘Come indoors, I can’t read without spectacles.’
“Well, I went with him into his hut — and a hut it certainly was: poor, bare, crooked; only just holding together. On the wall there was an ikon of old workmanship as black as a coal; only the whites of the eyes gleamed in the faces. He took some round spectacles in iron frames out of a little table, put them on his nose, read the writing and looked at me again through the spectacles. ‘You have need of me?’ ‘I certainly have,’ I answered. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘if you have, tell it and we will listen.’ And, only fancy, he sat down and took a checked handkerchief out of his pocket, and spread it out on his knee, and the handkerchief was full of holes, and he looked at me with as much dignity as though he were a senator or a minister, and he did not ask me to sit down. And what was still stranger, I felt all at once awe-stricken, so awe-stricken . . . my soul sank into my heels. He pierced me through with his eyes and that’s the fact! I pulled myself together, however, and told him all my story. He was silent for a space, shrank into himself, chewed his lips and then questioned me just like a senator again, majestically, without haste. ‘What is your name?’ he asked. ‘Your age? What were your parents? Are you single or married?’ Then again he munched his lips, frowned, held up his finger and spoke: ‘Bow down to the holy ikon, to the honourable Saints Zossima and Savvaty of Solovki.’ I bowed down to the earth and did not get up in a hurry; I felt such awe for the man and such submission that I believe that whatever he had told me to do I should have done it on the spot! . . . I see you are grinning, gentlemen, but I was in no laughing mood then, I assure you. ‘Get up, sir,’ said he at last. ‘I can help you. This is not sent you as a chastisement, but as a warning; it is for your protection; someone is praying for your welfare. Go to the market now and buy a young dog and keep it by you day and night. Your visions will leave you and, moreover, that dog will be of use to you.’
“I felt as though light dawned upon me, all at once; how those words delighted me. I bowed down to Prohoritch and would have gone away, when I bethought me that I could not go away without rewarding him. I got a three rouble note out of my pocket. But he thrust my hand away and said, ‘Give it to our chapel, or to the poor; the service I have done you is not to be paid for.’ I bowed down to him again almost to the ground, and set off straight for the market! And only fancy: as soon as I drew near the shops, lo and behold, a man in a frieze overcoat comes sauntering towards me carrying under his arm a two months’ old setter puppy with a reddish brown coat, white lips and white forepaws. ‘Stay,’ I said to the man in the overcoat, ‘what will you sell it for?’ ‘For two roubles.’ Take three!’ The man looked at me in amazement, thought the gentleman had gone out of his wits, but I flung the notes in his face, took the pup under my arm and made for my carriage! The coachman quickly had the horses harnessed and that evening I reached home. The puppy sat inside my coat all the way and did not stir; and I kept calling him, ‘Little Trésor! Little Trésor!’ I gave him food and drink at once. I had some straw brought in, settled him and whisked into bed! I blew out the candle: it was dark. ‘Well, now begin,’ said I. There was silence. ‘Begin,’ said I, ‘you so and so!’ . . . Not a sound, as though to mock me. Well, I began to feel so set up that I fell to calling it all sorts of names. But still there was not a sound! I could only hear the puppy panting! Filka,’ I cried, ‘Filka! Come here, you stupid!’ He came in. ‘Do you hear the dog?’ ‘No, sir,’ said he, ‘I hear nothing,’ and he laughed. ‘And you won’t hear it ever again,’ said I. ‘Here’s half a rouble for vodka!’ ‘Let me kiss your hand,’ said the foolish fellow, and he stooped down to me in the darkness. . . . It was a great relief, I must tell you.”
“And was that how it all ended?” asked Anton Stepanitch, this time without irony.
“The apparitions ended certainly and I was not disturbed in any way, but wait a bit, the whole business was not over yet. My Trésor grew, he turned into a fine fellow. He was heavy, with flopping ears and overhanging lip and a thick tail; a regular sporting dog. And he was extremely attached to me, too. The shooting in our district is poor, however, as I had set up a dog, I got a gun, too. I took to sauntering round the neighbourhood with my Trésor: sometimes one would hit a hare (and didn’t he go after that hare, upon my soul), sometimes a quail, or a duck. But the great thing was that Trésor was never a step away from me. Where I went, he went; I even took him to the bath with me, I did really! One lady actually tried to get me turned out of her drawing-room on account of Trésor, but I made such an uproar! The windows I broke! Well, one day . . . it was in summer . . . and I must tell you there was a drought at the time such as nobody remembered. The air was full of smoke or haze. There was a smell of burning, the sun was like a molten bullet, and as for the dust there was no getting it out of one’s nose and throat. People walked with their mouths wide open like crows. I got weary of sitting at home in complete deshabille, with shutters closed; and luckily the heat was beginning to abate a little. . . . So I went off, gentlemen, to see a lady, a neighbour of mine. She lived about three-quarters of a mile away — and she certainly was a benevolent lady. She was still young and blooming and of most prepossessing appearance; but she was of rather uncertain temper. Though that is no harm in the fair sex; it even gives me pleasure. . . . Well, I reached her door, and I did feel that I had had a hot time of it getting there! Well, I thought, Nimfodora Semyonovna will regale me now with bilberry water and other cooling drinks — and I had already taken hold of the doorhandle when all at once there was the tramping of feet and shrieking, and shouting of boys from round the corner of a hut in the courtyard. . . . I looked round. Good heavens! A huge reddish beast was rushing straight towards me; at the first glance I did not recognise it as a dog: its jaws were open, its eyes were bloodshot, its coat was bristling. . . . I had not time to take breath before the monster bounded up the steps, stood upon its hind legs and made straight for my chest — it was a position! I was numb with terror and could not lift my arms. I was completely stupefied. . . . I could see nothing but the terrible white tusks just before my nose, the red tongue all covered with white foam. But at the same instant, another dark body was whisking before me like a ball — it was my darling Trésor defending me; and he hung like a leech on the brute’s throat! The creature wheezed, grated its teeth and staggered back. I instantly flung open the door and got into the hall. . . . I stood hardly knowing what I was doing with my whole weight on the door, and heard a desperate battle going on outside. I began shouting and calling for help; everyone in the house was terribly upset. Nimfodora Semyonovna ran out with her hair down, the voices in the yard grew louder — and all at once I heard: ‘Hold the gate, hold it, fasten it!’ I opened the door — just a crack, and looked out: the monster was no longer on the steps, the servants were rushing about the yard in confusion waving their hands and picking up bits of wood from the ground; they were quite crazy. ‘To the village, it has run off to the village,’ shrieked a peasant woman in a cap of extraordinary size poking her head out of a dormer window. I went out of the house.
“‘Where is my Trésor?’ I asked and at once I saw my saviour. He was coming from the gate limping, covered with wounds and with blood. . . . ‘What’s the meaning of it?’ I asked the servants who were dashing about the yard as though possessed. ‘A mad dog!’ they answered, ‘the count’s; it’s been hanging about here since yesterday.’
“We had a neighbour, a count, who bred very fierce foreign dogs. My knees shook; I rushed to a looking-glass and looked to see whether I had been bitten. No, thank God, there was nothing to be seen; only my countenance naturally looked green; while Nimfodora Semyonovna was lying on the sofa and cackling like a hen. Well, that one could quite understand, in the first place nerves, in the second sensibility. She came to herself at last, though, and asked me whether I were alive. I answered that I was and that Trésor had saved me. ‘Ah,’ she said, ‘what a noble creature! and so the mad dog has strangled him?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘it has not strangled him, but has wounded him seriously.’ ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘in that case he must be shot this minute!’ ‘Oh, no,’ I said, ‘I won’t agree to that. I shall try to cure him. . . . ’ At that moment Trésor began scratching at the door. I was about to go and open it for him. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘what are you doing, why, it will bite us all.’ ‘Upon my word,’ I said, ‘the poison does not act so quickly.’ ‘Oh, how can you?’ she said. ‘Why, you have taken leave of your senses!’ ‘Nimfotchka,’ I said, ‘calm yourself, be reasonable. . . . ’ But she suddenly cried, ‘Go away at once with your horrid dog.’ ‘I will go away,’ said I. ‘At once,’ she said, ‘this second! Get along with you,’ she said, ‘you villain, and never dare to let me set eyes on you again. You may go mad yourself!’ ‘Very good,’ said I, ‘only let me have a carriage for I am afraid to go home on foot now.’ ‘Give him the carriage, the coach, the chaise, what he likes, only let him be gone quickly. Oh, what eyes! Oh, what eyes he has!’ and with those words she whisked out of the room and gave a maid who met her a slap in the face — and I heard her in hysterics again.
“And you may not believe me, gentlemen, but that very day I broke off all acquaintance with Nimfodora Semyonovna; on mature consideration of everything, I am bound to add that for that circumstance, too, I shall owe a debt of gratitude to my friend Trésor to the hour of my death.
“Well, I had the carriage brought round, put my Trésor in and drove home. When I got home I looked him over and washed his wounds, and thought I would take him next day as soon as it was light to the wise man in the Yefremovsky district. And this wise man was an old peasant, a wonderful man: he would whisper over some water — and some people made out that he dropped some snake spittle into it — would give it as a draught, and the trouble would be gone completely. I thought, by the way, I would be bled myself at Yefremovo: it’s a good thing as a precaution against fright, only not from the arm, of course, but from the falcon.”
“What place is that, the falcon?” Mr. Finoplentov asked with demure curiosity.
“Why, don’t you know? It is here on the fist near the thumb, the spot on which one shakes the snuff from one’s horn, just here. It’s the best place for letting blood. For only consider, the blood from the arm comes from the vein, but here it is of no consequence. The doctors don’t know that and don’t understand it, how should they, the idle drones, the wretched Germans? It’s the blacksmiths who go in for it. And aren’t they skilful! They get a chisel, give it a tap with a hammer and it’s done! . . . Well, while I was thinking it over, it got quite dark, it was time for bed. I went to bed and Trésor, of course, was close by me. But whether it was from the fight, from the stuffiness, from the fleas or from my thoughts, I could not get to sleep, do what I would! I can’t describe the depression that came over me; I sipped water, opened the window and played the ‘Kamarinsky’ with Italian variations on the guitar. . . . No good! I felt I must get out of the room — and that was all about it! I made up my mind at last: I took my pillow, my quilt and my sheet and made my way across the garden to the hayloft; and settled myself there. And how pleasant I felt in there, gentlemen: it was a still, still night, only from time to time a breath of air like a woman’s hand caressed one’s cheek; it was so fresh; the hay smelt as sweet as tea; among the apple trees’ the grasshoppers were chirping; then all at once came the cry of the quail — and one felt that he, too, the rogue, was happy, sitting in the dew with his little lady. . . . And the sky was magnificent. . . . The stars were glowing, or a cloud would float by, white as cotton wool, scarcely moving. . . . ”
At this point in the story Skvorevitch sneezed; Kinarevitch sneezed, too — he never failed in anything to follow his colleague’s example. Anton Stepanitch looked approvingly at both of them.
“Well,” Porfiry Kapitonitch went on, “well, so I lay there and again could not go to sleep. I fell to musing, and what I thought of most was the strangeness of it all: how correctly Prohoritch had explained it as a warning and I wondered why it was to me such marvels had happened. . . . I marvelled — particularly because I could make nothing of it — and Trésor kept whining, as he twisted round in the hay; his wounds hurt him. And I will tell you what else prevented me from sleeping — you won’t believe it — the moon. It was just facing me, so big and round and yellow and flat, and it seemed to me that it was staring at me, it really did. And so insolently, so persistently. . . . I put out my tongue at it at last, I really did. What are you so inquisitive about? I thought. I turned away from it and it seemed to be creeping into my ear and shining on the back of my head, so that I felt caught in it as in rain; I opened my eyes and every blade of grass, every paltry being in the hay, the most flimsy spider’s web — all were standing out as though they were chiselled! As though asking to be looked at! There was no help for it: I leaned my head on my hand and began gazing. And I couldn’t help it: would you believe it: my eyes bulged out like a hare’s; they opened so wide — as though they did not know what sleep was! It seemed as though I would devour it all with my eyes. The doors of the barn were wide open; I could see for four miles into the open country, distinctly and yet not, as it always is on a moonlight night. I gazed and gazed without blinking. . . . And all at once it seemed as though something were moving, far, far away . . . like a faint glimmer in the distance. A little time passed: again the shadow stirred — now a little nearer; then again nearer still. ‘What can it be?’ I wondered, ‘a hare, no,’ I thought, ‘it is bigger than a hare and its action is not the same.’ I looked, and again the shadow came in sight, and was moving across the grazing meadow (the meadow looked whitish in the moonlight) like a big blur; it was clear that it was a wild animal, a fox or a wolf. My heart seemed to stand still . . . though one might wonder why I was frightened. All sorts of wild creatures run about the fields at night. But curiosity was even stronger than fear. I sat up, I opened my eyes wide and I turned cold all over. I felt frozen, as though I had been thrust into the ice, up to my ears, and why? The Lord only knows! And I saw the shadow growing and growing, so it was running straight towards the barn. And I began to realise that it certainly was a wild beast, big, with a huge head. . . . He flew like a whirlwind, like a bullet. . . . Holy saints! what was it? He stopped all at once, as though he scented something. . . . Why it was . . . the same mad dog! It was . . . it was! Heavens! And I could not stir, I could not cry out. . . . It darted to the doors, with glittering eyes, howled and dashed through the hay straight at me!
“Out of the hay like a lion leapt my Trésor, here he was. They hung on to each other’s jaws and rolled on the ground. What happened then I don’t remember; all I remember is that I flew headlong between them into the garden, and home and into my bedroom and almost crept under the bed — why not make a clean breast of it? And what leaps, what bounds I took in the garden! The prémiere danseuse dancing before the Emperor Napoleon on his nameday couldn’t have kept pace with me. However, when I had recovered myself a little, I roused the whole household; I ordered them all to arm themselves, I myself took a sword and a revolver (I bought that revolver, I must own, soon after the emancipation, you know, in case anything should happen, but it turned out the man who sold it was such a rogue — it would be sure to miss fire twice out of every three shots). Well, I took all this and so we went, a regular horde of us with stakes and lanterns, to the barn. We approached and called — there was not a sound; at last we went into the barn. . . . And what did we see? My poor Trésor lay dead with his throat torn open, and of the other, the damned brute, not a trace to be seen!
“And then, gentlemen, I howled like a calf and I am not ashamed to say so; I stooped down to the friend who had saved my life twice over and kissed his head, again and again. And I stayed in that position until my old housekeeper, Praskovya (she, too, had run in at the uproar), brought me to my senses. ‘How can you, Porfiry Kapitonitch,’ she said, ‘distress yourself so about a dog? And you will catch cold, too, God forbid.’ (I was very lightly clad.) ‘And if this dog has lost his life in saving you, it may be taken as a great blessing vouchsafed him!’
“Though I did not agree with Praskovya, I went home. And next day a soldier of the garrison shot the mad dog. And it must have been its destined end: it was the first time in his life that the soldier had fired a gun, though he had a medal for service in 1812. So this was the supernatural incident that happened to me.”
The speaker ceased and began filling his pipe. We all looked at each other in amazement.
“Well, perhaps, you have led a very virtuous life,” Mr. Finoplentov began, “so in recompense . . . ”
But he broke off at that word, for he saw Porfiry Kapitonitch’s cheeks grow round and flushed while his eyes screwed up — he was on the point of breaking into a guffaw.
“But if one admits the possibility of the supernatural, the possibility of its participation in everyday life, so to say,” Anton Stepanitch began again, “then allow me to ask, what becomes of common sense?”
None of us found anything to say in reply and we remained in perplexity as before.
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