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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
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In one of the outlying streets of Moscow, in a grey house with white columns and a balcony, warped all askew, there was once living a lady, a widow, surrounded by a numerous household of serfs. Her sons were in the government service at Petersburg; her daughters were married; she went out very little, and in solitude lived through the last years of her miserly and dreary old age. Her day, a joyless and gloomy day, had long been over; but the evening of her life was blacker than night.
Of all her servants, the most remarkable personage was the porter, Gerasim, a man full twelve inches over the normal height, of heroic build, and deaf and dumb from his birth. The lady, his owner, had brought him up from the village where he lived alone in a little hut, apart from his brothers, and was reckoned about the most punctual of her peasants in the payment of the seignorial dues. Endowed with extraordinary strength, he did the work of four men; work flew apace under his hands, and it was a pleasant sight to see him when he was ploughing, while, with his huge palms pressing hard upon the plough, he seemed alone, unaided by his poor horse, to cleave the yielding bosom of the earth, or when, about St. Peter’s Day, he plied his scythe with a. furious energy that might have mown a young birch copse up by the roots, or swiftly and untiringly wielded a flail over two yards long; while the hard oblong muscles of his shoulders rose and fell like a lever. His perpetual silence lent a solemn dignity to his unwearying labour. He was a splendid peasant, and, except for his affliction, any girl would have been glad to marry him. . . . But now they had taken Gerasim to Moscow, bought him boots, had him made a full-skirted coat for summer, a sheepskin for winter, put into his hand a broom and a spade, and appointed him porter.
At first he intensely disliked his new mode of life. From his childhood he had been used to field labour, to village life. Shut off by his affliction from the society of men, he had grown up, dumb and mighty, as a tree grows on a fruitful soil. When he was transported to the town, he could not understand what was being done with him; he was miserable and stupefied, with the stupefaction of some strong young bull, taken straight from the meadow, where the rich grass stood up to his belly, taken and put in the truck of a railway train, and there, while smoke and sparks and gusts of steam puff out upon the sturdy beast, he is whirled onwards, whirled along with loud roar and whistle, whither — God knows! What Gerasim had to do in his new duties seemed a mere trifle to him after his hard toil as a peasant; in half-an-hour, all his work was done, and he would once more stand stock-still in the middle of the courtyard, staring open-mouthed at all the passers-by, as though trying to wrest from them the explanation of his perplexing position; or he would suddenly go off into some corner, and flinging a long way off the broom or the spade, throw himself on his face on the ground, and lie for hours together without stirring, like a caged beast. But man gets used to anything, and Gerasim got used at last to living in town. He had little work to do; his whole duty consisted in keeping the courtyard clean, bringing in a barrel of water twice a day, splitting and dragging in wood for the kitchen and the house, keeping out strangers, and watching at night. And it must be said he did his duty zealously. In his courtyard there was never a shaving lying about, never a speck of dust; if sometimes, in the muddy season, the wretched nag, put under his charge for fetching water, got stuck in the road, he would simply give it a shove with his shoulder, and set not only the cart but the horse itself moving. If he set to chopping wood, the axe fairly rang like glass, and chips and chunks flew in all directions. And as for strangers, after he had one night caught two thieves and knocked their heads together — knocked them so that there was not the slightest need to take them to the police-station afterwards — every one in the neighbourhood began to feel a great respect for him; even those who came in the day-time, by no means robbers, but simply unknown persons, at the sight of the terrible porter, waved and shouted to him as though he could hear their shouts. With all the rest of the servants, Gerasim was on terms, hardly friendly — they were afraid of him — but familiar; he regarded them as his fellows. They explained themselves to him by signs, and he understood them, and exactly carried out all orders, but knew his own rights too, and soon no one dared to take his seat at the table. Gerasim was altogether of a strict and serious temper, he liked order in everything; even the cocks did not dare to fight in his presence, or woe betide them! directly he caught sight of them, he would seize them by the legs, swing them ten times round in the air like a wheel, and throw them in different directions. There were geese, too, kept in the yard; but the goose, as is well known, is a dignified and reasonable bird; Gerasim felt a respect for them, looked after them, and fed them; he was himself not unlike a gander of the steppes. He was assigned a little garret over the kitchen; he arranged it himself to his own liking, made a bedstead in it of oak boards on four stumps of wood for legs — a truly Titanic bedstead; one might have put a ton or two on it — it would not have bent under the load; under the bed was a solid chest; in a corner stood a little table of the same strong kind, and near the table a three-legged stool, so solid and squat that Gerasim himself would sometimes pick it up and drop it again with a smile of delight. The garret was locked up by means of a padlock that looked like a kalatch or basket-shaped loaf, only black; the key of this padlock Gerasim always carried about him in his girdle. He did not like people to come to his garret.
So passed a year, at the end of which a little incident befell Gerasim.
The old lady, in whose service he lived as porter, adhered in everything to the ancient ways, and kept a large number of servants. In her house were not only laundresses, sempstresses, carpenters, tailors and tailoresses, there was even a harness-maker — he was reckoned as a veterinary surgeon, too — and a doctor for the servants; there was a household doctor for the mistress; there was, lastly, a shoemaker, by name Kapiton Klimov, a sad drunkard. Klimov regarded himself as an injured creature, whose merits were unappreciated, a cultivated man from Petersburg, who ought not to be living in Moscow without occupation — in the wilds, so to speak; and if he drank, as he himself expressed it emphatically, with a blow on his chest, it was sorrow drove him to it. So one day his mistress had a conversation about him with her head steward, Gavrila, a man whom, judging solely from his little yellow eyes and nose like a duck’s beak, fate itself, it seemed, had marked out as a person in authority. The lady expressed her regret at the corruption of the morals of Kapiton, who had, only the evening before, been picked up somewhere in the street.
‘Now, Gavrila,’ she observed, all of a sudden, ‘now, if we were to marry him, what do you think, perhaps he would be steadier?’
‘Why not marry him, indeed, ‘m? He could be married, ‘m,’ answered Gavrila, ‘and it would be a very good thing, to be sure, ‘m.’
‘Yes; only who is to marry him?’
‘Ay, ‘m. But that’s at your pleasure, ‘m. He may, any way, so to say, be wanted for something; he can’t be turned adrift altogether.’
‘I fancy he likes Tatiana.’
Gavrila was on the point of making some reply, but he shut his lips tightly.
‘Yes! . . . let him marry Tatiana,’ the lady decided, taking a pinch of snuff complacently, ‘Do you hear?’
‘Yes, ‘m,’ Gavrila articulated, and he withdrew.
Returning to his own room (it was in a little lodge, and was almost filled up with metal-bound trunks), Gavrila first sent his wife away, and then sat down at the window and pondered. His mistress’s unexpected arrangement had clearly put him in a difficulty. At last he got up and sent to call Kapiton. Kapiton made his appearance. . . . But before reporting their conversation to the reader, we consider it not out of place to relate in few words who was this Tatiana, whom it was to be Kapiton’s lot to marry, and why the great lady’s order had disturbed the steward.
Tatiana, one of the laundresses referred to above (as a trained and skilful laundress she was in charge of the fine linen only), was a woman of twenty-eight, thin, fair-haired, with moles on her left cheek. Moles on the left cheek are regarded as of evil omen in Russia — a token of unhappy life. . . . Tatiana could not boast of her good luck. From her earliest youth she had been badly treated; she had done the work of two, and had never known affection; she had been poorly clothed and had received the smallest wages. Relations she had practically none; an uncle she had once had, a butler, left behind in the country as useless, and other uncles of hers were peasants — that was all. At one time she had passed for a beauty, but her good looks were very soon over. In disposition, she was very meek, or, rather, scared; towards herself, she felt perfect indifference; of others, she stood in mortal dread; she thought of nothing but how to get her work done in good time, never talked to any one, and trembled at the very name of her mistress, though the latter scarcely knew her by sight. When Gerasim was brought from the country, she was ready to die with fear on seeing his huge figure, tried all she could to avoid meeting him, even dropped her eyelids when sometimes she chanced to run past him, hurrying from the house to the laundry. Gerasim at first paid no special attention to her, then he used to smile when she came his way, then he began even to stare admiringly at her, and at last he never took his eyes off her. She took his fancy, whether by the mild expression of her face or the timidity of her movements, who can tell? So one day she was stealing across the yard, with a starched dressing-jacket of her mistress’s carefully poised on her outspread fingers . . . some one suddenly grasped her vigorously by the elbow; she turned round and fairly screamed; behind her stood Gerasim. With a foolish smile, making inarticulate caressing grunts, he held out to her a gingerbread cock with gold tinsel on his tail and wings. She was about to refuse it, but he thrust it forcibly into her hand, shook his head, walked away, and turning round, once more grunted something very affectionately to her. From that day forward he gave her no peace; wherever she went, he was on the spot at once, coming to meet her, smiling, grunting, waving his hands; all at once he would pull a ribbon out of the bosom of his smock and put it in her hand, or would sweep the dust out of her way. The poor girl simply did not know how to behave or what to do. Soon the whole household knew of the dumb porter’s wiles; jeers, jokes, sly hints were showered upon Tatiana. At Gerasim, however, it was not every one who would dare to scoff; he did not like jokes; indeed, in his presence, she, too, was left in peace. Whether she liked it or not, the girl found herself to be under his protection. Like all deaf-mutes, he was very suspicious, and very readily perceived when they were laughing at him or at her. One day, at dinner, the wardrobe-keeper, Tatiana’s superior, fell to nagging, as it is called, at her, and brought the poor thing to such a state that she did not know where to look, and was almost crying with vexation. Gerasim got up all of a sudden, stretched out his gigantic hand, laid it on the wardrobe-maid’s head, and looked into her face with such grim ferocity that her head positively flopped upon the table. Every one was still. Gerasim took up his spoon again and went on with his cabbage-soup. ‘Look at him, the dumb devil, the wood-demon!’ they all muttered in under-tones, while the wardrobe-maid got up and went out into the maids’ room. Another time, noticing that Kapiton — the same Kapiton who was the subject of the conversation reported above — was gossiping somewhat too attentively with Tatiana, Gerasim beckoned him to him, led him into the cartshed, and taking up a shaft that was standing in a corner by one end, lightly, but most significantly, menaced him with it. Since then no one addressed a word to Tatiana. And all this cost him nothing. It is true the wardrobe-maid, as soon as she reached the maids’ room, promptly fell into a fainting-fit, and behaved altogether so skilfully that Gerasim’s rough action reached his mistress’s knowledge the same day. But the capricious old lady only laughed, and several times, to the great offence of the wardrobe-maid, forced her to repeat ‘how he bent your head down with his heavy hand,’ and next day she sent Gerasim a rouble. She looked on him with favour as a strong and faithful watchman. Gerasim stood in considerable awe of her, but, all the same, he had hopes of her favour, and was preparing to go to her with a petition for leave to marry Tatiana. He was only waiting for a new coat, promised him by the steward, to present a proper appearance before his mistress, when this same mistress suddenly took it into her head to marry Tatiana to Kapiton.
The reader will now readily understand the perturbation of mind that overtook the steward Gavrila after his conversation with his mistress. ‘My lady,’ he thought, as he sat at the window, ‘favours Gerasim, to be sure’—(Gavrila was well aware of this, and that was why he himself looked on him with an indulgent eye)—‘still he is a speechless creature. I could not, indeed, put it before the mistress that Gerasim’s courting Tatiana. But, after all, it’s true enough; he’s a queer sort of husband. But on the other hand, that devil, God forgive me, has only got to find out they’re marrying Tatiana to Kapiton, he’ll smash up everything in the house, ‘pon my soul! There’s no reasoning with him; why, he’s such a devil, God forgive my sins, there’s no getting over him no how . . . ‘pon my soul!’
Kapiton’s entrance broke the thread of Gavrila’s reflections. The dissipated shoemaker came in, his hands behind him, and lounging carelessly against a projecting angle of the wall, near the door, crossed his right foot in front of his left, and tossed his head, as much as to say, ‘What do you want?’
Gavrila looked at Kapiton, and drummed with his fingers on the window-frame. Kapiton merely screwed up his leaden eyes a little, but he did not look down, he even grinned slightly, and passed his hand over his whitish locks which were sticking up in all directions. ‘Well, here I am. What is it?’
‘You’re a pretty fellow,’ said Gavrila, and paused. ‘A pretty fellow you are, there’s no denying!’
Kapiton only twitched his little shoulders.
‘Are you any better, pray?’ he thought to himself.
‘Just look at yourself, now, look at yourself,’ Gavrila went on reproachfully; ‘now, what ever do you look like?’
Kapiton serenely surveyed his shabby tattered coat, and his patched trousers, and with special attention stared at his burst boots, especially the one on the tip-toe of which his right foot so gracefully poised, and he fixed his eyes again on the steward.
‘Well?’ repeated Gavrila. ‘Well? And then you say well? You look like old Nick himself, God forgive my saying so, that’s what you look like.’
Kapiton blinked rapidly.
‘Go on abusing me, go on, if you like, Gavrila Andreitch,’ he thought to himself again.
‘Here you’ve been drunk again,’ Gavrila began, ‘drunk again, haven’t you? Eh? Come, answer me!’
‘Owing to the weakness of my health, I have exposed myself to spirituous beverages, certainly,’ replied Kapiton.
‘Owing to the weakness of your health! . . . They let you off too easy, that’s what it is; and you’ve been apprenticed in Petersburg. . . . Much you learned in your apprenticeship! You simply eat your bread in idleness.’
‘In that matter, Gavrila Andreitch, there is one to judge me, the Lord God Himself, and no one else. He also knows what manner of man I be in this world, and whether I eat my bread in idleness. And as concerning your contention regarding drunkenness, in that matter, too, I am not to blame, but rather a friend; he led me into temptation, but was diplomatic and got away, while I. . . . ’
‘While you were left, like a goose, in the street. Ah, you’re a dissolute fellow! But that’s not the point,’ the steward went on, ‘I’ve something to tell you. Our lady . . . ’ here he paused a minute, ‘it’s our lady’s pleasure that you should be married. Do you hear? She imagines you may be steadier when you’re married. Do you understand?’
‘To be sure I do.’
‘Well, then. For my part I think it would be better to give you a good hiding. But there — it’s her business. Well? are you agreeable?’ Kapiton grinned.
‘Matrimony is an excellent thing for any one, Gavrila Andreitch; and, as far as I am concerned, I shall be quite agreeable.’
‘Very well, then,’ replied Gavrila, while he reflected to himself: ‘there’s no denying the man expresses himself very properly. Only there’s one thing,’ he pursued aloud: ‘the wife our lady’s picked out for you is an unlucky choice.’
‘Why, who is she, permit me to inquire?’
And Kapiton opened his eyes, and moved a little away from the wall.
‘Well, what are you in such a taking for? . . . Isn’t she to your taste, hey?’
‘Not to my taste, do you say, Gavrila Andreitch! She’s right enough, a hard-working steady girl. . . . But you know very well yourself, Gavrila Andreitch, why that fellow, that wild man of the woods, that monster of the steppes, he’s after her, you know. . . . ’
‘I know, mate, I know all about it,’ the butler cut him short in a tone of annoyance: ‘but there, you see. . . . ’
‘But upon my soul, Gavrila Andreitch! why, he’ll kill me, by God, he will, he’ll crush me like some fly; why, he’s got a fist — why, you kindly look yourself what a fist he’s got; why, he’s simply got a fist like Minin Pozharsky’s. You see he’s deaf, he beats and does not hear how he’s beating! He swings his great fists, as if he’s asleep. And there’s no possibility of pacifying him; and for why? Why, because, as you know yourself, Gavrila Andreitch, he’s deaf, and what’s more, has no more wit than the heel of my foot. Why, he’s a sort of beast, a heathen idol, Gavrila Andreitch, and worse . . . a block of wood; what have I done that I should have to suffer from him now? Sure it is, it’s all over with me now; I’ve knocked about, I’ve had enough to put up with, I’ve been battered like an earthenware pot, but still I’m a man, after all, and not a worthless pot.’
‘I know, I know, don’t go talking away. . . . ’
‘Lord, my God!’ the shoemaker continued warmly, ‘when is the end? when, O Lord! A poor wretch I am, a poor wretch whose sufferings are endless! What a life, what a life mine’s been, come to think of it! In my young days, I was beaten by a German I was ‘prentice to; in the prime of life beaten by my own countrymen, and last of all, in ripe years, see what I have been brought to. . . . ’
‘Ugh, you flabby soul!’ said Gavrila Andreitch. ‘Why do you make so many words about it?’
‘Why, do you say, Gavrila Andreitch? It’s not a beating I’m afraid of, Gavrila Andreitch. A gentleman may chastise me in private, but give me a civil word before folks, and I’m a man still; but see now, whom I’ve to do with. . . . ’
‘Come, get along,’ Gavrila interposed impatiently. Kapiton turned away and staggered off.
‘But, if it were not for him,’ the steward shouted after him, ‘you would consent for your part?’
‘I signify my acquiescence,’ retorted Kapiton as he disappeared.
His fine language did not desert him, even in the most trying positions.
The steward walked several times up and down the room.
‘Well, call Tatiana now,’ he said at last.
A few instants later, Tatiana had come up almost noiselessly, and was standing in the doorway.
‘What are your orders, Gavrila Andreitch?’ she said in a soft voice.
The steward looked at her intently.
‘Well, Taniusha,’ he said, ‘would you like to be married? Our lady has chosen a husband for you.’
‘Yes, Gavrila Andreitch. And whom has she deigned to name as a husband for me?’ she added falteringly.
‘Kapiton, the shoemaker.’
‘He’s a feather-brained fellow, that’s certain. But it’s just for that the mistress reckons upon you.’
‘There’s one difficulty . . . you know the deaf man, Gerasim, he’s courting you, you see. How did you come to bewitch such a bear? But you see, he’ll kill you, very like, he’s such a bear. . . . ’
‘He’ll kill me, Gavrila Andreitch, he’ll kill me, and no mistake.’
‘Kill you. . . . Well, we shall see about that. What do you mean by saying he’ll kill you? Has he any right to kill you? tell me yourself.’
‘I don’t know, Gavrila Andreitch, about his having any right or not.’
‘What a woman! why, you’ve made him no promise, I suppose. . . . ’
‘What are you pleased to ask of me?’
The steward was silent for a little, thinking, ‘You’re a meek soul! Well, that’s right,’ he said aloud; ‘we’ll have another talk with you later, now you can go, Taniusha; I see you’re not unruly, certainly.’
Tatiana turned, steadied herself a little against the doorpost, and went away.
‘And, perhaps, our lady will forget all about this wedding by tomorrow,’ thought the steward; ‘and here am I worrying myself for nothing! As for that insolent fellow, we must tie him down, if it comes to that, we must let the police know’ . . . ‘Ustinya Fyedorovna!’ he shouted in a loud voice to his wife, ‘heat the samovar, my good soul. . . . ’ All that day Tatiana hardly went out of the laundry. At first she had started crying, then she wiped away her tears, and set to work as before. Kapiton stayed till late at night at the ginshop with a friend of his, a man of gloomy appearance, to whom he related in detail how he used to live in Petersburg with a gentleman, who would have been all right, except he was a bit too strict, and he had a slight weakness besides, he was too fond of drink; and, as to the fair sex, he didn’t stick at anything. His gloomy companion merely said yes; but when Kapiton announced at last that, in a certain event, he would have to lay hands on himself tomorrow, his gloomy companion remarked that it was bedtime. And they parted in surly silence.
Meanwhile, the steward’s anticipations were not fulfilled. The old lady was so much taken up with the idea of Kapiton’s wedding, that even in the night she talked of nothing else to one of her companions, who was kept in her house solely to entertain her in case of sleeplessness, and, like a night cabman, slept in the day. When Gavrila came to her after morning tea with his report, her first question was: ‘And how about our wedding — is it getting on all right?’ He replied, of course, that it was getting on first rate, and that Kapiton would appear before her to pay his reverence to her that day. The old lady was not quite well; she did not give much time to business. The steward went back to his own room, and called a council. The matter certainly called for serious consideration. Tatiana would make no difficulty, of course; but Kapiton had declared in the hearing of all that he had but one head to lose, not two or three. . . . Gerasim turned rapid sullen looks on every one, would not budge from the steps of the maids’ quarters, and seemed to guess that some mischief was being hatched against him. They met together. Among them was an old sideboard waiter, nicknamed Uncle Tail, to whom every one looked respectfully for counsel, though all they got out of him was, ‘Here’s a pretty pass! to be sure, to be sure, to be sure!’ As a preliminary measure of security, to provide against contingencies, they locked Kapiton up in the lumber-room where the filter was kept; then considered the question with the gravest deliberation, It would, to be sure, be easy to have recourse to force. But Heaven save us! there would be an uproar, the mistress would be put out — it would be awful! What should they do? They thought and thought, and at last thought out a solution. It had many a time been observed that Gerasim could not bear drunkards. . . . As he sat at the gates, he would always turn away with disgust when some one passed by intoxicated, with unsteady steps and his cap on one side of his ear. They resolved that Tatiana should be instructed to pretend to be tipsy, and should pass by Gerasim staggering and reeling about. The poor girl refused for a long while to agree to this, but they persuaded her at last; she saw, too, that it was the only possible way of getting rid of her adorer. She went out. Kapiton was released from the lumber-room; for, after all, he had an interest in the affair. Gerasim was sitting on the curb-stone at the gates, scraping the ground with a spade. . . . From behind every corner, from behind every window-blind, the others were watching him. . . . The trick succeeded beyond all expectations. On seeing Tatiana, at first, he nodded as usual, making caressing, inarticulate sounds; then he looked carefully at her, dropped his spade, jumped up, went up to her, brought his face close to her face. . . . In her fright she staggered more than ever, and shut her eyes. . . . He took her by the arm, whirled her right across the yard, and going into the room where the council had been sitting, pushed her straight at Kapiton. Tatiana fairly swooned away. . . . Gerasim stood, looked at her, waved his hand, laughed, and went off, stepping heavily, to his garret. . . . For the next twenty-four hours, he did not come out of it. The postillion Antipka said afterwards that he saw Gerasim through a. crack in the wall, sitting on his bedstead, his face in his hand. From time to time he uttered soft regular sounds; he was wailing a dirge, that is, swaying backwards and forwards with his eyes shut, and shaking his head as drivers or bargemen do when they chant their melancholy songs. Antipka could not bear it, and he came away from the crack. When Gerasim came out of the garret next day, no particular change could be observed in him. He only seemed, as it were, more morose, and took not the slightest notice of Tatiana or Kapiton. The same evening, they both had to appear before their mistress with geese under their arms, and in a week’s time they were married. Even on the day of the wedding Gerasim showed no change of any sort in his behaviour. Only, he came back from the river without water, he had somehow broken the barrel on the road; and at night, in the stable, he washed and rubbed down his horse so vigorously, that it swayed like a blade of grass in the wind, and staggered from one leg to the other under his fists of iron.
All this had taken place in the spring. Another year passed by, during which Kapiton became a hopeless drunkard, and as being absolutely of no use for anything, was sent away with the store waggons to a distant village with his wife. On the day of his departure, he put a very good face on it at first, and declared that he would always be at home, send him where they would, even to the other end of the world; but later on he lost heart, began grumbling that he was being taken to uneducated people, and collapsed so completely at last that he could not even put his own hat on. Some charitable soul stuck it on his forehead, set the peak straight in front, and thrust it on with a slap from above. When everything was quite ready, and the peasants already held the reins in their hands, and were only waiting for the words ‘With God’s blessing!’ to start, Gerasim came out of his garret, went up to Tatiana, and gave her as a parting present a red cotton handkerchief he had bought for her a year ago. Tatiana, who had up to that instant borne all the revolting details of her life with great indifference, could not control herself upon that; she burst into tears, and as she took her seat in the cart, she kissed Gerasim three times like a good Christian. He meant to accompany her as far as the town-barrier, and did walk beside her cart for a while, but he stopped suddenly at the Crimean ford, waved his hand, and walked away along the riverside.
It was getting towards evening. He walked slowly, watching the water. All of a sudden he fancied something was floundering in the mud close to the bank. He stooped over, and saw a little white-and-black puppy, who, in spite of all its efforts, could not get out of the water; it was struggling, slipping back, and trembling all over its thin wet little body. Gerasim looked at the unlucky little dog, picked it up with one hand, put it into the bosom of his coat, and hurried with long steps homewards. He went into his garret, put the rescued puppy on his bed, covered it with his thick overcoat, ran first to the stable for straw, and then to the kitchen for a cup of milk. Carefully folding back the overcoat, and spreading out the straw, he set the milk on the bedstead. The poor little puppy was not more than three weeks old, its eyes were only just open — one eye still seemed rather larger than the other; it did not know how to lap out of a cup, and did nothing but shiver and blink. Gerasim took hold of its head softly with two fingers, and dipped its little nose into the milk. The pup suddenly began lapping greedily, sniffing, shaking itself, and choking. Gerasim watched and watched it, and all at once he laughed outright. . . . All night long he was waiting on it, keeping it covered, and rubbing it dry. He fell asleep himself at last, and slept quietly and happily by its side.
No mother could have looked after her baby as Gerasim looked after his little nursling. At first, she — for the pup turned out to be a bitch — was very weak, feeble, and ugly, but by degrees she grew stronger and improved in looks, and thanks to the unflagging care of her preserver, in eight months’ time she was transformed into a very pretty dog of the spaniel breed, with long ears, a bushy spiral tail, and large expressive eyes. She was devotedly attached to Gerasim, and was never a yard from his side; she always followed him about wagging her tail. He had even given her a name — the dumb know that their inarticulate noises call the attention of others. He called her Mumu. All the servants in the house liked her, and called her Mumu, too. She was very intelligent, she was friendly with every one, but was only fond of Gerasim. Gerasim, on his side, loved her passionately, and he did not like it when other people stroked her; whether he was afraid for her, or jealous — God knows! She used to wake him in the morning, pulling at his coat; she used to take the reins in her mouth, and bring him up the old horse that carried the water, with whom she was on very friendly terms. With a face of great importance, she used to go with him to the river; she used to watch his brooms and spades, and never allowed any one to go into his garret. He cut a little hole in his door on purpose for her, and she seemed to feel that only in Gerasim’s garret she was completely mistress and at home; and directly she went in, she used to jump with a satisfied air upon the bed. At night she did not sleep at all, but she never barked without sufficient cause, like some stupid house-dog, who, sitting on its hind-legs, blinking, with its nose in the air, barks simply from dulness, at the stars, usually three times in succession. No! Mumu’s delicate little voice was never raised without good reason; either some stranger was passing close to the fence, or there was some suspicious sound or rustle somewhere. . . . In fact, she was an excellent watch-dog. It is true that there was another dog in the yard, a tawny old dog with brown spots, called Wolf, but he was never, even at night, let off the chain; and, indeed, he was so decrepit that he did not even wish for freedom. He used to lie curled up in his kennel, and only rarely uttered a sleepy, almost noiseless bark, which broke off at once, as though he were himself aware of its uselessness. Mumu never went into the mistress’s house; and when Gerasim carried wood into the rooms, she always stayed behind, impatiently waiting for him at the steps, pricking up her ears and turning her head to right and to left at the slightest creak of the door. . . .
So passed another year. Gerasim went on performing his duties as house-porter, and was very well content with his lot, when suddenly an unexpected incident occurred. . . . One fine summer day the old lady was walking up and down the drawing-room with her dependants. She was in high spirits; she laughed and made jokes. Her servile companions laughed and joked too, but they did not feel particularly mirthful; the household did not much like it, when their mistress was in a lively mood, for, to begin with, she expected from every one prompt and complete participation in her merriment, and was furious if any one showed a face that did not beam with delight, and secondly, these outbursts never lasted long with her, and were usually followed by a sour and gloomy mood. That day she had got up in a lucky hour; at cards she took the four knaves, which means the fulfilment of one’s wishes (she used to try her fortune on the cards every morning), and her tea struck her as particularly delicious, for which her maid was rewarded by words of praise, and by twopence in money. With a sweet smile on her wrinkled lips, the lady walked about the drawing-room and went up to the window. A flower-garden had been laid out before the window, and in the very middle bed, under a rose-bush, lay Mumu busily gnawing a bone. The lady caught sight of her.
‘Mercy on us!’ she cried suddenly; ‘what dog is that?’
The companion, addressed by the old lady, hesitated, poor thing, in that wretched state of uneasiness which is common in any person in a dependent position who doesn’t know very well what significance to give to the exclamation of a superior.
‘I d . . . d . . . don’t know,’ she faltered: ‘I fancy it’s the dumb man’s dog.’
‘Mercy!’ the lady cut her short: ‘but it’s a charming little dog! order it to be brought in. Has he had it long? How is it I’ve never seen it before? . . . Order it to be brought in.’
The companion flew at once into the hall.
‘Boy, boy!’ she shouted: ‘bring Mumu in at once! She’s in the flower-garden.’
‘Her name’s Mumu then,’ observed the lady: ‘a very nice name.’
‘Oh, very, indeed!’ chimed in the companion. ‘Make haste, Stepan!’
Stepan, a sturdily-built young fellow, whose duties were those of a footman, rushed headlong into the flower-garden, and tried to capture Mumu, but she cleverly slipped from his fingers, and with her tail in the air, fled full speed to Gerasim, who was at that instant in the kitchen, knocking out and cleaning a barrel, turning it upside down in his hands like a child’s drum. Stepan ran after her, and tried to catch her just at her master’s feet; but the sensible dog would not let a stranger touch her, and with a bound, she got away. Gerasim looked on with a smile at all this ado; at last, Stepan got up, much amazed, and hurriedly explained to him by signs that the mistress wanted the dog brought in to her. Gerasim was a little astonished; he called Mumu, however, picked her up, and handed her over to Stepan. Stepan carried her into the drawing-room, and put her down on the parquette floor. The old lady began calling the dog to her in a coaxing voice. Mumu, who had never in her life been in such magnificent apartments, was very much frightened, and made a rush for the door, but, being driven back by the obsequious Stepan, she began trembling, and huddled close up against the wall.
‘Mumu, Mumu, come to me, come to your mistress,’ said the lady; ‘come, silly thing . . . don’t be afraid.’
‘Come, Mumu, come to the mistress,’ repeated the companions. ‘Come along!’
But Mumu looked round her uneasily, and did not stir.
‘Bring her something to eat,’ said the old lady. ‘How stupid she is! she won’t come to her mistress. What’s she afraid of?’
‘She’s not used to your honour yet,’ ventured one of the companions in a timid and conciliatory voice.
Stepan brought in a saucer of milk, and set it down before Mumu, but Mumu would not even sniff at the milk, and still shivered, and looked round as before.
‘Ah, what a silly you are!’ said the lady, and going up to her, she stooped down, and was about to stroke her, but Mumu turned her head abruptly, and showed her teeth. The lady hurriedly drew back her hand. . . .
A momentary silence followed. Mumu gave a faint whine, as though she would complain and apologise. . . . The old lady moved back, scowling. The dog’s sudden movement had frightened her.
‘Ah!’ shrieked all the companions at once, ‘she’s not bitten you, has she? Heaven forbid! (Mumu had never bitten any one in her life.) Ah! ah!’
‘Take her away,’ said the old lady in a changed voice. ‘Wretched little dog! What a spiteful creature!’
And, turning round deliberately, she went towards her boudoir. Her companions looked timidly at one another, and were about to follow her, but she stopped, stared coldly at them, and said, ‘What’s that for, pray? I’ve not called you,’ and went out.
The companions waved their hands to Stepan in despair. He picked up Mumu, and flung her promptly outside the door, just at Gerasim’s feet, and half-an-hour later a profound stillness reigned in the house, and the old lady sat on her sofa looking blacker than a thunder-cloud.
What trifles, if you think of it, will sometimes disturb any one!
Till evening the lady was out of humour; she did not talk to any one, did not play cards, and passed a bad night. She fancied the eau-de-Cologne they gave her was not the same as she usually had, and that her pillow smelt of soap, and she made the wardrobe-maid smell all the bed linen — in fact she was very upset and cross altogether. Next morning she ordered Gavrila to be summoned an hour earlier than usual.
‘Tell me, please,’ she began, directly the latter, not without some inward trepidation, crossed the threshold of her boudoir, ‘what dog was that barking all night in our yard? It wouldn’t let me sleep!’
‘A dog, ‘m . . . what dog, ‘m . . . may be, the dumb man’s dog, ‘m,’ he brought out in a rather unsteady voice.
‘I don’t know whether it was the dumb man’s or whose, but it wouldn’t let me sleep. And I wonder what we have such a lot of dogs for! I wish to know. We have a yard dog, haven’t we?’
‘Oh yes, ‘m, we have, ‘m. Wolf, ‘m.’
‘Well, why more, what do we want more dogs for? It’s simply introducing disorder. There’s no one in control in the house — that’s what it is. And what does the dumb man want with a dog? Who gave him leave to keep dogs in my yard? Yesterday I went to the window, and there it was lying in the flower — garden; it had dragged in some nastiness it was gnawing, and my roses are planted there. . . . ’
The lady ceased.
‘Let her be gone from today . . . do you hear?’
‘To-day. Now go. I will send for you later for the report.’
Gavrila went away.
As he went through the drawing-room, the steward by way of maintaining order moved a bell from one table to another; he stealthily blew his duck-like nose in the hall, and went into the outer-hall. In the outer-hall, on a locker was Stepan asleep in the attitude of a slain warrior in a battalion picture, his bare legs thrust out below the coat which served him for a blanket. The steward gave him a shove, and whispered some instructions to him, to which Stepan responded with something between a yawn and a laugh. The steward went away, and Stepan got up, put on his coat and his boots, went out and stood on the steps. Five minutes had not passed before Gerasim made his appearance with a huge bundle of hewn logs on his back, accompanied by the inseparable Mumu. (The lady had given orders that her bedroom and boudoir should be heated at times even in the summer.) Gerasim turned sideways before the door, shoved it open with his shoulder, and staggered into the house with his load. Mumu, as usual, stayed behind to wait for him. Then Stepan, seizing his chance, suddenly pounced on her, like a kite on a chicken, held her down to the ground, gathered her up in his arms, and without even putting on his cap, ran out of the yard with her, got into the first fly he met, and galloped off to a market-place. There he soon found a purchaser, to whom he sold her for a shilling, on condition that he would keep her for at least a week tied up; then he returned at once. But before he got home, he got off the fly, and going right round the yard, jumped over the fence into the yard from a back street. He was afraid to go in at the gate for fear of meeting Gerasim.
His anxiety was unnecessary, however; Gerasim was no longer in the yard. On coming out of the house he had at once missed Mumu. He never remembered her failing to wait for his return, and began running up and down, looking for her, and calling her in his own way. . . . He rushed up to his garret, up to the hay-loft, ran out into the street, this way and that. . . . She was lost! He turned to the other serfs, with the most despairing signs, questioned them about her, pointing to her height from the ground, describing her with his hands. . . . Some of them really did not know what had become of Mumu, and merely shook their heads, others did know, and smiled to him for all response, while the steward assumed an important air, and began scolding the coachmen. Then Gerasim ran right away out of the yard.
It was dark by the time he came back. From his worn-out look, his unsteady walk, and his dusty clothes, it might be surmised that he had been running over half Moscow. He stood still opposite the windows of the mistress’ house, took a searching look at the steps where a group of house-serfs were crowded together, turned away, and uttered once more his inarticulate ‘Mumu.’ Mumu did not answer. He went away. Every one looked after him, but no one smiled or said a word, and the inquisitive postillion Antipka reported next morning in the kitchen that the dumb man had been groaning all night.
All the next day Gerasim did not show himself, so that they were obliged to send the coachman Potap for water instead of him, at which the coachman Potap was anything but pleased. The lady asked Gavrila if her orders had been carried out. Gavrila replied that they had. The next morning Gerasim came out of his garret, and went about his work. He came in to his dinner, ate it, and went out again, without a greeting to any one. His face, which had always been lifeless, as with all deaf-mutes, seemed now to be turned to stone. After dinner he went out of the yard again, but not for long; he came back, and went straight up to the hay-loft. Night came on, a clear moonlight night. Gerasim lay breathing heavily, and incessantly turning from side to side. Suddenly he felt something pull at the skirt of his coat. He started, but did not raise his head, and even shut his eyes tighter. But again there was a pull, stronger than before; he jumped up . . . before him, with an end of string round her neck, was Mumu, twisting and turning. A prolonged cry of delight broke from his speechless breast; he caught up Mumu, and hugged her tight in his arms, she licked his nose and eyes, and beard and moustache, all in one instant. . . . He stood a little, thought a minute, crept cautiously down from the hay-loft, looked round, and having satisfied himself that no one could see him, made his way successfully to his garret. Gerasim had guessed before that his dog had not got lost by her own doing, that she must have been taken away by the mistress’ orders; the servants had explained to him by signs that his Mumu had snapped at her, and he determined to take his own measures. First he fed Mumu with a bit of bread, fondled her, and put her to bed, then he fell to meditating, and spent the whole night long in meditating how he could best conceal her. At last he decided to leave her all day in the garret, and only to come in now and then to see her, and to take her out at night. The hole in the door he stopped up effectually with his old overcoat, and almost before it was light he was already in the yard, as though nothing had happened, even — innocent guile! — the same expression of melancholy on his face. It did not even occur to the poor deaf man that Mumu would betray herself by her whining; in reality, every one in the house was soon aware that the dumb man’s dog had come back, and was locked up in his garret, but from sympathy with him and with her, and partly, perhaps, from dread of him, they did not let him know that they had found out his secret. The steward scratched his hand, and gave a despairing wave of his hand, as much as to say, ‘Well, well, God have mercy on him! If only it doesn’t come to the mistress’ ears!’
But the dumb man had never shown such energy as on that day; he cleaned and scraped the whole courtyard, pulled up every single weed with his own hand, tugged up every stake in the fence of the flower-garden, to satisfy himself that they were strong enough, and unaided drove them in again; in fact, he toiled and laboured so that even the old lady noticed his zeal. Twice in the course of the day Gerasim went stealthily in to see his prisoner when night came on, he lay down to sleep with her in the garret, not in the hay-loft, and only at two o’clock in the night he went out to take her a turn in the fresh air. After walking about the courtyard a good while with her, he was just turning back, when suddenly a rustle was heard behind the fence on the side of the back street. Mumu pricked up her ears, growled — went up to the fence, sniffed, and gave vent to a loud shrill bark. Some drunkard had thought fit to take refuge under the fence for the night. At that very time the old lady had just fallen asleep after a prolonged fit of ‘nervous agitation’; these fits of agitation always overtook her after too hearty a supper. The sudden bark waked her up: her heart palpitated, and she felt faint. ‘Girls, girls!’ she moaned. ‘Girls!’ The terrified maids ran into her bedroom. ‘Oh, oh, I am dying!’ she said, flinging her arms about in her agitation. ‘Again, that dog again! . . . Oh, send for the doctor. They mean to be the death of me. . . . The dog, the dog again! Oh!’ And she let her head fall back, which always signified a swoon. They rushed for the doctor, that is, for the household physician, Hariton. This doctor, whose whole qualification consisted in wearing soft-soled boots, knew how to feel the pulse delicately. He used to sleep fourteen hours out of the twenty-four, but the rest of the time he was always sighing, and continually dosing the old lady with cherrybay drops. This doctor ran up at once, fumigated the room with burnt feathers, and when the old lady opened her eyes, promptly offered her a wineglass of the hallowed drops on a silver tray. The old lady took them, but began again at once in a tearful voice complaining of the dog, of Gavrila, and of her fate, declaring that she was a poor old woman, and that every one had forsaken her, no one pitied her, every one wished her dead. Meanwhile the luckless Mumu had gone on barking, while Gerasim tried in vain to call her away from the fence. ‘There . . . there . . . again,’ groaned the old lady, and once more she turned up the whites of her eyes. The doctor whispered to a maid, she rushed into the outer-hall, and shook Stepan, he ran to wake Gavrila, Gavrila in a fury ordered the whole household to get up.
Gerasim turned round, saw lights and shadows moving in the windows, and with an instinct of coming trouble in his heart, put Mumu under his arm, ran into his garret, and locked himself in. A few minutes later five men were banging at his door, but feeling the resistance of the bolt, they stopped. Gavrila ran up in a fearful state of mind, and ordered them all to wait there and watch till morning. Then he flew off himself to the maids’ quarter, and through an old companion, Liubov Liubimovna, with whose assistance he used to steal tea, sugar, and other groceries and to falsify the accounts, sent word to the mistress that the dog had unhappily run back from somewhere, but that tomorrow she should be killed, and would the mistress be so gracious as not to be angry and to overlook it. The old lady would probably not have been so soon appeased, but the doctor had in his haste given her fully forty drops instead of twelve. The strong dose of narcotic acted; in a quarter of an hour the old lady was in a sound and peaceful sleep; while Gerasim was lying with a white face on his bed, holding Mumu’s mouth tightly shut.
Next morning the lady woke up rather late. Gavrila was waiting till she should be awake, to give the order for a final assault on Gerasim’s stronghold, while he prepared himself to face a fearful storm. But the storm did not come off. The old lady lay in bed and sent for the eldest of her dependent companions.
‘Liubov Liubimovna,’ she began in a subdued weak voice — she was fond of playing the part of an oppressed and forsaken victim; needless to say, every one in the house was made extremely uncomfortable at such times —‘Liubov Liubimovna, you see my position; go, my love to Gavrila Andreitch, and talk to him a little Can he really prize some wretched cur above the repose — the very life — of his mistress? I could not bear to think so,’ she added, with an expression of deep feeling. ‘Go, my love; be so good as to go to Gavrila Andreitch for me.’
Liubov Liubimovna went to Gavrila’s room. What conversation passed between them is not known, but a short time after, a whole crowd of people was moving across the yard in the direction of Gerasim’s garret. Gavrila walked in front, holding his cap on with his hand, though there was no wind. The footmen and cooks were close behind him; Uncle Tail was looking out of a window, giving instructions, that is to say, simply waving his hands. At the rear there was a crowd of small boys skipping and hopping along; half of them were outsiders who had run up. On the narrow staircase leading to the garret sat one guard; at the door were standing two more with sticks. They began to mount the stairs, which they entirely blocked up. Gavrila went up to the door, knocked with his fist, shouting, ‘Open the door!’
A stifled bark was audible, but there was no answer.
‘Open the door, I tell you,’ he repeated.
‘But, Gavrila Andreitch,’ Stepan observed from below, ‘he’s deaf, you know — he doesn’t hear.’
They all laughed.
‘What are we to do?’ Gavrila rejoined from above.
‘Why, there’s a hole there in the door,’ answered Stepan, ‘so you shake the stick in there.’
Gavrila bent down.
‘He’s stuffed it up with a coat or something.’
‘Well, you just push the coat in.’
At this moment a smothered bark was heard again.
‘See, see — she speaks for herself,’ was remarked in the crowd, and again they laughed.
Gavrila scratched his ear.
‘No, mate,’ he responded at last, ‘you can poke the coat in yourself, if you like.’
‘All right, let me.’
And Stepan scrambled up, took the stick, pushed in the coat, and began waving the stick about in the opening, saying, ‘Come out, come out!’ as he did so. He was still waving the stick, when suddenly the door of the garret was flung open; all the crowd flew pell-mell down the stairs instantly, Gavrila first of all. Uncle Tail locked the window.
‘Come, come, come,’ shouted Gavrila from the yard, ‘mind what you’re about.’
Gerasim stood without stirring in his doorway. The crowd gathered at the foot of the stairs. Gerasim, with his arms akimbo, looked down at all these poor creatures in German coats; in his red peasant’s shirt he looked like a giant before them. Gavrila took a step forward.
‘Mind, mate,’ said he, ‘don’t be insolent.’
And he began to explain to him by signs that the mistress insists on having his dog; that he must hand it over at once, or it would be the worse for him.
Gerasim looked at him, pointed to the dog, made a motion with his hand round his neck, as though he were pulling a noose tight, and glanced with a face of inquiry at the steward.
‘Yes, yes,’ the latter assented, nodding; ‘yes, just so.’
Gerasim dropped his eyes, then all of a sudden roused himself and pointed to Mumu, who was all the while standing beside him, innocently wagging her tail and pricking up her ears inquisitively. Then he repeated the strangling action round his neck and significantly struck himself on the breast, as though announcing he would take upon himself the task of killing Mumu.
‘But you’ll deceive us,’ Gavrila waved back in response.
Gerasim looked at him, smiled scornfully, struck himself again on the breast, and slammed-to the door.
They all looked at one another in silence.
‘What does that mean?’ Gavrila began. ‘He’s locked himself in.’
‘Let him be, Gavrila Andreitch,’ Stepan advised; ‘he’ll do it if he’s promised. He’s like that, you know. . . . If he makes a promise, it’s a certain thing. He’s not like us others in that. The truth’s the truth with him. Yes, indeed.’
‘Yes,’ they all repeated, nodding their heads, ‘yes — that’s so — yes.’
Uncle Tail opened his window, and he too said, ‘Yes.’
‘Well, may be, we shall see,’ responded Gavrila; ‘any way, we won’t take off the guard. Here you, Eroshka!’ he added, addressing a poor fellow in a yellow nankeen coat, who considered himself to be a gardener, ‘what have you to do? Take a stick and sit here, and if anything happens, run to me at once!’
Eroshka took a stick, and sat down on the bottom stair. The crowd dispersed, all except a few inquisitive small boys, while Gavrila went home and sent word through Liubov Liubimovna to the mistress, that everything had been done, while he sent a postillion for a policeman in case of need. The old lady tied a knot in her handkerchief, sprinkled some eau-de-Cologne on it, sniffed at it, and rubbed her temples with it, drank some tea, and, being still under the influence of the cherrybay drops, fell asleep again.
An hour after all this hubbub the garret door opened, and Gerasim showed himself. He had on his best coat; he was leading Mumu by a string. Eroshka moved aside and let him pass. Gerasim went to the gates. All the small boys in the yard stared at him in silence. He did not even turn round; he only put his cap on in the street. Gavrila sent the same Eroshka to follow him and keep watch on him as a spy. Eroshka, seeing from a distance that he had gone into a cookshop with his dog, waited for him to come out again.
Gerasim was well known at the cookshop, and his signs were understood. He asked for cabbage soup with meat in it, and sat down with his arms on the table. Mumu stood beside his chair, looking calmly at him with her intelligent eyes. Her coat was glossy; one could see she had just been combed down. They brought Gerasim the soup. He crumbled some bread into it, cut the meat up small, and put the plate on the ground. Mumu began eating in her usual refined way, her little muzzle daintily held so as scarcely to touch her food. Gerasim gazed a long while at her; two big tears suddenly rolled from his eyes; one fell on the dog’s brow, the other into the soup. He shaded his face with his hand. Mumu ate up half the plateful, and came away from it, licking her lips. Gerasim got up, paid for the soup, and went out, followed by the rather perplexed glances of the waiter. Eroshka, seeing Gerasim, hid round a corner, and letting him get in front, followed him again.
Gerasim walked without haste, still holding Mumu by a string. When he got to the corner of the street, he stood still as though reflecting, and suddenly set off with rapid steps to the Crimean Ford. On the way he went into the yard of a house, where a lodge was being built, and carried away two bricks under his arm. At the Crimean Ford, he turned along the bank, went to a place where there were two little rowing-boats fastened to stakes (he had noticed them there before), and jumped into one of them with Mumu. A lame old man came out of a shed in the corner of a kitchen-garden and shouted after him; but Gerasim only nodded, and began rowing so vigorously, though against stream, that in an instant he had darted two hundred yards away. The old man stood for a while, scratched his back first with the left and then with the right hand, and went back hobbling to the shed.
Gerasim rowed on and on. Moscow was soon left behind. Meadows stretched each side of the bank, market gardens, fields, and copses; peasants’ huts began to make their appearance. There was the fragrance of the country. He threw down his oars, bent his head down to Mumu, who was sitting facing him on a dry cross seat — the bottom of the boat was full of water — and stayed motionless, his mighty hands clasped upon her back, while the boat was gradually carried back by the current towards the town. At last Gerasim drew himself up hurriedly, with a sort of sick anger in his face, he tied up the bricks he had taken with string, made a running noose, put it round Mumu’s neck, lifted her up over the river, and for the last time looked at her. . . . she watched him confidingly and without any fear, faintly wagging her tail. He turned away, frowned, and wrung his hands. . . . Gerasim heard nothing, neither the quick shrill whine of Mumu as she fell, nor the heavy splash of the water; for him the noisiest day was soundless and silent as even the stillest night is not silent to us. When he opened his eyes again, little wavelets were hurrying over the river, chasing one another; as before they broke against the boat’s side, and only far away behind wide circles moved widening to the bank.
Directly Gerasim had vanished from Eroshka’s sight, the latter returned home and reported what he had seen.
‘Well, then,’ observed Stepan, ‘he’ll drown her. Now we can feel easy about it. If he once promises a thing. . . . ’
No one saw Gerasim during the day. He did not have dinner at home. Evening came on; they were all gathered together to supper, except him.
‘What a strange creature that Gerasim is!’ piped a fat laundrymaid; ‘fancy, upsetting himself like that over a dog. . . . Upon my word!’
‘But Gerasim has been here,’ Stepan cried all at once, scraping up his porridge with a spoon.
‘Why, a couple of hours ago. Yes, indeed! I ran against him at the gate; he was going out again from here; he was coming out of the yard. I tried to ask him about his dog, but he wasn’t in the best of humours, I could see. Well, he gave me a shove; I suppose he only meant to put me out of his way, as if he’d say, “Let me go, do!” but he fetched me such a crack on my neck, so seriously, that — oh! oh!’ And Stepan, who could not help laughing, shrugged up and rubbed the back of his head. ‘Yes,’ he added; ‘he has got a fist; it’s something like a fist, there’s no denying that!’
They all laughed at Stepan, and after supper they separated to go to bed.
Meanwhile, at that very time, a gigantic figure with a bag on his shoulders and a stick in his hand, was eagerly and persistently stepping out along the T—— highroad. It was Gerasim. He was hurrying on without looking round; hurrying homewards, to his own village, to his own country. After drowning poor Mumu, he had run back to his garret, hurriedly packed a few things together in an old horsecloth, tied it up in a bundle, tossed it on his shoulder, and so was ready. He had noticed the road carefully when he was brought to Moscow; the village his mistress had taken him from lay only about twenty miles off the highroad. He walked along it with a sort of invincible purpose, a desperate and at the same time joyous determination. He walked, his shoulders thrown back and his chest expanded; his eyes were fixed greedily straight before him. He hastened as though his old mother were waiting for him at home, as though she were calling him to her after long wanderings in strange parts, among strangers. The summer night, that was just drawing in, was still and warm; on one side, where the sun had set, the horizon was still light and faintly flushed with the last glow of the vanished day; on the other side a blue-grey twilight had already risen up. The night was coming up from that quarter. Quails were in hundreds around; corncrakes were calling to one another in the thickets. . . . Gerasim could not hear them; he could not hear the delicate night-whispering of the trees, by which his strong legs carried him, but he smelt the familiar scent of the ripening rye, which was wafted from the dark fields; he felt the wind, flying to meet him — the wind from home — beat caressingly upon his face, and play with his hair and his beard. He saw before him the whitening road homewards, straight as an arrow. He saw in the sky stars innumerable, lighting up his way, and stepped out, strong and bold as a lion, so that when the rising sun shed its moist rosy light upon the still fresh and unwearied traveller, already thirty miles lay between him and Moscow.
In a couple of days he was at home, in his little hut, to the great astonishment of the soldier’s wife who had been put in there. After praying before the holy pictures, he set off at once to the village elder. The village elder was at first surprised; but the haycutting had just begun; Gerasim was a first-rate mower, and they put a scythe into his hand on the spot, and he went to mow in his old way, mowing so that the peasants were fairly astounded as they watched his wide sweeping strokes and the heaps he raked together. . . .
In Moscow the day after Gerasim’s flight they missed him. They went to his garret, rummaged about in it, and spoke to Gavrila. He came, looked, shrugged his shoulders, and decided that the dumb man had either run away or had drowned himself with his stupid dog. They gave information to the police, and informed the lady. The old lady was furious, burst into tears, gave orders that he was to be found whatever happened, declared she had never ordered the dog to be destroyed, and, in fact, gave Gavrila such a rating that he could do nothing all day but shake his head and murmur, ‘Well!’ until Uncle Tail checked him at last, sympathetically echoing ‘We-ell!’ At last the news came from the country of Gerasim’s being there. The old lady was somewhat pacified; at first she issued a mandate for him to be brought back without delay to Moscow; afterwards, however, she declared that such an ungrateful creature was absolutely of no use to her. Soon after this she died herself; and her heirs had no thought to spare for Gerasim; they let their mother’s other servants redeem their freedom on payment of an annual rent.
And Gerasim is living still, a lonely man in his lonely hut; he is strong and healthy as before, and does the work of four men as before, and as before is serious and steady. But his neighbours have observed that ever since his return from Moscow he has quite given up the society of women; he will not even look at them, and does not keep even a single dog. ‘It’s his good luck, though,’ the peasants reason; ‘that he can get on without female folk; and as for a dog — what need has he of a dog? you wouldn’t get a thief to go into his yard for any money!’ Such is the fame of the dumb man’s Titanic strength.
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