It was two years after my visit that Panteley Eremyitch’s troubles began — his real troubles. Disappointments, disasters, even misfortunes he had had before that time, but he had paid no attention to them, and had risen superior to them in former days. The first blow that fell upon him was the most heartrending for him. Masha left him.
What induced her to forsake his roof, where she seemed to be so thoroughly at home, it is hard to say. Tchertop-hanov to the end of his days clung to the conviction that a certain young neighbour, a retired captain of Uhlans, named Yaff, was at the root of Masha’s desertion. He had taken her fancy, according to Panteley Eremyitch, simply by constantly curling his moustaches, pomading himself to excess, and sniggering significantly; but one must suppose that the vagrant gypsy blood in Masha’s veins had more to do with it. However that may have been, one fine summer evening Masha tied up a few odds and ends in a small bundle, and walked out of Tchertop-hanov’s house.
For three days before this she had sat crouched up in a corner, huddled against the wall, like a wounded fox, and had not spoken a word to any one; she had only turned her eyes about, and twitched her eyebrows, and faintly gnashed her teeth, and moved her arms as though she were wrapping herself up. This mood had come upon her before, but had never lasted long: Tchertop-hanov knew that, and so he neither worried himself nor worried her. But when, on coming in from the kennels, where, in his huntsman’s words, the last two hounds ‘had departed,’ he met a servant girl who, in a trembling voice, informed him that Marya Akinfyevna sent him her greetings, and left word that she wished him every happiness, but she was not coming back to him any more; Tchertop-hanov, after reeling round where he stood and uttering a hoarse yell, rushed at once after the runaway, snatching up his pistol as he went.
He overtook her a mile and a half from his house, near a birch wood, on the high-road to the district town. The sun was sinking on the horizon, and everything was suddenly suffused with purple glow — trees, plants, and earth alike.
‘To Yaff! to Yaff!’ groaned Tchertop-hanov directly he caught sight of Masha. ‘Going to Yaff!’ he repeated, running up to her, and almost stumbling at every step.
Masha stood still, and turned round facing him.
She stood with her back to the light, and looked all black, as though she had been carved out of dark wood; only the whites of her eyes stood out like silvery almonds, but the eyes themselves — the pupils — were darker than ever.
She flung her bundle aside, and folded her arms. ‘You are going to Yaff, wretched girl!’ repeated Tchertop-hanov, and he was on the point of seizing her by the shoulder, but, meeting her eyes, he was abashed, and stood uneasily where he was.
‘I am not going to Mr. Yaff, Panteley Eremyitch,’ replied Masha in soft, even tones; ‘it’s only I can’t live with you any longer.’
‘Can’t live with me? Why not? Have I offended you in some way?’
Masha shook her head. ‘You’ve not offended me in any way, Panteley Eremyitch, only my heart is heavy in your house. . . . Thanks for the past, but I can’t stay — no!’
Tchertop-hanov was amazed; he positively slapped his thighs, and bounced up and down in his astonishment.
‘How is that? Here she’s gone on living with me, and known nothing but peace and happiness, and all of a sudden — her heart’s heavy! and she flings me over! She goes and puts a kerchief on her head, and is gone. She received every respect, like any lady.’
‘I don’t care for that in the least,’ Masha interrupted.
‘Don’t care for it? From a wandering gypsy to turn into a lady, and she doesn’t care for it! How don’t you care for it, you low-born slave? Do you expect me to believe that? There’s treachery hidden in it — treachery!’
He began frowning again.
‘There’s no treachery in my thoughts, and never has been,’ said Masha in her distinct, resonant voice; ‘I’ve told you already, my heart was heavy.’
‘Masha!’ cried Tchertop-hanov, striking himself a blow on the chest with his fist; ‘there, stop it; hush, you have tortured me . . . now, it’s enough! O my God! think only what Tisha will say; you might have pity on him, at least!’
‘Remember me to Tihon Ivanitch, and tell him . . . ’
Tchertop-hanov wrung his hands. ‘No, you are talking nonsense — you are not going! Your Yaff may wait for you in vain!’
‘Mr. Yaff,’ Masha was beginning. . . .
‘A fine Mister Yaff!’ Tchertop-hanov mimicked her. ‘He’s an underhand rascal, a low cur — that’s what he is — and a phiz like an ape’s!’
For fully half-an-hour Tchertop-hanov was struggling with Masha. He came close to her, he fell back, he shook his fists at her, he bowed down before her, he wept, he scolded.
. . . ‘I can’t,’ repeated Masha; ‘I am so sad at heart . . . devoured by weariness.’
Little by little her face assumed such an indifferent, almost drowsy expression, that Tchertop-hanov asked her if they had not drugged her with laudanum.
‘It’s weariness,’ she said for the tenth time.
‘Then what if I kill you?’ he cried suddenly, and he pulled the pistol out of his pocket.
Masha smiled; her face brightened.
‘Well, kill me, Panteley Eremyitch; as you will; but go back, I won’t.’
‘You won’t come back?’ Tchertop-hanov cocked the pistol.
‘I won’t go back, my dearie. Never in my life will I go back. My word is steadfast.’
Tchertop-hanov suddenly thrust the pistol into her hand, and sat down on the ground.
‘Then, you kill me! Without you I don’t care to live. I have grown loathsome to you — and everything’s loathsome for me!’
Masha bent down, took up her bundle, laid the pistol on the grass, its mouth away from Tchertop-hanov, and went up to him.
‘Ah, my dearie, why torture yourself? Don’t you know what we gypsy girls are? It’s our nature; you must make up your mind to it. When there comes weariness the divider, and calls the soul away to strange, distant parts, how is one to stay here? Don’t forget your Masha; you won’t find such another sweetheart, and I won’t forget you, my dearie; but our life together’s over!’
‘I loved you, Masha,’ Tchertop-hanov muttered into the fingers in which he had buried his face. . . .
‘And I loved you, little friend Panteley Eremyitch.’
‘I love you, I love you madly, senselessly — and when I think now that you, in your right senses, without rhyme or reason, are leaving me like this, and going to wander over the face of the earth — well, it strikes me that if I weren’t a poor penniless devil, you wouldn’t be throwing me over!’
At these words Masha only laughed.
‘And he used to say I didn’t care for money,’ she commented, and she gave Tchertop-hanov a vigorous thump on the shoulder.
He jumped up on to his feet.
‘Come, at least you must let me give you some money — how can you go like this without a halfpenny? But best of all: kill me! I tell you plainly: kill me once for all!’
Masha shook her head again. ‘Kill you? Why get sent to Siberia, my dearie?’
Tchertop-hanov shuddered. ‘Then it’s only from that — from fear of penal servitude.’
He rolled on the grass again.
Masha stood over him in silence. ‘I’m sorry for you, dear,’ she said with a sigh: ‘you’re a good fellow . . . but there’s no help for it: good-bye!’
She turned away and took two steps. The night had come on by now, and dim shadows were closing in on all sides. Tchertop-hanov jumped up swiftly and seized Masha from behind by her two elbows.
‘You are going away like this, serpent, to Yaff!’
‘Good-bye!’ Masha repeated sharply and significantly; she tore herself away and walked off.
Tchertop-hanov looked after her, ran to the place where the pistol was lying, snatched it up, took aim, fired. . . . But before he touched the trigger, his arm twitched upwards; the ball whistled over Masha’s head. She looked at him over her shoulder without stopping, and went on, swinging as she walked, as though in defiance of him.
He hid his face — and fell to running.
But before he had run fifty paces he suddenly stood still as though turned to stone. A well-known, too well-known voice came floating to him. Masha was singing. ‘It was in the sweet days of youth,’ she sang: every note seemed to linger plaintive and ardent in the evening air. Tchertop-hanov listened intently. The voice retreated and retreated; at one moment it died away, at the next it floated across, hardly audible, but still with the same passionate glow.
‘She does it to spite me,’ thought Tchertop-hanov; but at once he moaned, ‘oh, no! it’s her last farewell to me for ever,’— and he burst into floods of tears.
The next day he appeared at the lodgings of Mr. Yaff, who, as a true man of the world, not liking the solitude of the country, resided in the district town, ‘to be nearer the young ladies,’ as he expressed it. Tchertop-hanov did not find Yaff; he had, in the words of his valet, set off for Moscow the evening before.
‘Then it is so!’ cried Tchertop-hanov furiously; ‘there was an arrangement between them; she has run away with him . . . but wait a bit!’
He broke into the young cavalry captain’s room in spite of the resistance of the valet. In the room there was hanging over the sofa a portrait in oils of the master, in the Uhlan uniform. ‘Ah, here you are, you tailless ape!’ thundered Tchertop-hanov; he jumped on to the sofa, and with a blow of his fist burst a big hole in the taut canvas.
‘Tell your worthless master,’ he turned to the valet, ‘that, in the absence of his own filthy phiz, the nobleman Tchertop-hanov put a hole through the painted one; and if he cares for satisfaction from me, he knows where to find the nobleman Tchertop-hanov! or else I’ll find him out myself! I’ll fetch the rascally ape from the bottom of the sea!’
Saying these words, Tchertop-hanov jumped off the sofa and majestically withdrew.
But the cavalry captain Yaff did not demand satisfaction from him — indeed, he never met him anywhere — and Tchertop-hanov did not think of seeking his enemy out, and no scandal followed. Masha herself soon after this disappeared beyond all trace. Tchertop-hanov took to drink; however, he ‘reformed’ later. But then a second blow fell upon him.
This was the death of his bosom friend Tihon Ivanovitch Nedopyuskin. His health had begun to fail two years before his death: he began to suffer from asthma, and was constantly dropping asleep, and on waking up could not at once come to himself; the district doctor maintained that this was the result of ‘something rather like fits.’ During the three days which preceded Masha’s departure, those three days when ‘her heart was heavy,’ Nedopyuskin had been away at his own place at Bezselendyevka: he had been laid up with a severe cold. Masha’s conduct was consequently even more unexpected for him; it made almost a deeper impression on him than on Tchertop-hanov himself. With his natural sweetness and diffidence, he gave utterance to nothing but the tenderest sympathy with his friend, and the most painful perplexity . . . but it crushed and made havoc of everything in him. ‘She has torn the heart out of me,’ he would murmur to himself, as he sat on his favourite checked sofa and twisted his fingers. Even when Tchertop-hanov had got over it, he, Nedopyuskin, did not recover, and still felt that ‘there was a void within him.’ ‘Here,’ he would say, pointing to the middle of his breast above his stomach. In that way he lingered on till the winter. When the frosts came, his asthma got better, but he was visited by, not ‘something rather like a fit’ this time, but a real unmistakable fit. He did not lose his memory at once; he still knew Tchertop-hanov and his friend’s cry of despair, ‘How can you desert me, Tisha, without my consent, just as Masha did?’ He even responded with faltering, uncertain tongue, ‘O— P— a — ey — E— e — yitch, I will o — bey you.’
This did not, however, prevent him from dying the same day, without waiting for the district doctor, who (on seeing the hardly cold body) found nothing left for him to do, but with a melancholy recognition of the instability of all things mortal, to ask for ‘a drop of vodka and a snack of fish.’ As might have been anticipated, Tihon Ivanitch had bequeathed his property to his revered patron and generous protector, Panteley Eremyitch Tchertop-hanov; but it was of no great benefit to the revered patron, as it was shortly after sold by public auction, partly in order to cover the expense of a sepulchral monument, a statue, which Tchertop-hanov (and one can see his father’s craze coming out in him here) had thought fit to put up over the ashes of his friend. This statue, which was to have represented an angel praying, was ordered by him from Moscow; but the agent recommended to him, conceiving that connoisseurs in sculpture were not often to be met with in the provinces, sent him, instead of an angel, a goddess Flora, which had for many years adorned one of those neglected gardens near Moscow, laid out in the days of Catherine. He had an excellent reason for doing so, since this statue, though highly artistic, in the rococo style, with plump little arms, tossing curls, a wreath of roses round the bare bosom, and a serpentine figure, was obtained by him, the agent, for nothing. And so to this day the mythological goddess stands, with one foot elegantly lifted, above the tomb of Tihon Ivanovitch, and with a genuinely Pompadour simper, gazes at the calves and sheep, those invariable visitors of our village graveyards, as they stray about her.
On the loss of his faithful friend, Tchertop-hanov again took to drink, and this time far more seriously. Everything went utterly to the bad with him. He had no money left for sport; the last of his meagre fortune was spent; the last of his few servants ran away. Panteley Eremyitch’s isolation became complete: he had no one to speak a word to even, far less to open his heart to. His pride alone had suffered no diminution. On the contrary, the worse his surroundings became, the more haughty and lofty and inaccessible he was himself. He became a complete misanthrope in the end. One distraction, one delight, was left him: a superb grey horse, of the Don breed, named by him Malek-Adel, a really wonderful animal.
This horse came into his possession in this fashion.
As he was riding one day through a neighbouring village, Tchertop-hanov heard a crowd of peasants shouting and hooting before a tavern. In the middle of the crowd stalwart arms were continually rising and falling in exactly the same place.
‘What is happening there?’ he asked, in the peremptory tone peculiar to him, of an old peasant woman who was standing on the threshold of her hut. Leaning against the doorpost as though dozing, the old woman stared in the direction of the tavern. A white-headed urchin in a print smock, with a cypress-wood cross on his little bare breast, was sitting with little outstretched legs, and little clenched fists between her bast slippers; a chicken close by was chipping at a stale crust of rye-bread.
‘The Lord knows, your honour,’ answered the old woman. Bending forward, she laid her wrinkled brown hand on the child’s head. ‘They say our lads are beating a Jew.’
‘A Jew? What Jew?’
‘The Lord knows, your honour. A Jew came among us; and where he’s come from — who knows? Vassya, come to your mammy, sir; sh, sh, nasty brute!’
The old woman drove away the chicken, while Vassya clung to her petticoat.
‘So, you see, they’re beating him, sir.’
‘Why beating him? What for?’
‘I don’t know, your honour. No doubt, he deserves it. And, indeed, why not beat him? You know, your honour, he crucified Christ!’
Tchertop-hanov uttered a whoop, gave his horse a lash on the neck with the riding-whip, flew straight towards the crowd, and plunging into it, began with the same riding-whip thrashing the peasants to left and to right indiscriminately, shouting in broken tones: ‘Lawless brutes! lawless brutes! It’s for the law to punish, and not pri-vate per-sons! The law! the law! the law!’
Before two minutes had passed the crowd had beaten a retreat in various directions; and on the ground before the tavern door could be seen a small, thin, swarthy creature, in a nankin long coat, dishevelled and mangled . . . a pale face, rolling eyes, open mouth. . . . What was it? . . . deadly terror, or death itself?
‘Why have you killed this Jew?’ Tchertop-hanov shouted at the top of his voice, brandishing his riding-whip menacingly.
The crowd faintly roared in response. One peasant was rubbing his shoulder, another his side, a third his nose.
‘You’re pretty free with your whip!’ was heard in the back rows.
‘Why have you killed the Jew, you christened Pagans?’ repeated Tchertop-hanov.
But, at this point, the creature lying on the ground hurriedly jumped on to its feet, and, running up to Tchertop-hanov, convulsively seized hold of the edge of the saddle.
‘Alive!’ was heard in the background.
‘He’s a regular cat!’
‘Your ex-shelency, defend me, save me!’ the unhappy Jew was faltering meanwhile, his whole body squeezed up against Tchertop-hanov’s foot; ‘or they will murder me, they will murder me, your ex-shelency!’
‘What have they against you?’ asked Tchertop-hanov.
‘I can’t tell, so help me God! Some cow hereabouts died . . . so they suspect me . . . but I . . . ’ ‘Well, that we’ll go into later!’ Tchertop-hanov interrupted; ‘but now, you hold on to the saddle and follow me. And you!’ he added, turning to the crowd,’ do you know me? — I’m the landowner Panteley Tchertop-hanov. I live at Bezsonovo — and so you can take proceedings against me, when you think fit — and against the Jew too, while you’re about it!’
‘Why take proceedings?’ said a grey-bearded, decent-looking peasant, bowing low, the very picture of an ancient patriarch. (He had been no whit behind the others in belabouring the Jew, however). ‘We know your honour, Panteley Eremyitch, well; we thank your honour humbly for teaching us better!’
‘Why take proceedings?’ chimed in the others.
‘As to the Jew, we’ll take it out of him another day! He won’t escape us! We shall be on the look-out for him.’
Tchertop-hanov pulled his moustaches, snorted, and went home at a walking pace, accompanied by the Jew, whom he had delivered from his persecutors just as he had once delivered Tihon Nedopyuskin.
A few days later the one groom who was left to Tchertop-hanov announced that someone had come on horseback and wanted to speak to him. Tchertop-hanov went out on to the steps and recognised the Jew, riding a splendid horse of the Don breed, which stood proud and motionless in the middle of the courtyard. The Jew was bareheaded; he held his cap under his arm, and had thrust his feet into the stirrup-straps, not into the stirrups themselves; the ragged skirts of his long coat hung down on both sides of the saddle. On seeing Tchertop-hanov, he gave a smack with his lips, and ducked down with a twitch of the elbows and a bend of the legs. Tchertop-hanov, however, not only failed to respond to his greeting, but was even enraged by it; he was all on fire in a minute: a scurvy Jew dare to ride a magnificent horse like that! . . . It was positively indecent!
‘Hi, you Ethiopian fright!’ he shouted; ‘get off at once, if you don’t want to be flung off into the mud!’
The Jew promptly obeyed, rolled off the horse like a sack, and keeping hold of the rein with one hand, he approached Tchertop-hanov, smiling and bowing.
‘What do you want?’ Panteley Eremyitch inquired with dignity.
‘Your ex-shelency, deign to look what a horse!’ said the Jew, never ceasing to bow for an instant.
‘Er . . . well . . . the horse is all right. Where did you get it from? Stole it, I suppose?’
‘How can you say that, your ex-shelency! I’m an honest Jew. I didn’t steal it, but I obtained it for your ex-shelency — really! And the trouble, the trouble I had to get it? But, then, see what a horse it is! There’s not another horse like it to be found in all the Don country! Look, your ex-shelency, what a horse it is! Here, kindly step this way! Wo! . . . wo! . . . turn round, stand sideways! And we’ll take off the saddle. What do you think of him, your ex-shelency?’
‘The horse is all right,’ repeated Tchertop-hanov with affected indifference, though his heart was beating like a sledge-hammer in his breast. He was a passionate lover of ‘horse-flesh,’ and knew a good thing when he saw it.
‘Only take a look at him, your ex-shelency! Pat him on the neck! yes, yes, he-he-he-he! like this, like this!’
Tchertop-hanov, with apparent reluctance, laid his hand on the horse’s neck, gave it a pat or two, then passed his fingers from the forelock along the spine, and when he had reached a certain spot above the kidneys, like a connoisseur, he lightly pressed that spot. The horse instantly arched its spine, and looking round suspiciously at Tchertop-hanov with its haughty black eye, snorted and moved its hind legs.
The Jew laughed and faintly clapped his hands. ‘He knows his master, your ex-shelency, his master!’
‘Don’t talk nonsense,’ Tchertop-hanov interrupted with vexation. ‘To buy this horse from you . . . I haven’t the means, and as for presents, I not only wouldn’t take them from a Jew; I wouldn’t take a present from Almighty God Himself!’
‘As though I would presume to offer you a present, mercy upon me!’ cried the Jew: ‘you buy it, your ex-shelency . . . and as to the little sum — I can wait for it.’
Tchertop-hanov sank into thought.
‘What will you take for it?’ he muttered at last between his teeth.
The Jew shrugged his shoulders.
‘What I paid for it myself. Two hundred roubles.’
The horse was well worth twice —-perhaps even three times that sum.
Tchertop-hanov turned away and yawned feverishly.
‘And the money . . . when?’ he asked, scowling furiously and not looking at the Jew.
‘When your ex-shelency thinks fit.’
Tchertop-hanov flung his head back, but did not raise his eyes. ‘That’s no answer. Speak plainly, son of Herod! Am I to be under an obligation to you, hey?’
‘Well, let’s say, then,’ the Jew hastened to add, ‘in six months’ time . . . Do you agree?’
Tchertop-hanov made no reply.
The Jew tried to get a look at his face. ‘Do you agree? You permit him to be led to your stable?’
‘The saddle I don’t want,’ Tchertop-hanov blurted out abruptly. ‘Take the saddle — do you hear?’
‘To be sure, to be sure, I will take it,’ faltered the delighted Jew, shouldering the saddle.
‘And the money,’ Tchertop-hanov pursued . . . ‘in six months. And not two hundred, but two hundred and fifty. Not a word! Two hundred and fifty, I tell you! to my account.’
Tchertop-hanov still could not bring himself to raise his eyes. Never had his pride been so cruelly wounded.
‘It’s plain, it’s a present,’ was the thought in his mind; ‘he’s brought it out of gratitude, the devil!’ And he would have liked to kiss the Jew, and he would have liked to beat him.
‘Your ex-shelency,’ began the Jew, gaining a little courage, and grinning all over his face, ‘should, after the Russian fashion, take from hand to hand. . . . ’
‘What next? what an idea! A Hebrew . . . and Russian customs! Hey! you there! Take the horse; lead him to the stable. And give him some oats. I’ll come myself and look after him. And his name is to be — Malek-Adel!’
Tchertop-hanov turned to go up the steps, but turning sharply back, and running up to the Jew, he pressed his hand warmly. The latter was bending down to kiss his hand, but Tchertop-hanov bounded back again, and murmuring, ‘Tell no one!’ he vanished through the door.
From that very day the chief interest, the chief occupation, the chief pleasure in the life of Tchertop-hanov, was Malek-Adel. He loved him as he had not loved even Masha; he became more attached to him than even to Nedopyuskin. And what a horse it was! All fire — simply explosive as gunpowder — and stately as a boyar! Untiring, enduring, obedient, whatever you might put him to; and costing nothing for his keep; he’d be ready to nibble at the ground under his feet if there was nothing else. When he stepped at a walking pace, it was like being lulled to sleep in a nurse’s arms; when he trotted, it was like rocking at sea; when he galloped, he outstripped the wind! Never out of breath, perfectly sound in his wind. Sinews of steel: for him to stumble was a thing never recorded! To take a ditch or a fence was nothing to him — and what a clever beast! At his master’s voice he would run with his head in the air; if you told him to stand still and walked away from him, he would not stir; directly you turned back, a faint neigh to say, ‘Here I am.’ And afraid of nothing: in the pitch-dark, in a snow-storm he would find his way; and he would not let a stranger come near him for anything; he would have had his teeth in him! And a dog dare never approach him; he would have his fore-leg on his head in a minute! and that was the end of the beast. A horse of proper pride, you might flourish a switch over him as an ornament — but God forbid you touched him! But why say more? — a perfect treasure, not a horse!
If Tchertop-hanov set to describing his Malek-Adel, he could not find words to express himself. And how he petted and pampered him! His coat shone like silver — not old, but new silver — with a dark polish on it; if one passed one’s hand over it, it was like velvet! His saddle, his cloth, his bridle — all his trappings, in fact, were so well-fitted, in such good order, so bright — a perfect picture! Tchertop-hanov himself — what more can we say? — with his own hands plaited his favourite’s forelocks and mane, and washed his tail with beer, and even, more than once, rubbed his hoofs with polish. Sometimes he would mount Malek-Adel and ride out, not to see his neighbours — he avoided them, as of old — but across their lands, past their homesteads . . . for them, poor fools, to admire him from a distance! Or he would hear that there was to be a hunt somewhere, that a rich landowner had arranged a meet in some outlying part of his land: he would be off there at once, and would canter in the distance, on the horizon, astounding all spectators by the swiftness and beauty of his horse, and not letting any one come close to him. Once some hunting landowner even gave chase to him with all his suite; he saw Tchertop-hanov was getting away, and he began shouting after him with all his might, as he galloped at full speed: ‘Hey, you! Here! Take what you like for your horse! I wouldn’t grudge a thousand! I’d give my wife, my children! Take my last farthing!’
Tchertop-hanov suddenly reined in Malek-Adel. The hunting gentleman flew up to him. ‘My dear sir!’ he shouted, ‘tell me what you want? My dear friend!’
‘If you were the Tsar,’ said Tchertop-hanov emphatically (and he had never heard of Shakespeare), ‘you might give me all your kingdom for my horse; I wouldn’t take it!’ He uttered these words, chuckled, drew Malek-Adel up on to his haunches, turned him in the air on his hind legs like a top or teetotum, and off! He went like a flash over the stubble. And the hunting man (a rich prince, they said he was) flung his cap on the ground, threw himself down with his face in his cap, and lay so for half an hour.
And how could Tchertop-hanov fail to prize his horse? Was it not thanks to him, he had again an unmistakable superiority, a last superiority over all his neighbours?
Meanwhile time went by, the day fixed for payment was approaching; while, far from having two hundred and fifty roubles, Tchertop-hanov had not even fifty. What was to be done? how could it be met? ‘Well,’ he decided at last, ‘if the Jew is relentless, if he won’t wait any longer, I’ll give him my house and my land, and I’ll set off on my horse, no matter where! I’ll starve before I’ll give up Malek-Adel!’ He was greatly perturbed and even downcast; but at this juncture Fate, for the first and last time, was pitiful and smiled upon him; some distant kinswoman, whose very name was unknown to Tchertop-hanov, left him in her will a sum immense in his eyes — no less than two thousand roubles! And he received this sum in the very nick, as they say, of time; the day before the Jew was to come. Tchertop-hanov almost went out of his mind with joy, but he never even thought of vodka; from the very day Malek-Adel came into his hands he had not touched a drop.
He ran into the stable and kissed his favourite on both sides of his face above the nostrils, where the horse’s skin is always so soft. ‘Now we shall not be parted!’ he cried, patting Malek-Adel on the neck, under his well-combed mane. When he went back into the house, he counted out and sealed up in a packet two hundred and fifty roubles. Then, as he lay on his back and smoked a pipe, he mused on how he would lay out the rest of the money — what dogs he would procure, real Kostroma hounds, spot and tan, and no mistake! He even had a little talk with Perfishka, to whom he promised a new Cossack coat, with yellow braid on all the seams, and went to bed in a blissful frame of mind.
He had a bad dream: he dreamt he was riding out, hunting, not on Malek-Adel, but on some strange beast of the nature of a unicorn; a white fox, white as snow, ran to meet him. . . . He tried to crack his whip, tried to set the dogs on her — but instead of his riding-whip, he found he had a wisp of bast in his hand, and the fox ran in front of him, putting her tongue out at him. He jumped off, his unicorn stumbled, he fell . . . and fell straight into the arms of a police-constable, who was taking him before the Governor-General, and whom he recognised as Yaff. . . .
Tchertop-hanov waked up. The room was dark; the cocks were just crowing for the second time. . . . Somewhere in the far, far distance a horse neighed. Tchertop-hanov lifted up his head. . . . Once more a faint, faint neigh was heard.
‘That’s Malek-Adel neighing!’ was his thought. . . . ‘It’s his neigh. But why so far away? Bless us and save us! . . . It can’t be . . . ’
Tchertop-hanov suddenly turned chill all over; he instantly leaped out of bed, fumbled after his boots and his clothes, dressed himself, and, snatching up the stable-door key from under his pillow, he dashed out into the courtyard.
The stable was at the very end of the courtyard; one wall faced the open country. Tchertop-hanov could not at once fit the key into the lock — his hands were shaking — and he did not immediately turn the key. . . . He stood motionless, holding his breath; if only something would stir inside! ‘Malek! Malek!’ he cried, in a low voice: the silence of death! Tchertop-hanov unconsciously jogged the key; the door creaked and opened. . . . So, it was not locked. He stepped over the threshold, and again called his horse; this time by his full name, Malek-Adel! But no response came from his faithful companion; only a mouse rustled in the straw. Then Tchertop-hanov rushed into one of the three horse-boxes in the stable in which Malek-Adel was put. He went straight to the horse-box, though it was pitch-dark around. . . . Empty! Tchertop-hanov’s head went round; it seemed as though a bell was booming in his brain. He tried to say something, but only brought out a sort of hiss; and fumbling with his hands above, below, on all sides, breathless, with shaking knees, he made his way from one horse-box to another . . . to a third, full almost to the top with hay; stumbled against one wall, and then the other; fell down, rolled over on his head, got up, and suddenly ran headlong through the half-open door into the courtyard. . . .
‘Stolen! Perfishka! Perfishka! Stolen!’ he yelled at the top of his voice.
The groom Perfishka flew head-over-heels out of the loft where he slept, with only his shirt on. . . .
Like drunk men they ran against one another, the master and his solitary servant, in the middle of the courtyard; like madmen they turned round each other. The master could not explain what was the matter; nor could the servant make out what was wanted of him. ‘Woe! woe!’ wailed Tchertop-hanov. ‘Woe! woe!’ the groom repeated after him. ‘A lantern! here! light a lantern! Light! light!’ broke at last from Tchertop-hanov’s fainting lips. Perfishka rushed into the house.
But to light the lantern, to get fire, was not easy; lucifer matches were regarded as a rarity in those days in Russia; the last embers had long ago gone out in the kitchen; flint and steel were not quickly found, and they did not work well. Gnashing his teeth, Tchertop-hanov snatched them out of the hands of the flustered Perfishka, and began striking a light himself; the sparks fell in abundance, in still greater abundance fell curses, and even groans; but the tinder either did not catch or went out again, in spite of the united efforts of four swollen cheeks and lips to blow it into a flame! At last, in five minutes, not sooner, a bit of tallow candle was alight at the bottom of a battered lantern; and Tchertop-hanov, accompanied by Perfishka, dashed into the stable, lifted the lantern above his head, looked round. . . .
He bounded out into the courtyard, ran up and down it in all directions — no horse anywhere! The hurdle-fence, enclosing Panteley Eremyitch’s yard, had long been dilapidated, and in many places was bent and lying on the ground. . . . Beside the stable, it had been completely levelled for a good yard’s width. Perfishka pointed this spot out to Tchertop-hanov.
‘Master! look here; this wasn’t like this to-day. And see the ends of the uprights sticking out of the ground; that means someone has pulled them out.’
Tchertop-hanov ran up with the lantern, moved it about over the ground. . . .
‘Hoofs, hoofs, prints of horse-shoes, fresh prints!’ he muttered, speaking hurriedly.’ They took him through here, through here!’
He instantly leaped over the fence, and with a shout, ‘Malek-Adel! Malek-Adel!’ he ran straight into the open country.
Perfishka remained standing bewildered at the fence. The ring of light from the lantern was soon lost to his eyes, swallowed up in the dense darkness of a starless, moonless night.
Fainter and fainter came the sound of the despairing cries of Tchertop-hanov. . . .
It was daylight when he came home again. He hardly looked like a human being. His clothes were covered with mud, his face had a wild and ferocious expression, his eyes looked dull and sullen. In a hoarse whisper he drove Perfishka away, and locked himself in his room. He could hardly stand with fatigue, but he did not lie on his bed, but sat down on a chair by the door and clutched at his head.
‘Stolen! . . . stolen! . . . ’
But in what way had the thief contrived by night, when the stable was locked, to steal Malek-Adel? Malek-Adel, who would never let a stranger come near him even by day — steal him, too, without noise, without a sound? And how explain that not a yard-dog had barked? It was true there were only two left — two young puppies — and those two probably burrowing in rubbish from cold and hunger — but still!
‘And what am I to do now without Malek-Adel?’ Tchertop-hanov brooded. ‘I’ve lost my last pleasure now; it’s time to die. Buy another horse, seeing the money has come? But where find another horse like that?’
‘Panteley Eremyitch! Panteley Eremyitch!’ he heard a timid call at the door.
Tchertop-hanov jumped on to his feet.
‘Who is it?’ he shouted in a voice not his own.
‘It’s I, your groom, Perfishka.’
‘What do you want? Is he found? has he run home?’
‘No, Panteley Eremyitch; but that Jew chap who sold him.’ . . .
‘Ho-ho-ho-ho-ho!’ yelled Tchertop-hanov, and he at once flung open the door. ‘Drag him here! drag him along!’
On seeing the sudden apparition of his ‘benefactor’s’ dishevelled, wild-looking figure, the Jew, who was standing behind Perfishka’s back, tried to give them the slip; but Tchertop-hanov, in two bounds, was upon him, and like a tiger flew at his throat.
‘Ah! he’s come for the money! for the money!’ he cried as hoarsely as though he were being strangled himself instead of strangling the Jew; ‘you stole him by night, and are come by day for the money, eh? Eh? Eh?’
‘Mercy on us, your ex-shelency,’ the Jew tried to groan out.
‘Tell me, where’s my horse? What have you done with him? Whom have you sold him to? Tell me, tell me, tell me!’
The Jew by now could not even groan; his face was rapidly turning livid, and even the expression of fear had vanished from it. His hands dropped and hung lifeless, his whole body, furiously shaken by Tchertop-hanov, waved backwards and forwards like a reed.
‘I’ll pay you your money, I’ll pay it you in full to the last farthing,’ roared Tchertop-hanov, ‘but I’ll strangle you like any chicken if you don’t tell me at once!’ . . .
‘But you have strangled him already, master,’ observed the groom Perfishka humbly.
Then only Tchertop-hanov came to his senses.
He let go of the Jew’s neck; the latter fell heavily to the ground. Tchertop-hanov picked him up, sat him on a bench, poured a glass of vodka down his throat, and restored him to consciousness. And having restored him to consciousness, he began to talk to him.
It turned out that the Jew had not the slightest idea that Malek-Adel had been stolen. And, indeed, what motive could he have to steal the horse which he had himself procured for his ‘revered Panteley Eremyitch.’
Then Tchertop-hanov led him into the stable.
Together they scrutinised the horse-boxes, the manger, and the lock on the door, turned over the hay and the straw, and then went into the courtyard. Tchertop-hanov showed the Jew the hoofprints at the fence, and all at once he slapped his thighs.
‘Stay!’ he cried. ‘Where did you buy the horse?’
‘In the district of Maloarchangel, at Verhosensky Fair,’ answered the Jew.
Stay! This Cossack; was he a young man or old?’
‘Middle-aged — a steady man.’
‘And what was he like? What did he look like? A cunning rascal, I expect?’
‘Sure to have been a rascal, your ex-shelency.’
‘And, I say, what did he say, this rascal? — had he had the horse long?’
‘I recollect he said he’d had it a long while.’
‘Well, then, no one could have stolen him but he! Consider it yourself, listen, stand here! . . . What’s your name?’
The Jew started and turned his little black eyes upon Tchertop-hanov.
‘What’s my name?’
‘Yes, yes; what are you called?’
‘Well, judge then, Moshel Leyba, my friend — you’re a man of sense — whom would Malek-Adel have allowed to touch him except his old master? You see he must have saddled him and bridled him and taken off his cloth — there it is lying on the hay! . . . and made all his arrangements simply as if he were at home! Why, anyone except his master, Malek-Adel would have trampled under foot! He’d have raised such a din, he’d have roused the whole village? Do you agree with me?’
‘I agree, I agree, your ex-shelency.’ . . .
‘Well, then, it follows that first of all we must find this Cossack!’
‘But how are we to find him, your ex-shelency? I have only seen him one little time in my life, and where is he now, and what’s his name? Alack, alack!’ added the Jew, shaking the long curls over his ears sorrowfully.
‘Leyba!’ shouted Tchertop-hanov suddenly; ‘Leyba, look at me! You see I’ve lost my senses; I’m not myself! . . . I shall lay hands on myself if you don’t come to my aid!’
‘But how can I?’ . . .
‘Come with me, and let us find the thief.’
‘But where shall we go?’
‘We’ll go to the fairs, the highways and by-ways, to the horse-stealers, to towns and villages and hamlets — everywhere, everywhere! And don’t trouble about money; I’ve come into a fortune, brother! I’ll spend my last farthing, but I’ll get my darling back! And he shan’t escape us, our enemy, the Cossack! Where he goes we’ll go! If he’s hidden in the earth we’ll follow him! If he’s gone to the devil, we’ll follow him to Satan himself!’
‘Oh, why to Satan?’ observed the Jew; ‘we can do without him.’
‘Leyba!’ Tchertop-hanov went on; ‘Leyba, though you’re a Jew, and your creed’s an accursed one, you’ve a soul better than many a Christian soul! Have pity on me! I can’t go alone; alone I can never carry the thing through. I’m a hot-headed fellow, but you’ve a brain — a brain worth its weight in gold! Your race are like that; you succeed in everything without being taught! You’re wondering, perhaps, where I could have got the money? Come into my room — I’ll show you all the money. You may take it, you may take the cross off my neck, only give me back Malek-Adel; give him me back again!’
Tchertop-hanov was shivering as if he were in a fever; the sweat rolled down his face in drops, and, mingling with his tears, was lost in his moustaches. He pressed Leyba’s hands, he besought him, he almost kissed him. . . . He was in a sort of delirium. The Jew tried to object, to declare that it was utterly impossible for him to get away; that he had business. . . . It was useless! Tchertop-hanov would not even hear anything. There was no help for it; the poor Jew consented.
The next day Tchertop-hanov set out from Bezsonovo in a peasant cart, with Leyba. The Jew wore a somewhat troubled aspect; he held on to the rail with one hand, while all his withered figure bounded up and down on the jolting seat; the other hand he held pressed to his bosom, where lay a packet of notes wrapped up in newspaper. Tchertop-hanov sat like a statue, only moving his eyes about him, and drawing in deep breaths; in his sash there was stuck a dagger.
‘There, the miscreant who has parted us must look out for himself now!’ he muttered, as they drove out on the high-road.
His house he left in the charge of Perfishka and an old cook, a deaf old peasant woman, whom he took care of out of compassion.
‘I shall come back to you on Malek-Adel,’ he shouted to them at parting, ‘or never come back at all!’
‘You might as well be married to me at once!’ jested Perfishka, giving the cook a dig in the ribs with his elbow. ‘No fear! the master’ll never come back to us; and here I shall be bored to death all alone!’
A year passed . . . a whole year: no news had come of Panteley Eremyitch. The cook was dead, Perfishka himself made up his mind to abandon the house and go off to town, where he was constantly being persuaded to come by his cousin, apprenticed to a barber; when suddenly a rumour was set afloat that his master was coming back. The parish deacon got a letter from Panteley Eremyitch himself, in which he informed him of his intention of arriving at Bezsonovo, and asked him to prepare his servant to be ready for his immediate return. These words Perfishka understood to mean that he was to sweep up the place a bit. He did not, however, put much confidence in the news; he was convinced, though, that the deacon had spoken the truth, when a few days later Panteley Eremyitch in person appeared in the courtyard, riding on Malek-Adel.
Perfishka rushed up to his master, and, holding the stirrup, would have helped him to dismount, but the latter got off alone, and with a triumphant glance about him, cried in a loud voice: ‘I said I would find Malek-Adel, and I have found him in spite of my enemies, and of Fate itself!’ Perfishka went up to kiss his hand, but Tchertop-hanov paid no attention to his servant’s devotion. Leading Malek-Adel after him by the rein, he went with long strides towards the stable. Perfishka looked more intently at his master, and his heart sank. ‘Oh, how thin and old he’s grown in a year; and what a stern, grim face!’ One would have thought Panteley Eremyitch would have been rejoicing, that he had gained his end; and he was rejoicing, certainly . . . and yet Perfishka’s heart sank: he even felt a sort of dread. Tchertop-hanov put the horse in its old place, gave him a light pat on the back, and said, ‘There! now you’re at home again; and mind what you’re about.’ The same day he hired a freedman out of work as watchman, established himself again in his rooms, and began living as before. . . .
Not altogether as before, however . . . but of that later . . .
The day after his return, Panteley Eremyitch called Perfishka in to him, and for want of anyone else to talk to, began telling him — keeping up, of course, his sense of his own dignity and his bass voice — how he had succeeded in finding Malek-Adel. Tchertop-hanov sat facing the window while he told his story, and smoked a pipe with a long tube while Perfishka stood in the doorway, his hands behind his back, and, respectfully contemplating the back of his master’s head, heard him relate how, after many fruitless efforts and idle expeditions, Panteley Eremyitch had at last come to the fair at Romyon by himself, without the Jew Leyba, who, through weakness of character, had not persevered, but had deserted him; how, on the fifth day, when he was on the point of leaving, he walked for the last time along the rows of carts, and all at once he saw between three other horses fastened to the railings — he saw Malek-Adel! How he knew him at once, and how Malek-Adel knew him too, and began neighing, and dragging at his tether, and scraping the earth with his hoof.
‘And he was not with the Cossack,’ Tchertop-hanov went on, still not turning his head, and in the same bass voice, ‘but with a gypsy horse-dealer; I, of course, at once took hold of my horse and tried to get him away by force, but the brute of a gypsy started yelling as if he’d been scalded, all over the market, and began swearing he’d bought the horse off another gypsy — and wanted to bring witnesses to prove it. . . . I spat, and paid him the money: damn the fellow! All I cared for was that I had found my favourite, and had got back my peace of mind. Moreover, in the Karatchevsky district, I took a man for the Cossack — I took the Jew Leyba’s word for it that he was my thief — and smashed his face for him; but the Cossack turned out to be a priest’s son, and got damages out of me — a hundred and twenty roubles. Well, money’s a thing one may get again, but the great thing is, I’ve Malek-Adel back again! I’m happy now — I’m going to enjoy myself in peace. And I’ve one instruction to give you, Perfishka: if ever you, which God forbid, catch sight of the Cossack in this neighbourhood, run the very minute without saying a word, and bring me my gun, and I shall know what to do!’
This was what Panteley Eremyitch said to Perfishka: this was how his tongue spoke; but at heart he was not so completely at peace as he declared.
Alas! in his heart of hearts he was not perfectly convinced that the horse he had brought back was really Malek-Adel!
Troubled times followed for Panteley Eremyitch. Peace was just the last thing he enjoyed. He had some happy days, it is true; the doubt stirring within him would seem to him all nonsense; he would drive away the ridiculous idea, like a persistent fly, and even laugh at himself; but he had bad days too: the importunate thought began again stealthily gnawing and tearing at his heart, like a mouse under the floor, and he existed in secret torture. On the memorable day when he found Malek-Adel, Tchertop-hanov had felt nothing but rapturous bliss . . . but the next morning, when, in a low-pitched shed of the inn, he began saddling his recovered joy, beside whom he had spent the whole night, he felt for the first time a certain secret pang. . . . He only shook his head, but the seed was sown. During the homeward journey (it lasted a whole week) doubts seldom arose in him; they grew stronger and more distinct directly he was back at Bezsonovo, directly he was home again in the place where the old authentic Malek-Adel had lived. . . . On the road home he had ridden at a quiet, swinging pace, looking in all directions, smoking a short pipe, and not reflecting at all, except at times the thought struck him: ‘When the Tchertop-hanovs want a thing, they get it, you bet!’ and he smiled to himself; but on his return home it was a very different state of things. All this, however, he kept to himself; vanity alone would have prevented him from giving utterance to his inner dread. He would have torn anyone to pieces who had dropped the most distant hint that the new Malek-Adel was possibly not the old one; he accepted congratulations on his ‘successful recovery of his horse,’ from the few persons whom he happened to meet; but he did not seek such congratulations; he avoided all contact with people more than ever — a bad sign! He was almost always putting Malek-Adel through examinations, if one may use the expression; he would ride him out to some point at a little distance in the open country, and put him to the proof, or would go stealthily into the stable, lock the door after him, and standing right before the horse’s head, look into his eyes, and ask him in a whisper, ‘Is it you? Is it you? You?’ . . . or else stare at him silently and intently for hours together, and then mutter, brightening up: ‘Yes! it’s he! Of course it’s he!’ or else go out with a puzzled, even confused look on his face. Tchertop-hanov was not so much confused by the physical differences between this Malek-Adel and that one . . . though there were a few such differences: that one’s tail and mane were a little thinner, and his ears more pointed, and his pasterns shorter, and his eyes brighter — but all that might be only fancy; what confounded Tchertop-hanov most were, so to say, the moral differences. The habits of that one had been different: all his ways were not the same. For instance, that Malek-Adel had looked round and given a faint neigh every time Tchertop-hanov went into the stable; while this one went on munching hay as though nothing had happened, or dozed with his head bent. Both of them stood still when their master leaped out of the saddle; but that one came at once at his voice when he was called, while this one stood stock still. That one galloped as fast, but with higher and longer bounds; this one went with a freer step and at a more jolting trot, and at times ‘wriggled’ with his shoes — that is, knocked the back one against the front one; that one had never done anything so disgraceful — God forbid! This one, it struck Tchertop-hanov, kept twitching his ears in such a stupid way, while with that one it was quite the contrary; he used to lay one ear back, and hold it so, as though on the alert for his master! That one, directly he saw that it was dirty about him, would at once knock on the partition of his box with his hind-leg, but this one did not care if the dung was heaped up to his belly. That one if, for instance, he were set facing the wind, would take deep breaths and shake himself, this one simply snorted; that one was put out by the rain, this one cared nothing for it. . . . This was a coarser beast — coarser! And there wasn’t the gentleness in it, and hard in the mouth it was — no denying it! That horse was a darling, but this. . . .
This was what Tchertop-hanov sometimes thought, and very bitter were such thoughts to him. At other times he would set his horse at full gallop over some newly ploughed field, or would make him leap down to the very bottom of a hollow ravine, and leap out again at the very steepest point, and his heart would throb with rapture, a loud whoop would break from his lips, and he would know, would know for certain, that it was the real, authentic Malek-Adel he had under him; for what other horse could do what this one was doing?
However, there were sometimes shortcomings and misfortunes even here. The prolonged search for Malek-Adel had cost Tchertop-hanov a great deal of money; he did not even dream of Kostroma hounds now, and rode about the neighbourhood in solitude as before. So one morning, four miles from Bezsonovo, Tchertop-hanov chanced to come upon the same prince’s hunting party before whom he had cut such a triumphant figure a year and a half before. And, as fate would have it, just as on that day a hare must go leaping out from the hedge before the dogs, down the hillside! Tally-ho! Tally-ho! All the hunt fairly flew after it, and Tchertop-hanov flew along too, but not with the rest of the party, but two hundred paces to one side of it, just as he had done the time before. A huge watercourse ran zigzagging across the hillside, and as it rose higher and higher got gradually narrower, cutting off Tchertop-hanov’s path. At the point where he had to jump it, and where, eighteen months before, he actually had jumped it, it was eight feet wide and fourteen feet deep. In anticipation of a triumph — a triumph repeated in such a delightful way — Tchertop-hanov chuckled exultantly, cracked his riding-whip; the hunting party were galloping too, their eyes fixed on the daring rider; his horse whizzed along like a bullet, and now the watercourse was just under his nose — now, now, at one leap, as then! . . . But Malek-Adel pulled up sharply, wheeled to the left, and in spite of Tchertop-hanov’s tugging him to the edge, to the watercourse, he galloped along beside the ravine.
He was afraid, then; did not trust himself!
Then Tchertop-hanov, burning with shame and wrath, almost in tears, dropped the reins, and set the horse going straight forward, down the hill, away, away from the hunting party, if only not to hear them jeering at him, to escape as soon as might be from their damnable eyes!
Covered with foam, his sides lashed unmercifully, Malek-Adel galloped home, and Tchertop-hanov at once locked himself into his room.
‘No, it’s not he; it’s not my darling! He would have broken his neck before he would have betrayed me!’
What finally ‘did for,’ as they say, Tchertop-hanov was the following circumstance. One day he sauntered, riding on Malek-Adel, about the back-yards of the priest’s quarters round about the church of the parish in which is Bezsonovo. Huddled up, with his Cossack fur cap pulled down over his eyes, and his hands hanging loose on the saddle-bow, he jogged slowly on, a vague discontent in his heart. Suddenly someone called him.
He stopped his horse, raised his head, and saw his correspondent, the deacon. With a brown, three-cornered hat on his brown hair, which was plaited in a pig-tail, attired in a yellowish nankin long coat, girt much below the waist by a strip of blue stuff, the servant of the altar had come out into his back-garden, and, catching sight of Panteley Eremyitch, he thought it his duty to pay his respects to him, and to take the opportunity of doing so to ask him a question about something. Without some such hidden motive, as we know, ecclesiastical persons do not venture to address temporal ones.
But Tchertop-hanov was in no mood for the deacon; he barely responded to his bow, and, muttering something between his teeth, he was already cracking his whip, when. . . .
‘What a magnificent horse you have!’ the deacon made haste to add: ‘and really you can take credit to yourself for it. Truly you’re a man of amazing cleverness, simply a lion indeed!’
His reverence the deacon prided himself on his fluency, which was a great source of vexation to his reverence the priest, to whom the gift of words had not been vouchsafed; even vodka did not loosen his tongue.
‘After losing one animal by the cunning of evil men,’ continued the deacon, ‘you did not lose courage in repining; but, on the other hand, trusting the more confidently in Divine Providence, procured yourself another, in no wise inferior, but even, one may say, superior, since. . . . ’
‘What nonsense are you talking?’ Tchertop-hanov interrupted gloomily; ‘what other horse do you mean? This is the same one; this is Malek-Adel. . . . I found him. The fellow’s raving!’. . . .
‘Ay! ay! ay!’ responded the deacon emphatically with a sort of drawl, drumming with his fingers in his beard, and eyeing Tchertop-hanov with his bright eager eyes: ‘How’s that, sir? Your horse, God help my memory, was stolen a fortnight before Intercession last year, and now we’re near the end of November.’
‘Well, what of that?’
The deacon still fingered his beard.
‘Why, it follows that more than a year’s gone by since then, and your horse was a dapple grey then, just as it is now; in fact, it seems even darker. How’s that? Grey horses get a great deal lighter in colour in a year.’
Tchertop-hanov started . . . as though someone had driven a dagger into his heart. It was true: the grey colour did change! How was it such a simple reflection had never occurred to him?
‘You damned pigtail! get out!’ he yelled suddenly, his eyes flashing with fury, and instantaneously he disappeared out of the sight of the amazed deacon.
Well, everything was over!
Now, at last, everything was really over, everything was shattered, the last card trumped. Everything crumbled away at once before that word ‘lighter’!
Grey horses get lighter in colour!
‘Gallop, gallop on, accursed brute! You can never gallop away from that word!’
Tchertop-hanov flew home, and again locked himself up.
That this worthless jade was not Malek-Adel; that between him and Malek-Adel there was not the smallest resemblance; that any man of the slightest sense would have seen this from the first minute; that he, Tchertop-hanov, had been taken in in the vulgarest way — no! that he purposely, of set intent, tricked himself, blinded his own eyes — of all this he had not now the faintest doubt!
Tchertop-hanov walked up and down in his room, turning monotonously on his heels at each wall, like a beast in a cage. His vanity suffered intolerably; but he was not only tortured by the sting of wounded vanity; he was overwhelmed by despair, stifled by rage, and burning with the thirst for revenge. But rage against whom? On whom was he to be revenged? On the Jew, Yaff, Masha, the deacon, the Cossack-thief, all his neighbours, the whole world, himself? His brain was giving way. The last card was trumped! (That simile gratified him.) And he was again the most worthless, the most contemptible of men, a common laughing-stock, a motley fool, a damned idiot, an object for jibes — to a deacon! . . . He fancied, he pictured vividly how that loathsome pig-tailed priest would tell the story of the grey horse and the foolish gentleman. . . . O damn!! In vain Tchertop-hanov tried to check his rising passion, in vain he tried to assure himself that this . . . horse, though not Malek-Adel, was still . . . a good horse, and might be of service to him for many years to come; he put this thought away from him on the spot with fury, as though there were contained in it a new insult to that Malek-Adel whom he considered he had wronged so already. . . . Yes, indeed! this jade, this carrion he, like a blind idiot, had put on a level with him, Malek-Adel! And as to the service the jade could be to him! . . . as though he would ever deign to get astride of him? Never! on no consideration!! . . . He would sell him to a Tartar for dog’s meat — it deserved no better end. . . . Yes, that would be best!’
For more than two hours Tchertop-hanov wandered up and down his room.
‘Perfishka!’ he called peremptorily all of a sudden, ‘run this minute to the tavern; fetch a gallon of vodka! Do you hear? A gallon, and look sharp! I want the vodka here this very second on the table!’
The vodka was not long in making its appearance on Panteley Eremyitch’s table, and he began drinking.
If anyone had looked at Tchertop-hanov then; if anyone could have been a witness of the sullen exasperation with which he drained glass after glass — he would inevitably have felt an involuntary shudder of fear. The night came on, the tallow candle burnt dimly on the table. Tchertop-hanov ceased wandering from corner to corner; he sat all flushed, with dull eyes, which he dropped at one time on the floor, at another fixed obstinately on the dark window; he got up, poured out some vodka, drank it off, sat down again, again fixed his eyes on one point, and did not stir — only his breathing grew quicker and his face still more flushed. It seemed as though some resolution were ripening within him, which he was himself ashamed of, but which he was gradually getting used to; one single thought kept obstinately and undeviatingly moving up closer and closer, one single image stood out more and more distinctly, and under the burning weight of heavy drunkenness the angry irritation was replaced by a feeling of ferocity in his heart, and a vindictive smile appeared on his lips.
‘Yes, the time has come!’ he declared in a matter-of-fact, almost weary tone. ‘I must get to work.’
He drank off the last glass of vodka, took from over his bed the pistol — the very pistol from which he had shot at Masha — loaded it, put some cartridges in his pocket — to be ready for anything — and went round to the stables.
The watchman ran up to him when he began to open the door, but he shouted to him: ‘It’s I! Are you blind? Get out!’ The watchman moved a little aside. ‘Get out and go to bed!’ Tchertop-hanov shouted at him again: ‘there’s nothing for you to guard here! A mighty wonder, a treasure indeed to watch over!’ He went into the stable. Malek-Adel . . . the spurious Malek-Adel, was lying on his litter. Tchertop-hanov gave him a kick, saying, ‘Get up, you brute!’ Then he unhooked a halter from a nail, took off the horsecloth and flung it on the ground, and roughly turning the submissive horse round in the box, led it out into the courtyard, and from the yard into the open country, to the great amazement of the watchman, who could not make out at all where the master was going off to by night, leading an unharnessed horse. He was, of course, afraid to question him, and only followed him with his eyes till he disappeared at the bend in the road leading to a neighbouring wood.
Tchertop-hanov walked with long strides, not stopping nor looking round. Malek-Adel — we will call him by that name to the end — followed him meekly. It was a rather clear night; Tchertop-hanov could make out the jagged outline of the forest, which formed a black mass in front of him. When he got into the chill night air, he would certainly have thrown off the intoxication of the vodka he had drunk, if it had not been for another, stronger intoxication, which completely over-mastered him. His head was heavy, his blood pulsed in thuds in his throat and ears, but he went on steadily, and knew where he was going.
He had made up his mind to kill Malek-Adel; he had thought of nothing else the whole day. . . . Now he had made up his mind!
He went out to do this thing not only calmly, but confidently, unhesitatingly, as a man going about something from a sense of duty. This ‘job’ seemed a very ‘simple’ thing to him; in making an end of the impostor, he was quits with ‘everyone’ at once — he punished himself for his stupidity, and made expiation to his real darling, and showed the whole world (Tchertop-hanov worried himself a great deal about the ‘whole world’) that he was not to be trifled with. . . . And, above all, he was making an end of himself too with the impostor — for what had he to live for now? How all this took shape in his brain, and why, it seemed to him so simple — it is not easy to explain, though not altogether impossible; stung to the quick, solitary, without a human soul near to him, without a halfpenny, and with his blood on fire with vodka, he was in a state bordering on madness, and there is no doubt that even in the absurdest freaks of mad people there is, to their eyes, a sort of logic, and even justice. Of his justice Tchertop-hanov was, at any rate, fully persuaded; he did not hesitate, he made haste to carry out sentence on the guilty without giving himself any clear definition of whom he meant by that term. . . . To tell the truth, he reflected very little on what he was about to do. ‘I must, I must make an end,’ was what he kept stupidly and severely repeating to himself; ‘I must make an end!’
And the guiltless guilty one followed in a submissive trot behind his back. . . . But there was no pity for him in Tchertop-hanov’s heart.
Not far from the forest to which he was leading his horse there stretched a small ravine, half overgrown with young oak bushes. Tchertop-hanov went down into it. . . . Malek-Adel stumbled and almost fell on him.
‘So you would crush me, would you, you damned brute!’ shouted Tchertop-hanov, and, as though in self-defence, he pulled the pistol out of his pocket. He no longer felt furious exasperation, but that special numbness of the senses which they say comes over a man before the perpetration of a crime. But his own voice terrified him — it sounded so wild and strange under the cover of dark branches in the close, decaying dampness of the forest ravine! Moreover, in response to his exclamation, some great bird suddenly fluttered in a tree-top above his head . . . Tchertop-hanov shuddered. He had, as it were, roused a witness to his act — and where? In that silent place where he should not have met a living creature. . . .
‘Away with you, devil, to the four winds of heaven!’ he muttered, and letting go Malek-Adel’s rein, he gave him a violent blow on the shoulder with the butt end of the pistol. Malek-Adel promptly turned back, clambered out of the ravine . . . and ran away. But the thud of his hoofs was not long audible. The rising wind confused and blended all sounds together.
Tchertop-hanov too slowly clambered out of the ravine, reached the forest, and made his way along the road homewards. He was ill at ease with himself; the weight he had felt in his head and his heart had spread over all his limbs; he walked angry, gloomy, dissatisfied, hungry, as though some one had insulted him, snatched his prey, his food from him. . . .
The suicide, baffled in his intent, must know such sensations.
Suddenly something poked him behind between his shoulder blades. He looked round. . . . Malek-Adel was standing in the middle of the road. He had walked after his master; he touched him with his nose to announce himself.
‘Ah!’ shouted Tchertop-hanov,’ of yourself, of yourself you have come to your death! So, there!’
In the twinkling of an eye he had snatched out his pistol, drawn the trigger, turned the muzzle on Malek-Adel’s brow, fired. . . .
The poor horse sprung aside, rose on its haunches, bounded ten paces away, and suddenly fell heavily, and gasped as it writhed upon the ground. . . .
Tchertop-hanov put his two hands over his ears and ran away. His knees were shaking under him. His drunkenness and revenge and blind self-confidence — all had flown at once. There was left nothing but a sense of shame and loathing — and the consciousness, unmistakeable, that this time he had put an end to himself too.
Six weeks later, the groom Perfishka thought it his duty to stop the commissioner of police as he happened to be passing Bezsonovo.
‘What do you want?’ inquired the guardian of order.
‘If you please, your excellency, come into our house,’ answered the groom with a low bow.
‘Panteley Eremyitch, I fancy, is about to die; so that I’m afraid of getting into trouble.’
‘What? die?’ queried the commissioner.
‘Yes, sir. First, his honour drank vodka every day, and now he’s taken to his bed and got very thin. I fancy his honour does not understand anything now. He’s lost his tongue completely.’
The commissioner got out of his trap.
‘Have you sent for the priest, at least? Has your master been confessed? Taken the sacrament?’
The commissioner frowned. ‘How is that, my boy? How can that be — hey? Don’t you know that for that . . . you’re liable to have to answer heavily — hey?’
‘Indeed, and I did ask him the day before yesterday, and yesterday again,’ protested the intimidated groom. “Wouldn’t you, Panteley Eremyitch,” says I, “let me run for the priest, sir?” “You hold your tongue, idiot,” says he; “mind your own business.” But to-day, when I began to address him, his honour only looked at me, and twitched his moustache.’
‘And has he been drinking a great deal of vodka?’ inquired the commissioner.
‘Rather! But if you would be so good, your honour, come into his room.’
‘Well, lead the way!’ grumbled the commissioner, and he followed Perfishka.
An astounding sight was in store for him. In a damp, dark back-room, on a wretched bedstead covered with a horsecloth, with a rough felt cloak for a pillow, lay Tchertop-hanov. He was not pale now, but yellowish green, like a corpse, with sunken eyes under leaden lids and a sharp, pinched nose — still reddish — above his dishevelled whiskers. He lay dressed in his invariable Caucasian coat, with the cartridge pockets on the breast, and blue Circassian trousers. A Cossack cap with a crimson crown covered his forehead to his very eyebrows. In one hand Tchertop-hanov held his hunting whip, in the other an embroidered tobacco pouch — Masha’s last gift to him. On a table near the bed stood an empty spirit bottle, and at the head of the bed were two water-colour sketches pinned to the wall; one represented, as far as could be made out, a fat man with a guitar in his hand — probably Nedopyuskin; the other portrayed a horseman galloping at full speed. . . . The horse was like those fabulous animals which are sketched by children on walls and fences; but the carefully washed-in dappling of the horse’s grey coat, and the cartridge pocket on the rider’s breast, the pointed toes of his boots, and the immense moustaches, left no room for doubt — this sketch was meant to represent Panteley Eremyitch riding on Malek-Adel.
The astonished commissioner of police did not know how to proceed. The silence of death reigned in the room. ‘Why, he’s dead already!’ he thought, and raising his voice, he said, ‘Panteley Eremyitch! Eh, Panteley Eremyitch!’
Then something extraordinary occurred. Tchertop-hanov’s eyelids slowly opened, the eyes, fast growing dim, moved first from right to left, then from left to right, rested on the commissioner — saw him. . . . Something gleamed in their dull whites, the semblance of a flash came back to them, the blue lips were gradually unglued, and a hoarse, almost sepulchral, voice was heard.
‘Panteley Eremyitch of the ancient hereditary nobility is dying: who can hinder him? He owes no man anything, asks nothing from any one. . . . Leave him, people! Go!’
The hand holding the whip tried to lift it . . . In vain! The lips cleaved together again, the eyes closed, and as before Tchertop-hanov lay on his comfortless bed, flat as an empty sack, and his feet close together.
‘Let me know when he dies,’ the commissioner whispered to Perfishka as he went out of the room; ‘and I suppose you can send for the priest now. You must observe due order; give him extreme unction.’
Perfishka went that same day for the priest, and the following morning he had to let the commissioner know: Panteley Eremyitch had died in the night.
When they buried him, two men followed his coffin; the groom Perfishka and Moshel Leyba. The news of Tchertop-hanov’s death had somehow reached the Jew, and he did not fail to pay this last act of respect to his benefactor.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14