By narrow mountain paths, from one villa to another, a small wandering troupe made their way along the southern shore of the Crimea. Ahead commonly ran the white poodle, Arto, with his long red tongue hanging out from one side of his mouth. The poodle was shorn to look like a lion. At crossways he would stop, wag his tail, and look back questioningly. He seemed to obtain some sort of sign, known to him alone, and without waiting for the troupe to catch up he would bound forward on the right track, shaking his shaggy ears, never making a mistake. Following the dog came the twelve-year-old Sergey, carrying under his left arm a little mattress for his acrobatic exercises, and holding in his right hand a narrow dirty cage, with a goldfinch, taught to pull out from a case various coloured papers on which were printed predictions of coming fortune. Last of all came the oldest member of the troupe, grandfather Martin Lodishkin, with a barrel organ on his bent back.
The organ was an old one, very hoarse, and suffering from a cough; it had undergone, in the century of its existence, some scores of mendings. It played two things: a melancholy German waltz of Launer and a galop from "A Trip to China Town," both in fashion thirty to forty years ago, but now forgotten by all. Beyond these drawbacks it must be said that the organ had two false tubes; one of them, a treble, was absolutely mute, did not play, and therefore when its turn came the whole harmony would, as it were, stutter, go lame and stumble. The other tube, giving forth a bass note, had something the matter with the valve, which would not shut, and having once been played it would not altogether stop, but rolled onward on the same bass note, deafening and confusing the other sounds, till suddenly, at its own caprice, it would stop. Grandfather himself acknowledged the deficiencies of his instrument, and might sometimes be heard to remark jocosely, though with a tinge of secret grief:
"What's to be done?... An ancient organ ... it has a cold.... When you play it the gentry take offence. 'Tfu,' they say, 'what a wretched thing!' And these pieces were very good in their time, and fashionable, but people nowadays by no means adore good music. Give them 'The Geisha,' 'Under the Double-headed Eagle,' please, or the waltz from 'The Seller of Birds.' Of course, these tubes.... I took the organ to the shop, but they wouldn't undertake to mend it. 'It needs new tubes,' said they. 'But, best of all, if you'll take our advice, sell the rusty thing to a museum ... as a sort of curio....' Well, well, that's enough! She's fed us till now, Sergey and me, and if God grant, she will go on feeding us."
Grandfather Martin Lodishkin loved his organ as it is only possible to love something living, near, something actually akin, if it may be so expressed. Having lived with his organ for many years of a trying vagabond life, he had at last come to see in it something inspired, come to feel as if it were almost a conscious being. It would happen sometimes at night, when they were lying on the floor of some dirty inn, that the barrel organ, placed beside the old man's pillow, would suddenly give vent to a faint note, a sad melancholy quavering note, like an old man's sigh. And Lodishkin would put out his hand to its carved wooden side and whisper caressingly:
"What is it, brother? Complaining, eh!... Have patience, friend...."
And as much as Lodishkin loved his organ, and perhaps even a little more, he loved the other two companions of his wanderings, Arto, the poodle, and little Sergey. He had hired the boy five years before from a bad character, a widower cobbler, promising to pay him two roubles a month. Shortly afterwards the cobbler had died, and Sergey remained with grandfather, bound to him for ever by their common life and the little daily interests of the troupe.
The path went along a high cliff over the sea, and wandered through the shade of ancient olive trees, The sea gleamed between the trunks now and then, and seemed at times to stand like a calm and mighty wall on the horizon; its colour was the more blue, the more intense, because of the contrast seen through the trellis-work of silver verdant leaves. In the grass, amongst the kizil shrubs, wild roses and vines, and even on the branches of the trees, swarmed the grasshoppers, and the air itself trembled from the monotonously sounding and unceasing murmur of their legs and wing-cases. The day turned out to be a sultry one; there was no wind, and the hot earth burnt the soles of the feet.
Sergey, going as usual ahead of grandfather, stopped, and waited for the old man to catch up to him.
"What is it, Serozha?" asked the organ-grinder.
"The heat, grandfather Lodishkin ... there's no bearing it! To bathe would be good...."
The old man wiped his perspiring face with his sleeve, and hitched the organ to a more comfortable position on his back.
"What would be better?" he sighed, looking eagerly downward to the cool blueness of the sea. "Only, after bathing, one gets more hungry, you know. A village doctor once said to me: 'Salt has more effect on man than anything else ... that means, it weakens him ... sea-salt....'"
"He lied, perhaps," remarked Sergey, doubtfully.
"Lied! What next? Why should he lie? A solid man, non-drinker ... having a little house in Sevastopol. What's more, there's no getting down to the sea here. Wait a bit, we'll get to Miskhor, and there rinse our sinful bodies. It's fine to bathe before dinner ... and afterwards to sleep, we three ... and a splendid bit of work...."
Arto, hearing conversation behind him, turned and ran back, his soft blue eyes, half shut from the heat, looked up appealingly, and his hanging tongue trembled from quick breathing.
"What is it, brother doggie? Warm, eh?" asked grandfather.
The dog yawned, straining his jaws and curling his tongue into a little tube, shook all his body, and whimpered.
"Yes, yes, little brother, but it can't be helped," continued Lodishkin. "It is written, 'In the sweat of thy face,' though, as a matter of fact, it can hardly be said that you have a face, or anything more than a muzzle.... Be off! Go off with you.... As for me, Serozha, I must confess I just like this heat. Only the organ's a bit of a nuisance, and if there were no work to do I'd just lie down somewhere in the grass in the shade, and have a good morning of it. For old bones this sunshine is the finest thing in the world."
The footpath turned downward to a great highway, broad and hard and blindingly white. At the point where the troupe stepped on to it commenced an ancient baronial estate, in the abundant verdure of which were beautiful villas, flower-beds, orangeries and fountains. Lodishkin knew the district well, and called at each of the villas every year, one after another, during the vine-harvesting season, when the whole Crimea is filled with rich, fashionable, and pleasure-loving visitors. The bright magnificence of southern Nature did not touch the old man, but it enraptured Sergey, who was there for the first time. The magnolias, with their hard and shiny leaves, shiny as if lacquered or varnished, with their large white blossoms, each almost as big as a dinner-plate; the summer-houses of interwoven vines hanging with heavy clusters of fruit; the enormous century-old plane trees, with their bright trunks and mighty crowns; tobacco plantations, rivulets, waterfalls, and everywhere, in flower-beds, gardens, on the walls of the villas, bright sweet-scented roses—all these things impressed unceasingly the naïve soul of the boy. He expressed his admiration of the scene, pulling the old man's sleeve and crying out every minute:
"Grandfather Lodishkin, but, grandfather, just look, goldfish in the fountain!... I swear, grandfather, goldfish, if I die for it!" cried the boy, pressing his face to a railing and staring at a large tank in the middle of a garden. "I say, grandfather, look at the peaches! Good gracious, what a lot there are. Look, how many! And all on one tree."
"Leave go, leave go, little stupid. What are you stretching your mouth about?" joked the old man. "Just wait till we get to the town of Novorossisk, and give ourselves to the South. Now, that's a place indeed; there you'll see something. Sotchi, Adler, Tuapse, and then, little brother, Sukhum, Batum.... Your eyes'll drop out of your head.... Palms, for instance. Absolutely astonishing; the trunks all shaggy like felt, and each leaf so large that we could hide ourselves in one."
"You don't mean it!" cried Sergey, joyfully.
"Wait a bit and you'll see for yourself. Is there little of anything there? Now, oranges for instance, or, let us say, lemons.... You've seen them, no doubt, in the shops?"
"Well, you see them simply as if they Were growing in the air. Without anything, just on the tree, as up here you see an apple or a pear.... And the people down there, little brother, are altogether out of the way: Turks, Persians, different sorts of Cherkesses, and all in gowns and with daggers, a desperate sort of people! And, little brother, there are even Ethiopians. I've seen them many times in Batum!"
"Ethiopians, I know. Those with horns," cried Sergey, confidently.
"Well, horns I suppose they have not," said grandfather; "that's nonsense. But they're black as a pair of boots, and shine even. Thick, red, ugly lips, great white eyes, and hair as curly as the back of a black sheep."
"Oi, oi, how terrible!... Are Ethiopians like that?"
"Well, well, don't be frightened. Of course, at first, before you're accustomed, it's alarming. But when you see that other people aren't afraid, you pick up courage.... There's all sorts there, little brother. When we get there you'll see. Only one thing is bad—the fever. All around lie marshes, rottenness; then there is such terrible heat. The people who live there find it all right, but it's bad for new-comers. However, we've done enough tongue-wagging, you and I, Sergey, so just climb over that stile and go up to the house. There are some really fine people living there.... If ever there's anything you want to know, just ask me; I know all."
But the day turned out to be a very unsuccessful one for them. At one place the servants drove them away almost before they were seen even from a distance by the mistress; at another the organ had hardly made its melancholy beginning in front of the balcony when they were waved away in disgust; at a third they were told that the master and mistress had not yet arrived. At two villas they were indeed paid for their show, but very little. Still, grandfather never turned his nose up even at the smallest amounts. Coming out at the gate on to the road he would smile good-naturedly and say:
"Two plus five, total seven ... hey hey, brother Serozhenka, that's money. Seven times seven, and you've pretty well got a shilling, and that would be a good meal and a night's lodging in our pockets, and p'raps, old man Lodishkin might be allowed a little glass on account of his weakness.... Ai, ai, there's a sort of people I can't make out; too stingy to give sixpence, yet ashamed to put in a penny ... and so they surlily order you off. Better to give, were it only three farthings.... I wouldn't take offence, I'm nobody ... why take offence?"
Generally speaking, Lodishkin was of a modest order, and even when he was hounded out of a place he would not complain. However, on this day of which we are writing, he was, as it happened, disturbed out of his usual equanimity by one of the people of these Crimean villas, a lady of a very kind appearance, the owner of a beautiful country house surrounded by a wonderful flower-garden. She listened attentively to the music; watched Sergey's somersaults and Arto's tricks even more attentively; asked the little boy's age, what was his name, where he'd learned gymnastics, how grandfather had come by him, what his father had done for a living, and so on, and had then bidden them wait, and had gone indoors apparently to fetch them something.
Ten minutes passed, a quarter of an hour, and she did not appear, but the longer she stayed the greater became the vague hopes of the troupe. Grandfather even whispered to Sergey, shielding his mouth with his palm the while:
"Eh, Sergey, this is good, isn't it? Ask me if you want to know anything. Now we're going to get some old clothes or perhaps a pair of boots. A sure thing!..."
At last the lady came out on her balcony again, and flung into Sergey's held-out hat a small silver coin. And then she went in again. The coin turned out to be an old worn-out threepenny bit with a hole in it. No use to buy anything with. Grandfather held it in his hand and considered it a long while distrustfully. He left the house and went back to the road, and all the while he still held the bit of money in his open and extended palm, as if weighing it as he went.
"Well, well.... That's smart!" said he at last, stopping suddenly. "I must say.... And didn't we three blockheads do our best. It'd a-been better if she'd given us a button. That, at least, we could have sewn on somewhere. What's the use of this bit of rubbish? The lady, no doubt, thought that it would be all the same as a good coin to me. I'd pass it off on someone at night. No, no, you're deeply mistaken, my lady. Old man Lodishkin is not going to descend so low. Yes, m'lady, there goes your precious threepenny bit! There!"
And with indignation and pride he flung the coin on to the road, and it gently jingled and was lost in the dust.
So the morning passed, and the old man and the boy, having passed all the villas on the cliff, prepared to go down to the sea. There remained but one last estate on the way. This was on the left-hand side.
The house itself was not visible, the wall being high, and over the wall loomed a fine array of dusty cypresses. Only through the wide cast-iron gate, whose fantastical design gave it the appearance of lace, was it possible to get a glimpse of the lovely lawn. Thence one peered upon fresh green grass, flower-beds, and in the background a winding pergola of vines. In the middle of the lawn stood a gardener watering the roses. He put a finger to the pipe in his hand, and caused the water in the fountain to leap in the sun, glittering in myriads of little sparkles and flashes.
Grandfather was going past, but looking through the gate he stopped in doubt.
"Wait a bit, Sergey," said he. "Surely there are no folk here! There's a strange thing! Often as I've come along this road, I've never seen a soul here before. Oh, well, brother Sergey, get ready!"
A notice was fixed on the wall:
"Friendship Villa: Trespassers will be prosecuted," and Sergey read this out aloud.
"Friendship?" questioned grandfather, who himself could not read. "Vo-vo! That's one of the finest of words—friendship. All day we've failed, but this house will make up for it. I smell it with my nose, as if I were a hunting dog. Now, Arto, come here, old fellow. Walk up bravely, Serozha. Keep your eye on me, and if you want to know anything just ask me. I know all."
The paths were made of a well-rolled yellow gravel, crunching under the feet; and at the sides were borders of large rose-coloured shells. In the flower-beds, above a carpet of various coloured grasses, grew rare plants with brilliant blossoms and sweet perfume. Crystal water rose and splashed continually from the fountains, and garlands of beautiful creeping plants hung downward from beautiful vases, suspended in mid-air from wires stretched between the trees. On marble pillars just outside the house stood two splendid spheres of mirror glass, and the wandering troupe, coming up to them, saw themselves reflected feet upwards in an amusing twisted and elongated picture.
In front of the balcony was a wide, much-trampled platform. On this Sergey spread his little mattress, and grandfather, having fixed the organ on its stick, prepared to turn the handle. But just as he was in the act of doing this, a most unexpected and strange sight suddenly attracted his attention.
A boy of nine or ten rushed suddenly out of the house on to the terrace like a bomb, giving forth piercing shrieks. He was in a sailor suit, with bare arms and legs. His fair curls hung in a tangle on his shoulders. Away he rushed, and after him came six people; two women in aprons, a stout old lackey, without moustache or beard but with grey side-whiskers, wearing a frock coat, a lean, carrotty-haired, red-nosed girl in a blue-checked dress, a young sickly-looking but very beautiful lady in a blue dressing-jacket trimmed with lace, and, last of all, a stout, bald gentleman in a suit of Tussore silk, and with gold spectacles. They were all very much excited, waved their arms, spoke loudly, and even jostled one another. You could see at one that the cause of all their anxiety was the boy in the sailor suit, who had so suddenly rushed on to the terrace.
And the boy, the cause of all this hurly-burly, did not cease screaming for one second, but threw himself down on his stomach, turned quickly over on to his back, and began to kick out with his legs on all sides. The little crowd of grown-ups fussed around him. The old lackey in the frock coat pressed his hands to his starched shirt-front and begged and implored the boy to be quiet, his long side-whiskers trembling as he spoke:
"Little father, master!... Nikolai Apollonovitch!... Do not vex your little mamma. Do get up, sir; be so good, so kind—take a little, sir. The mixture's sweet as sweet, just syrup, sir. Now let me help you up...."
The women in the aprons clapped their hands and chirped quickly-quickly, in seemingly passionate and frightened voices. The red-nosed girl made tragic gestures, and cried out something evidently very touching, but completely incomprehensible, as it was in a foreign language. The gentleman in the gold spectacles made speeches to the boy in a reasoning bass voice, wagged his head to and fro as he spoke, and slowly waved his hands up and down. And the beautiful, delicate—looking lady moaned wearily, pressing a lace handkerchief to her eyes.
"Ah, Trilly, ah, God in Heaven!... Angel mine, I beseech you, listen, your own mother begs you. Now do, do take the medicine, take it and you'll see, you'll feel better at once, and the stomach-ache will go away and the headache. Now do it for me, my joy! Oh, Trilly, if you want it, your mamma will go down on her knees. See, darling, I'm on my knees before you. If you wish it, I'll give you gold—a sovereign, two sovereigns, five sovereigns. Trilly, would you like a live ass? Would you like a live horse? Oh, for goodness' sake, say something to him, doctor."
"Pay attention, Trilly. Be a man!" droned the stout gentleman in the spectacles.
"Ai-yai-yai-ya-a-a-a!" yelled the boy, squirming on the ground, and kicking about desperately with his feet.
Despite his extreme agitation he managed to give several kicks to the people around him, and they, for their part, got out of his way sufficiently cleverly.
Sergey looked upon the scene with curiosity and astonishment, and at last nudged the old man in the side and said:
"Grandfather Lodishkin, what's the matter with him? Can't they give him a beating?"
"A beating—I like that.... That sort isn't beaten, but beats everybody else. A crazy boy; ill, I expect."
"Insane?" enquired Sergey.
"How should I know? Hst, be quiet!..."
"Ai-yai-ya-a! Scum, fatheads!" shouted the boy, louder and louder.
"Well, begin, Sergey. Now's the time, for I know!" ordered Lodishkin suddenly, taking hold of the handle of his organ and turning it with resolution. The snuffling and false notes of the ancient galop rose in the garden. All the people stopped suddenly and looked round; even the boy became silent for a few seconds.
"Ah, God in heaven, they will upset my poor Trilly still more!" cried the lady in the blue dressing-jacket, with tears in her eyes. Chase them off, quickly, quickly. Drive them away, and the dirty dog with them. Dogs have always such dreadful diseases. Why do you stand there helplessly, Ivan, as if you were turned to stone? She shook her handkerchief wearily in the direction of grandfather and the little boy; the lean, red-nosed girl made dreadful eyes; someone gave a threatening whisper; the lackey in the dress coat ran swiftly from the balcony on his tiptoes, and, with an expression of horror on his face, cried to the organ grinder, spreading out his arms like wings as he spoke:
"Whatever does it mean—who permitted them—who let them through? March! Clear out!..."
The organ became silent in a melancholy whimper.
"Fine gentleman, allow us to explain," began the old man delicately.
"No explanations whatever! March!" roared the lackey in a hoarse, angry whisper.
His whole fat face turned purple, and his eyes protruded to such a degree that they looked as if they would suddenly roll out and run away like wheels. The sight was so dreadful that grandfather involuntarily took two steps backward.
"Put the things up, Sergey," said he, hurriedly jolting the organ on to his back. "Come on!"
But they had not succeeded in taking more than ten steps when the child began to shriek even worse than ever:
"Ai-yai-yai! Give it me! I wa-ant it! A-a-a! Give it! Call them back! Me!"
"But, Trilly!... Ah, God in heaven, Trilly; ah, call them back!" moaned the nervous lady. "Tfu, how stupid you all are!... Ivan, don't you hear when you're told? Go at once and call those beggars back!..."
"Certainly! You! Hey, what d'you call yourselves? Organ grinders! Come back!" cried several voices at once.
The stout lackey jumped across the lawn, his side-whiskers waving in the wind, and, overtaking the artistes, cried out:
"Pst! Musicians! Back! Don't you hear, friends, you're called back?" cried he, panting and waving both arms. "Venerable old man!" said he at last, catching hold of grandfather's coat by the sleeve. "Turn the shafts round. The master and mistress will be pleased to see your pantomime."
"Well, well, business at last!" sighed grandfather, turning his head round. And the little party went back to the balcony where the people were collected, and the old man fixed up his organ on the stick and played the hideous galop from the very point at which it had been interrupted.
The rumpus had died down. The lady with her little boy, and the gentleman in the gold spectacles, came forward. The others remained respectfully behind. Out of the depths of the shrubbery came the gardener in his apron, and stood at a little distance. From somewhere or other the yard-porter made his appearance, and stood behind the gardener. He was an immense bearded peasant with a gloomy face, narrow brows, and pock-marked cheeks. He was clad in a new rose-coloured blouse, on which was a pattern of large black spots.
Under cover of the hoarse music of the galop, Sergey spread his little mattress, pulled off his canvas breeches—they had been cut out of an old sack, and behind, at the broadest part, were ornamented by a quadrilateral trade mark of a factory—threw from his body his torn shirt, and stood erect in his cotton underclothes. In spite of the many mends on these garments he was a pretty figure of a boy, lithe and strong. He had a little programme of acrobatic tricks which he had learnt by watching his elders in the arena of the circus. Running to the mattress he would put both hands to his lips, and, with a passionate gesture, wave two theatrical kisses to the audience. So his performance began.
Grandfather turned the handle of the organ without ceasing, and whilst the boy juggled various objects in the air the old music-machine gave forth its trembling, coughing tunes. Sergey's repertoire was not a large one, but he did it well and with enthusiasm. He threw up into the air an empty beer-bottle, so that it revolved several times in its flight, and suddenly catching it neck downward on the edge of a tray he balanced it there for several seconds; he juggled four balls and two candles, catching the latter simultaneously in two candlesticks; he played with a fan, a wooden cigar and an umbrella, throwing them to and fro in the air, and at last having the open umbrella in his hand shielding his head, the cigar in his mouth, and the fan coquettishly waving in his other hand. Then he turned several somersaults on the mattress; did "the frog"; tied himself into an American knot; walked on his hands, and having exhausted his little programme sent once more two kisses to the public, and, panting from the exercise, ran to grandfather to take his place at the organ.
Now was Arto's turn. This the dog perfectly well knew, and he had for some time been prancing round in excitement, and barking nervously. Perhaps the clever poodle wished to say that, in his opinion, it was unreasonable to go through acrobatic performances when Réaumur showed thirty-two degrees in the shade. But grandfather Lodishkin, with a cunning grin, pulled out of his coat-tail pocket a slender kizil switch. Arto's eyes took a melancholy expression. "Didn't I know it!" they seemed to say, and he lazily and insubmissively raised himself on his hind paws, never once ceasing to look at his master and blink.
"Serve, Arto! So, so, so...," ordered the old man, holding the switch over the poodle's head. "Over. So. Turn ... again ... again.... Dance, doggie, dance! Sit! Wha-at? Don't want to? Sit when you're told! A-a.... That's right! Now look! Salute the respected public. Now, Arto!" cried Lodishkin threateningly.
"Gaff!" barked the poodle in disgust. Then he followed his master mournfully with his eyes, and added twice more, "Gaff, gaff."
"No, my old man doesn't understand me," this discontented barking seemed to say.
"That's it, that's better. Politeness before everything. Now we'll have a little jump," continued the old man, holding out the twig at a short distance above the ground. "Allez! There's nothing to hang out your tongue about, brother. Allez! Gop! Splendid! And now, please, noch ein mal ... Allez! ... Gop! Allez! Gop! Wonderful doggie. When you get home you shall have carrots. You don't like carrots, eh? Ah, I'd completely forgotten. Then take my silk topper and ask the folk. P'raps they'll give you something a little more tasty."
Grandfather raised the dog on his hind legs and put in his mouth the old greasy cap which, with such delicate irony, he had named a silk topper. Arto, standing affectedly on his grey hind legs, and holding the cap in his teeth, came up to the terrace. In the hands of the delicate lady there appeared a small mother-of-pearl purse. All those around her smiled sympathetically.
"What? Didn't I tell you?" asked the old man of Sergey, teasingly. "Ask me if you ever want to know anything, brother, for I know. Nothing less than a rouble."
At that moment there broke out such an inhuman yowl that Arto involuntarily dropped the cap and leapt off with his tail between his legs, looked over his shoulders fearfully, and came and lay down at his master's feet.
"I wa-a-a-nt him," cried the curly-headed boy, stamping his feet. "Give him to me! I want him. The dog, I tell you! Trilly wa-ants the do-og!"
"Ah, God in heaven! Ah, Nikolai Apollonovitch! ... Little father, master!... Be calm, Trilly, I beseech you," cried the voices of the people.
"The dog! Give me the dog; I want him! Scum, demons, fatheads!" cried the boy, fairly out of his mind.
"But, angel mine, don't upset your nerves," lisped the lady in the blue dressing-jacket. "You'd like to stroke the doggie? Very well, very well, my joy, in a minute you shall. Doctor, what do you think, might Trilly stroke this dog?"
"Generally speaking, I should not advise it," said the doctor, waving his hands. "But if we had some reliable disinfectant as, for instance, boracic acid or a weak solution of carbolic, then ... generally ..."
"In a minute, my charmer, in a minute. So, doctor, you order that we wash the dog with boracic acid, and then.... Oh, Trilly, don't get into such a state! Old man, bring up your dog, will you, if you please. Don't be afraid, you will be paid for it. And, listen a moment—is the dog ill? I wish to ask, is the dog suffering from hydrophobia or skin disease?"
"Don't want to stroke him, don't want to," roared Trilly, blowing out his mouth like a bladder. "Fat-heads! Demons! Give it to me altogether! I want to play with it.... For always."
"Listen, old man, come up here," cried the lady, trying to outshout the child. "Ah, Trilly, you'll kill your own mother if you make such a noise. Why ever did they let these music people in? Come nearer —nearer still; come when you're told!... That's better.... Oh, don't take offence! Trilly, your mother will do all that you ask. I beseech you, miss, do try and calm the child.... Doctor, I pray you. ... How much d'you want, old man?"
Grandfather removed his cap, and his face took on a respectfully piteous expression.
"As much as your kindness will think fit, my lady, your Excellency.... We are people in a small way, and anything is a blessing for us.... Probably you will not do anything to offend an old man...."
"Ah, how senseless! Trilly, you'll make your little throat ache.... Don't you grasp the fact that the dog is yours and not mine.... Now, how much do you say? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty?"
"A-a-a; I wa-ant it, give me the dog, give me the dog," squealed the boy, kicking the round stomach of the lackey who happened to be near.
"That is ... forgive me, your Serenity," stuttered Lodishkin. "You see, I'm an old man, stupid.... It's difficult to understand at once.... What's more, I'm a bit deaf ... so I ought to ask, in short, what were you wishing to say?... For the dog?..."
"Ah, God in heaven! It seems to me you're playing the idiot on purpose," said the lady, boiling over. "Nurse, give Trilly some water at once! I ask you, in the Russian language, for how much do you wish to sell your dog? Do you understand—your dog, dog?..."
"The dog! The do-og!" cried the boy, louder than ever.
Lodishkin took offence, and put his hat on again.
"Dogs, my lady, I do not sell," said he coldly and with dignity. "And, what is more, madam, that dog, it ought to be understood, has been for us two"—he pointed with his middle finger over his shoulder at Sergey—"has been for us two, feeder and clother. It has fed us, given us drink, and clothed us. I could not think of anything more impossible than, for example, that we should sell it."
Trilly all the while was giving forth piercing shrieks like the whistle of a steam-engine. They gave him a glass of water, but he splashed it furiously all over the face of his governess.
"Listen, you crazy old man!... There are no things which are not for sale, if only a large enough price be offered," insisted the lady, pressing her palms to her temples. "Miss, wipe your face quickly and give me my headache mixture. Now, perhaps your dog costs a hundred roubles! What then, two hundred? Three hundred? Now answer, image. Doctor, for the love of the Lord, do say something to him!"
"Pack up, Sergey," growled Lodishkin morosely. "Image, im-a-age.... Here, Arto!..."
"Hey, wait a minute, if you please," drawled the stout gentleman in the gold spectacles in an authoritative bass. "You'd better not be obstinate, dear man, now I'm telling you. For your dog, ten roubles would be a beautiful price, and even for you into the bargain.... Just consider, ass, how much the lady is offering you."
"I most humbly thank you, sir," mumbled Lodishkin, hitching his organ on to his shoulders. "Only I can't see how such a piece of business could ever be done, as, for instance, to sell. Now, I should think you'd better seek some other dog somewhere else.... So good day to you.... Now, Sergey, go ahead!"
"And have you got a passport?" roared the doctor in a rage. "I know you—canaille."
"Porter! Semyon! Drive them out!" cried the lady, her face distorted with rage.
The gloomy-looking porter in the rose-coloured blouse rushed threateningly towards the artistes. A great hubbub arose on the terrace, Trilly roaring for all he was worth, his mother sobbing, the nurse chattering volubly to her assistant, the doctor booming like an angry cockchafer. But grandfather and Sergey had no time to look back or to see how all would end. The poodle running in front of them, they got quickly to the gates, and after them came the yard porter, punching the old man in the back, beating on his organ, and crying out:
"Out you get, you rascals! Thank God that you're not hanging by your neck, you old scoundrel. Remember, next time you come here, we shan't stand on ceremony with you, but lug you at once to the police station. Charlatans!"
For a long time the boy and the old man walked along silently together, but suddenly, as if they had arranged the time beforehand, they both looked at one another and laughed. Sergey, simply burst into laughter, and then Lodishkin smiled, seemingly in some confusion.
"Eh, grandfather Lodishkin, you know everything?" teased Sergey.
"Ye-s brother, we've been nicely fooled, haven't we," said the old organ grinder, nodding his head. "A nasty bit of a boy, however.... How they'll bring up such a creature, the Lord only knows. Yes, if you please, twenty-five men and women standing around him, dancing dances for his sake. Well, if he'd been in my power, I'd have taught him a lesson. 'Give me the dog,' says he. What then? If he asks for the moon out of the sky, give him that also, I suppose. Come here, Arto, come here, my little doggie doggie. Well, and what money we've taken to-day—astonishing!"
"Better than money," continued Sergey, "one lady gave us clothes, another a whole rouble. And doesn't grandfather Lodishkin know everything in advance?"
"You be quiet," growled the old man good-naturedly. "Don't you remember how you ran from the porter? I thought I should never catch you up. A serious man, that porter!"
Leaving the villas, the wandering troupe stepped downward by a steep and winding path to the sea. At this point the mountains, retiring from the shore, left a beautiful level beach covered with tiny pebbles, which lisped and chattered as the waves turned them over. Two hundred yards out to sea dolphins turned somersaults, showing for moments their curved and glimmering backs. Away on the horizon of the wide blue sea, standing as it were on a lovely velvet ribbon of dark purple, were the sails of fishing boats, tinted to a rose colour by the sunlight.
"Here we shall bathe, grandfather Lodishkin," said Sergey decisively. And he took off his trousers as he walked, jumping from one leg to the other to do so. "Let me help you to take off the organ."
He swiftly undressed, smacking his sunburnt body with the palms of his hands, ran down to the waves, took a handful of foam to throw over his shoulders, and jumped into the sea.
Grandfather undressed without hurry. Shielding his eyes from the sun with his hands, and wrinkling his brows, he looked at Sergey and grinned knowingly.
"He's not bad; the boy is growing," thought Lodishkin to himself. "Plenty of bones—all his ribs showing; but all the same, he'll be a strong fellow."
"Hey, Serozhska, don't you get going too far. A sea pig'll drag you off!"
"If so, I'll catch it by the tail," cried Sergey from a distance.
Grandfather stood a long time in the sunshine, feeling himself under his armpits. He went down to the water very cautiously, and before going right in, carefully wetted his bald red crown and the sunken sides of his body. He was yellow, wizened and feeble, his feet were astonishingly thin, and his back, with sharp protruding shoulder-blades, was humped by the long carrying of the organ.
"Look, grandfather Lodishkin!" cried Sergey, and he turned a somersault in the water.
Grandfather, who had now gone into the water up to his middle, sat down with a murmur of pleasure, and cried out to Sergey:
"Now, don't you play about, piggy. Mind what I tell you or I'll give it you."
Arto barked unceasingly, and jumped about the shore. He was very much upset to see the boy swimming out so far. "What's the use of showing off one's bravery?" worried the poodle. "Isn't there the earth, and isn't that good enough to go on, and much calmer?"
He went into the water two or three times himself, and lapped the waves with his tongue. But he didn't like the salt water, and was afraid of the little waves rolling over the pebbles towards him. He jumped back to dry sand, and at once set himself to bark at Sergey. "Why these silly, silly tricks? Why not come and sit down on the beach by the side of the old man? Dear, dear, what a lot of anxiety that boy does give us!"
"Hey, Serozha, time to come out, anyway. You've had enough," cried the old man.
"In a minute, grandfather Lodishkin," the boy cried back. "Just look how I do the steamboat. U-u-u-ukh!"
At last he swam in to the shore, but, before dressing, he caught Arto in his arms, and returning with him to the water's edge, flung him as far as he could. The dog at once swam back, leaving above the surface of the water his nostrils and floating ears alone, and snorting loudly and offendedly. Reaching dry sand, he shook his whole body violently, and clouds of water flew on the old man and on Sergey.
"Serozha, boy, look, surely that's for us!" said Lodishkin suddenly, staring upwards towards the cliff.
Along the downward path they saw that same gloomy-looking yard porter in the rose-coloured blouse with the speckled pattern, waving his arms and crying out to them, though they could not make out what he was saying, the same fellow who, a quarter of an hour ago, had driven the vagabond troupe from the villa.
"What does he want?" asked grandfather mistrustfully.
The porter continued to cry, and at the same time to leap awkwardly down the steep path, the sleeves of his blouse trembling in the wind and the body of it blown out like a sail.
"O-ho-ho! Wait, you three!"
"There's no finishing with these people," growled Lodishkin angrily. "It's Artoshka they're after again."
"Grandfather, what d'you say? Let's pitch into him!" proposed Sergey bravely.
"You be quiet! Don't be rash! But what sort of people can they be? God forgive us...."
"I say, this is what you've got to do...," began the panting porter from afar. "You'll sell that dog. Eh, what? There's no peace with the little master. Roars like a calf: 'Give me, give me the dog....' The mistress has sent. 'Buy it,' says she, 'however much you have to pay.'"
"Now that's pretty stupid on your mistress's part," cried Lodishkin angrily, for he felt considerably more sure of himself here on the shore than he did in somebody else's garden. "And I should like to ask how can she be my mistress? She's your mistress, perhaps, but to me further off than a third cousin, and I can spit at her if I want to. And now, please, for the love of God ... I pray you ... be so good as to go away ... and leave us alone."
But the porter paid no attention. He sat down on the pebbles beside the old man, and, awkwardly scratching the back of his neck with his fingers, addressed him thus:
"Now, don't you grasp, fool?..."
"I hear it from a fool," interrupted the old man.
"Now, come ... that's not the point.... Just put it to yourself. What's the dog to you? Choose another puppy; all your expense is a stick, and there you have your dog again. Isn't that sense? Don't I speak the truth? Eh?"
Grandfather meditatively fastened the strap which served him as a belt. To the obstinate questions of the porter he replied with studied indifference.
"Talk on, say all you've got to say, and then I'll answer you at once."
"Then, brother, think of the number," cried the porter hotly. "Two hundred, perhaps three hundred roubles in a lump! Well, they generally give me something for my work ... but just you think of it. Three whole hundred! Why, you know, you could open a grocer's shop with that...."
Whilst saying this the porter plucked from his pocket a piece of sausage, and threw it to the poodle. Arto caught it in the air, swallowed it at a gulp, and ingratiatingly wagged his tail.
"Finished?" asked Lodishkin sweetly.
"Doesn't take long to say what I had to say. Give the dog, and the money will be in your hands."
"So-o," drawled grandfather mockingly. "That means the sale of the dog, I suppose?"
"What else? Just an ordinary sale. You see, our little master is so crazy. That's what's the matter. Whatever he wants, he turns the whole house upside down. 'Give,' says he, and it has to be given. That's how it is without his father. When his father's here ... holy Saints!... we all walk on our heads. The father is an engineer; perhaps you've heard of Mr. Obolyaninof? He builds railway lines all over Russia. A millionaire! They've only one boy, and they spoil him. 'I want a live pony,' says he—here's a pony for you. 'I want a boat,' says he—here's a real boat. There is nothing that they refuse him...."
"And the moon?"
"That is, in what sense?" asked the porter.
"I say, has he never asked for the moon from the sky?"
"The moon. What nonsense is that?" said the porter, turning red. "But come now, we're agreed, aren't we, dear man?"
By this time grandfather had succeeded in putting on his old green-seamed jacket, and he drew himself up as straight as his bent back would permit.
"I'll ask you one thing, young man," said he, not without dignity. "If you had a brother, or, let us say, a friend, that had grown up with you from childhood—Now stop, friend, don't throw sausage to the dog ... better eat it yourself.... You can't bribe the dog with that, brother—I say, if you had a friend, the best and truest friend that it's possible to have ... one who from childhood ... well, then, for example, for how much would you sell him?"
"I'd find a price even for him!..."
"Oh, you'd find a price. Then go and tell your master who builds the railroads," cried grandfather in a loud voice—"Go and tell him that not everything that ordinarily is for sale is also to be bought. Yes! And you'd better not stroke the dog. That's to no purpose. Here, Arto, dog, I'll give it you. Come on, Sergey."
"Oh, you old fool!" cried the porter at last.
"Fool; yes, I was one from birth, but you, bit of rabble, Judas, soul-seller!" shouted Lodishkin. "When you see your lady-general, give her our kind respects, our deepest respects. Sergey, roll up the mattress. Ai, ai, my back, how it aches! Come on."
"So-o, that's what it means," drawled the porter significantly.
"Yes. That's what it is. Take it!" answered the old man exasperatingly. The troupe then wandered off along the shore, following on the same road. Once, looking back accidentally, Sergey noticed that the porter was following them; his face seemed cogitative and gloomy, his cap was over his eyes, and he scratched with five fingers his shaggy carrotty-haired neck.
A certain spot between Miskhor and Aloopka had long since been put down by Lodishkin as a splendid place for having lunch, and it was to this that they journeyed now. Not far from a bridge over a rushing mountain torrent there wandered from the cliff side a cold chattering stream of limpid water. This was in the shade of crooked oak trees and thick hazel bushes. The stream had made itself a shallow basin in the earth, and from this overflowed, in tiny snake-like streamlets, glittering in the grass like living silver. Every morning and evening one might see here pious Turks making their ablutions and saying their prayers.
"Our sins are heavy and our provisions are meagre," said grandfather, sitting in the shade of a hazel bush. "Now, Serozha, come along. Lord, give Thy blessing!"
He pulled out from a sack some bread, some tomatoes, a lump of Bessarabian cheese, and a bottle of olive oil. He brought out a little bag of salt, an old rag tied round with string. Before eating, the old man crossed himself many times and whispered something. Then he broke the crust of bread into three unequal parts: the largest he gave to Sergey (he is growing—he must eat), the next largest he gave to the poodle, and the smallest he took for himself.
"In the name of the Father and the Son. The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord," whispered he, making a salad of the tomatoes. "Eat, Serozha!"
They ate slowly, not hurrying, in silence, as people eat who work. All that was audible was the working of three pairs of jaws. Arto, stretched on his stomach, ate his little bit at one side, gnawing the crust of bread, which he held between his front paws. Grandfather and Sergey alternately dipped their tomatoes in the salt, and made their lips and hands red with the juice. When they had finished they drank water from the stream, filling a little tin can and putting it to their mouths. It was fine water, and so cold that the mug went cloudy on the outside from the moisture condensing on it. The mid-day heat and the long road had tired the performers, for they had been up with the sun. Grandfather's eyes closed involuntarily. Sergey yawned and stretched himself.
"Well now, little brother, what if we were to lie down and sleep for a minute or so?" asked grandfather. "One last drink of water. Ukh! Fine!" cried he, taking his lips from the can and breathing heavily, the bright drops of water running from his beard and whiskers. "If I were Tsar I'd drink that water every day ... from morning to night. Here, Arto! Well, God has fed us and nobody has seen us, or if anybody has seen us he hasn't taken offence.... Okh—okh—okhonush—kee—ee!"
The old man and the boy lay down side by side in the grass, making pillows for their heads of their jackets. The dark leaves of the rugged many-branching oaks murmured above them; occasionally through the shade gleamed patches of bright blue sky; the little streams running from stone to stone chattered monotonously and stealthily as if they were putting someone to sleep by sorcery. Grandfather turned from side to side, muttered something to Sergey, but to Sergey his voice seemed far away in a soft and sleepy distance, and the words were strange, as those spoken in a fairy tale.
"First of all—I buy you a costume, rose and gold ... slippers also of rose-coloured satin ... in Kief or Kharkof, or, perhaps, let us say in the town of Odessa—there, brother, there are circuses, if you like!... Endless lanterns ... all electricity.... People, perhaps five thousand, perhaps more ... how should I know. We should have to make up a name for you—an Italian name, of course. What can one do with a name like Esteepheyef, or let us say, Lodishkin? Quite absurd! No imagination in them whatever. So we'd let you go on the placards as Antonio, or perhaps, also quite good, Enrico or Alphonse...."
The boy heard no more. A sweet and gentle slumber settled down upon him and took possession of his body. And grandfather fell asleep, losing suddenly the thread of his favourite after-dinner thoughts, his dream of Sergey's magnificent acrobatic future. Once, however, in his dream it appeared to him that Arto was growling at somebody. For a moment through his dreamy brain there passed the half-conscious and alarming remembrance of the porter in the rose-coloured blouse, but overcome with sleep, tiredness and heat, he could not get up, but only idly, with closed eyes, cried out to the dog:
"Arto ... where're you going? I'll g-give it you, gipsy!"
But at once he forgot what he was talking about, and his mind fell back into the heaviness of sleep and vague dreams.
At last the voice of Sergey woke him up, for the boy was running to and fro just beyond the stream, shouting loudly and whistling, calling anxiously for the dog.
"Here, Arto! Come back! Pheu, pheu! Come back, Arto!"
"What are you howling about, Sergey?" cried Lodishkin in a tone of displeasure, trying to bring the circulation back to a sleeping arm.
"We've lost the dog whilst we slept. That's what we've done," answered the boy in a harsh, scolding note. "The dog's lost."
He whistled again sharply, and cried:
"Ah, you're just making up nonsense! He'll return," said grandfather. But all the same, he also got up and began to call the dog in an angry, sleepy, old man's falsetto:
"Arto! Here, dog!"
The old man hurriedly and tremblingly ran across the bridge and began to go upward along the highway, calling the dog as he went. In front of him lay the bright, white stripe of the road, level and clear for half a mile, but on it not a figure, not a shadow.
"Arto! Ar-tosh-enka!" wailed the old man in a piteous voice, but suddenly he stopped calling him, bent down on the roadside and sat on his heels.
"Yes, that's what it is," said the old man in a failing voice. "Sergey! Serozha! Come here, my boy!"
"Now what do you want?" cried the boy rudely. "What have you found now? Found yesterday lying by the roadside, eh?"
"Serozha ... what is it?... What do you make of it? Do you see what it is?" asked the old man, scarcely above a whisper. He looked at the boy in a piteous and distracted way, and his arms hung helplessly at his sides.
In the dust of the road lay a comparatively large half-eaten lump of sausage, and about it in all directions were printed a dog's paw-marks.
"He's drawn it off, the scoundrel, lured it away," whispered grandfather in a frightened shiver, still sitting on his heels. "It's he; no one else, it's quite clear. Don't you remember how he threw the sausage to Arto down by the sea?"
"Yes, it's quite clear," repeated Sergey sulkily.
Grandfather's wide-open eyes filled with tears, quickly overflowing down his cheeks. He hid them with his hands.
"Now, what can we do Serozhenka? Eh, boy? What can we do now?" asked the old man, rocking to and fro and weeping helplessly.
"Wha-at to do, wha-at to do!" teased Sergey. "Get up, grandfather Lodishkin; let's be going!"
"Yes, let us go!" repeated the old man sadly and humbly, raising himself from the ground. "We'd better be going, I suppose, Serozhenka."
Losing patience, Sergey began to scold the old man as if he were a little boy.
"That's enough drivelling, old man, stupid! Who ever heard of people taking away other folks' dogs in this way? It's not the law. What-ye blinking your eyes at me for? Is what I say untrue? Let us go simply and say, 'Give us back the dog!' and if they won't give it, then to the courts with it, and there's an end of it."
"To the courts ... yes ... of course.... That's correct, to the courts, of course...," repeated Lodishkin, with a senseless bitter smile. But his eyes looked hither and thither in confusion. "To the courts ... yes ... only you know, Serozhenka ... it wouldn't work ... we'd never get to the courts...."
"How not work? The law is the same for everybody. What have they got to say for themselves?" interrupted the boy impatiently.
"Now, Serozha, don't do that ... don't be angry with me. They won't give us back the dog." At this point grandfather lowered his voice in a mysterious way. "I fear, on account of the passport. Didn't you hear what the gentleman said up there? 'Have you a passport?' he says. Well, and there, you see, I,"—here grandfather made a wry and seemingly frightened face, and whispered barely audibly—"I'm living with somebody else's passport, Serozha."
"How somebody else's?"
"Somebody else's. There's no more about it. I lost my own at Taganrog. Perhaps somebody stole it. For two years after that I wandered about, hid myself, gave bribes, wrote petitions ... at last I saw there was no getting out of it. I had to live like a hare—afraid of everything. But once in Odessa, in a night house, a Greek remarked to me the following:—'What you say,' says he, 'is nonsense. Put twenty-five roubles on the table, and I'll give you a passport that'll last you till doomsday.' I worried my brain about that. 'I'll lose my head for this,' I thought. However, 'Give it me,' said I. And from that time, my dear boy, I've been going about the world with another man's passport."
"Ah, grandfather, grandfather!" sighed Sergey, with tears in his eyes. "I'm sorry about the dog. It's a very fine dog, you know...."
"Serozhenka, my darling," cried the old man trembling. "If only I had a real passport. Do you think it would matter to me even if they were generals? I'd take them by the throat!... How's this? One minute, if you please! What right have you to steal other people's dogs? What law is there for that? But now there's a stopper on us, Serozha. If I go to the police station the first thing will be, 'Show us your passport! Are you a citizen of Samara, by name Martin Lodishkin?' I, your Excellency, dear me—I, little brother, am not Lodishkin at all, and not a citizen, but a peasant. Ivan Dudkin is my name. And who that Lodishkin might be, God alone knows! How can I tell? Perhaps a thief or an escaped convict. Perhaps even a murderer. No, Serozha, we shouldn't effect anything that way. Nothing at all...."
Grandfather choked, and tears trickled once more over his sunburnt wrinkles. Sergey, who had listened to the old man in silence, his brows tightly knit, his face pale with agitation, suddenly stood up and cried: "Come on, grandfather. To the devil with the passport! I suppose we don't intend to spend the night here on the high road?"
"Ah, my dear, my darling," said the old man, trembling. "'Twas a clever dog ... that Artoshenka of ours. We shan't find such another...."
"All right, all right. Get up!" cried Sergey imperiously. "Now let me knock the dust off you. I feel quite worn out, grandfather."
They worked no more that day. Despite his youthful years, Sergey well understood the fateful meaning of the dreadful word "passport." So he sought no longer to get Arto back, either through the courts or in any other decisive way. And as he walked along the road with grandfather towards the inn, where they should sleep, his face took on a new, obstinate, concentrated expression, as if he had just thought out something extraordinarily serious and great.
Without actually expressing their intention, the two wanderers made a considerable detour in order to pass once more by Friendship Villa, and they stopped for a little while outside the gates, in the vague hope of catching a glimpse of Arto, or of hearing his bark from afar. But the iron gates of the magnificent villa were bolted and locked, and an important, undisturbed and solemn stillness reigned over the shady garden under the sad and mighty cypresses.
"Peo-ple!" cried the old man in a quavering voice, putting into that one word all the burning grief that filled his heart.
"Ah, that's enough. Come on!" cried the boy roughly, pulling his companion by the sleeve.
"Serozhenka! Don't you think there's a chance that Artoshenka might run away from them?" sighed the old man. "Eh! What do you think, dear?"
But the boy did not answer the old man. He went ahead in firm large strides, his eyes obstinately fixed on the road, his brows obstinately frowning.
They reached Aloopka in silence. Grandfather muttered to himself and sighed the whole way. Sergey preserved in his face an angry and resolute expression. They stopped for the night at a dirty Turkish coffee-house, bearing the splendid name of Eeldeez, which means in Turkish, a star. In the same room with them slept Greek stone-breakers, Turkish ditch-diggers, a gang of Russian workmen, and several dark-faced, mysterious tramps, the sort of which there are so many wandering about Southern Russia. Directly the coffee-house closed they stretched themselves out on the benches along the length of the walls, or simply upon the floor, and the more experienced placed their possessions and their clothes in a bundle under their heads.
It was long after midnight when Sergey, who had been lying side by side with grandfather on the floor, got up stealthily and began to dress himself without noise. Through the wide window-panes poured the full light of the moon, falling on the floor to make a trembling carpet of silver, and giving to the faces of the sleepers an expression of suffering and death.
"Where's you going to, zis time o' night?" cried the owner of the coffee-house, Ibrahim, a young Turk lying at the door of the shop.
"Let me pass; it's necessary. I've got to go out," answered Sergey in a harsh, business-like tone. "Get up, Turco!"
Yawning and stretching himself, Ibrahim got up and opened the door, clicking his tongue reproachfully. The narrow streets of the Tartar bazar were enveloped in a dense dark-blue mist, which covered with a tooth-shaped design the whole cobbled roadway; one side of the street lay in shade, the other, with all its white-called houses, was illumined by the moonlight. Dogs were barking at distant points of the village. Somewhere on the upper high road horses were trotting, and the metallic clink of their hoofs sounded in the night stillness.
Passing the white mosque with its green cupola, surrounded by its grove of silent cypresses, Sergey tripped along a narrow, crooked lane to the great highway. In order that he might run quickly the boy was practically in his undergarments only. The moon shone on him from behind, and his shadow ran ahead in a strange foreshortened silhouette. There were mysterious shaggy shrubs on each side of the road, a bird was crying monotonously from the bushes in a gentle, tender tone "Splew! Splew!" and it seemed as if it thought itself to be a sentry in the night silence, guarding some melancholy secret, and powerlessly struggling with sleep and tiredness, complaining hopelessly, quietly, to someone, "Splew, splew, I sleep, I sleep."
 The word "splew" is Russian for "I sleep."
And over the dark bushes, over the blue head-dress of the distant forests, rose with its two peaks to the sky, Ai-Petri—so light, so clear-cut, so ethereal, as if it were something cut from a gigantic piece of silver cardboard in the sky. Sergey felt a little depressed by the majestic silence in which his footsteps sounded so distinctly and daringly, but at the same time there rose in his heart a sort of ticklish, head-whirhing, spirit of adventure. At a turn of the road the sea suddenly opened before him, immense and calm, quietly and solemnly breaking on the shore. From the horizon to the beach stretched a narrow, a quivering, silver roadway; in the midst of the sea this roadway was lost, and only here and there the traces of it glittered, but suddenly nearer the shore it became a wide flood of living, glimmering metal, ornamenting the coast like a belt of deep lace.
Sergey slipped noiselessly through the wooden gateway leading to the park. There, under the dense foliage of the trees, it was quite dark. From afar sounded the ceaseless murmur of mountain streams, and one could feel their damp cold breath. The wooden planks of the bridge clacked soundingly as he ran across; the water beneath looked dark and dreadful. In a moment he saw in front of him the high gates with their lace pattern of iron, and the creeping gloxinia hanging over them. The moonlight, pouring from a gap in the trees, outlined the lacework of the iron gates with, as it were, a gentle phosphorescence. On the other side of the gates it was dark, and there was a terrifying stillness.
Sergey hesitated for some moments, feeling in his soul some doubt, even a little fear. But he conquered his feelings and whispered obstinately to himself:
"All the same; I'm going to climb in, all the same!"
The elegant cast-iron design furnished solid stepping places and holding places for the muscular arms and feet of the climber. But over the gateway, at a considerable height, and fitting to the gates, was a broad archway of stone. Sergey felt all over this with his hands, and climbed up on to it, lay on his stomach, and tried to let himself down on the other side. He hung by his hands, but could find no catching place for his feet. The stone archway stood out too far from the gate for his legs to reach, so he dangled there, and as he couldn't get back, his body grew limp and heavy, and terror possessed his soul.
At last he could hold on no longer; his fingers gave, and he slipped and fell violently to the ground.
He heard the gravel crunch under him, and felt a sharp pain in his knees. He lay crouching on all fours for some moments, stunned by the fall. He felt that in a minute out would come the gloomy-looking porter, raise a cry and make a fearful to do.... But the same brooding and self-important silence reigned in the garden as before. Only a sort of strange monotonous buzzing sounded everywhere about the villa and the estate.
"Zhu ... zhzhu ... zhzhu...."
"Ah, that's the noise in my ears," guessed Sergey. When he got on his feet again and looked round, all the garden had become dreadful and mysterious, and beautiful as in a fairy tale, a scented dream. On the flower-beds the flowers, barely visible in the darkness, leaned toward one another as if communicating a vague alarm. The magnificent dark-scented cypresses nodded pensively, and seemed to reflect reproachfully over all. And beyond a little stream the tired little bird struggled with its desire to slumber, and cried submissively and plaintively, "Splew, splew, I sleep, I sleep."
Sergey could not recognise the place in the darkness for the confusion of the paths and the shadows. He wandered for some time on the crunching gravel before he found the house.
He had never in his whole life felt such complete helplessness and torturesome loneliness and desolation as he did now. The immense house felt as if it must be full of concealed enemies watching him with wicked glee, peering at him from the dark windows. Every moment he expected to hear some sort of signal or wrathful fierce command.
"... Only not in the house ... he couldn't possibly be in the house," whispered the boy to himself as in a dream; "if they put him in the house he would begin to howl, and they'd soon get tired of it...."
He walked right round the house. At the back, in the wide yard, were several outhouses more or less simple and capacious, evidently designed for the accommodation of servants. There was not a light in any of them, and none in the great house itself; only the moon saw itself darkly in the dull dead windows. "I shan't ever get away from here; no, never!" thought Sergey to himself despairingly, and just for a moment his thoughts went back to the sleeping tavern and grandfather and the old organ, and to the place where they had slept in the afternoon, to their life of the road, and he whispered softly to himself, "Never, never any more of that again," and so thinking, his fear changed to a sort of calm and despairing conviction.
But then suddenly he became aware of a faint, far-off whimpering. The boy stood still as if spellbound, not daring to move. The whimpering sound was repeated. It seemed to come from the stone cellar near which Sergey was standing, and which was ventilated by a window with no glass, just four rough square openings. Stepping across a flower-bed, the boy went up to the wall, pressed his face to one of the openings, and whistled. He heard a slight cautious movement somewhere in the depths, and then all was silent.
"Arto, Artoshka!" cried Sergey, in a trembling whisper.
At this there burst out at once a frantic burst of barking, filling the whole garden and echoing from all sides. In this barking there was expressed, not only joyful welcome, but piteous complaint and rage, and physical pain. One could hear how the dog was tugging and pulling at something in the dark cellar, trying to get free.
"Arto! Doggikin!... Artoshenka!..." repeated the boy in a sobbing voice.
"Peace, cursed one! Ah, you convict!" cried a brutal bass voice from below.
There was a sound of beating from the cellar. The dog gave vent to a long howl.
"Don't dare to kill him! Kill the dog if you dare, you villain!" cried Sergey, quite beside himself, scratching the stone wall with his nails.
What happened after that Sergey only remembered confusedly, like something he had experienced in a dreadful nightmare. The door of the cellar opened wide with a noise, and out rushed the porter. He was only in his pantaloons, bare-footed, bearded, pale from the bright light of the moon, which was shining straight in his face. To Sergey he seemed like a giant or an enraged monster, escaped from a fairy tale.
"Who goes there? I shall shoot. Thieves! Robbers!" thundered the voice of the porter.
At that moment, however, there rushed from the door of the cellar out into the darkness Arto, with a broken cord hanging from his neck.
There was no question of the boy following the dog. The sight of the porter filled him with supernatural terror, tied his feet, and seemed to paralyse his whole body. Fortunately, this state of nerves didn't last long. Almost involuntarily Sergey gave vent to a piercing and despairing shriek, and he took to his heels at random, not looking where he was going, and absolutely forgetting himself from fear.
He went off like a bird, his feet striking the ground as if they had suddenly become two steel springs, and by his side ran Arto, joyfully and effusively barking. After them came the porter, heavily, shouting and swearing at them as he went.
Sergey was making for the gate, but suddenly he had an intuition that there was no road for him that way. Along the white stone wall of the garden was a narrow track in the shelter of the cypress trees, and Sergey flung himself along this path, obedient to the one feeling of fright. The sharp needles of the cypress trees, pregnant with the smell of pitch, struck him in the face. He fell over some roots and hurt his arm so that the blood came, but jumped up at once, not even noticing the pain, and went on as fast as ever, bent double, and still followed by Arto.
So he ran along this narrow corridor, with the wall on one side and the closely ranged file of cypresses on the other, ran as might a crazy little forest animal feeling itself in an endless trap. His mouth grew dry, his breathing was like needles in his breast, yet all the time the noise of the following porter was audible, and the boy, losing his head, ran back to the gate again and then once more up the narrow pathway, and back again.
At last Sergey ran himself tired. Instead of the wild terror, he began to feel a cold, deadly melancholy, a tired indifference to danger. He sat down under a tree, and pressed his tired-out body to the trunk and closed his eyes. Nearer and nearer came the heavy steps of the enemy. Arto whimpered softly, putting his nose between the boy's knees.
Two steps from where Sergey sat a big branch of a tree bent downward. The boy, raising his eyes accidentally, was suddenly seized with joy and jumped to his feet at a bound, for he noticed that at the place where he was sitting the wall was very low, not more than a yard and a half in height. The top was plastered with lime and broken bottle-glass, but Sergey did not give that a thought. In the twinkling of an eye he grabbed Arto by the body, and lifting him up put him with his fore-legs on the top of the wall. The clever poodle understood perfectly, clambered on to the top, wagged his tail and barked triumphantly.
Sergey followed him, making use of the branches of the cypress, and he had hardly got on to the top of the wall before he caught sight of a large, shadowy face. Two supple, agile bodies—the dog's and the boy's—went quickly and softly to the bottom, on to the road, and following them, like a dirty stream, came the vile, malicious abuse of the porter.
But whether it was that the porter was less sure on his feet than our two friends, or was tired with running round the garden, or had simply given up hope of overtaking them, he followed them no further. Nevertheless, they ran on as fast as they could without resting, strong, light-footed, as if the joy of deliverance had given them wings. The poodle soon began to exhibit his accustomed frivolity. Sergey often looked back fearfully over his shoulders, but Arto leapt on him, wagging his ears ecstatically, and waving the bit of cord that was hanging from his neck, actually licking Sergey's face with his long tongue. The boy became calm only by the time they got to the spring where the afternoon before grandfather and he had made their lunch. There both the boy and the dog put their lips to the cold stream, and drank long and eagerly of the fresh and pleasant water. They got in one another's way with their heads, and thinking they had quenched their thirst, yet returned to the basin to drink more, and would not stop. When at last they got away from the spot the water rolled about in their overfull insides as they ran. The danger past, all the terrors of the night explored, they felt gay now, and light-hearted, going along the white road brightly lit up by the moon, going through the dark shrubs, now wet with morning dew, and exhaling the sweet scent of freshened leaves.
At the door of the coffee-house Eeldeez, Ibrahim met the boy and whispered reproachfully:
"Where's you been a-roving, boy? Where's you been? No, no, no, zat's not good...."
Sergey did not wish to wake grandfather, but Arto did it for him. He at once found the old man in the midst of the other people sleeping on the floor, and quite forgetting himself, licked him all over his cheeks and eyes and nose and mouth, yelping joyfully. Grandfather awoke, saw the broken cord hanging from the poodle's neck, saw the boy lying beside him covered with dust, and understood all. He asked Sergey to explain, but got no answer. The little boy was asleep, his arms spread out on the floor, his mouth wide open.
You may also enjoy reading our collection of Dog Stories.
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