The Easter Outing
Leonid Leonov’s novel THE THIEF, which appeared in 1927, is a panoramic story of the Moscow underworld in the early twenties. The central figure is Mitya Vekshin,a former aristocrat, then a Bolshevik, and finally, cut of his disillusionment with the Revolution, the leader of a gang of thieves. Opposed to him is Nikolai Zavarikhin,a shrewd, inexperienced peasant who has come to Moscow to make his fortune, legally or otherwise, and who falls in love with Mitya’s sister, Tanya. Tanya, a high-wire artist in the circus whose stage name is Hela, lives with her trainer, Pagel.
ZAVARIKHIN came clattering downstairs after Tanya, who had been waiting at the entrance for some time, holding her hat against the wind, which flattened her clothes to her figure.
“Hold fast to the wall so you won’t be blown away, Nikolai Zavarikhin,” she shouted at him. “The world is windy, and wonderful.”
“Back at home is where the wind is really free,” Nikolai responded as he took a gulp of air. “Why, there the wind is so strong that the old women have to beat their way through it in order to get to the well. I remember the time when an accordion in the next district would start to play and the wind would simply tear it to shreds. That’s how it is at home!”
“And do you play the accordion too?”
“I used to sometimes on the farm, but I’ve lost the talent. Now I have to use my mind.” He turned around, thinking over various plans for the outing. “I have a great friend, a relative, a brother-in-law, sort of, a future godfather,” Zavarikhin blurted out prophetically, practically chewing her ear, because the noise of the wind in the roof tops drowned out human speech. “Let’s go see him first.”
“Why?” She was suspicious of his enthusiasm.
“Listen, circus artist Hela, you can always depend on the huckster Nikolka Zavarikhin.”
And his glance was so persuasive that Tanya delivered herself up to his will without argument.
Hand in hand they set out, their arms swinging as they walked. Midway, Nikolka fell into a preoccupied silence, either out of worry over his vanishing bachelor freedom or over whether or not he would catch Zotei Bukhvostov at home. They had to cross a square, emptied of people by the Easter holiday, and eventually they turned right behind an ancient fire tower into a dead-end street. His friend’s place of business stood in the depths of an unpaved courtyard, surrounded by alive but barren poplars. Telling Tanya to wait a minute for him, Zavarikhin poured some sunflower seeds into the palm of her hand and then ran through the stone gates, scarred by carriage wheels, and disappeared into the reception building as swiftly as if he had gone through the wall.
LOW-LYING buildings set in a semicircle like that were, in the past, the riding stables of some rich Moscovite. After a moment or so, Tanya decided to get some sun by strolling among the wooden houses interspersed between the gates and the splendid old fire tower. As the wind swept through the place, Tanya’s holiday mood began to run out faster than her sunflower seeds. A baldheaded man in suspenders appeared from behind the lace curtains of a street-level window; at first he just picked his teeth as he looked at her, or rather at her knees, which were revealed by the wind. Then he pointed a crooked finger at a bottle; this was evidently an invitation to share his Company. But Tanya strolled into the yard, around the reception building, and, removing a hand-tooled harness from a bench, sat down on the back porch. It was a grim, deserted stretch in front of her. Stacks of delivery sleds were piled in one spot, and a huge pool of a purplish hue rippling in the wind took up an entire corner of the yard. No one noticed or called out to Tanya; the sun was warm on her legs, and the piles of manure steaming in the sun made her think of horses and the open road. She would have gladly sat there until evening if she had not been haunted by the memory of the sorrowful, sympathetic eyes of Pugel.
Through an open jortochka the heartbreaking sound of a baby’s crying reached her, then some kitchen sounds mingled with indistinct human speech. Tanya listened. An unfamiliar voice, husky from the strain of talking, was trying to convince some listener of the power of the bribe in Holy Russia and was citing as proof an experience of his own brother-in-law. It appeared that the brother-in-law, having rammed and sunk a bread barge, had bribed his way out of paying the huge indemnity in the insurance investigation that followed.
“O.K., Zotei Vasilich, you can save all that. They’ll never get me either!” said a voice which sounded like Zavarikhin’s. “No more for me, thanks. I’ve had enough.”
“Getting tight already, on one glass!” laughingly burst out the first voice, which was interrupted by a hiccough. “Listen to me, Kolya, I’m going to give you a scientific example. My pilot was called to court. ‘You dog, how was it that you let a boat in perfectly good repair go to the bottom?’ ‘Well, it was like this, this wave came rushing over the water, so small I could barely see it. . . .’ And meanwhile he’s pushing this brand-new hundred-ruble note into the fist.”
“O.K., that’s enough, more later.” The second voice was determined this time, and now Tanya could unmistakably recognize Nikolka’s deep bass. “There is a storyteller wandering around here — save your story for him. I don’t need it. Here’s what I do need. I need a good horse for the day.”
“You’re smuggling goods, Kolya? On Holy Jesus’ Sunday?”
“Not goods, Zotei Vasilich. There’s a certain girl I’d like to give a good time to. A time she’ll remember forever. Graybeard, lend me that new fine mare of yours.”
“Oh, no,” the other began to groan. “She’s still unshod.”
“Save the lectures, Zotei, and you’ll save money,” answered Zavarikhin in a none too conciliatory tone, and Tanya heard for the first time how hard and brittle ordinary human speech can become. “Get up, let’s go harness the horse before my beauty freezes from overexposure.”
“So you’re going to drive while you’re drunk, you devil! And what will you do if I don’t give you my filly?” Bukhvostov began to bustle about, and here Zavarikhin made some answer which Tanya could not hear. “Now don’t get angry at your elders, gentle Kolya, you’ve gotten terribly angry.”
“You can’t get angry at human garbage,” was the curt reply, and again Tanya could not make out the end of the sentence.
The voices died out but were heard again as the host, who had evidently made peace with his guest, led the way to the stables behind the reception building.
“And I might have known that you wanted to show off in front of a young lady,” said the man with the much disheveled, reddish beard, as he tried to keep up with Zavarikhin, who stalked ahead, not deigning to answer. “We understand so little. Love isn’t a person — you can’t kick it out of the apartment. Will you at least be back by dark?”
“Enough of that stuff, Zotei. I’m fed up with it. I’ve said that I won’t take your precious animal off the road. Now bring her out!”
Soon a two-seated racing carriage with rubber tires appeared from the stable, and behind it, from a separate stall, emerged the filly herself. Sullenly restraining the prancing horse, and himself chafing with helpless jealousy, Bukhvostov began to harness the beautiful bay. Tanya had time, as she approached the proud and graceful creature, to appreciate those features which strike even the uninitiated; unlike her overfed and corseted circus sisters, this filly possessed a wild, untamed restiveness. Her satiny coat rippled slightly, like running water in the wind, and the special play of every fiber and muscle could be seen. Pushing the owner aside with the end of a poplar branch which he had broken off, God knows when, Zavarikhin with his deep-black eyes invited Tanya to get in beside him. And suddenly she became afraid of that cruel tenderness in Zavarikhin’s dutiful yet dominating glance, so afraid that at any other time she undoubtedly would have run away, but now she was indifferent to what the future held. At home alone with Pugel and her own thoughts — nothing could be worse.
“Don’t be reckless, Nikolai Yegorich,” Bukhvostov pleaded with his inexorable friend. His voice was barely audible, and there was a note of hatred in his appeal. “Don’t ruin her; don’t cripple her!” He was thinking of the common injury when an inexperienced horse, on an abrupt turn, would break its own metatarsus with its hoof. “Throw away your switch — you could ruin that animal,”
“Get out of the way,” Zavarikhin grunted, as he guided the carriage from the yard.
The carriage bumped over the pothole between the gates, a second time the wheels splashed through the puddle, and then Zavarikhin tapped the horse with the tip of the switch to let the creature know whom she was taking and where. He lightly touched her on a sensitive place on the flank, and she shuddered, actually stopped for a second, but didn’t upset the carriage or run away, because she understood that the driver was intoxicated and for the moment would be merciless to anyone on earth, himself above all. In two steps she had taken Bukhvostov’s carriage out of the side street into the broad expanse of holiday silence. In the whole town there was no sound except those of the clicking hoofs and the soft whisper of the rubber tires. Tanya timidly snuggled up in Nikolka’s tarpaulin and was seized by that blissful indifference to everything — the beginning, according to her long-held belief, of true happiness.
Never before had she so enjoyed riding with or even being near a man, all the while feeling his sharp, uncomfortable elbow in her side. Her pleasure in being with him doubled as passers-by appeared on either side, as she experienced satisfaction in the sting of the wind in her face, as she sensed the blessedly enigmatic unknown lying ahead and felt more than anything the inexorable power of this beautiful horse who, with such playful ease and effortlessness, was carrying her forward to her fate.
“Why is that heavy, unpleasant red-haired man so afraid of you?” Tanya asked suddenly, because she wanted to penetrate the thoughts of the one sitting beside her.
“Zotei Vasilich? Well, how can I put it? People are most afraid of those who don’t spare themselves,” answered Zavarikhin, skillfully playing with the reins, which were wrapped around his hand. “But they have nothing on him. Between us, he fell victim to czarist wrath, and his name got on the books. Well, there’s no red tape during the war — you just line ‘em up to the wall! But old Zotei is so full of life that even after he was already lying in the pit, he survived, the bastard. I can’t imagine how. So then he put all his faith in horses, although he was just an amateur. Oh, it’s a great gift. Horses have been a passion for me since my childhood.”
They came out on a wide cobblestone square, completely empty, without even a policeman in the center.
“I have a brother who adores horses,” Tanya said, trying to strengthen their friendship and mutual trust, and she blushed.
“What did you say?” Zavarikhin couldn’t hear because of the wind.
“I said my brother served in the cavalry,” Tanya repeated louder, cupping her mouth with her hand. “Maybe you remember meeting him?”
“Sure.” Zavarikhin’s laugh was restrained. “We had a little scrap once. Oh, well, meetings with knives in hand aren’t entirely without value. They help you see the whole man.”
“I don’t understand.” Tanya shivered and moved away slightly.
“Because human nature is always there to be seen. When you are a little boy, you choose your friends only with your fists. And you’re never mistaken.”
THE horse was going by herself, at a walk. Zavarikhin started to recall stories from his former life in the northern provinces, pictures of his earliest childhood which were still fresh and bright in his memory; about unbridled drinking bouts which used up the last kopeck, about the wood cutting in the forests, the intolerable labor on the log rafts, the work in the fields. Actually, Nikolka’s early memories were not so wild and attractive as he would have had them, but he felt a strange urge to embellish the passing charms of a peasant’s life in the eyes of this woman. He was conscious every moment of Tanya’s sidelong, inquiring gaze, which aroused flashes of boldness in him but at the same time made him unusually shy. Probably it was his effort to overcome this shyness which expressed itself in an action which, under other circumstances, he would have condemned.
Carried away not so much by Zavarikhin’s stories as by his tension and nervousness, Tanya did not notice how the occasion arose for his ugly display of bravado. Zavarikhin, a peasant boy come into his own, dealt with his victim as he deemed all remnants of the former day and regime deserved. But Tanya’s heart contracted in pity for these same survivors, for their defenseless poverty: the torn shoulder of the cabman’s caftan with its gaudy patches and the battered droshky with its cracked, varnished leather.
It turned out that Zavarikhin’s plaything was to be a cabman of approximately Pugel’s height, and during the entire duration of their mindlessly unfair chase, there was not one droshky driver who defended him. From the looks of him, he was not too far gone: he probably still supported himself on his usual income, probably fed himself and his old lady with the money his gelding brought in, paid the assessment tax as other self-employed people did, came hopefully to the cabstand every morning on the off-chance that the wave of strolling humanity would somehow catch him up and be kind to him. And so he had reached the final stages of detachment from humanity and had shriveled to the point where one snap of the fingers would knock the life out of him.
The two of them, the cabdriver and his downcast breadwinner, were peacefully dozing while waiting for a fare when Nikolka, coming alongside them, inspired by something crazy and inexplicable, gave the gelding a backhanded lash with his whip. He no more justified this action to Tanya than children justify playing peg top on the floor. The blow was so unexpected that the poor old nag shuddered and staggered backward as it tried to right itself, and the owner just barely missed falling out of the box as he held on to the reins. It was all so comical that, despite her pity and natural indignation, Tanya could not resist laughing, which Zavarikhin took as approval of the fun he had invented.
“It’s time to get your beast on his feet, Pop,” Zavarikhin spat out as he rode past, and this time he used the whip with all his might. “They drag any kind of carrion onto the streets — on a holyday, too. People have no conscience!”
And there was such humiliating disdain, a disdain more bitter than death, in Zavarikhin’s tone at that moment that no being on earth could have forgiven him. The old man, aroused, started to cajole and pull at his gelding, who looked back, it seemed to Tanya, reproachfully at his master. Then the driver, standing and cursing, began to pursue his assailant. The poor man’s supply of swearwords was evidently not enough for the situation and it quickly ran out after Iris extravagant expenditure, and repetition reduced the force and freshness of what he had to say. The old man tried to get at his tormentor with a delapidated, harmless whip, with no success whatsoever. Bukhvostov’s elusive carriage was running a length and a half ahead of the junky heap, and his sleek trotter was expending only a limited amount of energy. A flick of the reins and the pursuit would have been over, but Zavarikhin slowed down and amused himself by shortening the distance between them.
“Stop it, Nikolai! Leave them alone, Zavarikhin, they’re so old,” Tanya begged, but knew, even as she reached for his hand, that it was useless.
“Never mind, Hela, let the little things get hot. Fury warms more quickly than vodka. But notice the stubbornness of the Russian: Do it even if it kills you.” Zavarikhin spat out every word. “And anyway, where’s he racing that innocent animal to? Can you really compare him to our she-devil? I bet they haven’t treated that poor animal to oats since he was young. My sweet Hela, they have ruined him on too much work and trashy hay. Moscow hay is ghastly stuff. Trampled, spoiled, unsatisfying. A barnyard bull would turn away with disgust from that hay!” And he hit at random the wheezing horse behind him.
“Bad! You’re bad, bad,” Tanya sobbed. “Stop. Let me out.”
“Ah, you’re making a mistake, Hela. You know perfectly well that he would beat you to death if he caught you,” Zavarikhin said sadly and reasonably. “Really, in my home life I’m not such a tough customer. How else could I have survived this business? If you only knew how many times they have beaten old Nikolka Zavarikhin about his head, or the times specialists have taken the spirit out of him with pliers, you’d praise, you’d even reward me for my perseverance. No, Hela, I’m not sorry — that’s life!”
AND now the wide suburban thoroughfare had given way to crowded city streets. Citizens dressed up in their best were out strolling in honor of the holiday in family groups, some with their grandmothers, others pushing baby carriages in front of them. Suddenly everything was deathly quiet; the crying and the laughing of children were hushed by the sight of the queer chase. But regardless of the mounting excitement, regardless of the free spectacle of the brightly spinning spokes of the lacquered carriages, of this lord of life, in a cap, of the young lady in her wildly blown veil, the street was quickly able to ascertain the meanness of the fun that was taking place; with such accuracy and dry disgust simple people contemplate executions, blasphemy, and other lowly sins. Bukhvostov’s bay beauty was going at a classic trot, as if she had developed a taste for this mock competition, and after her came the misery of the earth, spirit spent, roaring and swearing with sounds like sobs. The old man was standing up, tears of bitterness running down his face, beating the remaining bit of strength out of his shaggylegged gelding, still trying to catch his enemy and bring him down. It was Zavarikhin’s insidious game to keep the race going.
It was pointless to plead with him for mercy. Sitting down again and putting her hat onto the floor, Tanya looked back spiritlessly. Although Zavarikhin’s rough shoulder scratched her chin, she didn’t notice. And although her silence signified surrender, a promise not to oppose his will for anything, Zavarikhin still kept up his game to show his companion what exceptional entertainment physical force can provide. And so this was the last that Tanya saw of the race. She had watched the straining horse during the whole race, had seen his muzzle and harness become covered with lather and seen that his front legs were weakening. The creature was still being lashed with the whip; his hoofs were pounding; he was trying to carry himself on his back legs. Then Tanya covered her face so tightly with her hands that she could hardly breathe.
As always, the crowd gathered slowly. Some shook their fists energetically to express their innate hatred of the excesses of the upper classes, while others, on both sides of the street, forgetting relaxation and their best clothes, started chasing after Zavarikhin, who had stopped his carriage to tease and to sneer and to wait for the last of them. Torturous seconds of fear passed; the filly’s legs trembled slightly and her graceful body strained forward. A circle of spectators closed in, but suddenly calling to his companion to hang on, Zavarikhin lashed his horse again with the switch.
The human noose broke, and the little horse took the seemingly weightless carriage through the gap. Someone jumped on the running board of a passing lorry which tore along after them for a while, but evidently the driver didn’t know the way, and while the pursuers wrangled, the distance between them grew. After turning onto a parallel street which led back to a suburban highway, Zavarikhin reversed his direction at the crossroads. There, with the street incident and the hootings of the chase behind them, Tanya’s fear of the future also left her. Oh, in the last analysis she was more worn-out from herself than from the adventure, and an instinct of boundless submission was already drawing her toward Zavarikhin’s shoulder. A rooster flew out from under the wheels, dogs barked around them, and then there was nothing except the little-traveled road and a limpid, ominous silence. They were alone together under the open sky.
“Oh, these hills and ravines,” Nikolka sighed like a coachman, letting go of the reins, as the road was now completely deserted. “Oh, these dark forests,” he repeated even more dejectedly.
THE country road led into a low wood pervaded by a tenacious clammy chill. Nature’s green enfolded them but still could not hide a gravestone in the ground. The horse went at a walk, cooling off and leaving behind a track of ribbed rubber. As they slowly passed a little grove of trees, Zavarikhin was silent, distractedly following his thoughts. A pressing desire sprang up in him: to tie the horse to a bush and wander for a while in this place with this young girl of his. Soon they came upon a likely spot. They tied the horse and went down a small embankment. However, it turned out that the nearest cozy spot in the field was occupied. Blown by the May breeze, blissfully stretched out in dry grass, was a slightly drunken hunter. His carefully placed hunting gear could be seen on the mound, and there in a cage, their crooked beaks wired tight, were two suffering birds.
Going up to the sleeping man, Zavarikhin shook his head, kicked the empty bottle, and bending over, without a word, he released the prisoners.
“Why kill innocent creatures? Let them fly around in freedom.”
“Do you think he’ll catch cold?” Tanya asked anxiously.
“At this time of year, he’ll undoubtedly die. Let’s get out of here!” Zavarikhin burst out sullenly, and he muttered for a long time on the way back to the road and the horse. “No, I don’t like little people. Their aim is to get the crust out of your mouth, and they’ll fall all over themselves to spoil your pleasure. Let’s go, Hela. Maybe we can find ourselves a lonely, secluded spot.”
A third of a mile further on, the forest became denser with welcoming leafy canopies and hillocks bursting into bloom. A hundred feet from the road Zavarikhin was finally lucky and found a grassy spot for them. Tying the horse to a birch, he shot a tentative, sideways glance at Tanya; she looked around, then down, and asked, in a tone mixed with curiosity and alarm, what were those birds, such sweet things, which Nikolka had released — weren’t they siskins? She really knew nothing about siskins and couldn’t have distinguished them from sparrows, and only asked about them to mask her embarrassment. Zavarikhin explained that the color of siskins was more yellowish, that they loved high places, and that the ones in the cage had been ordinary crossbills.
“You felt sorry for those things just now?” asked Tanya, trying to convince herself of something which she didn’t quite understand.
“Are you talking about those birds? Why not feel sorry for them? Their lives are freer than ours. Why waste perfectly good birds?”
It seemed to Tanya that he was being purposely crude in order not to forget his plan, but she wanted to believe in something more than what was inevitably going to happen. She tried again to ask more exactly, but she suddenly forgot what it was she wanted to ask this frightening, strange, and somehow attractive man. Then, not lowering his dark eyes, Zavarikhin reached for Tanya’s hand, squeezed her wrist hard, and half kiddingly suggested that they go see what gifts spring had in store. “It’ll be quieter up there ahead,” he added in a voice not quite his own, almost as if he had caught a cold, although the wind had died down and the sky was covered over with a warm haze.
TANYA felt like asking him to slow down, so that it would be something different for them, but it was too late. It happened with a commonplace simplicity which frightened Tanya. Afterward Zavarikhin sat, as they all sit, with his chin on his knees, picking his teeth with a twig, while Tanya was still half lying on his tarpaulin, looking at the catkins on a nut tree. They were growing brown and starting to fill the air with a dust which covered her face. Directly in front of her stretched the Moscow plains, with their hollows carved out by copses against the disappearing horizon. Bathed by the wind, the environs could be seen with tedious clarity, as if there were nothing more to be said about them, or about Tanya’s life, for that matter. A thin ray of sun, not the last ray actually, but at least its premonition, filtered down from above, and Tanya saw, thanks to its accuracy, that right near her head was a little blue flower, barely risen, cold, ruffled from sleep. Tanya’s sight was good enough to perceive that there was just one flower: a wedding gift from spring which fully corresponded to the extent of Tanya’s happiness.
Then she felt a deathly chill in her shoulders from the touch of the still-frozen earth. Shuddering, Tanya sat up and busily began to fix her hair, fumbling around underneath her for the hairpins which had fallen out.
She was frightened most of all by Zavarikhin’s silence; then she made up her mind to speak. “You were just a little bit drunk, huh, Nikolushka? Back there I heard from the porch how you were clinking glasses with that man. I understand — it’s a holiday. But you won’t drink that much with me, will you? It won’t happen again, will it? Promise me, Nikolushka.”
“What’s that?” asked Zavarikhin, displeased, spitting out a chewed piece of grass.
“It’s that you’ll never do to me what you did to him, that miserable nag a while back!” Tanya reminded him barely audibly, and so he wouldn’t get angry, she quickly and awkwardly started to kiss his chapped neck. “If you could have seen, Nikolushka, how merciless your face became when you beat him —”
It seemed as though the very absurdity of her comparison troubled his unclean conscience. “That was totally different, Hela, a game. What reason would I have to beat you? I’ll beat someone else in your place.”
Tanya gratefully and timidly caressed his hand. “Then tell me something, Nikolai Zavarikhin. Completely honestly, or else I’ll hold it against you. Tell me,” she went on sternly, nervously, “do you actually like me? Just a little bit?”
“Of course,” he responded with conviction, but without much passion. “You are for me the most beautiful thing on earth — almost. That time in the circus when you started to climb up to the top, my heart stopped, I was so scared — and I don’t know what else. And I cried from my soul that I didn’t know how to get you. Believe me, Hela, ask me to prove myself and I’d bring you a horse on my shoulders.”
“How, how am I beautiful to you?” Tanya asked hurriedly before the subject grew cold; she hoped very much that they would talk about love just a little bit.
“How can I tell you, Hela? Well, you’re like the black swan.” (A week earlier there had been that charming occasion when he and his friends had had the chance to admire the black swan in the zoo.)
Tanya burst out laughing frankly. “I don’t know what I look like now. My nose always gets red from the cold. I’ve lost the tip altogether.”
That wasn’t what he meant, Zavarikhin began to explain. No, the comparison had occurred to him that first scandalous evening when she had run around the arena in her black, low-cut costume and started to climb up to the “chasm overhead,” as he put it. And from that moment on, the sensation of fear had become so pleasant that he promised Tanya not to miss a single performance if he could just get the free time from the insurance business.
Strange, but just the memory of the circus was enough to ruin Tanya’s mood. Futhermore, the penetrating chill in her spine clear up to her shoulders from lying on the wet, cold earth had not gone away, and she suddenly remembered the careless, blue-lipped hunter on the May grass. Getting up, she nonchalantly asked to go home. Zavarikhin pulled his tarpaulin up off the ground and, whistling, he shook it.
THEY took the shortest route home. And the way back seemed very short indeed. It had gotten colder, it began to drizzle; the wheels sunk deeper into the ruts, the carriage itself lost its holiday look. When, on one bump, Tanya grabbed Nikolka’s shoulder, her hand felt to him like a hundred-pound weight — he feared nothing on earth so much as he feared women. Nonetheless, at the end of the trip he proposed to her that they live together as man and wife, and added, “It’s not right to let every sunflower seed fly around forever with nothing to do. It’s time to put down roots.” Running the risk of ruining everything by her speedy acceptance, Tanya squeezed the elbow of her unexpected fiance in mute acknowledgment. Of course, the uniqueness of the proposal frightened her a little, but she knew that people have consciences — even dogs do — and that, with a good master, there is home and peace and children.
After the last hill, when the factory sky had climbed into view, Zavarikhin set Bukhvostov’s wonder horse into a fast trot for the last time, throwing his cap onto Tanya’s knee in an invitation to the onrushing wind to blow out, clean out, all nonsense from his head. More and more, the city drew them into its embrace — flat, inevitable, colorless. In the outskirts, tearing through the whirlwind of foul dust, Zavarikhin repeatedly expanded on the plans for the future; perhaps because he was afraid, or perhaps for some other reason, he made out how poor he was to such an extent that Tanya, after hearing the plans, thought them touchingly modest, although three hours ago they had sounded presumptuous to the point of being funny.
“I won’t invite you to see me for a while, Hela. I’ll get a new apartment and then we’ll move in,” said Zavarikhin, and at this point in their conversation they had almost reached the street from which their wedding trip had begun. “You said earlier that you have no pots, nor pegs to hang them on. You’d better collect some household stuff. A man should stand firmly on the ground so that no untimely storm can blow him off his feet. There are lots of storms blowing about the earth today.” He stopped the horse at Bukhvostov’s battered gates. “Oh, I completely forgot. Can I take you home?”
She hesitated. “No, thanks. You know, it’s only two stops on the streetcar.” And she tried to convince herself that it was better to prevent early rumors from running among her neighbors, rumors which could, she knew from experience, bring a sympathy more bitter than sneers.
“Well, thank God, you don’t live far. I’ve got to return Zotei’s horse to him, and then I have an appointment with an important person.” He leaned over to say good-by and gave her a hug. “So now it’s your turn. Tell me, who is that Pugel Stasik at your house? I’ve meant to ask since morning.”
“Oh, don’t worry about him, Nikolushka!” Tanya blushed, flattered, and for this inadvertent show of jealousy, she forgave him all his vast masculine negligence of the day. “His little children are in boarding school, and he loves them more than anything else on earth.”
With a worried stare Tanya followed her fiance through the gates and couldn’t decide whether or not to thank Zavarikhin for this Easter outing. She so much wanted to suppress her last, most powerful doubt, as if a step backward were possible, as if her choice were just one of choosing living quarters. Standing behind a cement post, Tanya saw how Bukhvostov bumped his head as he ran from the porch, running and asking as he ran, Did they have a wonderful trip, were they satisfied, did they have any trouble?
“Nothing of the sort happened to us. So you were pretty scared, I guess, huh, graybeard?” Zavarikhin laughed and jumped out of the carriage. “Here, take your beauty into safekeeping. How does she like her nickname?”
“Fortunka!” Bukhvostov echoed the name with a tone of reproach, as he examined the horse all over; then he quoted what was due him for the day.
“She’s worth the money — a regular satan on the run!” Zavarikhin exclaimed.
Zavarikhin wiped his mud-spattered fingers off with his handkerchief and felt the bunch of flowers intended for Tanya in his pocket, changed a good deal by the events of the day. Mechanically, he threw the flowers onto a pile of steaming manure. He couldn’t even remember where this wet, crumpled grass in his pocket had come from.
Translated by Gabriella Azrael.