What Men Live By - Part III
Simon’s wife had everything ready early that day. She had cut wood, brought water, fed the children, eaten her own meal, and now she sat thinking. She wondered when she ought to make bread: now or tomorrow? There was still a large piece left.
“If Simon has had some dinner in town,” thought she, “and does not eat much for supper, the bread will last out another day.”
She weighed the piece of bread in her hand again and again, and thought: “I won’t make any more today. We have only enough flour left to bake one batch; We can manage to make this last out till Friday.”
So Matryona put away the bread, and sat down at the table to patch her husband’s shirt. While she worked she thought how her husband was buying skins for a winter coat.
“If only the dealer does not cheat him. My good man is much too simple; he cheats nobody, but any child can take him in. Eight roubles is a lot of money—he should get a good coat at that price. Not tanned skins, but still a proper winter coat. How difficult it was last winter to get on without a warm coat. I could neither get down to the river, nor go out anywhere. When he went out he put on all we had, and there was nothing left for me. He did not start very early today, but still it’s time he was back. I only hope he has not gone on the spree!”
Hardly had Matryona thought this, when steps were heard on the threshold, and some one entered. Matryona stuck her needle into her work and went out into the passage. There she saw two men: Simon, and with him a man without a hat, and wearing felt boots.
Matryona noticed at once that her husband smelt of spirits. “There now, he has been drinking,” thought she. And when she saw that he was coatless, had only her jacket on, brought no parcel, stood there silent, and seemed ashamed, her heart was ready to break with disappointment. “He has drunk the money,” thought she, “and has been on the spree with some good-for-nothing fellow whom he has brought home with him.”
Matryona let them pass into the hut, followed them in, and saw that the stranger was a young, slight man, wearing her husband’s coat. There was no shirt to be seen under it, and he had no hat. Having entered, he stood, neither moving, nor raising his eyes, and Matryona thought: “He must be a bad man—he’s afraid.”
Matryona frowned, and stood beside the oven looking to see what they would do.
Simon took off his cap and sat down on the bench as if things were all right.
“Come, Matryona; if supper is ready, let us have some.”
Matryona muttered something to herself and did not move, but stayed where she was, by the oven. She looked first at the one and then at the other of them, and only shook her head. Simon saw that his wife was annoyed, but tried to pass it off. Pretending not to notice anything, he took the stranger by the arm.
“Sit down, friend,” said he, “and let us have some supper.”
The stranger sat down on the bench.
“Haven’t you cooked anything for us?” said Simon.
Matryona’s anger boiled over. “I’ve cooked, but not for you. It seems to me you have drunk your wits away. You went to buy a sheep-skin coat, but come home without so much as the coat you had on, and bring a naked vagabond home with you. I have no supper for drunkards like you.”
“That’s enough, Matryona. Don’t wag your tongue without reason. You had better ask what sort of man—”
“And you tell me what you’ve done with the money?”
Simon found the pocket of the jacket, drew out the three-rouble note, and unfolded it.
“Here is the money. Trifonof did not pay, but promises to pay soon.”
Matryona got still more angry; he had bought no sheep-skins, but had put his only coat on some naked fellow and had even brought him to their house.
She snatched up the note from the table, took it to put away in safety, and said: “I have no supper for you. We can’t feed all the naked drunkards in the world.”
“There now, Matryona, hold your tongue a bit. First hear what a man has to say-”
“Much wisdom I shall hear from a drunken fool. I was right in not wanting to marry you-a drunkard. The linen my mother gave me you drank; and now you’ve been to buy a coat-and have drunk it, too!”
Simon tried to explain to his wife that he had only spent twenty kopeks; tried to tell how he had found the man—but Matryona would not let him get a word in. She talked nineteen to the dozen, and dragged in things that had happened ten years before.
Matryona talked and talked, and at last she flew at Simon and seized him by the sleeve.
“Give me my jacket. It is the only one I have, and you must needs take it from me and wear it yourself. Give it here, you mangy dog, and may the devil take you.”
Simon began to pull off the jacket, and turned a sleeve of it inside out; Matryona seized the jacket and it burst its seams, She snatched it up, threw it over her head and went to the door. She meant to go out, but stopped undecided—she wanted to work off her anger, but she also wanted to learn what sort of a man the stranger was.