The New Villa - IV


The engineer seemed to grow irritable and petty, and in every trivial incident saw an act of robbery or outrage. His gate was kept bolted even by day, and at night two watchmen walked up and down the garden beating a board; and they gave up employing anyone from Obrutchanovo as a labourer. As ill-luck would have it someone (either a peasant or one of the workmen) took the new wheels off the cart and replaced them by old ones, then soon afterwards two bridles and a pair of pincers were carried off, and murmurs arose even in the village. People began to say that a search should be made at the Lytchkovs’ and at Volodka’s, and then the bridles and the pincers were found under the hedge in the engineer’s garden; someone had thrown them down there.

It happened that the peasants were coming in a crowd out of the forest, and again they met the engineer on the road. He stopped, and without wishing them good-day he began, looking angrily first at one, then at another:

“I have begged you not to gather mushrooms in the park and near the yard, but to leave them for my wife and children, but your girls come before daybreak and there is not a mushroom left....Whether one asks you or not it makes no difference. Entreaties, and friendliness, and persuasion I see are all useless.”

He fixed his indignant eyes on Rodion and went on:

“My wife and I behaved to you as human beings, as to our equals, and you? But what’s the use of talking! It will end by our looking down upon you. There is nothing left!”

And making an effort to restrain his anger, not to say too much, he turned and went on.

On getting home Rodion said his prayer, took off his boots, and sat down beside his wife.

“Yes...” he began with a sigh. “We were walking along just now, and Mr. Kutcherov met us.... Yes.... He saw the girls at daybreak... ‘Why don’t they bring mushrooms,’... he said ‘to my wife and children?’ he said.... And then he looked at me and he said: ‘I and my wife will look after you,’ he said. I wanted to fall down at his feet, but I hadn’t the courage.... God give him health... God bless him!...”

Stephania crossed herself and sighed.

“They are kind, simple-hearted people,” Rodion went on. “‘We shall look after you.’... He promised me that before everyone. In our old age... it wouldn’t be a bad thing.... I should always pray for them.... Holy Mother, bless them....”

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the fourteenth of September, was the festival of the village church. The Lytchkovs, father and son, went across the river early in the morning and returned to dinner drunk; they spent a long time going about the village, alternately singing and swearing; then they had a fight and went to the New Villa to complain. First Lytchkov the father went into the yard with a long ashen stick in his hands. He stopped irresolutely and took off his hat. Just at that moment the engineer and his family were sitting on the verandah, drinking tea.

“What do you want?” shouted the engineer.

“Your honour...” Lytchkov began, and burst into tears. “Show the Divine mercy, protect me... my son makes my life a misery... your honour...”

Lytchkov the son walked up, too; he, too, was bareheaded and had a stick in his hand; he stopped and fixed his drunken senseless eyes on the verandah.

“It is not my business to settle your affairs,” said the engineer. “Go to the rural captain or the police officer.”

“I have been everywhere.... I have lodged a petition...” said Lytchkov the father, and he sobbed. “Where can I go now? He can kill me now, it seems. He can do anything. Is that the way to treat a father? A father?”

He raised his stick and hit his son on the head; the son raised his stick and struck his father just on his bald patch such a blow that the stick bounced back. The father did not even flinch, but hit his son again and again on the head. And so they stood and kept hitting one another on the head, and it looked not so much like a fight as some sort of a game. And peasants, men and women, stood in a crowd at the gate and looked into the garden, and the faces of all were grave. They were the peasants who had come to greet them for the holiday, but seeing the Lytchkovs, they were ashamed and did not go in.

The next morning Elena Ivanovna went with the children to Moscow. And there was a rumour that the engineer was selling his house....