|Set Display||Please Turn On Your Virtual Bookmarks||Help Support This Site||Table of Contents||Anton Chekhov|
|Page 57 of 123|
"November 10, 188-.--I, non-commissioned officer of the Z. section of the N. police department of railways, Ilya Tchered, in accordance with article II of the statute of May 19, 1871, have drawn up this protocol at the station of X. as herewith follows.... "
"What am I to write next?" asks the gendarme.
Malahin lays out before him forms, postal and telegraph receipts, accounts.... He does not know himself definitely what he wants of the gendarme; he wants to describe in the protocol not any separate episode but his whole journey, with all his losses and conversations with station-masters--to describe it lengthily and vindictively.
"At the station of Z.," he says, "write that the station-master unlinked my vans from the troop train because he did not like my countenance."
And he wants the gendarme to be sure to mention his countenance. The latter listens wearily, and goes on writing without hearing him to the end. He ends his protocol thus:
"The above deposition I, non-commissioned officer Tchered, have written down in this protocol with a view to present it to the head of the Z. section, and have handed a copy thereof to Gavril Malahin."
The old man takes the copy, adds it to the papers with which his side pocket is stuffed, and, much pleased, goes back to his van.
In the morning Malahin wakes up again in a bad humor, but his wrath vents itself not on Yasha but the cattle.
"The cattle are done for!" he grumbles. "They are done for! They are at the last gasp! God be my judge! they will all die. Tfoo!"
The bullocks, who have had nothing to drink for many days, tortured by thirst, are licking the hoar frost on the walls, and when Malachin goes up to them they begin licking his cold fur jacket. From their clear, tearful eyes it can be seen that they are exhausted by thirst and the jolting of the train, that they are hungry and miserable.
"It's a nice job taking you by rail, you wretched brutes!" mutters Malahin. "I could wish you were dead to get it over! It makes me sick to look at you!"
At midday the train stops at a big station where, according to the regulations, there was drinking water provided for cattle.
Water is given to the cattle, but the bullocks will not drink it: the water is too cold....
* * * * *
Two more days and nights pass, and at last in the distance in the murky fog the city comes into sight. The journey is over. The train comes to a standstill before reaching the town, near a goods' station. The bullocks, released from the van, stagger and stumble as though they were walking on slippery ice.
Having got through the unloading and veterinary inspection, Malahin and Yasha take up their quarters in a dirty, cheap hotel in the outskirts of the town, in the square in which the cattle-market is held. Their lodgings are filthy and their food is disgusting, unlike what they ever have at home; they sleep to the harsh strains of a wretched steam hurdy-gurdy which plays day and night in the restaurant under their lodging.