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|Page 94 of 123|
IN THE COACH-HOUSE
IT was between nine and ten o'clock in the evening. Stepan the coachman, Mihailo the house-porter, Alyoshka the coachman's grandson, who had come up from the village to stay with his grandfather, and Nikandr, an old man of seventy, who used to come into the yard every evening to sell salt herrings, were sitting round a lantern in the big coach-house, playing "kings." Through the wide-open door could be seen the whole yard, the big house, where the master's family lived, the gates, the cellars, and the porter's lodge. It was all shrouded in the darkness of night, and only the four windows of one of the lodges which was let were brightly lit up. The shadows of the coaches and sledges with their shafts tipped upwards stretched from the walls to the doors, quivering and cutting across the shadows cast by the lantern and the players.... On the other side of the thin partition that divided the coach-house from the stable were the horses. There was a scent of hay, and a disagreeable smell of salt herrings coming from old Nikandr.
The porter won and was king; he assumed an attitude such as was in his opinion befitting a king, and blew his nose loudly on a red-checked handkerchief.
"Now if I like I can chop off anybody's head," he said. Alyoshka, a boy of eight with a head of flaxen hair, left long uncut, who had only missed being king by two tricks, looked angrily and with envy at the porter. He pouted and frowned.
"I shall give you the trick, grandfather," he said, pondering over his cards; "I know you have got the queen of diamonds."
"Well, well, little silly, you have thought enough!"
Alyoshka timidly played the knave of diamonds. At that moment a ring was heard from the yard.
"Oh, hang you!" muttered the porter, getting up. "Go and open the gate, O king!"
When he came back a little later, Alyoshka was already a prince, the fish-hawker a soldier, and the coachman a peasant.
"It's a nasty business," said the porter, sitting down to the cards again. "I have just let the doctors out. They have not extracted it."
"How could they? Just think, they would have to pick open the brains. If there is a bullet in the head, of what use are doctors?"
"He is lying unconscious," the porter went on. "He is bound to die. Alyoshka, don't look at the cards, you little puppy, or I will pull your ears! Yes, I let the doctors out, and the father and mother in... They have only just arrived. Such crying and wailing, Lord preserve us! They say he is the only son.... It's a grief!"
All except Alyoshka, who was absorbed in the game, looked round at the brightly lighted windows of the lodge.
"I have orders to go to the police station tomorrow," said the porter. "There will be an inquiry... But what do I know about it? I saw nothing of it. He called me this morning, gave me a letter, and said: 'Put it in the letter-box for me.' And his eyes were red with crying. His wife and children were not at home. They had gone out for a walk. So when I had gone with the letter, he put a bullet into his forehead from a revolver. When I came back his cook was wailing for the whole yard to hear."