Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents
A certain spot between Miskhor and Aloopka had long since been put down by Lodishkin as a splendid place for having lunch, and it was to this that they journeyed now. Not far from a bridge over a rushing mountain torrent there wandered from the cliff side a cold chattering stream of limpid water. This was in the shade of crooked oak trees and thick hazel bushes. The stream had made itself a shallow basin in the earth, and from this overflowed, in tiny snake-like streamlets, glittering in the grass like living silver. Every morning and evening one might see here pious Turks making their ablutions and saying their prayers.
“Our sins are heavy and our provisions are meagre,” said grandfather, sitting in the shade of a hazel bush. “Now, Serozha, come along. Lord, give Thy blessing!”
He pulled out from a sack some bread, some tomatoes, a lump of Bessarabian cheese, and a bottle of olive oil. He brought out a little bag of salt, an old rag tied round with string. Before eating, the old man crossed himself many times and whispered something. Then he broke the crust of bread into three unequal parts: the largest he gave to Sergey (he is growing—he must eat), the next largest he gave to the poodle, and the smallest he took for himself.
“In the name of the Father and the Son. The eyes of all wait upon Thee, O Lord,” whispered he, making a salad of the tomatoes. “Eat, Serozha!”
They ate slowly, not hurrying, in silence, as people eat who work. All that was audible was the working of three pairs of jaws. Arto, stretched on his stomach, ate his little bit at one side, gnawing the crust of bread, which he held between his front paws. Grandfather and Sergey alternately dipped their tomatoes in the salt, and made their lips and hands red with the juice. When they had finished they drank water from the stream, filling a little tin can and putting it to their mouths. It was fine water, and so cold that the mug went cloudy on the outside from the moisture condensing on it. The mid-day heat and the long road had tired the performers, for they had been up with the sun. Grandfather’s eyes closed involuntarily. Sergey yawned and stretched himself.
“Well now, little brother, what if we were to lie down and sleep for a minute or so?” asked grandfather. “One last drink of water. Ukh! Fine!” cried he, taking his lips from the can and breathing heavily, the bright drops of water running from his beard and whiskers. “If I were Tsar I’d drink that water every day … from morning to night. Here, Arto! Well, God has fed us and nobody has seen us, or if anybody has seen us he hasn’t taken offence…. Okh—okh—okhonush—kee—ee!”
The old man and the boy lay down side by side in the grass, making pillows for their heads of their jackets. The dark leaves of the rugged many-branching oaks murmured above them; occasionally through the shade gleamed patches of bright blue sky; the little streams running from stone to stone chattered monotonously and stealthily as if they were putting someone to sleep by sorcery. Grandfather turned from side to side, muttered something to Sergey, but to Sergey his voice seemed far away in a soft and sleepy distance, and the words were strange, as those spoken in a fairy tale.
“First of all—I buy you a costume, rose and gold … slippers also of rose-coloured satin … in Kief or Kharkof, or, perhaps, let us say in the town of Odessa—there, brother, there are circuses, if you like!… Endless lanterns … all electricity…. People, perhaps five thousand, perhaps more … how should I know. We should have to make up a name for you—an Italian name, of course. What can one do with a name like Esteepheyef, or let us say, Lodishkin? Quite absurd! No imagination in them whatever. So we’d let you go on the placards as Antonio, or perhaps, also quite good, Enrico or Alphonse….”
The boy heard no more. A sweet and gentle slumber settled down upon him and took possession of his body. And grandfather fell asleep, losing suddenly the thread of his favourite after-dinner thoughts, his dream of Sergey’s magnificent acrobatic future. Once, however, in his dream it appeared to him that Arto was growling at somebody. For a moment through his dreamy brain there passed the half-conscious and alarming remembrance of the porter in the rose-coloured blouse, but overcome with sleep, tiredness and heat, he could not get up, but only idly, with closed eyes, cried out to the dog:
“Arto … where’re you going? I’ll g-give it you, gipsy!”
But at once he forgot what he was talking about, and his mind fell back into the heaviness of sleep and vague dreams.
At last the voice of Sergey woke him up, for the boy was running to and fro just beyond the stream, shouting loudly and whistling, calling anxiously for the dog.
“Here, Arto! Come back! Pheu, pheu! Come back, Arto!”
“What are you howling about, Sergey?” cried Lodishkin in a tone of displeasure, trying to bring the circulation back to a sleeping arm.
“We’ve lost the dog whilst we slept. That’s what we’ve done,” answered the boy in a harsh, scolding note. “The dog’s lost.”
He whistled again sharply, and cried:
“Ah, you’re just making up nonsense! He’ll return,” said grandfather. But all the same, he also got up and began to call the dog in an angry, sleepy, old man’s falsetto:
“Arto! Here, dog!”
The old man hurriedly and tremblingly ran across the bridge and began to go upward along the highway, calling the dog as he went. In front of him lay the bright, white stripe of the road, level and clear for half a mile, but on it not a figure, not a shadow.
“Arto! Ar-tosh-enka!” wailed the old man in a piteous voice, but suddenly he stopped calling him, bent down on the roadside and sat on his heels.
“Yes, that’s what it is,” said the old man in a failing voice. “Sergey! Serozha! Come here, my boy!”
“Now what do you want?” cried the boy rudely. “What have you found now? Found yesterday lying by the roadside, eh?”
“Serozha … what is it?… What do you make of it? Do you see what it is?” asked the old man, scarcely above a whisper. He looked at the boy in a piteous and distracted way, and his arms hung helplessly at his sides.
In the dust of the road lay a comparatively large half-eaten lump of sausage, and about it in all directions were printed a dog’s paw-marks.
“He’s drawn it off, the scoundrel, lured it away,” whispered grandfather in a frightened shiver, still sitting on his heels. “It’s he; no one else, it’s quite clear. Don’t you remember how he threw the sausage to Arto down by the sea?”
“Yes, it’s quite clear,” repeated Sergey sulkily.
Grandfather’s wide-open eyes filled with tears, quickly overflowing down his cheeks. He hid them with his hands.
“Now, what can we do Serozhenka? Eh, boy? What can we do now?” asked the old man, rocking to and fro and weeping helplessly.
“Wha-at to do, wha-at to do!” teased Sergey. “Get up, grandfather Lodishkin; let’s be going!”
“Yes, let us go!” repeated the old man sadly and humbly, raising himself from the ground. “We’d better be going, I suppose, Serozhenka.”
Losing patience, Sergey began to scold the old man as if he were a little boy.
“That’s enough drivelling, old man, stupid! Who ever heard of people taking away other folks’ dogs in this way? It’s not the law. What-ye blinking your eyes at me for? Is what I say untrue? Let us go simply and say, ‘Give us back the dog!’ and if they won’t give it, then to the courts with it, and there’s an end of it.”
“To the courts … yes … of course…. That’s correct, to the courts, of course…,” repeated Lodishkin, with a senseless bitter smile. But his eyes looked hither and thither in confusion. “To the courts … yes … only you know, Serozhenka … it wouldn’t work … we’d never get to the courts….”
“How not work? The law is the same for everybody. What have they got to say for themselves?” interrupted the boy impatiently.
“Now, Serozha, don’t do that … don’t be angry with me. They won’t give us back the dog.” At this point grandfather lowered his voice in a mysterious way. “I fear, on account of the passport. Didn’t you hear what the gentleman said up there? ‘Have you a passport?’ he says. Well, and there, you see, I,”—here grandfather made a wry and seemingly frightened face, and whispered barely audibly—“I’m living with somebody else’s passport, Serozha.”
“How somebody else’s?”
“Somebody else’s. There’s no more about it. I lost my own at Taganrog. Perhaps somebody stole it. For two years after that I wandered about, hid myself, gave bribes, wrote petitions … at last I saw there was no getting out of it. I had to live like a hare—afraid of everything. But once in Odessa, in a night house, a Greek remarked to me the following:—‘What you say,’ says he, ‘is nonsense. Put twenty-five roubles on the table, and I’ll give you a passport that’ll last you till doomsday.’ I worried my brain about that. ‘I’ll lose my head for this,’ I thought. However, ‘Give it me,’ said I. And from that time, my dear boy, I’ve been going about the world with another man’s passport.”
“Ah, grandfather, grandfather!” sighed Sergey, with tears in his eyes. “I’m sorry about the dog. It’s a very fine dog, you know….”
“Serozhenka, my darling,” cried the old man trembling. “If only I had a real passport. Do you think it would matter to me even if they were generals? I’d take them by the throat!… How’s this? One minute, if you please! What right have you to steal other people’s dogs? What law is there for that? But now there’s a stopper on us, Serozha. If I go to the police station the first thing will be, ‘Show us your passport! Are you a citizen of Samara, by name Martin Lodishkin?’ I, your Excellency, dear me—I, little brother, am not Lodishkin at all, and not a citizen, but a peasant. Ivan Dudkin is my name. And who that Lodishkin might be, God alone knows! How can I tell? Perhaps a thief or an escaped convict. Perhaps even a murderer. No, Serozha, we shouldn’t effect anything that way. Nothing at all….”
Grandfather choked, and tears trickled once more over his sunburnt wrinkles. Sergey, who had listened to the old man in silence, his brows tightly knit, his face pale with agitation, suddenly stood up and cried: “Come on, grandfather. To the devil with the passport! I suppose we don’t intend to spend the night here on the high road?”
“Ah, my dear, my darling,” said the old man, trembling. “’Twas a clever dog … that Artoshenka of ours. We shan’t find such another….”
“All right, all right. Get up!” cried Sergey imperiously. “Now let me knock the dust off you. I feel quite worn out, grandfather.”
They worked no more that day. Despite his youthful years, Sergey well understood the fateful meaning of the dreadful word “passport.” So he sought no longer to get Arto back, either through the courts or in any other decisive way. And as he walked along the road with grandfather towards the inn, where they should sleep, his face took on a new, obstinate, concentrated expression, as if he had just thought out something extraordinarily serious and great.
Without actually expressing their intention, the two wanderers made a considerable detour in order to pass once more by Friendship Villa, and they stopped for a little while outside the gates, in the vague hope of catching a glimpse of Arto, or of hearing his bark from afar. But the iron gates of the magnificent villa were bolted and locked, and an important, undisturbed and solemn stillness reigned over the shady garden under the sad and mighty cypresses.
“Peo-ple!” cried the old man in a quavering voice, putting into that one word all the burning grief that filled his heart.
“Ah, that’s enough. Come on!” cried the boy roughly, pulling his companion by the sleeve.
“Serozhenka! Don’t you think there’s a chance that Artoshenka might run away from them?” sighed the old man. “Eh! What do you think, dear?”
But the boy did not answer the old man. He went ahead in firm large strides, his eyes obstinately fixed on the road, his brows obstinately frowning.
Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Alexander Kuprin – The White Poodle – Contents
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