Puslapio vaizdai



IN Russia "blind" passengers, or deadheads, are called "hares." Some of them travel by bribing the guard, or conductor, others by concealing themselves under the benches.

AWN was about to break. The


night that gloomed through the small windows of the third-class carriages began to pale into a bluish mist. The sparks from the wood fuel of the locomotive still whirled by in streaks and curves, only they were no longer red, but yellow.

The wooden benches in the long, unpartitioned Russian car were crowded with passengers. Several were obliged to stand. The thick air was almost tangible, with the dense, vile tobacco-fumes of the muzhiks' pipes, with the smell of oiled boots, sausages, and sour black bread, and with sheepskins, soldiers, and a dozen other odors.


The Armenian began to pack up his wares, while his little audience, bored and weary, stared in other directions. Nodding and chaffering, the peddler made his way from bench to bench. A sleek and flashy commercial traveler called to him mockingly as he passed:

"I say, my Armenian friend.”
"Buy, sir! buy something!"

"Got any Armenian jokes about you?" The Armenian grinned good-naturedly. "Now, just listen," the commercial traveler began provocatively, mimicking the Armenian accent. "Tell me, what is this? It hangs in the drawing-room, and it's green, and when you pull it by the

THE guard entered, and gave his warning cry:

A slender, bearded Armenian, wearing tail-" his picturesque national costume, skirted coat with dandified waist and silver bobbins dangling across his breast, was making heroic efforts to sell his goods. He had spread out his entire stock of pearl necklaces and colored cloths in front of a fat woman who, with distended skirts, squatted upon one of the hard benches.

"Buy, mistress! Buy, beautiful lady! Good wares; sell cheap, cheap!" he cried.

He looked winningly at his prospective victim with his small, crafty Armenian eyes. But the fat woman deliberately began to peel a hard-boiled egg with skilful fingers and then as deliberately began to eat it. A pile of egg-shells lay at her feet. Finally, however, she deigned to look at the man's wares. He kept on chattering: "Five rubles this lovely shawl! Take it, take it-four rubles! No? Three rubles! Well, then, two rubles, only for you, lovely lady! One ruble! Come, do take it, my soul!" "No."

"Buy, mistress! buy!"

He held his last bargain temptingly under her nose.

"No," she returned coolly, and began a vigorous attack upon another egg.

"Get your tickets ready. Contrôle!" His uniform was threadbare and faded. A rough fur cap surmounted his degenerate, puffed-up face. He made his surly way through the car. The Armenian disappeared as if by magic.

A young fellow who sat opposite the commercial traveler, and had been regarding him with a certain awe, grew suddenly pale. He gazed helplessly at the guard, rose, and stammered:

"But why-"

The guard, without deigning to turn his head, gave him a look out of the corner of his squinting eyes, and said in a low, croaking voice:

"We 'll arrange that later. Stow your


He indicated the long bench with a slight gesture of his head, and then proceeded on his way.

Once again before he left the coach to make way for his superior, the conductor, he cried out:

"Tickets ready, if you please."

The young fellow now made a desper

[ocr errors]

ate attempt to creep under the bench that was nearest to him, but some one caught him by the coat and pulled him back.

"There's some one under there already."

Furtively, and with a mouse-like timidity, he attempted to hide himself under another seat; but here, too, he was repelled for the same reason as before. A slight commotion ensued in the car; some of the passengers murmured, others tittered, there was much talk. Voices were raised in the opposite end of the car, some of them taunting, others sympathetic.

"Here, you! Come over here!"

The fat woman moved her wide-spreading skirts to one side, and exclaimed, a motherly ring in her soft, buttery voice: "Come, my boy; there 's plenty of room here."

The youth crawled lithely under her seat. She extended the folds of her ample skirt still more, so as to hide him. Her face beamed with benevolence and solicitude for her new charge; she was like a hen sheltering her chicks.

The other passengers arranged themselves anew, so as to help conceal the head and feet of the stowaway. The fat woman nestled back contentedly, and then launched into a tirade against the guard.

"What a rascal! Had n't the sign of a cross about him, either! And why could n't he warn the poor fellow in time? Money, money, that 's all these villains want."

The commercial traveler, as if to mollify her, replied:

"But you see, Motherkin, it was only a small station, and we stopped there only a minute. There was really no time for the conductor to buy a ticket for him."

But the stout lady was not to be placated so easily. Her generous impulses had been outraged.

"They will take your money, yes, but when it comes to doing something in return! A nice state of affairs!"

Although all of the visible passengers were now equipped with tickets, an air of nervous apprehension nevertheless prevailed. It was as if they were all awaiting judgment, as though some mysterious enemy were lurking about. Their consciences were ill at ease. Terrible disclosures seemed to be imminent.

The door opened, and destiny entered.

in the shape of the conductor. He was a person of comfortable build, bearded and asthmatic:

"Your tickets, ladies and gentlemen." The government inspector followed immediately behind him, a spare man with a pince-nez and a worried look. He was obviously, guiltily ill at ease.

Without a glance to right or left he took the tickets which the conductor handed him, punched them, and returned them to the passengers, announcing to each his respective destination. Behind him slunk the guard, who with dishonest, dog-like eyes, glanced furtively from side. to side.

Our broad and stout protectress quite ignored the conductor, and handed her ticket directly to the inspector, addressing him with a sweet and subservient courtesy and smiling eves:

"If you please, Monsieur l'Inspecteur." The inspector jerked up his head, and his wooden features drew themselves into a queer grimace. An old man came hurrying along the aisle from the other end of the corridor, waving his ticket in his gnarled fingers.

The guard instantly raised his head like a vigilant dog and barked:

[ocr errors]

'Hey there, what do you want? Wait till your turn comes!"

Crestfallen, the old man returned to his


A burly soldier lay upon one of the broad luggage-racks and snored lustily. His feet, wrapped in dirty rags, extended into the aisle. The conductor pulled him by the sleeve, then shouted in his ear; all in vain. The oppressive silence remained unbroken save by the snores.

Several passengers, officious, and eager to be of service, left their seats to participate in the awakening of the soldier. They prodded him with an umbrella, some one yelled, "Right about face!" another tickled him on the soles, the conductor hammered him on the knee with his punch.

The soldier stirred uneasily, turned, muttered a curse or two, and then buried his head still deeper in his arms. After another determined assault, he fumbled drowsily for his ticket, and held it out in his dirty paw. Soon after he was snoring once more like a behemoth.

The ticket-inspection was over. The

officials proceeded to visit the next carriage. Everybody breathed easier; the air of restraint and nervousness vanished. The young fellow crept out from behind the skirts of the motherly dame, and resumed his former place.

The commercial traveler sighed, made an expressive gesture, and remarked:

"There's not much doing in the 'hare' line these days. Why, ten years ago, when we still had the system of tickets by the dozen and cheap summer fares, nobody ever thought of buying a ticket. You'd see the ticket-speculators three deep about every booking-office, ready to sell you a ticket to anywhere. It was a pretty good thing for everybody all round. But now there are a lot of inspectors who won't take money any more, and the guards and conductors are frightened out of their boots. It 's quite another thing


"Aye, aye," puffed the broad, maternal woman of the voluminous skirts.

She sniffed contemptuously and stared out of the window as though dissatisfied with this ignoble world and its inconvenient arrangements. "We 've hit on pretty times, I must say," she muttered.

After a few moments, however, she became reconciled to her earthly existence, and once more possessed of maternal thoughts. She blew her nose loudly, and then began groping in her big bag. Two more hard-boiled eggs came into view.

The guard came back, this time alone. As he passed the young stowaway, he winked with his left eye. The youth looked up at him, then rose, and followed him out.

In a few moments he returned. The commercial traveler, adopting a tone of intimate confidence, remarked:

"Well, how did it come off?"

The guard, replied the young fellow, demanded half of the regular fare, but he refused to pay more than ten copecks per station.

[blocks in formation]

"I suppose you can let me have two pounds of them?"

The guard, without turning his head, replied: "Later."

The commercial traveler returned to his place, and remarked in a brisk and businesslike tone:

"I always buy my candles from the guard. I get them at least a third cheaper. The size is just right, and besides—"

There was a slight commotion under one of the seats. All eyes were turned on this.

A little Hebrew lad of seventeen years crawled forth, awkward and ashamed. He looked about him timidly for a moment, then sat on the edge of one of the benches. There was plenty of room for him to make himself more comfortable, but he was shy and loath to take advantage.

As he sat there, precariously balancing himself, he seemed invested with all that feeling of isolation characteristic of his race, a creature from another world. The commercial traveler immediately ogled him with his eyes; he seemed to be studying out fit challenging phrases, as if anxious to provoke a quarrel.

Then addressing the company at large, he began to spin a yarn, his smug face wreathed with a mischievous and triumphant smile. He cast a glance or two out of the corners of his eyes at the boy.

"I've got a ripping story. During the Japanese war, a Russian regiment was furnished with cloth breast-armor, invented by some German or other.

"Now, children,' said the general, 'God be with you. Go and fight for the czar and your fatherland.' Good; they did fight. And the whole regiment was simply wiped off the earth- the whole regiment with the exception of three Jews, who came back alive. The general asked them how they had managed to escape. The Jews naturally did n't want to give themselves away. So the general said: 'Just tell me the truth. I'll see that nothing happens to you.' The smallest of the three Jews then up and spoke: 'Well, as soon as we got the armor, we at once put it on our backs.'"

The traveler glanced about him with a triumphant air. His audience bared their teeth in a grin.


"Just think!" one of them remarked. "Clever ducks!" said another, bobbed his head up and down. But, except for the boy, there was not one person in the entire train who had understood the point of the joke-a point that had a sharp and bitter sting. But the story itself penetrated their dense brains: a whole regiment of true believers had been slaughtered, and only three Jews had been saved, no doubt by magic.

Somebody at the end of the car suddenly stood up and shouted:

"Kick the Jew!"

From the other end of the car, like an echo, came the cry:

"Go for him!"

Several passengers rose from their seats. The Hebrew boy seemed to have collapsed. Instinctively he raised his arms. above his head. He knew how terribly a cry like that might operate.

The commercial traveler, however, threw back his head, and shouted in a sharp, commanding voice:

"See here, you fellows, none of that! The orders are there 's to be nothing of that sort this year."

It was evident that he had usurped the position of arbiter in this small and isolated world. The fat woman gave him her moral support. She waved her pudgy hands; there was only the slightest show of impatience in her tone:

[merged small][ocr errors]

"Folk like you. What do you mean?" "Well, I mean, us peasants. I saw a peasant crawl under a bench, so, thinks I, I'll do the same."

"What a jackass! Why, it's only 'hares' that do that!"

"Ah, but we 're a stupid lot, I know," muttered the old man, miserably.

The disgust of the stout woman bordered on anger.

"Such a fool," she cried, "to clean throw away three rubles! A sheep that does n't know what to do, and crawls under the seats!"

The inquisitor pursued his questioning. "So you 're bound for Ostroff, are you? Good Lord! we 've passed that place long ago, you cuckoo! Just you wait. You'll have to pay a fine now; and there's the extra fare back."

The tiny peasant was quite crushed.

"You understand these things better than me," he said; "you 're an educated gentleman." He shook his head dolefully.

"The devil! That would be the last After a pause he added, as if to comfort straw."

The belligerent passenger sat down again. Then everybody pretended that it was nothing but a joke, and forced a hollow laugh.

The bumping and thudding speed of the onrushing train began to slacken. Once more there was an eruption under one of the benches. An old peasant emerged.

"God forgive us our sins!" he moaned. He crossed himself, a spare little mankin wearing a short, yellow sheepskin coat which seemed to hide nothing but a framework of rattling bones. His pathetic aspect aroused interest and sympathy.

"How long have ye been lying under there?" asked a passenger.

"Why, since this morning, of course," he answered in a high, squeaking voice.

His tone implied that all that was selfunderstood. Several inquisitive persons

himself, "God will have mercy."

Then followed a solemn pause. This was broken at last by the commercial traveler. He shook his head philosophically, and in a voice full of mysterious reproach and accusation he uttered one word: "Russia!"

A few of his fellow-passengers nodded their heads in affirmation, even though they did not precisely realize why he should have said "Russia" in that signifi

cant manner.

Creaking and groaning, the train came to a halt with a final bump and a jarring recoil. A sudden sense of reality, a cool, clarifying wind, swept over the heated, weary, and congested brains.

Outside there was a station, with two flaring Russian oil-lamps. A soldier of the gendarmerie stood rigidly upright. The station-master was holding his brass bell by the clapper.

« AnkstesnisTęsti »