From an unfinished house on the Varvárka, the ground floor of which was a dramshop, came drunken shouts and songs. On benches round the tables in a dirty little room sat some ten factory hands. Tipsy and perspiring, with dim eyes and wide-open mouths, they were all laboriously singing some song or other. They were singing discordantly, arduously, and with great effort, evidently not because they wished to sing, but because they wanted to show they were drunk and on a spree. One, a tall, fair-haired lad in a clean blue coat, was standing over the others. His face with its fine straight nose would have been handsome had it not been for his thin, compressed, twitching lips and dull, gloomy, fixed eyes. Evidently possessed by some idea, he stood over those who were singing, and solemnly and jerkily flourished above their heads his white arm with the sleeve turned up to the elbow, trying unnaturally to spread out his dirty fingers. The sleeve of his coat kept slipping down and he always carefully rolled it up again with his left hand, as if it were most important that the sinewy white arm he was flourishing should be bare. In the midst of the song cries were heard, and fighting and blows in the passage and porch. The tall lad waved his arm.
“Stop it!” he exclaimed peremptorily. “There’s a fight, lads!” And, still rolling up his sleeve, he went out to the porch.
The factory hands followed him. These men, who under the leadership of the tall lad were drinking in the dramshop that morning, had brought the publican some skins from the factory and for this had had drink served them. The blacksmiths from a neighboring smithy, hearing the sounds of revelry in the tavern and supposing it to have been broken into, wished to force their way in too and a fight in the porch had resulted.
The publican was fighting one of the smiths at the door, and when the workmen came out the smith, wrenching himself free from the tavern keeper, fell face downward on the pavement.
Another smith tried to enter the doorway, pressing against the publican with his chest.
The lad with the turned-up sleeve gave the smith a blow in the face and cried wildly: “They’re fighting us, lads!”
At that moment the first smith got up and, scratching his bruised face to make it bleed, shouted in a tearful voice: “Police! Murder!... They’ve killed a man, lads!”
“Oh, gracious me, a man beaten to death—killed!...” screamed a woman coming out of a gate close by.
A crowd gathered round the bloodstained smith.
“Haven’t you robbed people enough—taking their last shirts?” said a voice addressing the publican. “What have you killed a man for, you thief?”
The tall lad, standing in the porch, turned his bleared eyes from the publican to the smith and back again as if considering whom he ought to fight now.
“Murderer!” he shouted suddenly to the publican. “Bind him, lads!”
“I daresay you would like to bind me!” shouted the publican, pushing away the men advancing on him, and snatching his cap from his head he flung it on the ground.
As if this action had some mysterious and menacing significance, the workmen surrounding the publican paused in indecision.
“I know the law very well, mates! I’ll take the matter to the captain of police. You think I won’t get to him? Robbery is not permitted to anybody nowadays!” shouted the publican, picking up his cap.
“Come along then! Come along then!” the publican and the tall young fellow repeated one after the other, and they moved up the street together.
The bloodstained smith went beside them. The factory hands and others followed behind, talking and shouting.
At the corner of the Moroséyka, opposite a large house with closed shutters and bearing a bootmaker’s signboard, stood a score of thin, worn-out, gloomy-faced bootmakers, wearing overalls and long tattered coats.
“He should pay folks off properly,” a thin workingman, with frowning brows and a straggly beard, was saying.
“But he’s sucked our blood and now he thinks he’s quit of us. He’s been misleading us all the week and now that he’s brought us to this pass he’s made off.”
On seeing the crowd and the bloodstained man the workman ceased speaking, and with eager curiosity all the bootmakers joined the moving crowd.
“Where are all the folks going?”
“Why, to the police, of course!”
“I say, is it true that we have been beaten?” “And what did you think? Look what folks are saying.”
Questions and answers were heard. The publican, taking advantage of the increased crowd, dropped behind and returned to his tavern.
The tall youth, not noticing the disappearance of his foe, waved his bare arm and went on talking incessantly, attracting general attention to himself. It was around him that the people chiefly crowded, expecting answers from him to the questions that occupied all their minds.
“He must keep order, keep the law, that’s what the government is there for. Am I not right, good Christians?” said the tall youth, with a scarcely perceptible smile. “He thinks there’s no government! How can one do without government? Or else there would be plenty who’d rob us.”
“Why talk nonsense?” rejoined voices in the crowd. “Will they give up Moscow like this? They told you that for fun, and you believed it! Aren’t there plenty of troops on the march? Let him in, indeed! That’s what the government is for. You’d better listen to what people are saying,” said some of the mob pointing to the tall youth.
By the wall of China-Town a smaller group of people were gathered round a man in a frieze coat who held a paper in his hand.
“An ukáse, they are reading an ukáse! Reading an ukáse!” cried voices in the crowd, and the people rushed toward the reader.
The man in the frieze coat was reading the broadsheet of August 31. When the crowd collected round him he seemed confused, but at the demand of the tall lad who had pushed his way up to him, he began in a rather tremulous voice to read the sheet from the beginning.
“Early tomorrow I shall go to his Serene Highness,” he read (“Sirin Highness,” said the tall fellow with a triumphant smile on his lips and a frown on his brow), “to consult with him to act, and to aid the army to exterminate these scoundrels. We too will take part...” the reader went on, and then paused (“Do you see,” shouted the youth victoriously, “he’s going to clear up the whole affair for you....”), “in destroying them, and will send these visitors to the devil. I will come back to dinner, and we’ll set to work. We will do, completely do, and undo these scoundrels.”
The last words were read out in the midst of complete silence. The tall lad hung his head gloomily. It was evident that no one had understood the last part. In particular, the words “I will come back to dinner,” evidently displeased both reader and audience. The people’s minds were tuned to a high pitch and this was too simple and needlessly comprehensible—it was what any one of them might have said and therefore was what an ukáse emanating from the highest authority should not say.
They all stood despondent and silent. The tall youth moved his lips and swayed from side to side.
“We should ask him... that’s he himself?”... “Yes, ask him indeed!... Why not? He’ll explain”... voices in the rear of the crowd were suddenly heard saying, and the general attention turned to the police superintendent’s trap which drove into the square attended by two mounted dragoons.
The superintendent of police, who had gone that morning by Count Rostopchín’s orders to burn the barges and had in connection with that matter acquired a large sum of money which was at that moment in his pocket, on seeing a crowd bearing down upon him told his coachman to stop.
“What people are these?” he shouted to the men, who were moving singly and timidly in the direction of his trap.
“What people are these?” he shouted again, receiving no answer.
“Your honor...” replied the shopman in the frieze coat, “your honor, in accord with the proclamation of his highest excellency the count, they desire to serve, not sparing their lives, and it is not any kind of riot, but as his highest excellence said...”
“The count has not left, he is here, and an order will be issued concerning you,” said the superintendent of police. “Go on!” he ordered his coachman.
The crowd halted, pressing around those who had heard what the superintendent had said, and looking at the departing trap.
The superintendent of police turned round at that moment with a scared look, said something to his coachman, and his horses increased their speed.
“It’s a fraud, lads! Lead the way to him, himself!” shouted the tall youth. “Don’t let him go, lads! Let him answer us! Keep him!” shouted different people and the people dashed in pursuit of the trap.
Following the superintendent of police and talking loudly the crowd went in the direction of the Lubyánka Street.
“There now, the gentry and merchants have gone away and left us to perish. Do they think we’re dogs?” voices in the crowd were heard saying more and more frequently.
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