The next morning Tyapa was the first to wake up. Lying on his back he looked up into the sky. Only in such a position did his deformed neck permit him to see the clouds above his head.
This morning the sky was of a uniform gray. Up there hung the damp, cold mist 0œ dawn, almost extinguishing the sun, hiding the unknown vastness behind and pouring despondency over the earth. Tyapa crossed himself, and leaning on his elbow, looked round to see whether there was any vodki left. The bottle was there, but it was empty. Crossing over his companions he looked into the glasses from which they had drunk, found one of them almost full, emptied it, wiped his lips with his sleeve, and began to shake the Captain.
The Captain raised his head and looked at him with sad eyes.
"We must inform the police . . . Get up!"
"Of what?" asked the Captain, sleepily and angrily.
"What, is he not dead?"
"The learned one." .
"Did you forget? . . . Alas!" said Tyapa, hoarsely.
The Captain rose to his feet, yawned and stretched himself till all his bones cracked.
"Well, then! Go and give information.
"I will not go . . . I do not like them," said the Captain morosely.
"Well, then, wake up the Deacon . . . I shall go, at any rate."
"All right! . . . Deacon, get up!"
The Captain entered the dosshouse, and stood at the teacher's feet. The dead man lay at full length, his left hand on his breast, the right hand held as if ready to strike some one.
The Captain thought that if the teacher got up now, he would be as tall as Paltara Taras. Then he sat by the side of the dead man and sighed, as he remembered that they had lived together for the last three years. Tyapa entered holding his head like a goat which is ready to butt.
He sat down quietly and seriously on the opposite side of the teacher's body, looked into the dark, silent face, and began to sob.
"So . . . he is dead . . . I too shall die soon. . . ."
"It is quite time for that!" said the Captain, gloomily.
"It is," Tyapa agreed. "You ought to die too. Anything is better than this. . . ."
"But perhaps death might be worse? How do you know?"
"It could not be worse. When you die you have only God to deal with . . . but here you have to deal with men . . . and men--what are they?"
"Enough! . . . Be quiet!" interrupted Kuvalda angrily.
And in the dawn, which filled the dosshouse, a solemn stillness reigned over all. Long and silently they sat at the feet of their dead companion, seldom looking at him, and both plunged in thought. Then Tyapa asked:
"Will you bury him?"
"I? No, let the police bury him!"
"You took money from Vaviloff for this petition . . . and I will give you some if you have not enough." .
"Though I have his money . . . still I shall not bury him."
"That is not right. You are robbing the dead. I will tell them all that you want to keep his money." . . . Tyapa threatened him.
"You are a fool, you old devil!" said Kuvalda, contemptuously.
"I am not a fool . . . but it is not right nor friendly."
"Enough! Be off!"
"How much money is there?"
"Twenty-five roubles," . . . said Kuvalda, absently.
"So! . . . You might gain a five-rouble note. . . ."
"You old scoundrel! . . ." And looking into Tyapa's face the Captain swore.
"Well, what? Give. . . ."
"Go to the Devil! . . . I am going to spend this money in erecting a monument to him."
"What does he want that for?"
"I will buy a stone and an anchor. I shall place the stone on the grass, and attach the anchor to it with a very heavy chain."
"Why? You are playing tricks. . . ."
"Well . . . It is no business of yours."
"Look out! I shall tell . . ." again threatened Tyapa.
Aristid Fomich looked at him sullenly and said nothing. Again they sat there in that silence which, in the presence of the dead, is so full of mystery.
"Listen . . . They are coming!" Tyapa got up and went out of the dosshouse.
Then there appeared at the door the Doctor, the Police Inspector of the district, and the examining Magistrate or Coroner. All three came in turn, looked at the dead teacher, and then went out, throwing suspicious glances at Kuvalda. He sat there, without taking any notice of them, until the Police Inspector asked him:
"Of what did he die?"
"Ask him . . . I think his evil life hastened his end."
"What?" asked the Coroner.
"I say that he died of a disease to which he had not been accustomed. . . ."
"H'm, yes. Had he been ill long?"
"Bring him over here, I cannot see him properly," said the Doctor, in a melancholy tone. "Probably there are signs of . . ."
"Now, then, ask someone here to carry him out!" the Police Inspector ordered Kuvalda.
"Go and ask them yourself! He is not in my way here . . ." the Captain replied, indifferently.
"Well!" . . . shouted the Inspector, making a ferocious face.
"Phew!" answered Kuvalda, without moving from his place and gnashing his teeth restlessly.
"The Devil take it!" shouted the Inspector, so madly that the blood rushed to his face. "I'll make you pay for this! I'll----"
"Good-morning, gentlemen!" said the merchant Petunikoff, with a sweet smile, making his appearance in the doorway.
He looked round, trembled, took off his cap and crossed himself. Then a pompous, wicked smile crossed his face, and, looking at the Captain, he inquired respectfully:
"What has happened? Has there been a murder here?"
"Yes, something of that sort," replied the Coroner.
Petunikoff sighed deeply, crossed himself again, and spoke in an angry tone.
"By Cod! It is just as I feared. It always ends in your having to come here . . . Ay, ay, ay! God save everyone. Times without number have I refused to lease this house to this man, and he has always won me over, and I was afraid. You know . . . They are such awful people . . . better give it them, I thought, or else. . . ."
He covered his face with his hands, tugged at his beard, and sighed again.
"They are very dangerous men, and this man here is their leader . . . the ataman of the robbers."
"But we will make him smart!" promised the Inspector, looking at the Captain with revengeful eyes.
"Yes, brother, we are old friends of yours . . ." said Kuvalda in a familiar tone. "How many times have I paid you to be quiet?"
"Gentlemen!" shouted the Inspector, "did you hear him? I want you to bear witness to this. Aha, I shall make short work of you, my friend, remember!"
"Don't count your chickens before they are hatched . . . my friend," said Aristid Fomich.
The Doctor, a young man with eye-glasses, looked at him curiously, the Coroner with an attention that boded him no good, Petunikoff with triumph, while the Inspector could hardly restrain himself from throwing himself upon him.
The dark figure of Martyanoff appeared at the door of the dosshouse. He entered quietly, and stood behind Petunikoff, so that his chin was on a level with the merchant's head. Behind him stood the Deacon, opening his small, swollen, red eyes.
"Let us be doing something, gentlemen," suggested the Doctor. Martyanoff made an awful grimace, and suddenly suddenly sneezed on Petunikoff's head. The latter gave a yell, sat down hurriedly, and then jumped aside, almost knocking down the Inspector, into whose open arms he fell.
"Do you see," said the frightened merchant, pointing to Martyanoff, "do you see what kind of men they are."
Kuvalda burst out laughing. The Doctor and the Coroner smiled too, and at the door of the dosshouse the group of figures was increasing . . . sleepy figures, with swollen faces, red, inflamed eyes, and dishevelled hair, staring rudely at the Doctor, the Coroner, and the Inspector.
"Where are you going?" said the policeman on guard at the door, catching hold of their tatters and pushing them aside. But he was one against many, and, without taking any notice, they all entered and stood there, reeking of vodki, silent and evil-looking.
Kuvalda glanced at them, then at the authorities, who were angry at the intrusion of these ragamuffins, and said, smilingly, "Gentlemen, perhaps you would like to make the acquaintance of my lodgers and friends? Would you? But, whether you wish it or not, you will have to make their acquaintance sooner or later in the course of your duties."
The Doctor smiled in an embarrassed way. The Coroner pressed his lips together, and the Inspector saw that it was time to go. Therefore, he shouted:
"Sideroff! Whistle! Tell them to bring a cart here."
"I will go," said Petunikoff, coming forward from a corner. "You had better take it away to-day, sir, I want to pull down this hole. Go away! or else I shall apply to the police!"
The policeman's whistle echoed through the courtyard. At the door of the dosshouse its inhabitants stood in a group, yawning, and scratching themselves.
"And so you do not wish to be introduced? That is rude of you!" laughed Aristid Fomich.
Petunikoff took his purse from his pocket, took out two five-kopeck pieces, put them at the feet of the dead man, and crossed himself.
"God have mercy . . . on the burial of the sinful. . . ."
"What!" yelled the Captain, "you give for the burial?
Take them away, I say, you scoundrel! How dare you give your stolen kopecks for the burial of an honest man? I will tear you limb from limb!"
"Your Honor!" cried the terrified merchant to the Inspector, seizing him by the elbow.
The Doctor and the Coroner jumped aside. The Inspector shouted:
"Sideroff, come here!"
"The creatures that once were men" stood along the wall, looking and listening with an interest, which put new life into their broken-down bodies.
Kuvalda, shaking his fist at Petunikoff's head, roared and rolled his eyes like a wild beast.
"Scoundrel and thief! Take back your money! Dirty worm! Take it back, I say . . . or else I shall cram it down your throat. . . . Take your five-kopeck pieces!"
Petunikoff put out his trembling hand toward his mite, and protecting his head from Kuvalda's fist with the other hand, said:
"You are my witnesses, Sir Inspector, and you good people!"
"We are not good people, merchant!" said the voice of Abyedok, trembling with anger.
The Inspector whistled impatiently, with his other hand protecting Petunikoff, who was stooping in front of him as if trying to enter his belly.
"You dirty toad! I shall compel you to kiss the feet of the dead man. How would you like that?" And catching Petunikoff by the neck, Kuvalda hurled him against the door, as if he bad been a cat.
The "creatures that once were men" sprang aside quickly to let the merchant fall. And down he fell at their feet, crying wildly:
"Murder! Help! Murder!"
Martyanoff slowly raised his foot, and brought it down heavily on the merchant's head. Abyedok spat in his face with a grin. The merchant, creeping on all-fours, threw himself into the courtyard, at which everyone laughed. But by this time the two policemen had arrived, and pointing to Kuvalda, the Inspector said, pompously:
"Arrest him, and bind him hand and foot!"
"You dare not! . . . I shall not run away . . . I will go wherever you wish, . . ." said Kuvalda, freeing himself from the policemen at his side.
The "creatures that once were men" disappeared one after the other. A cart entered the yard. Some ragged wretches brought out the dead man's body.
"I'll teach you! You just wait!" thundered the Inspector at Kuvalda.
"How now, ataman?" asked Petunikoff maliciously, excited and pleased at the sight of his enemy in bonds. That, you fell into the trap? Eh? You just wait. . . ."
But Kuvalda was quiet now. He stood strangely straight and silent between the two policemen, watching the teacher's body being placed in the cart. The man who was holding the head of the corpse was very short, and could not manage to place it on the cart at the same time as the legs. For a moment the body hung as if it would fall to the ground, and hide itself beneath the earth, away from these foolish and wicked disturbers of its peace.
"Take him away!" ordered the Inspector, pointing to the Captain.
Kuvalda silently moved forward without protestation, passing the cart on which was the teacher's body. He bowed his head before it without looking. Martyanoff, with his strong face, followed him. The courtyard of the merchant Petunikoff emptied quickly.
"Now then, go on!" called the driver, striking the horses with the whip. The cart moved off over the rough surface of the courtyard. The teacher was covered with a heap of rags, and his belly projected from beneath them. It seemed as if he were laughing quietly at the prospect of leaving the dosshouse, never, never to return. Petunikoff, who was following him with his eyes, crossed himself, and then began to shake the dust and rubbish off his clothes, and the more he shook himself the more pleased and self-satisfied did he feel. He saw the tall figure of Aristid Fomich Kuvalda, in a gray cap with a red band, with his arms bound behind his back, being led away. Petunikoff smiled the smile of the conqueror, and went back into the dosshouse, but suddenly he stopped and trembled. At the door facing him stood an old man with a stick in his hand and a large bag on his back, a horrible old man in rags and tatters, which covered his bony figure. He bent under the weight of his burden, and lowered his head on his breast, as if he wished to attack the merchant.
"What are you? Who are you?" shouted Petunikoff.
"A man . . ." he answered in a hoarse voice. This hoarseness pleased and tranquillized Petunikoff, he even smiled.
"A man! And are there really men like you?" Stepping aside he let the old man pass. He went, saying slowly:
"Men are of various kinds . . . as God wills . . . There are worse than me . . . still worse . . . Yes. . . ."
The cloudy sky hung silently over the dirty yard and over the cleanly-dressed man with the pointed beard, who was walking about there, measuring distances with his steps and with his sharp eyes. On the roof of the old house a crow perched and croaked, thrusting its head now backward, now forward. In the lowering gray clouds, which hid the sky, there was something hard and merciless, as if they had gathered together to wash all the dirt off the face of this unfortunate, suffering, and sorrowful earth.