Chapter 23

IN AN UNFINISHED HOUSE in Varvarka, the lower part of which was a pot-house, there were sounds of drunken brawling and singing. Some ten factory hands were sitting on benches at tables in a little, dirty room. Tipsy, sweating, blear-eyed, with wide-gaping mouths, bloated with drink, they were singing some sort of a song. They were singing discordantly, with toil, with labour, not because they wanted to sing, but simply to betoken that they were drunk, and were enjoying themselves. One of them, a tall, flaxen-headed fellow, in a clean, blue long coat was standing over the rest. His face, with its straight, fine nose, would have been handsome, but for the thick, compressed, continually twitching lips and the lustreless, staring, and frowning eyes. He was standing over the singers, and, obviously with some notion in his head, was making solemn and angular passes over their heads with his bare, white arm, while he tried to spread his dirty fingers out unnaturally wide apart. The sleeve of his coat was incessantly slipping down, and the young fellow kept carefully tucking it up again with his left hand, as though there was something of special significance requiring that white, sinewy, waving arm to be bare. In the middle of the song, shouts and blows were heard in the passage and the porch. The tall fellow waved his arms.

“Shut up!” he shouted peremptorily. “A fight, lads!” and still tucking up his sleeves, he went out to the porch.

The factory hands followed him. They had brought the tavern- keeper some skins that morning from the factory, had had drink given them for this service, and had been drinking under the leadership of the tall young man. The blacksmiths working in a smithy hard by heard the sounds of revelry in the pothouse, and supposing the house had been forcibly broken into, wanted to break in too. A conflict was going on in the porch.

The tavern-keeper was fighting with a blacksmith in the doorway, and at the moment when the factory hands emerged, the smith had reeled away from the tavern-keeper, and fallen on his face on the pavement.

Another smith dashed in at the door, staggering with his chest against the tavern-keeper.

The young man with the sleeve tucked up, as he went, dealt a blow in the face of the smith who had dashed in at the door, and shouted wildly:

“Lads! they are beating our mates!”

Meanwhile, the smith got up from the ground, and with blood spurting from his bruised face, cried in a wailing voice:

“Help! They have killed me …! They have killed a man! Mates! …”

“Oy, mercy on us, killed entirely, a man killed!” squealed a woman, coming out of the gates next door. A crowd of people gathered round the blood-stained smith.

“Haven’t you ruined folks enough, stripping the shirts off their backs?” said a voice, addressing the tavern- keeper; “and so now you have murdered a man! Blackguard!”

The tall young man standing on the steps turned his bleared eyes from the tavern-keeper to the smiths, as though considering with which to fight.

“Cut-throat!” he cried suddenly at the tavern-keeper. “Lads, bind him!”

“Indeed, and you try and bind a man like me!” bawled the tavern-keeper, tearing himself away from the men who threw themselves on him, and taking off his cap, he flung it on the ground. As though this act had some mysterious and menacing significance, the factory hands, who had surrounded the tavern- keeper, stood still in uncertainty.

“I know the law, mate, very well, I do. I’ll go to the police. Are you thinking I won’t find them? Robbery’s not the order of the day for any one!” bawled the tavern-keeper, picking up his cap.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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