One of them was called Jig-Leg, the other Hopeful, and both were thieves by trade.

They lived on the outskirts of the city, in a suburb that straggled queerly along a ravine, in one of the dilapidated shanties built of clay and half-rotten wood, which looked like heaps of rubbish that had been thrown down into the ravine. The pals did their thieving in the nearby villages, for in the city it was difficult to steal, and in the suburb the neighbors had nothing worth taking.

Both of them were cautious and modest: having nabbed a piece of linen, a coat, or an ax, a piece of harness, a shirt, or a hen, for a long time they would keep away from the village where they had made their haul. But in spite of this prudent way of working, the suburban peasants knew them well, and threatened on occasion to beat the lives out of them. The occasion, however, did not present itself to the peasants, and the bones of the two friends remained whole, although they had been hearing these threats for full six years.

Jig-Leg was a man of forty, tall, somewhat bent, lean and muscular. He walked with his head bowed, his long arms crossed behind his back, with a long leisurely stride, and as he moved along, he kept glancing restlessly and anxiously from side to side with his sharp, puckered-up eyes. He wore his hair clipped short and shaved his beard; his thick, grayish, military mustaches covered his mouth, lending his face a bristling, dour look. His left leg must have been dislocated or broken, and it mended in such a way that it was longer than the right one. When he lifted it in walking, it jumped up in the air and jerked sideways. This peculiarity of his gait earned him his nickname.

Hopeful was about five years older than his comrade; he was shorter, and broader in the shoulders. But he had a persistent, hollow cough, and his knobby face was covered with a large black beard, streaked with gray, which did not hide his sickly, yellow complexion. He had large, black eyes, which looked at everything with a guilty and amiable expression. As he walked, he would press his thick lips together in the shape of a heart, and he whistled softly a sad, monotonous melody, always the same. His shoulders were covered by a short garment made of motley rags, something resembling a wadded pea-jacket; Jig- Leg wore a long, gray kaftan, with a belt.

Hopeful was by birth a peasant, his comrade was the son of a sexton, and had at one time been a footman and a marker. They were always together, and the peasants, seeing them, would say: “There are the chums again!… Watch out.”

The chums would tramp along some country road, keeping a sharp look-out, and avoiding people. Hopeful coughed and whistled his tune; his comrade’s leg jigged in the air, as though trying to wrench itself loose and dash away from its master’s dangerous path. Or else they lay on the edge of a forest, in the rye, or in a gully, and quietly discussed how to steal something in order to eat.

In winter even the wolves, who are better adapted to the struggle for life than the two friends, have a hard time of it. Lean, hungry, and vicious, they stalk the roads, and though people kill them, these same people are afraid of them: they have claws and fangs for self-defense, and, above all, their hearts are softened by nothing. This last point is very important, for, in order to be victorious in the struggle for existence, man must have either keen intelligence or the heart of a beast.

In winter the chums were hard put to it. Often both of them went into the streets in the evening and begged, trying not to be noticed by the police. They rarely succeeded in stealing anything; it was inconvenient to go into the country because it was cold, and because one left traces in the snow; besides, it was useless to visit the villages when everything there was locked up and snowbound. In winter the comrades lost much strength fighting hunger, and perhaps no one awaited spring as eagerly as they did.

And then, at last, spring would come! The pals, exhausted and ailing, crawled out of their ravine, and gazed joyfully at the fields, where, every day, the snow thawed more rapidly, brown patches began to appear, the puddles shone like mirrors, and streams babbled gaily. The sun lavished upon the earth its disinterested caresses, and both friends warmed themselves in its rays, figuring out how soon the

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