The Bird Market

There is a small square near the monastery of the Holy Birth which is called Trubnoy, or simply Truboy; there is a market there on Sundays. Hundreds of sheepskins, wadded coats, fur caps, and chimneypot hats swarm there, like crabs in a sieve. There is the sound of the twitter of birds in all sorts of keys, recalling the spring. If the sun is shining, and there are no clouds in the sky, the singing of the birds and the smell of hay make a more vivid impression, and this reminder of spring sets one thinking and carries one’s fancy far, far away. Along one side of the square there stands a string of waggons. The waggons are loaded, not with hay, not with cabbages, nor with beans, but with goldfinches, siskins, larks, blackbirds and thrushes, bluetits, bullfinches. All of them are hopping about in rough, home-made cages, twittering and looking with envy at the free sparrows. The goldfinches cost five kopecks, the siskins are rather more expensive, while the value of the other birds is quite indeterminate.

“How much is a lark?”

The seller himself does not know the value of a lark. He scratches his head and asks whatever comes into it, a rouble, or three kopecks, according to the purchaser. There are expensive birds too. A faded old blackbird, with most of its feathers plucked out of its tail, sits on a dirty perch. He is dignified, grave, and motionless as a retired general. He has waved his claw in resignation to his captivity long ago, and looks at the blue sky with indifference. Probably, owing to this indifference, he is considered a sagacious bird. He is not to be bought for less than forty kopecks. Schoolboys, workmen, young men in stylish greatcoats, and bird-fanciers in incredibly shabby caps, in ragged trousers that are turned up at the ankles, and look as though they had been gnawed by mice, crowd round the birds, splashing through the mud. The young people and the workmen are sold hens for cocks, young birds for old ones. … They know very little about birds. But there is no deceiving the bird-fancier. He sees and understands his bird from a distance.

“There is no relying on that bird,” a fancier will say, looking into a siskin’s beak, and counting the feathers on its tail. “He sings now, it’s true, but what of that? I sing in company too. No, my boy, shout, sing to me without company; sing in solitude, if you can.… You give me that one yonder that sits and holds its tongue! Give me the quiet one! That one says nothing, so he thinks the more.…”

Among the waggons of birds there are some full of other live creatures. Here you see hares, rabbits, hedgehogs, guinea-pigs, polecats. A hare sits sorrowfully nibbling the straw. The guinea-pigs shiver with cold, while the hedgehogs look out with curiosity from under their prickles at the public.

“I have read somewhere,” says a post-office official in a faded overcoat, looking lovingly at the hare, and addressing no one in particular, “I have read that some learned man had a cat and a mouse and a falcon and a sparrow, who all ate out of one bowl.”

“That’s very possible, sir. The cat must have been beaten, and the falcon, I dare say, had all its tail pulled out. There’s no great cleverness in that, sir. A friend of mine had a cat who, saving your presence, used to eat his cucumbers. He thrashed her with a big whip for a fortnight, till he taught her not to. A hare can learn to light matches if you beat it. Does that surprise you? It’s very simple! It takes the match in its mouth and strikes it. An animal is like a man. A man’s made wiser by beating, and it’s the same with a beast.”

Men in long, full-skirted coats move backwards and forwards in the crowd with cocks and ducks under their arms. The fowls are all lean and hungry. Chickens poke their ugly, mangy-looking heads out of their cages and peck at something in the mud. Boys with pigeons stare into your face and try to detect in you a pigeon-fancier.

“Yes, indeed! It’s no use talking to you,” someone shouts angrily. “You should look before you speak! Do you call this a pigeon? It is an eagle, not a pigeon!”

A tall thin man, with a shaven upper lip and side whiskers, who looks like a sick and drunken footman, is selling a snow-white lap-dog. The old lap-dog whines.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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