Minds in Ferment
(from the annals of a town)
The earth was like an oven. The afternoon sun blazed with such energy that even the thermometer hanging in the excise officers room lost its head: it ran up to 112.5 and stopped there, irresolute. The inhabitants streamed with perspiration like overdriven horses, and were too lazy to mop their faces.
Two of the inhabitants were walking along the market-place in front of the closely shuttered houses. One was Potcheshihin, the local treasury clerk, and the other was Optimov, the agent, for many years a correspondent of the Son of the Fatherland newspaper. They walked in silence, speechless from the heat. Optimov felt tempted to find fault with the local authorities for the dust and disorder of the market- place, but, aware of the peace-loving disposition and moderate views of his companion, he said nothing.
In the middle of the market-place Potcheshihin suddenly halted and began gazing into the sky.
What are you looking at?
Those starlings that flew up. I wonder where they have settled. Clouds and clouds of them. If one were to go and take a shot at them, and if one were to pick them up and if They have settled in the Father Prebendarys garden!
Oh no! They are not in the Father Prebendarys, they are in the Father Deacons. If you did have a shot at them from here you wouldnt kill anything. Fine shot wont carry so far; it loses its force. And why should you kill them, anyway? Theyre birds destructive of the fruit, thats true; still, theyre fowls of the air, works of the Lord. The starling sings, you know. And what does it sing, pray? A song of praise. All ye fowls of the air, praise ye the Lord. No. I do believe they have settled in the Father Prebendarys garden.
Three old pilgrim women, wearing bark shoes and carrying wallets, passed noiselessly by the speakers. Looking enquiringly at the gentlemen who were for some unknown reason staring at the Father Prebendarys house, they slackened their pace, and when they were a few yards off stopped, glanced at the friends once more, and then fell to gazing at the house themselves.
Yes, you were right; they have settled in the Father Prebendarys, said Optimov. His cherries are ripe now, so they have gone there to peck them.
From the garden gate emerged the Father Prebendary himself, accompanied by the sexton. Seeing the attention directed upon his abode and wondering what people were staring at, he stopped, and he, too, as well as the sexton, began looking upwards to find out.
The father is going to a service somewhere, I suppose, said Potcheshihin. The Lord be his succour!
Some workmen from Purovs factory, who had been bathing in the river, passed between the friends and the priest. Seeing the latter absorbed in contemplation of the heavens and the pilgrim women, too, standing motionless with their eyes turned upwards, they stood still and stared in the same direction.
A small boy leading a blind beggar and a peasant, carrying a tub of stinking fish to throw into the market- place, did the same.
There must be something the matter, I should think, said Potcheshihin, a fire or something. But theres no sign of smoke anywhere. Hey! Kuzma! he shouted to the peasant, whats the matter?
The peasant made some reply, but Potcheshihin and Optimov did not catch it. Sleepy-looking shopmen made their appearance at the doors of all the shops. Some plasterers at work on a warehouse near left their ladders and joined the workmen.
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