Part 4, Chapter 13


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Author : Leo Tolstoy

Translator : Nathan Haskell Dole

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If Kholstomír remembered any thing that night, it was the frolic that Vaska gave him. He threw over him a blanket, and galloped off. He was left till morning at the door of a tavern, with a muzhík's horse. They licked each other. When it became light he went back to the herd, and itched all over.

"Something makes me itch fearfully," he thought.

Five days passed. They brought a veterinary. He said cheerfully,—

"The mange. You'll have to dispose of him to the gypsies."

"Better have his throat cut; only have it done to-day."

The morning was calm and clear. The herd had gone to pasture. Kholstomír remained behind. A strange man came along; thin, dark, dirty, in a caftan spotted with something black. This was the scavenger. He took Kholstomír by the halter, and without looking at him started off. The horse followed quietly, not looking round, and, as always, dragging his legs and kicking up the straw with his hind-legs.

As he went out of the gate, he turned his head toward the well; but the scavenger twitched the halter, and said,—

"It's not worth while."

The scavenger, and Vaska who followed, proceeded to a depression behind the brick barn, and stopp* ed, as though there were something peculiar in this most ordinary place; and the scavenger, handing the halter to Vaska, took off his caftan, rolled up his sleeves, and produced a knife and whetstone from his boot-leg.

The piebald pulled at the halter, and out of sheer ennui tried to bite it, but it was too far off. He sighed, and closed his eyes. He hung down his lip, showing his worn yellow teeth, and began to drowse, lulled by the sound of the knife on the stone. Only his sick and swollen leg trembled a little.

Suddenly he perceived that he was grasped by the lower jaw, and that his head was lifted up. He opened his eyes. Two dogs were in front of him. One was snuffing in the direction of the scavenger, the other sat looking at the gelding as though expecting something especially from him. The gelding looked at them, and began to rub his jaw against the hand that held him.

"Of course they want to cure me," he said: "let it come!"

And the thought had hardly passed through his mind, before they did something to his throat. It hurt him; he started back, stamped his foot, but restrained himself, and waited for what was to follow.... What followed, was some liquid pouring in a stream down his neck and breast. He drew a deep breath, lifting his sides. And it seemed easier, much easier, to him.

The whole burden of his life was taken from him.

He closed his eyes, and began to droop his head,—no one held it. Then his legs quivered, his whole body swayed. He was not so much terrified as he was astonished....


Every thing was so new. He was astonished; he tried to run ahead, up the hill, ... but instead of this, his legs, moving where he stood, interfered. He began to roll over on his side, and while expecting to make a step he fell forward, and on his left side.

The scavenger waited till the death-struggle was over, drove away the dogs that were creeping nearer, and then seized the horse by the legs, turned him over on the back, and, telling Vaska to hold his leg, began to take off the hide.

"That was a horse indeed!" said Vaska.

"If he'd been fatter, it would have been a fine hide," said the scavenger.

That evening the herd passed by the hill; and those who were on the left wing saw a red object below them, and around it some dogs busily romping, and crows and hawks flying over it. One dog, with his paws on the carcass, and shaking his head, was growling over what he was tearing with his teeth. The brown filly stopped, lifted her head and neck, and long sniffed the air. It took force to drive her away.

At sunrise, in a ravine of the ancient forest, in the bottom of an overgrown glade, some wolf-whelps were beside themselves with joy. There were five of them,—four about of a size, and one little one with a head bigger than his body. A lean, hairless she-wolf, her belly with hanging dugs almost touching the ground, crept out of the bushes, and sat down in front of the wolves. The wolves sat in a semi-circle in front of her. She went to the smallest, and lowering her stumpy tail, and bending her nose to the ground, made a few convulsive motions, and opening her jaws filled with teeth she struggled, and disg* orged a great piece of horse-flesh.

The larger whelps made a movement to seize it; but she restrained them with a threatening growl, and let the little one have it all. The little one, as though in anger, seized the morsel, hiding it under him, and began to devour it. Then the she-wolf disgorged for the second, and the third, and in the same way for all five, and finally lay down in front of them to rest.

At the end of a week there lay behind the brick barn only the great skull, and two shoulder-blades; all the rest had disappeared. In the summer a muzhík who gathered up the bones carried off also the skull and shoulder-blades, and put them to use.

The dead body of Sierpukhovskoï who had been about in the world, and had eaten and drunken, was buried long after. Neither his skin nor his flesh nor his bones were of any use.

And just as his dead body, which had been about in the world, had been a great burden to others for twenty years, so the disposal of this body became only an additional charge upon men. Long it had been useless to every one, long it had been only a burden. But still the dead who bury their dead found it expedient to dress this soon-to-be-decaying, swollen body, in a fine uniform, in fine boots; to place it in a fine new coffin, with new tassels on the four corners; then to place this new coffin in another, made of lead, and carry it to Moscow; and there to dig up the bones of people long buried, and then to lay away this mal-odorous body devoured by worms, in its new uniform and polished boots, and to cover the whole with earth.

(Source: Published by Thomas Y. Crowell & Co., New York, 13 Astor Place, 1887.)

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Chronology :

November 30, 1886 : Part 4, Chapter 13 -- Publication.
June 09, 2021 : Part 4, Chapter 13 -- Added to
June 09, 2021 : Part 4, Chapter 13 -- Last Updated on

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