Part 4, Chapter 4


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Author : Leo Tolstoy

Translator : Nathan Haskell Dole

Text :

He was old, they were young; he was lean, they were fat; he was sad, they were happy. So he was thoroughly strange, alien, an absolutely different creature; and it was impossible for them to have compassion on him. Horses have pity only on themselves, and rarely on those whose places they may easily come themselves to fill. But, indeed, was not the piebald gelding himself to blame, that he was old and gaunt and crippled?...

One would think that he was not to blame. But in equine ethics he was, and only those were right who were strong, young, and happy; those who had all life before them; those whose every muscle was tense with superfluous energy, and curled their tails into a wheel.

Maybe the piebald gelding himself understood this, and in tranquil moments was agreed that he was to blame because he had lived out all his life, that he must pay for his life; but he was after all only a horse, and he could not restrain himself often from feeling hurt, melancholy, and discontented, when he looked on all these young horses who tormented him for the very thing to which they would be subjected when they came to the end of their lives.

The reason for the heartlessness of these horses was a peculiarly aristocratic feeling. Every one of them was related, either on the side of father or mother, to the celebrated Smetanka; but it was not known from what stock the piebald gelding sprang. The gelding* was a chance comer, bought at market three years before for eighty paper rubles.

The young chestnut mare, as though accidentally wandering about, came up to the piebald gelding's very nose, and brushed against him. He knew before-hand what it meant, and did not open his eyes, but laid back his ears and showed his teeth. The mare wheeled around, and made believe that she was going to let fly at him with her heels. He opened his eyes, and wandered off to another part. He had no desire to sleep, and began to crop the grass. Again the wanton young mare, accompanied by her confederates, went to the gelding. A two-year-old mare with a star on her forehead, very stupid, always in mischief, and always ready to imitate the chestnut mare, trotted along with her, and, as imitators always do, began to: play the same trick that the instigator had done.

The brown mare marched along at an ordinary gait, as though bent on her own affairs, and passed by the gelding's very nose, not looking at him, so that he really did not know whether to be angry or not; and this was the very fun of the thing.

This was what she did; but the starred mare following in her steps, and feeling very gay, hit the gelding on the chest. He showed his teeth once more, whinnied, and, with a quickness of motion unexpected on his part, sprang at the mare, and bit her on the flank. The young mare with the star flew out with her bind legs, and kicked the old horse heavily on his thin bare ribs. The old horse uttered a hoarse noise, and was about to make another lunge, but thought better of it, and sighing deeply turned away.

It must have been that all the young horses of the drove regarded as a personal insult the boldness w* hich the piebald gelding permitted himself to show toward the starred mare; for all the rest of the day they gave him no chance to graze, and left him not a moment of peace, so that the drover several times rebuked them, and could not comprehend what they were doing.

The gelding was so abused that he himself walked up to Nester when it was time for the old man to drive back the drove, and he showed greater happiness and content when Nester saddled him and mounted him.

God knows what the old gelding's thoughts were as he bore on his back the old man Nester. Did he think with bitterness of these importunate and merciless youngsters? or, with a scornful and silent pride peculiar to old age, did he pardon his persecutors? At all events, he did not make manifest any of his thoughts till he reached home.

That evening some cronies had come to see Nester; and as the horses were driven by the huts of the domestics, he noticed a horse and telyéga standing at his doorstep. After he had driven in the horses, he was in such a hurry that he did not take the saddle off: he left the gelding at the yard,[5] and shouted to Vaska to unsaddle the animal, then shut the gate, and hurried to his friends.

Perhaps owing to the affront put upon the starred mare, the descendant of Smetanka, by that "low trash" bought for a horse, and not knowing father or mother, and therefore offending the aristocratic sentiment of the whole community; or because the gelding with the high saddle without a rider presented a strangely fantastic spectacle for the horses,—at all events, that night something extraordinary took place in the paddock. All the horses, young and old, showin* g their teeth, tagged after the gelding, and drove him from one part of the yard to the other; the trampling of their hoofs echoed around him as he sighed and drew in his thin sides.

The gelding could not longer endure this, could not longer avoid their kicks. He halted in the middle of the field: his face expressed the repulsive, weak anger of helpless old age, and despair besides. He laid back his ears, and suddenly[6] something happened that caused all the horses suddenly to become quiet. A very old mare, Viazopúrikha, came up and sniffed the gelding, and sighed. The gelding also sighed.

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[5] dvor.

[6] So in the original.

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

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Chronology :

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

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