Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

Thought for the Day:

. . . A special circumstance attracts his attention: this time there seems to be some sort of festivity, a crowd of dressed-up townspeople, peasant women, their husbands, and all kinds of rabble. Everyone is drunk, everyone is singing songs, and near the porch of the tavern stands a cart, a but a strange cart. It is one of those big carts to which big cart-horses are harnessed for transporting goods and barrels of wine. He always liked watching those huge horses, long-maned and thick-legged, moving calmly, at a measured pace, pulling some whole mountain behind them without the least strain, as if the load made it even easier for them. But now, strangely, to such a big cart a small, skinny, grayish peasant nag had been harnessed, one of those-he had often seen it-that sometimes overstrain themselves pulling a huge load of firewood or hay, especially if the cart gets stuck in the mud or a rut, and in such cases the peasants always whip them so painfully, so painfully, sometimes even on the muzzle and eyes, and he would feel so sorry, so sorry as he watched it that he almost wept, and his mother would always take him away from the window. Then suddenly it gets very noisy: out of the tavern, with shouting, singing, and balalaikas, come some big peasants, drunk as can be, in red and blue shirts, with their coats thrown over their shoulders. "Get in, get in, everybody!" shouts one of them, still a young man, with a fat neck and a beefy face, red as a carrot. "I'll take everybody for a ride! Get in!" But all at once there is a burst of laughter and exclamations:

"Not with a nag like that!"

"Are you out of your mind, Mikolka-harnessing such a puny mare to such a cart!"

"That gray can't be less than twenty years old, brothers!"

"Get in, I'll take everybody!" Mikolka cries again, and he jumps into the cart first, takes the reins, and stands up tall in the front. "The bay just left with Matvei," he shouts from the cart, "and this little runt of a mare breaks my heart-I might as well kill her, she's not worth her feed. Get in, I say! I'll make her gallop! Oh, how she'll gallop!" And he takes a whip in his hand, already enjoying the idea of whipping the gray.

"Get in, why not!" guffaws come from the crowd. "She'll gallop, did you hear?"

"I bet she hasn't galloped in ten years!"

"She will now!"

"Don't spare her, brothers, take your whips, get ready!"

"Here we go! Whip her up!"

They all get into Mikolka's cart, joking and guffawing. About six men pile in, and there is still room for more. They take a peasant woman, fat and ruddy. She is dressed in red calico, with a bead-embroidered kichka on her head and boots on her feet; she cracks nuts and giggles all the while. The crowd around them is laughing, too, and indeed how could they not laugh: such a wretched little mare is going to pull such a heavy load at a gallop! Two fellows in the cart take up their whips at once to help Mikolka. To shouts of "Giddap!" the little mare starts pulling with all her might, but she can scarcely manage a slow walk, much less a gallop; she just shuffles her feet, grunts, and cowers under the lashes of the three whips showering on her like hail. The laughter in the cart and in the crowd redoubles, but Mikolka is angry, and in his rage he lashes the mare with quicker blows, as if he really thinks she can go at a gallop.

"Let me in, too, brothers!" one fellow, his appetite whetted, shouts from the crowd.

"Get in! Everybody get in!" cries Mikolka. "She'll pull everybody! I'll whip her to death!" And he lashes and lashes, and in his frenzy he no longer even knows what to lash her with.

"Papa, papa," he cries to his father, "Papa what are they doing? Papa, they're beating the poor horse!"

"Come along, come along!, says his father. "They're drunk, they're playing pranks, the fools-come along, don't look!" and he wants to take him away, but tears himself from his father's hands and, beside himself,. Runs to the horse. But the poor horse is in a bad way. She is panting, she stops, tugs again, nearly falls.

"Whip the daylights out of her!" shouts Mikolka. "That's what it's come to. I'll whip her to death!"

"Have you no fear of God, or what, you hairy devil!" an old man shouts from the crowd.

"Who ever saw such a puny little horse pull a load like that? Someone else adds.

"You'll do her in!" shouts a third.

"Hands off! It's my goods! I can do what I want. Get in, more of you. Everybody get in! She's damn well going to gallop! . . . "

Suddenly there is a burst of guffaws that drowns out everything: the mare cannot endure the quick lashing and, in her impotence, has begun to kick. Even the old man cannot help grinning. Really, such a wretched mare, and still kicking!

Two fellows from the crowd get two more whips and run to whip the horse from the side. Each takes a side.

"On the muzzle, on the eyes, lash her on the eyes!" shouts Mikolka.

"Let's have a song, brothers!" someone shouts from the cart, and everyone in the cart joins in. A drunken song breaks out, a tambourine rattles, they whistle to the refrain. The peasant woman cracks nuts and giggles.

. . . He runs past the horse, runs ahead of her, sees how they are lashing her on the eyes, right on the eys! He is crying. His heart is in his throat, the tears are flowing. One of the whips grazes his face, he does not feel it, he wrings his hands, he shouts, he rushes to the gray-bearded old man, who is shaking his head in disapproval of it all. A woman takes him by the hand and tries to lead him away; but he breaks free and runs back to the horse. She is already at her last gasp, but she starts kicking again.

"Ah, go to the hairy devil!" Mikolka cries out in rage. He drops his whip, bends down, and pulls a long and stout shaft from the bottom of the cart, takes one end of it in both hands and, with an effort, swings it aloft over the gray horse.

"He'll strike her dead!" people cry.

"He'll kill her!"

"It's my goods!" shouts Mikolka, and with a full swing he brings the shaft down. There is a heavy thud.

"Whip her, whip her! Why did you stop!" voices cry from the crowd.

Mikolka takes another swing, and another blow lands full on the miserable nag's back. Her hind legs give way, but then she jumps up and pulls, pulls with all the strength she has left, pulls this way and that, trying to move the cart; but six whips come at her from all sides, and the shaft is raised again and falls for a third time, then a fourth, in heavy, rhythmic strokes. Mikolka is furious that he was unable to kill her with one blow.

"She's tough!" they shout.

"She'll drop this time, brothers; it's the end of her!" one enthusiast yells from the crowd.

"Take an axe to her! Finish her off fast," shouts a third.

"Eh, let the fleas eat you! Step aside!" Mikolka cries out frenziedly, and he drops the shaft, bends down again, and pulls an iron crowbar from the bottom of the cart. "Look out!" he yells, and he swings it with all his might at the poor horse. The blow lands; the wretched mare staggers, sinks down, tries to pull, but another full swing of the crow bar lands on her back, and she falls to the ground as if all four legs had been cut from under her.

"Give her the final one!" shouts Mikolka, and he leaps from the cart as if he beside himself. Several fellows, also red and drunk, seize whatever they can find-whips, sticks, the shaft-and run to the dying mare. Mikolka plants himself at her side and starts beating her pointlessly on the back with the crowbar. The nag stretches out her muzzle, heaves a deep sigh, and dies.

"He's done her in!" they shout from the crowd.

"But why wouldn't she gallop!"

"It's my goods!" Mikolka cries, holding the crowbar in his hands, his eyes bloodshot. He stands there as if he regretted having nothing else to beat.

"Really, you've got no fear of God in you!" many voices now shout from the crowd.

But the poor boy is beside himself. With a shout he tears through the crowd to the gray horse, throws his arms around her dead, bleeding muzzle, and kisses it, kisses her eyes and mouth . . . Then he suddenly jumps up and in a frenzy flies at Mikolka with his little fists. At this moment his father, who has been chasing after him all the while, finally seizes him and carries him out of the crowd.

"Come along, come along now!" he says to him. "Let's go home!"

"Papa! What did they . . . kill . . . the poor horse for!" he sobs, but his breath fails, and the words burst like cries from his straining chest.

"They're drunk, they're playing pranks, it's none of our business, come along!" his father says. He throws his arms around his father, but there is such strain, such strain in his chest. He tries to take a breath, to cry out, and wakes up.

He awoke panting, all in a sweat, his hair damp with sweat, and started up in terror.

From Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, pp. 55-59