Two months passed, and Semyon commenced to make the acquaintance of his neighbors, the track-walkers on either side of him. One was a very old man, whom the authorities were always meaning to relieve. He scarcely moved out of his hut. His wife used to do all his work. The other track-walker, nearer the station, was a young man, thin, but muscular. He and Semyon met for the first time on the line midway between the huts. Semyon took off his hat and bowed. “Good health to you, neighbor,” he said.
The neighbor glanced askance at him. “How do you do?” he replied ; then turned around and made off.
Later the wives met. Semyon’s wife passed the time of day with her neighbor, but neither did she say much.
On one occasion Semyon said to her: “Young woman, your husband is not very talkative.”
The woman said nothing at first, then replied: “But what is there for him to talk about? Every one has his own business. Go your way, and God be with you.”
However, after another month or so they became acquainted. Semyon would go with Vasily along the line, sit on the edge of a pipe, smoke, and talk of life. Vasily, for the most part, kept silent, but Semyon talked of his village and of the campaign through which he had passed.
Sorrow in my day
“I have had no little sorrow in my day,” he would say; “and goodness knows I have not lived long. God has not given me happiness, but what He may give, so will it be. That’s so, friend Vasily Stepanych.”
Vasily Stepanych knocked the ashes out of his pipe against a rail, stood up, and said: “It is not luck which follows us in life, but human beings. There is no crueller beast on this earth than man. Wolf does not eat wolf, but man will readily devour man.”
“Come, friend, don’t say that; a wolf eats wolf.”
“The words came into my mind and I said it. All the same, there is nothing crueller than man. If it were not for his wickedness and greed, it would be possible to live. Everybody tries to sting you to the quick, to bite and eat you up.”
Semyon pondered a bit. “I don’t know, brother,” he said; “perhaps it is as you say, and perhaps it is God’s will.”
“And perhaps,” said Vasily, “it is waste of time for me to talk to you. To put everything unpleasant on God, and sit and suffer, means, brother, being not a man but an animal. That’s what I have to say.” And he turned and went off without saying good-bye.