December 16, 2019

The Signal part 5

Vasily kept silent for a while, pulling at his pipe, then added quietly: “A little more and I should have done for him.”

“You are hot-tempered.”

“No, I am not hot-tempered, but I tell the truth and think. Yes, he will still get a bloody nose from me. I will complain to the Chief. We will see then!” And Vasily did complain to the Chief.

Once the Chief came to inspect the line. Three days later important personages were coming from St. Petersburg and would pass over the line. They were conducting an inquiry, so that previous to their journey it was necessary to put everything in order. Ballast was laid down, the bed was leveled, the sleepers carefully examined, spikes driven in a bit, nuts screwed up, posts painted, and orders given for yellow sand to be sprinkled at the level crossings. The woman at the neighboring hut turned her old man out to weed.

Cleaned and polished

Semyon worked for a whole week. He put everything in order, mended his kaftan, cleaned and polished his brass plate until it fairly shone. Vasily also worked hard. The Chief arrived on a trolley, four men working the handles and the levers, making the six wheels hum. The trolley traveled at twenty versts an hour, but the wheels squeaked. It reached Semyon’s hut, and he ran out and reported in soldierly fashion. All appeared to be in repair.

“Have you been here long?” inquired the Chief.

“Since the second of May, your Excellency.”

“All right. Thank you. And who is at hut No. 164?”

The traffic inspector (he was traveling with the Chief on the trolley) replied: “Vasily Spiridov.”

“Spiridov, Spiridov Ah! is he the man against whom you made a note last year?”

“He is.”

“Well, we will see Vasily Spirodov. Go on!” The workmen laid to the handles, and the trolley got under way. Semyon watched it, and thought, “There will be trouble between them and my neighbor.”

About two hours later he started on his round. He saw some one coming along the line from the cutting. Something white showed on his head. Semyon began to look more attentively. It was Vasily. He had a stick in his hand, a small bundle on his shoulder, and his cheek was bound up in a handkerchief.
“Where are you off to?” cried Semyon.

Vasily came quite close. He was very pale, white as chalk, and his eyes had a wild look. Almost choking, he muttered: “To town to Moscow to the head office.”

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