“Head office? Ah, you are going to complain, I suppose. Give it up! Vasily Stepanych, forget it.”
“No, mate, I will not forget. It is too late. See! He struck me in the face, drew blood. So long as I live I will not forget. I will not leave it like this!”
Semyon took his hand. “Give it up, Stepanych. I am giving you good advice. You will not better things”
“Better things! I know myself I shan’t better things. You were right about Fate. It would be better for me not to do it, but one must stand up for the right.”
“But tell me, how did it happen?”
“How? He examined everything, got down from the trolley, looked into the hut. I knew beforehand that he would be strict, and so I had put everything into proper order. He was just going when I made my complaint. He immediately cried out: ‘Here is a Government inquiry coming, and you make a complaint about a vegetable garden. Here are privy councilors coming, and you annoy me with cabbages!’ I lost patience and said something not very much, but it offended him, and he struck me in the face. I stood still; I did nothing, just as if what he did was perfectly all right. They went off; I came to myself, washed my face, and left.”
“And what about the hut?”
“My wife is staying there. She will look after things. Never mind about their roads.”
Vasily got up and collected himself. “Good-bye, Ivanov. I do not know whether I shall get any one at the office to listen to me.”
“Surely you are not going to walk?”
“At the station I will try to get on a freight train, and to-morrow I shall be in Moscow.”
The neighbors bade each other farewell. Vasily was absent for some time. His wife worked for him night and day. She never slept, and wore herself out waiting for her husband. On the third day the commission arrived. An engine, luggage-van, and two first-class saloons; but Vasily was still away. Semyon saw his wife on the fourth day. Her face was swollen from crying and her eyes were red.
“Has your husband returned?” he asked. But the woman only made a gesture with her hands, and without saying a word went her way.
Semyon had learned when still a lad to make flutes out of a kind of reed. He used to bum out the heart of the stalk, make holes where necessary, drill them, fix a mouth-piece at one end, and tune them so well that it was possible to play almost any air on them. He made a number of them in his spare time, and sent them by his friends amongst the freight brakemen to the bazaar in the town.