begins to whimper pitifully, persistently. The man returns and kicks him with his foot. The dog starts with fright, turns around and whines, then sits down again supported on his fore legs, and trembles.
Something incomprehensible, vexatious and hopeless takes possession of the man's whole being. He forgets his comrade who is awaiting him, forgets the work that is to be accomplished that night, and with his whole excited spirit abandons himself to the dumb dog. He cannot convince himself that the dog does not comprehend either the danger, or his words, or the necessity of going home at once. He lifts him angrily by the skin of his neck and so carries him ten steps nearer to the house. There he deposits him carefully on the snow and commands: "Away with you, go home!"
Then without looking around he proceeds toward the city. After walking a hundred steps he stops, sunk in thought, and looks back. Nothing is to be seen; not a sound is heard. The frozen expanse of river stretches far and free. Stealthily prowling along, he returns to the place where he had left the dog, and on arriving there breaks out into desperate profanity. On the very spot where he had put him sits the dog and trembles. The man inclines his head, and sees the little round, dripping eyes, the piteous, small, wet nose, together with the entire body a-tremble.
"Will you be gone now? I will strike you dead on the spot!" he cries, raising his hand with a threatening gesture. Gathering the whole vehemence of his rage and excitement into his gaze, with rolling eyes he fixes a momentary glare upon the dog, and bawls aloud to frighten him. The dog looks aside with his tearful eyes and trembles.
"What am I to do with you?" says the man in consternation.
He squats down, curses and swears, because he does not know what to do. He speaks of his comrade; of the work which he has on hand that night, and threatens the dog with swift and terrible death.
The dog looks aside and trembles mutely.
"Ah, you fool," he cries in desperation, then seizes the little body as if it were something hideous, as if he entertains a deadly hatred for it, deals him two hard blows and—carries him home.
And the houses, the fences and the gardens break into a wild laughter as he passes by them. The gardens and the vegetable beds laugh with a dull, sullen mockery. The lighted windows snigger with malice, and the mute dark houses with their frozen timbers and their mysterious menacing inmates, laugh a dumb somber laugh: 'Look! look! There goes a man who has murder in his mind, and he carries a shabby dog. Look at him! Look at him!" And his heart grows anxious and he grows greatly embarrassed. Wrath and fear envelop him as in a cloud of smoke, and a new, strange feeling possesses him, such as he had never yet experienced in the entire course of his perilous and tormenting existence as a thief — an amazing impotence, an inner weakness. So powerful his muscles, so clenched his fist, yet his heart so soft, so void of will! He hates the dog and carries him with clenched hands as carefully, as watchfully, as if it were something infinitely precious, which a capricious fate has bestowed upon him. And he apologizes sullenly:
"What could I do with him if he would not go himself? How could I help it? There was no other way."
And the mute laughter grows and enshrouds the man who has been planning a murder for that night, and who now carries a black, shabby dog. It is not only the houses and the gardens now that laugh: all the men he has ever known laugh—all the thefts, robberies, burglaries and acts of violence he has ever committed laugh; all the prisons, all the blows, all the insults that his old emaciated body has ever suffered laugh.
"Look! he was to commit a robbery to-night, and he carries a dog in his hands! He was going to commit a burglary, but he is too late on account of this little, shabby dog, ha— ha—ha—old fool!"
"Look, look at him!"
And swifter and ever swifter he pushes onward, his body doubled up, his head drooping, like an ox ready to strike out with his horns as if he has to make his way through invisible ranks of unseen foes, and as if he carries a banner inscribed with the mysterious and mighty words:
"But how could it be helped? How could it be otherwise? Impossible!"
And ever softer, ever duller, grows the suppressed laughter of the invisible foes, and ever thinner, ever rarer, grow their compact ranks. This is perhaps because the clouds melt down in fluffy flakes of snow, and a white, moving bridge joins heaven and earth. Feeling more at ease, the man walks more slowly, and in his angry hands the half-frozen, black little dog gradually returns to life. Somewhere deep down into his little body the frost had chased the tender warmth, but now he steps forth, awake, bright and as strangely beautiful in its mystery and incomprehensiveness as the appearance of light and fire in the midst of deep darkness and the tempest.