Raskolnikov's dream

Raskolnikov dreamed a terrible dream. He dreamt that he was a child again, back in the little town they used to live in. He was a boy of seven, walking one holiday with his father outside the town. The afternoon was grey and sultry, the place just as he remembered it, except that the dream was more vivid than his recollection. He saw the little town as clearly as though he held it in his hand; there was not a single tree anywhere, except for a little wood very far away, dark against the horizon. A few paces beyond the last gardens of the town stood a large tavern, which always made an unpleasant impression on him, even frightened him, whenever he and his father passed it on their walks. There was always such a crowd there, so much shouting, laughter, and cursing, such hoarse bawling of songs, such frequent brawls, and so many people lounging about outside, drunk, with horrible distorted faces. If ever they met any of these, he would press close to his father, shivering. The unmade road winding past the tavern was always dusty, and the dust just here was always black. Some three hundred yards farther on it curved to the right round the cemetery. In the cemetery was a stone church with a green cupola, where he came once or twice a year with his father and mother to a requiem in memory of the dead grandmother whom he had never seen. On these occasions they always took with them, wrapped in a napkin, a white dish of rice boiled with sugar and raisins, with a cross of raisins on the top. He loved this church with its ancient icons, most of them without frames, and the old priest with his trembling head. Near his grandmother's grave, which was marked by a stone, was the little grave of his younger brother, who had died at six months old and whom he could not remember. He had been told about his little brother and every time they visited the cemetery he devoutly and reverently crossed himself before the little grave and bowed down and kissed it.

Now he dreamt that he and his father were passing the tavern on their way to the cemetery; he was holding his father's hand and looking fearfully over his shoulder at the tavern. There seemed to be some special festivity going on, which attracted his attention; there was a crowd of townsfolk and peasants and all kinds of rabble, all in their best clothes, and all drunk and bawling out songs. Near the entrance stood a cart, not an ordinary peasant's cart, but one of the huge drays drawn by great cart-horses, which are used for carrying bales of goods or barrels of liquor. He always loved to watch those massive dray-horses with their long manes and thick legs, plodding along at a steady pace and effortlessly pulling mountainous loads behind them, almost as if they found it easier than drawing an empty cart. The strange thing about this one was that a peasant's small, lean, decrepit old duncoloured horse was harnessed to it, one such as he had often seen straining under a high-piled load of hay or firewood, especially when the cart was stuck in a rut or in the mire, while the peasant lashed it mercilessly with his whip, sometimes even beating it about the head and eyes. He would be so sorry, so sorry for the poor horse that he almost cried, and mama always used to take him away from the window.

Suddenly there was a din of shouting and singing, and the strumming of balalaikas, as a number of peasants, big men in red and blue shirts, with their coats slung over their shoulders, came out of the tavern roaring drunk. 'Get in, everybody get in!' shouted one, a young man with a thick neck and fleshy face as red as a beetroot, 'I'll take the lot of you. Get in !' There was a burst of laughter and shouting.

'What, with that broken-down old nag?'

'You must be out of your wits, Mikolka, to put that little old mare to that cart!'

'The poor old beast must be twenty years old if she 's a day, lads !

'Get in! I'll take all of you,' shouted Mikolka again, jumping in first himself. He gathered up the reins and stood upright at the front of the cart. 'Matvey has taken the bay,' he shouted from the cart, 'and as for this old mare, lads, she 's just breaking my heart. It can kill her for aught I care; she's only eating her head off. Get in, I tell you ! I'll make her gallop ! She'll gallop, all right!' and he took up the whip, enjoying the thought of beating the old nag.

'Well, get in, then !' laughed the crowd. 'You heard him say he'd get a gallop out of her ! She can't have galloped for ten years, I dare say.'

'She's going to now!'

'Come on, lads, all bring your whips. No being sorry for her !'

'That's it; let her have it!'

They all clambered into Mikolka's wagon, with witticisms and roars of laughter. There were six of them, and there was still room for more. They took up with them a fat red-faced peasant-woman in red cotton, with a head-dress trimmed with beads, and clogs on her feet. She was cracking nuts and laugh- ing. The crowd round about was laughing too, and indeed, who could help laughing at the idea that such a sorry beast was going to pull such a load, and at a gallop? Two of the lads in the cart picked up their whips to help Mikolka. There was a roar of "Gee up!" and the wretched old nag tugged with all her might, but far from galloping she could barely stir at all, but simply scraped with her feet, grunting and flinching under the blows showering on her like hail from the three whips. The laughter in the cart and among the crowd redoubled, but Mikolka lost his temper and began raining blows on the little mare in a passion of anger, as if he really expected her to gallop.

'Let me come as well, lads,' shouted a fellow from the crowd, attracted by the sport.

'Get in, everybody get in,' yelled MikoLka, sshe'll pull you all. I'll give it her!' and he lashed away, so furious that he hardly knew what he was doing.

'Papa, papa,' cried the child, 'look what they are doing, papa ! They are beating the poor horse !'

'Come away,' said his father. 'They are drunk and playing the fool, the brutes. Come away; don't look!' and he tried to draw the boy away. But he tore himself from his father's grasp and ran heedlessly towards the horse. The poor creature was in a sad state. She was panting and kept stopping and then beginning to tug again, almost ready to drop.

'Beat her to death!' howled Mikolka, 'that's what it's come to.I'll give it her !'

'You're more like a brute beast than a proper Christian!' called an old man in the crowd.

'The very idea of such a horse pulling a load like that !' added another.

'You'll founder the poor old thing,' shouted a third.

'You keep out of this! She's mine, isn't she? I can do what I like with my own. Get in, some more of you ! Everybody get in ! She 's damn well going to gallop ! . . .'

Suddenly there was a great explosion of laughter that drowned everything else: the old mare had rebelled against the hail of blows and was lashing out feebly with her hoofs. Even the old man could not help laughing. Indeed, it was ludicrous that such a decrepit old mare should still have a kick left in her.

Two men in the crowd got whips, ran to the horse, one on each side, and began to lash at her ribs.

'Hit her on the nose and across the eyes, beat her across the eyes!' yelled Mikolka.

'Let's have a song, lads!' someone called from the wagon, and the others joined in. Somebody struck up a coarse song, a tambourine rattled, somebody else whistled the chorus. The fat young woman went on cracking nuts and giggling.

. . . The boy ran towards the horse, then round in front, and saw them lashing her across the eyes, and actually striking her very eyeballs. He was weeping. His heart seemed to rise into his throat, and tears rained from his eyes. One of the whips stung his face, but he did not feel it; he was wringing his hands and crying aloud. He ran to a grey-haired, grey-bearded old man, who was shaking his head in reproof. A peasant-woman took him by the hand and tried to lead him away, but he tore himself loose and ran back to the mare. She was almost at her last gasp, but she began kicking again.

'The devil fly away with you!' shrieked Mikolka in a fury.

He flung away his whip, stooped down and dragged up from the floor of the cart a long thick wooden shaft, grasped one end with both hands, and swung it with an effort over the wretched animal.

Cries arose: 'He'll crush her!' 'He'll kill her!'

'She's my property,' yelled Mikolka, and with a mighty swing let the shaft fall. There was a heavy thud.

'Lash her, lash her! Why are you stopping?' shouted voices in the crowd.

Mikolka flourished the heavy bar again and brought it down with another great swing on the back of the wretched creature. Her back legs gave way under her, but she staggered up, tug- ging and jerking one way and the other to get away; six whips rained blows on her from every side, and the shaft rose and fell a third time, and then a fourth, with a rhythmical swing. Mikolka was frenzied with rage at not having killed her with one blow.

'She's tough!' yelled one of the crowd.

'This time she'll go down, for certain, lads. She's finished,' shouted another.

'Take an axe to her ! Finish her off at one go !' cried a third.

'Oh, may you be bitten to death by mosquitoes!' shrieked Mikolka furiously, dropping the shaft and stooping down again to drag out an iron crowbar. 'Look out !' he yelled, and crashed it down with all his strength on the poor old mare. The blow was a crushing one; the mare staggered, sank down, and then made another effort to get up, but the crowbar struck another swinging blow on her back, and she fell as if her legs had been cut from under her.

'Finish her!' shouted Mikolka, and jumped down, quite beside himself, from the cart. A few of the young men, as drunk and red in the face as he, snatched up whatever came to hand-whips, sticks, the shaft-and ran to the dying mare. Mikolka stationed himself at the side and belaboured her back at random with the crowbar. The wretched animal stretched out her muzzle, drew a deep, labouring breath, and died.

The crowd was still shouting.

'He's done for her!'

'All the same, she didn't gallop !'

'My own property !' cried Mikolka, who, with bloodshot eyes, was standing with the crowbar in his hands and looking sorry that there was no longer anything to beat.

Many voices in the crowd were now calling, 'Shame ! You're no better than a heathen!'

The poor little boy was quite beside himself. He pushed his way, shrieking, through the crowd to the mare, put his arms round the dead muzzle dabbled with blood and kissed the poor eyes and mouth . . . Then he sprang up and rushed furiously at Mikolka with his fists clenched. At that moment his father, who had been looking for him for a long time, caught him up and carried him out of the crowd.

'Come along, come along!' he said. 'Let us go home.'

'Papa, why did they . . . kill . . . the poor horse?' the boy sobbed, catching his breath. The words forced themselves out of his choking throat in a scream.

'They are drunk, they are playing the fool. It is none of our business. Let us go.' He put his arm round his father, but his breast was convulsed with sobs. He struggled for breath, tried to cry out, and awoke.

He woke panting and sweating, his hair damp with perspiration, and sprang up in alarm.

'Thank God, it was only a dream,' he said, sitting down under a tree and drawing long breaths. 'But why did I dream it? Can I be starting some sort of fever? It was such a horrible dream".