Hajji Tudose

IBeyond the Stone Cross brothel district, on the left of Vitan Road, there rises the HolyRoadAltarChurch. And a mighty proud church that is! Such paintings, inside and outside, are seldom to be seen but in the abodes of old. If you listen to its parishioners, especially those quite long in the tooth, you'll pretty sure be struck all of a heap when they start praising their church to the skies. Well, their holy abode houses no end of wonders, which they immediately try to reckon using their hands. And mind you, if they happen to lose count they hit the ceiling. Or they may bite their fingers when counting, for this is how they've learnt to do it: they raise their palms in front of their eyes, and then stick them under your nose, fingers spread out, and they tick off each wonder mentioned with a "that's one", putting one finger at a time in their mouth. In the heat of the enumeration they forget the fingers belong to them and they may chew a little, so their speech gets inflamed, and this inflammation turns to squabble, and the said squabble into downright brawl. How could they come together? For each wants to praise and count only what he wants, not what others laud or number.If you happen to be a stranger to these places, the moment they lay eyes on you, three or four old geezers (who usually listen open-mouthed, their caps slid back to their napes, to the songs of kids in the school of the famed master Niculitza) sniff you out like hounds, knowing for sure you're an alien and have not seen their church. They rub their hands; they cough; they clear their throats, and then, tip-top, with a long, mighty proud gait they come to meet you, try to strike a conversation with you, every one of them with the same words, the same lilt in their voice, and head pulled back:"Well, lad, where do you come from? What brings you… over here… my, my, what do you think… that we'll have your head on a platter?..."If you're so uninspired as to mumble anything about those dried-up rod-backed saints – some with spears, others with swords, some mounted, others on foot, their hands crossed on their chest so that their hands exceed their bodies – the old men will right away pull up to their belts the tails of their long, red velvet coats, and spit these words off the tip of their tongue:"Well, baby, there're lots of painters, mighty talented…We know that…we've seen them working like heathens, turning out saints with human eyes, with hands and feet like ours… but you see, these are real saints. You, the youth of today play fast and loose with the law, you play fast and loose with writing, and play fast and loose with saints, too…" IIThat is how they judged me, too, and I just cannot forget the small, striped eyes of the founder, who explained the paintings to me, sticking his forefinger out to the saints and sighing as if he wanted to decry the times and beliefs of yore, now dead and gone. They were four. Three with long coats, caps with lacquered peaks, cracked and all luster gone. Master Hajji was wearing a plastic coat, yellowish, washed out, stained with oil and wax drippings.The founder kept on talking, and the other three laughed in my face as if saying: "Give up, surrender, don't mess around with our founder for he's seen a lot and been through a lot.""Look," the founder told me in a fit, "what do you want? You don't like this Saint George? How dauntlessly he sits on the horse! And how he kills the filthy dragon as if crushing a worm, no big deal. And here is martyr Mina… mocking the Evil One. How about the head of arch-hierarch Nicholas… what a splendid, dainty, decent looking old man! Ho-ho, mister, as long as you live you won't find such fine things! Not today… National Guard with rooster plumes and a grocer's whiff… and drums… boom-boom… right… left… attention! Whereas the hold abodes… shame!"The founder, hot under collar, could barely breathe. I had decided to keep my mouth shut. From the pulpit door there stared devils with claws three times longer than fingers, disheveled men, long, thin angels, and above all, the good Lord, on gray clouds, haloed by a rainbow.The founder could no longer restrain himself. He raised his hands. His sleeves rolled back to his shoulders, and he uttered in a shrill voice:"See how the demons hang on to the scale of the righteous, but these climb higher and higher on the balance, for a good deed sends off from earth two devils and more… look here…" and he pointed his finger to a row of naked people, white as a sheet, setting off to heaven. "They were good, kind, and did not covet the goods of others: they were not envious, did not steal, or misuse the name of the Lord, or stint like they do today…"The Hajji bowed his head, pulling together the tails of his coat.Two of the old geezers smiled and their sly smirk seemed to say: "What a fine speaker the founder is! Give up, surrender, don't mess with the founder for he'll make you bite the dust!""And there are," the founder continued, "the heartless rich who go into the Gehenna fire carrying sacks on their backs, humped with loads of gold and silver!"The Hajji coughed, pulled the peak of his cap over his eyes and turned his back on The Last Judgment."Amass treasures in heaven…" the founder cried, waiving his fist at the ruthless rich who were quietly proceeding to hell… "-amass treasures in heaven for then you would rather put a rope to the eye of a needle than a rich man to the kingdom of heaven!"The founder kept his clenched fist directed at the wall. The other two uncovered their heads, crossed themselves and murmured: "Oh, Lord, how mighty and merciful Thou art!"Master Hajji slipped away in silence and was gone in a jiffy."Run Hajji, run… this doesn't sit well with him…" the founder began, "for he never drops a penny into the church box." (The founder was very particular about the church box.) "And at home he's got mountains of gold locked away. He keeps on burying pots, and he's got only a niece, settled here to guard his hovel when the old man was away on a pilgrimage to Mecca. And he doesn't give her in marriage, he doesn't dig a well, or give a piece of silver to the altar where he receives benediction, the hypocrite!"They all started talking heatedly."The Hajji to give away anything? The Hajji to give…?""Haven't you seen him steal into pubs and groceries?" asked the founder. "He goes into a store, grabs an olive furtively, puts it into his mouth, munches it, chomp, chomp, chews and swallows … 'Well, how much are these olives, master so and so?' 'That much,' comes the reply. 'Expensive, very expensive in these times. Hard times!' And he leaves… He crosses the street, goes into another shop… Filches some caviar… Plomp into his mouth! Chomp, chomp! 'How much this caviar?' 'So and so…" 'Too dear. Hard times!' And he leaves. He visits the pastrami vendor on the corner. 'Well, my man, how is your merchandise? I surely will never again go to so and so shop!' He takes a slice and wolfs it down. 'How much is it?' 'Just a few pennies.' 'Oh, no, the price is sky-high. Where are the good old times? My, my, what hard times!' And he gets out. When he's thirsty he walks into a shop that sells millet beer. 'Let me have a taste… what's this gnat's pee?' He gulps down what remains on the bottom of a cup. 'Phew, sauerkraut juice! Who drinks this stuff? And who pays for it? Oh, what times!' And he walks out. That's how he eats and drinks although he sleeps on mountains of silver."And the old men burst into side-splitting laughter, talking pell-mell, one shrewder than the other and cunning, twisting their thin moustaches, turned up like white fangs going to the nose."The tops of his boots? From the days when he was a lad..""His heels lose their taps? He nails something on them.""Whenever he sees me he says: Give me a miserable cig for I left my tobacco home.""Home, you bet! He smokes motherwort. He picks it up in summer, dries it, rubs it between his hands, and puts it in a box. He smokes it all winter, until he's blue in the face.""Did you look under the Hajji's coat?" asked the founder laughing and twisting his moustache. "No… Well, I'll tell you… One day, after the church service we were talking… several of us, and a few ladies. The Hajji was stuck to a chair. He was spying for a wafer. The sexton, naughty boy, pointed to the floor, in front of us, to a little coin, and said: 'Master Hajji, I think you dropped it during the Eucharist.' The Hajji jumped to his feet. He got close to the coin, riveted his eyes on it, and didn't kick it with his foot but put out his hand… When he bent half way, we, the ladies and gentlemen at his back, burst into a terrible laughter, and we laughed and laughed… The Hajji had forgotten the seat of his pants home… Because of our mirth he didn't dare bend and pick the coin up. He just took a long look at it and went out of the church with tears in his eyes: 'It was mine! Mine!'"The sexton knew from the Hajji's niece that for ten years the Hajji had been cutting from the seat of his pants to mend his trousers whenever they thinned out. The coat too had been longer but he had kept on shearing from its tails to patch the sleeves. IIINobody had ever seen smoke rise from the Hajji's chimney. Even when a chilling wind was blowing snow up to the house eaves. Even if the waters froze over. So what! The Hajji didn't care if it was bitter cold on Epiphany night or if in July dogs went raving mad with the heat. In winter he shivered, and in summer he sweated.All life long, whenever his niece – living in his house – mentioned at Christmas that they should slaughter a pig like any Christian did, the old man would reply:"It saddens me, niece, to listen to those squeals… it pains me… yeah, that's how I am, so pitiful…""Then buy it already slaughtered."That's what Leana told him, swallowing hard at the thought of the rind, while the old man promptly answered with calm:"A pig… too much meat… it goes bad… there's just the two of us…"Then came Easter."Uncle, let's paint some eggs red…""That's stupid! Red eggs?… Better to eat them fresh! Red eggs, stale eggs…""Just a few.""If we have just a few, we'll be making the fire for nothing, we'll be buying things for nothing… Yes, useless expenses… hard times!""Yes…but a chop of lamb…""Lamb… What kind of lamb?… How is that…? It smells of goat… Easter is too much in summertime…""What summertime, uncle Tudose, it's now raining, now snowing!""Not really snowing… don't you see that it doesn't keep? As soon as the flakes fall they melt away… I'm dying with this heat!… Oh!""And I'm dying of cold…""You're dying of cold… that will be the end of you… That's how you've always been… greedy and never pleased!"Leana kept her mouth shut and swallowed hard. She was poor, she had nobody. She clammed up because if he blew his top, the old man would shout, slam doors, and cast himself on the bed, lamenting till midnight, and naturally forgetting to give her even bread.As a kid, the Hajji had been good and quiet. You didn't hear him speak or fool around. He didn't tear his shoes, or shred his coat. Whatever he laid his hands on he did well.Once he became an apprentice haberdasher, he would speak nicely and passionately amidst his comrades."Ever since I was a little something I understood the world," he said. "I reckoned very clearly that a rag in the garbage represents someone's toil which you come to own once you lay it by. So, if mother gave me a coin to buy myself a biscuit I would look into my school bag. If there was a slice of bread, lucky me, I had what to eat. Didn't I get enough bread? Why should I need biscuits for? So, I would put the coin away. And one coin plus another coin are two, and plus another one, are three. You laugh… laugh. But if you hold money in your hand you'll see it makes you feel cool when it's hot outside, and warm when it's freezing. Suffice it to think of what you can do with the money that you can taste the joy of the thing you didn't buy. You felt that joy? Then why buy the thing any more? You laugh, go ahead, laugh… what brighter thing is there than a fire of coins spread on the table? Laugh… yes, go ahead… squanderers… you'll never feel true joy in your life…"One day another apprentice, seeing how Tudose trembled and how his eyes shone when he spoke about money, told him jokingly:"You put by money, boy, and one day… puff, it's gone… and you can't find it any more…"Hearing such sacrilegious words, Tudose rose on his toes, clenched his fists, took them to his mouth, and shouted with his eyes closed:"Only if you shoved the whole earth into your pockets… Only then will you steal my money! I tell you! I tell you so! I don't have any money… not a penny… one can't have any in these times…"Tudose finally got to work. He economized. He did not drink, he did not loaf in the neighborhood. He ate bread and drank millet beer. After ten years he got to being the partner – after another previous five – of his master.In the first years of the partnership he grew thin, gaunt, and at 30 he already seemed old. For fear and worry, he wilted on his feet. His former master would invite him to his place to have dinner and plump him up a little. And how neatly he ate! Picking bone after bone and leaving nothing on any.He got a little better. They were all having a picnic, sitting on the grass, celebrating and drinking wine on May Day. The master then spoke:"Tudose, don't you want me to find a nice, decent girl for you, with a little bit of dowry? You know, a child or two, and then you have something to live for.""It can't be, master, it can't be! A woman and kids ask for food, clothes, books… and I have none. The little I own is invested, and the money from a business belongs to whoever wants to cheat you.""Tudose, my boy, don't talk like that, you may call the evil eye!"Evil eye? He pulled his coat to his chest, then mumbled thoughtfully:"Can't be, master… kids ask for bread, clothes, books, and a woman wants dresses… to go for walks… a fur coat… embroidered skirts. Impossible, master… believe me, it's out of the question!" IVWhat happiness for the Hajji when he was left alone, master of the business! The first day he went into heat. His cheeks fired up, his head was in flames, his eyes smarted. Every hour he stepped out, to look at the store. He walked round it, searched its rooms and walls in detail. He got on his toes in order to cast his eyes across the roof. The store? His rosy, chubby child. And he was a father happy to have something to caress. The store? A charming woman. He? He was a madman sitting on his knees in front of it, his eyes closed and his heart affrighted.His dream, his only dream in this world had come true! He was by himself. His were the hanks, the skeins and the balls of lace. His the weaving looms, the reels and the flock of wool. Only he opened now the desk. Only he negotiated, made prices and received in his own hand the beautiful round coins.The first evening when he locked the doors and bolted the shutters, he cast glances everywhere, and barked at his apprentices at the least wrong move."Slowly, move real slow, the doors are not made of iron!""Be careful, lazybones, not to break the windows, they're not made of iron!""Don't slam the shutters, short-sighted dope! They're not made of iron!""Slow, go slow on the locks, mollycoddle, they're not… and what if they are? Each door has a lock, a device, and that costs money!"He turned back ten times to behold his store again. Eventually, he gazed long one more time, smiled, and his eyes filled with years. Then he left, mumbling:"Poor little thing… so sad… shutters down, door locked… like a man with his eyes closed! When the day breaks, it opens its eyes as big as the windows, and seems to talk, luring the passersby in, to say hello, to buy something… the wheedler…"His head bowed, his moustache on alert, wiping the sweat off his brow, hurrying and slowing down his gait, chewing and coughing, he went home. He spoke. He saw himself fighting with the others, the apprentices, the boys, the petty customers and the wholesalers. He smiled to some, shook the hand of others, tempted them, cheated them.Dead tired, he got home.At the crossroads leading to Vergului Road, in the middle of a lush garden there stood, out of sight, the Hajji's little house.He opened the door of the porch, and then quickly shut it. He entered a small, somber room, and lighted a tallow candle. He sat on the bed with his head in his hands, and his elbows propped on his knees.The walls were yellow and cracked. The beams in the ceilings stood black and dusty, the icons on the walls featured washed out saints, the plank bed was covered with a fleecy blanket, with white and scarlet stripes, two straw pillows to the wall, and a woolen one with a dirty cover. The floor was made of cold bricks. A melancholy room, dark, like a grave through whose small window you would feel afraid to look, lest you might see dead men resting on their backs.The Hajji gave a start and blew out the candle."It costs money. I can very well think in the dark. Oh, God, how kind you are, how wise! If there was no sun how many candles I'd have to burn in the shop in daytime! What expense!"No sooner had he laid himself in bed than thoughts started to prod him, first meek, friendly, then suspicious and glum.It was good he was now alone with the shop! The master was kind, honest, but… anyway, two keys to one desk… forty fingers digging into the coins… four pockets and two accounts. Who knows! By mistake… coins are so small… it's easy to have them slip between your fingers… or into your pocket… into your bag… the lining of your coat. His master was good, and honest, but he excused too many times the apprentices, the hirelings, the hands when they broke or tore something in the store. When a panhandler came, or two, or twenty: "Let's give them something, for we have kids." Yes, but he, for one, didn't. And half of the money thus thrown away was his work too, was his money, too, his comfort and happiness. Not to mention the clothes the master bought for him behind his back, the Easter candles, the wafers, the holy oil, for the master took him to church by force… and the church box that he feared so much… it was plain as the nose on one's face: food, credit and the name of his master produced less than the mercy of his master, the clothes for his master's dinner, his master's devotion and his ill-skill in selling haberdashery.The Hajji rolled in his bed. He was too happy. He could not sleep. He laughed and he sighed. He was wide awake and yet he dreamt. What a dream! If only it didn't end! If here, in the dark and sultry heat, he stood up and the hoard of coins would grow like a tumult of water, from his toes to his head and above... oh, how happy the Hajji would be! Before passing out he would see the face and eternity of God. If death had a golden scythe the Hajji would gladly thrust both hands into its blade!Raindrops kept falling on the windows of the Hajji's house. He gave a start. It was nobody. He wiped the sweat off his brow. He breathed hard, as if he had climbed a hill with a load on his back. His heart was pounding: the dream of a happy death had turned into a life of terror. The heavy drops struck at the window. The thought someone could rob him made Tudose jump out of the bed. He lit a candle. He was white as a sheet. His long tousled hair was hanging in whisks on his nape and forehead. He looked at the icons and crossed himself. He remembered God. Of course he thought of Him! He thought he suffered on earth because of slothful apprentices and thieves. They wouldn't be stealing from him a bag with ten thousand gold coins, buried under the bricks under the bed but would steal his soul ten thousand times poured as it was in each gold coin. He had never understood what ten, a hundred or one thousand meant. Those were words, numbers on paper or in a tally. His heart was ten times into ten coins, and one hundred times into one hundred coins. In a thousand, his heart went one thousand times. In ten thousand, he did not see a heap of coins but ten thousand children of his, each with a face and life of its own. That is why he was thinking of God."Let me light the candle, although the Merciful ought to see in darkness too!" said the Hajji and rose shaking in front of the icons.He took the candle out of the glass, placed it on the bed, drained it and straightened the wick. He then poured oil from a pitcher into the dirty glass. He measured the oil with his eyes…"A thimbleful of oil! Just a thimbleful! It's too much… waste… it's almost dawn… how will the Almighty see a yellow flick when the sun bathes the world in its light?"He put the glass on an earthen plate and poured water. The oil trickled into the plate, as thin as a knife blade, only a layer left in the glass.He cuddled under the blanket. The candle sizzled and cracked. The Hajji mumbled in his moustache, dizzily:"Why does it crackle? Bad omen! After all, I poured enough oil…why does it sizzle? Please, don't let my store catch fire!" VThat's how the Hajji's life descended into old age. An endless concatenation of sweet torments, of not swallowing anything, and not wearing anything. Without fire, without cooked food, giving a start whenever he trampled his shadow under his feet, bolting himself indoors in daytime, groping at night in his room with a tallow candle in his hands, like a shriveled ghost.In his old age, the haberdashery business fell on evil days. He took down the shop and sold everything."A lifetime of work, from the age of eight to sixty, and all I've managed is to secure the daily bread."One thought above all disrupted the happiness of this old man for whom the coins he had saved and hidden away represented his only friends, children and wife:"God knows everything… He requites them all! And sees them all! How does He see? I never robbed anybody... I never took anybody's money!""He sees them all, requites them all!" The icons and the words heard in church lingered in his mind. What wrong does a merciless rich man do since he does not steal or beat anyone? If rich men gave something to the poor every day then the poor would become rich, and the rich poor. How would that benefit God? His body had not desired a woman; his lips had not had a child to kiss; his belly had not growled after rich food, and now he was not to see the bright face of his idol for an eternity?One day the old man, unable to take it any more, made up his mind:"Yes, yes, I'll get on the good side of G… I'll visit the holy places! What sacrifice could be greater than my sacrifice?"The holy places… holy wood… those who cannot go there… one can buy holy wood… over there all the woods must be holy…So the old man went on a pilgrimage and returned hallowed – a hajji, holier yet dingier than when he had left.Whenever they asked about his voyage he would chime in with some words about the wonders of the holy wood. He had seen with his own eyes how lepers had been made well by the holy wood. Touched with a small, tiny piece of wood, their sores healed right away, smooth skin replacing raw flesh. A hermit lived for ten years without eating a thing, jut smelling the holy wood. And a madman became wise after being touched on the forehead with a piece of holy wood.By recounting these wonders and crossing himself, the Hajji sold holy wood to old men and women, to widows.The Hajji, chirpy for having ingratiated himself with God and happy to have recovered the money spent on the pilgrimage – and even topped it – , would mumble looking around him:"What commerce, what business, what a load of money could be made out of this! Holy wood sells like hot cakes! Forty years ago a store with holy wood would have covered me in gold. Today the world is becoming so mean… too little faith… Oh, God, God!"And the Hajji crossed himself because the world was going to the dogs.Wretched old age is hard. Now he coughed more often and longer. His blood could no longer withstand the cold. His memory was growing short. He often quarreled with himself:"It's eight thousand!""Is not! It's ten!""What ten?""Then over there it's eight!""No way! I counted it last night!"He had also turned hard of hearing. If he spoke louder, he heard himself, got frightened, and looked around everywhere…"Hear, Hajji, dumb head, you shout like mad, what's the matter with you? So you don't have anything, not a thing, you're poor like a church mouse!"And to himself: "But I do, I do have something, yet it's better I say I don't have a dime!" VIUntil he turned eighty the Hajji did not suffer from anything serious. Not even a toothache. He lost all his teeth in his old age, some in hard crust, others in soft crumb.Well, it so happened the winter that year was very harsh. The trees in the garden cracked with the frosting. Thick, webbed icicles had formed on the Hajji's windows. His niece was struggling in vain to cut an eye through the cold layers of ice. She rounded her mouth, and blew hard, all in vain!"Put more heart into it, Leana," the Hajji cried, crumpled up in a corner of the bed."I'm blowing, uncle Hajji, I'm blowing, but the cold's got to me and my breath is freezing," answered the niece, chilled, for all the rug on her back. "You should give me money to buy some wood, or we'll turn to ice till tomorrow!""What? Wood now, in this cold? Imagine in this weather what a cart of wood would cost? A gold piece… hear, a gold piece!"Leana went out grumbling into the next room. The Hajji was now alone. Melancholy, dark and cold. The wind whistled through the chimney, cold as ice, and could not find either coals or embers in the fireplace. The Hajji trembled and munched a piece of bread. Shivers went down his spine. He could no longer feel his feet from his soles to his knees.The snow had fallen thick, almost touching the window sills. Not a single soul in the neighborhood, not even a dog.The Hajji fell asleep, disturbed, for if winter went on like this, he wouldn't make it without wood. And how expensive the fire wood had to be! That was it, he'd finish winter beggared. He was sleeping, and tossing. All night long he dreamt of basking in front of a big fire.The following morning his niece found him half frozen. He could hardly whisper: "Leana, fire, or I'm dead," and gave her a gold coin, closing his eyes. He was ashamed lest the piece of gold realized how easily he parted with it, casting it into the cruel arms of the world. He gave a painful sight.The fire crackled in the fireplace. The mound of coals cast a warm, reddish glow on the facing wall. The ceiling cracked and the walls sweated. Leana, bare-foot, basked in the heat. The old man had left the blanket, feeling now warm, now shivery. His feet trembled. He was starved. His whole body begged for a broth, like never before in his life."Why do you feed so much wood into the fire? Too much! Leana, don't you hear! And I'm still cold… too much wood! I'm hungry… you'll set the house on fire! Oh, this bread not longer sates me… my feet won't take me anywhere!""Perhaps you're sick," Leana says. "Let me call someone. There's a doctor next to the apothecary…""I won't have anyone in my house!" the Hajji shouted. "What a doctor writes on his prescription you can't pay a lifetime! I'm sound and hale, better than ever!"But as he tried to take a few steps, he fell back on the bed, saying: "Oh, yes, I've never been better!"After three days of ague, the Hajji rose, withered and jaunty, his eyes sunken, his hair tousled and damp. Leana asked him quietly if he didn't want anything."I would," the Hajji replied sadly, "I would like a chicken broth, with some lemon in it… lemon is dear… a few grains of citric acid… but mind, not too big a chicken… small and heavy."In the evening, Leana laid a towel in the middle of the bed. On it she put a bowl with warm broth. Steam went up from the dish. A yellowish wing stuck out of the liquid studded with specks of fat. A tin spoon rested on the rim of the bowl. Next to it there was a mug with some wine and a paper cover. The Hajji took in the picture greedily, wiped his brow with utter regret and exclaimed:"What a childish whim!"He saw himself melting clods of gold with his own hand, pouring the metal into the bowl and taking it with the spoon.He went to the bed, and started to eat. He slurped, and sucked in his hollow cheeks. He frowned, covering his eyes with his brows. Then he barked at Leana, throwing away the spoon:"A wooden one… this one's got verdigris!"Leana, coveting the broth and swallowing hard, went out and fetched a wooden spoon.The Hajji began to slurp anew. When he'd had enough, he shuddered and spat several times."Take this broth away! I've had enough… I feel verdigris in my mouth… sour… salty… an insufferable smell! Take it away… out with it! Don't you see, I'm sipping my own life away!"Leana took the bowl and went out.The Hajji dropped his head on the straw pillow. His whole body was in flames. What fire! A bottomless pit seemed to open under him. And he dived deeper, and deeper. And the taste of gold, the vivid blood of gold! Miserable father who tasted the flesh of his children. For him the broth had the smell of gold!When Leana entered the room, he propped himself on his elbows and cried out: "Put out the fire… give back the coals and the soot! Throw away the broth… and return the fluff and the pieces…I want half my money back, if not all!" And he began to weep tremendously."Assassin! Madman! Miserable! You will never have enough!" Leana looked at him flabbergasted. Then the meowing of a cat, her companion in hunger and cold, the only creature to comfort her and whom she caressed, was heard at the door.Leana opened the door ajar. The Hajji looked at it in desperation, and, seeing the cat stealing in, he yelled:"Cut its tail! Shorten it! Two yards of tail! By the time the cat is in the room it's freezing cold! Should I spend money on the cat, too?! Where is the axe? I'll chop it off myself!"He rose to his feet, which trembled, bent, and crackled at the joints. The Hajji bowed down, opening his big, red eyes. He opened his mouth, and fell back.Leana, terrified, ran outside, crossing herself.It had grown dark. She stood guard at the door, shivering, her heart pounding. She would have liked to go in, but the awful thought of finding him dead or raving mad froze her in her footsteps. The wind blew hard in the house eaves. The snow outside had barricaded their door. The porch was dark and cold.By midnight she seemed to hear someone crawling on all fours in the Hajji's room. She listened good and made out a clinking of coins."It's