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I.

One of them was called Jig-Leg, and the other Hopeful, and they were thieves by profession.

They lived on the outskirts of the town, in the suburb that straggled strangely along the gully, in One of those crazy shanties compounded of clay and half-rotten wood—probably the rubbish sweepings chucked down the gully. The chums went a-thieving in the villages adjoining the town, for in the town itself it was difficult to thieve, and their neighbours in the suburb were not worth robbing.

Both of them were cautious, modest chaps—they were not above appropriating a piece of cloth, a peasant's coarse coat, or an axe, a bit of harness, a shirt, or a hen, and they always gave a very wide berth for a very long time to any village where they happened to "cop" anything. But despite such a sensible mode of procedure, the suburban muzhiks knew them very well, and occasionally threatened to beat them to death. But the muzhiks, so far, had never got their opportunity, and the bones of the two friends were still whole, though they had followed their profession and heard the threats of the muzhiks for quite six years.

Jig-Leg was a man of about forty years of age, tall, scraggy, haggard and muscular. He walked with his head bent earthwards, his long arms folded behind his back, with a leisurely but spacious stride, and, as he walked, he always glanced on every side of him with his restlessly keen and anxiously puckered-up eyes. The hair of his head he clipped short, his beard he shaved; his thick, dark-grey, military moustaches hid his mouth, giving to his face a sort of grim and savage expression. His left leg must have been twisted or broken, and had grown in such a way as to become longer than the right leg. When he raised it as he strode along, it used to leap into the air and make a sweep sideways, and to this peculiarity of his gait he owed his nickname.

Hopeful was five years younger than his comrade, not so tall, but broader in the shoulders. He frequently had a hollow cough, and his bony face, overgrown by a large black beard, streaked with grey, was a screen to his morbidly yellow complexion. His eyes were large and black, but they regarded everything amicably and deprecatingly. As he walked, he would press his thick lips together into the shape of a heart, and would softly whistle some song or other—a monotonous melancholy song, always one and the same. A short garment of parti-coloured rags, with some resemblance to a wadding pea-jacket, bobbed up and down on his shoulders; but Jig-Leg always went about in a long grey kaftan, girded with a belt.

Hopeful was a peasant's son, his companion the son of a sexton; he had been a lackey and a billiard-marker. They were always seen together, and the peasants used to say of them, "Here are the chums again ... look at them both. Ah, the devils! I wonder when they are going to croak."

The chums used to tramp along some village road, looking carefully about them, and avoiding any chance encounters. Hopeful would cough, and whistle his song; and the leg of his comrade would fling into the air, as if attempting to wrench itself loose, and bolt away from the dangerous path of its master. Or they would lie about somewhere on the outskirts of a wood, amongst the rye, or in a gully, and quietly discuss how to set about stealing in order that they might have something to eat.


May 19, 2018, 11:13 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
Read next chapter II.

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