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The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories

A Chameleon
THE police superintendent Otchumyelov is walking across the market square wearing a
new overcoat and carrying a parcel under his arm. A red-haired policeman strides after
him with a sieve full of confiscated gooseberries in his hands. There is silence all around.
Not a soul in the square. . . . The open doors of the shops and taverns look out upon God's
world disconsolately, like hungry mouths; there is not even a beggar near them.
"So you bite, you damned brute?" Otchumyelov hears suddenly. "Lads, don't let him go!
Biting is prohibited nowadays! Hold him! ah . . . ah!"
There is the sound of a dog yelping. Otchumyelov looks in the direction of the sound and
sees a dog, hopping on three legs and looking about her, run out of Pitchugin's timber-
yard. A man in a starched cotton shirt, with his waistcoat unbuttoned, is chasing her. He
runs after her, and throwing his body forward falls down and seizes the dog by her hind
legs. Once more there is a yelping and a shout of "Don't let go!" Sleepy countenances are
protruded from the shops, and soon a crowd, which seems to have sprung out of the earth,
is gathered round the timber-yard.
"It looks like a row, your honour . . ." says the policeman.
Otchumyelov makes a half turn to the left and strides towards the crowd.
He sees the aforementioned man in the unbuttoned waistcoat standing close by the gate of
the timber-yard, holding his right hand in the air and displaying a bleeding finger to the
crowd. On his half-drunken face there is plainly written: "I'll pay you out, you rogue!"
and indeed the very finger has the look of a flag of victory. In this man Otchumyelov
recognises Hryukin, the goldsmith. The culprit who has caused the sensation, a white
borzoy puppy with a sharp muzzle and a yellow patch on her back, is sitting on the
ground with her fore-paws outstretched in the middle of the crowd, trembling all over.
There is an expression of misery and terror in her tearful eyes.
"What's it all about?" Otchumyelov inquires, pushing his way through the crowd. "What
are you here for? Why are you waving your finger . . . ? Who was it shouted?"
"I was walking along here, not interfering with anyone, your honour," Hryukin begins,
coughing into his fist. "I was talking about firewood to Mitry Mitritch, when this low
brute for no rhyme or reason bit my finger. . . . You must excuse me, I am a working
man. . . . Mine is fine work. I must have damages, for I shan't be able to use this finger
for a week, may be. . . . It's not even the law, your honour, that one should put up with it
from a beast. . . . If everyone is going to be bitten, life won't be worth living. . . ."
 
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