The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories
The Bird Market
THERE is a small square near the monastery of the Holy Birth which is called Trubnoy,
or simply Truboy; there is a market there on Sundays. Hundreds of sheepskins, wadded
coats, fur caps, and chimneypot hats swarm there, like crabs in a sieve. There is the sound
of the twitter of birds in all sorts of keys, recalling the spring. If the sun is shining, and
there are no clouds in the sky, the singing of the birds and the smell of hay make a more
vivid impression, and this reminder of spring sets one thinking and carries one's fancy
far, far away. Along one side of the square there stands a string of waggons. The
waggons are loaded, not with hay, not with cabbages, nor with beans, but with
goldfinches, siskins, larks, blackbirds and thrushes, bluetits, bullfinches. All of them are
hopping about in rough, home-made cages, twittering and looking with envy at the free
sparrows. The goldfinches cost five kopecks, the siskins are rather more expensive, while
the value of the other birds is quite indeterminate.
"How much is a lark?"
The seller himself does not know the value of a lark. He scratches his head and asks
whatever comes into it, a rouble, or three kopecks, according to the purchaser. There are
expensive birds too. A faded old blackbird, with most of its feathers plucked out of its
tail, sits on a dirty perch. He is dignified, grave, and motionless as a retired general. He
has waved his claw in resignation to his captivity long ago, and looks at the blue sky with
indifference. Probably, owing to this indifference, he is considered a sagacious bird. He is
not to be bought for less than forty kopecks. Schoolboys, workmen, young men in stylish
greatcoats, and bird-fanciers in incredibly shabby caps, in ragged trousers that are turned
up at the ankles, and look as though they had been gnawed by mice, crowd round the
birds, splashing through the mud. The young people and the workmen are sold hens for
cocks, young birds for old ones. . . . They know very little about birds. But there is no
deceiving the bird-fancier. He sees and understands his bird from a distance.
"There is no relying on that bird," a fancier will say, looking into a siskin's beak, and
counting the feathers on its tail. "He sings now, it's true, but what of that? I sing in
company too. No, my boy, shout, sing to me without company; sing in solitude, if you
can. . . . You give me that one yonder that sits and holds its tongue! Give me the quiet
one! That one says nothing, so he thinks the more. . . ."
Among the waggons of birds there are some full of other live creatures. Here you see
hares, rabbits, hedgehogs, guinea-pigs, polecats. A hare sits sorrowfully nibbling the
straw. The guinea-pigs shiver with cold, while the hedgehogs look out with curiosity
from under their prickles at the public.