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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

Minds In Ferment
(FROM THE ANNALS OF A TOWN)
THE earth was like an oven. The afternoon sun blazed with such energy that even the
thermometer hanging in the excise officer's room lost its head: it ran up to 112.5 and
stopped there, irresolute. The inhabitants streamed with perspiration like overdriven
horses, and were too lazy to mop their faces.
Two of the inhabitants were walking along the market-place in front of the closely
shuttered houses. One was Potcheshihin, the local treasury clerk, and the other was
Optimov, the agent, for many years a correspondent of the Son of the Fatherland
newspaper. They walked in silence, speechless from the heat. Optimov felt tempted to
find fault with the local authorities for the dust and disorder of the market-place, but,
aware of the peace-loving disposition and moderate views of his companion, he said
nothing.
In the middle of the market-place Potcheshihin suddenly halted and began gazing into the
sky.
"What are you looking at?"
"Those starlings that flew up. I wonder where they have settled. Clouds and clouds of
them. . . . If one were to go and take a shot at them, and if one were to pick them up . . .
and if . . . They have settled in the Father Prebendary's garden!"
"Oh no! They are not in the Father Prebendary's, they are in the Father Deacon's. If you
did have a shot at them from here you wouldn't kill anything. Fine shot won't carry so far;
it loses its force. And why should you kill them, anyway? They're birds destructive of the
fruit, that's true; still, they're fowls of the air, works of the Lord. The starling sings, you
know. . . . And what does it sing, pray? A song of praise. . . . 'All ye fowls of the air,
praise ye the Lord.' No. I do believe they have settled in the Father Prebendary's garden."
Three old pilgrim women, wearing bark shoes and carrying wallets, passed noiselessly by
the speakers. Looking enquiringly at the gentlemen who were for some unknown reason
staring at the Father Prebendary's house, they slackened their pace, and when they were a
few yards off stopped, glanced at the friends once more, and then fell to gazing at the
house themselves.
"Yes, you were right; they have settled in the Father Prebendary's," said Optimov. "His
cherries are ripe now, so they have gone there to peck them."
From the garden gate emerged the Father Prebendary himself, accompanied by the
sexton. Seeing the attention directed upon his abode and wondering what people were
 
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