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The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories

The Beggar
"KIND sir, be so good as to notice a poor, hungry man. I have not tasted food for three
days. I have not a five-kopeck piece for a night's lodging. I swear by God! For five years
I was a village schoolmaster and lost my post through the intrigues of the Zemstvo. I was
the victim of false witness. I have been out of a place for a year now."
Skvortsov, a Petersburg lawyer, looked at the speaker's tattered dark blue overcoat, at his
muddy, drunken eyes, at the red patches on his cheeks, and it seemed to him that he had
seen the man before.
"And now I am offered a post in the Kaluga province," the beggar continued, "but I have
not the means for the journey there. Graciously help me! I am ashamed to ask, but . . . I
am compelled by circumstances."
Skvortsov looked at his goloshes, of which one was shallow like a shoe, while the other
came high up the leg like a boot, and suddenly remembered.
"Listen, the day before yesterday I met you in Sadovoy Street," he said, "and then you
told me, not that you were a village schoolmaster, but that you were a student who had
been expelled. Do you remember?"
"N-o. No, that cannot be so!" the beggar muttered in confusion. "I am a village
schoolmaster, and if you wish it I can show you documents to prove it."
"That's enough lies! You called yourself a student, and even told me what you were
expelled for. Do you remember?"
Skvortsov flushed, and with a look of disgust on his face turned away from the ragged
figure.
"It's contemptible, sir!" he cried angrily. "It's a swindle! I'll hand you over to the police,
damn you! You are poor and hungry, but that does not give you the right to lie so
shamelessly!"
The ragged figure took hold of the door-handle and, like a bird in a snare, looked round
the hall desperately.
"I . . . I am not lying," he muttered. "I can show documents."
"Who can believe you?" Skvortsov went on, still indignant. "To exploit the sympathy of
the public for village schoolmasters and students--it's so low, so mean, so dirty! It's
revolting!"
 
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