THE WITCH AND OTHER STORIES
IT was approaching nightfall. The sextonSavely Gykinwas lying in his hugebed in the hut adjoining the church. He was not asleepthough it was his habitto go to sleep at the same time as the hens. His coarse red hair peeped fromunder one end of the greasy patchwork quiltmade up of coloured ragswhile hisbig unwashed feet stuck out from the other. He was listening. His hut adjoinedthe wall that encircled the church and the solitary window in it looked out uponthe open country. And out there a regular battle was going on. It was hard tosay who was being wiped off the face of the earthand for the sake of whosedestruction nature was being churned up into such a ferment; butjudging fromthe unceasing malignant roarsomeone was getting it very hot. A victoriousforce was in full chase over the fieldsstorming in the forest and on thechurch roofbattering spitefully with its fists upon the windowsraging andtearingwhile something vanquished was howling and wailing. . . . A plaintivelament sobbed at the windowon the roofor in the stove. It sounded not like acall for helpbut like a cry of miserya consciousness that it was too latethat there was no salvation. The snowdrifts were covered with a thin coating ofice; tears quivered on them and on the trees; a dark slush of mud and meltingsnow flowed along the roads and paths. In shortit was thawingbut through thedark night the heavens failed to see itand flung flakes of fresh snow upon themelting earth at a terrific rate. And the wind staggered like a drunkard. Itwould not let the snow settle on the groundand whirled it round in thedarkness at random.
Savely listened to all this din and frowned. The fact was that he knewor atany rate suspectedwhat all this racket outside the window was tending to andwhose handiwork it was.
"I know!" he mutteredshaking his finger menacingly under thebedclothes; "I know all about it."
On a stool by the window sat the sexton's wifeRaissa Nilovna. A tin lampstanding on another stoolas though timid and distrustful of its powersshed adim and flickering light on her broad shoulderson the handsometempting-looking contours of her personand on her thick plaitwhich reachedto the floor. She was making sacks out of coarse hempen stuff. Her hands movednimblywhile her whole bodyher eyesher eyebrowsher full lipsher whiteneck were as still as though they were asleepabsorbed in the monotonousmechanical toil. Only from time to time she raised her head to rest her wearyneckglanced for a moment towards the windowbeyond which the snowstorm wasragingand bent again over her sacking. No desireno joyno griefnothingwas expressed by her handsome face with its turned-up nose and its dimples. So abeautiful fountain expresses nothing when it is not playing.
But at last she had finished a sack. She flung it asideandstretchingluxuriouslyrested her motionlesslack-lustre eyes on the window. The paneswere swimming with drops like tearsand white with short-lived snowflakes whichfell on the windowglanced at Raissaand melted. . . .
"Come to bed!" growled the sexton. Raissa remained mute. Butsuddenly her eyelashes flickered and there was a gleam of attention in her eye.Savelyall the time watching her expression from under the quiltput out hishead and asked:
"What is it?"
"Nothing. . . . I fancy someone's coming" she answered quietly.
The sexton flung the quilt off with his arms and legsknelt up in bedandlooked blankly at his wife. The timid light of the lamp illuminated his hirsutepock-marked countenance and glided over his rough matted hair.
"Do you hear?" asked his wife.
Through the monotonous roar of the storm he caught a scarcely audible thinand jingling monotone like the shrill note of a gnat when it wants to settle onone's cheek and is angry at being prevented.
"It's the post" muttered Savelysquatting on his heels.
Two miles from the church ran the posting road. In windy weatherwhen thewind was blowing from the road to the churchthe inmates of the hut caught thesound of bells.
"Lord! fancy people wanting to drive about in such weather" sighedRaissa.
"It's government work. You've to go whether you like or not."
The murmur hung in the air and died away.
"It has driven by" said Savelygetting into bed.
But before he had time to cover himself up with the bedclothes he heard adistinct sound of the bell. The sexton looked anxiously at his wifeleapt outof bed and walkedwaddlingto and fro by the stove. The bell went on ringingfor a littlethen died away again as though it had ceased.
"I don't hear it" said the sextonstopping and looking at hiswife with his eyes screwed up.
But at that moment the wind rapped on the window and with it floated a shrilljingling note. Savely turned palecleared his throatand flopped about thefloor with his bare feet again.
"The postman is lost in the storm" he wheezed out glancingmalignantly at his wife. "Do you hear? The postman has lost his way! . . I. . . I know! Do you suppose I . . don't understand? " he muttered. "Iknow all about itcurse you!"
"What do you know?" Raissa asked quietlykeeping her eyes fixed onthe window.
"I know that it's all your doingyou she-devil! Your doingdamn you!This snowstorm and the post going wrongyou've done it all -- you!"
"You're madyou silly" his wife answered calmly.
"I've been watching you for a long time past and I've seen it. From thefirst day I married you I noticed that you'd bitch's blood in you!"
"Tfoo!" said Raissasurprisedshrugging her shoulders andcrossing herself. "Cross yourselfyou fool!"
"A witch is a witch" Savely pronounced in a hollowtearful voicehurriedly blowing his nose on the hem of his shirt; "though you are my wifethough you are of a clerical familyI'd say what you are even at confession. .. . WhyGod have mercy upon us! Last year on the Eve of the Prophet Daniel andthe Three Young Men there was a snowstormand what happened then? The mechaniccame in to warm himself. Then on St. Alexey's Day the ice broke on the river andthe district policeman turned upand he was chatting with you all night . . .the damned brute! And when he came out in the morning and I looked at himhehad rings under his eyes and his cheeks were hollow! Eh? During the August fastthere were two storms and each time the huntsman turned up. I saw it alldamnhim! Ohshe is redder than a crab nowaha!"
"You didn't see anything."
"Didn't I! And this winter before Christmas on the Day of the TenMartyrs of Cretewhen the storm lasted for a whole day and night -- do youremember? -- the marshal's clerk was lostand turned up herethe hound. . . .Tfoo! To be tempted by the clerk! It was worth upsetting God's weather for him!A drivelling scribblernot a foot from the groundpimples all over his mug andhis neck awry! If he were good-lookinganyway -- but hetfoo! he is as ugly asSatan!"
The sexton took breathwiped his lips and listened. The bell was not to beheardbut the wind banged on the roofand again there came a tinkle in thedarkness.
"And it's the same thing now!" Savely went on. "It's not fornothing the postman is lost! Blast my eyes if the postman isn't looking for you!Ohthe devil is a good hand at his work; he is a fine one to help! He will turnhim round and round and bring him here. I knowI see! You can't conceal ityoudevil's baubleyou heathen wanton! As soon as the storm began I knew what youwere up to."
"Here's a fool!" smiled his wife. "Whydo you supposeyouthick-headthat I make the storm?"
"H'm! . . . Grin away! Whether it's your doing or notI only know thatwhen your blood's on fire there's sure to be bad weatherand when there's badweather there's bound to be some crazy fellow turning up here. It happens soevery time! So it must be you!"
To be more impressive the sexton put his finger to his foreheadclosed hisleft eyeand said in a singsong voice:
"Ohthe madness! ohthe unclean Judas! If you really are a human beingand not a witchyou ought to think what if he is not the mechanicor the clerkor the huntsmanbut the devil in their form! Ah! You'd better think of that!"
"Whyyou are stupidSavely" said his wifelooking at himcompassionately. "When father was alive and living hereall sorts ofpeople used to come to him to be cured of the ague: from the villageand thehamletsand the Armenian settlement. They came almost every dayand no onecalled them devils. But if anyone once a year comes in bad weather to warmhimselfyou wonder at ityou sillyand take all sorts of notions into yourhead at once."
His wife's logic touched Savely. He stood with his bare feet wide apartbenthis headand pondered. He was not firmly convinced yet of the truth of hissuspicionsand his wife's genuine and unconcerned tone quite disconcerted him.Yet after a moment's thought he wagged his head and said:
"It's not as though they were old men or bandy-legged cripples; it'salways young men who want to come for the night. . . . Why is that? And if theyonly wanted to warm themselves ---- But they are up to mischief. Nowoman;there's no creature in this world as cunning as your female sort! Of real brainsyou've not an ounceless than a starlingbut for devilish slyness -- oo-oo-oo!The Queen of Heaven protect us! There is the postman's bell! When the storm wasonly beginning I knew all that was in your mind. That's your witcheryyouspider!"
"Why do you keep on at meyou heathen?" His wife lost her patienceat last. "Why do you keep sticking to it like pitch?"
"I stick to it because if anything -- God forbid -- happens to-night . .. do you hear? . . . if anything happens to-nightI'll go straight offto-morrow morning to Father Nikodim and tell him all about it. 'Father Nikodim'I shall say'graciously excuse mebut she is a witch.' 'Why so?' 'H'm! do youwant to know why?' 'Certainly. . . .' And I shall tell him. And woe to youwoman! Not only at the dread Seat of Judgmentbut in your earthly life you'llbe punishedtoo! It's not for nothing there are prayers in the breviary againstyour kind!"
Suddenly there was a knock at the windowso loud and unusual that Savelyturned pale and almost dropped backwards with fright. His wife jumped upandshetooturned pale.
"For God's sakelet us come in and get warm!" they heard in atrembling deep bass. "Who lives here? For mercy's sake! We've lost ourway."
"Who are you?" asked Raissaafraid to look at the window.
"The post" answered a second voice.
"You've succeeded with your devil's tricks" said Savely with awave of his hand. "No mistake; I am right! Wellyou'd better lookout!"
The sexton jumped on to the bed in two skipsstretched himself on thefeather mattressand sniffing angrilyturned with his face to the wall. Soonhe felt a draught of cold air on his back. The door creaked and the tall figureof a manplastered over with snow from head to footappeared in the doorway.Behind him could be seen a second figure as white.
"Am I to bring in the bags?" asked the second in a hoarse bassvoice.
"You can't leave them there." Saying thisthe first figure beganuntying his hoodbut gave it upand pulling it off impatiently with his capangrily flung it near the stove. Then taking off his greatcoathe threw thatdown beside itandwithout saying good-eveningbegan pacing up and down thehut.
He was a fair-hairedyoung postman wearing a shabby uniform and blackrusty-looking high boots. After warming himself by walking to and frohe satdown at the tablestretched out his muddy feet towards the sacks and leaned hischin on his fist. His pale facereddened in places by the coldstill borevivid traces of the pain and terror he had just been through. Though distortedby anger and bearing traces of recent sufferingphysical and moralit washandsome in spite of the melting snow on the eyebrowsmoustachesand shortbeard.
"It's a dog's life!" muttered the postmanlooking round the wallsand seeming hardly able to believe that he was in the warmth. "We werenearly lost! If it had not been for your lightI don't know what would havehappened. Goodness only knows when it will all be over! There's no end to thisdog's life! Where have we come?" he askeddropping his voice and raisinghis eyes to the sexton's wife.
"To the Gulyaevsky Hill on General Kalinovsky's estate" sheansweredstartled and blushing.
"Do you hearStepan?" The postman turned to the driverwho waswedged in the doorway with a huge mail-bag on his shoulders. "We've got toGulyaevsky Hill."
"Yes . . . we're a long way out." Jerking out these words like ahoarse sighthe driver went out and soon after returned with another bagthenwent out once more and this time brought the postman's sword on a big beltofthe pattern of that long flat blade with which Judith is portrayed by thebedside of Holofernes in cheap woodcuts. Laying the bags along the wallhe wentout into the outer roomsat down there and lighted his pipe.
"Perhaps you'd like some tea after your journey?" Raissa inquired.
"How can we sit drinking tea?" said the postmanfrowning. "Wemust make haste and get warmand then set offor we shall be late for the mailtrain. We'll stay ten minutes and then get on our way. Only be so good as toshow us the way."
"What an infliction it isthis weather!" sighed Raissa.
"H'myes. . . . Who may you be?"
"We? We live hereby the church. . . . We belong to the clergy. . . .There lies my husband. Savelyget up and say good-evening! This used to be aseparate parish till eighteen months ago. Of coursewhen the gentry lived herethere were more peopleand it was worth while to have the services. But now thegentry have goneand I need not tell you there's nothing for the clergy to liveon. The nearest village is Markovkaand that's over three miles away. Savely ison the retired list nowand has got the watchman's job; he has to look afterthe church. . . ."
And the postman was immediately informed that if Savely were to go to theGeneral's lady and ask her for a letter to the bishophe would be given a goodberth. "But he doesn't go to the General's lady because he is lazy andafraid of people. We belong to the clergy all the same . . ." added Raissa.
"What do you live on?" asked the postman.
"There's a kitchen garden and a meadow belonging to the church. Only wedon't get much from that" sighed Raissa. "The old skinflintFatherNikodimfrom the next village celebrates here on St. Nicolas' Day in the winterand on St. Nicolas' Day in the summerand for that he takes almost all thecrops for himself. There's no one to stick up for us!"
"You are lying" Savely growled hoarsely. "Father Nikodim is asaintly soula luminary of the Church; and if he does take itit's theregulation!"
"You've a cross one!" said the postmanwith a grin. "Have youbeen married long?"
"It was three years ago the last Sunday before Lent. My father wassexton here in the old daysand when the time came for him to diehe went tothe Consistory and asked them to send some unmarried man to marry me that Imight keep the place. So I married him."
"Ahaso you killed two birds with one stone!" said the postmanlooking at Savely's back. "Got wife and job together."
Savely wriggled his leg impatiently and moved closer to the wall. The postmanmoved away from the tablestretchedand sat down on the mail-bag. After amoment's thought he squeezed the bags with his handsshifted his sword to theother sideand lay down with one foot touching the floor.
"It's a dog's life" he mutteredputting his hands behind his headand closing his eyes. "I wouldn't wish a wild Tatar such a life."
Soon everything was still. Nothing was audible except the sniffing of Savelyand the sloweven breathing of the sleeping po stmanwho uttered a deepprolonged "h-h-h" at every breath. From time to time there was a soundlike a creaking wheel in his throatand his twitching foot rustled against thebag.
Savely fidgeted under the quilt and looked round slowly. His wife was sittingon the stooland with her hands pressed against her cheeks was gazing at thepostman's face. Her face was immovablelike the face of some one frightened andastonished.
"Wellwhat are you gaping at?" Savely whispered angrily.
"What is it to you? Lie down!" answered his wife without taking hereyes off the flaxen head.
Savely angrily puffed all the air out of his chest and turned abruptly to thewall. Three minutes later he turned over restlessly againknelt up on the bedand with his hands on the pillow looked askance at his wife. She was stillsitting motionlessstaring at the visitor. Her cheeks were pale and her eyeswere glowing with a strange fire. The sexton cleared his throatcrawled on hisstomach off the bedand going up to the postmanput a handkerchief over hisface.
"What's that for?" asked his wife.
"To keep the light out of his eyes."
"Then put out the light!"
Savely looked distrustfully at his wifeput out his lips towards the lampbut at once thought better of it and clasped his hands.
"Isn't that devilish cunning?" he exclaimed. "Ah! Is there anycreature slyer than womenkind?"
"Ahyou long-skirted devil!" hissed his wifefrowning withvexation. "You wait a bit!"
And settling herself more comfortablyshe stared at the postman again.
It did not matter to her that his face was covered. She was not so muchinterested in his face as in his whole appearancein the novelty of this man.His chest was broad and powerfulhis hands were slender and well formedandhis gracefulmuscular legs were much comelier than Savely's stumps. There couldbe no comparisonin fact.
"Though I am a long-skirted devil" Savely said after a briefinterval"they've no business to sleep here. . . . It's government work;we shall have to answer for keeping them. If you carry the letterscarry themyou can't go to sleep. . . . Hey! you!" Savely shouted into the outer room."Youdriver. What's your name? Shall I show you the way? Get up; postmenmustn't sleep!"
And Savelythoroughly rousedran up to the postman and tugged him by thesleeve.
"Heyyour honourif you must gogo; and if you don'tit's not thething. . . . Sleeping won't do."
The postman jumped upsat downlooked with blank eyes round the hutandlay down again.
"But when are you going?" Savely pattered away. "That's whatthe post is for -- to get there in good timedo you hear? I'll take you."
The postman opened his eyes. Warmed and relaxed by his first sweet sleepandnot yet quite awakehe saw as through a mist the white neck and the immovablealluring eyes of the sexton's wife. He closed his eyes and smiled as though hehad been dreaming it all.
"Comehow can you go in such weather!" he heard a soft femininevoice; "you ought to have a sound sleep and it would do you good!"
"And what about the post?" said Savely anxiously. "Who's goingto take the post? Are you going to take itprayyou?
The postman opened his eyes againlooked at the play of the dimples onRaissa's faceremembered where he wasand understood Savely. The thought thathe had to go out into the cold darkness sent a chill shudder all down himandhe winced.
"I might sleep another five minutes" he saidyawning. "Ishall be lateanyway. . . ."
"We might be just in time" came a voice from the outer room."All days are not alike; the train may be late for a bit of luck."
The postman got upand stretching lazily began putting on his coat.
Savely positively neighed with delight when he saw his visitors were gettingready to go.
"Give us a hand" the driver shouted to him as he lifted up amail-bag.
The sexton ran out and helped him drag the post-bags into the yard. Thepostman began undoing the knot in his hood. The sexton's wife gazed into hiseyesand seemed trying to look right into his soul.
"You ought to have a cup of tea . . ." she said.
"I wouldn't say no . . . butyou seethey're getting ready" heassented. "We are lateanyway."
"Do stay" she whispereddropping her eyes and touching him by thesleeve.
The postman got the knot undone at last and flung the hood over his elbowhesitating. He felt it comfortable standing by Raissa.
"What a . . . neck you've got! . . ." And he touched her neck withtwo fingers. Seeing that she did not resisthe stroked her neck and shoulders.
"I sayyou are . . ."
"You'd better stay . . . have some tea."
"Where are you putting it?" The driver's voice could be heardoutside. "Lay it crossways."
"You'd better stay. . . . Hark how the wind howls."
And the postmannot yet quite awakenot yet quite able to shake off theintoxicating sleep of youth and fatiguewas suddenly overwhelmed by a desirefor the sake of which mail-bagspostal trains . . . and all things in theworldare forgotten. He glanced at the door in a frightened wayas though hewanted to escape or hide himselfseized Raissa round the waistand was justbending over the lamp to put out the lightwhen he heard the tramp of boots inthe outer roomand the driver appeared in the doorway. Savely peeped in overhis shoulder. The postman dropped his hands quickly and stood still as thoughirresolute.
"It's all ready" said the driver. The postman stood still for amomentresolutely threw up his head as though waking up completelyandfollowed the driver out. Raissa was left alone.
"Comeget in and show us the way!" she heard.
One bell sounded languidlythen anotherand the jingling notes in a longdelicate chain floated away from the hut.
When little by little they had died awayRaissa got up and nervously pacedto and fro. At first she was palethen she flushed all over. Her face wascontorted with hateher breathing was tremulousher eyes gleamed with wildsavage angerandpacing up and down as in a cageshe looked like a tigressmenaced with red-hot iron. For a moment she stood still and looked at her abode.Almost half of the room was filled up by the bedwhich stretched the length ofthe whole wall and consisted of a dirty feather-bedcoarse grey pillowsaquiltand nameless rags of various sorts. The bed was a shapeless ugly masswhich suggested the shock of hair that always stood up on Savely's head wheneverit occurred to him to oil it. From the bed to the door that led into the coldouter room stretched the dark stove surrounded by pots and hanging clouts.Everythingincluding the absent Savely himselfwas dirtygreasyand smuttyto the last degreeso that it was strange to see a woman's white neck anddelicate skin in such surroundings.
Raissa ran up to the bedstretched out her hands as though she wanted tofling it all aboutstamp it underfootand tear it to shreds. But thenasthough frightened by contact with the dirtshe leapt back and began pacing upand down again.
When Savely returned two hours laterworn out and covered with snowshe wasundressed and in bed. Her eyes were closedbut from the slight tremor that ranover her face he guessed that she was not asleep. On his way home he had vowedinwardly to wait till next day and not to touch herbut he could not resist abiting taunt at her.
"Your witchery was all in vain: he's gone off" he saidgrinningwith malignant joy.
His wife remained mutebut her chin quivered. Savely undressed slowlyclambered over his wifeand lay down next to the wall.
"To-morrow I'll let Father Nikodim know what sort of wife you are!"he mutteredcurling himself up.
Raissa turned her face to him and her eyes gleamed.
"The job's enough for youand you can look for a wife in the forestblast you!" she said. "I am no wife for youa clumsy loutaslug-a-bedGod forgive me!"
"Comecome . . . go to sleep!"
"How miserable I am!" sobbed his wife. "If it weren't for youI might have married a merchant or some gentleman! If it weren't for youIshould love my husband now! And you haven't been buried in the snowyou haven'tbeen frozen on the highroadyou Herod!"
Raissa cried for a long time. At last she drew a deep sigh and was still. Thestorm still raged without. Something wailed in the stovein the chimneyoutside the wallsand it seemed to Savely that the wailing was within himinhis ears. This evening had completely confirmed him in his suspicions about hiswife. He no longer doubted that his wifewith the aid of the Evil Onecontrolled the winds and the post sledges. But to add to his griefthismysteriousnessthis supernaturalweird power gave the woman beside him apeculiarincomprehensible charm of which he had not been conscious before. Thefact that in his stupidity he unconsciously threw a poetic glamour over her madeher seemas it werewhitersleekermore unapproachable.
"Witch!" he muttered indignantly. "Tfoohorridcreature!"
Yetwaiting till she was quiet and began breathing evenlyhe touched herhead with his finger . . . held her thick plait in his hand for a minute. Shedid not feel it. Then he grew bolder and stroked her neck.
"Leave off!" she shoutedand prodded him on the nose with herelbow with such violence that he saw stars before his eyes.
The pain in his nose was soon overbut the torture in his heart remained.
IN the village of Reybuzhjust facing the churchstands a two-storeyedhouse with a stone foundation and an iron roof. In the lower storey the ownerhimselfFilip Ivanov Kashinnicknamed Dyudyalives with his familyand onthe upper floorwhere it is apt to be very hot in summer and very cold inwinterthey put up government officialsmerchantsor landownerswho chanceto be travelling that way. Dyudya rents some bits of landkeeps a tavern on thehighroaddoes a trade in tarhoneycattleand jackdawsand has alreadysomething like eight thousand roubles put by in the bank in the town.
His elder sonFyodoris head engineer in the factoryandas the peasantssay of himhe has risen so high in the world that he is quite out of reach now.Fyodor's wifeSofyaa plainailing womanlives at home at herfather-in-law's. She is for ever cryingand every Sunday she goes over to thehospital for medicine. Dyudya's second sonthe hunchback Alyoshkais living athome at his father's. He has only lately been married to Varvarawhom theysingled out for him from a poor family. She is a handsome young womansmart andbuxom. When officials or merchants put up at the housethey always insist onhaving Varvara to bring in the samovar and make their beds.
One June evening when the sun was setting and the air was full of the smellof hayof steaming dung-heaps and new milka plain-looking cart drove intoDyudya's yard with three people in it: a man of about thirty in a canvas suitbeside him a little boy of seven or eight in a long black coat with big bonebuttonsand on the driver's seat a young fellow in a red shirt.
The young fellow took out the horses and led them out into the street to walkthem up and down a bitwhile the traveller washedsaid a prayerturningtowards the churchthen spread a rug near the cart and sat down with the boy tosupper. He ate without hastesedatelyand Dyudyawho had seen a good manytravellers in his timeknew him from his manners for a businesslike manserious and aware of his own value.
Dyudya was sitting on the step in his waistcoat without a cap onwaiting forthe visitor to speak first. He was used to hearing all kinds of stories from thetravellers in the eveningand he liked listening to them before going to bed.His old wifeAfanasyevnaand his daughter-in-law Sofyawere milking in thecowshed. The other daughter-in-lawVarvarawas sitting at the open window ofthe upper storeyeating sunflower seeds.
"The little chap will be your sonI'm thinking?" Dyudya asked thetraveller.
"No; adopted. An orphan. I took him for my soul's salvation."
They got into conversation. The stranger seemed to be a man fond of talkingand ready of speechand Dyudya learned from him that he was from the townwasof the tradesman classand had a house of his ownthat his name was MatveySavitchthat he was on his way now to look at some gardens that he was rentingfrom some German colonistsand that the boy's name was Kuzka. The evening washot and closeno one felt inclined for sleep. When it was getting dark and palestars began to twinkle here and there in the skyMatvey Savitch began to tellhow he had come by Kuzka. Afanasyevna and Sofya stood a little way offlistening. Kuzka had gone to the gate.
"It's a complicated storyold man" began Matvey Savitch"and if I were to tell you all just as it happenedit would take all nightand more. Ten years ago in a little house in our streetnext door to mewherenow there's a tallow and oil factorythere was living an old widowMarfaSemyonovna Kapluntsevand she had two sons: one was a guard on the railwaybutthe otherVasyawho was just my own agelived at home with his mother. OldKapluntsev had kept five pair of horses and sent carriers all over the town; hiswidow had not given up the businessbut managed the carriers as well as herhusband had doneso that some days they would bring in as much as five roublesfrom their rounds.
"The young fellowtoomade a trifle on his own account. He used tobreed fancy pigeons and sell them to fanciers; at times he would stand for hourson the roofwaving a broom in the air and whistling; his pigeons were right upin the cloudsbut it wasn't enough for himand he'd want them to go higheryet. Siskins and starlingstoohe used to catchand he made cages for sale.All triflesbutmind youhe'd pick up some ten roubles a month over suchtrifles. Wellas time went onthe old lady lost the use of her legs and tookto her bed. In consequence of which event the house was left without a woman tolook after itand that's for all the world like a man without an eye. The oldlady bestirred herself and made up her mind to marry Vasya. They called in amatchmaker at oncethe women got to talking of one thing and anotherand Vasyawent off to have a look at the girls. He picked out Mashenkaa widow'sdaughter. They made up their minds without loss of time and in a week it was allsettled. The girl was a little slip of a thingseventeenbut fair-skinned andpretty-lookingand like a lady in all her ways; and a decent dowry with herfive hundred roublesa cowa bed. . . . Wellthe old lady -- it seemed asthough she had known it was coming -- three days after the weddingdeparted tothe Heavenly Jerusalem where is neither sickness nor sighing. The young peoplegave her a good funeral and began their life together. For just six months theygot on splendidlyand then all of a sudden another misfortune. It never rainsbut it pours: Vasya was summoned to the recruiting office to draw lots for theservice. He was takenpoor chapfor a soldierand not even granted exemption.They shaved his head and packed him off to Poland. It was God's will; there wasnothing to be done. When he said good-bye to his wife in the yardhe bore itall right; but as he glanced up at the hay-loft and his pigeons for the lasttimehe burst out crying. It was pitiful to see him.
"At first Mashenka got her mother to stay with herthat she mightn't bedull all alone; she stayed till the baby -- this very Kuzka here -- was bornand then she went off to Oboyan to another married daughter's and left Mashenkaalone with the baby. There were five peasants -- the carriers -- a drunken saucylot; horsestooand dray-carts to see toand then the fence would be brokenor the soot afire in the chimney -- jobs beyond a womanand through our beingneighboursshe got into the way of turning to me for every little thing. . . .WellI'd go overset things to rightsand give advice. . . . Naturallynotwithout going indoorsdrinking a cup of tea and having a little chat with her.I was a young fellowintellectualand fond of talking on all sorts ofsubjects; shetoowas well-bred and educated. She was always neatly dressedand in summer she walked out with a sunshade. Sometimes I would begin uponreligion or politics with herand she was flattered and would entertain me withtea and jam. . . . In a wordnot to make a long story of itI must tell youold mana year had not passed before the Evil Onethe enemy of all mankindconfounded me. I began to notice that any day I didn't go to see herI seemedout of sorts and dull. And I'd be continually making up something that I mustsee her about: 'It's high time' I'd say to myself'to put the double windowsin for the winter' and the whole day I'd idle away over at her place putting inthe windows and take good care to leave a couple of them over for the next daytoo.
" 'I ought to count over Vasya's pigeonsto see none of them havestrayed' and so on. I used always to be talking to her across the fenceand inthe end I made a little gate in the fence so as not to have to go so far round.From womankind comes much evil into the world and every kind of abomination. Notwe sinners only; even the saints themselves have been led astray by them.Mashenka did not try to keep me at a distance. Instead of thinking of herhusband and being on her guardshe fell in love with me. I began to notice thatshe was dull without meand was always walking to and fro by the fence lookinginto my yard through the cracks.
"My brains were going round in my head in a sort of frenzy. On Thursdayin Holy Week I was going early in the morning -- it was scarcely light -- tomarket. I passed close by her gateand the Evil One was by me -- at my elbow. Ilooked -- she had a gate with open trellis work at the top -- and there she wasup alreadystanding in the middle of the yardfeeding the ducks. I could notrestrain myselfand I called her name. She came up and looked at me through thetrellis. . . . Her little face was whiteher eyes soft and sleepy-looking. . .. I liked her looks immenselyand I began paying her complimentsas though wewere not at the gatebut just as one does on namedayswhile she blushedandlaughedand kept looking straight into my eyes without winking. . . . I lostall sense and began to declare my love to her. . . . She opened the gateandfrom that morning we began to live as man and wife. . . ."
The hunchback Alyoshka came into the yard from the street and ran out ofbreath into the housenot looking at any one. A minute later he ran out of thehouse with a concertina. Jingling some coppers in his pocketand crackingsunflower seeds as he ranhe went out at the gate.
"And who's thatpray?" asked Matvey Savitch.
"My son Alexey" answered Dyudya. "He's off on a spreetherascal. God has afflicted him with a humpso we are not very hard on him."
"And he's always drinking with the other fellowsalways drinking"sighed Afanasyevna. "Before Carnival we married himthinking he'd besteadierbut there! he's worse than ever."
"It's been no use. Simply keeping another man's daughter fornothing" said Dyudya.
Somewhere behind the church they began to sing a gloriousmournful song. Thewords they could not catch and only the voices could be heard -- two tenors anda bass. All were listening; there was complete stillness in the yard. . . . Twovoices suddenly broke off with a loud roar of laughterbut the thirda tenorstill sang onand took so high a note that every one instinctively lookedupwardsas though the voice had soared to heaven itself.
Varvara came out of the houseand screening her eyes with her handasthough from the sunshe looked towards the church.
"It's the priest's sons with the schoolmaster" she said.
Again all the three voices began to sing together. Matvey Savitch sighed andwent on:
"Wellthat's how it wasold man. Two years later we got a letter fromVasya from Warsaw. He wrote that he was being sent home sick. He was ill. Bythat time I had put all that foolishness out of my headand I had a fine matchpicked out all ready for meonly I didn't know how to break it off with mysweetheart. Every day I'd make up my mind to have it out with Mashenkabut Ididn't know how to approach her so as not to have a woman's screeching about myears. The letter freed my hands. I read it through with Mashenka; she turnedwhite as a sheetwhile I said to her: 'Thank God; now' says I'you'll be amarried woman again.' But says she: 'I'm not going to live with him.' 'Whyisn't he your husband?' said I. 'Is it an easy thing? . . . I never loved himand I married him not of my own free will. My mother made me.' 'Don't try to getout of itsilly' said I'but tell me this: were you married to him in churchor not?' 'I was married' she said'but it's you that I loveand I will staywith you to the day of my death. Folks may jeer. I don't care. . . .' 'You're aChristian woman' said I'and have read the Scriptures; what is written there?'
"Once marriedwith her husband she must live" said Dyudya.
" 'Man and wife are one flesh. We have sinned' I said'you and Iandit is enough; we must repent and fear God. We must confess it all to Vasya'said I; 'he's a quiet fellow and soft -- he won't kill you. And indeed' said I'better to suffer torments in this world at the hands of your lawful master thanto gnash your teeth at the dread Seat of Judgment.' The wench wouldn't listen;she stuck to her silly'It's you I love!' and nothing more could I get out ofher.
"Vasya came back on the Saturday before Trinityearly in the morning.From my fence I could see everything; he ran into the houseand came back aminute later with Kuzka in his armsand he was laughing and crying all at once;he was kissing Kuzka and looking up at the hay-loftand hadn't the heart to putthe child downand yet he was longing to go to his pigeons. He was always asoft sort of chap -- sentimental. That day passed off very wellall quiet andproper. They had begun ringing the church bells for the evening servicewhenthe thought struck me: 'To-morrow's Trinity Sunday; how is it they are notdecking the gates and the fence with green? Something's wrong' I thought. Iwent over to them. I peeped inand there he wassitting on the floor in themiddle of the roomhis eyes staring like a drunken man'sthe tears streamingdown his cheeks and his hands shaking; he was pulling cracknelsnecklacesgingerbread nutsand all sorts of little presents out of his bundle andflinging them on the floor. Kuzka -- he was three years old -- was crawling onthe floormunching the gingerbreadswhile Mashenka stood by the stovewhiteand shivering all overmuttering: 'I'm not your wife; I can't live with you'and all sorts of foolishness. I bowed down at Vasya's feetand said: 'We havesinned against youVassily Maximitch; forgive usfor Christ's sake!' Then Igot up and spoke to Mashenka: 'YouMarya Semyonovnaought now to wash VassilyMaximitch's feet and drink the water. Do you be an obedient wife to himandpray to God for methat He in His mercy may forgive my transgression.' It cameto me like an inspiration from an angel of Heaven; I gave her solemn counsel andspoke with such feeling that my own tears flowed too. And so two days laterVasya comes to me: 'Matyusha' says he'I forgive you and my wife; God havemercy on you! She was a soldier's wifea young thing all alone; it was hard forher to be on her guard. She's not the firstnor will she be the last. Only' hesays'I beg you to behave as though there had never been anything between youand to make no signwhile I' says he'will do my best to please her in everywayso that she may come to love me again.' He gave me his hand on itdrank acup of teaand went away more cheerful.
" 'Well' thought I'thank God!' and I did feel glad that everythinghad gone off so well. But no sooner had Vasya gone out of the yardwhen in cameMashenka. Ah! What I had to suffer! She hung on my neckweeping and praying:'For God's sakedon't cast me off; I can't live without you!' "
"The vile hussy!" sighed Dyudya.
"I swore at herstamped my footand dragging her into the passageIfastened the door with the hook. 'Go to your husband' I cried. 'Don't shame mebefore folks. Fear God!' And every day there was a scene of that sort.
"One morning I was standing in my yard near the stable cleaning abridle. All at once I saw her running through the little gate into my yardwithbare feetin her petticoatand straight towards me; she clutched at thebridlegetting all smeared with the pitchand shaking and weepingshe cried:'I can't stand him; I loathe him; I can't bear it! If you don't love mebetterkill me!' I was angryand I struck her twice with the bridlebut at thatinstant Vasya ran in at the gateand in a despairing voice he shouted: 'Don'tbeat her! Don't beat her!' But he ran up himselfand waving his armsas thoughhe were madhe let fly with his fists at her with all his mightthen flung heron the ground and kicked her. I tried to defend herbut he snatched up thereins and thrashed her with themand all the whilelike a colt's whinnyhewent: 'He -- he-- he!' "
"I'd take the reins and let you feel them" muttered Varvaramoving away; "murdering our sisterthe damned brutes! . . ."
"Hold your tongueyou jade!" Dyudya shouted at her.
" 'He -- he -- he!' " Matvey Savitch went on. "A carrier ranout of his yard; I called to my workmanand the three of us got Mashenka awayfrom him and carried her home in our arms. The disgrace of it! The same day Iwent over in the evening to see how things were. She was lying in bedallwrapped up in bandagesnothing but her eyes and nose to be seen; she waslooking at the ceiling. I said: 'Good-eveningMarya Semyonovna!' She did notspeak. And Vasya was sitting in the next roomhis head in his handscrying andsaying: 'Brute that I am! I've ruined my life! O Godlet me die!' I sat forhalf an hour by Mashenka and gave her a good talking-to. I tried to frighten hera bit. 'The righteous' said I'after this life go to Paradisebut you will goto a Gehenna of firelike all adulteresses. Don't strive against your husbandgo and lay yourself at his feet.' But never a word from her; she didn't so muchas blink an eyelidfor all the world as though I were talking to a post. Thenext day Vasya fell ill with something like choleraand in the evening I heardthat he was dead. Wellso they buried himand Mashenka did not go to thefuneral; she didn't care to show her shameless face and her bruises. And soonthere began to be talk all over the district that Vasya had not died a naturaldeaththat Mashenka had made away with him. It got to the ears of the police;they had Vasya dug up and cut openand in his stomach they found arsenic. Itwas clear he had been poisoned; the police came and took Mashenka awayand withher the innocent Kuzka. They were put in prison. . . . The woman had gone toofar -- God punished her. . . . Eight months later they tried her. She satIrememberon a low stoolwith a little white kerchief on her headwearing agrey gownand she was so thinso paleso sharp-eyed it made one sad to lookat her. Behind her stood a soldier with a gun. She would not confess her guilt.Some in the court said she had poisoned her husband and others declared he hadpoisoned himself for grief. I was one of the witnesses. When they questioned meI told the whole truth according to my oath. 'Hers' said I'is the guilt. It'sno good to conceal it; she did not love her husbandand she had a will of herown. . . .' The trial began in the morning and towards night they passed thissentence: to send her to hard labour in Siberia for thirteen years. After thatsentence Mashenka remained three months longer in prison. I went to see herandfrom Christian charity I took her a little tea and sugar. But as soon as she seteyes on me she began to shake all overwringing her hands and muttering: 'Goaway! go away!' And Kuzka she clasped to her as though she were afraid I wouldtake him away. 'See' said I'what you have come to! AhMashaMasha! youwould not listen to me when I gave you good adviceand now you must repent it.You are yourself to blame' said I; 'blame yourself!' I was giving her goodcounselbut she: 'Go awaygo away!' huddling herself and Kuzka against thewalland trembling all over.
"When they were taking her away to the chief town of our provinceIwalked by the escort as far as the station and slipped a rouble into her bundlefor my soul's salvation. But she did not get as far as Siberia. . . . She fellsick of fever and died in prison."
"Live like a dog and you must die a dog's death" said Dyudya.
"Kuzka was sent back home. . . . I thought it over and took him to bringup. After all -- though a convict's child -- still he was a living soulaChristian. . . . I was sorry for him. I shall make him my clerkand if I haveno children of my ownI'll make a merchant of him. Wherever I go nowI takehim with me; let him learn his work."
All the while Matvey Savitch had been telling his storyKuzka had sat on alittle stone near the gate. His head propped in both handshe gazed at the skyand in the distance he looked in the dark like a stump of wood.
"Kuzkacome to bed" Matvey Savitch bawled to him.
"Yesit's time" said Dyudyagetting up; he yawned loudly andadded:
"Folks will go their own wayand that's what comes of it."
Over the yard the moon was floating now in the heavens; she was moving onewaywhile the clouds beneath moved the other way; the clouds were disappearinginto the darknessbut still the moon could be seen high above the yard.
Matvey Savitch said a prayerfacing the churchand saying good-nighthelay down on the ground near his cart. Kuzkatoosaid a prayerlay down in thecartand covered himself with his little overcoat; he made himself a littlehole in the hay so as to be more comfortableand curled up so that his elbowslooked like knees. From the yard Dyudya could be seen lighting a candle in hisroom belowputting on his spectacles and standing in the corner with a book. Hewas a long while reading and crossing himself.
The travellers fell asleep. Afanasyevna and Sofya came up to the cart andbegan looking at Kuzka.
"The little orphan's asleep" said the old woman. "He's thinand frailnothing but bones. No mother and no one to care for himproperly."
"My Grishutka must be two years older" said Sofya. "Up at thefactory he lives like a slave without his mother. The foreman beats himI daresay. When I looked at this poor mite just nowI thought of my own Grishutkaand my heart went cold within me."
A minute passed in silence.
"Doesn't remember his motherI suppose" said the old woman.
"How could he remember?"
And big tears began dropping from Sofya's eyes.
"He's curled himself up like a cat" she saidsobbing and laughingwith tenderness and sorrow. . . . "Poor motherless mite!
Kuzka started and opened his eyes. He saw before him an uglywrinkledtear-stained faceand beside it anotheraged and toothlesswith a sharp chinand hooked noseand high above them the infinite sky with the flying clouds andthe moon. He cried out in frightand Sofyatoouttered a cry; both wereanswered by the echoand a faint stir passed over the stifling air; a watchmantapped somewhere neara dog barked. Matvey Savitch muttered something in hissleep and turned over on the other side.
Late at night when Dyudya and the old woman and the neighbouring watchmanwere all asleepSofya went out to the gate and sat down on the bench. She feltstifled and her head ached from weeping. The street was a wide and long one; itstretched for nearly two miles to the right and as far to the leftand the endof it was out of sight. The moon was now not over the yardbut behind thechurch. One side of the street was flooded with moonlightwhile the other sidelay in black shadow. The long shadows of the poplars and the starling-cotesstretched right across the streetwhile the church cast a broad shadowblackand terrible that enfolded Dyudya's gates and half his house. The street wasstill and deserted. From time to time the strains of mu sic floated faintly fromthe end of the street -- Alyoshkamost likelyplaying his concertina.
Someone moved in the shadow near the church enclosureand Sofya could notmake out whether it were a man or a cowor perhaps merely a big bird rustlingin the trees. But then a figure stepped out of the shadowhaltedand saidsomething in a man's voicethen vanished down the turning by the church. Alittle laternot three yards from the gateanother figure came into sight; itwalked straight from the church to the gate and stopped shortseeing Sofya onthe bench.
"Varvarais that you?" said Sofya.
"And if it were?"
It was Varvara. She stood still a minutethen came up to the bench and satdown.
"Where have you been?" asked Sofya.
Varvara made no answer.
"You'd better mind you don't get into trouble with such goings-onmygirl" said Sofya. "Did you hear how Mashenka was kicked and lashedwith the reins? You'd better look outor they'll treat you the same."
Varvara laughed into her kerchief and whispered:
"I have just been with the priest's son."
"It's a sin!" whispered Sofya.
"Welllet it be. . . . What do I care? If it's a sinthen it is a sinbut better be struck dead by thunder than live like this. I'm young and strongand I've a filthy crooked hunchback for a husbandworse than Dyudya himselfcurse him! When I was a girlI hadn't bread to eator a shoe to my footandto get away from that wretchedness I was tempted by Alyoshka's moneyand gotcaught like a fish in a netand I'd rather have a viper for my bedfellow thanthat scurvy Alyoshka. And what's your life? It makes me sick to look at it. YourFyodor sent you packing from the factory and he's taken up with another woman.They have robbed you of your boy and made a slave of him. You work like a horseand never hear a kind word. I'd rather pine all my days an old maidI'd ratherget half a rouble from the priest's sonI'd rather beg my breador throwmyself into the well. . .
"It's a sin!" whispered Sofya again.
"Welllet it be."
Somewhere behind the church the same three voicestwo tenors and a bassbegan singing again a mournful song. And again the words could not bedistinguished.
"They are not early to bed" Varvara saidlaughing.
And she began telling in a whisper of her midnight walks with the priest'ssonand of the stories he had told herand of his comradesand of the fun shehad with the travellers who stayed in the house. The mournful song stirred alonging for life and freedom. Sofya began to laugh; she thought it sinful andterrible and sweet to hear aboutand she felt envious and sorry that shetoohad not been a sinner when she was young and pretty.
In the churchyard they heard twelve strokes beaten on the watchman's board.
"It's time we were asleep" said Sofyagetting up"ormaybewe shall catch it from Dyudya."
They both went softly into the yard.
"I went away without hearing what he was telling about Mashenka"said Varvaramaking herself a bed under the window.
"She died in prisonhe said. She poisoned her husband."
Varvara lay down beside Sofya a whileand said softly:
"I'd make away with my Alyoshka and never regret it."
"You talk nonsense; God forgive you."
When Sofya was just dropping asleepVarvaracoming closewhispered in herear:
"Let us get rid of Dyudya and Alyoshka!"
Sofya started and said nothing. Then she opened her eyes and gazed a longwhile steadily at the sky.
"People would find out" she said.
"Nothey wouldn't. Dyudya's an old manit's time he did die; andthey'd say Alyoshka died of drink."
"I'm afraid . . . God would chastise us."
"Welllet Him. . . ."
Both lay awake thinking in silence.
"It's cold" said Sofyabeginning to shiver all over. "Itwill soon be morning. . . . Are you asleep?"
"No. . . . Don't you mind what I saydear" whispered Varvara;"I get so mad with the damned brutesI don't know what I do say. Go tosleepor it will be daylight directly. . . . Go to sleep."
Both were quiet and soon they fell asleep.
Earlier than all woke the old woman. She waked up Sofya and they wenttogether into the cowshed to milk the cows. The hunchback Alyoshka came inhopelessly drunk without his concertina; his breast and knees had been in thedust and straw -- he must have fallen down in the road. Staggeringhe went intothe cowshedand without undressing he rolled into a sledge and began to snoreat once. When first the crosses on the church and then the windows were flashingin the light of the rising sunand shadows stretched across the yard over thedewy grass from the trees and the top of the wellMatvey Savitch jumped up andbegan hurrying about:
"Kuzka! get up!" he shouted. "It's time to put in the horses!Look sharp!"
The bustle of morning was beginning. A young Jewess in a brown gown withflounces led a horse into the yard to drink. The pulley of the well creakedplaintivelythe bucket knocked as it went down. . . .
Kuzkasleepytiredcovered with dewsat up in the cartlazily putting onhis little overcoatand listening to the drip of the water from the bucket intothe well as he shivered with the cold.
"Auntie!" shouted Matvey Savitch to Sofya"tell my lad tohurry up and to harness the horses!"
And Dyudya at the same instant shouted from the window:
"Sofyatake a farthing from the Jewess for the horse's drink! They'realways in herethe mangy creatures!
In the street sheep were running up and downbaaing; the peasant women wereshouting at the shepherdwhile he played his pipescracked his whiporanswered them in a thick sleepy bass. Three sheep strayed into the yardand notfinding the gate againpushed at the fence.
Varvara was waked by the noiseand bundling her bedding up in her armsshewent into the house.
"You might at least drive the sheep out!" the old woman bawledafter her"my lady!"
"I dare say! As if I were going to slave for you Herods!" mutteredVarvaragoing into the house.
Dyudya came out of the house with his accounts in his handssat down on thestepand began reckoning how much the traveller owed him for the night'slodgingoatsand watering his horses.
"You charge pretty heavily for the oatsmy good man" said MatveySavitch.
"If it's too muchdon't take them. There's no compulsionmerchant."
When the travellers were ready to startthey were detained for a minute.Kuzka had lost his cap.
"Little swinewhere did you put it?" Matvey Savitch roaredangrily. "Where is it?"
Kuzka's face was working with terror; he ran up and down near the cartandnot finding it thereran to the gate and then to the shed. The old woman andSofya helped him look.
"I'll pull your ears off!" yelled Matvey Savitch. "Dirtybrat!"
The cap was found at the bottom of the cart.
Kuzka brushed the hay off it with his sleeveput it onand timidly hecrawled into the cartstill with an expression of terror on his face as thoughhe were afraid of a blow from behind.
Matvey Savitch crossed himself. The driver gave a tug at the reins and thecart rolled out of the yard.
IT was three o'clock in the night. The postmanready to set offin his capand his coatwith a rusty sword in his handwas standing near the doorwaiting for the driver to finish putting the mail bags into the cart which hadjust been brought round with three horses. The sleepy postmaster sat at histablewhich was like a counter; he was filling up a form and saying:
"My nephewthe studentwants to go to the station at once. So lookhereIgnatyevlet him get into the mail cart and take him with you to thestation: though it is against the regulations to take people with the mailwhat's one to do? It's better for him to drive with you free than for me to hirehorses for him."
"Ready!" they heard a shout from the yard.
"Wellgo thenand God be with you" said the postmaster."Which driver is going?"
"Comesign the receipt."
The postman signed the receipt and went out. At the entrance of thepost-office there was the dark outline of a cart and three hors es. The horseswere standing still except that one of the tracehorses kept uneasily shiftingfrom one leg to the other and tossing its headmaking the bell clang from timeto time. The cart with the mail bags looked like a patch of darkness. Twosilhouettes were moving lazily beside it: the student with a portmanteau in hishand and a driver. The latter was smoking a short pipe; the light of the pipemoved about in the darknessdying away and flaring up again; for an instant itlighted up a bit of a sleevethen a shaggy moustache and big copper-red nosethen stern-lookingoverhanging eyebrows. The postman pressed down the mail bagswith his handslaid his sword on them and jumped into the cart. The studentclambered irresolutely in after himand accidentally touching him with hiselbowsaid timidly and politely: "I beg your pardon."
The pipe went out. The postmaster came out of the post-office just as he wasin his waistcoat and slippers; shrinking from the night dampness and clearinghis throathe walked beside the cart and said:
"WellGod speed! Give my love to your motherMihailo. Give my love tothem all. And youIgnatyevmind you don't forget to give the parcel toBystretsov. . . . Off!"
The driver took the reins in one handblew his noseandarranging the seatunder himselfclicked to the horses.
"Give them my love" the postmaster repeated.
The big bell clanged something to the little bellsthe little bells gave ita friendly answer. The cart squeakedmoved. The big bell lamentedthe littlebells laughed. Standing up in his seat the driver lashed the restless tracehorsetwiceand the cart rumbled with a hollow sound along the dusty road. The littletown was asleep. Houses and trees stood black on each side of the broad streetand not a light was to be seen. Narrow clouds stretched here and there over thestar-spangled skyand where the dawn would soon be coming there was a narrowcrescent moon; but neither the starsof which there were manynor thehalf-moonwhich looked whitelighted up the night air. It was cold and dampand there was a smell of autumn.
The studentwho thought that politeness required him to talk affably to aman who had not refused to let him accompany himbegan:
"In summer it would be light at this timebut now there is not even asign of the dawn. Summer is over!"
The student looked at the sky and went on:
"Even from the sky one can see that it is autumn. Look to the right. Doyou see three stars side by side in a straight line? That is the constellationof Orionwhichin our hemisphereonly becomes visible in September."
The postmanthrusting his hands into his sleeves and retreating up to hisears into his coat collardid not stir and did not glance at the sky.Apparently the constellation of Orion did not interest him. He was accustomed tosee the starsand probably he had long grown weary of them. The student pausedfor a while and then said:
"It's cold! It's time for the dawn to begin. Do you know what time thesun rises?"
"What time does the sun rise now?"
"Between five and six" said the driver.
The mail cart drove out of the town. Now nothing could be seen on either sideof the road but the fences of kitchen gardens and here and there a solitarywillow-tree; everything in front of them was shrouded in darkness. Here in theopen country the half-moon looked bigger and the stars shone more brightly. Thencame a scent of dampness; the postman shrank further into his collarthestudent felt an unpleasant chill first creeping about his feetthen over themail bagsover his hands and his face. The horses moved more slowly; the bellwas mute as though it were frozen. There was the sound of the splash of waterand stars reflected in the water danced under the horses' feet and round thewheels.
But ten minutes later it became so dark that neither the stars nor the mooncould be seen. The mail cart had entered the forest. Prickly pine branches werecontinually hitting the student on his cap and a spider's web settled on hisface. Wheels and hoofs knocked against huge rootsand the mail cart swayed fromside to side as though it were drunk.
"Keep to the road" said the postman angrily. "Why do you runup the edge? My face is scratched all over by the twigs! Keep more to theright!"
But at that point there was nearly an accident. The cart suddenly bounded asthough in the throes of a convulsionbegan tremblingandwith a creaklurched heavily first to the right and then to the leftand at a fearful pacedashed along the forest track. The horses had taken fright at something andbolted.
"Wo! wo!" the driver cried in alarm. "Wo . . . you devils!
The studentviolently shakenbent forward and tried to find something tocatch hold of so as to keep his balance and save himself from being thrown outbut the leather mail bags were slipperyand the driverwhose belt the studenttried to catch atwas himself tossed up and down and seemed every moment on thepoint of flying out. Through the rattle of the wheels and the creaking of thecart they heard the sword fall with a clank on the groundthen a little latersomething fell with two heavy thuds behind the mail cart.
"Wo!" the driver cried in a piercing voicebending backwards."Stop!"
The student fell on his face and bruised his forehead against the driver'sseatbut was at once tossed back again and knocked his spine violently againstthe back of the cart.
"I am falling!" was the thought that flashed through his mindbutat that instant the horses dashed out of the forest into the openturnedsharply to the rightand rumbling over a bridge of logssuddenly stopped deadand the suddenness of this halt flung the student forward again.
The driver and the student were both breathless. The postman was not in thecart. He had been thrown outtogether with his swordthe student'sportmanteauand one of the mail bags.
"Stopyou rascal! Sto-op!" they heard him shout from the forest."You damned blackguard!" he shoutedrunning up to the cartand therewas a note of pain and fury in his tearful voice. "You anathemaplaguetake you!" he roareddashing up to the driver and shaking his fist at him.
"What a to-do! Lord have mercy on us!" muttered the driver in aconscience-stricken voicesetting right something in the harness at the horses'heads. "It's all that devil of a tracehorse. Cursed filly; it is only aweek since she has run in harness. She goes all rightbut as soon as we go downhill there is trouble! She wants a touch or two on the nosethen she wouldn'tplay about like this. . . Stea-eady! Damn!"
While the driver was setting the horses to rights and looking for theportmanteauthe mail bagand the sword on the roadthe postman in a plaintivevoice shrill with anger ejaculated oaths. After replacing the luggage the driverfor no reason whatever led the horses for a hundred pacesgrumbled at therestless tracehorseand jumped up on the box.
When his fright was over the student felt amused and good-humoured. It wasthe first time in his life that he had driven by night in a mail cartand theshaking he had just been throughthe postman's having been thrown outand thepain in his own back struck him as interesting adventures. He lighted acigarette and said with a laugh:
"Why you knowyou might break your neck like that! I very nearly flewoutand I didn't even notice you had been thrown out. I can fancy what it islike driving in autumn!"
The postman did not speak.
"Have you been going with the post for long?" the student asked.
"Oho; every day?"
"Yesevery day. I take this post and drive back again at once.Why?"
Making the journey every dayhe must have had a good many interestingadventures in eleven years. On bright summer and gloomy autumn nightsor inwinter when a ferocious snowstorm whirled howling round the mail cartit musthave been hard to avoid feeling frightened and uncanny. No doubt more than oncethe horses had boltedthe mail cart had stuck in the mudthey had beenattacked by highwaymenor had lost their way i n the blizzard. . . .
"I can fancy what adventures you must have had in eleven years!"said the student. "I expect it must be terrible driving?"
He said this and expected that the postman would tell him somethingbut thelatter preserved a sullen silence and retreated into his collar. Meanwhile itbegan to get light. The sky changed colour imperceptibly; it still seemed darkbut by now the horses and the driver and the road could be seen. The crescentmoon looked bigger and biggerand the cloud that stretched below itshapedlike a cannon in a gun-carriageshowed a faint yellow on its lower edge. Soonthe postman's face was visible. It was wet with dewgrey and rigid as the faceof a corpse. An expression of dullsullen anger was set upon itas though thepostman were still in pain and still angry with the driver.
"Thank God it is daylight!" said the studentlooking at hischilled and angry face. "I am quite frozen. The nights are cold inSeptemberbut as soon as the sun rises it isn't cold. Shall we soon reach thestation?"
The postman frowned and made a wry face.
"How fond you are of talkingupon my word!" he said. "Can'tyou keep quiet when you are travelling?"
The student was confusedand did not approach him again all the journey. Themorning came on rapidly. The moon turned pale and melted away into the dull greyskythe cloud turned yellow all overthe stars grew dimbut the east wasstill cold-looking and the same colour as the rest of the skyso that one couldhardly believe the sun was hidden in it.
The chill of the morning and the surliness of the postman gradually infectedthe student. He looked apathetically at the country around himwaited for thewarmth of the sunand thought of nothing but how dreadful and horrible it mustbe for the poor trees and the grass to endure the cold nights. The sun rose dimdrowsyand cold. The tree-tops were not gilded by the rays of the rising sunas usually describedthe sunbeams did not creep over the earth and there was nosign of joy in the flight of the sleepy birds. The cold remained just the samenow that the sun was up as it had been in the night.
The student looked drowsily and ill-humouredly at the curtained windows of amansion by which the mail cart drove. Behind those windowshe thoughtpeoplewere most likely enjoying their soundest morning sleep not hearing the bellsnor feeling the coldnor seeing the postman's angry face; and if the bell didwake some young ladyshe would turn over on the other sidesmile in thefulness of her warmth and comfortanddrawing up her feet and putting her handunder her cheekwould go off to sleep more soundly than ever.
The student looked at the pond which gleamed near the house and thought ofthe carp and the pike which find it possible to live in cold water. . . .
"It's against the regulations to take anyone with the post. . . ."the postman said unexpectedly. "It's not allowed! And since it is notallowedpeople have no business . . . to get in. . . . Yes. It makes nodifference to meit's trueonly I don't like itand I don't wish it."
"Why didn't you say so beforeif you don't like it?"
The postman made no answer but still had an unfriendlyangry expression.Whena little laterthe horses stopped at the entrance of the station thestudent thanked him and got out of the cart. The mail train had not yet come in.A long goods train stood in a siding; in the tender the engine driver and hisassistantwith faces wet with dewwere drinking tea from a dirty tin teapot.The carriagesthe platformsthe seats were all wet and cold. Until the traincame in the student stood at the buffet drinking tea while the postmanwith hishands thrust up his sleeves and the same look of anger still on his facepacedup and down the platform in solitudestaring at the ground under his feet.
With whom was he angry? Was it with peoplewith povertywith the autmnnights?
THE NEW VILLA
Two miles from the village of Obrutchanovo a huge bridge was being built.From the villagewhich stood up high on the steep river-bankits trellis-likeskeleton could be seenand in foggy weather and on still winter dayswhen itsdelicate iron girders and all the scaffolding around was covered with hoarfrostit presented a picturesque and even fantastic spectacle. Kutcherovtheengineer who was building the bridgea stoutbroad-shoulderedbearded man ina soft crumpled cap drove through the village in his racing droshky or his opencarriage. Now and then on holidays navvies working on the bridge would come tothe village; they begged for almslaughed at the womenand sometimes carriedoff something. But that was rare; as a rule the days passed quietly andpeacefully as though no bridge-building were going onand only in the eveningwhen camp fires gleamed near the bridgethe wind faintly wafted the songs ofthe navvies. And by day there was sometimes the mournful clang of metaldon-don-don.
It happened that the engineer's wife came to see him. She was pleased withthe river-banks and the gorgeous view over the green valley with treeschurchesflocksand she began begging her husband to buy a small piece ofground and to build them a cottage on it. Her husband agreed. They bought sixtyacres of landand on the high bank in a fieldwhere in earlier days the cowsof Obrutchanovo used to wanderthey built a pretty house of two storeys with aterrace and a verandahwith a tower and a flagstaff on which a flag flutteredon Sundays -- they built it in about three monthsand then all the winter theywere planting big treesand when spring came and everything began to be greenthere were already avenues to the new housea gardener and two labourers inwhite aprons were digging near itthere was a little fountainand a globe oflooking-glass flashed so brilliantly that it was painful to look at. The househad already been named the New Villa.
On a brightwarm morning at the end of May two horses were brought toObrutchanovo to the village blacksmithRodion Petrov. They came from the NewVilla. The horses were sleekgraceful beastsas white as snowand strikinglyalike.
"Perfect swans!" said Rodiongazing at them with reverentadmiration.
His wife Stepanidahis children and grandchildren came out into the streetto look at them. By degrees a crowd collected. The Lytchkovsfather and sonboth men with swollen faces and entirely beardlesscame up bareheaded. Kozovatallthin old man with a longnarrow beardcame up leaning on a stick with acrook handle: he kept winking with his crafty eyes and smiling ironically asthough he knew something.
"It's only that they are white; what is there in them?" he said."Put mine on oatsand they will be just as sleek. They ought to be in aplough and with a whiptoo. . . ."
The coachman simply looked at him with disdainbut did not utter a word. Andafterwardswhile they were blowing up the fire at the forgethe coachmantalked while he smoked cigarettes. The peasants learned from him variousdetails: his employers were wealthy people; his mistressElena Ivanovnahadtill her marriage lived in Moscow in a poor way as a governess; she waskind-heartedcompassionateand fond of helping the poor. On the new estatehetold themthey were not going to plough or to sowbut simply to live for theirpleasurelive only to breathe the fresh air. When he had finished and led thehorses back a crowd of boys followed himthe dogs barkedand Kozovlookingafter himwinked sarcastically.
"Landownerstoo-oo!" he said. "They have built a house andset up horsesbut I bet they are nobodies -- landownerstoo-oo."
Kozov for some reason took a dislike from the first to the new houseto thewhite horsesand to the handsomewell-fed coachman. Kozov was a solitary mana widower; he had a dreary life (he was prevented from working by a diseasewhich he sometimes called a rupture and sometimes worms) he was maintained byhis sonwho worked at a confectioner's in Harkov and sent him money; and fromearly morning till evening he sauntered at leisure
about the river or about the village; if he sawfor instancea peasant cartinga logor fishinghe would say: "That log's dry wood -- it isrotten" or"They won't bite in weather like this." In times ofdrought he would declare that there would not be a drop of rain till the frostcame; and when the rains came he would say that everything would rot in thefieldsthat everything was ruined. And as he said these things he would wink asthough he knew something.
At the New Villa they burned Bengal lights and sent up fireworks in theeveningsand a sailing-boat with red lanterns floated by Obrutchanovo. Onemorning the engineer's wifeElena Ivanovnaand her little daughter drove tothe village in a carriage with yellow wheels and a pair of dark bay ponies; bothmother and daughter were wearing broad-brimmed straw hatsbent down over theirears.
This was exactly at the time when they were carting manureand theblacksmith Rodiona tallgaunt old manbareheaded and barefootedwasstanding near his dirty and repulsive-looking cart andflusteredlooked at theponiesand it was evident by his face that he had never seen such little horsesbefore.
"The Kutcherov lady has come!" was whispered around. "Lookthe Kutcherov lady has come!"
Elena Ivanovna looked at the huts as though she were selecting oneand thenstopped at the very poorestat the windows of which there were so manychildren's heads -- flaxenredand dark. StepanidaRodion's wifea stoutwomancame running out of the hut; her kerchief slipped off her grey head; shelooked at the carriage facing the sunand her face smiled and wrinkled up asthough she were blind.
"This is for your children" said Elena Ivanovnaand she gave herthree roubles.
Stepanida suddenly burst into tears and bowed down to the ground. Rodiontooflopped to the grounddisplaying his brownish bald headand as he did sohe almost caught his wife in the ribs with the fork. Elena Ivanovna was overcomewith confusion and drove back.
The Lytchkovsfather and soncaught in their meadows two cart-horsesaponyand a broad-faced Aalhaus bull-calfand with the help of red-headedVolodkason of the blacksmith Rodiondrove them to the village. They calledthe village eldercollected witnessesand went to look at the damage.
"All rightlet 'em!" said Kozovwinking"le-et em! Let themget out of it if they canthe engineers! Do you think there is no such thing aslaw? All right! Send for the police inspectordraw up a statement! . . ."
"Draw up a statement" repeated Volodka.
"I don't want to let this pass!" shouted the younger Lytchkov. Heshouted louder and louderand his beardless face seemed to be more and moreswollen. "They've set up a nice fashion! Leave them freeand they willruin all the meadows! You've no sort of right to ill-treat people! We are notserfs now!"
"We are not serfs now!" repeated Volodka.
"We got on all right without a bridge" said the elder Lytchkovgloomily; "we did not ask for it. What do we want a bridge for? We don'twant it!"
"Brothersgood Christianswe cannot leave it like this!"
"All rightlet 'em!" said Kozovwinking. "Let them get outof it if they can! Landownersindeed!"
They went back to the villageand as they walked the younger Lytchkov beathimself on the breast with his fist and shouted all the wayand Volodkashoutedtoorepeating his words. And meanwhile quite a crowd had gathered inthe village round the thoroughbred bull-calf and the horses. The bullcalf wasembarrassed and looked up from under his browsbut suddenly lowered his muzzleto the ground and took to his heelskicking up his hind legs; Kozov wasfrightened and waved his stick at himand they all burst out laughing. Thenthey locked up the beasts and waited.
In the evening the engineer sent five roubles for the damageand the twohorsesthe pony and the bull-calfwithout being fed or given waterreturnedhometheir heads hanging with a guilty air as though they were convictedcriminals.
On getting the five roubles the Lytchkovsfather and sonthe village elderand Volodkapunted over the river in a boat and went to a hamlet on the otherside where there was a tavernand there had a long carousal. Their singing andthe shouting of the younger Lytchkov could be heard from the village. Theirwomen were uneasy and did not sleep all night. Rodion did not sleep either.
"It's a bad business" he saidsighing and turning from side toside. "The gentleman will be angryand then there will be trouble. . . .They have insulted the gentleman. . . . Ohthey've insulted him. It's a badbusiness. . ."
It happened that the peasantsRodion amongst themwent into their forest todivide the clearings for mowingand as they were returning home they were metby the engineer. He was wearing a red cotton shirt and high boots; a setter dogwith its long tongue hanging outfollowed behind him.
"Good-daybrothers" he said.
The peasants stopped and took off their hats.
"I have long wanted to have a talk with youfriends" he went on."This is what it is. Ever since the early spring your cattle have been inmy copse and garden every day. Everything is trampled down; the pigs have rootedup the meadoware ruining everything in the kitchen gardenand all theundergrowth in the copse is destroyed. There is no getting on with yourherdsmen; one asks them civillyand they are rude. Damage is done on my estateevery day and I do nothing -- I don't fine you or make a complaint; meanwhileyou impounded my horses and my bull calf and exacted five roubles. Was thatright? Is that neighbourly?" he went onand his face was so soft andpersuasiveand his expression was not forbidding. "Is that the way decentpeople behave? A week ago one of your people cut down two oak saplings in mycopse. You have dug up the road to Eresnevoand now I have to go two milesround. Why do you injure me at every step? What harm have I done you? For God'ssaketell me! My wife and I do our utmost to live with you in peace andharmony; we help the peasants as we can. My wife is a kindwarm-hearted woman;she never refuses you help. That is her dream -- to be of use to you and yourchildren. You reward us with evil for our good. You are unjustmy friends.Think of that. I ask you earnestly to think it over. We treat you humanely;repay us in the same coin."
He turned and went away. The peasants stood a little longerput on theircaps and walked away. Rodionwho always understood everything that was said tohim in some peculiar way of his ownheaved a sigh and said:
"We must pay. 'Repay in coinmy friends' . . . he said."
They walked to the village in silence. On reaching home Rodion said hisprayertook off his bootsand sat down on the bench beside his wife. Stepanidaand he always sat side by side when they were at homeand always walked side byside in the street; they ate and they drank and they slept always togetherandthe older they grew the more they loved one another. It was hot and crowded intheir hutand there were children everywhere -- on the floorsin the windowson the stove. . . . In spite of her advanced years Stepanida was still bearingchildrenand nowlooking at the crowd of childrenit was hard to distinguishwhich were Rodion's and which were Volodka's. Volodka's wifeLukeryaa plainyoung woman with prominent eyes and a nose like the beak of a birdwas kneadingdough in a tub; Volodka was sitting on the stove with his legs hanging.
"On the road near Nikita's buckwheat . . . the engineer with his dog . .." Rodion beganafter a restscratching his ribs and his elbow. "'You must pay' says he . . . 'coin' says he. . . . Coin or no coinwe shallhave to collect ten kopecks from every hut. We've offended the gentleman verymuch. I am sorry for him. . . ."
"We've lived without a bridge" said Volodkanot looking atanyone"and we don't want one."
"What next; the bridge is a government business."
"We don't want it."
"Your opinion is not asked. What is it to you?"
" 'Your opinion is not asked' " Volodka mimicked hi m. "Wedon't want to drive anywhere; what do we want with a bridge? If we have towecan cross by the boat."
Someone from the yard outside knocked at the window so violently that itseemed to shake the whole hut.
"Is Volodka at home?" he heard the voice of the younger Lytchkov."Volodkacome outcome along."
Volodka jumped down off the stove and began looking for his cap.
"Don't goVolodka" said Rodion diffidently. "Don't go withthemson. You are foolishlike a little child; they will teach you no good;don't go!"
"Don't goson" said Stepanidaand she blinked as though about toshed tears. "I bet they are calling you to the tavern."
" 'To the tavern' " Volodka mimicked.
"You'll come back drunk againyou currish Herod" said Lukeryalooking at him angrily. "Go alonggo alongand may you burn up withvodkayou tailless Satan!"
"You hold your tongue" shouted Volodka.
"They've married me to a foolthey've ruined mea luckless orphanyoured-headed drunkard . . ." wailed Lukeryawiping her face with a handcovered with dough. "I wish I had never set eyes on you."
Volodka gave her a blow on the ear and went off.
Elena Ivanovna and her little daughter visited the village on foot. They wereout for a walk. It was a Sundayand the peasant women and girls were walking upand down the street in their brightly-coloured dresses. Rodion and Stepanidasitting side by side at their doorbowed and smiled to Elena Ivanovna and herlittle daughter as to acquaintances. From the windows more than a dozen childrenstared at them; their faces expressed amazement and curiosityand they could beheard whispering:
"The Kutcherov lady has come! The Kutcherov lady!"
"Good-morning" said Elena Ivanovnaand she stopped; she pausedand then asked: "Wellhow are you getting on?"
"We get along all rightthank God" answered Rodionspeakingrapidly. "To be sure we get along."
"The life we lead!" smiled Stepanida. "You can see our povertyyourselfdear lady! The family is fourteen souls in alland only twobread-winners. We are supposed to be blacksmithsbut when they bring us a horseto shoe we have no coalnothing to buy it with. We are worried to deathlady" she went onand laughed. "Ohohwe are worried todeath."
Elena Ivanovna sat down at the entrance andputting her arm round her littlegirlpondered somethingand judging from the little girl's expressionmelancholy thoughts were straying through her mindtoo; as she brooded sheplayed with the sumptuous lace on the parasol she had taken out of her mother'shands.
"Poverty" said Rodion"a great deal of anxiety -- you see noend to it. HereGod sends no rain . . . our life is not easythere is nodenying it."
"You have a hard time in this life" said Elena Ivanovna"butin the other world you will be happy."
Rodion did not understand herand simply coughed into his clenched hand byway of reply. Stepanida said:
"Dear ladythe rich men will be all right in the next worldtoo. Therich put up candlespay for services; the rich give to beggarsbut what canthe poor man do? He has no time to make the sign of the cross. He is the beggarof beggars himself; how can he think of his soul? And many sins come frompoverty; from trouble we snarl at one another like dogswe haven't a good wordto say to one anotherand all sorts of things happendear lady -- God forbid!It seems we have no luck in this world nor the next. All the luck has fallen tothe rich."
She spoke gaily; she was evidently used to talking of her hard life. AndRodion smiledtoo; he was pleased that his old woman was so cleverso ready ofspeech.
"It is only on the surface that the rich seem to be happy" saidElena Ivanovna. "Every man has his sorrow. Here my husband and I do notlive poorlywe have meansbut are we happy? I am youngbut I have had fourchildren; my children are always being ill. I am illtooand constantly beingdoctored."
"And what is your illness?" asked Rodion.
"A woman's complaint. I get no sleep; a continual headache gives me nopeace. Here I am sitting and talkingbut my head is badI am weak all overand I should prefer the hardest labour to such a condition. My soultooistroubled; I am in continual fear for my childrenmy husband. Every family hasits own trouble of some sort; we have ours. I am not of noble birth. Mygrandfather was a simple peasantmy father was a tradesman in Moscow; he was aplainuneducated mantoowhile my husband's parents were wealthy anddistinguished. They did not want him to marry mebut he disobeyed themquarrelled with themand they have not forgiven us to this day. That worries myhusband; it troubles him and keeps him in constant agitation; he loves hismotherloves her dearly. So I am uneasytoomy soul is in pain."
Peasantsmen and womenwere by now standing round Rodion's hut andlistening. Kozov came uptooand stood twitching his longnarrow beard. TheLytchkovsfather and sondrew near.
"And say what you likeone cannot be happy and satisfied if one doesnot feel in one's proper place." Elena Ivanovna went on. "Each of youhas his strip of landeach of you works and knows what he is working for; myhusband builds bridges -- in shorteveryone has his placewhile II simplywalk about. I have not my bit to work. I don't workand feel as though I werean outsider. I am saying all this that you may not judge from outwardappearances; if a man is expensively dressed and has means it does not provethat he is satisfied with his life."
She got up to go away and took her daughter by the hand.
"I like your place here very much" she saidand smiledand fromthat faintdiffident smile one could tell how unwell she really washow youngand how pretty; she had a palethinnish face with dark eyebrows and fair hair.And the little girl was just such another as her mother: thinfairandslender. There was a fragrance of scent about them.
"I like the river and the forest and the village" Elena Ivanovnawent on; "I could live here all my lifeand I feel as though here I shouldget strong and find my place. I want to help you -- I want to dreadfully -- tobe of useto be a real friend to you. I know your needand what I don't know Ifeelmy heart guesses. I am sickfeebleand for me perhaps it is not possibleto change my life as I would. But I have children. I will try to bring them upthat they may be of use to youmay love you. I shall impress upon themcontinually that their life does not belong to thembut to you. Only I beg youearnestlyI beseech youtrust uslive in friendship with us. My husband is akindgood man. Don't worry himdon't irritate him. He is sensitive to everytrifleand yesterdayfor instanceyour cattle were in our vegetable gardenand one of your people broke down the fence to the bee-hivesand such anattitude to us drives my husband to despair. I beg you" she went on in animploring voiceand she clasped her hands on her bosom -- "I beg you totreat us as good neighbours; let us live in peace! There is a sayingyou knowthat even a bad peace is better than a good quarreland'Don't buy propertybut buy neighbours.' I repeat my husband is a kind man and good; if all goeswell we promise to do everything in our power for you; we will mend the roadswe will build a school for your children. I promise you."
"Of course we thank you humblylady" said Lytchkov the fatherlooking at the ground; "you are educated people; it is for you to knowbest. Onlyyou seeVoronova rich peasant at Eresnevopromised to build aschool; hetoosaid'I will do this for you' 'I will do that for you' andhe only put up the framework and refused to go on. And then they made thepeasants put the roof on and finish it; it cost them a thousand roubles. Voronovdid not care; he only stroked his beardbut the peasants felt it a bithard."
"That was a crowbut now there's a rooktoo" said Kozovand hewinked.
There was the sound of laughter.
"We don't want a school" said Volodka sullenly. "Our childrengo to Petrovskoeand they can
go on going there; we don't want it."
Elena Ivanovna seemed suddenly intimidated; her face looked paler andthinnershe shrank into herself as though she had been touched with somethingcoarseand walked away without uttering another word. And she walked more andmore quicklywithout looking round.
"Lady" said Rodionwalking after her"ladywait a bit;hear what I would say to you."
He followed her without his capand spoke softly as though begging.
"Ladywait and hear what I will say to you."
They had walked out of the villageand Elena Ivanovna stopped beside a cartin the shade of an old mountain ash.
"Don't be offendedlady" said Rodion. "What does it mean?Have patience. Have patience for a couple of years. You will live hereyou willhave patienceand it will all come round. Our folks are good and peaceable;there's no harm in them; it's God's truth I'm telling you. Don't mind Kozov andthe Lytchkovsand don't mind Volodka. He's a fool; he listens to the first thatspeaks. The others are quiet folks; they are silent. Some would be gladyouknowto say a word from the heart and to stand up for themselvesbut cannot.They have a heart and a consciencebut no tongue. Don't be offended . . . havepatience. . . . What does it matter?"
Elena Ivanovna looked at the broadtranquil riverponderingand tearsflowed down her cheeks. And Rodion was troubled by those tears; he almost criedhimself.
"Never mind . . ." he muttered. "Have patience for a couple ofyears. You can have the schoolyou can have the roadsonly not all at once. Ifyou wentlet us sayto sow corn on that mound you would first have to weed itoutto pick out all the stonesand then to ploughand work and work . . . andwith the peopleyou seeit is the same . . . you must work and work until youovercome them."
The crowd had moved away from Rodion's hutand was coming along the streettowards the mountain ash. They began singing songs and playing the concertinaand they kept coming closer and closer. . . .
"Mammalet us go away from here" said the little girlhuddlingup to her motherpale and shaking all over; "let us go awaymamma!
"To Moscow. . . . Let us gomamma."
The child began crying.
Rodion was utterly overcome; his face broke into profuse perspiration; hetook out of his pocket a little crooked cucumberlike a half-mooncovered withcrumbs of rye breadand began thrusting it into the little girl's hands.
"Comecome" he mutteredscowling severely; "take the littlecucumbereat it up. . . . You mustn't cry. Mamma will whip you. . . . She'lltell your father of you when you get home. Comecome. . . ."
They walked onand he still followed behind themwanting to say somethingfriendly and persuasive to them. And seeing that they were both absorbed intheir own thoughts and their own griefsand not noticing himhe stopped andshading his eyes from the sunlooked after them for a long time till theydisappeared into their copse.
The engineer seemed to grow irritable and pettyand in every trivialincident saw an act of robbery or outrage. His gate was kept bolted even by dayand at night two watchmen walked up and down the garden beating a board; andthey gave up employing anyone from Obrutchanovo as a labourer. As ill-luck wouldhave it someone (either a peasant or one of the workmen) took the new wheels offthe cart and replaced them by old onesthen soon afterwards two bridles and apair of pincers were carried offand murmurs arose even in the village. Peoplebegan to say that a search should be made at the Lytchkovs' and at Volodka'sand then the bridles and the pincers were found under the hedge in theengineer's garden; someone had thrown them down there.
It happened that the peasants were coming in a crowd out of the forestandagain they met the engineer on the road. He stoppedand without wishing themgood-day he beganlooking angrily first at onethen at another:
"I have begged you not to gather mushrooms in the park and near theyardbut to leave them for my wife and childrenbut your girls come beforedaybreak and there is not a mushroom left. . . .Whether one asks you or not itmakes no difference. Entreatiesand friendlinessand persuasion I see are alluseless."
He fixed his indignant eyes on Rodion and went on:
"My wife and I behaved to you as human beingsas to our equalsandyou? But what's the use of talking! It will end by our looking down upon you.There is nothing left!"
And making an effort to restrain his angernot to say too muchhe turnedand went on.
On getting home Rodion said his prayertook off his bootsand sat downbeside his wife.
"Yes . . ." he began with a sigh. "We were walking along justnowand Mr. Kutcherov met us. . . . Yes. . . . He saw the girls at daybreak. .. 'Why don't they bring mushrooms' . . . he said 'to my wife and children?' hesaid. . . . And then he looked at me and he said: 'I and my wife will look afteryou' he said. I wanted to fall down at his feetbut I hadn't the courage. . .. God give him health. . . God bless him! . . ."
Stephania crossed herself and sighed.
"They are kindsimple-hearted people" Rodion went on. " 'Weshall look after you.' . . . He promised me that before everyone. In our old age. . . it wouldn't be a bad thing. . . . I should always pray for them. . . .Holy Motherbless them. . . ."
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Crossthe fourteenth of Septemberwasthe festival of the village church. The Lytchkovsfather and sonwent acrossthe river early in the morning and returned to dinner drunk; they spent a longtime going about the villagealternately singing and swearing; then they had afight and went to the New Villa to complain. First Lytchkov the father went intothe yard with a long ashen stick in his hands. He stopped irresolutely and tookoff his hat. Just at that moment the engineer and his family were sitting on theverandahdrinking tea.
"What do you want?" shouted the engineer.
"Your honour . . ." Lytchkov beganand burst into tears."Show the Divine mercyprotect me . . . my son makes my life a misery . .. your honour. . ."
Lytchkov the son walked uptoo; hetoowas bareheaded and had a stick inhis hand; he stopped and fixed his drunken senseless eyes on the verandah.
"It is not my business to settle your affairs" said the engineer."Go to the rural captain or the police officer."
"I have been everywhere. . . . I have lodged a petition . . ." saidLytchkov the fatherand he sobbed. "Where can I go now? He can kill menowit seems. He can do anything. Is that the way to treat a father? Afather?"
He raised his stick and hit his son on the head; the son raised his stick andstruck his father just on his bald patch such a blow that the stick bouncedback. The father did not even flinchbut hit his son again and again on thehead. And so they stood and kept hitting one another on the headand it lookednot so much like a fight as some sort of a game. And peasantsmen and womenstood in a crowd at the gate and looked into the gardenand the faces of allwere grave. They were the peasants who had come to greet them for the holidaybut seeing the Lytchkovsthey were ashamed and did not go in.
The next morning Elena Ivanovna went with the children to Moscow. And therewas a rumour that the engineer was selling his house. . . .
The peasants had long ago grown used to the sight of the bridgeand it wasdifficult to imagine the river at that place without a bridge. The heap ofrubble left from the building of it had long been overgrown with grassthenavvies were forgottenand instead of the strains of the "Dubinushka"that they used to singthe peasants heard almost every hour the sounds of apassing train.
The New Villa has long ago been sold; now it belongs to a government clerkwho comes here from the town for the holidays with his familydrinks tea on theterraceand then goes back to the town again. He wears a cockade on his cap; hetalks and clears his throat as though he were a very important officialthoughhe is only of the rank of a collegiate secretaryand when the peasants bow hemakes no response.
In Obrutchanovo everyone has grown older; Kozov is dead. In Rodion's hutthere are even more children. Volodka has grown a long red beard. They are stillas poor as ever.
In the early spring the Obrutchanovo peasants were sawing wood near thestation. And after work they were going home; they walked without haste oneafter the other. Broad saws curved over their shoulders; the sun was reflectedin them. The nightingales were singing in the bushes on the banklarks weretrilling in the heavens. It was quiet at the New Villa; there was not a soulthereand only golden pigeons -- golden because the sunlight was streaming uponthem -- were flying over the house. All of them -- Rodionthe two Lytchkovsand Volodka -- thought of the white horsesthe little poniesthe fireworksthe boat with the lanterns; they remembered how the engineer's wifesobeautiful and so grandly dressedhad come into the village and talked to themin such a friendly way. And it seemed as though all that had never been; it waslike a dream or a fairy-tale.
They trudged alongtired outand mused as they went. . . . In theirvillagethey musedthe people were goodquietsensiblefearing GodandElena Ivanovnatoowas quietkindand gentle; it made one sad to look atherbut why had they not got on together? Why had they parted like enemies? Howwas it that some mist had shrouded from their eyes what mattered mostand hadlet them see nothing but damage done by cattlebridlespincersand all thosetrivial things which nowas they remembered themseemed so nonsensical? Howwas it that with the new owner they lived in peaceand yet had been on badterms with the engineer?
And not knowing what answer to make to these questions they were all silentexcept Volodkawho muttered something.
"What is it?" Rodion asked.
"We lived without a bridge . . ." said Volodka gloomily. "Welived without a bridgeand did not ask for one . . . and we don't want it. . .."
No one answered him and they walked on in silence with drooping heads.
Two peasant constables -- one a stubbyblack-bearded individual with suchexceptionally short legs that if you looked at him from behind it seemed asthough his legs began much lower down than in other people; the otherlongthinand straight as a stickwith a scanty beard of dark reddish colour --were escorting to the district town a tramp who refused to remember his name.The first waddled alonglooking from side to sidechewing now a strawnow hisown sleeveslapping himself on the haunches and hummingand altogether had acareless and frivolous air; the otherin spite of his lean face and narrowshoulderslooked solidgraveand substantial; in the lines and expression ofhis whole figure he was like the priests among the Old Believersor thewarriors who are painted on old-fashioned ikons. "For his wisdom God hadadded to his forehead" -- that ishe was bald -- which increased theresemblance referred to. The first was called Andrey Ptahathe second NikandrSapozhnikov.
The man they were escorting did not in the least correspond with theconception everyone has of a tramp. He was a frail little manweak andsickly-lookingwith smallcolourlessand extremely indefinite features. Hiseyebrows were scantyhis expression mild and submissive; he had scarcely atrace of a moustachethough he was over thirty. He walked along timidlybentforwardwith his hands thrust into his sleeves. The collar of his shabby clothovercoatwhich did not look like a peasant'swas turned up to the very brim ofhis capso that only his little red nose ventured to peep out into the light ofday. He spoke in an ingratiating tenorcontinually coughing. It was veryverydifficult to believe that he was a tramp concealing his surname. He was morelike an unsuccessful priest's sonstricken by God and reduced to beggary; aclerk discharged for drunkenness; a merchant's son or nephew who had tried hisfeeble powers in a theatrical careerand was now going home to play the lastact in the parable of the prodigal son; perhapsjudging by the dull patiencewith which he struggled with the hopeless autumn mudhe might have been afanatical monkwandering from one Russian monastery to anothercontinuallyseeking "a peaceful lifefree from sin" and not finding it. . . .
The travellers had been a long while on their waybut they seemed to bealways on the same small patch of ground. In front of them there stretchedthirty feet of muddy black-brown mudbehind them the sameand wherever onelooked furtheran impenetrable wall of white fog. They went on and onbut theground remained the samethe wall was no nearerand the patch on which theywalked seemed still the same patch. They got a glimpse of a whiteclumsy-looking stonea small ravineor a bundle of hay dropped by a passer-bythe brief glimmer of a great muddy puddleorsuddenlya shadow with vagueoutlines would come into view ahead of them; the nearer they got to it thesmaller and darker it became; nearer stilland there stood up before thewayfarers a slanting milestone with the number rubbed offor a wretchedbirch-tree drenched and bare like a wayside beggar. The birch-tree would whispersomething with what remained of its yellow leavesone leaf would break off andfloat lazily to the ground. . . . And then again fogmudthe brown grass atthe edges of the road. On the grass hung dingyunfriendly tears. They were notthe tears of soft joy such as the earth weeps at welcoming the summer sun andparting from itand such as she gives to drink at dawn to the corncrakesquailsand gracefullong-beaked crested snipes. The travellers' feet stuck inthe heavyclinging mud. Every step cost an effort.
Andrey Ptaha was somewhat excited. He kept looking round at the tramp andtrying to understand how a livesober man could fail to remember his name.
"You are an orthodox Christianaren't you?" he asked.
"Yes" the tramp answered mildly.
"H'm. . . then you've been christened?"
"Whyto be sure! I'm not a Turk. I go to church and to the sacramentand do not eat meat when it is forbidden. And I observe my religious dutiespunctually. . . ."
"Wellwhat are you calledthen?"
"Call me what you likegood man."
Ptaha shrugged his shoulders and slapped himself on the haunches in extremeperplexity. The other constableNikandr Sapozhnikovmaintained a staidsilence. He was not so naive as Ptahaand apparently knew very well the reasonswhich might induce an orthodox Christian to conceal his name from other people.His expressive face was cold and stern. He walked apart and did not condescendto idle chatter with his companionsbutas it weretried to show everyoneeven the foghis sedateness and discretion.
"God knows what to make of you" Ptaha persisted in addressing thetramp. "Peasant you are notand gentleman you are notbut some sort of athing between. . . . The other day I was washing a sieve in the pond and caughta reptile -- seeas long as a fingerwith gills and a tail. The first minute Ithought it was a fishthen I looked -- andblow it! if it hadn't paws. It wasnot a fishit was a viperand the deuce only knows what it was. . . . Sothat's like you. . . . What's your calling?"
"I am a peasant and of peasant family" sighed the tramp. "Mymamma was a house serf. I don't look like a peasantthat's truefor such hasbeen my lotgood man. My mamma was a nurse with the gentryand had everycomfortand as I was of her flesh and bloodI lived with her in the master'shouse. She petted and spoiled meand did her best to take me out of my humbleclass and make a gentleman of me. I slept in a bedevery day I ate a realdinnerI wore breeches and shoes like a gentleman's child. What my mamma ate Iwas fed ontoo; they gave her stuffs as a presentand she dressed me up inthem. . . . We lived well! I ate so many sweets and cakes in my childish yearsthat if they could be sold now it would be enough to buy a goo d horse. Mammataught me to read and writeshe instilled the fear of God in me from myearliest yearsand she so trained me that now I can't bring myself to utter anunrefined peasant word. And I don't drink vodkamy ladand am neat in mydressand know how to behave with decorum in good society. If she is stilllivingGod give her health; and if she is deadthenO Lordgive her soulpeace in Thy Kingdomwherein the just are at rest."
The tramp bared his head with the scanty hair standing up like a brush on itturned his eyes upward and crossed himself twice.
"Grant herO Lorda verdant and peaceful resting-place" he saidin a drawling voicemore like an old woman's than a man's. "Teach Thyservant Xenia Thy justificationsO Lord! If it had not been for my belovedmamma I should have been a peasant with no sort of understanding! Nowyoungmanask me about anything and I understand it all: the holy Scriptures andprofane writingsand every prayer and catechism. I live according to theScriptures. . . . I don't injure anyoneI keep my flesh in purity andcontinenceI observe the fastsI eat at fitting times. Another man will takeno pleasure in anything but vodka and lewd talkbut when I have time I sit in acorner and read a book. I read and I weep and weep."
"What do you weep for?"
"They write so patheticallyl For some books one gives but a five-kopeckpieceand yet one weeps and sighs exceedingly over it."
"Is your father dead?" asked Ptaha.
"I don't knowgood man. I don't know my parent; it is no use concealingit. I judge that I was mamma's illegitimate son. My mamma lived all her lifewith the gentryand did not want to marry a simple peasant. . . ."
"And so she fell into the master's hands" laughed Ptaha.
"She did transgressthat's true. She was piousGod-fearingbut shedid not keep her maiden purity. It is a sinof coursea great sinthere's nodoubt about itbut to make up for it there ismaybenoble blood in me. MaybeI am only a peasant by classbut in nature a noble gentleman."
The "noble gentleman" uttered all this in a softsugary tenorwrinkling up his narrow forehead and emitting creaking sounds from his redfrozen little nose. Ptaha listened and looked askance at him in wondercontinually shrugging his shoulders.
After going nearly five miles the constables and the tramp sat down on amound to rest.
"Even a dog knows his name" Ptaha muttered. "My name isAndryushkahis is Nikandr; every man has his holy nameand it can't beforgotten. Nohow."
"Who has any need to know my name?" sighed the trampleaning hischeek on his fist. "And what advantage would it be to me if they did knowit? If I were allowed to go where I would -- but it would only make thingsworse. I know the lawChristian brothers. Now I am a tramp who doesn't rememberhis nameand it's the very most if they send me to Eastern Siberia and give methirty or forty lashes; but if I were to tell them my real name and descriptionthey would send me back to hard labourI know!"
"Whyhave you been a convict?"
"I havedear friend. For four years I went about with my head shavedand fetters on my legs."
"For murdermy good man! When I was still a boy of eighteen or somymamma accidentally poured arsenic instead of soda and acid into my master'sglass. There were boxes of all sorts in the storeroomnumbers of them; it waseasy to make a mistake over them."
The tramp sighedshook his headand said:
"She was a pious womanbutwho knows? another man's soul is aslumbering forest! It may have been an accidentor maybe she could not endurethe affront of seeing the master prefer another servant. . . . Perhaps she putit in on purposeGod knows! I was young thenand did not understand it all . .. now I remember that our master had taken another mistress and mamma wasgreatly disturbed. Our trial lasted nearly two years. . . . Mamma was condemnedto penal servitude for twenty yearsand Ion account of my youthonly toseven."
"And why were you sentenced?"
"As an accomplice. I handed the glass to the master. That was always thecustom. Mamma prepared the soda and I handed it to him. Only I tell you all thisas a Christianbrothersas I would say it before God. Don't you tell anybody.. . ."
"Ohnobody's going to ask us" said Ptaha. "So you've runaway from prisonhave you?"
"I havedear friend. Fourteen of us ran away. Some folksGod blessthem! ran away and took me with them. Now you tell meon your consciencegoodmanwhat reason have I to disclose my name? They will send me back to penalservitudeyou know! And I am not fit for penal servitude! I am a refined man indelicate health. I like to sleep and eat in cleanliness. When I pray to God Ilike to light a little lamp or a candleand not to have a noise around me. WhenI bow down to the ground I like the floor not to be dirty or spat upon. And Ibow down forty times every morning and eveningpraying for mamma."
The tramp took off his cap and crossed himself.
"And let them send me to Eastern Siberia" he said; "I am notafraid of that."
"Surely that's no better?"
"It is quite a different thing. In penal servitude you are like a crabin a basket: crowdingcrushingjostlingthere's no room to breathe; it'sdownright hell -- such hellmay the Queen of Heaven keep us from it! You are arobber and treated like a robber -- worse than any dog. You can't sleepyoucan't eat or even say your prayers. But it's not like that in a settlement. In asettlement I shall be a member of a commune like other people. The authoritiesare bound by law to give me my share . . . ye-es! They say the land costsnothingno more than snow; you can take what you like! They will give me cornland and building land and garden. . . . I shall plough my fields like otherpeoplesow seed. I shall have cattle and stock of all sortsbeessheepanddogs. . . . A Siberian catthat rats and mice may not devour my goods. . . . Iwill put up a houseI shall buy ikons. . . . Please GodI'll get marriedIshall have children. . . ."
The tramp muttered and lookednot at his listenersbut away into thedistance. Naive as his dreams werethey were uttered in such a genuine andheartfelt tone that it was difficult not to believe in them. The tramp's littlemouth was screwed up in a smile. His eyes and little nose and his whole facewere fixed and blank with blissful anticipation of happiness in the distantfuture. The constables listened and looked at him gravelynot without sympathy.Theytoobelieved in his dreams.
"I am not afraid of Siberia" the tramp went on muttering."Siberia is just as much Russia and has the same God and Tsar as here. Theyare just as orthodox Christians as you and I. Only there is more freedom thereand people are better off. Everything is better there. Take the rivers therefor instance; they are far better than those here. There's no end of fish; andall sorts of wild fowl. And my greatest pleasurebrothersis fishing. Give meno bread to eatbut let me sit with a fishhook. Yesindeed! I fish with a hookand with a wire lineand set creelsand when the ice comes I catch with a net.I am not strong to draw up the netso I shall hire a man for five kopecks. AndLordwhat a pleasure it is! You catch an eel-pout or a roach of some sort andare as pleased as though you had met your own brother. And would you believe itthere's a special art for every fish: you catch one with a live baityou catchanother with a grubthe third with a frog or a grasshopper. One has tounderstand all thatof course! For exampletake the eel-pout. It is not adelicate fish -- it will take a perch; and a pike loves a gudgeonthe_shilishper_ likes a butterfly. If you fish for a roach in a rapid stream thereis no greater pleasure. You throw the line of seventy feet without leadwith abutterfly or a beetleso that the bait floats on the surface; you stand in thewater without your trousers and let it go with the currentand tug! the roachpulls at it! Only you have got to be artful that he doesn't carry off the b aitthe damned rascal. As soon as he tugs at your line you must whip it up; it's nogood waiting. It's wonderful what a lot of fish I've caught in my time. When wewere running away the other convicts would sleep in the forest; I could notsleepbut I was off to the river. The rivers there are wide and rapidthebanks are steep -- awfully! It's all slumbering forests on the bank. The treesare so tall that if you look to the top it makes you dizzy. Every pine would beworth ten roubles by the prices here."
In the overwhelming rush of his fanciesof artistic images of the past andsweet presentiments of happiness in the futurethe poor wretch sank intosilencemerely moving his lips as though whispering to himself. The vacantblissful smile never left his lips. The constables were silent. They werepondering with bent heads. In the autumn stillnesswhen the coldsullen mistthat rises from the earth lies like a weight on the heartwhen it stands like aprison wall before the eyesand reminds man of the limitation of his freedomit is sweet to think of the broadrapid riverswith steep banks wild andluxuriantof the impenetrable forestsof the boundless steppes. Slowly andquietly the fancy pictures how early in the morningbefore the flush of dawnhas left the skya man makes his way along the steep deserted bank like a tinyspeck: the ancientmast-like pines rise up in terraces on both sides of thetorrentgaze sternly at the free man and murmur menacingly; rockshuge stonesand thorny bushes bar his waybut he is strong in body and bold in spiritandhas no fear of the pine-treesnor stonesnor of his solitudenor of thereverberating echo which repeats the sound of every footstep that he takes.
The peasants called up a picture of a free life such as they had never lived;whether they vaguely recalled the images of stories heard long ago or whethernotions of a free life had been handed down to them with their flesh and bloodfrom far-off free ancestorsGod knows!
The first to break the silence was Nikandr Sapozhnikovwho had not till thenlet fall a single word. Whether he envied the tramp's transparent happinessorwhether he felt in his heart that dreams of happiness were out of keeping withthe grey fog and the dirty brown mud -- anywayhe looked sternly at the trampand said:
"It's all very wellto be sureonly you won't reach those plenteousregionsbrother. How could you? Before you'd gone two hundred miles you'd giveup your soul to God. Just look what a weakling you are! Here you've hardly gonefive miles and you can't get your breath."
The tramp turned slowly toward Nikandrand the blissful smile vanished fromhis face. He looked with a scared and guilty air at the peasant's staid faceapparently remembered somethingand bent his head. A silence followed again. .. . All three were pondering. The peasants were racking their brains in theeffort to grasp in their imagination what can be grasped by none but God -- thatisthe vast expanse dividing them from the land of freedom. Into the tramp'smind thronged clear and distinct pictures more terrible than that expanse.Before him rose vividly the picture of the long legal delays andprocrastinationsthe temporary and permanent prisonsthe convict boatsthewearisome stoppages on the waythe frozen wintersillnessesdeaths ofcompanions. . . .
The tramp blinked guiltilywiped the tiny drops of sweat from his foreheadwith his sleevedrew a deep breath as though he had just leapt out of a veryhot baththen wiped his forehead with the other sleeve and looked roundfearfully.
"That's true; you won't get there!" Ptaha agreed. "You are notmuch of a walker! Look at you -- nothing but skin and bone! You'll diebrother!"
"Of course he'll die! What could he do?" said Nikandr. "He'sfit for the hospital now. . . . For sure!"
The man who had forgotten his name looked at the sternunconcerned faces ofhis sinister companionsand without taking off his caphurriedly crossedhimselfstaring with wide-open eyes. . . . He trembledhis head shookand hebegan twitching all overlike a caterpillar when it is stepped upon. . . .
"Wellit's time to go" said Nikandrgetting up; "we've hada rest."
A minute later they were stepping along the muddy road. The tramp was morebent than everand he thrust his hands further up his sleeves. Ptaha wassilent.
MELITON SHISHKINa bailiff from the Dementyev farmexhausted by the sultryheat of the fir-wood and covered with spiders' webs and pine-needlesmade hisway with his gun to the edge of the wood. His Damka -- a mongrel between a yarddog and a setter -- an extremely thin bitch heavy with youngtrailed after hermaster with her wet tail between her legsdoing all she could to avoid prickingher nose. It was a dullovercast morning. Big drops dripped from the brackenand from the trees that were wrapped in a light mist; there was a pungent smellof decay from the dampness of the wood.
There were birch-trees ahead of him where the wood endedand between theirstems and branches he could see the misty distance. Beyond the birch-treessomeone was playing on a shepherd's rustic pipe. The player produced no morethan five or six notesdragged them out languidly with no attempt at forming atuneand yet there was something harsh and extremely dreary in the sound of thepiping.
As the copse became sparserand the pines were interspersed with youngbirch-treesMeliton saw a herd. Hobbled horsescowsand sheep were wanderingamong the bushes andsnapping the dry branchessniffed at the herbage of thecopse. A lean old shepherdbareheadedin a torn grey smockstood leaningagainst the wet trunk of a birch-tree. He stared at the groundponderingsomethingand played his pipeit seemedmechanically.
"Good-daygrandfather! God help you!" Meliton greeted him in athinhusky voice which seemed incongruous with his huge stature and bigfleshyface. "How cleverly you are playing your pipe! Whose herd are youminding?"
"The Artamonovs'" the shepherd answered reluctantlyand he thrustthe pipe into his bosom.
"So I suppose the wood is the Artamonovs' too?" Meliton inquiredlooking about him. "Yesit is the Artamonovs'; only fancy . . . I hadcompletely lost myself. I got my face scratched all over in the thicket."
He sat down on the wet earth and began rolling up a bit of newspaper into acigarette.
Like his voiceeverything about the man was small and out of keeping withhis heighthis breadthand his fleshy face: his smileshis eyeshis buttonshis tiny capwhich would hardly keep on his bigclosely-cropped head. When hetalked and smiled there was something womanishtimidand meek about his puffyshaven face and his whole figure.
"What weather! God help us!" he saidand he turned his head fromside to side. "Folk have not carried the oats yetand the rain seems asthough it had been taken on for goodGod bless it."
The shepherd looked at the skyfrom which a drizzling rain was fallingatthe woodat the bailif's wet clothesponderedand said nothing.
"The whole summer has been the same" sighed Meliton. "A badbusiness for the peasants and no pleasure for the gentry."
The shepherd looked at the sky againthought a momentand saiddeliberatelyas though chewing each word:
"It's all going the same way. . . . There is nothing good to be lookedfor."
"How are things with you here?" Meliton inquiredlighting hiscigarette. "Haven't you seen any coveys of grouse in the Artamonovs'clearing?"
The shepherd did not answer at once. He looked again at the sky and to rightand leftthought a littleblinked. . . . Apparently he attached no littlesignificance to his wordsand to increase their value tried to pronounce themwith deliberation and a certain solemnity. The expression of his face had thesharpness and staidness of old ageand the fact that his nose had asaddle-shaped depression across the middle and his nostrils turned upwards gavehim a sly and sarcastic look.
"NoI believe I haven't" he said. "Our huntsman Eryomka w assaying that on Elijah's Day he started one covey near Pustoshyebut I dare sayhe was lying. There are very few birds."
"Yesbrothervery few. . . . Very few everywhere! The shooting hereif one is to look at it with common senseis good for nothing and not worthhaving. There is no game at alland what there is is not worth dirtying yourhands over -- it is not full-grown. It is such poor stuff that one is ashamed tolook at it."
Meliton gave a laugh and waved his hands.
"Things happen so queerly in this world that it is simply laughable andnothing else. Birds nowadays have become so unaccountable: they sit late ontheir eggsand there are someI declarethat have not hatched them by St.Peter's Day!"
"It's all going the same" said the shepherdturning his faceupwards. "There was little game last yearthis year there are fewer birdsstilland in another five yearsmark my wordsthere will be none at all. Asfar as I can see there will soon be not only no gamebut no birds at all."
Yes" Meliton assentedafter a moment's thought. "That'strue."
The shepherd gave a bitter smile and shook his head.
"It's a wonder" he said"what has become of them all! Iremember twenty years ago there used to be geese hereand cranes and ducks andgrouse -- clouds and clouds of them! The gentry used to meet together forshootingand one heard nothing but pouf-pouf-pouf! pouf-pouf-pouf! There was noend to the woodcocksthe snipeand the little tealsand the water-snipe wereas common as starlingsor let us say sparrows -- lots and lots of them! Andwhat has become of them all? We don't even see the birds of prey. The eaglesthe hawksand the owls have all gone. . . . There are fewer of every sort ofwild beasttoo. Nowadaysbrothereven the wolf and the fox have grown rarelet alone the bear or the otter. And you know in old days there were even elks!For forty years I have been observing the works of God from year to yearand itis my opinion that everything is going the same way."
"To the badyoung man. To ruinwe must suppose. . . The time has comefor God's world to perish."
The old man put on his cap and began gazing at the sky.
"It's a pity" he sighedafter a brief silence. "O Godwhata pity! Of course it is God's will; the world was not created by usbut yet itis a pitybrother. If a single tree withers awayor let us say a single cowdiesit makes one sorrybut what will it begood manif the whole worldcrumbles into dust? Such blessingsLord Jesus! The sunand the skyand theforestand the riversand the creatures -- all these have been createdadaptedand adjusted to one another. Each has been put to its appointed taskand knows its place. And all that must perish."
A mournful smile gleamed on the shepherd's faceand his eyelids quivered.
"You say -- the world is perishing" said Melitonpondering."It may be that the end of the world is near at handbut you can't judgeby the birds. I don't think the birds can be taken as a sign."
"Not the birds only" said the shepherd. "It's the wildbeaststooand the cattleand the beesand the fish. . . . If you don'tbelieve me ask the old people; every old man will tell you that the fish are notat all what they used to be. In the seasin the lakesand in the riversthereare fewer fish from year to year. In our PestchankaI rememberpike used to becaught a yard longand there were eel-poutsand roachand breamand everyfish had a presentable appearance; while nowadaysif you catch a wretchedlittle pikelet or perch six inches long you have to be thankful. There are notany gudgeon even worth talking about. Every year it is worse and worseand in alittle while there will be no fish at all. And take the rivers now . . . therivers are drying upfor sure."
"It is true; they are drying up."
"To be surethat's what I say. Every year they are shallower andshallowerand there are not the deep holes there used to be. And do you see thebushes yonder?" the old man askedpointing to one side. "Beyond themis an old river-bed; it's called a backwater. In my father's time the Pestchankaflowed therebut now look; where have the evil spirits taken it to? It changesits courseandmind youit will go on changing till such time as it has driedup altogether. There used to be marshes and ponds beyond Kurgasovoand whereare they now? And what has become of the streams? Here in this very wood we usedto have a stream flowingand such a stream that the peasants used to set creelsin it and caught pike; wild ducks used to spend the winter by itand nowadaysthere is no water in it worth speaking ofeven at the spring floods. Yesbrotherlook where you willthings are bad everywhere. Everywhere!"
A silence followed. Meliton sank into thoughtwith his eyes fixed on onespot. He wanted to think of some one part of nature as yet untouched by theall-embracing ruin. Spots of light glistened on the mist and the slantingstreaks of rain as though on opaque glassand immediately died away again -- itwas the rising sun trying to break through the clouds and peep at the earth.
"Yesthe foreststoo . . ." Meliton muttered.
"The foreststoo" the shepherd repeated. "They cut themdownand they catch fireand they wither awayand no new ones are growing.Whatever does grow up is cut down at once; one day it shoots up and the next ithas been cut down -- and so on without end till nothing's left. I have kept theherds of the commune ever since the time of Freedomgood man; before the timeof Freedom I was shepherd of the master's herds. I have watched them in thisvery spotand I can't remember a summer day in all my life that I have not beenhere. And all the time I have been observing the works of God. I have looked atthem in my time till I know themand it is my opinion that all things growingare on the decline. Whether you take the ryeor the vegetablesor flowers ofany sortthey are all going the same way."
"But people have grown better" observed the bailiff.
"In what way better?"
"Cleverermaybethat's trueyoung man; but what's the use of that?What earthly good is cleverness to people on the brink of ruin? One can perishwithout cleverness. What's the good of cleverness to a huntsman if there is nogame? What I think is that God has given men brains and taken away theirstrength. People have grown weakexceedingly weak. Take mefor instance . . .I am not worth a halfpennyI am the humblest peasant in the whole villageandyetyoung manI have strength. Mind youI am in my seventiesand I tend myherd day in and day outand keep the night watchtoofor twenty kopecksandI don't sleepand I don't feel the cold; my son is cleverer than I ambut puthim in my place and he would ask for a raise next dayor would be going to thedoctors. There it is. I eat nothing but breadfor 'Give us this day our dailybread' and my father ate nothing but breadand my grandfather; but the peasantnowadays must have tea and vodka and white loavesand must sleep from sunset todawnand he goes to the doctor and pampers himself in all sorts of ways. Andwhy is it? He has grown weak; he has not the strength to endure. If he wants tostay awakehis eyes close -- there is no doing anything."
"That's true" Meliton agreed; "the peasant is good fornothing nowadays."
"It's no good hiding what is wrong; we get worse from year to year. Andif you take the gentry into considerationthey've grown feebler even more thanthe peasants have. The gentleman nowadays has mastered everything; he knows whathe ought not to knowand what is the sense of it? It makes you feel pitiful tolook at him. . . . He is a thinpuny little fellowlike some Hungarian orFrenchman; there is no dignity nor air about him; it's only in name he is agentleman. There is no place for himpoor dearand nothing for him to doandthere is no making out what he wants. Either he sits with a hook catching fishor he lolls on his back readingor trots about among the peasants saying allsorts of th ings to themand those that are hungry go in for being clerks. Sohe spends his life in vain. And he has no notion of doing something real anduseful. The gentry in old days were half of them generalsbut nowadays they are-- a poor lot."
"They are badly off nowadays" said Meliton.
"They are poorer because God has taken away their strength. You can't goagainst God."
Meliton stared at a fixed point again. After thinking a little he heaved asigh as staidreasonable people do sighshook his headand said:
"And all because of what? We have sinned greatlywe have forgotten God. . and it seems that the time has come for all to end. Andafter alltheworld can't last for ever -- it's time to know when to take leave."
The shepherd sighed andas though wishing to cut short an unpleasantconversationhe walked away from the birch-tree and began silently reckoningover the cows.
"Hey-hey-hey!" he shouted. "Hey-hey-hey! Bother youtheplague take you! The devil has taken you into the thicket. Tu-lu-lu!"
With an angry face he went into the bushes to collect his herd. Meliton gotup and sauntered slowly along the edge of the wood. He looked at the ground athis feet and pondered; he still wanted to think of something which had not yetbeen touched by death. Patches of light crept upon the slanting streaks of rainagain; they danced on the tops of the trees and died away among the wet leaves.Damka found a hedgehog under a bushand wanting to attract her master'sattention to itbarked and howled.
"Did you have an eclipse or not?" the shepherd called from thebushes.
"Yeswe had" answered Meliton.
"Ah! Folks are complaining all about that there was one. It shows thereis disorder even in the heavens! It's not for nothing. . . . Hey-hey-hey!Hey!"
Driving his herd together to the edge of the woodthe shepherd leanedagainst the birch-treelooked up at the skywithout haste took his pipe fromhis bosom and began playing. As beforehe played mechanically and took no morethan five or six notes; as though the pipe had come into his hands for the firsttimethe sounds floated from it uncertainlywith no regularitynot blendinginto a tunebut to Melitonbrooding on the destruction of the worldthere wasa sound in it of something very depressing and revolting which he would muchrather not have heard. The highestshrillest noteswhich quivered and brokeseemed to be weeping disconsolatelyas though the pipe were sick andfrightenedwhile the lowest notes for some reason reminded him of the mistthedejected treesthe grey sky. Such music seemed in keeping with the weathertheold man and his sayings.
Meliton wanted to complain. He went up to the old man andlooking at hismournfulmocking face and at the pipemuttered:
"And life has grown worsegrandfather. It is utterly impossible tolive. Bad cropswant. . . . Cattle plague continuallydiseases of all sorts. .. . We are crushed by poverty."
The bailiff's puffy face turned crimson and took a dejectedwomanishexpression. He twirled his fingers as though seeking words to convey his vaguefeeling and went on:
"Eight childrena wife . . . and my mother still livingand my wholesalary ten roubles a month and to board myself. My wife has become a Satan frompoverty. . . . I go off drinking myself. I am a sensiblesteady man; I haveeducation. I ought to sit at home in peacebut I stray about all day with mygun like a dog because it is more than I can stand; my home is hateful tome!"
Feeling that his tongue was uttering something quite different from what hewanted to saythe bailiff waved his hand and said bitterly:
"If the world's going to end I wish it would make haste about it.There's no need to drag it out and make folks miserable for nothing. . . ."
The old man took the pipe from his lips andscrewing up one eyelooked intoits little opening. His face was sad and covered with thick drops like tears. Hesmiled and said:
"It's a pitymy friend! My goodnesswhat a pity! The earththeforestthe skythe beasts of all sorts -- all this has been createdyou knowadapted; they all have their intelligence. It is all going to ruin. And most ofall I am sorry for people."
There was the sound in the wood of heavy rain coming nearer. Meliton lookedin the direction of the sounddid up all his buttonsand said:
"I am going to the village. Good-byegrandfather. What is yourname?"
"Luka the Poor."
"Wellgood-byeLuka! Thank you for your good words. Damkaici!"
After parting from the shepherd Meliton made his way along the edge of thewoodand then down hill to a meadow which by degrees turned into a marsh. Therewas a squelch of water under his feetand the rusty marsh sedgestill greenand juicydrooped down to the earth as though afraid of being trampledunderfoot. Beyond the marshon the bank of the Pestchankaof which the old manhad spokenstood a row of willowsand beyond the willows a barn looked darkblue in the mist. One could feel the approach of that miserableutterlyinevitable seasonwhen the fields grow dark and the earth is muddy and coldwhen the weeping willow seems still more mournful and tears trickle down itsstemand only the cranes fly away from the general miseryand even theyasthough afraid of insulting dispirited nature by the expression of theirhappinessfill the air with their mournfuldreary notes.
Meliton plodded along to the riverand heard the sounds of the pipegradually dying away behind him. He still wanted to complain. He lookeddejectedly about himand he felt insufferably sorry for the sky and the earthand the sun and the woods and his Damkaand when the highest drawn-out note ofthe pipe floated quivering in the airlike a voice weepinghe felt extremelybitter and resentful of the impropriety in the conduct of nature.
The high note quiveredbroke offand the pipe was silent.
DURING my stay in the district of S. I often used to go to see the watchmanSavva Stukatchor simply Savkain the kitchen gardens of Dubovo. These kitchengardens were my favorite resort for so-called "mixed" fishingwhenone goes out without knowing what day or hour one may returntaking with oneevery sort of fishing tackle as well as a store of provisions. To tell thetruthit was not so much the fishing that attracted me as the peaceful strollthe meals at no set timethe talk with Savkaand being for so long face toface with the calm summer nights. Savka was a young man of five-and-twentywellgrown and handsomeand as strong as a flint. He had the reputation of being asensible and reasonable fellow. He could read and writeand very rarely drankbut as a workman this strong and healthy young man was not worth a farthing. Asluggishoverpowering sloth was mingled with the strength in his muscleswhichwere strong as cords. Like everyone else in his villagehe lived in his ownhutand had his share of landbut neither tilled it nor sowed itand did notwork at any sort of trade. His old mother begged alms at people's windows and hehimself lived like a bird of the air; he did not know in the morning what hewould eat at midday. It was not that he was lacking in willor energyorfeeling for his mother; it was simply that he felt no inclination for work anddid not recognize the advantage of it. His whole figure suggested unruffledserenityan innatealmost artistic passion for living carelesslynever withhis sleeves tucked up. When Savka's younghealthy body had a physical cravingfor muscular workthe young man abandoned himself completely for a briefinterval to some free but nonsensical pursuitsuch as sharpening skates notwanted for any special purposeor racing about after the peasant women. Hisfavorite attitude was one of concentrated immobility. He was capable of standingfor hours at a stretch in the same place with his eyes fixed on the same spotwithout stirring. He never moved except on impulseand then only when anoccasion presented itself for some rapid and abrupt action: catching a runningdog by the tailpulling off a woman's k erchiefor jumping over a big hole. Itneed hardly be said that with such parsimony of movement Savka was as poor as amouse and lived worse than any homeless outcast. As time went onI suppose heaccumulated arrears of taxes andyoung and sturdy as he washe was sent by thecommune to do an old man's job -- to be watchman and scarecrow in the kitchengardens. However much they laughed at him for his premature senility he did notobject to it. This positionquiet and convenient for motionless contemplationexactly fitted his temperament.
It happened I was with this Savka one fine May evening. I remember I waslying on a torn and dirty sackcloth cover close to the shanty from which came aheavyfragrant scent of hay. Clasping my hands under my head I looked beforeme. At my feet was lying a wooden fork. Behind it Savka's dog Kutka stood outlike a black patchand not a dozen feet from Kutka the ground ended abruptly inthe steep bank of the little river. Lying down I could not see the river; Icould only see the tops of the young willows growing thickly on the nearer bankand the twistingas it were gnawed awayedges of the opposite bank. At adistance beyond the bank on the dark hillside the huts of the village in whichSavka lived lay huddling together like frightened young partridges. Beyond thehill the afterglow of sunset still lingered in the sky. One pale crimson streakwas all that was leftand even that began to be covered by little clouds as afire with ash.
A copse with alder-treessoftly whisperingand from time to time shudderingin the fitful breezelaya dark bluron the right of the kitchen gardens; onthe left stretched the immense plain. In the distancewhere the eye could notdistinguish between the sky and the plainthere was a bright gleam of light. Alittle way off from me sat Savka. With his legs tucked under him like a Turk andhis head hanginghe looked pensively at Kutka. Our hooks with live bait on themhad long been in the riverand we had nothing left to do but to abandonourselves to reposewhich Savkawho was never exhausted and always restedloved so much. The glow had not yet quite died awaybut the summer night wasalready enfolding nature in its caressingsoothing embrace.
Everything was sinking into its first deep sleep except some night birdunfamiliar to mewhich indolently uttered a longprotracted cry in severaldistinct notes like the phrase"Have you seen Ni-ki-ta?" andimmediately answered itself"Seen himseen himseen him!"
"Why is it the nightingales aren't singing tonight?" I asked Savka.
He turned slowly towards me. His features were largebut his face was opensoftand expressive as a woman's. Then he gazed with his milddreamy eyes atthe copseat the willowsslowly pulled a whistle out of his pocketput it inhis mouth and whistled the note of a hen-nightingale. And at onceas though inanswer to his calla landrail called on the opposite bank.
"There's a nightingale for you . . ." laughed Savka."Drag-drag! drag-drag! just like pulling at a hookand yet I bet he thinkshe is singingtoo."
"I like that bird" I said. "Do you knowwhen the birds aremigrating the landrail does not flybut runs along the ground? It only fliesover the rivers and the seabut all the rest it does on foot."
"Upon my wordthe dog . . ." muttered Savkalooking with respectin the direction of the calling landrail.
Knowing how fond Savka was of listeningI told him all I had learned aboutthe landrail from sportsman's books. From the landrail I passed imperceptibly tothe migration of the birds. Savka listened attentivelylooking at me withoutblinkingand smiling all the while with pleasure.
"And which country is most the bird's home? Ours or those foreignparts?" he asked.
"Oursof course. The bird itself is hatched hereand it hatches outits little ones here in its native countryand they only fly off there toescape being frozen."
"It's interesting" said Savka. "Whatever one talks about itis always interesting. Take a bird nowor a man . . . or take this littlestone; there's something to learn about all of them. . . . Ahsirif I hadknown you were coming I wouldn't have told a woman to come here this evening. .. . She asked to come to-day."
"Ohplease don't let me be in your way" I said. "I can liedown in the wood. . . ."
"What next! She wouldn't have died if she hadn't come till to-morrow. .. . If only she would sit quiet and listenbut she always wants to beslobbering. . . . You can't have a good talk when she's here."
"Are you expecting Darya?" I askedafter a pause.
"No . . . a new one has asked to come this evening . . . Agafyathesignalman's wife."
Savka said this in his usual passionlesssomewhat hollow voiceas though hewere talking of tobacco or porridgewhile I started with surprise. I knewAgafya. . . . She was quite a young peasant woman of nineteen or twentywho hadbeen married not more than a year before to a railway signalmana fine youngfellow. She lived in the villageand her husband came home there from the lineevery night.
"Your goings on with the women will lead to troublemy boy" saidI.
"Wellmay be . . . ."
And after a moment's thought Savka added:
"I've said so to the women; they won't heed me. . . .They don't troubleabout itthe silly things!"
Silence followed. . . . Meanwhile the darkness was growing thicker andthickerand objects began to lose their contours. The streak behind the hillhad completely died awayand the stars were growing brighter and more luminous.. . . The mournfully monotonous chirping of the grasshoppersthe call of thelandrailand the cry of the quail did not destroy the stillness of the nightbuton the contrarygave it an added monotony. It seemed as though the softsounds that enchanted the ear camenot from birds or insectsbut from thestars looking down upon us from the sky. . . .
Savka was the first to break the silence. He slowly turned his eyes fromblack Kutka and said:
"I see you are dullsir. Let's have supper."
And without waiting for my consent he crept on his stomach into the shantyrummaged about theremaking the whole edifice tremble like a leaf; then hecrawled back and set before me my vodka and an earthenware bowl; in the bowlthere were baked eggslard scones made of ryepieces of black breadandsomething else. . . . We had a drink from a little crooked glass that wouldn'tstandand then we fell upon the food. . . . Coarse grey saltdirtygreasycakeseggs tough as india-rubberbut how nice it all was!
"You live all alonebut what lots of good things you have" Isaidpointing to the bowl. "Where do you get them from?"
"The women bring them" mumbled Savka.
"What do they bring them to you for?"
"Oh . . . from pity."
Not only Savka's menubut his clothingtoobore traces of feminine"pity." Thus I noticed that he had onthat eveninga new woven beltand a crimson ribbon on which a copper cross hung round his dirty neck. I knewof the weakness of the fair sex for Savkaand I knew that he did not liketalking about itand so I did not carry my inquiries any further. Besides therewas not time to talk. . . . Kutkawho had been fidgeting about near us andpatiently waiting for scrapssuddenly pricked up his ears and growled. We heardin the distance repeated splashing of water.
"Someone is coming by the ford" said Savka.
Three minutes later Kutka growled again and made a sound like a cough.
"Shsh!" his master shouted at him.
In the darkness there was a muffled thud of timid footstepsand thesilhouette of a woman appeared out of the copse. I recognized heralthough itwas dark -- it was Agafya. She came up to us diffidently and stoppedbreathinghard. She was breathlessprobably not so much from walking as from fear and theunpleasant sensation everyone experiences in wading across a river at night.Seeing near the shanty not one but two personsshe uttered a faint cry and fellback a step.
"Ah . . . that is you!" said Savkastuffing a scone into hismouth.
"Ye-es . . . I" she mutte reddropping on the ground a bundle ofsome sort and looking sideways at me. "Yakov sent his greetings to you andtold me to give you . . . something here. . . ."
"Comewhy tell stories? Yakov!" laughed Savka. "There is noneed for lying; the gentleman knows why you have come! Sit down; you shall havesupper with us."
Agafya looked sideways at me and sat down irresolutely.
"I thought you weren't coming this evening" Savka saidafter aprolonged silence. "Why sit like that? Eat! Or shall I give you a drop ofvodka?"
"What an idea!" laughed Agafya; "do you think you have gothold of a drunkard? . . ."
"Ohdrink it up. . . . Your heart will feel warmer. . . . There!"
Savka gave Agafya the crooked glass. She slowly drank the vodkaate nothingwith itbut drew a deep breath when she had finished.
"You've brought something" said Savkauntying the bundle andthrowing a condescendingjesting shade into his voice. "Women can nevercome without bringing something. Ahpie and potatoes. . . . They livewell" he sighedturning to me. "They are the only ones in the wholevillage who have got potatoes left from the winter!"
In the darkness I did not see Agafya's facebut from the movement of hershoulders and head it seemed to me that she could not take her eyes off Savka'sface. To avoid being the third person at this trystI decided to go for a walkand got up. But at that moment a nightingale in the wood suddenly uttered twolow contralto notes. Half a minute later it gave a tiny high trill and thenhaving thus tried its voicebegan singing. Savka jumped up and listened.
"It's the same one as yesterday" he said. "Wait aminute."
Andgetting uphe went noiselessly to the wood.
"Whywhat do you want with it?" I shouted out after him"Stop!"
Savka shook his hand as much as to say"Don't shout" and vanishedinto the darkness. Savka was an excellent sportsman and fisherman when he likedbut his talents in this direction were as completely thrown away as hisstrength. He was too slothful to do things in the routine wayand vented hispassion for sport in useless tricks. For instancehe would catch nightingalesonly with his handswould shoot pike with a fowling piecehe would spend wholehours by the river trying to catch little fish with a big hook.
Left alone with meAgafya coughed and passed her hand several times over herforehead. . . . She began to feel a little drunk from the vodka.
"How are you getting onAgasha?" I asked herafter a longsilencewhen it began to be awkward to remain mute any longer.
"Very wellthank God. . . . Don't tell anyonesirwill you?" sheadded suddenly in a whisper.
"That's all right" I reassured her. "But how reckless youareAgasha! . . . What if Yakov finds out?"
"He won't find out."
But what if he does?"
"No . . . I shall be at home before he is. He is on the line nowand hewill come back when the mail train brings himand from here I can hear when thetrain's coming. . . ."
Agafya once more passed her hand over her forehead and looked away in thedirection in which Savka had vanished. The nightingale was singing. Some nightbird flew low down close to the ground andnoticing uswas startledflutteredits wings and flew across to the other side of the river.
Soon the nightingale was silentbut Savka did not come back. Agafya got uptook a few steps uneasilyand sat down again.
"What is he doing?" she could not refrain from saying. "Thetrain's not coming in to-morrow! I shall have to go away directly."
"Savka" I shouted. "Savka."
I was not answered even by an echo. Agafya moved uneasily and sat down again.
"It's time I was going" she said in an agitated voice. "Thetrain will be here directly! I know when the trains come in."
The poor woman was not mistaken. Before a quarter of an hour had passed asound was heard in the distance.
Agafya kept her eyes fixed on the copse for a long time and moved her handsimpatiently.
"Whywhere can he be?" she saidlaughing nervously. "Wherehas the devil carried him? I am going! I really must be going."
Meanwhile the noise was growing more and more distinct. By now one coulddistinguish the rumble of the wheels from the heavy gasps of the engine. Then weheard the whistlethe train crossed the bridge with a hollow rumble . . .another minute and all was still.
"I'll wait one minute more" said Agafyasitting down resolutely."So be itI'll wait.
At last Savka appeared in the darkness. He walked noiselessly on thecrumbling earth of the kitchen gardens and hummed something softly to himself.
"Here's a bit of luck; what do you say to that now?" he said gaily."As soon as I got up to the bush and began taking aim with my hand it leftoff singing! Ahthe bald dog! I waited and waited to see when it would beginagainbut I had to give it up."
Savka flopped clumsily down to the ground beside Agafya andto keep hisbalanceclutched at her waist with both hands.
"Why do you look crossas though your aunt were your mother?" heasked.
With all his soft-heartedness and good-natureSavka despised women. Hebehaved carelesslycondescendingly with themand even stooped to scornfullaughter of their feelings for himself. God knowsperhaps this carelesscontemptuous manner was one of the causes of his irresistible attraction for thevillage Dulcineas. He was handsome and well-built; in his eyes there was alwaysa soft friendlinesseven when he was looking at the women he so despisedbutthe fascination was not to be explained by merely external qualities. Apart fromhis happy exterior and original mannerone must suppose that the touchingposition of Savka as an acknowledged failure and an unhappy exile from his ownhut to the kitchen gardens also had an influence upon the women.
"Tell the gentleman what you have come here for!" Savka went onstill holding Agafya by the waist. "Cometell himyou good married woman!Ho-ho! Shall we have another drop of vodkafriend Agasha?"
I got up andthreading my way between the plotsI walked the length of thekitchen garden. The dark beds looked like flattened-out graves. They smelt ofdug earth and the tender dampness of plants beginning to be covered with dew. .. . A red light was still gleaming on the left. It winked genially and seemed tosmile.
I heard a happy laugh. It was Agafya laughing.
"And the train?" I thought. "The train has come in longago."
Waiting a little longerI went back to the shanty. Savka was sittingmotionlesshis legs crossed like a Turkand was softlyscarcely audiblyhumming a song consisting of words of one syllable something like: "Out onyoufie on you . . . I and you." Agafyaintoxicated by the vodkabySavka's scornful caressesand by the stifling warmth of the nightwas lying onthe earth beside himpressing her face convulsively to his knees. She was socarried away by her feelings that she did not even notice my arrival.
"Agashathe train has been in a long time" I said.
"It's time -- it's time you were gone" Savkatossing his headtook up my thought. "What are you sprawling here for? You shamelesshussy!"
Agafya startedtook her head from his kneesglanced at meand sank downbeside him again.
"You ought to have gone long ago" I said.
Agafya turned round and got up on one knee. . . . She was unhappy. . . . Forhalf a minute her whole figureas far as I could distinguish it through thedarknessexpressed conflict and hesitation. There was an instant whenseemingto come to herselfshe drew herself up to get upon her feetbut then someinvincible and implacable force seemed to push her whole bodyand she sank downbeside Savka again.
"Bother him!" she saidwith a wildguttural laughand recklessdeterminationimpotenceand pain could be heard in that laugh.
I strolled quietly away to the copseand from there down to the riverwhereour fishing lines were set. The river slept. Some softfluffy-petalled floweron a tall stalk touched my cheek tenderly like a child who wants to let one knowit's awake. To pass the time I felt for one of the lines and pulled at it. Ityielded e asily and hung limply -- nothing had been caught. . . . The furtherbank and the village could not be seen. A light gleamed in one hutbut soonwent out. I felt my way along the bankfound a hollow place which I had noticedin the daylightand sat down in it as in an arm-chair. I sat there a long time.. . . I saw the stars begin to grow misty and lose their brightness; a coolbreath passed over the earth like a faint sigh and touched the leaves of theslumbering osiers. . . .
"A-ga-fya!" a hollow voice called from the village."Agafya!"
It was the husbandwho had returned homeand in alarm was looking for hiswife in the village. At that moment there came the sound of unrestrainedlaughter: the wifeforgetful of everythingsought in her intoxication to makeup by a few hours of happiness for the misery awaiting her next day.
I dropped asleep.
When I woke up Savka was sitting beside me and lightly shaking my shoulder.The riverthe copseboth banksgreen and washedtrees and fields -- all werebathed in bright morning light. Through the slim trunks of the trees the rays ofthe newly risen sun beat upon my back.
"So that's how you catch fish?" laughed Savka. "Get up!"
I got upgave a luxurious stretchand began greedily drinking in the dampand fragrant air.
"Has Agasha gone?" I asked.
"There she is" said Savkapointing in the direction of the ford.
I glanced and saw Agafya. Dishevelledwith her kerchief dropping off herheadshe was crossing the riverholding up her skirt. Her legs were scarcelymoving. . . .
"The cat knows whose meat it has eaten" muttered Savkascrewingup his eyes as he looked at her. "She goes with her tail hanging down. . .. They are sly as catsthese womenand timid as hares. . . . She didn't gosilly thingin the evening when we told her to! Now she will catch itandthey'll flog me again at the peasant court . . . all on account of the women. .. ."
Agafya stepped upon the bank and went across the fields to the village. Atfirst she walked fairly boldlybut soon terror and excitement got the upperhand; she turned round fearfullystopped and took breath.
"Yesyou are frightened!" Savka laughed mournfullylooking at thebright green streak left by Agafya in the dewy grass. "She doesn't want togo! Her husband's been standing waiting for her for a good hour. . . . Did yousee him?"
Savka said the last words with a smilebut they sent a chill to my heart. Inthe villagenear the furthest hutYakov was standing in the roadgazingfixedly at his returning wife. He stood without stirringand was as motionlessas a post. What was he thinking as he looked at her? What words was he preparingto greet her with? Agafya stood still a little whilelooked round once more asthough expecting help from usand went on. I have never seen anyonedrunk orsobermove as she did. Agafya seemed to be shrivelled up by her husband's eyes.At one time she moved in zigzagsthen she moved her feet up and down withoutgoing forwardbending her knees and stretching out her handsthen shestaggered back. When she had gone another hundred paces she looked round oncemore and sat down.
"You ought at least to hide behind a bush . . ." I said to Savka."If the husband sees you . . ."
"He knowsanywaywho it is Agafya has come from. . . . The women don'tgo to the kitchen garden at night for cabbages -- we all know that."
I glanced at Savka's face. It was pale and puckered up with a look offastidious pity such as one sees in the faces of people watching torturedanimals.
"What's fun for the cat is tears for the mouse. . ." he muttered.
Agafya suddenly jumped upshook her headand with a bold step went towardsher husband. She had evidently plucked up her courage and made up her mind.
AT CHRISTMAS TIME
"WHAT shall I write?" said Yegorand he dipped his pen in the ink.
Vasilisa had not seen her daughter for four years. Her daughter Yefimya hadgone after her wedding to Petersburghad sent them two lettersand since thenseemed to vanish out of their lives; there had been no sight nor sound of her.And whether the old woman were milking her cow at dawnor heating her stoveordozing at nightshe was always thinking of one and the same thing -- what washappening to Yefimyawhether she were alive out yonder. She ought to have senta letterbut the old father could not writeand there was no one to write.
But now Christmas had comeand Vasilisa could not bear it any longerandwent to the tavern to Yegorthe brother of the innkeeper's wifewho had sat inthe tavern doing nothing ever since he came back from the army; people said thathe could write letters very well if he were properly paid. Vasilisa talked tothe cook at the tavernthen to the mistress of the housethen to Yegorhimself. They agreed upon fifteen kopecks.
And now -- it happened on the second day of the holidaysin the tavernkitchen -- Yegor was sitting at the tableholding the pen in his hand. Vasilisawas standing before himpondering with an expression of anxiety and woe on herface. Pyotrher husbanda very thin old man with a brownish bald patchhadcome with her; he stood looking straight before him like a blind man. On thestove a piece of pork was being braised in a saucepan; it was spurting andhissingand seemed to be actually saying: "Flu-flu-flu." It wasstifling.
"What am I to write?" Yegor asked again.
"What?" asked Vasilisalooking at him angrily and suspiciously."Don't worry me! You are not writing for nothing; no fearyou'll be paidfor it. Comewrite: 'To our dear son-in-lawAndrey Hrisanfitchand to ouronly beloved daughterYefimya Petrovnawith our love we send a low bow and ourparental blessing abiding for ever.' "
"Written; fire away."
" 'And we wish them a happy Christmas; we are alive and welland I wishyou the sameplease the Lord . . . the Heavenly King.' "
Vasilisa pondered and exchanged glances with the old man.
" 'And I wish you the sameplease the Lord the Heavenly King' "she repeatedbeginning to cry.
She could say nothing more. And yet beforewhen she lay awake thinking atnightit had seemed to her that she could not get all she had to say into adozen letters. Since the time when her daughter had gone away with her husbandmuch water had flowed into the seathe old people had lived feeling bereavedand sighed heavily at night as though they had buried their daughter. And howmany events had occurred in the village since thenhow many marriages anddeaths! How long the winters had been! How long the nights!
"It's hot" said Yegorunbuttoning his waistcoat. "It must beseventy degrees. What more?" he asked.
The old people were silent.
"What does your son-in-law do in Petersburg?" asked Yegor.
"He was a soldiermy good friend" the old man answered in a weakvoice. " He left the service at the same time as you did. He was a soldierand nowto be surehe is at Petersburg at a hydropathic establishment. Thedoctor treats the sick with water. So heto be sureis house-porter at thedoctor's."
"Here it is written down" said the old womantaking a letter outof her pocket. "We got it from Yefimyagoodness knows when. Maybe they areno longer in this world."
Yegor thought a little and began writing rapidly:
"At the present time"-- he wrote -- "since your destinythrough your own doing allotted you to the Military Careerwe counsel you tolook into the Code of Disciplinary Offences and Fundamental Laws of the WarOfficeand you will see in that law the Civilization of the Officials of theWar Office."
He wrote and kept reading aloud what was writtenwhile Vasilisa consideredwhat she ought to write: how great had been their want the year beforehowtheir corn had not lasted even till Christmashow they had to sell their cow.She ought to ask for moneyought to write that the old father was often ailingand would soon no doubt give up his soul to God . . . but how to express this inwords? What must be said first and what afterwards?
"Take note" Yegor went on writing"in volume five of theArmy Regulations soldier
is a common noun and a proper onea soldier of the first rank is called ageneraland of the last a private. . . ."
The old man stirred his lips and said softly:
"It would be all right to have a look at the grandchildren."
"What grandchildren?" asked the old womanand she looked angrilyat him; "perhaps there are none."
"Wellbut perhaps there are. Who knows?"
"And thereby you can judge" Yegor hurried on"what is theenemy without and what is the enemy within. The foremost of our enemies withinis Bacchus." The pen squeakedexecuting upon the paper flourishes likefish-hooks. Yegor hastened and read over every line several times. He sat on astool sprawling his broad feet under the tablewell-fedbursting with healthwith a coarse animal face and a red bull neck. He was vulgarity itself: coarseconceitedinvincibleproud of having been born and bred in a pot-house; andVasilisa quite understood the vulgaritybut could not express it in wordsandcould only look angrily and suspiciously at Yegor. Her head was beginning toacheand her thoughts were in confusion from the sound of his voice and hisunintelligible wordsfrom the heat and the stuffinessand she said nothing andthought nothingbut simply waited for him to finish scribbling. But the old manlooked with full confidence. He believed in his old woman who had brought himthereand in Yegor; and when he had mentioned the hydropathic establishment itcould be seen that he believed in the establishment and the healing efficacy ofwater.
Having finished the letterYegor got up and read the whole of it throughfrom the beginning. The old man did not understandbut he nodded his headtrustfully.
"That's all right; it is smooth . . ." he said. "God give youhealth. That's all right. . . ."
They laid on the table three five-kopeck pieces and went out of the tavern;the old man looked immovably straight before him as though he were blindandperfect trustfulness was written on his face; but as Vasilisa came out of thetavern she waved angrily at the dogand said angrily:
The old woman did not sleep all night; she was disturbed by thoughtsand atdaybreak she got upsaid her prayersand went to the station to send off theletter.
It was between eight and nine miles to the station.
Dr. B. O. Mozelweiser's hydropathic establishment worked on New Year's Dayexactly as on ordinary days; the only difference was that the porterAndreyHrisanfitchhad on a uniform with new braidinghis boots had an extra polishand he greeted every visitor with "A Happy New Year to you!"
It was the morning; Andrey Hrisanfitch was standing at the doorreading thenewspaper. Just at ten o'clock there arrived a generalone of the habitualvisitorsand directly after him the postman; Andrey Hrisanfitch helped thegeneral off with his great-coatand said:
"A Happy New Year to your Excellency!"
"Thank youmy good fellow; the same to you."
And at the top of the stairs the general askednodding towards the door (heasked the same question every day and always forgot the answer):
"And what is there in that room?"
"The massage roomyour Excellency."
When the general's steps had died away Andrey Hrisanfitch looked at the postthat had comeand found one addressed to himself. He tore it openread severallinesthenlooking at the newspaperhe walked without haste to his own roomwhich was downstairs close by at the end of the passage. His wife Yefimya wassitting on the bedfeeding her baby; another childthe eldestwas standingbylaying its curly head on her knee; a third was asleep on the bed.
Going into the roomAndrey gave his wife the letter and said:
"From the countryI suppose."
Then he walked out again without taking his eyes from the paper. He couldhear Yefimya with a shaking voice reading the first lines. She read them andcould read no more; these lines were enough for her. She burst into tearsandhugging her eldest childkissing himshe began saying -- and it was hard tosay whether she were laughing or crying:
"It's from grannyfrom grandfather" she said. "From thecountry. . . . The Heavenly MotherSaints and Martyrs! The snow lies heaped upunder the roofs now . . . the trees are as white as white. The boys slide onlittle sledges . . . and dear old bald grandfather is on the stove . . . andthere is a little yellow dog. . . . My own darlings!"
Andrey Hrisanfitchhearing thisrecalled that his wife had on three or fouroccasions given him letters and asked him to send them to the countrybut someimportant business had always prevented him; he had not sent themand theletters somehow got lost.
"And little hares run about in the fields" Yefimya went onchantingkissing her boy and shedding tears. "Grandfather is kind andgentle; granny is goodtoo -- kind-hearted. They are warm-hearted in thecountrythey are God-fearing . . . and there is a little church in the village;the peasants sing in the choir. Queen of HeavenHoly Mother and Defendertakeus away from here!"
Andrey Hrisanfitch returned to his room to smoke a little till there wasanother ring at the doorand Yefimya ceased speakingsubsidedand wiped hereyesthough her lips were still quivering. She was very much frightened of him-- ohhow frightened of him! She trembled and was reduced to terror by thesound of his stepsby the look in his eyesand dared not utter a word in hispresence.
Andrey Hrisanfitch lighted a cigarettebut at that very moment there was aring from upstairs. He put out his cigaretteandassuming a very grave facehastened to his front door.
The general was coming downstairsfresh and rosy from his bath.
"And what is there in that room?" he askedpointing to a door.
Andrey Hrisanfitch put his hands down swiftly to the seams of his trousersand pronounced loudly:
"Charcot doucheyour Excellency!"
IT was getting dark; it would soon be night.
Guseva discharged soldiersat up in his hammock and said in an undertone:
"I sayPavel Ivanitch. A soldier at Sutchan told me: while they weresailing a big fish came into collision with their ship and stove a hole init."
The nondescript individual whom he was addressingand whom everyone in theship's hospital called Pavel Ivanitchwas silentas though he had not heard.
And again a stillness followed. . . The wind frolicked with the riggingthescrew throbbedthe waves lashedthe hammocks creakedbut the ear had long agobecome accustomed to these soundsand it seemed that everything around wasasleep and silent. It was dreary. The three invalids -- two soldiers and asailor -- who had been playing cards all the day were asleep and talking intheir dreams.
It seemed as though the ship were beginning to rock. The hammock slowly roseand fell under Gusevas though it were heaving a sighand this was repeatedoncetwicethree times. . . . Something crashed on to the floor with a clang:it must have been a jug falling down.
"The wind has broken loose from its chain. . ." said Gusevlistening.
This time Pavel Ivanitch cleared his throat and answered irritably:
"One minute a vessel's running into a fishthe nextthe wind'sbreaking loose from its chain. Is the wind a beast that it can break loose fromits chain?"
"That's how christened folk talk."
"They are as ignorant as you are then. They say all sorts of things. Onemust keep a head on one's shoulders and use one's reason. You are a senselesscreature."
Pavel Ivanitch was subject to sea-sickness. When the sea was rough he wasusually ill-humouredand the merest trifle would make him irritable. And inGusev's opinion there was absolutely nothing to be vexed about. What was therestrange or wonderfulfor instancein the fish or in the wind's breaking loosefrom its chain? Suppose the fish were as big as a mountain and its back were ashard as a sturgeon: and in the same waysupposing that away yonder at the endof the world there stood great stone walls and the fierce winds were chained upto the walls . . . if they had not broken loosewhy did they tear about allover the sea like maniacsand struggle to escape like dogs? If they were notchained upwhat did become of them when it was calm?
Gusev pondered for a long time about fishes as big as a mountain and stoutrusty chainsthen he began to feel dull and thought of his native place towhich he was returning after five years' service in the East. He pictured animmense pond covered with snow. . . . On one side of the pond the red-brickbuilding of the potteries with a tall chimney and clouds of black smoke; on theother side -- a village. . . . His brother Alexey comes out in a sledge from thefifth yard from the end; behind him sits his little son Vanka in big feltover-bootsand his little girl Akulkaalso in big felt boots. Alexey has beendrinkingVanka is laughingAkulka's face he could not seeshe had muffledherself up.
"You never knowhe'll get the children frozen . . ." thoughtGusev. "Lord send them sense and judgment that they may honour their fatherand mother and not be wiser than their parents."
"They want re-soleing" a delirious sailor says in a bass voice."Yesyes!"
Gusev's thoughts break offand instead of a pond there suddenly appearsapropos of nothing a huge bull's head without eyesand the horse and sledge arenot driving alongbut are whirling round and round in a cloud of smoke. Butstill he was glad he had seen his own folks. He held his breath from delightshudders ran all over himand his fingers twitched.
"The Lord let us meet again" he muttered feverishlybut he atonce opened his eyes and sought in the darkness for water.
He drank and lay backand again the sledge was movingthen again the bull'shead without eyessmokeclouds. . . . And so on till daybreak.
The first outline visible in the darkness was a blue circle -- the littleround window; then little by little Gusev could distinguish his neighbour in thenext hammockPavel Ivanitch. The man slept sitting upas he could not breathelying down. His face was greyhis nose was long and sharphis eyes looked hugefrom the terrible thinness of his facehis temples were sunkenhis beard wasskimpyhis hair was long. . . . Looking at him you could not make out of whatclass he waswhether he were a gentlemana merchantor a peasant. Judgingfrom his expression and his long hair he might have been a hermit or a laybrother in a monastery -- but if one listened to what he said it seemed that hecould not be a monk. He was worn out by his cough and his illness and by thestifling heatand breathed with difficultymoving his parched lips. Noticingthat Gusev was looking at him he turned his face towards him and said:
"I begin to guess. . . . Yes. . . . I understand it all perfectlynow."
"What do you understandPavel Ivanitch?"
"I'll tell you. . . . It has always seemed to me strange that terriblyill as you are you should be here in a steamer where it is so hot and stiflingand we are always being tossed up and downwherein facteverything threatensyou with death; now it is all clear to me. . . . Yes. . . . Your doctors put youon the steamer to get rid of you. They get sick of looking after poor bruteslike you. . . . You don't pay them anythingthey have a bother with youandyou damage their records with your deaths -- soof courseyou are brutes! It'snot difficult to get rid of you. . . . All that is necessary isin the firstplaceto have no conscience or humanityandsecondlyto deceive the steamerauthorities. The first condition need hardly be consideredin that respect weare artists; and one can always succeed in the second with a little practice. Ina crowd of four hundred healthy soldiers and sailors half a dozen sick ones arenot conspicuous; wellthey drove you all on to the steamermixed you with thehealthy oneshurriedly counted you overand in the confusion nothing amiss wasnoticedand when the steamer had started they saw that there were paralyticsand consumptives in the last stage lying about on the deck. . . ."
Gusev did not understand Pavel Ivanitch; but supposing he was being blamedhe said in self-defence:
"I lay on the deck because I had not the strength to stand; when we wereunloaded from the barge on to the ship I caught a fearful chill."
"It's revolting" Pavel Ivanitch went on. "The worst of it isthey know perfectly well that you can't last out the long journeyand yet theyput you here. Supposing you get as far as the Indian Oceanwhat then? It'shorrible to think of it. . . . And that's their gratitude for your faithfulirreproachable service!"
Pavel Ivanitch's eyes looked angry; he frowned contemptuously and saidgasping:
"Those are the people who ought to be plucked in the newspapers till thefeathers fly in all directions."
The two sick soldiers and the sailor were awake and already playing cards.The sailor was half reclining in his hammockthe soldiers were sitting near himon the floor in the most uncomfortable attitudes. One of the soldiers had hisright arm in a slingand the hand was swathed up in a regular bundle so that heheld his cards under his right arm or in the crook of his elbow while he playedwith the left. The ship was rolling heavily. They could not stand upnor drinkteanor take their medicines.
"Were you an officer's servant?" Pavel Ivanitch asked Gusev.
"Yesan officer's servant."
"My Godmy God!" said Pavel Ivanitchand he shook his headmournfully. "To tear a man out of his homedrag him twelve thousand milesawaythen to drive him into consumption and. . . and what is it all foronewonders? To turn him into a servant for some Captain Kopeikin or midshipmanDirka! How logical!"
"It's not hard workPavel Ivanitch. You get up in the morning and cleanthe bootsget the samovarsweep the roomsand then you have nothing more todo. The lieutenant is all the day drawing plansand if you like you can sayyour prayersif you like you can read a book or go out into the street. Godgrant everyone such a life."
"Yesvery nicethe lieutenant draws plans all the day and you sit inthe kitchen and pine for home. . . . Plans indeed! . . . It is not plans thatmatterbut a human life. Life is not given twiceit must be treatedmercifully."
"Of coursePavel Ivanitcha bad man gets no mercy anywhereneither athome nor in the armybut if you live as you ought and obey orderswho has anyneed to insult you? The officers are educated gentlementhey understand. . . .In five years I was never once in prisonand I was never struck a blowso helpme Godbut once."
"For fighting. I have a heavy handPavel Ivanitch. Four Chinamen cameinto our yard; they were bringing firewood or somethingI don't remember. WellI was bored and I knocked them about a bitone's nose began bleedingdamn thefellow. . . . The lieutenant saw it through the little windowhe was angry andgave me a box on the ear."
"Foolishpitiful man . . ." whispered Pavel Ivanitch. "Youdon't understand anything."
He was utterly exhausted by the tossing of the ship and closed his eyes; hishead alternately fell back and dropped forward on his breast. Several times hetried to lie down but nothing came of it; his difficulty in breathing preventedit.
"And what did you hit the four Chinamen for?" he asked a littlewhile afterwards.
"Ohnothing. They came into the yard and I hit them."
And a stillness followed. . . . The card-players had been playing for twohours with enthusiasm and loud abuse of one anotherbut the motion of the shipovercame themtoo; they threw aside the cards and lay down. Again Gusev saw thebig pondthe brick buildingthe village. . . . Again the sledge was comingalongagain Vanka was laughing and Akulkasilly little thingthrew open herfur coat and stuck her feet outas much as to say: "Lookgood peoplemysnowboots are not like Vanka'sthey are new ones."
"Five years oldand she has no sense yet" Gusev muttered indelirium. "Instead of kicking your legs you had better come and get yoursoldier uncle a drink. I will give you something nice."
Then Andron with a flintlock gun on his sh oulder was carrying a hare he hadkilledand he was followed by the decrepit old Jew Isaitchikwho offers tobarter the hare for a piece of soap; then the black calf in the shedthen Domnasewing at a shirt and crying about somethingand then again the bull's headwithout eyesblack smoke. . . .
Overhead someone gave a loud shoutseveral sailors ran bythey seemed to bedragging something bulky over the decksomething fell with a crash. Again theyran by. . . . Had something gone wrong? Gusev raised his headlistenedand sawthat the two soldiers and the sailor were playing cards again; Pavel Ivanitchwas sitting up moving his lips. It was stiflingone hadn't strength to breatheone was thirstythe water was warmdisgusting. The ship heaved as much asever.
Suddenly something strange happened to one of the soldiers playing cards. . .. He called hearts diamondsgot muddled in his scoreand dropped his cardsthen with a frightenedfoolish smile looked round at all of them.
"I shan't be a minutematesI'll . . ." he saidand lay down onthe floor.
Everybody was amazed. They called to himhe did not answer.
"Stephanmaybe you are feeling badeh?" the soldier with his armin a sling asked him. "Perhaps we had better bring the priesteh?"
"Have a drink of waterStepan . . ." said the sailor. "Hereladdrink."
"Why are you knocking the jug against his teeth?" said Gusevangrily. " Don't you seeturnip head?'
"What?" Gusev repeatedmimicking him. "There is no breath inhimhe is dead! That's what! What nonsensical peopleLord have mercy on us. .. !"
The ship was not rocking and Pavel Ivanitch was more cheerful. He was nolonger ill-humoured. His face had a boastfuldefiantmocking expression. Helooked as though he wanted to say: "Yesin a minute I will tell yousomething that will make you split your sides with laughing." The littleround window was open and a soft breeze was blowing on Pavel Ivanitch. There wasa sound of voicesof the plash of oars in the water. . . . Just under thelittle window someone began droning in a highunpleasant voice: no doubt it wasa Chinaman singing.
"Here we are in the harbour" said Pavel Ivanitchsmilingironically. "Only another month and we shall be in Russia. Wellworthygentlemen and warriors! I shall arrive at Odessa and from there go straight toHarkov. In Harkov I have a frienda literary man. I shall go to him and say'Comeold manput aside your horrid subjectsladies' amours and the beautiesof natureand show up human depravity.' "
For a minute he ponderedthen said:
"Gusevdo you know how I took them in?"
"Took in whomPavel Ivanitch?"
"Whythese fellows. . . . You know that on this steamer there is only afirst-class and a third-classand they only allow peasants -- that is therift-raft -- to go in the third. If you have got on a reefer jacket and have thefaintest resemblance to a gentleman or a bourgeois you must go first-classifyou please. You must fork out five hundred roubles if you die for it. WhyIaskhave you made such a rule? Do you want to raise the prestige of educatedRussians thereby? Not a bit of it. We don't let you go third-class simplybecause a decent person can't go third-class; it is very horrible anddisgusting. Yesindeed. I am very grateful for such solicitude for decentpeople's welfare. But in any casewhether it is nasty there or nicefivehundred roubles I haven't got. I haven't pilfered government money. I haven'texploited the nativesI haven't trafficked in contrabandI have flogged no oneto deathso judge whether I have the right to travel first-class and even lessto reckon myself of the educated class? But you won't catch them with logic. . .. One has to resort to deception. I put on a workman's coat and high bootsIassumed a drunkenservile mug and went to the agents: 'Give us a little ticketyour honour' said I. . . ."
"Whywhat class do you belong to?" asked a sailor.
"Clerical. My father was an honest priesthe always told the great onesof the world the truth to their faces; and he had a great deal to put up with inconsequence."
Pavel Ivanitch was exhausted with talking and gasped for breathbut stillwent on:
"YesI always tell people the truth to their faces. I am not afraid ofanyone or anything. There is a vast difference between me and all of you in thatrespect. You are in darknessyou are blindcrushed; you see nothing and whatyou do see you don't understand. . . . You are told the wind breaks loose fromits chainthat you are beastsPetchenyegsand you believe it; they punch youin the neckyou kiss their hands; some animal in a sable-lined coat robs youand then tips you fifteen kopecks and you: 'Let me kiss your handsir.' You arepariahspitiful people. . . . I am a different sort. My eyes are openI see itall as clearly as a hawk or an eagle when it floats over the earthand Iunderstand it all. I am a living protest. I see irresponsible tyranny -- Iprotest. I see cant and hypocrisy -- I protest. I see swine triumphant -- Iprotest. And I cannot be suppressedno Spanish Inquisition can make me hold mytongue. No. . . . Cut out my tongue and I would protest in dumb show; shut me upin a cellar -- I will shout from it to be heard half a mile awayor I willstarve myself to death that they may have another weight on their blackconsciences. Kill me and I will haunt them with my ghost. All my acquaintancessay to me: 'You are a most insufferable personPavel Ivanitch.' I am proud ofsuch a reputation. I have served three years in the far Eastand I shall beremembered there for a hundred years: I had rows with everyone. My friends writeto me from Russia'Don't come back' but here I am going back to spite them . .. yes. . . . That is life as I understand it. That is what one can calllife."
Gusev was looking at the little window and was not listening. A boat wasswaying on the transparentsoftturquoise water all bathed in hotdazzlingsunshine. In it there were naked Chinamen holding up cages with canaries andcalling out:
"It singsit sings!"
Another boat knocked against the first; the steam cutter darted by. And thenthere came another boat with a fat Chinaman sitting in iteating rice withlittle sticks.
Languidly the water heavedlanguidly the white seagulls floated over it.
"I should like to give that fat fellow one in the neck" thoughtGusevgazing at the stout Chinamanwith a yawn.
He dozed offand it seemed to him that all nature was dozingtoo. Time flewswiftly by; imperceptibly the day passedimperceptibly the darkness came on. .. . The steamer was no longer standing stillbut moving on further.
Two days passedPavel Ivanitch lay down instead of sitting up; his eyes wereclosedhis nose seemed to have grown sharper.
"Pavel Ivanitch" Gusev called to him. "HeyPavelIvanitch."
Pavel Ivanitch opened his eyes and moved his lips.
"Are you feeling bad?"
"No . . . it's nothing . . ." answered Pavel Ivanitchgasping."Nothing; on the contrary -- I am rather better. . . . You see I can liedown. I am a little easier. . . ."
"Wellthank God for thatPavel Ivanitch."
"When I compare myself with you I am sorry for you . . . poor fellow. Mylungs are all rightit is only a stomach cough. . . . I can stand hellletalone the Red Sea. Besides I take a critical attitude to my illness and to themedicines they give me for it. While you . . . you are in darkness. . . . It'shard for youveryvery hard!"
The ship was not rollingit was calmbut as hot and stifling as abath-house; it was not only hard to speak but even hard to listen. Gusev huggedhis kneeslaid his head on them and thought of his home. Good heavenswhat arelief it was to think of snow and cold in that stifling heat! You drive in asledgeall at once the horses take fright at something and bolt. . . .Regardless of the roadthe ditchesthe ravinesthey dash like mad thingsright through the villageover the pond by the pottery worksout across theopen fields. "Hold on" the pottery hands and the peasants sho utmeeting them. "Hold on." But why? Let the keencold wind beat inone's face and bite one's hands; let the lumps of snowkicked up by the horses'hoofsfall on one's capon one's backdown one's collaron one's chest; letthe runners ring on the snowand the traces and the sledge be smasheddeucetake them one and all! And how delightful when the sledge upsets and you goflying full tilt into a driftface downwards in the snowand then you get upwhite all over with icicles on your moustaches; no capno glovesyour beltundone. . . . People laughthe dogs bark. . . .
Pavel Ivanitch half opened one eyelooked at Gusev with itand askedsoftly:
"Gusevdid your commanding officer steal?"
"Who can tellPavel Ivanitch! We can't sayit didn't reach us."
And after that a long time passed in silence. Gusev broodedmutteredsomething in deliriumand kept drinking water; it was hard for him to talk andhard to listenand he was afraid of being talked to. An hour passeda seconda third; evening came onthen nightbut he did not notice it. He still satdreaming of the frost.
There was a sound as though someone came into the hospitaland voices wereaudiblebut a few minutes passed and all was still again.
"The Kingdom of Heaven and eternal peace" said the soldier withhis arm in a sling. "He was an uncomfortable man."
"What?" asked Gusev. "Who?"
"He is deadthey have just carried him up."
"Ohwell" muttered Gusevyawning"the Kingdom of Heaven behis."
"What do you think?" the soldier with his arm in a sling askedGusev. "Will he be in the Kingdom of Heaven or not?"
"Who is it you are talking about?"
"He will be . . . he suffered so long. And there is another thinghebelonged to the clergyand the priests always have a lot of relations. Theirprayers will save him."
The soldier with the sling sat down on a hammock near Gusev and said in anundertone:
"And youGusevare not long for this world. You will never get toRussia."
"Did the doctor or his assistant say so?" asked Gusev.
"It isn't that they said sobut one can see it. . . . One can seedirectly when a man's going to die. You don't eatyou don't drink; it'sdreadful to see how thin you've got. It's consumptionin fact. I say itnot toupset youbut because maybe you would like to have the sacrament and extremeunction. And if you have any money you had better give it to the seniorofficer."
"I haven't written home . . ." Gusev sighed. "I shall die andthey won't know."
"They'll hear of it" the sick sailor brought out in a bass voice."When you die they will put it down in the _Gazette_ at Odessa they willsend in a report to the commanding officer there and he will send it to theparish or somewhere. .
Gusev began to be uneasy after such a conversation and to feel a vagueyearning. He drank water -- it was not that; he dragged himself to the windowand breathed the hotmoist air -- it was not that; he tried to think of homeof the frost -- it was not that. . . . At last it seemed to him one minutelonger in the ward and he would certainly expire.
"It's stiflingmates . . ." he said. "I'll go on deck. Helpme upfor Christ's sake."
"All right" assented the soldier with the sling. "I'll carryyouyou can't walkhold on to my neck."
Gusev put his arm round the soldier's neckthe latter put his unhurt armround him and carried him up. On the deck sailors and time-expired soldiers werelying asleep side by side; there were so many of them it was difficult to pass.
"Stand down" the soldier with the sling said softly. "Followme quietlyhold on to my shirt. . . ."
It was dark. There was no light on decknor on the mastsnor anywhere onthe sea around. At the furthest end of the ship the man on watch was standingperfectly still like a statueand it looked as though he were asleep. It seemedas though the steamer were abandoned to itself and were going at its own will.
"Now they will throw Pavel Ivanitch into the sea" said the soldierwith the sling. "In a sack and then into the water."
"Yesthat's the rule."
"But it's better to lie at home in the earth. Anywayyour mother comesto the grave and weeps."
There was a smell of hay and of dung. There were oxen standing with droopingheads by the ship's rail. Onetwothree; eight of them! And there was a littlehorse. Gusev put out his hand to stroke itbut it shook its headshowed itsteethand tried to bite his sleeve.
"Damned brute . . ." said Gusev angrily.
The two of themhe and the soldierthreaded their way to the head of theshipthen stood at the rail and looked up and down. Overhead deep skybrightstarspeace and stillnessexactly as at home in the villagebelow darknessand disorder. The tall waves were resoundingno one could tell why. Whicheverwave you looked at each one was trying to rise higher than all the rest and tochase and crush the next one; after it a third as fierce and hideous flewnoisilywith a glint of light on its white crest.
The sea has no sense and no pity. If the steamer had been smaller and notmade of thick ironthe waves would have crushed it to pieces without theslightest compunctionand would have devoured all the people in it with nodistinction of saints or sinners. The steamer had the same cruel and meaninglessexpression. This monster with its huge beak was dashing onwardscuttingmillions of waves in its path; it had no fear of the darkness nor the windnorof spacenor of solitudecaring for nothingand if the ocean had its peoplethis monster would have crushed themtoowithout distinction of saints orsinners.
"Where are we now?" asked Gusev.
"I don't know. We must be in the ocean."
"There is no sight of land. . ."
"No indeed! They say we shan't see it for seven days."
The two soldiers watched the white foam with the phosphorus light on it andwere silentthinking. Gusev was the first to break the silence.
"There is nothing to be afraid of" he said"only one is fullof dread as though one were sitting in a dark forest; but iffor instancetheylet a boat down on to the water this minute and an officer ordered me to go ahundred miles over the sea to catch fishI'd go. Orlet's sayif a Christianwere to fall into the water this minuteI'd go in after him. A German or aChinaman I wouldn't savebut I'd go in after a Christian."
"And are you afraid to die?"
"Yes. I am sorry for the folks at home. My brother at homeyou knowisn't steady; he drinkshe beats his wife for nothinghe does not honour hisparents. Everything will go to ruin without meand father and my old motherwill be begging their breadI shouldn't wonder. But my legs won't bear mebrotherand it's hot here. Let's go to sleep."
Gusev went back to the ward and got into his hammock. He was again tormentedby a vague cravingand he could not make out what he wanted. There was anoppression on his chesta throbbing in his headhis mouth was so dry that itwas difficult for him to move his tongue. He dozedand murmured in his sleepandworn out with nightmareshis coughand the stifling heattowards morninghe fell into a sound sleep. He dreamed that they were just taking the bread outof the oven in the barracks and he climbed into the stove and had a steam bathin itlashing himself with a bunch of birch twigs. He slept for two daysandat midday on the third two sailors came down and carried him out.
He was sewn up in sailcloth and to make him heavier they put with him twoiron weights. Sewn up in the sailcloth he looked like a carrot or a radish:broad at the head and narrow at the feet. . . . Before sunset they brought himup to the deck and put him on a plank; one end of the plank lay on the side ofthe shipthe other on a boxplaced on a stool. Round him stood the soldiersand the officers with their caps off.
"Blessed be the Name of the Lord . . ." the priest began. "Asit was in the beginningis nowand ever shall be."
"Amen" chanted three sailors.
The soldiers and the officers crossed themselves and looked away at thewaves. It was strange that a man should be sewn up in sailcloth and should soonbe flying into the sea. Was it possible that such a thing might happen toanyone?
The priest strewed earth upon Gusev and bowed down. They sang "EternalMemory."
The man on watch duty tilted up the end of the plankGusev slid off and flewhead foremostturned a somersault in the air and splashed into the sea. He wascovered with foam and for a moment looked as though he were wrapped in lacebutthe minute passed and he disappeared in the waves.
He went rapidly towards the bottom. Did he reach it? It was said to be threemiles to the bottom. After sinking sixty or seventy feethe began moving moreand more slowlyswaying rhythmicallyas though he were hesitating andcarriedalong by the currentmoved more rapidly sideways than downwards.
Then he was met by a shoal of the fish called harbour pilots. Seeing the darkbody the fish stopped as though petrifiedand suddenly turned round anddisappeared. In less than a minute they flew back swift as an arrow to Gusevand began zig-zagging round him in the water.
After that another dark body appeared. It was a shark. It swam under Gusevwith dignity and no show of interestas though it did not notice himand sankdown upon its backthen it turned belly upwardsbasking in the warmtransparent water and languidly opened its jaws with two rows of teeth. Theharbour pilots are delightedthey stop to see what will come next. Afterplaying a little with the body the shark nonchalantly puts its jaws under itcautiously touches it with its teethand the sailcloth is rent its full lengthfrom head to foot; one of the weights falls out and frightens the harbourpilotsand striking the shark on the ribs goes rapidly to the bottom.
Overhead at this time the clouds are massed together on the side where thesun is setting; one cloud like a triumphal archanother like a liona thirdlike a pair of scissors. . . . From behind the clouds a broadgreen shaft oflight pierces through and stretches to the middle of the sky; a little lateranotherviolet-colouredlies beside it; next thatone of goldthen onerose-coloured. . . . The sky turns a soft lilac. Looking at this gorgeousenchanted skyat first the ocean scowlsbut soon ittootakes tenderjoyouspassionate colours for which it is hard to find a name in human speech.
AT first the weather was fine and still. The thrushes were callingand inthe swamps close by something alive droned pitifully with a sound like blowinginto an empty bottle. A snipe flew byand the shot aimed at it rang out with agayresounding note in the spring air. But when it began to get dark in theforest a coldpenetrating wind blew inappropriately from the eastandeverything sank into silence. Needles of ice stretched across the poolsand itfelt cheerlessremoteand lonely in the forest. There was a whiff of winter.
Ivan Velikopolskythe son of a sacristanand a student of the clericalacademyreturning home from shootingwalked all the time by the path in thewater-side meadow. His fingers were numb and his face was burning with the wind.It seemed to him that the cold that had suddenly come on had destroyed the orderand harmony of thingsthat nature itself felt ill at easeand that was why theevening darkness was falling more rapidly than usual. All around it was desertedand peculiarly gloomy. The only light was one gleaming in the widows' gardensnear the river; the villageover three miles awayand everything in thedistance all round was plunged in the cold evening mist. The student rememberedthatas he went out from the househis mother was sitting barefoot on thefloor in the entrycleaning the samovarwhile his father lay on the stovecoughing; as it was Good Friday nothing had been cookedand the student wasterribly hungry. And nowshrinking from the coldhe thought that just such awind had blown in the days of Rurik and in the time of Ivan the Terrible andPeterand in their time there had been just the same desperate poverty andhungerthe same thatched roofs with holes in themignorancemiserythe samedesolation aroundthe same darknessthe same feeling of oppression -- allthese had existeddid existand would existand the lapse of a thousand yearswould make life no better. And he did not want to go home.
The gardens were called the widows' because they were kept by two widowsmother and daughter. A camp fire was burning brightly with a crackling soundthrowing out light far around on the ploughed earth. The widow Vasilisaa tallfat old woman in a man's coatwas standing by and looking thoughtfully into thefire; her daughter Lukeryaa little pock-marked woman with a stupid-lookingfacewas sitting on the groundwashing a caldron and spoons. Apparently theyhad just had supper. There was a sound of men's voices; it was the labourerswatering their horses at the river.
"Here you have winter back again" said the studentgoing up tothe camp fire. "Good evening."
Vasilisa startedbut at once recognized him and smiled cordially.
"I did not know you; God bless you" she said.
"You'll be rich."
They talked. Vasilisaa woman of experiencewho had been in service withthe gentryfirst as a wet-nurseafterwards as a children's nurseexpressedherself with refinementand a softsedate smile never left her face; herdaughter Lukeryaa village peasant womanwho had been beaten by her husbandsimply screwed up her eyes at the student and said nothingand she had astrange expression like that of a deaf mute.
"At just such a fire the Apostle Peter warmed himself" said thestudentstretching out his hands to the fire"so it must have been coldthentoo. Ahwhat a terrible night it must have beengranny! An utterlydismal long night!"
He looked round at the darknessshook his head abruptly and asked:
"No doubt you have been at the reading of the Twelve Gospels?"
"YesI have" answered Vasilisa.
"If you remember at the Last Supper Peter said to Jesus'I am ready togo with Thee into darkness and unto death.' And our Lord answered him thus: 'Isay unto theePeterbefore the cock croweth thou wilt have denied Me thrice.'After the supper Jesus went through the agony of death in the garden and prayedand poor Peter was weary in spirit and fainthis eyelids were heavy and hecould not struggle against sleep. He fell asleep. Then you heard how Judas thesame night kissed Jesus and betrayed Him to His tormentors. They took Him boundto the high priest and beat Himwhile Peterexhaustedworn out with miseryand alarmhardly awakeyou knowfeeling that something awful was just goingto happen on earthfollowed behind. . . . He loved Jesus passionatelyintenselyand now he saw from far off how He was beaten. . ."
Lukerya left the spoons and fixed an immovable stare upon the student.
"They came to the high priest's" he went on; "they began toquestion Jesusand meantime the labourers made a fire in the yard as it wascoldand warmed themselves. Petertoostood with them near the fire andwarmed himself as I am doing. A womanseeing himsaid: 'He was with Jesustoo' -- that is as much as to say that hetooshould be taken to bequestioned. And all the labourers that were standing near the fire must havelooked sourly and suspiciously at himbecause he was confused and said: 'Idon't know Him.' A little while after again someone recognized him as one ofJesus' disciples and said: 'Thoutooart one of them' but again he denied it.And for the third time someone turned to him: 'Whydid I not see thee with Himin the garden to-day?' For the third time he denied it. And immediately afterthat time the cock crowedand Peterlooking from afar off at Jesusrememberedthe words He had said to him in the evening. . . . He rememberedhe came tohimselfwent out of the yard and wept bitterly -- bitterly. In the Gospel it iswritten: 'He went out and wept bitterly.' I imagine it: the stillstilldarkdark gardenand in the stillnessfaintly audiblesmothered sobbing. . ."
T he student sighed and sank into thought. Still smilingVasilisa suddenlygave a gulpbig tears flowed freely down her cheeksand she screened her facefrom the fire with her sleeve as though ashamed of her tearsand Lukeryastaring immovably at the studentflushed crimsonand her expression becamestrained and heavy like that of someone enduring intense pain.
The labourers came back from the riverand one of them riding a horse wasquite nearand the light from the fire quivered upon him. The student saidgood-night to the widows and went on. And again the darkness was about him andhis fingers began to be numb. A cruel wind was blowingwinter really had comeback and it did not feel as though Easter would be the day after to-morrow.
Now the student was thinking about Vasilisa: since she had shed tears allthat had happened to Peter the night before the Crucifixion must have somerelation to her. . . .
He looked round. The solitary light was still gleaming in the darkness and nofigures could be seen near it now. The student thought again that if Vasilisahad shed tearsand her daughter had been troubledit was evident that what hehad just been telling them aboutwhich had happened nineteen centuries agohada relation to the present -- to both womento the desolate villageto himselfto all people. The old woman had weptnot because he could tell the storytouchinglybut because Peter was near to herbecause her whole being wasinterested in what was passing in Peter's soul.
And joy suddenly stirred in his souland he even stopped for a minute totake breath. "The past" he thought"is linked with the presentby an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another." And it seemedto him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched oneend the other quivered.
When he crossed the river by the ferry boat and afterwardsmounting thehilllooked at his village and towards the west where the cold crimson sunsetlay a narrow streak of lighthe thought that truth and beauty which had guidedhuman life there in the garden and in the yard of the high priest had continuedwithout interruption to this dayand had evidently always been the chief thingin human life and in all earthly lifeindeed; and the feeling of youthhealthvigour -- he was only twenty-two -- and the inexpressible sweet expectation ofhappinessof unknown mysterious happinesstook possession of him little bylittleand life seemed to him enchantingmarvellousand full of loftymeaning.
IN THE RAVINE
THE village of Ukleevo lay in a ravine so that only the belfry and thechimneys of the printed cottons factories could be seen from the high road andthe railway-station. When visitors asked what village this wasthey were told:
"That's the village where the deacon ate all the caviare at thefuneral."
It had happened at the dinner at the funeral of Kostukov that the old deaconsaw among the savouries some large-grained caviare and began eating it greedily;people nudged himtugged at his armbut he seemed petrified with enjoyment:felt nothingand only went on eating. He ate up all the caviareand there werefour pounds in the jar. And years had passed since thenthe deacon had longbeen deadbut the caviare was still remembered. Whether life was so poor hereor people had not been clever enough to notice anything but that unimportantincident that had occurred ten years beforeanyway the people had nothing elseto tell about the village Ukleevo.
The village was never free from feverand there was boggy mud there even inthe summerespecially under the fences over which hung old willow-trees thatgave deep shade. Here there was always a smell from the factory refuse and theacetic acid which was used in the finishing of the cotton print.
The three cotton factories and the tanyard were not in the village itselfbut a little way off. They were small factoriesand not more than four hundredworkmen were employed in all of them. The tanyard often made the water in thelittle river stink; the refuse contaminated the meadowsthe peasants' cattlesuffered from Siberian plagueand orders were given that the factory should beclosed. It was considered to be closedbut went on working in secret with theconnivance of the local police officer and the district doctorwho was paid tenroubles a month by the owner. In the whole village there were only two decenthouses built of brick with iron roofs; one of them was the local courtin theothera two-storied house just opposite the churchthere lived a shopkeeperfrom Epifan called Grigory Petrovitch Tsybukin.
Grigory kept a grocer's shopbut that was only for appearance' sake: inreality he sold vodkacattlehidesgrainand pigs; he traded in anythingthat came to handand whenfor instancemagpies were wanted abroad forladies' hatshe made some thirty kopecks on every pair of birds; he boughttimber for fellinglent money at interestand altogether was a sharp old manfull of resources.
He had two sons. The elderAnisimwas in the police in the detectivedepartment and was rarely at home. The youngerStepanhad gone in for tradeand helped his father: but no great help was expected from him as he was weak inhealth and deaf; his wife Aksinyaa handsome woman with a good figurewho worea hat and carried a parasol on holidaysgot up early and went to bed lateandran about all day longpicking up her skirts and jingling her keysgoing fromthe granary to the cellar and from there to the shopand old Tsybukin looked ather good-humouredly while his eyes glowedand at such moments he regretted shehad not been married to his elder son instead of to the younger onewho wasdeafand who evidently knew very little about female beauty.
The old man had always an inclination for family lifeand he loved hisfamily more than anything on earthespecially his elder sonthe detectiveandhis daughter-in-law. Aksinya had no sooner married the deaf son than she beganto display an extraordinary gift for businessand knew who could be allowed torun up a bill and who could not: she kept the keys and would not trust them evento her husband; she kept the accounts by means of the reckoning beadslooked atthe horses' teeth like a peasantand was always laughing or shouting; andwhatever she did or said the old man was simply delighted and muttered:
"Well donedaughter-in-law! You are a smart wench!"
He was a widowerbut a year after his son's marriage he could not resistgetting married himself. A girl was found for himliving twenty miles fromUkleevocalled Varvara Nikolaevnano longer quite youngbut good-lookingcomelyand belonging to a decent family. As soon as she was installed into theupper-storey room everything in the house seemed to brighten up as though newglass had been put into all the windows. The lamps gleamed before the ikonsthetables were covered with snow-white clothsflowers with red buds made theirappearance in the windows and in the front gardenand at dinnerinstead ofeating from a single bowleach person had a separate plate set for him. VarvaraNikolaevna had a pleasantfriendly smileand it seemed as though the wholehouse were smilingtoo. Beggars and pilgrimsmale and femalebegan to comeinto the yarda thing which had never happened in the past; the plaintivesing-song voices of the Ukleevo peasant women and the apologetic coughs of weakseedy-looking menwho had been dismissed from the factory for drunkenness wereheard under the windows. Varvara helped them with moneywith breadwith oldclothesand afterwardswhen she felt more at homebegan taking things out ofthe shop. One day the deaf man saw her take four ounces of tea and thatdisturbed him.
"Heremother's taken four ounces of tea" he informed his fatherafterwards; "where is that to be entered?"
The old man made no reply but stood still and thought a momentmoving hiseyebrowsand then went upstairs to his wife.
"Varvarushkaif you want anything out of the shop" he saidaffectionately"take itmy dea r. Take it and welcome; don'thesitate."
And the next day the deaf manrunning across the yardcalled to her:
"If there is anything you wantmothertake it."
There was something newsomething gay and light-hearted in her giving ofalmsjust as there was in the lamps before the ikons and in the red flowers.When at Carnival or at the church festivalwhich lasted for three daystheysold the peasants tainted salt meatsmelling so strong it was hard to standnear the tub of itand took scythescapsand their wives' kerchiefs in pledgefrom the drunken men; when the factory hands stupefied with bad vodka layrolling in the mudand sin seemed to hover thick like a fog in the airthen itwas a relief to think that up there in the house there was a gentleneatlydressed woman who had nothing to do with salt meat or vodka; her charity had inthose burdensomemurky days the effect of a safety valve in a machine.
The days in Tsybukin's house were spent in business cares. Before the sun hadrisen in the morning Aksinya was panting and puffing as she washed in the outerroomand the samovar was boiling in the kitchen with a hum that boded no good.Old Grigory Petrovitchdressed in a long black coatcotton breeches and shinytop bootslooking a dapper little figurewalked about the roomstapping withhis little heels like the father-in-law in a well-known song. The shop wasopened. When it was daylight a racing droshky was brought up to the front doorand the old man got jauntily on to itpulling his big cap down to his ears;andlooking at himno one would have said he was fifty-six. His wife anddaughter-in-law saw him offand at such times when he had on a goodcleancoatand had in the droshky a huge black horse that had cost three hundredroublesthe old man did not like the peasants to come up to him with theircomplaints and petitions; he hated the peasants and disdained themand if hesaw some peasants waiting at the gatehe would shout angrily:
"Why are you standing there? Go further off."
Or if it were a beggarhe would say:
"God will provide!"
He used to drive off on business; his wifein a dark dress and a blackaprontidied the rooms or helped in the kitchen. Aksinya attended to the shopand from the yard could be heard the clink of bottles and of moneyher laughterand loud talkand the anger of customers whom she had offended; and at the sametime it could be seen that the secret sale of vodka was already going on in theshop. The deaf man sat in the shoptooor walked about the street bare-headedwith his hands in his pockets looking absent-mindedly now at the hutsnow atthe sky overhead. Six times a day they had tea; four times a day they sat downto meals; and in the evening they counted over their takingsput them downwent to bedand slept soundly.
All the three cotton factories in Ukleevo and the houses of the factoryowners -- Hrymin SeniorsHrymin Juniorsand Kostukov -- were on a telephone.The telephone was laid on in the local courttoobut it soon ceased to work asbugs and beetles bred there. The elder of the rural district had had littleeducation and wrote every word in the official documents in capitals. But whenthe telephone was spoiled he said:
"Yesnow we shall be badly off without a telephone."
The Hrymin Seniors were continually at law with the Juniorsand sometimesthe Juniors quarrelled among themselves and began going to lawand theirfactory did not work for a month or two till they were reconciled againandthis was an entertainment for the people of Ukleevoas there was a great dealof talk and gossip on the occasion of each quarrel. On holidays Kostukov and theJuniors used to get up racesused to dash about Ukleevo and run over calves.Aksinyarustling her starched petticoatsused to promenade in a low-neckeddress up and down the street near her shop; the Juniors used to snatch her upand carry her off as though by force. Then old Tsybukin would drive out to showhis new horse and take Varvara with him.
In the eveningafter the raceswhen people were going to bedan expensiveconcertina was played in the Juniors' yard andif it were a moonlight nightthose sounds sent a thrill of delight to the heartand Ukleevo no longer seemeda wretched hole.
The elder son Anisim came home very rarelyonly on great holidaysbut heoften sent by a returning villager presents and letters written in very goodwriting by some other handalways on a sheet of foolscap in the form of apetition. The letters were full of expressions that Anisim never made use of inconversation: "Dear papa and mammaI send you a pound of flower tea forthe satisfaction of your physical needs."
At the bottom of every letter was scratchedas though with a broken pen:"Anisim Tsybukin" and again in the same excellent hand:"Agent."
The letters were read aloud several timesand the old fathertouchedredwith emotionwould say:
"Here he did not care to stay at homehe has gone in for anintellectual line. Welllet him! Every man to his own job!
It happened just before Carnival there was a heavy storm of rain mixed withhail; the old man and Varvara went to the window to look at itand lo andbehold! Anisim drove up in a sledge from the station. He was quite unexpected.He came indoorslooking anxious and troubled about somethingand he remainedthe same all the time; there was something free and easy in his manner. He wasin no haste to go awayit seemedas though he had been dismissed from theservice. Varvara was pleased at his arrival; she looked at him with a slyexpressionsighedand shook her head.
"How is thismy friends?" she said. "Tuttutthe lad's inhis twenty-eighth yearand he is still leading a gay bachelor life; tuttuttut. . . ."
From the other room her softeven speech sounded like tuttuttut. Shebegan whispering with her husband and Aksinyaand their faces wore the same slyand mysterious expression as though they were conspirators.
It was decided to marry Anisim.
"Ohtuttut . . . the younger brother has been married long ago"said Varvara"and you are still without a helpmate like a cock at a fair.What is the meaning of it? Tuttutyou will be marriedplease Godthen asyou choose -- you will go into the service and your wife will remain here athome to help us. There is no order in your lifeyoung manand I see you haveforgotten how to live properly. Tuttutit's the same trouble with all youtownspeople."
When the Tsybukins marriedthe most handsome girls were chosen as brides forthem as rich men. For Anisimtoothey found a handsome one. He was himself ofan uninteresting and inconspicuous appearance; of a feeblesickly build andshort stature; he had fullpuffy cheeks which looked as though he were blowingthem out; his eyes looked with a keenunblinking stare; his beard was red andscantyand when he was thinking he always put it into his mouth and bit it;moreover he often drank too muchand that was noticeable from his face and hiswalk. But when he was informed that they had found a very beautiful bride forhimhe said:
"Oh wellI am not a fright myself. All of us Tsybukins are handsomeImay say."
The village of Torguevo was near the town. Half of it had lately beenincorporated into the townthe other half remained a village. In the first --the town half -- there was a widow living in her own little house; she had asister living with her who was quite poor and went out to work by the dayandthis sister had a daughter called Lipaa girl who went out to worktoo. Peoplein Torguevo were already talking about Lipa's good looksbut her terriblepoverty put everyone off; people opined that some widower or elderly man wouldmarry her regardless of her povertyor would perhaps take her to himselfwithout marriageand that her mother would get enough to eat living with her.Varvara heard about Lipa from the matchmakersand she drove over to Torguevo.
Then a visit of inspection was arranged at the aunt'swith lunch and wineall in due orderand Lipa wore a new pink dress made on purpose for thisoccasionand a crimson ribbon like a flame gleamed in her hair. She waspale-facedthinand frailwith softdelicate features sunburnt from workingin the open air; a shymournful smile always hovered about her faceand therewas a childlike look in her eyestrustful and curious.
She was youngquite a little girlher bosom still scarcely perceptiblebutshe could be married because she had reached the legal age. She really wasbeautifuland the only thing that might be thought unattractive was her bigmasculine hands which hung idle now like two big claws.
"There is no dowry -- and we don't think much of that" saidTsybukin to the aunt. "We took a wife from a poor family for our sonStepantooand now we can't say too much for her. In house and in businessalike she has hands of gold."
Lipa stood in the doorway and looked as though she would say: "Do withme as you willI trust you" while her mother Praskovya the work-woman hidherself in the kitchen numb with shyness. At one time in her youth a merchantwhose floors she was scrubbing stamped at her in a rage; she went chill withterror and there always was a feeling of fear at the bottom of her heart. Whenshe was frightened her arms and legs trembled and her cheeks twitched. Sittingin the kitchen she tried to hear what the visitors were sayingand she keptcrossing herselfpressing her fingers to her foreheadand gazing at the ikons.Anisimslightly drunkopened the door into the kitchen and said in afree-and-easy way:
"Why are you sitting in hereprecious mamma? We are dull withoutyou."
And Praskovyaovercome with timiditypressing her hands to her leanwastedbosomsaid:
"Ohnot at all. . . . It's very kind of you."
After the visit of inspection the wedding day was fixed. Then Anisim walkedabout the rooms at home whistlingor suddenly thinking of somethingwould fallto brooding and would look at the floor fixedlysilentlyas though he wouldprobe to the depths of the earth. He expressed neither pleasure that he was tobe marriedmarried so soonon Low Sundaynor a desire to see his bridebutsimply went on whistling. And it was evident he was only getting married becausehis father and stepmother wished him toand because it was the custom in thevillage to marry the son in order to have a woman to help in the house. When hewent away he seemed in no hasteand behaved altogether not as he had done onprevious visits -- was particularly free and easyand talked inappropriately.
In the village Shikalovo lived two dressmakerssistersbelonging to theFlagellant sect. The new clothes for the wedding were ordered from themandthey often came to try them onand stayed a long while drinking tea. They weremaking Varvara a brown dress with black lace and bugles on itand Aksinya alight green dress with a yellow frontwith a train. When the dressmakers hadfinished their work Tsybukin paid them not in money but in goods from the shopand they went away depressedcarrying parcels of tallow candles and tins ofsardines which they did not in the least needand when they got out of thevillage into the open country they sat down on a hillock and cried.
Anisim arrived three days before the weddingrigged out in new clothes fromtop to toe. He had dazzling india-rubber goloshesand instead of a cravat worea red cord with little balls on itand over his shoulder he had hung anovercoatalso newwithout putting his arms into the sleeves.
After crossing himself sedately before the ikonhe greeted his father andgave him ten silver roubles and ten half-roubles; to Varvara he gave as muchand to Aksinya twenty quarter-roubles. The chief charm of the present lay in thefact that all the coinsas though carefully matchedwere new and glittered inthe sun. Trying to seem grave and sedate he pursed up his face and puffed outhis cheeksand he smelt of spirits. Probably he had visited the refreshment barat every station. And again there was a free-and-easiness about the man --something superfluous and out of place. Then Anisim had lunch and drank tea withthe old manand Varvara turned the new coins over in her hand and inquiredabout villagers who had gone to live in the town.
"They are all rightthank Godthey get on quite well" saidAnisim. "Only something has happened to Ivan Yegorov: his old wife SofyaNikiforovna is dead. From consumption. They ordered the memorial dinner for thepeace of her soul at the confectioner's at two and a half roubles a head. Andthere was real wine. Those who were peasants from our village -- they paid twoand a half roubles for themtoo. They ate nothingas though a peasant wouldunderstand sauce!"
"Two and a half" said his fathershaking his head.
"Wellit's not like the country thereyou go into a restaurant to havea snack of somethingyou ask for one thing and anotherothers join till thereis a party of usone has a drink -- and before you know where you are it isdaylight and you've three or four roubles each to pay. And when one is withSamorodov he likes to have coffee with brandy in it after everythingand brandyis sixty kopecks for a little glass."
"And he is making it all up" said the old man enthusiastically;"he is making it all uplying!"
"I am always with Samorodov now. It is Samorodov who writes my lettersto you. He writes splendidly. And if I were to tell youmamma" Anisimwent on gailyaddressing Varvara"the sort of fellow that Samorodov isyou would not believe me. We call him Muhtarbecause he is black like anArmenian. I can see through himI know all his affairs like the five fingers ofmy handand he feels thatand he always follows me aboutwe are regularinseparables. He seems not to like it in a waybut he can't get on without me.Where I go he goes. I have a correcttrustworthy eyemamma. One sees a peasantselling a shirt in the market place. 'Staythat shirt's stolen.' And really itturns out it is so: the shirt was a stolen one."
"What do you tell from?" asked Varvara.
"Not from anythingI have just an eye for it. I know nothing about theshirtonly for some reason I seem drawn to it: it's stolenand that's all Ican say. Among us detectives it's come to their saying'OhAnisim has gone toshoot snipe!' That means looking for stolen goods. Yes. . . . Anybody can stealbut it is another thing to keep! The earth is widebut there is nowhere to hidestolen goods."
"In our village a ram and two ewes were carried off last week"said Varvaraand she heaved a sighand there is no one to try and find them. .. . Ohtuttut. ."
"WellI might have a try. I don't mind."
The day of the wedding arrived. It was a cool but brightcheerful April day.People were driving about Ukleevo from early morning with pairs or teams ofthree horses decked with many-coloured ribbons on their yokes and maneswith ajingle of bells. The rooksdisturbed by this activitywere cawing noisily inthe willowsand the starlings sang their loudest unceasingly as thoughrejoicing that there was a wedding at the Tsybukins'.
Indoors the tables were already covered with long fishsmoked hamsstuffedfowlsboxes of spratspickled savouries of various sortsand a number ofbottles of vodka and wine; there was a smell of smoked sausage and of sourtinned lobster. Old Tsybukin walked about near the tablestapping with hisheels and sharpening the knives against each other. They kept calling Varvaraand asking for thingsand she was constantly with a distracted face runningbreathlessly into the kitchenwhere the man cook from Kostukov's and the womancook from Hrymin Juniors' had been at work since early morning. Aksinyawithher hair curledin her stays without her dress onin new creaky bootsflewabout the yard like a whirlwind showing glimpses of her bare knees and bosom.
It was noisythere was a sound of scolding and oaths; passers-by stopped atthe wide-open gatesand in everything there was a feeling that somethingextraordinary was happening.
"They have gone for the bride!"
The bells began jingling and died away far beyond the village. . . . Betweentwo and three o'clock people ran up: again there was a jingling of bells: theywere bringing the bride! The church was fullthe candelabra were lightedthechoir were singing from music books as old Tsybukin had wished it. The glare ofthe lights and the bright coloured dresses dazzled Lipa; she felt as though thesingers with their loud voices were hitting her on the head with a hammer. Herboots and the stayswhich she had put on for the first time in her lifepinched herand her face looked as though she had only just come to herselfafter fainting; she gazed about without understanding. Anisimin his black coatwith a red cord instead of a tiestared at the same spot lost in thoughtandwhen the singers shouted loudly he hurriedly crossed himself. He felt touchedand disposed to weep. This church was familiar to him from earliest childhood;at one time his dead mother used to bring him here to take the sacrament; at onetime he used to sing in the choir; every ikon he remembered so welleverycorner. Here he was being marriedhe had to take a wife for the sake of doingthe proper thingbut he was not thinking of that nowhe had forgotten hiswedding completely. Tears dimmed his eyes so that he could not see the ikonshefelt heavy at heart; he prayed and besought God that the misfortunes thatthreatened himthat were ready to burst upon him to-morrowif not to-daymight somehow pass him by as storm-clouds in time of drought pass over thevillage without yielding one drop of rain. And so many sins were heaped up inthe pastso many sinsall getting away from them or setting them right was sobeyond hope that it seemed incongruous even to ask forgiveness. But he did askforgivenessand even gave a loud sobbut no one took any notice of thatsincethey all supposed he had had a drop too much.
There was a sound of a fretful childish wail:
"Take me awaymamma darling!"
"Quiet there!" cried the priest.
When they returned from the church people ran after them; there were crowdstooround the shopround the gatesand in the yard under the windows. Thepeasant women came in to sing songs of congratulation to them. The young couplehad scarcely crossed the threshold when the singerswho were already standingin the outer room with their music booksbroke into a loud chant at the top oftheir voices; a band ordered expressly from the town began playing. Foaming Donwine was brought in tall wine-glassesand Elizarova carpenter who did jobs bycontracta tallgaunt old man with eyebrows so bushy that his eyes couldscarcely be seensaidaddressing the happy pair:
"Anisim and youmy childlove one anotherlive in God's waylittlechildrenand the Heavenly Mother will not abandon you."
He leaned his face on the old father's shoulder and gave a sob.
"Grigory Petrovitchlet us weeplet us weep with joy!" he said ina thin voiceand then at once burst out laughing in a loud bass guffaw."Ho-ho-ho! This is a fine daughter-in-law for you too! Everything is in itsplace in her; all runs smoothlyno creakingthe mechanism works welllots ofscrews in it."
He was a native of the Yegoryevsky districtbut had worked in the factoriesin Ukleevo and the neighborhood from his youth upand had made it his home. Hehad been a familiar figure for years as old and gaunt and lanky as nowand foryears he had been nicknamed "Crutch." Perhaps because he had been forforty years occupied in repairing the factory machinery he judged everybody andeverything by its soundness or its need of repair. And before sitting down tothe table he tried several chairs to see whether they were solidand he touchedthe smoked fish also.
After the Don winethey all sat down to the table. The visitors talkedmoving their chairs. The singers were singing in the outer room. The band wasplayingand at the same time the peasant women in the yard were singing theirsongs all in chorus -- and there was an awfulwild medley of sounds which madeone giddy.
Crutch turned round in his chair and prodded his neighbours with his elbowsprevented people from talkingand laughed and cried alternately.
"Little childrenlittle childrenlittle children" he mutteredrapidly. "Aksinya my dearVarvara darlingwe will live all in peace andharmonymy dear little axes. . . ."
He drank little and was now only drunk from one glass of English bitters. Therevolting bittersmade from nobody knows whatintoxicated everyone who drankit as though it had stunned them. Their tongues began to falter.
The local clergythe clerks from the factories with their wivesthetradesmen and tavern-keepers from the other villages were present. The clerk andthe elder of the rural district who had served together for fourteen yearsandwho had during all that time never signed a single document for anybody nor leta single person out of the local court without deceiving or insulting himweresitting now side by sideboth fat and well-fedand it seemed as though theywere so saturated in injustice and falsehood that even the skin of their faceswas somehow peculiarfraudulent. The clerk's wifea thin woman with a squinthad brought all her children with herand like a bird of prey looked aslant atthe plates and snatched anything she could get hold of to put in her own or herchildren's pockets.
Lipa sat as though turned to stonestill with the same expression as inchurch. Anisim had not said a single word to her since he had made heracquaintanceso that he did not yet know the sound of her voice; and nowsitting beside herhe remained mute and went on drinking bittersand when hegot drunk he began talking to the aunt who was sitting opposite:
"I have a friend called Samorodov. A peculiar man. He is by rank anhonorary citizenand he can talk. But I know him through and throughauntieand he feels it. Pray join me in drinking to the health of Samorodovauntie!"
Varvaraworn out and distractedwalked round the table pressing the gueststo eatand was evidently pleased that there were so many dishes and thateverything was so lavish -- no one could disparage them now. The sun setbutthe dinner went on: the guests were beyond knowing what they were eating ordrinkingit was impossible to distinguish what was saidand only from time totime when the band subsided some peasant woman could be heard shouting:
"They have sucked the blood out of usthe Herods; a pest on them!"
In the evening they danced to the band. The Hrymin Juniors camebringingtheir wineand one of themwhen dancing a quadrilleheld a bottle in eachhand and a wineglass in his mouthand that made everyone laugh. In the middleof the quadrille they suddenly crooked their knees and danced in a squattingposition; Aksinya in green flew by like a flashstirring up a wind with hertrain. Someone trod on her flounce and Crutch shouted:
"Aiethey have torn off the panel! Children!"
Aksinya had naive grey eyes which rarely blinkedand a naive smile playedcontinually on her face. And in those unblinking eyesand in that little headon the long neckand in her slenderness there was something snake-like; all ingreen but for the yellow on her bosomshe looked with a smile on her face as aviper looks out of the young rye in the spring at the passers-bystretchingitself and lifting its head. The Hrymins were free in their behaviour to herand it was very noticeable that she was on intimate terms with the elder ofthem. But her deaf husband saw nothinghe did not look at her; he sat with hislegs crossed and ate nutscracking them so loudly that it sounded like pistolshots.
Butbeholdold Tsybukin himself walked into the middle of the room andwaved his handkerchief as a sign that hetoowanted to dance the Russiandanceand all over the house and from the crowd in the yard rose a roar ofapprobation:
"_He's_ going to dance! _He_ himself!"
Varvara dancedbut the old man only waved his handkerchief and kicked up hisheelsbut the people in the yardpropped against one anotherpeeping in atthe windowswere in rapturesand for the moment forgave him everything -- hiswealth and the wrongs he had done them.
"Well doneGrigory Petrovitch!" was heard in the crowd."That's rightdo your best! You can still play your part! Ha-ha!"
It was kept up till latetill two o'clock in the morning. Anisimstaggeringwent to take leave of the singers and bandsmenand gave each ofthem a new half-rouble. His fatherwho was not staggering but still seemed tobe standing on one legsaw his guests offand said to each of them:
"The wedding has cost two thousand."
As the party was breaking upsomeone took the Shikalovo innkeeper's goodcoat instead of his own old oneand Anisim suddenly flew into a rage and beganshouting:
"StopI'll find it at once; I know who stole itstop."
He ran out into the street and pursued someone. He was caughtbrought backhome and shoveddrunkenred with angerand wetinto the room where the auntwas undressing Lipaand was locked in.
Five days had passed. Anisimwho was preparing to gowent upstairs to saygood-bye to Varvara. All the lamps were burning before the ikonsthere was asmell of incensewhile she sat at the window knitting a stocking of red wool.
"You have not stayed with us long" she said. "You've beendullI dare say. Ohtuttut. We live comfortably; we have plenty ofeverything. We celebrated your wedding properlyin good style; your father saysit came to two thousand. In fact we live like merchantsonly it's dreary. Wetreat the people very badly. My heart achesmy dear; how we treat themmygoodness! Whether we exchange a horse or buy something or hire a labourer --it's cheating in everything. Cheating and cheating. The Lenten oil in the shopis bitterrancidthe people have pitch that is better. But surelytell mepraycouldn't we sell good oil?"
"Every man to his jobmamma."
"But you know we all have to die? Oyoyreally you ought to talk toyour father . . . !"
"Whyyou should talk to him yourself."
"WellwellI did put in my wordbut he said just what you do: 'Everyman to his own job.' Do you suppose in the next world they'll consider what jobyou have been put to? God's judgment is just."
"Of course no one will consider" said Anisimand he heaved asigh. "There is no Godanywayyou knowmammaso what considering canthere be?"
Varvara looked at him with surpriseburst out laughingand clasped herhands. Perhaps because she was so genuinely surprised at his words and looked athim as though he were a queer personhe was confused.
"Perhaps there is a Godonly there is no faith. When I was beingmarried I was not myself. Just as you may take an egg from under a hen and thereis a chicken chirping in itso my conscience was beginning to chirp in meandwhile I was being married I thought all the time there was a God! But when Ileft the church it was nothing. And indeedhow can I tell whether there is aGod or not? We are not taught right from childhoodand while the babe is stillat his mother's breast he is only taught 'every man to his own job.' Father doesnot believe in Godeither. You were saying that Guntorev had some sheep stolen.. . . I have found them; it was a peasant at Shikalovo stole them; he stolethembut father's got the fleeces . . . so that's all his faith amountsto."
Anisim winked and wagged his head.
"The elder does not believe in Godeither" he went on. "Andthe clerk and the deacontoo. And as for their going to church and keeping thefaststhat is simply to prevent people talking ill of themand in case itreally may be true that there will be a Day of Judgment. Nowadays people saythat the end of the world has come because people have grown weakerdo nothonour their parentsand so on. All that is nonsense. My ideamammais thatall our trouble is because there is so little conscience in people. I seethrough thingsmammaand I understand. If a man has a stolen shirt I see it. Aman sits in a tavern and you fancy he is drinking tea and no morebut to me thetea is neither here nor there; I see furtherhe has no conscience. You can goabout the whole day and not meet one man with a conscience. And the whole reasonis that they don't know whether there is a God or not. . . . Wellgood-byemammakeep alive and welldon't remember evil against me."
Anisim bowed down at Varvara's feet.
"I thank you for everythingmamma" he said. "You are a greatgain to our family. You are a very ladylike womanand I am very pleased withyou."
Much movedAnisim went outbut returned again and said:
"Samorodov has got me mixed up in something: I shall either make myfortune or come to grief. If anything happensthen you must comfort my fathermamma."
"Ohnonsensedon't you worrytuttuttut. . . God is merciful. AndAnisimyou should be affectionate to your wifeinstead of giving each othersulky looks as you do; you might smile at least."
"Yesshe is rather a queer one" said Anisimand he gave a sigh."She does not understand anythingshe never speaks. She is very younglether grow up."
A tallsleek white stallion was already standing at the front doorharnessed to the chaise.
Old Tsybukin jumped in jauntily with a run and took the reins. Anisim kissedVarvaraAksinyaand his brother. On the steps Lipatoowas standing; she wasstanding motionlesslooking awayand it seemed as though she had not come tosee him off but just by chance for some unknown reason. Anisim went up to herand just touched her cheek with his lips.
"Good-bye" he said.
And without looking at him she gave a strange smile; her face began toquiverand everyone for some reason felt sorry for her. Anisimtooleapedinto the chaise with a bound and put his arms jauntily akimbofor he consideredhimself a good-looking fellow.
When they drove up out of the ravine Anisim kept looking back towards thevillage. It was a warmbright day. The cattle were being driven out for thefirst timeand the peasant girls and women were walking by the herd in theirholiday dresses. The dun-coloured bull bellowedglad to be freeand pawed theground with his forefeet. On all sidesabove and belowthe larks were singing.Anisim looked round at the elegant white church -- it had only lately beenwhitewashed -- and he thought how he had been praying in it five days before; helooked round at the school with its green roofat the little river in which heused once to bathe and catch fishand there was a stir of joy in his heartandhe wished that walls might rise up from the ground and prevent him from goingfurtherand that he might be left with nothing but the past.
At the station they went to the refreshment room and drank a glass of sherryeach. His father felt in his pocket for his purse to pay.
"I will stand treat" said Anisim. The old mantouched anddelightedslapped him on the shoulderand winked to the waiter as much as tosay"See what a fine son I have got."
"You ought to stay at home in the businessAnisim" he said;"you would be worth any price to me! I would shower gold on you from headto footmy son."
"It can't be donepapa."
The sherry was sour and smelt of sealing-waxbut they had another glass.
When old Tsybukin returned home from the stationfor the first moment he didnot recognize his younger daughter-in-law. As soon as her husband had driven outof the yardLipa was transformed and suddenly brightened up. Wearing athreadbare old petticoatwith her feet bare and her sleeves tucked up to theshouldersshe was scrubbing the stairs in the entry and singing in a silverylittle voiceand when she brought out a big tub of dirty water and looked up atthe sun with her childlike smile it seemed as though shetoowere a lark.
An old labourer who was passing by the door shook his head and cleared histhroat.
"Yesindeedyour daughters-in-lawGrigory Petrovitchare a blessingfrom God" he said. "Not womenbut treasures!"
On Friday the 8th of JulyElizarovnicknamed Crutchand Lipa werereturning from the village of Kazanskoewhere they had been to a service on theoccasion of a church holiday in the honour of the Holy Mother of Kazan. A gooddistance after them walked Lipa's mother Praskovyawho always fell behindasshe was ill and short of breath. It was drawing towards evening.
"A-a-a . . ." said Crutchwondering as he listened to Lipa."A-a! . . . We-ell!
"I am very fond of jamIlya Makaritch" said Lipa. "I sitdown in my little corner and drink tea and eat jam. Or I drink it with VarvaraNikolaevnaand she tells some story full of feeling. We have a lot of jam --four jars. 'Have someLipa; eat as much as you like.' "
"They live very well. We have white bread with our tea; and meattooas much as one wants. They live very wellonly I am frightened with themIlyaMakaritch. Ohohhow frightened I am!"
"Why are you frightenedchild?" asked Crutchand he looked backto see how far Praskovya was behind.
"To begin withwhen the wedding had been celebrated I was afraid ofAnisim Grigoritch. Anisim Grigoritch did nothinghe didn't ill-treat meonlywhen he comes near me a cold shiver runs all over methrough all my bones. AndI did not sleep one nightI trembled all over and kept praying to God. And nowI am afraid of AksinyaIlya Makaritch. It's not that she does anythingshe isalways laughingbut sometimes she glances at the windowand her eyes are sofierce and there is a gleam of green in them -- like the eyes of the sheep inthe shed. The Hrymin Juniors are leading her astray: 'Your old man' they tellher'has a bit of land at Butyokinoa hundred and twenty acres' they say'and there is sand and water thereso youAksinya' they say'build abrickyard there and we will go shares in it.' Bricks now are twenty roubles thethousandit's a profitable business. Yesterday at dinner Aksinya said to myfather-in-law: 'I want to build a brickyard at Butyokino; I'm going intobusiness on my own account.' She laughed as she said it. And GrigoryPetrovitch's face darkenedone could see he did not like it. 'As long as Ilive' he said'the family must not break upwe must go on altogether.' Shegave a look and gritted her teeth. . . . Fritters were servedshe would not eatthem."
"A-a-a! . . ." Crutch was surprised.
"And tell meif you pleasewhen does she sleep?" said Lipa."She sleeps for half an hourthen jumps up and keeps walking and walkingabout to see whether the peasants have not set fire to somethinghave notstolen something. . . . I am frightened with herIlya Makaritch. And the HryminJuniors did not go to bed after the weddingbut drove to the town to go to lawwith each other; and folks do say it is all on account of Aksinya. Two of thebrothers have promised to build her a brickyardbut the third is offendedandthe factory has been at a standstill for a monthand my uncle Prohor is withoutwork and goes about from house to house getting crusts. 'Hadn't you better goworking on the land or sawing up woodmeanwhileuncle?' I tell him; 'whydisgrace yourself?' 'I've got out of the way of it' he says; 'I don't know howto do any sort of peasant's work nowLipinka.' . . ."
They stopped to rest and wait for Praskovya near a copse of youngaspen-trees. Elizarov had long been a contractor in a small waybut he kept nohorsesgoing on foot all over the district with nothing but a little bag inwhich there was bread and onionsand stalking along with big stridesswinginghis arms. And it was difficult to walk with him.
At the entrance to the copse stood a milestone. Elizarov touched it; read it.Praskovya reached them out of breath. Her wrinkled and always scared-lookingface was beaming with happiness; she had been at church to-day like anyone elsethen she had been to the fair and there had drunk pear cider. For her this wasunusualand it even seemed to her now that she had lived for her own pleasurethat day for the first time in her life. After resting they all three walked onside by side. The sun had already setand its beams filtered through the copsecasting a light on the trunks of the trees. There was a faint sound of voicesahead. The Ukleevo girls had long before pushed on ahead but had lingered in thecopseprobably gathering mushrooms.
"Heywenches!" cried Elizarov. "Heymy beauties!"
There was a sound of laughter in response.
"Crutch is coming! Crutch! The old horseradish."
And the echo laughedtoo. And then the copse was left behind. The tops ofthe factory chimneys came into view. The cross on the belfry glittered: this wasthe village: "the one at which the deacon ate all the caviare at thefuneral." Now they were almost home; they only had to go down into the bigravine. Lipa and Praskovyawho had been walking barefootedsat down on thegrass to put on their boots; Elizar sat down with them. If they looked down fromabove Ukleevo looked beautiful and peaceful with its willow-treesits whitechurchand its little riverand the only blot on the picture was the roof ofthe factoriespainted for the sake of cheapness a gloomy ashen grey. On theslope on the further side they could see the rye -- some in stacks and sheaveshere and there as though strewn about by the stormand some freshly cut lyingin swathes; the oatstoowere ripe and glistened now in the sun likemother-of-pearl. It was harvest-time. To-day was a holidayto-morrow they wouldharvest the rye and carry the hayand then Sunday a holiday again; every daythere were mutterings of distant thunder. It was misty and looked like rainandgazing now at the fieldseveryone thoughtGod grant we get the harvest inin time; and everyone felt gay and joyful and anxious at heart.
"Mowers ask a high price nowadays" said Praskovya. "Onerouble and forty kopecks a day."
People kept coming and coming from the fair at Kazanskoe: peasant womenfactory workers in new capsbeggarschildren. . . . Here a cart would drive bystirring up the dust and behind it would run an unsold horseand it seemed gladit had not been sold; then a cow was led along by the hornsresistingstubbornly; then a cart againand in it drunken peasants swinging their legs.An old woman led a little boy in a big cap and big boots; the boy was tired outwith the heat and the heavy boots which prevented his bending his legs at thekneesbut yet blew unceasingly with all his might at a tin trumpet. They hadgone down the slope and turned into the streetbut the trumpet could still beheard.
"Our factory owners don't seem quite themselves . . ." saidElizarov. "There's trouble. Kostukov is angry with me. 'Too many boardshave gone on the cornices.' 'Too many? As many have gone on it as were neededVassily Danilitch; I don't eat them with my porridge.' 'How can you speak to melike that?' said he'you good-for-nothing blockhead! Don't forget yourself! Itwas I made you a contractor.' 'That's nothing so wonderful' said I. 'Evenbefore I was a contractor I used to have tea every day.' 'You are a rascal . ..' he said. I said nothing. 'We are rascals in this world' thought I'and youwill be rascals in the next. . . .' Ha-ha-ha! The next day he was softer. 'Don'tyou bear malice against me for my wordsMakaritch' he said. 'If I said toomuch' says he'what of it? I am a merchant of the first guildyour superior-- you ought to hold your tongue.' 'You' said I'are a merchant of the firstguild and I am a carpenterthat's correct. And Saint Joseph was a carpentertoo. Ours is a righteous calling and pleasing to Godand if you are pleased tobe my superior you are very welcome to itVassily Danilitch.' And later onafter that conversation I meanI thought: 'Which was the superior? A merchantof the first guild or a carpenter?' The carpenter must bemy child!"
Crutch thought a minute and added:
"Yesthat's how it ischild. He who workshe who is patient is thesuperior."
By now the sun had set and a thick mist as white as milk was rising over theriverin the church enclosureand in the open spaces round the factories. Nowwhen the darkness was coming on rapidlywhen lights were twinkling belo wandwhen it seemed as though the mists were hiding a fathomless abyssLipa and hermother who were born in poverty and prepared to live so till the endgiving upto others everything except their frightenedgentle soulsmay have fancied fora minute perhaps that in the vastmysterious worldamong the endless series oflivestheytoocounted for somethingand theytoowere superior tosomeone; they liked sitting here at the topthey smiled happily and forgot thatthey must go down below again all the same.
At last they went home again. The mowers were sitting on the ground at thegates near the shop. As a rule the Ukleevo peasants did not go to Tsybukin's toworkand they had to hire strangersand now in the darkness it seemed asthough there were men sitting there with long black beards. The shop was openand through the doorway they could see the deaf man playing draughts with a boy.The mowers were singing softlyscarcely audiblyor loudly demanding theirwages for the previous daybut they were not paid for fear they should go awaybefore to-morrow. Old Tsybukinwith his coat offwas sitting in his waistcoatwith Aksinya under the birch-treedrinking tea; a lamp was burning on thetable.
"I saygrandfather" a mower called from outside the gatesasthough taunting him"pay us half anyway! Heygrandfather."
And at once there was the sound of laughterand then again they sang hardlyaudibly. . . . Crutchtoosat down to have some tea.
"We have been at the fairyou know" he began telling them."We have had a walka very nice walkmy childrenpraise the Lord. But anunfortunate thing happened: Sashka the blacksmith bought some tobacco and gavethe shopman half a rouble to be sure. And the half rouble was a false one"--Crutch went onand he meant to speak in a whisperbut he spoke in asmothered husky voice which was audible to everyone. "The half-roubleturned out to be a bad one. He was asked where he got it. 'Anisim Tsybukin gaveit me' he said. 'When I went to his wedding' he said. They called the policeinspectortook the man away. . . . Look outGrigory Petrovitchthat nothingcomes of itno talk. . . ."
"Gra-ndfather!" the same voice called tauntingly outside the gates."Gra-andfather!"
A silence followed.
"Ahlittle childrenlittle childrenlittle children . . ."Crutch muttered rapidlyand he got up. He was overcome with drowsiness."Wellthank you for the teafor the sugarlittle children. It is time tosleep. I am like a bit of rotten timber nowadaysmy beams are crumbling underme. Ho-ho-ho! I suppose it's time I was dead."
And he gave a gulp. Old Tsybukin did not finish his tea but sat on a littlepondering; and his face looked as though he were listening to the footsteps ofCrutchwho was far away down the street.
"Sashka the blacksmith told a lieI expect" said Aksinyaguessing his thoughts.
He went into the house and came back a little later with a parcel; he openeditand there was the gleam of roubles -- perfectly new coins. He took onetried it with his teethflung it on the tray; then flung down another.
"The roubles really are false . . ." he saidlooking at Aksinyaand seeming perplexed. "These are those Anisim broughthis present. Takethemdaughter" he whisperedand thrust the parcel into her hands."Take them and throw them into the well . . . confound them! And mind thereis no talk about it. Harm might come of it. . . . Take away the samovarput outthe light."
Lipa and her mother sitting in the barn saw the lights go out one after theother; only overhead in Varvara's room there were blue and red lamps gleamingand a feeling of peacecontentand happy ignorance seemed to float down fromthere. Praskovya could never get used to her daughter's being married to a richmanand when she came she huddled timidly in the outer room with a deprecatingsmile on her faceand tea and sugar were sent out to her. And Lipatoocouldnot get used to it eitherand after her husband had gone away she did not sleepin her bedbut lay down anywhere to sleepin the kitchen or the barnandevery day she scrubbed the floor or washed the clothesand felt as though shewere hired by the day. And nowon coming back from the servicethey drank teain the kitchen with the cookthen they went into the barn and lay down on theground between the sledge and the wall. It was dark here and smelt of harness.The lights went out about the housethen they could hear the deaf man shuttingup the shopthe mowers settling themselves about the yard to sleep. In thedistance at the Hrymin Juniors' they were playing on the expensive concertina. .. . Praskovya and Lipa began to go to sleep.
And when they were awakened by somebody's steps it was bright moonlight; atthe entrance of the barn stood Aksinya with her bedding in her arms.
"Maybe it's a bit cooler here" she said; then she came in and laydown almost in the doorway so that the moonlight fell full upon her.
She did not sleepbut breathed heavilytossing from side to side with theheatthrowing off almost all the bedclothes. And in the magic moonlight what abeautifulwhat a proud animal she was! A little time passedand then stepswere heard again: the old fatherwhite all overappeared in the doorway.
"Aksinya" he called" are you here?"
"Well?" she responded angrily.
"I told you just now to throw the money into the wellhave you doneso?"
"What nextthrowing property into the water! I gave them to the mowers.. . ."
"Oh my God!" cried the old mandumbfounded and alarmed. "Ohmy God! you wicked woman. . . ."
He flung up his hands and went outand he kept saying something as he wentaway. And a little later Aksinya sat up and sighed heavily with annoyancethengot up andgathering up her bedclothes in her armswent out.
"Why did you marry me into this familymother?" said Lipa.
"One has to be marrieddaughter. It was not us who ordained it."
And a feeling of inconsolable woe was ready to take possession of them. Butit seemed to them that someone was looking down from the height of the heavensout of the blue from where the stars were seeing everything that was going on inUkleevowatching over them. And however great was wickednessstill the nightwas calm and beautifuland still in God's world there is and will be truth andjustice as calm and beautifuland everything on earth is only waiting to bemade one with truth and justiceeven as the moonlight is blended with thenight.
And bothhuddling close to one anotherfell asleep comforted.
News had come long before that Anisim had been put in prison for coining andpassing bad money. Months passedmore than half a year passedthe long winterwas overspring had begunand everyone in the house and the village had grownused to the fact that Anisim was in prison. And when anyone passed by the houseor the shop at night he would remember that Anisim was in prison; and when theyrang at the churchyard for some reasonthattooreminded them that he was inprison awaiting trial.
It seemed as though a shadow had fallen upon the house. The house lookeddarkerthe roof was rustierthe heavyiron-bound door into the shopwhichwas painted greenwas covered with cracksoras the deaf man expressed it"blisters"; and old Tsybukin seemed to have grown dingytoo. He hadgiven up cutting his hair and beardand looked shaggy. He no longer sprangjauntily into his chaisenor shouted to beggars: "God will provide!"His strength was on the waneand that was evident in everything. People wereless afraid of him nowand the police officer drew up a formal charge againsthim in the shop though he received his regular bribe as before; and three timesthe old man was called up to the town to be tried for illicit dealing inspiritsand the case was continually adjourned owing to the non-appearance ofwitnessesand old Tsybukin was worn out with worry.
He often went to see his sonhired somebodyhanded in a petition tosomebody elsepresented a holy banner to some church. He presented the governorof th e prison in which Anisim was confined with a silver glass stand with along spoon and the inscription: "The soul knows its right measure."
"There is no one to look after things for us" said Varvara."Tuttut. . . . You ought to ask someone of the gentlefolksthey wouldwrite to the head officials. . . . At least they might let him out on bail! Whywear the poor fellow out?"
Shetoowas grievedbut had grown stouter and whiter; she lighted thelamps before the ikons as beforeand saw that everything in the house wascleanand regaled the guests with jam and apple cheese. The deaf man andAksinya looked after the shop. A new project was in progress -- a brickyard inButyokino -- and Aksinya went there almost every day in the chaise. She droveherselfand when she met acquaintances she stretched out her neck like a snakeout of the young ryeand smiled naively and enigmatically. Lipa spent her timeplaying with the baby which had been born to her before Lent. It was a tinythinpitiful little babyand it was strange that it should cry and gaze aboutand be considered a human beingand even be called Nikifor. He lay in hisswinging cradleand Lipa would walk away towards the door and saybowing tohim:
And she would rush at him and kiss him. Then she would walk away to the doorbow againand say:
And he kicked up his little red legsand his crying was mixed with laughterlike the carpenter Elizarov's.
At last the day of the trial was fixed. Tsybukin went away five days before.Then they heard that the peasants called as witnesses had been fetched; theirold workman who had received a notice to appear went too.
The trial was on a Thursday. But Sunday had passedand Tsybukin was stillnot backand there was no news. Towards the evening on Tuesday Varvara wassitting at the open windowlistening for her husband to come. In the next roomLipa was playing with her baby. She was tossing him up in her arms and sayingenthusiastically:
"You will grow up ever so bigever so big. You will be a peasantweshall go out to work together! We shall go out to work together!"
"Comecome" said Varvaraoffended. "Go out to workwhat anideayou silly girl! He will be a merchant . . .!"
Lipa sang softlybut a minute later she forgot and again:
"You will grow ever so bigever so big. You will be a peasantwe'll goout to work together."
"There she is at it again!"
Lipawith Nikifor in her armsstood still in the doorway and asked:
"Why do I love him so muchmamma? Why do I feel so sorry for him?"she went on in a quivering voiceand her eyes glistened with tears. "Whois he? What is he like? As light as a little featheras a little crumbbut Ilove him; I love him like a real person. Here he can do nothinghe can't talkand yet I know what he wants with his little eyes."
Varvara was listening; the sound of the evening train coming in to thestation reached her. Had her husband come? She did not hear and she did not heedwhat Lipa was sayingshe had no idea how the time passedbut only trembled allover -- not from dreadbut intense curiosity. She saw a cart full of peasantsroll quickly by with a rattle. It was the witnesses coming back from thestation. When the cart passed the shop the old workman jumped out and walkedinto the yard. She could hear him being greeted in the yard and being asked somequestions. . . .
"Deprivation of rights and all his property" he said loudly"and six years' penal servitude in Siberia."
She could see Aksinya come out of the shop by the back way; she had just beenselling keroseneand in one hand held a bottle and in the other a canand inher mouth she had some silver coins.
"Where is father?" she askedlisping.
"At the station" answered the labourer. " 'When it gets alittle darker' he said'then I shall come.' "
And when it became known all through the household that Anisim was sentencedto penal servitudethe cook in the kitchen suddenly broke into a wail as thoughat a funeralimagining that this was demanded by the proprieties:
"There is no one to care for us now you have goneAnisim Grigoritchour bright falcon. . . ."
The dogs began barking in alarm. Varvara ran to the windowand rushing aboutin distressshouted to the cook with all her mightstraining her voice:
"Sto-opStepanidasto-op! Don't harrow usfor Christ's sake!"
They forgot to set the samovarthey could think of nothing. Only Lipa couldnot make out what it was all about and went on playing with her baby.
When the old father arrived from the station they asked him no questions. Hegreeted them and walked through all the rooms in silence; he had no supper.
"There was no one to see about things . . ." Varvara began whenthey were alone. "I said you should have asked some of the gentryyouwould not heed me at the time. . . . A petition would . . ."
"I saw to things" said her husband with a wave of his hand."When Anisim was condemned I went to the gentleman who was defending him.'It's no use now' he said'it's too late'; and Anisim said the same; it's toolate. But all the same as I came out of the court I made an agreement with alawyerI paid him something in advance. I'll wait a week and then I will goagain. It is as God wills."
Again the old man walked through all the roomsand when he went back toVarvara he said:
"I must be ill. My head's in a sort of . . . fog. My thoughts are in amaze."
He closed the door that Lipa might not hearand went on softly:
"I am unhappy about my money. Do you remember on Low Sunday before hiswedding Anisim's bringing me some new roubles and half-roubles? One parcel I putaway at the timebut the others I mixed with my own money. When my uncle DmitriFilatitch -- the kingdom of heaven be his -- was alivehe used constantly to gojourneys to Moscow and to the Crimea to buy goods. He had a wifeand this samewifewhen he was away buying goodsused to take up with other men. She hadhalf a dozen children. And when uncle was in his cups he would laugh and say: 'Inever can make out' he used to say'which are my children and which are otherpeople's.' An easy-going dispositionto be sure; and so I now can't distinguishwhich are genuine roubles and which are false ones. And it seems to me that theyare all false."
"NonsenseGod bless you."
"I take a ticket at the stationI give the man three roublesand Ikeep fancying they are false. And I am frightened. I must be ill."
"There's no denying itwe are all in God's hands. . . . Oh deardear .. ." said Varvaraand she shook her head. "You ought to think aboutthisGrigory Petrovitch: you never knowanything may happenyou are not ayoung man. See they don't wrong your grandchild when you are dead and gone. OyI am afraid they will be unfair to Nikifor! He has as good as no fatherhismother's young and foolish . . . you ought to secure something for himpoorlittle boyat least the landButyokinoGrigory Petrovitchreally! Think itover!" Varvara went on persuading him. "The pretty boyone is sorryfor him! You go to-morrow and make out a deed; why put it off?"
"I'd forgotten about my grandson" said Tsybukin. "I must goand have a look at him. So you say the boy is all right? Welllet him grow upplease God."
He opened the door andcrooking his fingerbeckoned to Lipa. She went up tohim with the baby in her arms.
"If there is anything you wantLipinkayou ask for it" he said."And eat anything you likewe don't grudge itso long as it does yougood. . . ." He made the sign of the cross over the baby. "And takecare of my grandchild. My son is gonebut my grandson is left."
Tears rolled down his cheeks; he gave a sob and went away. Soon afterwards hewent to bed and slept soundly after seven sleepless nights.
Old Tsybukin went to the town for a short time. Someone told Aksinya that hehad gone to the notary to make his will and that he was leaving Butyokinothevery place where she had set up a brickyardto Nikiforhis grandson. She wasinformed of this in the morning
when old Tsybukin and Varvara were sitting near the steps under the birch-treedrinking their tea. She closed the shop in the front and at the backgatheredtogether all the keys she hadand flung them at her father-in-law's feet.
"I am not going on working for you" she began in a loud voiceandsuddenly broke into sobs. "It seems I am not your daughter-in-lawbut aservant! Everybody's jeering and saying'See what a servant the Tsybukins havegot hold of!' I did not come to you for wages! I am not a beggarI am not aslaveI have a father and mother."
She did not wipe away her tearsshe fixed upon her father-in-law eyes fullof tearsvindictivesquinting with wrath; her face and neck were red andtenseand she was shouting at the top of her voice.
"I don't mean to go on being a slave!" she went on. "I am wornout. When it is workwhen it is sitting in the shop day in and day outscurrying out at night for vodka -- then it is my sharebut when it is givingaway the land then it is for that convict's wife and her imp. She is mistresshereand I am her servant. Give her everythingthe convict's wifeand may itchoke her! I am going home! Find yourselves some other foolyou damnedHerods!"
Tsybukin had never in his life scolded or punished his childrenand hadnever dreamed that one of his family could speak to him rudely or behavedisrespectfully; and now he was very much frightened; he ran into the house andthere hid behind the cupboard. And Varvara was so much flustered that she couldnot get up from her seatand only waved her hands before her as though she werewarding off a bee.
"OhHoly Saints! what's the meaning of it?" she muttered inhorror. "What is she shouting? Ohdeardear! . . . People will hear!Hush. Ohhush!"
"He has given Butyokino to the convict's wife" Aksinya went onbawling. "Give her everything nowI don't want anything from you! Let mealone! You are all a gang of thieves here! I have seen my fill of itI have hadenough! You have robbed folks coming in and going out; you have robbed old andyoung alikeyou brigands! And who has been selling vodka without a licence? Andfalse money? You've filled boxes full of false coinsand now I am no moreuse!"
A crowd had by now collected at the open gate and was staring into the yard.
"Let the people look" bawled Aksinya. "I will shame you all!You shall burn with shame! You shall grovel at my feet. Hey! Stepan" shecalled to the deaf man"let us go home this minute! Let us go to my fatherand mother; I don't want to live with convicts. Get ready!"
Clothes were hanging on lines stretched across the yard; she snatched off herpetticoats and blouses still wet and flung them into the deaf man's arms. Thenin her fury she dashed about the yard by the linentore down all of itandwhat was not hers she threw on the ground and trampled upon.
"Holy Saintstake her away" moaned Varvara. "What a woman!Give her Butyokino! Give it herfor the Lord's sake!
"Well! Wha-at a woman!" people were saying at the gate. "She'sa wo-oman! She's going it -- something like!"
Aksinya ran into the kitchen where washing was going on. Lipa was washingalonethe cook had gone to the river to rinse the clothes. Steam was risingfrom the trough and from the caldron on the side of the stoveand the kitchenwas thick and stifling from the steam. On the floor was a heap of unwashedclothesand Nikiforkicking up his little red legshad been put down on abench near themso that if he fell he should not hurt himself. Just as Aksinyawent in Lipa took the former's chemise out of the heap and put it in the troughand was just stretching out her hand to a big ladle of boiling water which wasstanding on the table.
"Give it here" said Aksinyalooking at her with hatredandsnatching the chemise out of the trough; "it is not your business to touchmy linen! You are a convict's wifeand ought to know your place and who youare."
Lipa gazed at hertaken abackand did not understandbut suddenly shecaught the look Aksinya turned upon the childand at once she understood andwent numb all over.
"You've taken my landso here you are!" Saying this Aksinyasnatched up the ladle with the boiling water and flung it over Nikifor.
After this there was heard a scream such as had never been heard before inUkleevoand no one would have believed that a little weak creature like Lipacould scream like that. And it was suddenly silent in the yard.
Aksinya walked into the house with her old naive smile. . . . The deaf mankept moving about the yard with his arms full of linenthen he began hanging itup againin silencewithout haste. And until the cook came back from the riverno one ventured to go into the kitchen and see what was there.
Nikifor was taken to the district hospitaland towards evening he diedthere. Lipa did not wait for them to come for herbut wrapped the dead baby inits little quilt and carried it home.
The hospitala new one recently builtwith big windowsstood high up on ahill; it was glittering from the setting sun and looked as though it were onfire from inside. There was a little village below. Lipa went down along theroadand before reaching the village sat down by a pond. A woman brought ahorse down to drink and the horse did not drink.
"What more do you want?" said the woman to it softly. "What doyou want?"
A boy in a red shirtsitting at the water's edgewas washing his father'sboots. And not another soul was in sight either in the village or on the hill.
"It's not drinking" said Lipalooking at the horse.
Then the woman with the horse and the boy with the boots walked awayandthere was no one left at all. The sun went to bed wrapped in cloth of gold andpurpleand long cloudsred and lilacstretched across the skyguarded itsslumbers. Somewhere far away a bittern crieda hollowmelancholy sound like acow shut up in a barn. The cry of that mysterious bird was heard every springbut no one knew what it was like or where it lived. At the top of the hill bythe hospitalin the bushes close to the pondand in the fields thenightingales were trilling. The cuckoo kept reckoning someone's years and losingcount and beginning again. In the pond the frogs called angrily to one anotherstraining themselves to burstingand one could even make out the words:"That's what you are! That's what you are! " What a noise there was!It seemed as though all these creatures were singing and shouting so that no onemight sleep on that spring nightso that alleven the angry frogsmightappreciate and enjoy every minute: life is given only once.
A silver half-moon was shining in the sky; there were many stars. Lipa had noidea how long she sat by the pondbut when she got up and walked on everybodywas asleep in the little villageand there was not a single light. It wasprobably about nine miles' walk homebut she had not the strengthshe had notthe power to think how to go: the moon gleamed now in frontnow on the rightand the same cuckoo kept calling in a voice grown huskywith a chuckle asthough gibing at her: "Oylook outyou'll lose your way!" Lipawalked rapidly; she lost the kerchief from her head . . . she looked at the skyand wondered where her baby's soul was now: was it following heror floatingaloft yonder among the stars and thinking nothing now of his mother? Ohhowlonely it was in the open country at nightin the midst of that singing whenone cannot sing oneself; in the midst of the incessant cries of joy when onecannot oneself be joyfulwhen the moonwhich cares not whether it is spring orwinterwhether men are alive or deadlooks down as lonelytoo. . . . Whenthere is grief in the heart it is hard to be without people. If only her motherPraskovyahad been with heror Crutchor the cookor some peasant!
"Boo-oo!" cried the bittern. "Boo-oo!"
And suddenly she heard clearly the sound of human speech: "Put thehorses inVavila!"
By the wayside a camp fire was burning ahead of her: the flames had dieddownthere were only red embers. She could hear the horses munching. In thedarkness she could see the outlines of two cartsone with a barrelthe othera lower one with sacks in itand the figures of two men; one was leading ahorse to put it into the shaftsthe other was standing motionless by the firewith his hands behind his back. A dog growled by the carts. The one who wasleading the horse stopped and said:
"It seems as though someone were coming along the road."
"Sharikbe quiet! " the other called to the dog.
And from the voice one could tell that the second was an old man. Lipastopped and said:
"God help you."
The old man went up to her and answered not immediately:
"Your dog does not bitegrandfather?"
"Nocome alonghe won't touch you."
"I have been at the hospital" said Lipa after a pause. "Mylittle son died there. Here I am carrying him home."
It must have been unpleasant for the old man to hear thisfor he moved awayand said hurriedly:
"Never mindmy dear. It's God's will. You are very slowlad" headdedaddressing his companion; "look alive!
"Your yoke's nowhere" said the young man; "it is not to beseen."
"You are a regular Vavila."
The old man picked up an emberblew on it -- only his eyes and nose werelighted up -- thenwhen they had found the yokehe went with the light to Lipaand looked at herand his look expressed compassion and tenderness.
"You are a mother" he said; "every mother grieves for herchild."
And he sighed and shook his head as he said it. Vavila threw something on thefirestamped on it -- and at once it was very dark; the vision vanishedand asbefore there were only the fieldsthe sky with the starsand the noise of thebirds hindering each other from sleep. And the landrail calledit seemedinthe very place where the fire had been.
But a minute passedand again she could see the two carts and the old manand lanky Vavila. The carts creaked as they went out on the road.
"Are you holy men?" Lipa asked the old man.
"No. We are from Firsanovo."
"You looked at me just now and my heart was softened. And the young manis so gentle. I thought you must be holy men."
"Are you going far?"
"Get inwe will give you a lift as far as Kuzmenkithen you gostraight on and we turn off to the left."
Vavila got into the cart with the barrel and the old man and Lipa got intothe other. They moved at a walking paceVavila in front.
"My baby was in torment all day" said Lipa. "He looked at mewith his little eyes and said nothing; he wanted to speak and could not. HolyFatherQueen of Heaven! In my grief I kept falling down on the floor. I stoodup and fell down by the bedside. And tell megrandfatherwhy a little thingshould be tormented before his death? When a grown-up persona man or womanare in torment their sins are forgivenbut why a little thingwhen he has nosins? Why?"
"Who can tell?" answered the old man.
They drove on for half an hour in silence.
"We can't know everythinghow and wherefore" said the old man."It is ordained for the bird to have not four wings but two because it isable to fly with two; and so it is ordained for man not to know everything butonly a half or a quarter. As much as he needs to know so as to liveso much heknows."
"It is better for me to go on footgrandfather. Now my heart is all ofa tremble."
"Never mindsit still."
The old man yawned and made the sign of the cross over his mouth.
"Never mind" he repeated. "Yours is not the worst of sorrows.Life is longthere will be good and bad to comethere will be everything.Great is mother Russia" he saidand looked round on each side of him."I have been all over Russiaand I have seen everything in herand youmay believe my wordsmy dear. There will be good and there will be bad. I wentas a delegate from my village to Siberiaand I have been to the Amur River andthe Altai Mountains and I settled in Siberia; I worked the land therethen Iwas homesick for mother Russia and I came back to my native village. We cameback to Russia on foot; and I remember we went on a steamerand I was thin asthinall in ragsbarefootfreezing with coldand gnawing a crustand agentleman who was on the steamer -- the kingdom of heaven be his if he is dead-- looked at me pitifullyand the tears came into his eyes. 'Ah' he said'your bread is blackyour days are black. . . .' And when I got homeas thesaying isthere was neither stick nor stall; I had a wifebut I left herbehind in Siberiashe was buried there. So I am living as a day labourer. Andyet I tell you: since then I have had good as well as bad. Here I do not want todiemy dearI would be glad to live another twenty years; so there has beenmore of the good. And great is our mother Russia!" and again he gazed toeach side and looked round.
"Grandfather" Lipa asked"when anyone dieshow many daysdoes his soul walk the earth?"
"Who can tell! Ask Vavila herehe has been to school. Now they teachthem everything. Vavila!" the old man called to him.
"Vavilawhen anyone dies how long does his soul walk the earth?
Vavila stopped the horse and only then answered:
"Nine days. My uncle Kirilla died and his soul lived in our hut thirteendays after."
"How do you know?"
"For thirteen days there was a knocking in the stove."
"Wellthat's all right. Go on" said the old manand it could beseen that he did not believe a word of all that.
Near Kuzmenki the cart turned into the high road while Lipa went straight on.It was by now getting light. As she went down into the ravine the Ukleevo hutsand the church were hidden in fog. It was coldand it seemed to her that thesame cuckoo was calling still.
When Lipa reached home the cattle had not yet been driven out; everyone wasasleep. She sat down on the steps and waited. The old man was the first to comeout; he understood all that had happened from the first glance at herand for along time he could not articulate a wordbut only moved his lips without asound.
"EchLipa" he said"you did not take care of my grandchild.. . ."
Varvara was awakened. She clasped her hands and broke into sobsandimmediately began laying out the baby.
"And he was a pretty child . . ." she said. "Ohdeardear. .. . You only had the one childand you did not take care enough of himyousilly girl. . . ."
There was a requiem service in the morning and the evening. The funeral tookplace the next dayand after it the guests and the priests ate a great dealand with such greed that one might have thought that they had not tasted foodfor a long time. Lipa waited at tableand the priestlifting his fork on whichthere was a salted mushroomsaid to her:
"Don't grieve for the babe. For of such is the kingdom of heaven."
And only when they had all separated Lipa realized fully that there was noNikifor and never would beshe realized it and broke into sobs. And she did notknow what room to go into to sobfor she felt that now that her child was deadthere was no place for her in the housethat she had no reason to be herethatshe was in the way; and the others felt ittoo.
"Now what are you bellowing for?" Aksinya shoutedsuddenlyappearing in the doorway; in honour of the funeral she was dressed all in newclothes and had powdered her face. "Shut up!"
Lipa tried to stop but could notand sobbed louder than ever.
"Do you hear?" shouted Aksinyaand she stamped her foot in violentanger. "Who is it I am speaking to? Go out of the yard and don't set foothere againyou convict s wife. Get away."
"Theretherethere" the old man put in fussily. "Aksinyadon't make such an outcrymy girl. . . . She is cryingit is only natural . .. her child is dead. . . ."
" 'It's only natural' " Aksinya mimicked him. "Let her staythe night hereand don't let me see a trace of her here to-morrow! 'It's onlynatural!' . . ." she mimicked him againandlaughingshe went into theshop.
Early the next morning Lipa went off to her mother at Torguevo.
At the present time the steps and the front door of the shop have beenrepainted an d are as bright as though they were newthere are gay geraniums inthe windows as of oldand what happened in Tsybukin's house and yard threeyears ago is almost forgotten.
Grigory Petrovitch is looked upon as the master as he was in old daysbut inreality everything has passed into Aksinya's hands; she buys and sellsandnothing can be done without her consent. The brickyard is working well; and asbricks are wanted for the railway the price has gone up to twenty-four roubles athousand; peasant women and girls cart the bricks to the station and load themup in the trucks and earn a quarter-rouble a day for the work.
Aksinya has gone into partnership with the Hrymin Juniorsand their factoryis now called Hrymin Juniors and Co. They have opened a tavern near the stationand now the expensive concertina is played not at the factory but at the tavernand the head of the post office often goes thereand hetoois engaged insome sort of trafficand the stationmastertoo. Hrymin Juniors have presentedthe deaf man Stepan with a gold watchand he is constantly taking it out of hispocket and putting it to his ear.
People say of Aksinya that she has become a person of power; and it is truethat when she drives in the morning to her brickyardhandsome and happywiththe naive smile on her faceand afterwards when she is giving orders thereoneis aware of great power in her. Everyone is afraid of her in the house and inthe village and in the brickyard. When she goes to the post the head of thepostal department jumps up and says to her:
"I humbly beg you to be seatedAksinya Abramovna!"
A certain landownermiddle-aged but foppishin a tunic of fine cloth andpatent leather high bootssold her a horseand was so carried away by talkingto her that he knocked down the price to meet her wishes. He held her hand along time andlooking into her merryslynaive eyessaid:
"For a woman like youAksinya AbramovnaI should be ready to doanything you please. Only say when we can meet where no one will interfere withus?"
"Whywhen you please."
And since then the elderly fop drives up to the shop almost every day todrink beer. And the beer is horridbitter as wormwood. The landowner shakes hisheadbut he drinks it.
Old Tsybukin does not have anything to do with the business now at all. Hedoes not keep any money because he cannot distinguish between the good and thefalsebut he is silenthe says nothing of this weakness. He has becomeforgetfuland if they don't give him food he does not ask for it. They havegrown used to having dinner without himand Varvara often says:
"He went to bed again yesterday without any supper."
And she says it unconcernedly because she is used to it. For some reasonsummer and winter alikehe wears a fur coatand only in very hot weather hedoes not go out but sits at home. As a rule putting on his fur coatwrapping itround him and turning up his collarhe walks about the villagealong the roadto the stationor sits from morning till night on the seat near the churchgates. He sits there without stirring. Passers-by bow to himbut he does notrespondfor as of old he dislikes the peasants. If he is asked a question heanswers quite rationally and politelybut briefly.
There is a rumour going about in the village that his daughter-in-law turnshim out of the house and gives him nothing to eatand that he is fed bycharity; some are gladothers are sorry for him.
Varvara has grown even fatter and whiterand as before she is active in goodworksand Aksinya does not interfere with her.
There is so much jam now that they have not time to eat it before the freshfruit comes in; it goes sugaryand Varvara almost sheds tearsnot knowing whatto do with it.
They have begun to forget about Anisim. A letter has come from him written inverse on a big sheet of paper as though it were a petitionall in the samesplendid handwriting. Evidently his friend Samorodov was sharing his punishment.Under the verses in an uglyscarcely legible handwriting there was a singleline: "I am ill here all the time; I am wretchedfor Christ's sake helpme!"
Towards evening -- it was a fine autumn day -- old Tsybukin was sitting nearthe church gateswith the collar of his fur coat turned up and nothing of himcould be seen but his nose and the peak of his cap. At the other end of the longseat was sitting Elizarov the contractorand beside him Yakov the schoolwatchmana toothless old man of seventy. Crutch and the watchman were talking.
"Children ought to give food and drink to the old. . . . Honour thyfather and mother . . ." Yakov was saying with irritation"while shethis daughter-in-lawhas turned her father-in-law out of his own house; the oldman has neither food nor drinkwhere is he to go? He has not had a morsel forthese three days."
"Three days!" said Crutchamazed.
"Here he sits and does not say a word. He has grown feeble. And why besilent? He ought to prosecute herthey wouldn't flatter her in the policecourt."
"Wouldn't flatter whom?" asked Crutchnot hearing.
"The woman's all rightshe does her best. In their line of businessthey can't get on without that . . . without sinI mean. . . ."
"From his own house" Yakov went on with irritation. "Save upand buy your own housethen turn people out of it! She is a nice oneto besure! A pla-ague!"
Tsybukin listened and did not stir.
"Whether it is your own house or others' it makes no difference so longas it is warm and the women don't scold . . ." said Crutchand he laughed."When I was young I was very fond of my Nastasya. She was a quiet woman.And she used to be always at it: 'Buy a houseMakaritch! Buy a houseMakaritch! Buy a houseMakaritch!' She was dying and yet she kept on saying'Buy yourself a racing droshkyMakaritchthat you may not have to walk.' And Ibought her nothing but gingerbread."
"Her husband's deaf and stupid" Yakov went onnot hearing Crutch;"a regular fooljust like a goose. He can't understand anything. Hit agoose on the head with a stick and even then it does not understand."
Crutch got up to go home to the factory. Yakov also got upand both of themwent off togetherstill talking. When they had gone fifty paces old Tsybukingot uptooand walked after themstepping uncertainly as though on slipperyice.
The village was already plunged in the dusk of evening and the sun onlygleamed on the upper part of the road which ran wriggling like a snake up theslope. Old women were coming back from the woods and children with them; theywere bringing baskets of mushrooms. Peasant women and girls came in a crowd fromthe station where they had been loading the trucks with bricksand their nosesand their cheeks under their eyes were covered with red brick-dust. They weresinging. Ahead of them all was Lipa singing in a high voicewith her eyesturned upwards to the skybreaking into trills as though triumphant andecstatic that at last the day was over and she could rest. In the crowd was hermother Praskovyawho was walking with a bundle in her arms and breathless asusual.
"Good-eveningMakaritch! " cried Lipaseeing Crutch."Good-eveningdarling!"
"Good-eveningLipinka" cried Crutch delighted. "Dear girlsand womenlove the rich carpenter! Ho-ho! My little childrenmy littlechildren. (Crutch gave a gulp.) My dear little axes!"
Crutch and Yakov went on further and could still be heard talking. Then afterthem the crowd was met by old Tsybukin and there was a sudden hush. Lipa andPraskovya had dropped a little behindand when the old man was on a level withthem Lipa bowed down low and said:
Her mothertoobowed down. The old man stopped andsaying nothinglookedat the two in silence; his lips were quivering and his eyes full of tears. Lipatook out of her mother's bundle a piece of savoury turnover and gave it him. Hetook it and began eating.
The sun had by now set: its glow died away on the road above. It grew darkand cool. Lipa and Praskovya walked on and for some time they kept crossingthemselves.
A SULTRYstifling midday. Not a cloudlet in the sky. . . . The sun-bakedgrass had a disconsolatehopeless look: even if there were rain it could neverbe green again. . . . The forest stood silentmotionlessas though it werelooking at something with its tree-tops or expecting something.
At the edge of the clearing a tallnarrow-shouldered man of forty in a redshirtin patched trousers that had been a gentleman'sand in high bootswasslouching along with a lazyshambling step. He was sauntering along the road.On the right was the green of the clearingon the left a golden sea of ripe ryestretched to the very horizon. He was red and perspiringa white cap with astraight jockey peakevidently a gift from some open-handed young gentlemanperched jauntily on his handsome flaxen head. Across his shoulder hung agame-bag with a blackcock lying in it. The man held a double-barrelled guncocked in his handand screwed up his eyes in the direction of his lean old dogwho was running on ahead sniffing the bushes. There was stillness all roundnota sound . . . everything living was hiding away from the heat.
"Yegor Vlassitch!" the huntsman suddenly heard a soft voice.
He started andlooking roundscowled. Beside himas though she had sprungout of the earthstood a pale-faced woman of thirty with a sickle in her hand.She was trying to look into his faceand was smiling diffidently.
"Ohit is youPelagea!" said the huntsmanstopping anddeliberately uncocking the gun. "H'm! . . . How have you come here?"
"The women from our village are working hereso I have come with them.. . . As a labourerYegor Vlassitch."
"Oh . . ." growled Yegor Vlassitchand slowly walked on.
Pelagea followed him. They walked in silence for twenty paces.
"I have not seen you for a long timeYegor Vlassitch . . ." saidPelagea looking tenderly at the huntsman's moving shoulders. "I have notseen you since you came into our hut at Easter for a drink of water . . . youcame in at Easter for a minute and then God knows how . . . drunk . . . youscolded and beat me and went away . . . I have been waiting and waiting . . .I've tired my eyes out looking for you. AhYegor VlassitchYegor Vlassitch!you might look in just once!"
"What is there for me to do there?"
"Of course there is nothing for you to do . . . though to be sure . . .there is the place to look after. . . . To see how things are going. . . . Youare the master. . . . I sayyou have shot a blackcockYegor Vlassitch! Youought to sit down and rest!"
As she said all this Pelagea laughed like a silly girl and looked up atYegor's face. Her face was simply radiant with happiness.
"Sit down? If you like . . ." said Yegor in a tone of indifferenceand he chose a spot between two fir-trees. "Why are you standing? You sitdown too."
Pelagea sat a little way off in the sun andashamed of her joyput her handover her smiling mouth. Two minutes passed in silence.
"You might come for once" said Pelagea.
"What for?" sighed Yegortaking off his cap and wiping his redforehead with his hand. "There is no object in my coming. To go for an houror two is only waste of timeit's simply upsetting youand to live continuallyin the village my soul could not endure. . . . You know yourself I am a pamperedman. . . . I want a bed to sleep ingood tea to drinkand refinedconversation. . . . I want all the nicetieswhile you live in poverty and dirtin the village. . . . I couldn't stand it for a day. Suppose there were an edictthat I must live with youI should either set fire to the hut or lay hands onmyself. From a boy I've had this love for ease; there is no help for it."
"Where are you living now?"
"With the gentleman hereDmitry Ivanitchas a huntsman. I furnish histable with gamebut he keeps me . . . more for his pleasure thananything."
"That's not proper work you're doingYegor Vlassitch. . . . For otherpeople it's a pastimebut with you it's like a trade . . . like realwork."
"You don't understandyou silly" said Yegorgazing gloomily atthe sky. "You have never understoodand as long as you live you will neverunderstand what sort of man I am. . . . You think of me as a foolish mangoneto the badbut to anyone who understands I am the best shot there is in thewhole district. The gentry feel thatand they have even printed things about mein a magazine. There isn't a man to be compared with me as a sportsman. . . .And it is not because I am pampered and proud that I look down upon your villagework. From my childhoodyou knowI have never had any calling apart from gunsand dogs. If they took away my gunI used to go out with the fishing-hookifthey took the hook I caught things with my hands. And I went in forhorse-dealing tooI used to go to the fairs when I had the moneyand you knowthat if a peasant goes in for being a sportsmanor a horse-dealerit'sgood-bye to the plough. Once the spirit of freedom has taken a man you willnever root it out of him. In the same wayif a gentleman goes in for being anactor or for any other arthe will never make an official or a landowner. Youare a womanand you do not understandbut one must understand that."
"I understandYegor Vlassitch."
"You don't understand if you are going to cry. . . ."
"I . . . I'm not crying" said Pelageaturning away. "It's asinYegor Vlassitch! You might stay a day with luckless meanyway. It's twelveyears since I was married to youand . . . and . . . there has never once beenlove between us! . . . I . . . I am not crying."
"Love . . ." muttered Yegorscratching his hand. "There can'tbe any love. It's only in name we are husband and wife; we aren't really. Inyour eyes I am a wild manand in mine you are a simple peasant woman with nounderstanding. Are we well matched? I am a freepamperedprofligate manwhileyou are a working womangoing in bark shoes and never straightening your back.The way I think of myself is that I am the foremost man in every kind of sportand you look at me with pity. . . . Is that being well matched?"
"But we are marriedyou knowYegor Vlassitch" sobbed Pelagea.
"Not married of our free will. . . . Have you forgotten? You have tothank Count Sergey Paylovitch and yourself. Out of envybecause I shot betterthan he didthe Count kept giving me wine for a whole monthand when a man'sdrunk you could make him change his religionlet alone getting married. To payme out he married me to you when I was drunk. . . . A huntsman to a herd-girl!You saw I was drunkwhy did you marry me? You were not a serfyou know; youcould have resisted. Of course it was a bit of luck for a herd-girl to marry ahuntsmanbut you ought to have thought about it. Wellnow be miserablecry.It's a joke for the Countbut a crying matter for you. . . . Beat yourselfagainst the wall."
A silence followed. Three wild ducks flew over the clearing. Yegor followedthem with his eyes tilltransformed into three scarcely visible dotsthey sankdown far beyond the forest.
"How do you live?" he askedmoving his eyes from the ducks toPelagea.
"Now I am going out to workand in the winter I take a child from theFoundling Hospital and bring it up on the bottle. They give me a rouble and ahalf a month."
"Oh. . . ."
Again a silence. From the strip that had been reaped floated a soft songwhich broke off at the very beginning. It was too hot to sing.
"They say you have put up a new hut for Akulina" said Pelagea.
Yegor did not speak.
"So she is dear to you. . . ."
"It's your luckit's fate!" said the huntsmanstretching."You must put up with itpoor thing. But good-byeI've been chatteringlong enough. . . . I must be at Boltovo by the evening."
Yegor rosestretched himselfand slung his gun over his shoulder; Pelageagot up.
"And when are you coming to the village?" she asked softly.
"I have no reason toI shall never come soberand you have little togain from me drunk; I am spiteful when I am drunk. Good-bye!"
Yegor put his cap on t he back of his head andclicking to his dogwent onhis way. Pelagea stood still looking after him. . . . She saw his movingshoulder-bladeshis jaunty caphis lazycareless stepand her eyes were fullof sadness and tender affection. . . . Her gaze flitted over her husband's talllean figure and caressed and fondled it. . . . Heas though he felt that gazestopped and looked round. . . . He did not speakbut from his facefrom hisshrugged shouldersPelagea could see that he wanted to say something to her.She went up to him timidly and looked at him with imploring eyes.
"Take it" he saidturning round.
He gave her a crumpled rouble note and walked quickly away.
"Good-byeYegor Vlassitch" she saidmechanically taking therouble.
He walked by a long roadstraight as a taut strap. Shepale and motionlessas a statuestoodher eyes seizing every step he took. But the red of hisshirt melted into the dark colour of his trousershis step could not be seenand the dog could not be distinguished from the boots. Nothing could be seen butthe capand . . . suddenly Yegor turned off sharply into the clearing and thecap vanished in the greenness.
"Good-byeYegor Vlassitch" whispered Pelageaand she stood ontiptoe to see the white cap once more.
A FLOCK of sheep was spending the night on the broad steppe road that iscalled the great highway. Two shepherds were guarding it. Onea toothless oldman of eightywith a tremulous facewas lying on his stomach at the very edgeof the roadleaning his elbows on the dusty leaves of a plantain; the otherayoung fellow with thick black eyebrows and no moustachedressed in the coarsecanvas of which cheap sacks are madewas lying on his backwith his arms underhis headlooking upwards at the skywhere the stars were slumbering and theMilky Way lay stretched exactly above his face.
The shepherds were not alone. A couple of yards from them in the dusk thatshrouded the road a horse made a patch of darknessandbeside itleaningagainst the saddlestood a man in high boots and a short full-skirted jacketwho looked like an overseer on some big estate. Judging from his upright andmotionless figurefrom his mannersand his behaviour to the shepherds and tohis horsehe was a seriousreasonable man who knew his own value; even in thedarkness signs could be detected in him of military carriage and of themajestically condescending expression gained by frequent intercourse with thegentry and their stewards.
The sheep were asleep. Against the grey background of the dawnalreadybeginning to cover the eastern part of the skythe silhouettes of sheep thatwere not asleep could be seen here and there; they stood with drooping headsthinking. Their thoughtstedious and oppressivecalled forth by images ofnothing but the broad steppe and the skythe days and the nightsprobablyweighed upon them themselvescrushing them into apathy; andstanding there asthough rooted to the earththey noticed neither the presence of a stranger northe uneasiness of the dogs.
The drowsystagnant air was full of the monotonous noise inseparable from asummer night on the steppes; the grasshoppers chirruped incessantly; the quailscalledand the young nightingales trilled languidly half a mile away in aravine where a stream flowed and willows grew.
The overseer had halted to ask the shepherds for a light for his pipe. Helighted it in silence and smoked the whole pipe; thenstill without uttering awordstood with his elbow on the saddleplunged in thought. The young shepherdtook no notice of himhe still lay gazing at the sky while the old man slowlylooked the overseer up and down and then asked:
"Whyaren't you Panteley from Makarov's estate?"
"That's myself" answered the overseer.
"To be sureI see it is. I didn't know you -- that is a sign you willbe rich. Where has God brought you from?"
"From the Kovylyevsky fields."
"That's a good way. Are you letting the land on the part-cropsystem?"
"Part of it. Some like thatand some we are letting on leaseand somefor raising melons and cucumbers. I have just come from the mill."
A big shaggy old sheep-dog of a dirty white colour with woolly tufts aboutits nose and eyes walked three times quietly round the horsetrying to seemunconcerned in the presence of strangersthen all at once dashed suddenly frombehind at the overseer with an angry aged growl; the other dogs could notrefrain from leaping up too.
"Lie downyou damned brute" cried the old manraising himself onhis elbow; "blast youyou devil's creature."
When the dogs were quiet againthe old man resumed his former attitude andsaid quietly:
"It was at Kovyli on Ascension Day that Yefim Zhmenya died. Don't speakof it in the darkit is a sin to mention such people. He was a wicked old man.I dare say you have heard."
"Yefim Zhmenyathe uncle of Styopkathe blacksmith. The whole districtround knew him. Ayehe was a cursed old manhe was! I knew him for sixtyyearsever since Tsar Alexander who beat the French was brought from Taganrogto Moscow. We went together to meet the dead Tsarand in those days the greathighway did not run to Bahmutbut from Esaulovka to Gorodishtcheand whereKovyli is nowthere were bustards' nests -- there was a bustard's nest at everystep. Even then I had noticed that Yefim had given his soul to damnationandthat the Evil One was in him. I have observed that if any man of the peasantclass is apt to be silenttakes up with old women's jobsand tries to live insolitudethere is no good in itand Yefim from his youth up was always one tohold his tongue and look at you sidewayshe always seemed to be sulky andbristling like a cock before a hen. To go to church or to the tavern or to larkin the street with the lads was not his fashionhe would rather sit alone or bewhispering with old women. When he was still young he took jobs to look afterthe bees and the market gardens. Good folks would come to his market gardensometimes and his melons were whistling. One day he caught a pikewhen folkswere looking onand it laughed aloud'Ho-ho-ho-ho!' "
"It does happen" said Panteley.
The young shepherd turned on his side andlifting his black eyebrowsstaredintently at the old man.
"Did you hear the melons whistling?" he asked.
"Hear them I didn'tthe Lord spared me" sighed the old man"but folks told me so. It is no great wonder . . . the Evil One will beginwhistling in a stone if he wants to. Before the Day of Freedom a rock washumming for three days and three nights in our parts. I heard it myself. Thepike laughed because Yefim caught a devil instead of a pike."
The old man remembered something. He got up quickly on to his knees andshrinking as though from the coldnervously thrusting his hands into hissleeveshe muttered in a rapid womanish gabble:
"Lord save us and have mercy upon us! I was walking along the river bankone day to Novopavlovka. A storm was gatheringsuch a tempest it waspreserveus Holy MotherQueen of Heaven. . . . I was hurrying on as best I couldIlookedand beside the path between the thorn bushes -- the thorn was in flowerat the time -- there was a white bullock coming along. I wondered whose bullockit wasand what the devil had sent it there for. It was coming along andswinging its tail and moo-oo-oo! but would you believe itfriendsI overtakeitI come up close -- and it's not a bullockbut Yefim -- holyholyholy! Imake the sign of the cross while he stares at me and muttersshowing the whitesof his eyes; wasn't I frightened! We came alongsideI was afraid to say a wordto him -- the thunder was crashingthe sky was streaked with lightningthewillows were bent right down to the water -- all at oncemy friendsGod strikeme dead that I die impenitenta hare ran across the path . . . it ran andstoppedand said like a man: 'Good-eveningpeasants.' Lie downyou brute!" the old man cried to the shaggy dogwho was moving round the horseagain. "Plague take you!"
"It does happen" said the overseerstill leaning on the saddleand not stirring; he said this in the hollowtoneless voice in which men speakwhen they are plunged in thought.
"It does happen" he repeatedin a tone of profundity andconviction.
"Ughhe was a nasty old fellow" the old shepherd went on withsomewhat less fervour. "Five years after the Freedom he was flogged by thecommune at the officeso to show his spite he took and sent the throat illnessupon all Kovyli. Folks died out of numberlots and lots of themjust as incholera. . . ."
"How did he send the illness?" asked the young shepherd after abrief silence.
"We all know howthere is no great cleverness needed where there is awill to it. Yefim murdered people with viper's fat. That is such a poison thatfolks will die from the mere smell of itlet alone the fat."
"That's true" Panteley agreed.
"The lads wanted to kill him at the timebut the old people would notlet them. It would never have done to kill him; he knew the place where thetreasure is hiddenand not another soul did know. The treasures about here arecharmed so that you may find them and not see thembut he did see them. Attimes he would walk along the river bank or in the forestand under the bushesand under the rocks there would be little flameslittle flames. . . littleflames as though from brimstone. I have seen them myself. Everyone expected thatYefim would show people the places or dig the treasure up himselfbut he -- asthe saying islike a dog in the manger -- so he died without digging it uphimself or showing other people."
The overseer lit a pipeand for an instant lighted up his big moustaches andhis sharpstern-lookingand dignified nose. Little circles of light dancedfrom his hands to his capraced over the saddle along the horse's backandvanished in its mane near its ears.
"There are lots of hidden treasures in these parts" he said.
And slowly stretchinghe looked round himresting his eyes on the whiteningeast and added:
"There must be treasures."
"To be sure" sighed the old man"one can see from every signthere are treasuresonly there is no one to dig thembrother. No one knows thereal places; besidesnowadaysyou must rememberall the treasures are under acharm. To find them and see them you must have a talismanand without atalisman you can do nothinglad. Yefim had talismansbut there was no gettinganything out of himthe bald devil. He kept themso that no one could getthem."
The young shepherd crept two paces nearer to he old man andpropping hishead on his fistsfastened his fixed stare upon him. A childish expression ofterror and curiosity gleamed in his dark eyesand seemed in the twilight tostretch and flatten out the large features of his coarse young face. He waslistening intently.
"It is even written in the Scriptures that there are lots of treasureshidden here" the old man went on; "it is so for sure. . . and nomistake about it. An old soldier of Novopavlovka was shown at Ivanovka awritingand in this writing it was printed about the place of the treasure andeven how many pounds of gold was in it and the sort of vessel it was in; theywould have found the treasures long ago by that writingonly the treasure isunder a spellyou can't get at it."
"Why can't you get at itgrandfather?" asked the young man.
I suppose there is some reasonthe soldier didn't say. It is under a spell .. . you need a talisman."
The old man spoke with warmthas though he were pouring out his soul beforethe overseer. He talked through his nose andbeing unaccustomed to talk muchand rapidlystuttered; andconscious of his defectshe tried to adorn hisspeech with gesticulations of the hands and head and thin shouldersand atevery movement his hempen shirt crumpled into foldsslipped upwards anddisplayed his backblack with age and sunburn. He kept pulling it downbut itslipped up again at once. At lastas though driven out of all patience by therebellious shirtthe old man leaped up and said bitterly:
"There is fortunebut what is the good of it if it is buried in theearth? It is just riches wasted with no profit to anyonelike chaff or sheep'sdungand yet there are riches thereladfortune enough for all the countryroundbut not a soul sees it! It will come to thisthat the gentry will dig itup or the government will take it away. The gentry have begun digging thebarrows. . . . They scented something! They are envious of the peasants' luck!The governmenttoois looking after itself. It is written in the law that ifany peasant finds the treasure he is to take it to the authorities! I dare saywait till you get it! There is a brew but not for you!"
The old man laughed contemptuously and sat down on the ground. The overseerlistened with attention and agreedbut from his silence and the expression ofhis figure it was evident that what the old man told him was not new to himthat he had thought it all over long agoand knew much more than was known tothe old shepherd.
"In my dayI must ownI did seek for fortune a dozen times" saidthe old manscratching himself nervously. "I looked in the right placesbut I must have come on treasures under a charm. My father looked for ittooand my brothertoo -- but not a thing did they findso they died without luck.A monk revealed to my brother Ilya -- the Kingdom of Heaven be his -- that inone place in the fortress of Taganrog there was a treasure under three stonesand that that treasure was under a charmand in those days -- it wasIrememberin the year '38 -- an Armenian used to live at Matvyeev Barrow whosold talismans. Ilya bought a talismantook two other fellows with himandwent to Taganrog. Only when he got to the place in the fortressbrothertherewas a soldier with a gunstanding at the very spot. . . ."
A sound suddenly broke on the still airand floated in all directions overthe steppe. Something in the distance gave a menacing bangcrashed againststoneand raced over the steppeuttering"Tah! tah! tah! tah!" Whenthe sound had died away the old man looked inquiringly at Panteleywho stoodmotionless and unconcerned.
"It's a bucket broken away at the pits" said the young shepherdafter a moment's thought.
It was by now getting light. The Milky Way had turned pale and graduallymelted like snowlosing its outlines; the sky was becoming dull and dingy sothat you could not make out whether it was clear or covered thickly with cloudsand only from the bright leaden streak in the east and from the stars thatlingered here and there could one tell what was coming.
The first noiseless breeze of morningcautiously stirring the spurges andthe brown stalks of last year's grassfluttered along the road.
The overseer roused himself from his thoughts and tossed his head. With bothhands he shook the saddletouched the girth andas though he could not make uphis mind to mount the horsestood still againhesitating.
"Yes" he said"your elbow is nearbut you can't bite it.There is fortunebut there is not the wit to find it."
And he turned facing the shepherds. His stern face looked sad and mockingasthough he were a disappointed man.
"Yesso one dies without knowing what happiness is like . . ." hesaid emphaticallylifting his left leg into the stirrup. "A younger manmay live to see itbut it is time for us to lay aside all thought of it."
Stroking his long moustaches covered with dewhe seated himself heavily onthe horse and screwed up his eyeslooking into the distanceas though he hadforgotten something or left something unsaid. In the bluish distance where thefurthest visible hillock melted into the mist nothing was stirring; the ancientbarrowsonce watch-mounds and tombswhich rose here and there above thehorizon and the boundless steppe had a sullen and death-like look; there was afeeling of endless time and utter indifference to man in their immobility andsilence; another thousand years would passmyriads of men would diewhile theywould still stand as they had stoodwit h no regret for the dead nor interestin the livingand no soul would ever know why they stood thereand what secretof the steppes was hidden under them.
The rooks awakeningflew one after another in silence over the earth. Nomeaning was to be seen in the languid flight of those long-lived birdsnor inthe morning which is repeated punctually every twenty-four hoursnor in theboundless expanse of the steppe.
The overseer smiled and said:
"What spaceLord have mercy upon us! You would have a hunt to findtreasure in it! Here" he went ondropping his voice and making a seriousface"here there are two treasures buried for a certainty. The gentrydon't know of thembut the old peasantsparticularly the soldiersknow allabout them. Heresomewhere on that ridge [the overseer pointed with his whip]robbers one time attacked a caravan of gold; the gold was being taken fromPetersburg to the Emperor Peter who was building a fleet at the time atVoronezh. The robbers killed the men with the caravan and buried the goldbutdid not find it again afterwards. Another treasure was buried by our Cossacks ofthe Don. In the year '12 they carried off lots of plunder of all sorts from theFrenchgoods and gold and silver. When they were going homewards they heard onthe way that the government wanted to take away all the gold and silver fromthem. Rather than give up their plunder like that to the government for nothingthe brave fellows took and buried itso that their childrenanywaymight getit; but where they buried it no one knows."
"I have heard of those treasures" the old man muttered grimly.
"Yes . . ." Panteley pondered again. "So it is. . . ."
A silence followed. The overseer looked dreamily into the distancegave alaugh and pulled the reinstill with the same expression as though he hadforgotten something or left something unsaid. The horse reluctantly started at awalking pace. After riding a hundred paces Panteley shook his head resolutelyroused himself from his thoughts andlashing his horseset off at a trot.
The shepherds were left alone.
"That was Panteley from Makarov's estate" said the old man."He gets a hundred and fifty a year and provisions foundtoo. He is a manof education. . . ."
The sheepwaking up -- there were about three thousand of them -- beganwithout zest to while away the timenipping at the lowhalf-trampled grass.The sun had not yet risenbut by now all the barrows could be seen andlike acloud in the distanceSaur's Grave with its peaked top. If one clambered up onthat tomb one could see the plain from itlevel and boundless as the skyonecould see villagesmanor-housesthe settlements of the Germans and of theMolokaniand a long-sighted Kalmuck could even see the town and therailway-station. Only from there could one see that there was something else inthe world besides the silent steppe and the ancient barrowsthat there wasanother life that had nothing to do with buried treasure and the thoughts ofsheep.
The old man felt beside him for his crook -- a long stick with a hook at theupper end -- and got up. He was silent and thoughtful. The young shepherd's facehad not lost the look of childish terror and curiosity. He was still under theinfluence of what he had heard in the nightand impatiently awaiting freshstories.
"Grandfather" he askedgetting up and taking his crook"what did your brother Ilya do with the soldier?"
The old man did not hear the question. He looked absent-mindedly at the youngmanand answeredmumbling with his lips:
"I keep thinkingSankaabout that writing that was shown to thatsoldier at Ivanovka. I didn't tell Panteley -- God be with him -- but you knowin that writing the place was marked out so that even a woman could find it. Doyou know where it is? At Bogata Bylotchka at the spotyou knowwhere theravine parts like a goose's foot into three little ravines; it is the middleone."
"Wellwill you dig?"
"I will try my luck. . ."
"Andgrandfatherwhat will you do with the treasure when you findit?"
"Do with it?" laughed the old man. "H'm! . . . If only I couldfind it then. . . . I would show them all. . . . H'm! . . . I should know whatto do. . . ."
And the old man could not answer what he would do with the treasure if hefound it. That question had presented itself to him that morning probably forthe first time in his lifeand judging from the expression of his faceindifferent and uncriticalit did not seem to him important and deserving ofconsideration. In Sanka's brain another puzzled question was stirring: why wasit only old men searched for hidden treasureand what was the use of earthlyhappiness to people who might die any day of old age? But Sanka could not putthis perplexity into wordsand the old man could scarcely have found an answerto it.
An immense crimson sun came into view surrounded by a faint haze. Broadstreaks of lightstill coldbathing in the dewy grasslengthening out with ajoyous air as though to prove they were not weary of their taskbegan spreadingover the earth. The silvery wormwoodthe blue flowers of the pig's oniontheyellow mustardthe corn-flowers -- all burst into gay colourstaking thesunlight for their own smile.
The old shepherd and Sanka parted and stood at the further sides of theflock. Both stood like postswithout movingstaring at the ground andthinking. The former was haunted by thoughts of fortunethe latter waspondering on what had been said in the night; what interested him was not thefortune itselfwhich he did not want and could not imaginebut the fantasticfairy-tale character of human happiness.
A hundred sheep started andin some inexplicable panic as at a signaldashed away from the flock; and as though the thoughts of the sheep -- tediousand oppressive -- had for a moment infected Sanka alsohetoodashed aside inthe same inexplicable animal panicbut at once he recovered himself andshouted:
"You crazy creatures! You've gone madplague take you!"
When the sunpromising long hours of overwhelming heatbegan to bake theearthall living things that in the night had moved and uttered sounds weresunk in drowsiness. The old shepherd and Sanka stood with their crooks onopposite sides of the flockstood without stirringlike fakirs at theirprayersabsorbed in thought. They did not heed each other; each of them wasliving in his own life. The sheep were ponderingtoo.
AN exceedingly lean little peasantin a striped hempen shirt and patcheddrawersstands facing the investigating magistrate. His face overgrown withhair and pitted with smallpoxand his eyes scarcely visible under thickoverhanging eyebrows have an expression of sullen moroseness. On his head thereis a perfect mop of tangledunkempt hairwhich gives him an even morespider-like air of moroseness. He is barefooted.
"Denis Grigoryev!" the magistrate begins. "Come nearerandanswer my questions. On the seventh of this July the railway watchmanIvanSemyonovitch Akinfovgoing along the line in the morningfound you at thehundred-and-forty-first mile engaged in unscrewing a nut by which the rails aremade fast to the sleepers. Here it isthe nut! . . . With the aforesaid nut hedetained you. Was that so?"
"Was this all as Akinfov states?"
"To be sureit was."
"Very good; wellwhat were you unscrewing the nut for?"
"Drop that 'wha-at' and answer the question; what were you unscrewingthe nut for?"
"If I hadn't wanted it I shouldn't have unscrewed it" croaksDenislooking at the ceiling.
"What did you want that nut for?"
"The nut? We make weights out of those nuts for our lines."
"Who is 'we'?"
"Wepeople. . . . The Klimovo peasantsthat is."
"Listenmy man; don't play the idiot to mebut speak sensibly. It's nouse telling lies here about weights!"
"I've never been a liar from a childand now I'm telling lies . .." mutters Denisblinking. "But can you do without a weightyourhonour? If you put live bait or maggots on a hookwould it go to the bottomwithout a w eight? . . . I am telling lies" grins Denis. . . . "Whatthe devil is the use of the worm if it swims on the surface! The perch and thepike and the eel-pout always go to the bottomand a bait on the surface is onlytaken by a shillispernot very often thenand there are no shillispers in ourriver. . . . That fish likes plenty of room."
"Why are you telling me about shillispers?"
"Wha-at? Whyyou asked me yourself! The gentry catch fish that way tooin our parts. The silliest little boy would not try to catch a fish without aweight. Of course anyone who did not understand might go to fish without aweight. There is no rule for a fool."
"So you say you unscrewed this nut to make a weight for your fishingline out of it?"
"What else for? It wasn't to play knuckle-bones with!"
"But you might have taken leada bullet . . . a nail of some sort. . .."
"You don't pick up lead in the roadyou have to buy itand a nail's nogood. You can't find anything better than a nut. . . . It's heavyand there's ahole in it."
"He keeps pretending to be a fool! as though he'd been born yesterday ordropped from heaven! Don't you understandyou blockheadwhat unscrewing thesenuts leads to? If the watchman had not noticed it the train might have run offthe railspeople would have been killed -- you would have killed people."
"God forbidyour honour! What should I kill them for? Are we heathensor wicked people? Thank Godgood gentlemenwe have lived all our lives withoutever dreaming of such a thing. . . . Saveand have mercy on usQueen ofHeaven! . . . What are you saying?"
"And what do you suppose railway accidents do come from? Unscrew two orthree nuts and you have an accident."
Denis grinsand screws up his eye at the magistrate incredulously.
"Why! how many years have we all in the village been unscrewing nutsand the Lord has been merciful; and you talk of accidentskilling people. If Ihad carried away a rail or put a log across the linesaythen maybe it mighthave upset the trainbut. . . pouf! a nut!"
"But you must understand that the nut holds the rail fast to thesleepers!"
"We understand that. . . . We don't unscrew them all . . . we leavesome. . . . We don't do it thoughtlessly . . . we understand. . . ."
Denis yawns and makes the sign of the cross over his mouth.
"Last year the train went off the rails here" says the magistrate."Now I see why!"
"What do you sayyour honour?"
"I am telling you that now I see why the train went off the rails lastyear. . . . I understand!"
"That's what you are educated people forto understandyou kindgentlemen. The Lord knows to whom to give understanding. . . . Here you havereasoned how and whatbut the watchmana peasant like ourselveswith nounderstanding at allcatches one by the collar and hauls one along. . . . Youshould reason first and then haul me off. It's a saying that a peasant has apeasant's wit. . . . Write downtooyour honourthat he hit me twice -- inthe jaw and in the chest."
"When your hut was searched they found another nut. . . . At what spotdid you unscrew thatand when?"
"You mean the nut which lay under the red box?"
"I don't know where it was lyingonly it was found. When did youunscrew it?"
"I didn't unscrew it; Ignashkathe son of one-eyed Semyongave it me.I mean the one which was under the boxbut the one which was in the sledge inthe yard Mitrofan and I unscrewed together."
"Mitrofan Petrov. . . . Haven't you heard of him? He makes nets in ourvillage and sells them to the gentry. He needs a lot of those nuts. Reckon amatter of ten for each net."
"Listen. Article 1081 of the Penal Code lays down that every wilfuldamage of the railway line committed when it can expose the traffic on that lineto dangerand the guilty party knows that an accident must be caused by it . .. (Do you understand? Knows! And you could not help knowing what this unscrewingwould lead to . . .) is liable to penal servitude."
"Of courseyou know best. . . . We are ignorant people. . . . What dowe understand?"
"You understand all about it! You are lyingshamming!"
"What should I lie for? Ask in the village if you don't believe me. Onlya bleak is caught without a weightand there is no fish worse than a gudgeonyet even that won't bite without a weight."
"You'd better tell me about the shillisper next" said themagistratesmiling.
"There are no shillispers in our parts. . . . We cast our line without aweight on the top of the water with a butterfly; a mullet may be caught thatwaythough that is not often."
"Comehold your tongue."
A silence follows. Denis shifts from one foot to the otherlooks at thetable with the green cloth on itand blinks his eyes violently as though whatwas before him was not the cloth but the sun. The magistrate writes rapidly.
"Can I go?" asks Denis after a long silence.
"No. I must take you under guard and send you to prison."
Denis leaves off blinking andraising his thick eyebrowslooks inquiringlyat the magistrate.
"How do you meanto prison? Your honour! I have no time to spareImust go to the fair; I must get three roubles from Yegor for some tallow! . .."
"Hold your tongue; don't interrupt."
"To prison. . . . If there was something to go forI'd go; but just togo for nothing! What for? I haven't stolen anythingI believeand I've notbeen fighting. . . . If you are in doubt about the arrearsyour honourdon'tbelieve the elder. . . . You ask the agent . . . he's a regular heathentheelderyou know."
"Hold your tongue."
I am holding my tongueas it is" mutters Denis; "but that theelder has lied over the accountI'll take my oath for it. . . . There are threeof us brothers: Kuzma Grigoryevthen Yegor Grigoryevand meDenisGrigoryev."
"You are hindering me. . . . HeySemyon" cries the magistrate"take him away!"
"There are three of us brothers" mutters Denisas two stalwartsoldiers take him and lead him out of the room. "A brother is notresponsible for a brother. Kuzma does not payso youDenismust answer forit. . . . Judges indeed! Our master the general is dead -- the Kingdom of Heavenbe his -- or he would have shown you judges. . . . You ought to judge sensiblynot at random. . . . Flog if you likebut flog someone who deserves itflogwith conscience."
NIKOLAY TCHIKILDYEEVa waiter in the Moscow hotelSlavyansky Bazaarwastaken ill. His legs went numb and his gait was affectedso that on oneoccasionas he was going along the corridorhe tumbled and fell down with atray full of ham and peas. He had to leave his job. All his own savings and hiswife's were spent on doctors and medicines; they had nothing left to live upon.He felt dull with no work to doand he made up his mind he must go home to thevillage. It is better to be ill at homeand living there is cheaper; and it isa true saying that the walls of home are a help.
He reached Zhukovo towards evening. In his memories of childhood he hadpictured his home as brightsnugcomfortable. Nowgoing into the huthe waspositively frightened; it was so darkso crowdedso unclean. His wife Olga andhis daughter Sashawho had come with himkept looking in bewilderment at thebig untidy stovewhich filled up almost half the hut and was black with sootand flies. What lots of flies! The stove was on one sidethe beams lay slantingon the wallsand it looked as though the hut were just going to fall to pieces.In the cornerfacing the doorunder the holy imagesbottle labels andnewspaper cuttings were stuck on the walls instead of pictures. The povertythepoverty! Of the grown-up people there were none at home; all were at work at theharvest. On the stove was sitting a white-headed girl of eightunwashed andapathetic; she did not even glance at them as they came in. On the floor a whitecat was rubbing itself against the oven fork.
"Pusspuss!" Sasha called to her. "Puss!"
"She can't hear" said the little girl; "she has gonedeaf."
"How is that?"
"Ohshe was beaten."
Nikolay and Olga realized from the firs t glance what life was like herebutsaid nothing to one another; in silence they put down their bundlesand wentout into the village street. Their hut was the third from the endand seemedthe very poorest and oldest-looking; the second was not much better; but thelast one had an iron roofand curtains in the windows. That hut stood apartnot enclosed; it was a tavern. The huts were in a single rowand the whole ofthe little village -- quiet and dreamywith willowseldersand mountain-ashtrees peeping out from the yards -- had an attractive look.
Beyond the peasants homesteads there was a slope down to the riverso steepand precipitous that huge stones jutted out bare here and there through theclay. Down the slopeamong the stones and holes dug by the pottersran windingpaths; bits of broken potterysome brownsome redlay piled up in heapsandbelow there stretched a broadlevelbright green meadowfrom which the hayhad been already carriedand in which the peasants' cattle were wandering. Theriverthree-quarters of a mile from the villageran twisting and turningwithbeautiful leafy banks; beyond it was again a broad meadowa herd of cattlelong strings of white geese; thenjust as on the near sidea steep ascentuphilland on the top of the hill a hamletand a church with five domesandat a little distance the manor-house.
"It's lovely here in your parts!" said Olgacrossing herself atthe sight of the church. "What spaceoh Lord!"
Just at that moment the bell began ringing for service (it was Saturdayevening). Two little girlsdown belowwho were dragging up a pail of waterlooked round at the church to listen to the bell.
"At this time they are serving the dinners at the SlavyanskyBazaar" said Nikolay dreamily.
Sitting on the edge of the slopeNikolay and Olga watched the sun settingwatched the gold and crimson sky reflected in the riverin the church windowsand in the whole air -- which was soft and still and unutterably pure as itnever was in Moscow. And when the sun had set the flocks and herds passedbleating and lowing; geese flew across from the further side of the riverandall sank into silence; the soft light died away in the airand the dusk ofevening began quickly moving down upon them.
Meanwhile Nikolay's father and mothertwo gauntbenttoothless old peoplejust of the same heightcame back. The women -- the sisters-in-law Marya andFyokla -- who had been working on the landowner's estate beyond the riverarrived hometoo. Maryathe wife of Nikolay's brother Kiryakhad sixchildrenand Fyoklathe wife of Nikolay's brother Denis -- who had gone for asoldier -- had two; and when Nikolaygoing into the hutsaw all the familyall those bodies big and little moving about on the lockersin the hangingcradles and in all the cornersand when he saw the greed with which the oldfather and the women ate the black breaddipping it in waterhe realized hehad made a mistake in coming heresickpennilessand with a familytoo -- agreat mistake!
"And where is Kiryak?" he asked after they had exchanged greetings.
"He is in service at the merchant's" answered his father; "akeeper in the woods. He is not a bad peasantbut too fond of his glass."
"He is no great help!" said the old woman tearfully. "Our menare a grievous lot; they bring nothing into the housebut take plenty out.Kiryak drinksand so does the old man; it is no use hiding a sin; he knows hisway to the tavern. The Heavenly Mother is wroth."
In honour of the visitors they brought out the samovar. The tea smelt offish; the sugar was grey and looked as though it had been nibbled; cockroachesran to and fro over the bread and among the crockery. It was disgusting todrinkand the conversation was disgustingtoo -- about nothing but poverty andillnesses. But before they had time to empty their first cups there came a loudprolongeddrunken shout from the yard:
"It looks as though Kiryak were coming" said the old man."Speak of the devil."
All were hushed. And againsoon afterwardsthe same shoutcoarse anddrawn-out as though it came out of the earth:
Maryathe elder sister-in-lawturned pale and huddled against the stoveand it was strange to see the look of terror on the face of the strongbroad-shoulderedugly woman. Her daughterthe child who had been sitting onthe stove and looked so apatheticsuddenly broke into loud weeping.
"What are you howling foryou plague?" Fyoklaa handsome womanalso strong and broad-shoulderedshouted to her. "He won't kill younofear!"
From his old father Nikolay learned that Marya was afraid to live in theforest with Kiryakand that when he was drunk he always came for hermade arowand beat her mercilessly.
"Ma-arya!" the shout sounded close to the door.
"Protect mefor Christ's sakegood people!" faltered Maryabreathing as though she had been plunged into very cold water. "Protect mekind people. . . ."
All the children in the hut began cryingand looking at themSashatoobegan to cry. They heard a drunken coughand a tallblack-bearded peasantwearing a winter cap came into the hutand was the more terrible because hisface could not be seen in the dim light of the little lamp. It was Kiryak. Goingup to his wifehe swung his arm and punched her in the face with his fist.Stunned by the blowshe did not utter a soundbut sat downand her noseinstantly began bleeding.
"What a disgrace! What a disgrace!" muttered the old manclambering up on to the stove. "Before visitorstoo! It's a sin!"
The old mother sat silentbowedlost in thought; Fyokla rocked the cradle.
Evidently conscious of inspiring fearand pleased at doing soKiryak seizedMarya by the armdragged her towards the doorand bellowed like an animal inorder to seem still more terrible; but at that moment he suddenly caught sightof the visitors and stopped.
"Ohthey have come. . ." he saidletting his wife go; "myown brother and his family. . . ."
Staggering and opening wide his reddrunken eyeshe said his prayer beforethe image and went on:
"My brother and his family have come to the parental home . . . fromMoscowI suppose. The great capital Moscowto be surethe mother of cities. .. . Excuse me."
He sank down on the bench near the samovar and began drinking teasipping itloudly from the saucer in the midst of general silence. . . . He drank off adozen cupsthen reclined on the bench and began snoring.
They began going to bed. Nikolayas an invalidwas put on the stove withhis old father; Sasha lay down on the floorwhile Olga went with the otherwomen into the barn.
"Ayeayedearie" she saidlying down on the hay beside Marya;"you won't mend your trouble with tears. Bear it in patiencethat is all.It is written in the Scriptures: 'If anyone smite thee on the right cheekofferhim the left one also.' . . . Ayeayedearie."
Then in a low singsong murmur she told them about Moscowabout her own lifehow she had been a servant in furnished lodgings.
"And in Moscow the houses are bigbuilt of brick" she said;"and there are ever so many churchesforty times fortydearie; and theyare all gentry in the housesso handsome and so proper!"
Marya told her that she had not only never been in Moscowbut had not evenbeen in their own district town; she could not read or writeand knew noprayersnot even "Our Father." Both she and Fyoklathe othersister-in-lawwho was sitting a little way off listeningwere extremelyignorant and could understand nothing. They both disliked their husbands; Maryawas afraid of Kiryakand whenever he stayed with her she was shaking with fearand always got a headache from the fumes of vodka and tobacco with which hereeked. And in answer to the question whether she did not miss her husbandFyokla answered with vexation:
They talked a little and sank into silence.
It was cooland a cock crowed at the top of his voice near the barnpreventing them from sleeping. When the bluish morning light was already peepingthrough all the crevicesFyokla got up stealthily and went outand then theyheard the sound of her bare feet running off somewhere.
Olga went to churchand took Marya with her. As they went down the pathtowards the meadow both were in good spirits. Olga liked the wide viewandMarya felt that in her sister-in-law she had someone near and akin to her. Thesun was rising. Low down over the meadow floated a drowsy hawk. The river lookedgloomy; there was a haze hovering over it here and therebut on the furtherbank a streak of light already stretched across the hill. The church wasgleamingand in the manor garden the rooks were cawing furiously.
"The old man is all right" Marya told her"but Granny isstrict; she is continually nagging. Our own grain lasted till Carnival. We buyflour now at the tavern. She is angry about it; she says we eat too much."
"Ayeayedearie! Bear it in patiencethat is all. It is written:'Come unto Meall ye that labour and are heavy laden.' "
Olga spoke sedatelyrhythmicallyand she walked like a pilgrim womanwitha rapidanxious step. Every day she read the gospelread it aloud like adeacon; a great deal of it she did not understandbut the words of the gospelmoved her to tearsand words like "forasmuch as" and"verily" she pronounced with a sweet flutter at her heart. Shebelieved in Godin the Holy Motherin the Saints; she believed one must notoffend anyone in the world -- not simple folksnor Germansnor gypsiesnorJews -- and woe even to those who have no compassion on the beasts. She believedthis was written in the Holy Scriptures; and sowhen she pronounced phrasesfrom Holy Writeven though she did not understand themher face grew softenedcompassionateand radiant.
"What part do you come from?" Marya asked her.
"I am from Vladimir. Only I was taken to Moscow long agowhen I waseight years old."
They reached the river. On the further side a woman was standing at thewater's edgeundressing.
"It's our Fyokla" said Maryarecognizing her. "She has beenover the river to the manor yard. To the stewards. She is a shameless hussy andfoul-mouthed -- fearfully!"
Fyoklayoung and vigorous as a girlwith her black eyebrows and her loosehairjumped off the bank and began splashing the water with her feetand wavesran in all directions from her.
"Shameless -- dreadfully! " repeated Marya.
The river was crossed by a rickety little bridge of logsand exactly belowit in the clearlimpid water was a shoal of broad-headed mullets. The dew wasglistening on the green bushes that looked into the water. There was a feelingof warmth; it was comforting! What a lovely morning! And how lovely life wouldhave been in this worldin all likelihoodif it were not for povertyhorriblehopeless povertyfrom which one can find no refuge! One had only tolook round at the village to remember vividly all that had happened the daybeforeand the illusion of happiness which seemed to surround them vanishedinstantly.
They reached the church. Marya stood at the entranceand did not dare to gofarther. She did not dare to sit down either. Though they only began ringing formass between eight and nineshe remained standing the whole time.
While the gospel was being read the crowd suddenly parted to make way for thefamily from the great house. Two young girls in white frocks and wide-brimmedhats walked in; with them a chubbyrosy boy in a sailor suit. Their appearancetouched Olga; she made up her mind from the first glance that they were refinedwell-educatedhandsome people. Marya looked at them from under her browssullenlydejectedlyas though they were not human beings coming inbutmonsters who might crush her if she did not make way for them.
And every time the deacon boomed out something in his bass voice she fanciedshe heard "Ma-arya!" and she shuddered.
The arrival of the visitors was already known in the villageand directlyafter mass a number of people gathered together in the hut. The Leonytchevs andMatvyeitchevs and the Ilyitchovs came to inquire about their relations who werein service in Moscow. All the lads of Zhukovo who could read and write werepacked off to Moscow and hired out as butlers or waiters (while from the villageon the other side of the river the boys all became bakers)and that had beenthe custom from the days of serfdom long ago when a certain Luka Ivanitchapeasant from Zhukovonow a legendary figurewho had been a waiter in one ofthe Moscow clubswould take none but his fellow-villagers into his serviceandfound jobs for them in taverns and restaurants; and from that time the villageof Zhukovo was always called among the inhabitants of the surrounding districtsSlaveytown. Nikolay had been taken to Moscow when he was elevenand IvanMakaritchone of the Matvyeitchevsat that time a headwaiter in the"Hermitage" gardenhad put him into a situation. And nowaddressingthe MatvyeitchevsNikolay said emphatically:
"Ivan Makaritch was my benefactorand I am bound to pray for him dayand nightas it is owing to him I have become a good man."
"My good soul!" a tall old womanthe sister of Ivan Makaritchsaid tearfully"and not a word have we heard about himpoor dear."
"In the winter he was in service at Omon'sand this season there was arumour he was somewhere out of townin gardens. . . . He has aged! In old dayshe would bring home as much as ten roubles a day in the summer-timebut nowthings are very quiet everywhere. The old man frets."
The women looked at Nikolay's feetshod in felt bootsand at his pale faceand said mournfully:
"You are not one to get onNikolay Osipitch; you are not one to get on!Noindeed!"
And they all made much of Sasha. She was ten years oldbut she was littleand very thinand might have been taken for no more than seven. Among the otherlittle girlswith their sunburnt faces and roughly cropped hairdressed inlong faded smocksshe with her white little facewith her big dark eyeswitha red ribbon in her hairlooked funnyas though she were some little wildcreature that had been caught and brought into the hut.
"She can readtoo" Olga said in her praiselooking tenderly ather daughter. "Read a littlechild!" she saidtaking the gospel fromthe corner. "You readand the good Christian people will listen."
The testament was an old and heavy one in leather bindingwith dog's-earededgesand it exhaled a smell as though monks had come into the hut. Sasharaised her eyebrows and began in a loud rhythmic chant:
" 'And the angel of the Lord . . . appeared unto Josephsaying untohim: Rise upand take the Babe and His mother.' "
"The Babe and His mother" Olga repeatedand flushed all over withemotion.
" 'And flee into Egypt. . . and tarry there until such time as . . .'"
At the word "tarry" Olga could not refrain from tears. Looking atherMarya began to whimperand after her Ivan Makaritch's sister. The oldfather cleared his throatand bustled about to find something to give hisgrand-daughterbutfinding nothinggave it up with a wave of his hand. Andwhen the reading was over the neighbours dispersed to their homesfeelingtouched and very much pleased with Olga and Sasha.
As it was a holidaythe family spent the whole day at home. The old womanwhom her husbandher daughters-in-lawher grandchildren all alike calledGrannytried to do everything herself; she heated the stove and set the samovarwith her own handseven waited at the midday mealand then complained that shewas worn out with work. And all the time she was uneasy for fear someone shouldeat a piece too muchor that her husband and daughters-in-law would sit idle.At one time she would hear the tavern-keeper's geese going at the back of thehuts to her kitchen-gardenand she would run out of the hut with a long stickand spend half an hour screaming shrilly by her cabbageswhich were as gauntand scraggy as herself; at another time she fancied that a crow had designs onher chickensand she rushed to attack it wi th loud words of abuse. She wascross and grumbling from morning till night. And often she raised such an outcrythat passers-by stopped in the street.
She was not affectionate towards the old manreviling him as a lazy-bonesand a plague. He was not a responsiblereliable peasantand perhaps if she hadnot been continually nagging at him he would not have worked at allbut wouldhave simply sat on the stove and talked. He talked to his son at great lengthabout certain enemies of hiscomplained of the insults he said he had to put upwith every day from the neighboursand it was tedious to listen to him.
"Yes" he would saystanding with his arms akimbo"yes. . .. A week after the Exaltation of the Cross I sold my hay willingly at thirtykopecks a pood. . . . Well and good. . . . So you see I was taking the hay inthe morning with a good will; I was interfering with no one. In an unlucky hourI see the village elderAntip Syedelnikovcoming out of the tavern. 'Where areyou taking ityou ruffian?' says heand takes me by the ear."
Kiryak had a fearful headache after his drinking boutand was ashamed toface his brother.
"What vodka does! Ahmy God!" he mutteredshaking his achinghead. "For Christ's sakeforgive mebrother and sister; I'm not happymyself."
As it was a holidaythey bought a herring at the tavern and made a soup ofthe herring's head. At midday they all sat down to drink teaand went ondrinking it for a long timetill they were all perspiring; they lookedpositively swollen from the tea-drinkingand after it began sipping the brothfrom the herring's headall helping themselves out of one bowl. But the herringitself Granny had hidden.
In the evening a potter began firing pots on the ravine. In the meadow belowthe girls got up a choral dance and sang songs. They played the concertina. Andon the other side of the river a kiln for baking pots was lightedtooand thegirls sang songsand in the distance the singing sounded soft and musical. Thepeasants were noisy in and about the tavern. They were singing with drunkenvoiceseach on his own accountand swearing at one anotherso that Olga couldonly shudder and say:
She was amazed that the abuse was incessantand those who were loudest andmost persistent in this foul language were the old men who were so near theirend. And the girls and children heard the swearingand were not in the leastdisturbed by itand it was evident that they were used to it from theircradles.
It was past midnightthe kilns on both sides of the river were put outbutin the meadow below and in the tavern the merrymaking still went on. The oldfather and Kiryakboth drunkwalking arm-in-arm and jostling against eachother's shoulderswent to the barn where Olga and Marya were lying.
"Let her alone" the old man persuaded him; "let her alone. .. . She is a harmless woman. . . . It's a sin. . . ."
"Ma-arya! " shouted Kiryak.
"Let her be. . . . It's a sin. . . . She is not a bad woman."
Both stopped by the barn and went on.
"I lo-ove the flowers of the fi-ield" the old man began singingsuddenly in a highpiercing tenor. "I lo-ove to gather them in themeadows!"
Then he spatand with a filthy oath went into the hut.
Granny put Sasha by her kitchen-garden and told her to keep watch that thegeese did not go in. It was a hot August day. The tavernkeeper's geese couldmake their way into the kitchen-garden by the backs of the hutsbut now theywere busily engaged picking up oats by the tavernpeacefully conversingtogetherand only the gander craned his head high as though trying to seewhether the old woman were coming with her stick. The other geese might come upfrom belowbut they were now grazing far away the other side of the riverstretched out in a long white garland about the meadow. Sasha stood about alittlegrew wearyandseeing that the geese were not comingwent away to theravine.
There she saw Marya's eldest daughter Motkawho was standing motionless on abig stonestaring at the church. Marya had given birth to thirteen childrenbut she only had six livingall girlsnot one boyand the eldest was eight.Motka in a long smock was standing barefooted in the full sunshine; the sun wasblazing down right on her headbut she did not notice thatand seemed asthough turned to stone. Sasha stood beside her and saidlooking at the church:
"God lives in the church. Men have lamps and candlesbut God has littlegreen and red and blue lamps like little eyes. At night God walks about thechurchand with Him the Holy Mother of God and Saint Nikolaythudthudthud!. . . And the watchman is terrifiedterrified! Ayeayedearie" sheaddedimitating her mother. "And when the end of the world comes all thechurches will be carried up to heaven."
"With the-ir be-ells?" Motka asked in her deep voicedrawlingevery syllable.
"With their bells. And when the end of the world comes the good will goto Paradisebut the angry will burn in fire eternal and unquenchabledearie.To my mother as well as to Marya God will say: 'You never offended anyoneandfor that go to the right to Paradise'; but to Kiryak and Granny He will say:'You go to the left into the fire.' And anyone who has eaten meat in Lent willgo into the firetoo."
She looked upwards at the skyopening wide her eyesand said:
"Look at the sky without winkingyou will see angels."
Motka began looking at the skytooand a minute passed in silence.
"Do you see them?" asked Sasha.
"I don't" said Motka in her deep voice.
"But I do. Little angels are flying about the sky and flapflap withtheir little wings as though they were gnats."
Motka thought for a littlewith her eyes on the groundand asked:
"Will Granny burn?"
From the stone an even gentle slope ran down to the bottomcovered with softgreen grasswhich one longed to lie down on or to touch with one's hands. . .Sasha lay down and rolled to the bottom. Motka with a gravesevere facetakinga deep breathlay downtooand rolled to the bottomand in doing so tore hersmock from the hem to the shoulder.
"What fun it is!" said Sashadelighted.
They walked up to the top to roll down againbut at that moment they heard ashrillfamiliar voice. Ohhow awful it was! Grannya toothlessbonyhunchbacked figurewith short grey hair which was fluttering in the windwasdriving the geese out of the kitchen-garden with a long stickshouting.
"They have trampled all the cabbagesthe damned brutes! I'd cut yourthroatsthrice accursed plagues! Bad luck to you!"
She saw the little girlsflung down the stick and picked up a switchandseizing Sasha by the neck with her fingersthin and hard as the gnarledbranches of a treebegan whipping her. Sasha cried with pain and terrorwhilethe ganderwaddling and stretching his neckwent up to the old woman andhissed at herand when he went back to his flock all the geese greeted himapprovingly with "Ga-ga-ga!" Then Granny proceeded to whip Motkaandin this Motka's smock was torn again. Feeling in despairand crying loudlySasha went to the hut to complain. Motka followed her; shetoowas crying on adeeper notewithout wiping her tearsand her face was as wet as though it hadbeen dipped in water.
"Holy Saints!" cried Olgaaghastas the two came into the hut."Queen of Heaven!"
Sasha began telling her storywhile at the same time Granny walked in with astorm of shrill cries and abuse; then Fyokla flew into a rageand there was anuproar in the hut.
"Never mindnever mind!" Olgapale and upsettried to comfortthemstroking Sasha's head. "She is your grandmother; it's a sin to beangry with her. Never mindmy child."
Nikolaywho was worn out already by the everlasting hubbubhungerstiflingfumesfilthwho hated and despised the povertywho was ashamed for his wifeand daughter to see his father and motherswung his legs off the stove and saidin an irritabletearful voiceaddressing his mother:
"You must not beat her! You have no right to beat he r!"
"You lie rotting on the stoveyou wretched creature!" Fyoklashouted at him spitefully. "The devil brought you all on useating us outof house and home."
Sasha and Motka and all the little girls in the hut huddled on the stove inthe corner behind Nikolay's backand from that refuge listened in silentterrorand the beating of their little hearts could be distinctly heard.Whenever there is someone in a family who has long been illand hopelessly illthere come painful moments when all timidlysecretlyat the bottom of theirhearts long for his death; and only the children fear the death of someone nearthemand always feel horrified at the thought of it. And now the childrenwithbated breathwith a mournful look on their facesgazed at Nikolay and thoughtthat he was soon to die; and they wanted to cry and to say something friendlyand compassionate to him.
He pressed close to Olgaas though seeking protectionand said to hersoftly in a quavering voice:
"Olya darlingI can't stay here longer. It's more than I can bear. ForGod's sakefor Christ's sakewrite to your sister Klavdia Abramovna. Let hersell and pawn everything she has; let her send us the money. We will go awayfrom here. OhLord" he went on miserably"to have one peep atMoscow! If I could see it in my dreamsthe dear place!
And when the evening came onand it was dark in the hutit was so dismalthat it was hard to utter a word. Grannyvery ill-temperedsoaked some crustsof rye bread in a cupand was a long timea whole hoursucking at them.Maryaafter milking the cowbrought in a pail of milk and set it on a bench;then Granny poured it from the pail into a jug just as slowly and deliberatelyevidently pleased that it was now the Fast of the Assumptionso that no onewould drink milk and it would be left untouched. And she only poured out a verylittle in a saucer for Fyokla's baby. When Marya and she carried the jug down tothe cellar Motka suddenly stirredclambered down from the stoveand going tothe bench where stood the wooden cup full of crustssprinkled into it some milkfrom the saucer.
Grannycoming back into the hutsat down to her soaked crusts againwhileSasha and Motkasitting on the stovegazed at herand they were glad that shehad broken her fast and now would go to hell. They were comforted and lay downto sleepand Sasha as she dozed off to sleep imagined the Day of Judgment: ahuge fire was burningsomewhat like a potter's kilnand the Evil Onewithhorns like a cow'sand black all overwas driving Granny into the fire with along stickjust as Granny herself had been driving the geese.
On the day of the Feast of the Assumptionbetween ten and eleven in theeveningthe girls and lads who were merrymaking in the meadow suddenly raised aclamour and outcryand ran in the direction of the village; and those who wereabove on the edge of the ravine could not for the first moment make out what wasthe matter.
"Fire! Fire!" they heard desperate shouts from below. "Thevillage is on fire!"
Those who were sitting above looked roundand a terrible and extraordinaryspectacle met their eyes. On the thatched roof of one of the end cottages stooda column of flameseven feet highwhich curled round and scattered sparks inall directions as though it were a fountain. And all at once the whole roofburst into bright flameand the crackling of the fire was audible.
The light of the moon was dimmedand the whole village was by now bathed ina red quivering glow: black shadows moved over the groundthere was a smell ofburningand those who ran up from below were all gasping and could not speakfor trembling; they jostled against each otherfell downand they could hardlysee in the unaccustomed lightand did not recognize each other. It wasterrible. What seemed particularly dreadful was that doves were flying over thefire in the smoke; and in the tavernwhere they did not yet know of the firethey were still singing and playing the concertina as though there were nothingthe matter.
"Uncle Semyon's on fire" shouted a loudcoarse voice.
Marya was fussing about round her hutweeping and wringing her handswhileher teeth chatteredthough the fire was a long way off at the other end of thevillage. Nikolay came out in high felt bootsthe children ran out in theirlittle smocks. Near the village constable's hut an iron sheet was struck. Boomboomboom! . . . floated through the airand this repeatedpersistent soundsent a pang to the heart and turned one cold. The old women stood with the holyikons. Sheepcalvescows were driven out of the back-yards into the street;boxessheepskinstubs were carried out. A black stallionwho was kept apartfrom the drove of horses because he kicked and injured themon being set freeran once or twice up and down the villageneighing and pawing the ground; thensuddenly stopped short near a cart and began kicking it with his hind-legs.
They began ringing the bells in the church on the other side of the river.
Near the burning hut it was hot and so light that one could distinctly seeevery blade of grass. Semyona red-haired peasant with a long nosewearing areefer-jacket and a cap pulled down right over his earssat on one of the boxeswhich they had succeeded in bringing out: his wife was lying on her facemoaning and unconscious. A little old man of eightywith a big beardwholooked like a gnome -- not one of the villagersthough obviously connected insome way with the fire -- walked about bareheadedwith a white bundle in hisarms. The glare was reflected on his bald head. The village elderAntipSyedelnikovas swarthy and black-haired as a gypsywent up to the hut with anaxeand hacked out the windows one after another -- no one knew why -- thenbegan chopping up the roof.
"Womenwater!" he shouted. "Bring the engine! Looksharp!"
The peasantswho had been drinking in the tavern just beforedragged theengine up. They were all drunk; they kept stumbling and falling downand allhad a helpless expression and tears in their eyes.
"Wencheswater! " shouted the elderwho was drunktoo."Look sharpwenches!"
The women and the girls ran downhill to where there was a springand kepthauling pails and buckets of water up the hillandpouring it into the engineran down again. Olga and Marya and Sasha and Motka all brought water. The womenand the boys pumped the water; the pipe hissedand the elderdirecting it nowat the doornow at the windowsheld back the stream with his fingerwhichmade it hiss more sharply still.
"BravoAntip!" voices shouted approvingly. "Do yourbest."
Antip went inside the hut into the fire and shouted from within.
"Pump! Bestir yourselvesgood Christian folkin such a terriblemischance!"
The peasants stood round in a crowddoing nothing but staring at the fire.No one knew what to dono one had the sense to do anythingthough there werestacks of wheathaybarnsand piles of faggots standing all round. Kiryak andold Osiphis fatherboth tipsywere standing theretoo. And as though tojustify his doing nothingold Osip saidaddressing the woman who lay on theground:
"What is there to trouble aboutold girl! The hut is insured -- why areyou taking on?"
Semyonaddressing himself first to one person and then to anotherkeptdescribing how the fire had started.
"That old manthe one with the bundlea house-serf of GeneralZhukov's. . . . He was cook at our general'sGod rest his soul! He came overthis evening: 'Let me stay the night' says he. . . . Wellwe had a glasstobe sure. . . . The wife got the samovar -- she was going to give the old fellowa cup of teaand in an unlucky hour she set the samovar in the entrance. Thesparks from the chimney must have blown straight up to the thatch; that's how itwas. We were almost burnt ourselves. And the old fellow's cap has been burnt;what a shame!"
And the sheet of iron was struck indefatigablyand the bells kept ringing inthe church the other side of the river. In the glow of the fir e Olgabreathlesslooking with horror at the red sheep and the pink doves flying inthe smokekept running down the hill and up again. It seemed to her that theringing went to her heart with a sharp stabthat the fire would never be overthat Sasha was lost. . . . And when the ceiling of the hut fell in with a crashthe thought that now the whole village would be burnt made her weak and faintand she could not go on fetching waterbut sat down on the ravinesetting thepail down near her; beside her and below herthe peasant women sat wailing asthough at a funeral.
Then the stewards and watchmen from the estate the other side of the riverarrived in two cartsbringing with them a fire-engine. A very young student inan unbuttoned white tunic rode up on horseback. There was the thud of axes. Theyput a ladder to the burning framework of the houseand five men ran up it atonce. Foremost of them all was the studentwho was red in the face and shoutingin a harsh hoarse voiceand in a tone as though putting out fires was a thinghe was used to. They pulled the house to piecesa beam at a time; they draggedaway the cornthe hurdlesand the stacks that were near.
"Don't let them break it up! " cried stern voices in the crowd."Don't let them."
Kiryak made his way up to the hut with a resolute airas though he meant toprevent the newcomers from breaking up the hutbut one of the workmen turnedhim back with a blow in his neck. There was the sound of laughterthe workmandealt him another blowKiryak fell downand crawled back into the crowd on hishands and knees.
Two handsome girls in hatsprobably the student's sisterscame from theother side of the river. They stood a little way offlooking at the fire. Thebeams that had been dragged apart were no longer burningbut were smokingvigorously; the studentwho was working the hoseturned the waterfirst onthe beamsthen on the peasantsthen on the women who were bringing the water.
"George!" the girls called to him reproachfully in anxiety"George!"
The fire was over. And only when they began to disperse they noticed that theday was breakingthat everyone was pale and rather dark in the faceas italways seems in the early morning when the last stars are going out. As theyseparatedthe peasants laughed and made jokes about General Zhukov's cook andhis cap which had been burnt; they already wanted to turn the fire into a jokeand even seemed sorry that it had so soon been put out.
"How well you extinguished the firesir!" said Olga to thestudent. "You ought to come to us in Moscow: there we have a fire everyday."
"Whydo you come from Moscow?" asked one of the young ladies.
"Yesmiss. My husband was a waiter at the Slavyansky Bazaar. And thisis my daughter" she saidindicating Sashawho was cold and huddling upto her. "She is a Moscow girltoo."
The two young ladies said something in French to the studentand he gaveSasha a twenty-kopeck piece.
Old Father Osip saw thisand there was a gleam of hope in his face.
"We must thank Godyour honourthere was no wind" he saidaddressing the student"or else we should have been all burnt up together.Your honourkind gentlefolks" he added in embarrassment in a lower tone"the morning's chilly . . . something to warm one . . . half a bottle toyour honour's health."
Nothing was given himand clearing his throat he slouched home. Olga stoodafterwards at the end of the street and watched the two carts crossing the riverby the ford and the gentlefolks walking across the meadow; a carriage waswaiting for them the other side of the river. Going into the hutshe describedto her husband with enthusiasm:
"Such good people! And so beautiful! The young ladies were likecherubim."
"Plague take them!" Fyoklasleepysaid spitefully.
Marya thought herself unhappyand said that she would be very glad to die;Fyoklaon the other handfound all this life to her taste: the povertytheuncleanlinessand the incessant quarrelling. She ate what was given her withoutdiscrimination; slept anywhereon whatever came to hand. She would empty theslops just at the porchwould splash them out from the doorwayand then walkbarefoot through the puddle. And from the very first day she took a dislike toOlga and Nikolay just because they did not like this life.
"We shall see what you'll find to eat hereyou Moscow gentry!" shesaid malignantly. "We shall see!"
One morningit was at the beginning of SeptemberFyoklavigorousgood-lookingand rosy from the coldbrought up two pails of water; Marya andOlga were sitting meanwhile at the table drinking tea.
"Tea and sugar" said Fyokla sarcastically. "The fineladies!" she addedsetting down the pails. "You have taken to thefashion of tea every day. You better look out that you don't burst with yourtea-drinking" she went onlooking with hatred at Olga. "That's howyou have come by your fat mughaving a good time in Moscowyou lump offlesh!" She swung the yoke and hit Olga such a blow on the shoulder thatthe two sisters-in-law could only clasp their hands and say:
Then Fyokla went down to the river to wash the clothesswearing all the timeso loudly that she could be heard in the hut.
The day passed and was followed by the long autumn evening. They wound silkin the hut; everyone did it except Fyokla; she had gone over the river. They gotthe silk from a factory close byand the whole family working together earnednext to nothingtwenty kopecks a week.
"Things were better in the old days under the gentry" said the oldfather as he wound silk. "You worked and ate and slepteverything in itsturn. At dinner you had cabbage-soup and boiled grainand at supper the sameagain. Cucumbers and cabbage in plenty: you could eat to your heart's contentas much as you wanted. And there was more strictness. Everyone minded what hewas about."
The hut was lighted by a single little lampwhich burned dimly and smoked.When someone screened the lamp and a big shadow fell across the windowthebright moonlight could be seen. Old Osipspeaking slowlytold them how theyused to live before the emancipation; how in those very partswhere life wasnow so poor and so drearythey used to hunt with harriersgreyhounds.retrieversand when they went out as beaters the peasants were given vodka; howwhole waggonloads of game used to be sent to Moscow for the young masters; howthe bad were beaten with rods or sent away to the Tver estatewhile the goodwere rewarded. And Granny told them somethingtoo. She remembered everythingpositively everything. She described her mistressa kindGod-fearing womanwhose husband was a profligate and a rakeand all of whose daughters madeunlucky marriages: one married a drunkardanother married a workmanthe othereloped secretly (Granny herselfat that time a young girlhelped in theelopement)and they had all three as well as their mother died early fromgrief. And remembering all thisGranny positively began to shed tears.
All at once someone knocked at the doorand they all started.
"Uncle Osipgive me a night's lodging."
The little bald old manGeneral Zhukov's cookthe one whose cap had beenburntwalked in. He sat down and listenedthen hetoobegan telling storiesof all sorts. Nikolaysitting on the stove with his legs hanging downlistenedand asked questions about the dishes that were prepared in the old days for thegentry. They talked of rissolescutletsvarious soups and saucesand thecookwho remembered everything very wellmentioned dishes that are no longerserved. There was onefor instance -- a dish made of bulls' eyeswhich wascalled "waking up in the morning."
"And used you to do cutlets a' la marechal?" asked Nikolay.
Nikolay shook his head reproachfully and said:
"Tuttut! You were not much of a cook!"
The little girls sitting and lying on the stove stared down without blinking;it seemed as though there were a great many of themlike cherubim in theclouds. They liked the stories: they were brea thless; they shuddered and turnedpale with alternate rapture and terrorand they listened breathlesslyafraidto stirto Grannywhose stories were the most interesting of all.
They lay down to sleep in silence; and the old peopletroubled and excitedby their reminiscencesthought how precious was youthof whichwhatever itmight have been likenothing was left in the memory but what was livingjoyfultouchingand how terribly cold was deathwhich was not far offbetternot think of it! The lamp died down. And the duskand the two little windowssharply defined by the moonlightand the stillness and the creak of the cradlereminded them for some reason that life was overthat nothing one could dowould bring it back. . . . You doze offyou forget yourselfand suddenlysomeone touches your shoulder or breathes on your cheek -- and sleep is gone;your body feels crampedand thoughts of death keep creeping into your mind. Youturn on the other side: death is forgottenbut old drearysickening thoughtsof povertyof foodof how dear flour is gettingstray through the mindand alittle later again you remember that life is over and you cannot bring it back.. . .
"OhLord!" sighed the cook.
Someone gave a softsoft tap at the window. It must be Fyokla come back.Olga got upand yawning and whispering a prayeropened the doorthen drew thebolt in the outer roombut no one came in; only from the street came a colddraught and a sudden brightness from the moonlight. The streetstill anddesertedand the moon itself floating across the skycould be seen at the opendoor.
"Who is there?" called Olga.
"I" she heard the answer -- "it is I."
Near the doorcrouching against the wallstood Fyoklaabsolutely naked.She was shivering with coldher teeth were chatteringand in the brightmoonlight she looked very palestrangeand beautiful. The shadows on herandthe bright moonlight on her skinstood out vividlyand her dark eyebrows andfirmyouthful bosom were defined with peculiar distinctness.
"The ruffians over there undressed me and turned me out like this"she said. "I've come home without my clothes . . . naked as my mother boreme. Bring me something to put on."
"But go inside!" Olga said softlybeginning to shivertoo.
"I don't want the old folks to see." Granny wasin factalreadystirring and mutteringand the old father asked: "Who is there?" Olgabrought her own smock and skirtdressed Fyoklaand then both went softly intothe inner roomtrying not to make a noise with the door.
"Is that youyou sleek one?" Granny grumbled angrilyguessing whoit was. "Fie upon younightwalker! . . . Bad luck to you!"
"It's all rightit's all right" whispered Olgawrapping Fyoklaup; "it's all rightdearie."
All was stillness again. They always slept badly; everyone was kept awake bysomething worrying and persistent: the old man by the pain in his backGrannyby anxiety and angerMarya by terrorthe children by itch and hunger. Nowtootheir sleep was troubled; they kept turning over from one side to theothertalking in their sleepgetting up for a drink.
Fyokla suddenly broke into a loudcoarse howlbut immediately checkedherselfand only uttered sobs from time to timegrowing softer and on a lowernoteuntil she relapsed into silence. From time to time from the other side ofthe river there floated the sound of the beating of the hours; but the timeseemed somehow strange -- five was struck and then three.
"Oh Lord!" sighed the cook.
Looking at the windowsit was difficult to tell whether it was stillmoonlight or whether the dawn had begun. Marya got up and went outand shecould be heard milking the cows and saying"Stea-dy!" Granny wentouttoo. It was still dark in the hutbut all the objects in it could bediscerned.
Nikolaywho had not slept all nightgot down from the stove. He took hisdress-coat out of a green boxput it onand going to the windowstroked thesleeves and took hold of the coat-tails -- and smiled. Then he carefully tookoff the coatput it away in his boxand lay down again.
Marya came in again and began lighting the stove. She was evidently hardlyawakeand seemed dropping asleep as she walked. Probably she had had somedreamor the stories of the night before came into her mind asstretchingluxuriously before the stoveshe said:
"Nofreedom is better."
The master arrived -- that was what they called the police inspector. When hewould come and what he was coming for had been known for the last week. Therewere only forty households in Zhukovobut more than two thousand roubles ofarrears of rates and taxes had accumulated.
The police inspector stopped at the tavern. He drank there two glasses ofteaand then went on foot to the village elder's hutnear which a crowd ofthose who were in debt stood waiting. The elderAntip Syedelnikovwasinspite of his youth -- he was only a little over thirty -- strict and always onthe side of the authoritiesthough he himself was poor and did not pay histaxes regularly. Evidently he enjoyed being elderand liked the sense ofauthoritywhich he could only display by strictness. In the village council thepeasants were afraid of him and obeyed him. It would sometimes happen that hewould pounce on a drunken man in the street or near the taverntie his handsbehind himand put him in the lock-up. On one occasion he even put Granny inthe lock-up because she went to the village council instead of Osipand beganswearingand he kept her there for a whole day and night. He had never lived ina town or read a bookbut somewhere or other had picked up various learnedexpressionsand loved to make use of them in conversationand he was respectedfor this though he was not always understood.
When Osip came into the village elder's hut with his tax bookthe policeinspectora lean old man with a long grey beardin a grey tunicwas sittingat a table in the passagewriting something. It was clean in the hut; all thewalls were dotted with pictures cut out of the illustrated papersand in themost conspicuous place near the ikon there was a portrait of the Battenburg whowas the Prince of Bulgaria. By the table stood Antip Syedelnikov with his armsfolded.
"There is one hundred and nineteen roubles standing against him"he said when it came to Osip's turn. "Before Easter he paid a roubleandhe has not paid a kopeck since."
The police inspector raised his eyes to Osip and asked:
"Why is thisbrother?"
"Show Divine mercyyour honour" Osip begangrowing agitated."Allow me to say last year the gentleman at Lutorydsky said to me'Osip'he said'sell your hay . . . you sell it' he said. WellI had a hundred poodsfor sale; the women mowed it on the water-meadow. Wellwe struck a bargain allrightwillingly. . . ."
He complained of the elderand kept turning round to the peasants as thoughinviting them to bear witness; his face flushed red and perspiredand his eyesgrew sharp and angry.
"I don't know why you are saying all this" said the policeinspector. "I am asking you . . . I am asking you why you don't pay yourarrears. You don't payany of youand am I to be responsible for you?"
"I can't do it."
"His words have no sequelyour honour" said the elder. "TheTchikildyeevs certainly are of a defective classbut if you will just ask theothersthe root of it all is vodkaand they are a very bad lot. With no sortof understanding."
The police inspector wrote something downand said to Osip quietlyin aneven toneas though he were asking him for water:
Soon he went away; and when he got into his cheap chaise and cleared histhroatit could be seen from the very expression of his long thin back that hewas no longer thinking of Osip or of the village eldernor of the Zhukovoarrearsbut was thinking of his own affairs. Before he had gone three-quartersof a mile Antip was already carrying off the samovar from the Tchikildyeevs'cottagefollowed by Grannyscreaming shrilly and straining her throat:
"I won't let
you have itI won't let you have itdamn you!"
He walked rapidly with long stepsand she pursued him pantingalmostfalling overa bentferocious figure; her kerchief slipped on to hershouldersher grey hair with greenish lights on it was blown about in the wind.She suddenly stopped shortand like a genuine rebelfell to beating her breastwith her fists and shouting louder than ever in a sing-song voiceas though shewere sobbing:
"Good Christians and believers in God! Neighboursthey have ill-treatedme! Kind friendsthey have oppressed me! Ohoh! dear peopletake mypart."
"GrannyGranny!" said the village elder sternly"have somesense in your head!"
It was hopelessly dreary in the Tchikildyeevs' hut without the samovar; therewas something humiliating in this lossinsultingas though the honour of thehut had been outraged. Better if the elder had carried off the tableall thebenchesall the pots -- it would not have seemed so empty. Granny screamedMarya criedand the little girlslooking at hercriedtoo. The old fatherfeeling guiltysat in the corner with bowed head and said nothing. And Nikolaytoowas silent. Granny loved him and was sorry for himbut nowforgetting herpityshe fell upon him with abusewith reproachesshaking her fist right inhis face. She shouted that it was all his fault; why had he sent them so littlewhen he boasted in his letters that he was getting fifty roubles a month at theSlavyansky Bazaar? Why had he comeand with his familytoo? If he diedwherewas the money to come from for his funeral . . . ? And it was pitiful to look atNikolayOlgaand Sasha.
The old father cleared his throattook his capand went off to the villageelder. Antip was soldering something by the stovepuffing out his cheeks; therewas a smell of burning. His childrenemaciated and unwashedno better than theTchikildyeevswere scrambling about the floor; his wifean uglyfreckledwoman with a prominent stomachwas winding silk. They were a poorunluckyfamilyand Antip was the only one who looked vigorous and handsome. On a benchthere were five samovars standing in a row. The old man said his prayer toBattenburg and said:
"Antipshow the Divine mercy. Give me back the samovarfor Christ'ssake!"
"Bring three roublesthen you shall have it.
"I can't do it!"
Antip puffed out his cheeksthe fire roared and hissedand the glow wasreflected in the samovar. The old man crumpled up his cap and said after amoment's thought:
"You give it me back."
The swarthy elder looked quite blackand was like a magician; he turnedround to Osip and said sternly and rapidly:
"It all depends on the rural captain. On the twenty-sixth instant youcan state the grounds for your dissatisfaction before the administrativesessionverbally or in writing."
Osip did not understand a wordbut he was satisfied with that and went home.
Ten days later the police inspector came againstayed an hour and went away.During those days the weather had changed to cold and windy; the river had beenfrozen for some time pastbut still there was no snowand people found itdifficult to get about. On the eve of a holiday some of the neighbours came into Osip's to sit and have a talk. They did not light the lampas it would havebeen a sin to workbut talked in the darkness. There were some items of newsall rather unpleasant. In two or three households hens had been taken for thearrearsand had been sent to the district police stationand there they haddied because no one had fed them; they had taken sheepand while they werebeing driven away tied to one anothershifted into another cart at eachvillageone of them had died. And now they were discussing the questionwhowas to blame?
"The Zemstvo" said Osip. "Who else?"
"Of course it is the Zemstvo."
The Zemstvo was blamed for everything -- for the arrearsand for theoppressionsand for the failure of the cropsthough no one of them knew whatwas meant by the Zemstvo. And this dated from the time when well-to-do peasantswho had factoriesshopsand inns of their own were members of the Zemstvoswere dissatisfied with themand took to swearing at the Zemstvos in theirfactories and inns.
They talked of God's not sending the snow; they had to bring in wood forfueland there was no driving nor walking in the frozen ruts. In old daysfifteen to twenty years ago conversation was much more interesting in Zhukovo.In those days every old man looked as though he were treasuring some secret; asthough he knew something and was expecting something. They used to talk about anedict in golden lettersabout the division of landsabout new landabouttreasures; they hinted at something. Now the people of Zhukovo had no mystery atall; their whole life was bare and open in the sight of alland they could talkof nothing but povertyfoodthere being no snow yet. . . .
There was a pause. Then they thought again of the hensof the sheepandbegan discussing whose fault it was.
"The Zemstvo" said Osip wearily. "Who else?"
The parish church was nearly five miles away at Kosogorovoand the peasantsonly attended it when they had to do so for baptismsweddingsor funerals;they went to the services at the church across the river. On holidays in fineweather the girls dressed up in their best and went in a crowd together tochurchand it was a cheering sight to see them in their redyellowand greendresses cross the meadow; in bad weather they all stayed at home. They went forthe sacrament to the parish church. From each of those who did not manage inLent to go to confession in readiness for the sacrament the parish priestgoingthe round of the huts with the cross at Eastertook fifteen kopecks.
The old father did not believe in Godfor he hardly ever thought about Him;he recognized the supernaturalbut considered it was entirely the women'sconcernand when religion or miracles were discussed before himor a questionwere put to himhe would say reluctantlyscratching himself:
"Who can tell!"
Granny believedbut her faith was somewhat hazy; everything was mixed up inher memoryand she could scarcely begin to think of sinsof deathof thesalvation of the soulbefore poverty and her daily cares took possession of hermindand she instantly forgot what she was thinking about. She did not rememberthe prayersand usually in the eveningsbefore lying down to sleepshe wouldstand before the ikons and whisper:
"Holy Mother of KazanHoly Mother of SmolenskHoly Mother ofTroerutchitsy. . ."
Marya and Fyokla crossed themselvesfastedand took the sacrament everyyearbut understood nothing. The children were not taught their prayersnothing was told them about Godand no moral principles were instilled intothem; they were only forbidden to eat meat or milk in Lent. In the otherfamilies it was much the same: there were few who believedfew who understood.At the same time everyone loved the Holy Scriptureloved it with a tenderreverent love; but they had no Biblethere was no one to read it and explainitand because Olga sometimes read them the gospelthey respected herandthey all addressed her and Sasha as though they were superior to themselves.
For church holidays and services Olga often went to neighbouring villagesand to the district townin which there were two monasteries and twenty-sevenchurches. She was dreamyand when she was on these pilgrimages she quite forgother familyand only when she got home again suddenly made the joyful discoverythat she had a husband and daughterand then would saysmiling and radiant:
"God has sent me blessings!"
What went on in the village worried her and seemed to her revolting. OnElijah's Day they drankat the Assumption they drankat the Ascension theydrank. The Feast of the Intercession was the parish holiday for Zhukovoand thepeasants used to drink then for three days; they squandered on drink fiftyroubles of money belonging to the Mirand then collected more for vodka fromall the households. On the first
day of the feast the Tchikildyeevs killed a sheep and ate of it in the morningat dinner-timeand in the evening; they ate it ravenouslyand the children gotup at night to eat more. Kiryak was fearfully drunk for three whole days; hedrank up everythingeven his boots and capand beat Marya so terribly thatthey had to pour water over her. And then they were all ashamed and sick.
Howevereven in Zhukovoin this "Slaveytown" there was once anoutburst of genuine religious enthusiasm. It was in Augustwhen throughout thedistrict they carried from village to village the Holy Motherthe giver oflife. It was still and overcast on the day when they expected _Her_ at Zhukovo.The girls set off in the morning to meet the ikonin their bright holidaydressesand brought Her towards the eveningin procession with the cross andwith singingwhile the bells pealed in the church across the river. An immensecrowd of villagers and strangers flooded the street; there was noisedustagreat crush. . . . And the old father and Granny and Kiryak -- all stretched outtheir hands to the ikonlooked eagerly at it and saidweeping:
"Defender! Mother! Defender!"
All seemed suddenly to realize that there was not an empty void between earthand heaventhat the rich and the powerful had not taken possession ofeverythingthat there was still a refuge from injuryfrom slavish bondagefrom crushingunendurable povertyfrom the terrible vodka.
"Defender! Mother!" sobbed Marya. "Mother!"
But the thanksgiving service ended and the ikon was carried awayandeverything went on as before; and again there was a sound of coarse drunkenoaths from the tavern.
Only the well-to-do peasants were afraid of death; the richer they were theless they believed in Godand in the salvation of soulsand only through fearof the end of the world put up candles and had services said for themto be onthe safe side. The peasants who were rather poorer were not afraid of death. Theold father and Granny were told to their faces that they had lived too longthat it was time they were deadand they did not mind. They did not hinderFyokla from saying in Nikolay's presence that when Nikolay died her husbandDenis would get exemption -- to return home from the army. And Maryafar fromfearing deathregretted that it was so slow in comingand was glad when herchildren died.
Death they did not fearbut of every disease they had an exaggerated terror.The merest trifle was enough -- a stomach upseta slight chilland Grannywould be wrapped up on the stoveand would begin moaning loudly andincessantly:
"I am dy-ing!"
The old father hurried off for the priestand Granny received the sacramentand extreme unction. They often talked of coldsof wormsof tumours which movein the stomach and coil round to the heart. Above allthey were afraid ofcatching coldand so put on thick clothes even in the summer and warmedthemselves at the stove. Granny was fond of being doctoredand often went tothe hospitalwhere she used to say she was not seventybut fifty-eight; shesupposed that if the doctor knew her real age he would not treat herbut wouldsay it was time she died instead of taking medicine. She usually went to thehospital early in the morningtaking with her two or three of the little girlsand came back in the eveninghungry and ill-tempered -- with drops for herselfand ointments for the little girls. Once she took Nikolaywho swallowed dropsfor a fortnight afterwardsand said he felt better.
Granny knew all the doctors and their assistants and the wise men for twentymiles roundand not one of them she liked. At the Intercessionwhen the priestmade the round of the huts with the crossthe deacon told her that in the townnear the prison lived an old man who had been a medical orderly in the armyandwho made wonderful curesand advised her to try him. Granny took his advice.When the first snow fell she drove to the town and fetched an old man with a bigbearda converted Jewin a long gownwhose face was covered with blue veins.There were outsiders at work in the hut at the time: an old tailorin terriblespectacleswas cutting a waistcoat out of some ragsand two young men weremaking felt boots out of wool; Kiryakwho had been dismissed from his place fordrunkennessand now lived at homewas sitting beside the tailor mending abridle. And it was crowdedstiflingand noisome in the hut. The converted Jewexamined Nikolay and said that it was necessary to try cupping.
He put on the cupsand the old tailorKiryakand the little girls stoodround and looked onand it seemed to them that they saw the disease being drawnout of Nikolay; and Nikolaytoowatched how the cups suckling at his breastgradually filled with dark bloodand felt as though there really were somethingcoming out of himand smiled with pleasure.
"It's a good thing" said the tailor. "Please Godit will doyou good."
The Jew put on twelve cups and then another twelvedrank some teaand wentaway. Nikolay began shivering; his face looked drawnandas the womenexpressed itshrank up like a fist; his fingers turned blue. He wrapped himselfup in a quilt and in a sheepskinbut got colder and colder. Towards the eveninghe began to be in great distress; asked to be laid on the groundasked thetailor not to smoke; then he subsided under the sheepskin and towards morning hedied.
Ohwhat a grimwhat a long winter!
Their own grain did not last beyond Christmasand they had to buy flour.Kiryakwho lived at home nowwas noisy in the eveningsinspiring terror ineveryoneand in the mornings he suffered from headache and was ashamed; and hewas a pitiful sight. In the stall the starved cows bellowed day and night -- aheart-rending sound to Granny and Marya. And as ill-luck would have ittherewas a sharp frost all the winterthe snow drifted in high heapsand the winterdragged on. At Annunciation there was a regular blizzardand there was a fallof snow at Easter.
But in spite of it all the winter did end. At the beginning of April therecame warm days and frosty nights. Winter would not give waybut one warm dayoverpowered it at lastand the streams began to flow and the birds began tosing. The whole meadow and the bushes near the river were drowned in the springfloodsand all the space between Zhukovo and the further side was filled upwith a vast sheet of waterfrom which wild ducks rose up in flocks here andthere. The spring sunsetflaming among gorgeous cloudsgave every eveningsomething newextraordinaryincredible -- just what one does not believe inafterwardswhen one sees those very colours and those very clouds in a picture.
The cranes flew swiftlyswiftlywith mournful criesas though they werecalling themselves. Standing on the edge of the ravineOlga looked a long timeat the flooded meadowat the sunshineat the bright churchthat looked asthough it had grown younger; and her tears flowed and her breath came in gaspsfrom her passionate longing to go awayto go far away to the end of the world.It was already settled that she should go back to Moscow to be a servantandthat Kiryak should set off with her to get a job as a porter or something. Ohto get away quickly!
As soon as it dried up and grew warm they got ready to set off. Olga andSashawith wallets on their backs and shoes of plaited bark on their feetcameout before daybreak: Marya came outtooto see them on their way. Kiryak wasnot welland was kept at home for another week. For the last time Olga prayedat the church and thought of her husbandand though she did not shed tearsherface puckered up and looked ugly like an old woman's. During the winter she hadgrown thinner and plainerand her hair had gone a little greyand instead ofthe old look of sweetness and the pleasant smile on her faceshe had theresignedmournful expression left by the sorrows she had been throughandthere was something blank and irresponsive in her eyesas though she did nothear what was said. She was sorry to part from the village and the peasants. Sheremembered how they had carried out Nikolayand how a requiem had been orderedfor him at almost every hutand all had shed tears in sympathy with her grief.In the course of the summer and the winter there had been hours and days when itseemed as though these people lived worse than the beastsand to live with themwas terrible; they were coarsedishonestfilthyand drunken; they did notlive in harmonybut quarrelled continuallybecause they distrusted and fearedand did not respect one another. Who keeps the tavern and makes the peopledrunken? A peasant. Who wastes and spends on drink the funds of the communeofthe schoolsof the church? A peasant. Who stole from his neighboursset fireto their propertygave false witness at the court for a bottle of vodka? At themeetings of the Zemstvo and other local bodieswho was the first to fall foulof the peasants? A peasant. Yesto live with them was terrible; but yettheywere human beingsthey suffered and wept like human beingsand there wasnothing in their lives for which one could not find excuse. Hard labour thatmade the whole body ache at nightthe cruel wintersthe scanty harveststheovercrowding; and they had no help and none to whom they could look for help.Those of them who were a little stronger and better off could be no helpasthey were themselves coarsedishonestdrunkenand abused one another just asrevoltingly; the paltriest little clerk or official treated the peasants asthough they were trampsand addressed even the village elders and churchwardens as inferiorsand considered they had a right to do so. Andindeedcanany sort of help or good example be given by mercenarygreedydepravedandidle persons who only visit the village in order to insultto despoiland toterrorize? Olga remembered the pitifulhumiliated look of the old people whenin the winter Kiryak had been taken to be flogged. . . . And now she felt sorryfor all these peoplepainfully soand as she walked on she kept looking backat the huts.
After walking two miles with them Marya said good-byethen kneelingandfalling forward with her face on the earthshe began wailing:
"Again I am left alone. Alasfor poor me! poorunhappy! . . ."
And she wailed like this for a long timeand for a long way Olga and Sashacould still see her on her kneesbowing down to someone at the side andclutching her head in her handswhile the rooks flew over her head.
The sun rose high; it began to get hot. Zhukovo was left far behind. Walkingwas pleasant. Olga and Sasha soon forgot both the village and Marya; they weregay and everything entertained them. Now they came upon an ancient barrownowupon a row of telegraph posts running one after another into the distance anddisappearing into the horizonand the wires hummed mysteriously. Then they sawa homesteadall wreathed in green foliage; there came a scent from it ofdampnessof hempand it seemed for some reason that happy people lived there.Then they came upon a horse's skeleton whitening in solitude in the open fields.And the larks trilled unceasinglythe corncrakes called to one anotherand thelandrail cried as though someone were really scraping at an old iron rail.
At midday Olga and Sasha reached a big village. There in the broad streetthey met the little old man who was General Zhukov's cook. He was hotand hisredperspiring bald head shone in the sunshine. Olga and he did not recognizeeach otherthen looked round at the same momentrecognized each otherandwent their separate ways without saying a word. Stopping near the hut whichlooked newest and most prosperousOlga bowed down before the open windowsandsaid in a loudthinchanting voice:
"Good Christian folkgive almsfor Christ's sakethat God's blessingmay be upon youand that your parents may be in the Kingdom of Heaven in peaceeternal."
"Good Christian folk" Sasha began chanting"giveforChrist's sakethat God's blessingthe Heavenly Kingdom ..."