Part 4 out of 4
peeped into the half-open door; it was dark, still, dry within; there
was a scent of mint and balm. In the corner were some trestles fitted
together, and on them, covered with a quilt, a little figure of some
sort.... I was walking away....
'Master, master! Piotr Petrovitch!' I heard a voice, faint, slow, and
hoarse, like the whispering of marsh rushes.
'Piotr Petrovitch! Come in, please!' the voice repeated. It came from
the corner where were the trestles I had noticed.
I drew near, and was struck dumb with amazement. Before me lay a living
human being; but what sort of a creature was it?
A head utterly withered, of a uniform coppery hue--like some very
ancient holy picture, yellow with age; a sharp nose like a keen-edged
knife; the lips could barely be seen--only the teeth flashed white and
the eyes; and from under the kerchief some thin wisps of yellow hair
straggled on to the forehead. At the chin, where the quilt was folded,
two tiny hands of the same coppery hue were moving, the fingers slowly
twitching like little sticks. I looked more intently; the face, far from
being ugly, was positively beautiful, but strange and dreadful; and the
face seemed the more dreadful to me that on it--on its metallic
cheeks--I saw, struggling...struggling, and unable to form itself--a
'You don't recognise me, master?' whispered the voice again: it seemed
to be breathed from the almost unmoving lips. 'And, indeed, how should
you? I'm Lukerya....Do you remember, who used to lead the dance at your
mother's, at Spasskoye?... Do you remember, I used to be leader of the
'Lukerya!' I cried. 'Is it you? Can it be?'
'Yes, it's I, master--I, Lukerya.'
I did not know what to say, and gazed in stupefaction at the dark
motionless face with the clear, death-like eyes fastened upon me. Was it
possible? This mummy Lukerya--the greatest beauty in all our
household--that tall, plump, pink-and-white, singing, laughing, dancing
creature! Lukerya, our smart Lukerya, whom all our lads were courting,
for whom I heaved some secret sighs--I, a boy of sixteen!
'Mercy, Lukerya!' I said at last; 'what is it has happened to you?'
'Oh, such a misfortune befel me! But don't mind me, sir; don't let my
trouble revolt you; sit there on that little tub--a little nearer, or
you won't be able to hear me....I've not much of a voice
now-a-days!... Well, I am glad to see you! What brought you to
Lukerya spoke very softly and feebly, but without pausing.
'Yermolai, the huntsman, brought me here. But you tell me...'
'Tell you about my trouble? Certainly, sir. It happened to me a long
while ago now--six or seven years. I had only just been betrothed then
to Vassily Polyakov--do you remember, such a fine-looking fellow he was,
with curly hair?--he waited at table at your mother's. But you weren't
in the country then; you had gone away to Moscow to your studies. We
were very much in love, Vassily and me; I could never get him out of my
head; and it was in the spring it all happened. Well, one night...not
long before sunrise, it was...I couldn't sleep; a nightingale in the
garden was singing so wonderfully sweet!... I could not help getting up
and going out on to the steps to listen. It trilled and trilled... and
all at once I fancied some one called me; it seemed like Vassya's voice,
so softly, "Lusha!"... I looked round, and being half asleep, I suppose,
I missed my footing and fell straight down from the top-step, and flop
on to the ground! And I thought I wasn't much hurt, for I got up
directly and went back to my room. Only it seems something inside me--in
my body--was broken.... Let me get my breath...half a minute... sir.'
Lukerya ceased, and I looked at her with surprise. What surprised me
particularly was that she told her story almost cheerfully, without
sighs and groans, not complaining nor asking for sympathy.
'Ever since that happened,' Lukerya went on, 'I began to pine away and
get thin; my skin got dark; walking was difficult for me; and then--I
lost the use of my legs altogether; I couldn't stand or sit; I had to
lie down all the time. And I didn't care to eat or drink; I got worse
and worse. Your mamma, in the kindness of her heart, made me see
doctors, and sent me to a hospital. But there was no curing me. And not
one doctor could even say what my illness was. What didn't they do to
me?--they burnt my spine with hot irons, they put me in lumps of ice,
and it was all no good. I got quite numb in the end....
So the gentlemen decided it was no use doctoring me any more, and there
was no sense in keeping cripples up at the great house... well, and so
they sent me here--because I've relations here. So here I live, as you
Lukerya was silent again, and again she tried to smile.
'But this is awful--your position!' I cried... and not knowing how to
go on, I asked: 'and what of Vassily Polyakov?' A most stupid question
Lukerya turned her eyes a little away.
'What of Polyakov? He grieved--he grieved for a bit--and he is married
to another, a girl from Glinnoe. Do you know Glinnoe? It's not far from
us. Her name's Agrafena. He loved me dearly--but, you see, he's a young
man; he couldn't stay a bachelor. And what sort of a helpmeet could I
be? The wife he found for himself is a good, sweet woman--and they have
children. He lives here; he's a clerk at a neighbour's; your mamma let
him go off with a passport, and he's doing very well, praise God.'
'And so you go on lying here all the time?' I asked again.
'Yes, sir, I've been lying here seven years. In the summer-time I lie
here in this shanty, and when it gets cold they move me out into the
bath-house: I lie there.'
'Who waits on you? Does any one look after you?'
'Oh, there are kind folks here as everywhere; they don't desert me. Yes,
they see to me a little. As to food, I eat nothing to speak of; but
water is here, in the pitcher; it's always kept full of pure spring
water. I can reach to the pitcher myself: I've one arm still of use.
There's a little girl here, an orphan; now and then she comes to see me,
the kind child. She was here just now.... You didn't meet her? Such a
pretty, fair little thing. She brings me flowers. We've some in the
garden--there were some--but they've all disappeared. But, you know,
wild flowers too are nice; they smell even sweeter than garden flowers.
Lilies of the valley, now... what could be sweeter?'
'And aren't you dull and miserable, my poor Lukerya?'
'Why, what is one to do? I wouldn't tell a lie about it. At first it was
very wearisome; but later on I got used to it, I got more patient--it
was nothing; there are others worse off still.'
'How do you mean?'
'Why, some haven't a roof to shelter them, and there are some blind or
deaf; while I, thank God, have splendid sight, and hear
everything--everything. If a mole burrows in the ground--I hear even
that. And I can smell every scent, even the faintest! When the buckwheat
comes into flower in the meadow, or the lime-tree in the garden--I don't
need to be told of it, even; I'm the first to know directly. Anyway, if
there's the least bit of a wind blowing from that quarter. No, he who
stirs God's wrath is far worse off than me. Look at this, again: anyone
in health may easily fall into sin; but I'm cut off even from sin. The
other day, father Aleksy, the priest, came to give me the sacrament, and
he says: "There's no need," says he, "to confess you; you can't fall
into sin in your condition, can you?" But I said to him; "How about
sinning in thought, father?" "Ah, well," says he, and he laughed
himself, "that's no great sin."
'But I fancy I'm no great sinner even in that way, in thought,' Lukerya
went on, 'for I've trained myself not to think, and above all, not to
remember. The time goes faster.'
I must own I was astonished. 'You're always alone, Lukerya: how can you
prevent the thoughts from coming into your head? or are you constantly
'Oh, no, sir! I can't always sleep. Though I've no great pain, still
I've an ache, there, right inside, and in my bones too; it won't let me
sleep as I ought. No... but there, I lie by myself; I lie here and lie
here, and don't think: I feel that I'm alive, I breathe; and I put
myself all into that. I look and listen. The bees buzz and hum in the
hive; a dove sits on the roof and coos; a hen comes along with her
chickens to peck up crumbs; or a sparrow flies in, or a
butterfly--that's a great treat for me. Last year some swallows even
built a nest over there in the corner, and brought up their little ones.
Oh, how interesting it was! One would fly to the nest, press close, feed
a young one, and off again. Look again: the other would be in her place
already. Sometimes it wouldn't fly in, but only fly past the open door;
and the little ones would begin to squeak, and open their beaks
directly....I was hoping for them back again the next year, but they say
a sportsman here shot them with his gun. And what could he gain by it?
It's hardly bigger, the swallow, than a beetle....What wicked men you
are, you sportsmen!'
'I don't shoot swallows,' I hastened to remark.
'And once, Lukerya began again, 'it was comical, really. A hare ran in,
it did really! The hounds, I suppose, were after it; anyway, it seemed
to tumble straight in at the door!... It squatted quite near me, and sat
so a long while; it kept sniffing with its nose, and twitching its
whiskers--like a regular officer! and it looked at me. It understood, to
be sure, that I was no danger to it. At last it got up, went hop-hop to
the door, looked round in the doorway; and what did it look like? Such a
funny fellow it was!'
Lukerya glanced at me, as much as to say, 'Wasn't it funny?' To satisfy
her, I laughed. She moistened her parched lips.
'Well, in the winter, of course, I'm worse off, because it's dark: to
burn a candle would be a pity, and what would be the use? I can read, to
be sure, and was always fond of reading, but what could I read? There
are no books of any kind, and even if there were, how could I hold a
book? Father Aleksy brought me a calendar to entertain me, but he saw it
was no good, so he took and carried it away again. But even though it's
dark, there's always something to listen to: a cricket chirps, or a
mouse begins scratching somewhere. That's when it's a good thing--not to
'And I repeat the prayers too,' Lukerya went on, after taking breath a
little; 'only I don't know many of them---the prayers, I mean. And
besides, why should I weary the Lord God? What can I ask Him for? He
knows better than I what I need. He has laid a cross upon me: that means
that He loves me. So we are commanded to understand. I repeat the Lord's
Prayer, the Hymn to the Virgin, the Supplication of all the Afflicted,
and I lie still again, without any thought at all, and am all right!'
Two minutes passed by. I did not break the silence, and did not stir on
the narrow tub which served me as a seat. The cruel stony stillness of
the living, unlucky creature lying before me communicated itself to me;
I too turned, as it were, numb.
'Listen, Lukerya,' I began at last; 'listen to the suggestion I'm going
to make to you. Would you like me to arrange for them to take you to a
hospital--a good hospital in the town? Who knows, perhaps you might yet
be cured; anyway, you would not be alone'...
Lukerya's eyebrows fluttered faintly. 'Oh, no, sir,' she answered in a
troubled whisper; 'don't move me into a hospital; don't touch me. I
shall only have more agony to bear there! How could they cure me now?...
Why, there was a doctor came here once; he wanted to examine me. I
begged him, for Christ's sake, not to disturb me. It was no use. He
began turning me over, pounding my hands and legs, and pulling me about.
He said, "I'm doing this for Science; I'm a servant of Science--a
scientific man! And you," he said, "really oughtn't to oppose me,
because I've a medal given me for my labours, and it's for you
simpletons I'm toiling." He mauled me about, told me the name of my
disease--some wonderful long name--and with that he went away; and all
my poor bones ached for a week after. You say "I'm all alone; always
alone." Oh, no, I'm not always; they come to see me--I'm quiet--I don't
bother them. The peasant girls come in and chat a bit; a pilgrim woman
will wander in, and tell me tales of Jerusalem, of Kiev, of the holy
towns. And I'm not afraid of being alone. Indeed, it's better--ay, ay!
Master, don't touch me, don't take me to the hospital.... Thank you, you
are kind; only don't touch me, there's a dear!'
'Well, as you like, as you like, Lukerya. You know, I only suggested it
for your good.'
'I know, master, that it was for my good. But, master dear, who can help
another? Who can enter into his soul? Every man must help himself! You
won't believe me, perhaps. I lie here sometimes so alone...and it's as
though there were no one else in the world but me. As if I alone were
living! And it seems to me as though something were blessing me....I'm
carried away by dreams that are really marvellous!'
'What do you dream of, then, Lukerya?'
'That, too, master, I couldn't say; one can't explain. Besides, one
forgets afterwards. It's like a cloud coming over and bursting, then it
grows so fresh and sweet; but just what it was, there's no knowing! Only
my idea is, if folks were near me, I should have nothing of that, and
should feel nothing except my misfortune.'
Lukerya heaved a painful sigh. Her breathing, like her limbs, was not
under her control.
'When I come to think, master, of you,' she began again, 'you are very
sorry for me. But you mustn't be too sorry, really! I'll tell you one
thing; for instance, I sometimes, even now.... Do you remember how merry
I used to be in my time? A regular madcap!... So do you know what? I sing
songs even now.'
'Yes; I sing the old songs, songs for choruses, for feasts, Christmas
songs, all sorts! I know such a lot of them, you see, and I've not
forgotten them. Only dance songs I don't sing. In my state now, it
wouldn't suit me.'
'How do you sing them?...to yourself?'
'To myself, yes; and aloud too. I can't sing loud, but still one can
understand it. I told you a little girl waits on me. A clever little
orphan she is. So I have taught her; four songs she has learnt from me
already. Don't you believe me? Wait a minute, I'll show you
Lukerya took breath.... The thought that this half-dead creature was
making ready to begin singing raised an involuntary feeling of dread in
me. But before I could utter a word, a long-drawn-out, hardly audible,
but pure and true note, was quivering in my ears... it was followed by
a second and a third. 'In the meadows,' sang Lukerya. She sang, the
expression of her stony face unchanged, even her eyes riveted on one
spot. But how touchingly tinkled out that poor struggling little voice,
that wavered like a thread of smoke: how she longed to pour out all her
soul in it!... I felt no dread now; my heart throbbed with unutterable
'Ah, I can't!' she said suddenly. 'I've not the strength. I'm so upset
with joy at seeing you.'
She closed her eyes.
I laid my hand on her tiny, chill fingers.... She glanced at me, and her
dark lids, fringed with golden eyelashes, closed again, and were still
as an ancient statue's. An instant later they glistened in the
half-darkness.... They were moistened by a tear.
As before, I did not stir.
'How silly I am!' said Lukerya suddenly, with unexpected force, and
opened her eyes wide: she tried to wink the tears out of them. 'I ought
to be ashamed! What am I doing? It's a long time since I have been like
this... not since that day when Vassya-Polyakov was here last spring.
While he sat with me and talked, I was all right; but when he had gone
away, how I did cry in my loneliness! Where did I get the tears from?
But, there! we girls get our tears for nothing. Master,' added Lukerya,
'perhaps you have a handkerchief.... If you won't mind, wipe my eyes.'
I made haste to carry out her desire, and left her the handkerchief. She
refused it at first.... 'What good's such a gift to me?' she said. The
handkerchief was plain enough, but clean and white. Afterwards she
clutched it in her weak fingers, and did not loosen them again. As I got
used to the darkness in which we both were, I could clearly make out her
features, could even perceive the delicate flush that peeped out under
the coppery hue of her face, could discover in the face, so at least it
seemed to me, traces of its former beauty.
'You asked me, master,' Lukerya began again, 'whether I sleep. I sleep
very little, but every time I fall asleep I've dreams--such splendid
dreams! I'm never ill in my dreams; I'm always so well, and young....
There's one thing's sad: I wake up and long for a good stretch, and I'm
all as if I were in chains. I once had such an exquisite dream! Shall I
tell it you? Well, listen. I dreamt I was standing in a meadow, and all
round me was rye, so tall, and ripe as gold!... and I had a reddish dog
with me--such a wicked dog; it kept trying to bite me. And I had a
sickle in my hands; not a simple sickle; it seemed to be the moon
itself--the moon as it is when it's the shape of a sickle. And with this
same moon I had to cut the rye clean. Only I was very weary with the
heat, and the moon blinded me, and I felt lazy; and cornflowers were
growing all about, and such big ones! And they all turned their heads to
me. And I thought in my dream I would pick them; Vassya had promised to
come, so I'd pick myself a wreath first; I'd still time to plait it. I
began picking cornflowers, but they kept melting away from between my
fingers, do what I would. And I couldn't make myself a wreath. And
meanwhile I heard someone coming up to me, so close, and calling,
"Lusha! Lusha!"... "Ah," I thought, "what a pity I hadn't time!" No
matter, I put that moon on my head instead of cornflowers. I put it on
like a tiara, and I was all brightness directly; I made the whole field
light around me. And, behold! over the very top of the ears there came
gliding very quickly towards me, not Vassya, but Christ Himself! And how
I knew it was Christ I can't say; they don't paint Him like that--only
it was He! No beard, tall, young, all in white, only His belt was
golden; and He held out His hand to me. "Fear not," said He; "My bride
adorned, follow Me; you shall lead the choral dance in the heavenly
kingdom, and sing the songs of Paradise." And how I clung to His hand!
My dog at once followed at my heels... but then we began to float
upwards! He in front.... His wings spread wide over all the sky, long
like a sea-gull's--and I after Him! And my dog had to stay behind. Then
only I understood that that dog was my illness, and that in the heavenly
kingdom there was no place for it.'
Lukerya paused a minute.
'And I had another dream, too,' she began again; 'but may be it was a
vision. I really don't know. It seemed to me I was lying in this very
shanty, and my dead parents, father and mother, come to me and bow low
to me, but say nothing. And I asked them, "Why do you bow down to me,
father and mother?" "Because," they said, "you suffer much in this
world, so that you have not only set free your own soul, but have taken
a great burden from off us too. And for us in the other world it is much
easier. You have made an end of your own sins; now you are expiating our
sins." And having said this, my parents bowed down to me again, and I
could not see them; there was nothing but the walls to be seen. I was in
great doubt afterwards what had happened with me. I even told the priest
of it in confession. Only he thinks it was not a vision, because visions
come only to the clerical gentry.'
'And I'll tell you another dream,' Lukerya went on. 'I dreamt I was
sitting on the high-road, under a willow; I had a stick, had a wallet on
my shoulders, and my head tied up in a kerchief, just like a pilgrim
woman! And I had to go somewhere, a long, long way off, on a pilgrimage.
And pilgrims kept coming past me; they came along slowly, all going one
way; their faces were weary, and all very much like one another. And I
dreamt that moving about among them was a woman, a head taller than the
rest, and wearing a peculiar dress, not like ours--not Russian. And her
face too was peculiar--a worn face and severe. And all the others moved
away from her; but she suddenly turns, and comes straight to me. She
stood still, and looked at me; and her eyes were yellow, large, and
clear as a falcon's. And I ask her, "Who are you?" And she says to me,
"I'm your death." Instead of being frightened, it was quite the other
way. I was as pleased as could be; I crossed myself! And the woman, my
death, says to me: "I'm sorry for you, Lukerya, but I can't take you
with me. Farewell!" Good God! how sad I was then!... "Take me," said I,
"good mother, take me, darling!" And my death turned to me, and began
speaking to me.... I knew that she was appointing me my hour, but
indistinctly, incomprehensibly. "After St. Peter's day," said she....
With that I awoke.... Yes, I have such wonderful dreams!'
Lukerya turned her eyes upwards... and sank into thought....
'Only the sad thing is, sometimes a whole week will go by without my
getting to sleep once. Last year a lady came to see me, and she gave me
a little bottle of medicine against sleeplessness; she told me to take
ten drops at a time. It did me so much good, and I used to sleep; only
the bottle was all finished long ago. Do you know what medicine that
was, and how to get it?'
The lady had obviously given Lukerya opium. I promised to get her
another bottle like it, and could not refrain from again wondering aloud
at her patience.
'Ah, master!' she answered, 'why do you say so? What do you mean by
patience? There, Simeon Stylites now had patience certainly, great
patience; for thirty years he stood on a pillar! And another saint had
himself buried in the earth, right up to his breast, and the ants ate
his face.... And I'll tell you what I was told by a good scholar: there
was once a country, and the Ishmaelites made war on it, and they
tortured and killed all the inhabitants; and do what they would, the
people could not get rid of them. And there appeared among these people
a holy virgin; she took a great sword, put on armour weighing eighty
pounds, went out against the Ishmaelites and drove them all beyond the
sea. Only when she had driven them out, she said to them: "Now burn me,
for that was my vow, that I would die a death by fire for my people."
And the Ishmaelites took her and burnt her, and the people have been
free ever since then! That was a noble deed, now! But what am I!'
I wondered to myself whence and in what shape the legend of Joan of Arc
had reached her, and after a brief silence, I asked Lukerya how old she
'Twenty-eight... or nine.... It won't be thirty. But why count the
years! I've something else to tell you....'
Lukerya suddenly gave a sort of choked cough, and groaned....
'You are talking a great deal,' I observed to her; 'it may be bad for
'It's true,' she whispered, hardly audibly; 'it's time to end our talk;
but what does it matter! Now, when you leave me, I can be silent as long
as I like. Any way, I've opened my heart....'
I began bidding her good-bye. I repeated my promise to send her the
medicine, and asked her once more to think well and tell me--if there
wasn't anything she wanted?'
'I want nothing; I am content with all, thank God!' she articulated with
very great effort, but with emotion; 'God give good health to all! But
there, master, you might speak a word to your mamma--the peasants here
are poor--if she could take the least bit off their rent! They've not
land enough, and no advantages.... They would pray to God for you....
But I want nothing; I'm quite contented with all.'
I gave Lukerya my word that I would carry out her request, and had
already walked to the door.... She called me back again.
'Do you remember, master,' she said, and there was a gleam of something
wonderful in her eyes and on her lips, 'what hair I used to have? Do you
remember, right down to my knees! It was long before I could make up my
mind to it.... Such hair as it was! But how could it be kept combed? In
my state!... So I had it cut off.... Yes.... Well, good-bye, master! I
can't talk any more.'...
That day, before setting off to shoot, I had a conversation with the
village constable about Lukerya. I learnt from him that in the village
they called Lukerya the 'Living Relic'; that she gave them no trouble,
however; they never heard complaint or repining from her. 'She asks
nothing, but, on the contrary, she's grateful for everything; a gentle
soul, one must say, if any there be. Stricken of God,' so the constable
concluded, 'for her sins, one must suppose; but we do not go into that.
And as for judging her, no--no, we do not judge her. Let her be!'
* * * * *
A few weeks later I heard that Lukerya was dead. So her death had come
for her... and 'after St. Peter's day.' They told me that on the day of
her death she kept hearing the sound of bells, though it was reckoned
over five miles from Aleksyevka to the church, and it was a week-day.
Lukerya, however, had said that the sounds came not from the church, but
from above! Probably she did not dare to say--from heaven.
THE RATTLING OF WHEELS
'I've something to tell you,' observed Yermolai, coming into the hut to
see me. I had just had dinner, and was lying down on a travelling bed to
rest a little after a fairly successful but fatiguing day of
grouse-shooting--it was somewhere about the 10th of July, and the heat
was terrific.... 'I've something to tell you: all our shot's gone.'
I jumped off the bed.
'All gone? How's that? Why, we took pretty nearly thirty pounds with us
from the village--a whole bag!'
'That's so; and a big bag it was: enough for a fortnight. But there's no
knowing! There must have been a hole come in it, or something; anyway,
there's no shot... that's to say, there's enough for ten charges left.'
'What are we to do now? The very best places are before us--we're
promised six coveys for to-morrow....'
'Well, send me to Tula. It's not so far from here; only forty miles.
I'll fly like the wind, and bring forty pounds of shot if you say the
'But when would you go?'
'Why, directly. Why put it off? Only, I say, we shall have to hire
'Why hire horses? Why not our own?'
'We can't drive there with our own. The shaft horse has gone lame...
'Since when's that?'
'Well, the other day, the coachman took him to be shod. So he was shod,
and the blacksmith, I suppose, was clumsy. Now, he can't even step on
the hoof. It's a front leg. He lifts it up... like a dog.'
'Well? they've taken the shoe off, I suppose, at least?'
'No, they've not; but, of course, they ought to take it off. A nail's
been driven right into the flesh, I should say.'
I ordered the coachman to be summoned. It turned out that Yermolai had
spoken the truth: the shaft-horse really could not put its hoof to the
ground. I promptly gave orders for it to have the shoe taken off, and to
be stood on damp clay.
'Then do you wish me to hire horses to go to Tula?' Yermolai persisted.
'Do you suppose we can get horses in this wilderness?' I exclaimed with
involuntary irritation. The village in which we found ourselves was a
desolate, God-forsaken place; all its inhabitants seemed to be
poverty-stricken; we had difficulty in discovering one hut, moderately
roomy, and even that one had no chimney.
'Yes,' replied Yermolai with his habitual equanimity; 'what you said
about this village is true enough; but there used to be living in this
very place one peasant--a very clever fellow! rich too! He had nine
horses. He's dead, and his eldest son manages it all now. The man's a
perfect fool, but still he's not had time to waste his father's wealth
yet. We can get horses from him. If you say the word, I will fetch him.
His brothers, I've heard say, are smart chaps...but still, he's their
'Because--he's the eldest! Of course, the younger ones must obey!' Here
Yermolai, in reference to younger brothers as a class, expressed himself
with a vigour quite unsuitable for print.
'I'll fetch him. He's a simple fellow. With him you can't fail to come
While Yermolai went after his 'simple fellow' the idea occurred to me
that it might be better for me to drive into Tula myself. In the first
place, taught by experience, I had no very great confidence in Yermolai:
I had once sent him to the town for purchases; he had promised to get
through all my commissions in one day, and was gone a whole week, drank
up all the money, and came back on foot, though he had set off in my
racing droshky. And, secondly, I had an acquaintance in Tula, a
horsedealer; I might buy a horse off him to take the place of the
'The thing's decided!' I thought; 'I'll drive over myself; I can sleep
just as well on the road--luckily, the coach is comfortable.'
'I've brought him!' cried Yermolai, rushing into the hut a quarter of an
hour later. He was followed by a tall peasant in a white shirt, blue
breeches, and bast shoes, with white eyebrows and short-sighted eyes, a
wedge-shaped red beard, a long swollen nose, and a gaping mouth. He
certainly did look 'simple.'
'Here, your honour,' observed Yermolai, 'he has horses--and he's
'So be, surely, I'... the peasant began hesitatingly in a rather hoarse
voice, shaking his thin wisps of hair, and drumming with his fingers on
the band of the cap he held in his hands.... 'Surely, I....'
'What's your name?' I inquired.
The peasant looked down and seemed to think deeply. 'My name?'
'Yes; what are you called?'
'Why my name 'ull be--Filofey.'
'Well, then, friend Filofey; I hear you have horses. Bring a team of
three here--we'll put them in my coach--it's a light one--and you drive
me in to Tula. There's a moon now at night; it's light, and it's cool
for driving. What sort of a road have you here?'
'The road? There's naught amiss with the road. To the main road it will
be sixteen miles--not more.... There's one little place... a bit
awkward; but naught amiss else.'
'What sort of little place is it that's awkward?'
'Well, we'll have to cross the river by the ford.'
'But are you thinking of going to Tula yourself?' inquired Yermolai.
'Oh!' commented my faithful servant with a shake of his head. 'Oh-oh!'
he repeated; then he spat on the floor and walked out of the room.
The expedition to Tula obviously no longer presented any features of
interest to him; it had become for him a dull and unattractive business.
'Do you know the road well?' I said, addressing Filofey.
'Surely, we know the road! Only, so to say, please your honour, can't...
so on the sudden, so to say...'
It appeared that Yermolai, on engaging Filofey, had stated that he could
be sure that, fool as he was, he'd be paid... and nothing more!
Filofey, fool as he was--in Yermolai's words--was not satisfied with
this statement alone. He demanded, of me fifty roubles--an exorbitant
price; I offered him ten--a low price. We fell to haggling; Filofey at
first was stubborn; then he began to come down, but slowly. Yermolai
entering for an instant began assuring me, 'that fool--('He's fond of
the word, seemingly!' Filofey remarked in a low voice)--'that fool can't
reckon money at all,' and reminded me how twenty years ago a posting
tavern established by my mother at the crossing of two high-roads came
to complete grief from the fact that the old house-serf who was put
there to manage it positively did not understand reckoning money, but
valued sums simply by the number of coins--in fact, gave silver coins in
change for copper, though he would swear furiously all the time.
'Ugh, you Filofey! you're a regular Filofey!' Yermolai jeered at
last--and he went out, slamming the door angrily.
Filofey made him no reply, as though admitting that to be called Filofey
was--as a fact--not very clever of him, and that a man might fairly be
reproached for such a name, though really it was the village priest was
to blame in the matter for not having done better by him at his
At last we agreed, however, on the sum of twenty roubles. He went off
for the horses, and an hour later brought five for me to choose from.
The horses turned out to be fairly good, though their manes and tails
were tangled, and their bellies round and taut as drums. With Filofey
came two of his brothers, not in the least like him. Little, black-eyed,
sharp-nosed fellows, they certainly produced the impression of 'smart
chaps'; they talked a great deal, very fast--'clacked away,' as Yermolai
expressed it--but obeyed the elder brother.
They dragged the coach out of the shed and were busy about it and the
horses for an hour and a half; first they let out the traces, which were
of cord, then pulled them too tight again! Both brothers were very much
set on harnessing the 'roan' in the shafts, because 'him can do best
going down-hill'; but Filofey decided for 'the shaggy one.' So the
shaggy one was put in the shafts accordingly.
They heaped the coach up with hay, put the collar off the lame
shaft-horse under the seat, in case we might want to fit it on to the
horse to be bought at Tula.... Filofey, who had managed to run home and
come back in a long, white, loose, ancestral overcoat, a high sugar-loaf
cap, and tarred boots, clambered triumphantly up on to the box. I took
my seat, looking at my watch: it was a quarter past ten. Yermolai did
not even say good-bye to me--he was engaged in beating his
Valetka--Filofey tugged at the reins, and shouted in a thin, thin voice:
'Hey! you little ones!'
His brothers skipped away on both sides, lashed the trace-horses under
the belly, and the coach started, turned out of the gates into the
street, the shaggy one tried to turn off towards his own home, but
Filofey brought him to reason with a few strokes of the whip, and
behold! we were already out of the village, and rolling along a fairly
even road, between close-growing bushes of thick hazels.
It was a still, glorious night, the very nicest for driving. A breeze
rustled now and then in the bushes, set the twigs swinging and died away
again; in the sky could be seen motionless, silvery clouds; the moon
stood high and threw a bright light on all around. I stretched myself on
the hay, and was just beginning to doze... but I remembered the
'awkward place,' and started up.
'I say, Filofey, is it far to the ford?'
'To the ford? It'll be near upon seven miles.'
'Seven miles!' I mused. 'We shan't get there for another hour. I can
have a nap meanwhile. Filofey, do you know the road well?' I asked
'Surely; how could I fail to know it? It's not the first time I've
He said something more, but I had ceased to listen.... I was asleep.
I was awakened not, as often happens, by my own intention of waking in
exactly an hour, but by a sort of strange, though faint, lapping,
gurgling sound at my very ear. I raised my head....
Wonderful to relate! I was lying in the coach as before, but all round
the coach, half a foot, not more, from its edge, a sheet of water lay
shining in the moonlight, broken up into tiny, distinct, quivering
eddies. I looked in front. On the box, with back bowed and head bent,
Filofey was sitting like a statue, and a little further on, above the
rippling water, I saw the curved arch of the yoke, and the horses' heads
and backs. And everything as motionless, as noiseless, as though in some
enchanted realm, in a dream--a dream of fairyland.... 'What does it
mean?' I looked back from under the hood of the coach.... 'Why, we are
in the middle of the river!'... the bank was thirty paces from us.
'Filofey!' I cried.
'What?' he answered.
'What, indeed! Upon my word! Where are we?'
'In the river.'
'I see we're in the river. But, like this, we shall be drowned directly.
Is this how you cross the ford? Eh? Why, you're asleep, Filofey! Answer,
'I've made a little mistake,' observed my guide;
'I've gone to one side, a bit wrong, but now we've got to wait a bit.'
'Got to wait a bit? What ever are we going to wait for?'
'Well, we must let the shaggy one look about him; which way he turns his
head, that way we've got to go.'
I raised myself on the hay. The shaft-horse's head stood quite
motionless. Above the head one could only see in the bright moonlight
one ear slightly twitching backwards and forwards.
'Why, he's asleep too, your shaggy one!'
'No,' responded Filofey,' 'he's sniffing the water now.'
And everything was still again; there was only the faint gurgle of the
water as before. I sank into a state of torpor.
Moonlight, and night, and the river, and we in it....
'What is that croaking noise?' I asked Filofey.
'That? Ducks in the reeds... or else snakes.'
All of a sudden the head of the shaft-horse shook, his ears pricked up;
he gave a snort, began to move. 'Ho-ho, ho-ho-o!' Filofey began suddenly
bawling at the top of his voice; he sat up and brandished the whip. The
coach was at once tugged away from where it had stuck, it plunged
forward, cleaving the waters of the river, and moved along, swaying and
lurching from side to side.... At first it seemed to me we were sinking,
getting deeper; however, after two or three tugs and jolts, the expanse
of water seemed suddenly lower.... It got lower and lower, the coach
seemed to grow up out of it, and now the wheels and the horses' tails
could be seen, and now stirring with a mighty splashing of big drops,
scattering showers of diamonds--no, not diamonds--sapphires in the dull
brilliance of the moon, the horses with a spirited pull all together
drew us on to the sandy bank and trotted along the road to the
hill-side, their shining white legs flashing in rivalry.
'What will Filofey say now?' was the thought that glanced through my
mind; 'you see I was right!' or something of that sort. But he said
nothing. So I too did not think it necessary to reproach him for
carelessness, and lying down in the hay, I tried again to go to sleep.
But I could not go to sleep, not because I was not tired from hunting,
and not because the exciting experience I had just been through had
dispelled my sleepiness: it was that we were driving through such very
beautiful country. There were liberal, wide-stretching, grassy riverside
meadows, with a multitude of small pools, little lakes, rivulets, creeks
overgrown at the ends with branches and osiers--a regular Russian scene,
such as Russians love, like the scenes amid which the heroes of our old
legends rode out to shoot white swans and grey ducks. The road we were
driven along wound in a yellowish ribbon, the horses ran lightly--and I
could not close my eyes. I was admiring! And it all floated by, softened
into harmony under the kindly light of the moon. Filofey--he too was
touched by it.
'Those meadows are called St. Yegor's,' he said, turning to me. 'And
beyond them come the Grand Duke's; there are no other meadows like them
in all Russia.... Ah, it's lovely!' The shaft-horse snorted and shook
itself.... 'God bless you,' commented Filofey gravely in an undertone.
'How lovely!' he repeated with a sigh; then he gave a long sort of
grunt. 'There, mowing time's just upon us, and think what hay they'll
rake up there!--regular mountains!--And there are lots of fish in the
creeks. Such bream!' he added in a sing-song voice. 'In one word, life's
sweet--one doesn't want to die.'
He suddenly raised his hand.
'Hullo! look-ee! over the lake... is it a crane standing there? Can it
be fishing at night? Bless me! it's a branch, not a crane. Well, that
was a mistake! But the moon is always so deceptive.'
So we drove on and on.... But now the end of the meadows had been
reached, little copses and ploughed fields came into view; a little
village flashed with two or three lights on one side--it was only four
miles now to the main road. I fell asleep.
Again I did not wake up of my own accord. This time I was roused by the
voice of Filofey.
'Master!... hey, master!'
I sat up. The coach was standing still on level ground in the very
middle of the high-road. Filofey, who had turned round on the box, so as
to face me, with wide-open eyes (I was positively surprised at them; I
couldn't have imagined he had such large eyes), was whispering with
'A rattle!... a rattle of wheels!'
'What do you say?'
'I say, there's a rattling! Bend down and listen. Do you hear it?'
I put my head out of the coach, held my breath, and did catch, somewhere
in the distance, far behind us, a faint broken sound, as of wheels
'Do you hear it?' repeated Filofey.
'Well, yes,' I answered. 'Some vehicle is coming.'
'Oh, you don't hear... shoo! The tambourines... and whistling too....Do
you hear? Take off your cap... you will hear better.'
I didn't take off my cap, but I listened.
'Well, yes... perhaps. But what of it?'
Filofey turned round facing the horses.
'It's a cart coming... lightly; iron-rimmed wheels,' he observed, and
he took up the reins. 'It's wicked folks coming, master; hereabouts, you
know, near Tula, they play a good many tricks.'
'What nonsense! What makes you suppose it's sure to be wicked people?'
'I speak the truth... with tambourines... and in an empty cart.... Who
should it be?'
'Well... is it much further to Tula?'
'There's twelve miles further to go, and not a habitation here.'
'Well, then, get on quicker; it's no good lingering.'
Filofey brandished the whip, and the coach rolled on again.
Though I did not put much faith in Filofey, I could not go to sleep.
'What if it really is so?' A disagreeable sensation began to stir in me.
I sat up in the coach--till then I had lain down--and began looking in
all directions. While I had been asleep, a slight fog had come over, not
the earth, but the sky; it stood high, the moon hung a whitish patch in
it, as though in smoke. Everything had grown dim and blended together,
though it was clearer near the ground. Around us flat, dreary country;
fields, nothing but fields--here and there bushes and ravines--and again
fields, mostly fallow, with scanty, dusty grass. A wilderness...
deathlike! If only a quail had called!
We drove on for half an hour. Filofey kept constantly cracking his whip
and clicking with his lips, but neither he nor I uttered a word. So we
mounted the hillside.... Filofey pulled up the horses, and promptly said
'It is a rattle of wheels, master; yes, it is!'
I poked my head out of the coach again, but I might have stayed under
the cover of the hood, so distinctly, though still from a distance, the
sound reached me of cart-wheels, men whistling, the jingling of
tambourines, and even the thud of horses' hoofs; I even fancied I could
hear singing and laughter. The wind, it is true, was blowing from there,
but there was no doubt that the unknown travellers were a good mile,
perhaps two, nearer us. Filofey and I looked at one another; he only
gave his hat a tweak forward from behind, and at once, bending over the
reins, fell to whipping up the horses. They set off at a gallop, but
they could not gallop for long, and fell back into a trot again. Filofey
continued to whip them. We must get away!
I can't account for the fact that, though I had not at first shared
Filofey's apprehensions, about this time I suddenly gained the
conviction that we really were being followed by highwaymen.... I had
heard nothing new: the same tambourines, the same rattle of a cart
without a load, the same intermittent whistling, the same confused
uproar.... But now I had no doubt. Filofey could not have made a
And now twenty minutes more had gone by.... During the last of these
twenty minutes, even through the clatter and rumble of our own carriage,
we could hear another clatter and another rumbling....
'Stop, Filofey,' I said; 'it's no use--the end's the same!'
Filofey uttered a faint-hearted 'wo'! The horses instantaneously
stopped, as though delighted at the chance of resting!
Mercy upon us! the tambourines were simply booming away just behind our
backs, the cart was rattling and creaking, the men were whistling,
shouting, and singing, the horses were snorting and thumping on the
ground with their hoofs.... They had overtaken us!
'Bad luck,' Filofey commented, in an emphatic undertone; and, clicking
to the horses irresolutely, he began to urge them on again. But at that
very instant there was a sort of sudden rush and whizz, and a very big,
wide cart, harnessed with three lean horses, cut sharply at a rush up to
us, galloped in front, and at once fell into a walking pace, blocking up
'A regular brigand's trick!' murmured Filofey. I must own I felt a cold
chill at my heart.... I fell to staring before me with strained
attention in the half-darkness of the misty moonlight. In the cart in
front of us were--half-lying, half-sitting--six men in shirts, and in
unbuttoned rough overcoats; two of them had no caps on; huge feet in
boots were swinging and hanging over the cart-rail, arms were rising and
falling helter-skelter... bodies were jolting backwards and
forwards.... It was quite clear--a drunken party. Some were bawling at
random; one was whistling very correctly and shrilly, another was
swearing; on the driver's seat sat a sort of giant in a cape, driving.
They went at a walking pace, as' though paying no attention to us.
What was to be done? We followed them also at a walking pace... we
could do nothing else.
For a quarter of a mile we moved along in this manner. The suspense was
torturing.... To protect, to defend ourselves, was out of the question!
There were six of them; and I hadn't even a stick! Should we turn back?
But they would catch us up directly. I remembered the line of Zhukovsky
(in the passage where he speaks of the murder of field-marshal
'The scoundrel highwayman's vile axe!...'
Or else--strangling with filthy cord... flung into a ditch...there to
choke and struggle like a hare in a trap....
Ugh, it was horrid!
And they, as before, went on at a walking pace, taking no notice of us.
'Filofey!' I whispered,'just try, keep more to the right; see if you can
Filofey tried--kept to the right... but they promptly kept to the right
too... It was impossible to get by.
Filofey made another effort; he kept to the left.... But there, again,
they did not let him pass the cart. They even laughed aloud. That meant
that they wouldn't let us pass.
'Then they are a bad lot,' Filofey whispered to me over his shoulder.
'But what are they waiting for?' I inquired, also in a whisper.
'To reach the bridge--over there in front--in the hollow--above the
stream.... They'll do for us there! That's always their way... by
bridges. It's a clear case for us, master.' He added with a sigh:
'They'll hardly let us go alive; for the great thing for them is to keep
it all dark. I'm sorry for one thing, master; my horses are lost, and my
brothers won't get them!'
I should have been surprised at the time that Filofey could still
trouble about his horses at such a moment; but, I must confess, I had no
thoughts for him.... 'Will they really kill me?' I kept repeating
mentally. 'Why should they? I'll give them everything I have....'
And the bridge was getting nearer and nearer; it could be more and more
Suddenly a sharp whoop was heard; the cart before us, as it were, flew
ahead, dashed along, and reaching the bridge, at once stopped
stock-still a little on one side of the road. My heart fairly sank like
'Ah, brother Filofey,' I said, 'we are going to our death. Forgive me
for bringing you to ruin.'
'As though it were your fault, master! There's no escaping one's fate!
Come, Shaggy, my trusty little horse,' Filofey addressed the
shaft-horse; 'step on, brother! Do your last bit of service! It's all
And he urged his horses into a trot We began to get near the
bridge--near that motionless, menacing cart.... In it everything was
silent, as though on purpose. Not a single halloo! It was the stillness
of the pike or the hawk, of every beast of prey, as its victim
approaches. And now we were level with the cart.... Suddenly the giant
in the cape sprang out of the cart, and came straight towards us!
He said nothing to Filofey, but the latter, of his own accord, tugged at
the reins.... The coach stopped. The giant laid both arms on the
carriage door, and bending forward his shaggy head with a grin, he
uttered the following speech in a soft, even voice, with the accent of a
'Honoured sir, we are coming from an honest feast--from a wedding; we've
been marrying one of our fine fellows--that is, we've put him to bed;
we're all young lads, reckless chaps--there's been a good deal of
drinking, and nothing to sober us; so wouldn't your honour be so good as
to favour us, the least little, just for a dram of brandy for our mate?
We'd drink to your health, and remember your worship; but if you won't
be gracious to us--well, we beg you not to be angry!'
'What's the meaning of this?' I thought.... 'A joke?... a jeer?'
The giant continued to stand with bent head. At that very instant the
moon emerged from the fog and lighted up his face. There was a grin on
the face, in the eyes, and on the lips. But there was nothing
threatening to be seen in it... only it seemed, as it were, all on the
alert... and the teeth were so white and large....
'I shall be pleased... take this...' I said hurriedly, and pulling my
purse out of my pocket, I took out two silver roubles--at that time
silver was still circulating in Russia--'here, if that's enough?'
'Much obliged!' bawled the giant, in military fashion; and his fat
fingers in a flash snatched from me--not the whole purse--but only the
two roubles: 'much obliged!' He shook his hair back, and ran up to the
'Lads!' he shouted, 'the gentleman makes us a present of two silver
roubles!' They all began, as it were, gabbling at once.... The giant
rolled up on to the driver's seat....
'Good luck to you, master!'
And that was the last we saw of them. The horses dashed on, the cart
rumbled up the hill; once more it stood out on the dark line separating
the earth from the sky, went down, and vanished.
And now the rattle of the wheels, the shouts and tambourines, could not
There was a death-like silence.
* * * * *
Filofey and I could not recover ourselves all at once.
'Ah, you're a merry fellow!' he commented at last, and taking off his
hat he began crossing himself. 'Fond of a joke, on my word,' he added,
and he turned to me, beaming all over. 'But he must be a capital
fellow--on my word! Now, now, now, little ones, look alive! You're safe!
We are all safe! It was he who wouldn't let us get by; it was he who
drove the horses. What a chap for a joke! Now, now! get on, in God's
I did not speak, but I felt happy too. 'We are safe!' I repeated to
myself, and lay down on the hay. 'We've got off cheap!'
I even felt rather ashamed that I had remembered that line of
Suddenly an idea occurred to me.
'What is it?'
'Are you married?'
'And have you children?'
'How was it you didn't think of them? You were sorry for your horses:
weren't you sorry for your wife and children?'
'Why be sorry for them? They weren't going to fall into the hands of
thieves, you know. But I kept them in my mind all the while, and I do
now... surely.' Filofey paused.... 'May be... it was for their sake
Almighty God had mercy on us.'
'But if they weren't highwaymen?'
'How can we tell? Can one creep into the soul of another? Another's
soul, we know, is a dark place. But, with the thought of God in the
heart, things are always better.... No, no!... I'd my family all the
time.... Gee... gee-up! little ones, in God's name!'
It was already almost daylight; we began to drive into Tula. I was
lying, dreamy and half-asleep.
'Master,' Filofey said to me suddenly, 'look: there they're stopping at
the tavern... their cart.'
I raised my head... there they were, and their cart and horses. In the
doorway of the drinking-house there suddenly appeared our friend, the
giant in the cape. 'Sir!' he shouted, waving his cap, 'we're drinking
your health!--Hey, coachman,' he added, wagging his head at Filofey;
'you were a bit scared, I shouldn't wonder, hey?'
'A merry fellow!' observed Filofey when we had driven nearly fifty yards
from the tavern.
We got into Tula at last: I bought shot, and while I was about it, tea
and spirits, and even got a horse from the horse-dealer.
At mid-day we set off home again. As we drove by the place where we
first heard the rattle of the cart behind us, Filofey, who, having had
something to drink at Tula, turned out to be very talkative--he even
began telling me fairy-tales--as he passed the place, suddenly burst out
'Do you remember, master, how I kept saying to you, "A rattle... a
rattle of wheels," I said!'
He waved his hand several times. This expression struck him as most
amusing. The same evening we got back to his village.
I related the adventure that had befallen us to Yermolai. Being sober,
he expressed no sympathy; he only gave a grunt--whether of approval or
reproach, I imagine he did not know himself. But two days later he
informed me, with great satisfaction, that the very night Filofey and I
had been driving to Tula, and on the very road, a merchant had been
robbed and murdered. I did not at first put much faith in this, but
later on I was obliged to believe it: it was confirmed by the police
captain, who came galloping over in consequence.
Was not that perhaps the 'wedding' our brave spirits were returning
from?--wasn't that the 'fine fellow' they had 'put to bed,' in the words
of the jocose giant? I stayed five days longer in Filofey's village.
Whenever I meet him I always say to him: 'A rattle of wheels? Eh?'
'A merry fellow!' he always answers, and bursts out laughing.
THE FOREST AND THE STEPPE
'And slowly something began to draw him,
Back to the country, to the garden dark,
Where lime-trees are so huge, so full of shade,
And lilies of the valley, sweet as maids,
Where rounded willows o'er the water's edge
Lean from the dyke in rows, and where the oak
Sturdily grows above the sturdy field,
Amid the smell of hemp and nettles rank...
There, there, in meadows stretching wide,
Where rich and black as velvet is the earth,
Where the sweet rye, far as the eye can see,
Moves noiselessly in tender, billowing waves,
And where the heavy golden light is shed
From out of rounded, white, transparent clouds:
There it is good....'
_(From a poem, devoted to the flames.)_
The reader is, very likely, already weary of my sketches; I hasten to
reassure him by promising to confine myself to the fragments already
printed; but I cannot refrain from saying a few words at parting about a
Hunting with a dog and a gun is delightful in itself, _fuer sich_,
as they used to say in old days; but let us suppose you were not born a
sportsman, but are fond of nature all the same; you cannot then help
envying us sportsmen.... Listen.
Do you know, for instance, the delight of setting off before daybreak in
spring? You come out on to the steps.... In the dark grey sky stars are
twinkling here and there; a damp breeze in faint gusts flies to meet you
now and then; there is heard the secret, vague whispering of the night;
the trees faintly rustle, wrapt in darkness. And now they pull the hood
over the cart, and lay a box with the samovar at your feet. The
trace-horses move restlessly, snort, and daintily paw the ground; a
couple of white geese, only just awake, waddle slowly and silently
across the road. On the other side of the hedge, in the garden, the
watchman is snoring peacefully; every sound seems to stand still in the
frozen air--suspended, not moving. You take your seat; the horses start
at once; the cart rolls off with a loud rumble.... You drive--drive past
the church, downhill to the right, across the dyke.... The pond is just
beginning to be covered with mist. You are rather chilly; you cover your
face with the collar of your fur cloak; you doze. The horse's hoofs
splash sonorously through the puddles; the coachman begins to whistle.
But by now you have driven over three miles... the rim of the sky
flushes crimson; the jackdaws are heard, fluttering clumsily in the
birch-trees; sparrows are twittering about the dark hayricks. The air is
clearer, the road more distinct, the sky brightens, the clouds look
whiter, and the fields look greener. In the huts there is the red light
of flaming chips; from behind gates comes the sound of sleepy voices.
And meanwhile the glow of dawn is beginning; already streaks of gold are
stretching across the sky; mists are gathering in clouds over the
ravines; the larks are singing musically; the breeze that ushers in the
dawn is blowing; and slowly the purple sun floats upward. There is a
perfect flood of light; your heart is fluttering like a bird. Everything
is fresh, gay, delightful! One can see a long way all round. That way,
beyond the copse, a village; there, further, another, with a white
church, and there a birch-wood on the hill; behind it the marsh, for
which you are bound.... Quicker, horses, quicker! Forward at a good
trot!... There are three miles to go--not more. The sun mounts swiftly
higher; the sky is clear.... It will be a glorious day. A herd of cattle
comes straggling from the village to meet us. You go up the hill....
What a view! The river winds for ten miles, dimly blue through the mist;
beyond it meadows of watery green; beyond the meadows sloping hills; in
the distance the plovers are wheeling with loud cries above the marsh;
through the moist brilliance suffused in the air the distance stands out
clearly... not as in the summer. How freely one drinks in the air, how
quickly the limbs move, how strong is the whole man, clasped in the
fresh breath of spring!...
And a summer morning--a morning in July! Who but the sportsman knows how
soothing it is to wander at daybreak among the underwoods? The print of
your feet lies in a green line on the grass, white with dew. You part
the drenched bushes; you are met by a rush of the warm fragrance stored
up in the night; the air is saturated with the fresh bitterness of
wormwood, the honey sweetness of buckwheat and clover; in the distance
an oak wood stands like a wall, and glows and glistens in the sun; it is
still fresh, but already the approach of heat is felt. The head is faint
and dizzy from the excess of sweet scents. The copse stretches on
endlessly.... Only in places there are yellow glimpses in the distance
of ripening rye, and narrow streaks of red buckwheat. Then there is the
creak of cart-wheels; a peasant makes his way among the bushes at a
walking-pace, and sets his horse in the shade before the heat of the
day.... You greet him, and turn away; the musical swish of the scythe is
heard behind you. The sun rises higher and higher. The grass is speedily
dry. And now it is quite sultry. One hour passes another.... The sky
grows dark over the horizon; the still air is baked with piercing
heat.... 'Where can one get a drink here, brother?' you inquire of the
mower. 'Yonder, in the ravine's a well.' Through the thick hazel-bushes,
tangled by the clinging grass, you drop down to the bottom of the
ravine. Right under the cliff a little spring is hidden; an oak bush
greedily spreads out its twigs like great fingers over the water; great
silvery bubbles rise trembling from the bottom, covered with fine
velvety moss. You fling yourself on the ground, you drink, but you are
too lazy to stir. You are in the shade, you drink in the damp fragrance,
you take your ease, while the bushes face you, glowing, and, as it were,
turning yellow in the sun. But what is that? There is a sudden flying
gust of wind; the air is astir all about you: was not that thunder? Is
it the heat thickening? Is a storm coming on?... And now there is a
faint flash of lightning.... Ah, this is a storm! The sun is still
blazing; you can still go on hunting. But the storm-cloud grows; its
front edge, drawn out like a long sleeve, bends over into an arch. The
grass, the bushes, everything around grows dark.... Make haste! over
there you think you catch sight of a hay barn... make haste!... You run
there, go in.... What rain! What flashes of lightning! The water drips
in through some hole in the thatch-roof on to the sweet-smelling hay....
But now the sun is shining bright again. The storm is over; you come
out. My God, the joyous sparkle of everything! the fresh, limpid air,
the scent of raspberries and mushrooms! And then the evening comes on.
There is the blaze of fire glowing and covering half the sky. The sun
sets: the air near has a peculiar transparency as of crystal; over the
distance lies a soft, warm-looking haze; with the dew a crimson light is
shed on the fields, lately plunged in floods of limpid gold; from trees
and bushes and high stacks of hay run long shadows.... The sun has set:
a star gleams and quivers in the fiery sea of the sunset... and now it
pales; the sky grows blue; the separate shadows vanish; the air is
plunged in darkness. It is time to turn homewards to the village, to the
hut, where you will stay the night. Shouldering your gun, you move
briskly, in spite of fatigue.... Meanwhile, the night comes on: now you
cannot see twenty paces from you; the dogs show faintly white in the
dark. Over there, above the black bushes, there is a vague brightness on
the horizon.... What is it?--a fire?... No, it is the moon rising. And
away below, to the right, the village lights are twinkling already....
And here at last is your hut. Through the tiny window you see a table,
with a white cloth, a candle burning, supper....
Another time you order the racing droshky to be got out, and set off to
the forest to shoot woodcock. It is pleasant making your way along the
narrow path between two high walls of rye. The ears softly strike you in
the face; the cornflowers cling round your legs; the quails call around;
the horse moves along at a lazy trot. And here is the forest, all shade
and silence. Graceful aspens rustle high above you; the long-hanging
branches of the birches scarcely stir; a mighty oak stands like a
champion beside a lovely lime-tree. You go along the green path,
streaked with shade; great yellow flies stay suspended, motionless, in
the sunny air, and suddenly dart away; midges hover in a cloud, bright
in the shade, dark in the sun; the birds are singing peacefully; the
golden little voice of the warbler sings of innocent, babbling
joyousness, in sweet accord with the scent of the lilies of the valley.
Further, further, deeper into the forest... the forest grows more
dense.... An unutterable stillness falls upon the soul within; without,
too, all is still and dreamy. But now a wind has sprung up, and the
tree-tops are booming like falling waves. Here and there, through last
year's brown leaves, grow tall grasses; funguses stand apart under their
wide-brimmed hats. All at once a hare skips out; the dog scurries after
it with a resounding bark....
And how fair is this same forest in late autumn, when the snipe are on
the wing! They do not keep in the heart of the forest; one must look for
them along the outskirts. There is no wind, and no sun; no light, no
shade, no movement, no sound: the autumn perfume, like the perfume of
wine, is diffused in the soft air; a delicate haze hangs over the yellow
fields in the distance. The still sky is a peacefully untroubled white
through the bare brown branches; in parts, on the limes, hang the last
golden leaves. The damp earth is elastic under your feet; the high dry
blades of grass do not stir; long threads lie shining on the blanched
turf, white with dew. You breathe tranquilly; but there is a strange
tremor in the soul. You walk along the forest's edge, look after your
dog, and meanwhile loved forms, loved faces dead and living, come to
your mind; long, long slumbering impressions unexpectedly awaken; the
fancy darts off and soars like a bird; and all moves so clearly and
stands out before your eyes. The heart at one time throbs and beats,
plunging passionately forward; at another it is drowned beyond recall in
memories. Your whole life, as it were, unrolls lightly and rapidly
before you: a man at such times possesses all his past, all his feelings
and his powers--all his soul; and there is nothing around to hinder
him--no sun, no wind, no sound....
And a clear, rather cold autumn day, with a frost in the morning, when
the birch, all golden like some tree in a fairy tale, stands out
picturesquely against the pale blue sky; when the sun, standing low in
the sky, does not warm, but shines more brightly than in summer; the
small aspen copse is all a-sparkle through and through, as though it
were glad and at ease in its nakedness; the hoar-frost is still white at
the bottom of the hollows; while a fresh wind softly stirs up and drives
before it the falling, crumpled leaves; when blue ripples whisk gladly
along the river, lifting rhythmically the heedless geese and ducks; in
the distance the mill creaks, half-hidden by the willows; and with
changing colours in the clear air the pigeons wheel in swift circles
Sweet, too, are dull days in summer, though the sportsmen do not like
them. On such days one can't shoot the bird that flutters up from under
your very feet, and vanishes at once in the whitish dark of the hanging
fog. But how peaceful, how unutterably peaceful it is everywhere!
Everything is awake, and everything is hushed. You pass by a tree: it
does not stir a leaf; it is musing in repose. Through the thin steamy
mist, evenly diffused in the air, there is a long streak of black before
you. You take it for a neighbouring copse close at hand; you go up--the
copse is transformed into a high row of wormwood in the boundary-ditch.
Above you, around you, on all sides--mist.... But now a breeze is
faintly astir; a patch of pale-blue sky peeps dimly out; through the
thinning, as it were, smoky mist, a ray of golden yellow sunshine breaks
out suddenly, flows in a long stream, strikes on the fields and in the
copse--and now everything is overcast again. For long this struggle is
drawn out, but how unutterably brilliant and magnificent the day becomes
when at last light triumphs and the last waves of the warmed mist here
unroll and are drawn out over the plains, there wind away and vanish
into the deep, tenderly shining heights....
Again you set off into outlying country, to the steppe. For some ten
miles you make your way over cross-roads, and here at last is the
high-road. Past endless trains of waggons, past wayside taverns, with
the hissing samovar under a shed, wide-open gates and a well, from one
hamlet to another; across endless fields, alongside green hempfields, a
long, long time you drive. The magpies flutter from willow to willow;
peasant women with long rakes in their hands wander in the fields; a man
in a threadbare nankin overcoat, with a wicker pannier over his
shoulder, trudges along with weary step; a heavy country coach,
harnessed with six tall, broken-winded horses, rolls to meet you. The
corner of a cushion is sticking out of a window, and on a sack up
behind, hanging on to a string, perches a groom in a fur-cloak, splashed
with mud to his very eyebrows. And here is the little district town with
its crooked little wooden houses, its endless fences, its empty stone
shops, its old-fashioned bridge over a deep ravine.... On, on!... The
steppe country is reached at last. You look from a hill-top: what a
view! Round low hills, tilled and sown to their very tops, are seen in
broad undulations; ravines, overgrown with bushes, wind coiling among
them; small copses are scattered like oblong islands; from village to
village run narrow paths; churches stand out white; between
willow-bushes glimmers a little river, in four places dammed up by
dykes; far off, in a field, in a line, an old manor-house, with its
outhouses, fruit-garden, and threshing-floor, huddles close up to a
small lake. But on, on you go. The hills are smaller and ever smaller;
there is scarcely a tree to be seen. Here it is at last--the boundless,
And on a winter day to walk over the high snowdrifts after hares; to
breathe the keen frosty air, while half-closing the eyes involuntarily
at the fine blinding sparkle of the soft snow; to admire the emerald sky
above the reddish forest!... And the first spring day when everything is
shining, and breaking up, when across the heavy streams, from the
melting snow, there is already the scent of the thawing earth; when on
the bare thawed places, under the slanting sunshine, the larks are
singing confidingly, and, with glad splash and roar, the torrents roll
from ravine to ravine....
But it is time to end. By the way, I have spoken of spring: in spring it
is easy to part; in spring even the happy are drawn away to the
distance.... Farewell, reader! I wish you unbroken prosperity.