Part 1 out of 5
[Etext by James Rusk, jrusk@cyberramp.
Italics are indicated by underscores.]
THE WITCH AND OTHER STORIES
THE NEW VILLA
AT CHRISTMAS TIME
IN THE RAVINE
IT was approaching nightfall. The sexton, Savely Gykin, was lying
in his huge bed in the hut adjoining the church. He was not
asleep, though it was his habit to go to sleep at the same time
as the hens. His coarse red hair peeped from under one end of the
greasy patchwork quilt, made up of coloured rags, while his big
unwashed feet stuck out from the other. He was listening. His hut
adjoined the wall that encircled the church and the solitary
window in it looked out upon the open country. And out there a
regular battle was going on. It was hard to say who was being
wiped off the face of the earth, and for the sake of whose
destruction nature was being churned up into such a ferment; but,
judging from the unceasing malignant roar, someone was getting it
very hot. A victorious force was in full chase over the fields,
storming in the forest and on the church roof, battering
spitefully with its fists upon the windows, raging and tearing,
while something vanquished was howling and wailing. . . . A
plaintive lament sobbed at the window, on the roof, or in the
stove. It sounded not like a call for help, but like a cry of
misery, a consciousness that it was too late, that there was no
salvation. The snowdrifts were covered with a thin coating of
ice; tears quivered on them and on the trees; a dark slush of mud
and melting snow flowed along the roads and paths. In short, it
was thawing, but through the dark night the heavens failed to see
it, and flung flakes of fresh snow upon the melting earth at a
terrific rate. And the wind staggered like a drunkard. It would
not let the snow settle on the ground, and whirled it round in
the darkness at random.
Savely listened to all this din and frowned. The fact was that he
knew, or at any rate suspected, what all this racket outside the
window was tending to and whose handiwork it was.
"I know!" he muttered, shaking his finger menacingly under the
bedclothes; "I know all about it."
On a stool by the window sat the sexton's wife, Raissa Nilovna. A
tin lamp standing on another stool, as though timid and
distrustful of its powers, shed a dim and flickering light on her
broad shoulders, on the handsome, tempting-looking contours of
her person, and on her thick plait, which reached to the floor.
She was making sacks out of coarse hempen stuff. Her hands moved
nimbly, while her whole body, her eyes, her eyebrows, her full
lips, her white neck were as still as though they were asleep,
absorbed in the monotonous, mechanical toil. Only from time to
time she raised her head to rest her weary neck, glanced for a
moment towards the window, beyond which the snowstorm was raging,
and bent again over her sacking. No desire, no joy, no grief,
nothing was expressed by her handsome face with its turned-up
nose and its dimples. So a beautiful fountain expresses nothing
when it is not playing.
But at last she had finished a sack. She flung it aside, and,
stretching luxuriously, rested her motionless, lack-lustre eyes
on the window. The panes were swimming with drops like tears, and
white with short-lived snowflakes which fell on the window,
glanced at Raissa, and melted. . . .
"Come to bed!" growled the sexton. Raissa remained mute. But
suddenly her eyelashes flickered and there was a gleam of
attention in her eye. Savely, all the time watching her
expression from under the quilt, put out his head and asked:
"What is it?"
"Nothing. . . . I fancy someone's coming," she answered quietly.
The sexton flung the quilt off with his arms and legs, knelt up
in bed, and looked blankly at his wife. The timid light of the
lamp illuminated his hirsute, pock-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 thin and jingling monotone like the shrill note of a gnat
when it wants to settle on one's cheek and is angry at being
"It's the post," muttered Savely, squatting on his heels.
Two miles from the church ran the posting road. In windy weather,
when the wind was blowing from the road to the church, the
inmates of the hut caught the sound of bells.
"Lord! fancy people wanting to drive about in such weather,"
"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 Savely, getting into bed.
But before he had time to cover himself up with the bedclothes he
heard a distinct sound of the bell. The sexton looked anxiously
at his wife, leapt out of bed and walked, waddling, to and fro by
the stove. The bell went on ringing for a little, then died away
again as though it had ceased.
"I don't hear it," said the sexton, stopping and looking at his
wife with his eyes screwed up.
But at that moment the wind rapped on the window and with it
floated a shrill jingling note. Savely turned pale, cleared his
throat, and flopped about the floor with his bare feet again.
"The postman is lost in the storm," he wheezed out glancing
malignantly at his wife. "Do you hear? The postman has lost his
way! . . I . . . I know! Do you suppose I . . don't understand? "
he muttered. "I know all about it, curse you!"
"What do you know?" Raissa asked quietly, keeping her eyes fixed
on the window.
"I know that it's all your doing, you she-devil! Your doing, damn
you! This snowstorm and the post going wrong, you've done it all
"You're mad, you silly," his wife answered calmly.
"I've been watching you for a long time past and I've seen it.
From the first day I married you I noticed that you'd bitch's
blood in you!"
"Tfoo!" said Raissa, surprised, shrugging her shoulders and
crossing herself. "Cross yourself, you fool!"
"A witch is a witch," Savely pronounced in a hollow, tearful
voice, hurriedly blowing his nose on the hem of his shirt;
"though you are my wife, though you are of a clerical family, I'd
say what you are even at confession. . . . Why, God have mercy
upon us! Last year on the Eve of the Prophet Daniel and the Three
Young Men there was a snowstorm, and what happened then? The
mechanic came in to warm himself. Then on St. Alexey's Day the
ice broke on the river and the district policeman turned up, and
he was chatting with you all night . . . the damned brute! And
when he came out in the morning and I looked at him, he had rings
under his eyes and his cheeks were hollow! Eh? During the August
fast there were two storms and each time the huntsman turned up.
I saw it all, damn him! Oh, she is redder than a crab now, aha!"
"You didn't see anything."
"Didn't I! And this winter before Christmas on the Day of the Ten
Martyrs of Crete, when the storm lasted for a whole day and night
-- do you remember? -- the marshal's clerk was lost, and turned
up here, the hound. . . . Tfoo! To be tempted by the clerk! It
was worth upsetting God's weather for him! A drivelling
scribbler, not a foot from the ground, pimples all over his mug
and his neck awry! If he were good-looking, anyway -- but he,
tfoo! he is as ugly as Satan!"
The sexton took breath, wiped his lips and listened. The bell was
not to be heard, but the wind banged on the roof, and again there
came a tinkle in the darkness.
"And it's the same thing now!" Savely went on. "It's not for
nothing the postman is lost! Blast my eyes if the postman isn't
looking for you! Oh, the devil is a good hand at his work; he is
a fine one to help! He will turn him round and round and bring
him here. I know, I see! You can't conceal it, you devil's
bauble, you heathen wanton! As soon as the storm began I knew
what you were up to."
"Here's a fool!" smiled his wife. "Why, do you suppose, you
thick-head, that I make the storm?"
"H'm! . . . Grin away! Whether it's your doing or not, I only
know that when your blood's on fire there's sure to be bad
weather, and when there's bad weather there's bound to
be some crazy fellow turning up here. It happens so every time!
So it must be you!"
To be more impressive the sexton put his finger to his forehead,
closed his left eye, and said in a singsong voice:
"Oh, the madness! oh, the unclean Judas! If you really are a
human being and not a witch, you ought to think what if he is not
the mechanic, or the clerk, or the huntsman, but the devil in
their form! Ah! You'd better think of that!"
"Why, you are stupid, Savely," said his wife, looking at him
compassionately. "When father was alive and living here, all
sorts of people used to come to him to be cured of the ague: from
the village, and the hamlets, and the Armenian settlement. They
came almost every day, and no one called them devils. But if
anyone once a year comes in bad weather to warm himself, you
wonder at it, you silly, and take all sorts of notions into your
head at once."
His wife's logic touched Savely. He stood with his bare feet wide
apart, bent his head, and pondered. He was not firmly convinced
yet of the truth of his suspicions, and 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's always young men who want to come for the night. . . . Why
is that? And if they only wanted to warm themselves ---- But they
are up to mischief. No, woman; there's no creature in this world
as cunning as your female sort! Of real brains you've not an
ounce, less than a starling, but for devilish slyness --
oo-oo-oo! The Queen of Heaven protect us! There is the postman's
bell! When the storm was only beginning I knew all that was in
your mind. That's your witchery, you spider!"
"Why do you keep on at me, you heathen?" His wife lost her
patience at 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-night,
I'll go straight off to-morrow morning to Father Nikodim and tell
him all about it. 'Father Nikodim,' I shall say, 'graciously
excuse me, but she is a witch.' 'Why so?' 'H'm! do you want to
know why?' 'Certainly. . . .' And I shall tell him. And woe to
you, woman! Not only at the dread Seat of Judgment, but in your
earthly life you'll be punished, too! It's not for nothing there
are prayers in the breviary against your kind!"
Suddenly there was a knock at the window, so loud and unusual
that Savely turned pale and almost dropped backwards with fright.
His wife jumped up, and she, too, turned pale.
"For God's sake, let us come in and get warm!" they heard in a
trembling deep bass. "Who lives here? For mercy's sake! We've
lost our way."
"Who are you?" asked Raissa, afraid to look at the window.
"The post," answered a second voice.
"You've succeeded with your devil's tricks," said Savely with a
wave of his hand. "No mistake; I am right! Well, you'd better
The sexton jumped on to the bed in two skips, stretched himself
on the feather mattress, and sniffing angrily, turned with his
face to the wall. Soon he felt a draught of cold air on his back.
The door creaked and the tall figure of a man, plastered over
with snow from head to foot, appeared 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 bass
"You can't leave them there." Saying this, the first figure began
untying his hood, but gave it up, and pulling it off impatiently
with his cap, angrily flung it near the stove. Then taking off
his greatcoat, he threw that down beside it, and, without saying
good-evening, began pacing up and down the hut.
He was a fair-haired, young postman wearing a shabby uniform and
black rusty-looking high boots. After warming himself by walking
to and fro, he sat down at the table, stretched out his muddy
feet towards the sacks and leaned his chin on his fist. His pale
face, reddened in places by the cold, still bore vivid traces of
the pain and terror he had just been through. Though distorted by
anger and bearing traces of recent suffering, physical and moral,
it was handsome in spite of the melting snow on the eyebrows,
moustaches, and short beard.
"It's a dog's life!" muttered the postman, looking round the
walls and seeming hardly able to believe that he was in the
warmth. "We were nearly lost! If it had not been for your light,
I don't know what would have happened. Goodness only knows when
it will all be over! There's no end to this dog's life! Where
have we come?" he asked, dropping his voice and raising his eyes
to the sexton's wife.
"To the Gulyaevsky Hill on General Kalinovsky's estate," she
answered, startled and blushing.
"Do you hear, Stepan?" The postman turned to the driver, who was
wedged in the doorway with a huge mail-bag on his shoulders.
"We've got to Gulyaevsky Hill."
"Yes . . . we're a long way out." Jerking out these words like a
hoarse sigh, the driver went out and soon after returned with
another bag, then went out once more and this time brought the
postman's sword on a big belt, of the pattern of that long flat
blade with which Judith is portrayed by the bedside of Holofernes
in cheap woodcuts. Laying the bags along the wall, he went out
into the outer room, sat down there and lighted his pipe.
"Perhaps you'd like some tea after your journey?" Raissa
"How can we sit drinking tea?" said the postman, frowning. "We
must make haste and get warm, and then set off, or we shall be
late for the mail train. We'll stay ten minutes and then get on
our way. Only be so good as to show us the way."
"What an infliction it is, this weather!" sighed Raissa.
"H'm, yes. . . . Who may you be?"
"We? We live here, by the church. . . . We belong to the clergy.
. . . There lies my husband. Savely, get up and say good-evening!
This used to be a separate parish till eighteen months ago. Of
course, when the gentry lived here there were more people, and it
was worth while to have the services. But now the gentry have
gone, and I need not tell you there's nothing for the clergy to
live on. The nearest village is Markovka, and that's over three
miles away. Savely is on the retired list now, and has got the
watchman's job; he has to look after the church. . . ."
And the postman was immediately informed that if Savely were to
go to the General's lady and ask her for a letter to the bishop,
he would be given a good berth. "But he doesn't go to the
General's lady because he is lazy and afraid 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 we don't get much from that," sighed Raissa. "The old
skinflint, Father Nikodim, from the next village celebrates here
on St. Nicolas' Day in the winter and on St. Nicolas' Day in the
summer, and for that he takes almost all the crops for himself.
There's no one to stick up for us!"
"You are lying," Savely growled hoarsely. "Father Nikodim is a
saintly soul, a luminary of the Church; and if he does take it,
it's the regulation!"
"You've a cross one!" said the postman, with a grin. "Have you
been married long?"
"It was three years ago the last Sunday before Lent. My father
was sexton here in the old days, and when the time came for him
to die, he went to the Consistory and asked them to send some
unmarried man to marry me that I might keep the place. So I
"Aha, so you killed two birds with one stone!" said the postman,
looking at Savely's back. "Got wife and job together."
Savely wriggled his leg impatiently and moved closer to the wall.
The postman moved away from the table, stretched, and sat down on
the mail-bag. After a moment's thought he squeezed the bags with
his hands, shifted his sword to the other side, and lay down with
one foot touching the floor.
"It's a dog's life," he muttered, putting his hands behind his
head and closing his eyes. "I wouldn't wish a wild Tatar such a
Soon everything was still. Nothing was audible except the
sniffing of Savely and the slow, even breathing of the sleeping
po stman, who uttered a deep prolonged "h-h-h" at every breath.
From time to time there was a sound like a creaking wheel in his
throat, and his twitching foot rustled against the bag.
Savely fidgeted under the quilt and looked round slowly. His wife
was sitting on the stool, and with her hands pressed against her
cheeks was gazing at the postman's face. Her face was immovable,
like the face of some one frightened and astonished.
"Well, what are you gaping at?" Savely whispered angrily.
"What is it to you? Lie down!" answered his wife without taking
her eyes off the flaxen head.
Savely angrily puffed all the air out of his chest and turned
abruptly to the wall. Three minutes later he turned over
restlessly again, knelt up on the bed, and with his hands on the
pillow looked askance at his wife. She was still sitting
motionless, staring at the visitor. Her cheeks were pale and her
eyes were glowing with a strange fire. The sexton cleared his
throat, crawled on his stomach off the bed, and going up to the
postman, put a handkerchief over his face.
"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 wife, put out his lips towards
the lamp, but at once thought better of it and clasped his hands.
"Isn't that devilish cunning?" he exclaimed. "Ah! Is there any
creature slyer than womenkind?"
"Ah, you long-skirted devil!" hissed his wife, frowning with
vexation. "You wait a bit!"
And settling herself more comfortably, she stared at the postman
It did not matter to her that his face was covered. She was not
so much interested in his face as in his whole appearance, in the
novelty of this man. His chest was broad and powerful, his hands
were slender and well formed, and his graceful, muscular legs
were much comelier than Savely's stumps. There could be no
comparison, in fact.
"Though I am a long-skirted devil," Savely said after a brief
interval, "they've no business to sleep here. . . . It's
government work; we shall have to answer for keeping them. If you
carry the letters, carry them, you can't go to sleep. . . . Hey!
you!" Savely shouted into the outer room. "You, driver. What's
your name? Shall I show you the way? Get up; postmen mustn't
And Savely, thoroughly roused, ran up to the postman and tugged
him by the sleeve.
"Hey, your honour, if you must go, go; and if you don't, it's not
the thing. . . . Sleeping won't do."
The postman jumped up, sat down, looked with blank eyes round the
hut, and lay down again.
"But when are you going?" Savely pattered away. "That's what the
post is for -- to get there in good time, do you hear? I'll take
The postman opened his eyes. Warmed and relaxed by his first
sweet sleep, and not yet quite awake, he saw as through a mist
the white neck and the immovable, alluring eyes of the sexton's
wife. He closed his eyes and smiled as though he had been
dreaming it all.
"Come, how can you go in such weather!" he heard a soft feminine
voice; "you ought to have a sound sleep and it would do you
"And what about the post?" said Savely anxiously. "Who's going to
take the post? Are you going to take it, pray, you?
The postman opened his eyes again, looked at the play of the
dimples on Raissa's face, remembered where he was, and understood
Savely. The thought that he had to go out into the cold darkness
sent a chill shudder all down him, and he winced.
"I might sleep another five minutes," he said, yawning. "I shall
be late, anyway. . . ."
"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
The postman got up, and stretching lazily began putting on his
Savely positively neighed with delight when he saw his visitors
were getting ready to go.
"Give us a hand," the driver shouted to him as he lifted up a
The sexton ran out and helped him drag the post-bags into the
yard. The postman began undoing the knot in his hood. The
sexton's wife gazed into his eyes, and seemed trying to look
right into his soul.
"You ought to have a cup of tea . . ." she said.
"I wouldn't say no . . . but, you see, they're getting ready," he
assented. "We are late, anyway."
"Do stay," she whispered, dropping her eyes and touching him by
The postman got the knot undone at last and flung the hood over
his elbow, hesitating. He felt it comfortable standing by Raissa.
"What a . . . neck you've got! . . ." And he touched her neck
with two fingers. Seeing that she did not resist, he stroked her
neck and shoulders.
"I say, you are . . ."
"You'd better stay . . . have some tea."
"Where are you putting it?" The driver's voice could be heard
outside. "Lay it crossways."
"You'd better stay. . . . Hark how the wind howls."
And the postman, not yet quite awake, not yet quite able to shake
off the intoxicating sleep of youth and fatigue, was suddenly
overwhelmed by a desire for the sake of which mail-bags, postal
trains . . . and all things in the world, are forgotten. He
glanced at the door in a frightened way, as though he wanted to
escape or hide himself, seized Raissa round the waist, and was
just bending over the lamp to put out the light, when he heard
the tramp of boots in the outer room, and the driver appeared in
the doorway. Savely peeped in over his shoulder. The postman
dropped his hands quickly and stood still as though irresolute.
"It's all ready," said the driver. The postman stood still for a
moment, resolutely threw up his head as though waking up
completely, and followed the driver out. Raissa was left alone.
"Come, get in and show us the way!" she heard.
One bell sounded languidly, then another, and the jingling notes
in a long delicate chain floated away from the hut.
When little by little they had died away, Raissa got up and
nervously paced to and fro. At first she was pale, then she
flushed all over. Her face was contorted with hate, her breathing
was tremulous, her eyes gleamed with wild, savage anger, and,
pacing up and down as in a cage, she looked like a tigress
menaced 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
bed, which stretched the length of the whole wall and consisted
of a dirty feather-bed, coarse grey pillows, a quilt, and
nameless rags of various sorts. The bed was a shapeless ugly mass
which suggested the shock of hair that always stood up on
Savely's head whenever it occurred to him to oil it. From the bed
to the door that led into the cold outer room stretched the dark
stove surrounded by pots and hanging clouts. Everything,
including the absent Savely himself, was dirty, greasy, and
smutty to the last degree, so that it was strange to see a
woman's white neck and delicate skin in such surroundings.
Raissa ran up to the bed, stretched out her hands as though she
wanted to fling it all about, stamp it underfoot, and tear it to
shreds. But then, as though frightened by contact with the dirt,
she leapt back and began pacing up and down again.
When Savely returned two hours later, worn out and covered with
snow, she was undressed and in bed. Her eyes were closed, but
from the slight tremor that ran over her face he guessed that she
was not asleep. On his way home he had vowed inwardly to wait
till next day and not to touch her, but he could not resist a
biting taunt at her.
"Your witchery was all in vain: he's gone off," he said, grinning
with malignant joy.
His wife remained mute, but her chin quivered. Savely undressed
slowly, clambered over his wife, and lay down next to the wall.
"To-morrow I'll let Father Nikodim know what sort of wife you
are!" he muttered, curling himself up.
Raissa turned her face to him and her eyes gleamed.
"The job's enough for you, and you can look for a wife in the
forest, blast you!" she said. "I am no wife for you, a clumsy
lout, a slug-a-bed, God forgive me!"
"Come, come . . . go to sleep!"
"How miserable I am!" sobbed his wife. "If it weren't for you, I
might have married a merchant or some gentleman! If it weren't
for you, I should love my husband now! And you haven't been
buried in the snow, you haven't been frozen on the highroad, you
Raissa cried for a long time. At last she drew a deep sigh and
was still. The storm still raged without. Something wailed in the
stove, in the chimney, outside the walls, and it seemed to Savely
that the wailing was within him, in his ears. This evening had
completely confirmed him in his suspicions about his wife. He no
longer doubted that his wife, with the aid of the Evil One,
controlled the winds and the post sledges. But to add to his
grief, this mysteriousness, this supernatural, weird power gave
the woman beside him a peculiar, incomprehensible charm of which
he had not been conscious before. The fact that in his stupidity
he unconsciously threw a poetic glamour over her made her seem,
as it were, whiter, sleeker, more unapproachable.
"Witch!" he muttered indignantly. "Tfoo, horrid creature!"
Yet, waiting till she was quiet and began breathing evenly, he
touched her head with his finger . . . held her thick plait in
his hand for a minute. She did not feel it. Then he grew bolder
and stroked her neck.
"Leave off!" she shouted, and prodded him on the nose with her
elbow with such violence that he saw stars before his eyes.
The pain in his nose was soon over, but the torture in his heart
IN the village of Reybuzh, just facing the church, stands a
two-storeyed house with a stone foundation and an iron roof. In
the lower storey the owner himself, Filip Ivanov Kashin,
nicknamed Dyudya, lives with his family, and on the upper floor,
where it is apt to be very hot in summer and very cold in winter,
they put up government officials, merchants, or landowners, who
chance to be travelling that way. Dyudya rents some bits of land,
keeps a tavern on the highroad, does a trade in tar, honey,
cattle, and jackdaws, and has already something like eight
thousand roubles put by in the bank in the town.
His elder son, Fyodor, is head engineer in the factory, and, as
the peasants say of him, he has risen so high in the world that
he is quite out of reach now. Fyodor's wife, Sofya, a plain,
ailing woman, lives at home at her father-in-law's. She is for
ever crying, and every Sunday she goes over to the hospital for
medicine. Dyudya's second son, the hunchback Alyoshka, is living
at home at his father's. He has only lately been married to
Varvara, whom they singled out for him from a poor family. She is
a handsome young woman, smart and buxom. When officials or
merchants put up at the house, they always insist on having
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 smell of hay, of steaming dung-heaps and new milk, a
plain-looking cart drove into Dyudya's yard with three people in
it: a man of about thirty in a canvas suit, beside him a little
boy of seven or eight in a long black coat with big bone buttons,
and 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 walk them up and down a bit, while the traveller
washed, said a prayer, turning towards the church, then spread a
rug near the cart and sat down with the boy to supper. He ate
without haste, sedately, and Dyudya, who had seen a good many
travellers in his time, knew him from his manners for a
businesslike man, serious and aware of his own value.
Dyudya was sitting on the step in his waistcoat without a cap on,
waiting for the visitor to speak first. He was used to hearing
all kinds of stories from the travellers in the evening, and he
liked listening to them before going to bed. His old wife,
Afanasyevna, and his daughter-in-law Sofya, were milking in the
cowshed. The other daughter-in-law, Varvara, was sitting at the
open window of the upper storey, eating sunflower seeds.
"The little chap will be your son, I'm thinking?" Dyudya asked
"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 talking and ready of speech, and Dyudya learned from him that
he was from the town, was of the tradesman class, and had a house
of his own, that his name was Matvey Savitch, that he was on his
way now to look at some gardens that he was renting from some
German colonists, and that the boy's name was Kuzka. The evening
was hot and close, no one felt inclined for sleep. When it was
getting dark and pale stars began to twinkle here and there in
the sky, Matvey Savitch began to tell how he had come by Kuzka.
Afanasyevna and Sofya stood a little way off, listening. Kuzka
had gone to the gate.
"It's a complicated story, old man," began Matvey Savitch, "and
if I were to tell you all just as it happened, it would take all
night and more. Ten years ago in a little house in our street,
next door to me, where now there's a tallow and oil factory,
there was living an old widow, Marfa Semyonovna Kapluntsev, and
she had two sons: one was a guard on the railway, but the other,
Vasya, who was just my own age, lived at home with his mother.
Old Kapluntsev had kept five pair of horses and sent carriers all
over the town; his widow had not given up the business, but
managed the carriers as well as her husband had done, so that
some days they would bring in as much as five roubles from their
"The young fellow, too, made a trifle on his own account. He used
to breed fancy pigeons and sell them to fanciers; at times he
would stand for hours on the roof, waving a broom in the air and
whistling; his pigeons were right up in the clouds, but it wasn't
enough for him, and he'd want them to go higher yet. Siskins and
starlings, too, he used to catch, and he made cages for sale. All
trifles, but, mind you, he'd pick up some ten roubles a month
over such trifles. Well, as time went on, the old lady lost the
use of her legs and took to her bed. In consequence of which
event the house was left without a woman to look after it, and
that's for all the world like a man without an eye. The old lady
bestirred herself and made up her mind to marry Vasya. They
called in a matchmaker at once, the women got to talking of one
thing and another, and Vasya went off to have a look at the
girls. He picked out Mashenka, a widow's daughter. They made up
their minds without loss of time and in a week it was all
settled. The girl was a little slip of a thing, seventeen, but
fair-skinned and pretty-looking, and like a lady in all her ways;
and a decent dowry with her, five hundred roubles, a cow, a bed.
. . . Well, the old lady -- it seemed as though she had known it
was coming -- three days after the wedding, departed to the
Heavenly Jerusalem where is neither sickness nor sighing. The
young people gave her a good funeral and began their life
together. For just six months they got on splendidly, and then
all of a sudden another misfortune. It never rains but it pours:
Vasya was summoned to the recruiting office to draw lots for the
service. He was taken, poor chap, for a soldier, and not even
granted exemption. They shaved his head and packed him off to
Poland. It was God's will; there was nothing to be done. When he
said good-bye to his wife in the yard, he bore it all right; but
as he glanced up at the hay-loft and his pigeons for the last
time, he burst out crying. It was pitiful to see him.
"At first Mashenka got her mother to stay with her, that she
mightn't be dull all alone; she stayed till the baby -- this very
Kuzka here -- was born, and then she went off to Oboyan to
another married daughter's and left Mashenka alone with the baby.
There were five peasants -- the carriers -- a drunken saucy lot;
horses, too, and dray-carts to see to, and then the fence would
be broken or the soot afire in the chimney -- jobs beyond a
woman, and through our being neighbours, she got into the way of
turning to me for every little thing. . . . Well, I'd go over,
set things to rights, and give advice. . . . Naturally, not
without going indoors, drinking a cup of tea and having a little
chat with her. I was a young fellow, intellectual, and fond of
talking on all sorts of subjects; she, too, was well-bred and
educated. She was always neatly dressed, and in summer she
walked out with a sunshade. Sometimes I would begin upon religion
or politics with her, and she was flattered and would entertain
me with tea and jam. . . . In a word, not to make a long story of
it, I must tell you, old man, a year had not passed before the
Evil One, the enemy of all mankind, confounded me. I began to
notice that any day I didn't go to see her, I seemed out of sorts
and dull. And I'd be continually making up something that I must
see her about: 'It's high time,' I'd say to myself, 'to put the
double windows in for the winter,' and the whole day I'd idle
away over at her place putting in the windows and take good care
to leave a couple of them over for the next day too.
" 'I ought to count over Vasya's pigeons, to see none of them
have strayed,' and so on. I used always to be talking to her
across the fence, and in the 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. Not we
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 her husband and being on her guard, she fell in love
with me. I began to notice that she was dull without me, and was
always walking to and fro by the fence looking into my yard
through the cracks.
"My brains were going round in my head in a sort of frenzy. On
Thursday in Holy Week I was going early in the morning -- it was
scarcely light -- to market. I passed close by her gate, and the
Evil One was by me -- at my elbow. I looked -- she had a gate
with open trellis work at the top -- and there she was, up
already, standing in the middle of the yard, feeding the ducks. I
could not restrain myself, and I called her name. She came up and
looked at me through the trellis. . . . Her little face was
white, her eyes soft and sleepy-looking. . . . I liked her looks
immensely, and I began paying her compliments, as though we were
not at the gate, but just as one does on namedays, while she
blushed, and laughed, and kept looking straight into my eyes
without winking. . . . I lost all sense and began to declare my
love to her. . . . She opened the gate, and from that morning we
began to live as man and wife. . . ."
The hunchback Alyoshka came into the yard from the street and ran
out of breath into the house, not looking at any one. A minute
later he ran out of the house with a concertina. Jingling some
coppers in his pocket, and cracking sunflower seeds as he ran, he
went out at the gate.
"And who's that, pray?" asked Matvey Savitch.
"My son Alexey," answered Dyudya. "He's off on a spree, the
rascal. God has afflicted him with a hump, so we are not very
hard on him."
"And he's always drinking with the other fellows, always
drinking," sighed Afanasyevna. "Before Carnival we married him,
thinking he'd be steadier, but there! he's worse than ever."
"It's been no use. Simply keeping another man's daughter for
nothing," said Dyudya.
Somewhere behind the church they began to sing a glorious,
mournful song. The words they could not catch and only the voices
could be heard -- two tenors and a bass. All were listening;
there was complete stillness in the yard. . . . Two voices
suddenly broke off with a loud roar of laughter, but the third, a
tenor, still sang on, and took so high a note that every one
instinctively looked upwards, as though the voice had soared to
Varvara came out of the house, and screening her eyes with her
hand, as though from the sun, she 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 and went on:
"Well, that's how it was, old man. Two years later we got a
letter from Vasya from Warsaw. He wrote that he was being sent
home sick. He was ill. By that time I had put all that
foolishness out of my head, and I had a fine match picked out all
ready for me, only I didn't know how to break it off with my
sweetheart. Every day I'd make up my mind to have it out with
Mashenka, but I didn't know how to approach her so as not to have
a woman's screeching about my ears. The letter freed my hands. I
read it through with Mashenka; she turned white as a sheet, while
I said to her: 'Thank God; now,' says I, 'you'll be a married
woman again.' But says she: 'I'm not going to live with him.'
'Why, isn't he your husband?' said I. 'Is it an easy thing? . . .
I never loved him and I married him not of my own free will. My
mother made me.' 'Don't try to get out of it, silly,' said I,
'but tell me this: were you married to him in church or not?' 'I
was married,' she said, 'but it's you that I love, and I will
stay with you to the day of my death. Folks may jeer. I don't
care. . . .' 'You're a Christian woman,' said I, 'and have read
the Scriptures; what is written there?'
"Once married, with her husband she must live," said Dyudya.
" 'Man and wife are one flesh. We have sinned,' I said, 'you and
I, and it 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 than to 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 of her.
"Vasya came back on the Saturday before Trinity, early in the
morning. From my fence I could see everything; he ran into the
house, and came back a minute later with Kuzka in his arms, and
he was laughing and crying all at once; he was kissing Kuzka and
looking up at the hay-loft, and hadn't the heart to put the child
down, and yet he was longing to go to his pigeons. He was always
a soft sort of chap -- sentimental. That day passed off very
well, all quiet and proper. They had begun ringing the church
bells for the evening service, when the thought struck me:
'To-morrow's Trinity Sunday; how is it they are not decking the
gates and the fence with green? Something's wrong,' I thought. I
went over to them. I peeped in, and there he was, sitting on the
floor in the middle of the room, his eyes staring like a drunken
man's, the tears streaming down his cheeks and his hands shaking;
he was pulling cracknels, necklaces, gingerbread nuts, and all
sorts of little presents out of his bundle and flinging them on
the floor. Kuzka -- he was three years old -- was crawling on the
floor, munching the gingerbreads, while Mashenka stood by the
stove, white and shivering all over, muttering: 'I'm not your
wife; I can't live with you,' and all sorts of foolishness. I
bowed down at Vasya's feet, and said: 'We have sinned against
you, Vassily Maximitch; forgive us, for Christ's sake!' Then I
got up and spoke to Mashenka: 'You, Marya Semyonovna, ought now
to wash Vassily Maximitch's feet and drink the water. Do you be
an obedient wife to him, and pray to God for me, that He in His
mercy may forgive my transgression.' It came to me like an
inspiration from an angel of Heaven; I gave her solemn counsel
and spoke with such feeling that my own tears flowed too. And so
two days later Vasya comes to me: 'Matyusha,' says he, 'I forgive
you and my wife; God have mercy on you! She was a soldier's wife,
a young thing all alone; it was hard for her to be on her guard.
She's not the first, nor will she be the last. Only,' he says, 'I
beg you to behave as though there had never been anything between
you, and to make no sign, while I,' says he, 'will do my best to
please her in every way, so that she may come to love me again.'
He gave me his hand on it, drank a cup of tea, and went away more
" 'Well,' thought I, 'thank God!' and I did feel glad that
everything had gone off so well. But no sooner had Vasya gone out
of the yard, when in came Mashenka. Ah! What I had to suffer! She
hung on my neck, weeping and praying: 'For God's sake, don't cast
me off; I can't live without you!' "
"The vile hussy!" sighed Dyudya.
"I swore at her, stamped my foot, and dragging her
into the passage, I fastened the door with the hook. 'Go to your
husband,' I cried. 'Don't shame me before 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 a
bridle. All at once I saw her running through the little gate
into my yard, with bare feet, in her petticoat, and straight
towards me; she clutched at the bridle, getting all smeared with
the pitch, and shaking and weeping, she cried: 'I can't stand
him; I loathe him; I can't bear it! If you don't love me, better
kill me!' I was angry, and I struck her twice with the bridle,
but at that instant Vasya ran in at the gate, and in a despairing
voice he shouted: 'Don't beat her! Don't beat her!' But he ran up
himself, and waving his arms, as though he were mad, he let fly
with his fists at her with all his might, then flung her on the
ground and kicked her. I tried to defend her, but he snatched up
the reins and thrashed her with them, and all the while, like a
colt's whinny, he went: 'He -- he-- he!' "
"I'd take the reins and let you feel them," muttered Varvara,
moving away; "murdering our sister, the damned brutes! . . ."
"Hold your tongue, you jade!" Dyudya shouted at her.
" 'He -- he -- he!' " Matvey Savitch went on. "A carrier ran out
of his yard; I called to my workman, and the three of us got
Mashenka away from him and carried her home in our arms. The
disgrace of it! The same day I went over in the evening to see
how things were. She was lying in bed, all wrapped up in
bandages, nothing but her eyes and nose to be seen; she was
looking at the ceiling. I said: 'Good-evening, Marya Semyonovna!'
She did not speak. And Vasya was sitting in the next room, his
head in his hands, crying and saying: 'Brute that I am! I've
ruined my life! O God, let me die!' I sat for half an hour by
Mashenka and gave her a good talking-to. I tried to frighten her
a bit. 'The righteous,' said I, 'after this life go to Paradise,
but you will go to a Gehenna of fire, like all adulteresses.
Don't strive against your husband, go and lay yourself at his
feet.' But never a word from her; she didn't so much as blink an
eyelid, for all the world as though I were talking to a post. The
next day Vasya fell ill with something like cholera, and in the
evening I heard that he was dead. Well, so they buried him, and
Mashenka did not go to the funeral; she didn't care to show her
shameless face and her bruises. And soon there began to be talk
all over the district that Vasya had not died a natural death,
that Mashenka had made away with him. It got to the ears of the
police; they had Vasya dug up and cut open, and in his stomach
they found arsenic. It was clear he had been poisoned; the police
came and took Mashenka away, and with her the innocent Kuzka.
They were put in prison. . . . The woman had gone too far -- God
punished her. . . . Eight months later they tried her. She sat, I
remember, on a low stool, with a little white kerchief on her
head, wearing a grey gown, and she was so thin, so pale, so
sharp-eyed it made one sad to look at 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
had poisoned himself for grief. I was one of the witnesses. When
they questioned me, I told the whole truth according to my oath.
'Hers,' said I, 'is the guilt. It's no good to conceal it; she
did not love her husband, and she had a will of her own. . . .'
The trial began in the morning and towards night they passed this
sentence: to send her to hard labour in Siberia for thirteen
years. After that sentence Mashenka remained three months longer
in prison. I went to see her, and from Christian charity I took
her a little tea and sugar. But as soon as she set eyes on me she
began to shake all over, wringing her hands and muttering: 'Go
away! go away!' And Kuzka she clasped to her as though she were
afraid I would take him away. 'See,' said I, 'what you have come
to! Ah, Masha, Masha! you would not listen to me when I gave you
good advice, and now you must repent it. You are yourself to
blame,' said I; 'blame yourself!' I was giving her good counsel,
but she: 'Go away, go away!' huddling herself and Kuzka against
the wall, and trembling all over.
"When they were taking her away to the chief town of our
province, I walked by the escort as far as the station and
slipped a rouble into her bundle for my soul's salvation. But she
did not get as far as Siberia. . . . She fell sick 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 bring up. After all -- though a convict's child -- still he
was a living soul, a Christian. . . . I was sorry for him. I
shall make him my clerk, and if I have no children of my own,
I'll make a merchant of him. Wherever I go now, I take him with
me; let him learn his work."
All the while Matvey Savitch had been telling his story, Kuzka
had sat on a little stone near the gate. His head propped in both
hands, he gazed at the sky, and in the distance he looked in the
dark like a stump of wood.
"Kuzka, come to bed," Matvey Savitch bawled to him.
"Yes, it's time," said Dyudya, getting up; he yawned loudly and
"Folks will go their own way, and that's what comes of it."
Over the yard the moon was floating now in the heavens; she was
moving one way, while the clouds beneath moved the other way; the
clouds were disappearing into the darkness, but still the moon
could be seen high above the yard.
Matvey Savitch said a prayer, facing the church, and saying
good-night, he lay down on the ground near his cart. Kuzka, too,
said a prayer, lay down in the cart, and covered himself with his
little overcoat; he made himself a little hole in the hay so as
to be more comfortable, and curled up so that his elbows looked
like knees. From the yard Dyudya could be seen lighting a candle
in his room below, putting on his spectacles and standing in the
corner with a book. He was a long while reading and crossing
The travellers fell asleep. Afanasyevna and Sofya came up to the
cart and began looking at Kuzka.
"The little orphan's asleep," said the old woman. "He's thin and
frail, nothing but bones. No mother and no one to care for him
"My Grishutka must be two years older," said Sofya. "Up at the
factory he lives like a slave without his mother. The foreman
beats him, I dare say. When I looked at this poor mite just now,
I thought of my own Grishutka, and my heart went cold within me."
A minute passed in silence.
"Doesn't remember his mother, I 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 said, sobbing and
laughing with tenderness and sorrow. . . . "Poor motherless mite!
Kuzka started and opened his eyes. He saw before him an ugly,
wrinkled, tear-stained face, and beside it another, aged and
toothless, with a sharp chin and hooked nose, and high above them
the infinite sky with the flying clouds and the moon. He cried
out in fright, and Sofya, too, uttered a cry; both were answered
by the echo, and a faint stir passed over the stifling air; a
watchman tapped somewhere near, a dog barked. Matvey Savitch
muttered something in his sleep and turned over on the other
Late at night when Dyudya and the old woman and the neighbouring
watchman were all asleep, Sofya went out to the gate and sat down
on the bench. She felt stifled and her head ached from weeping.
The street was a wide and long one; it stretched for nearly two
miles to the right and as far to the left, and the end of it was
out of sight. The moon was now not over the yard, but behind the
church. One side of the street was flooded with moonlight, while
the other side lay in black shadow. The long shadows of the
poplars and the starling-cotes stretched right across the street,
while the church cast a broad shadow, black and terrible that
enfolded Dyudya's gates and half his house. The street was still
and deserted. From time to time the strains of mu sic floated
faintly from the end of the street -- Alyoshka, most likely,
playing his concertina.
Someone moved in the shadow near the church enclosure, and Sofya
could not make out whether it were a man or a cow, or perhaps
merely a big bird rustling in the trees. But then a figure
stepped out of the shadow, halted, and said something in a man's
voice, then vanished down the turning by the church. A little
later, not three yards from the gate, another figure came into
sight; it walked straight from the church to the gate and stopped
short, seeing Sofya on the bench.
"Varvara, is that you?" said Sofya.
"And if it were?"
It was Varvara. She stood still a minute, then came up to the
bench and sat down.
"Where have you been?" asked Sofya.
Varvara made no answer.
"You'd better mind you don't get into trouble with such
goings-on, my girl," said Sofya. "Did you hear how Mashenka was
kicked and lashed with the reins? You'd better look out, or
they'll treat you the same."
"Well, let them!"
Varvara laughed into her kerchief and whispered:
"I have just been with the priest's son."
"It's a sin!" whispered Sofya.
"Well, let it be. . . . What do I care? If it's a sin, then it is
a sin, but better be struck dead by thunder than live like this.
I'm young and strong, and I've a filthy crooked hunchback for a
husband, worse than Dyudya himself, curse him! When I was a girl,
I hadn't bread to eat, or a shoe to my foot, and to get away from
that wretchedness I was tempted by Alyoshka's money, and got
caught like a fish in a net, and I'd rather have a viper for my
bedfellow than that scurvy Alyoshka. And what's your life? It
makes me sick to look at it. Your Fyodor 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
horse, and never hear a kind word. I'd rather pine all my days an
old maid, I'd rather get half a rouble from the priest's son, I'd
rather beg my bread, or throw myself into the well. . .
"It's a sin!" whispered Sofya again.
"Well, let it be."
Somewhere behind the church the same three voices, two tenors and
a bass, began singing again a mournful song. And again the words
could not be distinguished.
"They are not early to bed," Varvara said, laughing.
And she began telling in a whisper of her midnight walks with the
priest's son, and of the stories he had told her, and of his
comrades, and of the fun she had with the travellers who stayed
in the house. The mournful song stirred a longing for life and
freedom. Sofya began to laugh; she thought it sinful and terrible
and sweet to hear about, and she felt envious and sorry that she,
too, had not been a sinner when she was young and pretty.
In the churchyard they heard twelve strokes beaten on the
"It's time we were asleep," said Sofya, getting up, "or, maybe,
we shall catch it from Dyudya."
They both went softly into the yard.
"I went away without hearing what he was telling about Mashenka,"
said Varvara, making herself a bed under the window.
"She died in prison, he said. She poisoned her husband."
Varvara lay down beside Sofya a while, and said softly:
"I'd make away with my Alyoshka and never regret it."
"You talk nonsense; God forgive you."
When Sofya was just dropping asleep, Varvara, coming close,
whispered in her ear:
"Let us get rid of Dyudya and Alyoshka!"
Sofya started and said nothing. Then she opened her eyes and
gazed a long while steadily at the sky.
"People would find out," she said.
"No, they wouldn't. Dyudya's an old man, it's time he did die;
and they'd say Alyoshka died of drink."
"I'm afraid . . . God would chastise us."
"Well, let Him. . . ."
Both lay awake thinking in silence.
"It's cold," said Sofya, beginning to shiver all over. "It will
soon be morning. . . . Are you asleep?"
"No. . . . Don't you mind what I say, dear," whispered Varvara;
"I get so mad with the damned brutes, I don't know what I do say.
Go to sleep, or 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
went together into the cowshed to milk the cows. The hunchback
Alyoshka came in hopelessly drunk without his concertina; his
breast and knees had been in the dust and straw -- he must have
fallen down in the road. Staggering, he went into the cowshed,
and without undressing he rolled into a sledge and began to snore
at once. When first the crosses on the church and then the
windows were flashing in the light of the rising sun, and shadows
stretched across the yard over the dewy grass from the trees and
the top of the well, Matvey Savitch jumped up and began hurrying
"Kuzka! get up!" he shouted. "It's time to put in the horses!
The bustle of morning was beginning. A young Jewess in a brown
gown with flounces led a horse into the yard to drink. The pulley
of the well creaked plaintively, the bucket knocked as it went
down. . . .
Kuzka, sleepy, tired, covered with dew, sat up in the cart,
lazily putting on his little overcoat, and listening to the drip
of the water from the bucket into the well as he shivered with
"Auntie!" shouted Matvey Savitch to Sofya, "tell my lad to hurry
up and to harness the horses!"
And Dyudya at the same instant shouted from the window:
"Sofya, take a farthing from the Jewess for the horse's drink!
They're always in here, the mangy creatures!
In the street sheep were running up and down, baaing; the peasant
women were shouting at the shepherd, while he played his pipes,
cracked his whip, or answered them in a thick sleepy bass. Three
sheep strayed into the yard, and not finding the gate again,
pushed at the fence.
Varvara was waked by the noise, and bundling her bedding up in
her arms, she went into the house.
"You might at least drive the sheep out!" the old woman bawled
after her, "my lady!"
"I dare say! As if I were going to slave for you Herods!"
muttered Varvara, going into the house.
Dyudya came out of the house with his accounts in his hands, sat
down on the step, and began reckoning how much the traveller owed
him for the night's lodging, oats, and watering his horses.
"You charge pretty heavily for the oats, my good man," said
"If it's too much, don't take them. There's no compulsion,
When the travellers were ready to start, they were detained for a
minute. Kuzka had lost his cap.
"Little swine, where did you put it?" Matvey Savitch roared
angrily. "Where is it?"
Kuzka's face was working with terror; he ran up and down near the
cart, and not finding it there, ran to the gate and then to the
shed. The old woman and Sofya helped him look.
"I'll pull your ears off!" yelled Matvey Savitch. "Dirty brat!"
The cap was found at the bottom of the cart.
Kuzka brushed the hay off it with his sleeve, put it on, and
timidly he crawled into the cart, still with an expression of
terror on his face as though he were afraid of a blow from
Matvey Savitch crossed himself. The driver gave a tug at the
reins and the cart rolled out of the yard.
IT was three o'clock in the night. The postman, ready to set off,
in his cap and his coat, with a rusty sword in his hand, was
standing near the door, waiting for the driver to finish putting
the mail bags into the cart which had just been brought round
with three horses. The sleepy postmaster sat at his table, which
was like a counter; he was filling up a form and saying:
"My nephew, the student, wants to go to the station at once. So
look here, Ignatyev, let him get into the mail cart and take him
with you to the station: though it is against the regulations to
take people with the mail, what's one to do? It's better for him
to drive with you free than for me to hire horses for him."
"Ready!" they heard a shout from the yard.
"Well, go then, and God be with you," said the postmaster. "Which
driver is going?"
"Come, sign the receipt."
The postman signed the receipt and went out. At the entrance of
the post-office there was the dark outline of a cart and three
hors es. The horses were standing still except that one of the
tracehorses kept uneasily shifting from one leg to the other and
tossing its head, making the bell clang from time to time. The
cart with the mail bags looked like a patch of darkness. Two
silhouettes were moving lazily beside it: the student with a
portmanteau in his hand and a driver. The latter was smoking a
short pipe; the light of the pipe moved about in the darkness,
dying away and flaring up again; for an instant it lighted up a
bit of a sleeve, then a shaggy moustache and big copper-red nose,
then stern-looking, overhanging eyebrows. The postman pressed
down the mail bags with his hands, laid his sword on them and
jumped into the cart. The student clambered irresolutely in after
him, and accidentally touching him with his elbow, said timidly
and politely: "I beg your pardon."
The pipe went out. The postmaster came out of the post-office
just as he was, in his waistcoat and slippers; shrinking from the
night dampness and clearing his throat, he walked beside the cart
"Well, God speed! Give my love to your mother, Mihailo. Give my
love to them all. And you, Ignatyev, mind you don't forget to
give the parcel to Bystretsov. . . . Off!"
The driver took the reins in one hand, blew his nose, and,
arranging the seat under himself, clicked to the horses.
"Give them my love," the postmaster repeated.
The big bell clanged something to the little bells, the little
bells gave it a friendly answer. The cart squeaked, moved. The
big bell lamented, the little bells laughed. Standing up in his
seat the driver lashed the restless tracehorse twice, and the
cart rumbled with a hollow sound along the dusty road. The little
town was asleep. Houses and trees stood black on each side of the
broad street, and not a light was to be seen. Narrow clouds
stretched here and there over the star-spangled sky, and where
the dawn would soon be coming there was a narrow crescent moon;
but neither the stars, of which there were many, nor the
half-moon, which looked white, lighted up the night air. It was
cold and damp, and there was a smell of autumn.
The student, who thought that politeness required him to talk
affably to a man who had not refused to let him accompany him,
"In summer it would be light at this time, but now there is not
even a sign 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. Do you see three stars side by side in a straight line?
That is the constellation of Orion, which, in our hemisphere,
only becomes visible in September."
The postman, thrusting his hands into his sleeves and retreating
up to his ears into his coat collar, did not stir and did not
glance at the sky. Apparently the constellation of Orion did not
interest him. He was accustomed to see the stars, and probably he
had long grown weary of them. The student paused for a while and
"It's cold! It's time for the dawn to begin. Do you know what
time the sun 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 side of the road but the fences of kitchen gardens and
here and there a solitary willow-tree; everything in front of
them was shrouded in darkness. Here in the open country the
half-moon looked bigger and the stars shone more brightly. Then
came a scent of dampness; the postman shrank further into his
collar, the student felt an unpleasant chill first creeping about
his feet, then over the mail bags, over his hands and his face.
The horses moved more slowly; the bell was mute as though it were
frozen. There was the sound of the splash of water, and stars
reflected in the water danced under the horses' feet and round
But ten minutes later it became so dark that neither the stars
nor the moon could be seen. The mail cart had entered the forest.
Prickly pine branches were continually hitting the student on his
cap and a spider's web settled on his face. Wheels and hoofs
knocked against huge roots, and the mail cart swayed from side to
side as though it were drunk.
"Keep to the road," said the postman angrily. "Why do you run up
the edge? My face is scratched all over by the twigs! Keep more
to the right!"
But at that point there was nearly an accident. The cart suddenly
bounded as though in the throes of a convulsion, began trembling,
and, with a creak, lurched heavily first to the right and then to
the left, and at a fearful pace dashed along the forest track.
The horses had taken fright at something and bolted.
"Wo! wo!" the driver cried in alarm. "Wo . . . you devils!
The student, violently shaken, bent forward and tried to find
something to catch hold of so as to keep his balance and save
himself from being thrown out, but the leather mail bags were
slippery, and the driver, whose belt the student tried to catch
at, was himself tossed up and down and seemed every moment on the
point of flying out. Through the rattle of the wheels and the
creaking of the cart they heard the sword fall with a clank on
the ground, then a little later something fell with two heavy
thuds behind the mail cart.
"Wo!" the driver cried in a piercing voice, bending backwards.
The student fell on his face and bruised his forehead against the
driver's seat, but was at once tossed back again and knocked his
spine violently against the back of the cart.
"I am falling!" was the thought that flashed through his mind,
but at that instant the horses dashed out of the forest into the
open, turned sharply to the right, and rumbling over a bridge of
logs, suddenly stopped dead, and the suddenness of this halt
flung the student forward again.
The driver and the student were both breathless. The postman was
not in the cart. He had been thrown out, together with his sword,
the student's portmanteau, and one of the mail bags.
"Stop, you rascal! Sto-op!" they heard him shout from the forest.
"You damned blackguard!" he shouted, running up to the cart, and
there was a note of pain and fury in his tearful voice. "You
anathema, plague take you!" he roared, dashing up to the driver
and shaking his fist at him.
"What a to-do! Lord have mercy on us!" muttered the driver in a
conscience-stricken voice, setting right something in the harness
at the horses' heads. "It's all that devil of a tracehorse.
Cursed filly; it is only a week since she has run in harness. She
goes all right, but as soon as we go down hill there is trouble!
She wants a touch or two on the nose, then she wouldn't play
about like this. . . Stea-eady! Damn!"
While the driver was setting the horses to rights and looking for
the portmanteau, the mail bag, and the sword on the road, the
postman in a plaintive voice shrill with anger ejaculated oaths.
After replacing the luggage the driver for no reason whatever led
the horses for a hundred paces, grumbled at the restless
tracehorse, and jumped up on the box.
When his fright was over the student felt amused and
good-humoured. It was the first time in his life that he had
driven by night in a mail cart, and the shaking he had just been
through, the postman's having been thrown out, and the pain in
his own back struck him as interesting adventures. He lighted a
cigarette and said with a laugh:
"Why you know, you might break your neck like that! I very nearly
flew out, and I didn't even notice you had been thrown out. I can
fancy what it is like driving in autumn!"
The postman did not speak.
"Have you been going with the post for long?" the student asked.
"Oho; every day?"
"Yes, every day. I take this post and drive back again at once.
Making the journey every day, he must have had a good many
interesting adventures in eleven years. On bright summer and
gloomy autumn nights, or in winter when a ferocious snowstorm
whirled howling round the mail cart, it must have been hard to
avoid feeling frightened and uncanny. No doubt more than once the
horses had bolted, the mail cart had stuck in the mud, they had
been attacked by highwaymen, or 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
something, but the latter preserved a sullen silence and
retreated into his collar. Meanwhile it began to get light. The
sky changed colour imperceptibly; it still seemed dark, but by
now the horses and the driver and the road could be seen. The
crescent moon looked bigger and bigger, and the cloud that
stretched below it, shaped like a cannon in a gun-carriage,
showed a faint yellow on its lower edge. Soon the postman's face
was visible. It was wet with dew, grey and rigid as the face of a
corpse. An expression of dull, sullen anger was set upon it, as
though the postman were still in pain and still angry with the
"Thank God it is daylight!" said the student, looking at his
chilled and angry face. "I am quite frozen. The nights are cold
in September, but as soon as the sun rises it isn't cold. Shall
we soon reach the station?"
The postman frowned and made a wry face.
"How fond you are of talking, upon my word!" he said. "Can't you
keep quiet when you are travelling?"
The student was confused, and did not approach him again all the
journey. The morning came on rapidly. The moon turned pale and
melted away into the dull grey sky, the cloud turned yellow all
over, the stars grew dim, but the east was still cold-looking and
the same colour as the rest of the sky, so that one could hardly
believe the sun was hidden in it.
The chill of the morning and the surliness of the postman
gradually infected the student. He looked apathetically at the
country around him, waited for the warmth of the sun, and thought
of nothing but how dreadful and horrible it must be for the poor
trees and the grass to endure the cold nights. The sun rose dim,
drowsy, and cold. The tree-tops were not gilded by the rays of
the rising sun, as usually described, the sunbeams did not creep
over the earth and there was no sign of joy in the flight of the
sleepy birds. The cold remained just the same now that the sun
was up as it had been in the night.
The student looked drowsily and ill-humouredly at the curtained
windows of a mansion by which the mail cart drove. Behind those
windows, he thought, people were most likely enjoying their
soundest morning sleep not hearing the bells, nor feeling the
cold, nor seeing the postman's angry face; and if the bell did
wake some young lady, she would turn over on the other side,
smile in the fulness of her warmth and comfort, and, drawing up
her feet and putting her hand under her cheek, would go off to
sleep more soundly than ever.
The student looked at the pond which gleamed near the house and
thought of the 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 not allowed, people have no business . . . to get in. . . .
Yes. It makes no difference to me, it's true, only I don't like
it, and I don't wish it."
"Why didn't you say so before, if you don't like it?"
The postman made no answer but still had an unfriendly, angry
expression. When, a little later, the horses stopped at the
entrance of the station the student 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 his
assistant, with faces wet with dew, were drinking tea from a
dirty tin teapot. The carriages, the platforms, the seats were
all wet and cold. Until the train came in the student stood at
the buffet drinking tea while the postman, with his hands thrust
up his sleeves and the same look of anger still on his face,
paced up and down the platform in solitude, staring at the ground
under his feet.
With whom was he angry? Was it with people, with poverty, with
the autmn nights?
THE NEW VILLA
Two miles from the village of Obrutchanovo a huge bridge was
being built. From the village, which stood up high on the steep
river-bank, its trellis-like skeleton could be seen, and in foggy
weather and on still winter days, when its delicate iron girders
and all the scaffolding around was covered with hoar frost, it
presented a picturesque and even fantastic spectacle. Kutcherov,
the engineer who was building the bridge, a stout,
broad-shouldered, bearded man in a soft crumpled cap drove
through the village in his racing droshky or his open carriage.
Now and then on holidays navvies working on the bridge would come
to the village; they begged for alms, laughed at the women, and
sometimes carried off something. But that was rare; as a rule the
days passed quietly and peacefully as though no bridge-building
were going on, and only in the evening, when camp fires gleamed
near the bridge, the wind faintly wafted the songs of the
navvies. And by day there was sometimes the mournful clang of
It happened that the engineer's wife came to see him. She was
pleased with the river-banks and the gorgeous view over the green
valley with trees, churches, flocks, and she began begging her
husband to buy a small piece of ground and to build them a
cottage on it. Her husband agreed. They bought sixty acres of
land, and on the high bank in a field, where in earlier days the
cows of Obrutchanovo used to wander, they built a pretty house of
two storeys with a terrace and a verandah, with a tower and a
flagstaff on which a flag fluttered on Sundays -- they built it
in about three months, and then all the winter they were planting
big trees, and when spring came and everything began to be green
there were already avenues to the new house, a gardener and two
labourers in white aprons were digging near it, there was a
little fountain, and a globe of looking-glass flashed so
brilliantly that it was painful to look at. The house had already
been named the New Villa.
On a bright, warm morning at the end of May two horses were
brought to Obrutchanovo to the village blacksmith, Rodion Petrov.
They came from the New Villa. The horses were sleek, graceful
beasts, as white as snow, and strikingly alike.
"Perfect swans!" said Rodion, gazing at them with reverent
His wife Stepanida, his children and grandchildren came out into
the street to look at them. By degrees a crowd collected. The
Lytchkovs, father and son, both men with swollen faces and
entirely beardless, came up bareheaded. Kozov, a tall, thin old
man with a long, narrow beard, came up leaning on a stick with a
crook handle: he kept winking with his crafty eyes and smiling
ironically as though he knew something.
"It's only that they are white; what is there in them?" he said.
"Put mine on oats, and they will be just as sleek. They ought to
be in a plough and with a whip, too. . . ."
The coachman simply looked at him with disdain, but did not utter
a word. And afterwards, while they were blowing up the fire at
the forge, the coachman talked while he smoked cigarettes. The
peasants learned from him various details: his employers were
wealthy people; his mistress, Elena Ivanovna, had till her
marriage lived in Moscow in a poor way as a governess; she was
kind-hearted, compassionate, and fond of helping the poor. On the
new estate, he told them, they were not going to plough or to
sow, but simply to live for their pleasure, live only to breathe
the fresh air. When he had finished and led the horses back a
crowd of boys followed him, the dogs barked, and Kozov, looking
after him, winked sarcastically.
"Landowners, too-oo!" he said. "They have built a house and set
up horses, but I bet they are nobodies -- landowners, too-oo."
Kozov for some reason took a dislike from the first to the new
house, to the white horses, and to the handsome, well-fed
coachman. Kozov was a solitary man, a widower; he had a dreary
life (he was prevented from working by a disease which he
sometimes called a rupture and sometimes worms) he was maintained
by his son, who worked at a confectioner's in Harkov and sent him
money; and from early morning till evening he sauntered at
about the river or about the village; if he saw, for instance, a
peasant carting a log, or fishing, he would say: "That log's dry
wood -- it is rotten," or, "They won't bite in weather like
this." In times of drought he would declare that there would not
be a drop of rain till the frost came; and when the rains came he
would say that everything would rot in the fields, that
everything was ruined. And as he said these things he would wink
as though he knew something.
At the New Villa they burned Bengal lights and sent up fireworks
in the evenings, and a sailing-boat with red lanterns floated by
Obrutchanovo. One morning the engineer's wife, Elena Ivanovna,
and her little daughter drove to the village in a carriage with
yellow wheels and a pair of dark bay ponies; both mother and
daughter were wearing broad-brimmed straw hats, bent down over
This was exactly at the time when they were carting manure, and
the blacksmith Rodion, a tall, gaunt old man, bareheaded and
barefooted, was standing near his dirty and repulsive-looking
cart and, flustered, looked at the ponies, and it was evident by
his face that he had never seen such little horses before.
"The Kutcherov lady has come!" was whispered around. "Look, the
Kutcherov lady has come!"
Elena Ivanovna looked at the huts as though she were selecting
one, and then stopped at the very poorest, at the windows of
which there were so many children's heads -- flaxen, red, and
dark. Stepanida, Rodion's wife, a stout woman, came running out
of the hut; her kerchief slipped off her grey head; she looked at
the carriage facing the sun, and her face smiled and wrinkled up
as though she were blind.
"This is for your children," said Elena Ivanovna, and she gave
her three roubles.
Stepanida suddenly burst into tears and bowed down to the ground.
Rodion, too, flopped to the ground, displaying his brownish bald
head, and as he did so he almost caught his wife in the ribs with
the fork. Elena Ivanovna was overcome with confusion and drove
The Lytchkovs, father and son, caught in their meadows two
cart-horses, a pony, and a broad-faced Aalhaus bull-calf, and
with the help of red-headed Volodka, son of the blacksmith
Rodion, drove them to the village. They called the village elder,
collected witnesses, and went to look at the damage.
"All right, let 'em!" said Kozov, winking, "le-et em! Let them
get out of it if they can, the engineers! Do you think there is
no such thing as law? All right! Send for the police inspector,
draw up a statement! . . ."
"Draw up a statement," repeated Volodka.
"I don't want to let this pass!" shouted the younger Lytchkov. He
shouted louder and louder, and his beardless face seemed to be
more and more swollen. "They've set up a nice fashion! Leave them
free, and they will ruin all the meadows! You've no sort of right
to ill-treat people! We are not serfs now!"
"We are not serfs now!" repeated Volodka.
"We got on all right without a bridge," said the elder Lytchkov
gloomily; "we did not ask for it. What do we want a bridge for?
We don't want it!"
"Brothers, good Christians, we cannot leave it like this!"
"All right, let 'em!" said Kozov, winking. "Let them get out of
it if they can! Landowners, indeed!"
They went back to the village, and as they walked the younger
Lytchkov beat himself on the breast with his fist and shouted all
the way, and Volodka shouted, too, repeating his words. And
meanwhile quite a crowd had gathered in the village round the
thoroughbred bull-calf and the horses. The bullcalf was
embarrassed and looked up from under his brows, but suddenly
lowered his muzzle to the ground and took to his heels, kicking
up his hind legs; Kozov was frightened and waved his stick at
him, and they all burst out laughing. Then they locked up the
beasts and waited.
In the evening the engineer sent five roubles for the damage, and
the two horses, the pony and the bull-calf, without being fed or
given water, returned home, their heads hanging with a guilty air
as though they were convicted criminals.
On getting the five roubles the Lytchkovs, father and son, the
village elder and Volodka, punted over the river in a boat and
went to a hamlet on the other side where there was a tavern, and
there had a long carousal. Their singing and the shouting of the
younger Lytchkov could be heard from the village. Their women
were uneasy and did not sleep all night. Rodion did not sleep
"It's a bad business," he said, sighing and turning from side to
side. "The gentleman will be angry, and then there will be
trouble. . . . They have insulted the gentleman. . . . Oh,
they've insulted him. It's a bad business. . ."
It happened that the peasants, Rodion amongst them, went into
their forest to divide the clearings for mowing, and as they were
returning home they were met by the engineer. He was wearing a
red cotton shirt and high boots; a setter dog with its long
tongue hanging out, followed behind him.
"Good-day, brothers," he said.
The peasants stopped and took off their hats.
"I have long wanted to have a talk with you, friends," he went
on. "This is what it is. Ever since the early spring your cattle
have been in my copse and garden every day. Everything is
trampled down; the pigs have rooted up the meadow, are ruining
everything in the kitchen garden, and all the undergrowth in the
copse is destroyed. There is no getting on with your herdsmen;
one asks them civilly, and they are rude. Damage is done on my
estate every day and I do nothing -- I don't fine you or make a
complaint; meanwhile you impounded my horses and my bull calf and
exacted five roubles. Was that right? Is that neighbourly?" he
went on, and his face was so soft and persuasive, and his
expression was not forbidding. "Is that the way decent people
behave? A week ago one of your people cut down two oak saplings
in my copse. You have dug up the road to Eresnevo, and now I have
to go two miles round. Why do you injure me at every step? What
harm have I done you? For God's sake, tell me! My wife and I do
our utmost to live with you in peace and harmony; we help the
peasants as we can. My wife is a kind, warm-hearted woman; she
never refuses you help. That is her dream -- to be of use to you
and your children. You reward us with evil for our good. You are
unjust, my 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 longer, put
on their caps and walked away. Rodion, who always understood
everything that was said to him in some peculiar way of his own,
heaved a sigh and said:
"We must pay. 'Repay in coin, my friends' . . . he said."
They walked to the village in silence. On reaching home Rodion
said his prayer, took off his boots, and sat down on the bench
beside his wife. Stepanida and he always sat side by side when
they were at home, and always walked side by side in the street;
they ate and they drank and they slept always together, and the
older they grew the more they loved one another. It was hot and
crowded in their hut, and there were children everywhere -- on
the floors, in the windows, on the stove. . . . In spite of her
advanced years Stepanida was still bearing children, and now,
looking at the crowd of children, it was hard to distinguish
which were Rodion's and which were Volodka's. Volodka's wife,
Lukerya, a plain young woman with prominent eyes and a nose like
the beak of a bird, was kneading dough 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 began, after a rest, scratching his ribs and
his elbow. " 'You must pay,' says he . . . 'coin,' says he. . . .
Coin or no coin, we shall have to collect ten kopecks from every
hut. We've offended the gentleman very much. I am sorry for him.
. . ."
"We've lived without a bridge," said Volodka, not looking at
anyone, "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. "We don't
want to drive anywhere; what do we want with a bridge? If we have
to, we can cross by the boat."
Someone from the yard outside knocked at the window so violently
that it seemed to shake the whole hut.
"Is Volodka at home?" he heard the voice of the younger Lytchkov.
"Volodka, come out, come along."
Volodka jumped down off the stove and began looking for his cap.
"Don't go, Volodka," said Rodion diffidently. "Don't go with
them, son. You are foolish, like a little child; they will teach
you no good; don't go!"
"Don't go, son," said Stepanida, and she blinked as though about
to shed tears. "I bet they are calling you to the tavern."
" 'To the tavern,' " Volodka mimicked.
"You'll come back drunk again, you currish Herod," said Lukerya,
looking at him angrily. "Go along, go along, and may you burn up
with vodka, you tailless Satan!"
"You hold your tongue," shouted Volodka.
"They've married me to a fool, they've ruined me, a luckless
orphan, you red-headed drunkard . . ." wailed Lukerya, wiping her
face with a hand covered with dough. "I wish I had never set eyes
Volodka gave her a blow on the ear and went off.
Elena Ivanovna and her little daughter visited the village on
foot. They were out for a walk. It was a Sunday, and the peasant
women and girls were walking up and down the street in their
brightly-coloured dresses. Rodion and Stepanida, sitting side by
side at their door, bowed and smiled to Elena Ivanovna and her
little daughter as to acquaintances. From the windows more than a
dozen children stared at them; their faces expressed amazement
and curiosity, and they could be heard whispering:
"The Kutcherov lady has come! The Kutcherov lady!"
"Good-morning," said Elena Ivanovna, and she stopped; she paused,
and then asked: "Well, how are you getting on?"
"We get along all right, thank God," answered Rodion, speaking
rapidly. "To be sure we get along."
"The life we lead!" smiled Stepanida. "You can see our poverty
yourself, dear lady! The family is fourteen souls in all, and
only two bread-winners. We are supposed to be blacksmiths, but
when they bring us a horse to shoe we have no coal, nothing to
buy it with. We are worried to death, lady," she went on, and
laughed. "Oh, oh, we are worried to death."
Elena Ivanovna sat down at the entrance and, putting her arm
round her little girl, pondered something, and judging from the
little girl's expression, melancholy thoughts were straying
through her mind, too; as she brooded she played with the
sumptuous lace on the parasol she had taken out of her mother's
"Poverty," said Rodion, "a great deal of anxiety -- you see no
end to it. Here, God sends no rain . . . our life is not easy,
there is no denying it."
"You have a hard time in this life," said Elena Ivanovna, "but in
the other world you will be happy."
Rodion did not understand her, and simply coughed into his
clenched hand by way of reply. Stepanida said:
"Dear lady, the rich men will be all right in the next world,
too. The rich put up candles, pay for services; the rich give to
beggars, but what can the poor man do? He has no time to make the
sign of the cross. He is the beggar of beggars himself; how can
he think of his soul? And many sins come from poverty; from
trouble we snarl at one another like dogs, we haven't a good word
to say to one another, and all sorts of things happen, dear lady
-- God forbid! It seems we have no luck in this world nor the
next. All the luck has fallen to the rich."
She spoke gaily; she was evidently used to talking of her hard
life. And Rodion smiled, too; he was pleased that his old woman
was so clever, so ready of speech.
"It is only on the surface that the rich seem to be happy," said
Elena Ivanovna. "Every man has his sorrow. Here my husband and I
do not live poorly, we have means, but are we happy? I am young,
but I have had four children; my children are always being ill. I
am ill, too, and constantly being doctored."
"And what is your illness?" asked Rodion.
"A woman's complaint. I get no sleep; a continual headache gives
me no peace. Here I am sitting and talking, but my head is bad, I
am weak all over, and I should prefer the hardest labour to such
a condition. My soul, too, is troubled; I am in continual fear
for my children, my husband. Every family has its own trouble of
some sort; we have ours. I am not of noble birth. My grandfather
was a simple peasant, my father was a tradesman in Moscow; he was
a plain, uneducated man, too, while my husband's parents were
wealthy and distinguished. They did not want him to marry me, but
he disobeyed them, quarrelled with them, and they have not
forgiven us to this day. That worries my husband; it troubles him
and keeps him in constant agitation; he loves his mother, loves
her dearly. So I am uneasy, too, my soul is in pain."
Peasants, men and women, were by now standing round Rodion's hut
and listening. Kozov came up, too, and stood twitching his long,
narrow beard. The Lytchkovs, father and son, drew near.
"And say what you like, one cannot be happy and satisfied if one
does not feel in one's proper place." Elena Ivanovna went on.
"Each of you has his strip of land, each of you works and knows
what he is working for; my husband builds bridges -- in short,
everyone has his place, while I, I simply walk about. I have not
my bit to work. I don't work, and feel as though I were an
outsider. I am saying all this that you may not judge from
outward appearances; if a man is expensively dressed and has
means it does not prove that 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 said, and smiled, and
from that faint, diffident smile one could tell how unwell she
really was, how young and how pretty; she had a pale, thinnish
face with dark eyebrows and fair hair. And the little girl was
just such another as her mother: thin, fair, and slender. There
was a fragrance of scent about them.
"I like the river and the forest and the village," Elena Ivanovna
went on; "I could live here all my life, and I feel as though
here I should get strong and find my place. I want to help you --
I want to dreadfully -- to be of use, to be a real friend to you.
I know your need, and what I don't know I feel, my heart guesses.
I am sick, feeble, and for me perhaps it is not possible to
change my life as I would. But I have children. I will try to
bring them up that they may be of use to you, may love you. I
shall impress upon them continually that their life does not
belong to them, but to you. Only I beg you earnestly, I beseech
you, trust us, live in friendship with us. My husband is a kind,
good man. Don't worry him, don't irritate him. He is sensitive to
every trifle, and yesterday, for instance, your cattle were in
our vegetable garden, and one of your people broke down the fence
to the bee-hives, and such an attitude to us drives my husband to
despair. I beg you," she went on in an imploring voice, and she
clasped her hands on her bosom -- "I beg you to treat us as good
neighbours; let us live in peace! There is a saying, you know,
that even a bad peace is better than a good quarrel, and, 'Don't
buy property, but buy neighbours.' I repeat my husband is a kind
man and good; if all goes well we promise to do everything in our
power for you; we will mend the roads, we will build a school for
your children. I promise you."
"Of course we thank you humbly, lady," said Lytchkov the father,
looking at the ground; "you are educated people; it is for you to
know best. Only, you see, Voronov, a rich peasant at Eresnevo,
promised to build a school; he, too, said, 'I will do this for
you,' 'I will do that for you,' and he only put up the framework
and refused to go on. And then they made the peasants put the
roof on and finish it; it cost them a thousand roubles. Voronov
did not care; he only stroked his beard, but the peasants felt it
a bit hard."
"That was a crow, but now there's a rook, too," said Kozov, and
There was the sound of laughter.
"We don't want a school," said Volodka sullenly. "Our children go
to Petrovskoe, and they can
go on going there; we don't want it."
Elena Ivanovna seemed suddenly intimidated; her face looked paler
and thinner, she shrank into herself as though she had been
touched with something coarse, and walked away without uttering
another word. And she walked more and more quickly, without
"Lady," said Rodion, walking after her, "lady, wait a bit; hear