Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books

The Witch, et. al. by Anton Chekhov

Part 2 out of 5

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.5 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

what I would say to you."

He followed her without his cap, and spoke softly as though

"Lady, wait and hear what I will say to you."

They had walked out of the village, and Elena Ivanovna stopped
beside a cart in the shade of an old mountain ash.

"Don't be offended, lady," said Rodion. "What does it mean? Have
patience. Have patience for a couple of years. You will live
here, you will have patience, and it will all come round. Our
folks are good and peaceable; there's no harm in them; it's God's
truth I'm telling you. Don't mind Kozov and the Lytchkovs, and
don't mind Volodka. He's a fool; he listens to the first that
speaks. The others are quiet folks; they are silent. Some would
be glad, you know, to say a word from the heart and to stand up
for themselves, but cannot. They have a heart and a conscience,
but no tongue. Don't be offended . . . have patience. . . . What
does it matter?"

Elena Ivanovna looked at the broad, tranquil river, pondering,
and tears flowed down her cheeks. And Rodion was troubled by
those tears; he almost cried himself.

"Never mind . . ." he muttered. "Have patience for a couple of
years. You can have the school, you can have the roads, only not
all at once. If you went, let us say, to sow corn on that mound
you would first have to weed it out, to pick out all the stones,
and then to plough, and work and work . . . and with the people,
you see, it is the same . . . you must work and work until you
overcome them."

The crowd had moved away from Rodion's hut, and was coming along
the street towards the mountain ash. They began singing songs and
playing the concertina, and they kept coming closer and closer. .
. .

"Mamma, let us go away from here," said the little girl, huddling
up to her mother, pale and shaking all over; "let us go away,


"To Moscow. . . . Let us go, mamma."

The child began crying.

Rodion was utterly overcome; his face broke into profuse
perspiration; he took out of his pocket a little crooked
cucumber, like a half-moon, covered with crumbs of rye bread, and
began thrusting it into the little girl's hands.

"Come, come," he muttered, scowling severely; "take the little
cucumber, eat it up. . . . You mustn't cry. Mamma will whip you.
. . . She'll tell your father of you when you get home. Come,
come. . . ."

They walked on, and he still followed behind them, wanting to say
something friendly and persuasive to them. And seeing that they
were both absorbed in their own thoughts and their own griefs,
and not noticing him, he stopped and, shading his eyes from the
sun, looked after them for a long time till they disappeared into
their copse.


The engineer seemed to grow irritable and petty, and in every
trivial incident saw an act of robbery or outrage. His gate was
kept bolted even by day, and at night two watchmen walked up and
down the garden beating a board; and they gave up employing
anyone from Obrutchanovo as a labourer. As ill-luck would have it
someone (either a peasant or one of the workmen) took the new
wheels off the cart and replaced them by old ones, then soon
afterwards two bridles and a pair of pincers were carried off,
and murmurs arose even in the village. People began to say that a
search should be made at the Lytchkovs' and at Volodka's, and
then the bridles and the pincers were found under the hedge in
the engineer's garden; someone had thrown them down there.

It happened that the peasants were coming in a crowd out of the
forest, and again they met the engineer on the road. He stopped,
and without wishing them good-day he began, looking angrily first
at one, then at another:

"I have begged you not to gather mushrooms in the park and near
the yard, but to leave them for my wife and children, but your
girls come before daybreak and there is not a mushroom left. . .
.Whether one asks you or not it makes no difference. Entreaties,
and friendliness, and persuasion I see are all useless."

He fixed his indignant eyes on Rodion and went on:

"My wife and I behaved to you as human beings, as to our equals,
and you? But what's the use of talking! It will end by our
looking down upon you. There is nothing left!"

And making an effort to restrain his anger, not to say too much,
he turned and went on.

On getting home Rodion said his prayer, took off his boots, and
sat down beside his wife.

"Yes . . ." he began with a sigh. "We were walking along just
now, and Mr. Kutcherov met us. . . . Yes. . . . He saw the girls
at daybreak. . . 'Why don't they bring mushrooms,' . . . he said
'to my wife and children?' he said. . . . And then he looked at
me and he said: 'I and my wife will look after you,' he said. I
wanted to fall down at his feet, but I hadn't the courage. . . .
God give him health. . . God bless him! . . ."

Stephania crossed herself and sighed.

"They are kind, simple-hearted people," Rodion went on. " 'We
shall look after you.' . . . He promised me that before everyone.
In our old age . . . it wouldn't be a bad thing. . . . I should
always pray for them. . . . Holy Mother, bless them. . . ."

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the fourteenth of
September, was the festival of the village church. The Lytchkovs,
father and son, went across the river early in the morning and
returned to dinner drunk; they spent a long time going about the
village, alternately singing and swearing; then they had a fight
and went to the New Villa to complain. First Lytchkov the father
went into the yard with a long ashen stick in his hands. He
stopped irresolutely and took off his hat. Just at that moment
the engineer and his family were sitting on the verandah,
drinking tea.

"What do you want?" shouted the engineer.

"Your honour . . ." Lytchkov began, and burst into tears. "Show
the Divine mercy, protect me . . . my son makes my life a misery
. . . your honour. . ."

Lytchkov the son walked up, too; he, too, was bareheaded and had
a stick in his hand; he stopped and fixed his drunken senseless
eyes on the verandah.

"It is not my business to settle your affairs," said the
engineer. "Go to the rural captain or the police officer."

"I have been everywhere. . . . I have lodged a petition . . ."
said Lytchkov the father, and he sobbed. "Where can I go now? He
can kill me now, it seems. He can do anything. Is that the way to
treat a father? A father?"

He raised his stick and hit his son on the head; the son raised
his stick and struck his father just on his bald patch such a
blow that the stick bounced back. The father did not even flinch,
but hit his son again and again on the head. And so they stood
and kept hitting one another on the head, and it looked not so
much like a fight as some sort of a game. And peasants, men and
women, stood in a crowd at the gate and looked into the garden,
and the faces of all were grave. They were the peasants who had
come to greet them for the holiday, but seeing the Lytchkovs,
they were ashamed and did not go in.

The next morning Elena Ivanovna went with the children to Moscow.
And there was a rumour that the engineer was selling his house. .
. .


The peasants had long ago grown used to the sight of the bridge,
and it was difficult to imagine the river at that place without a
bridge. The heap of rubble left from the building of it had long
been overgrown with grass, the navvies were forgotten, and
instead of the strains of the "Dubinushka" that they used to
sing, the peasants heard almost every hour the sounds of a
passing train.

The New Villa has long ago been sold; now it belongs to a
government clerk who comes here from the town for the holidays
with his family, drinks tea on the terrace, and then goes back to
the town again. He wears a cockade on his cap; he talks and
clears his throat as though he were a very important official,
though he is only of the rank of a collegiate secretary, and when
the peasants bow he makes no response.

In Obrutchanovo everyone has grown older; Kozov is dead. In
Rodion's hut there are even more children. Volodka has grown a
long red beard. They are still as poor as ever.

In the early spring the Obrutchanovo peasants were sawing wood
near the station. And after work they were going home; they
walked without haste one after the other. Broad saws curved over
their shoulders; the sun was reflected in them. The nightingales
were singing in the bushes on the bank, larks were trilling in
the heavens. It was quiet at the New Villa; there was not a soul
there, and only golden pigeons -- golden because the sunlight was
streaming upon them -- were flying over the house. All of them --
Rodion, the two Lytchkovs, and Volodka -- thought of the white
horses, the little ponies, the fireworks, the boat with the
lanterns; they remembered how the engineer's wife, so beautiful
and so grandly dressed, had come into the village and talked to
them in such a friendly way. And it seemed as though all that had
never been; it was like a dream or a fairy-tale.

They trudged along, tired out, and mused as they went. . . . In
their village, they mused, the people were good, quiet, sensible,
fearing God, and Elena Ivanovna, too, was quiet, kind, and
gentle; it made one sad to look at her, but why had they not got
on together? Why had they parted like enemies? How was it that
some mist had shrouded from their eyes what mattered most, and
had let them see nothing but damage done by cattle, bridles,
pincers, and all those trivial things which now, as they
remembered them, seemed so nonsensical? How was it that with the
new owner they lived in peace, and yet had been on bad terms with
the engineer?

And not knowing what answer to make to these questions they were
all silent except Volodka, who muttered something.

"What is it?" Rodion asked.

"We lived without a bridge . . ." said Volodka gloomily. "We
lived without a bridge, and did not ask for one . . . and we
don't want it. . . ."

No one answered him and they walked on in silence with drooping


Two peasant constables -- one a stubby, black-bearded individual
with such exceptionally short legs that if you looked at him from
behind it seemed as though his legs began much lower down than in
other people; the other, long, thin, and straight as a stick,
with a scanty beard of dark reddish colour -- were escorting to
the district town a tramp who refused to remember his name. The
first waddled along, looking from side to side, chewing now a
straw, now his own sleeve, slapping himself on the haunches and
humming, and altogether had a careless and frivolous air; the
other, in spite of his lean face and narrow shoulders, looked
solid, grave, and substantial; in the lines and expression of his
whole figure he was like the priests among the Old Believers, or
the warriors who are painted on old-fashioned ikons. "For his
wisdom God had added to his forehead" -- that is, he was bald --
which increased the resemblance referred to. The first was called
Andrey Ptaha, the second Nikandr Sapozhnikov.

The man they were escorting did not in the least correspond with
the conception everyone has of a tramp. He was a frail little
man, weak and sickly-looking, with small, colourless, and
extremely indefinite features. His eyebrows were scanty, his
expression mild and submissive; he had scarcely a trace of a
moustache, though he was over thirty. He walked along timidly,
bent forward, with his hands thrust into his sleeves. The collar
of his shabby cloth overcoat, which did not look like a
peasant's, was turned up to the very brim of his cap, so that
only his little red nose ventured to peep out into the light of
day. He spoke in an ingratiating tenor, continually coughing. It
was very, very difficult to believe that he was a tramp
concealing his surname. He was more like an unsuccessful priest's
son, stricken by God and reduced to beggary; a clerk discharged
for drunkenness; a merchant's son or nephew who had tried his
feeble powers in a theatrical career, and was now going home to
play the last act in the parable of the prodigal son; perhaps,
judging by the dull patience with which he struggled with the
hopeless autumn mud, he might have been a fanatical monk,
wandering from one Russian monastery to another, continually
seeking "a peaceful life, free from sin," and not finding it. . .

The travellers had been a long while on their way, but they
seemed to be always on the same small patch of ground. In front
of them there stretched thirty feet of muddy black-brown mud,
behind them the same, and wherever one looked further, an
impenetrable wall of white fog. They went on and on, but the
ground remained the same, the wall was no nearer, and the patch
on which they walked seemed still the same patch. They got a
glimpse of a white, clumsy-looking stone, a small ravine, or a
bundle of hay dropped by a passer-by, the brief glimmer of a
great muddy puddle, or, suddenly, a shadow with vague outlines
would come into view ahead of them; the nearer they got to it the
smaller and darker it became; nearer still, and there stood up
before the wayfarers a slanting milestone with the number rubbed
off, or a wretched birch-tree drenched and bare like a wayside
beggar. The birch-tree would whisper something with what remained
of its yellow leaves, one leaf would break off and float lazily
to the ground. . . . And then again fog, mud, the brown grass at
the edges of the road. On the grass hung dingy, unfriendly tears.
They were not the tears of soft joy such as the earth weeps at
welcoming the summer sun and parting from it, and such as she
gives to drink at dawn to the corncrakes, quails, and graceful,
long-beaked crested snipes. The travellers' feet stuck in the
heavy, clinging mud. Every step cost an effort.

Andrey Ptaha was somewhat excited. He kept looking round at the
tramp and trying to understand how a live, sober man could fail
to remember his name.

"You are an orthodox Christian, aren't you?" he asked.

"Yes," the tramp answered mildly.

"H'm. . . then you've been christened?"

"Why, to be sure! I'm not a Turk. I go to church and to the
sacrament, and do not eat meat when it is forbidden. And I
observe my religious duties punctually. . . ."

"Well, what are you called, then?"

"Call me what you like, good man."

Ptaha shrugged his shoulders and slapped himself on the haunches
in extreme perplexity. The other constable, Nikandr Sapozhnikov,
maintained a staid silence. He was not so naive as Ptaha, and
apparently knew very well the reasons which might induce an
orthodox Christian to conceal his name from other people. His
expressive face was cold and stern. He walked apart and did not
condescend to idle chatter with his companions, but, as it were,
tried to show everyone, even the fog, his sedateness and

"God knows what to make of you," Ptaha persisted in addressing
the tramp. "Peasant you are not, and gentleman you are not, but
some sort of a thing between. . . . The other day I was washing a
sieve in the pond and caught a reptile -- see, as long as a
finger, with gills and a tail. The first minute I thought it was
a fish, then I looked -- and, blow it! if it hadn't paws. It was
not a fish, it was a viper, and the deuce only knows what it was.
. . . So that's like you. . . . What's your calling?"

"I am a peasant and of peasant family," sighed the tramp. "My
mamma was a house serf. I don't look like a peasant, that's true,
for such has been my lot, good man. My mamma was a nurse with the
gentry, and had every comfort, and as I was of her flesh and
blood, I lived with her in the master's house. She petted and
spoiled me, and did her best to take me out of my humble class
and make a gentleman of me. I slept in a bed, every day I ate a
real dinner, I wore breeches and shoes like a gentleman's child.
What my mamma ate I was fed on, too; they gave her stuffs as a
present, and she dressed me up in them. . . . We lived well! I
ate so many sweets and cakes in my childish years that if they
could be sold now it would be enough to buy a goo d horse. Mamma
taught me to read and write, she instilled the fear of God in me
from my earliest years, and she so trained me that now I can't
bring myself to utter an unrefined peasant word. And I don't
drink vodka, my lad, and am neat in my dress, and know how to
behave with decorum in good society. If she is still living, God
give her health; and if she is dead, then, O Lord, give her soul
peace in Thy Kingdom, wherein the just are at rest."

The tramp bared his head with the scanty hair standing up like a
brush on it, turned his eyes upward and crossed himself twice.

"Grant her, O Lord, a verdant and peaceful resting-place," he
said in a drawling voice, more like an old woman's than a man's.
"Teach Thy servant Xenia Thy justifications, O Lord! If it had
not been for my beloved mamma I should have been a peasant with
no sort of understanding! Now, young man, ask me about anything
and I understand it all: the holy Scriptures and profane
writings, and every prayer and catechism. I live according to the
Scriptures. . . . I don't injure anyone, I keep my flesh in
purity and continence, I observe the fasts, I eat at fitting
times. Another man will take no pleasure in anything but vodka
and lewd talk, but when I have time I sit in a corner and read a
book. I read and I weep and weep."

"What do you weep for?"

"They write so patheticallyl For some books one gives but a
five-kopeck piece, and yet one weeps and sighs exceedingly over

"Is your father dead?" asked Ptaha.

"I don't know, good man. I don't know my parent; it is no use
concealing it. I judge that I was mamma's illegitimate son. My
mamma lived all her life with the gentry, and did not want to
marry a simple peasant. . . ."

"And so she fell into the master's hands," laughed Ptaha.

"She did transgress, that's true. She was pious, God-fearing, but
she did not keep her maiden purity. It is a sin, of course, a
great sin, there's no doubt about it, but to make up for it there
is, maybe, noble blood in me. Maybe I am only a peasant by class,
but in nature a noble gentleman."

The "noble gentleman" uttered all this in a soft, sugary tenor,
wrinkling up his narrow forehead and emitting creaking sounds
from his red, frozen little nose. Ptaha listened and looked
askance at him in wonder, continually shrugging his shoulders.

After going nearly five miles the constables and the tramp sat
down on a mound to rest.

"Even a dog knows his name," Ptaha muttered. "My name is
Andryushka, his is Nikandr; every man has his holy name, and it
can't be forgotten. Nohow."

"Who has any need to know my name?" sighed the tramp, leaning his
cheek on his fist. "And what advantage would it be to me if they
did know it? If I were allowed to go where I would -- but it
would only make things worse. I know the law, Christian brothers.
Now I am a tramp who doesn't remember his name, and it's the very
most if they send me to Eastern Siberia and give me thirty or
forty lashes; but if I were to tell them my real name and
description they would send me back to hard labour, I know!"

"Why, have you been a convict?"

"I have, dear friend. For four years I went about with my head
shaved and fetters on my legs."

"What for?"

"For murder, my good man! When I was still a boy of eighteen or
so, my mamma accidentally poured arsenic instead of soda and acid
into my master's glass. There were boxes of all sorts in the
storeroom, numbers of them; it was easy to make a mistake over

The tramp sighed, shook his head, and said:

"She was a pious woman, but, who knows? another man's soul is a
slumbering forest! It may have been an accident, or maybe she
could not endure the affront of seeing the master prefer another
servant. . . . Perhaps she put it in on purpose, God knows! I was
young then, and did not understand it all . . . now I remember
that our master had taken another mistress and mamma was greatly
disturbed. Our trial lasted nearly two years. . . . Mamma was
condemned to penal servitude for twenty years, and I, on account
of my youth, only to seven."

"And why were you sentenced?"

"As an accomplice. I handed the glass to the master. That was
always the custom. Mamma prepared the soda and I handed it to
him. Only I tell you all this as a Christian, brothers, as I
would say it before God. Don't you tell anybody. . . ."

"Oh, nobody's going to ask us," said Ptaha. "So you've run away
from prison, have you?"

"I have, dear friend. Fourteen of us ran away. Some folks, God
bless them! ran away and took me with them. Now you tell me, on
your conscience, good man, what reason have I to disclose my
name? They will send me back to penal servitude, you know! And I
am not fit for penal servitude! I am a refined man in delicate
health. I like to sleep and eat in cleanliness. When I pray to
God I like to light a little lamp or a candle, and not to have a
noise around me. When I bow down to the ground I like the floor
not to be dirty or spat upon. And I bow down forty times every
morning and evening, praying for mamma."

The tramp took off his cap and crossed himself.

"And let them send me to Eastern Siberia," he said; "I am not
afraid of that."

"Surely that's no better?"

"It is quite a different thing. In penal servitude you are like a
crab in a basket: crowding, crushing, jostling, there's no room
to breathe; it's downright hell -- such hell, may the Queen of
Heaven keep us from it! You are a robber and treated like a
robber -- worse than any dog. You can't sleep, you can't eat or
even say your prayers. But it's not like that in a settlement. In
a settlement I shall be a member of a commune like other people.
The authorities are bound by law to give me my share . . . ye-es!
They say the land costs nothing, no more than snow; you can take
what you like! They will give me corn land and building land and
garden. . . . I shall plough my fields like other people, sow
seed. I shall have cattle and stock of all sorts, bees, sheep,
and dogs. . . . A Siberian cat, that rats and mice may not devour
my goods. . . . I will put up a house, I shall buy ikons. . . .
Please God, I'll get married, I shall have children. . . ."

The tramp muttered and looked, not at his listeners, but away
into the distance. Naive as his dreams were, they were uttered in
such a genuine and heartfelt tone that it was difficult not to
believe in them. The tramp's little mouth was screwed up in a
smile. His eyes and little nose and his whole face were fixed and
blank with blissful anticipation of happiness in the distant
future. The constables listened and looked at him gravely, not
without sympathy. They, too, believed in his dreams.

"I am not afraid of Siberia," the tramp went on muttering.
"Siberia is just as much Russia and has the same God and Tsar as
here. They are just as orthodox Christians as you and I. Only
there is more freedom there and people are better off. Everything
is better there. Take the rivers there, for instance; they are
far better than those here. There's no end of fish; and all sorts
of wild fowl. And my greatest pleasure, brothers, is fishing.
Give me no bread to eat, but let me sit with a fishhook. Yes,
indeed! I fish with a hook and with a wire line, and set creels,
and when the ice comes I catch with a net. I am not strong to
draw up the net, so I shall hire a man for five kopecks. And,
Lord, what a pleasure it is! You catch an eel-pout or a roach of
some sort and are as pleased as though you had met your own
brother. And would you believe it, there's a special art for
every fish: you catch one with a live bait, you catch another
with a grub, the third with a frog or a grasshopper. One has to
understand all that, of course! For example, take the eel-pout.
It is not a delicate fish -- it will take a perch; and a pike
loves a gudgeon, the _shilishper_ likes a butterfly. If you fish
for a roach in a rapid stream there is no greater pleasure. You
throw the line of seventy feet without lead, with a butterfly or
a beetle, so that the bait floats on the surface; you stand in
the water without your trousers and let it go with the current,
and tug! the roach pulls at it! Only you have got to be artful
that he doesn't carry off the b ait, the damned rascal. As soon
as he tugs at your line you must whip it up; it's no good
waiting. It's wonderful what a lot of fish I've caught in my
time. When we were running away the other convicts would sleep in
the forest; I could not sleep, but I was off to the river. The
rivers there are wide and rapid, the banks are steep -- awfully!
It's all slumbering forests on the bank. The trees are so tall
that if you look to the top it makes you dizzy. Every pine would
be worth ten roubles by the prices here."

In the overwhelming rush of his fancies, of artistic images of
the past and sweet presentiments of happiness in the future, the
poor wretch sank into silence, merely moving his lips as though
whispering to himself. The vacant, blissful smile never left his
lips. The constables were silent. They were pondering with bent
heads. In the autumn stillness, when the cold, sullen mist that
rises from the earth lies like a weight on the heart, when it
stands like a prison wall before the eyes, and reminds man of the
limitation of his freedom, it is sweet to think of the broad,
rapid rivers, with steep banks wild and luxuriant, of the
impenetrable forests, of the boundless steppes. Slowly and
quietly the fancy pictures how early in the morning, before the
flush of dawn has left the sky, a man makes his way along the
steep deserted bank like a tiny speck: the ancient, mast-like
pines rise up in terraces on both sides of the torrent, gaze
sternly at the free man and murmur menacingly; rocks, huge
stones, and thorny bushes bar his way, but he is strong in body
and bold in spirit, and has no fear of the pine-trees, nor
stones, nor of his solitude, nor of the reverberating echo which
repeats the sound of every footstep that he takes.

The peasants called up a picture of a free life such as they had
never lived; whether they vaguely recalled the images of stories
heard long ago or whether notions of a free life had been handed
down to them with their flesh and blood from far-off free
ancestors, God knows!

The first to break the silence was Nikandr Sapozhnikov, who had
not till then let fall a single word. Whether he envied the
tramp's transparent happiness, or whether he felt in his heart
that dreams of happiness were out of keeping with the grey fog
and the dirty brown mud -- anyway, he looked sternly at the tramp
and said:

"It's all very well, to be sure, only you won't reach those
plenteous regions, brother. How could you? Before you'd gone two
hundred miles you'd give up your soul to God. Just look what a
weakling you are! Here you've hardly gone five miles and you
can't get your breath."

The tramp turned slowly toward Nikandr, and the blissful smile
vanished from his face. He looked with a scared and guilty air at
the peasant's staid face, apparently remembered something, and
bent his head. A silence followed again. . . . All three were
pondering. The peasants were racking their brains in the effort
to grasp in their imagination what can be grasped by none but God
-- that is, the vast expanse dividing them from the land of
freedom. Into the tramp's mind thronged clear and distinct
pictures more terrible than that expanse. Before him rose vividly
the picture of the long legal delays and procrastinations, the
temporary and permanent prisons, the convict boats, the wearisome
stoppages on the way, the frozen winters, illnesses, deaths of
companions. . . .

The tramp blinked guiltily, wiped the tiny drops of sweat from
his forehead with his sleeve, drew a deep breath as though he had
just leapt out of a very hot bath, then wiped his forehead with
the other sleeve and looked round fearfully.

"That's true; you won't get there!" Ptaha agreed. "You are not
much of a walker! Look at you -- nothing but skin and bone!
You'll die, brother!"

"Of course he'll die! What could he do?" said Nikandr. "He's fit
for the hospital now. . . . For sure!"

The man who had forgotten his name looked at the stern,
unconcerned faces of his sinister companions, and without taking
off his cap, hurriedly crossed himself, staring with wide-open
eyes. . . . He trembled, his head shook, and he began twitching
all over, like a caterpillar when it is stepped upon. . . .

"Well, it's time to go," said Nikandr, getting up; "we've had a

A minute later they were stepping along the muddy road. The tramp
was more bent than ever, and he thrust his hands further up his
sleeves. Ptaha was silent.


MELITON SHISHKIN, a bailiff from the Dementyev farm, exhausted by
the sultry heat of the fir-wood and covered with spiders' webs
and pine-needles, made his way with his gun to the edge of the
wood. His Damka -- a mongrel between a yard dog and a setter --
an extremely thin bitch heavy with young, trailed after her
master with her wet tail between her legs, doing all she could to
avoid pricking her nose. It was a dull, overcast morning. Big
drops dripped from the bracken and from the trees that were
wrapped in a light mist; there was a pungent smell of decay from
the dampness of the wood.

There were birch-trees ahead of him where the wood ended, and
between their stems and branches he could see the misty distance.
Beyond the birch-trees someone was playing on a shepherd's rustic
pipe. The player produced no more than five or six notes, dragged
them out languidly with no attempt at forming a tune, and yet
there was something harsh and extremely dreary in the sound of
the piping.

As the copse became sparser, and the pines were interspersed with
young birch-trees, Meliton saw a herd. Hobbled horses, cows, and
sheep were wandering among the bushes and, snapping the dry
branches, sniffed at the herbage of the copse. A lean old
shepherd, bareheaded, in a torn grey smock, stood leaning against
the wet trunk of a birch-tree. He stared at the ground, pondering
something, and played his pipe, it seemed, mechanically.

"Good-day, grandfather! God help you!" Meliton greeted him in a
thin, husky voice which seemed incongruous with his huge stature
and big, fleshy face. "How cleverly you are playing your pipe!
Whose herd are you minding?"

"The Artamonovs'," the shepherd answered reluctantly, and he
thrust the pipe into his bosom.

"So I suppose the wood is the Artamonovs' too?" Meliton inquired,
looking about him. "Yes, it is the Artamonovs'; only fancy . . .
I had completely lost myself. I got my face scratched all over in
the thicket."

He sat down on the wet earth and began rolling up a bit of
newspaper into a cigarette.

Like his voice, everything about the man was small and out of
keeping with his height, his breadth, and his fleshy face: his
smiles, his eyes, his buttons, his tiny cap, which would hardly
keep on his big, closely-cropped head. When he talked and smiled
there was something womanish, timid, and meek about his puffy,
shaven face and his whole figure.

"What weather! God help us!" he said, and he turned his head from
side to side. "Folk have not carried the oats yet, and the rain
seems as though it had been taken on for good, God bless it."

The shepherd looked at the sky, from which a drizzling rain was
falling, at the wood, at the bailif's wet clothes, pondered, and
said nothing.

"The whole summer has been the same," sighed Meliton. "A bad
business for the peasants and no pleasure for the gentry."

The shepherd looked at the sky again, thought a moment, and said
deliberately, as though chewing each word:

"It's all going the same way. . . . There is nothing good to be
looked for."

"How are things with you here?" Meliton inquired, lighting his
cigarette. "Haven't you seen any coveys of grouse in the
Artamonovs' clearing?"

The shepherd did not answer at once. He looked again at the sky
and to right and left, thought a little, blinked. . . .
Apparently he attached no little significance to his words, and
to increase their value tried to pronounce them with deliberation
and a certain solemnity. The expression of his face had the
sharpness and staidness of old age, and the fact that his nose
had a saddle-shaped depression across the middle and his nostrils
turned upwards gave him a sly and sarcastic look.

"No, I believe I haven't," he said. "Our huntsman Eryomka w as
saying that on Elijah's Day he started one covey near Pustoshye,
but I dare say he was lying. There are very few birds."

"Yes, brother, very few. . . . Very few everywhere! The shooting
here, if one is to look at it with common sense, is good for
nothing and not worth having. There is no game at all, and what
there is is not worth dirtying your hands over -- it is not
full-grown. It is such poor stuff that one is ashamed to look at

Meliton gave a laugh and waved his hands.

"Things happen so queerly in this world that it is simply
laughable and nothing else. Birds nowadays have become so
unaccountable: they sit late on their eggs, and there are some, I
declare, that have not hatched them by St. Peter's Day!"

"It's all going the same," said the shepherd, turning his face
upwards. "There was little game last year, this year there are
fewer birds still, and in another five years, mark my words,
there will be none at all. As far as I can see there will soon be
not only no game, but no birds at all."

Yes," Meliton assented, after a moment's thought. "That's true."

The shepherd gave a bitter smile and shook his head.

"It's a wonder," he said, "what has become of them all! I
remember twenty years ago there used to be geese here, and cranes
and ducks and grouse -- clouds and clouds of them! The gentry
used to meet together for shooting, and one heard nothing but
pouf-pouf-pouf! pouf-pouf-pouf! There was no end to the
woodcocks, the snipe, and the little teals, and the water-snipe
were as common as starlings, or let us say sparrows -- lots and
lots of them! And what has become of them all? We don't even see
the birds of prey. The eagles, the hawks, and the owls have all
gone. . . . There are fewer of every sort of wild beast, too.
Nowadays, brother, even the wolf and the fox have grown rare, let
alone the bear or the otter. And you know in old days there were
even elks! For forty years I have been observing the works of God
from year to year, and it is my opinion that everything is going
the same way."

"What way?"

"To the bad, young man. To ruin, we must suppose. . . The time
has come for God's world to perish."

The old man put on his cap and began gazing at the sky.

"It's a pity," he sighed, after a brief silence. "O God, what a
pity! Of course it is God's will; the world was not created by
us, but yet it is a pity, brother. If a single tree withers away,
or let us say a single cow dies, it makes one sorry, but what
will it be, good man, if the whole world crumbles into dust? Such
blessings, Lord Jesus! The sun, and the sky, and the forest, and
the rivers, and the creatures -- all these have been created,
adapted, and adjusted to one another. Each has been put to its
appointed task and knows its place. And all that must perish."

A mournful smile gleamed on the shepherd's face, and his eyelids

"You say -- the world is perishing," said Meliton, pondering. "It
may be that the end of the world is near at hand, but you can't
judge by the birds. I don't think the birds can be taken as a

"Not the birds only," said the shepherd. "It's the wild beasts,
too, and the cattle, and the bees, and the fish. . . . If you
don't believe me ask the old people; every old man will tell you
that the fish are not at all what they used to be. In the seas,
in the lakes, and in the rivers, there are fewer fish from year
to year. In our Pestchanka, I remember, pike used to be caught a
yard long, and there were eel-pouts, and roach, and bream, and
every fish had a presentable appearance; while nowadays, if you
catch a wretched little pikelet or perch six inches long you have
to be thankful. There are not any gudgeon even worth talking
about. Every year it is worse and worse, and in a little while
there will be no fish at all. And take the rivers now . . . the
rivers are drying up, for sure."

"It is true; they are drying up."

"To be sure, that's what I say. Every year they are shallower and
shallower, and there are not the deep holes there used to be. And
do you see the bushes yonder?" the old man asked, pointing to one
side. "Beyond them is an old river-bed; it's called a backwater.
In my father's time the Pestchanka flowed there, but now look;
where have the evil spirits taken it to? It changes its course,
and, mind you, it will go on changing till such time as it has
dried up altogether. There used to be marshes and ponds beyond
Kurgasovo, and where are they now? And what has become of the
streams? Here in this very wood we used to have a stream flowing,
and such a stream that the peasants used to set creels in it and
caught pike; wild ducks used to spend the winter by it, and
nowadays there is no water in it worth speaking of, even at the
spring floods. Yes, brother, look where you will, things are bad
everywhere. Everywhere!"

A silence followed. Meliton sank into thought, with his eyes
fixed on one spot. He wanted to think of some one part of nature
as yet untouched by the all-embracing ruin. Spots of light
glistened on the mist and the slanting streaks of rain as though
on opaque glass, and immediately died away again -- it was the
rising sun trying to break through the clouds and peep at the

"Yes, the forests, too . . ." Meliton muttered.

"The forests, too," the shepherd repeated. "They cut them down,
and they catch fire, and they wither away, and no new ones are
growing. Whatever does grow up is cut down at once; one day it
shoots up and the next it has been cut down -- and so on without
end till nothing's left. I have kept the herds of the commune
ever since the time of Freedom, good man; before the time of
Freedom I was shepherd of the master's herds. I have watched them
in this very spot, and I can't remember a summer day in all my
life that I have not been here. And all the time I have been
observing the works of God. I have looked at them in my time till
I know them, and it is my opinion that all things growing are on
the decline. Whether you take the rye, or the vegetables, or
flowers of any sort, they are all going the same way."

"But people have grown better," observed the bailiff.

"In what way better?"


"Cleverer, maybe, that's true, young man; but what's the use of
that? What earthly good is cleverness to people on the brink of
ruin? One can perish without cleverness. What's the good of
cleverness to a huntsman if there is no game? What I think is
that God has given men brains and taken away their strength.
People have grown weak, exceedingly weak. Take me, for instance .
. . I am not worth a halfpenny, I am the humblest peasant in the
whole village, and yet, young man, I have strength. Mind you, I
am in my seventies, and I tend my herd day in and day out, and
keep the night watch, too, for twenty kopecks, and I don't sleep,
and I don't feel the cold; my son is cleverer than I am, but put
him in my place and he would ask for a raise next day, or would
be going to the doctors. There it is. I eat nothing but bread,
for 'Give us this day our daily bread,' and my father ate nothing
but bread, and my grandfather; but the peasant nowadays must have
tea and vodka and white loaves, and must sleep from sunset to
dawn, and he goes to the doctor and pampers himself in all sorts
of ways. And why is it? He has grown weak; he has not the
strength to endure. If he wants to stay awake, his eyes close --
there is no doing anything."

"That's true," Meliton agreed; "the peasant is good for nothing

"It's no good hiding what is wrong; we get worse from year to
year. And if you take the gentry into consideration, they've
grown feebler even more than the peasants have. The gentleman
nowadays has mastered everything; he knows what he ought not to
know, and what is the sense of it? It makes you feel pitiful to
look at him. . . . He is a thin, puny little fellow, like some
Hungarian or Frenchman; there is no dignity nor air about him;
it's only in name he is a gentleman. There is no place for him,
poor dear, and nothing for him to do, and there is no making out
what he wants. Either he sits with a hook catching fish, or he
lolls on his back reading, or trots about among the peasants
saying all sorts of th ings to them, and those that are hungry go
in for being clerks. So he spends his life in vain. And he has no
notion of doing something real and useful. The gentry in old days
were half of them generals, but nowadays they are -- a poor lot."

"They are badly off nowadays," said Meliton.

"They are poorer because God has taken away their strength. You
can't go against God."

Meliton stared at a fixed point again. After thinking a little he
heaved a sigh as staid, reasonable people do sigh, shook his
head, and said:

"And all because of what? We have sinned greatly, we have
forgotten God . . and it seems that the time has come for all to
end. And, after all, the world can't last for ever -- it's time
to know when to take leave."

The shepherd sighed and, as though wishing to cut short an
unpleasant conversation, he walked away from the birch-tree and
began silently reckoning over the cows.

"Hey-hey-hey!" he shouted. "Hey-hey-hey! Bother you, the plague
take you! The devil has taken you into the thicket. Tu-lu-lu!"

With an angry face he went into the bushes to collect his herd.
Meliton got up and sauntered slowly along the edge of the wood.
He looked at the ground at his feet and pondered; he still wanted
to think of something which had not yet been touched by death.
Patches of light crept upon the slanting streaks of rain again;
they danced on the tops of the trees and died away among the wet
leaves. Damka found a hedgehog under a bush, and wanting to
attract her master's attention to it, barked and howled.

"Did you have an eclipse or not?" the shepherd called from the

"Yes, we had," answered Meliton.

"Ah! Folks are complaining all about that there was one. It shows
there is disorder even in the heavens! It's not for nothing. . .
. Hey-hey-hey! Hey!"

Driving his herd together to the edge of the wood, the shepherd
leaned against the birch-tree, looked up at the sky, without
haste took his pipe from his bosom and began playing. As before,
he played mechanically and took no more than five or six notes;
as though the pipe had come into his hands for the first time,
the sounds floated from it uncertainly, with no regularity, not
blending into a tune, but to Meliton, brooding on the destruction
of the world, there was a sound in it of something very
depressing and revolting which he would much rather not have
heard. The highest, shrillest notes, which quivered and broke,
seemed to be weeping disconsolately, as though the pipe were sick
and frightened, while the lowest notes for some reason reminded
him of the mist, the dejected trees, the grey sky. Such music
seemed in keeping with the weather, the old man and his sayings.

Meliton wanted to complain. He went up to the old man and,
looking at his mournful, mocking face and at the pipe, muttered:

"And life has grown worse, grandfather. It is utterly impossible
to live. Bad crops, want. . . . Cattle plague continually,
diseases of all sorts. . . . We are crushed by poverty."

The bailiff's puffy face turned crimson and took a dejected,
womanish expression. He twirled his fingers as though seeking
words to convey his vague feeling and went on:

"Eight children, a wife . . . and my mother still living, and my
whole salary ten roubles a month and to board myself. My wife has
become a Satan from poverty. . . . I go off drinking myself. I am
a sensible, steady man; I have education. I ought to sit at home
in peace, but I stray about all day with my gun like a dog
because it is more than I can stand; my home is hateful to me!"

Feeling that his tongue was uttering something quite different
from what he wanted to say, the bailiff waved his hand and said

"If the world's going to end I wish it would make haste about it.
There's no need to drag it out and make folks miserable for
nothing. . . ."

The old man took the pipe from his lips and, screwing up one eye,
looked into its little opening. His face was sad and covered with
thick drops like tears. He smiled and said:

"It's a pity, my friend! My goodness, what a pity! The earth, the
forest, the sky, the beasts of all sorts -- all this has been
created, you know, adapted; they all have their intelligence. It
is all going to ruin. And most of all I am sorry for people."

There was the sound in the wood of heavy rain coming nearer.
Meliton looked in the direction of the sound, did up all his
buttons, and said:

"I am going to the village. Good-bye, grandfather. What is your

"Luka the Poor."

"Well, good-bye, Luka! Thank you for your good words. Damka,

After parting from the shepherd Meliton made his way along the
edge of the wood, and then down hill to a meadow which by degrees
turned into a marsh. There was a squelch of water under his feet,
and the rusty marsh sedge, still green and juicy, drooped down to
the earth as though afraid of being trampled underfoot. Beyond
the marsh, on the bank of the Pestchanka, of which the old man
had spoken, stood a row of willows, and beyond the willows a barn
looked dark blue in the mist. One could feel the approach of that
miserable, utterly inevitable season, when the fields grow dark
and the earth is muddy and cold, when the weeping willow seems
still more mournful and tears trickle down its stem, and only the
cranes fly away from the general misery, and even they, as though
afraid of insulting dispirited nature by the expression of their
happiness, fill the air with their mournful, dreary notes.

Meliton plodded along to the river, and heard the sounds of the
pipe gradually dying away behind him. He still wanted to
complain. He looked dejectedly about him, and he felt
insufferably sorry for the sky and the earth and the sun and the
woods and his Damka, and when the highest drawn-out note of the
pipe floated quivering in the air, like a voice weeping, he felt
extremely bitter and resentful of the impropriety in the conduct
of nature.

The high note quivered, broke off, and the pipe was silent.


DURING my stay in the district of S. I often used to go to see
the watchman Savva Stukatch, or simply Savka, in the kitchen
gardens of Dubovo. These kitchen gardens were my favorite resort
for so-called "mixed" fishing, when one goes out without knowing
what day or hour one may return, taking with one every sort of
fishing tackle as well as a store of provisions. To tell the
truth, it was not so much the fishing that attracted me as the
peaceful stroll, the meals at no set time, the talk with Savka,
and being for so long face to face with the calm summer nights.
Savka was a young man of five-and-twenty, well grown and
handsome, and as strong as a flint. He had the reputation of
being a sensible and reasonable fellow. He could read and write,
and very rarely drank, but as a workman this strong and healthy
young man was not worth a farthing. A sluggish, overpowering
sloth was mingled with the strength in his muscles, which were
strong as cords. Like everyone else in his village, he lived in
his own hut, and had his share of land, but neither tilled it nor
sowed it, and did not work at any sort of trade. His old mother
begged alms at people's windows and he himself lived like a bird
of the air; he did not know in the morning what he would eat at
midday. It was not that he was lacking in will, or energy, or
feeling for his mother; it was simply that he felt no inclination
for work and did not recognize the advantage of it. His whole
figure suggested unruffled serenity, an innate, almost artistic
passion for living carelessly, never with his sleeves tucked up.
When Savka's young, healthy body had a physical craving for
muscular work, the young man abandoned himself completely for a
brief interval to some free but nonsensical pursuit, such as
sharpening skates not wanted for any special purpose, or racing
about after the peasant women. His favorite attitude was one of
concentrated immobility. He was capable of standing for hours at
a stretch in the same place with his eyes fixed on the same spot
without stirring. He never moved except on impulse, and then only
when an occasion presented itself for some rapid and abrupt
action: catching a running dog by the tail, pulling off a woman's
k erchief, or jumping over a big hole. It need hardly be said
that with such parsimony of movement Savka was as poor as a mouse
and lived worse than any homeless outcast. As time went on, I
suppose he accumulated arrears of taxes and, young and sturdy as
he was, he was sent by the commune to do an old man's job -- to
be watchman and scarecrow in the kitchen gardens. However much
they laughed at him for his premature senility he did not object
to it. This position, quiet and convenient for motionless
contemplation, exactly fitted his temperament.

It happened I was with this Savka one fine May evening. I
remember I was lying on a torn and dirty sackcloth cover close to
the shanty from which came a heavy, fragrant scent of hay.
Clasping my hands under my head I looked before me. At my feet
was lying a wooden fork. Behind it Savka's dog Kutka stood out
like a black patch, and not a dozen feet from Kutka the ground
ended abruptly in the steep bank of the little river. Lying down
I could not see the river; I could only see the tops of the young
willows growing thickly on the nearer bank, and the twisting, as
it were gnawed away, edges of the opposite bank. At a distance
beyond the bank on the dark hillside the huts of the village in
which Savka lived lay huddling together like frightened young
partridges. Beyond the hill the afterglow of sunset still
lingered in the sky. One pale crimson streak was all that was
left, and even that began to be covered by little clouds as a
fire with ash.

A copse with alder-trees, softly whispering, and from time to
time shuddering in the fitful breeze, lay, a dark blur, on the
right of the kitchen gardens; on the left stretched the immense
plain. In the distance, where the eye could not distinguish
between the sky and the plain, there was a bright gleam of light.
A little way off from me sat Savka. With his legs tucked under
him like a Turk and his head hanging, he looked pensively at
Kutka. Our hooks with live bait on them had long been in the
river, and we had nothing left to do but to abandon ourselves to
repose, which Savka, who was never exhausted and always rested,
loved so much. The glow had not yet quite died away, but the
summer night was already enfolding nature in its caressing,
soothing embrace.

Everything was sinking into its first deep sleep except some
night bird unfamiliar to me, which indolently uttered a long,
protracted cry in several distinct notes like the phrase, "Have
you seen Ni-ki-ta?" and immediately answered itself, "Seen him,
seen him, seen him!"

"Why is it the nightingales aren't singing tonight?" I asked

He turned slowly towards me. His features were large, but his
face was open, soft, and expressive as a woman's. Then he gazed
with his mild, dreamy eyes at the copse, at the willows, slowly
pulled a whistle out of his pocket, put it in his mouth and
whistled the note of a hen-nightingale. And at once, as though in
answer to his call, a landrail called on the opposite bank.

"There's a nightingale for you . . ." laughed Savka. "Drag-drag!
drag-drag! just like pulling at a hook, and yet I bet he thinks
he is singing, too."

"I like that bird," I said. "Do you know, when the birds are
migrating the landrail does not fly, but runs along the ground?
It only flies over the rivers and the sea, but all the rest it
does on foot."

"Upon my word, the dog . . ." muttered Savka, looking with
respect in the direction of the calling landrail.

Knowing how fond Savka was of listening, I told him all I had
learned about the landrail from sportsman's books. From the
landrail I passed imperceptibly to the migration of the birds.
Savka listened attentively, looking at me without blinking, and
smiling all the while with pleasure.

"And which country is most the bird's home? Ours or those foreign
parts?" he asked.

"Ours, of course. The bird itself is hatched here, and it hatches
out its little ones here in its native country, and they only fly
off there to escape being frozen."

"It's interesting," said Savka. "Whatever one talks about it is
always interesting. Take a bird now, or a man . . . or take this
little stone; there's something to learn about all of them. . . .
Ah, sir, if I had known you were coming I wouldn't have told a
woman to come here this evening. . . . She asked to come to-day."

"Oh, please don't let me be in your way," I said. "I can lie down
in the wood. . . ."

"What next! She wouldn't have died if she hadn't come till
to-morrow. . . . If only she would sit quiet and listen, but she
always wants to be slobbering. . . . You can't have a good talk
when she's here."

"Are you expecting Darya?" I asked, after a pause.

"No . . . a new one has asked to come this evening . . . Agafya,
the signalman's wife."

Savka said this in his usual passionless, somewhat hollow voice,
as though he were talking of tobacco or porridge, while I started
with surprise. I knew Agafya. . . . She was quite a young peasant
woman of nineteen or twenty, who had been married not more than a
year before to a railway signalman, a fine young fellow. She
lived in the village, and her husband came home there from the
line every night.

"Your goings on with the women will lead to trouble, my boy,"
said I.

"Well, may be . . . ."

And after a moment's thought Savka added:

"I've said so to the women; they won't heed me. . . .They don't
trouble about it, the silly things!"

Silence followed. . . . Meanwhile the darkness was growing
thicker and thicker, and objects began to lose their contours.
The streak behind the hill had completely died away, and the
stars were growing brighter and more luminous. . . . The
mournfully monotonous chirping of the grasshoppers, the call of
the landrail, and the cry of the quail did not destroy the
stillness of the night, but, on the contrary, gave it an added
monotony. It seemed as though the soft sounds that enchanted the
ear came, not from birds or insects, but from the stars looking
down upon us from the sky. . . .

Savka was the first to break the silence. He slowly turned his
eyes from black Kutka and said:

"I see you are dull, sir. Let's have supper."

And without waiting for my consent he crept on his stomach into
the shanty, rummaged about there, making the whole edifice
tremble like a leaf; then he crawled back and set before me my
vodka and an earthenware bowl; in the bowl there were baked eggs,
lard scones made of rye, pieces of black bread, and something
else. . . . We had a drink from a little crooked glass that
wouldn't stand, and then we fell upon the food. . . . Coarse grey
salt, dirty, greasy cakes, eggs tough as india-rubber, but how
nice it all was!

"You live all alone, but what lots of good things you have," I
said, pointing to the bowl. "Where do you get them from?"

"The women bring them," mumbled Savka.

"What do they bring them to you for?"

"Oh . . . from pity."

Not only Savka's menu, but his clothing, too, bore traces of
feminine "pity." Thus I noticed that he had on, that evening, a
new woven belt and a crimson ribbon on which a copper cross hung
round his dirty neck. I knew of the weakness of the fair sex for
Savka, and I knew that he did not like talking about it, and so I
did not carry my inquiries any further. Besides there was not
time to talk. . . . Kutka, who had been fidgeting about near us
and patiently waiting for scraps, suddenly pricked up his ears
and growled. We heard in the distance repeated splashing of

"Someone is coming by the ford," said Savka.

Three minutes later Kutka growled again and made a sound like a

"Shsh!" his master shouted at him.

In the darkness there was a muffled thud of timid footsteps, and
the silhouette of a woman appeared out of the copse. I recognized
her, although it was dark -- it was Agafya. She came up to us
diffidently and stopped, breathing hard. She was breathless,
probably not so much from walking as from fear and the unpleasant
sensation everyone experiences in wading across a river at night.
Seeing near the shanty not one but two persons, she uttered a
faint cry and fell back a step.

"Ah . . . that is you!" said Savka, stuffing a scone into his

"Ye-es . . . I," she mutte red, dropping on the ground a bundle
of some sort and looking sideways at me. "Yakov sent his
greetings to you and told me to give you . . . something here. .
. ."

"Come, why tell stories? Yakov!" laughed Savka. "There is no need
for lying; the gentleman knows why you have come! Sit down; you
shall have supper with us."

Agafya looked sideways at me and sat down irresolutely.

"I thought you weren't coming this evening," Savka said, after a
prolonged silence. "Why sit like that? Eat! Or shall I give you a
drop of vodka?"

"What an idea!" laughed Agafya; "do you think you have got hold
of a drunkard? . . ."

"Oh, drink it up. . . . Your heart will feel warmer. . . .

Savka gave Agafya the crooked glass. She slowly drank the vodka,
ate nothing with it, but drew a deep breath when she had

"You've brought something," said Savka, untying the bundle and
throwing a condescending, jesting shade into his voice. "Women
can never come without bringing something. Ah, pie and potatoes.
. . . They live well," he sighed, turning to me. "They are the
only ones in the whole village who have got potatoes left from
the winter!"

In the darkness I did not see Agafya's face, but from the
movement of her shoulders and head it seemed to me that she could
not take her eyes off Savka's face. To avoid being the third
person at this tryst, I decided to go for a walk and got up. But
at that moment a nightingale in the wood suddenly uttered two low
contralto notes. Half a minute later it gave a tiny high trill
and then, having thus tried its voice, began singing. Savka
jumped up and listened.

"It's the same one as yesterday," he said. "Wait a minute."

And, getting up, he went noiselessly to the wood.

"Why, what do you want with it?" I shouted out after him, "Stop!"

Savka shook his hand as much as to say, "Don't shout," and
vanished into the darkness. Savka was an excellent sportsman and
fisherman when he liked, but his talents in this direction were
as completely thrown away as his strength. He was too slothful to
do things in the routine way, and vented his passion for sport in
useless tricks. For instance, he would catch nightingales only
with his hands, would shoot pike with a fowling piece, he would
spend whole hours by the river trying to catch little fish with a
big hook.

Left alone with me, Agafya coughed and passed her hand several
times over her forehead. . . . She began to feel a little drunk
from the vodka.

"How are you getting on, Agasha?" I asked her, after a long
silence, when it began to be awkward to remain mute any longer.

"Very well, thank God. . . . Don't tell anyone, sir, will you?"
she added suddenly in a whisper.

"That's all right," I reassured her. "But how reckless you are,
Agasha! . . . What if Yakov finds out?"

"He won't find out."

But what if he does?"

"No . . . I shall be at home before he is. He is on the line now,
and he will come back when the mail train brings him, and from
here I can hear when the train's coming. . . ."

Agafya once more passed her hand over her forehead and looked
away in the direction in which Savka had vanished. The
nightingale was singing. Some night bird flew low down close to
the ground and, noticing us, was startled, fluttered its wings
and flew across to the other side of the river.

Soon the nightingale was silent, but Savka did not come back.
Agafya got up, took a few steps uneasily, and sat down again.

"What is he doing?" she could not refrain from saying. "The
train's not coming in to-morrow! I shall have to go away

"Savka," I shouted. "Savka."

I was not answered even by an echo. Agafya moved uneasily and sat
down again.

"It's time I was going," she said in an agitated voice. "The
train will be here directly! I know when the trains come in."

The poor woman was not mistaken. Before a quarter of an hour had
passed a sound was heard in the distance.

Agafya kept her eyes fixed on the copse for a long time and moved
her hands impatiently.

"Why, where can he be?" she said, laughing nervously. "Where has
the devil carried him? I am going! I really must be going."

Meanwhile the noise was growing more and more distinct. By now
one could distinguish the rumble of the wheels from the heavy
gasps of the engine. Then we heard the whistle, the train crossed
the bridge with a hollow rumble . . . another minute and all was

"I'll wait one minute more," said Agafya, sitting down
resolutely. "So be it, I'll wait.

At last Savka appeared in the darkness. He walked noiselessly on
the crumbling earth of the kitchen gardens and hummed something
softly to himself.

"Here's a bit of luck; what do you say to that now?" he said
gaily. "As soon as I got up to the bush and began taking aim with
my hand it left off singing! Ah, the bald dog! I waited and
waited to see when it would begin again, but I had to give it

Savka flopped clumsily down to the ground beside Agafya and, to
keep his balance, clutched at her waist with both hands.

"Why do you look cross, as though your aunt were your mother?" he

With all his soft-heartedness and good-nature, Savka despised
women. He behaved carelessly, condescendingly with them, and even
stooped to scornful laughter of their feelings for himself. God
knows, perhaps this careless, contemptuous manner was one of the
causes of his irresistible attraction for the village Dulcineas.
He was handsome and well-built; in his eyes there was always a
soft friendliness, even when he was looking at the women he so
despised, but the fascination was not to be explained by merely
external qualities. Apart from his happy exterior and original
manner, one must suppose that the touching position of Savka as
an acknowledged failure and an unhappy exile from his own hut to
the kitchen gardens also had an influence upon the women.

"Tell the gentleman what you have come here for!" Savka went on,
still holding Agafya by the waist. "Come, tell him, you good
married woman! Ho-ho! Shall we have another drop of vodka, friend

I got up and, threading my way between the plots, I walked the
length of the kitchen garden. The dark beds looked like
flattened-out graves. They smelt of dug earth and the tender
dampness of plants beginning to be covered with dew. . . . A red
light was still gleaming on the left. It winked genially and
seemed to smile.

I heard a happy laugh. It was Agafya laughing.

"And the train?" I thought. "The train has come in long ago."

Waiting a little longer, I went back to the shanty. Savka was
sitting motionless, his legs crossed like a Turk, and was softly,
scarcely audibly humming a song consisting of words of one
syllable something like: "Out on you, fie on you . . . I and
you." Agafya, intoxicated by the vodka, by Savka's scornful
caresses, and by the stifling warmth of the night, was lying on
the earth beside him, pressing her face convulsively to his
knees. She was so carried away by her feelings that she did not
even notice my arrival.

"Agasha, the train has been in a long time," I said.

"It's time -- it's time you were gone," Savka, tossing his head,
took up my thought. "What are you sprawling here for? You
shameless hussy!"

Agafya started, took her head from his knees, glanced at me, and
sank down beside him again.

"You ought to have gone long ago," I said.

Agafya turned round and got up on one knee. . . . She was
unhappy. . . . For half a minute her whole figure, as far as I
could distinguish it through the darkness, expressed conflict and
hesitation. There was an instant when, seeming to come to
herself, she drew herself up to get upon her feet, but then some
invincible and implacable force seemed to push her whole body,
and she sank down beside Savka again.

"Bother him!" she said, with a wild, guttural laugh, and reckless
determination, impotence, and pain could be heard in that laugh.

I strolled quietly away to the copse, and from there down to the
river, where our fishing lines were set. The river slept. Some
soft, fluffy-petalled flower on a tall stalk touched my cheek
tenderly like a child who wants to let one know it's awake. To
pass the time I felt for one of the lines and pulled at it. It
yielded e asily and hung limply -- nothing had been caught. . . .
The further bank and the village could not be seen. A light
gleamed in one hut, but soon went out. I felt my way along the
bank, found a hollow place which I had noticed in the daylight,
and sat down in it as in an arm-chair. I sat there a long time. .
. . I saw the stars begin to grow misty and lose their
brightness; a cool breath passed over the earth like a faint sigh
and touched the leaves of the slumbering osiers. . . .

"A-ga-fya!" a hollow voice called from the village. "Agafya!"

It was the husband, who had returned home, and in alarm was
looking for his wife in the village. At that moment there came
the sound of unrestrained laughter: the wife, forgetful of
everything, sought in her intoxication to make up by a few hours
of happiness for the misery awaiting her next day.

I dropped asleep.

When I woke up Savka was sitting beside me and lightly shaking my
shoulder. The river, the copse, both banks, green and washed,
trees and fields -- all were bathed in bright morning light.
Through the slim trunks of the trees the rays of the newly risen
sun beat upon my back.

"So that's how you catch fish?" laughed Savka. "Get up!"

I got up, gave a luxurious stretch, and began greedily drinking
in the damp and fragrant air.

"Has Agasha gone?" I asked.

"There she is," said Savka, pointing in the direction of the

I glanced and saw Agafya. Dishevelled, with her kerchief dropping
off her head, she was crossing the river, holding up her skirt.
Her legs were scarcely moving. . . .

"The cat knows whose meat it has eaten," muttered Savka, screwing
up his eyes as he looked at her. "She goes with her tail hanging
down. . . . They are sly as cats, these women, and timid as
hares. . . . She didn't go, silly thing, in the evening when we
told her to! Now she will catch it, and they'll flog me again at
the peasant court . . . all on account of the women. . . ."

Agafya stepped upon the bank and went across the fields to the
village. At first she walked fairly boldly, but soon terror and
excitement got the upper hand; she turned round fearfully,
stopped and took breath.

"Yes, you are frightened!" Savka laughed mournfully, looking at
the bright green streak left by Agafya in the dewy grass. "She
doesn't want to go! Her husband's been standing waiting for her
for a good hour. . . . Did you see him?"

Savka said the last words with a smile, but they sent a chill to
my heart. In the village, near the furthest hut, Yakov was
standing in the road, gazing fixedly at his returning wife. He
stood without stirring, and was as motionless as a post. What was
he thinking as he looked at her? What words was he preparing to
greet her with? Agafya stood still a little while, looked round
once more as though expecting help from us, and went on. I have
never seen anyone, drunk or sober, move as she did. Agafya seemed
to be shrivelled up by her husband's eyes. At one time she moved
in zigzags, then she moved her feet up and down without going
forward, bending her knees and stretching out her hands, then she
staggered back. When she had gone another hundred paces she
looked round once more and sat down.

"You ought at least to hide behind a bush . . ." I said to Savka.
"If the husband sees you . . ."

"He knows, anyway, who it is Agafya has come from. . . . The
women don't go to the kitchen garden at night for cabbages -- we
all know that."

I glanced at Savka's face. It was pale and puckered up with a
look of fastidious pity such as one sees in the faces of people
watching tortured animals.

"What's fun for the cat is tears for the mouse. . ." he muttered.

Agafya suddenly jumped up, shook her head, and with a bold step
went towards her husband. She had evidently plucked up her
courage and made up her mind.



"WHAT shall I write?" said Yegor, and he dipped his pen in the

Vasilisa had not seen her daughter for four years. Her daughter
Yefimya had gone after her wedding to Petersburg, had sent them
two letters, and since then seemed to vanish out of their lives;
there had been no sight nor sound of her. And whether the old
woman were milking her cow at dawn, or heating her stove, or
dozing at night, she was always thinking of one and the same
thing -- what was happening to Yefimya, whether she were alive
out yonder. She ought to have sent a letter, but the old father
could not write, and there was no one to write.

But now Christmas had come, and Vasilisa could not bear it any
longer, and went to the tavern to Yegor, the brother of the
innkeeper's wife, who had sat in the tavern doing nothing ever
since he came back from the army; people said that he could write
letters very well if he were properly paid. Vasilisa talked to
the cook at the tavern, then to the mistress of the house, then
to Yegor himself. They agreed upon fifteen kopecks.

And now -- it happened on the second day of the holidays, in the
tavern kitchen -- Yegor was sitting at the table, holding the pen
in his hand. Vasilisa was standing before him, pondering with an
expression of anxiety and woe on her face. Pyotr, her husband, a
very thin old man with a brownish bald patch, had come with her;
he stood looking straight before him like a blind man. On the
stove a piece of pork was being braised in a saucepan; it was
spurting and hissing, and seemed to be actually saying:
"Flu-flu-flu." It was stifling.

"What am I to write?" Yegor asked again.

"What?" asked Vasilisa, looking at him angrily and suspiciously.
"Don't worry me! You are not writing for nothing; no fear, you'll
be paid for it. Come, write: 'To our dear son-in-law, Andrey
Hrisanfitch, and to our only beloved daughter, Yefimya Petrovna,
with our love we send a low bow and our parental blessing abiding
for ever.' "

"Written; fire away."

" 'And we wish them a happy Christmas; we are alive and well, and
I wish you the same, please the Lord . . . the Heavenly King.' "

Vasilisa pondered and exchanged glances with the old man.

" 'And I wish you the same, please the Lord the Heavenly King,' "
she repeated, beginning to cry.

She could say nothing more. And yet before, when she lay awake
thinking at night, it had seemed to her that she could not get
all she had to say into a dozen letters. Since the time when her
daughter had gone away with her husband much water had flowed
into the sea, the old people had lived feeling bereaved, and
sighed heavily at night as though they had buried their daughter.
And how many events had occurred in the village since then, how
many marriages and deaths! How long the winters had been! How
long the nights!

"It's hot," said Yegor, unbuttoning his waistcoat. "It must be
seventy degrees. What more?" he asked.

The old people were silent.

"What does your son-in-law do in Petersburg?" asked Yegor.

"He was a soldier, my good friend," the old man answered in a
weak voice. " He left the service at the same time as you did. He
was a soldier, and now, to be sure, he is at Petersburg at a
hydropathic establishment. The doctor treats the sick with water.
So he, to be sure, is house-porter at the doctor's."

"Here it is written down," said the old woman, taking a letter
out of her pocket. "We got it from Yefimya, goodness knows when.
Maybe they are no longer in this world."

Yegor thought a little and began writing rapidly:

"At the present time"-- he wrote -- "since your destiny through
your own doing allotted you to the Military Career, we counsel
you to look into the Code of Disciplinary Offences and
Fundamental Laws of the War Office, and you will see in that law
the Civilization of the Officials of the War Office."

He wrote and kept reading aloud what was written, while Vasilisa
considered what she ought to write: how great had been their want
the year before, how their corn had not lasted even till
Christmas, how they had to sell their cow. She ought to ask for
money, ought to write that the old father was often ailing and
would soon no doubt give up his soul to God . . . but how to
express this in words? What must be said first and what

"Take note," Yegor went on writing, "in volume five of the Army
Regulations soldier
is a common noun and a proper one, a soldier of the first rank
is called a general, and of the last a private. . . ."

The old man stirred his lips and said softly:

"It would be all right to have a look at the grandchildren."

"What grandchildren?" asked the old woman, and she looked angrily
at him; "perhaps there are none."

"Well, but perhaps there are. Who knows?"

"And thereby you can judge," Yegor hurried on, "what is the enemy
without and what is the enemy within. The foremost of our enemies
within is Bacchus." The pen squeaked, executing upon the paper
flourishes like fish-hooks. Yegor hastened and read over every
line several times. He sat on a stool sprawling his broad feet
under the table, well-fed, bursting with health, with a coarse
animal face and a red bull neck. He was vulgarity itself: coarse,
conceited, invincible, proud of having been born and bred in a
pot-house; and Vasilisa quite understood the vulgarity, but could
not express it in words, and could only look angrily and
suspiciously at Yegor. Her head was beginning to ache, and her
thoughts were in confusion from the sound of his voice and his
unintelligible words, from the heat and the stuffiness, and she
said nothing and thought nothing, but simply waited for him to
finish scribbling. But the old man looked with full confidence.
He believed in his old woman who had brought him there, and in
Yegor; and when he had mentioned the hydropathic establishment it
could be seen that he believed in the establishment and the
healing efficacy of water.

Having finished the letter, Yegor got up and read the whole of it
through from the beginning. The old man did not understand, but
he nodded his head trustfully.

"That's all right; it is smooth . . ." he said. "God give you
health. That's all right. . . ."

They laid on the table three five-kopeck pieces and went out of
the tavern; the old man looked immovably straight before him as
though he were blind, and perfect trustfulness was written on his
face; but as Vasilisa came out of the tavern she waved angrily at
the dog, and said angrily:

"Ugh, the plague."

The old woman did not sleep all night; she was disturbed by
thoughts, and at daybreak she got up, said her prayers, and went
to the station to send off the letter.

It was between eight and nine miles to the station.


Dr. B. O. Mozelweiser's hydropathic establishment worked on New
Year's Day exactly as on ordinary days; the only difference was
that the porter, Andrey Hrisanfitch, had on a uniform with new
braiding, his boots had an extra polish, and he greeted every
visitor with "A Happy New Year to you!"

It was the morning; Andrey Hrisanfitch was standing at the door,
reading the newspaper. Just at ten o'clock there arrived a
general, one of the habitual visitors, and directly after him the
postman; Andrey Hrisanfitch helped the general off with his
great-coat, and said:

"A Happy New Year to your Excellency!"

"Thank you, my good fellow; the same to you."

And at the top of the stairs the general asked, nodding towards
the door (he asked the same question every day and always forgot
the answer):

"And what is there in that room?"

"The massage room, your Excellency."

When the general's steps had died away Andrey Hrisanfitch looked
at the post that had come, and found one addressed to himself. He
tore it open, read several lines, then, looking at the newspaper,
he walked without haste to his own room, which was downstairs
close by at the end of the passage. His wife Yefimya was sitting
on the bed, feeding her baby; another child, the eldest, was
standing by, laying its curly head on her knee; a third was
asleep on the bed.

Going into the room, Andrey gave his wife the letter and said:

"From the country, I suppose."

Then he walked out again without taking his eyes from the paper.
He could hear Yefimya with a shaking voice reading the first
lines. She read them and could read no more; these lines were
enough for her. She burst into tears, and hugging her eldest
child, kissing him, she began saying -- and it was hard to say
whether she were laughing or crying:

"It's from granny, from grandfather," she said. "From the
country. . . . The Heavenly Mother, Saints and Martyrs! The snow
lies heaped up under the roofs now . . . the trees are as white
as white. The boys slide on little sledges . . . and dear old
bald grandfather is on the stove . . . and there is a little
yellow dog. . . . My own darlings!"

Andrey Hrisanfitch, hearing this, recalled that his wife had on
three or four occasions given him letters and asked him to send
them to the country, but some important business had always
prevented him; he had not sent them, and the letters somehow got

"And little hares run about in the fields," Yefimya went on
chanting, kissing her boy and shedding tears. "Grandfather is
kind and gentle; granny is good, too -- kind-hearted. They are
warm-hearted in the country, they are God-fearing . . . and there
is a little church in the village; the peasants sing in the
choir. Queen of Heaven, Holy Mother and Defender, take us away
from here!"

Andrey Hrisanfitch returned to his room to smoke a little till
there was another ring at the door, and Yefimya ceased speaking,
subsided, and wiped her eyes, though her lips were still
quivering. She was very much frightened of him -- oh, how
frightened of him! She trembled and was reduced to terror by the
sound of his steps, by the look in his eyes, and dared not utter
a word in his presence.

Andrey Hrisanfitch lighted a cigarette, but at that very moment
there was a ring from upstairs. He put out his cigarette, and,
assuming a very grave face, hastened to his front door.

The general was coming downstairs, fresh and rosy from his bath.

"And what is there in that room?" he asked, pointing to a door.

Andrey Hrisanfitch put his hands down swiftly to the seams of his
trousers, and pronounced loudly:

"Charcot douche, your Excellency!"



IT was getting dark; it would soon be night.

Gusev, a discharged soldier, sat up in his hammock and said in an

"I say, Pavel Ivanitch. A soldier at Sutchan told me: while they
were sailing a big fish came into collision with their ship and
stove a hole in it."

The nondescript individual whom he was addressing, and whom
everyone in the ship's hospital called Pavel Ivanitch, was
silent, as though he had not heard.

And again a stillness followed. . . The wind frolicked with the
rigging, the screw throbbed, the waves lashed, the hammocks
creaked, but the ear had long ago become accustomed to these
sounds, and it seemed that everything around was asleep and
silent. It was dreary. The three invalids -- two soldiers and a
sailor -- who had been playing cards all the day were asleep and
talking in their dreams.

It seemed as though the ship were beginning to rock. The hammock
slowly rose and fell under Gusev, as though it were heaving a
sigh, and this was repeated once, twice, three times. . . .
Something crashed on to the floor with a clang: it must have been
a jug falling down.

"The wind has broken loose from its chain. . ." said Gusev,

This time Pavel Ivanitch cleared his throat and answered

"One minute a vessel's running into a fish, the next, the wind's
breaking loose from its chain. Is the wind a beast that it can
break loose from its chain?"

"That's how christened folk talk."

"They are as ignorant as you are then. They say all sorts of
things. One must keep a head on one's shoulders and use one's
reason. You are a senseless creature."

Pavel Ivanitch was subject to sea-sickness. When the sea was
rough he was usually ill-humoured, and the merest trifle would
make him irritable. And in Gusev's opinion there was absolutely
nothing to be vexed about. What was there strange or wonderful,
for instance, in the fish or in the wind's breaking loose from
its chain? Suppose the fish were as big as a mountain and its
back were as hard as a sturgeon: and in the same way, supposing
that away yonder at the end of the world there stood great stone
walls and the fierce winds were chained up to the walls . . . if
they had not broken loose, why did they tear about all over the
sea like maniacs, and struggle to escape like dogs? If they were
not chained up, what did become of them when it was calm?

Gusev pondered for a long time about fishes as big as a mountain
and stout, rusty chains, then he began to feel dull and thought
of his native place to which he was returning after five years'
service in the East. He pictured an immense pond covered with
snow. . . . On one side of the pond the red-brick building of the
potteries with a tall chimney and clouds of black smoke; on the
other side -- a village. . . . His brother Alexey comes out in a
sledge from the fifth yard from the end; behind him sits his
little son Vanka in big felt over-boots, and his little girl
Akulka, also in big felt boots. Alexey has been drinking, Vanka
is laughing, Akulka's face he could not see, she had muffled
herself up.

"You never know, he'll get the children frozen . . ." thought
Gusev. "Lord send them sense and judgment that they may honour
their father and mother and not be wiser than their parents."

"They want re-soleing," a delirious sailor says in a bass voice.
"Yes, yes!"

Gusev's thoughts break off, and instead of a pond there suddenly
appears apropos of nothing a huge bull's head without eyes, and
the horse and sledge are not driving along, but are whirling
round and round in a cloud of smoke. But still he was glad he had
seen his own folks. He held his breath from delight, shudders ran
all over him, and his fingers twitched.

"The Lord let us meet again," he muttered feverishly, but he at
once opened his eyes and sought in the darkness for water.

He drank and lay back, and again the sledge was moving, then
again the bull's head without eyes, smoke, clouds. . . . And so
on till daybreak.


The first outline visible in the darkness was a blue circle --
the little round window; then little by little Gusev could
distinguish his neighbour in the next hammock, Pavel Ivanitch.
The man slept sitting up, as he could not breathe lying down. His
face was grey, his nose was long and sharp, his eyes looked huge
from the terrible thinness of his face, his temples were sunken,
his beard was skimpy, his hair was long. . . . Looking at him you
could not make out of what class he was, whether he were a
gentleman, a merchant, or a peasant. Judging from his expression
and his long hair he might have been a hermit or a lay brother in
a monastery -- but if one listened to what he said it seemed that
he could not be a monk. He was worn out by his cough and his
illness and by the stifling heat, and breathed with difficulty,
moving his parched lips. Noticing that Gusev was looking at him
he turned his face towards him and said:

"I begin to guess. . . . Yes. . . . I understand it all perfectly

"What do you understand, Pavel Ivanitch?"

"I'll tell you. . . . It has always seemed to me strange that
terribly ill as you are you should be here in a steamer where it
is so hot and stifling and we are always being tossed up and
down, where, in fact, everything threatens you with death; now it
is all clear to me. . . . Yes. . . . Your doctors put you on the
steamer to get rid of you. They get sick of looking after poor
brutes like you. . . . You don't pay them anything, they have a
bother with you, and you damage their records with your deaths --
so, of course, you are brutes! It's not difficult to get rid of
you. . . . All that is necessary is, in the first place, to have
no conscience or humanity, and, secondly, to deceive the steamer
authorities. The first condition need hardly be considered, in
that respect we are artists; and one can always succeed in the
second with a little practice. In a crowd of four hundred healthy
soldiers and sailors half a dozen sick ones are not conspicuous;
well, they drove you all on to the steamer, mixed you with the
healthy ones, hurriedly counted you over, and in the confusion
nothing amiss was noticed, and when the steamer had started they
saw that there were paralytics and consumptives in the last stage
lying about on the deck. . . ."

Gusev did not understand Pavel Ivanitch; but supposing he was
being blamed, he said in self-defence:

"I lay on the deck because I had not the strength to stand; when
we were unloaded from the barge on to the ship I caught a fearful

"It's revolting," Pavel Ivanitch went on. "The worst of it is
they know perfectly well that you can't last out the long
journey, and yet they put you here. Supposing you get as far as
the Indian Ocean, what then? It's horrible to think of it. . . .
And that's their gratitude for your faithful, irreproachable

Pavel Ivanitch's eyes looked angry; he frowned contemptuously and
said, gasping:

"Those are the people who ought to be plucked in the newspapers
till the feathers fly in all directions."

The two sick soldiers and the sailor were awake and already
playing cards. The sailor was half reclining in his hammock, the
soldiers were sitting near him on the floor in the most
uncomfortable attitudes. One of the soldiers had his right arm in
a sling, and the hand was swathed up in a regular bundle so that
he held his cards under his right arm or in the crook of his
elbow while he played with the left. The ship was rolling
heavily. They could not stand up, nor drink tea, nor take their

"Were you an officer's servant?" Pavel Ivanitch asked Gusev.

"Yes, an officer's servant."

"My God, my God!" said Pavel Ivanitch, and he shook his head
mournfully. "To tear a man out of his home, drag him twelve
thousand miles away, then to drive him into consumption and. . .
and what is it all for, one wonders? To turn him into a servant
for some Captain Kopeikin or midshipman Dirka! How logical!"

"It's not hard work, Pavel Ivanitch. You get up in the morning
and clean the boots, get the samovar, sweep the rooms, and then
you have nothing more to do. The lieutenant is all the day
drawing plans, and if you like you can say your prayers, if you
like you can read a book or go out into the street. God grant
everyone such a life."

"Yes, very nice, the lieutenant draws plans all the day and you
sit in the kitchen and pine for home. . . . Plans indeed! . . .
It is not plans that matter, but a human life. Life is not given
twice, it must be treated mercifully."

"Of course, Pavel Ivanitch, a bad man gets no mercy anywhere,
neither at home nor in the army, but if you live as you ought and
obey orders, who has any need to insult you? The officers are
educated gentlemen, they understand. . . . In five years I was
never once in prison, and I was never struck a blow, so help me
God, but once."

"What for?"

"For fighting. I have a heavy hand, Pavel Ivanitch. Four Chinamen
came into our yard; they were bringing firewood or something, I
don't remember. Well, I was bored and I knocked them about a bit,
one's nose began bleeding, damn the fellow. . . . The lieutenant
saw it through the little window, he was angry and gave me a box
on the ear."

"Foolish, pitiful man . . ." whispered Pavel Ivanitch. "You don't
understand anything."

He was utterly exhausted by the tossing of the ship and closed
his eyes; his head alternately fell back and dropped forward on
his breast. Several times he tried to lie down but nothing came
of it; his difficulty in breathing prevented it.

"And what did you hit the four Chinamen for?" he asked a little
while afterwards.

"Oh, nothing. They came into the yard and I hit them."

And a stillness followed. . . . The card-players had been playing
for two hours with enthusiasm and loud abuse of one another, but
the motion of the ship overcame them, too; they threw aside the
cards and lay down. Again Gusev saw the big pond, the brick
building, the village. . . . Again the sledge was coming along,
again Vanka was laughing and Akulka, silly little thing, threw
open her fur coat and stuck her feet out, as much as to say:
"Look, good people, my snowboots are not like Vanka's, they are
new ones."

"Five years old, and she has no sense yet," Gusev muttered in
delirium. "Instead of kicking your legs you had better come and
get your soldier uncle a drink. I will give you something nice."

Then Andron with a flintlock gun on his sh oulder was carrying a
hare he had killed, and he was followed by the decrepit old Jew
Isaitchik, who offers to barter the hare for a piece of soap;
then the black calf in the shed, then Domna sewing at a shirt and
crying about something, and then again the bull's head without
eyes, black smoke. . . .

Overhead someone gave a loud shout, several sailors ran by, they
seemed to be dragging something bulky over the deck, something
fell with a crash. Again they ran by. . . . Had something gone
wrong? Gusev raised his head, listened, and saw that the two
soldiers and the sailor were playing cards again; Pavel Ivanitch
was sitting up moving his lips. It was stifling, one hadn't
strength to breathe, one was thirsty, the water was warm,
disgusting. The ship heaved as much as ever.

Suddenly something strange happened to one of the soldiers
playing cards. . . . He called hearts diamonds, got muddled in
his score, and dropped his cards, then with a frightened, foolish
smile looked round at all of them.

"I shan't be a minute, mates, I'll . . ." he said, and lay down
on the floor.

Everybody was amazed. They called to him, he did not answer.

"Stephan, maybe you are feeling bad, eh?" the soldier with his
arm in a sling asked him. "Perhaps we had better bring the
priest, eh?"

"Have a drink of water, Stepan . . ." said the sailor. "Here,
lad, drink."

"Why are you knocking the jug against his teeth?" said Gusev
angrily. " Don't you see, turnip head?'

Book of the day:
Facebook Google Reddit StumbleUpon Twitter Pinterest