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

The Witch, et. al. by Anton Chekhov

Part 4 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.

far away a bittern cried, a hollow, melancholy sound like a cow
shut up in a barn. The cry of that mysterious bird was heard
every spring, but no one knew what it was like or where it lived.
At the top of the hill by the hospital, in the bushes close to
the pond, and in the fields the nightingales were trilling. The
cuckoo kept reckoning someone's years and losing count and
beginning again. In the pond the frogs called angrily to one
another, straining themselves to bursting, and one could even
make out the words: "That's what you are! That's what you are! "
What a noise there was! It seemed as though all these creatures
were singing and shouting so that no one might sleep on that
spring night, so that all, even the angry frogs, might appreciate
and enjoy every minute: life is given only once.

A silver half-moon was shining in the sky; there were many stars.
Lipa had no idea how long she sat by the pond, but when she got
up and walked on everybody was asleep in the little village, and
there was not a single light. It was probably about nine miles'
walk home, but she had not the strength, she had not the power to
think how to go: the moon gleamed now in front, now on the right,
and the same cuckoo kept calling in a voice grown husky, with a
chuckle as though gibing at her: "Oy, look out, you'll lose your
way!" Lipa walked rapidly; she lost the kerchief from her head .
. . she looked at the sky and wondered where her baby's soul was
now: was it following her, or floating aloft yonder among the
stars and thinking nothing now of his mother? Oh, how lonely it
was in the open country at night, in the midst of that singing
when one cannot sing oneself; in the midst of the incessant cries
of joy when one cannot oneself be joyful, when the moon, which
cares not whether it is spring or winter, whether men are alive
or dead, looks down as lonely, too. . . . When there is grief in
the heart it is hard to be without people. If only her mother,
Praskovya, had been with her, or Crutch, or the cook, or some

"Boo-oo!" cried the bittern. "Boo-oo!"

And suddenly she heard clearly the sound of human speech: "Put
the horses in, Vavila!"

By the wayside a camp fire was burning ahead of her: the flames
had died down, there were only red embers. She could hear
the horses munching. In the darkness she could see the outlines
of two carts, one with a barrel, the other, a lower one with
sacks in it, and the figures of two men; one was leading a horse
to put it into the shafts, the other was standing motionless by
the fire with his hands behind his back. A dog growled by the
carts. The one who was leading the horse stopped and said:

"It seems as though someone were coming along the road."

"Sharik, be quiet! " the other called to the dog.

And from the voice one could tell that the second was an old man.
Lipa stopped and said:

"God help you."

The old man went up to her and answered not immediately:


"Your dog does not bite, grandfather?"

"No, come along, he won't touch you."

"I have been at the hospital," said Lipa after a pause. "My
little son died there. Here I am carrying him home."

It must have been unpleasant for the old man to hear this, for he
moved away and said hurriedly:

"Never mind, my dear. It's God's will. You are very slow, lad,"
he added, addressing his companion; "look alive!

"Your yoke's nowhere," said the young man; "it is not to be

"You are a regular Vavila."

The old man picked up an ember, blew on it -- only his eyes and
nose were lighted up -- then, when they had found the yoke, he
went with the light to Lipa and looked at her, and his look
expressed compassion and tenderness.

"You are a mother," he said; "every mother grieves for her

And he sighed and shook his head as he said it. Vavila threw
something on the fire, stamped on it -- and at once it was very
dark; the vision vanished, and as before there were only the
fields, the sky with the stars, and the noise of the birds
hindering each other from sleep. And the landrail called, it
seemed, in the very place where the fire had been.

But a minute passed, and again she could see the two carts and
the old man and lanky Vavila. The carts creaked as they went out
on the road.

"Are you holy men?" Lipa asked the old man.

"No. We are from Firsanovo."

"You looked at me just now and my heart was softened. And the
young man is so gentle. I thought you must be holy men."

"Are you going far?"

"To Ukleevo."

"Get in, we will give you a lift as far as Kuzmenki, then you go
straight on and we turn off to the left."

Vavila got into the cart with the barrel and the old man and Lipa
got into the other. They moved at a walking pace, Vavila in

"My baby was in torment all day," said Lipa. "He looked at me
with his little eyes and said nothing; he wanted to speak and
could not. Holy Father, Queen of Heaven! In my grief I kept
falling down on the floor. I stood up and fell down by the
bedside. And tell me, grandfather, why a little thing should be
tormented before his death? When a grown-up person, a man or
woman, are in torment their sins are forgiven, but why a little
thing, when he has no sins? Why?"

"Who can tell?" answered the old man.

They drove on for half an hour in silence.

"We can't know everything, how and wherefore," said the old man.
"It is ordained for the bird to have not four wings but two
because it is able to fly with two; and so it is ordained for man
not to know everything but only a half or a quarter. As much as
he needs to know so as to live, so much he knows."

"It is better for me to go on foot, grandfather. Now my heart is
all of a tremble."

"Never mind, sit still."

The old man yawned and made the sign of the cross over his mouth.

"Never mind," he repeated. "Yours is not the worst of sorrows.
Life is long, there will be good and bad to come, there will be
everything. Great is mother Russia," he said, and looked round on
each side of him. "I have been all over Russia, and I have seen
everything in her, and you may believe my words, my dear. There
will be good and there will be bad. I went as a delegate from my
village to Siberia, and I have been to the Amur River and the
Altai Mountains and I settled in Siberia; I worked the land
there, then I was homesick for mother Russia and I came back to
my native village. We came back to Russia on foot; and I remember
we went on a steamer, and I was thin as thin, all in rags,
barefoot, freezing with cold, and gnawing a crust, and a
gentleman who was on the steamer -- the kingdom of heaven be his
if he is dead -- looked at me pitifully, and the tears came into
his eyes. 'Ah,' he said, 'your bread is black, your days are
black. . . .' And when I got home, as the saying is, there was
neither stick nor stall; I had a wife, but I left her behind in
Siberia, she was buried there. So I am living as a day labourer.
And yet I tell you: since then I have had good as well as bad.
Here I do not want to die, my dear, I would be glad to live
another twenty years; so there has been more of the good. And
great is our mother Russia!" and again he gazed to each side and
looked round.

"Grandfather," Lipa asked, "when anyone dies, how many days does
his soul walk the earth?"

"Who can tell! Ask Vavila here, he has been to school. Now they
teach them everything. Vavila!" the old man called to him.


"Vavila, when anyone dies how long does his soul walk the earth?

Vavila stopped the horse and only then answered:

"Nine days. My uncle Kirilla died and his soul lived in our hut
thirteen days after."

"How do you know?"

"For thirteen days there was a knocking in the stove."

"Well, that's all right. Go on," said the old man, and it could
be seen that he did not believe a word of all that.

Near Kuzmenki the cart turned into the high road while Lipa went
straight on. It was by now getting light. As she went down into
the ravine the Ukleevo huts and the church were hidden in fog. It
was cold, and it seemed to her that the same cuckoo was calling

When Lipa reached home the cattle had not yet been driven out;
everyone was asleep. She sat down on the steps and waited. The
old man was the first to come out; he understood all that had
happened from the first glance at her, and for a long time he
could not articulate a word, but only moved his lips without a

"Ech, Lipa," he said, "you did not take care of my grandchild. .
. ."

Varvara was awakened. She clasped her hands and broke into sobs,
and immediately began laying out the baby.

"And he was a pretty child . . ." she said. "Oh, dear, dear. . .
. You only had the one child, and you did not take care enough of
him, you silly girl. . . ."

There was a requiem service in the morning and the evening. The
funeral took place the next day, and after it the guests and the
priests ate a great deal, and with such greed that one might have
thought that they had not tasted food for a long time. Lipa
waited at table, and the priest, lifting his fork on which there
was a salted mushroom, said to her:

"Don't grieve for the babe. For of such is the kingdom of

And only when they had all separated Lipa realized fully that
there was no Nikifor and never would be, she realized it and
broke into sobs. And she did not know what room to go into to
sob, for she felt that now that her child was dead there was no
place for her in the house, that she had no reason to be here,
that she was in the way; and the others felt it, too.

"Now what are you bellowing for?" Aksinya shouted, suddenly
appearing in the doorway; in honour of the funeral she was
dressed all in new clothes and had powdered her face. "Shut up!"

Lipa tried to stop but could not, and sobbed louder than ever.

"Do you hear?" shouted Aksinya, and she stamped her foot in
violent anger. "Who is it I am speaking to? Go out of the yard
and don't set foot here again, you convict s wife. Get away."

"There, there, there," the old man put in fussily. "Aksinya,
don't make such an outcry, my girl. . . . She is crying, it is
only natural . . . her child is dead. . . ."

" 'It's only natural,' " Aksinya mimicked him. "Let her stay the
night here, and don't let me see a trace of her here to-morrow!
'It's only natural!' . . ." she mimicked him again, and,
laughing, she went into the shop.

Early the next morning Lipa went off to her mother at Torguevo.


At the present time the steps and the front door of the shop have
been repainted an d are as bright as though they were new, there
are gay geraniums in the windows as of old, and what happened in
Tsybukin's house and yard three years ago is almost forgotten.

Grigory Petrovitch is looked upon as the master as he was in old
days, but in reality everything has passed into Aksinya's hands;
she buys and sells, and nothing can be done without her consent.
The brickyard is working well; and as bricks are wanted for the
railway the price has gone up to twenty-four roubles a thousand;
peasant women and girls cart the bricks to the station and load
them up in the trucks and earn a quarter-rouble a day for the

Aksinya has gone into partnership with the Hrymin Juniors, and
their factory is now called Hrymin Juniors and Co. They have
opened a tavern near the station, and now the expensive
concertina is played not at the factory but at the tavern, and
the head of the post office often goes there, and he, too, is
engaged in some sort of traffic, and the stationmaster, too.
Hrymin Juniors have presented the deaf man Stepan with a gold
watch, and he is constantly taking it out of his pocket and
putting it to his ear.

People say of Aksinya that she has become a person of power; and
it is true that when she drives in the morning to her brickyard,
handsome and happy, with the naive smile on her face, and
afterwards when she is giving orders there, one is aware of great
power in her. Everyone is afraid of her in the house and in the
village and in the brickyard. When she goes to the post the head
of the postal department jumps up and says to her:

"I humbly beg you to be seated, Aksinya Abramovna!"

A certain landowner, middle-aged but foppish, in a tunic of fine
cloth and patent leather high boots, sold her a horse, and was so
carried away by talking to her that he knocked down the price to
meet her wishes. He held her hand a long time and, looking into
her merry, sly, naive eyes, said:

"For a woman like you, Aksinya Abramovna, I should be ready to do
anything you please. Only say when we can meet where no one will
interfere with us?"

"Why, when you please."

And since then the elderly fop drives up to the shop almost every
day to drink beer. And the beer is horrid, bitter as wormwood.
The landowner shakes his head, but he drinks it.

Old Tsybukin does not have anything to do with the business now
at all. He does not keep any money because he cannot distinguish
between the good and the false, but he is silent, he says nothing
of this weakness. He has become forgetful, and if they don't give
him food he does not ask for it. They have grown used to having
dinner without him, and Varvara often says:

"He went to bed again yesterday without any supper."

And she says it unconcernedly because she is used to it. For some
reason, summer and winter alike, he wears a fur coat, and only in
very hot weather he does not go out but sits at home. As a rule
putting on his fur coat, wrapping it round him and turning up his
collar, he walks about the village, along the road to the
station, or sits from morning till night on the seat near the
church gates. He sits there without stirring. Passers-by bow to
him, but he does not respond, for as of old he dislikes the
peasants. If he is asked a question he answers quite rationally
and politely, but briefly.

There is a rumour going about in the village that his
daughter-in-law turns him out of the house and gives him nothing
to eat, and that he is fed by charity; some are glad, others are
sorry for him.

Varvara has grown even fatter and whiter, and as before she is
active in good works, and Aksinya does not interfere with her.

There is so much jam now that they have not time to eat it before
the fresh fruit comes in; it goes sugary, and Varvara almost
sheds tears, not knowing what to do with it.

They have begun to forget about Anisim. A letter has come from
him written in verse on a big sheet of paper as though it were a
petition, all in the same splendid handwriting. Evidently his
friend Samorodov was sharing his punishment. Under the verses in
an ugly, scarcely legible handwriting there was a single line: "I
am ill here all the time; I am wretched, for Christ's sake help

Towards evening -- it was a fine autumn day -- old Tsybukin was
sitting near the church gates, with the collar of his fur coat
turned up and nothing of him could be seen but his nose and the
peak of his cap. At the other end of the long seat was sitting
Elizarov the contractor, and beside him Yakov the school
watchman, a toothless old man of seventy. Crutch and the watchman
were talking.

"Children ought to give food and drink to the old. . . . Honour
thy father and mother . . ." Yakov was saying with irritation,
"while she, this daughter-in-law, has turned her father-in-law
out of his own house; the old man has neither food nor drink,
where is he to go? He has not had a morsel for these three days."

"Three days!" said Crutch, amazed.

"Here he sits and does not say a word. He has grown feeble. And
why be silent? He ought to prosecute her, they wouldn't flatter
her in the police court."

"Wouldn't flatter whom?" asked Crutch, not hearing.


"The woman's all right, she does her best. In their line of
business they can't get on without that . . . without sin, I
mean. . . ."

"From his own house," Yakov went on with irritation. "Save up and
buy your own house, then turn people out of it! She is a nice
one, to be sure! A pla-ague!"

Tsybukin listened and did not stir.

"Whether it is your own house or others' it makes no difference
so long as it is warm and the women don't scold . . ." said
Crutch, and he laughed. "When I was young I was very fond of my
Nastasya. She was a quiet woman. And she used to be always at it:
'Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house,
Makaritch!' She was dying and yet she kept on saying, 'Buy
yourself a racing droshky, Makaritch, that you may not have to
walk.' And I bought her nothing but gingerbread."

"Her husband's deaf and stupid," Yakov went on, not hearing
Crutch; "a regular fool, just like a goose. He can't understand
anything. Hit a goose on the head with a stick and even then it
does not understand."

Crutch got up to go home to the factory. Yakov also got up, and
both of them went off together, still talking. When they had gone
fifty paces old Tsybukin got up, too, and walked after them,
stepping uncertainly as though on slippery ice.

The village was already plunged in the dusk of evening and the
sun only gleamed on the upper part of the road which ran
wriggling like a snake up the slope. Old women were coming back
from the woods and children with them; they were bringing baskets
of mushrooms. Peasant women and girls came in a crowd from the
station where they had been loading the trucks with bricks, and
their noses and their cheeks under their eyes were covered with
red brick-dust. They were singing. Ahead of them all was Lipa
singing in a high voice, with her eyes turned upwards to the sky,
breaking into trills as though triumphant and ecstatic that at
last the day was over and she could rest. In the crowd was her
mother Praskovya, who was walking with a bundle in her arms and
breathless as usual.

"Good-evening, Makaritch! " cried Lipa, seeing Crutch.
"Good-evening, darling!"

"Good-evening, Lipinka," cried Crutch delighted. "Dear girls and
women, love the rich carpenter! Ho-ho! My little children, my
little children. (Crutch gave a gulp.) My dear little axes!"

Crutch and Yakov went on further and could still be heard
talking. Then after them the crowd was met by old Tsybukin and
there was a sudden hush. Lipa and Praskovya had dropped a little
behind, and when the old man was on a level with them Lipa bowed
down low and said:

"Good-evening, Grigory Petrovitch."

Her mother, too, bowed down. The old man stopped and, saying
nothing, looked at the two in silence; his lips were quivering
and his eyes full of tears. Lipa took out of her mother's bundle
a piece of savoury turnover and gave it him. He took it and began

The sun had by now set: its glow died away on the road above. It
grew dark and cool. Lipa and Praskovya walked on and for some
time they kept crossing themselves.


A SULTRY, stifling midday. Not a cloudlet in the sky. . . . The
sun-baked grass had a disconsolate, hopeless look: even if there
were rain it could never be green again. . . . The forest stood
silent, motionless, as though it were looking at something with
its tree-tops or expecting something.

At the edge of the clearing a tall, narrow-shouldered man of
forty in a red shirt, in patched trousers that had been a
gentleman's, and in high boots, was slouching along with a lazy,
shambling step. He was sauntering along the road. On the right
was the green of the clearing, on the left a golden sea of ripe
rye stretched to the very horizon. He was red and perspiring, a
white cap with a straight jockey peak, evidently a gift from some
open-handed young gentleman, perched jauntily on his handsome
flaxen head. Across his shoulder hung a game-bag with a blackcock
lying in it. The man held a double-barrelled gun cocked in his
hand, and screwed up his eyes in the direction of his lean old
dog who was running on ahead sniffing the bushes. There was
stillness all round, not a sound . . . everything living was
hiding away from the heat.

"Yegor Vlassitch!" the huntsman suddenly heard a soft voice.

He started and, looking round, scowled. Beside him, as though she
had sprung out of the earth, stood a pale-faced woman of thirty
with a sickle in her hand. She was trying to look into his face,
and was smiling diffidently.

"Oh, it is you, Pelagea!" said the huntsman, stopping and
deliberately uncocking the gun. "H'm! . . . How have you come

"The women from our village are working here, so I have come with
them. . . . As a labourer, Yegor Vlassitch."

"Oh . . ." growled Yegor Vlassitch, and slowly walked on.

Pelagea followed him. They walked in silence for twenty paces.

"I have not seen you for a long time, Yegor Vlassitch . . ." said
Pelagea looking tenderly at the huntsman's moving shoulders. "I
have not seen you since you came into our hut at Easter for a
drink of water . . . you came in at Easter for a minute and then
God knows how . . . drunk . . . you scolded and beat me and went
away . . . I have been waiting and waiting . . . I've tired my
eyes out looking for you. Ah, Yegor Vlassitch, Yegor Vlassitch!
you might look in just once!"

"What is there for me to do there?"

"Of course there is nothing for you to do . . . though to be sure
. . . there is the place to look after. . . . To see how things
are going. . . . You are the master. . . . I say, you have shot a
blackcock, Yegor Vlassitch! You ought to sit down and rest!"

As she said all this Pelagea laughed like a silly girl and looked
up at Yegor's face. Her face was simply radiant with happiness.

"Sit down? If you like . . ." said Yegor in a tone of
indifference, and he chose a spot between two fir-trees. "Why are
you standing? You sit down too."

Pelagea sat a little way off in the sun and, ashamed of her joy,
put her hand over her smiling mouth. Two minutes passed in

"You might come for once," said Pelagea.

"What for?" sighed Yegor, taking off his cap and wiping his red
forehead with his hand. "There is no object in my coming. To go
for an hour or two is only waste of time, it's simply upsetting
you, and to live continually in the village my soul could not
endure. . . . You know yourself I am a pampered man. . . . I want
a bed to sleep in, good tea to drink, and refined conversation. .
. . I want all the niceties, while you live in poverty and dirt
in the village. . . . I couldn't stand it for a day. Suppose
there were an edict that I must live with you, I should either
set fire to the hut or lay hands on myself. From a boy I've had
this love for ease; there is no help for it."

"Where are you living now?"

"With the gentleman here, Dmitry Ivanitch, as a huntsman. I
furnish his table with game, but he keeps me . . . more for his
pleasure than anything."

"That's not proper work you're doing, Yegor Vlassitch. . . . For
other people it's a pastime, but with you it's like a trade . . .
like real work."

"You don't understand, you silly," said Yegor, gazing gloomily at
the sky. "You have never understood, and as long as you live you
will never understand what sort of man I am. . . . You think of
me as a foolish man, gone to the bad, but to anyone who
understands I am the best shot there is in the whole district.
The gentry feel that, and they have even printed things about me
in a magazine. There isn't a man to be compared with me as a
sportsman. . . . And it is not because I am pampered and proud
that I look down upon your village work. From my childhood, you
know, I have never had any calling apart from guns and dogs. If
they took away my gun, I used to go out with the fishing-hook, if
they took the hook I caught things with my hands. And I went in
for horse-dealing too, I used to go to the fairs when I had the
money, and you know that if a peasant goes in for being a
sportsman, or a horse-dealer, it's good-bye to the plough. Once
the spirit of freedom has taken a man you will never root it out
of him. In the same way, if a gentleman goes in for being an
actor or for any other art, he will never make an official or a
landowner. You are a woman, and you do not understand, but one
must understand that."

"I understand, Yegor Vlassitch."

"You don't understand if you are going to cry. . . ."

"I . . . I'm not crying," said Pelagea, turning away. "It's a
sin, Yegor Vlassitch! You might stay a day with luckless me,
anyway. It's twelve years since I was married to you, and . . .
and . . . there has never once been love between us! . . . I . .
. I am not crying."

"Love . . ." muttered Yegor, scratching his hand. "There can't be
any love. It's only in name we are husband and wife; we aren't
really. In your eyes I am a wild man, and in mine you are a
simple peasant woman with no understanding. Are we well matched?
I am a free, pampered, profligate man, while you are a working
woman, going in bark shoes and never straightening your back. The
way I think of myself is that I am the foremost man in every kind
of sport, and you look at me with pity. . . . Is that being well

"But we are married, you know, Yegor Vlassitch," sobbed Pelagea.

"Not married of our free will. . . . Have you forgotten? You have
to thank Count Sergey Paylovitch and yourself. Out of envy,
because I shot better than he did, the Count kept giving me wine
for a whole month, and when a man's drunk you could make him
change his religion, let alone getting married. To pay me out he
married me to you when I was drunk. . . . A huntsman to a
herd-girl! You saw I was drunk, why did you marry me? You were
not a serf, you know; you could have resisted. Of course it was a
bit of luck for a herd-girl to marry a huntsman, but you ought to
have thought about it. Well, now be miserable, cry. It's a joke
for the Count, but a crying matter for you. . . . Beat yourself
against the wall."

A silence followed. Three wild ducks flew over the clearing.
Yegor followed them with his eyes till, transformed into three
scarcely visible dots, they sank down far beyond the forest.

"How do you live?" he asked, moving his eyes from the ducks to

"Now I am going out to work, and in the winter I take a child
from the Foundling Hospital and bring it up on the bottle. They
give me a rouble and a half a month."

"Oh. . . ."

Again a silence. From the strip that had been reaped floated a
soft song which broke off at the very beginning. It was too hot
to sing.

"They say you have put up a new hut for Akulina," said Pelagea.

Yegor did not speak.

"So she is dear to you. . . ."

"It's your luck, it's fate!" said the huntsman, stretching. "You
must put up with it, poor thing. But good-bye, I've been
chattering long enough. . . . I must be at Boltovo by the

Yegor rose, stretched himself, and slung his gun over his
shoulder; Pelagea got up.

"And when are you coming to the village?" she asked softly.

"I have no reason to, I shall never come sober, and you have
little to gain from me drunk; I am spiteful when I am drunk.

"Good-bye, Yegor Vlassitch."

Yegor put his cap on t he back of his head and, clicking to his
dog, went on his way. Pelagea stood still looking after him. . .
. She saw his moving shoulder-blades, his jaunty cap, his lazy,
careless step, and her eyes were full of sadness and tender
affection. . . . Her gaze flitted over her husband's tall, lean
figure and caressed and fondled it. . . . He, as though he felt
that gaze, stopped and looked round. . . . He did not speak, but
from his face, from his shrugged shoulders, Pelagea could see
that he wanted to say something to her. She went up to him
timidly and looked at him with imploring eyes.

"Take it," he said, turning round.

He gave her a crumpled rouble note and walked quickly away.

"Good-bye, Yegor Vlassitch," she said, mechanically taking the

He walked by a long road, straight as a taut strap. She, pale and
motionless as a statue, stood, her eyes seizing every step he
took. But the red of his shirt melted into the dark colour of his
trousers, his step could not be seen, and the dog could not be
distinguished from the boots. Nothing could be seen but the cap,
and . . . suddenly Yegor turned off sharply into the clearing and
the cap vanished in the greenness.

"Good-bye, Yegor Vlassitch," whispered Pelagea, and she stood on
tiptoe to see the white cap once more.


A FLOCK of sheep was spending the night on the broad steppe road
that is called the great highway. Two shepherds were guarding it.
One, a toothless old man of eighty, with a tremulous face, was
lying on his stomach at the very edge of the road, leaning his
elbows on the dusty leaves of a plantain; the other, a young
fellow with thick black eyebrows and no moustache, dressed in the
coarse canvas of which cheap sacks are made, was lying on his
back, with his arms under his head, looking upwards at the sky,
where the stars were slumbering and the Milky Way lay stretched
exactly above his face.

The shepherds were not alone. A couple of yards from them in the
dusk that shrouded the road a horse made a patch of darkness,
and, beside it, leaning against the saddle, stood a man in high
boots and a short full-skirted jacket who looked like an overseer
on some big estate. Judging from his upright and motionless
figure, from his manners, and his behaviour to the shepherds and
to his horse, he was a serious, reasonable man who knew his own
value; even in the darkness signs could be detected in him of
military carriage and of the majestically condescending
expression gained by frequent intercourse with the gentry and
their stewards.

The sheep were asleep. Against the grey background of the dawn,
already beginning to cover the eastern part of the sky, the
silhouettes of sheep that were not asleep could be seen here and
there; they stood with drooping heads, thinking. Their thoughts,
tedious and oppressive, called forth by images of nothing but the
broad steppe and the sky, the days and the nights, probably
weighed upon them themselves, crushing them into apathy; and,
standing there as though rooted to the earth, they noticed
neither the presence of a stranger nor the uneasiness of the

The drowsy, stagnant air was full of the monotonous noise
inseparable from a summer night on the steppes; the grasshoppers
chirruped incessantly; the quails called, and the young
nightingales trilled languidly half a mile away in a ravine where
a stream flowed and willows grew.

The overseer had halted to ask the shepherds for a light for his
pipe. He lighted it in silence and smoked the whole pipe; then,
still without uttering a word, stood with his elbow on the
saddle, plunged in thought. The young shepherd took no notice of
him, he still lay gazing at the sky while the old man slowly
looked the overseer up and down and then asked:

"Why, aren't you Panteley from Makarov's estate?"

"That's myself," answered the overseer.

"To be sure, I see it is. I didn't know you -- that is a sign you
will be rich. Where has God brought you from?"

"From the Kovylyevsky fields."

"That's a good way. Are you letting the land on the part-crop

"Part of it. Some like that, and some we are letting on lease,
and some for raising melons and cucumbers. I have just come from
the mill."

A big shaggy old sheep-dog of a dirty white colour with woolly
tufts about its nose and eyes walked three times quietly round
the horse, trying to seem unconcerned in the presence of
strangers, then all at once dashed suddenly from behind at the
overseer with an angry aged growl; the other dogs could not
refrain from leaping up too.

"Lie down, you damned brute," cried the old man, raising himself
on his elbow; "blast you, you devil's creature."

When the dogs were quiet again, the old man resumed his former
attitude and said quietly:

"It was at Kovyli on Ascension Day that Yefim Zhmenya died. Don't
speak of it in the dark, it is a sin to mention such people. He
was a wicked old man. I dare say you have heard."

"No, I haven't"

"Yefim Zhmenya, the uncle of Styopka, the blacksmith. The whole
district round knew him. Aye, he was a cursed old man, he was! I
knew him for sixty years, ever since Tsar Alexander who beat the
French was brought from Taganrog to Moscow. We went together to
meet the dead Tsar, and in those days the great highway did not
run to Bahmut, but from Esaulovka to Gorodishtche, and where
Kovyli is now, there were bustards' nests -- there was a
bustard's nest at every step. Even then I had noticed that Yefim
had given his soul to damnation, and that the Evil One was in
him. I have observed that if any man of the peasant class is apt
to be silent, takes up with old women's jobs, and tries to live
in solitude, there is no good in it, and Yefim from his youth up
was always one to hold his tongue and look at you sideways, he
always seemed to be sulky and bristling like a cock before a hen.
To go to church or to the tavern or to lark in the street with
the lads was not his fashion, he would rather sit alone or be
whispering with old women. When he was still young he took jobs
to look after the bees and the market gardens. Good folks would
come to his market garden sometimes and his melons were
whistling. One day he caught a pike, when folks were looking on,
and it laughed aloud, 'Ho-ho-ho-ho!' "

"It does happen," said Panteley.

The young shepherd turned on his side and, lifting his black
eyebrows, stared intently at the old man.

"Did you hear the melons whistling?" he asked.

"Hear them I didn't, the Lord spared me," sighed the old man,
"but folks told me so. It is no great wonder . . . the Evil One
will begin whistling in a stone if he wants to. Before the Day of
Freedom a rock was humming for three days and three nights in our
parts. I heard it myself. The pike laughed because Yefim caught a
devil instead of a pike."

The old man remembered something. He got up quickly on to his
knees and, shrinking as though from the cold, nervously thrusting
his hands into his sleeves, he muttered in a rapid womanish

"Lord save us and have mercy upon us! I was walking along the
river bank one day to Novopavlovka. A storm was gathering, such a
tempest it was, preserve us Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven. . . . I
was hurrying on as best I could, I looked, and beside the path
between the thorn bushes -- the thorn was in flower at the time
-- there was a white bullock coming along. I wondered whose
bullock it was, and what the devil had sent it there for. It was
coming along and swinging its tail and moo-oo-oo! but would you
believe it, friends, I overtake it, I come up close -- and it's
not a bullock, but Yefim -- holy, holy, holy! I make the sign of
the cross while he stares at me and mutters, showing the whites
of his eyes; wasn't I frightened! We came alongside, I was afraid
to say a word to him -- the thunder was crashing, the sky was
streaked with lightning, the willows were bent right down to the
water -- all at once, my friends, God strike me dead that I die
impenitent, a hare ran across the path . . . it ran and stopped,
and said like a man: 'Good-evening, peasants.' Lie down, you
brute! " the old man cried to the shaggy dog, who was moving
round the horse again. "Plague take you!"

"It does happen," said the overseer, still leaning on the saddle
and not stirring; he said this in the hollow, toneless voice in
which men speak when they are plunged in thought.

"It does happen," he repeated, in a tone of profundity and

"Ugh, he was a nasty old fellow," the old shepherd went on with
somewhat less fervour. "Five years after the Freedom he was
flogged by the commune at the office, so to show his spite he
took and sent the throat illness upon all Kovyli. Folks died out
of number, lots and lots of them, just as in cholera. . . ."

"How did he send the illness?" asked the young shepherd after a
brief silence.

"We all know how, there is no great cleverness needed where there
is a will to it. Yefim murdered people with viper's fat. That is
such a poison that folks will die from the mere smell of it, let
alone the fat."

"That's true," Panteley agreed.

"The lads wanted to kill him at the time, but the old people
would not let them. It would never have done to kill him; he knew
the place where the treasure is hidden, and not another soul did
know. The treasures about here are charmed so that you may find
them and not see them, but he did see them. At times he would
walk along the river bank or in the forest, and under the bushes
and under the rocks there would be little flames, little flames.
. . little flames as though from brimstone. I have seen them
myself. Everyone expected that Yefim would show people the places
or dig the treasure up himself, but he -- as the saying is, like
a dog in the manger -- so he died without digging it up himself
or showing other people."

The overseer lit a pipe, and for an instant lighted up his big
moustaches and his sharp, stern-looking, and dignified nose.
Little circles of light danced from his hands to his cap, raced
over the saddle along the horse's back, and vanished in its mane
near its ears.

"There are lots of hidden treasures in these parts," he said.

And slowly stretching, he looked round him, resting his eyes on
the whitening east and added:

"There must be treasures."

"To be sure," sighed the old man, "one can see from every sign
there are treasures, only there is no one to dig them, brother.
No one knows the real places; besides, nowadays, you must
remember, all the treasures are under a charm. To find them and
see them you must have a talisman, and without a talisman you can
do nothing, lad. Yefim had talismans, but there was no getting
anything out of him, the bald devil. He kept them, so that no one
could get them."

The young shepherd crept two paces nearer to he old man and,
propping his head on his fists, fastened his fixed stare upon
him. A childish expression of terror and curiosity gleamed in his
dark eyes, and seemed in the twilight to stretch and flatten out
the large features of his coarse young face. He was listening

"It is even written in the Scriptures that there are lots of
treasures hidden here," the old man went on; "it is so for sure.
. . and no mistake about it. An old soldier of Novopavlovka was
shown at Ivanovka a writing, and in this writing it was printed
about the place of the treasure and even how many pounds of gold
was in it and the sort of vessel it was in; they would have found
the treasures long ago by that writing, only the treasure is
under a spell, you can't get at it."

"Why can't you get at it, grandfather?" asked the young man.

I suppose there is some reason, the soldier didn't say. It is
under a spell . . . you need a talisman."

The old man spoke with warmth, as though he were pouring out his
soul before the overseer. He talked through his nose and, being
unaccustomed to talk much and rapidly, stuttered; and, conscious
of his defects, he tried to adorn his speech with gesticulations
of the hands and head and thin shoulders, and at every movement
his hempen shirt crumpled into folds, slipped upwards and
displayed his back, black with age and sunburn. He kept pulling
it down, but it slipped up again at once. At last, as though
driven out of all patience by the rebellious shirt, the old man
leaped up and said bitterly:

"There is fortune, but what is the good of it if it is buried in
the earth? It is just riches wasted with no profit to anyone,
like chaff or sheep's dung, and yet there are riches there, lad,
fortune enough for all the country round, but not a soul sees it!
It will come to this, that the gentry will dig it up or the
government will take it away. The gentry have begun digging the
barrows. . . . They scented something! They are envious of the
peasants' luck! The government, too, is looking after itself. It
is written in the law that if any peasant finds the treasure he
is to take it to the authorities! I dare say, wait till you get
it! There is a brew but not for you!"

The old man laughed contemptuously and sat down on the ground.
The overseer listened with attention and agreed, but from his
silence and the expression of his figure it was evident that what
the old man told him was not new to him, that he had thought it
all over long ago, and knew much more than was known to the old

"In my day, I must own, I did seek for fortune a dozen times,"
said the old man, scratching himself nervously. "I looked in the
right places, but I must have come on treasures under a charm. My
father looked for it, too, and my brother, too -- but not a thing
did they find, so they died without luck. A monk revealed to my
brother Ilya -- the Kingdom of Heaven be his -- that in one place
in the fortress of Taganrog there was a treasure under three
stones, and that that treasure was under a charm, and in those
days -- it was, I remember, in the year '38 -- an Armenian used
to live at Matvyeev Barrow who sold talismans. Ilya bought a
talisman, took two other fellows with him, and went to Taganrog.
Only when he got to the place in the fortress, brother, there was
a soldier with a gun, standing at the very spot. . . ."

A sound suddenly broke on the still air, and floated in all
directions over the steppe. Something in the distance gave a
menacing bang, crashed against stone, and raced over the steppe,
uttering, "Tah! tah! tah! tah!" When the sound had died away the
old man looked inquiringly at Panteley, who stood motionless and

"It's a bucket broken away at the pits," said the young shepherd
after a moment's thought.

It was by now getting light. The Milky Way had turned pale and
gradually melted like snow, losing its outlines; the sky was
becoming dull and dingy so that you could not make out whether it
was clear or covered thickly with clouds, and only from the
bright leaden streak in the east and from the stars that lingered
here and there could one tell what was coming.

The first noiseless breeze of morning, cautiously stirring the
spurges and the brown stalks of last year's grass, fluttered
along the road.

The overseer roused himself from his thoughts and tossed his
head. With both hands he shook the saddle, touched the girth and,
as though he could not make up his mind to mount the horse, stood
still again, hesitating.

"Yes," he said, "your elbow is near, but you can't bite it. There
is fortune, but there is not the wit to find it."

And he turned facing the shepherds. His stern face looked sad and
mocking, as though he were a disappointed man.

"Yes, so one dies without knowing what happiness is like . . ."
he said emphatically, lifting his left leg into the stirrup. "A
younger man may live to see it, but it is time for us to lay
aside all thought of it."

Stroking his long moustaches covered with dew, he seated himself
heavily on the horse and screwed up his eyes, looking into the
distance, as though he had forgotten something or left something
unsaid. In the bluish distance where the furthest visible hillock
melted into the mist nothing was stirring; the ancient barrows,
once watch-mounds and tombs, which rose here and there above the
horizon and the boundless steppe had a sullen and death-like
look; there was a feeling of endless time and utter indifference
to man in their immobility and silence; another thousand years
would pass, myriads of men would die, while they would still
stand as they had stood, wit h no regret for the dead nor
interest in the living, and no soul would ever know why they
stood there, and what secret of the steppes was hidden under

The rooks awakening, flew one after another in silence over the
earth. No meaning was to be seen in the languid flight of those
long-lived birds, nor in the morning which is repeated punctually
every twenty-four hours, nor in the boundless expanse of the

The overseer smiled and said:

"What space, Lord have mercy upon us! You would have a hunt to
find treasure in it! Here," he went on, dropping his voice and
making a serious face, "here there are two treasures buried for a
certainty. The gentry don't know of them, but the old peasants,
particularly the soldiers, know all about them. Here, somewhere
on that ridge [the overseer pointed with his whip] robbers one
time attacked a caravan of gold; the gold was being taken from
Petersburg to the Emperor Peter who was building a fleet at the
time at Voronezh. The robbers killed the men with the caravan and
buried the gold, but did not find it again afterwards. Another
treasure was buried by our Cossacks of the Don. In the year '12
they carried off lots of plunder of all sorts from the French,
goods and gold and silver. When they were going homewards they
heard on the way that the government wanted to take away all the
gold and silver from them. Rather than give up their plunder like
that to the government for nothing, the brave fellows took and
buried it, so that their children, anyway, might get it; but
where they buried it no one knows."

"I have heard of those treasures," the old man muttered grimly.

"Yes . . ." Panteley pondered again. "So it is. . . ."

A silence followed. The overseer looked dreamily into the
distance, gave a laugh and pulled the rein, still with the same
expression as though he had forgotten something or left something
unsaid. The horse reluctantly started at a walking pace. After
riding a hundred paces Panteley shook his head resolutely, roused
himself from his thoughts and, lashing his horse, set off at a

The shepherds were left alone.

"That was Panteley from Makarov's estate," said the old man. "He
gets a hundred and fifty a year and provisions found, too. He is
a man of education. . . ."

The sheep, waking up -- there were about three thousand of them
-- began without zest to while away the time, nipping at the low,
half-trampled grass. The sun had not yet risen, but by now all
the barrows could be seen and, like a cloud in the distance,
Saur's Grave with its peaked top. If one clambered up on that
tomb one could see the plain from it, level and boundless as the
sky, one could see villages, manor-houses, the settlements of the
Germans and of the Molokani, and a long-sighted Kalmuck could
even see the town and the railway-station. Only from there could
one see that there was something else in the world besides the
silent steppe and the ancient barrows, that there was another
life that had nothing to do with buried treasure and the thoughts
of sheep.

The old man felt beside him for his crook -- a long stick with a
hook at the upper end -- and got up. He was silent and
thoughtful. The young shepherd's face had not lost the look of
childish terror and curiosity. He was still under the influence
of what he had heard in the night, and impatiently awaiting fresh

"Grandfather," he asked, getting up and taking his crook, "what
did your brother Ilya do with the soldier?"

The old man did not hear the question. He looked absent-mindedly
at the young man, and answered, mumbling with his lips:

"I keep thinking, Sanka, about that writing that was shown to
that soldier at Ivanovka. I didn't tell Panteley -- God be with
him -- but you know in that writing the place was marked out so
that even a woman could find it. Do you know where it is? At
Bogata Bylotchka at the spot, you know, where the ravine parts
like a goose's foot into three little ravines; it is the middle

"Well, will you dig?"

"I will try my luck. . ."

"And, grandfather, what will you do with the treasure when you
find it?"

"Do with it?" laughed the old man. "H'm! . . . If only I could
find it then. . . . I would show them all. . . . H'm! . . . I
should know what to do. . . ."

And the old man could not answer what he would do with the
treasure if he found it. That question had presented itself to
him that morning probably for the first time in his life, and
judging from the expression of his face, indifferent and
uncritical, it did not seem to him important and deserving of
consideration. In Sanka's brain another puzzled question was
stirring: why was it only old men searched for hidden treasure,
and what was the use of earthly happiness to people who might die
any day of old age? But Sanka could not put this perplexity into
words, and the old man could scarcely have found an answer to it.

An immense crimson sun came into view surrounded by a faint haze.
Broad streaks of light, still cold, bathing in the dewy grass,
lengthening out with a joyous air as though to prove they were
not weary of their task, began spreading over the earth. The
silvery wormwood, the blue flowers of the pig's onion, the yellow
mustard, the corn-flowers -- all burst into gay colours, taking
the sunlight for their own smile.

The old shepherd and Sanka parted and stood at the further sides
of the flock. Both stood like posts, without moving, staring at
the ground and thinking. The former was haunted by thoughts of
fortune, the latter was pondering on what had been said in the
night; what interested him was not the fortune itself, which he
did not want and could not imagine, but the fantastic, fairy-tale
character of human happiness.

A hundred sheep started and, in some inexplicable panic as at a
signal, dashed away from the flock; and as though the thoughts of
the sheep -- tedious and oppressive -- had for a moment infected
Sanka also, he, too, dashed aside in the same inexplicable animal
panic, but at once he recovered himself and shouted:

"You crazy creatures! You've gone mad, plague take you!"

When the sun, promising long hours of overwhelming heat, began to
bake the earth, all living things that in the night had moved and
uttered sounds were sunk in drowsiness. The old shepherd and
Sanka stood with their crooks on opposite sides of the flock,
stood without stirring, like fakirs at their prayers, absorbed in
thought. They did not heed each other; each of them was living in
his own life. The sheep were pondering, too.


AN exceedingly lean little peasant, in a striped hempen shirt and
patched drawers, stands facing the investigating magistrate. His
face overgrown with hair and pitted with smallpox, and his eyes
scarcely visible under thick, overhanging eyebrows have an
expression of sullen moroseness. On his head there is a perfect
mop of tangled, unkempt hair, which gives him an even more
spider-like air of moroseness. He is barefooted.

"Denis Grigoryev!" the magistrate begins. "Come nearer, and
answer my questions. On the seventh of this July the railway
watchman, Ivan Semyonovitch Akinfov, going along the line in the
morning, found you at the hundred-and-forty-first mile engaged in
unscrewing a nut by which the rails are made fast to the
sleepers. Here it is, the nut! . . . With the aforesaid nut he
detained you. Was that so?"


"Was this all as Akinfov states?"

"To be sure, it was."

"Very good; well, what were you unscrewing the nut for?"


"Drop that 'wha-at' and answer the question; what were you
unscrewing the nut for?"

"If I hadn't wanted it I shouldn't have unscrewed it," croaks
Denis, looking at the ceiling.

"What did you want that nut for?"

"The nut? We make weights out of those nuts for our lines."

"Who is 'we'?"

"We, people. . . . The Klimovo peasants, that is."

"Listen, my man; don't play the idiot to me, but speak sensibly.
It's no use telling lies here about weights!"

"I've never been a liar from a child, and now I'm telling lies .
. ." mutters Denis, blinking. "But can you do without a weight,
your honour? If you put live bait or maggots on a hook, would it
go to the bottom without a w eight? . . . I am telling lies,"
grins Denis. . . . "What the devil is the use of the worm if it
swims on the surface! The perch and the pike and the eel-pout
always go to the bottom, and a bait on the surface is only taken
by a shillisper, not very often then, and there are no
shillispers in our river. . . . That fish likes plenty of room."

"Why are you telling me about shillispers?"

"Wha-at? Why, you asked me yourself! The gentry catch fish that
way too in our parts. The silliest little boy would not try to
catch a fish without a weight. Of course anyone who did not
understand might go to fish without a weight. There is no rule
for a fool."

"So you say you unscrewed this nut to make a weight for your
fishing line out of it?"

"What else for? It wasn't to play knuckle-bones with!"

"But you might have taken lead, a bullet . . . a nail of some
sort. . . ."

"You don't pick up lead in the road, you have to buy it, and a
nail's no good. You can't find anything better than a nut. . . .
It's heavy, and there's a hole in it."

"He keeps pretending to be a fool! as though he'd been born
yesterday or dropped from heaven! Don't you understand, you
blockhead, what unscrewing these nuts leads to? If the watchman
had not noticed it the train might have run off the rails, people
would have been killed -- you would have killed people."

"God forbid, your honour! What should I kill them for? Are we
heathens or wicked people? Thank God, good gentlemen, we have
lived all our lives without ever dreaming of such a thing. . . .
Save, and have mercy on us, Queen of Heaven! . . . What are you

"And what do you suppose railway accidents do come from? Unscrew
two or three nuts and you have an accident."

Denis grins, and screws up his eye at the magistrate

"Why! how many years have we all in the village been unscrewing
nuts, and the Lord has been merciful; and you talk of accidents,
killing people. If I had carried away a rail or put a log across
the line, say, then maybe it might have upset the train, but. . .
pouf! a nut!"

"But you must understand that the nut holds the rail fast to the

"We understand that. . . . We don't unscrew them all . . . we
leave some. . . . We don't do it thoughtlessly . . . we
understand. . . ."

Denis yawns and makes the sign of the cross over his mouth.

"Last year the train went off the rails here," says the
magistrate. "Now I see why!"

"What do you say, your honour?"

"I am telling you that now I see why the train went off the rails
last year. . . . I understand!"

"That's what you are educated people for, to understand, you kind
gentlemen. The Lord knows to whom to give understanding. . . .
Here you have reasoned how and what, but the watchman, a peasant
like ourselves, with no understanding at all, catches one by the
collar and hauls one along. . . . You should reason first and
then haul me off. It's a saying that a peasant has a peasant's
wit. . . . Write down, too, your honour, that he hit me twice --
in the jaw and in the chest."

"When your hut was searched they found another nut. . . . At what
spot did you unscrew that, and when?"

"You mean the nut which lay under the red box?"

"I don't know where it was lying, only it was found. When did you
unscrew it?"

"I didn't unscrew it; Ignashka, the son of one-eyed Semyon, gave
it me. I mean the one which was under the box, but the one which
was in the sledge in the yard Mitrofan and I unscrewed together."

"What Mitrofan?"

"Mitrofan Petrov. . . . Haven't you heard of him? He makes nets
in our village and sells them to the gentry. He needs a lot of
those nuts. Reckon a matter of ten for each net."

"Listen. Article 1081 of the Penal Code lays down that every
wilful damage of the railway line committed when it can expose
the traffic on that line to danger, and the guilty party knows
that an accident must be caused by it . . . (Do you understand?
Knows! And you could not help knowing what this unscrewing would
lead to . . .) is liable to penal servitude."

"Of course, you know best. . . . We are ignorant people. . . .
What do we understand?"

"You understand all about it! You are lying, shamming!"

"What should I lie for? Ask in the village if you don't believe
me. Only a bleak is caught without a weight, and there is no fish
worse than a gudgeon, yet even that won't bite without a weight."

"You'd better tell me about the shillisper next," said the
magistrate, smiling.

"There are no shillispers in our parts. . . . We cast our line
without a weight on the top of the water with a butterfly; a
mullet may be caught that way, though that is not often."

"Come, hold your tongue."

A silence follows. Denis shifts from one foot to the other, looks
at the table with the green cloth on it, and blinks his eyes
violently as though what was before him was not the cloth but the
sun. The magistrate writes rapidly.

"Can I go?" asks Denis after a long silence.

"No. I must take you under guard and send you to prison."

Denis leaves off blinking and, raising his thick eyebrows, looks
inquiringly at the magistrate.

"How do you mean, to prison? Your honour! I have no time to
spare, I must go to the fair; I must get three roubles from Yegor
for some tallow! . . ."

"Hold your tongue; don't interrupt."

"To prison. . . . If there was something to go for, I'd go; but
just to go for nothing! What for? I haven't stolen anything, I
believe, and I've not been fighting. . . . If you are in doubt
about the arrears, your honour, don't believe the elder. . . .
You ask the agent . . . he's a regular heathen, the elder, you

"Hold your tongue."

I am holding my tongue, as it is," mutters Denis; "but that the
elder has lied over the account, I'll take my oath for it. . . .
There are three of us brothers: Kuzma Grigoryev, then Yegor
Grigoryev, and me, Denis Grigoryev."

"You are hindering me. . . . Hey, Semyon," cries the magistrate,
"take him away!"

"There are three of us brothers," mutters Denis, as two stalwart
soldiers take him and lead him out of the room. "A brother is not
responsible for a brother. Kuzma does not pay, so you, Denis,
must answer for it. . . . Judges indeed! Our master the general
is dead -- the Kingdom of Heaven be his -- or he would have shown
you judges. . . . You ought to judge sensibly, not at random. . .
. Flog if you like, but flog someone who deserves it, flog with



NIKOLAY TCHIKILDYEEV, a waiter in the Moscow hotel, Slavyansky
Bazaar, was taken ill. His legs went numb and his gait was
affected, so that on one occasion, as he was going along the
corridor, he tumbled and fell down with a tray full of ham and
peas. He had to leave his job. All his own savings and his wife's
were spent on doctors and medicines; they had nothing left to
live upon. He felt dull with no work to do, and he made up his
mind he must go home to the village. It is better to be ill at
home, and living there is cheaper; and it is a true saying that
the walls of home are a help.

He reached Zhukovo towards evening. In his memories of childhood
he had pictured his home as bright, snug, comfortable. Now, going
into the hut, he was positively frightened; it was so dark, so
crowded, so unclean. His wife Olga and his daughter Sasha, who
had come with him, kept looking in bewilderment at the big untidy
stove, which filled up almost half the hut and was black with
soot and flies. What lots of flies! The stove was on one side,
the beams lay slanting on the walls, and it looked as though the
hut were just going to fall to pieces. In the corner, facing the
door, under the holy images, bottle labels and newspaper cuttings
were stuck on the walls instead of pictures. The poverty, the
poverty! Of the grown-up people there were none at home; all were
at work at the harvest. On the stove was sitting a white-headed
girl of eight, unwashed and apathetic; she did not even glance at
them as they came in. On the floor a white cat was rubbing itself
against the oven fork.

"Puss, puss!" Sasha called to her. "Puss!"

"She can't hear," said the little girl; "she has gone deaf."

"How is that?"

"Oh, she was beaten."

Nikolay and Olga realized from the firs t glance what life was
like here, but said nothing to one another; in silence they put
down their bundles, and went out into the village street. Their
hut was the third from the end, and seemed the very poorest and
oldest-looking; the second was not much better; but the last one
had an iron roof, and curtains in the windows. That hut stood
apart, not enclosed; it was a tavern. The huts were in a single
row, and the whole of the little village -- quiet and dreamy,
with willows, elders, and mountain-ash trees peeping out from the
yards -- had an attractive look.

Beyond the peasants homesteads there was a slope down to the
river, so steep and precipitous that huge stones jutted out bare
here and there through the clay. Down the slope, among the stones
and holes dug by the potters, ran winding paths; bits of broken
pottery, some brown, some red, lay piled up in heaps, and below
there stretched a broad, level, bright green meadow, from which
the hay had been already carried, and in which the peasants'
cattle were wandering. The river, three-quarters of a mile from
the village, ran twisting and turning, with beautiful leafy
banks; beyond it was again a broad meadow, a herd of cattle, long
strings of white geese; then, just as on the near side, a steep
ascent uphill, and on the top of the hill a hamlet, and a church
with five domes, and at a little distance the manor-house.

"It's lovely here in your parts!" said Olga, crossing herself at
the sight of the church. "What space, oh Lord!"

Just at that moment the bell began ringing for service (it was
Saturday evening). Two little girls, down below, who were
dragging up a pail of water, looked round at the church to listen
to the bell.

"At this time they are serving the dinners at the Slavyansky
Bazaar," said Nikolay dreamily.

Sitting on the edge of the slope, Nikolay and Olga watched the
sun setting, watched the gold and crimson sky reflected in the
river, in the church windows, and in the whole air -- which was
soft and still and unutterably pure as it never was in Moscow.
And when the sun had set the flocks and herds passed, bleating
and lowing; geese flew across from the further side of the river,
and all sank into silence; the soft light died away in the air,
and the dusk of evening began quickly moving down upon them.

Meanwhile Nikolay's father and mother, two gaunt, bent, toothless
old people, just of the same height, came back. The women -- the
sisters-in-law Marya and Fyokla -- who had been working on the
landowner's estate beyond the river, arrived home, too. Marya,
the wife of Nikolay's brother Kiryak, had six children, and
Fyokla, the wife of Nikolay's brother Denis -- who had gone for a
soldier -- had two; and when Nikolay, going into the hut, saw all
the family, all those bodies big and little moving about on the
lockers, in the hanging cradles and in all the corners, and when
he saw the greed with which the old father and the women ate the
black bread, dipping it in water, he realized he had made a
mistake in coming here, sick, penniless, and with a family, too
-- a great mistake!

"And where is Kiryak?" he asked after they had exchanged

"He is in service at the merchant's," answered his father; "a
keeper in the woods. He is not a bad peasant, but too fond of his

"He is no great help!" said the old woman tearfully. "Our men are
a grievous lot; they bring nothing into the house, but take
plenty out. Kiryak drinks, and so does the old man; it is no use
hiding a sin; he knows his way to the tavern. The Heavenly Mother
is wroth."

In honour of the visitors they brought out the samovar. The tea
smelt of fish; the sugar was grey and looked as though it had
been nibbled; cockroaches ran to and fro over the bread and among
the crockery. It was disgusting to drink, and the conversation
was disgusting, too -- about nothing but poverty and illnesses.
But before they had time to empty their first cups there came a
loud, prolonged, drunken shout from the yard:


"It looks as though Kiryak were coming," said the old man. "Speak
of the devil."

All were hushed. And again, soon afterwards, the same shout,
coarse and drawn-out as though it came out of the earth:


Marya, the elder sister-in-law, turned pale and huddled against
the stove, and it was strange to see the look of terror on the
face of the strong, broad-shouldered, ugly woman. Her daughter,
the child who had been sitting on the stove and looked so
apathetic, suddenly broke into loud weeping.

"What are you howling for, you plague?" Fyokla, a handsome woman,
also strong and broad-shouldered, shouted to her. "He won't kill
you, no fear!"

From his old father Nikolay learned that Marya was afraid to live
in the forest with Kiryak, and that when he was drunk he always
came for her, made a row, and beat her mercilessly.

"Ma-arya!" the shout sounded close to the door.

"Protect me, for Christ's sake, good people!" faltered Marya,
breathing as though she had been plunged into very cold water.
"Protect me, kind people. . . ."

All the children in the hut began crying, and looking at them,
Sasha, too, began to cry. They heard a drunken cough, and a tall,
black-bearded peasant wearing a winter cap came into the hut, and
was the more terrible because his face could not be seen in the
dim light of the little lamp. It was Kiryak. Going up to his
wife, he swung his arm and punched her in the face with his fist.
Stunned by the blow, she did not utter a sound, but sat down, and
her nose instantly began bleeding.

"What a disgrace! What a disgrace!" muttered the old man,
clambering up on to the stove. "Before visitors, too! It's a

The old mother sat silent, bowed, lost in thought; Fyokla rocked
the cradle.

Evidently conscious of inspiring fear, and pleased at doing so,
Kiryak seized Marya by the arm, dragged her towards the door, and
bellowed like an animal in order to seem still more terrible; but
at that moment he suddenly caught sight of the visitors and

"Oh, they have come, . . ." he said, letting his wife go; "my own
brother and his family. . . ."

Staggering and opening wide his red, drunken eyes, he said his
prayer before the image and went on:

"My brother and his family have come to the parental home . . .
from Moscow, I suppose. The great capital Moscow, to be sure, the
mother of cities. . . . Excuse me."

He sank down on the bench near the samovar and began drinking
tea, sipping it loudly from the saucer in the midst of general
silence. . . . He drank off a dozen cups, then reclined on the
bench and began snoring.

They began going to bed. Nikolay, as an invalid, was put on the
stove with his old father; Sasha lay down on the floor, while
Olga went with the other women into the barn.

"Aye, aye, dearie," she said, lying down on the hay beside Marya;
"you won't mend your trouble with tears. Bear it in patience,
that is all. It is written in the Scriptures: 'If anyone smite
thee on the right cheek, offer him the left one also.' . . . Aye,
aye, dearie."

Then in a low singsong murmur she told them about Moscow, about
her own life, how she had been a servant in furnished lodgings.

"And in Moscow the houses are big, built of brick," she said;
"and there are ever so many churches, forty times forty, dearie;
and they are all gentry in the houses, so handsome and so

Marya told her that she had not only never been in Moscow, but
had not even been in their own district town; she could not read
or write, and knew no prayers, not even "Our Father." Both she
and Fyokla, the other sister-in-law, who was sitting a little way
off listening, were extremely ignorant and could understand
nothing. They both disliked their husbands; Marya was afraid of
Kiryak, and whenever he stayed with her she was shaking with
fear, and always got a headache from the fumes of vodka and
tobacco with which he reeked. And in answer to the question
whether she did not miss her husband, Fyokla answered with

"Miss him!"

They talked a little and sank into silence.

It was cool, and a cock crowed at the top of his voice near the
barn, preventing them from sleeping. When the bluish morning
light was already peeping through all the crevices, Fyokla got up
stealthily and went out, and then they heard the sound of her
bare feet running off somewhere.


Olga went to church, and took Marya with her. As they went down
the path towards the meadow both were in good spirits. Olga liked
the wide view, and Marya felt that in her sister-in-law she had
someone near and akin to her. The sun was rising. Low down over
the meadow floated a drowsy hawk. The river looked gloomy; there
was a haze hovering over it here and there, but on the further
bank a streak of light already stretched across the hill. The
church was gleaming, and in the manor garden the rooks were
cawing furiously.

"The old man is all right," Marya told her, "but Granny is
strict; she is continually nagging. Our own grain lasted till
Carnival. We buy flour now at the tavern. She is angry about it;
she says we eat too much."

"Aye, aye, dearie! Bear it in patience, that is all. It is
written: 'Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden.'

Olga spoke sedately, rhythmically, and she walked like a pilgrim
woman, with a rapid, anxious step. Every day she read the gospel,
read it aloud like a deacon; a great deal of it she did not
understand, but the words of the gospel moved her to tears, and
words like "forasmuch as" and "verily" she pronounced with a
sweet flutter at her heart. She believed in God, in the Holy
Mother, in the Saints; she believed one must not offend anyone in
the world -- not simple folks, nor Germans, nor gypsies, nor Jews
-- and woe even to those who have no compassion on the beasts.
She believed this was written in the Holy Scriptures; and so,
when she pronounced phrases from Holy Writ, even though she did
not understand them, her face grew softened, compassionate, and

"What part do you come from?" Marya asked her.

"I am from Vladimir. Only I was taken to Moscow long ago, when I
was eight years old."

They reached the river. On the further side a woman was standing
at the water's edge, undressing.

"It's our Fyokla," said Marya, recognizing her. "She has been
over the river to the manor yard. To the stewards. She is a
shameless hussy and foul-mouthed -- fearfully!"

Fyokla, young and vigorous as a girl, with her black eyebrows and
her loose hair, jumped off the bank and began splashing the water
with her feet, and waves ran in all directions from her.

"Shameless -- dreadfully! " repeated Marya.

The river was crossed by a rickety little bridge of logs, and
exactly below it in the clear, limpid water was a shoal of
broad-headed mullets. The dew was glistening on the green bushes
that looked into the water. There was a feeling of warmth; it was
comforting! What a lovely morning! And how lovely life would have
been in this world, in all likelihood, if it were not for
poverty, horrible, hopeless poverty, from which one can find no
refuge! One had only to look round at the village to remember
vividly all that had happened the day before, and the illusion of
happiness which seemed to surround them vanished instantly.

They reached the church. Marya stood at the entrance, and did not
dare to go farther. She did not dare to sit down either. Though
they only began ringing for mass between eight and nine, she
remained standing the whole time.

While the gospel was being read the crowd suddenly parted to make
way for the family from the great house. Two young girls in white
frocks and wide-brimmed hats walked in; with them a chubby, rosy
boy in a sailor suit. Their appearance touched Olga; she made up
her mind from the first glance that they were refined,
well-educated, handsome people. Marya looked at them from under
her brows, sullenly, dejectedly, as though they were not human
beings coming in, but monsters who might crush her if she did not
make way for them.

And every time the deacon boomed out something in his bass voice
she fancied she heard "Ma-arya!" and she shuddered.


The arrival of the visitors was already known in the village, and
directly after mass a number of people gathered together in the
hut. The Leonytchevs and Matvyeitchevs and the Ilyitchovs came to
inquire about their relations who were in service in Moscow. All
the lads of Zhukovo who could read and write were packed off to
Moscow and hired out as butlers or waiters (while from the
village on the other side of the river the boys all became
bakers), and that had been the custom from the days of serfdom
long ago when a certain Luka Ivanitch, a peasant from Zhukovo,
now a legendary figure, who had been a waiter in one of the
Moscow clubs, would take none but his fellow-villagers into his
service, and found jobs for them in taverns and restaurants; and
from that time the village of Zhukovo was always called among the
inhabitants of the surrounding districts Slaveytown. Nikolay had
been taken to Moscow when he was eleven, and Ivan Makaritch, one
of the Matvyeitchevs, at that time a headwaiter in the
"Hermitage" garden, had put him into a situation. And now,
addressing the Matvyeitchevs, Nikolay said emphatically:

"Ivan Makaritch was my benefactor, and I am bound to pray for him
day and night, as it is owing to him I have become a good man."

"My good soul!" a tall old woman, the sister of Ivan Makaritch,
said tearfully, "and not a word have we heard about him, poor

"In the winter he was in service at Omon's, and this season there
was a rumour he was somewhere out of town, in gardens. . . . He
has aged! In old days he would bring home as much as ten roubles
a day in the summer-time, but now things are very quiet
everywhere. The old man frets."

The women looked at Nikolay's feet, shod in felt boots, and at
his pale face, and said mournfully:

"You are not one to get on, Nikolay Osipitch; you are not one to
get on! No, indeed!"

And they all made much of Sasha. She was ten years old, but she
was little and very thin, and might have been taken for no more
than seven. Among the other little girls, with their sunburnt
faces and roughly cropped hair, dressed in long faded smocks, she
with her white little face, with her big dark eyes, with a red
ribbon in her hair, looked funny, as though she were some little
wild creature that had been caught and brought into the hut.

"She can read, too," Olga said in her praise, looking tenderly at
her daughter. "Read a little, child!" she said, taking the gospel
from the corner. "You read, and the good Christian people will

The testament was an old and heavy one in leather binding, with
dog's-eared edges, and it exhaled a smell as though monks had
come into the hut. Sasha raised her eyebrows and began in a loud
rhythmic chant:

" 'And the angel of the Lord . . . appeared unto Joseph, saying
unto him: Rise up, and take the Babe and His mother.' "

"The Babe and His mother," Olga repeated, and flushed all over
with emotion.

" 'And flee into Egypt, . . . and tarry there until such time as
. . .' "

At the word "tarry" Olga could not refrain from tears. Looking at
her, Marya began to whimper, and after her Ivan Makaritch's
sister. The old father cleared his throat, and bustled about to
find something to give his grand-daughter, but, finding nothing,
gave it up with a wave of his hand. And when the reading was over
the neighbours dispersed to their homes, feeling touched and very
much pleased with Olga and Sasha.

As it was a holiday, the family spent the whole day at home. The
old woman, whom her husband, her daughters-in-law, her
grandchildren all alike called Granny, tried to do everything
herself; she heated the stove and set the samovar with her own
hands, even waited at the midday meal, and then complained that
she was worn out with work. And all the time she was uneasy for
fear someone should eat a piece too much, or that her husband and
daughters-in-law would sit idle. At one time she would hear the
tavern-keeper's geese going at the back of the huts to her
kitchen-garden, and she would run out of the hut with a long
stick and spend half an hour screaming shrilly by her cabbages,
which were as gaunt and scraggy as herself; at another time she
fancied that a crow had designs on her chickens, and she rushed
to attack it wi th loud words of abuse. She was cross and
grumbling from morning till night. And often she raised such an
outcry that passers-by stopped in the street.

She was not affectionate towards the old man, reviling him as a
lazy-bones and a plague. He was not a responsible, reliable
peasant, and perhaps if she had not been continually nagging at
him he would not have worked at all, but would have simply sat on
the stove and talked. He talked to his son at great length about
certain enemies of his, complained of the insults he said he had
to put up with every day from the neighbours, and it was tedious
to listen to him.

"Yes," he would say, standing with his arms akimbo, "yes. . . . A
week after the Exaltation of the Cross I sold my hay willingly at
thirty kopecks a pood. . . . Well and good. . . . So you see I
was taking the hay in the morning with a good will; I was
interfering with no one. In an unlucky hour I see the village
elder, Antip Syedelnikov, coming out of the tavern. 'Where are
you taking it, you ruffian?' says he, and takes me by the ear."

Kiryak had a fearful headache after his drinking bout, and was
ashamed to face his brother.

"What vodka does! Ah, my God!" he muttered, shaking his aching
head. "For Christ's sake, forgive me, brother and sister; I'm not
happy myself."

As it was a holiday, they bought a herring at the tavern and made
a soup of the herring's head. At midday they all sat down to
drink tea, and went on drinking it for a long time, till they
were all perspiring; they looked positively swollen from the
tea-drinking, and after it began sipping the broth from the
herring's head, all helping themselves out of one bowl. But the
herring itself Granny had hidden.

In the evening a potter began firing pots on the ravine. In the
meadow below the girls got up a choral dance and sang songs. They
played the concertina. And on the other side of the river a kiln
for baking pots was lighted, too, and the girls sang songs, and
in the distance the singing sounded soft and musical. The
peasants were noisy in and about the tavern. They were singing
with drunken voices, each on his own account, and swearing at one
another, so that Olga could only shudder and say:

"Oh, holy Saints!"

She was amazed that the abuse was incessant, and those who were
loudest and most persistent in this foul language were the old
men who were so near their end. And the girls and children heard
the swearing, and were not in the least disturbed by it, and it
was evident that they were used to it from their cradles.

It was past midnight, the kilns on both sides of the river were
put out, but in the meadow below and in the tavern the
merrymaking still went on. The old father and Kiryak, both drunk,
walking arm-in-arm and jostling against each other's shoulders,
went to the barn where Olga and Marya were lying.

"Let her alone," the old man persuaded him; "let her alone. . . .
She is a harmless woman. . . . It's a sin. . . ."

"Ma-arya! " shouted Kiryak.

"Let her be. . . . It's a sin. . . . She is not a bad woman."

Both stopped by the barn and went on.

"I lo-ove the flowers of the fi-ield," the old man began singing
suddenly in a high, piercing tenor. "I lo-ove to gather them in
the meadows!"

Then he spat, and with a filthy oath went into the hut.


Granny put Sasha by her kitchen-garden and told her to keep watch
that the geese did not go in. It was a hot August day. The
tavernkeeper's geese could make their way into the kitchen-garden
by the backs of the huts, but now they were busily engaged
picking up oats by the tavern, peacefully conversing together,
and only the gander craned his head high as though trying to see
whether the old woman were coming with her stick. The other geese
might come up from below, but they were now grazing far away the
other side of the river, stretched out in a long white garland
about the meadow. Sasha stood about a little, grew weary, and,
seeing that the geese were not coming, went away to the ravine.

There she saw Marya's eldest daughter Motka, who was standing
motionless on a big stone, staring at the church. Marya had given
birth to thirteen children, but she only had six living, all
girls, not one boy, and the eldest was eight. Motka in a long
smock was standing barefooted in the full sunshine; the sun was
blazing down right on her head, but she did not notice that, and
seemed as though turned to stone. Sasha stood beside her and
said, looking at the church:

"God lives in the church. Men have lamps and candles, but God has
little green and red and blue lamps like little eyes. At night
God walks about the church, and with Him the Holy Mother of God
and Saint Nikolay, thud, thud, thud! . . . And the watchman is
terrified, terrified! Aye, aye, dearie," she added, imitating her
mother. "And when the end of the world comes all the churches
will be carried up to heaven."

"With the-ir be-ells?" Motka asked in her deep voice, drawling
every syllable.

"With their bells. And when the end of the world comes the good
will go to Paradise, but the angry will burn in fire eternal and
unquenchable, dearie. To my mother as well as to Marya God will
say: 'You never offended anyone, and for that go to the right to
Paradise'; but to Kiryak and Granny He will say: 'You go to the
left into the fire.' And anyone who has eaten meat in Lent will
go into the fire, too."

She looked upwards at the sky, opening wide her eyes, and said:

"Look at the sky without winking, you will see angels."

Motka began looking at the sky, too, and a minute passed in

"Do you see them?" asked Sasha.

"I don't," said Motka in her deep voice.

"But I do. Little angels are flying about the sky and flap, flap
with their little wings as though they were gnats."

Motka thought for a little, with her eyes on the ground, and

"Will Granny burn?"

"She will, dearie."

From the stone an even gentle slope ran down to the bottom,
covered with soft green grass, which one longed to lie down on or
to touch with one's hands. . . Sasha lay down and rolled to the
bottom. Motka with a grave, severe face, taking a deep breath,
lay down, too, and rolled to the bottom, and in doing so tore her
smock from the hem to the shoulder.

"What fun it is!" said Sasha, delighted.

They walked up to the top to roll down again, but at that moment
they heard a shrill, familiar voice. Oh, how awful it was!
Granny, a toothless, bony, hunchbacked figure, with short grey
hair which was fluttering in the wind, was driving the geese out
of the kitchen-garden with a long stick, shouting.

"They have trampled all the cabbages, the damned brutes! I'd cut
your throats, thrice accursed plagues! Bad luck to you!"

She saw the little girls, flung down the stick and picked up a
switch, and, seizing Sasha by the neck with her fingers, thin and
hard as the gnarled branches of a tree, began whipping her. Sasha
cried with pain and terror, while the gander, waddling and
stretching his neck, went up to the old woman and hissed at her,
and when he went back to his flock all the geese greeted him
approvingly with "Ga-ga-ga!" Then Granny proceeded to whip Motka,
and in this Motka's smock was torn again. Feeling in despair, and
crying loudly, Sasha went to the hut to complain. Motka followed
her; she, too, was crying on a deeper note, without wiping her
tears, and her face was as wet as though it had been dipped in

"Holy Saints!" cried Olga, aghast, as the two came into the hut.
"Queen of Heaven!"

Sasha began telling her story, while at the same time Granny
walked in with a storm of shrill cries and abuse; then Fyokla
flew into a rage, and there was an uproar in the hut.

"Never mind, never mind!" Olga, pale and upset, tried to comfort
them, stroking Sasha's head. "She is your grandmother; it's a sin
to be angry with her. Never mind, my child."

Nikolay, who was worn out already by the everlasting hubbub,
hunger, stifling fumes, filth, who hated and despised the
poverty, who was ashamed for his wife and daughter to see his
father and mother, swung his legs off the stove and said in an
irritable, tearful voice, addressing his mother:

"You must not beat her! You have no right to beat he r!"

"You lie rotting on the stove, you wretched creature!" Fyokla
shouted at him spitefully. "The devil brought you all on us,
eating us out of house and home."

Sasha and Motka and all the little girls in the hut huddled on
the stove in the corner behind Nikolay's back, and from that
refuge listened in silent terror, and the beating of their little
hearts could be distinctly heard. Whenever there is someone in a
family who has long been ill, and hopelessly ill, there come
painful moments when all timidly, secretly, at the bottom of
their hearts long for his death; and only the children fear the
death of someone near them, and always feel horrified at the
thought of it. And now the children, with bated breath, with a
mournful look on their faces, gazed at Nikolay and thought that
he was soon to die; and they wanted to cry and to say something
friendly and compassionate to him.

He pressed close to Olga, as though seeking protection, and said
to her softly in a quavering voice:

"Olya darling, I can't stay here longer. It's more than I can
bear. For God's sake, for Christ's sake, write to your sister
Klavdia Abramovna. Let her sell and pawn everything she has; let
her send us the money. We will go away from here. Oh, Lord," he
went on miserably, "to have one peep at Moscow! If I could see it
in my dreams, the dear place!

And when the evening came on, and it was dark in the hut, it was
so dismal that it was hard to utter a word. Granny, very
ill-tempered, soaked some crusts of rye bread in a cup, and was a
long time, a whole hour, sucking at them. Marya, after milking
the cow, brought in a pail of milk and set it on a bench; then
Granny poured it from the pail into a jug just as slowly and
deliberately, evidently pleased that it was now the Fast of the
Assumption, so that no one would drink milk and it would be left
untouched. And she only poured out a very little in a saucer for
Fyokla's baby. When Marya and she carried the jug down to the
cellar Motka suddenly stirred, clambered down from the stove, and
going to the bench where stood the wooden cup full of crusts,
sprinkled into it some milk from the saucer.

Granny, coming back into the hut, sat down to her soaked crusts
again, while Sasha and Motka, sitting on the stove, gazed at her,
and they were glad that she had broken her fast and now would go
to hell. They were comforted and lay down to sleep, and Sasha as
she dozed off to sleep imagined the Day of Judgment: a huge fire
was burning, somewhat like a potter's kiln, and the Evil One,
with horns like a cow's, and black all over, was driving Granny
into the fire with a long stick, just as Granny herself had been
driving the geese.


On the day of the Feast of the Assumption, between ten and eleven
in the evening, the girls and lads who were merrymaking in the
meadow suddenly raised a clamour and outcry, and ran in the
direction of the village; and those who were above on the edge of
the ravine could not for the first moment make out what was the

"Fire! Fire!" they heard desperate shouts from below. "The
village is on fire!"

Those who were sitting above looked round, and a terrible and
extraordinary spectacle met their eyes. On the thatched roof of
one of the end cottages stood a column of flame, seven feet high,
which curled round and scattered sparks in all directions as
though it were a fountain. And all at once the whole roof burst
into bright flame, and the crackling of the fire was audible.

The light of the moon was dimmed, and the whole village was by
now bathed in a red quivering glow: black shadows moved over the
ground, there was a smell of burning, and those who ran up from
below were all gasping and could not speak for trembling; they
jostled against each other, fell down, and they could hardly see
in the unaccustomed light, and did not recognize each other. It
was terrible. What seemed particularly dreadful was that doves
were flying over the fire in the smoke; and in the tavern, where
they did not yet know of the fire, they were still singing and
playing the concertina as though there were nothing the matter.

"Uncle Semyon's on fire," shouted a loud, coarse voice.

Marya was fussing about round her hut, weeping and wringing her
hands, while her teeth chattered, though the fire was a long way
off at the other end of the village. Nikolay came out in high
felt boots, the children ran out in their little smocks. Near the
village constable's hut an iron sheet was struck. Boom, boom,
boom! . . . floated through the air, and this repeated,
persistent sound sent a pang to the heart and turned one cold.
The old women stood with the holy ikons. Sheep, calves, cows were
driven out of the back-yards into the street; boxes, sheepskins,
tubs were carried out. A black stallion, who was kept apart from
the drove of horses because he kicked and injured them, on being
set free ran once or twice up and down the village, neighing and

Book of the day: