Part 5 out of 5
pawing the ground; then suddenly stopped short near a cart and
began kicking it with his hind-legs.
They began ringing the bells in the church on the other side of
Near the burning hut it was hot and so light that one could
distinctly see every blade of grass. Semyon, a red-haired peasant
with a long nose, wearing a reefer-jacket and a cap pulled down
right over his ears, sat on one of the boxes which they had
succeeded in bringing out: his wife was lying on her face,
moaning and unconscious. A little old man of eighty, with a big
beard, who looked like a gnome -- not one of the villagers,
though obviously connected in some way with the fire -- walked
about bareheaded, with a white bundle in his arms. The glare was
reflected on his bald head. The village elder, Antip Syedelnikov,
as swarthy and black-haired as a gypsy, went up to the hut with
an axe, and hacked out the windows one after another -- no one
knew why -- then began chopping up the roof.
"Women, water!" he shouted. "Bring the engine! Look sharp!"
The peasants, who had been drinking in the tavern just before,
dragged the engine up. They were all drunk; they kept stumbling
and falling down, and all had a helpless expression and tears in
"Wenches, water! " shouted the elder, who was drunk, too. "Look
The women and the girls ran downhill to where there was a spring,
and kept hauling pails and buckets of water up the hill, and,
pouring it into the engine, ran down again. Olga and Marya and
Sasha and Motka all brought water. The women and the boys pumped
the water; the pipe hissed, and the elder, directing it now at
the door, now at the windows, held back the stream with his
finger, which made it hiss more sharply still.
"Bravo, Antip!" voices shouted approvingly. "Do your best."
Antip went inside the hut into the fire and shouted from within.
"Pump! Bestir yourselves, good Christian folk, in such a terrible
The peasants stood round in a crowd, doing nothing but staring at
the fire. No one knew what to do, no one had the sense to do
anything, though there were stacks of wheat, hay, barns, and
piles of faggots standing all round. Kiryak and old Osip, his
father, both tipsy, were standing there, too. And as though to
justify his doing nothing, old Osip said, addressing the woman
who lay on the ground:
"What is there to trouble about, old girl! The hut is insured --
why are you taking on?"
Semyon, addressing himself first to one person and then to
another, kept describing how the fire had started.
"That old man, the one with the bundle, a house-serf of General
Zhukov's. . . . He was cook at our general's, God rest his soul!
He came over this evening: 'Let me stay the night,' says he. . .
. Well, we had a glass, to be sure. . . . The wife got the
samovar -- she was going to give the old fellow a cup of tea, and
in an unlucky hour she set the samovar in the entrance. The
sparks from the chimney must have blown straight up to the
thatch; that's how it was. We were almost burnt ourselves. And
the old fellow's cap has been burnt; what a shame!"
And the sheet of iron was struck indefatigably, and the bells
kept ringing in the church the other side of the river. In the
glow of the fir e Olga, breathless, looking with horror at the
red sheep and the pink doves flying in the smoke, kept running
down the hill and up again. It seemed to her that the ringing
went to her heart with a sharp stab, that the fire would never be
over, that Sasha was lost. . . . And when the ceiling of the hut
fell in with a crash, the thought that now the whole village
would be burnt made her weak and faint, and she could not go on
fetching water, but sat down on the ravine, setting the pail down
near her; beside her and below her, the peasant women sat wailing
as though at a funeral.
Then the stewards and watchmen from the estate the other side of
the river arrived in two carts, bringing with them a fire-engine.
A very young student in an unbuttoned white tunic rode up on
horseback. There was the thud of axes. They put a ladder to the
burning framework of the house, and five men ran up it at once.
Foremost of them all was the student, who was red in the face and
shouting in a harsh hoarse voice, and in a tone as though putting
out fires was a thing he was used to. They pulled the house to
pieces, a beam at a time; they dragged away the corn, the
hurdles, and the stacks that were near.
"Don't let them break it up! " cried stern voices in the crowd.
"Don't let them."
Kiryak made his way up to the hut with a resolute air, as though
he meant to prevent the newcomers from breaking up the hut, but
one of the workmen turned him back with a blow in his neck. There
was the sound of laughter, the workman dealt him another blow,
Kiryak fell down, and crawled back into the crowd on his hands
Two handsome girls in hats, probably the student's sisters, came
from the other side of the river. They stood a little way off,
looking at the fire. The beams that had been dragged apart were
no longer burning, but were smoking vigorously; the student, who
was working the hose, turned the water, first on the beams, then
on the peasants, then on the women who were bringing the water.
"George!" the girls called to him reproachfully in anxiety,
The fire was over. And only when they began to disperse they
noticed that the day was breaking, that everyone was pale and
rather dark in the face, as it always seems in the early morning
when the last stars are going out. As they separated, the
peasants laughed and made jokes about General Zhukov's cook and
his cap which had been burnt; they already wanted to turn the
fire into a joke, and even seemed sorry that it had so soon been
"How well you extinguished the fire, sir!" said Olga to the
student. "You ought to come to us in Moscow: there we have a fire
"Why, do you come from Moscow?" asked one of the young ladies.
"Yes, miss. My husband was a waiter at the Slavyansky Bazaar. And
this is my daughter," she said, indicating Sasha, who was cold
and huddling up to her. "She is a Moscow girl, too."
The two young ladies said something in French to the student, and
he gave Sasha a twenty-kopeck piece.
Old Father Osip saw this, and there was a gleam of hope in his
"We must thank God, your honour, there was no wind," he said,
addressing the student, "or else we should have been all burnt up
together. Your honour, kind gentlefolks," he added in
embarrassment in a lower tone, "the morning's chilly . . .
something to warm one . . . half a bottle to your honour's
Nothing was given him, and clearing his throat he slouched home.
Olga stood afterwards at the end of the street and watched the
two carts crossing the river by the ford and the gentlefolks
walking across the meadow; a carriage was waiting for them the
other side of the river. Going into the hut, she described to her
husband with enthusiasm:
"Such good people! And so beautiful! The young ladies were like
"Plague take them!" Fyokla, sleepy, said spitefully.
Marya thought herself unhappy, and said that she would be very
glad to die; Fyokla, on the other hand, found all this life to
her taste: the poverty, the uncleanliness, and the incessant
quarrelling. She ate what was given her without discrimination;
slept anywhere, on whatever came to hand. She would empty the
slops just at the porch, would splash them out from the doorway,
and then walk barefoot through the puddle. And from the very
first day she took a dislike to Olga and Nikolay just because
they did not like this life.
"We shall see what you'll find to eat here, you Moscow gentry!"
she said malignantly. "We shall see!"
One morning, it was at the beginning of September, Fyokla,
vigorous, good-looking, and rosy from the cold, brought up two
pails of water; Marya and Olga were sitting meanwhile at the
table drinking tea.
"Tea and sugar," said Fyokla sarcastically. "The fine ladies!"
she added, setting down the pails. "You have taken to the fashion
of tea every day. You better look out that you don't burst with
your tea-drinking," she went on, looking with hatred at Olga.
"That's how you have come by your fat mug, having a good time in
Moscow, you lump of flesh!" She swung the yoke and hit Olga such
a blow on the shoulder that the two sisters-in-law could only
clasp their hands and say:
"Oh, holy Saints!"
Then Fyokla went down to the river to wash the clothes, swearing
all the time so loudly that she could be heard in the hut.
The day passed and was followed by the long autumn evening. They
wound silk in the hut; everyone did it except Fyokla; she had
gone over the river. They got the silk from a factory close by,
and the whole family working together earned next to nothing,
twenty kopecks a week.
"Things were better in the old days under the gentry," said the
old father as he wound silk. "You worked and ate and slept,
everything in its turn. At dinner you had cabbage-soup and boiled
grain, and at supper the same again. Cucumbers and cabbage in
plenty: you could eat to your heart's content, as much as you
wanted. And there was more strictness. Everyone minded what he
The hut was lighted by a single little lamp, which burned dimly
and smoked. When someone screened the lamp and a big shadow fell
across the window, the bright moonlight could be seen. Old Osip,
speaking slowly, told them how they used to live before the
emancipation; how in those very parts, where life was now so poor
and so dreary, they used to hunt with harriers, greyhounds,.
retrievers, and when they went out as beaters the peasants were
given vodka; how whole waggonloads of game used to be sent to
Moscow for the young masters; how the bad were beaten with rods
or sent away to the Tver estate, while the good were rewarded.
And Granny told them something, too. She remembered everything,
positively everything. She described her mistress, a kind,
God-fearing woman, whose husband was a profligate and a rake, and
all of whose daughters made unlucky marriages: one married a
drunkard, another married a workman, the other eloped secretly
(Granny herself, at that time a young girl, helped in the
elopement), and they had all three as well as their mother died
early from grief. And remembering all this, Granny positively
began to shed tears.
All at once someone knocked at the door, and they all started.
"Uncle Osip, give me a night's lodging."
The little bald old man, General Zhukov's cook, the one whose cap
had been burnt, walked in. He sat down and listened, then he,
too, began telling stories of all sorts. Nikolay, sitting on the
stove with his legs hanging down, listened and asked questions
about the dishes that were prepared in the old days for the
gentry. They talked of rissoles, cutlets, various soups and
sauces, and the cook, who remembered everything very well,
mentioned dishes that are no longer served. There was one, for
instance -- a dish made of bulls' eyes, which was called "waking
up in the morning."
"And used you to do cutlets a' la marechal?" asked Nikolay.
Nikolay shook his head reproachfully and said:
"Tut, tut! You were not much of a cook!"
The little girls sitting and lying on the stove stared down
without blinking; it seemed as though there were a great many of
them, like cherubim in the clouds. They liked the stories: they
were brea thless; they shuddered and turned pale with alternate
rapture and terror, and they listened breathlessly, afraid to
stir, to Granny, whose stories were the most interesting of all.
They lay down to sleep in silence; and the old people, troubled
and excited by their reminiscences, thought how precious was
youth, of which, whatever it might have been like, nothing was
left in the memory but what was living, joyful, touching, and how
terribly cold was death, which was not far off, better not think
of it! The lamp died down. And the dusk, and the two little
windows sharply defined by the moonlight, and the stillness and
the creak of the cradle, reminded them for some reason that life
was over, that nothing one could do would bring it back. . . .
You doze off, you forget yourself, and suddenly someone touches
your shoulder or breathes on your cheek -- and sleep is gone;
your body feels cramped, and thoughts of death keep creeping into
your mind. You turn on the other side: death is forgotten, but
old dreary, sickening thoughts of poverty, of food, of how dear
flour is getting, stray through the mind, and a little later
again you remember that life is over and you cannot bring it
back. . . .
"Oh, Lord!" sighed the cook.
Someone gave a soft, soft tap at the window. It must be Fyokla
come back. Olga got up, and yawning and whispering a prayer,
opened the door, then drew the bolt in the outer room, but no one
came in; only from the street came a cold draught and a sudden
brightness from the moonlight. The street, still and deserted,
and the moon itself floating across the sky, could be seen at the
"Who is there?" called Olga.
"I," she heard the answer -- "it is I."
Near the door, crouching against the wall, stood Fyokla,
absolutely naked. She was shivering with cold, her teeth were
chattering, and in the bright moonlight she looked very pale,
strange, and beautiful. The shadows on her, and the bright
moonlight on her skin, stood out vividly, and her dark eyebrows
and firm, youthful bosom were defined with peculiar distinctness.
"The ruffians over there undressed me and turned me out like
this," she said. "I've come home without my clothes . . . naked
as my mother bore me. Bring me something to put on."
"But go inside!" Olga said softly, beginning to shiver, too.
"I don't want the old folks to see." Granny was, in fact, already
stirring and muttering, and the old father asked: "Who is there?"
Olga brought her own smock and skirt, dressed Fyokla, and then
both went softly into the inner room, trying not to make a noise
with the door.
"Is that you, you sleek one?" Granny grumbled angrily, guessing
who it was. "Fie upon you, nightwalker! . . . Bad luck to you!"
"It's all right, it's all right," whispered Olga, wrapping Fyokla
up; "it's all right, dearie."
All was stillness again. They always slept badly; everyone was
kept awake by something worrying and persistent: the old man by
the pain in his back, Granny by anxiety and anger, Marya by
terror, the children by itch and hunger. Now, too, their sleep
was troubled; they kept turning over from one side to the other,
talking in their sleep, getting up for a drink.
Fyokla suddenly broke into a loud, coarse howl, but immediately
checked herself, and only uttered sobs from time to time, growing
softer and on a lower note, until she relapsed into silence. From
time to time from the other side of the river there floated the
sound of the beating of the hours; but the time seemed somehow
strange -- five was struck and then three.
"Oh Lord!" sighed the cook.
Looking at the windows, it was difficult to tell whether it was
still moonlight or whether the dawn had begun. Marya got up and
went out, and she could be heard milking the cows and saying,
"Stea-dy!" Granny went out, too. It was still dark in the hut,
but all the objects in it could be discerned.
Nikolay, who had not slept all night, got down from the stove. He
took his dress-coat out of a green box, put it on, and going to
the window, stroked the sleeves and took hold of the coat-tails
-- and smiled. Then he carefully took off the coat, put it away
in his box, and lay down again.
Marya came in again and began lighting the stove. She was
evidently hardly awake, and seemed dropping asleep as she walked.
Probably she had had some dream, or the stories of the night
before came into her mind as, stretching luxuriously before the
stove, she said:
"No, freedom is better."
The master arrived -- that was what they called the police
inspector. When he would come and what he was coming for had been
known for the last week. There were only forty households in
Zhukovo, but more than two thousand roubles of arrears of rates
and taxes had accumulated.
The police inspector stopped at the tavern. He drank there two
glasses of tea, and then went on foot to the village elder's hut,
near which a crowd of those who were in debt stood waiting. The
elder, Antip Syedelnikov, was, in spite of his youth -- he was
only a little over thirty -- strict and always on the side of the
authorities, though he himself was poor and did not pay his taxes
regularly. Evidently he enjoyed being elder, and liked the sense
of authority, which he could only display by strictness. In the
village council the peasants were afraid of him and obeyed him.
It would sometimes happen that he would pounce on a drunken man
in the street or near the tavern, tie his hands behind him, and
put him in the lock-up. On one occasion he even put Granny in the
lock-up because she went to the village council instead of Osip,
and began swearing, and he kept her there for a whole day and
night. He had never lived in a town or read a book, but somewhere
or other had picked up various learned expressions, and loved to
make use of them in conversation, and he was respected for this
though he was not always understood.
When Osip came into the village elder's hut with his tax book,
the police inspector, a lean old man with a long grey beard, in a
grey tunic, was sitting at a table in the passage, writing
something. It was clean in the hut; all the walls were dotted
with pictures cut out of the illustrated papers, and in the most
conspicuous place near the ikon there was a portrait of the
Battenburg who was the Prince of Bulgaria. By the table stood
Antip Syedelnikov with his arms folded.
"There is one hundred and nineteen roubles standing against him,"
he said when it came to Osip's turn. "Before Easter he paid a
rouble, and he has not paid a kopeck since."
The police inspector raised his eyes to Osip and asked:
"Why is this, brother?"
"Show Divine mercy, your honour," Osip began, growing agitated.
"Allow me to say last year the gentleman at Lutorydsky said to
me, 'Osip,' he said, 'sell your hay . . . you sell it,' he said.
Well, I had a hundred poods for sale; the women mowed it on the
water-meadow. Well, we struck a bargain all right, willingly. . .
He complained of the elder, and kept turning round to the
peasants as though inviting them to bear witness; his face
flushed red and perspired, and his eyes grew sharp and angry.
"I don't know why you are saying all this," said the police
inspector. "I am asking you . . . I am asking you why you don't
pay your arrears. You don't pay, any of you, and am I to be
responsible for you?"
"I can't do it."
"His words have no sequel, your honour," said the elder. "The
Tchikildyeevs certainly are of a defective class, but if you will
just ask the others, the root of it all is vodka, and they are a
very bad lot. With no sort of understanding."
The police inspector wrote something down, and said to Osip
quietly, in an even tone, as though he were asking him for water:
Soon he went away; and when he got into his cheap chaise and
cleared his throat, it could be seen from the very expression of
his long thin back that he was no longer thinking of Osip or of
the village elder, nor of the Zhukovo arrears, but was thinking
of his own affairs. Before he had gone three-quarters of a mile
Antip was already carrying off the samovar from the
Tchikildyeevs' cottage, followed by Granny, screaming shrilly and
straining her throat:
"I won't let
you have it, I won't let you have it, damn you!"
He walked rapidly with long steps, and she pursued him panting,
almost falling over, a bent, ferocious figure; her kerchief
slipped on to her shoulders, her grey hair with greenish lights
on it was blown about in the wind. She suddenly stopped short,
and like a genuine rebel, fell to beating her breast with her
fists and shouting louder than ever in a sing-song voice, as
though she were sobbing:
"Good Christians and believers in God! Neighbours, they have
ill-treated me! Kind friends, they have oppressed me! Oh, oh!
dear people, take my part."
"Granny, Granny!" said the village elder sternly, "have some
sense in your head!"
It was hopelessly dreary in the Tchikildyeevs' hut without the
samovar; there was something humiliating in this loss, insulting,
as though the honour of the hut had been outraged. Better if the
elder had carried off the table, all the benches, all the pots --
it would not have seemed so empty. Granny screamed, Marya cried,
and the little girls, looking at her, cried, too. The old father,
feeling guilty, sat in the corner with bowed head and said
nothing. And Nikolay, too, was silent. Granny loved him and was
sorry for him, but now, forgetting her pity, she fell upon him
with abuse, with reproaches, shaking her fist right in his face.
She shouted that it was all his fault; why had he sent them so
little when he boasted in his letters that he was getting fifty
roubles a month at the Slavyansky Bazaar? Why had he come, and
with his family, too? If he died, where was the money to come
from for his funeral . . . ? And it was pitiful to look at
Nikolay, Olga, and Sasha.
The old father cleared his throat, took his cap, and went off to
the village elder. Antip was soldering something by the stove,
puffing out his cheeks; there was a smell of burning. His
children, emaciated and unwashed, no better than the
Tchikildyeevs, were scrambling about the floor; his wife, an
ugly, freckled woman with a prominent stomach, was winding silk.
They were a poor, unlucky family, and Antip was the only one who
looked vigorous and handsome. On a bench there were five samovars
standing in a row. The old man said his prayer to Battenburg and
"Antip, show the Divine mercy. Give me back the samovar, for
"Bring three roubles, then you shall have it.
"I can't do it!"
Antip puffed out his cheeks, the fire roared and hissed, and the
glow was reflected in the samovar. The old man crumpled up his
cap and said after a moment's thought:
"You give it me back."
The swarthy elder looked quite black, and was like a magician; he
turned round to Osip and said sternly and rapidly:
"It all depends on the rural captain. On the twenty-sixth instant
you can state the grounds for your dissatisfaction before the
administrative session, verbally or in writing."
Osip did not understand a word, but he was satisfied with that
and went home.
Ten days later the police inspector came again, stayed an hour
and went away. During those days the weather had changed to cold
and windy; the river had been frozen for some time past, but
still there was no snow, and people found it difficult to get
about. On the eve of a holiday some of the neighbours came in to
Osip's to sit and have a talk. They did not light the lamp, as it
would have been a sin to work, but talked in the darkness. There
were some items of news, all rather unpleasant. In two or three
households hens had been taken for the arrears, and had been sent
to the district police station, and there they had died because
no one had fed them; they had taken sheep, and while they were
being driven away tied to one another, shifted into another cart
at each village, one of them had died. And now they were
discussing the question, who was to blame?
"The Zemstvo," said Osip. "Who else?"
"Of course it is the Zemstvo."
The Zemstvo was blamed for everything -- for the arrears, and for
the oppressions, and for the failure of the crops, though no one
of them knew what was meant by the Zemstvo. And this dated from
the time when well-to-do peasants who had factories, shops, and
inns of their own were members of the Zemstvos, were dissatisfied
with them, and took to swearing at the Zemstvos in their
factories and inns.
They talked of God's not sending the snow; they had to bring in
wood for fuel, and there was no driving nor walking in the frozen
ruts. In old days fifteen to twenty years ago conversation was
much more interesting in Zhukovo. In those days every old man
looked as though he were treasuring some secret; as though he
knew something and was expecting something. They used to talk
about an edict in golden letters, about the division of lands,
about new land, about treasures; they hinted at something. Now
the people of Zhukovo had no mystery at all; their whole life was
bare and open in the sight of all, and they could talk of nothing
but poverty, food, there being no snow yet. . . .
There was a pause. Then they thought again of the hens, of the
sheep, and began discussing whose fault it was.
"The Zemstvo," said Osip wearily. "Who else?"
The parish church was nearly five miles away at Kosogorovo, and
the peasants only attended it when they had to do so for
baptisms, weddings, or funerals; they went to the services at the
church across the river. On holidays in fine weather the girls
dressed up in their best and went in a crowd together to church,
and it was a cheering sight to see them in their red, yellow, and
green dresses cross the meadow; in bad weather they all stayed at
home. They went for the sacrament to the parish church. From each
of those who did not manage in Lent to go to confession in
readiness for the sacrament the parish priest, going the round of
the huts with the cross at Easter, took fifteen kopecks.
The old father did not believe in God, for he hardly ever thought
about Him; he recognized the supernatural, but considered it was
entirely the women's concern, and when religion or miracles were
discussed before him, or a question were put to him, he would say
reluctantly, scratching himself:
"Who can tell!"
Granny believed, but her faith was somewhat hazy; everything was
mixed up in her memory, and she could scarcely begin to think of
sins, of death, of the salvation of the soul, before poverty and
her daily cares took possession of her mind, and she instantly
forgot what she was thinking about. She did not remember the
prayers, and usually in the evenings, before lying down to sleep,
she would stand before the ikons and whisper:
"Holy Mother of Kazan, Holy Mother of Smolensk, Holy Mother of
Troerutchitsy. . ."
Marya and Fyokla crossed themselves, fasted, and took the
sacrament every year, but understood nothing. The children were
not taught their prayers, nothing was told them about God, and no
moral principles were instilled into them; they were only
forbidden to eat meat or milk in Lent. In the other families it
was much the same: there were few who believed, few who
understood. At the same time everyone loved the Holy Scripture,
loved it with a tender, reverent love; but they had no Bible,
there was no one to read it and explain it, and because Olga
sometimes read them the gospel, they respected her, and they all
addressed her and Sasha as though they were superior to
For church holidays and services Olga often went to neighbouring
villages, and to the district town, in which there were two
monasteries and twenty-seven churches. She was dreamy, and when
she was on these pilgrimages she quite forgot her family, and
only when she got home again suddenly made the joyful discovery
that she had a husband and daughter, and then would say, smiling
"God has sent me blessings!"
What went on in the village worried her and seemed to her
revolting. On Elijah's Day they drank, at the Assumption they
drank, at the Ascension they drank. The Feast of the Intercession
was the parish holiday for Zhukovo, and the peasants used to
drink then for three days; they squandered on drink fifty roubles
of money belonging to the Mir, and then collected more for vodka
from all the households. On the first
day of the feast the Tchikildyeevs killed a sheep and ate of it
in the morning, at dinner-time, and in the evening; they ate it
ravenously, and the children got up at night to eat more. Kiryak
was fearfully drunk for three whole days; he drank up everything,
even his boots and cap, and beat Marya so terribly that they had
to pour water over her. And then they were all ashamed and sick.
However, even in Zhukovo, in this "Slaveytown," there was once an
outburst of genuine religious enthusiasm. It was in August, when
throughout the district they carried from village to village the
Holy Mother, the giver of life. It was still and overcast on the
day when they expected _Her_ at Zhukovo. The girls set off in the
morning to meet the ikon, in their bright holiday dresses, and
brought Her towards the evening, in procession with the cross and
with singing, while the bells pealed in the church across the
river. An immense crowd of villagers and strangers flooded the
street; there was noise, dust, a great crush. . . . And the old
father and Granny and Kiryak -- all stretched out their hands to
the ikon, looked eagerly at it and said, weeping:
"Defender! Mother! Defender!"
All seemed suddenly to realize that there was not an empty void
between earth and heaven, that the rich and the powerful had not
taken possession of everything, that there was still a refuge
from injury, from slavish bondage, from crushing, unendurable
poverty, from the terrible vodka.
"Defender! Mother!" sobbed Marya. "Mother!"
But the thanksgiving service ended and the ikon was carried away,
and everything went on as before; and again there was a sound of
coarse drunken oaths from the tavern.
Only the well-to-do peasants were afraid of death; the richer
they were the less they believed in God, and in the salvation of
souls, and only through fear of the end of the world put up
candles and had services said for them, to be on the safe side.
The peasants who were rather poorer were not afraid of death. The
old father and Granny were told to their faces that they had
lived too long, that it was time they were dead, and they did not
mind. They did not hinder Fyokla from saying in Nikolay's
presence that when Nikolay died her husband Denis would get
exemption -- to return home from the army. And Marya, far from
fearing death, regretted that it was so slow in coming, and was
glad when her children died.
Death they did not fear, but of every disease they had an
exaggerated terror. The merest trifle was enough -- a stomach
upset, a slight chill, and Granny would be wrapped up on the
stove, and would begin moaning loudly and incessantly:
"I am dy-ing!"
The old father hurried off for the priest, and Granny received
the sacrament and extreme unction. They often talked of colds, of
worms, of tumours which move in the stomach and coil round to the
heart. Above all, they were afraid of catching cold, and so put
on thick clothes even in the summer and warmed themselves at the
stove. Granny was fond of being doctored, and often went to the
hospital, where she used to say she was not seventy, but
fifty-eight; she supposed that if the doctor knew her real age he
would not treat her, but would say it was time she died instead
of taking medicine. She usually went to the hospital early in the
morning, taking with her two or three of the little girls, and
came back in the evening, hungry and ill-tempered -- with drops
for herself and ointments for the little girls. Once she took
Nikolay, who swallowed drops for a fortnight afterwards, and said
he felt better.
Granny knew all the doctors and their assistants and the wise men
for twenty miles round, and not one of them she liked. At the
Intercession, when the priest made the round of the huts with the
cross, the deacon told her that in the town near the prison lived
an old man who had been a medical orderly in the army, and who
made wonderful cures, and advised her to try him. Granny took his
advice. When the first snow fell she drove to the town and
fetched an old man with a big beard, a converted Jew, in a long
gown, whose face was covered with blue veins. There were
outsiders at work in the hut at the time: an old tailor, in
terrible spectacles, was cutting a waistcoat out of some rags,
and two young men were making felt boots out of wool; Kiryak, who
had been dismissed from his place for drunkenness, and now lived
at home, was sitting beside the tailor mending a bridle. And it
was crowded, stifling, and noisome in the hut. The converted Jew
examined Nikolay and said that it was necessary to try cupping.
He put on the cups, and the old tailor, Kiryak, and the little
girls stood round and looked on, and it seemed to them that they
saw the disease being drawn out of Nikolay; and Nikolay, too,
watched how the cups suckling at his breast gradually filled with
dark blood, and felt as though there really were something coming
out of him, and smiled with pleasure.
"It's a good thing," said the tailor. "Please God, it will do you
The Jew put on twelve cups and then another twelve, drank some
tea, and went away. Nikolay began shivering; his face looked
drawn, and, as the women expressed it, shrank up like a fist; his
fingers turned blue. He wrapped himself up in a quilt and in a
sheepskin, but got colder and colder. Towards the evening he
began to be in great distress; asked to be laid on the ground,
asked the tailor not to smoke; then he subsided under the
sheepskin and towards morning he died.
Oh, what a grim, what a long winter!
Their own grain did not last beyond Christmas, and they had to
buy flour. Kiryak, who lived at home now, was noisy in the
evenings, inspiring terror in everyone, and in the mornings he
suffered from headache and was ashamed; and he was a pitiful
sight. In the stall the starved cows bellowed day and night -- a
heart-rending sound to Granny and Marya. And as ill-luck would
have it, there was a sharp frost all the winter, the snow drifted
in high heaps, and the winter dragged on. At Annunciation there
was a regular blizzard, and there was a fall of snow at Easter.
But in spite of it all the winter did end. At the beginning of
April there came warm days and frosty nights. Winter would not
give way, but one warm day overpowered it at last, and the
streams began to flow and the birds began to sing. The whole
meadow and the bushes near the river were drowned in the spring
floods, and all the space between Zhukovo and the further side
was filled up with a vast sheet of water, from which wild ducks
rose up in flocks here and there. The spring sunset, flaming
among gorgeous clouds, gave every evening something new,
extraordinary, incredible -- just what one does not believe in
afterwards, when one sees those very colours and those very
clouds in a picture.
The cranes flew swiftly, swiftly, with mournful cries, as though
they were calling themselves. Standing on the edge of the ravine,
Olga looked a long time at the flooded meadow, at the sunshine,
at the bright church, that looked as though it had grown younger;
and her tears flowed and her breath came in gasps from her
passionate longing to go away, to go far away to the end of the
world. It was already settled that she should go back to Moscow
to be a servant, and that Kiryak should set off with her to get a
job as a porter or something. Oh, to get away quickly!
As soon as it dried up and grew warm they got ready to set off.
Olga and Sasha, with wallets on their backs and shoes of plaited
bark on their feet, came out before daybreak: Marya came out,
too, to see them on their way. Kiryak was not well, and was kept
at home for another week. For the last time Olga prayed at the
church and thought of her husband, and though she did not shed
tears, her face puckered up and looked ugly like an old woman's.
During the winter she had grown thinner and plainer, and her hair
had gone a little grey, and instead of the old look of sweetness
and the pleasant smile on her face, she had the resigned,
mournful expression left by the sorrows she had been through, and
there was something blank and irresponsive in her eyes, as though
she did not hear what was said. She was sorry
to part from the village and the peasants. She remembered how
they had carried out Nikolay, and how a requiem had been ordered
for him at almost every hut, and all had shed tears in sympathy
with her grief. In the course of the summer and the winter there
had been hours and days when it seemed as though these people
lived worse than the beasts, and to live with them was terrible;
they were coarse, dishonest, filthy, and drunken; they did not
live in harmony, but quarrelled continually, because they
distrusted and feared and did not respect one another. Who keeps
the tavern and makes the people drunken? A peasant. Who wastes
and spends on drink the funds of the commune, of the schools, of
the church? A peasant. Who stole from his neighbours, set fire to
their property, gave false witness at the court for a bottle of
vodka? At the meetings of the Zemstvo and other local bodies, who
was the first to fall foul of the peasants? A peasant. Yes, to
live with them was terrible; but yet, they were human beings,
they suffered and wept like human beings, and there was nothing
in their lives for which one could not find excuse. Hard labour
that made the whole body ache at night, the cruel winters, the
scanty harvests, the overcrowding; and they had no help and none
to whom they could look for help. Those of them who were a little
stronger and better off could be no help, as they were themselves
coarse, dishonest, drunken, and abused one another just as
revoltingly; the paltriest little clerk or official treated the
peasants as though they were tramps, and addressed even the
village elders and church wardens as inferiors, and considered
they had a right to do so. And, indeed, can any sort of help or
good example be given by mercenary, greedy, depraved, and idle
persons who only visit the village in order to insult, to
despoil, and to terrorize? Olga remembered the pitiful,
humiliated look of the old people when in the winter Kiryak had
been taken to be flogged. . . . And now she felt sorry for all
these people, painfully so, and as she walked on she kept looking
back at the huts.
After walking two miles with them Marya said good-bye, then
kneeling, and falling forward with her face on the earth, she
"Again I am left alone. Alas, for poor me! poor, unhappy! . . ."
And she wailed like this for a long time, and for a long way Olga
and Sasha could still see her on her knees, bowing down to
someone at the side and clutching her head in her hands, while
the rooks flew over her head.
The sun rose high; it began to get hot. Zhukovo was left far
behind. Walking was pleasant. Olga and Sasha soon forgot both the
village and Marya; they were gay and everything entertained them.
Now they came upon an ancient barrow, now upon a row of telegraph
posts running one after another into the distance and
disappearing into the horizon, and the wires hummed mysteriously.
Then they saw a homestead, all wreathed in green foliage; there
came a scent from it of dampness, of hemp, and it seemed for some
reason that happy people lived there. Then they came upon a
horse's skeleton whitening in solitude in the open fields. And
the larks trilled unceasingly, the corncrakes called to one
another, and the landrail cried as though someone were really
scraping at an old iron rail.
At midday Olga and Sasha reached a big village. There in the
broad street they met the little old man who was General Zhukov's
cook. He was hot, and his red, perspiring bald head shone in the
sunshine. Olga and he did not recognize each other, then looked
round at the same moment, recognized each other, and went their
separate ways without saying a word. Stopping near the hut which
looked newest and most prosperous, Olga bowed down before the
open windows, and said in a loud, thin, chanting voice:
"Good Christian folk, give alms, for Christ's sake, that God's
blessing may be upon you, and that your parents may be in the
Kingdom of Heaven in peace eternal."
"Good Christian folk," Sasha began chanting, "give, for Christ's
sake, that God's blessing, the Heavenly Kingdom . . ."