THE TALES OF CHEKHOV
THE BISHOP AND OTHER STORIES
Translated by CONSTANCE GARNETT
THE evening service was being celebrated on the eve of Palm Sunday
in the Old Petrovsky Convent. When they began distributing the palm
it was close upon ten o'clock, the candles were burning dimly, the
wicks wanted snuffing; it was all in a sort of mist. In the twilight
of the church the crowd seemed heaving like the sea, and to Bishop
Pyotr, who had been unwell for the last three days, it seemed that
all the faces--old and young, men's and women's--were alike,
that everyone who came up for the palm had the same expression in
his eyes. In the mist he could not see the doors; the crowd kept
moving and looked as though there were no end to it. The female
choir was singing, a nun was reading the prayers for the day.
How stifling, how hot it was! How long the service went on! Bishop
Pyotr was tired. His breathing was laboured and rapid, his throat
was parched, his shoulders ached with weariness, his legs were
trembling. And it disturbed him unpleasantly when a religious maniac
uttered occasional shrieks in the gallery. And then all of a sudden,
as though in a dream or delirium, it seemed to the bishop as though
his own mother Marya Timofyevna, whom he had not seen for nine
years, or some old woman just like his mother, came up to him out
of the crowd, and, after taking a palm branch from him, walked away
looking at him all the while good-humouredly with a kind, joyful
smile until she was lost in the crowd. And for some reason tears
flowed down his face. There was peace in his heart, everything was
well, yet he kept gazing fixedly towards the left choir, where the
prayers were being read, where in the dusk of evening you could not
recognize anyone, and--wept. Tears glistened on his face and on
his beard. Here someone close at hand was weeping, then someone
else farther away, then others and still others, and little by
little the church was filled with soft weeping. And a little later,
within five minutes, the nuns' choir was singing; no one was weeping
and everything was as before.
Soon the service was over. When the bishop got into his carriage
to drive home, the gay, melodious chime of the heavy, costly bells
was filling the whole garden in the moonlight. The white walls, the
white crosses on the tombs, the white birch-trees and black shadows,
and the far-away moon in the sky exactly over the convent, seemed
now living their own life, apart and incomprehensible, yet very
near to man. It was the beginning of April, and after the warm
spring day it turned cool; there was a faint touch of frost, and
the breath of spring could be felt in the soft, chilly air. The
road from the convent to the town was sandy, the horses had to go
at a walking pace, and on both sides of the carriage in the brilliant,
peaceful moonlight there were people trudging along home from church
through the sand. And all was silent, sunk in thought; everything
around seemed kindly, youthful, akin, everything--trees and sky
and even the moon, and one longed to think that so it would be
At last the carriage drove into the town and rumbled along the
principal street. The shops were already shut, but at Erakin's, the
millionaire shopkeeper's, they were trying the new electric lights,
which flickered brightly, and a crowd of people were gathered round.
Then came wide, dark, deserted streets, one after another; then the
highroad, the open country, the fragrance of pines. And suddenly
there rose up before the bishop's eyes a white turreted wall, and
behind it a tall belfry in the full moonlight, and beside it five
shining, golden cupolas: this was the Pankratievsky Monastery, in
which Bishop Pyotr lived. And here, too, high above the monastery,
was the silent, dreamy moon. The carriage drove in at the gate,
crunching over the sand; here and there in the moonlight there were
glimpses of dark monastic figures, and there was the sound of
footsteps on the flag-stones. . . .
"You know, your holiness, your mamma arrived while you were away,"
the lay brother informed the bishop as he went into his cell.
"My mother? When did she come?"
"Before the evening service. She asked first where you were and
then she went to the convent."
"Then it was her I saw in the church, just now! Oh, Lord!"
And the bishop laughed with joy.
"She bade me tell your holiness," the lay brother went on, "that
she would come to-morrow. She had a little girl with her--her
grandchild, I suppose. They are staying at Ovsyannikov's inn."
"What time is it now?"
"A little after eleven."
"Oh, how vexing!"
The bishop sat for a little while in the parlour, hesitating, and
as it were refusing to believe it was so late. His arms and legs
were stiff, his head ached. He was hot and uncomfortable. After
resting a little he went into his bedroom, and there, too, he sat
a little, still thinking of his mother; he could hear the lay brother
going away, and Father Sisoy coughing the other side of the wall.
The monastery clock struck a quarter.
The bishop changed his clothes and began reading the prayers before
sleep. He read attentively those old, long familiar prayers, and
at the same time thought about his mother. She had nine children
and about forty grandchildren. At one time, she had lived with her
husband, the deacon, in a poor village; she had lived there a very
long time from the age of seventeen to sixty. The bishop remembered
her from early childhood, almost from the age of three, and--how
he had loved her! Sweet, precious childhood, always fondly remembered!
Why did it, that long-past time that could never return, why did
it seem brighter, fuller, and more festive than it had really been?
When in his childhood or youth he had been ill, how tender and
sympathetic his mother had been! And now his prayers mingled with
the memories, which gleamed more and more brightly like a flame,
and the prayers did not hinder his thinking of his mother.
When he had finished his prayers he undressed and lay down, and at
once, as soon as it was dark, there rose before his mind his dead
father, his mother, his native village Lesopolye . . . the creak
of wheels, the bleat of sheep, the church bells on bright summer
mornings, the gypsies under the window--oh, how sweet to think
of it! He remembered the priest of Lesopolye, Father Simeon--mild,
gentle, kindly; he was a lean little man, while his son, a divinity
student, was a huge fellow and talked in a roaring bass voice. The
priest's son had flown into a rage with the cook and abused her:
"Ah, you Jehud's ass!" and Father Simeon overhearing it, said not
a word, and was only ashamed because he could not remember where
such an ass was mentioned in the Bible. After him the priest at
Lesopolye had been Father Demyan, who used to drink heavily, and
at times drank till he saw green snakes, and was even nicknamed
Demyan Snakeseer. The schoolmaster at Lesopolye was Matvey Nikolaitch,
who had been a divinity student, a kind and intelligent man, but
he, too, was a drunkard; he never beat the schoolchildren, but for
some reason he always had hanging on his wall a bunch of birch-twigs,
and below it an utterly meaningless inscription in Latin: "Betula
kinderbalsamica secuta." He had a shaggy black dog whom he called
And his holiness laughed. Six miles from Lesopolye was the village
Obnino with a wonder-working ikon. In the summer they used to carry
the ikon in procession about the neighbouring villages and ring the
bells the whole day long; first in one village and then in another,
and it used to seem to the bishop then that joy was quivering in
the air, and he (in those days his name was Pavlusha) used to follow
the ikon, bareheaded and barefoot, with naïve faith, with a naïve
smile, infinitely happy. In Obnino, he remembered now, there were
always a lot of people, and the priest there, Father Alexey, to
save time during mass, used to make his deaf nephew Ilarion read
the names of those for whose health or whose souls' peace prayers
were asked. Ilarion used to read them, now and then getting a five
or ten kopeck piece for the service, and only when he was grey and
bald, when life was nearly over, he suddenly saw written on one of
the pieces of paper: "What a fool you are, Ilarion." Up to fifteen
at least Pavlusha was undeveloped and idle at his lessons, so much
so that they thought of taking him away from the clerical school
and putting him into a shop; one day, going to the post at Obnino
for letters, he had stared a long time at the post-office clerks
and asked: "Allow me to ask, how do you get your salary, every month
or every day?"
His holiness crossed himself and turned over on the other side,
trying to stop thinking and go to sleep.
"My mother has come," he remembered and laughed.
The moon peeped in at the window, the floor was lighted up, and
there were shadows on it. A cricket was chirping. Through the wall
Father Sisoy was snoring in the next room, and his aged snore had
a sound that suggested loneliness, forlornness, even vagrancy. Sisoy
had once been housekeeper to the bishop of the diocese, and was
called now "the former Father Housekeeper"; he was seventy years
old, he lived in a monastery twelve miles from the town and stayed
sometimes in the town, too. He had come to the Pankratievsky Monastery
three days before, and the bishop had kept him that he might talk
to him at his leisure about matters of business, about the arrangements
here. . . .
At half-past one they began ringing for matins. Father Sisoy could
be heard coughing, muttering something in a discontented voice,
then he got up and walked barefoot about the rooms.
"Father Sisoy," the bishop called.
Sisoy went back to his room and a little later made his appearance
in his boots, with a candle; he had on his cassock over his
underclothes and on his head was an old faded skull-cap.
"I can't sleep," said the bishop, sitting up. "I must be unwell.
And what it is I don't know. Fever!"
"You must have caught cold, your holiness. You must be rubbed with
tallow." Sisoy stood a little and yawned. "O Lord, forgive me, a
"They had the electric lights on at Erakin's today," he said; "I
don't like it!"
Father Sisoy was old, lean, bent, always dissatisfied with something,
and his eyes were angry-looking and prominent as a crab's.
"I don't like it," he said, going away. "I don't like it. Bother
Next day, Palm Sunday, the bishop took the service in the cathedral
in the town, then he visited the bishop of the diocese, then visited
a very sick old lady, the widow of a general, and at last drove
home. Between one and two o'clock he had welcome visitors dining
with him--his mother and his niece Katya, a child of eight years
old. All dinner-time the spring sunshine was streaming in at the
windows, throwing bright light on the white tablecloth and on Katya's
red hair. Through the double windows they could hear the noise of
the rooks and the notes of the starlings in the garden.
"It is nine years since we have met," said the old lady. "And when
I looked at you in the monastery yesterday, good Lord! you've not
changed a bit, except maybe you are thinner and your beard is a
little longer. Holy Mother, Queen of Heaven! Yesterday at the evening
service no one could help crying. I, too, as I looked at you,
suddenly began crying, though I couldn't say why. His Holy Will!"
And in spite of the affectionate tone in which she said this, he
could see she was constrained as though she were uncertain whether
to address him formally or familiarly, to laugh or not, and that
she felt herself more a deacon's widow than his mother. And Katya
gazed without blinking at her uncle, his holiness, as though trying
to discover what sort of a person he was. Her hair sprang up from
under the comb and the velvet ribbon and stood out like a halo; she
had a turned-up nose and sly eyes. The child had broken a glass
before sitting down to dinner, and now her grandmother, as she
talked, moved away from Katya first a wineglass and then a tumbler.
The bishop listened to his mother and remembered how many, many
years ago she used to take him and his brothers and sisters to
relations whom she considered rich; in those days she was taken up
with the care of her children, now with her grandchildren, and she
had brought Katya. . . .
"Your sister, Varenka, has four children," she told him; "Katya,
here, is the eldest. And your brother-in-law Father Ivan fell sick,
God knows of what, and died three days before the Assumption; and
my poor Varenka is left a beggar."
"And how is Nikanor getting on?" the bishop asked about his eldest
"He is all right, thank God. Though he has nothing much, yet he can
live. Only there is one thing: his son, my grandson Nikolasha, did
not want to go into the Church; he has gone to the university to
be a doctor. He thinks it is better; but who knows! His Holy Will!"
"Nikolasha cuts up dead people," said Katya, spilling water over
"Sit still, child," her grandmother observed calmly, and took the
glass out of her hand. "Say a prayer, and go on eating."
"How long it is since we have seen each other!" said the bishop,
and he tenderly stroked his mother's hand and shoulder; "and I
missed you abroad, mother, I missed you dreadfully."
"I used to sit in the evenings at the open window, lonely and alone;
often there was music playing, and all at once I used to be overcome
with homesickness and felt as though I would give everything only
to be at home and see you."
His mother smiled, beamed, but at once she made a grave face and
His mood suddenly changed. He looked at his mother and could not
understand how she had come by that respectfulness, that timid
expression of face: what was it for? And he did not recognize her.
He felt sad and vexed. And then his head ached just as it had the
day before; his legs felt fearfully tired, and the fish seemed to
him stale and tasteless; he felt thirsty all the time. . . .
After dinner two rich ladies, landowners, arrived and sat for an
hour and a half in silence with rigid countenances; the archimandrite,
a silent, rather deaf man, came to see him about business. Then
they began ringing for vespers; the sun was setting behind the wood
and the day was over. When he returned from church, he hurriedly
said his prayers, got into bed, and wrapped himself up as warm as
It was disagreeable to remember the fish he had eaten at dinner.
The moonlight worried him, and then he heard talking. In an adjoining
room, probably in the parlour, Father Sisoy was talking politics:
"There's war among the Japanese now. They are fighting. The Japanese,
my good soul, are the same as the Montenegrins; they are the same
race. They were under the Turkish yoke together."
And then he heard the voice of Marya Timofyevna:
"So, having said our prayers and drunk tea, we went, you know, to
Father Yegor at Novokatnoye, so. . ."
And she kept on saying, "having had tea" or "having drunk tea," and
it seemed as though the only thing she had done in her life was to
The bishop slowly, languidly, recalled the seminary, the academy.
For three years he had been Greek teacher in the seminary: by that
time he could not read without spectacles. Then he had become a
monk; he had been made a school inspector. Then he had defended his
thesis for his degree. When he was thirty-two he had been made
rector of the seminary, and consecrated archimandrite: and then his
life had been so easy, so pleasant; it seemed so long, so long, no
end was in sight. Then he had begun to be ill, had grown very thin
and almost blind, and by the advice of the doctors had to give up
everything and go abroad.
"And what then?" asked Sisoy in the next room.
"Then we drank tea . . ." answered Marya Timofyevna.
"Good gracious, you've got a green beard," said Katya suddenly in
surprise, and she laughed.
The bishop remembered that the grey-headed Father Sisoy's beard
really had a shade of green in it, and he laughed.
"God have mercy upon us, what we have to put up with with this
girl!" said Sisoy, aloud, getting angry. "Spoilt child! Sit quiet!"
The bishop remembered the perfectly new white church in which he
had conducted the services while living abroad, he remembered the
sound of the warm sea. In his flat he had five lofty light rooms;
in his study he had a new writing-table, lots of books. He had read
a great deal and often written. And he remembered how he had pined
for his native land, how a blind beggar woman had played the guitar
under his window every day and sung of love, and how, as he listened,
he had always for some reason thought of the past. But eight years
had passed and he had been called back to Russia, and now he was a
suffragan bishop, and all the past had retreated far away into the
mist as though it were a dream. . . .
Father Sisoy came into the bedroom with a candle.
"I say!" he said, wondering, "are you asleep already, your holiness?"
"What is it?"
"Why, it's still early, ten o'clock or less. I bought a candle
to-day; I wanted to rub you with tallow."
"I am in a fever . . ." said the bishop, and he sat up. "I really
ought to have something. My head is bad. . . ."
Sisoy took off the bishop's shirt and began rubbing his chest and
back with tallow.
"That's the way . . . that's the way . . ." he said. "Lord Jesus
Christ . . . that's the way. I walked to the town to-day; I was at
what's-his-name's--the chief priest Sidonsky's. . . . I had tea
with him. I don't like him. Lord Jesus Christ. . . . That's the
way. I don't like him."
The bishop of the diocese, a very fat old man, was ill with rheumatism
or gout, and had been in bed for over a month. Bishop Pyotr went
to see him almost every day, and saw all who came to ask his help.
And now that he was unwell he was struck by the emptiness, the
triviality of everything which they asked and for which they wept;
he was vexed at their ignorance, their timidity; and all this
useless, petty business oppressed him by the mass of it, and it
seemed to him that now he understood the diocesan bishop, who had
once in his young days written on "The Doctrines of the Freedom of
the Will," and now seemed to be all lost in trivialities, to have
forgotten everything, and to have no thoughts of religion. The
bishop must have lost touch with Russian life while he was abroad;
he did not find it easy; the peasants seemed to him coarse, the
women who sought his help dull and stupid, the seminarists and their
teachers uncultivated and at times savage. And the documents coming
in and going out were reckoned by tens of thousands; and what
documents they were! The higher clergy in the whole diocese gave
the priests, young and old, and even their wives and children, marks
for their behaviour--a five, a four, and sometimes even a three;
and about this he had to talk and to read and write serious reports.
And there was positively not one minute to spare; his soul was
troubled all day long, and the bishop was only at peace when he was
He could not get used, either, to the awe which, through no wish
of his own, he inspired in people in spite of his quiet, modest
disposition. All the people in the province seemed to him little,
scared, and guilty when he looked at them. Everyone was timid in
his presence, even the old chief priests; everyone "flopped" at his
feet, and not long previously an old lady, a village priest's wife
who had come to consult him, was so overcome by awe that she could
not utter a single word, and went empty away. And he, who could
never in his sermons bring himself to speak ill of people, never
reproached anyone because he was so sorry for them, was moved to
fury with the people who came to consult him, lost his temper and
flung their petitions on the floor. The whole time he had been here,
not one person had spoken to him genuinely, simply, as to a human
being; even his old mother seemed now not the same! And why, he
wondered, did she chatter away to Sisoy and laugh so much; while
with him, her son, she was grave and usually silent and constrained,
which did not suit her at all. The only person who behaved freely
with him and said what he meant was old Sisoy, who had spent his
whole life in the presence of bishops and had outlived eleven of
them. And so the bishop was at ease with him, although, of course,
he was a tedious and nonsensical man.
After the service on Tuesday, his holiness Pyotr was in the diocesan
bishop's house receiving petitions there; he got excited and angry,
and then drove home. He was as unwell as before; he longed to be
in bed, but he had hardly reached home when he was informed that a
young merchant called Erakin, who subscribed liberally to charities,
had come to see him about a very important matter. The bishop had
to see him. Erakin stayed about an hour, talked very loud, almost
shouted, and it was difficult to understand what he said.
"God grant it may," he said as he went away. "Most essential!
According to circumstances, your holiness! I trust it may!"
After him came the Mother Superior from a distant convent. And when
she had gone they began ringing for vespers. He had to go to church.
In the evening the monks sang harmoniously, with inspiration. A
young priest with a black beard conducted the service; and the
bishop, hearing of the Bridegroom who comes at midnight and of the
Heavenly Mansion adorned for the festival, felt no repentance for
his sins, no tribulation, but peace at heart and tranquillity. And
he was carried back in thought to the distant past, to his childhood
and youth, when, too, they used to sing of the Bridegroom and of
the Heavenly Mansion; and now that past rose up before him--living,
fair, and joyful as in all likelihood it never had been. And perhaps
in the other world, in the life to come, we shall think of the
distant past, of our life here, with the same feeling. Who knows?
The bishop was sitting near the altar. It was dark; tears flowed
down his face. He thought that here he had attained everything a
man in his position could attain; he had faith and yet everything
was not clear, something was lacking still. He did not want to die;
and he still felt that he had missed what was most important,
something of which he had dimly dreamed in the past; and he was
troubled by the same hopes for the future as he had felt in childhood,
at the academy and abroad.
"How well they sing to-day!" he thought, listening to the singing.
"How nice it is!"
On Thursday he celebrated mass in the cathedral; it was the Washing
of Feet. When the service was over and the people were going home,
it was sunny, warm; the water gurgled in the gutters, and the
unceasing trilling of the larks, tender, telling of peace, rose
from the fields outside the town. The trees were already awakening
and smiling a welcome, while above them the infinite, fathomless
blue sky stretched into the distance, God knows whither.
On reaching home his holiness drank some tea, then changed his
clothes, lay down on his bed, and told the lay brother to close the
shutters on the windows. The bedroom was darkened. But what weariness,
what pain in his legs and his back, a chill heavy pain, what a noise
in his ears! He had not slept for a long time--for a very long
time, as it seemed to him now, and some trifling detail which haunted
his brain as soon as his eyes were closed prevented him from sleeping.
As on the day before, sounds reached him from the adjoining rooms
through the walls, voices, the jingle of glasses and teaspoons. . . .
Marya Timofyevna was gaily telling Father Sisoy some story with
quaint turns of speech, while the latter answered in a grumpy,
ill-humoured voice: "Bother them! Not likely! What next!" And the
bishop again felt vexed and then hurt that with other people his
old mother behaved in a simple, ordinary way, while with him, her
son, she was shy, spoke little, and did not say what she meant, and
even, as he fancied, had during all those three days kept trying
in his presence to find an excuse for standing up, because she was
embarrassed at sitting before him. And his father? He, too, probably,
if he had been living, would not have been able to utter a word in
the bishop's presence. . . .
Something fell down on the floor in the adjoining room and was
broken; Katya must have dropped a cup or a saucer, for Father Sisoy
suddenly spat and said angrily:
"What a regular nuisance the child is! Lord forgive my transgressions!
One can't provide enough for her."
Then all was quiet, the only sounds came from outside. And when the
bishop opened his eyes he saw Katya in his room, standing motionless,
staring at him. Her red hair, as usual, stood up from under the
comb like a halo.
"Is that you, Katya?" he asked. "Who is it downstairs who keeps
opening and shutting a door?"
"I don't hear it," answered Katya; and she listened.
"There, someone has just passed by."
"But that was a noise in your stomach, uncle."
He laughed and stroked her on the head.
"So you say Cousin Nikolasha cuts up dead people?" he asked after
"Yes, he is studying."
"And is he kind?"
"Oh, yes, he's kind. But he drinks vodka awfully."
"And what was it your father died of?"
"Papa was weak and very, very thin, and all at once his throat was
bad. I was ill then, too, and brother Fedya; we all had bad throats.
Papa died, uncle, and we got well."
Her chin began quivering, and tears gleamed in her eyes and trickled
down her cheeks.
"Your holiness," she said in a shrill voice, by now weeping bitterly,
"uncle, mother and all of us are left very wretched. . . . Give us
a little money . . . do be kind . . . uncle darling. . . ."
He, too, was moved to tears, and for a long time was too much touched
to speak. Then he stroked her on the head, patted her on the shoulder
"Very good, very good, my child. When the holy Easter comes, we
will talk it over. . . . I will help you. . . . I will help you. . . ."
His mother came in quietly, timidly, and prayed before the ikon.
Noticing that he was not sleeping, she said:
"Won't you have a drop of soup?"
"No, thank you," he answered, "I am not hungry."
"You seem to be unwell, now I look at you. I should think so; you
may well be ill! The whole day on your legs, the whole day. . . .
And, my goodness, it makes one's heart ache even to look at you!
Well, Easter is not far off; you will rest then, please God. Then
we will have a talk, too, but now I'm not going to disturb you with
my chatter. Come along, Katya; let his holiness sleep a little."
And he remembered how once very long ago, when he was a boy, she
had spoken exactly like that, in the same jestingly respectful tone,
with a Church dignitary. . . . Only from her extraordinarily kind
eyes and the timid, anxious glance she stole at him as she went out
of the room could one have guessed that this was his mother. He
shut his eyes and seemed to sleep, but twice heard the clock strike
and Father Sisoy coughing the other side of the wall. And once more
his mother came in and looked timidly at him for a minute. Someone
drove up to the steps, as he could hear, in a coach or in a chaise.
Suddenly a knock, the door slammed, the lay brother came into the
"Your holiness," he called.
"The horses are here; it's time for the evening service."
"What o'clock is it?"
"A quarter past seven."
He dressed and drove to the cathedral. During all the "Twelve
Gospels" he had to stand in the middle of the church without moving,
and the first gospel, the longest and the most beautiful, he read
himself. A mood of confidence and courage came over him. That first
gospel, "Now is the Son of Man glorified," he knew by heart; and
as he read he raised his eyes from time to time, and saw on both
sides a perfect sea of lights and heard the splutter of candles,
but, as in past years, he could not see the people, and it seemed
as though these were all the same people as had been round him in
those days, in his childhood and his youth; that they would always
be the same every year and till such time as God only knew.
His father had been a deacon, his grandfather a priest, his
great-grandfather a deacon, and his whole family, perhaps from the
days when Christianity had been accepted in Russia, had belonged
to the priesthood; and his love for the Church services, for the
priesthood, for the peal of the bells, was deep in him, ineradicable,
innate. In church, particularly when he took part in the service,
he felt vigorous, of good cheer, happy. So it was now. Only when
the eighth gospel had been read, he felt that his voice had grown
weak, even his cough was inaudible. His head had begun to ache
intensely, and he was troubled by a fear that he might fall down.
And his legs were indeed quite numb, so that by degrees he ceased
to feel them and could not understand how or on what he was standing,
and why he did not fall. . . .
It was a quarter to twelve when the service was over. When he reached
home, the bishop undressed and went to bed at once without even
saying his prayers. He could not speak and felt that he could not
have stood up. When he had covered his head with the quilt he felt
a sudden longing to be abroad, an insufferable longing! He felt
that he would give his life not to see those pitiful cheap shutters,
those low ceilings, not to smell that heavy monastery smell. If
only there were one person to whom he could have talked, have opened
For a long while he heard footsteps in the next room and could not
tell whose they were. At last the door opened, and Sisoy came in
with a candle and a tea-cup in his hand.
"You are in bed already, your holiness?" he asked. "Here I have
come to rub you with spirit and vinegar. A thorough rubbing does a
great deal of good. Lord Jesus Christ! . . . That's the way . . .
that's the way. . . . I've just been in our monastery. . . . I don't
like it. I'm going away from here to-morrow, your holiness; I don't
want to stay longer. Lord Jesus Christ. . . . That's the way. . . ."
Sisoy could never stay long in the same place, and he felt as though
he had been a whole year in the Pankratievsky Monastery. Above all,
listening to him it was difficult to understand where his home was,
whether he cared for anyone or anything, whether he believed in
God. . . . He did not know himself why he was a monk, and, indeed,
he did not think about it, and the time when he had become a monk
had long passed out of his memory; it seemed as though he had been
born a monk.
"I'm going away to-morrow; God be with them all."
"I should like to talk to you. . . . I can't find the time," said
the bishop softly with an effort. "I don't know anything or anybody
here. . . ."
"I'll stay till Sunday if you like; so be it, but I don't want to
stay longer. I am sick of them!"
"I ought not to be a bishop," said the bishop softly. "I ought to
have been a village priest, a deacon . . . or simply a monk. . . .
All this oppresses me . . . oppresses me."
"What? Lord Jesus Christ. . . . That's the way. Come, sleep well,
your holiness! . . . What's the good of talking? It's no use.
The bishop did not sleep all night. And at eight o'clock in the
morning he began to have hemorrhage from the bowels. The lay brother
was alarmed, and ran first to the archimandrite, then for the
monastery doctor, Ivan Andreyitch, who lived in the town. The doctor,
a stout old man with a long grey beard, made a prolonged examination
of the bishop, and kept shaking his head and frowning, then said:
"Do you know, your holiness, you have got typhoid?"
After an hour or so of hemorrhage the bishop looked much thinner,
paler, and wasted; his face looked wrinkled, his eyes looked bigger,
and he seemed older, shorter, and it seemed to him that he was
thinner, weaker, more insignificant than any one, that everything
that had been had retreated far, far away and would never go on
again or be repeated.
"How good," he thought, "how good!"
His old mother came. Seeing his wrinkled face and his big eyes, she
was frightened, she fell on her knees by the bed and began kissing
his face, his shoulders, his hands. And to her, too, it seemed that
he was thinner, weaker, and more insignificant than anyone, and now
she forgot that he was a bishop, and kissed him as though he were
a child very near and very dear to her.
"Pavlusha, darling," she said; "my own, my darling son! . . . Why
are you like this? Pavlusha, answer me!"
Katya, pale and severe, stood beside her, unable to understand what
was the matter with her uncle, why there was such a look of suffering
on her grandmother's face, why she was saying such sad and touching
things. By now he could not utter a word, he could understand
nothing, and he imagined he was a simple ordinary man, that he was
walking quickly, cheerfully through the fields, tapping with his
stick, while above him was the open sky bathed in sunshine, and
that he was free now as a bird and could go where he liked!
"Pavlusha, my darling son, answer me," the old woman was saying.
"What is it? My own!"
"Don't disturb his holiness," Sisoy said angrily, walking about the
room. "Let him sleep . . . what's the use . . . it's no good. . . ."
Three doctors arrived, consulted together, and went away again. The
day was long, incredibly long, then the night came on and passed
slowly, slowly, and towards morning on Saturday the lay brother
went in to the old mother who was lying on the sofa in the parlour,
and asked her to go into the bedroom: the bishop had just breathed
Next day was Easter Sunday. There were forty-two churches and six
monasteries in the town; the sonorous, joyful clang of the bells
hung over the town from morning till night unceasingly, setting the
spring air aquiver; the birds were singing, the sun was shining
brightly. The big market square was noisy, swings were going, barrel
organs were playing, accordions were squeaking, drunken voices were
shouting. After midday people began driving up and down the principal
In short, all was merriment, everything was satisfactory, just as
it had been the year before, and as it will be in all likelihood
A month later a new suffragan bishop was appointed, and no one
thought anything more of Bishop Pyotr, and afterwards he was
completely forgotten. And only the dead man's old mother, who is
living to-day with her son-in-law the deacon in a remote little
district town, when she goes out at night to bring her cow in and
meets other women at the pasture, begins talking of her children
and her grandchildren, and says that she had a son a bishop, and
this she says timidly, afraid that she may not be believed. . . .
And, indeed, there are some who do not believe her.
The clerical superintendent of the district, his Reverence Father
Fyodor Orlov, a handsome, well-nourished man of fifty, grave and
important as he always was, with an habitual expression of dignity
that never left his face, was walking to and fro in his little
drawing-room, extremely exhausted, and thinking intensely about the
same thing: "When would his visitor go?" The thought worried him
and did not leave him for a minute. The visitor, Father Anastasy,
the priest of one of the villages near the town, had come to him
three hours before on some very unpleasant and dreary business of
his own, had stayed on and on, was now sitting in the corner at a
little round table with his elbow on a thick account book, and
apparently had no thought of going, though it was getting on for
nine o'clock in the evening.
Not everyone knows when to be silent and when to go. It not
infrequently happens that even diplomatic persons of good worldly
breeding fail to observe that their presence is arousing a feeling
akin to hatred in their exhausted or busy host, and that this feeling
is being concealed with an effort and disguised with a lie. But
Father Anastasy perceived it clearly, and realized that his presence
was burdensome and inappropriate, that his Reverence, who had taken
an early morning service in the night and a long mass at midday,
was exhausted and longing for repose; every minute he was meaning
to get up and go, but he did not get up, he sat on as though he
were waiting for something. He was an old man of sixty-five,
prematurely aged, with a bent and bony figure, with a sunken face
and the dark skin of old age, with red eyelids and a long narrow
back like a fish's; he was dressed in a smart cassock of a light
lilac colour, but too big for him (presented to him by the widow
of a young priest lately deceased), a full cloth coat with a broad
leather belt, and clumsy high boots the size and hue of which showed
clearly that Father Anastasy dispensed with goloshes. In spite of
his position and his venerable age, there was something pitiful,
crushed and humiliated in his lustreless red eyes, in the strands
of grey hair with a shade of green in it on the nape of his neck,
and in the big shoulder-blades on his lean back. . . . He sat without
speaking or moving, and coughed with circumspection, as though
afraid that the sound of his coughing might make his presence more
The old man had come to see his Reverence on business. Two months
before he had been prohibited from officiating till further notice,
and his case was being inquired into. His shortcomings were numerous.
He was intemperate in his habits, fell out with the other clergy
and the commune, kept the church records and accounts carelessly
--these were the formal charges against him; but besides all that,
there had been rumours for a long time past that he celebrated
unlawful marriages for money and sold certificates of having fasted
and taken the sacrament to officials and officers who came to him
from the town. These rumours were maintained the more persistently
that he was poor and had nine children to keep, who were as incompetent
and unsuccessful as himself. The sons were spoilt and uneducated,
and stayed at home doing nothing, while the daughters were ugly and
did not get married.
Not having the moral force to be open, his Reverence walked up and
down the room and said nothing or spoke in hints.
"So you are not going home to-night?" he asked, stopping near the
dark window and poking with his little finger into the cage where
a canary was asleep with its feathers puffed out.
Father Anastasy started, coughed cautiously and said rapidly:
"Home? I don't care to, Fyodor Ilyitch. I cannot officiate, as you
know, so what am I to do there? I came away on purpose that I might
not have to look the people in the face. One is ashamed not to
officiate, as you know. Besides, I have business here, Fyodor
Ilyitch. To-morrow after breaking the fast I want to talk things
over thoroughly with the Father charged with the inquiry."
"Ah! . . ." yawned his Reverence, "and where are you staying?"
Father Anastasy suddenly remembered that within two hours his
Reverence had to take the Easter-night service, and he felt so
ashamed of his unwelcome burdensome presence that he made up his
mind to go away at once and let the exhausted man rest. And the old
man got up to go. But before he began saying good-bye he stood
clearing his throat for a minute and looking searchingly at his
Reverence's back, still with the same expression of vague expectation
in his whole figure; his face was working with shame, timidity, and
a pitiful forced laugh such as one sees in people who do not respect
themselves. Waving his hand as it were resolutely, he said with a
husky quavering laugh:
"Father Fyodor, do me one more kindness: bid them give me at
leave-taking . . . one little glass of vodka."
"It's not the time to drink vodka now," said his Reverence sternly.
"One must have some regard for decency."
Father Anastasy was still more overwhelmed by confusion; he laughed,
and, forgetting his resolution to go away, he dropped back on his
chair. His Reverence looked at his helpless, embarrassed face and
his bent figure and he felt sorry for the old man.
"Please God, we will have a drink to-morrow," he said, wishing to
soften his stem refusal. "Everything is good in due season."
His Reverence believed in people's reforming, but now when a feeling
of pity had been kindled in him it seemed to him that this disgraced,
worn-out old man, entangled in a network of sins and weaknesses,
was hopelessly wrecked, that there was no power on earth that could
straighten out his spine, give brightness to his eyes and restrain
the unpleasant timid laugh which he laughed on purpose to smoothe
over to some slight extent the repulsive impression he made on
The old man seemed now to Father Fyodor not guilty and not vicious,
but humiliated, insulted, unfortunate; his Reverence thought of his
wife, his nine children, the dirty beggarly shelter at Zyavkin's;
he thought for some reason of the people who are glad to see priests
drunk and persons in authority detected in crimes; and thought that
the very best thing Father Anastasy could do now would be to die
as soon as possible and to depart from this world for ever.
There were a sound of footsteps.
"Father Fyodor, you are not resting?" a bass voice asked from the
"No, deacon; come in."
Orlov's colleague, the deacon Liubimov, an elderly man with a big
bald patch on the top of his head, though his hair was still black
and he was still vigorous-looking, with thick black eyebrows like
a Georgian's, walked in. He bowed to Father Anastasy and sat down.
"What good news have you?" asked his Reverence.
"What good news?" answered the deacon, and after a pause he went
on with a smile: "When your children are little, your trouble is
small; when your children are big, your trouble is great. Such
goings on, Father Fyodor, that I don't know what to think of it.
It's a regular farce, that's what it is."
He paused again for a little, smiled still more broadly and said:
"Nikolay Matveyitch came back from Harkov to-day. He has been telling
me about my Pyotr. He has been to see him twice, he tells me."
"What has he been telling you, then?"
"He has upset me, God bless him. He meant to please me but when I
came to think it over, it seems there is not much to be pleased at.
I ought to grieve rather than be pleased. . . 'Your Petrushka,'
said he, 'lives in fine style. He is far above us now,' said he.
'Well thank God for that,' said I. 'I dined with him,' said he,
'and saw his whole manner of life. He lives like a gentleman,' he
said; 'you couldn't wish to live better.' I was naturally interested
and I asked, 'And what did you have for dinner?' 'First,' he said,
'a fish course something like fish soup, then tongue and peas,' and
then he said, 'roast turkey.' 'Turkey in Lent? that is something
to please me,' said I. 'Turkey in Lent? Eh?'"
"Nothing marvellous in that," said his Reverence, screwing up his
eyes ironically. And sticking both thumbs in his belt, he drew
himself up and said in the tone in which he usually delivered
discourses or gave his Scripture lessons to the pupils in the
district school: "People who do not keep the fasts are divided into
two different categories: some do not keep them through laxity,
others through infidelity. Your Pyotr does not keep them through
The deacon looked timidly at Father Fyodor's stern face and said:
"There is worse to follow. . . . We talked and discussed one thing
and another, and it turned out that my infidel of a son is living
with some madame, another man's wife. She takes the place of wife
and hostess in his flat, pours out the tea, receives visitors and
all the rest of it, as though she were his lawful wife. For over
two years he has been keeping up this dance with this viper. It's
a regular farce. They have been living together for three years and
"I suppose they have been living in chastity!" chuckled Father
Anastasy, coughing huskily. "There are children, Father Deacon--
there are, but they don't keep them at home! They send them to the
Foundling! He-he-he! . . ." Anastasy went on coughing till he choked.
"Don't interfere, Father Anastasy," said his Reverence sternly.
"Nikolay Matveyitch asked him, 'What madame is this helping the
soup at your table?'" the deacon went on, gloomily scanning
Anastasy's bent figure. "'That is my wife,' said he. 'When was
your wedding?' Nikolay Matveyitch asked him, and Pyotr answered,
'We were married at Kulikov's restaurant.'"
His Reverence's eyes flashed wrathfully and the colour came into
his temples. Apart from his sinfulness, Pyotr was not a person he
liked. Father Fyodor had, as they say, a grudge against him. He
remembered him a boy at school--he remembered him distinctly,
because even then the boy had seemed to him not normal. As a
schoolboy, Petrushka had been ashamed to serve at the altar, had
been offended at being addressed without ceremony, had not crossed
himself on entering the room, and what was still more noteworthy,
was fond of talking a great deal and with heat--and, in Father
Fyodor's opinion, much talking was unseemly in children and pernicious
to them; moreover Petrushka had taken up a contemptuous and critical
attitude to fishing, a pursuit to which both his Reverence and the
deacon were greatly addicted. As a student Pyotr had not gone to
church at all, had slept till midday, had looked down on people,
and had been given to raising delicate and insoluble questions with
a peculiarly provoking zest.
"What would you have?" his Reverence asked, going up to the deacon
and looking at him angrily. "What would you have? This was to be
expected! I always knew and was convinced that nothing good would
come of your Pyotr! I told you so, and I tell you so now. What you
have sown, that now you must reap! Reap it!"
"But what have I sown, Father Fyodor?" the deacon asked softly,
looking up at his Reverence.
"Why, who is to blame if not you? You're his father, he is your
offspring! You ought to have admonished him, have instilled the
fear of God into him. A child must be taught! You have brought him
into the world, but you haven't trained him up in the right way.
It's a sin! It's wrong! It's a shame!"
His Reverence forgot his exhaustion, paced to and fro and went on
talking. Drops of perspiration came out on the deacon's bald head
and forehead. He raised his eyes to his Reverence with a look of
guilt, and said:
"But didn't I train him, Father Fyodor? Lord have mercy on us,
haven't I been a father to my children? You know yourself I spared
nothing for his good; I have prayed and done my best all my life
to give him a thorough education. He went to the high school and I
got him tutors, and he took his degree at the University. And as
to my not being able to influence his mind, Father Fyodor, why, you
can judge for yourself that I am not qualified to do so! Sometimes
when he used to come here as a student, I would begin admonishing
him in my way, and he wouldn't heed me. I'd say to him, 'Go to
church,' and he would answer, 'What for?' I would begin explaining,
and he would say, 'Why? what for?' Or he would slap me on the
shoulder and say, 'Everything in this world is relative, approximate
and conditional. I don't know anything, and you don't know anything
Father Anastasy laughed huskily, cleared his throat and waved his
fingers in the air as though preparing to say something. His Reverence
glanced at him and said sternly:
"Don't interfere, Father Anastasy."
The old man laughed, beamed, and evidently listened with pleasure
to the deacon as though he were glad there were other sinful persons
in this world besides himself. The deacon spoke sincerely, with an
aching heart, and tears actually came into his eyes. Father Fyodor
felt sorry for him.
"You are to blame, deacon, you are to blame," he said, but not so
sternly and heatedly as before. "If you could beget him, you ought
to know how to instruct him. You ought to have trained him in his
childhood; it's no good trying to correct a student."
A silence followed; the deacon clasped his hands and said with a
"But you know I shall have to answer for him!"
"To be sure you will!"
After a brief silence his Reverence yawned and sighed at the same
moment and asked:
"Who is reading the 'Acts'?"
"Yevstrat. Yevstrat always reads them."
The deacon got up and, looking imploringly at his Reverence, asked:
"Father Fyodor, what am I to do now?"
"Do as you please; you are his father, not I. You ought to know
"I don't know anything, Father Fyodor! Tell me what to do, for
goodness' sake! Would you believe it, I am sick at heart! I can't
sleep now, nor keep quiet, and the holiday will be no holiday to
me. Tell me what to do, Father Fyodor!"
"Write him a letter."
"What am I to write to him?"
"Write that he mustn't go on like that. Write shortly, but sternly
and circumstantially, without softening or smoothing away his guilt.
It is your parental duty; if you write, you will have done your
duty and will be at peace."
"That's true. But what am I to write to him, to what effect? If I
write to him, he will answer, 'Why? what for? Why is it a sin?'"
Father Anastasy laughed hoarsely again, and brandished his fingers.
"Why? what for? why is it a sin?" he began shrilly. "I was once
confessing a gentleman, and I told him that excessive confidence
in the Divine Mercy is a sin; and he asked, 'Why?' I tried to answer
him, but----" Anastasy slapped himself on the forehead. "I had
nothing here. He-he-he-he! . . ."
Anastasy's words, his hoarse jangling laugh at what was not laughable,
had an unpleasant effect on his Reverence and on the deacon. The
former was on the point of saying, "Don't interfere" again, but he
did not say it, he only frowned.
"I can't write to him," sighed the deacon.
"If you can't, who can?"
"Father Fyodor!" said the deacon, putting his head on one side and
pressing his hand to his heart. "I am an uneducated slow-witted
man, while the Lord has vouchsafed you judgment and wisdom. You
know everything and understand everything. You can master anything,
while I don't know how to put my words together sensibly. Be generous.
Instruct me how to write the letter. Teach me what to say and how
to say it. . . ."
"What is there to teach? There is nothing to teach. Sit down and
"Oh, do me the favour, Father Fyodor! I beseech you! I know he will
be frightened and will attend to your letter, because, you see, you
are a cultivated man too. Do be so good! I'll sit down, and you'll
dictate to me. It will be a sin to write to-morrow, but now would
be the very time; my mind would be set at rest."
His Reverence looked at the deacon's imploring face, thought of the
disagreeable Pyotr, and consented to dictate. He made the deacon
sit down to his table and began.
"Well, write . . . 'Christ is risen, dear son . . .' exclamation
mark. 'Rumours have reached me, your father,' then in parenthesis,
'from what source is no concern of yours . . .' close the parenthesis.
. . . Have you written it? 'That you are leading a life inconsistent
with the laws both of God and of man. Neither the luxurious comfort,
nor the worldly splendour, nor the culture with which you seek
outwardly to disguise it, can hide your heathen manner of life. In
name you are a Christian, but in your real nature a heathen as
pitiful and wretched as all other heathens--more wretched, indeed,
seeing that those heathens who know not Christ are lost from
ignorance, while you are lost in that, possessing a treasure, you
neglect it. I will not enumerate here your vices, which you know
well enough; I will say that I see the cause of your ruin in your
infidelity. You imagine yourself to be wise, boast of your knowledge
of science, but refuse to see that science without faith, far from
elevating a man, actually degrades him to the level of a lower
animal, inasmuch as. . .'" The whole letter was in this strain.
When he had finished writing it the deacon read it aloud, beamed
all over and jumped up.
"It's a gift, it's really a gift!" he said, clasping his hands and
looking enthusiastically at his Reverence. "To think of the Lord's
bestowing a gift like that! Eh? Holy Mother! I do believe I couldn't
write a letter like that in a hundred years. Lord save you!"
Father Anastasy was enthusiastic too.
"One couldn't write like that without a gift," he said, getting up
and wagging his fingers--"that one couldn't! His rhetoric would
trip any philosopher and shut him up. Intellect. Brilliant intellect!
If you weren't married, Father Fyodor, you would have been a bishop
long ago, you would really!"
Having vented his wrath in a letter, his Reverence felt relieved;
his fatigue and exhaustion came back to him. The deacon was an old
friend, and his Reverence did not hesitate to say to him:
"Well deacon, go, and God bless you. I'll have half an hour's nap
on the sofa; I must rest."
The deacon went away and took Anastasy with him. As is always the
case on Easter Eve, it was dark in the street, but the whole sky
was sparkling with bright luminous stars. There was a scent of
spring and holiday in the soft still air.
"How long was he dictating?" the deacon said admiringly. "Ten
minutes, not more! It would have taken someone else a month to
compose such a letter. Eh! What a mind! Such a mind that I don't
know what to call it! It's a marvel! It's really a marvel!"
"Education!" sighed Anastasy as he crossed the muddy street; holding
up his cassock to his waist. "It's not for us to compare ourselves
with him. We come of the sacristan class, while he has had a learned
education. Yes, he's a real man, there is no denying that."
"And you listen how he'll read the Gospel in Latin at mass to-day!
He knows Latin and he knows Greek. . . . Ah Petrushka, Petrushka!"
the deacon said, suddenly remembering. "Now that will make him
scratch his head! That will shut his mouth, that will bring it home
to him! Now he won't ask 'Why.' It is a case of one wit to outwit
The deacon laughed gaily and loudly. Since the letter had been
written to Pyotr he had become serene and more cheerful. The
consciousness of having performed his duty as a father and his faith
in the power of the letter had brought back his mirthfulness and
"Pyotr means a stone," said he, as he went into his house. "My Pyotr
is not a stone, but a rag. A viper has fastened upon him and he
pampers her, and hasn't the pluck to kick her out. Tfoo! To think
there should be women like that, God forgive me! Eh? Has she no
shame? She has fastened upon the lad, sticking to him, and keeps
him tied to her apron strings. . . . Fie upon her!"
"Perhaps it's not she keeps hold of him, but he of her?"
"She is a shameless one anyway! Not that I am defending Pyotr. . . .
He'll catch it. He'll read the letter and scratch his head! He'll
burn with shame!"
"It's a splendid letter, only you know I wouldn't send it, Father
Deacon. Let him alone."
"What?" said the deacon, disconcerted.
"Why. . . . Don't send it, deacon! What's the sense of it? Suppose
you send it; he reads it, and . . . and what then? You'll only upset
him. Forgive him. Let him alone!"
The deacon looked in surprise at Anastasy's dark face, at his
unbuttoned cassock, which looked in the dusk like wings, and shrugged
"How can I forgive him like that?" he asked. "Why I shall have to
answer for him to God!"
"Even so, forgive him all the same. Really! And God will forgive
you for your kindness to him."
"But he is my son, isn't he? Ought I not to teach him?"
"Teach him? Of course--why not? You can teach him, but why call
him a heathen? It will hurt his feelings, you know, deacon. . . ."
The deacon was a widower, and lived in a little house with three
windows. His elder sister, an old maid, looked after his house for
him, though she had three years before lost the use of her legs and
was confined to her bed; he was afraid of her, obeyed her, and did
nothing without her advice. Father Anastasy went in with him. Seeing
his table already laid with Easter cakes and red eggs, he began
weeping for some reason, probably thinking of his own home, and to
turn these tears into a jest, he at once laughed huskily.
"Yes, we shall soon be breaking the fast," he said. "Yes . . . it
wouldn't come amiss, deacon, to have a little glass now. Can we?
I'll drink it so that the old lady does not hear," he whispered,
glancing sideways towards the door.
Without a word the deacon moved a decanter and wineglass towards
him. He unfolded the letter and began reading it aloud. And now the
letter pleased him just as much as when his Reverence had dictated
it to him. He beamed with pleasure and wagged his head, as though
he had been tasting something very sweet.
"A-ah, what a letter!" he said. "Petrushka has never dreamt of such
a letter. It's just what he wants, something to throw him into a
fever. . ."
"Do you know, deacon, don't send it!" said Anastasy, pouring himself
out a second glass of vodka as though unconsciously. "Forgive him,
let him alone! I am telling you . . . what I really think. If his
own father can't forgive him, who will forgive him? And so he'll
live without forgiveness. Think, deacon: there will be plenty to
chastise him without you, but you should look out for some who will
show mercy to your son! I'll . . . I'll . . . have just one more.
The last, old man. . . . Just sit down and write straight off to
him, 'I forgive you Pyotr!' He will under-sta-and! He will fe-el
it! I understand it from myself, you see old man . . . deacon, I
mean. When I lived like other people, I hadn't much to trouble
about, but now since I lost the image and semblance, there is only
one thing I care about, that good people should forgive me. And
remember, too, it's not the righteous but sinners we must forgive.
Why should you forgive your old woman if she is not sinful? No, you
must forgive a man when he is a sad sight to look at . . . yes!"
Anastasy leaned his head on his fist and sank into thought.
"It's a terrible thing, deacon," he sighed, evidently struggling
with the desire to take another glass--"a terrible thing! In sin
my mother bore me, in sin I have lived, in sin I shall die. . . .
God forgive me, a sinner! I have gone astray, deacon! There is no
salvation for me! And it's not as though I had gone astray in my
life, but in old age--at death's door . . . I . . ."
The old man, with a hopeless gesture, drank off another glass, then
got up and moved to another seat. The deacon, still keeping the
letter in his hand, was walking up and down the room. He was thinking
of his son. Displeasure, distress and anxiety no longer troubled
him; all that had gone into the letter. Now he was simply picturing
Pyotr; he imagined his face, he thought of the past years when his
son used to come to stay with him for the holidays. His thoughts
were only of what was good, warm, touching, of which one might think
for a whole lifetime without wearying. Longing for his son, he read
the letter through once more and looked questioningly at Anastasy.
"Don't send it," said the latter, with a wave of his hand.
"No, I must send it anyway; I must . . . bring him to his senses a
little, all the same. It's just as well. . . ."
The deacon took an envelope from the table, but before putting the
letter into it he sat down to the table, smiled and added on his
own account at the bottom of the letter:
"They have sent us a new inspector. He's much friskier than the old
one. He's a great one for dancing and talking, and there's nothing
he can't do, so that all the Govorovsky girls are crazy over him.
Our military chief, Kostyrev, will soon get the sack too, they say.
High time he did!" And very well pleased, without the faintest idea
that with this postscript he had completely spoiled the stern letter,
the deacon addressed the envelope and laid it in the most conspicuous
place on the table.
I was standing on the bank of the River Goltva, waiting for the
ferry-boat from the other side. At ordinary times the Goltva is a
humble stream of moderate size, silent and pensive, gently glimmering
from behind thick reeds; but now a regular lake lay stretched out
before me. The waters of spring, running riot, had overflowed both
banks and flooded both sides of the river for a long distance,
submerging vegetable gardens, hayfields and marshes, so that it was
no unusual thing to meet poplars and bushes sticking out above the
surface of the water and looking in the darkness like grim solitary
The weather seemed to me magnificent. It was dark, yet I could see
the trees, the water and the people. . . . The world was lighted
by the stars, which were scattered thickly all over the sky. I don't
remember ever seeing so many stars. Literally one could not have
put a finger in between them. There were some as big as a goose's
egg, others tiny as hempseed. . . . They had come out for the
festival procession, every one of them, little and big, washed,
renewed and joyful, and everyone of them was softly twinkling its
beams. The sky was reflected in the water; the stars were bathing
in its dark depths and trembling with the quivering eddies. The air
was warm and still. . . . Here and there, far away on the further
bank in the impenetrable darkness, several bright red lights were
gleaming. . . .
A couple of paces from me I saw the dark silhouette of a peasant
in a high hat, with a thick knotted stick in his hand.
"How long the ferry-boat is in coming!" I said.
"It is time it was here," the silhouette answered.
"You are waiting for the ferry-boat, too?"
"No I am not," yawned the peasant--"I am waiting for the illumination.
I should have gone, but to tell you the truth, I haven't the five
kopecks for the ferry."
"I'll give you the five kopecks."
"No; I humbly thank you. . . . With that five kopecks put up a
candle for me over there in the monastery. . . . That will be more
interesting, and I will stand here. What can it mean, no ferry-boat,
as though it had sunk in the water!"
The peasant went up to the water's edge, took the rope in his hands,
and shouted; "Ieronim! Ieron--im!"
As though in answer to his shout, the slow peal of a great bell
floated across from the further bank. The note was deep and low,
as from the thickest string of a double bass; it seemed as though
the darkness itself had hoarsely uttered it. At once there was the
sound of a cannon shot. It rolled away in the darkness and ended
somewhere in the far distance behind me. The peasant took off his
hat and crossed himself.
'"Christ is risen," he said.
Before the vibrations of the first peal of the bell had time to die
away in the air a second sounded, after it at once a third, and the
darkness was filled with an unbroken quivering clamour. Near the
red lights fresh lights flashed, and all began moving together and
"Ieron--im!" we heard a hollow prolonged shout.
"They are shouting from the other bank," said the peasant, "so there
is no ferry there either. Our Ieronim has gone to sleep."
The lights and the velvety chimes of the bell drew one towards them.
. . . I was already beginning to lose patience and grow anxious,
but behold at last, staring into the dark distance, I saw the outline
of something very much like a gibbet. It was the long-expected
ferry. It moved towards us with such deliberation that if it had
not been that its lines grew gradually more definite, one might
have supposed that it was standing still or moving to the other
"Make haste! Ieronim!" shouted my peasant. "The gentleman's tired
The ferry crawled to the bank, gave a lurch and stopped with a
creak. A tall man in a monk's cassock and a conical cap stood on
it, holding the rope.
"Why have you been so long?" I asked jumping upon the ferry.
"Forgive me, for Christ's sake," Ieronim answered gently. "Is there
no one else?"
"No one. . . ."
Ieronim took hold of the rope in both hands, bent himself to the
figure of a mark of interrogation, and gasped. The ferry-boat creaked
and gave a lurch. The outline of the peasant in the high hat began
slowly retreating from me--so the ferry was moving off. Ieronim
soon drew himself up and began working with one hand only. We were
silent, gazing towards the bank to which we were floating. There
the illumination for which the peasant was waiting had begun. At
the water's edge barrels of tar were flaring like huge camp fires.
Their reflections, crimson as the rising moon, crept to meet us in
long broad streaks. The burning barrels lighted up their own smoke
and the long shadows of men flitting about the fire; but further
to one side and behind them from where the velvety chime floated
there was still the same unbroken black gloom. All at once, cleaving
the darkness, a rocket zigzagged in a golden ribbon up the sky; it
described an arc and, as though broken to pieces against the sky,
was scattered crackling into sparks. There was a roar from the bank
like a far-away hurrah.
"How beautiful!" I said.
"Beautiful beyond words!" sighed Ieronim. "Such a night, sir! Another
time one would pay no attention to the fireworks, but to-day one
rejoices in every vanity. Where do you come from?"
I told him where I came from.
"To be sure . . . a joyful day to-day. . . ." Ieronim went on in a
weak sighing tenor like the voice of a convalescent. "The sky is
rejoicing and the earth and what is under the earth. All the creatures
are keeping holiday. Only tell me kind sir, why, even in the time
of great rejoicing, a man cannot forget his sorrows?"
I fancied that this unexpected question was to draw me into one of
those endless religious conversations which bored and idle monks
are so fond of. I was not disposed to talk much, and so I only
"What sorrows have you, father?"
"As a rule only the same as all men, kind sir, but to-day a special
sorrow has happened in the monastery: at mass, during the reading
of the Bible, the monk and deacon Nikolay died."
"Well, it's God's will!" I said, falling into the monastic tone.
"We must all die. To my mind, you ought to rejoice indeed. . . .
They say if anyone dies at Easter he goes straight to the kingdom
We sank into silence. The figure of the peasant in the high hat
melted into the lines of the bank. The tar barrels were flaring up
more and more.
"The Holy Scripture points clearly to the vanity of sorrow and so
does reflection," said Ieronim, breaking the silence, "but why does
the heart grieve and refuse to listen to reason? Why does one want
to weep bitterly?"
Ieronim shrugged his shoulders, turned to me and said quickly:
"If I died, or anyone else, it would not be worth notice perhaps;
but, you see, Nikolay is dead! No one else but Nikolay! Indeed,
it's hard to believe that he is no more! I stand here on my ferry-boat
and every minute I keep fancying that he will lift up his voice
from the bank. He always used to come to the bank and call to me
that I might not be afraid on the ferry. He used to get up from his
bed at night on purpose for that. He was a kind soul. My God! how
kindly and gracious! Many a mother is not so good to her child as
Nikolay was to me! Lord, save his soul!"
Ieronim took hold of the rope, but turned to me again at once.
"And such a lofty intelligence, your honour," he said in a vibrating
voice. "Such a sweet and harmonious tongue! Just as they will sing
immediately at early matins: 'Oh lovely! oh sweet is Thy Voice!'
Besides all other human qualities, he had, too, an extraordinary
"What gift?" I asked.
The monk scrutinized me, and as though he had convinced himself
that he could trust me with a secret, he laughed good-humouredly.
"He had a gift for writing hymns of praise," he said. "It was a
marvel, sir; you couldn't call it anything else! You would be amazed
if I tell you about it. Our Father Archimandrite comes from Moscow,
the Father Sub-Prior studied at the Kazan academy, we have wise
monks and elders, but, would you believe it, no one could write
them; while Nikolay, a simple monk, a deacon, had not studied
anywhere, and had not even any outer appearance of it, but he wrote
them! A marvel! A real marvel!" Ieronim clasped his hands and,
completely forgetting the rope, went on eagerly:
"The Father Sub-Prior has great difficulty in composing sermons;
when he wrote the history of the monastery he worried all the
brotherhood and drove a dozen times to town, while Nikolay wrote
canticles! Hymns of praise! That's a very different thing from a
sermon or a history!"
"Is it difficult to write them?" I asked.
"There's great difficulty!" Ieronim wagged his head. "You can do
nothing by wisdom and holiness if God has not given you the gift.
The monks who don't understand argue that you only need to know the
life of the saint for whom you are writing the hymn, and to make
it harmonize with the other hymns of praise. But that's a mistake,
sir. Of course, anyone who writes canticles must know the life of
the saint to perfection, to the least trivial detail. To be sure,
one must make them harmonize with the other canticles and know where
to begin and what to write about. To give you an instance, the first
response begins everywhere with 'the chosen' or 'the elect.' . . .
The first line must always begin with the 'angel.' In the canticle
of praise to Jesus the Most Sweet, if you are interested in the
subject, it begins like this: 'Of angels Creator and Lord of all
powers!' In the canticle to the Holy Mother of God: 'Of angels the
foremost sent down from on high,' to Nikolay, the Wonder-worker--
'An angel in semblance, though in substance a man,' and so on.
Everywhere you begin with the angel. Of course, it would be impossible
without making them harmonize, but the lives of the saints and
conformity with the others is not what matters; what matters is the
beauty and sweetness of it. Everything must be harmonious, brief
and complete. There must be in every line softness, graciousness
and tenderness; not one word should be harsh or rough or unsuitable.
It must be written so that the worshipper may rejoice at heart and
weep, while his mind is stirred and he is thrown into a tremor. In
the canticle to the Holy Mother are the words: 'Rejoice, O Thou too
high for human thought to reach! Rejoice, O Thou too deep for angels'
eyes to fathom!' In another place in the same canticle: 'Rejoice,
O tree that bearest the fair fruit of light that is the food of the
faithful! Rejoice, O tree of gracious spreading shade, under which
there is shelter for multitudes!'"
Ieronim hid his face in his hands, as though frightened at something
or overcome with shame, and shook his head.
"Tree that bearest the fair fruit of light . . . tree of gracious
spreading shade. . . ." he muttered. "To think that a man should
find words like those! Such a power is a gift from God! For brevity
he packs many thoughts into one phrase, and how smooth and complete
it all is! 'Light-radiating torch to all that be . . .' comes in
the canticle to Jesus the Most Sweet. 'Light-radiating!' There is
no such word in conversation or in books, but you see he invented
it, he found it in his mind! Apart from the smoothness and grandeur
of language, sir, every line must be beautified in every way, there
must be flowers and lightning and wind and sun and all the objects
of the visible world. And every exclamation ought to be put so as
to be smooth and easy for the ear. 'Rejoice, thou flower of heavenly
growth!' comes in the hymn to Nikolay the Wonder-worker. It's not
simply 'heavenly flower,' but 'flower of heavenly growth.' It's
smoother so and sweet to the ear. That was just as Nikolay wrote
it! Exactly like that! I can't tell you how he used to write!"
"Well, in that case it is a pity he is dead," I said; "but let us
get on, father, or we shall be late."
Ieronim started and ran to the rope; they were beginning to peal
all the bells. Probably the procession was already going on near
the monastery, for all the dark space behind the tar barrels was
now dotted with moving lights.
"Did Nikolay print his hymns?" I asked Ieronim.
"How could he print them?" he sighed. "And indeed, it would be
strange to print them. What would be the object? No one in the
monastery takes any interest in them. They don't like them. They
knew Nikolay wrote them, but they let it pass unnoticed. No one
esteems new writings nowadays, sir!"
"Were they prejudiced against him?"
"Yes, indeed. If Nikolay had been an elder perhaps the brethren
would have been interested, but he wasn't forty, you know. There
were some who laughed and even thought his writing a sin."
"What did he write them for?"
"Chiefly for his own comfort. Of all the brotherhood, I was the
only one who read his hymns. I used to go to him in secret, that
no one else might know of it, and he was glad that I took an interest
in them. He would embrace me, stroke my head, speak to me in caressing
words as to a little child. He would shut his cell, make me sit
down beside him, and begin to read. . . ."
Ieronim left the rope and came up to me.
"We were dear friends in a way," he whispered, looking at me with
shining eyes. "Where he went I would go. If I were not there he
would miss me. And he cared more for me than for anyone, and all
because I used to weep over his hymns. It makes me sad to remember.
Now I feel just like an orphan or a widow. You know, in our monastery
they are all good people, kind and pious, but . . . there is no one
with softness and refinement, they are just like peasants. They all
speak loudly, and tramp heavily when they walk; they are noisy,
they clear their throats, but Nikolay always talked softly,
caressingly, and if he noticed that anyone was asleep or praying
he would slip by like a fly or a gnat. His face was tender,
compassionate. . . ."
Ieronim heaved a deep sigh and took hold of the rope again. We were
by now approaching the bank. We floated straight out of the darkness
and stillness of the river into an enchanted realm, full of stifling
smoke, crackling lights and uproar. By now one could distinctly see
people moving near the tar barrels. The flickering of the lights
gave a strange, almost fantastic, expression to their figures and
red faces. From time to time one caught among the heads and faces
a glimpse of a horse's head motionless as though cast in copper.
"They'll begin singing the Easter hymn directly, . . ." said Ieronim,
"and Nikolay is gone; there is no one to appreciate it. . . . There
was nothing written dearer to him than that hymn. He used to take
in every word! You'll be there, sir, so notice what is sung; it
takes your breath away!"
"Won't you be in church, then?"
"I can't; . . . I have to work the ferry. . . ."
"But won't they relieve you?"
"I don't know. . . . I ought to have been relieved at eight; but,
as you see, they don't come! . . . And I must own I should have liked
to be in the church. . . ."
"Are you a monk?"
"Yes . . . that is, I am a lay-brother."
The ferry ran into the bank and stopped. I thrust a five-kopeck
piece into Ieronim's hand for taking me across and jumped on land.
Immediately a cart with a boy and a sleeping woman in it drove
creaking onto the ferry. Ieronim, with a faint glow from the lights
on his figure, pressed on the rope, bent down to it, and started
the ferry back. . . .
I took a few steps through mud, but a little farther walked on a
soft freshly trodden path. This path led to the dark monastery
gates, that looked like a cavern through a cloud of smoke, through
a disorderly crowd of people, unharnessed horses, carts and chaises.
All this crowd was rattling, snorting, laughing, and the crimson
light and wavering shadows from the smoke flickered over it all
. . . . A perfect chaos! And in this hubbub the people yet found room
to load a little cannon and to sell cakes. There was no less commotion
on the other side of the wall in the monastery precincts, but there
was more regard for decorum and order. Here there was a smell of
juniper and incense. They talked loudly, but there was no sound of
laughter or snorting. Near the tombstones and crosses people pressed
close to one another with Easter cakes and bundles in their arms.
Apparently many had come from a long distance for their cakes to
be blessed and now were exhausted. Young lay brothers, making a
metallic sound with their boots, ran busily along the iron slabs
that paved the way from the monastery gates to the church door.
They were busy and shouting on the belfry, too.
"What a restless night!" I thought. "How nice!"
One was tempted to see the same unrest and sleeplessness in all
nature, from the night darkness to the iron slabs, the crosses on
the tombs and the trees under which the people were moving to and
fro. But nowhere was the excitement and restlessness so marked as
in the church. An unceasing struggle was going on in the entrance
between the inflowing stream and the outflowing stream. Some were
going in, others going out and soon coming back again to stand still
for a little and begin moving again. People were scurrying from
place to place, lounging about as though they were looking for
something. The stream flowed from the entrance all round the church,
disturbing even the front rows, where persons of weight and dignity
were standing. There could be no thought of concentrated prayer.
There were no prayers at all, but a sort of continuous, childishly
irresponsible joy, seeking a pretext to break out and vent itself
in some movement, even in senseless jostling and shoving.
The same unaccustomed movement is striking in the Easter service
itself. The altar gates are flung wide open, thick clouds of incense
float in the air near the candelabra; wherever one looks there are
lights, the gleam and splutter of candles. . . . There is no reading;
restless and lighthearted singing goes on to the end without ceasing.
After each hymn the clergy change their vestments and come out to
burn the incense, which is repeated every ten minutes.
I had no sooner taken a place, when a wave rushed from in front and
forced me back. A tall thick-set deacon walked before me with a
long red candle; the grey-headed archimandrite in his golden mitre
hurried after him with the censer. When they had vanished from sight
the crowd squeezed me back to my former position. But ten minutes
had not passed before a new wave burst on me, and again the deacon
appeared. This time he was followed by the Father Sub-Prior, the
man who, as Ieronim had told me, was writing the history of the
As I mingled with the crowd and caught the infection of the universal
joyful excitement, I felt unbearably sore on Ieronim's account. Why
did they not send someone to relieve him? Why could not someone of
less feeling and less susceptibility go on the ferry? 'Lift up thine
eyes, O Sion, and look around,' they sang in the choir, 'for thy
children have come to thee as to a beacon of divine light from north
and south, and from east and from the sea. . . .'
I looked at the faces; they all had a lively expression of triumph,
but not one was listening to what was being sung and taking it in,
and not one was 'holding his breath.' Why was not Ieronim released?
I could fancy Ieronim standing meekly somewhere by the wall, bending
forward and hungrily drinking in the beauty of the holy phrase. All
this that glided by the ears of the people standing by me he would
have eagerly drunk in with his delicately sensitive soul, and would
have been spell-bound to ecstasy, to holding his breath, and there
would not have been a man happier than he in all the church. Now
he was plying to and fro over the dark river and grieving for his
dead friend and brother.
The wave surged back. A stout smiling monk, playing with his rosary
and looking round behind him, squeezed sideways by me, making way
for a lady in a hat and velvet cloak. A monastery servant hurried
after the lady, holding a chair over our heads.
I came out of the church. I wanted to have a look at the dead
Nikolay, the unknown canticle writer. I walked about the monastery
wall, where there was a row of cells, peeped into several windows,
and, seeing nothing, came back again. I do not regret now that I
did not see Nikolay; God knows, perhaps if I had seen him I should
have lost the picture my imagination paints for me now. I imagine
the lovable poetical figure solitary and not understood, who went
out at nights to call to Ieronim over the water, and filled his
hymns with flowers, stars and sunbeams, as a pale timid man with
soft mild melancholy features. His eyes must have shone, not only
with intelligence, but with kindly tenderness and that hardly
restrained childlike enthusiasm which I could hear in Ieronim's
voice when he quoted to me passages from the hymns.
When we came out of church after mass it was no longer night. The
morning was beginning. The stars had gone out and the sky was a
morose greyish blue. The iron slabs, the tombstones and the buds
on the trees were covered with dew There was a sharp freshness in
the air. Outside the precincts I did not find the same animated
scene as I had beheld in the night. Horses and men looked exhausted,
drowsy, scarcely moved, while nothing was left of the tar barrels
but heaps of black ash. When anyone is exhausted and sleepy he
fancies that nature, too, is in the same condition. It seemed to
me that the trees and the young grass were asleep. It seemed as
though even the bells were not pealing so loudly and gaily as at
night. The restlessness was over, and of the excitement nothing was
left but a pleasant weariness, a longing for sleep and warmth.
Now I could see both banks of the river; a faint mist hovered over
it in shifting masses. There was a harsh cold breath from the water.
When I jumped on to the ferry, a chaise and some two dozen men and
women were standing on it already. The rope, wet and as I fancied
drowsy, stretched far away across the broad river and in places
disappeared in the white mist.
"Christ is risen! Is there no one else?" asked a soft voice.
I recognized the voice of Ieronim. There was no darkness now to
hinder me from seeing the monk. He was a tall narrow-shouldered man
of five-and-thirty, with large rounded features, with half-closed
listless-looking eyes and an unkempt wedge-shaped beard. He had an
extraordinarily sad and exhausted look.
"They have not relieved you yet?" I asked in surprise.
"Me?" he answered, turning to me his chilled and dewy face with a
smile. "There is no one to take my place now till morning. They'll
all be going to the Father Archimandrite's to break the fast
With the help of a little peasant in a hat of reddish fur that
looked like the little wooden tubs in which honey is sold, he threw
his weight on the rope; they gasped simultaneously, and the ferry
We floated across, disturbing on the way the lazily rising mist.
Everyone was silent. Ieronim worked mechanically with one hand. He
slowly passed his mild lustreless eyes over us; then his glance
rested on the rosy face of a young merchant's wife with black
eyebrows, who was standing on the ferry beside me silently shrinking
from the mist that wrapped her about. He did not take his eyes off
her face all the way.
There was little that was masculine in that prolonged gaze. It
seemed to me that Ieronim was looking in the woman's face for the
soft and tender features of his dead friend.
Kunin, a young man of thirty, who was a permanent member of the
Rural Board, on returning from Petersburg to his district, Borisovo,
immediately sent a mounted messenger to Sinkino, for the priest
there, Father Yakov Smirnov.
Five hours later Father Yakov appeared.
"Very glad to make your acquaintance," said Kunin, meeting him in
the entry. "I've been living and serving here for a year; it seems
as though we ought to have been acquainted before. You are very
welcome! But . . . how young you are!" Kunin added in surprise.
"What is your age?"
"Twenty-eight, . . ." said Father Yakov, faintly pressing Kunin's
outstretched hand, and for some reason turning crimson.
Kunin led his visitor into his study and began looking at him more
"What an uncouth womanish face!" he thought.
There certainly was a good deal that was womanish in Father Yakov's
face: the turned-up nose, the bright red cheeks, and the large
grey-blue eyes with scanty, scarcely perceptible eyebrows. His long
reddish hair, smooth and dry, hung down in straight tails on to his
shoulders. The hair on his upper lip was only just beginning to
form into a real masculine moustache, while his little beard belonged
to that class of good-for-nothing beards which among divinity
students are for some reason called "ticklers." It was scanty and
extremely transparent; it could not have been stroked or combed,
it could only have been pinched. . . . All these scanty decorations
were put on unevenly in tufts, as though Father Yakov, thinking to
dress up as a priest and beginning to gum on the beard, had been
interrupted halfway through. He had on a cassock, the colour of
weak coffee with chicory in it, with big patches on both elbows.
"A queer type," thought Kunin, looking at his muddy skirts. "Comes
to the house for the first time and can't dress decently.
"Sit down, Father," he began more carelessly than cordially, as he
moved an easy-chair to the table. "Sit down, I beg you."
Father Yakov coughed into his fist, sank awkwardly on to the edge
of the chair, and laid his open hands on his knees. With his short
figure, his narrow chest, his red and perspiring face, he made from
the first moment a most unpleasant impression on Kunin. The latter
could never have imagined that there were such undignified and
pitiful-looking priests in Russia; and in Father Yakov's attitude,
in the way he held his hands on his knees and sat on the very edge
of his chair, he saw a lack of dignity and even a shade of servility.
"I have invited you on business, Father. . . ." Kunin began, sinking
back in his low chair. "It has fallen to my lot to perform the
agreeable duty of helping you in one of your useful undertakings.
. . . On coming back from Petersburg, I found on my table a letter
from the Marshal of Nobility. Yegor Dmitrevitch suggests that I
should take under my supervision the church parish school which is
being opened in Sinkino. I shall be very glad to, Father, with all
my heart. . . . More than that, I accept the proposition with
Kunin got up and walked about the study.
"Of course, both Yegor Dmitrevitch and probably you, too, are aware
that I have not great funds at my disposal. My estate is mortgaged,
and I live exclusively on my salary as the permanent member. So
that you cannot reckon on very much assistance, but I will do all
that is in my power. . . . And when are you thinking of opening the
"When we have the money, . . ." answered Father Yakov.
"You have some funds at your disposal already?"
"Scarcely any. . . . The peasants settled at their meeting that
they would pay, every man of them, thirty kopecks a year; but that's
only a promise, you know! And for the first beginning we should
need at least two hundred roubles. . . ."
"M'yes. . . . Unhappily, I have not that sum now," said Kunin with
a sigh. "I spent all I had on my tour and got into debt, too. Let
us try and think of some plan together."
Kunin began planning aloud. He explained his views and watched
Father Yakov's face, seeking signs of agreement or approval in it.
But the face was apathetic and immobile, and expressed nothing but
constrained shyness and uneasiness. Looking at it, one might have
supposed that Kunin was talking of matters so abstruse that Father
Yakov did not understand and only listened from good manners, and
was at the same time afraid of being detected in his failure to
"The fellow is not one of the brightest, that's evident . . ."
thought Kunin. "He's rather shy and much too stupid."
Father Yakov revived somewhat and even smiled only when the footman
came into the study bringing in two glasses of tea on a tray and a
cake-basket full of biscuits. He took his glass and began drinking
"Shouldn't we write at once to the bishop?" Kunin went on, meditating
aloud. "To be precise, you know, it is not we, not the Zemstvo, but
the higher ecclesiastical authorities, who have raised the question
of the church parish schools. They ought really to apportion the
funds. I remember I read that a sum of money had been set aside for
the purpose. Do you know nothing about it?"
Father Yakov was so absorbed in drinking tea that he did not answer
this question at once. He lifted his grey-blue eyes to Kunin, thought
a moment, and as though recalling his question, he shook his head
in the negative. An expression of pleasure and of the most ordinary
prosaic appetite overspread his face from ear to ear. He drank and
smacked his lips over every gulp. When he had drunk it to the very
last drop, he put his glass on the table, then took his glass back
again, looked at the bottom of it, then put it back again. The
expression of pleasure faded from his face. . . . Then Kunin saw
his visitor take a biscuit from the cake-basket, nibble a little
bit off it, then turn it over in his hand and hurriedly stick it
in his pocket.
"Well, that's not at all clerical!" thought Kunin, shrugging his
shoulders contemptuously. "What is it, priestly greed or childishness?"
After giving his visitor another glass of tea and seeing him to the
entry, Kunin lay down on the sofa and abandoned himself to the
unpleasant feeling induced in him by the visit of Father Yakov.
"What a strange wild creature!" he thought. "Dirty, untidy, coarse,
stupid, and probably he drinks. . . . My God, and that's a priest,
a spiritual father! That's a teacher of the people! I can fancy the
irony there must be in the deacon's face when before every mass he
booms out: 'Thy blessing, Reverend Father!' A fine reverend Father!
A reverend Father without a grain of dignity or breeding, hiding
biscuits in his pocket like a schoolboy. . . . Fie! Good Lord, where
were the bishop's eyes when he ordained a man like that? What can
he think of the people if he gives them a teacher like that? One
wants people here who . . ."
And Kunin thought what Russian priests ought to be like.
"If I were a priest, for instance. . . . An educated priest fond
of his work might do a great deal. . . . I should have had the
school opened long ago. And the sermons? If the priest is sincere
and is inspired by love for his work, what wonderful rousing sermons
he might give!"
Kunin shut his eyes and began mentally composing a sermon. A little
later he sat down to the table and rapidly began writing.
"I'll give it to that red-haired fellow, let him read it in church,
. . ." he thought.
The following Sunday Kunin drove over to Sinkino in the morning to
settle the question of the school, and while he was there to make
acquaintance with the church of which he was a parishioner. In spite
of the awful state of the roads, it was a glorious morning. The sun
was shining brightly and cleaving with its rays the layers of white
snow still lingering here and there. The snow as it took leave of
the earth glittered with such diamonds that it hurt the eyes to
look, while the young winter corn was hastily thrusting up its green
beside it. The rooks floated with dignity over the fields. A rook
would fly, drop to earth, and give several hops before standing
firmly on its feet. . . .
The wooden church up to which Kunin drove was old and grey; the
columns of the porch had once been painted white, but the colour
had now completely peeled off, and they looked like two ungainly
shafts. The ikon over the door looked like a dark smudged blur. But
its poverty touched and softened Kunin. Modestly dropping his eyes,
he went into the church and stood by the door. The service had only
just begun. An old sacristan, bent into a bow, was reading the
"Hours" in a hollow indistinct tenor. Father Yakov, who conducted
the service without a deacon, was walking about the church, burning
incense. Had it not been for the softened mood in which Kunin found
himself on entering the poverty-stricken church, he certainly would
have smiled at the sight of Father Yakov. The short priest was
wearing a crumpled and extremely long robe of some shabby yellow
material; the hem of the robe trailed on the ground.
The church was not full. Looking at the parishioners, Kunin was
struck at the first glance by one strange circumstance: he saw
nothing but old people and children. . . . Where were the men of
working age? Where was the youth and manhood? But after he had stood
there a little and looked more attentively at the aged-looking
faces, Kunin saw that he had mistaken young people for old. He did
not, however, attach any significance to this little optical illusion.
The church was as cold and grey inside as outside. There was not
one spot on the ikons nor on the dark brown walls which was not
begrimed and defaced by time. There were many windows, but the
general effect of colour was grey, and so it was twilight in the
"Anyone pure in soul can pray here very well," thought Kunin. "Just
as in St. Peter's in Rome one is impressed by grandeur, here one
is touched by the lowliness and simplicity."
But his devout mood vanished like smoke as soon as Father Yakov
went up to the altar and began mass. Being still young and having
come straight from the seminary bench to the priesthood, Father
Yakov had not yet formed a set manner of celebrating the service.
As he read he seemed to be vacillating between a high tenor and a
thin bass; he bowed clumsily, walked quickly, and opened and shut
the gates abruptly. . . . The old sacristan, evidently deaf and
ailing, did not hear the prayers very distinctly, and this very
often led to slight misunderstandings. Before Father Yakov had time
to finish what he had to say, the sacristan began chanting his
response, or else long after Father Yakov had finished the old man
would be straining his ears, listening in the direction of the altar
and saying nothing till his skirt was pulled. The old man had a
sickly hollow voice and an asthmatic quavering lisp. . . . The
complete lack of dignity and decorum was emphasized by a very small
boy who seconded the sacristan and whose head was hardly visible
over the railing of the choir. The boy sang in a shrill falsetto
and seemed to be trying to avoid singing in tune. Kunin stayed a
little while, listened and went out for a smoke. He was disappointed,
and looked at the grey church almost with dislike.
"They complain of the decline of religious feeling among the people
. . ." he sighed. "I should rather think so! They'd better foist a
few more priests like this one on them!"
Kunin went back into the church three times, and each time he felt
a great temptation to get out into the open air again. Waiting till
the end of the mass, he went to Father Yakov's. The priest's house
did not differ outwardly from the peasants' huts, but the thatch
lay more smoothly on the roof and there were little white curtains
in the windows. Father Yakov led Kunin into a light little room
with a clay floor and walls covered with cheap paper; in spite of
some painful efforts towards luxury in the way of photographs in
frames and a clock with a pair of scissors hanging on the weight
the furnishing of the room impressed him by its scantiness. Looking
at the furniture, one might have supposed that Father Yakov had
gone from house to house and collected it in bits; in one place
they had given him a round three-legged table, in another a stool,
in a third a chair with a back bent violently backwards; in a fourth
a chair with an upright back, but the seat smashed in; while in a
fifth they had been liberal and given him a semblance of a sofa
with a flat back and a lattice-work seat. This semblance had been
painted dark red and smelt strongly of paint. Kunin meant at first
to sit down on one of the chairs, but on second thoughts he sat
down on the stool.
"This is the first time you have been to our church?" asked Father
Yakov, hanging his hat on a huge misshapen nail.
"Yes it is. I tell you what, Father, before we begin on business,
will you give me some tea? My soul is parched."
Father Yakov blinked, gasped, and went behind the partition wall.
There was a sound of whispering.
"With his wife, I suppose," thought Kunin; "it would be interesting
to see what the red-headed fellow's wife is like."
A little later Father Yakov came back, red and perspiring and with
an effort to smile, sat down on the edge of the sofa.
"They will heat the samovar directly," he said, without looking at
"My goodness, they have not heated the samovar yet!" Kunin thought
with horror. "A nice time we shall have to wait."
"I have brought you," he said, "the rough draft of the letter I
have written to the bishop. I'll read it after tea; perhaps you may
find something to add. . . ."
A silence followed. Father Yakov threw furtive glances at the
partition wall, smoothed his hair, and blew his nose.
"It's wonderful weather, . . ." he said.
"Yes. I read an interesting thing yesterday. . . . the Volsky Zemstvo
have decided to give their schools to the clergy, that's typical."
Kunin got up, and pacing up and down the clay floor, began to give
expression to his reflections.
"That would be all right," he said, "if only the clergy were equal
to their high calling and recognized their tasks. I am so unfortunate
as to know priests whose standard of culture and whose moral qualities
make them hardly fit to be army secretaries, much less priests. You
will agree that a bad teacher does far less harm than a bad priest."
Kunin glanced at Father Yakov; he was sitting bent up, thinking
intently about something and apparently not listening to his visitor.
"Yasha, come here!" a woman's voice called from behind the partition.
Father Yakov started and went out. Again a whispering began.
Kunin felt a pang of longing for tea.
"No; it's no use my waiting for tea here," he thought, looking at
his watch. "Besides I fancy I am not altogether a welcome visitor.
My host has not deigned to say one word to me; he simply sits and
Kunin took up his hat, waited for Father Yakov to return, and said
good-bye to him.
"I have simply wasted the morning," he thought wrathfully on the
way home. "The blockhead! The dummy! He cares no more about the
school than I about last year's snow. . . . No, I shall never get
anything done with him! We are bound to fail! If the Marshal knew
what the priest here was like, he wouldn't be in such a hurry to
talk about a school. We ought first to try and get a decent priest,
and then think about the school."
By now Kunin almost hated Father Yakov. The man, his pitiful,
grotesque figure in the long crumpled robe, his womanish face, his
manner of officiating, his way of life and his formal restrained
respectfulness, wounded the tiny relic of religious feeling which
was stored away in a warm corner of Kunin's heart together with his
nurse's other fairy tales. The coldness and lack of attention with
which Father Yakov had met Kunin's warm and sincere interest in
what was the priest's own work was hard for the former's vanity to
endure. . . .
On the evening of the same day Kunin spent a long time walking about
his rooms and thinking. Then he sat down to the table resolutely
and wrote a letter to the bishop. After asking for money and a
blessing for the school, he set forth genuinely, like a son, his
opinion of the priest at Sinkino.
"He is young," he wrote, "insufficiently educated, leads, I fancy,
an intemperate life, and altogether fails to satisfy the ideals
which the Russian people have in the course of centuries formed of
what a pastor should be."
After writing this letter Kunin heaved a deep sigh, and went to bed
with the consciousness that he had done a good deed.
On Monday morning, while he was still in bed, he was informed that
Father Yakov had arrived. He did not want to get up, and instructed
the servant to say he was not at home. On Tuesday he went away to
a sitting of the Board, and when he returned on Saturday he was
told by the servants that Father Yakov had called every day in his
"He liked my biscuits, it seems," he thought.
Towards evening on Sunday Father Yakov arrived. This time not only
his skirts, but even his hat, was bespattered with mud. Just as on
his first visit, he was hot and perspiring, and sat down on the
edge of his chair as he had done then. Kunin determined not to talk
about the school--not to cast pearls.
"I have brought you a list of books for the school, Pavel Mihailovitch,
. . ." Father Yakov began.
But everything showed that Father Yakov had come for something else
besides the list. Has whole figure was expressive of extreme
embarrassment, and at the same time there was a look of determination
upon his face, as on the face of a man suddenly inspired by an idea.
He struggled to say something important, absolutely necessary, and
strove to overcome his timidity.
"Why is he dumb?" Kunin thought wrathfully. "He's settled himself
comfortably! I haven't time to be bothered with him."
To smoothe over the awkwardness of his silence and to conceal the
struggle going on within him, the priest began to smile constrainedly,
and this slow smile, wrung out on his red perspiring face, and out
of keeping with the fixed look in his grey-blue eyes, made Kunin
turn away. He felt moved to repulsion.
"Excuse me, Father, I have to go out," he said.
Father Yakov started like a man asleep who has been struck a blow,
and, still smiling, began in his confusion wrapping round him the
skirts of his cassock. In spite of his repulsion for the man, Kunin
felt suddenly sorry for him, and he wanted to soften his cruelty.
"Please come another time, Father," he said, "and before we part I
want to ask you a favour. I was somehow inspired to write two sermons
the other day. . . . I will give them to you to look at. If they
are suitable, use them."
"Very good," said Father Yakov, laying his open hand on Kunin's
sermons which were lying on the table. "I will take them."
After standing a little, hesitating and still wrapping his cassock
round him, he suddenly gave up the effort to smile and lifted his
"Pavel Mihailovitch," he said, evidently trying to speak loudly and
"What can I do for you?"
"I have heard that you . . . er . . . have dismissed your secretary,
and . . . and are looking for a new one. . . ."
"Yes, I am. . . . Why, have you someone to recommend?"
"I. . . er . . . you see . . . I . . . Could you not give the post
"Why, are you giving up the Church?" said Kunin in amazement.
"No, no," Father Yakov brought out quickly, for some reason turning
pale and trembling all over. "God forbid! If you feel doubtful,
then never mind, never mind. You see, I could do the work between
whiles, . . so as to increase my income. . . . Never mind, don't
"H'm! . . . your income. . . . But you know, I only pay my secretary
twenty roubles a month."
"Good heavens! I would take ten," whispered Father Yakov, looking
about him. "Ten would be enough! You . . . you are astonished, and
everyone is astonished. The greedy priest, the grasping priest,
what does he do with his money? I feel myself I am greedy, . . .
and I blame myself, I condemn myself. . . . I am ashamed to look
people in the face. . . . I tell you on my conscience, Pavel
Mihailovitch. . . . I call the God of truth to witness. . . ."
Father Yakov took breath and went on:
"On the way here I prepared a regular confession to make you, but
. . . I've forgotten it all; I cannot find a word now. I get a
hundred and fifty roubles a year from my parish, and everyone wonders
what I do with the money. . . . But I'll explain it all truly. . . .
I pay forty roubles a year to the clerical school for my brother
Pyotr. He has everything found there, except that I have to provide
pens and paper."
"Oh, I believe you; I believe you! But what's the object of all
this?" said Kunin, with a wave of the hand, feeling terribly oppressed
by this outburst of confidence on the part of his visitor, and not
knowing how to get away from the tearful gleam in his eyes.
"Then I have not yet paid up all that I owe to the consistory for
my place here. They charged me two hundred roubles for the living,
and I was to pay ten roubles a month. . . . You can judge what is
left! And, besides, I must allow Father Avraamy at least three
roubles a month."
"What Father Avraamy?"
"Father Avraamy who was priest at Sinkino before I came. He was
deprived of the living on account of . . . his failing, but you
know, he is still living at Sinkino! He has nowhere to go. There
is no one to keep him. Though he is old, he must have a corner, and
food and clothing--I can't let him go begging on the roads in his
position! It would be on my conscience if anything happened! It
would be my fault! He is. . . in debt all round; but, you see, I
am to blame for not paying for him."
Father Yakov started up from his seat and, looking frantically at
the floor, strode up and down the room.
"My God, my God!" he muttered, raising his hands and dropping them
again. "Lord, save us and have mercy upon us! Why did you take such
a calling on yourself if you have so little faith and no strength?
There is no end to my despair! Save me, Queen of Heaven!"
"Calm yourself, Father," said Kunin.
"I am worn out with hunger, Pavel Mihailovitch," Father Yakov went
on. "Generously forgive me, but I am at the end of my strength
. . . . I know if I were to beg and to bow down, everyone would help,
but . . . I cannot! I am ashamed. How can I beg of the peasants?
You are on the Board here, so you know. . . . How can one beg of a
beggar? And to beg of richer people, of landowners, I cannot! I
have pride! I am ashamed!"
Father Yakov waved his hand, and nervously scratched his head with
"I am ashamed! My God, I am ashamed! I am proud and can't bear
people to see my poverty! When you visited me, Pavel Mihailovitch,
I had no tea in the house! There wasn't a pinch of it, and you know
it was pride prevented me from telling you! I am ashamed of my
clothes, of these patches here. . . . I am ashamed of my vestments,
of being hungry. . . . And is it seemly for a priest to be proud?"
Father Yakov stood still in the middle of the study, and, as though
he did not notice Kunin's presence, began reasoning with himself.
"Well, supposing I endure hunger and disgrace--but, my God, I
have a wife! I took her from a good home! She is not used to hard
work; she is soft; she is used to tea and white bread and sheets
on her bed. . . . At home she used to play the piano. . . . She is
young, not twenty yet. . . . She would like, to be sure, to be
smart, to have fun, go out to see people. . . . And she is worse
off with me than any cook; she is ashamed to show herself in the
street. My God, my God! Her only treat is when I bring an apple or
some biscuit from a visit. . . ."
Father Yakov scratched his head again with both hands.
"And it makes us feel not love but pity for each other. . . . I
cannot look at her without compassion! And the things that happen
in this life, O Lord! Such things that people would not believe
them if they saw them in the newspaper. . . . And when will there
be an end to it all!"
"Hush, Father!" Kunin almost shouted, frightened at his tone. "Why
take such a gloomy view of life?"
"Generously forgive me, Pavel Mihailovitch . . ." muttered Father
Yakov as though he were drunk, "Forgive me, all this . . . doesn't
matter, and don't take any notice of it. . . . Only I do blame
myself, and always shall blame myself . . . always."
Father Yakov looked about him and began whispering:
"One morning early I was going from Sinkino to Lutchkovo; I saw a
woman standing on the river bank, doing something. . . . I went up
close and could not believe my eyes. . . . It was horrible! The
wife of the doctor, Ivan Sergeitch, was sitting there washing her
linen. . . . A doctor's wife, brought up at a select boarding-school!
She had got up you see, early and gone half a mile from the village
that people should not see her. . . . She couldn't get over her
pride! When she saw that I was near her and noticed her poverty,
she turned red all over. . . . I was flustered--I was frightened,
and ran up to help her, but she hid her linen from me; she was
afraid I should see her ragged chemises. . . ."
"All this is positively incredible," said Kunin, sitting down and
looking almost with horror at Father Yakov's pale face.
"Incredible it is! It's a thing that has never been! Pavel Mihailovitch,
that a doctor's wife should be rinsing the linen in the river! Such
a thing does not happen in any country! As her pastor and spiritual
father, I ought not to allow it, but what can I do? What? Why, I
am always trying to get treated by her husband for nothing myself!
It is true that, as you say, it is all incredible! One can hardly
believe one's eyes. During Mass, you know, when I look out from the
altar and see my congregation, Avraamy starving, and my wife, and
think of the doctor's wife--how blue her hands were from the cold
water--would you believe it, I forget myself and stand senseless
like a fool, until the sacristan calls to me. . . . It's awful!"
Father Yakov began walking about again.
"Lord Jesus!" he said, waving his hands, "holy Saints! I can't
officiate properly. . . . Here you talk to me about the school, and
I sit like a dummy and don't understand a word, and think of nothing
but food. . . . Even before the altar. . . . But . . . what am I
doing?" Father Yakov pulled himself up suddenly. "You want to go
out. Forgive me, I meant nothing. . . . Excuse . . ."
Kunin shook hands with Father Yakov without speaking, saw him into
the hall, and going back into his study, stood at the window. He
saw Father Yakov go out of the house, pull his wide-brimmed
rusty-looking hat over his eyes, and slowly, bowing his head, as
though ashamed of his outburst, walk along the road.
"I don't see his horse," thought Kunin.
Kunin did not dare to think that the priest had come on foot every
day to see him; it was five or six miles to Sinkino, and the mud
on the road was impassable. Further on he saw the coachman Andrey
and the boy Paramon, jumping over the puddles and splashing Father
Yakov with mud, run up to him for his blessing. Father Yakov took
off his hat and slowly blessed Andrey, then blessed the boy and
stroked his head.
Kunin passed his hand over his eyes, and it seemed to him that his
hand was moist. He walked away from the window and with dim eyes
looked round the room in which he still seemed to hear the timid
droning voice. He glanced at the table. Luckily, Father Yakov, in
his haste, had forgotten to take the sermons. Kunin rushed up to
them, tore them into pieces, and with loathing thrust them under
"And I did not know!" he moaned, sinking on to the sofa. "After
being here over a year as member of the Rural Board, Honorary Justice
of the Peace, member of the School Committee! Blind puppet, egregious
idiot! I must make haste and help them, I must make haste!"
He turned from side to side uneasily, pressed his temples and racked
"On the twentieth I shall get my salary, two hundred roubles. . . .
On some good pretext I will give him some, and some to the doctor's
wife. . . . I will ask them to perform a special service here, and
will get up an illness for the doctor. . . . In that way I shan't
wound their pride. And I'll help Father Avraamy too. . . ."
He reckoned his money on his fingers, and was afraid to own to
himself that those two hundred roubles would hardly be enough for
him to pay his steward, his servants, the peasant who brought the
meat. . . . He could not help remembering the recent past when he
was senselessly squandering his father's fortune, when as a puppy
of twenty he had given expensive fans to prostitutes, had paid ten
roubles a day to Kuzma, his cab-driver, and in his vanity had made
presents to actresses. Oh, how useful those wasted rouble, three-rouble,
ten-rouble notes would have been now!
"Father Avraamy lives on three roubles a month!" thought Kunin.
"For a rouble the priest's wife could get herself a chemise, and
the doctor's wife could hire a washerwoman. But I'll help them,
anyway! I must help them."
Here Kunin suddenly recalled the private information he had sent
to the bishop, and he writhed as from a sudden draught of cold air.
This remembrance filled him with overwhelming shame before his inner
self and before the unseen truth.
So had begun and had ended a sincere effort to be of public service
on the part of a well-intentioned but unreflecting and over-comfortable
The evening service was being celebrated at Progonnaya Station.
Before the great ikon, painted in glaring colours on a background
of gold, stood the crowd of railway servants with their wives and
children, and also of the timbermen and sawyers who worked close
to the railway line. All stood in silence, fascinated by the glare
of the lights and the howling of the snow-storm which was aimlessly
disporting itself outside, regardless of the fact that it was the
Eve of the Annunciation. The old priest from Vedenyapino conducted
the service; the sacristan and Matvey Terehov were singing.
Matvey's face was beaming with delight; he sang stretching out his
neck as though he wanted to soar upwards. He sang tenor and chanted
the "Praises" too in a tenor voice with honied sweetness and
persuasiveness. When he sang "Archangel Voices" he waved his arms
like a conductor, and trying to second the sacristan's hollow bass
with his tenor, achieved something extremely complex, and from his
face it could be seen that he was experiencing great pleasure.
At last the service was over, and they all quietly dispersed, and
it was dark and empty again, and there followed that hush which is
only known in stations that stand solitary in the open country or
in the forest when the wind howls and nothing else is heard and
when all the emptiness around, all the dreariness of life slowly
ebbing away is felt.
Matvey lived not far from the station at his cousin's tavern. But
he did not want to go home. He sat down at the refreshment bar and
began talking to the waiter in a low voice.
"We had our own choir in the tile factory. And I must tell you that
though we were only workmen, our singing was first-rate, splendid.
We were often invited to the town, and when the Deputy Bishop,
Father Ivan, took the service at Trinity Church, the bishop's singers
sang in the right choir and we in the left. Only they complained
in the town that we kept the singing on too long: 'the factory choir
drag it out,' they used to say. It is true we began St. Andrey's
prayers and the Praises between six and seven, and it was past
eleven when we finished, so that it was sometimes after midnight
when we got home to the factory. It was good," sighed Matvey. "Very
good it was, indeed, Sergey Nikanoritch! But here in my father's
house it is anything but joyful. The nearest church is four miles
away; with my weak health I can't get so far; there are no singers
there. And there is no peace or quiet in our family; day in day
out, there is an uproar, scolding, uncleanliness; we all eat out
of one bowl like peasants; and there are beetles in the cabbage
soup. . . . God has not given me health, else I would have gone
away long ago, Sergey Nikanoritch."
Matvey Terehov was a middle-aged man about forty-five, but he had
a look of ill-health; his face was wrinkled and his lank, scanty
beard was quite grey, and that made him seem many years older. He
spoke in a weak voice, circumspectly, and held his chest when he
coughed, while his eyes assumed the uneasy and anxious look one
sees in very apprehensive people. He never said definitely what was
wrong with him, but he was fond of describing at length how once
at the factory he had lifted a heavy box and had ruptured himself,
and how this had led to "the gripes," and had forced him to give
up his work in the tile factory and come back to his native place;
but he could not explain what he meant by "the gripes."
"I must own I am not fond of my cousin," he went on, pouring himself
out some tea. "He is my elder; it is a sin to censure him, and I
fear the Lord, but I cannot bear it in patience. He is a haughty,
surly, abusive man; he is the torment of his relations and workmen,
and constantly out of humour. Last Sunday I asked him in an amiable
way, 'Brother, let us go to Pahomovo for the Mass!' but he said 'I
am not going; the priest there is a gambler;' and he would not come
here to-day because, he said, the priest from Vedenyapino smokes
and drinks vodka. He doesn't like the clergy! He reads Mass himself
and the Hours and the Vespers, while his sister acts as sacristan;
he says, 'Let us pray unto the Lord'! and she, in a thin little
voice like a turkey-hen, 'Lord, have mercy upon us! . . .' It's a
sin, that's what it is. Every day I say to him, 'Think what you are
doing, brother! Repent, brother!' and he takes no notice."
Sergey Nikanoritch, the waiter, poured out five glasses of tea and
carried them on a tray to the waiting-room. He had scarcely gone
in when there was a shout:
"Is that the way to serve it, pig's face? You don't know how to
It was the voice of the station-master. There was a timid mutter,
then again a harsh and angry shout:
The waiter came back greatly crestfallen.
"There was a time when I gave satisfaction to counts and princes,"
he said in a low voice; "but now I don't know how to serve tea. . . .
He called me names before the priest and the ladies!"
The waiter, Sergey Nikanoritch, had once had money of his own, and
had kept a buffet at a first-class station, which was a junction,
in the principal town of a province. There he had worn a swallow-tail
coat and a gold chain. But things had gone ill with him; he had
squandered all his own money over expensive fittings and service;
he had been robbed by his staff, and getting gradually into
difficulties, had moved to another station less bustling. Here his
wife had left him, taking with her all the silver, and he moved to
a third station of a still lower class, where no hot dishes were
served. Then to a fourth. Frequently changing his situation and
sinking lower and lower, he had at last come to Progonnaya, and
here he used to sell nothing but tea and cheap vodka, and for lunch
hard-boiled eggs and dry sausages, which smelt of tar, and which
he himself sarcastically said were only fit for the orchestra. He
was bald all over the top of his head, and had prominent blue eyes
and thick bushy whiskers, which he often combed out, looking into
the little looking-glass. Memories of the past haunted him continually;
he could never get used to sausage "only fit for the orchestra,"
to the rudeness of the station-master, and to the peasants who used
to haggle over the prices, and in his opinion it was as unseemly
to haggle over prices in a refreshment room as in a chemist's shop.
He was ashamed of his poverty and degradation, and that shame was
now the leading interest of his life.
"Spring is late this year," said Matvey, listening. "It's a good
job; I don't like spring. In spring it is very muddy, Sergey
Nikanoritch. In books they write: Spring, the birds sing, the sun
is setting, but what is there pleasant in that? A bird is a bird,
and nothing more. I am fond of good company, of listening to folks,
of talking of religion or singing something agreeable in chorus;
but as for nightingales and flowers--bless them, I say!"
He began again about the tile factory, about the choir, but Sergey
Nikanoritch could not get over his mortification, and kept shrugging
his shoulders and muttering. Matvey said good-bye and went home.
There was no frost, and the snow was already melting on the roofs,
though it was still falling in big flakes; they were whirling rapidly
round and round in the air and chasing one another in white clouds
along the railway line. And the oak forest on both sides of the
line, in the dim light of the moon which was hidden somewhere high
up in the clouds, resounded with a prolonged sullen murmur. When a
violent storm shakes the trees, how terrible they are! Matvey walked
along the causeway beside the line, covering his face and his hands,
while the wind beat on his back. All at once a little nag, plastered
all over with snow, came into sight; a sledge scraped along the
bare stones of the causeway, and a peasant, white all over, too,
with his head muffled up, cracked his whip. Matvey looked round
after him, but at once, as though it had been a vision, there was
neither sledge nor peasant to be seen, and he hastened his steps,
suddenly scared, though he did not know why.
Here was the crossing and the dark little house where the signalman
lived. The barrier was raised, and by it perfect mountains had
drifted and clouds of snow were whirling round like witches on
broomsticks. At that point the line was crossed by an old highroad,
which was still called "the track." On the right, not far from the
crossing, by the roadside stood Terehov's tavern, which had been a
posting inn. Here there was always a light twinkling at night.
When Matvey reached home there was a strong smell of incense in all
the rooms and even in the entry. His cousin Yakov Ivanitch was still
reading the evening service. In the prayer-room where this was going
on, in the corner opposite the door, there stood a shrine of
old-fashioned ancestral ikons in gilt settings, and both walls to
right and to left were decorated with ikons of ancient and modern
fashion, in shrines and without them. On the table, which was draped
to the floor, stood an ikon of the Annunciation, and close by a
cyprus-wood cross and the censer; wax candles were burning. Beside
the table was a reading desk. As he passed by the prayer-room,
Matvey stopped and glanced in at the door. Yakov Ivanitch was reading
at the desk at that moment, his sister Aglaia, a tall lean old woman
in a dark-blue dress and white kerchief, was praying with him. Yakov
Ivanitch's daughter Dashutka, an ugly freckled girl of eighteen,
was there, too, barefoot as usual, and wearing the dress in which
she had at nightfall taken water to the cattle.
"Glory to Thee Who hast shown us the light!" Yakov Ivanitch boomed
out in a chant, bowing low.
Aglaia propped her chin on her hand and chanted in a thin, shrill,
drawling voice. And upstairs, above the ceiling, there was the sound
of vague voices which seemed menacing or ominous of evil. No one
had lived on the storey above since a fire there a long time ago.
The windows were boarded up, and empty bottles lay about on the
floor between the beams. Now the wind was banging and droning, and
it seemed as though someone were running and stumbling over the
Half of the lower storey was used as a tavern, while Terehov's
family lived in the other half, so that when drunken visitors were
noisy in the tavern every word they said could be heard in the
rooms. Matvey lived in a room next to the kitchen, with a big stove,
in which, in old days, when this had been a posting inn, bread had
been baked every day. Dashutka, who had no room of her own, lived
in the same room behind the stove. A cricket chirped there always
at night and mice ran in and out.
Matvey lighted a candle and began reading a book which he had
borrowed from the station policeman. While he was sitting over it
the service ended, and they all went to bed. Dashutka lay down,
too. She began snoring at once, but soon woke up and said, yawning:
"You shouldn't burn a candle for nothing, Uncle Matvey."
"It's my candle," answered Matvey; "I bought it with my own money."
Dashutka turned over a little and fell asleep again. Matvey sat up
a good time longer--he was not sleepy--and when he had finished
the last page he took a pencil out of a box and wrote on the book:
"I, Matvey Terehov, have read this book, and think it the very best
of all the books I have read, for which I express my gratitude to
the non-commissioned officer of the Police Department of Railways,
Kuzma Nikolaev Zhukov, as the possessor of this priceless book."
He considered it an obligation of politeness to make such inscriptions
in other people's books.
On Annunciation Day, after the mail train had been sent off, Matvey
was sitting in the refreshment bar, talking and drinking tea with
lemon in it.
The waiter and Zhukov the policeman were listening to him.
"I was, I must tell you," Matvey was saying, "inclined to religion
from my earliest childhood. I was only twelve years old when I used
to read the epistle in church, and my parents were greatly delighted,
and every summer I used to go on a pilgrimage with my dear mother.
Sometimes other lads would be singing songs and catching crayfish,
while I would be all the time with my mother. My elders commended
me, and, indeed, I was pleased myself that I was of such good
behaviour. And when my mother sent me with her blessing to the
factory, I used between working hours to sing tenor there in our
choir, and nothing gave me greater pleasure. I needn't say, I drank
no vodka, I smoked no tobacco, and lived in chastity; but we all
know such a mode of life is displeasing to the enemy of mankind,
and he, the unclean spirit, once tried to ruin me and began to
darken my mind, just as now with my cousin. First of all, I took a
vow to fast every Monday and not to eat meat any day, and as time
went on all sorts of fancies came over me. For the first week of
Lent down to Saturday the holy fathers have ordained a diet of dry
food, but it is no sin for the weak or those who work hard even to
drink tea, yet not a crumb passed into my mouth till the Sunday,
and afterwards all through Lent I did not allow myself a drop of
oil, and on Wednesdays and Fridays I did not touch a morsel at all.
It was the same in the lesser fasts. Sometimes in St. Peter's fast
our factory lads would have fish soup, while I would sit a little
apart from them and suck a dry crust. Different people have different
powers, of course, but I can say of myself I did not find fast days
hard, and, indeed, the greater the zeal the easier it seems. You
are only hungry on the first days of the fast, and then you get
used to it; it goes on getting easier, and by the end of a week you
don't mind it at all, and there is a numb feeling in your legs as
though you were not on earth, but in the clouds. And, besides that,
I laid all sorts of penances on myself; I used to get up in the
night and pray, bowing down to the ground, used to drag heavy stones
from place to place, used to go out barefoot in the snow, and I
even wore chains, too. Only, as time went on, you know, I was
confessing one day to the priest and suddenly this reflection
occurred to me: why, this priest, I thought, is married, he eats
meat and smokes tobacco--how can he confess me, and what power
has he to absolve my sins if he is more sinful that I? I even scruple
to eat Lenten oil, while he eats sturgeon, I dare say. I went to
another priest, and he, as ill luck would have it, was a fat fleshy
man, in a silk cassock; he rustled like a lady, and he smelt of
tobacco too. I went to fast and confess in the monastery, and my
heart was not at ease even there; I kept fancying the monks were
not living according to their rules. And after that I could not
find a service to my mind: in one place they read the service too
fast, in another they sang the wrong prayer, in a third the sacristan
stammered. Sometimes, the Lord forgive me a sinner, I would stand
in church and my heart would throb with anger. How could one pray,
feeling like that? And I fancied that the people in the church did
not cross themselves properly, did not listen properly; wherever I
looked it seemed to me that they were all drunkards, that they broke
the fast, smoked, lived loose lives and played cards. I was the
only one who lived according to the commandments. The wily spirit
did not slumber; it got worse as it went on. I gave up singing in
the choir and I did not go to church at all; since my notion was
that I was a righteous man and that the church did not suit me owing
to its imperfections--that is, indeed, like a fallen angel, I was
puffed up in my pride beyond all belief. After this I began attempting
to make a church for myself. I hired from a deaf woman a tiny little
room, a long way out of town near the cemetery, and made a prayer-room
like my cousin's, only I had big church candlesticks, too, and a
real censer. In this prayer-room of mine I kept the rules of holy
Mount Athos--that is, every day my matins began at midnight without
fail, and on the eve of the chief of the twelve great holy days my
midnight service lasted ten hours and sometimes even twelve. Monks
are allowed by rule to sit during the singing of the Psalter and
the reading of the Bible, but I wanted to be better than the monks,
and so I used to stand all through. I used to read and sing slowly,
with tears and sighing, lifting up my hands, and I used to go
straight from prayer to work without sleeping; and, indeed, I was
always praying at my work, too. Well, it got all over the town
'Matvey is a saint; Matvey heals the sick and senseless.' I never
had healed anyone, of course, but we all know wherever any heresy
or false doctrine springs up there's no keeping the female sex away.
They are just like flies on the honey. Old maids and females of all
sorts came trailing to me, bowing down to my feet, kissing my hands
and crying out I was a saint and all the rest of it, and one even
saw a halo round my head. It was too crowded in the prayer-room. I
took a bigger room, and then we had a regular tower of Babel. The
devil got hold of me completely and screened the light from my eyes
with his unclean hoofs. We all behaved as though we were frantic.
I read, while the old maids and other females sang, and then after
standing on their legs for twenty-four hours or longer without
eating or drinking, suddenly a trembling would come over them as
though they were in a fever; after that, one would begin screaming
and then another--it was horrible! I, too, would shiver all over
like a Jew in a frying-pan, I don't know myself why, and our legs
began to prance about. It's a strange thing, indeed: you don't want
to, but you prance about and waggle your arms; and after that,
screaming and shrieking, we all danced and ran after one another
--ran till we dropped; and in that way, in wild frenzy, I fell
The policeman laughed, but, noticing that no one else was laughing,
became serious and said:
"That's Molokanism. I have heard they are all like that in the
"But I was not killed by a thunderbolt," Matvey went on, crossing
himself before the ikon and moving his lips. "My dead mother must
have been praying for me in the other world. When everyone in the
town looked upon me as a saint, and even the ladies and gentlemen
of good family used to come to me in secret for consolation, I
happened to go into our landlord, Osip Varlamitch, to ask forgiveness
--it was the Day of Forgiveness--and he fastened the door with
the hook, and we were left alone face to face. And he began to
reprove me, and I must tell you Osip Varlamitch was a man of brains,
though without education, and everyone respected and feared him,
for he was a man of stern, God-fearing life and worked hard. He had
been the mayor of the town, and a warden of the church for twenty
years maybe, and had done a great deal of good; he had covered all
the New Moscow Road with gravel, had painted the church, and had
decorated the columns to look like malachite. Well, he fastened the
door, and--'I have been wanting to get at you for a long time,
you rascal, . . .' he said. 'You think you are a saint,' he said.
'No you are not a saint, but a backslider from God, a heretic and
an evildoer! . . .' And he went on and on. . . . I can't tell you
how he said it, so eloquently and cleverly, as though it were all
written down, and so touchingly. He talked for two hours. His words
penetrated my soul; my eyes were opened. I listened, listened and
--burst into sobs! 'Be an ordinary man,' he said, 'eat and drink,
dress and pray like everyone else. All that is above the ordinary
is of the devil. Your chains,' he said, 'are of the devil; your
fasting is of the devil; your prayer-room is of the devil. It is
all pride,' he said. Next day, on Monday in Holy Week, it pleased
God I should fall ill. I ruptured myself and was taken to the
hospital. I was terribly worried, and wept bitterly and trembled.
I thought there was a straight road before me from the hospital to
hell, and I almost died. I was in misery on a bed of sickness for
six months, and when I was discharged the first thing I did I
confessed, and took the sacrament in the regular way and became a
man again. Osip Varlamitch saw me off home and exhorted me: 'Remember,
Matvey, that anything above the ordinary is of the devil.' And now
I eat and drink like everyone else and pray like everyone else
. . . . If it happens now that the priest smells of tobacco or vodka I
don't venture to blame him, because the priest, too, of course, is
an ordinary man. But as soon as I am told that in the town or in
the village a saint has set up who does not eat for weeks, and makes
rules of his own, I know whose work it is. So that is how I carried
on in the past, gentlemen. Now, like Osip Varlamitch, I am continually
exhorting my cousins and reproaching them, but I am a voice crying
in the wilderness. God has not vouchsafed me the gift."
Matvey's story evidently made no impression whatever. Sergey
Nikanoritch said nothing, but began clearing the refreshments off
the counter, while the policeman began talking of how rich Matvey's
"He must have thirty thousand at least," he said.
Zhukov the policeman, a sturdy, well-fed, red-haired man with a
full face (his cheeks quivered when he walked), usually sat lolling
and crossing his legs when not in the presence of his superiors.
As he talked he swayed to and fro and whistled carelessly, while
his face had a self-satisfied replete air, as though he had just
had dinner. He was making money, and he always talked of it with
the air of a connoisseur. He undertook jobs as an agent, and when
anyone wanted to sell an estate, a horse or a carriage, they applied
"Yes, it will be thirty thousand, I dare say," Sergey Nikanoritch
assented. "Your grandfather had an immense fortune," he said,
addressing Matvey. "Immense it was; all left to your father and
your uncle. Your father died as a young man and your uncle got hold
of it all, and afterwards, of course, Yakov Ivanitch. While you
were going pilgrimages with your mama and singing tenor in the
factory, they didn't let the grass grow under their feet."
"Fifteen thousand comes to your share," said the policeman swaying
from side to side. "The tavern belongs to you in common, so the
capital is in common. Yes. If I were in your place I should have
taken it into court long ago. I would have taken it into court for
one thing, and while the case was going on I'd have knocked his
face to a jelly."
Yakov Ivanitch was disliked because, when anyone believes differently
from others, it upsets even people who are indifferent to religion.
The policeman disliked him also because he, too, sold horses and
"You don't care about going to law with your cousin because you
have plenty of money of your own," said the waiter to Matvey, looking
at him with envy. "It is all very well for anyone who has means,
but here I shall die in this position, I suppose. . . ."
Matvey began declaring that he hadn't any money at all, but Sergey
Nikanoritch was not listening. Memories of the past and of the
insults which he endured every day came showering upon him. His
bald head began to perspire; he flushed and blinked.
"A cursed life!" he said with vexation, and he banged the sausage
on the floor.
The story ran that the tavern had been built in the time of Alexander
I, by a widow who had settled here with her son; her name was Avdotya
Terehov. The dark roofed-in courtyard and the gates always kept
locked excited, especially on moonlight nights, a feeling of
depression and unaccountable uneasiness in people who drove by with
posting-horses, as though sorcerers or robbers were living in it;
and the driver always looked back after he passed, and whipped up
his horses. Travellers did not care to put up here, as the people
of the house were always unfriendly and charged heavily. The yard
was muddy even in summer; huge fat pigs used to lie there in the
mud, and the horses in which the Terehovs dealt wandered about
untethered, and often it happened that they ran out of the yard and
dashed along the road like mad creatures, terrifying the pilgrim
women. At that time there was a great deal of traffic on the road;
long trains of loaded waggons trailed by, and all sorts of adventures
happened, such as, for instance, that thirty years ago some waggoners
got up a quarrel with a passing merchant and killed him, and a
slanting cross is standing to this day half a mile from the tavern;
posting-chaises with bells and the heavy _dormeuses_ of country
gentlemen drove by; and herds of homed cattle passed bellowing and
stirring up clouds of dust.
When the railway came there was at first at this place only a
platform, which was called simply a halt; ten years afterwards the
present station, Progonnaya, was built. The traffic on the old
posting-road almost ceased, and only local landowners and peasants
drove along it now, but the working people walked there in crowds
in spring and autumn. The posting-inn was transformed into a
restaurant; the upper storey was destroyed by fire, the roof had
grown yellow with rust, the roof over the yard had fallen by degrees,
but huge fat pigs, pink and revolting, still wallowed in the mud
in the yard. As before, the horses sometimes ran away and, lashing
their tails dashed madly along the road. In the tavern they sold
tea, hay oats and flour, as well as vodka and beer, to be drunk on
the premises and also to be taken away; they sold spirituous liquors
warily, for they had never taken out a licence.
The Terehovs had always been distinguished by their piety, so much
so that they had even been given the nickname of the "Godlies." But
perhaps because they lived apart like bears, avoided people and
thought out all their ideas for themselves, they were given to
dreams and to doubts and to changes of faith and almost each
generation had a peculiar faith of its own. The grandmother Avdotya,
who had built the inn, was an Old Believer; her son and both her
grandsons (the fathers of Matvey and Yakov) went to the Orthodox
church, entertained the clergy, and worshipped before the new ikons
as devoutly as they had done before the old. The son in old age
refused to eat meat and imposed upon himself the rule of silence,
considering all conversation as sin; it was the peculiarity of the
grandsons that they interpreted the Scripture not simply, but sought
in it a hidden meaning, declaring that every sacred word must contain
Avdotya's great-grandson Matvey had struggled from early childhood
with all sorts of dreams and fancies and had been almost ruined by
it; the other great-grandson, Yakov Ivanitch, was orthodox, but
after his wife's death he gave up going to church and prayed at
home. Following his example, his sister Aglaia had turned, too; she
did not go to church herself, and did not let Dashutka go. Of Aglaia
it was told that in her youth she used to attend the Flagellant
meetings in Vedenyapino, and that she was still a Flagellant in
secret, and that was why she wore a white kerchief.
Yakov Ivanitch was ten years older than Matvey--he was a very
handsome tall old man with a big grey beard almost to his waist,
and bushy eyebrows which gave his face a stern, even ill-natured
expression. He wore a long jerkin of good cloth or a black sheepskin
coat, and altogether tried to be clean and neat in dress; he wore
goloshes even in dry weather. He did not go to church, because, to
his thinking, the services were not properly celebrated and because
the priests drank wine at unlawful times and smoked tobacco. Every
day he read and sang the service at home with Aglaia. At Vedenyapino
they left out the "Praises" at early matins, and had no evening
service even on great holidays, but he used to read through at home
everything that was laid down for every day, without hurrying or
leaving out a single line, and even in his spare time read aloud
the Lives of the Saints. And in everyday life he adhered strictly
to the rules of the church; thus, if wine were allowed on some day
in Lent "for the sake of the vigil," then he never failed to drink
wine, even if he were not inclined.
He read, sang, burned incense and fasted, not for the sake of
receiving blessings of some sort from God, but for the sake of good
order. Man cannot live without religion, and religion ought to be
expressed from year to year and from day to day in a certain order,
so that every morning and every evening a man might turn to God
with exactly those words and thoughts that were befitting that
special day and hour. One must live, and, therefore, also pray as
is pleasing to God, and so every day one must read and sing what
is pleasing to God--that is, what is laid down in the rule of the
church. Thus the first chapter of St. John must only be read on
Easter Day, and "It is most meet" must not be sung from Easter to
Ascension, and so on. The consciousness of this order and its
importance afforded Yakov Ivanitch great gratification during his
religious exercises. When he was forced to break this order by some
necessity--to drive to town or to the bank, for instance his
conscience was uneasy and he fit miserable.
When his cousin Matvey had returned unexpectedly from the factory
and settled in the tavern as though it were his home, he had from
the very first day disturbed his settled order. He refused to pray
with them, had meals and drank tea at wrong times, got up late,
drank milk on Wednesdays and Fridays on the pretext of weak health;
almost every day he went into the prayer-room while they were at
prayers and cried: "Think what you are doing, brother! Repent,
brother!" These words threw Yakov into a fury, while Aglaia could
not refrain from beginning to scold; or at night Matvey would steal
into the prayer-room and say softly: "Cousin, your prayer is not
pleasing to God. For it is written, First be reconciled with thy
brother and then offer thy gift. You lend money at usury, you deal
In Matvey's words Yakov saw nothing but the usual evasions of
empty-headed and careless people who talk of loving your neighbour,
of being reconciled with your brother, and so on, simply to avoid
praying, fasting and reading holy books, and who talk contemptuously
of profit and interest simply because they don't like working. Of
course, to be poor, save nothing, and put by nothing was a great
deal easier than being rich.
But yet he was troubled and could not pray as before. As soon as
he went into the prayer-room and opened the book he began to be
afraid his cousin would come in and hinder him; and, in fact, Matvey
did soon appear and cry in a trembling voice: "Think what you are
doing, brother! Repent, brother!" Aglaia stormed and Yakov, too,
flew into a passion and shouted: "Go out of my house!" while Matvey
answered him: "The house belongs to both of us."
Yakov would begin singing and reading again, but he could not regain
his calm, and unconsciously fell to dreaming over his book. Though
he regarded his cousin's words as nonsense, yet for some reason it
had of late haunted his memory that it is hard for a rich man to
enter the kingdom of heaven, that the year before last he had made
a very good bargain over buying a stolen horse, that one day when
his wife was alive a drunkard had died of vodka in his tavern. . . .
He slept badly at nights now and woke easily, and he could hear
that Matvey, too, was awake, and continually sighing and pining for
his tile factory. And while Yakov turned over from one side to
another at night he thought of the stolen horse and the drunken
man, and what was said in the gospels about the camel.
It looked as though his dreaminess were coming over him again. And
as ill-luck would have it, although it was the end of March, every
day it kept snowing, and the forest roared as though it were winter,
and there was no believing that spring would ever come. The weather
disposed one to depression, and to quarrelling and to hatred and
in the night, when the wind droned over the ceiling, it seemed as
though someone were living overhead in the empty storey; little by
little the broodings settled like a burden on his mind, his head
burned and he could not sleep.
On the morning of the Monday before Good Friday, Matvey heard from
his room Dashutka say to Aglaia:
"Uncle Matvey said, the other day, that there is no need to fast."
Matvey remembered the whole conversation he had had the evening
before with Dashutka, and he felt hurt all at once.
"Girl, don't do wrong!" he said in a moaning voice, like a sick
man. "You can't do without fasting; our Lord Himself fasted forty
days. I only explained that fasting does a bad man no good."
"You should just listen to the factory hands; they can teach you
goodness," Aglaia said sarcastically as she washed the floor (she
usually washed the floors on working days and was always angry with
everyone when she did it). "We know how they keep the fasts in the
factory. You had better ask that uncle of yours--ask him about
his 'Darling,' how he used to guzzle milk on fast days with her,
the viper. He teaches others; he forgets about his viper. But ask
him who was it he left his money with--who was it?"
Matvey had carefully concealed from everyone, as though it were a
foul sore, that during that period of his life when old women and
unmarried girls had danced and run about with him at their prayers
he had formed a connection with a working woman and had had a child
by her. When he went home he had given this woman all he had saved
at the factory, and had borrowed from his landlord for his journey,
and now he had only a few roubles which he spent on tea and candles.
The "Darling" had informed him later on that the child was dead,
and asked him in a letter what she should do with the money. This
letter was brought from the station by the labourer. Aglaia intercepted
it and read it, and had reproached Matvey with his "Darling" every
"Just fancy, nine hundred roubles," Aglaia went on. "You gave nine
hundred roubles to a viper, no relation, a factory jade, blast you!"
She had flown into a passion by now and was shouting shrilly: "Can't
you speak? I could tear you to pieces, wretched creature! Nine
hundred roubles as though it were a farthing You might have left
it to Dashutka--she is a relation, not a stranger--or else have
it sent to Byelev for Marya's poor orphans. And your viper did not
choke, may she be thrice accursed, the she-devil! May she never
look upon the light of day!"
Yakov Ivanitch called to her: it was time to begin the "Hours." She
washed, put on a white kerchief, and by now quiet and meek, went
into the prayer-room to the brother she loved. When she spoke to
Matvey or served peasants in the tavern with tea she was a gaunt,
keen-eyed, ill-humoured old woman; in the prayer-room her face was
serene and softened, she looked younger altogether, she curtsied
affectedly, and even pursed up her lips.
Yakov Ivanitch began reading the service softly and dolefully, as
he always did in Lent. After he had read a little he stopped to
listen to the stillness that reigned through the house, and then
went on reading again, with a feeling of gratification; he folded
his hands in supplication, rolled his eyes, shook his head, sighed.
But all at once there was the sound of voices. The policeman and
Sergey Nikanoritch had come to see Matvey. Yakov Ivanitch was
embarrassed at reading aloud and singing when there were strangers
in the house, and now, hearing voices, he began reading in a whisper
and slowly. He could hear in the prayer-room the waiter say:
"The Tatar at Shtchepovo is selling his business for fifteen hundred.
He'll take five hundred down and an I.O.U. for the rest. And so,
Matvey Vassilitch, be so kind as to lend me that five hundred
roubles. I will pay you two per cent a month."
"What money have I got?" cried Matvey, amazed. "I have no money!"
"Two per cent a month will be a godsend to you," the policeman
explained. "While lying by, your money is simply eaten by the moth,
and that's all that you get from it."
Afterwards the visitors went out and a silence followed. But Yakov
Ivanitch had hardly begun reading and singing again when a voice
was heard outside the door:
"Brother, let me have a horse to drive to Vedenyapino."
It was Matvey. And Yakov was troubled again. "Which can you go
with?" he asked after a moment's thought. "The man has gone with
the sorrel to take the pig, and I am going with the little stallion
to Shuteykino as soon as I have finished."
"Brother, why is it you can dispose of the horses and not I?" Matvey
asked with irritation.
"Because I am not taking them for pleasure, but for work."
"Our property is in common, so the horses are in common, too, and
you ought to understand that, brother."
A silence followed. Yakov did not go on praying, but waited for
Matvey to go away from the door.
"Brother," said Matvey, "I am a sick man. I don't want possession
--let them go; you have them, but give me a small share to keep
me in my illness. Give it me and I'll go away."
Yakov did not speak. He longed to be rid of Matvey, but he could
not give him money, since all the money was in the business; besides,
there had never been a case of the family dividing in the whole
history of the Terehovs. Division means ruin.
Yakov said nothing, but still waited for Matvey to go away, and
kept looking at his sister, afraid that she would interfere, and
that there would be a storm of abuse again, as there had been in
the morning. When at last Matvey did go Yakov went on reading, but
now he had no pleasure in it. There was a heaviness in his head and
a darkness before his eyes from continually bowing down to the
ground, and he was weary of the sound of his soft dejected voice.
When such a depression of spirit came over him at night, he put it
down to not being able to sleep; by day it frightened him, and he
began to feel as though devils were sitting on his head and shoulders.
Finishing the service after a fashion, dissatisfied and ill-humoured,
he set off for Shuteykino. In the previous autumn a gang of navvies
had dug a boundary ditch near Progonnaya, and had run up a bill at
the tavern for eighteen roubles, and now he had to find their foreman
in Shuteykino and get the money from him. The road had been spoilt
by the thaw and the snowstorm; it was of a dark colour and full of
holes, and in parts it had given way altogether. The snow had sunk
away at the sides below the road, so that he had to drive, as it
were, upon a narrow causeway, and it was very difficult to turn off
it when he met anything. The sky had been overcast ever since the
morning and a damp wind was blowing. . . .
A long train of sledges met him; peasant women were carting bricks.
Yakov had to turn off the road. His horse sank into the snow up to
its belly; the sledge lurched over to the right, and to avoid falling
out he bent over to the left, and sat so all the time the sledges
moved slowly by him. Through the wind he heard the creaking of the
sledge poles and the breathing of the gaunt horses, and the women
saying about him, "There's Godly coming," while one, gazing with
compassion at his horse, said quickly:
"It looks as though the snow will be lying till Yegory's Day! They
are worn out with it!"
Yakov sat uncomfortably huddled up, screwing up his eyes on account
of the wind, while horses and red bricks kept passing before him.
And perhaps because he was uncomfortable and his side ached, he
felt all at once annoyed, and the business he was going about seemed
to him unimportant, and he reflected that he might send the labourer
next day to Shuteykino. Again, as in the previous sleepless night,
he thought of the saying about the camel, and then memories of all
sorts crept into his mind; of the peasant who had sold him the
stolen horse, of the drunken man, of the peasant women who had
brought their samovars to him to pawn. Of course, every merchant
tries to get as much as he can, but Yakov felt depressed that he
was in trade; he longed to get somewhere far away from this routine,
and he felt dreary at the thought that he would have to read the
evening service that day. The wind blew straight into his face and
soughed in his collar; and it seemed as though it were whispering
to him all these thoughts, bringing them from the broad white plain
. . . . Looking at that plain, familiar to him from childhood, Yakov
remembered that he had had just this same trouble and these same
thoughts in his young days when dreams and imaginings had come upon
him and his faith had wavered.
He felt miserable at being alone in the open country; he turned
back and drove slowly after the sledges, and the women laughed and
"Godly has turned back."
At home nothing had been cooked and the samovar was not heated on
account of the fast, and this made the day seem very long. Yakov
Ivanitch had long ago taken the horse to the stable, dispatched the
flour to the station, and twice taken up the Psalms to read, and
yet the evening was still far off. Aglaia has already washed all
the floors, and, having nothing to do, was tidying up her chest,
the lid of which was pasted over on the inside with labels off
bottles. Matvey, hungry and melancholy, sat reading, or went up to
the Dutch stove and slowly scrutinized the tiles which reminded him
of the factory. Dashutka was asleep; then, waking up, she went to
take water to the cattle. When she was getting water from the well
the cord broke and the pail fell in. The labourer began looking for
a boathook to get the pail out, and Dashutka, barefooted, with legs
as red as a goose's, followed him about in the muddy snow, repeating:
"It's too far!" She meant to say that the well was too deep for the
hook to reach the bottom, but the labourer did not understand her,
and evidently she bothered him, so that he suddenly turned around
and abused her in unseemly language. Yakov Ivanitch, coming out
that moment into the yard, heard Dashutka answer the labourer in a
long rapid stream of choice abuse, which she could only have learned
from drunken peasants in the tavern.
"What are you saying, shameless girl!" he cried to her, and he was
positively aghast. "What language!"
And she looked at her father in perplexity, dully, not understanding
why she should not use those words. He would have admonished her,
but she struck him as so savage and benighted; and for the first
time he realized that she had no religion. And all this life in the
forest, in the snow, with drunken peasants, with coarse oaths,
seemed to him as savage and benighted as this girl, and instead of
giving her a lecture he only waved his hand and went back into the
At that moment the policeman and Sergey Nikanoritch came in again
to see Matvey. Yakov Ivanitch thought that these people, too, had
no religion, and that that did not trouble them in the least; and
human life began to seem to him as strange, senseless and unenlightened
as a dog's. Bareheaded he walked about the yard, then he went out
on to the road, clenching his fists. Snow was falling in big flakes
at the time. His beard was blown about in the wind. He kept shaking
his head, as though there were something weighing upon his head and
shoulders, as though devils were sitting on them; and it seemed to
him that it was not himself walking about, but some wild beast, a
huge terrible beast, and that if he were to cry out his voice would
be a roar that would sound all over the forest and the plain, and
would frighten everyone. . . .
When he went back into the house the policeman was no longer there,
but the waiter was sitting with Matvey, counting something on the
reckoning beads. He was in the habit of coming often, almost every
day, to the tavern; in old days he had come to see Yakov Ivanitch,
now he came to see Matvey. He was continually reckoning on the
beads, while his face perspired and looked strained, or he would
ask for money or, stroking his whiskers, would describe how he had
once been in a first-class station and used to prepare champagne-punch
for officers, and at grand dinners served the sturgeon-soup with
his own hands. Nothing in this world interested him but refreshment
bars, and he could only talk about things to eat, about wines and
the paraphernalia of the dinner-table. On one occasion, handing a
cup of tea to a young woman who was nursing her baby and wishing
to say something agreeable to her, he expressed himself in this
"The mother's breast is the baby's refreshment bar."
Reckoning with the beads in Matvey's room, he asked for money; said
he could not go on living at Progonnaya, and several times repeated
in a tone of voice that sounded as though he were just going to
"Where am I to go? Where am I to go now? Tell me that, please."
Then Matvey went into the kitchen and began peeling some boiled
potatoes which he had probably put away from the day before. It was
quiet, and it seemed to Yakov Ivanitch that the waiter was gone.
It was past the time for evening service; he called Aglaia, and,
thinking there was no one else in the house sang out aloud without
embarrassment. He sang and read, but was inwardly pronouncing other
words, "Lord, forgive me! Lord, save me!" and, one after another,
without ceasing, he made low bows to the ground as though he wanted
to exhaust himself, and he kept shaking his head, so that Aglaia
looked at him with wonder. He was afraid Matvey would come in, and
was certain that he would come in, and felt an anger against him
which he could overcome neither by prayer nor by continually bowing
down to the ground.
Matvey opened the door very softly and went into the prayer-room.
"It's a sin, such a sin!" he said reproachfully, and heaved a sigh.
"Repent! Think what you are doing, brother!"
Yakov Ivanitch, clenching his fists and not looking at him for fear
of striking him, went quickly out of the room. Feeling himself a
huge terrible wild beast, just as he had done before on the road,
he crossed the passage into the grey, dirty room, reeking with smoke
and fog, in which the peasants usually drank tea, and there he spent
a long time walking from one corner to the other, treading heavily,
so that the crockery jingled on the shelves and the tables shook.
It was clear to him now that he was himself dissatisfied with his
religion, ant could not pray as he used to do. He must repent, he
must think things over, reconsider, live and pray in some other
way. But how pray? And perhaps all this was a temptation of the
devil, and nothing of this was necessary? . . . How was it to be?
What was he to do? Who could guide him? What helplessness! He stopped
and, clutching at his head, began to think, but Matvey's being near
him prevented him from reflecting calmly. And he went rapidly into
Matvey was sitting in the kitchen before a bowl of potato, eating.
Close by, near the stove, Aglaia and Dashutka were sitting facing
one another, spinning yarn. Between the stove and the table at which
Matvey was sitting was stretched an ironing-board; on it stood a
"Sister," Matvey asked, "let me have a little oil!"
"Who eats oil on a day like this?" asked Aglaia.
"I am not a monk, sister, but a layman. And in my weak health I may
take not only oil but milk."
"Yes, at the factory you may have anything."
Aglaia took a bottle of Lenten oil from the shelf and banged it
angrily down before Matvey, with a malignant smile evidently pleased
that he was such a sinner.
"But I tell you, you can't eat oil!" shouted Yakov.
Aglaia and Dashutka started, but Matvey poured the oil into the
bowl and went on eating as though he had not heard.
"I tell you, you can't eat oil!" Yakov shouted still more loudly;
he turned red all over, snatched up the bowl, lifted it higher that
his head, and dashed it with all his force to the ground, so that
it flew into fragments. "Don't dare to speak!" he cried in a furious
voice, though Matvey had not said a word. "Don't dare!" he repeated,
and struck his fist on the table.
Matvey turned pale and got up.
"Brother!" he said, still munching--"brother, think what you are
"Out of my house this minute!" shouted Yakov; he loathed Matvey's
wrinkled face, and his voice, and the crumbs on his moustache, and
the fact that he was munching. "Out, I tell you!"
"Brother, calm yourself! The pride of hell has confounded you!"
"Hold your tongue!" (Yakov stamped.) "Go away, you devil!"
"If you care to know," Matvey went on in a loud voice, as he, too,
began to get angry, "you are a backslider from God and a heretic.
The accursed spirits have hidden the true light from you; your
prayer is not acceptable to God. Repent before it is too late! The
deathbed of the sinner is terrible! Repent, brother!"
Yakov seized him by the shoulders and dragged him away from the
table, while he turned whiter than ever, and frightened and bewildered,
began muttering, "What is it? What's the matter?" and, struggling
and making efforts to free himself from Yakov's hands, he accidentally
caught hold of his shirt near the neck and tore the collar; and it
seemed to Aglaia that he was trying to beat Yakov. She uttered a
shriek, snatched up the bottle of Lenten oil and with all her force
brought it down straight on the skull of the cousin she hated.
Matvey reeled, and in one instant his face became calm and indifferent.
Yakov, breathing heavily, excited, and feeling pleasure at the
gurgle the bottle had made, like a living thing, when it had struck
the head, kept him from falling and several times (he remembered
this very distinctly) motioned Aglaia towards the iron with his
finger; and only when the blood began trickling through his hands
and he heard Dashutka's loud wail, and when the ironing-board fell
with a crash, and Matvey rolled heavily on it, Yakov left off feeling
anger and understood what had happened.
"Let him rot, the factory buck!" Aglaia brought out with repulsion,
still keeping the iron in her hand. The white bloodstained kerchief
slipped on to her shoulders and her grey hair fell in disorder.
"He's got what he deserved!"
Everything was terrible. Dashutka sat on the floor near the stove
with the yarn in her hands, sobbing, and continually bowing down,
uttering at each bow a gasping sound. But nothing was so terrible
to Yakov as the potato in the blood, on which he was afraid of
stepping, and there was something else terrible which weighed upon
him like a bad dream and seemed the worst danger, though he could
not take it in for the first minute. This was the waiter, Sergey
Nikanoritch, who was standing in the doorway with the reckoning
beads in his hands, very pale, looking with horror at what was
happening in the kitchen. Only when he turned and went quickly into
the passage and from there outside, Yakov grasped who it was and
Wiping his hands on the snow as he went, he reflected. The idea
flashed through his mind that their labourer had gone away long
before and had asked leave to stay the night at home in the village;
the day before they had killed a pig, and there were huge bloodstains
in the snow and on the sledge, and even one side of the top of the
well was splattered with blood, so that it could not have seemed
suspicious even if the whole of Yakov's family had been stained
with blood. To conceal the murder would be agonizing, but for the
policeman, who would whistle and smile ironically, to come from the
station, for the peasants to arrive and bind Yakov's and Aglaia's
hands, and take them solemnly to the district courthouse and from
there to the town, while everyone on the way would point at them
and say mirthfully, "They are taking the Godlies!"--this seemed
to Yakov more agonizing than anything, and he longed to lengthen
out the time somehow, so as to endure this shame not now, but later,
in the future.
"I can lend you a thousand roubles, . . ." he said, overtaking
Sergey Nikanoritch. "If you tell anyone, it will do no good. . . .
There's no bringing the man back, anyway;" and with difficulty
keeping up with the waiter, who did not look round, but tried to
walk away faster than ever, he went on: "I can give you fifteen
hundred. . . ."
He stopped because he was out of breath, while Sergey Nikanoritch
walked on as quickly as ever, probably afraid that he would be
killed, too. Only after passing the railway crossing and going half
the way from the crossing to the station, he furtively looked round
and walked more slowly. Lights, red and green, were already gleaming
in the station and along the line; the wind had fallen, but flakes
of snow were still coming down and the road had turned white again.
But just at the station Sergey Nikanoritch stopped, thought a minute,
and turned resolutely back. It was growing dark.
"Oblige me with the fifteen hundred, Yakov Ivanitch," he said,
trembling all over. "I agree."
Yakov Ivanitch's money was in the bank of the town and was invested
in second mortgages; he only kept a little at home, Just what was
wanted for necessary expenses. Going into the kitchen he felt for
the matchbox, and while the sulphur was burning with a blue light
he had time to make out the figure of Matvey, which was still lying
on the floor near the table, but now it was covered with a white
sheet, and nothing could be seen but his boots. A cricket was
chirruping. Aglaia and Dashutka were not in the room, they were
both sitting behind the counter in the tea-room, spinning yarn in
silence. Yakov Ivanitch crossed to his own room with a little lamp
in his hand, and pulled from under the bed a little box in which
he kept his money. This time there were in it four hundred and
twenty one-rouble notes and silver to the amount of thirty-five
roubles; the notes had an unpleasant heavy smell. Putting the money
together in his cap, Yakov Ivanitch went out into the yard and then
out of the gate. He walked, looking from side to side, but there
was no sign of the waiter.
"Hi!" cried Yakov.
A dark figure stepped out from the barrier at the railway crossing
and came irresolutely towards him.
"Why do you keep walking about?" said Yakov with vexation, as he
recognized the waiter. "Here you are; there is a little less than
five hundred. . . . I've no more in the house."
"Very well; . . . very grateful to you," muttered Sergey Nikanoritch,
taking the money greedily and stuffing it into his pockets. He was
trembling all over, and that was perceptible in spite of the darkness.
"Don't worry yourself, Yakov Ivanitch. . . . What should I chatter
for: I came and went away, that's all I've had to do with it. As
the saying is, I know nothing and I can tell nothing . . ." And at
once he added with a sigh "Cursed life!"
For a minute they stood in silence, without looking at each other.
"So it all came from a trifle, goodness knows how, . . ." said the
waiter, trembling. "I was sitting counting to myself when all at
once a noise. . . . I looked through the door, and just on account
of Lenten oil you. . . . Where is he now?"
"Lying there in the kitchen."
"You ought to take him somewhere. . . . Why put it off?"
Yakov accompanied him to the station without a word, then went home
again and harnessed the horse to take Matvey to Limarovo. He had
decided to take him to the forest of Limarovo, and to leave him
there on the road, and then he would tell everyone that Matvey had
gone off to Vedenyapino and had not come back, and then everyone
would think that he had been killed by someone on the road. He knew
there was no deceiving anyone by this, but to move, to do something,
to be active, was not as agonizing as to sit still and wait. He
called Dashutka, and with her carried Matvey out. Aglaia stayed
behind to clean up the kitchen.
When Yakov and Dashutka turned back they were detained at the railway
crossing by the barrier being let down. A long goods train was
passing, dragged by two engines, breathing heavily, and flinging
puffs of crimson fire out of their funnels.
The foremost engine uttered a piercing whistle at the crossing in
sight of the station.
"It's whistling, . . ." said Dashutka.
The train had passed at last, and the signalman lifted the barrier
"Is that you, Yakov Ivanitch? I didn't know you, so you'll be rich."
And then when they had reached home they had to go to bed.
Aglaia and Dashutka made themselves a bed in the tea-room and lay
down side by side, while Yakov stretched himself on the counter.
They neither said their prayers nor lighted the ikon lamp before
lying down to sleep. All three lay awake till morning, but did not
utter a single word, and it seemed to them that all night someone
was walking about in the empty storey overhead.
Two days later a police inspector and the examining magistrate came
from the town and made a search, first in Matvey's room and then
in the whole tavern. They questioned Yakov first of all, and he
testified that on the Monday Matvey had gone to Vedenyapino to
confess, and that he must have been killed by the sawyers who were
working on the line.
And when the examining magistrate had asked him how it had happened
that Matvey was found on the road, while his cap had turned up at
home--surely he had not gone to Vedenyapino without his cap?--
and why they had not found a single drop of blood beside him in the
snow on the road, though his head was smashed in and his face and
chest were black with blood, Yakov was confused, lost his head and
"I cannot tell."
And just what Yakov had so feared happened: the policeman came, the
district police officer smoked in the prayer-room and Aglaia fell
upon him with abuse and was rude to the police inspector; and
afterwards when Yakov and Aglaia were led out to the yard, the
peasants crowded at the gates and said, "They are taking the Godlies!"
and it seemed that they were all glad.
At the inquiry the policeman stated positively that Yakov and Aglaia
had killed Matvey in order not to share with him, and that Matvey
had money of his own, and that if it was not found at the search
evidently Yakov and Aglaia had got hold of it. And Dashutka was
questioned. She said that Uncle Matvey and Aunt Aglaia quarrelled
and almost fought every day over money, and that Uncle Matvey was
rich, so much so that he had given someone--"his Darling"--nine
Dashutka was left alone in the tavern. No one came now to drink tea
or vodka, and she divided her time between cleaning up the rooms,
drinking mead and eating rolls; but a few days later they questioned
the signalman at the railway crossing, and he said that late on
Monday evening he had seen Yakov and Dashutka driving from Limarovo.
Dashutka, too, was arrested, taken to the town and put in prison.
It soon became known, from what Aglaia said, that Sergey Nikanoritch
had been present at the murder. A search was made in his room, and
money was found in an unusual place, in his snowboots under the
stove, and the money was all in small change, three hundred one-rouble
notes. He swore he had made this money himself, and that he hadn't
been in the tavern for a year, but witnesses testified that he was
poor and had been in great want of money of late, and that he used
to go every day to the tavern to borrow from Matvey; and the policeman
described how on the day of the murder he had himself gone twice
to the tavern with the waiter to help him to borrow. It was recalled
at this juncture that on Monday evening Sergey Nikanoritch had not
been there to meet the passenger train, but had gone off somewhere.
And he, too, was arrested and taken to the town.
The trial took place eleven months later.
Yakov Ivanitch looked much older and much thinner, and spoke in a
low voice like a sick man. He felt weak, pitiful, lower in stature
that anyone else, and it seemed as though his soul, too, like his
body, had grown older and wasted, from the pangs of his conscience
and from the dreams and imaginings which never left him all the
while he was in prison. When it came out that he did not go to
church the president of the court asked him:
"Are you a dissenter?"
"I can't tell," he answered.
He had no religion at all now; he knew nothing and understood
nothing; and his old belief was hateful to him now, and seemed to
him darkness and folly. Aglaia was not in the least subdued, and
she still went on abusing the dead man, blaming him for all their
misfortunes. Sergey Nikanoritch had grown a beard instead of whiskers.
At the trial he was red and perspiring, and was evidently ashamed
of his grey prison coat and of sitting on the same bench with humble
peasants. He defended himself awkwardly, and, trying to prove that
he had not been to the tavern for a whole year, got into an altercation
with every witness, and the spectators laughed at him. Dashutka had
grown fat in prison. At the trial she did not understand the questions
put to her, and only said that when they killed Uncle Matvey she
was dreadfully frightened, but afterwards she did not mind.
All four were found guilty of murder with mercenary motives. Yakov
Ivanitch was sentenced to penal servitude for twenty years; Aglaia
for thirteen and a half; Sergey Nikanoritch to ten; Dashutka to
Late one evening a foreign steamer stopped in the roads of Dué in
Sahalin and asked for coal. The captain was asked to wait till
morning, but he did not want to wait over an hour, saying that if
the weather changed for the worse in the night there would be a
risk of his having to go off without coal. In the Gulf of Tartary
the weather is liable to violent changes in the course of half an
hour, and then the shores of Sahalin are dangerous. And already it
had turned fresh, and there was a considerable sea running.
A gang of convicts were sent to the mine from the Voevodsky prison,
the grimmest and most forbidding of all the prisons in Sahalin. The
coal had to be loaded upon barges, and then they had to be towed
by a steam-cutter alongside the steamer which was anchored more
than a quarter of a mile from the coast, and then the unloading and
reloading had to begin--an exhausting task when the barge kept
rocking against the steamer and the men could scarcely keep on their
legs for sea-sickness. The convicts, only just roused from their
sleep, still drowsy, went along the shore, stumbling in the darkness
and clanking their fetters. On the left, scarcely visible, was a
tall, steep, extremely gloomy-looking cliff, while on the right
there was a thick impenetrable mist, in which the sea moaned with
a prolonged monotonous sound, "Ah! . . . ah! . . . ah! . . . ah!
. . ." And it was only when the overseer was lighting his pipe,
casting as he did so a passing ray of light on the escort with a
gun and on the coarse faces of two or three of the nearest convicts,
or when he went with his lantern close to the water that the white
crests of the foremost waves could be discerned.
One of this gang was Yakov Ivanitch, nicknamed among the convicts
the "Brush," on account of his long beard. No one had addressed him
by his name or his father's name for a long time now; they called
him simply Yashka.
He was here in disgrace, as, three months after coming to Siberia,
feeling an intense irresistible longing for home, he had succumbed
to temptation and run away; he had soon been caught, had been
sentenced to penal servitude for life and given forty lashes. Then
he was punished by flogging twice again for losing his prison
clothes, though on each occasion they were stolen from him. The
longing for home had begun from the very time he had been brought
to Odessa, and the convict train had stopped in the night at
Progonnaya; and Yakov, pressing to the window, had tried to see his
own home, and could see nothing in the darkness. He had no one with
whom to talk of home. His sister Aglaia had been sent right across
Siberia, and he did not know where she was now. Dashutka was in
Sahalin, but she had been sent to live with some ex-convict in a
far away settlement; there was no news of her except that once a
settler who had come to the Voevodsky Prison told Yakov that Dashutka
had three children. Sergey Nikanoritch was serving as a footman at
a government official's at Dué, but he could not reckon on ever
seeing him, as he was ashamed of being acquainted with convicts of
the peasant class.
The gang reached the mine, and the men took their places on the
quay. It was said there would not be any loading, as the weather
kept getting worse and the steamer was meaning to set off. They
could see three lights. One of them was moving: that was the
steam-cutter going to the steamer, and it seemed to be coming back
to tell them whether the work was to be done or not. Shivering with
the autumn cold and the damp sea mist, wrapping himself in his short
torn coat, Yakov Ivanitch looked intently without blinking in the
direction in which lay his home. Ever since he had lived in prison
together with men banished here from all ends of the earth--with
Russians, Ukrainians, Tatars, Georgians, Chinese, Gypsies, Jews--
and ever since he had listened to their talk and watched their
sufferings, he had begun to turn again to God, and it seemed to him
at last that he had learned the true faith for which all his family,
from his grandmother Avdotya down, had so thirsted, which they had
sought so long and which they had never found. He knew it all now
and understood where God was, and how He was to be served, and the
only thing he could not understand was why men's destinies were so
diverse, why this simple faith which other men receive from God for
nothing and together with their lives, had cost him such a price
that his arms and legs trembled like a drunken man's from all the
horrors and agonies which as far as he could see would go on without
a break to the day of his death. He looked with strained eyes into
the darkness, and it seemed to him that through the thousand miles
of that mist he could see home, could see his native province, his
district, Progonnaya, could see the darkness, the savagery, the
heartlessness, and the dull, sullen, animal indifference of the men
he had left there. His eyes were dimmed with tears; but still he
gazed into the distance where the pale lights of the steamer faintly
gleamed, and his heart ached with yearning for home, and he longed
to live, to go back home to tell them there of his new faith and
to save from ruin if only one man, and to live without suffering
if only for one day.
The cutter arrived, and the overseer announced in a loud voice that
there would be no loading.
"Back!" he commanded. "Steady!"
They could hear the hoisting of the anchor chain on the steamer. A
strong piercing wind was blowing by now; somewhere on the steep
cliff overhead the trees were creaking. Most likely a storm was
_An Incident of My Travels_
I WAS on my way back from evening service. The clock in the belfry
of the Svyatogorsky Monastery pealed out its soft melodious chimes
by way of prelude and then struck twelve. The great courtyard of
the monastery stretched out at the foot of the Holy Mountains on
the banks of the Donets, and, enclosed by the high hostel buildings
as by a wall, seemed now in the night, when it was lighted up only
by dim lanterns, lights in the windows, and the stars, a living
hotch-potch full of movement, sound, and the most original confusion.
From end to end, so far as the eye could see, it was all choked up
with carts, old-fashioned coaches and chaises, vans, tilt-carts,
about which stood crowds of horses, dark and white, and horned oxen,
while people bustled about, and black long-skirted lay brothers
threaded their way in and out in all directions. Shadows and streaks
of light cast from the windows moved over the carts and the heads
of men and horses, and in the dense twilight this all assumed the
most monstrous capricious shapes: here the tilted shafts stretched
upwards to the sky, here eyes of fire appeared in the face of a
horse, there a lay brother grew a pair of black wings. . . . There
was the noise of talk, the snorting and munching of horses, the
creaking of carts, the whimpering of children. Fresh crowds kept
walking in at the gate and belated carts drove up.
The pines which were piled up on the overhanging mountain, one above
another, and leaned towards the roof of the hostel, gazed into the
courtyard as into a deep pit, and listened in wonder; in their dark
thicket the cuckoos and nightingales never ceased calling. . . .
Looking at the confusion, listening to the uproar, one fancied that
in this living hotch-potch no one understood anyone, that everyone
was looking for something and would not find it, and that this
multitude of carts, chaises and human beings could not ever succeed
in getting off.
More than ten thousand people flocked to the Holy Mountains for the
festivals of St. John the Divine and St. Nikolay the wonder-worker.
Not only the hostel buildings, but even the bakehouse, the tailoring
room, the carpenter's shop, the carriage house, were filled to
overflowing. . . . Those who had arrived towards night clustered
like flies in autumn, by the walls, round the wells in the yard,
or in the narrow passages of the hostel, waiting to be shown a
resting-place for the night. The lay brothers, young and old, were
in an incessant movement, with no rest or hope of being relieved.
By day or late at night they produced the same impression of men
hastening somewhere and agitated by something, yet, in spite of
their extreme exhaustion, their faces remained full of courage and
kindly welcome, their voices friendly, their movements rapid. . . .
For everyone who came they had to find a place to sleep, and to
provide food and drink; to those who were deaf, slow to understand,
or profuse in questions, they had to give long and wearisome
explanations, to tell them why there were no empty rooms, at what
o'clock the service was to be where holy bread was sold, and so on.
They had to run, to carry, to talk incessantly, but more than that,
they had to be polite, too, to be tactful, to try to arrange that
the Greeks from Mariupol, accustomed to live more comfortably than
the Little Russians, should be put with other Greeks, that some
shopkeeper from Bahmut or Lisitchansk, dressed like a lady, should
not be offended by being put with peasants There were continual
cries of: "Father, kindly give us some kvass! Kindly give us some
hay!" or "Father, may I drink water after confession?" And the lay
brother would have to give out kvass or hay or to answer: "Address
yourself to the priest, my good woman, we have not the authority
to give permission." Another question would follow, "Where is the
priest then?" and the lay brother would have to explain where was
the priest's cell. With all this bustling activity, he yet had to
make time to go to service in the church, to serve in the part
devoted to the gentry, and to give full answers to the mass of
necessary and unnecessary questions which pilgrims of the educated
class are fond of showering about them. Watching them during the
course of twenty-four hours, I found it hard to imagine when these
black moving figures sat down and when they slept.
When, coming back from the evening service, I went to the hostel
in which a place had been assigned me, the monk in charge of the
sleeping quarters was standing in the doorway, and beside him, on
the steps, was a group of several men and women dressed like
"Sir," said the monk, stopping me, "will you be so good as to allow
this young man to pass the night in your room? If you would do us
the favour! There are so many people and no place left--it is
And he indicated a short figure in a light overcoat and a straw
hat. I consented, and my chance companion followed me. Unlocking
the little padlock on my door, I was always, whether I wanted to
or not, obliged to look at the picture that hung on the doorpost
on a level with my face. This picture with the title, "A Meditation
on Death," depicted a monk on his knees, gazing at a coffin and at
a skeleton laying in it. Behind the man's back stood another skeleton,
somewhat more solid and carrying a scythe.
"There are no bones like that," said my companion, pointing to the
place in the skeleton where there ought to have been a pelvis.
"Speaking generally, you know, the spiritual fare provided for the
people is not of the first quality," he added, and heaved through
his nose a long and very melancholy sigh, meant to show me that I
had to do with a man who really knew something about spiritual fare.
While I was looking for the matches to light a candle he sighed
once more and said:
"When I was in Harkov I went several times to the anatomy theatre
and saw the bones there; I have even been in the mortuary. Am I not
in your way?"
My room was small and poky, with neither table nor chairs in it,
but quite filled up with a chest of drawers by the window, the stove
and two little wooden sofas which stood against the walls, facing
one another, leaving a narrow space to walk between them. Thin
rusty-looking little mattresses lay on the little sofas, as well
as my belongings. There were two sofas, so this room was evidently
intended for two, and I pointed out the fact to my companion.
"They will soon be ringing for mass, though," he said, "and I shan't
have to be in your way very long."
Still under the impression that he was in my way and feeling awkward,
he moved with a guilty step to his little sofa, sighed guiltily and
sat down. When the tallow candle with its dim, dilatory flame had
left off flickering and burned up sufficiently to make us both
visible, I could make out what he was like. He was a young man of
two-and-twenty, with a round and pleasing face, dark childlike eyes,
dressed like a townsman in grey cheap clothes, and as one could
judge from his complexion and narrow shoulders, not used to manual
labour. He was of a very indefinite type; one could take him neither
for a student nor for a man in trade, still less for a workman. But
looking at his attractive face and childlike friendly eyes, I was
unwilling to believe he was one of those vagabond impostors with
whom every conventual establishment where they give food and lodging
is flooded, and who give themselves out as divinity students,
expelled for standing up for justice, or for church singers who
have lost their voice. . . . There was something characteristic,
typical, very familiar in his face, but what exactly, I could not
remember nor make out.
For a long time he sat silent, pondering. Probably because I had
not shown appreciation of his remarks about bones and the mortuary,
he thought that I was ill-humoured and displeased at his presence.
Pulling a sausage out of his pocket, he turned it about before his
eyes and said irresolutely:
"Excuse my troubling you, . . . have you a knife?"
I gave him a knife.
"The sausage is disgusting," he said, frowning and cutting himself
off a little bit. "In the shop here they sell you rubbish and fleece
you horribly. . . . I would offer you a piece, but you would scarcely
care to consume it. Will you have some?"
In his language, too, there was something typical that had a very
great deal in common with what was characteristic in his face, but
what it was exactly I still could not decide. To inspire confidence
and to show that I was not ill-humoured, I took some of the proffered
sausage. It certainly was horrible; one needed the teeth of a good
house-dog to deal with it. As we worked our jaws we got into
conversation; we began complaining to each other of the lengthiness
of the service.
"The rule here approaches that of Mount Athos," I said; "but at
Athos the night services last ten hours, and on great feast-days
--fourteen! You should go there for prayers!"
"Yes," answered my companion, and he wagged his head, "I have been
here for three weeks. And you know, every day services, every day
services. On ordinary days at midnight they ring for matins, at
five o'clock for early mass, at nine o'clock for late mass. Sleep
is utterly out of the question. In the daytime there are hymns of
praise, special prayers, vespers. . . . And when I was preparing
for the sacrament I was simply dropping from exhaustion." He sighed
and went on: "And it's awkward not to go to church. . . . The monks
give one a room, feed one, and, you know, one is ashamed not to go.
One wouldn't mind standing it for a day or two, perhaps, but three
weeks is too much--much too much I Are you here for long?"
"I am going to-morrow evening."
"But I am staying another fortnight."
"But I thought it was not the rule to stay for so long here?" I
"Yes, that's true: if anyone stays too long, sponging on the monks,
he is asked to go. Judge for yourself, if the proletariat were
allowed to stay on here as long as they liked there would never be
a room vacant, and they would eat up the whole monastery. That's
true. But the monks make an exception for me, and I hope they won't
turn me out for some time. You know I am a convert."
"I am a Jew baptized. . . . Only lately I have embraced orthodoxy."
Now I understood what I had before been utterly unable to understand
from his face: his thick lips, and his way of twitching up the right
corner of his mouth and his right eyebrow, when he was talking, and
that peculiar oily brilliance of his eyes which is only found in
Jews. I understood, too, his phraseology. . . . From further
conversation I learned that his name was Alexandr Ivanitch, and had
in the past been Isaac, that he was a native of the Mogilev province,
and that he had come to the Holy Mountains from Novotcherkassk,
where he had adopted the orthodox faith.
Having finished his sausage, Alexandr Ivanitch got up, and, raising
his right eyebrow, said his prayer before the ikon. The eyebrow
remained up when he sat down again on the little sofa and began
giving me a brief account of his long biography.
"From early childhood I cherished a love for learning," he began
in a tone which suggested he was not speaking of himself, but of
some great man of the past. "My parents were poor Hebrews; they
exist by buying and selling in a small way; they live like beggars,
you know, in filth. In fact, all the people there are poor and
superstitious; they don't like education, because education, very
naturally, turns a man away from religion. . . . They are fearful
fanatics. . . . Nothing would induce my parents to let me be educated,
and they wanted me to take to trade, too, and to know nothing but
the Talmud. . . . But you will agree, it is not everyone who can
spend his whole life struggling for a crust of bread, wallowing in
filth, and mumbling the Talmud. At times officers and country
gentlemen would put up at papa's inn, and they used to talk a great
deal of things which in those days I had never dreamed of; and, of
course, it was alluring and moved me to envy. I used to cry and
entreat them to send me to school, but they taught me to read Hebrew
and nothing more. Once I found a Russian newspaper, and took it
home with me to make a kite of it. I was beaten for it, though I
couldn't read Russian. Of course, fanaticism is inevitable, for
every people instinctively strives to preserve its nationality, but
I did not know that then and was very indignant. . . ."
Having made such an intellectual observation, Isaac, as he had been,
raised his right eyebrow higher than ever in his satisfaction and
looked at me, as it were, sideways, like a cock at a grain of corn,
with an air as though he would say: "Now at last you see for certain
that I am an intellectual man, don't you?" After saying something
more about fanaticism and his irresistible yearning for enlightenment,
he went on:
"What could I do? I ran away to Smolensk. And there I had a cousin
who relined saucepans and made tins. Of course, I was glad to work
under him, as I had nothing to live upon; I was barefoot and in
rags. . . . I thought I could work by day and study at night and
on Saturdays. And so I did, but the police found out I had no
passport and sent me back by stages to my father. . . ."
Alexandr Ivanitch shrugged one shoulder and sighed.
"What was one to do?" he went on, and the more vividly the past
rose up before his mind, the more marked his Jewish accent became.
"My parents punished me and handed me over to my grandfather, a
fanatical old Jew, to be reformed. But I went off at night to Shklov.
And when my uncle tried to catch me in Shklov, I went off to Mogilev;
there I stayed two days and then I went off to Starodub with a
Later on he mentioned in his story Gonel, Kiev, Byelaya, Tserkov,
Uman, Balt, Bendery and at last reached Odessa.
"In Odessa I wandered about for a whole week, out of work and hungry,
till I was taken in by some Jews who went about the town buying
second-hand clothes. I knew how to read and write by then, and had
done arithmetic up to fractions, and I wanted to go to study
somewhere, but I had not the means. What was I to do? For six months
I went about Odessa buying old clothes, but the Jews paid me no
wages, the rascals. I resented it and left them. Then I went by
steamer to Perekop."
"Oh, nothing. A Greek promised me a job there. In short, till I was
sixteen I wandered about like that with no definite work and no
roots till I got to Poltava. There a student, a Jew, found out that
I wanted to study, and gave me a letter to the Harkov students. Of
course, I went to Harkov. The students consulted together and began
to prepare me for the technical school. And, you know, I must say
the students that I met there were such that I shall never forget
them to the day of my death. To say nothing of their giving me food
and lodging, they set me on the right path, they made me think,
showed me the object of life. Among them were intellectual remarkable
people who by now are celebrated. For instance, you have heard of
Grumaher, haven't you?"
"No, I haven't."
"You haven't! He wrote very clever articles in the _Harkov Gazette_,
and was preparing to be a professor. Well, I read a great deal and
attended the student's societies, where you hear nothing that is
commonplace. I was working up for six months, but as one has to
have been through the whole high-school course of mathematics to
enter the technical school, Grumaher advised me to try for the
veterinary institute, where they admit high-school boys from the
sixth form. Of course, I began working for it. I did not want to
be a veterinary surgeon but they told me that after finishing the
course at the veterinary institute I should be admitted to the
faculty of medicine without examination. I learnt all Kühner; I
could read Cornelius Nepos, _à livre ouvert_; and in Greek I read
through almost all Curtius. But, you know, one thing and another,
. . . the students leaving and the uncertainty of my position, and
then I heard that my mamma had come and was looking for me all over
Harkov. Then I went away. What was I to do? But luckily I learned
that there was a school of mines here on the Donets line. Why should
I not enter that? You know the school of mines qualifies one as a
mining foreman--a splendid berth. I know of mines where the foremen
get a salary of fifteen hundred a year. Capital. . . . I entered
it. . . ."
With an expression of reverent awe on his face Alexandr Ivanitch
enumerated some two dozen abstruse sciences in which instruction
was given at the school of mines; he described the school itself,
the construction of the shafts, and the condition of the miners. . . .
Then he told me a terrible story which sounded like an invention,
though I could not help believing it, for his tone in telling it
was too genuine and the expression of horror on his Semitic face
was too evidently sincere.
"While I was doing the practical work, I had such an accident one
day!" he said, raising both eyebrows. "I was at a mine here in the
Donets district. You have seen, I dare say, how people are let down
into the mine. You remember when they start the horse and set the
gates moving one bucket on the pulley goes down into the mine, while
the other comes up; when the first begins to come up, then the
second goes down--exactly like a well with two pails. Well, one
day I got into the bucket, began going down, and can you fancy, all
at once I heard, Trrr! The chain had broken and I flew to the devil
together with the bucket and the broken bit of chain. . . . I fell
from a height of twenty feet, flat on my chest and stomach, while
the bucket, being heavier, reached the bottom before me, and I hit
this shoulder here against its edge. I lay, you know, stunned. I
thought I was killed, and all at once I saw a fresh calamity: the
other bucket, which was going up, having lost the counter-balancing
weight, was coming down with a crash straight upon me. . . . What
was I to do? Seeing the position, I squeezed closer to the wall,
crouching and waiting for the bucket to come full crush next minute
on my head. I thought of papa and mamma and Mogilev and Grumaher.
. . . I prayed. . . . But happily . . . it frightens me even to
think of it. . . ."
Alexandr Ivanitch gave a constrained smile and rubbed his forehead
with his hand.
"But happily it fell beside me and only caught this side a little.
. . . It tore off coat, shirt and skin, you know, from this side.
. . . The force of it was terrific. I was unconscious after it.
They got me out and sent me to the hospital. I was there four months,
and the doctors there said I should go into consumption. I always
have a cough now and a pain in my chest. And my psychic condition
is terrible. . . . When I am alone in a room I feel overcome with
terror. Of course, with my health in that state, to be a mining
foreman is out of the question. I had to give up the school of
mines. . . ."
"And what are you doing now?" I asked.
"I have passed my examination as a village schoolmaster. Now I
belong to the orthodox church, and I have a right to be a teacher.
In Novotcherkassk, where I was baptized, they took a great interest
in me and promised me a place in a church parish school. I am going
there in a fortnight, and shall ask again."
Alexandr Ivanitch took off his overcoat and remained in a shirt
with an embroidered Russian collar and a worsted belt.
"It is time for bed," he said, folding his overcoat for a pillow,
and yawning. "Till lately, you know, I had no knowledge of God at
all. I was an atheist. When I was lying in the hospital I thought
of religion, and began reflecting on that subject. In my opinion,
there is only one religion possible for a thinking man, and that
is the Christian religion. If you don't believe in Christ, then
there is nothing else to believe in, . . . is there? Judaism has
outlived its day, and is preserved only owing to the peculiarities
of the Jewish race. When civilization reaches the Jews there will
not be a trace of Judaism left. All young Jews are atheists now,
observe. The New Testament is the natural continuation of the Old,
I began trying to find out the reasons which had led him to take
so grave and bold a step as the change of religion, but he kept
repeating the same, "The New Testament is the natural continuation
of the Old"--a formula obviously not his own, but acquired--
which did not explain the question in the least. In spite of my
efforts and artifices, the reasons remained obscure. If one could
believe that he had embraced Orthodoxy from conviction, as he said
he had done, what was the nature and foundation of this conviction
it was impossible to grasp from his words. It was equally impossible
to assume that he had changed his religion from interested motives:
his cheap shabby clothes, his going on living at the expense of the
convent, and the uncertainty of his future, did not look like
interested motives. There was nothing for it but to accept the idea
that my companion had been impelled to change his religion by the
same restless spirit which had flung him like a chip of wood from
town to town, and which he, using the generally accepted formula,
called the craving for enlightenment.
Before going to bed I went into the corridor to get a drink of
water. When I came back my companion was standing in the middle of
the room, and he looked at me with a scared expression. His face
looked a greyish white, and there were drops of perspiration on his
"My nerves are in an awful state," he muttered with a sickly smile,"
awful I It's acute psychological disturbance. But that's of no
And he began reasoning again that the New Testament was a natural
continuation of the Old, that Judaism has outlived its day. . . .
Picking out his phrases, he seemed to be trying to put together the
forces of his conviction and to smother with them the uneasiness
of his soul, and to prove to himself that in giving up the religion
of his fathers he had done nothing dreadful or peculiar, but had
acted as a thinking man free from prejudice, and that therefore he
could boldly remain in a room all alone with his conscience. He was
trying to convince himself, and with his eyes besought my assistance.
Meanwhile a big clumsy wick had burned up on our tallow candle. It
was by now getting light. At the gloomy little window, which was
turning blue, we could distinctly see both banks of the Donets River
and the oak copse beyond the river. It was time to s sleep.
"It will be very interesting here to-morrow," said my companion
when I put out the candle and went to bed. "After early mass, the
procession will go in boats from the Monastery to the Hermitage."
Raising his right eyebrow and putting his head on one side, he
prayed before the ikons, and, without undressing, lay down on his
"Yes," he said, turning over on the other side.
"Why yes?" I asked.
"When I accepted orthodoxy in Novotcherkassk my mother was looking
for me in Rostov. She felt that I meant to change my religion," he
sighed, and went on: "It is six years since I was there in the
province of Mogilev. My sister must be married by now."
After a short silence, seeing that I was still awake, he began
talking quietly of how they soon, thank God, would give him a job,
and that at last he would have a home of his own, a settled position,
his daily bread secure. . . . And I was thinking that this man would
never have a home of his own, nor a settled position, nor his daily
bread secure. He dreamed aloud of a village school as of the Promised
Land; like the majority of people, he had a prejudice against a
wandering life, and regarded it as something exceptional, abnormal
and accidental, like an illness, and was looking for salvation in
ordinary workaday life. The tone of his voice betrayed that he was
conscious of his abnormal position and regretted it. He seemed as
it were apologizing and justifying himself.
Not more than a yard from me lay a homeless wanderer; in the rooms
of the hostels and by the carts in the courtyard among the pilgrims
some hundreds of such homeless wanderers were waiting for the
morning, and further away, if one could picture to oneself the whole
of Russia, a vast multitude of such uprooted creatures was pacing
at that moment along highroads and side-tracks, seeking something
better, or were waiting for the dawn, asleep in wayside inns and
little taverns, or on the grass under the open sky. . . . As I fell
asleep I imagined how amazed and perhaps even overjoyed all these
people would have been if reasoning and words could be found to
prove to them that their life was as little in need of justification
as any other. In my sleep I heard a bell ring outside as plaintively
as though shedding bitter tears, and the lay brother calling out
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon us! Come to mass!"
When I woke up my companion was not in the room. It was sunny and
there was a murmur of the crowds through the window. Going out, I
learned that mass was over and that the procession had set off for
the Hermitage some time before. The people were wandering in crowds
upon the river bank and, feeling at liberty, did not know what to
do with themselves: they could not eat or drink, as the late mass
was not yet over at the Hermitage; the Monastery shops where pilgrims
are so fond of crowding and asking prices were still shut. In spite
of their exhaustion, many of them from sheer boredom were trudging
to the Hermitage. The path from the Monastery to the Hermitage,
towards which I directed my steps, twined like a snake along the
high steep bank, going up and down and threading in and out among
the oaks and pines. Below, the Donets gleamed, reflecting the sun;
above, the rugged chalk cliff stood up white with bright green on
the top from the young foliage of oaks and pines, which, hanging
one above another, managed somehow to grow on the vertical cliff
without falling. The pilgrims trailed along the path in single file,
one behind another. The majority of them were Little Russians from
the neighbouring districts, but there were many from a distance,
too, who had come on foot from the provinces of Kursk and Orel; in
the long string of varied colours there were Greek settlers, too,
from Mariupol, strongly built, sedate and friendly people, utterly
unlike their weakly and degenerate compatriots who fill our southern
seaside towns. There were men from the Donets, too, with red stripes
on their breeches, and emigrants from the Tavritchesky province.
There were a good many pilgrims of a nondescript class, like my
Alexandr Ivanitch; what sort of people they were and where they
came from it was impossible to tell from their faces, from their
clothes, or from their speech. The path ended at the little
landing-stage, from which a narrow road went to the left to the
Hermitage, cutting its way through the mountain. At the landing-stage
stood two heavy big boats of a forbidding aspect, like the New
Zealand pirogues which one may see in the works of Jules Verne. One
boat with rugs on the seats was destined for the clergy and the
singers, the other without rugs for the public. When the procession
was returning I found myself among the elect who had succeeded in
squeezing themselves into the second. There were so many of the
elect that the boat scarcely moved, and one had to stand all the
way without stirring and to be careful that one's hat was not
crushed. The route was lovely. Both banks--one high, steep and
white, with overhanging pines and oaks, with the crowds hurrying
back along the path, and the other shelving, with green meadows and
an oak copse bathed in sunshine--looked as happy and rapturous
as though the May morning owed its charm only to them. The reflection
of the sun in the rapidly flowing Donets quivered and raced away
in all directions, and its long rays played on the chasubles, on
the banners and on the drops splashed up by the oars. The singing
of the Easter hymns, the ringing of the bells, the splash of the
oars in the water, the calls of the birds, all mingled in the air
into something tender and harmonious. The boat with the priests and
the banners led the way; at its helm the black figure of a lay
brother stood motionless as a statue.
When the procession was getting near the Monastery, I noticed
Alexandr Ivanitch among the elect. He was standing in front of them
all, and, his mouth wide open with pleasure and his right eyebrow
cocked up, was gazing at the procession. His face was beaming;
probably at such moments, when there were so many people round him
and it was so bright, he was satisfied with himself, his new religion,
and his conscience.
When a little later we were sitting in our room, drinking tea, he
still beamed with satisfaction; his face showed that he was satisfied
both with the tea and with me, that he fully appreciated my being
an intellectual, but that he would know how to play his part with
credit if any intellectual topic turned up. . . .
"Tell me, what psychology ought I to read?" he began an intellectual
conversation, wrinkling up his nose.
"Why, what do you want it for?"
"One cannot be a teacher without a knowledge of psychology. Before
teaching a boy I ought to understand his soul."
I told him that psychology alone would not be enough to make one
understand a boy's soul, and moreover psychology for a teacher who
had not yet mastered the technical methods of instruction in reading,
writing, and arithmetic would be a luxury as superfluous as the
higher mathematics. He readily agreed with me, and began describing
how hard and responsible was the task of a teacher, how hard it was
to eradicate in the boy the habitual tendency to evil and superstition,
to make him think honestly and independently, to instil into him
true religion, the ideas of personal dignity, of freedom, and so
on. In answer to this I said something to him. He agreed again. He
agreed very readily, in fact. Obviously his brain had not a very
firm grasp of all these "intellectual subjects."
Up to the time of my departure we strolled together about the
Monastery, whiling away the long hot day. He never left my side a
minute; whether he had taken a fancy to me or was afraid of solitude,
God only knows! I remember we sat together under a clump of yellow
acacia in one of the little gardens that are scattered on the
"I am leaving here in a fortnight," he said; "it is high time."
"Are you going on foot?"
"From here to Slavyansk I shall walk, then by railway to Nikitovka;
from Nikitovka the Donets line branches off, and along that branch
line I shall walk as far as Hatsepetovka, and there a railway guard,
I know, will help me on my way."
I thought of the bare, deserted steppe between Nikitovka and
Hatsepetovka, and pictured to myself Alexandr Ivanitch striding
along it, with his doubts, his homesickness, and his fear of solitude
. . . . He read boredom in my face, and sighed.
"And my sister must be married by now," he said, thinking aloud,
and at once, to shake off melancholy thoughts, pointed to the top
of the rock and said:
"From that mountain one can see Izyum."
As we were walking up the mountain he had a little misfortune. I
suppose he stumbled, for he slit his cotton trousers and tore the
sole of his shoe.
"Tss!" he said, frowning as he took off a shoe and exposed a bare
foot without a stocking. "How unpleasant! . . . That's a complication,
you know, which . . . Yes!"
Turning the shoe over and over before his eyes, as though unable
to believe that the sole was ruined for ever, he spent a long time
frowning, sighing, and clicking with his tongue.
I had in my trunk a pair of boots, old but fashionable, with pointed
toes and laces. I had brought them with me in case of need, and
only wore them in wet weather. When we got back to our room I made
up a phrase as diplomatic as I could and offered him these boots.
He accepted them and said with dignity:
"I should thank you, but I know that you consider thanks a convention."
He was pleased as a child with the pointed toes and the laces, and
even changed his plans.
"Now I shall go to Novotcherkassk in a week, and not in a fortnight,"
he said, thinking aloud. "In shoes like these I shall not be ashamed
to show myself to my godfather. I was not going away from here just
because I hadn't any decent clothes. . . ."
When the coachman was carrying out my trunk, a lay brother with a
good ironical face came in to sweep out the room. Alexandr Ivanitch
seemed flustered and embarrassed and asked him timidly:
"Am I to stay here or go somewhere else?"
He could not make up his mind to occupy a whole room to himself,
and evidently by now was feeling ashamed of living at the expense
of the Monastery. He was very reluctant to part from me; to put off
being lonely as long as possible, he asked leave to see me on my
The road from the Monastery, which had been excavated at the cost
of no little labour in the chalk mountain, moved upwards, going
almost like a spiral round the mountain, over roots and under sullen
overhanging pines. . . .
The Donets was the first to vanish from our sight, after it the
Monastery yard with its thousands of people, and then the green
roofs. . . . Since I was mounting upwards everything seemed vanishing
into a pit. The cross on the church, burnished by the rays of the
setting sun, gleamed brightly in the abyss and vanished. Nothing
was left but the oaks, the pines, and the white road. But then our
carriage came out on a level country, and that was all left below
and behind us. Alexandr Ivanitch jumped out and, smiling mournfully,
glanced at me for the last time with his childish eyes, and vanished
from me for ever. . . .
The impressions of the Holy Mountains had already become memories,
and I saw something new: the level plain, the whitish-brown distance,
the way side copse, and beyond it a windmill which stood with out
moving, and seemed bored at not being allowed to wave its sails
because it was a holiday.
_The Story of a Journey_
EARLY one morning in July a shabby covered chaise, one of those
antediluvian chaises without springs in which no one travels in
Russia nowadays, except merchant's clerks, dealers and the less
well-to-do among priests, drove out of N., the principal town of
the province of Z., and rumbled noisily along the posting-track.
It rattled and creaked at every movement; the pail, hanging on
behind, chimed in gruffly, and from these sounds alone and from the
wretched rags of leather hanging loose about its peeling body one
could judge of its decrepit age and readiness to drop to pieces.
Two of the inhabitants of N. were sitting in the chaise; they were
a merchant of N. called Ivan Ivanitch Kuzmitchov, a man with a
shaven face wearing glasses and a straw hat, more like a government
clerk than a merchant, and Father Christopher Sireysky, the priest
of the Church of St. Nikolay at N., a little old man with long hair,
in a grey canvas cassock, a wide-brimmed top-hat and a coloured
embroidered girdle. The former was absorbed in thought, and kept
tossing his head to shake off drowsiness; in his countenance an
habitual business-like reserve was struggling with the genial
expression of a man who has just said good-bye to his relatives and
has had a good drink at parting. The latter gazed with moist eyes
wonderingly at God's world, and his smile was so broad that it
seemed to embrace even the brim of his hat; his face was red and
looked frozen. Both of them, Father Christopher as well as Kuzmitchov,
were going to sell wool. At parting with their families they had
just eaten heartily of pastry puffs and cream, and although it was
so early in the morning had had a glass or two. . . . Both were in
the best of humours.
Apart from the two persons described above and the coachman Deniska,
who lashed the pair of frisky bay horses, there was another figure
in the chaise--a boy of nine with a sunburnt face, wet with tears.
This was Yegorushka, Kuzmitchov's nephew. With the sanction of his
uncle and the blessing of Father Christopher, he was now on his way
to go to school. His mother, Olga Ivanovna, the widow of a collegiate
secretary, and Kuzmitchov's sister, who was fond of educated people
and refined society, had entreated her brother to take Yegorushka
with him when he went to sell wool and to put him to school; and
now the boy was sitting on the box beside the coachman Deniska,
holding on to his elbow to keep from falling off, and dancing up
and down like a kettle on the hob, with no notion where he was going
or what he was going for. The rapid motion through the air blew out
his red shirt like a balloon on his back and made his new hat with
a peacock's feather in it, like a coachman's, keep slipping on to
the back of his head. He felt himself an intensely unfortunate
person, and had an inclination to cry.
When the chaise drove past the prison, Yegorushka glanced at the
sentinels pacing slowly by the high white walls, at the little
barred windows, at the cross shining on the roof, and remembered
how the week before, on the day of the Holy Mother of Kazan, he had
been with his mother to the prison church for the Dedication Feast,
and how before that, at Easter, he had gone to the prison with
Deniska and Ludmila the cook, and had taken the prisoners Easter
bread, eggs, cakes and roast beef. The prisoners had thanked them
and made the sign of the cross, and one of them had given Yegorushka
a pewter buckle of his own making.
The boy gazed at the familiar places, while the hateful chaise flew
by and left them all behind. After the prison he caught glimpses
of black grimy foundries, followed by the snug green cemetery
surrounded by a wall of cobblestones; white crosses and tombstones,
nestling among green cherry-trees and looking in the distance like
patches of white, peeped out gaily from behind the wall. Yegorushka
remembered that when the cherries were in blossom those white patches
melted with the flowers into a sea of white; and that when the
cherries were ripe the white tombstones and crosses were dotted
with splashes of red like bloodstains. Under the cherry trees in
the cemetery Yegorushka's father and granny, Zinaida Danilovna, lay
sleeping day and night. When Granny had died she had been put in a
long narrow coffin and two pennies had been put upon her eyes, which
would not keep shut. Up to the time of her death she had been brisk,
and used to bring soft rolls covered with poppy seeds from the
market. Now she did nothing but sleep and sleep. . . .
Beyond the cemetery came the smoking brickyards. From under the
long roofs of reeds that looked as though pressed flat to the ground,
a thick black smoke rose in great clouds and floated lazily upwards.
The sky was murky above the brickyards and the cemetery, and great
shadows from the clouds of smoke crept over the fields and across
the roads. Men and horses covered with red dust were moving about
in the smoke near the roofs.
The town ended with the brickyards and the open country began.
Yegorushka looked at the town for the last time, pressed his face
against Deniska's elbow, and wept bitterly.
"Come, not done howling yet, cry-baby!" cried Kuzmitchov. "You are
blubbering again, little milksop! If you don't want to go, stay
behind; no one is taking you by force!
"Never mind, never mind, Yegor boy, never mind," Father Christopher
muttered rapidly--"never mind, my boy. . . . Call upon God. . . .
You are not going for your harm, but for your good. Learning is
light, as the saying is, and ignorance is darkness. . . . That is
"Do you want to go back?" asked Kuzmitchov.
"Yes, . . . yes, . . ." answered Yegorushka, sobbing.
"Well, you'd better go back then. Anyway, you are going for nothing;
it's a day's journey for a spoonful of porridge."
"Never mind, never mind, my boy," Father Christopher went on. "Call
upon God. . . . Lomonosov set off with the fishermen in the same
way, and he became a man famous all over Europe. Learning in
conjunction with faith brings forth fruit pleasing to God. What are
the words of the prayer? For the glory of our Maker, for the comfort
of our parents, for the benefit of our Church and our country. . . .
"The benefit is not the same in all cases," said Kuzmitchov, lighting
a cheap cigar; "some will study twenty years and get no sense from
"That does happen."
"Learning is a benefit to some, but others only muddle their brains.
My sister is a woman who does not understand; she is set upon
refinement, and wants to turn Yegorka into a learned man, and she
does not understand that with my business I could settle Yegorka
happily for the rest of his life. I tell you this, that if everyone
were to go in for being learned and refined there would be no one
to sow the corn and do the trading; they would all die of hunger."
"And if all go in for trading and sowing corn there will be no one
to acquire learning."
And considering that each of them had said something weighty and
convincing, Kuzmitchov and Father Christopher both looked serious
and cleared their throats simultaneously.
Deniska, who had been listening to their conversation without
understanding a word of it, shook his head and, rising in his seat,
lashed at both the bays. A silence followed.
Meanwhile a wide boundless plain encircled by a chain of low hills
lay stretched before the travellers' eyes. Huddling together and
peeping out from behind one another, these hills melted together
into rising ground, which stretched right to the very horizon and
disappeared into the lilac distance; one drives on and on and cannot
discern where it begins or where it ends. . . . The sun had already
peeped out from beyond the town behind them, and quietly, without
fuss, set to its accustomed task. At first in the distance before
them a broad, bright, yellow streak of light crept over the ground
where the earth met the sky, near the little barrows and the
windmills, which in the distance looked like tiny men waving their
arms. A minute later a similar streak gleamed a little nearer, crept
to the right and embraced the hills. Something warm touched
Yegorushka's spine; the streak of light, stealing up from behind,
darted between the chaise and the horses, moved to meet the other
streak, and soon the whole wide steppe flung off the twilight of
early morning, and was smiling and sparkling with dew.
The cut rye, the coarse steppe grass, the milkwort, the wild hemp,
all withered from the sultry heat, turned brown and half dead, now
washed by the dew and caressed by the sun, revived, to fade again.
Arctic petrels flew across the road with joyful cries; marmots
called to one another in the grass. Somewhere, far away to the left,
lapwings uttered their plaintive notes. A covey of partridges,
scared by the chaise, fluttered up and with their soft "trrrr!"
flew off to the hills. In the grass crickets, locusts and grasshoppers
kept up their churring, monotonous music.
But a little time passed, the dew evaporated, the air grew stagnant,
and the disillusioned steppe began to wear its jaded July aspect.
The grass drooped, everything living was hushed. The sun-baked
hills, brownish-green and lilac in the distance, with their quiet
shadowy tones, the plain with the misty distance and, arched above
them, the sky, which seems terribly deep and transparent in the
steppes, where there are no woods or high hills, seemed now endless,
petrified with dreariness. . . .
How stifling and oppressive it was! The chaise raced along, while
Yegorushka saw always the same--the sky, the plain, the low hills
. . . . The music in the grass was hushed, the petrels had flown away,
the partridges were out of sight, rooks hovered idly over the
withered grass; they were all alike and made the steppe even more
A hawk flew just above the ground, with an even sweep of its wings,
suddenly halted in the air as though pondering on the dreariness
of life, then fluttered its wings and flew like an arrow over the
steppe, and there was no telling why it flew off and what it wanted.
In the distance a windmill waved its sails. . . .
Now and then a glimpse of a white potsherd or a heap of stones broke
the monotony; a grey stone stood out for an instant or a parched
willow with a blue crow on its top branch; a marmot would run across
the road and--again there flitted before the eyes only the high
grass, the low hills, the rooks. . . .
But at last, thank God, a waggon loaded with sheaves came to meet
them; a peasant wench was lying on the very top. Sleepy, exhausted
by the heat, she lifted her head and looked at the travellers.
Deniska gaped, looking at her; the horses stretched out their noses
towards the sheaves; the chaise, squeaking, kissed the waggon, and
the pointed ears passed over Father Christopher's hat like a brush.
"You are driving over folks, fatty!" cried Deniska. "What a swollen
lump of a face, as though a bumble-bee had stung it!"
The girl smiled drowsily, and moving her lips lay down again; then
a solitary poplar came into sight on the low hill. Someone had
planted it, and God only knows why it was there. It was hard to
tear the eyes away from its graceful figure and green drapery. Was
that lovely creature happy? Sultry heat in summer, in winter frost
and snowstorms, terrible nights in autumn when nothing is to be
seen but darkness and nothing is to be heard but the senseless angry
howling wind, and, worst of all, alone, alone for the whole of life
. . . . Beyond the poplar stretches of wheat extended like a bright
yellow carpet from the road to the top of the hills. On the hills
the corn was already cut and laid up in sheaves, while at the bottom
they were still cutting. . . . Six mowers were standing in a row
swinging their scythes, and the scythes gleamed gaily and uttered
in unison together "Vzhee, vzhee!" From the movements of the peasant
women binding the sheaves, from the faces of the mowers, from the
glitter of the scythes, it could be seen that the sultry heat was
baking and stifling. A black dog with its tongue hanging out ran
from the mowers to meet the chaise, probably with the intention of
barking, but stopped halfway and stared indifferently at Deniska,
who shook his whip at him; it was too hot to bark! One peasant woman
got up and, putting both hands to her aching back, followed
Yegorushka's red shirt with her eyes. Whether it was that the colour
pleased her or that he reminded her of her children, she stood a
long time motionless staring after him.
But now the wheat, too, had flashed by; again the parched plain,
the sunburnt hills, the sultry sky stretched before them; again a
hawk hovered over the earth. In the distance, as before, a windmill
whirled its sails, and still it looked like a little man waving his
arms. It was wearisome to watch, and it seemed as though one would
never reach it, as though it were running away from the chaise.
Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov were silent. Deniska lashed the
horses and kept shouting to them, while Yegorushka had left off
crying, and gazed about him listlessly. The heat and the tedium of
the steppes overpowered him. He felt as though he had been travelling
and jolting up and down for a very long time, that the sun had been
baking his back a long time. Before they had gone eight miles he
began to feel "It must be time to rest." The geniality gradually
faded out of his uncle's face and nothing else was left but the air
of business reserve; and to a gaunt shaven face, especially when
it is adorned with spectacles and the nose and temples are covered
with dust, this reserve gives a relentless, inquisitorial appearance.
Father Christopher never left off gazing with wonder at God's world,
and smiling. Without speaking, he brooded over something pleasant
and nice, and a kindly, genial smile remained imprinted on his face.
It seemed as though some nice and pleasant thought were imprinted
on his brain by the heat.
"Well, Deniska, shall we overtake the waggons to-day?" asked
Deniska looked at the sky, rose in his seat, lashed at his horses
and then answered:
"By nightfall, please God, we shall overtake them."
There was a sound of dogs barking. Half a dozen steppe sheep-dogs,
suddenly leaping out as though from ambush, with ferocious howling
barks, flew to meet the chaise. All of them, extraordinarily furious,
surrounded the chaise, with their shaggy spider-like muzzles and
their eyes red with anger, and jostling against one another in their
anger, raised a hoarse howl. They were filled with passionate hatred
of the horses, of the chaise, and of the human beings, and seemed
ready to tear them into pieces. Deniska, who was fond of teasing
and beating, was delighted at the chance of it, and with a malignant
expression bent over and lashed at the sheep-dogs with his whip.
The brutes growled more than ever, the horses flew on; and Yegorushka,
who had difficulty in keeping his seat on the box, realized, looking
at the dogs' eyes and teeth, that if he fell down they would instantly
tear him to bits; but he felt no fear and looked at them as malignantly
as Deniska, and regretted that he had no whip in his hand.
The chaise came upon a flock of sheep.
"Stop!" cried Kuzmitchov. "Pull up! Woa!"
Deniska threw his whole body backwards and pulled up the horses.
"Come here!" Kuzmitchov shouted to the shepherd. "Call off the dogs,
The old shepherd, tattered and barefoot, wearing a fur cap, with a
dirty sack round his loins and a long crook in his hand--a regular
figure from the Old Testament--called off the dogs, and taking
off his cap, went up to the chaise. Another similar Old Testament
figure was standing motionless at the other end of the flock, staring
without interest at the travellers.
"Whose sheep are these?" asked Kuzmitchov.
"Varlamov's," the old man answered in a loud voice.
"Varlamov's," repeated the shepherd standing at the other end of
"Did Varlamov come this way yesterday or not?"
"He did not; his clerk came. . . ."
The chaise rolled on and the shepherds, with their angry dogs, were
left behind. Yegorushka gazed listlessly at the lilac distance in
front, and it began to seem as though the windmill, waving its
sails, were getting nearer. It became bigger and bigger, grew quite
large, and now he could distinguish clearly its two sails. One sail
was old and patched, the other had only lately been made of new
wood and glistened in the sun. The chaise drove straight on, while
the windmill, for some reason, began retreating to the left. They
drove on and on, and the windmill kept moving away to the left, and
still did not disappear.
"A fine windmill Boltva has put up for his son," observed Deniska.
"And how is it we don't see his farm?"
"It is that way, beyond the creek."
Boltva's farm, too, soon came into sight, but yet the windmill did
not retreat, did not drop behind; it still watched Yegorushka with
its shining sail and waved. What a sorcerer!
Towards midday the chaise turned off the road to the right; it went
on a little way at walking pace and then stopped. Yegorushka heard
a soft, very caressing gurgle, and felt a different air breathe on
his face with a cool velvety touch. Through a little pipe of hemlock
stuck there by some unknown benefactor, water was running in a thin
trickle from a low hill, put together by nature of huge monstrous
stones. It fell to the ground, and limpid, sparkling gaily in the
sun, and softly murmuring as though fancying itself a great tempestuous
torrent, flowed swiftly away to the left. Not far from its source
the little stream spread itself out into a pool; the burning sunbeams
and the parched soil greedily drank it up and sucked away its
strength; but a little further on it must have mingled with another
rivulet, for a hundred paces away thick reeds showed green and
luxuriant along its course, and three snipe flew up from them with
a loud cry as the chaise drove by.
The travellers got out to rest by the stream and feed the horses.
Kuzmitchov, Father Christopher and Yegorushka sat down on a mat in
the narrow strip of shade cast by the chaise and the unharnessed
horses. The nice pleasant thought that the heat had imprinted in
Father Christopher's brain craved expression after he had had a
drink of water and eaten a hard-boiled egg. He bent a friendly look
upon Yegorushka, munched, and began:
"I studied too, my boy; from the earliest age God instilled into
me good sense and understanding, so that while I was just such a
lad as you I was beyond others, a comfort to my parents and preceptors
by my good sense. Before I was fifteen I could speak and make verses
in Latin, just as in Russian. I was the crosier-bearer to his
Holiness Bishop Christopher. After mass one day, as I remember it
was the patron saint's day of His Majesty Tsar Alexandr Pavlovitch
of blessed memory, he unrobed at the altar, looked kindly at me and
asked, 'Puer bone, quam appelaris?' And I answered, 'Christopherus
sum;' and he said, 'Ergo connominati sumus'--that is, that we
were namesakes. . . Then he asked in Latin, 'Whose son are you?'
To which I answered, also in Latin, that I was the son of deacon
Sireysky of the village of Lebedinskoe. Seeing my readiness and the
clearness of my answers, his Holiness blessed me and said, 'Write
to your father that I will not forget him, and that I will keep you
in view.' The holy priests and fathers who were standing round the
altar, hearing our discussion in Latin, were not a little surprised,
and everyone expressed his pleasure in praise of me. Before I had
moustaches, my boy, I could read Latin, Greek, and French; I knew
philosophy, mathematics, secular history, and all the sciences. The
Lord gave me a marvellous memory. Sometimes, if I read a thing once
or twice, I knew it by heart. My preceptors and patrons were amazed,
and so they expected I should make a learned man, a luminary of the
Church. I did think of going to Kiev to continue my studies, but
my parents did not approve. 'You'll be studying all your life,'
said my father; 'when shall we see you finished?' Hearing such
words, I gave up study and took a post. . . . Of course, I did not
become a learned man, but then I did not disobey my parents; I was
a comfort to them in their old age and gave them a creditable
funeral. Obedience is more than fasting and prayer.
"I suppose you have forgotten all your learning?" observed Kuzmitchov.
"I should think so! Thank God, I have reached my eightieth year!
Something of philosophy and rhetoric I do remember, but languages
and mathematics I have quite forgotten."
Father Christopher screwed up his eyes, thought a minute and said
in an undertone:
"What is a substance? A creature is a self-existing object, not
requiring anything else for its completion."
He shook his head and laughed with feeling.
"Spiritual nourishment!" he said. "Of a truth matter nourishes the
flesh and spiritual nourishment the soul!"
"Learning is all very well," sighed Kuzmitchov, "but if we don't
overtake Varlamov, learning won't do much for us."
"A man isn't a needle--we shall find him. He must be going his
rounds in these parts."
Among the sedge were flying the three snipe they had seen before,
and in their plaintive cries there was a note of alarm and vexation
at having been driven away from the stream. The horses were steadily
munching and snorting. Deniska walked about by them and, trying to
appear indifferent to the cucumbers, pies, and eggs that the gentry
were eating, he concentrated himself on the gadflies and horseflies
that were fastening upon the horses' backs and bellies; he squashed
his victims apathetically, emitting a peculiar, fiendishly triumphant,
guttural sound, and when he missed them cleared his throat with an
air of vexation and looked after every lucky one that escaped death.
"Deniska, where are you? Come and eat," said Kuzmitchov, heaving a
deep sigh, a sign that he had had enough.
Deniska diffidently approached the mat and picked out five thick
and yellow cucumbers (he did not venture to take the smaller and
fresher ones), took two hard-boiled eggs that looked dark and were
cracked, then irresolutely, as though afraid he might get a blow
on his outstretched hand, touched a pie with his finger.
"Take them, take them," Kuzmitchov urged him on.
Deniska took the pies resolutely, and, moving some distance away,
sat down on the grass with his back to the chaise. At once there
was such a sound of loud munching that even the horses turned round
to look suspiciously at Deniska.
After his meal Kuzmitchov took a sack containing something out of
the chaise and said to Yegorushka:
"I am going to sleep, and you mind that no one takes the sack from
under my head."
Father Christopher took off his cassock, his girdle, and his full
coat, and Yegorushka, looking at him, was dumb with astonishment.
He had never imagined that priests wore trousers, and Father
Christopher had on real canvas trousers thrust into high boots, and
a short striped jacket. Looking at him, Yegorushka thought that in
this costume, so unsuitable to his dignified position, he looked
with his long hair and beard very much like Robinson Crusoe. After
taking off their outer garments Kuzmitchov and Father Christopher
lay down in the shade under the chaise, facing one another, and
closed their eyes. Deniska, who had finished munching, stretched
himself out on his back and also closed his eyes.
"You look out that no one takes away the horses!" he said to
Yegorushka, and at once fell asleep.
Stillness reigned. There was no sound except the munching and
snorting of the horses and the snoring of the sleepers; somewhere
far away a lapwing wailed, and from time to time there sounded the
shrill cries of the three snipe who had flown up to see whether
their uninvited visitors had gone away; the rivulet babbled, lisping
softly, but all these sounds did not break the stillness, did not
stir the stagnation, but, on the contrary, lulled all nature to
Yegorushka, gasping with the heat, which was particularly oppressive
after a meal, ran to the sedge and from there surveyed the country.
He saw exactly the same as he had in the morning: the plain, the
low hills, the sky, the lilac distance; only the hills stood nearer;
and he could not see the windmill, which had been left far behind.
From behind the rocky hill from which the stream flowed rose another,
smoother and broader; a little hamlet of five or six homesteads
clung to it. No people, no trees, no shade were to be seen about
the huts; it looked as though the hamlet had expired in the burning
air and was dried up. To while away the time Yegorushka caught a
grasshopper in the grass, held it in his closed hand to his ear,
and spent a long time listening to the creature playing on its
instrument. When he was weary of its music he ran after a flock of
yellow butterflies who were flying towards the sedge on the
watercourse, and found himself again beside the chaise, without
noticing how he came there. His uncle and Father Christopher were
sound asleep; their sleep would be sure to last two or three hours
till the horses had rested. . . . How was he to get through that
long time, and where was he to get away from the heat? A hard
problem. . . . Mechanically Yegorushka put his lips to the trickle
that ran from the waterpipe; there was a chilliness in his mouth
and there was the smell of hemlock. He drank at first eagerly, then
went on with effort till the sharp cold had run from his mouth all
over his body and the water was spilt on his shirt. Then he went
up to the chaise and began looking at the sleeping figures. His
uncle's face wore, as before, an expression of business-like reserve.
Fanatically devoted to his work, Kuzmitchov always, even in his
sleep and at church when they were singing, "Like the cherubim,"
thought about his business and could never forget it for a moment;
and now he was probably dreaming about bales of wool, waggons,
prices, Varlamov. . . . Father Christopher, now, a soft, frivolous
and absurd person, had never all his life been conscious of anything
which could, like a boa-constrictor, coil about his soul and hold
it tight. In all the numerous enterprises he had undertaken in his
day what attracted him was not so much the business itself, but the
bustle and the contact with other people involved in every undertaking.
Thus, in the present expedition, he was not so much interested in
wool, in Varlamov, and in prices, as in the long journey, the
conversations on the way, the sleeping under a chaise, and the meals
at odd times. . . . And now, judging from his face, he must have
been dreaming of Bishop Christopher, of the Latin discussion, of
his wife, of puffs and cream and all sorts of things that Kuzmitchov
could not possibly dream of.
While Yegorushka was watching their sleeping faces he suddenly heard
a soft singing; somewhere at a distance a woman was singing, and
it was difficult to tell where and in what direction. The song was
subdued, dreary and melancholy, like a dirge, and hardly audible,
and seemed to come first from the right, then from the left, then
from above, and then from underground, as though an unseen spirit
were hovering over the steppe and singing. Yegorushka looked about
him, and could not make out where the strange song came from. Then
as he listened he began to fancy that the grass was singing; in its
song, withered and half-dead, it was without words, but plaintively
and passionately, urging that it was not to blame, that the sun was
burning it for no fault of its own; it urged that it ardently longed
to live, that it was young and might have been beautiful but for
the heat and the drought; it was guiltless, but yet it prayed
forgiveness and protested that it was in anguish, sad and sorry for
itself. . . .
Yegorushka listened for a little, and it began to seem as though
this dreary, mournful song made the air hotter, more suffocating
and more stagnant. . . . To drown the singing he ran to the sedge,
humming to himself and trying to make a noise with his feet. From
there he looked about in all directions and found out who was
singing. Near the furthest hut in the hamlet stood a peasant woman
in a short petticoat, with long thin legs like a heron. She was
sowing something. A white dust floated languidly from her sieve
down the hillock. Now it was evident that she was singing. A couple
of yards from her a little bare-headed boy in nothing but a smock
was standing motionless. As though fascinated by the song, he stood
stock-still, staring away into the distance, probably at Yegorushka's
The song ceased. Yegorushka sauntered back to the chaise, and to
while away the time went again to the trickle of water.
And again there was the sound of the dreary song. It was the same
long-legged peasant woman in the hamlet over the hill. Yegorushka's
boredom came back again. He left the pipe and looked upwards. What
he saw was so unexpected that he was a little frightened. Just above
his head on one of the big clumsy stones stood a chubby little boy,
wearing nothing but a shirt, with a prominent stomach and thin legs,
the same boy who had been standing before by the peasant woman. He
was gazing with open mouth and unblinking eyes at Yegorushka's
crimson shirt and at the chaise, with a look of blank astonishment
and even fear, as though he saw before him creatures of another
world. The red colour of the shirt charmed and allured him. But the
chaise and the men sleeping under it excited his curiosity; perhaps
he had not noticed how the agreeable red colour and curiosity had
attracted him down from the hamlet, and now probably he was surprised
at his own boldness. For a long while Yegorushka stared at him, and
he at Yegorushka. Both were silent and conscious of some awkwardness.
After a long silence Yegorushka asked:
"What's your name?"
The stranger's cheeks puffed out more than ever; he pressed his
back against the rock, opened his eyes wide, moved his lips, and
answered in a husky bass: "Tit!"
The boys said not another word to each other; after a brief silence,
still keeping his eyes fixed on Yegorushka, the mysterious Tit
kicked up one leg, felt with his heel for a niche and clambered up
the rock; from that point he ascended to the next rock, staggering
backwards and looking intently at Yegorushka, as though afraid he
might hit him from behind, and so made his way upwards till he
disappeared altogether behind the crest of the hill.
After watching him out of sight, Yegorushka put his arms round his
knees and leaned his head on them. . . . The burning sun scorched
the back of his head, his neck, and his spine. The melancholy song
died away, then floated again on the stagnant stifling air. The
rivulet gurgled monotonously, the horses munched, and time dragged
on endlessly, as though it, too, were stagnant and had come to a
standstill. It seemed as though a hundred years had passed since
the morning. Could it be that God's world, the chaise and the horses
would come to a standstill in that air, and, like the hills, turn
to stone and remain for ever in one spot? Yegorushka raised his
head, and with smarting eyes looked before him; the lilac distance,
which till then had been motionless, began heaving, and with the
sky floated away into the distance. . . . It drew after it the brown
grass, the sedge, and with extraordinary swiftness Yegorushka floated
after the flying distance. Some force noiselessly drew him onwards,
and the heat and the wearisome song flew after in pursuit. Yegorushka
bent his head and shut his eyes. . . .
Deniska was the first to wake up. Something must have bitten him,
for he jumped up, quickly scratched his shoulder and said:
"Plague take you, cursed idolater!"
Then he went to the brook, had a drink and slowly washed. His
splashing and puffing roused Yegorushka from his lethargy. The boy
looked at his wet face with drops of water and big freckles which
made it look like marble, and asked:
"Shall we soon be going?"
Deniska looked at the height of the sun and answered:
"I expect so."
He dried himself with the tail of his shirt and, making a very
serious face, hopped on one leg.
"I say, which of us will get to the sedge first?" he said.
Yegorushka was exhausted by the heat and drowsiness, but he raced
off after him all the same. Deniska was in his twentieth year, was
a coachman and going to be married, but he had not left off being
a boy. He was very fond of flying kites, chasing pigeons, playing
knuckle-bones, running races, and always took part in children's
games and disputes. No sooner had his master turned his back or
gone to sleep than Deniska would begin doing something such as
hopping on one leg or throwing stones. It was hard for any grown-up
person, seeing the genuine enthusiasm with which he frolicked about
in the society of children, to resist saying, "What a baby!" Children,
on the other hand, saw nothing strange in the invasion of their
domain by the big coachman. "Let him play," they thought, "as long
as he doesn't fight!" In the same way little dogs see nothing strange
in it when a simple-hearted big dog joins their company uninvited
and begins playing with them.
Deniska outstripped Yegorushka, and was evidently very much pleased
at having done so. He winked at him, and to show that he could hop
on one leg any distance, suggested to Yegorushka that he should hop
with him along the road and from there, without resting, back to
the chaise. Yegorushka declined this suggestion, for he was very
much out of breath and exhausted.
All at once Deniska looked very grave, as he did not look even when
Kuzmitchov gave him a scolding or threatened him with a stick;
listening intently, he dropped quietly on one knee and an expression
of sternness and alarm came into his face, such as one sees in
people who hear heretical talk. He fixed his eyes on one spot,
raised his hand curved into a hollow, and suddenly fell on his
stomach on the ground and slapped the hollow of his hand down upon
"Caught!" he wheezed triumphantly, and, getting up, lifted a big
grasshopper to Yegorushka's eyes.
The two boys stroked the grasshopper's broad green back with their
fingers and touched his antenna, supposing that this would please
the creature. Then Deniska caught a fat fly that had been sucking
blood and offered it to the grasshopper. The latter moved his huge
jaws, that were like the visor of a helmet, with the utmost unconcern,
as though he had been long acquainted with Deniska, and bit off the
fly's stomach. They let him go. With a flash of the pink lining of
his wings, he flew down into the grass and at once began his churring
notes again. They let the fly go, too. It preened its wings, and
without its stomach flew off to the horses.
A loud sigh was heard from under the chaise. It was Kuzmitchov
waking up. He quickly raised his head, looked uneasily into the
distance, and from that look, which passed by Yegorushka and Deniska
without sympathy or interest, it could be seen that his thought on
awaking was of the wool and of Varlamov.
"Father Christopher, get up; it is time to start," he said anxiously.
"Wake up; we've slept too long as it is! Deniska, put the horses
Father Christopher woke up with the same smile with which he had
fallen asleep; his face looked creased and wrinkled from sleep, and
seemed only half the size. After washing and dressing, he proceeded
without haste to take out of his pocket a little greasy psalter;
and standing with his face towards the east, began in a whisper
repeating the psalms of the day and crossing himself.
"Father Christopher," said Kuzmitchov reproachfully, "it's time to
start; the horses are ready, and here are you, . . . upon my word."
"In a minute, in a minute," muttered Father Christopher. "I must
read the psalms. . . . I haven't read them to-day."
"The psalms can wait."
"Ivan Ivanitch, that is my rule every day. . . . I can't . . ."
"God will overlook it."
For a full quarter of an hour Father Christopher stood facing the
east and moving his lips, while Kuzmitchov looked at him almost
with hatred and impatiently shrugged his shoulders. He was particularly
irritated when, after every "Hallelujah," Father Christopher drew
a long breath, rapidly crossed himself and repeated three times,
intentionally raising his voice so that the others might cross
themselves, "Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! Glory be to Thee,
O Lord!" At last he smiled, looked upwards at the sky, and, putting
the psalter in his pocket, said:
A minute later the chaise had started on the road. As though it
were going backwards and not forwards, the travellers saw the same
scene as they had before midday.
The low hills were still plunged in the lilac distance, and no end
could be seen to them. There were glimpses of high grass and heaps
of stones; strips of stubble land passed by them and still the same
rooks, the same hawk, moving its wings with slow dignity, moved
over the steppe. The air was more sultry than ever; from the sultry
heat and the stillness submissive nature was spellbound into silence
. . . . No wind, no fresh cheering sound, no cloud.
But at last, when the sun was beginning to sink into the west, the
steppe, the hills and the air could bear the oppression no longer,
and, driven out of all patience, exhausted, tried to fling off the
yoke. A fleecy ashen-grey cloud unexpectedly appeared behind the
hills. It exchanged glances with the steppe, as though to say, "Here
I am," and frowned. Suddenly something burst in the stagnant air;
there was a violent squall of wind which whirled round and round,
roaring and whistling over the steppe. At once a murmur rose from
the grass and last year's dry herbage, the dust curled in spiral
eddies over the road, raced over the steppe, and carrying with it
straws, dragon flies and feathers, rose up in a whirling black
column towards the sky and darkened the sun. Prickly uprooted plants
ran stumbling and leaping in all directions over the steppe, and
one of them got caught in the whirlwind, turned round and round
like a bird, flew towards the sky, and turning into a little black
speck, vanished from sight. After it flew another, and then a third,
and Yegorushka saw two of them meet in the blue height and clutch
at one another as though they were wrestling.
A bustard flew up by the very road. Fluttering his wings and his
tail, he looked, bathed in the sunshine, like an angler's glittering
tin fish or a waterfly flashing so swiftly over the water that its
wings cannot be told from its antenna, which seem to be growing
before, behind and on all sides. . . . Quivering in the air like
an insect with a shimmer of bright colours, the bustard flew high
up in a straight line, then, probably frightened by a cloud of dust,
swerved to one side, and for a long time the gleam of his wings
could be seen. . . .
Then a corncrake flew up from the grass, alarmed by the hurricane
and not knowing what was the matter. It flew with the wind and not
against it, like all the other birds, so that all its feathers were
ruffled up and it was puffed out to the size of a hen and looked
very angry and impressive. Only the rooks who had grown old on the
steppe and were accustomed to its vagaries hovered calmly over the
grass, or taking no notice of anything, went on unconcernedly pecking
with their stout beaks at the hard earth.
There was a dull roll of thunder beyond the hills; there came a
whiff of fresh air. Deniska gave a cheerful whistle and lashed his
horses. Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov held their hats and looked
intently towards the hills. . . . How pleasant a shower of rain
would have been!
One effort, one struggle more, and it seemed the steppe would have
got the upper hand. But the unseen oppressive force gradually riveted
its fetters on the wind and the air, laid the dust, and the stillness
came back again as though nothing had happened, the cloud hid, the
sun-baked hills frowned submissively, the air grew calm, and only
somewhere the troubled lapwings wailed and lamented their destiny. . . .
Soon after that the evening came on.
In the dusk of evening a big house of one storey, with a rusty iron
roof and with dark windows, came into sight. This house was called
a posting-inn, though it had nothing like a stableyard, and it stood
in the middle of the steppe, with no kind of enclosure round it. A
little to one side of it a wretched little cherry orchard shut in
by a hurdle fence made a dark patch, and under the windows stood
sleepy sunflowers drooping their heavy heads. From the orchard came
the clatter of a little toy windmill, set there to frighten away
hares by the rattle. Nothing more could be seen near the house, and
nothing could be heard but the steppe. The chaise had scarcely
stopped at the porch with an awning over it, when from the house
there came the sound of cheerful voices, one a man's, another a
woman's; there was the creak of a swing-door, and in a flash a tall
gaunt figure, swinging its arms and fluttering its coat, was standing
by the chaise. This was the innkeeper, Moisey Moisevitch, a man no
longer young, with a very pale face and a handsome beard as black
as charcoal. He was wearing a threadbare black coat, which hung
flapping on his narrow shoulders as though on a hatstand, and
fluttered its skirts like wings every time Moisey Moisevitch flung
up his hands in delight or horror. Besides his coat the innkeeper
was wearing full white trousers, not stuck into his boots, and a
velvet waistcoat with brown flowers on it that looked like gigantic
Moisey Moisevitch was at first dumb with excess of feeling on
recognizing the travellers, then he clasped his hands and uttered
a moan. His coat swung its skirts, his back bent into a bow, and
his pale face twisted into a smile that suggested that to see the
chaise was not merely a pleasure to him, but actually a joy so sweet
as to be painful.
"Oh dear! oh dear!" he began in a thin sing-song voice, breathless,
fussing about and preventing the travellers from getting out of the
chaise by his antics. "What a happy day for me! Oh, what am I to
do now? Ivan Ivanitch! Father Christopher! What a pretty little
gentleman sitting on the box, God strike me dead! Oh, my goodness!
why am I standing here instead of asking the visitors indoors?
Please walk in, I humbly beg you. . . . You are kindly welcome!
Give me all your things. . . . Oh, my goodness me!"
Moisey Moisevitch, who was rummaging in the chaise and assisting
the travellers to alight, suddenly turned back and shouted in a
voice as frantic and choking as though he were drowning and calling
"Solomon! Solomon!" a woman's voice repeated indoors.
The swing-door creaked, and in the doorway appeared a rather short
young Jew with a big beak-like nose, with a bald patch surrounded
by rough red curly hair; he was dressed in a short and very shabby
reefer jacket, with rounded lappets and short sleeves, and in short
serge trousers, so that he looked skimpy and short-tailed like an
unfledged bird. This was Solomon, the brother of Moisey Moisevitch.
He went up to the chaise, smiling rather queerly, and did not speak
or greet the travellers.
"Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher have come," said Moisey
Moisevitch in a tone as though he were afraid his brother would not
believe him. "Dear, dear! What a surprise! Such honoured guests to
have come us so suddenly! Come, take their things, Solomon. Walk
in, honoured guests."
A little later Kuzmitchov, Father Christopher, and Yegorushka were
sitting in a big gloomy empty room at an old oak table. The table
was almost in solitude, for, except a wide sofa covered with torn
American leather and three chairs, there was no other furniture in
the room. And, indeed, not everybody would have given the chairs
that name. They were a pitiful semblance of furniture, covered with
American leather that had seen its best days, and with backs bent
backwards at an unnaturally acute angle, so that they looked like
children's sledges. It was hard to imagine what had been the unknown
carpenter's object in bending the chairbacks so mercilessly, and
one was tempted to imagine that it was not the carpenter's fault,
but that some athletic visitor had bent the chairs like this as a
feat, then had tried to bend them back again and had made them
worse. The room looked gloomy, the walls were grey, the ceilings
and the cornices were grimy; on the floor were chinks and yawning
holes that were hard to account for (one might have fancied they
were made by the heel of the same athlete), and it seemed as though
the room would still have been dark if a dozen lamps had hung in
it. There was nothing approaching an ornament on the walls or the
windows. On one wall, however, there hung a list of regulations of
some sort under a two-headed eagle in a grey wooden frame, and on
another wall in the same sort of frame an engraving with the
inscription, "The Indifference of Man." What it was to which men
were indifferent it was impossible to make out, as the engraving
was very dingy with age and was extensively flyblown. There was a
smell of something decayed and sour in the room.
As he led the visitors into the room, Moisey Moisevitch went on
wriggling, gesticulating, shrugging and uttering joyful exclamations;
he considered these antics necessary in order to seem polite and
"When did our waggons go by?" Kuzmitchov asked.
"One party went by early this morning, and the other, Ivan Ivanitch,
put up here for dinner and went on towards evening."
"Ah! . . . Has Varlamov been by or not?"
"No, Ivan Ivanitch. His clerk, Grigory Yegoritch, went by yesterday
morning and said that he had to be to-day at the Molokans' farm."
"Good! so we will go after the waggons directly and then on to the
"Mercy on us, Ivan Ivanitch!" Moisey Moisevitch cried in horror,
flinging up his hands. "Where are you going for the night? You will
have a nice little supper and stay the night, and to-morrow morning,
please God, you can go on and overtake anyone you like."
"There is no time for that. . . . Excuse me, Moisey Moisevitch,
another time; but now I must make haste. We'll stay a quarter of
an hour and then go on; we can stay the night at the Molokans'."
"A quarter of an hour!" squealed Moisey Moisevitch. "Have you no
fear of God, Ivan Ivanitch? You will compel me to hide your caps
and lock the door! You must have a cup of tea and a snack of
"We have no time for tea," said Kuzmitchov.
Moisey Moisevitch bent his head on one side, crooked his knees, and
put his open hands before him as though warding off a blow, while
with a smile of agonized sweetness he began imploring:
"Ivan Ivanitch! Father Christopher! Do be so good as to take a cup
of tea with me. Surely I am not such a bad man that you can't even
drink tea in my house? Ivan Ivanitch!"
"Well, we may just as well have a cup of tea," said Father Christopher,
with a sympathetic smile; "that won't keep us long."
"Very well," Kuzmitchov assented.
Moisey Moisevitch, in a fluster uttered an exclamation of joy, and
shrugging as though he had just stepped out of cold weather into
warm, ran to the door and cried in the same frantic voice in which
he had called Solomon:
"Rosa! Rosa! Bring the samovar!"
A minute later the door opened, and Solomon came into the room
carrying a large tray in his hands. Setting the tray on the table,
he looked away sarcastically with the same queer smile as before.
Now, by the light of the lamp, it was possible to see his smile
distinctly; it was very complex, and expressed a variety of emotions,
but the predominant element in it was undisguised contempt. He
seemed to be thinking of something ludicrous and silly, to be feeling
contempt and dislike, to be pleased at something and waiting for
the favourable moment to turn something into ridicule and to burst
into laughter. His long nose, his thick lips, and his sly prominent
eyes seemed tense with the desire to laugh. Looking at his face,
Kuzmitchov smiled ironically and asked:
"Solomon, why did you not come to our fair at N. this summer, and
act some Jewish scenes?"
Two years before, as Yegorushka remembered very well, at one of the
booths at the fair at N., Solomon had performed some scenes of
Jewish life, and his acting had been a great success. The allusion
to this made no impression whatever upon Solomon. Making no answer,
he went out and returned a little later with the samovar.
When he had done what he had to do at the table he moved a little
aside, and, folding his arms over his chest and thrusting out one
leg, fixed his sarcastic eyes on Father Christopher. There was
something defiant, haughty, and contemptuous in his attitude, and
at the same time it was comic and pitiful in the extreme, because
the more impressive his attitude the more vividly it showed up his
short trousers, his bobtail coat, his caricature of a nose, and his
bird-like plucked-looking little figure.
Moisey Moisevitch brought a footstool from the other room and sat
down a little way from the table.
"I wish you a good appetite! Tea and sugar!" he began, trying to
entertain his visitors. "I hope you will enjoy it. Such rare guests,
such rare ones; it is years since I last saw Father Christopher.
And will no one tell me who is this nice little gentleman?" he
asked, looking tenderly at Yegorushka.
"He is the son of my sister, Olga Ivanovna," answered Kuzmitchov.
"And where is he going?"
"To school. We are taking him to a high school."
In his politeness, Moisey Moisevitch put on a look of wonder and
wagged his head expressively.
"Ah, that is a fine thing," he said, shaking his finger at the
samovar. "That's a fine thing. You will come back from the high
school such a gentleman that we shall all take off our hats to you.
You will be wealthy and wise and so grand that your mamma will be
delighted. Oh, that's a fine thing!"
He paused a little, stroked his knees, and began again in a jocose
and deferential tone.
"You must excuse me, Father Christopher, but I am thinking of writing
to the bishop to tell him you are robbing the merchants of their
living. I shall take a sheet of stamped paper and write that I
suppose Father Christopher is short of pence, as he has taken up
with trade and begun selling wool."
"H'm, yes . . . it's a queer notion in my old age," said Father
Christopher, and he laughed. "I have turned from priest to merchant,
brother. I ought to be at home now saying my prayers, instead of
galloping about the country like a Pharaoh in his chariot. . . .
"But it will mean a lot of pence!"
"Oh, I dare say! More kicks than halfpence, and serve me right. The
wool's not mine, but my son-in-law MikhailÕs!"
"Why doesn't he go himself?"
"Why, because . . . His mother's milk is scarcely dry upon his lips.
He can buy wool all right, but when it comes to selling, he has no
sense; he is young yet. He has wasted all his money; he wanted to
grow rich and cut a dash, but he tried here and there, and no one
would give him his price. And so the lad went on like that for a
year, and then he came to me and said, 'Daddy, you sell the wool
for me; be kind and do it! I am no good at the business!' And that
is true enough. As soon as there is anything wrong then it's 'Daddy,'
but till then they could get on without their dad. When he was
buying he did not consult me, but now when he is in difficulties
it's Daddy's turn. And what does his dad know about it? If it were
not for Ivan Ivanitch, his dad could do nothing. I have a lot of
worry with them."
"Yes; one has a lot of worry with one's children, I can tell you
that," sighed Moisey Moisevitch. "I have six of my own. One needs
schooling, another needs doctoring, and a third needs nursing, and
when they grow up they are more trouble still. It is not only
nowadays, it was the same in Holy Scripture. When Jacob had little
children he wept, and when they grew up he wept still more bitterly."
"H'm, yes . . ." Father Christopher assented pensively, looking at
his glass. "I have no cause myself to rail against the Lord. I have
lived to the end of my days as any man might be thankful to live.
. . . I have married my daughters to good men, my sons I have set
up in life, and now I am free; I have done my work and can go where
I like. I live in peace with my wife. I eat and drink and sleep and
rejoice in my grandchildren, and say my prayers and want nothing
more. I live on the fat of the land, and don't need to curry favour
with anyone. I have never had any trouble from childhood, and now
suppose the Tsar were to ask me, 'What do you need? What would you
like?' why, I don't need anything. I have everything I want and
everything to be thankful for. In the whole town there is no happier
man than I am. My only trouble is I have so many sins, but there
--only God is without sin. That's right, isn't it?"
"No doubt it is."
"I have no teeth, of course; my poor old back aches; there is one
thing and another, . . . asthma and that sort of thing. . . . I
ache. . . . The flesh is weak, but then think of my age! I am in
the eighties! One can't go on for ever; one mustn't outstay one's
Father Christopher suddenly thought of something, spluttered into
his glass and choked with laughter. Moisey Moisevitch laughed, too,
from politeness, and he, too, cleared his throat.
"So funny!" said Father Christopher, and he waved his hand. "My
eldest son Gavrila came to pay me a visit. He is in the medical
line, and is a district doctor in the province of Tchernigov. . . .
'Very well . . .' I said to him, 'here I have asthma and one thing
and another. . . . You are a doctor; cure your father!' He undressed
me on the spot, tapped me, listened, and all sorts of tricks, . . .
kneaded my stomach, and then he said, 'Dad, you ought to be treated
with compressed air.'" Father Christopher laughed convulsively,
till the tears came into his eyes, and got up.
"And I said to him, 'God bless your compressed air!'" he brought
out through his laughter, waving both hands. "God bless your
Moisey Moisevitch got up, too, and with his hands on his stomach,
went off into shrill laughter like the yap of a lap-dog.
"God bless the compressed air!" repeated Father Christopher, laughing.
Moisey Moisevitch laughed two notes higher and so violently that
he could hardly stand on his feet.
"Oh dear!" he moaned through his laughter. "Let me get my breath
. . . . You'll be the death of me."
He laughed and talked, though at the same time he was casting
timorous and suspicious looks at Solomon. The latter was standing
in the same attitude and still smiling. To judge from his eyes and
his smile, his contempt and hatred were genuine, but that was so
out of keeping with his plucked-looking figure that it seemed to
Yegorushka as though he were putting on his defiant attitude and
biting sarcastic smile to play the fool for the entertainment of
their honoured guests.
After drinking six glasses of tea in silence, Kuzmitchov cleared a
space before him on the table, took his bag, the one which he kept
under his head when he slept under the chaise, untied the string
and shook it. Rolls of paper notes were scattered out of the bag
on the table.
"While we have the time, Father Christopher, let us reckon up,"
Moisey Moisevitch was embarrassed at the sight of the money. He got
up, and, as a man of delicate feeling unwilling to pry into other
people's secrets, he went out of the room on tiptoe, swaying his
arms. Solomon remained where he was.
"How many are there in the rolls of roubles?" Father Christopher
"The rouble notes are done up in fifties, . . . the three-rouble
notes in nineties, the twenty-five and hundred roubles in thousands.
You count out seven thousand eight hundred for Varlamov, and I will
count out for Gusevitch. And mind you don't make a mistake. . ."
Yegorushka had never in his life seen so much money as was lying
on the table before him. There must have been a great deal of money,
for the roll of seven thousand eight hundred, which Father Christopher
put aside for Varlamov, seemed very small compared with the whole
heap. At any other time such a mass of money would have impressed
Yegorushka, and would have moved him to reflect how many cracknels,
buns and poppy-cakes could be bought for that money. Now he looked
at it listlessly, only conscious of the disgusting smell of kerosene
and rotten apples that came from the heap of notes. He was exhausted
by the jolting ride in the chaise, tired out and sleepy. His head
was heavy, his eyes would hardly keep open and his thoughts were
tangled like threads. If it had been possible he would have been
relieved to lay his head on the table, so as not to see the lamp
and the fingers moving over the heaps of notes, and to have let his
tired sleepy thoughts go still more at random. When he tried to
keep awake, the light of the lamp, the cups and the fingers grew
double, the samovar heaved and the smell of rotten apples seemed
even more acrid and disgusting.
"Ah, money, money!" sighed Father Christopher, smiling. "You bring
trouble! Now I expect my Mihailo is asleep and dreaming that I am
going to bring him a heap of money like this."
"Your Mihailo Timofevitch is a man who doesn't understand business,"
said Kuzmitchov in an undertone; "he undertakes what isn't his work,
but you understand and can judge. You had better hand over your
wool to me, as I have said already, and I would give you half a
rouble above my own price--yes, I would, simply out of regard for
you. . . ."
"No, Ivan Ivanitch." Father Christopher sighed. "I thank you for
your kindness. . . . Of course, if it were for me to decide, I
shouldn't think twice about it; but as it is, the wool is not mine,
as you know. . . ."
Moisey Moisevitch came in on tiptoe. Trying from delicacy not to
look at the heaps of money, he stole up to Yegorushka and pulled
at his shirt from behind.
"Come along, little gentleman," he said in an undertone, "come and
see the little bear I can show you! Such a queer, cross little bear.
The sleepy boy got up and listlessly dragged himself after Moisey
Moisevitch to see the bear. He went into a little room, where,
before he saw anything, he felt he could not breathe from the smell
of something sour and decaying, which was much stronger here than
in the big room and probably spread from this room all over the
house. One part of the room was occupied by a big bed, covered with
a greasy quilt and another by a chest of drawers and heaps of rags
of all kinds from a woman's stiff petticoat to children's little
breeches and braces. A tallow candle stood on the chest of drawers.
Instead of the promised bear, Yegorushka saw a big fat Jewess with
her hair hanging loose, in a red flannel skirt with black sprigs
on it; she turned with difficulty in the narrow space between the
bed and the chest of drawers and uttered drawn-out moaning as though
she had toothache. On seeing Yegorushka, she made a doleful,
woe-begone face, heaved a long drawn-out sigh, and before he had
time to look round, put to his lips a slice of bread smeared with
"Eat it, dearie, eat it!" she said. "You are here without your
mamma, and no one to look after you. Eat it up."
Yegorushka did eat it, though after the goodies and poppy-cakes he
had every day at home, he did not think very much of the honey,
which was mixed with wax and bees' wings. He ate while Moisey
Moisevitch and the Jewess looked at him and sighed.
"Where are you going, dearie?" asked the Jewess.
"To school," answered Yegorushka.
"And how many brothers and sisters have you got?"
"I am the only one; there are no others."
"O-oh!" sighed the Jewess, and turned her eyes upward. "Poor mamma,
poor mamma! How she will weep and miss you! We are going to send
our Nahum to school in a year. O-oh!"
"Ah, Nahum, Nahum!" sighed Moisey Moisevitch, and the skin of his
pale face twitched nervously. "And he is so delicate."
The greasy quilt quivered, and from beneath it appeared a child's
curly head on a very thin neck; two black eyes gleamed and stared
with curiosity at Yegorushka. Still sighing, Moisey Moisevitch and
the Jewess went to the chest of drawers and began talking in Yiddish.
Moisey Moisevitch spoke in a low bass undertone, and altogether his
talk in Yiddish was like a continual "ghaal-ghaal-ghaal-ghaal, . . ."
while his wife answered him in a shrill voice like a turkeycock's,
and the whole effect of her talk was something like "Too-too-too-too!"
While they were consulting, another little curly head on a thin
neck peeped out of the greasy quilt, then a third, then a fourth.
. . . If Yegorushka had had a fertile imagination he might have
imagined that the hundred-headed hydra was hiding under the quilt.
"Ghaal-ghaal-ghaal-ghaal!" said Moisey Moisevitch.
"Too-too-too-too!" answered the Jewess.
The consultation ended in the Jewess's diving with a deep sigh into
the chest of drawers, and, unwrapping some sort of green rag there,
she took out a big rye cake made in the shape of a heart.
"Take it, dearie," she said, giving Yegorushka the cake; "you have
no mamma now--no one to give you nice things."
Yegorushka stuck the cake in his pocket and staggered to the door,
as he could not go on breathing the foul, sour air in which the
innkeeper and his wife lived. Going back to the big room, he settled
himself more comfortably on the sofa and gave up trying to check
his straying thoughts.
As soon as Kuzmitchov had finished counting out the notes he put
them back into the bag. He did not treat them very respectfully and
stuffed them into the dirty sack without ceremony, as indifferently
as though they had not been money but waste paper.
Father Christopher was talking to Solomon.
"Well, Solomon the Wise!" he said, yawning and making the sign of
the cross over his mouth. "How is business?"
"What sort of business are you talking about?" asked Solomon, and
he looked as fiendish, as though it were a hint of some crime on
"Oh, things in general. What are you doing?"
"What am I doing?" Solomon repeated, and he shrugged his shoulders.
"The same as everyone else. . . . You see, I am a menial, I am my
brother's servant; my brother's the servant of the visitors; the
visitors are Varlamov's servants; and if I had ten millions, Varlamov
would be my servant."
"Why would he be your servant?"
"Why, because there isn't a gentleman or millionaire who isn't ready
to lick the hand of a scabby Jew for the sake of making a kopeck.
Now, I am a scabby Jew and a beggar. Everybody looks at me as though
I were a dog, but if I had money Varlamov would play the fool before
me just as Moisey does before you."
Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov looked at each other. Neither of
them understood Solomon. Kuzmitchov looked at him sternly and dryly,
"How can you compare yourself with Varlamov, you blockhead?"
"I am not such a fool as to put myself on a level with Varlamov,"
answered Solomon, looking sarcastically at the speaker. "Though
Varlamov is a Russian, he is at heart a scabby Jew; money and gain
are all he lives for, but I threw my money in the stove! I don't
want money, or land, or sheep, and there is no need for people to
be afraid of me and to take off their hats when I pass. So I am
wiser than your Varlamov and more like a man!"
A little later Yegorushka, half asleep, heard Solomon in a hoarse
hollow voice choked with hatred, in hurried stuttering phrases,
talking about the Jews. At first he talked correctly in Russian,
then he fell into the tone of a Jewish recitation, and began speaking
as he had done at the fair with an exaggerated Jewish accent.
"Stop! . . ." Father Christopher said to him. "If you don't like
your religion you had better change it, but to laugh at it is a
sin; it is only the lowest of the low who will make fun of his
"You don't understand," Solomon cut him short rudely. "I am talking
of one thing and you are talking of something else. . . ."
"One can see you are a foolish fellow," sighed Father Christopher.
"I admonish you to the best of my ability, and you are angry. I
speak to you like an old man quietly, and you answer like a turkeycock:
'Bla---bla---bla!' You really are a queer fellow. . . ."
Moisey Moisevitch came in. He looked anxiously at Solomon and at
his visitors, and again the skin on his face quivered nervously.
Yegorushka shook his head and looked about him; he caught a passing
glimpse of Solomon's face at the very moment when it was turned
three-quarters towards him and when the shadow of his long nose
divided his left cheek in half; the contemptuous smile mingled with
that shadow; the gleaming sarcastic eyes, the haughty expression,
and the whole plucked-looking little figure, dancing and doubling
itself before Yegorushka's eyes, made him now not like a buffoon,
but like something one sometimes dreams of, like an evil spirit.
"What a ferocious fellow you've got here, Moisey Moisevitch! God
bless him!" said Father Christopher with a smile. "You ought to
find him a place or a wife or something. . . . There's no knowing
what to make of him. . . ."
Kuzmitchov frowned angrily. Moisey Moisevitch looked uneasily and
inquiringly at his brother and the visitors again.
"Solomon, go away!" he said shortly. "Go away!" and he added something
in Yiddish. Solomon gave an abrupt laugh and went out.
"What was it?" Moisey Moisevitch asked Father Christopher anxiously.
"He forgets himself," answered Kuzmitchov. "He's rude and thinks
too much of himself."
"I knew it!" Moisey Moisevitch cried in horror, clasping his hands.
"Oh dear, oh dear!" he muttered in a low voice. "Be so kind as to
excuse it, and don't be angry. He is such a queer fellow, such a
queer fellow! Oh dear, oh dear! He is my own brother, but I have
never had anything but trouble from him. You know he's. . ."
Moisey Moisevitch crooked his finger by his forehead and went on:
"He is not in his right mind; . . . he's hopeless. And I don't know
what I am to do with him! He cares for nobody, he respects nobody,
and is afraid of nobody. . . . You know he laughs at everybody, he
says silly things, speaks familiarly to anyone. You wouldn't believe
it, Varlamov came here one day and Solomon said such things to him
that he gave us both a taste of his whip. . . . But why whip me?
Was it my fault? God has robbed him of his wits, so it is God's
will, and how am I to blame?"
Ten minutes passed and Moisey Moisevitch was still muttering in an
undertone and sighing:
"He does not sleep at night, and is always thinking and thinking
and thinking, and what he is thinking about God only knows. If you
go to him at night he is angry and laughs. He doesn't like me either
. . . . And there is nothing he wants! When our father died he left
us each six thousand roubles. I bought myself an inn, married, and
now I have children; and he burnt all his money in the stove. Such
a pity, such a pity! Why burn it? If he didn't want it he could
give it to me, but why burn it?"
Suddenly the swing-door creaked and the floor shook under footsteps.
Yegorushka felt a draught of cold air, and it seemed to him as
though some big black bird had passed by him and had fluttered its
wings close in his face. He opened his eyes. . . . His uncle was
standing by the sofa with his sack in his hands ready for departure;
Father Christopher, holding his broad-brimmed top-hat, was bowing
to someone and smiling--not his usual soft kindly smile, but a
respectful forced smile which did not suit his face at all--while
Moisey Moisevitch looked as though his body had been broken into
three parts, and he were balancing and doing his utmost not to drop
to pieces. Only Solomon stood in the corner with his arms folded,
as though nothing had happened, and smiled contemptuously as before.
"Your Excellency must excuse us for not being tidy," moaned Moisey
Moisevitch with the agonizingly sweet smile, taking no more notice
of Kuzmitchov or Father Christopher, but swaying his whole person
so as to avoid dropping to pieces. "We are plain folks, your
Yegorushka rubbed his eyes. In the middle of the room there really
was standing an Excellency, in the form of a young plump and very
beautiful woman in a black dress and a straw hat. Before Yegorushka
had time to examine her features the image of the solitary graceful
poplar he had seen that day on the hill for some reason came into
"Has Varlamov been here to-day?" a woman's voice inquired.
"No, your Excellency," said Moisey Moisevitch.
"If you see him to-morrow, ask him to come and see me for a minute."
All at once, quite unexpectedly, Yegorushka saw half an inch from
his eyes velvety black eyebrows, big brown eyes, delicate feminine
cheeks with dimples, from which smiles seemed radiating all over
the face like sunbeams. There was a glorious scent.
"What a pretty boy!" said the lady. "Whose boy is it? Kazimir
Mihalovitch, look what a charming fellow! Good heavens, he is
And the lady kissed Yegorushka warmly on both cheeks, and he smiled
and, thinking he was asleep, shut his eyes. The swing-door squeaked,
and there was the sound of hurried footsteps, coming in and going
"Yegorushka, Yegorushka!" he heard two bass voices whisper. "Get
up; it is time to start."
Somebody, it seemed to be Deniska, set him on his feet and led him
by the arm. On the way he half-opened his eyes and once more saw
the beautiful lady in the black dress who had kissed him. She was
standing in the middle of the room and watched him go out, smiling
at him and nodding her head in a friendly way. As he got near the
door he saw a handsome, stoutly built, dark man in a bowler hat and
in leather gaiters. This must have been the lady's escort.
"Woa!" he heard from the yard.
At the front door Yegorushka saw a splendid new carriage and a pair
of black horses. On the box sat a groom in livery, with a long whip
in his hands. No one but Solomon came to see the travellers off.
His face was tense with a desire to laugh; he looked as though he
were waiting impatiently for the visitors to be gone, so that he
might laugh at them without restraint.
"The Countess Dranitsky," whispered Father Christopher, clambering
into the chaise.
"Yes, Countess Dranitsky," repeated Kuzmitchov, also in a whisper.
The impression made by the arrival of the countess was probably
very great, for even Deniska spoke in a whisper, and only ventured
to lash his bays and shout when the chaise had driven a quarter of
a mile away and nothing could be seen of the inn but a dim light.
Who was this elusive, mysterious Varlamov of whom people talked so
much, whom Solomon despised, and whom even the beautiful countess
needed? Sitting on the box beside Deniska, Yegorushka, half asleep,
thought about this person. He had never seen him. But he had often
heard of him and pictured him in his imagination. He knew that
Varlamov possessed several tens of thousands of acres of land, about
a hundred thousand sheep, and a great deal of money. Of his manner
of life and occupation Yegorushka knew nothing, except that he was
always "going his rounds in these parts," and he was always being
At home Yegorushka had heard a great deal of the Countess Dranitsky,
too. She, too, had some tens of thousands of acres, a great many
sheep, a stud farm and a great deal of money, but she did not "go
rounds," but lived at home in a splendid house and grounds, about
which Ivan Ivanitch, who had been more than once at the countess's
on business, and other acquaintances told many marvellous tales;
thus, for instance, they said that in the countess's drawing-room,
where the portraits of all the kings of Poland hung on the walls,
there was a big table-clock in the form of a rock, on the rock a
gold horse with diamond eyes, rearing, and on the horse the figure
of a rider also of gold, who brandished his sword to right and to
left whenever the clock struck. They said, too, that twice a year
the countess used to give a ball, to which the gentry and officials
of the whole province were invited, and to which even Varlamov used
to come; all the visitors drank tea from silver samovars, ate all
sorts of extraordinary things (they had strawberries and raspberries,
for instance, in winter at Christmas), and danced to a band which
played day and night. . . .
"And how beautiful she is," thought Yegorushka, remembering her
face and smile.
Kuzmitchov, too, was probably thinking about the countess. For when
the chaise had driven a mile and a half he said:
"But doesn't that Kazimir Mihalovitch plunder her right and left!
The year before last when, do you remember, I bought some wool from
her, he made over three thousand from my purchase alone."
"That is just what you would expect from a Pole," said Father
"And little does it trouble her. Young and foolish, as they say,
her head is full of nonsense."
Yegorushka, for some reason, longed to think of nothing but Varlamov
and the countess, particularly the latter. His drowsy brain utterly
refused ordinary thoughts, was in a cloud and retained only fantastic
fairy-tale images, which have the advantage of springing into the
brain of themselves without any effort on the part of the thinker,
and completely vanishing of themselves at a mere shake of the head;
and, indeed, nothing that was around him disposed to ordinary
thoughts. On the right there were the dark hills which seemed to
be screening something unseen and terrible; on the left the whole
sky about the horizon was covered with a crimson glow, and it was
hard to tell whether there was a fire somewhere, or whether it was
the moon about to rise. As by day the distance could be seen, but
its tender lilac tint had gone, quenched by the evening darkness,
in which the whole steppe was hidden like Moisey Moisevitch's
children under the quilt.
Corncrakes and quails do not call in the July nights, the nightingale
does not sing in the woodland marsh, and there is no scent of
flowers, but still the steppe is lovely and full of life. As soon
as the sun goes down and the darkness enfolds the earth, the day's
weariness is forgotten, everything is forgiven, and the steppe
breathes a light sigh from its broad bosom. As though because the
grass cannot see in the dark that it has grown old, a gay youthful
twitter rises up from it, such as is not heard by day; chirruping,
twittering, whistling, scratching, the basses, tenors and sopranos
of the steppe all mingle in an incessant, monotonous roar of sound
in which it is sweet to brood on memories and sorrows. The monotonous
twitter soothes to sleep like a lullaby; you drive and feel you are
falling asleep, but suddenly there comes the abrupt agitated cry
of a wakeful bird, or a vague sound like a voice crying out in
wonder "A-ah, a-ah!" and slumber closes one's eyelids again. Or you
drive by a little creek where there are bushes and hear the bird,
called by the steppe dwellers "the sleeper," call "Asleep, asleep,
asleep!" while another laughs or breaks into trills of hysterical
weeping--that is the owl. For whom do they call and who hears
them on that plain, God only knows, but there is deep sadness and
lamentation in their cry. . . . There is a scent of hay and dry
grass and belated flowers, but the scent is heavy, sweetly mawkish
Everything can be seen through the mist, but it is hard to make out
the colours and the outlines of objects. Everything looks different
from what it is. You drive on and suddenly see standing before you
right in the roadway a dark figure like a monk; it stands motionless,
waiting, holding something in its hands. . . . Can it be a robber?
The figure comes closer, grows bigger; now it is on a level with
the chaise, and you see it is not a man, but a solitary bush or a
great stone. Such motionless expectant figures stand on the low
hills, hide behind the old barrows, peep out from the high grass,
and they all look like human beings and arouse suspicion.
And when the moon rises the night becomes pale and dim. The mist
seems to have passed away. The air is transparent, fresh and warm;
one can see well in all directions and even distinguish the separate
stalks of grass by the wayside. Stones and bits of pots can be seen
at a long distance. The suspicious figures like monks look blacker
against the light background of the night, and seem more sinister.
More and more often in the midst of the monotonous chirruping there
comes the sound of the "A-ah, a-ah!" of astonishment troubling the
motionless air, and the cry of a sleepless or delirious bird. Broad
shadows move across the plain like clouds across the sky, and in
the inconceivable distance, if you look long and intently at it,
misty monstrous shapes rise up and huddle one against another. . . .
It is rather uncanny. One glances at the pale green, star-spangled
sky on which there is no cloudlet, no spot, and understands why the
warm air is motionless, why nature is on her guard, afraid to stir:
she is afraid and reluctant to lose one instant of life. Of the
unfathomable depth and infinity of the sky one can only form a
conception at sea and on the steppe by night when the moon is
shining. It is terribly lonely and caressing; it looks down languid
and alluring, and its caressing sweetness makes one giddy.
You drive on for one hour, for a second. . . . You meet upon the
way a silent old barrow or a stone figure put up God knows when and
by whom; a nightbird floats noiselessly over the earth, and little
by little those legends of the steppes, the tales of men you have
met, the stories of some old nurse from the steppe, and all the
things you have managed to see and treasure in your soul, come back
to your mind. And then in the churring of insects, in the sinister
figures, in the ancient barrows, in the blue sky, in the moonlight,
in the flight of the nightbird, in everything you see and hear,
triumphant beauty, youth, the fulness of power, and the passionate
thirst for life begin to be apparent; the soul responds to the call
of her lovely austere fatherland, and longs to fly over the steppes
with the nightbird. And in the triumph of beauty, in the exuberance
of happiness you are conscious of yearning and grief, as though the
steppe knew she was solitary, knew that her wealth and her inspiration
were wasted for the world, not glorified in song, not wanted by
anyone; and through the joyful clamour one hears her mournful,
hopeless call for singers, singers!
"Woa! Good-evening, Panteley! Is everything all right?"
"First-rate, Ivan Ivanitch!
"Haven't you seen Varlamov, lads?"
"No, we haven't."
Yegorushka woke up and opened his eyes. The chaise had stopped. On
the right the train of waggons stretched for a long way ahead on
the road, and men were moving to and fro near them. All the waggons
being loaded up with great bales of wool looked very high and fat,
while the horses looked short-legged and little.
"Well, then, we shall go on to the Molokans'!" Kuzmitchov said
aloud. "The Jew told us that Varlamov was putting up for the night
at the Molokans'. So good-bye, lads! Good luck to you!"
"Good-bye, Ivan Ivanitch," several voices replied.
"I say, lads," Kuzmitchov cried briskly, "you take my little lad
along with you! Why should he go jolting off with us for nothing?
You put him on the bales, Panteley, and let him come on slowly, and
we shall overtake you. Get down, Yegor! Go on; it's all right. . . ."
Yegorushka got down from the box-seat. Several hands caught him,
lifted him high into the air, and he found himself on something
big, soft, and rather wet with dew. It seemed to him now as though
the sky were quite close and the earth far away.
"Hey, take his little coat!" Deniska shouted from somewhere far
His coat and bundle flung up from far below fell close to Yegorushka.
Anxious not to think of anything, he quickly put his bundle under
his head and covered himself with his coat, and stretching his legs
out and shrinking a little from the dew, he laughed with content.
"Sleep, sleep, sleep, . . ." he thought.
"Don't be unkind to him, you devils!" he heard Deniska's voice
"Good-bye, lads; good luck to you," shouted Kuzmitchov. "I rely
"Don't you be uneasy, Ivan Ivanitch!"
Deniska shouted to the horses, the chaise creaked and started, not
along the road, but somewhere off to the side. For two minutes there
was silence, as though the waggons were asleep and there was no
sound except the clanking of the pails tied on at the back of the
chaise as it slowly died away in the distance. Then someone at the
head of the waggons shouted:
The foremost of the waggons creaked, then the second, then the
third. . . . Yegorushka felt the waggon he was on sway and creak
also. The waggons were moving. Yegorushka took a tighter hold of
the cord with which the bales were tied on, laughed again with
content, shifted the cake in his pocket, and fell asleep just as
he did in his bed at home. . . .
When he woke up the sun had risen, it was screened by an ancient
barrow, and, trying to shed its light upon the earth, it scattered
its beams in all directions and flooded the horizon with gold. It
seemed to Yegorushka that it was not in its proper place, as the
day before it had risen behind his back, and now it was much more
to his left. . . . And the whole landscape was different. There
were no hills now, but on all sides, wherever one looked, there
stretched the brown cheerless plain; here and there upon it small
barrows rose up and rooks flew as they had done the day before. The
belfries and huts of some village showed white in the distance
ahead; as it was Sunday the Little Russians were at home baking and
cooking--that could be seen by the smoke which rose from every
chimney and hung, a dark blue transparent veil, over the village.
In between the huts and beyond the church there were blue glimpses
of a river, and beyond the river a misty distance. But nothing was
so different from yesterday as the road. Something extraordinarily
broad, spread out and titanic, stretched over the steppe by way of
a road. It was a grey streak well trodden down and covered with
dust, like all roads. Its width puzzled Yegorushka and brought
thoughts of fairy tales to his mind. Who travelled along that road?
Who needed so much space? It was strange and unintelligible. It
might have been supposed that giants with immense strides, such as
Ilya Muromets and Solovy the Brigand, were still surviving in Russia,
and that their gigantic steeds were still alive. Yegorushka, looking
at the road, imagined some half a dozen high chariots racing along
side by side, like some he used to see in pictures in his Scripture
history; these chariots were each drawn by six wild furious horses,
and their great wheels raised a cloud of dust to the sky, while the
horses were driven by men such as one may see in one's dreams or
in imagination brooding over fairy tales. And if those figures had
existed, how perfectly in keeping with the steppe and the road they
would have been!
Telegraph-poles with two wires on them stretched along the right
side of the road to its furthermost limit. Growing smaller and
smaller they disappeared near the village behind the huts and green
trees, and then again came into sight in the lilac distance in the
form of very small thin sticks that looked like pencils stuck into
the ground. Hawks, falcons, and crows sat on the wires and looked
indifferently at the moving waggons.
Yegorushka was lying in the last of the waggons, and so could see
the whole string. There were about twenty waggons, and there was a
driver to every three waggons. By the last waggon, the one in which
Yegorushka was, there walked an old man with a grey beard, as short
and lean as Father Christopher, but with a sunburnt, stern and
brooding face. It is very possible that the old man was not stern
and not brooding, but his red eyelids and his sharp long nose gave
his face a stern frigid expression such as is common with people
in the habit of continually thinking of serious things in solitude.
Like Father Christopher he was wearing a wide-brimmed top-hat, not
like a gentleman's, but made of brown felt, and in shape more like
a cone with the top cut off than a real top-hat. Probably from a
habit acquired in cold winters, when he must more than once have
been nearly frozen as he trudged beside the waggons, he kept slapping
his thighs and stamping with his feet as he walked. Noticing that
Yegorushka was awake, he looked at him and said, shrugging his
shoulders as though from the cold:
"Ah, you are awake, youngster! So you are the son of Ivan Ivanitch?"
"No; his nephew. . . ."
"Nephew of Ivan Ivanitch? Here I have taken off my boots and am
hopping along barefoot. My feet are bad; they are swollen, and it's
easier without my boots . . . easier, youngster . . . without boots,
I mean. . . . So you are his nephew? He is a good man; no harm in
him. . . . God give him health. . . . No harm in him . . . I mean
Ivan Ivanitch. . . . He has gone to the Molokans'. . . . O Lord,
have mercy upon us!"
The old man talked, too, as though it were very cold, pausing and
not opening his mouth properly; and he mispronounced the labial
consonants, stuttering over them as though his lips were frozen.
As he talked to Yegorushka he did not once smile, and he seemed
Two waggons ahead of them there walked a man wearing a long
reddish-brown coat, a cap and high boots with sagging bootlegs and
carrying a whip in his hand. This was not an old man, only about
forty. When he looked round Yegorushka saw a long red face with a
scanty goat-beard and a spongy looking swelling under his right
eye. Apart from this very ugly swelling, there was another peculiar
thing about him which caught the eye at once: in his left hand he
carried a whip, while he waved the right as though he were conducting
an unseen choir; from time to time he put the whip under his arm,
and then he conducted with both hands and hummed something to
The next driver was a long rectilinear figure with extremely sloping
shoulders and a back as flat as a board. He held himself as stiffly
erect as though he were marching or had swallowed a yard measure.
His hands did not swing as he walked, but hung down as if they were
straight sticks, and he strode along in a wooden way, after the
manner of toy soldiers, almost without bending his knees, and trying
to take as long steps as possible. While the old man or the owner
of the spongy swelling were taking two steps he succeeded in taking
only one, and so it seemed as though he were walking more slowly
than any of them, and would drop behind. His face was tied up in a
rag, and on his head something stuck up that looked like a monk's
peaked cap; he was dressed in a short Little Russian coat, with
full dark blue trousers and bark shoes.
Yegorushka did not even distinguish those that were farther on. He
lay on his stomach, picked a little hole in the bale, and, having
nothing better to do, began twisting the wool into a thread. The
old man trudging along below him turned out not to be so stern as
one might have supposed from his face. Having begun a conversation,
he did not let it drop.
"Where are you going?" he asked, stamping with his feet.
"To school," answered Yegorushka.
"To school? Aha! . . . Well, may the Queen of Heaven help you. Yes.
One brain is good, but two are better. To one man God gives one
brain, to another two brains, and to another three. . . . To another
three, that is true. . . . One brain you are born with, one you get
from learning, and a third with a good life. So you see, my lad,
it is a good thing if a man has three brains. Living is easier for
him, and, what's more, dying is, too. Dying is, too. . . . And we
shall all die for sure."
The old man scratched his forehead, glanced upwards at Yegorushka
with his red eyes, and went on:
"Maxim Nikolaitch, the gentleman from Slavyanoserbsk, brought a
little lad to school, too, last year. I don't know how he is getting
on there in studying the sciences, but he was a nice good little
lad. . . . God give them help, they are nice gentlemen. Yes, he,
too, brought his boy to school. . . . In Slavyanoserbsk there is
no establishment, I suppose, for study. No. . . . But it is a nice
town. . . . There's an ordinary school for simple folks, but for
the higher studies there is nothing. No, that's true. What's your
name? . . ."
"Yegory, then. . . . The holy martyr Yegory, the Bearer of Victory,
whose day is the twenty-third of April. And my christian name is
Panteley, . . . Panteley Zaharov Holodov. . . . We are Holodovs
. . . . I am a native of--maybe you've heard of it--Tim in the
province of Kursk. My brothers are artisans and work at trades in
the town, but I am a peasant. . . . I have remained a peasant. Seven
years ago I went there--home, I mean. I went to the village and
to the town. . . . To Tim, I mean. Then, thank God, they were all
alive and well; . . . but now I don't know. . . . Maybe some of
them are dead. . . . And it's time they did die, for some of them
are older than I am. Death is all right; it is good so long, of
course, as one does not die without repentance. There is no worse
evil than an impenitent death; an impenitent death is a joy to the
devil. And if you want to die penitent, so that you may not be
forbidden to enter the mansions of the Lord, pray to the holy martyr
Varvara. She is the intercessor. She is, that's the truth. . . .
For God has given her such a place in the heavens that everyone has
the right to pray to her for penitence."
Panteley went on muttering, and apparently did not trouble whether
Yegorushka heard him or not. He talked listlessly, mumbling to
himself, without raising or dropping his voice, but succeeded in
telling him a great deal in a short time. All he said was made up
of fragments that had very little connection with one another, and
quite uninteresting for Yegorushka. Possibly he talked only in order
to reckon over his thoughts aloud after the night spent in silence,
in order to see if they were all there. After talking of repentance,
he spoke about a certain Maxim Nikolaitch from Slavyanoserbsk.
"Yes, he took his little lad; . . . he took him, that's true . . ."
One of the waggoners walking in front darted from his place, ran
to one side and began lashing on the ground with his whip. He was
a stalwart, broad-shouldered man of thirty, with curly flaxen hair
and a look of great health and vigour. Judging from the movements
of his shoulders and the whip, and the eagerness expressed in his
attitude, he was beating something alive. Another waggoner, a short
stubby little man with a bushy black beard, wearing a waistcoat and
a shirt outside his trousers, ran up to him. The latter broke into
a deep guffaw of laughter and coughing and said: "I say, lads, Dymov
has killed a snake!"
There are people whose intelligence can be gauged at once by their
voice and laughter. The man with the black beard belonged to that
class of fortunate individuals; impenetrable stupidity could be
felt in his voice and laugh. The flaxen-headed Dymov had finished,
and lifting from the ground with his whip something like a cord,
flung it with a laugh into the cart.
"That's not a viper; it's a grass snake!" shouted someone.
The man with the wooden gait and the bandage round his face strode
up quickly to the dead snake, glanced at it and flung up his
"You jail-bird!" he cried in a hollow wailing voice. "What have you
killed a grass snake for? What had he done to you, you damned brute?
Look, he has killed a grass snake; how would you like to be treated
"Grass snakes ought not to be killed, that's true," Panteley muttered
placidly, "they ought not. . . They are not vipers; though it looks
like a snake, it is a gentle, innocent creature. . . . It's friendly
to man, the grass snake is."
Dymov and the man with the black beard were probably ashamed, for
they laughed loudly, and not answering, slouched lazily back to
their waggons. When the hindmost waggon was level with the spot
where the dead snake lay, the man with his face tied up standing
over it turned to Panteley and asked in a tearful voice:
"Grandfather, what did he want to kill the grass snake for?"
His eyes, as Yegorushka saw now, were small and dingy looking; his
face was grey, sickly and looked somehow dingy too while his chin
was red and seemed very much swollen.
"Grandfather, what did he kill it for?" he repeated, striding along
"A stupid fellow. His hands itch to kill, and that is why he does
it," answered the old man; "but he oughtn't to kill a grass snake,
that's true. . . . Dymov is a ruffian, we all know, he kills
everything he comes across, and Kiruha did not interfere. He ought
to have taken its part, but instead of that, he goes off into
'Ha-ha-ha!' and 'Ho-ho-ho!' . . . But don't be angry, Vassya. . . .
Why be angry? They've killed it--well, never mind them. Dymov
is a ruffian and Kiruha acted from foolishness--never mind. . . .
They are foolish people without understanding--but there, don't
mind them. Emelyan here never touches what he shouldn't; he never
does; . . . that is true, . . . because he is a man of education,
while they are stupid. . . . Emelyan, he doesn't touch things."
The waggoner in the reddish-brown coat and the spongy swelling on
his face, who was conducting an unseen choir, stopped. Hearing his
name, and waiting till Panteley and Vassya came up to him, he walked
"What are you talking about?" he asked in a husky muffled voice.
"Why, Vassya here is angry," said Panteley. "So I have been saying
things to him to stop his being angry. . . . Oh, how my swollen
feet hurt! Oh, oh! They are more inflamed than ever for Sunday,
God's holy day!"
"It's from walking," observed Vassya.
"No, lad, no. It's not from walking. When I walk it seems easier;
when I lie down and get warm, . . . it's deadly. Walking is easier
Emelyan, in his reddish-brown coat, walked between Panteley and
Vassya and waved his arms, as though they were going to sing. After
waving them a little while he dropped them, and croaked out hopelessly:
"I have no voice. It's a real misfortune. All last night and this
morning I have been haunted by the trio 'Lord, have Mercy' that we
sang at the wedding at Marionovsky's. It's in my head and in my
throat. It seems as though I could sing it, but I can't; I have no
He paused for a minute, thinking, then went on:
"For fifteen years I was in the choir. In all the Lugansky works
there was, maybe, no one with a voice like mine. But, confound it,
I bathed two years ago in the Donets, and I can't get a single note
true ever since. I took cold in my throat. And without a voice I
am like a workman without hands."
"That's true," Panteley agreed.
"I think of myself as a ruined man and nothing more."
At that moment Vassya chanced to catch sight of Yegorushka. His
eyes grew moist and smaller than ever.
"There's a little gentleman driving with us," and he covered his
nose with his sleeve as though he were bashful. "What a grand driver!
Stay with us and you shall drive the waggons and sell wool."
The incongruity of one person being at once a little gentleman and
a waggon driver seemed to strike him as very queer and funny, for
he burst into a loud guffaw, and went on enlarging upon the idea.
Emelyan glanced upwards at Yegorushka, too, but coldly and cursorily.
He was absorbed in his own thoughts, and had it not been for Vassya,
would not have noticed Yegorushka's presence. Before five minutes
had passed he was waving his arms again, then describing to his
companions the beauties of the wedding anthem, "Lord, have Mercy,"
which he had remembered in the night. He put the whip under his arm
and waved both hands.
A mile from the village the waggons stopped by a well with a crane.
Letting his pail down into the well, black-bearded Kiruha lay on
his stomach on the framework and thrust his shaggy head, his
shoulders, and part of his chest into the black hole, so that
Yegorushka could see nothing but his short legs, which scarcely
touched the ground. Seeing the reflection of his head far down at
the bottom of the well, he was delighted and went off into his deep
bass stupid laugh, and the echo from the well answered him. When
he got up his neck and face were as red as beetroot. The first to
run up and drink was Dymov. He drank laughing, often turning from
the pail to tell Kiruha something funny, then he turned round, and
uttered aloud, to be heard all over the steppe, five very bad words.
Yegorushka did not understand the meaning of such words, but he
knew very well they were bad words. He knew the repulsion his friends
and relations silently felt for such words. He himself, without
knowing why, shared that feeling and was accustomed to think that
only drunk and disorderly people enjoy the privilege of uttering
such words aloud. He remembered the murder of the grass snake,
listened to Dymov's laughter, and felt something like hatred for
the man. And as ill-luck would have it, Dymov at that moment caught
sight of Yegorushka, who had climbed down from the waggon and gone
up to the well. He laughed aloud and shouted:
"I say, lads, the old man has been brought to bed of a boy in the
Kiruha laughed his bass laugh till he coughed. Someone else laughed
too, while Yegorushka crimsoned and made up his mind finally that
Dymov was a very wicked man.
With his curly flaxen head, with his shirt opened on his chest and
no hat on, Dymov looked handsome and exceptionally strong; in every
movement he made one could see the reckless dare-devil and athlete,
knowing his value. He shrugged his shoulders, put his arms akimbo,
talked and laughed louder than any of the rest, and looked as though
he were going to lift up something very heavy with one hand and
astonish the whole world by doing so. His mischievous mocking eyes
glided over the road, the waggons, and the sky without resting on
anything, and seemed looking for someone to kill, just as a pastime,
and something to laugh at. Evidently he was afraid of no one, would
stick at nothing, and most likely was not in the least interested
in Yegorushka's opinion of him. . . . Yegorushka meanwhile hated
his flaxen head, his clear face, and his strength with his whole
heart, listened with fear and loathing to his laughter, and kept
thinking what word of abuse he could pay him out with.
Panteley, too, went up to the pail. He took out of his pocket a
little green glass of an ikon lamp, wiped it with a rag, filled it
from the pail and drank from it, then filled it again, wrapped the
little glass in the rag, and then put it back into his pocket.
"Grandfather, why do you drink out of a lamp?" Yegorushka asked
"One man drinks out of a pail and another out of a lamp," the old
man answered evasively. "Every man to his own taste. . . . You drink
out of the pail--well, drink, and may it do you good. . . ."
"You darling, you beauty!" Vassya said suddenly, in a caressing,
plaintive voice. "You darling!"
His eyes were fixed on the distance; they were moist and smiling,
and his face wore the same expression as when he had looked at
"Who is it you are talking to?" asked Kiruha.
"A darling fox, . . . lying on her back, playing like a dog."
Everyone began staring into the distance, looking for the fox, but
no one could see it, only Vassya with his grey muddy-looking eyes,
and he was enchanted by it. His sight was extraordinarily keen, as
Yegorushka learnt afterwards. He was so long-sighted that the brown
steppe was for him always full of life and interest. He had only
to look into the distance to see a fox, a hare, a bustard, or some
other animal keeping at a distance from men. There was nothing
strange in seeing a hare running away or a flying bustard--everyone
crossing the steppes could see them; but it was not vouchsafed to
everyone to see wild animals in their own haunts when they were not
running nor hiding, nor looking about them in alarm. Yet Vassya saw
foxes playing, hares washing themselves with their paws, bustards
preening their wings and hammering out their hollow nests. Thanks
to this keenness of sight, Vassya had, besides the world seen by
everyone, another world of his own, accessible to no one else, and
probably a very beautiful one, for when he saw something and was
in raptures over it it was impossible not to envy him.
When the waggons set off again, the church bells were ringing for
The train of waggons drew up on the bank of a river on one side of
a village. The sun was blazing, as it had been the day before; the
air was stagnant and depressing. There were a few willows on the
bank, but the shade from them did not fall on the earth, but on the
water, where it was wasted; even in the shade under the waggon it
was stifling and wearisome. The water, blue from the reflection of
the sky in it, was alluring.
Styopka, a waggoner whom Yegorushka noticed now for the first time,
a Little Russian lad of eighteen, in a long shirt without a belt,
and full trousers that flapped like flags as he walked, undressed
quickly, ran along the steep bank and plunged into the water. He
dived three times, then swam on his back and shut his eyes in his
delight. His face was smiling and wrinkled up as though he were
being tickled, hurt and amused.
On a hot day when there is nowhere to escape from the sultry,
stifling heat, the splash of water and the loud breathing of a man
bathing sounds like good music to the ear. Dymov and Kiruha, looking
at Styopka, undressed quickly and one after the other, laughing
loudly in eager anticipation of their enjoyment, dropped into the
water, and the quiet, modest little river resounded with snorting
and splashing and shouting. Kiruha coughed, laughed and shouted as
though they were trying to drown him, while Dymov chased him and
tried to catch him by the leg.
"Ha-ha-ha!" he shouted. "Catch him! Hold him!"
Kiruha laughed and enjoyed himself, but his expression was the same
as it had been on dry land, stupid, with a look of astonishment on
it as though someone had, unnoticed, stolen up behind him and hit
him on the head with the butt-end of an axe. Yegorushka undressed,
too, but did not let himself down by the bank, but took a run and
a flying leap from the height of about ten feet. Describing an arc
in the air, he fell into the water, sank deep, but did not reach
the bottom; some force, cold and pleasant to the touch, seemed to
hold him up and bring him back to the surface. He popped out and,
snorting and blowing bubbles, opened his eyes; but the sun was
reflected in the water quite close to his face. At first blinding
spots of light, then rainbow colours and dark patches, flitted
before his eyes. He made haste to dive again, opened his eyes in
the water and saw something cloudy-green like a sky on a moonlight
night. Again the same force would not let him touch the bottom and
stay in the coolness, but lifted him to the surface. He popped out
and heaved a sigh so deep that he had a feeling of space and
freshness, not only in his chest, but in his stomach. Then, to get
from the water everything he possibly could get, he allowed himself
every luxury; he lay on his back and basked, splashed, frolicked,
swam on his face, on his side, on his back and standing up--just
as he pleased till he was exhausted. The other bank was thickly
overgrown with reeds; it was golden in the sun, and the flowers of
the reeds hung drooping to the water in lovely tassels. In one place
the reeds were shaking and nodding, with their flowers rustling--
Styopka and Kiruha were hunting crayfish.
"A crayfish, look, lads! A crayfish!" Kiruha cried triumphantly and
actually showed a crayfish.
Yegorushka swam up to the reeds, dived, and began fumbling among
their roots. Burrowing in the slimy, liquid mud, he felt something
sharp and unpleasant--perhaps it really was a crayfish. But at
that minute someone seized him by the leg and pulled him to the
surface. Spluttering and coughing, Yegorushka opened his eyes and
saw before him the wet grinning face of the dare-devil Dymov. The
impudent fellow was breathing hard, and from a look in his eyes he
seemed inclined for further mischief. He held Yegorushka tight by
the leg, and was lifting his hand to take hold of his neck. But
Yegorushka tore himself away with repulsion and terror, as though
disgusted at being touched and afraid that the bully would drown
him, and said:
"Fool! I'll punch you in the face."
Feeling that this was not sufficient to express his hatred, he
thought a minute and added:
"You blackguard! You son of a bitch!"
But Dymov, as though nothing were the matter, took no further notice
of Yegorushka, but swam off to Kiruha, shouting:
"Ha-ha-ha! Let us catch fish! Mates, let us catch fish."
"To be sure," Kiruha agreed; "there must be a lot of fish here."
"Styopka, run to the village and ask the peasants for a net!
"They won't give it to me."
"They will, you ask them. Tell them that they should give it to us
for Christ's sake, because we are just the same as pilgrims."
Styopka clambered out of the water, dressed quickly, and without a
cap on he ran, his full trousers flapping, to the village. The water
lost all its charm for Yegorushka after his encounter with Dymov.
He got out and began dressing. Panteley and Vassya were sitting on
the steep bank, with their legs hanging down, looking at the bathers.
Emelyan was standing naked, up to his knees in the water, holding
on to the grass with one hand to prevent himself from falling while
the other stroked his body. With his bony shoulder-blades, with the
swelling under his eye, bending down and evidently afraid of the
water, he made a ludicrous figure. His face was grave and severe.
He looked angrily at the water, as though he were just going to
upbraid it for having given him cold in the Donets and robbed him
of his voice.
"And why don't you bathe?" Yegorushka asked Vassya.
"Oh, I don't care for it, . . ." answered Vassya.
"How is it your chin is swollen?"
"It's bad. . . . I used to work at the match factory, little sir.
. . . The doctor used to say that it would make my jaw rot. The air
is not healthy there. There were three chaps beside me who had their
jaws swollen, and with one of them it rotted away altogether."
Styopka soon came back with the net. Dymov and Kiruha were already
turning blue and getting hoarse by being so long in the water, but
they set about fishing eagerly. First they went to a deep place
beside the reeds; there Dymov was up to his neck, while the water
went over squat Kiruha's head. The latter spluttered and blew
bubbles, while Dymov stumbling on the prickly roots, fell over and
got caught in the net; both flopped about in the water, and made a
noise, and nothing but mischief came of their fishing.
"It's deep," croaked Kiruha. "You won't catch anything."
"Don't tug, you devil!" shouted Dymov trying to put the net in the
proper position. "Hold it up."
"You won't catch anything here," Panteley shouted from the bank.
"You are only frightening the fish, you stupids! Go more to the
left! It's shallower there!"
Once a big fish gleamed above the net; they all drew a breath, and
Dymov struck the place where it had vanished with his fist, and his
face expressed vexation.
"Ugh!" cried Panteley, and he stamped his foot. "You've let the
perch slip! It's gone!"
Moving more to the left, Dymov and Kiruha picked out a shallower
place, and then fishing began in earnest. They had wandered off
some hundred paces from the waggons; they could be seen silently
trying to go as deep as they could and as near the reeds, moving
their legs a little at a time, drawing out the nets, beating the
water with their fists to drive them towards the nets. From the
reeds they got to the further bank; they drew the net out, then,
with a disappointed air, lifting their knees high as they walked,
went back into the reeds. They were talking about something, but
what it was no one could hear. The sun was scorching their backs,
the flies were stinging them, and their bodies had turned from
purple to crimson. Styopka was walking after them with a pail in
his hands; he had tucked his shirt right up under his armpits, and
was holding it up by the hem with his teeth. After every successful
catch he lifted up some fish, and letting it shine in the sun,
"Look at this perch! We've five like that!"
Every time Dymov, Kiruha and Styopka pulled out the net they could
be seen fumbling about in the mud in it, putting some things into
the pail and throwing other things away; sometimes they passed
something that was in the net from hand to hand, examined it
inquisitively, then threw that, too, away.
"What is it?" they shouted to them from the bank.
Styopka made some answer, but it was hard to make out his words.
Then he climbed out of the water and, holding the pail in both
hands, forgetting to let his shirt drop, ran to the waggons.
"It's full!" he shouted, breathing hard. "Give us another!"
Yegorushka looked into the pail: it was full. A young pike poked
its ugly nose out of the water, and there were swarms of crayfish
and little fish round about it. Yegorushka put his hand down to the
bottom and stirred up the water; the pike vanished under the crayfish
and a perch and a tench swam to the surface instead of it. Vassya,
too, looked into the pail. His eyes grew moist and his face looked
as caressing as before when he saw the fox. He took something out
of the pail, put it to his mouth and began chewing it.
"Mates," said Styopka in amazement, "Vassya is eating a live gudgeon!
"It's not a gudgeon, but a minnow," Vassya answered calmly, still
He took a fish's tail out of his mouth, looked at it caressingly,
and put it back again. While he was chewing and crunching with his
teeth it seemed to Yegorushka that he saw before him something not
human. Vassya's swollen chin, his lustreless eyes, his extraordinary
sharp sight, the fish's tail in his mouth, and the caressing
friendliness with which he crunched the gudgeon made him like an
Yegorushka felt dreary beside him. And the fishing was over, too.
He walked about beside the waggons, thought a little, and, feeling
bored, strolled off to the village.
Not long afterwards he was standing in the church, and with his
forehead leaning on somebody's back, listened to the singing of the
choir. The service was drawing to a close. Yegorushka did not
understand church singing and did not care for it. He listened a
little, yawned, and began looking at the backs and heads before
him. In one head, red and wet from his recent bathe, he recognized
Emelyan. The back of his head had been cropped in a straight line
higher than is usual; the hair in front had been cut unbecomingly
high, and Emelyan's ears stood out like two dock leaves, and seemed
to feel themselves out of place. Looking at the back of his head
and his ears, Yegorushka, for some reason, thought that Emelyan was
probably very unhappy. He remembered the way he conducted with his
hands, his husky voice, his timid air when he was bathing, and felt
intense pity for him. He longed to say something friendly to him.
"I am here, too," he said, putting out his hand.
People who sing tenor or bass in the choir, especially those who
have at any time in their lives conducted, are accustomed to look
with a stern and unfriendly air at boys. They do not give up this
habit, even when they leave off being in a choir. Turning to
Yegorushka, Emelyan looked at him from under his brows and said:
"Don't play in church!"
Then Yegorushka moved forwards nearer to the ikon-stand. Here he
saw interesting people. On the right side, in front of everyone, a
lady and a gentleman were standing on a carpet. There were chairs
behind them. The gentleman was wearing newly ironed shantung trousers;
he stood as motionless as a soldier saluting, and held high his
bluish shaven chin. There was a very great air of dignity in his
stand-up collar, in his blue chin, in his small bald patch and his
cane. His neck was so strained from excess of dignity, and his chin
was drawn up so tensely, that it looked as though his head were
ready to fly off and soar upwards any minute. The lady, who was
stout and elderly and wore a white silk shawl, held her head on one
side and looked as though she had done someone a favour, and wanted
to say: "Oh, don't trouble yourself to thank me; I don't like it
. . . ." A thick wall of Little Russian heads stood all round the
Yegorushka went up to the ikon-stand and began kissing the local
ikons. Before each image he slowly bowed down to the ground, without
getting up, looked round at the congregation, then got up and kissed
the ikon. The contact of his forehead with the cold floor afforded
him great satisfaction. When the beadle came from the altar with a
pair of long snuffers to put out the candles, Yegorushka jumped up
quickly from the floor and ran up to him.
"Have they given out the holy bread?" he asked.
"There is none; there is none," the beadle muttered gruffly. "It
is no use your. . ."
The service was over; Yegorushka walked out of the church in a
leisurely way, and began strolling about the market-place. He had
seen a good many villages, market-places, and peasants in his time,
and everything that met his eyes was entirely without interest for
him. At a loss for something to do, he went into a shop over the
door of which hung a wide strip of red cotton. The shop consisted
of two roomy, badly lighted parts; in one half they sold drapery
and groceries, in the other there were tubs of tar, and there were
horse-collars hanging from the ceiling; from both came the savoury
smell of leather and tar. The floor of the shop had been watered;
the man who watered it must have been a very whimsical and original
person, for it was sprinkled in patterns and mysterious symbols.
The shopkeeper, an overfed-looking man with a broad face and round
beard, apparently a Great Russian, was standing, leaning his person
over the counter. He was nibbling a piece of sugar as he drank his
tea, and heaved a deep sigh at every sip. His face expressed complete
indifference, but each sigh seemed to be saying:
"Just wait a minute; I will give it you."
"Give me a farthing's worth of sunflower seeds," Yegorushka said,
The shopkeeper raised his eyebrows, came out from behind the counter,
and poured a farthing's worth of sunflower seeds into Yegorushka's
pocket, using an empty pomatum pot as a measure. Yegorushka did not
want to go away. He spent a long time in examining the box of cakes,
thought a little and asked, pointing to some little cakes covered
with the mildew of age:
"How much are these cakes?"
"Two for a farthing."
Yegorushka took out of his pocket the cake given him the day before
by the Jewess, and asked him:
"And how much do you charge for cakes like this?"
The shopman took the cake in his hands, looked at it from all sides,
and raised one eyebrow.
"Like that?" he asked.
Then he raised the other eyebrow, thought a minute, and answered:
"Two for three farthings. . . ."
A silence followed.
"Whose boy are you?" the shopman asked, pouring himself out some
tea from a red copper teapot.
"The nephew of Ivan Ivanitch."
"There are all sorts of Ivan Ivanitchs," the shopkeeper sighed. He
looked over Yegorushka's head towards the door, paused a minute and
"Would you like some tea?"
"Please. . . ." Yegorushka assented not very readily, though he
felt an intense longing for his usual morning tea.
The shopkeeper poured him out a glass and gave him with it a bit
of sugar that looked as though it had been nibbled. Yegorushka sat
down on the folding chair and began drinking it. He wanted to ask
the price of a pound of sugar almonds, and had just broached the
subject when a customer walked in, and the shopkeeper, leaving his
glass of tea, attended to his business. He led the customer into
the other half, where there was a smell of tar, and was there a
long time discussing something with him. The customer, a man
apparently very obstinate and pig-headed, was continually shaking
his head to signify his disapproval, and retreating towards the
door. The shopkeeper tried to persuade him of something and began
pouring some oats into a big sack for him.
"Do you call those oats?" the customer said gloomily. "Those are
not oats, but chaff. It's a mockery to give that to the hens; enough
to make the hens laugh. . . . No, I will go to Bondarenko."
When Yegorushka went back to the river a small camp fire was smoking
on the bank. The waggoners were cooking their dinner. Styopka was
standing in the smoke, stirring the cauldron with a big notched
spoon. A little on one side Kiruha and Vassya, with eyes reddened
from the smoke, were sitting cleaning the fish. Before them lay the
net covered with slime and water weeds, and on it lay gleaming fish
and crawling crayfish.
Emelyan, who had not long been back from the church, was sitting
beside Panteley, waving his arm and humming just audibly in a husky
voice: "To Thee we sing. . . ." Dymov was moving about by the horses.
When they had finished cleaning them, Kiruha and Vassya put the
fish and the living crayfish together in the pail, rinsed them, and
from the pail poured them all into the boiling water.
"Shall I put in some fat?" asked Styopka, skimming off the froth.
"No need. The fish will make its own gravy," answered Kiruha.
Before taking the cauldron off the fire Styopka scattered into the
water three big handfuls of millet and a spoonful of salt; finally
he tried it, smacked his lips, licked the spoon, and gave a
self-satisfied grunt, which meant that the grain was done.
All except Panteley sat down near the cauldron and set to work with
"You there! Give the little lad a spoon!" Panteley observed sternly.
"I dare say he is hungry too!"
"Ours is peasant fare," sighed Kiruha.
"Peasant fare is welcome, too, when one is hungry."
They gave Yegorushka a spoon. He began eating, not sitting, but
standing close to the cauldron and looking down into it as in a
hole. The grain smelt of fish and fish-scales were mixed up with
the millet. The crayfish could not be hooked out with a spoon, and
the men simply picked them out of the cauldron with their hands;
Vassya did so particularly freely, and wetted his sleeves as well
as his hands in the mess. But yet the stew seemed to Yegorushka
very nice, and reminded him of the crayfish soup which his mother
used to make at home on fast-days. Panteley was sitting apart
"Grandfather, why aren't you eating?" Emelyan asked him.
"I don't eat crayfish. . . . Nasty things," the old man said, and
turned away with disgust.
While they were eating they all talked. From this conversation
Yegorushka gathered that all his new acquaintances, in spite of the
differences of their ages and their characters, had one point in
common which made them all alike: they were all people with a
splendid past and a very poor present. Of their past they all--
every one of them--spoke with enthusiasm; their attitude to the
present was almost one of contempt. The Russian loves recalling
life, but he does not love living. Yegorushka did not yet know that,
and before the stew had been all eaten he firmly believed that the
men sitting round the cauldron were the injured victims of fate.
Panteley told them that in the past, before there were railways,
he used to go with trains of waggons to Moscow and to Nizhni, and
used to earn so much that he did not know what to do with his money;
and what merchants there used to be in those days! what fish! how
cheap everything was! Now the roads were shorter, the merchants
were stingier, the peasants were poorer, the bread was dearer,
everything had shrunk and was on a smaller scale. Emelyan told them
that in old days he had been in the choir in the Lugansky works,
and that he had a remarkable voice and read music splendidly, while
now he had become a peasant and lived on the charity of his brother,
who sent him out with his horses and took half his earnings. Vassya
had once worked in a match factory; Kiruha had been a coachman in
a good family, and had been reckoned the smartest driver of a
three-in-hand in the whole district. Dymov, the son of a well-to-do
peasant, lived at ease, enjoyed himself and had known no trouble
till he was twenty, when his stern harsh father, anxious to train
him to work, and afraid he would be spoiled at home, had sent him
to a carrier's to work as a hired labourer. Styopka was the only
one who said nothing, but from his beardless face it was evident
that his life had been a much better one in the past.
Thinking of his father, Dymov frowned and left off eating. Sullenly
from under his brows he looked round at his companions and his eye
rested upon Yegorushka.
"You heathen, take off your cap," he said rudely. "You can't eat
with your cap on, and you a gentleman too!"
Yegorushka took off his hat and did not say a word, but the stew
lost all savour for him, and he did not hear Panteley and Vassya
intervening on his behalf. A feeling of anger with the insulting
fellow was rankling oppressively in his breast, and he made up his
mind that he would do him some injury, whatever it cost him.
After dinner everyone sauntered to the waggons and lay down in the
"Are we going to start soon, grandfather?" Yegorushka asked Panteley.
"In God's good time we shall set off. There's no starting yet; it
is too hot. . . . O Lord, Thy will be done. Holy Mother. . . Lie
down, little lad."
Soon there was a sound of snoring from under the waggons. Yegorushka
meant to go back to the village, but on consideration, yawned and
lay down by the old man.
The waggons remained by the river the whole day, and set off again
when the sun was setting.
Yegorushka was lying on the bales again; the waggon creaked softly
and swayed from side to side. Panteley walked below, stamping his
feet, slapping himself on his thighs and muttering. The air was
full of the churring music of the steppes, as it had been the day
Yegorushka lay on his back, and, putting his hands under his head,
gazed upwards at the sky. He watched the glow of sunset kindle,
then fade away; guardian angels covering the horizon with their
gold wings disposed themselves to slumber. The day had passed
peacefully; the quiet peaceful night had come, and they could stay
tranquilly at home in heaven. . . . Yegorushka saw the sky by degrees
grow dark and the mist fall over the earth--saw the stars light
up, one after the other. . . .
When you gaze a long while fixedly at the deep sky thoughts and
feelings for some reason merge in a sense of loneliness. One begins
to feel hopelessly solitary, and everything one used to look upon
as near and akin becomes infinitely remote and valueless; the stars
that have looked down from the sky thousands of years already, the
mists and the incomprehensible sky itself, indifferent to the brief
life of man, oppress the soul with their silence when one is left
face to face with them and tries to grasp their significance. One
is reminded of the solitude awaiting each one of us in the grave,
and the reality of life seems awful . . . full of despair. . . .
Yegorushka thought of his grandmother, who was sleeping now under
the cherry-trees in the cemetery. He remembered how she lay in her
coffin with pennies on her eyes, how afterwards she was shut in and
let down into the grave; he even recalled the hollow sound of the
clods of earth on the coffin lid. . . . He pictured his granny in
the dark and narrow coffin, helpless and deserted by everyone. His
imagination pictured his granny suddenly awakening, not understanding
where she was, knocking upon the lid and calling for help, and in
the end swooning with horror and dying again. He imagined his mother
dead, Father Christopher, Countess Dranitsky, Solomon. But however
much he tried to imagine himself in the dark tomb, far from home,
outcast, helpless and dead, he could not succeed; for himself
personally he could not admit the possibility of death, and felt
that he would never die. . . .
Panteley, for whom death could not be far away, walked below and
went on reckoning up his thoughts.
"All right. . . . Nice gentlefolk, . . ." he muttered. "Took his
little lad to school--but how he is doing now I haven't heard say
--in Slavyanoserbsk. I say there is no establishment for teaching
them to be very clever. . . . No, that's true--a nice little lad,
no harm in him. . . . He'll grow up and be a help to his father
. . . . You, Yegory, are little now, but you'll grow big and will
keep your father and mother. . . . So it is ordained of God, 'Honour
your father and your mother.' . . . I had children myself, but they
were burnt. . . . My wife was burnt and my children, . . . that's
true. . . . The hut caught fire on the night of Epiphany. . . . I
was not at home, I was driving in Oryol. In Oryol. . . . Marya
dashed out into the street, but remembering that the children were
asleep in the hut, ran back and was burnt with her children. . . .
Next day they found nothing but bones."
About midnight Yegorushka and the waggoners were again sitting round
a small camp fire. While the dry twigs and stems were burning up,
Kiruha and Vassya went off somewhere to get water from a creek;
they vanished into the darkness, but could be heard all the time
talking and clinking their pails; so the creek was not far away.
The light from the fire lay a great flickering patch on the earth;
though the moon was bright, yet everything seemed impenetrably black
beyond that red patch. The light was in the waggoners' eyes, and
they saw only part of the great road; almost unseen in the darkness
the waggons with the bales and the horses looked like a mountain
of undefined shape. Twenty paces from the camp fire at the edge of
the road stood a wooden cross that had fallen aslant. Before the
camp fire had been lighted, when he could still see things at a
distance, Yegorushka had noticed that there was a similar old
slanting cross on the other side of the great road.
Coming back with the water, Kiruha and Vassya filled the cauldron
and fixed it over the fire. Styopka, with the notched spoon in his
hand, took his place in the smoke by the cauldron, gazing dreamily
into the water for the scum to rise. Panteley and Emelyan were
sitting side by side in silence, brooding over something. Dymov was
lying on his stomach, with his head propped on his fists, looking
into the fire. . . . Styopka's shadow was dancing over him, so that
his handsome face was at one minute covered with darkness, at the
next lighted up. . . . Kiruha and Vassya were wandering about at a
little distance gathering dry grass and bark for the fire. Yegorushka,
with his hands in his pockets, was standing by Panteley, watching
how the fire devoured the grass.
All were resting, musing on something, and they glanced cursorily
at the cross over which patches of red light were dancing. There
is something melancholy, pensive, and extremely poetical about a
solitary tomb; one feels its silence, and the silence gives one the
sense of the presence of the soul of the unknown man who lies under
the cross. Is that soul at peace on the steppe? Does it grieve in
the moonlight? Near the tomb the steppe seems melancholy, dreary
and mournful; the grass seems more sorrowful, and one fancies the
grasshoppers chirrup less freely, and there is no passer-by who
would not remember that lonely soul and keep looking back at the
tomb, till it was left far behind and hidden in the mists. . . .
"Grandfather, what is that cross for?" asked Yegorushka.
Panteley looked at the cross and then at Dymov and asked:
"Nikola, isn't this the place where the mowers killed the merchants?"
Dymov not very readily raised himself on his elbow, looked at the
road and said:
"Yes, it is. . . ."
A silence followed. Kiruha broke up some dry stalks, crushed them
up together and thrust them under the cauldron. The fire flared up
brightly; Styopka was enveloped in black smoke, and the shadow cast
by the cross danced along the road in the dusk beside the waggons.
"Yes, they were killed," Dymov said reluctantly. "Two merchants,
father and son, were travelling, selling holy images. They put up
in the inn not far from here that is now kept by Ignat Fomin. The
old man had a drop too much, and began boasting that he had a lot
of money with him. We all know merchants are a boastful set, God
preserve us. . . . They can't resist showing off before the likes
of us. And at the time some mowers were staying the night at the
inn. So they overheard what the merchants said and took note of
"O Lord! . . . Holy Mother!" sighed Panteley.
"Next day, as soon as it was light," Dymov went on, "the merchants
were preparing to set off and the mowers tried to join them. 'Let
us go together, your worships. It will be more cheerful and there
will be less danger, for this is an out-of-the-way place. . . .'
The merchants had to travel at a walking pace to avoid breaking the
images, and that just suited the mowers. . . ."
Dymov rose into a kneeling position and stretched.
"Yes," he went on, yawning. "Everything went all right till they
reached this spot, and then the mowers let fly at them with their
scythes. The son, he was a fine young fellow, snatched the scythe
from one of them, and he used it, too. . . . Well, of course, they
got the best of it because there were eight of them. They hacked
at the merchants so that there was not a sound place left on their
bodies; when they had finished they dragged both of them off the
road, the father to one side and the son to the other. Opposite
that cross there is another cross on this side. . . . Whether it
is still standing, I don't know. . . . I can't see from here. . . ."
"It is," said Kiruha.
"They say they did not find much money afterwards."
"No," Panteley confirmed; "they only found a hundred roubles."
"And three of them died afterwards, for the merchant had cut them
badly with the scythe, too. They died from loss of blood. One had
his hand cut off, so that they say he ran three miles without his
hand, and they found him on a mound close to Kurikovo. He was
squatting on his heels, with his head on his knees, as though he
were lost in thought, but when they looked at him there was no life
in him and he was dead. . . ."
"They found him by the track of blood," said Panteley.
Everyone looked at the cross, and again there was a hush. From
somewhere, most likely from the creek, floated the mournful cry of
the bird: "Sleep! sleep! sleep!"
"There are a great many wicked people in the world," said Emelyan.
"A great many," assented Panteley, and he moved up closer to the
fire as though he were frightened. "A great many," he went on in a
low voice. "I've seen lots and lots of them. . . . Wicked people!
. . . I have seen a great many holy and just, too. . . . Queen of
Heaven, save us and have mercy on us. I remember once thirty years
ago, or maybe more, I was driving a merchant from Morshansk. The
merchant was a jolly handsome fellow, with money, too . . . the
merchant was . . . a nice man, no harm in him. . . . So we put up
for the night at an inn. And in Russia the inns are not what they
are in these parts. There the yards are roofed in and look like the
ground floor, or let us say like barns in good farms. Only a barn
would be a bit higher. So we put up there and were all right. My
merchant was in a room, while I was with the horses, and everything
was as it should be. So, lads, I said my prayers before going to
sleep and began walking about the yard. And it was a dark night, I
couldn't see anything; it was no good trying. So I walked about a
bit up to the waggons, or nearly, when I saw a light gleaming. What
could it mean? I thought the people of the inn had gone to bed long
ago, and besides the merchant and me there were no other guests in
the inn. . . . Where could the light have come from? I felt suspicious.
. . . I went closer . . . towards the light. . . . The Lord have
mercy upon me! and save me, Queen of Heaven! I looked and there was
a little window with a grating, . . . close to the ground, in the
house. . . I lay down on the ground and looked in; as soon as I
looked in a cold chill ran all down me. . . ."
Kiruha, trying not to make a noise, thrust a handful of twigs into
the fire. After waiting for it to leave off crackling and hissing,
the old man went on:
"I looked in and there was a big cellar, black and dark. . . . There
was a lighted lantern on a tub. In the middle of the cellar were
about a dozen men in red shirts with their sleeves turned up,
sharpening long knives. . . . Ugh! So we had fallen into a nest of
robbers. . . . What's to be done? I ran to the merchant, waked him
up quietly, and said: 'Don't be frightened, merchant,' said I, 'but
we are in a bad way. We have fallen into a nest of robbers,' I said.
He turned pale and asked: 'What are we to do now, Panteley? I have
a lot of money that belongs to orphans. As for my life,' he said,
'that's in God's hands. I am not afraid to die, but it's dreadful
to lose the orphans' money,' said he. . . . What were we to do? The
gates were locked; there was no getting out. If there had been a
fence one could have climbed over it, but with the yard shut up!
. . . 'Come, don't be frightened, merchant,' said I; 'but pray to
God. Maybe the Lord will not let the orphans suffer. Stay still.'
said I, 'and make no sign, and meanwhile, maybe, I shall think of
something. . . .' Right! . . . I prayed to God and the Lord put the
thought into my mind. . . . I clambered up on my chaise and softly,
. . . softly so that no one should hear, began pulling out the straw
in the thatch, made a hole and crept out, crept out. . . . Then I
jumped off the roof and ran along the road as fast as I could. I
ran and ran till I was nearly dead. . . . I ran maybe four miles
without taking breath, if not more. Thank God I saw a village. I
ran up to a hut and began tapping at a window. 'Good Christian
people,' I said, and told them all about it, 'do not let a Christian
soul perish. . . .' I waked them all up. . . . The peasants gathered
together and went with me, . . one with a cord, one with an oakstick,
others with pitchforks. . . . We broke in the gates of the inn-yard
and went straight to the cellar. . . . And the robbers had just
finished sharpening their knives and were going to kill the merchant.
The peasants took them, every one of them, bound them and carried
them to the police. The merchant gave them three hundred roubles
in his joy, and gave me five gold pieces and put my name down. They
said that they found human bones in the cellar afterwards, heaps
and heaps of them. . . . Bones! . . . So they robbed people and
then buried them, so that there should be no traces. . . . Well,
afterwards they were punished at Morshansk."
Panteley had finished his story, and he looked round at his listeners.
They were gazing at him in silence. The water was boiling by now
and Styopka was skimming off the froth.
"Is the fat ready?" Kiruha asked him in a whisper.
"Wait a little. . . . Directly."
Styopka, his eyes fixed on Panteley as though he were afraid that
the latter might begin some story before he was back, ran to the
waggons; soon he came back with a little wooden bowl and began
pounding some lard in it.
"I went another journey with a merchant, too, . . ." Panteley went
on again, speaking as before in a low voice and with fixed unblinking
eyes. "His name, as I remember now, was Pyotr Grigoritch. He was a
nice man, . . . the merchant was. We stopped in the same way at an
inn. . . . He indoors and me with the horses. . . . The people of
the house, the innkeeper and his wife, seemed friendly good sort
of people; the labourers, too, seemed all right; but yet, lads, I
couldn't sleep. I had a queer feeling in my heart, . . . a queer
feeling, that was just it. The gates were open and there were plenty
of people about, and yet I felt afraid and not myself. Everyone had
been asleep long ago. It was the middle of the night; it would soon
be time to get up, and I was lying alone in my chaise and could not
close my eyes, as though I were some owl. And then, lads, I heard
this sound, 'Toop! toop! toop!' Someone was creeping up to the
chaise. I poke my head out, and there was a peasant woman in nothing
but her shift and with her feet bare. . . . 'What do you want, good
woman?' I asked. And she was all of a tremble; her face was
terror-stricken. . . 'Get up, good man,' said she; 'the people are
plotting evil. . . . They mean to kill your merchant. With my own
ears I heard the master whispering with his wife. . . .' So it was
not for nothing, the foreboding of my heart! 'And who are you?' I
asked. 'I am their cook,' she said. . . . Right! . . . So I got out
of the chaise and went to the merchant. I waked him up and said:
'Things aren't quite right, Pyotr Grigoritch. . . . Make haste and
rouse yourself from sleep, your worship, and dress now while there
is still time,' I said; 'and to save our skins, let us get away
from trouble.' He had no sooner begun dressing when the door opened
and, mercy on us! I saw, Holy Mother! the innkeeper and his wife
come into the room with three labourers. . . . So they had persuaded
the labourers to join them. 'The merchant has a lot of money, and
we'll go shares,' they told them. Every one of the five had a long
knife in their hand each a knife. The innkeeper locked the door and
said: 'Say your prayers, travellers, . . . and if you begin screaming,'
they said, 'we won't let you say your prayers before you die. . . .'
As though we could scream! I had such a lump in my throat I could
not cry out. . . . The merchant wept and said: 'Good Christian
people! you have resolved to kill me because my money tempts you.
Well, so be it; I shall not be the first nor shall I be the last.
Many of us merchants have been murdered at inns. But why, good
Christian brothers,' says he, 'murder my driver? Why should he have
to suffer for my money?' And he said that so pitifully! And the
innkeeper answered him: 'If we leave him alive,' said he, 'he will
be the first to bear witness against us. One may just as well kill
two as one. You can but answer once for seven misdeeds. . . Say
your prayers, that's all you can do, and it is no good talking!'
The merchant and I knelt down side by side and wept and said our
prayers. He thought of his children. I was young in those days; I
wanted to live. . . . We looked at the images and prayed, and so
pitifully that it brings a tear even now. . . . And the innkeeper's
wife looks at us and says: 'Good people,' said she, 'don't bear a
grudge against us in the other world and pray to God for our
punishment, for it is want that drives us to it.' We prayed and
wept and prayed and wept, and God heard us. He had pity on us, I
suppose. . . . At the very minute when the innkeeper had taken the
merchant by the beard to rip open his throat with his knife suddenly
someone seemed to tap at the window from the yard! We all started,
and the innkeeper's hands dropped. . . . Someone was tapping at the
window and shouting: 'Pyotr Grigoritch,' he shouted, 'are you here?
Get ready and let's go!' The people saw that someone had come for
the merchant; they were terrified and took to their heels. . . .
And we made haste into the yard, harnessed the horses, and were out
of sight in a minute. . ."
"Who was it knocked at the window?" asked Dymov.
"At the window? It must have been a holy saint or angel, for there
was no one else. . . . When we drove out of the yard there wasn't
a soul in the street. . . . It was the Lord's doing."
Panteley told other stories, and in all of them "long knives" figured
and all alike sounded made up. Had he heard these stories from
someone else, or had he made them up himself in the remote past,
and afterwards, as his memory grew weaker, mixed up his experiences
with his imaginations and become unable to distinguish one from the
other? Anything is possible, but it is strange that on this occasion
and for the rest of the journey, whenever he happened to tell a
story, he gave unmistakable preference to fiction, and never told
of what he really had experienced. At the time Yegorushka took it
all for the genuine thing, and believed every word; later on it
seemed to him strange that a man who in his day had travelled all
over Russia and seen and known so much, whose wife and children had
been burnt to death, so failed to appreciate the wealth of his life
that whenever he was sitting by the camp fire he was either silent
or talked of what had never been.
Over their porridge they were all silent, thinking of what they had
just heard. Life is terrible and marvellous, and so, however terrible
a story you tell in Russia, however you embroider it with nests of
robbers, long knives and such marvels, it always finds an echo of
reality in the soul of the listener, and only a man who has been a
good deal affected by education looks askance distrustfully, and
even he will be silent. The cross by the roadside, the dark bales
of wool, the wide expanse of the plain, and the lot of the men
gathered together by the camp fire--all this was of itself so
marvellous and terrible that the fantastic colours of legend and
fairy-tale were pale and blended with life.
All the others ate out of the cauldron, but Panteley sat apart and
ate his porridge out of a wooden bowl. His spoon was not like those
the others had, but was made of cypress wood, with a little cross
on it. Yegorushka, looking at him, thought of the little ikon glass
and asked Styopka softly:
"Why does Grandfather sit apart?"
"He is an Old Believer," Styopka and Vassya answered in a whisper.
And as they said it they looked as though they were speaking of
some secret vice or weakness.
All sat silent, thinking. After the terrible stories there was no
inclination to speak of ordinary things. All at once in the midst
of the silence Vassya drew himself up and, fixing his lustreless
eyes on one point, pricked up his ears.
"What is it?" Dymov asked him.
"Someone is coming," answered Vassya.
"Where do you see him?"
"Yo-on-der! There's something white. . ."
There was nothing to be seen but darkness in the direction in which
Vassya was looking; everyone listened, but they could hear no sound
"Is he coming by the highroad?" asked Dymov.
"No, over the open country. . . . He is coming this way."
A minute passed in silence.
"And maybe it's the merchant who was buried here walking over the
steppe," said Dymov.
All looked askance at the cross, exchanged glances and suddenly
broke into a laugh. They felt ashamed of their terror.
"Why should he walk?" asked Panteley. "It's only those walk at night
whom the earth will not take to herself. And the merchants were all
right. . . . The merchants have received the crown of martyrs."
But all at once they heard the sound of steps; someone was coming
"He's carrying something," said Vassya.
They could hear the grass rustling and the dry twigs crackling under
the feet of the approaching wayfarer. But from the glare of the
camp fire nothing could be seen. At last the steps sounded close
by, and someone coughed. The flickering light seemed to part; a
veil dropped from the waggoners' eyes, and they saw a man facing
Whether it was due to the flickering light or because everyone
wanted to make out the man's face first of all, it happened, strangely
enough, that at the first glance at him they all saw, first of all,
not his face nor his clothes, but his smile. It was an extraordinarily
good-natured, broad, soft smile, like that of a baby on waking, one
of those infectious smiles to which it is difficult not to respond
by smiling too. The stranger, when they did get a good look at him,
turned out to be a man of thirty, ugly and in no way remarkable.
He was a tall Little Russian, with a long nose, long arms and long
legs; everything about him seemed long except his neck, which was
so short that it made him seem stooping. He was wearing a clean
white shirt with an embroidered collar, white trousers, and new
high boots, and in comparison with the waggoners he looked quite a
dandy. In his arms he was carrying something big, white, and at the
first glance strange-looking, and the stock of a gun also peeped
out from behind his shoulder.
Coming from the darkness into the circle of light, he stopped short
as though petrified, and for half a minute looked at the waggoners
as though he would have said: "Just look what a smile I have!"
Then he took a step towards the fire, smiled still more radiantly
"Bread and salt, friends!"
"You are very welcome!" Panteley answered for them all.
The stranger put down by the fire what he was carrying in his arms
--it was a dead bustard--and greeted them once more.
They all went up to the bustard and began examining it.
"A fine big bird; what did you kill it with?" asked Dymov.
"Grape-shot. You can't get him with small shot, he won't let you
get near enough. Buy it, friends! I will let you have it for twenty
"What use would it be to us? It's good roast, but I bet it would
be tough boiled; you could not get your teeth into it. . . ."
"Oh, what a pity! I would take it to the gentry at the farm; they
would give me half a rouble for it. But it's a long way to go--
The stranger sat down, took off his gun and laid it beside him.
He seemed sleepy and languid; he sat smiling, and, screwing up his
eyes at the firelight, apparently thinking of something very
agreeable. They gave him a spoon; he began eating.
"Who are you?" Dymov asked him.
The stranger did not hear the question; he made no answer, and did
not even glance at Dymov. Most likely this smiling man did not taste
the flavour of the porridge either, for he seemed to eat it
mechanically, lifting the spoon to his lips sometimes very full and
sometimes quite empty. He was not drunk, but he seemed to have
something nonsensical in his head.
"I ask you who you are?" repeated Dymov.
"I?" said the unknown, starting. "Konstantin Zvonik from Rovno.
It's three miles from here."
And anxious to show straight off that he was not quite an ordinary
peasant, but something better, Konstantin hastened to add:
"We keep bees and fatten pigs."
"Do you live with your father or in a house of your own?"
"No; now I am living in a house of my own. I have parted. This
month, just after St. Peter's Day, I got married. I am a married
man now! . . . It's eighteen days since the wedding."
"That's a good thing," said Panteley. "Marriage is a good thing
. . . . God's blessing is on it."
"His young wife sits at home while he rambles about the steppe,"
laughed Kiruha. "Queer chap!"
As though he had been pinched on the tenderest spot, Konstantin
started, laughed and flushed crimson.
"But, Lord, she is not at home!" he said quickly, taking the spoon
out of his mouth and looking round at everyone with an expression
of delight and wonder. "She is not; she has gone to her mother's
for three days! Yes, indeed, she has gone away, and I feel as though
I were not married. . . ."
Konstantin waved his hand and turned his head; he wanted to go on
thinking, but the joy which beamed in his face prevented him. As
though he were not comfortable, he changed his attitude, laughed,
and again waved his hand. He was ashamed to share his happy thoughts
with strangers, but at the same time he had an irresistible longing
to communicate his joy.
"She has gone to Demidovo to see her mother," he said, blushing and
moving his gun. "She'll be back to-morrow. . . . She said she would
be back to dinner."
"And do you miss her?" said Dymov.
"Oh, Lord, yes; I should think so. We have only been married such
a little while, and she has gone away. . . . Eh! Oh, but she is a
tricky one, God strike me dead! She is such a fine, splendid girl,
such a one for laughing and singing, full of life and fire! When
she is there your brain is in a whirl, and now she is away I wander
about the steppe like a fool, as though I had lost something. I
have been walking since dinner."
Konstantin rubbed his eyes, looked at the fire and laughed.
"You love her, then, . . ." said Panteley.
"She is so fine and splendid," Konstantin repeated, not hearing
him; "such a housewife, clever and sensible. You wouldn't find
another like her among simple folk in the whole province. She has
gone away. . . . But she is missing me, I kno-ow! I know the little
magpie. She said she would be back to-morrow by dinner-time. . . .
And just think how queer!" Konstantin almost shouted, speaking a
note higher and shifting his position. "Now she loves me and is sad
without me, and yet she would not marry me."
"But eat," said Kiruha.
"She would not marry me," Konstantin went on, not heeding him. "I
have been struggling with her for three years! I saw her at the
Kalatchik fair; I fell madly in love with her, was ready to hang
myself. . . . I live at Rovno, she at Demidovo, more than twenty
miles apart, and there was nothing I could do. I sent match-makers
to her, and all she said was: 'I won't!' Ah, the magpie! I sent her
one thing and another, earrings and cakes, and twenty pounds of
honey--but still she said: 'I won't!' And there it was. If you
come to think of it, I was not a match for her! She was young and
lovely, full of fire, while I am old: I shall soon be thirty, and
a regular beauty, too; a fine beard like a goat's, a clear complexion
all covered with pimples--how could I be compared with her! The
only thing to be said is that we are well off, but then the Vahramenkys
are well off, too. They've six oxen, and they keep a couple of
labourers. I was in love, friends, as though I were plague-stricken.
I couldn't sleep or eat; my brain was full of thoughts, and in such
a maze, Lord preserve us! I longed to see her, and she was in
Demidovo. What do you think? God be my witness, I am not lying,
three times a week I walked over there on foot just to have a look
at her. I gave up my work! I was so frantic that I even wanted to
get taken on as a labourer in Demidovo, so as to be near her. I was
in misery! My mother called in a witch a dozen times; my father
tried thrashing me. For three years I was in this torment, and then
I made up my mind. 'Damn my soul!' I said. 'I will go to the town
and be a cabman. . . . It seems it is fated not to be.' At Easter
I went to Demidovo to have a last look at her. . . ."
Konstantin threw back his head and went off into a mirthful tinkling
laugh, as though he had just taken someone in very cleverly.
"I saw her by the river with the lads," he went on. "I was overcome
with anger. . . . I called her aside and maybe for a full hour I
said all manner of things to her. She fell in love with me! For
three years she did not like me! she fell in love with me for what
I said to her. . . ."
"What did you say to her?" asked Dymov.
"What did I say? I don't remember. . . How could one remember? My
words flowed at the time like water from a tap, without stopping
to take breath. Ta-ta-ta! And now I can't utter a word. . . . Well,
so she married me. . . . She's gone now to her mother's, the magpie,
and while she is away here I wander over the steppe. I can't stay
at home. It's more than I can do!"
Konstantin awkwardly released his feet, on which he was sitting,
stretched himself on the earth, and propped his head in his fists,
then got up and sat down again. Everyone by now thoroughly understood
that he was in love and happy, poignantly happy; his smile, his
eyes, and every movement, expressed fervent happiness. He could not
find a place for himself, and did not know what attitude to take
to keep himself from being overwhelmed by the multitude of his
delightful thoughts. Having poured out his soul before these
strangers, he settled down quietly at last, and, looking at the
fire, sank into thought.
At the sight of this happy man everyone felt depressed and longed
to be happy, too. Everyone was dreamy. Dymov got up, walked about
softly by the fire, and from his walk, from the movement of his
shoulder-blades, it could be seen that he was weighed down by
depression and yearning. He stood still for a moment, looked at
Konstantin and sat down.
The camp fire had died down by now; there was no flicker, and the
patch of red had grown small and dim. . . . And as the fire went
out the moonlight grew clearer and clearer. Now they could see the
full width of the road, the bales of wool, the shafts of the waggons,
the munching horses; on the further side of the road there was the
dim outline of the second cross. . . .
Dymov leaned his cheek on his hand and softly hummed some plaintive
song. Konstantin smiled drowsily and chimed in with a thin voice.
They sang for half a minute, then sank into silence. Emelyan started,
jerked his elbows and wriggled his fingers.
"Lads," he said in an imploring voice, "let's sing something sacred!"
Tears came into his eyes. "Lads," he repeated, pressing his hands
on his heart, "let's sing something sacred!"
"I don't know anything," said Konstantin.
Everyone refused, then Emelyan sang alone. He waved both arms,
nodded his head, opened his mouth, but nothing came from his throat
but a discordant gasp. He sang with his arms, with his head, with
his eyes, even with the swelling on his face; he sang passionately
with anguish, and the more he strained his chest to extract at least
one note from it, the more discordant were his gasps.
Yegorushka, like the rest, was overcome with depression. He went
to his waggon, clambered up on the bales and lay down. He looked
at the sky, and thought of happy Konstantin and his wife. Why did
people get married? What were women in the world for? Yegorushka
put the vague questions to himself, and thought that a man would
certainly be happy if he had an affectionate, merry and beautiful
woman continually living at his side. For some reason he remembered
the Countess Dranitsky, and thought it would probably be very
pleasant to live with a woman like that; he would perhaps have
married her with pleasure if that idea had not been so shameful.
He recalled her eyebrows, the pupils of her eyes, her carriage, the
clock with the horseman. . . . The soft warm night moved softly
down upon him and whispered something in his ear, and it seemed to
him that it was that lovely woman bending over him, looking at him
with a smile and meaning to kiss him. . . .
Nothing was left of the fire but two little red eyes, which kept
on growing smaller and smaller. Konstantin and the waggoners were
sitting by it, dark motionless figures, and it seemed as though
there were many more of them than before. The twin crosses were
equally visible, and far, far away, somewhere by the highroad there
gleamed a red light--other people cooking their porridge, most
"Our Mother Russia is the he-ad of all the world!" Kiruha sang out
suddenly in a harsh voice, choked and subsided. The steppe echo
caught up his voice, carried it on, and it seemed as though stupidity
itself were rolling on heavy wheels over the steppe.
"It's time to go," said Panteley. "Get up, lads."
While they were putting the horses in, Konstantin walked by the
waggons and talked rapturously of his wife.
"Good-bye, mates!" he cried when the waggons started. "Thank you
for your hospitality. I shall go on again towards that light. It's
more than I can stand."
And he quickly vanished in the mist, and for a long time they could
hear him striding in the direction of the light to tell those other
strangers of his happiness.
When Yegorushka woke up next day it was early morning; the sun had
not yet risen. The waggons were at a standstill. A man in a white
cap and a suit of cheap grey material, mounted on a little Cossack
stallion, was talking to Dymov and Kiruha beside the foremost waggon.
A mile and a half ahead there were long low white barns and little
houses with tiled roofs; there were neither yards nor trees to be
seen beside the little houses.
"What village is that, Grandfather?" asked Yegorushka.
"That's the Armenian Settlement, youngster," answered Panteley.
"The Armenians live there. They are a good sort of people, . . .
the Arnienians are."
The man in grey had finished talking to Dymov and Kiruha; he pulled
up his little stallion and looked across towards the settlement.
"What a business, only think!" sighed Panteley, looking towards the
settlement, too, and shuddering at the morning freshness. "He has
sent a man to the settlement for some papers, and he doesn't come
. . . . He should have sent Styopka."
"Who is that, Grandfather?" asked Yegorushka.
My goodness! Yegorushka jumped up quickly, getting upon his knees,
and looked at the white cap. It was hard to recognize the mysterious
elusive Varlamov, who was sought by everyone, who was always "on
his rounds," and who had far more money than Countess Dranitsky,
in the short, grey little man in big boots, who was sitting on an
ugly little nag and talking to peasants at an hour when all decent
people were asleep.
"He is all right, a good man," said Panteley, looking towards the
settlement. "God give him health--a splendid gentleman, Semyon
Alexandritch. . . . It's people like that the earth rests upon.
That's true. . . . The cocks are not crowing yet, and he is already
up and about. . . . Another man would be asleep, or gallivanting
with visitors at home, but he is on the steppe all day, . . . on
his rounds. . . . He does not let things slip. . . . No-o! He's a
fine fellow. . ."
Varlamov was talking about something, while he kept his eyes fixed.
The little stallion shifted from one leg to another impatiently.
"Semyon Alexandritch!" cried Panteley, taking off his hat. "Allow
us to send Styopka! Emelyan, call out that Styopka should be sent."
But now at last a man on horseback could be seen coming from the
settlement. Bending very much to one side and brandishing his whip
above his head like a gallant young Caucasian, and wanting to
astonish everyone by his horsemanship, he flew towards the waggons
with the swiftness of a bird.
"That must be one of his circuit men," said Panteley. "He must have
a hundred such horsemen or maybe more."
Reaching the first waggon, he pulled up his horse, and taking off
his hat, handed Varlamov a little book. Varlamov took several papers
out of the book, read them and cried:
"And where is Ivantchuk's letter?"
The horseman took the book back, looked at the papers and shrugged
his shoulders. He began saying something, probably justifying himself
and asking to be allowed to ride back to the settlement again. The
little stallion suddenly stirred as though Varlamov had grown
heavier. Varlamov stirred too.
"Go along!" he cried angrily, and he waved his whip at the man.
Then he turned his horse round and, looking through the papers in
the book, moved at a walking pace alongside the waggons. When he
reached the hindmost, Yegorushka strained his eyes to get a better
look at him. Varlamov was an elderly man. His face, a simple Russian
sunburnt face with a small grey beard, was red, wet with dew and
covered with little blue veins; it had the same expression of
businesslike coldness as Ivan Ivanitch's face, the same look of
fanatical zeal for business. But yet what a difference could be
felt between him and Kuzmitchov! Uncle Ivan Ivanitch always had on
his face, together with his business-like reserve, a look of anxiety
and apprehension that he would not find Varlamov, that he would be
late, that he would miss a good price; nothing of that sort, so
characteristic of small and dependent persons, could be seen in the
face or figure of Varlamov. This man made the price himself, was
not looking for anyone, and did not depend on anyone; however
ordinary his exterior, yet in everything, even in the manner of
holding his whip, there was a sense of power and habitual authority
over the steppe.
As he rode by Yegorushka he did not glance at him. Only the little
stallion deigned to notice Yegorushka; he looked at him with his
large foolish eyes, and even he showed no interest. Panteley bowed
to Varlamov; the latter noticed it, and without taking his eyes off
the sheets of paper, said lisping:
"How are you, old man?"
Varlamov's conversation with the horseman and the way he had
brandished his whip had evidently made an overwhelming impression
on the whole party. Everyone looked grave. The man on horseback,
cast down at the anger of the great man, remained stationary, with
his hat off, and the rein loose by the foremost waggon; he was
silent, and seemed unable to grasp that the day had begun so badly
"He is a harsh old man, . ." muttered Panteley. "It's a pity he is
so harsh! But he is all right, a good man. . . . He doesn't abuse
men for nothing. . . . It's no matter. . . ."
After examining the papers, Varlamov thrust the book into his pocket;
the little stallion, as though he knew what was in his mind, without
waiting for orders, started and dashed along the highroad.
On the following night the waggoners had halted and were cooking
their porridge. On this occasion there was a sense of overwhelming
oppression over everyone. It was sultry; they all drank a great
deal, but could not quench their thirst. The moon was intensely
crimson and sullen, as though it were sick. The stars, too, were
sullen, the mist was thicker, the distance more clouded. Nature
seemed as though languid and weighed down by some foreboding.
There was not the same liveliness and talk round the camp fire as
there had been the day before. All were dreary and spoke listlessly
and without interest. Panteley did nothing but sigh and complain
of his feet, and continually alluded to impenitent deathbeds.
Dymov was lying on his stomach, chewing a straw in silence; there
was an expression of disgust on his face as though the straw smelt
unpleasant, a spiteful and exhausted look. . . . Vassya complained
that his jaw ached, and prophesied bad weather; Emelyan was not
waving his arms, but sitting still and looking gloomily at the fire.
Yegorushka, too, was weary. This slow travelling exhausted him, and
the sultriness of the day had given him a headache.
While they were cooking the porridge, Dymov, to relieve his boredom,
began quarrelling with his companions.
"Here he lolls, the lumpy face, and is the first to put his spoon
in," he said, looking spitefully at Emelyan. "Greedy! always contrives
to sit next the cauldron. He's been a church-singer, so he thinks
he is a gentleman! There are a lot of singers like you begging along
"What are you pestering me for?" asked Emelyan, looking at him
"To teach you not to be the first to dip into the cauldron. Don't
think too much of yourself!"
"You are a fool, and that is all about it!" wheezed out Emelyan.
Knowing by experience how such conversations usually ended, Panteley
and Vassya intervened and tried to persuade Dymov not to quarrel
"A church-singer!" The bully would not desist, but laughed
contemptuously. "Anyone can sing like that--sit in the church
porch and sing 'Give me alms, for Christ's sake!' Ugh! you are a
Emelyan did not speak. His silence had an irritating effect on
Dymov. He looked with still greater hatred at the ex-singer and
"I don't care to have anything to do with you, or I would show you
what to think of yourself."
"But why are you pushing me, you Mazeppa?" Emelyan cried, flaring
up. "Am I interfering with you?"
"What did you call me?" asked Dymov, drawing himself up, and his
eyes were suffused with blood. "Eh! I am a Mazeppa? Yes? Take that,
then; go and look for it."
Dymov snatched the spoon out of Emelyan's hand and flung it far
away. Kiruha, Vassya, and Styopka ran to look for it, while Emelyan
fixed an imploring and questioning look on Panteley. His face
suddenly became small and wrinkled; it began twitching, and the
ex-singer began to cry like a child.
Yegorushka, who had long hated Dymov, felt as though the air all
at once were unbearably stifling, as though the fire were scorching
his face; he longed to run quickly to the waggons in the darkness,
but the bully's angry bored eyes drew the boy to him. With a
passionate desire to say something extremely offensive, he took a
step towards Dymov and brought out, gasping for breath:
"You are the worst of the lot; I can't bear you!"
After this he ought to have run to the waggons, but he could not
stir from the spot and went on:
"In the next world you will burn in hell! I'll complain to Ivan
Ivanitch. Don't you dare insult Emelyan!"
"Say this too, please," laughed Dyrnov: "'every little sucking-pig
wants to lay down the law.' Shall I pull your ear?"
Yegorushka felt that he could not breathe; and something which had
never happened to him before--he suddenly began shaking all over,
stamping his feet and crying shrilly:
"Beat him, beat him!"
Tears gushed from his eyes; he felt ashamed, and ran staggering
back to the waggon. The effect produced by his outburst he did not
see. Lying on the bales and twitching his arms and legs, he whispered:
And these men and the shadows round the camp fire, and the dark
bales and the far-away lightning, which was flashing every minute
in the distance--all struck him now as terrible and unfriendly.
He was overcome with terror and asked himself in despair why and
how he had come into this unknown land in the company of terrible
peasants? Where was his uncle now, where was Father Christopher,
where was Deniska? Why were they so long in coming? Hadn't they
forgotten him? At the thought that he was forgotten and cast out
to the mercy of fate, he felt such a cold chill of dread that he
had several times an impulse to jump off the bales of wool, and run
back full speed along the road; but the thought of the huge dark
crosses, which would certainly meet him on the way, and the lightning
flashing in the distance, stopped him. . . . And only when he
whispered, "Mother, mother!" he felt as it were a little better.
The waggoners must have been full of dread, too. After Yegorushka
had run away from the camp fire they sat at first for a long time
in silence, then they began speaking in hollow undertones about
something, saying that it was coming and that they must make haste
and get away from it. . . . They quickly finished supper, put out
the fire and began harnessing the horses in silence. From their
fluster and the broken phrases they uttered it was apparent they
foresaw some trouble. Before they set off on their way, Dymov went
up to Panteley and asked softly:
"What's his name?"
"Yegory," answered Panteley.
Dymov put one foot on the wheel, caught hold of the cord which was
tied round the bales and pulled himself up. Yegorushka saw his face
and curly head. The face was pale and looked grave and exhausted,
but there was no expression of spite in it.
"Yera!" he said softly, "here, hit me!"
Yegorushka looked at him in surprise. At that instant there was a
flash of lightning.
"It's all right, hit me," repeated Dymov. And without waiting for
Yegorushka to hit him or to speak to him, he jumped down and said:
"How dreary I am!"
Then, swaying from one leg to the other and moving his shoulder-blades,
he sauntered lazily alongside the string of waggons and repeated
in a voice half weeping, half angry:
"How dreary I am! O Lord! Don't you take offence, Emelyan," he said
as he passed Emelyan. "Ours is a wretched cruel life!"
There was a flash of lightning on the right, and, like a reflection
in the looking-glass, at once a second flash in the distance.
"Yegory, take this," cried Panteley, throwing up something big and
"What is it?" asked Yegorushka.
"A mat. There will be rain, so cover yourself up."
Yegorushka sat up and looked about him. The distance had grown
perceptibly blacker, and now oftener than every minute winked with
a pale light. The blackness was being bent towards the right as
though by its own weight.
"Will there be a storm, Grandfather?" asked Yegorushka.
"Ah, my poor feet, how they ache!" Panteley said in a high-pitched
voice, stamping his feet and not hearing the boy.
On the left someone seemed to strike a match in the sky; a pale
phosphorescent streak gleamed and went out. There was a sound as
though someone very far away were walking over an iron roof, probably
barefoot, for the iron gave a hollow rumble.
"It's set in!" cried Kiruha.
Between the distance and the horizon on the right there was a flash
of lightning so vivid that it lighted up part of the steppe and the
spot where the clear sky met the blackness. A terrible cloud was
swooping down, without haste, a compact mass; big black shreds hung
from its edge; similar shreds pressing one upon another were piling
up on the right and left horizon. The tattered, ragged look of the
storm-cloud gave it a drunken disorderly air. There was a distinct,
not smothered, growl of thunder. Yegorushka crossed himself and
began quickly putting on his great-coat.
"I am dreary!" Dymov's shout floated from the foremost waggon, and
it could be told from his voice that he was beginning to be
ill-humoured again. "I am so dreary!"
All at once there was a squall of wind, so violent that it almost
snatched away Yegorushka's bundle and mat; the mat fluttered in all
directions and flapped on the bale and on Yegorushka's face. The
wind dashed whistling over the steppe, whirled round in disorder
and raised such an uproar from the grass that neither the thunder
nor the creaking of the wheels could be heard; it blew from the
black storm-cloud, carrying with it clouds of dust and the scent
of rain and wet earth. The moonlight grew mistier, as it were
dirtier; the stars were even more overcast; and clouds of dust could
be seen hurrying along the edge of the road, followed by their
shadows. By now, most likely, the whirlwind eddying round and lifting
from the earth dust, dry grass and feathers, was mounting to the
very sky; uprooted plants must have been flying by that very black
storm-cloud, and how frightened they must have been! But through
the dust that clogged the eyes nothing could be seen but the flash
Yegorushka, thinking it would pour with rain in a minute, knelt up
and covered himself with the mat.
"Panteley-ey!" someone shouted in the front. "A. . . a. . . va!"
"I can't!" Panteley answered in a loud high voice. "A . . . a
. . . va! Arya . . . a!"
There was an angry clap of thunder, which rolled across the sky
from right to left, then back again, and died away near the foremost
"Holy, holy, holy, Lord of Sabaoth," whispered Yegorushka, crossing
himself. "Fill heaven and earth with Thy glory."
The blackness in the sky yawned wide and breathed white fire. At
once there was another clap of thunder. It had scarcely ceased when
there was a flash of lightning so broad that Yegorushka suddenly
saw through a slit in the mat the whole highroad to the very horizon,
all the waggoners and even Kiruha's waistcoat. The black shreds had
by now moved upwards from the left, and one of them, a coarse,
clumsy monster like a claw with fingers, stretched to the moon.
Yegorushka made up his mind to shut his eyes tight, to pay no
attention to it, and to wait till it was all over.
The rain was for some reason long in coming. Yegorushka peeped out
from the mat in the hope that perhaps the storm-cloud was passing
over. It was fearfully dark. Yegorushka could see neither Panteley,
nor the bale of wool, nor himself; he looked sideways towards the
place where the moon had lately been, but there was the same black
darkness there as over the waggons. And in the darkness the flashes
of lightning seemed more violent and blinding, so that they hurt
"Panteley!" called Yegorushka.
No answer followed. But now a gust of wind for the last time flung
up the mat and hurried away. A quiet regular sound was heard. A big
cold drop fell on Yegorushka's knee, another trickled over his hand.
He noticed that his knees were not covered, and tried to rearrange
the mat, but at that moment something began pattering on the road,
then on the shafts and the bales. It was the rain. As though they
understood one another, the rain and the mat began prattling of
something rapidly, gaily and most annoyingly like two magpies.
Yegorushka knelt up or rather squatted on his boots. While the rain
was pattering on the mat, he leaned forward to screen his knees,
which were suddenly wet. He succeeded in covering his knees, but
in less than a minute was aware of a penetrating, unpleasant dampness
behind on his back and the calves of his legs. He returned to his
former position, exposing his knees to the rain, and wondered what
to do to rearrange the mat which he could not see in the darkness.
But his arms were already wet, the water was trickling up his sleeves
and down his collar, and his shoulder-blades felt chilly. And he
made up his mind to do nothing but sit motionless and wait till it
was all over.
"Holy, holy, holy!" he whispered.
Suddenly, exactly over his head, the sky cracked with a fearful
deafening din; he huddled up and held his breath, waiting for the
fragments to fall upon his head and back. He inadvertently opened
his eyes and saw a blinding intense light flare out and flash five
times on his fingers, his wet sleeves, and on the trickles of water
running from the mat upon the bales and down to the ground. There
was a fresh peal of thunder as violent and awful; the sky was not
growling and rumbling now, but uttering short crashing sounds like
the crackling of dry wood.
"Trrah! tah! tah! tah!" the thunder rang out distinctly, rolled
over the sky, seemed to stumble, and somewhere by the foremost
waggons or far behind to fall with an abrupt angry "Trrra!"
The flashes of lightning had at first been only terrible, but with
such thunder they seemed sinister and menacing. Their magic light
pierced through closed eyelids and sent a chill all over the body.
What could he do not to see them? Yegorushka made up his mind to
turn over on his face. Cautiously, as though afraid of being watched,
he got on all fours, and his hands slipping on the wet bale, he
turned back again.
"Trrah! tah! tah!" floated over his head, rolled under the waggons
and exploded "Kraa!"
Again he inadvertently opened his eyes and saw a new danger: three
huge giants with long pikes were following the waggon! A flash of
lightning gleamed on the points of their pikes and lighted up their
figures very distinctly. They were men of huge proportions, with
covered faces, bowed heads, and heavy footsteps. They seemed gloomy
and dispirited and lost in thought. Perhaps they were not following
the waggons with any harmful intent, and yet there was something
awful in their proximity.
Yegorushka turned quickly forward, and trembling all over cried:
"Trrah! tah! tah!" the sky answered him.
He opened his eyes to see if the waggoners were there. There were
flashes of lightning in two places, which lighted up the road to
the far distance, the whole string of waggons and all the waggoners.
Streams of water were flowing along the road and bubbles were
dancing. Panteley was walking beside the waggon; his tall hat and
his shoulder were covered with a small mat; his figure expressed
neither terror nor uneasiness, as though he were deafened by the
thunder and blinded by the lightning.
"Grandfather, the giants!" Yegorushka shouted to him in tears.
But the old man did not hear. Further away walked Emelyan. He was
covered from head to foot with a big mat and was triangular in
shape. Vassya, without anything over him, was walking with the same
wooden step as usual, lifting his feet high and not bending his
knees. In the flash of lightning it seemed as though the waggons
were not moving and the men were motionless, that Vassya's lifted
foot was rigid in the same position. . . .
Yegorushka called the old man once more. Getting no answer, he sat
motionless, and no longer waited for it all to end. He was convinced
that the thunder would kill him in another minute, that he would
accidentally open his eyes and see the terrible giants, and he left
off crossing himself, calling the old man and thinking of his mother,
and was simply numb with cold and the conviction that the storm
would never end.
But at last there was the sound of voices.
"Yegory, are you asleep?" Panteley cried below. "Get down! Is he
deaf, the silly little thing? . . ."
"Something like a storm!" said an unfamiliar bass voice, and the
stranger cleared his throat as though he had just tossed off a good
glass of vodka.
Yegorushka opened his eyes. Close to the waggon stood Panteley,
Emelyan, looking like a triangle, and the giants. The latter were
by now much shorter, and when Yegorushka looked more closely at
them they turned out to be ordinary peasants, carrying on their
shoulders not pikes but pitchforks. In the space between Panteley
and the triangular figure, gleamed the window of a low-pitched hut.
So the waggons were halting in the village. Yegorushka flung off
the mat, took his bundle and made haste to get off the waggon. Now
when close to him there were people talking and a lighted window
he no longer felt afraid, though the thunder was crashing as before
and the whole sky was streaked with lightning.
"It was a good storm, all right, . . ." Panteley was muttering.
"Thank God, . . . my feet are a little softened by the rain. It was
all right. . . . Have you got down, Yegory? Well, go into the hut;
it is all right. . . ."
"Holy, holy, holy!" wheezed Emelyan, "it must have struck something
. . . . Are you of these parts?" he asked the giants.
"No, from Glinovo. We belong to Glinovo. We are working at the
"All sorts. Just now we are getting in the wheat. The lightning,
the lightning! It is long since we have had such a storm. . . ."
Yegorushka went into the hut. He was met by a lean hunchbacked old
woman with a sharp chin. She stood holding a tallow candle in her
hands, screwing up her eyes and heaving prolonged sighs.
"What a storm God has sent us!" she said. "And our lads are out for
the night on the steppe; they'll have a bad time, poor dears! Take
off your things, little sir, take off your things."
Shivering with cold and shrugging squeamishly, Yegorushka pulled
off his drenched overcoat, then stretched out his arms and straddled
his legs, and stood a long time without moving. The slightest
movement caused an unpleasant sensation of cold and wetness. His
sleeves and the back of his shirt were sopped, his trousers stuck
to his legs, his head was dripping.
"What's the use of standing there, with your legs apart, little
lad?" said the old woman. "Come, sit down."
Holding his legs wide apart, Yegorushka went up to the table and
sat down on a bench near somebody's head. The head moved, puffed a
stream of air through its nose, made a chewing sound and subsided.
A mound covered with a sheepskin stretched from the head along the
bench; it was a peasant woman asleep.
The old woman went out sighing, and came back with a big water melon
and a little sweet melon.
"Have something to eat, my dear! I have nothing else to offer you,
. . ." she said, yawning. She rummaged in the table and took out a
long sharp knife, very much like the one with which the brigands
killed the merchants in the inn. "Have some, my dear!"
Yegorushka, shivering as though he were in a fever, ate a slice of
sweet melon with black bread and then a slice of water melon, and
that made him feel colder still.
"Our lads are out on the steppe for the night, . . ." sighed the
old woman while he was eating. "The terror of the Lord! I'd light
the candle under the ikon, but I don't know where Stepanida has put
it. Have some more, little sir, have some more. . . ."
The old woman gave a yawn and, putting her right hand behind her,
scratched her left shoulder.
"It must be two o'clock now," she said; "it will soon be time to
get up. Our lads are out on the steppe for the night; they are all
wet through for sure. . . ."
"Granny," said Yegorushka. "I am sleepy."
"Lie down, my dear, lie down," the old woman sighed, yawning. "Lord
Jesus Christ! I was asleep, when I heard a noise as though someone
were knocking. I woke up and looked, and it was the storm God had
sent us. . . . I'd have lighted the candle, but I couldn't find
Talking to herself, she pulled some rags, probably her own bed, off
the bench, took two sheepskins off a nail by the stove, and began
laying them out for a bed for Yegorushka. "The storm doesn't grow
less," she muttered. "If only nothing's struck in an unlucky hour.
Our lads are out on the steppe for the night. Lie down and sleep,
my dear. . . . Christ be with you, my child. . . . I won't take
away the melon; maybe you'll have a bit when you get up."
The sighs and yawns of the old woman, the even breathing of the
sleeping woman, the half-darkness of the hut, and the sound of the
rain outside, made one sleepy. Yegorushka was shy of undressing
before the old woman. He only took off his boots, lay down and
covered himself with the sheepskin.
"Is the little lad lying down?" he heard Panteley whisper a little
"Yes," answered the old woman in a whisper. "The terror of the Lord!
It thunders and thunders, and there is no end to it."
"It will soon be over," wheezed Panteley, sitting down; "it's getting
quieter. . . . The lads have gone into the huts, and two have stayed
with the horses. The lads have. . . . They can't; . . . the horses
would be taken away. . . . I'll sit here a bit and then go and take
my turn. . . . We can't leave them; they would be taken. . . ."
Panteley and the old woman sat side by side at Yegorushka's feet,
talking in hissing whispers and interspersing their speech with
sighs and yawns. And Yegorushka could not get warm. The warm heavy
sheepskin lay on him, but he was trembling all over; his arms and
legs were twitching, and his whole inside was shivering. . . . He
undressed under the sheepskin, but that was no good. His shivering
grew more and more acute.
Panteley went out to take his turn with the horses, and afterwards
came back again, and still Yegorushka was shivering all over and
could not get to sleep. Something weighed upon his head and chest
and oppressed him, and he did not know what it was, whether it was
the old people whispering, or the heavy smell of the sheepskin. The
melon he had eaten had left an unpleasant metallic taste in his
mouth. Moreover he was being bitten by fleas.
"Grandfather, I am cold," he said, and did not know his own voice.
"Go to sleep, my child, go to sleep," sighed the old woman.
Tit came up to the bedside on his thin little legs and waved his
arms, then grew up to the ceiling and turned into a windmill. . . .
Father Christopher, not as he was in the chaise, but in his full
vestments with the sprinkler in his hand, walked round the mill,
sprinkling it with holy water, and it left off waving. Yegorushka,
knowing this was delirium, opened his eyes.
"Grandfather," he called, "give me some water."
No one answered. Yegorushka felt it insufferably stifling and
uncomfortable lying down. He got up, dressed, and went out of the
hut. Morning was beginning. The sky was overcast, but it was no
longer raining. Shivering and wrapping himself in his wet overcoat,
Yegorushka walked about the muddy yard and listened to the silence;
he caught sight of a little shed with a half-open door made of
reeds. He looked into this shed, went into it, and sat down in a
dark corner on a heap of dry dung.
There was a tangle of thoughts in his heavy head; his mouth was dry
and unpleasant from the metallic taste. He looked at his hat,
straightened the peacock's feather on it, and thought how he had
gone with his mother to buy the hat. He put his hand into his pocket
and took out a lump of brownish sticky paste. How had that paste
come into his pocket? He thought a minute, smelt it; it smelt of
honey. Aha! it was the Jewish cake! How sopped it was, poor thing!
Yegorushka examined his coat. It was a little grey overcoat with
big bone buttons, cut in the shape of a frock-coat. At home, being
a new and expensive article, it had not been hung in the hall, but
with his mother's dresses in her bedroom; he was only allowed to
wear it on holidays. Looking at it, Yegorushka felt sorry for it.
He thought that he and the great-coat were both abandoned to the
mercy of destiny; he thought that he would never get back home, and
began sobbing so violently that he almost fell off the heap of dung.
A big white dog with woolly tufts like curl-papers about its face,
sopping from the rain, came into the shed and stared with curiosity
at Yegorushka. It seemed to be hesitating whether to bark or not.
Deciding that there was no need to bark, it went cautiously up to
Yegorushka, ate the sticky plaster and went out again.
"There are Varlamov's men!" someone shouted in the street.
After having his cry out, Yegorushka went out of the shed and,
walking round a big puddle, made his way towards the street. The
waggons were standing exactly opposite the gateway. The drenched
waggoners, with their muddy feet, were sauntering beside them or
sitting on the shafts, as listless and drowsy as flies in autumn.
Yegorushka looked at them and thought: "How dreary and comfortless
to be a peasant!" He went up to Panteley and sat down beside him
on the shaft.
"Grandfather, I'm cold," he said, shivering and thrusting his hands
up his sleeves.
"Never mind, we shall soon be there," yawned Panteley. "Never mind,
you will get warm."
It must have been early when the waggons set off, for it was not
hot. Yegorushka lay on the bales of wool and shivered with cold,
though the sun soon came out and dried his clothes, the bales, and
the earth. As soon as he closed his eyes he saw Tit and the windmill
again. Feeling a sickness and heaviness all over, he did his utmost
to drive away these images, but as soon as they vanished the
dare-devil Dymov, with red eyes and lifted fists, rushed at Yegorushka
with a roar, or there was the sound of his complaint: "I am so
dreary!" Varlamov rode by on his little Cossack stallion; happy
Konstantin passed, with a smile and the bustard in his arms. And
how tedious these people were, how sickening and unbearable!
Once--it was towards evening--he raised his head to ask for
water. The waggons were standing on a big bridge across a broad
river. There was black smoke below over the river, and through it
could be seen a steamer with a barge in tow. Ahead of them, beyond
the river, was a huge mountain dotted with houses and churches; at
the foot of the mountain an engine was being shunted along beside
some goods trucks.
Yegorushka had never before seen steamers, nor engines, nor broad
rivers. Glancing at them now, he was not alarmed or surprised; there
was not even a look of anything like curiosity in his face. He
merely felt sick, and made haste to turn over to the edge of the
bale. He was sick. Panteley, seeing this, cleared his throat and
shook his head.
"Our little lad's taken ill," he said. "He must have got a chill
to the stomach. The little lad must. . . away from home; it's a bad
The waggons stopped at a big inn for merchants, not far from the
quay. As Yegorushka climbed down from the waggon he heard a very
familiar voice. Someone was helping him to get down, and saying:
"We arrived yesterday evening. . . . We have been expecting you all
day. We meant to overtake you yesterday, but it was out of our way;
we came by the other road. I say, how you have crumpled your coat!
You'll catch it from your uncle!"
Yegorushka looked into the speaker's mottled face and remembered
that this was Deniska.
"Your uncle and Father Christopher are in the inn now, drinking
tea; come along!"
And he led Yegorushka to a big two-storied building, dark and gloomy
like the almshouse at N. After going across the entry, up a dark
staircase and through a narrow corridor, Yegorushka and Deniska
reached a little room in which Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher
were sitting at the tea-table. Seeing the boy, both the old men
showed surprise and pleasure.
"Aha! Yegor Ni-ko-la-aitch!" chanted Father Christopher. "Mr.
"Ah, our gentleman that is to be," said Kuzmitchov, "pleased to see
Yegorushka took off his great-coat, kissed his uncle's hand and
Father Christopher's, and sat down to the table.
"Well, how did you like the journey, puer bone?" Father Christopher
pelted him with questions as he poured him out some tea, with his
radiant smile. "Sick of it, I've no doubt? God save us all from
having to travel by waggon or with oxen. You go on and on, God
forgive us; you look ahead and the steppe is always lying stretched
out the same as it was--you can't see the end of it! It's not
travelling but regular torture. Why don't you drink your tea? Drink
it up; and in your absence, while you have been trailing along with
the waggons, we have settled all our business capitally. Thank God
we have sold our wool to Tcherepahin, and no one could wish to have
done better. . . . We have made a good bargain."
At the first sight of his own people Yegorushka felt an overwhelming
desire to complain. He did not listen to Father Christopher, but
thought how to begin and what exactly to complain of. But Father
Christopher's voice, which seemed to him harsh and unpleasant,
prevented him from concentrating his attention and confused his
thoughts. He had not sat at the table five minutes before he got
up, went to the sofa and lay down.
"Well, well," said Father Christopher in surprise. "What about your
Still thinking what to complain of, Yegorushka leaned his head
against the wall and broke into sobs.
"Well, well!" repeated Father Christopher, getting up and going to
the sofa. "Yegory, what is the matter with you? Why are you crying?"
"I'm . . . I'm ill," Yegorushka brought out.
"Ill?" said Father Christopher in amazement. "That's not the right
thing, my boy. . . . One mustn't be ill on a journey. Aie, aie,
what are you thinking about, boy . . . eh?"
He put his hand to Yegorushka's head, touched his cheek and said:
"Yes, your head's feverish. . . . You must have caught cold or else
have eaten something. . . . Pray to God."
"Should we give him quinine? . . ." said Ivan Ivanitch, troubled.
"No; he ought to have something hot. . . . Yegory, have a little
drop of soup? Eh?"
"I . . . don't want any," said Yegorushka.
"Are you feeling chilly?"
"I was chilly before, but now . . . now I am hot. And I ache all
over. . . ."
Ivan Ivanitch went up to the sofa, touched Yegorushka on the head,
cleared his throat with a perplexed air, and went back to the table.
"I tell you what, you undress and go to bed," said Father Christopher.
"What you want is sleep now."
He helped Yegorushka to undress, gave him a pillow and covered him
with a quilt, and over that Ivan Ivanitch's great-coat. Then he
walked away on tiptoe and sat down to the table. Yegorushka shut
his eyes, and at once it seemed to him that he was not in the hotel
room, but on the highroad beside the camp fire. Emelyan waved his
hands, and Dymov with red eyes lay on his stomach and looked mockingly
"Beat him, beat him!" shouted Yegorushka.
"He is delirious," said Father Christopher in an undertone.
"It's a nuisance!" sighed Ivan Ivanitch.
"He must be rubbed with oil and vinegar. Please God, he will be
To be rid of bad dreams, Yegorushka opened his eyes and began looking
towards the fire. Father Christopher and Ivan Ivanitch had now
finished their tea and were talking in a whisper. The first was
smiling with delight, and evidently could not forget that he had
made a good bargain over his wool; what delighted him was not so
much the actual profit he had made as the thought that on getting
home he would gather round him his big family, wink slyly and go
off into a chuckle; at first he would deceive them all, and say
that he had sold the wool at a price below its value, then he would
give his son-in-law, Mihail, a fat pocket-book and say: "Well, take
it! that's the way to do business!" Kuzmitchov did not seem pleased;
his face expressed, as before, a business-like reserve and anxiety.
"If I could have known that Tcherepahin would give such a price,"
he said in a low voice, "I wouldn't have sold Makarov those five
tons at home. It is vexatious! But who could have told that the
price had gone up here?"
A man in a white shirt cleared away the samovar and lighted the
little lamp before the ikon in the corner. Father Christopher
whispered something in his ear; the man looked, made a serious face
like a conspirator, as though to say, "I understand," went out, and
returned a little while afterwards and put something under the sofa.
Ivan Ivanitch made himself a bed on the floor, yawned several times,
said his prayers lazily, and lay down.
"I think of going to the cathedral to-morrow," said Father Christopher.
"I know the sacristan there. I ought to go and see the bishop after
mass, but they say he is ill."
He yawned and put out the lamp. Now there was no light in the room
but the little lamp before the ikon.
"They say he can't receive visitors," Father Christopher went on,
undressing. "So I shall go away without seeing him."
He took off his full coat, and Yegorushka saw Robinson Crusoe
reappear. Robinson stirred something in a saucer, went up to
Yegorushka and whispered:
"Lomonosov, are you asleep? Sit up; I'm going to rub you with oil
and vinegar. It's a good thing, only you must say a prayer."
Yegorushka roused himself quickly and sat up. Father Christopher
pulled down the boy's shirt, and shrinking and breathing jerkily,
as though he were being tickled himself, began rubbing Yegorushka's
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost," he
whispered, "lie with your back upwards--that's it. . . . You'll
be all right to-morrow, but don't do it again. . . . You are as hot
as fire. I suppose you were on the road in the storm."
"You might well fall ill! In the name of the Father, the Son, and
the Holy Ghost, . . . you might well fall ill!"
After rubbing Yegorushka, Father Christopher put on his shirt again,
covered him, made the sign of the cross over him, and walked away.
Then Yegorushka saw him saying his prayers. Probably the old man
knew a great many prayers by heart, for he stood a long time before
the ikon murmuring. After saying his prayers he made the sign of
the cross over the window, the door, Yegorushka, and Ivan Ivanitch,
lay down on the little sofa without a pillow, and covered himself
with his full coat. A clock in the corridor struck ten. Yegorushka
thought how long a time it would be before morning; feeling miserable,
he pressed his forehead against the back of the sofa and left off
trying to get rid of the oppressive misty dreams. But morning came
much sooner than he expected.
It seemed to him that he had not been lying long with his head
pressed to the back of the sofa, but when he opened his eyes slanting
rays of sunlight were already shining on the floor through the two
windows of the little hotel room. Father Christopher and Ivan
Ivanitch were not in the room. The room had been tidied; it was
bright, snug, and smelt of Father Christopher, who always smelt of
cypress and dried cornflowers (at home he used to make the holy-water
sprinklers and decorations for the ikonstands out of cornflowers,
and so he was saturated with the smell of them). Yegorushka looked
at the pillow, at the slanting sunbeams, at his boots, which had
been cleaned and were standing side by side near the sofa, and
laughed. It seemed strange to him that he was not on the bales of
wool, that everything was dry around him, and that there was no
thunder and lightning on the ceiling.
He jumped off the sofa and began dressing. He felt splendid; nothing
was left of his yesterday's illness but a slight weakness in his
legs and neck. So the vinegar and oil had done good. He remembered
the steamer, the railway engine, and the broad river, which he had
dimly seen the day before, and now he made haste to dress, to run
to the quay and have a look at them. When he had washed and was
putting on his red shirt, the latch of the door clicked, and Father
Christopher appeared in the doorway, wearing his top-hat and a brown
silk cassock over his canvas coat and carrying his staff in his
hand. Smiling and radiant (old men are always radiant when they
come back from church), he put a roll of holy bread and a parcel
of some sort on the table, prayed before the ikon, and said:
"God has sent us blessings--well, how are you?"
"Quite well now," answered Yegorushka, kissing his hand.
"Thank God. . . . I have come from mass. I've been to see a sacristan
I know. He invited me to breakfast with him, but I didn't go. I
don't like visiting people too early, God bless them!"
He took off his cassock, stroked himself on the chest, and without
haste undid the parcel. Yegorushka saw a little tin of caviare, a
piece of dry sturgeon, and a French loaf.
"See; I passed a fish-shop and brought this," said Father Christopher.
"There is no need to indulge in luxuries on an ordinary weekday;
but I thought, I've an invalid at home, so it is excusable. And the
caviare is good, real sturgeon. . . ."
The man in the white shirt brought in the samovar and a tray with
"Eat some," said Father Christopher, spreading the caviare on a
slice of bread and handing it to Yegorushka. "Eat now and enjoy
yourself, but the time will soon come for you to be studying. Mind
you study with attention and application, so that good may come of
it. What you have to learn by heart, learn by heart, but when you
have to tell the inner sense in your own words, without regard to
the outer form, then say it in your own words. And try to master
all subjects. One man knows mathematics excellently, but has never
heard of Pyotr Mogila; another knows about Pyotr Mogila, but cannot
explain about the moon. But you study so as to understand everything.
Study Latin, French, German, . . . geography, of course, history,
theology, philosophy, mathematics, . . . and when you have mastered
everything, not with haste but with prayer and with zeal, then go
into the service. When you know everything it will be easy for you
in any line of life. . . . You study and strive for the divine
blessing, and God will show you what to be. Whether a doctor, a
judge or an engineer. . . ."
Father Christopher spread a little caviare on a piece of bread, put
it in his mouth and said:
"The Apostle Paul says: 'Do not apply yourself to strange and diverse
studies.' Of course, if it is black magic, unlawful arts, or calling
up spirits from the other world, like Saul, or studying subjects
that can be of no use to yourself or others, better not learn them.
You must undertake only what God has blessed. Take example . . .
the Holy Apostles spoke in all languages, so you study languages.
Basil the Great studied mathematics and philosophy--so you study
them; St. Nestor wrote history--so you study and write history.
Take example from the saints."
Father Christopher sipped the tea from his saucer, wiped his
moustaches, and shook his head.
"Good!" he said. "I was educated in the old-fashioned way; I have
forgotten a great deal by now, but still I live differently from
other people. Indeed, there is no comparison. For instance, in
company at a dinner, or at an assembly, one says something in Latin,
or makes some allusion from history or philosophy, and it pleases
people, and it pleases me myself. . . . Or when the circuit court
comes and one has to take the oath, all the other priests are shy,
but I am quite at home with the judges, the prosecutors, and the
lawyers. I talk intellectually, drink a cup of tea with them, laugh,
ask them what I don't know, . . . and they like it. So that's how
it is, my boy. Learning is light and ignorance is darkness. Study!
It's hard, of course; nowadays study is expensive. . . . Your mother
is a widow; she lives on her pension, but there, of course . . ."
Father Christopher glanced apprehensively towards the door, and
went on in a whisper:
"Ivan Ivanitch will assist. He won't desert you. He has no children
of his own, and he will help you. Don't be uneasy."
He looked grave, and whispered still more softly:
"Only mind, Yegory, don't forget your mother and Ivan Ivanitch, God
preserve you from it. The commandment bids you honour your mother,
and Ivan Ivanitch is your benefactor and takes the place of a father
to you. If you become learned, God forbid you should be impatient
and scornful with people because they are not so clever as you,
then woe, woe to you!"
Father Christopher raised his hand and repeated in a thin voice:
"Woe to you! Woe to you!"
Father Christopher's tongue was loosened, and he was, as they say,
warming to his subject; he would not have finished till dinnertime
but the door opened and Ivan Ivanitch walked in. He said good-morning
hurriedly, sat down to the table, and began rapidly swallowing his
"Well, I have settled all our business," he said. "We might have
gone home to-day, but we have still to think about Yegor. We must
arrange for him. My sister told me that Nastasya Petrovna, a friend
of hers, lives somewhere here, so perhaps she will take him in as
He rummaged in his pocket-book, found a crumpled note and read:
"'Little Lower Street: Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov, living in a
house of her own.' We must go at once and try to find her. It's a
Soon after breakfast Ivan Ivanitch and Yegorushka left the inn.
"It's a nuisance," muttered his uncle. "You are sticking to me like
a burr. You and your mother want education and gentlemanly breeding
and I have nothing but worry with you both. . . ."
When they crossed the yard, the waggons and the drivers were not
there. They had all gone off to the quay early in the morning. In
a far-off dark corner of the yard stood the chaise.
"Good-bye, chaise!" thought Yegorushka.
At first they had to go a long way uphill by a broad street, then
they had to cross a big marketplace; here Ivan Ivanitch asked a
policeman for Little Lower Street.
"I say," said the policeman, with a grin, "it's a long way off, out
that way towards the town grazing ground."
They met several cabs but Ivan Ivanitch only permitted himself such
a weakness as taking a cab in exceptional cases and on great holidays.
Yegorushka and he walked for a long while through paved streets,
then along streets where there were only wooden planks at the sides
and no pavements, and in the end got to streets where there were
neither planks nor pavements. When their legs and their tongues had
brought them to Little Lower Street they were both red in the face,
and taking off their hats, wiped away the perspiration.
"Tell me, please," said Ivan Ivanitch, addressing an old man sitting
on a little bench by a gate, "where is Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov's
"There is no one called Toskunov here," said the old man, after
pondering a moment. "Perhaps it's Timoshenko you want."
"No, Toskunov. . . ."
"Excuse me, there's no one called Toskunov. . . ."
Ivan Ivanitch shrugged his shoulders and trudged on farther.
"You needn't look," the old man called after them. "I tell you there
isn't, and there isn't."
"Listen, auntie," said Ivan Ivanitch, addressing an old woman who
was sitting at a corner with a tray of pears and sunflower seeds,
"where is Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov's house?"
The old woman looked at him with surprise and laughed.
"Why, Nastasya Petrovna live in her own house now!" she cried.
"Lord! it is eight years since she married her daughter and gave
up the house to her son-in-law! It's her son-in-law lives there
And her eyes expressed: "How is it you didn't know a simple thing
like that, you fools?"
"And where does she live now?" Ivan Ivanitch asked.
"Oh, Lord!" cried the old woman, flinging up her hands in surprise.
"She moved ever so long ago! It's eight years since she gave up her
house to her son-in-law! Upon my word!"
She probably expected Ivan Ivanitch to be surprised, too, and to
exclaim: "You don't say so," but Ivan Ivanitch asked very calmly:
"Where does she live now?"
The old woman tucked up her sleeves and, stretching out her bare
arm to point, shouted in a shrill piercing voice:
"Go straight on, straight on, straight on. You will pass a little
red house, then you will see a little alley on your left. Turn down
that little alley, and it will be the third gate on the right. . . ."
Ivan Ivanitch and Yegorushka reached the little red house, turned
to the left down the little alley, and made for the third gate on
the right. On both sides of this very old grey gate there was a
grey fence with big gaps in it. The first part of the fence was
tilting forwards and threatened to fall, while on the left of the
gate it sloped backwards towards the yard. The gate itself stood
upright and seemed to be still undecided which would suit it best
--to fall forwards or backwards. Ivan Ivanitch opened the little
gate at the side, and he and Yegorushka saw a big yard overgrown
with weeds and burdocks. A hundred paces from the gate stood a
little house with a red roof and green shutters. A stout woman with
her sleeves tucked up and her apron held out was standing in the
middle of the yard, scattering something on the ground and shouting
in a voice as shrill as that of the woman selling fruit:
"Chick! . . . Chick! . . . Chick!"
Behind her sat a red dog with pointed ears. Seeing the strangers,
he ran to the little gate and broke into a tenor bark (all red dogs
have a tenor bark).
"Whom do you want?" asked the woman, putting up her hand to shade
her eyes from the sun.
"Good-morning!" Ivan Ivanitch shouted, too, waving off the red dog
with his stick. "Tell me, please, does Nastasya Petrovna Toskunov
"Yes! But what do you want with her?"
"Perhaps you are Nastasya Petrovna?"
"Well, yes, I am!"
"Very pleased to see you. . . . You see, your old friend Olga
Ivanovna Knyasev sends her love to you. This is her little son. And
I, perhaps you remember, am her brother Ivan Ivanitch. . . . You
are one of us from N. . . . You were born among us and married
there. . . ."
A silence followed. The stout woman stared blankly at Ivan Ivanitch,
as though not believing or not understanding him, then she flushed
all over, and flung up her hands; the oats were scattered out of
her apron and tears spurted from her eyes.
"Olga Ivanovna!" she screamed, breathless with excitement. "My own
darling! Ah, holy saints, why am I standing here like a fool? My
pretty little angel. . . ."
She embraced Yegorushka, wetted his face with her tears, and broke
"Heavens!" she said, wringing her hands, "Olga's little boy! How
delightful! He is his mother all over! The image of his mother! But
why are you standing in the yard? Come indoors."
Crying, gasping for breath and talking as she went, she hurried
towards the house. Her visitors trudged after her.
"The room has not been done yet," she said, ushering the visitors
into a stuffy little drawing-room adorned with many ikons and pots
of flowers. "Oh, Mother of God! Vassilisa, go and open the shutters
anyway! My little angel! My little beauty! I did not know that
Olitchka had a boy like that!"
When she had calmed down and got over her first surprise Ivan
Ivanitch asked to speak to her alone. Yegorushka went into another
room; there was a sewing-machine; in the window was a cage with a
starling in it, and there were as many ikons and flowers as in the
drawing-room. Near the machine stood a little girl with a sunburnt
face and chubby cheeks like Tit's, and a clean cotton dress. She
stared at Yegorushka without blinking, and apparently felt very
awkward. Yegorushka looked at her and after a pause asked:
"What's your name?"
The little girl moved her lips, looked as if she were going to cry,
and answered softly:
"Atka. . . ."
This meant Katka.
"He will live with you," Ivan Ivanitch was whispering in the
drawing-room, "if you will be so kind, and we will pay ten roubles
a month for his keep. He is not a spoilt boy; he is quiet. . . ."
"I really don't know what to say, Ivan Ivanitch!" Nastasya Petrovna
sighed tearfully. "Ten roubles a month is very good, but it is a
dreadful thing to take another person's child! He may fall ill or
something. . . ."
When Yegorushka was summoned back to the drawing-room Ivan Ivanitch
was standing with his hat in his hands, saying good-bye.
"Well, let him stay with you now, then," he said. "Good-bye! You
stay, Yegor!" he said, addressing his nephew. "Don't be troublesome;
mind you obey Nastasya Petrovna. . . . Good-bye; I am coming again
And he went away. Nastasya once more embraced Yegorushka, called
him a little angel, and with a tear-stained face began preparing
for dinner. Three minutes later Yegorushka was sitting beside her,
answering her endless questions and eating hot savoury cabbage soup.
In the evening he sat again at the same table and, resting his head
on his hand, listened to Nastasya Petrovna. Alternately laughing
and crying, she talked of his mother's young days, her own marriage,
her children. . . . A cricket chirruped in the stove, and there was
a faint humming from the burner of the lamp. Nastasya Petrovna
talked in a low voice, and was continually dropping her thimble in
her excitement; and Katka her granddaughter, crawled under the table
after it and each time sat a long while under the table, probably
examining Yegorushka's feet; and Yegorushka listened, half dozing
and looking at the old woman's face, her wart with hairs on it, and
the stains of tears, and he felt sad, very sad. He was put to sleep
on a chest and told that if he were hungry in the night he must go
out into the little passage and take some chicken, put there under
a plate in the window.
Next morning Ivan Ivanitch and Father Christopher came to say
good-bye. Nastasya Petrovna was delighted to see them, and was about
to set the samovar; but Ivan Ivanitch, who was in a great hurry,
waved his hands and said:
"We have no time for tea! We are just setting off."
Before parting they all sat down and were silent for a minute.
Nastasya Petrovna heaved a deep sigh and looked towards the ikon
with tear-stained eyes.
"Well," began Ivan Ivanitch, getting up, "so you will stay. . . ."
All at once the look of business-like reserve vanished from his
face; he flushed a little and said with a mournful smile:
"Mind you work hard. . . . Don't forget your mother, and obey
Nastasya Petrovna. . . . If you are diligent at school, Yegor, I'll
stand by you."
He took his purse out of his pocket, turned his back to Yegorushka,
fumbled for a long time among the smaller coins, and, finding a
ten-kopeck piece, gave it to Yegorushka.
Father Christopher, without haste, blessed Yegorushka.
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. . . .
Study," he said. "Work hard, my lad. If I die, remember me in your
prayers. Here is a ten-kopeck piece from me, too. . . ."
Yegorushka kissed his hand, and shed tears; something whispered in
his heart that he would never see the old man again.
"I have applied at the high school already," said Ivan Ivanitch in
a voice as though there were a corpse in the room. "You will take
him for the entrance examination on the seventh of August. . . .
Well, good-bye; God bless you, good-bye, Yegor!"
"You might at least have had a cup of tea," wailed Nastasya Petrovna.
Through the tears that filled his eyes Yegorushka could not see his
uncle and Father Christopher go out. He rushed to the window, but
they were not in the yard, and the red dog, who had just been
barking, was running back from the gate with the air of having done
his duty. When Yegorushka ran out of the gate Ivan Ivanitch and
Father Christopher, the former waving his stick with the crook, the
latter his staff, were just turning the corner. Yegorushka felt
that with these people all that he had known till then had vanished
from him for ever. He sank helplessly on to the little bench, and
with bitter tears greeted the new unknown life that was beginning
for him now. . . .
What would that life be like?