The Village by Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, chapter name PART TWO



ALMOST all his life long Kuzma had dreamed of writing, of obtaining an education. Verses did not count. He had dallied with verses as a mere child. He longed to narrate how he had come to naught; to depict, with unprecedented ruthlessness, his poverty and that dreadful factor in his commonplace life which had crippled him, made of him a barren fig-tree.

When he reviewed his life in his own mind he both condemned and acquitted himself. Yes, he was an indigent petty townsman who, almost up to the age of fifteen, had been able to read only by spelling out every word. But his history was the history of all self-taught Russians. He had been born in a country which had more than a hundred million illiterate inhabitants. He had grown up in the Black Suburb, where down to the present day men fight to the death with their fists. In his childhood he had seen dirt and drunkenness, laziness and boredom. His childhood had furnished only one poetical impression: there had been the dark cemetery grove, and the pasture on the hill behind the Suburb, and beyond that—space, the hot mirage of the steppe, a white cottage beneath a poplar-tree in the far distance. But he had been taught to look upon even this cottage with scorn: Little Russians dwelt there, and, of course, they were so stupid that in reply to the question, “Little Russians, where are your kettles?”[14] they said: “Do you need to be told that they are under the wagons?” He and Tikhon had been taught the alphabet and figures by a neighbour named Byelkin, whose trade was to make rubber overshoes in moulds; but he had taught them because he never had any work—for what demand was there in the Suburb for overshoes?—and because it was always agreeable to pull some one’s hair, and because a man cannot sit for ever on the earth wall alongside his hut absolutely idle, with his frowsy head bent and exposed to the sun, doing nothing but spit in the dust between his bare feet.

In Matorin’s shop the brothers had speedily attained to writing and reading, and Kuzma had begun to be attracted by the little books which the accordeon-player, old Balashkin, the eccentric free-thinker of the bazaar, gave him. But what chance for reading was there in the shop? Matorin very often shouted: “I’ll box your ears for those books of yours, you abominable little devil!”

That was an old story; but Kuzma wished to recall, also, the morals of the bazaar. In the bazaar he had picked up much that was opprobrious. There he and his brother had been taught to sneer at the poverty of their mother, at her having taken to drink, abandoned as she was by her adolescent sons. There they once played the following prank: Every day, on his way from the library, the son of the tailor Vitebsky passed the door of the shop—a Jew aged sixteen, with a pallid greyish face; a terribly lean, big-eared fellow who wore spectacles and industriously read as he walked, his book held close up to his eyes. So they threw some bricks and rubbish on the sidewalk—and the Jew (“that learned man!”) stumbled so successfully that he bruised his knees, elbows, and teeth to the point of bleeding. Then Kuzma started to write. He began a story about a merchant who, driving by night in a fearful thunderstorm through the Murom forests, came upon an encampment of bandits and got his throat cut. Kuzma fervently set forth his remarks and thoughts on the brink of death, his grief over his iniquitous life, “so prematurely cut short.” But the bazaar mercilessly threw cold water on it.

“Well, you are a queer one, Lord forgive us!” it pronounced, merrily and insolently, through Tikhon’s mouth. “‘Prematurely’! That pot-bellied devil ought to have been done for long before! Well, and how did you know what he was thinking about? They cut his throat, didn’t they?”

Then Kuzma wrote, in the style of Koltzoff, a ballad about an extremely ancient knight who bequeathed to his son a faithful steed. “He carried me in my youth!” exclaimed the hero in the ballad. But Tikhon merely shook his head over that.

“Really!” said he, “how old was that horse? Akh, Kuzma! Kuzma! You’d better compose something practical—well, about the war, for example.”

And Kuzma, catering to the taste of the market-place, began with great zeal to write about what the bazaar was discussing at the moment—the Russo-Turkish war: about how—

“In the year of seventy-seven

The Turk set out to fight;

He advanced with his hordes

And tried to capture Russia”

and how those hordes

In uncouth nightcaps

Crept stealthily to the Tsar-Cannon.[15]

Later on it pained him to realize how much stupidity and ignorance this doggerel contained, the servile quality of its language, and its Russian scorn for foreign headgear. With pain he recalled much else. For example, Zadonsk. One day there he was overcome by a passionate longing for repentance, a terror lest his mother, who had died, practically, of starvation, had bitterly reported in heaven her sorrowful life; and he set forth on foot to the abode of a holy man. Once there, he did nothing whatever except to read to assembled admirers, with malicious joy, a “sheet” which had made a special impression on him: how a certain village scribe had taken it into his head to reject the authorities and the Church, and God had waxed so wroth that “this aristocrat was laid low on his bed of death,” his malady such that “he devoured more than a pig, and shrieked that that was not enough, and withered away until he was unrecognizable.” And Kuzma’s entire youth was spent in just such affairs! He thought and professed one thing—and said and did something entirely different. Aspiring to write and reckoning up the sum-total of his life, Kuzma shook his head mournfully: “A genuine Russian trait, sir! The sowing was half peas, half thistles.”

It seemed as if he had been merry in his youth, kind, tender, quick to understand, eager to learn. But was it really so? He was not Tikhon, of course. But why had he, equally with Tikhon, assimilated so promptly the savagery of those who surrounded him? Why had he, kind and tender as he was, so mercilessly neglected his mother? Why had the bazaar so long reigned supreme over his heart, which was toiling so ardently over books? Why, why was he—a barren fig-tree?

Tikhon had been in the habit of keeping most of his earnings in one common money-box: they had decided to set up in business for themselves. Kuzma surrendered his money with a full, hearty confidence which Tikhon never possessed. But his mother, his mother! He groaned as he recalled how, poverty-stricken as she was, she had bestowed her blessing on him, had given him her sole treasure, a relic of her better days, which had been preserved at the bottom of her chest—a small silver-mounted holy picture. And the fact that he had groaned was good, also; but all the same his money had gone to Tikhon.


ABANDONING the shop counter, and having sold off what their mother had left, they had begun to trade—had gone out among the Little Russians, and to Voronezh. They were frequently in their native town, and Kuzma kept up his friendship with Balashkin as of yore, and read avidly the books which Balashkin gave him or recommended to him. This was not at all like Tikhon. Tikhon, when there was nothing to do, was fond of reading, also; a year might pass without his taking a book in his hand, but if he did begin one, he read swiftly to the very last line and, once he had finished that, instantly severed all connection with the book; on one occasion he had read through an entire volume of the “Contemporary” in one night, had not understood much, had pronounced what he had read extremely interesting—and then had forgotten the “Contemporary” for ever. Neither did Kuzma understand much of what he read—even in the writings of Byelinsky, Gogol, and Pushkin. But his comprehension increased, not by days but by hours: he was able to grasp the gist of the matter and rivet it in his heart to a positively amazing degree. Why, then, when he comprehended the words of Dobroliuboff, did he disfigure his speech in the bazaar and say “khvakt” instead of “fact”? Why, when conversing with Balashkin about Schiller, did he passionately long to borrow his “ekordeon”? Waxing enthusiastic over Turgenieff’s “Smoke,” he maintained nevertheless that “he who is intelligent but not educated, has much knowledge even without education.” On visiting the grave of Koltzoff, in rapture he wrote upon the gravestone an illiterate epitaph: “Binith this munament is intered the boady of citazen alesei vasilevitch Kaltzoff campoaser and poet of Voronezh riworded by the munarch’s greciousnes a lerningles man enlitend by natur.”

Balashkin explained the meaning of things to him and impressed on Kuzma’s soul a profound stamp of himself. Old, gigantic, lean, garbed summer and winter alike in a peasant overcoat which had turned green with age and a winter-weight peaked cap, huge-faced, clean-shaven, and wry-mouthed, Balashkin was almost terrifying with his malicious speeches, his deep, senile bass voice, the prickly, silvery bristles on his grey cheeks and lips, and his green left eye, bulging, flashing, and squinting in the direction in which his mouth was drawn awry. And he fairly took to barking one day at Kuzma’s remark about “enlightenment without education.” That eye of his blazed as he hurled aside his cigarette, which he had filled with the cheap tobacco on top of a tin which had contained pilchards. “Jaw of an ass! What’s that you’re jabbering? Have you ever considered what our ‘enlightenment without education’ signifies? The death of Zhadovskaya—that’s its devilish symbol!”

“But what about the death of Zhadovskaya?” inquired Kuzma.

And Balashkin yelled in a rage: “You have forgotten? The poetess, a wealthy woman, a noblewoman—but she drowned herself. You have forgotten?” And again he seized his cigarette and began to roar dully: “Merciful God! They killed Pushkin, they killed Lermontoff, they drowned Pisareff. They strangled Rylyeeff, they condemned Polezhaeff to the ranks as a soldier, they walled up Shevtchenko as a prisoner for ten years, they dragged Dostoevsky out to be shot, Gogol went mad—and how about Koltzoff, Nikitin, Ryeshetnikoff? Okh, and is there any other such country in the world, any other such nation? thrice accursed may they be!”

Excitedly twisting the buttons of his long-tailed coat, now buttoning, again unbuttoning them, frowning and grimacing, Kuzma, perturbed, said in reply: “Such a nation! ’Tis the greatest of nations, and not ‘such’ a nation, permit me to remark to you!”

“Don’t you presume to confer prizes!” Balaskhin shouted.

“Yes, sir, I will presume! For those writers were children of that same nation!”

“Yes, curse you, they were—but George Sand was no worse than your Zhadovskaya, and she did not drown herself!”

“Platon Karataeff—there’s an acknowledged type of that nation!”

“And why not Yeroshka, why not Lukashka? My good man, if I take a notion to shake up literature I’ll find boots to fit all the gods! Why Karataeff and not Ruzuvaeff and Kolupaeff? why not a bloodsucker spider, an extortioner priest, a venal deacon? some Saltytchikha or other? Why not Karamazoff and Oblomoff, Khlestyakoff and Nozdreff? or, not to go too far afield, why not your good-for-nothing, nasty brother, Tishka Krasoff?”

“Platon Karataeff—”

“The lice have eaten your Karataeff! I don’t see that he’s an ideal!”

“But the Russian martyrs, saints, holy men, the fools-for-Christ’s-sake, the Old Ritualists?”

“Wha-at’s that? Well, how about the Coliseum, the crusades, the religious wars, the countless sects? And Luther, to wind up? No, nonsense! You can’t beat me down with one blow, like that!”

“Then what, in your opinion, ought to be done?” shouted Kuzma. “Blindfold our eyes and rush to the ends of the world?”

But at this point Balashkin suddenly became extinguished. He closed his eyes, and his huge grey face portrayed advanced, painful old age. For a long time with drooping head he turned over something in his mind, and at last muttered: “What ought to be done? I don’t know: we are ruined. Our last asset was ‘Memoirs of the Fatherland,’ and that has been knocked in the head! And yet, you fool, you think the only thing that is necessary is to educate oneself.”

Yes, one thing was necessary—to acquire an education. But when? And how? Five whole years he had spent in peddling—and they were the best period of his life! Even the arrival in a town seemed an immense happiness. Rest, acquaintances, the odour of bake-shops and iron roofs, the pavement on Trading Street, fresh white rolls and the Persian March on the mechanical organ of the “Kars” eating-house. The floors in the shops watered from a teapot, the wood-notes of a famous quail in front of Rudakoff’s door, the smell of the fish shops in the bazaar, of fennel and coarse tobacco. The kindly and terrible smile of Balashkin at the sight of Kuzma approaching. Then—thunders and curses on the Slavophils, Byelinsky and vile abuse, incoherent and passionate interchange of opprobrious names between the two, quotations. And, to wind up, the most desperately absurd deductions. “Well, now we’ve got to the end of our rope—and we’re dashing back to Asia at full speed!” the old man rumbled, and, abruptly lowering his voice, he cast a glance around him: “Have you heard? They say that Saltykoff is dying. He’s the last. ’Tis said he was poisoned.” And in the morning—again the springless cart, the steppe, sultry heat or mud, strained and painful reading to the accompaniment of jolts from the swiftly revolving wheels. Protracted contemplation of the steppe’s vast spaces, the sweetly melancholy melody of verses within, interrupted by thoughts about grains or of squabbles with Tikhon. The perturbing odour of the road—of dust and tar. The odour of gingerbread, flavoured with mint, and the suffocating stench of cat hides, of dirty fleeces, of boots greased with train-oil. Those years had, in truth, been a drain on his strength—the fatigue of not changing his shirt for a fortnight, of food eaten without the relief of any liquid, of lameness caused by heels bruised to the point of bleeding, of nights passed in strange villages, in strange cottages and sheds!


KUZMA crossed himself with a grand flourish when, at last, he escaped from that slavery. But he was already nearly thirty years of age; his hair was noticeably grey; he had become more sober, more serious; he had abandoned his verses, had abandoned reading; he had become accustomed to eating-houses, to drinking-bouts. He served for a year less a week with a drover near Eletz, went to Moscow on his employer’s business—and left his service. Long before that time he had begun a love affair in Voronezh, with a married woman, and he longed to go thither. So he knocked about in Voronezh for nearly ten years, busying himself with the purchase of grain, horse-trading, and writing articles about the grain trade for the newspapers, bewildering—or, to speak more correctly, poisoning—his mind with the articles of Tolstoy and the satires of Saltykoff. And, all the while, he was overwhelmed with the conviction that he was wasting—had wasted—his life.

“There, now,” he said, as he recalled those years, “that’s what it signifies—that knowledge without education!”

In the early ’nineties Balashkin died of hernia, and Kuzma saw him, for the last time, not long before his death. And what an interview it was!

“I must write,” complained one, gloomily and angrily. “One withers away like a burdock in the field.”

“Yes, yes,” boomed the other. The squint of his dying eye was already drowsy, and his jaws moved with difficulty, and the coarse tobacco did not fall as it should have done on his cigarette paper. “As the saying runs: learn every hour, think every hour, look about you at all our poverty and wretchedness—” Then, with a shame-faced grin, he laid aside his cigarette and thrust his hand into the breast of his coat. “Here,” he mumbled, rummaging in a package of tattered papers and clippings from newspapers. “Here, my friend, is a pile of stuff of some value. There was a great famine, curse it. And I read everything about it, and wrote it all down. When I die, ’twill be of some use to you, this devil’s material. Nothing but scurvy and typhus, typhus and scurvy. In one county all the small children died; in another all the dogs were eaten up. God is my witness that I am telling no lie! Here, wait a minute, I’ll find it for you immediately—”

But he rummaged and rummaged and did not find it, hunted for his spectacles, began in alarm to search through his pockets, to look under the counter, got tired, and gave it up. And, as soon as he gave up the search, he began to drowse and waggle his head.

“But no, no—don’t you dare to touch on that yet. You are still uneducated, a weak-minded fellow. Cut a tree to suit your powers. Have you written anything on that subject I suggested to you—about Sukhonosy? Not yet? Well, so you are an ass’s jaw, as I said, after all. What a subject that was!”

“I ought to write about the village, about the populace,” said Kuzma. “For you yourself are always saying: ‘Russia, Russia—’”

“Well, and isn’t Sukhonosy the populace? isn’t it Russia? All Russia is nothing but a village: get that firmly fixed in your noddle! Look about you: is this a town, in your opinion? The flocks jam the streets every evening—they kick up such a dust that you can’t see your next-door neighbour. But you call it a ‘town’! Ugh, you dull clodhopper—’tis plain that one might drive a stake into your head, and still you would never write anything.”

And Kuzma understood clearly and conclusively that Balashkin had spoken the sacred truth: he was not destined to write. There was Sukhonosy. For many years that repulsive old man of the Suburb had never been out of his mind—an old man whose sole property consisted of a mattress infested with bugs and a woman’s moth-eaten cloak which he had inherited from his wife. He begged, fell ill, starved, roosted for fifty kopeks a month in one corner of a cottage occupied by a woman trader in the “gluttons’ row,” and, in her opinion, might very well set his affairs straight by selling his inheritance. But he prized it as the apple of his eye—and, of course, not in the least because of tender feelings toward the late lamented: it afforded him the consciousness that he owned incomparably more property than other folks. It seemed to him that it was worth a devilishly high price: “Nowadays such cloaks are not to be had at all!” He was not disinclined, not in the least disinclined, to sell it. But he asked such an outrageous price that would-be purchasers were dazed. And Kuzma understood this tragedy of the Suburb perfectly. But when he began to consider how it should be expressed, he began to live through the whole complicated life of the Suburb, through recollections of his childhood, of his youth—and he became confused, drowned Sukhonosy in the abundance of the pictures which besieged his memory, and dropped his hands in despair, crushed by the necessity of expressing his own soul, of setting forth everything which had crippled his own life. And the most terrible thing about that life was the fact that it was a simple, everyday life, which broke up into petty details with incomprehensible rapidity. Yes, and what was more, he did not know how to write: he did not even know how to think regularly or long; he suffered like a puppy in a bed of straw when he took up a pen. And Balashkin’s death-bed prophecy brought him to his senses; ’twas not for him to write stories! So the first thought which flashed through his mind was, to write “The Sum-Total,” a stern, harsh epitaph on himself and—on Russia.


BUT since that time twelve more barren years had elapsed. He had plied the trade of horse-dealer in Voronezh; then, when the woman with whom he had been living died of puerperal fever, he had carried on the same trade in Eletz, had worked in a candle shop in Lipetzk, had been a clerk on Kasatkin’s farm. And his life had flowed on smoothly, engrossed in work, in everyday tasks—until his habit of tippling had rather abruptly turned into hard drinking. He had become a passionate follower of Tolstoy: for about a year he did not smoke, never took a drop of vodka, ate no meat, never parted with “My Confession” and “The Gospels,” wanted to emigrate to the Caucasus and join the Dukhobortzy.[16] But he was sent to Kieff on a business matter. And as he set forth, he felt something akin to a sickly joy, as if he had suddenly been released, after prolonged imprisonment, into complete freedom. It was clear weather at the end of September, and everything seemed easy, very beautiful—the pure air, the comfortable sun, and the cadence of the train, the open windows, and the flowering forests which flashed past them. All at once, when the train halted at Nyezhin, Kuzma saw a large crowd surrounding the door of the station. The crowd was gathered round some one, and was shouting and quarrelling in great agitation. Kuzma’s heart began to beat violently, and he ran toward the crowd. Rapidly elbowing his way through it, he caught sight of the red cap of the station-master, the white, pyramidal cap of a cook, resembling that of a Kazak Hetman, and the grey overcoat of a sturdy gendarme, engaged in roundly berating three Little Russians, who were standing meekly erect in front of him, clad in short, thick coats, indestructible boots, and caps of snuff-coloured lambskin. These caps hung precariously on some dreadful objects that proved to be round heads bandaged with coarse muslin, stiff with dried serous fluid, above swollen eyes and faces puffy and glassy with greenish-yellow bruises, bearing wounds on which the blood had coagulated and turned black. The men had been bitten by a mad wolf, had been despatched to the hospital in Kieff, and had been held up for days at a stretch at almost every large station, without a morsel of bread or a kopek of money. And, on learning that they were not to be taken aboard now, because the train was called an express train, Kuzma suddenly flew into a rage and, to the accompaniment of approving yells from the Jews in the throng, began to bawl and stamp his feet at the gendarme. He was arrested, an official report was drawn up, and, while awaiting the next train, Kuzma, for the first time in his life, got dead drunk.

The Little Russians were from the Tchernigoff Government. This he had always thought of as a far-away region with a sky of dim, gloomy blue above the forests. These men, who had gone through a hand-to-hand encounter with the mad wolf, reminded him of the days of Vladimir, the life of long ago, of ancient peasant life in the pine forests. And as he proceeded to get drunk, pouring out glass after glass of liquor with hands shaking after the row, Kuzma became transported with delight: “Akh, that was a great epoch!” He was choking with wrath at the gendarme, and at those meek cattle in their long-tailed coats. Stupid, savage, curse them! But—Russia, ancient Russia! And tears of drunken joy and fervour, which distorted every picture to supernatural dimensions, obscured Kuzma’s vision. “But how about non-resistance?” recurred to his mind at intervals, and he shook his head with a grin. A trim young officer was eating his dinner, with his back to him, at the general table; and Kuzma gazed in an amicably insolent manner at his white linen uniform blouse, so short, so high-waisted, that he wanted to step up to him and pull it down. “And I will do that!” thought Kuzma. “But he would jump up and shout—and slap my face! There’s non-resistance for you!” Then he journeyed on to Kieff and, completely abandoning his business, spent three days roaming about the city and on the bluffs above the Dnyepr, in the joyous excitement induced by his intoxication.

In the Cathedral of St. Sophia, at the Liturgy, many persons stared in amazement at the thin, broad-shouldered katzap[17] who stood in front of Yaroslaff’s[18] tomb. He was neatly dressed, held in his hand a new peaked cap, stood with decorum; but there was something queer in his general appearance. The service came to an end: the congregation departed, and the doors were opened; the verger extinguished the candles. Through the upper windows, athwart the blue smoke, filtered golden streaks of the hot noonday sun; but he, with set teeth, his sparse greying beard drooping on his breast and his deeply sunken eyes closed in a sort of happy pain, remained there listening to the pealing of the bells, carolling and dully booming above the cathedral—that ancient peal which had, in days of yore, accompanied the campaigns against the Petchenyegi.[19] And, toward evening, Kuzma was seen at the Lavra.[20] He was sitting opposite its gate beneath a withered acacia, alongside a crippled lad, gazing with a troubled, melancholy smile at its white walls and enclosures, at the gold of its little cupolas shining against the pure autumnal sky. The lad had no cap, a sack of coarse linen hung over his shoulder, and on his body hung dirty, ragged old garments; in one hand he held a wooden cup, with a kopek in the bottom, while with the other he incessantly changed the position of his deformed leg—which was bare to the knee, withered and unnaturally thin, burned black by the sun, and covered with a thick growth of golden-hued hair—as if it did not belong to him, as if it were a mere object. There was no one in their vicinity; but the lad, with his close-cropped head thrown back, stiff from the effects of the sun and the dust, displaying his thin, childish collar-bones, and paying no heed to the flies which settled on the excretions of his nostrils, drawled drowsily, painfully, and without ceasing:

“Take a look, ye mammas,

See how unhappy, how miserable we are!

Akh, God grant you, mammas,

Never to suffer so!”

And Kuzma confirmed him: “That’s so, that’s right!”

When he had conquered his intoxication and come to his senses, Kuzma felt that he was already an old man. Since that trip to Kieff three years had elapsed. And, during that space of time, something extremely important had indubitably been effected within him. How it had been effected, he himself did not even attempt to define. Life during those three years had been too abnormal—his own life and the life of the community. Of course, he had understood while still in Kieff that he would not remain long with Kasatkin, and that ahead of him lay poverty, the loss of even the semblance of manhood. And so it came to pass. He managed to scrape along through two more jobs, but under very humiliating and oppressive conditions: eternally half-drunk, slovenly, with voice turned hoarse, permeated through and through with the reek of cheap, strong tobacco, making herculean efforts to conceal his unfitness for business. Then he fell lower still; he returned to his native town, and ran through his last kopeks; he spent his nights all winter long in the general room of the lodging-house of Khodoff, whiled away the days in Avdyeef’s eating-house in the Women’s Bazaar. Out of these last kopeks many went for a stupid caprice, the publication of a little volume of verses—after which he had to stroll about among the patrons of Avdyeef’s establishment and force his booklet on them at half-price.

But even that was not all: he came near turning into a buffoon! Once, on a frosty, sunny morning, he was standing in the bazaar near the flour shops and gazing at a barefoot beggar cutting up antics before Mozzhukin the merchant, who had come out on his threshold. Mozzhukin, drowsily derisive, with a face resembling the reflection in a samovar, was chiefly interested in a cat which was licking his polished boot. But the beggar did not stop. He thumped his breast with his fists and, humping his shoulders, began in a hoarse voice to declaim:

“He who drinks when he is already drunk,

Plays the part of a wise man....”

And Kuzma, his swollen eyes beaming, suddenly cut in:

“Then long live jollity,

Long life to good liquor!”

And an old woman of the petty burgher class, who was passing by—she had a face like that of an aged lioness—halted, cast a sidelong glance at him, and, elevating her crutch, remarked distinctly and maliciously: “’Tis likely you don’t know your prayers as well as that!”

Lower than that there was no place to fall. But precisely that was what saved him. He survived several attacks of heart disease—and immediately stopped getting drunk, firmly resolving to undertake the simplest, most laborious sort of life; to hire, for example, an orchard, a vegetable-garden; to purchase, somewhere in his native county, a bee-farm. Fortunately, he still had a hundred and fifty rubles left.

At first this idea delighted him. “Yes, that’s capital,” he said to himself with that mournful ironical smile which he had acquired so long ago. “’Tis time to go home!” And, of a truth, he needed a rest. It was not very long since that vast agitation had begun, both within him and round about him. But it had already done its work. He had become something very different from what he had been previously. His beard had turned completely grey; his hair, which he wore parted in the middle, and which curled at the ends, had grown thin and acquired a rusty hue; his broad face, with its high cheek-bones, had grown darker and leaner than ever. His observing, sceptical mind had grown more keen. His soul had been purified, had become more unhealthily sensitive, although he was able to conceal the fact behind the serious and, at times, even severe look of the little eyes under brows which almost met across his nose. He had completely pulled himself together, and had begun to think less of himself, more of those round about him. Nevertheless, he longed to go “home” and rest: he craved work to his liking.


IN the spring, several months before the reconciliation with Tikhon, Kuzma heard that a garden in the village of Kazakoff, in his native district, was to be leased, and he hastened thither. It was a remote spot, with black loam soil, not far from the place where the Krasoffs had first taken root.

It was the beginning of May; cold weather and rain had returned after a hot spell; gloomy autumnal storm-clouds sailed over the town. Kuzma, in an old overcoat and without goloshes over his broken calfskin boots, was trudging to the railway station beyond the Cannon-makers’ Suburb, and, shaking his head and screwing up his face from the effects of the cigarette held in his teeth, with hands clasped behind his back under his overcoat, he was smiling to himself. A dirty little barefoot boy ran up to him with a pile of newspapers and, as he ran, shouted briskly the customary phrase: “Giniral strike!”

“You’re behind the times, my lad,” said Kuzma. “Isn’t there anything newer?”

The small boy came to a halt, with flashing eyes.

“The policeman has carried the news off to the station,” he replied.

“All hail to the constitution!” said Kuzma caustically, and pursued his course, skipping along through the mud, past fences darkened by the rain, past the branches of dripping gardens and the windows of lop-sided hovels which were sliding down hill, to the end of the town street. “Wonders will never cease!” he said to himself as he went leaping along. “In former days, with such weather, people would have been yawning, hardly exchanging a word, in all the shops and eating-houses. But now, all over the town, they do nothing but discuss the Duma, riots and conflagrations, and how ‘Murontzeff[21] has given the prime-minister a sound rating.’ Well, a frog does not keep its tail very long!” The fireman’s band was already playing in the town park. A whole company of kazaks had been sent. And the day before yesterday, on Trading Street, one of them, when drunk, went up to the window of the public library and made an insulting gesture to the young lady librarian. An elderly cabman, who was standing near by, began to reprove him, but the kazak jerked out his sabre from its scabbard, slashed the cabman’s shoulder, and, cursing violently, rushed down the street in pursuit of the people who were walking and driving past, and, crazed with fear, were flying to the first shelter which presented itself.

“The catskin man, the catskin man,

He fell down beneath a fence!”[22]

piped up some naughty little girls, in their thin voices, after Kuzma, as they hopped from stone to stone, across the shallow stream of the Suburb.

“When he skins cats, he gets the paws!”

“Ugh, you little wretches!” a railway conductor growled at them. In an overcoat that was dreadfully heavy even to look at, he was walking in front of Kuzma, and he shook a small iron box at them. “Why don’t you pick on some one of your own age?”

But one could judge from his voice that he was restraining his laughter. The conductor’s old, deep goloshes were crusted with dried mud; the belt of his coat hung by a single button. The small bridge of planks along which he was walking lay askew. Further on, alongside the ditches flooded by the spring freshets, grew stunted bushes. And Kuzma gazed cheerlessly at them, and at the straw-thatched roofs on the hill of the Suburb; at the smoky and bluish clouds which hung over them, and at the reddish-yellow cur which was gnawing a bone in the ditch. In the bottom of the ditch, his legs straddled far apart, sat a petty burgher, in a waistcoat over a cotton-print Russian shirt. His widely opened eyes looked white in his face, which, scarlet with effort, stared upward in an awkward, stupid grin. When Kuzma came opposite him, he said, out of sheer clumsiness: “Is it you our little girls are taunting? Why, those little imps learn effrontery in their infancy!”

“’Tis you yourselves who teach them,” replied Kuzma, with a frown. “Yes, yes,” he said to himself, as he ascended the hill, “a frog does not keep his tail long!” On reaching the crest of the hill, inhaling the damp wind from the plain and catching sight of the red buildings of the railway station in the midst of the empty green fields, he again began to smile faintly. Parliament, deputies! Last night he had returned from the public park, where, in honour of a holiday, there had been an illumination, rockets had soared aloft, and the firemen had played “Le Toreador” and “Beside the brook, beside the bridge,” “The Maxixe” and “The Troika,” shouting in the middle of the galop, “Hey, de-ear one!” He had returned home and had started to pull the bell at the gate of his lodging-house. He had pulled and pulled the rattling wire—not a soul. Not a soul anywhere around, either—only silence, darkness, the cold greenish sky in the West, beyond the square at the end of the street, and, overhead, storm-clouds. At last, some one crawled forward behind the gate, clearing his throat. He rattled his keys and grumbled: “I’m lame in my underpinning—”

“What’s the cause of it?”

“A horse kicked me,” replied the man; and, as he unlocked and opened the gate, he added: “Well, now there are still two left.”

“The men from the court, you mean?”


“But don’t you know why the judge came?”

“To try the deputy. They say he tried to poison the river.”

“What, the deputy? You fool, do deputies meddle with such things?”

“The devil only knows what they’ll do.”

On the outskirts of the Suburb, beside the threshold of a clay hut, stood a tall old man wearing leg-cloths.[23] In the old man’s hand was a long staff of walnut wood. On catching sight of a passer-by, he made haste to pretend that he was much older than he really was. He grasped the staff in both hands, hunched up his shoulders, and imparted to his countenance a weary, melancholy expression. The damp, cold wind which was blowing from the fields agitated the shaggy locks of his grey hair. And Kuzma recalled his own father, his own childhood.

“Russia, Russia! Whither art thou dashing?” Gogol’s exclamation recurred to his mind. “Russia, Russia! Akh, vain babblers, you stick at nothing! That’s the best answer you can make: ‘The deputy tried to poison the river.’ Yes, but who is responsible? First of all, the unhappy populace—and unhappy they are!” And tears welled up in Kuzma’s little green eyes—welled up suddenly, as had often happened with him of late. Not long ago he had strolled into Avdyeeff’s eating-house, in the Woman’s Bazaar. He had entered the courtyard, ankle deep in mud, and from the courtyard ascended to the first storey—“the Gentry’s Department”—by a wooden staircase so stinking, so rotten through and through, that it turned even his stomach—the stomach of a man who had seen sights in his day. With difficulty he had opened the heavy, greasy door, covered with scraps of felt and tattered rags in place of a proper casing, and provided with a pulley-weight fashioned from a brick and a bit of rope. He was fairly blinded by the charcoal vapour, the smoke, the glare of the tin reflectors behind the little wall-lamps, and deafened by the crash of the dishes on the counter; by the talking, the clatter of the waiters running about in all directions, and the repulsive uproar of the gramophone. Then he passed on to the most distant room, where there were fewer people, ate at a small table, ordered a bottle of mead. Underfoot, on a floor soiled with the trampling of feet and with spittle, lay slices of lemon, eggshells, butts of cigarettes. And near the wall opposite sat a long-limbed peasant in bast-slippers, smiling beatifically, shaking his frowsy head, and listening to the shrieking gramophone. On his small table were a small measure of vodka, a small glass, and cracknels. But the peasant was not drinking: only wagging his head and staring at his bast-shoes.

All of a sudden, becoming conscious of Kuzma’s gaze riveted upon him, he opened his eyes wide with joy, raised his wonderfully kind face with its waving reddish beard. “Well, so you’ve flown in!” he exclaimed, in delight and surprise. And he hastened to add, by way of justifying himself: “Sir, I have a brother who serves here—my own brother.”

Blinking away his tears, Kuzma clenched his teeth. Ugh, damn it, to what a point had the people been trampled upon, beaten down! “You’ve flown in!” That in connection with Avdyeeff’s establishment! And that was not all: when Kuzma rose to his feet and said: “Well, goodbye!” the peasant hurriedly rose to his feet also, and out of the fulness of a happy heart, with profound gratitude for the light and luxury of the surroundings, and because he had been addressed in a human manner, quickly answered: “No offence meant!”


IN former days conversation in the railway carriages had turned exclusively on the rain and the drought, on the fact that “God fixes the price for grain.” Now, the sheets of newspapers rustled in the hands of many passengers, and discussion busied itself with the Duma, the rights of the people, the expropriation of the land. No one even noticed the pouring rain which pattered on the roof, although the travellers belonged to the class which was always greedy for spring rains—grain dealers, peasants, petty burghers from the farms. A young soldier who had lost his leg passed along: he was suffering from jaundice, his black eyes were mournful, he hobbled and clattered his wooden leg as he doffed his tall Mandzhurian fur cap and, like a beggar, made the sign of the cross every time he received an alms. A noisy, angry discussion started up on the subject of the Government, the Minister Durnovo, and some governmental oats. They referred, jeeringly, to that which formerly had evoked their naif enthusiasm: how “Vitya,”[24] with the object of frightening the Japanese at Portsmouth, had ordered his trunks to be packed.

A young man, with his hair cut close like beaver fur, who sat opposite Kuzma, reddened, grew embarrassed, and made haste to interpose: “Excuse me, gentlemen! You are talking about liberty. I serve in the office of the tax inspector, and I write articles for the city newspapers. Do you think that is any business of his? He asserts that he, too, believes in liberty, but when he found out that I had written about the abnormal condition of our fire department, he sent for me and said: ‘Damn you, if you write any more pieces like that I’ll wring your neck!’ Permit me: if my views are more on the left than his—”

“Views?” suddenly shouted the alto voice of a dwarf, the young man’s neighbour, a fat skopetz[25] in bottle-shaped boots—miller Tchernyaeff, who had been casting sidelong glances at him all the while from his pig-like little eyes. And, without giving him a chance to reply, he roared: “Views? You mean to say you have views? And you’re more of a Left? Why, I’ve known you ever since you were running around without breeches in your childhood! And you were perishing with hunger, along with your father—you mendicants! You ought to be washing the inspector’s feet and drinking the dirty water!”

“The Con-sti-tu-u-tion,” interjected Kuzma in a shrill tone, interrupting the eunuch; and rising from his seat and jostling the knees of the sitting passengers, he went down the carriage to the door.

The eunuch’s feet were small, plump, and repulsive, like those of some aged housekeeper; his face, also, was feminine, large, yellow, solid, like gutta-percha; his lips were thin. And Polozoff was another nice one—the teacher at the pro-gymnasium, the man who had been nodding his head so amiably, and leaning on his stick, as he listened to the eunuch; a squat, well-nourished man of thirty, in high shoes with the tops tucked under grey trousers, a grey hat, and a grey coat with sleeve-flaps; a clear-eyed fellow with a round nose and a luxuriant sandy beard spreading all over his chest. A teacher, but he wore a heavy gold seal ring on his forefinger. And he already owned a small house—the dowry he had acquired along with the Archpriest’s daughter.[26] His feet also were small, his hands were short, his fingers mere stumps; he was neat, groomed to a surprising nicety, and he took a bath every day. He was said to be an execrable man; the Lord forbid! Yes, decidedly peasants and petty citizens were not fit for such as he. Kuzma, as he opened the door to the platform, inhaled a deep breath of the cold and fragrant rain-drenched air. The rain droned dully on the roof over the platform, poured off it in streams, and spurts of it spattered over Kuzma. After the town the air of the fields, mingled with the exciting odour of the smoke from the locomotive, intoxicated him. The carriages, as they swayed, rattled louder than the noise of the rain; rising and falling as they approached, the telegraph wires floated past; on both sides ran the dense vividly-green borders of a hazel copse. A motley-hued gang of small boys suddenly sprang out from under the foot of the embankment and shouted something or other shrilly in chorus. Kuzma burst out laughing from sheer pleasure, and his whole face was covered with tiny wrinkles. But when he raised his eyes, he saw on the opposite platform a pilgrim; a kindly, jaded peasant face, a grey beard, a broad-brimmed hat, a cloth coat girt with a rope, a pouch and a tin tea-kettle hanging on his back, and, on his skinny feet, bast-shoes. The pilgrim was smiling, too. And Kuzma shouted to him, athwart the rumbling and the noise: “What’s your name, grandfather?”

“Anton. Anton Bezpalykh,” replied the old man with amiable readiness, in a thin voice.

“Just back from a pilgrimage?”

“From Voronezh.”

“Are they burning out the landed proprietors there?”

“Yes, they are....”

“Well, that’s fine!”

“What’s that you say?”

“I say ’tis fine!” shouted Kuzma. And, turning aside and blinking away the welling tears, he began with trembling hands to roll himself a cigarette. But his thoughts had already grown confused. “The pilgrim is one of the people, but do not the eunuch and the teacher belong to the people? ’Tis only forty-five years since serfdom was abolished—so what can be expected of the people? Yes, but who is to blame for it? The people themselves. Russia under the Russian yoke; the Little Brothers[27] of divers sorts under the Turkish; the Galicians under the Austrians—and ’tis useless to say anything about the Poles. Hey there, thou great Slavonic family!” And Kuzma’s face once more lightened. Darting oblique glances about him on all sides, he began to twiddle his fingers, wring them, and crack their joints.


HE alighted at the fourth station and hired a conveyance. At first the peasant drivers demanded seven rubles—it was twelve versts to Kazakovo—then they came down to five and a half. At last one of them said: “Give me a three-ruble note and I’ll drive you; otherwise, ’tis not worth wagging your tongue about. Times nowadays are not what they used to be.” But he was unable to maintain that tone, and added the customary phrase: “And, besides, fodder is dear.” And he drove, after all, for a ruble and a half. The mud was fathomless, impassable, the cart was tiny, the wretched little nag, barely alive, was as long-eared as an ass and extremely weak. When they had slowly emerged from the courtyard of the station, the peasant, seated on the side-rail, began to get impatient and jerked the rope reins as if he longed with his whole being to aid the horse. At the station he had bragged “She can’t be held back,” and now he evidently felt ashamed. But the worst part of it all was—the man himself. Young, huge of build, fairly plump, he was clad in bast-shoes and white leg-wrappers, a short kazak coat girt with a strip of cloth, and an old peaked cap on his straight yellow hair. He emitted the smoky odour out of a chimneyless hut and of hemp—a regular husbandman of olden times, with a white beardless face, a swollen throat and a hoarse voice.

“What’s your name?” inquired Kuzma.

“I’m called Akhvanasiy.”

“Akhvanasiy!” said Kuzma angrily to himself. “And what else?”

“Menshoff.—Ho, get up there, antichrist!”

“Is it the evil malady?” And Kuzma indicated his throat with a nod.

“Well, yes, it is,” mumbled Menshoff, turning his eyes aside. “I’ve been drinking cold kvas.”

“Does it hurt you to swallow?”

“To swallow?—no, it doesn’t hurt—”

“Well, anyway, don’t talk unnecessarily,” said Kuzma sternly. “You’d better go to the hospital as soon as you can. Married, I suppose?”

“Yes, I’m married....”

“Well, there, now, you see. You’ll have children, and you’ll be making them all a famous present!”

“Just as sure as giving them a drink,” assented Menshoff. And, waxing impatient, he began to jerk the reins again. “Ho, get up there. You’re an unmanageable brute, antichrist!” At last he abandoned this futile effort and calmed down. For a long time he maintained silence, then suddenly inquired: “Have they assembled that Duma yet, merchant?”


“And they do say that Makaroff is still alive, only they don’t want it known.”

Kuzma merely shrugged his shoulders: the devil only knew what these steppe men had in their heads! “But what wealth is here!” he said to himself, as he sat miserably on a tuft of straw, his knees drawn up on the bare floor of the springless cart, covered with a coarse cloth used for wrapping grain. He surveyed the road. The weather had grown still colder; still more gloomily the storm-clouds from the northwest came sailing over this black loam region, saturated with rains. The mud on the roads was bluish, greasy; the green of the trees, of the grass, of the vegetable gardens was dark and dense; and over everything lay that bluish tint of the black loam and the storm-clouds. But the cottages were of clay, tiny, with roofs of manure. Alongside them stood dried-up water casks. Of course, the water in them contained tadpoles.

Here was a well-to-do farmstead. In the vegetable garden, behind old bushes, an apiary, and a tiny orchard of three or four wild apple-trees, rose an old, dark-hued grain rick. The stable, the gate, and the cottage were all under one roof, thatched with hackled straw. The cottage was of brick, in two sections, the dividing line marked out with chalk: on one side was a pole surmounted by a forked branch, a fir-tree; on the other was something resembling a cock. The small windows were also rimmed with chalk in a toothed pattern. “There’s creative genius for you!” grinned Kuzma. “The stone age, God forgive me—the times of the cave men!” On the doors of the detached sheds were crosses sketched in charcoal; by the porch stood a large tombstone, obviously prepared in anticipation of death by grandfather or grandmother. Yes, truly, a well-to-do farmstead. But the mud round about was knee deep; a pig was reclining on the porch, and on top of him, balancing itself and flapping its wings, a yellow chicken was parading. The windows were tiny, and in the part of the cottage appropriated to human occupation, darkness and eternally cramped conditions must inevitably reign—the sleeping shelf on top of the oven, the loom for weaving, a good-sized oven, a trough filled with slops. And the family would be large, with many children, and in winter time there would be lambs and calves as well. And the dampness and the charcoal fumes would be such that a green vapour must hang over all. The children would whimper and howl when slapped on the nape of the neck; the sisters-in-law would revile one another (“May the lightning smite you, you roving, homeless cur!”) and each express the hope that the other might “choke on a bite on the Great Day”;[28] the aged mother-in-law would be incessantly hurling something—the oven-fork, the bowls—and rushing at her daughters-in-law, her sleeves tucked up on her dark, sinewy arms, and wearing herself out with shrill scolding, besprinkling now one of them, now another with saliva and curses. The old man, ugly-tempered and ailing, would wear them all to exhaustion with his exhortations, would drag his married sons by the hair; and sometimes they would weep, in the repulsive peasant way.

“Whose farm is this?” asked Kuzma. “The Krasnoffs’,” answered Menshoff, adding, “All of them are sick with it, too.”

Beyond the Krasnoff farm they drove out on to the pasturage. The village was large, and so was the common for pasture. The annual Fair was being arranged on it. The framework of booths already rose aloft here and there, and there were piles of wheels and pottery; a hastily constructed oven was smoking, and a smell of fritters hung in the air; the travelling caravan-wagon of some gypsies loomed grey on the plain, and close to its wheels sat sheep-dogs, fastened to them by chains. On the left, peasant cottages were visible; on the right lay a lumber-yard, two town shops, and a bakery. Farther away, alongside the governmental dram-shop, stood a dense cluster of young girls and peasant men, from which shouts rang out.

“The people are making holiday,” remarked Menshoff thoughtfully.

“What’s the cause of their joy?” inquired Kuzma.

“They are hoping for—”

“For what?”

“Everybody knows for what. The house-sprite!”

And it was true. On that bare pasture-common, that overcast, chilly day, those squeals of delight and the sounds of two accordions played in perfect unison seemed pitiful, were swallowed in an atmosphere of commonplaceness, of boredom and age. The people were experiencing something new, were celebrating something, but did they believe in their festival? “Oh, hardly!” said Kuzma to himself, as he drove close and surveyed the white, pink, and green petticoats of the girls, the indifferent, coarsely painted faces, the orange-coloured, golden-hued, and crimson kerchiefs. The cart drove up to the crowd and halted. Menshoff stared boldly at the throng and broke into a grin. At that close range the sounds no longer seemed pitiful—the accordions eagerly played up to each other, and in harmony with them, amid the approving hubbub of the drunken men, quaint adages flew briskly about.

“Ho-o,” some one shouted, to an accompaniment of dull but lusty stamping of feet:

“Plough not, reap not,

But bring fritters to the maidens!”

And a peasant, short of stature, who was standing behind the crowd, suddenly began to flourish his arms. Everything about him was prosperous, clean, substantial—his bast-shoes, his leg-wrappers, his new trousers of heavy plaided home-made linen, and the pleated skirts of his undercoat, made of appallingly thick grey cloth and cut very short, with a bob-tailed effect. It is probable that he had never danced before in his life, but now he began, softly and skilfully, to stamp with his bast-shoes, to wave his arms, and to shout in a tenor voice: “Stand aside, let the merchant have a peep!” and, leaping into the circle, which parted before him, he began to kick his legs about wildly in front of a tall young fellow, who, tossing away his peaked cap, twisted his boots about in devilish fashion and, as he did so, flung aside his black jacket and danced on in his new cotton print shirt. The face of the young man was pale and perspiring and wore a concentrated, gloomy expression which made his piercing yells seem all the more violent and unexpected.

“Son! Dear one!” shrieked an old crone in a plaided wool skirt of South Russian fashion, stretching out her hands. “Stop, for Christ’s sake! Dear boy, stop it—you’ll kill yourself!”

And her dear son suddenly threw back his head, clenched his fists and his teeth, and, with fury in his countenance and his trampling, screeched through his teeth:

“Tztzytz, good woman, shut your mouth with that cuckoo song.”

“And she has just sold the last bit of her home-made linen for him,” remarked Menshoff, as they crawled slowly across the pasture land. “She loves him passionately. She’s a widow. He raps her over the mouth when he is drunk. Of course, she deserves it.”

“What do you mean by that—‘she deserves it.’?” inquired Kuzma.

“Because she does. You shouldn’t be too indulgent—”

Yes, in the town, in the railway carriages, in the hamlets, in the villages, everywhere, one could feel the presence of something unusual, the echoes of some great festival, some great victory, great expectations. But back there in the suburb Kuzma had already realized that the farther one went into those limitless fields, beneath that cold, gloomy sky, the duller, the more irrational, the more melancholy would those echoes become. Now they had driven away, and the shouts in the crowd about the dram-shop had again become pitiful. There they were keeping festival and trying to “celebrate,” but ahead lay boredom, remote wilds, an empty street, smoky chimneyless hovels, water-casks with putrid pond water, and then more fields, the blue mist of the chilly distance, the dark forest on the horizon, low-hanging storm-clouds.

At one cottage—it had a broken window and a wheel on the rotten roof—a long-legged, ailing peasant sat on a bench. People look handsomer in their coffins than he looked in life. He resembled the poet Nekrasoff. Over his shoulders, above a long and soiled shirt of hemp crash, was thrown an old short sheepskin coat; his stick-like legs stood in felt boots; his huge dead-looking hands lay evenly spaced on his sharp knees, upon his ragged trousers. His cap was pulled far down on his forehead, after the fashion of old men; his eyes were suffering, entreating; his superhumanly meagre and emaciated face was drawn down, his ashen lips half open.

“That’s Tchutchen,”[29] said Menshoff, nodding in the direction of the sick man. “He’s been dying these two years from trouble with his stomach.”

“Tchutchen? What’s that—a nickname?”

“Yes, a nickname.”

“Stupid!” said Kuzma. And he turned his head away, in order to avoid seeing the horrid little girl by the neighbouring cottage. She was leaning back and holding in her arms an infant in a cap, and, as she stared intently at the passers-by and stuck out her tongue at them, she chewed on a bit of black bread, which she was preparing as a sucking-piece for the child. And in the last yard and threshing-floor the bushes hummed in the breezes, and a scarecrow, all awry, fluttered its empty sleeves. The threshing-floor, which adjoins the steppe, is always uncomfortable, dreary; and there were the scarecrow, the autumnal storm-clouds, the wind humming across the fields, ruffling up the tails of the fowls which roved about the threshing-floor, overgrown with pigweed and mugwort, alongside the grain-rick with its uncovered crest, alongside the threshing machine of Ryazan make, painted blue....


THE small forest which lay blue against the horizon consisted of two long ravines thickly overgrown with oak-trees. It was known by the name of Portotchka. Near this Portotchka Kuzma was overtaken by a driving downpour of rain mingled with hail, which accompanied him the whole way to Kazakovo. Menshoff whipped up his sorry nag into a gallop as they neared the village, while Kuzma sat with eyes tightly screwed up beneath the wet grain-cloth. His hands were stiff with cold; icy rivulets trickled down the collar of his great-coat; the coarse cloth, heavy with the rain, stank of the sour grain-kiln. The hailstones rattled on his head, cakes of mud flew up into his face, the water in the ruts beneath the wheels splashed noisily; lambs were bleating somewhere or other. At last Kuzma became so stifled that he flung the cloth from his head and greedily gulped in the fresh air. The rain lessened in intensity. Evening drew on; the flocks dashed past the cart, across the green pasture land, on their way to the cottages. A thin-legged black sheep had got astray from the flock, and a bare-legged peasant woman, garbed in a rain-drenched short petticoat, darted after it, her white calves gleaming. In the west, beyond the village, the sky was growing brighter; to the east, on a background of dusty-bluish storm-clouds, two greenish-violet rainbows hung over the grain fields. A dense, damp odour of verdure arose from the fields, and of warmth from the dwellings.

“Where’s the manor-house of the proprietor?” Kuzma shouted to a broad-shouldered woman in a white chemise and a red petticoat.

The woman was standing on a stone beside the cottage of the village policeman, holding by the hand a little girl about two years of age. The little girl was vociferating so lustily that his question was inaudible.

“The homestead?” repeated the woman. “Whose?”

“The manor-house.”

“Whose? I can’t hear anything you say.—Ah, may you choke! I hope the fits will get you!” shrieked the woman, jerking the little girl so violently by the hand that she executed a complete turn and, flying off the stone, hung suspended.

They made inquiries at another cottage. Driving along the broad street, they turned to the left, then to the right, and, passing some one’s old-fashioned manor-house, hermetically boarded up, they began to descend a steep declivity to a bridge across a small stream. Water trickled from Menshoff’s face, his hands, his coat. His fat face with its long white eyelashes, thus washed, looked more stupid than ever. He was gazing off into space ahead with an expression of curiosity. Kuzma gazed, also. In that direction, on the sloping pasture land, lay the dark manor-park of Kazakovo, the spacious courtyard surrounded by decaying outbuildings and the ruins of a stone wall; in the centre of the courtyard, behind three withered fir-trees, stood the house, sheathed in grey boards, with a rusty-red roof. Below, at the bridge, was a cluster of peasants. And, coming to meet them up the steep road, which was washed into gullies, a troika-team of lean work-horses, harnessed to a tarantas, was struggling through the mud and straining up the hill. A tattered but handsome labourer, tall, pale, with a small reddish beard and clever eyes, was standing beside the vehicle, jerking at the reins, exerting his utmost efforts, and shouting: “Ge-et up there! G-g-et up there!” The peasants, meanwhile, with shouts and whistling, were chiming in: “Whoa! Who-oa!” A young woman dressed in mourning, large tears hanging on her long eyelashes and her face distorted with fear, who was seated in the carriage, was throwing out her hands despairingly before her. Fear, suspense, lay in the turquoise-blue eyes of the stout, sandy-mustached young man who sat beside her. His wedding ring gleamed on his right hand, which clutched a revolver; he kept waving his left hand, and, without doubt, he must have felt very warm in his camel’s hair waistcoat and his gentleman’s peaked cap, which had slipped over on the back of his head. The children, a small boy and a girl, pallid with hunger and fatigue, wrapped in shawls, looked on with gentle curiosity from the little bench opposite the main seat.

“That’s Mishka Siversky,” said Menshoff in a loud, hoarse voice, as he drove around the troika and stared indifferently at the children. “They turned him out yesterday. Evidently, he deserved it.”

The affairs of the Kazakovo gentry were managed by a superintendent, a retired soldier of the cavalry, a tall, rough man. Kuzma was told that he must apply to him in the servants’ quarters, by a workman who drove into the farmyard in a cart heaped with freshly cut coarse wet green grass. But the superintendent had had two catastrophes that day—his baby had died and a cow had perished—so Kuzma did not meet with an amiable reception. When, leaving Menshoff outside the gate, he approached the servants’ quarters, the superintendent’s wife, her face all tear-stained, was bringing in a speckled hen, which sat peaceably under her arm. Among the columns on the dilapidated porch stood a tall young man in full trousers, high boots, and a Russian shirt of cotton print, who, on catching sight of the superintendent’s wife, shouted: “Agafya, where are you taking it?”

“To kill,” replied the superintendent’s wife, seriously and sadly, coming to a halt beside the ice-house.

“Give it here and I’ll kill it.”

Thereupon the young man directed his steps to the ice-house, paying no attention to the rain, which was beginning to drizzle down again from the drowning sky. Opening the door of the ice-house, he took from the threshold a hatchet. A minute later a brief tap resounded, and the headless chicken, with a red stump of a neck, went running across the grass, stumbling and whirling about, flapping its wings and scattering in all directions feathers and spatters of blood. The young man tossed aside the hatchet and went off to the orchard, while the superintendent’s wife, after she had caught the chicken, stepped up to Kuzma. “What do you want?”

“I came about the garden.”

“Wait for Fedor Ivanitch.”

“Where is he?”

“He’ll be here immediately, from the fields.”

So Kuzma began to wait at the window of the servants’ quarters. He glanced inside and descried in the semi-darkness an oven, sleeping boards, a table, a small trough on the bench near the window, and a little coffin made from such another trough, in which lay the dead baby with a large, nearly naked head and a little bluish face. At the table sat a fat blind young girl, fishing with a wooden spoon for the bits of bread in a bowl of milk. The flies were buzzing around her like bees in a hive, but the blind girl, sitting as erect as a stuffed figure, with her white eyeballs staring into the darkness, went on eating and eating. She made a terrible impression on Kuzma, and he turned away. A cold wind was blowing in gusts, and the clouds made it darker and darker.

In the centre of the farmyard rose two pillars with a cross-bar, and from the cross-bar hung, as if it were a holy picture, a large sheet of iron; upon this they rapped when they were alarmed at night. About the farmyard lay thin wolf hounds. A small boy about eight years of age was running around among them, dragging in a small cart his flaxen-haired, chubby-faced younger brother, who wore a large black peaked cap. The little cart was squeaking wildly. The manor-house was grey, heavy-looking, and, assuredly, devilishly dreary in this twilight. “If they would only light up!” Kuzma said to himself. He was deadly weary, and it seemed to him as if he had left the town almost a year ago. Suddenly a sound of roaring and barking became audible, and through the gate of the orchard madly leaped a pair of dogs, a greyhound and a watchdog, dragging each other sidewise, any way as chance decreed, colliding, staring wildly about, and trying to tear each other to pieces, their heads in different directions. After them, shouting something or other, raced the young gentleman.


KUZMA spent the evening and the night in the garden, in the old bath-house. The superintendent, on arriving from the fields on horseback, had remarked angrily that the garden had been “leased long ago,” and in reply to a request for lodging over-night had expressed insolent amazement. “Well, but you are a sensible fellow!” he had shouted, without either rhyme or reason. “A nice posting-station you’ve picked out! Are there many of your stamp roving about at present?” But he took pity on Kuzma in the end, and gave him permission to go into the bath-house. Kuzma paid off Menshoff and walked past the manor-house to the gate into the linden avenue. Through the unlighted open windows, from beyond the wire fly-screens, thundered a grand piano, drowned by a magnificent baritone-tenor voice, lifted in intricate vocalizations which were completely out of harmony with both the evening and the manor. Along the muddy sand of the sloping avenue, at the end of which, as if at the end of the world, the cloud-flecked sky gleamed dully white, there advanced toward Kuzma a poor-looking peasant, short of stature, with dark reddish hair, his shirt minus a belt; he was capless, wore heavy boots, and was carrying a bucket in his hand.

“Oho, ho!” he said, jeeringly, as he listened to the singing while he walked on. “Oho, he’s going it strong, may his belly burst!”

“Who is going it strong?” inquired Kuzma.

The peasant raised his head and halted. “Why, that young gentleman of ours,” he said, merrily, making havoc with his consonants. “They say he has been doing that these seven years.”

“Which one—the one who was chasing the dogs?”

“N-no, another one. But that’s not all! Sometimes he takes to screeching, ‘To-day ’tis your turn, to-morrow ’twill be mine’—regular calamity!”

“He’s taking lessons, of course?”

“Nice lessons they must be!”

“And that other one—what does he do?”

“That fellow?” The peasant drew a long breath, smiling in a discreetly jeering manner the while. “Why, nothing. Why should he? he has good victuals and amusement: Fedka tosses bottles, and he shoots at them; sometimes he buys a peasant’s beard, cuts it off, and stuffs it into his gun, for fun. Then again, there are the dogs: we have an immense number of them. On Sundays, when the church bells begin to peal, the whole pack of them sets to howling; ’tis an awful row they make! Day before yesterday they chewed up a peasant’s dog, and the peasants went to the courtyard of the manor. ‘Give us enough to buy a vedro[30] of liquor, and we’ll call it quits. Otherwise, we’ll go on strike at once.’”

“Well, did he give the money?”

“Of course he didn’t! Gi-ive, indeed, brother!—There is a miller here. He came straight out on the porch and said: ‘The wind is blowing from the fields, gentlemen-nobles!’ Catch him napping, forsooth! The young gentleman started to bully them: ‘What sort of a wind is that you’re talking about?’ ‘Just a certain sort,’ says he. ‘I’ve propounded a riddle to you; now you just think it over!’ That brought him to a dead standstill, brother!”

All this was uttered in a careless sort of way, passed over lightly, with intervening pauses, but accompanied by such a malignant smile and such torturing of his consonants that Kuzma began to look more attentively at the man whom he had thus casually encountered. In appearance he resembled a fool. His hair was straight, cut in a round crop, and long. His face was small, insignificant, of ancient Russian type, like the holy pictures of the Suzdal school. His boots were huge, his body lean and somehow wooden. His eyes, beneath large, sleepy lids, were like those of a hawk, with a golden ring around the iris. When he lowered his lids he was a lisping idiot; when he raised them one felt a certain fear of him.

“Do you live in the garden?” asked Kuzma.

“Yes. Where else should I live?”

“And what’s your name?”

“My name? Akim. And who are you?”

“I wanted to lease the garden.”

“There, now—that is an idea!” And Akim, wagging his head scoffingly, went on his way.

The wind blew with ever increasing vehemence, scattering showers of rain from the brilliantly green trees; beyond the park, in some low-lying region, the thunder rumbled dully, pale blue flashes of aurora borealis lighted up the avenue, and nightingales were singing everywhere about. It was utterly incomprehensible how they were able so sedulously, in such complete disregard of surrounding conditions, to warble, trill, and scatter their notes broadcast so sweetly and vigorously beneath that heavy sky, veiled in leaden clouds, amid the trees bending in the wind, as they perched in the dense, wet bushes. But still more incomprehensible was it how the watchmen managed to pass the night in such a gale, how they could sleep on damp straw beneath the sloping roof of the rotten hut.

There were three watchmen. And all of them were sick men. One, young, emaciated, sympathetic, formerly a baker by trade, but dismissed the preceding autumn for taking part in a strike, was now a beggar. He had not as yet lost the peasant look, and he complained of fever. The second, also a beggar, but already middle-aged, had tuberculosis, although he declared that there was nothing the matter with him except that he felt “cold between his shoulders.” Akim was afflicted with night-blindness—he could not see well in the half-light of twilight. When Kuzma approached, the baker, pale and amiable of manner, was squatting on his heels near the hut. With the sleeves of a woman’s wadded dressing gown tucked up on his thin, weak arms, he was engaged in washing millet in a wooden bowl. Consumptive Mitrofan, a man of medium size, broad and dark complexioned, who resembled a native of Dahomey, garbed entirely in wet rags and leg-wrappers which were worn out and stiff as an old horse’s hoof, was standing beside the baker and, with hunched-up shoulders, staring at the latter’s work with brilliant brown eyes, strained wide open but devoid of all expression. Akim had brought a bucket of water and was making a fire in a little clay oven-niche opposite the hut; he was blowing the fire into life. He entered the hut, selected the driest tufts of straw he could find, and again approached the fire, which was now fragrantly smoking beneath the iron kettle, muttering to himself the while, breathing with a whistling sound, smiling in a mockingly mysterious way at the bantering of his comrades, and occasionally bringing them up short with a venomous and clever remark. Kuzma shut his eyes and listened now to the conversation, now to the nightingales, as he sat on a wet bench beside the hut, besprinkled with icy spatterings of rain whenever the damp wind rushed through the avenue beneath the gloomy sky, which quivered with pale flashes of lightning, while the thunder rumbled. He felt a pain in his stomach, from hunger and tobacco. It seemed as if the porridge would never be cooked, and he could not banish from his mind the thought that perhaps he himself would be obliged to live just such a wild beast’s life as that of these watchmen, and that ahead of him lay nothing but old age, sickness, loneliness, and poverty. His body ached, and the gusts of wind, the far-away monotonous grumbling of the thunder, the nightingales, and the leisurely, carelessly malicious lisping of Akim and his squeaking voice, all irritated him.

“You ought to buy yourself at least a belt, Akimushka,” said the baker with affected simplicity, as he lighted a cigarette. He kept casting glances at Kuzma, by way of inviting him to listen to Akim.

“Just you wait,” replied Akim in an absent-minded, scoffing tone, as he poured the fluid porridge from the boiling kettle into a cup. “When we’ve lived here with the proprietor through the summer, I’ll buy you boots with a squeak in them.”

“‘With a skvvvveak’! Well, I’m not asking you to do anything of the sort.”

“You’re wearing leg-wrappers now.” And Akim began anxiously to take a test sip of the porridge from the spoon.

The baker was disconcerted, and heaved a sigh: “Why should the likes of us wear boots?”

“Oh, stop that,” said Kuzma. “You had better tell me whether you have this porridge day in and day out, for ever and ever, as I think you do.”

“Well, and what would you like—fish, and ham?” inquired Akim, without turning round, as he licked the spoon. “That really wouldn’t be so bad: a dram of vodka, about three pounds of sturgeon, a knuckle of ham, a little glass of fruit cordial. But this isn’t porridge: it’s called thin gruel. The porridge is for the appetizer snack.”

“But do you make cabbage soup, or any other sort of soup?”

“We have had that, brother—cabbage soup; and what soup it was! If you were to spill it on the dog his hair would peel off!”

“Well, you might make a little soup.”

“But where would we get the potatoes? You can’t buy any from a peasant, any more than from the devil, brother! You couldn’t wheedle even snow out of a peasant in the middle of winter.”

Kuzma shook his head.

“Probably ’tis your illness that makes you so bitter! You ought to get a little treatment—”

Akim, without replying, squatted down on his heels in front of the fire. The fire had already died down; only a little heap of thin coals glowed red under the kettle; the garden grew darker and darker, and the blue aurora had already begun faintly to illuminate their faces, as the gusts of wind inflated Akim’s shirt. Mitrofan was sitting beside Kuzma, leaning on his stick; the baker sat on a stump under a linden tree. On hearing Kuzma’s last words, he grew serious.

“This is the way I look at it,” he said submissively and sadly: “that nothing can be otherwise than as the Lord decrees. If the Lord does not grant health, then all the doctors cannot help. Akim, yonder, speaks the truth: no one can die before his death-hour comes.”

“Doctors!” interposed Akim, staring at the coals and pronouncing the word in a specially vicious way—“doktogga!” “Doctors, brother, have an eye on their pockets. I’d let out his guts for him, for such a doctor, so I would!”

“Not all of them are thinking of their pockets,” said Kuzma.

“I haven’t seen all of them.”

“Well, then, don’t chatter nonsense about what you haven’t seen,” said Mitrofan severely, and turned to the baker: “Yes, and you’re a nice one, too: making yourself out a hopeless beggar! Perchance, if you didn’t wallow round on the ground, dog-fashion, you wouldn’t have that acute pain.”

“Why, you see, I—” the baker began.

But at this point Akim’s scoffing composure deserted him of a sudden. And, rolling his stupid hawk-like eyes, he abruptly leaped to his feet and began to yell, with the irascibility of an idiot: “What? So I’m chattering nonsense, am I? Have you been in the hospital? Have you? And I have been there! I spent seven days there—and did he give me any white-bread rolls, that doctor of yours? Did he?”

“Yes, you’re a fool,” interposed Mitrofan: “white rolls are not given to every sick person: it depends on their disease.”

“Ah! It depends on their disease! Well, let him go burst with his disease, devil take him!” shouted Akim.

And, casting furious glances about him, he flung his spoon into the “thin gruel” and strode off into the hut.


THERE, breathing with his whistling breath, he lighted the lamp, and the hut assumed a cosy air. Then he fished out spoons from some niche close under the roof, threw them on the table, and shouted: “Bring on that porridge, can’t you?” The baker rose and stepped over to the kettle. “Pray be our guest,” he said, as he passed Kuzma. But Kuzma found it unpleasant to eat with Akim. He asked for a bit of bread, salted it heavily, and, chewing it with delight, returned to his seat on the bench. It had become completely dark. The pale blue light illuminated the trees more and more extensively, swiftly, and clearly, as if blown into life by the wind, and at each flash of the aurora the foliage, in its death-like green, became for a moment as distinctly visible as in the daytime; then everything was again inundated by blackness as of the tomb. The nightingales had ceased their song—only one, directly above the hut, continued to warble sweetly and powerfully. In the hut, around the lamp, a peaceably ironical conversation was flowing on once more. “They did not even ask who I am, whence I come,” said Kuzma to himself. “What a people, may the devil take it.” And he shouted, jestingly, into the hut: “Akim! You haven’t even asked who I am, and whence I come.”

“And why should I want to know?” replied Akim indifferently.

“Well, I’m going to ask him about something else,” said the baker’s voice—“how much land he expects to receive from the Duma. What think you, Akimushka? Hey?”

“I’m no clever one at interpreting writing,” said Akim. “You can see it better from the dung-heap.”

And the baker must have been disconcerted once more: silence ensued, for a minute.

“He is referring to us, the likes of himself,” remarked Mitrofan. “I happened to mention that in Rostoff the poor folks—the proletariat, that is to say—save themselves in winter time in the manure—”

“They go outside the town,” cut in Akim cheerfully, “and—into the manure with them! They burrow in exactly like the pigs—and there’s no harm done.”

“Fool!” Mitrofan snapped him up, and so sternly that Kuzma turned round. “What are you gobbling about? You stupid fool, you rickety bandy-legs! When poverty overtakes you, you’ll burrow too.”

Akim, dropping his spoon, gazed sleepily at him and, with the same sudden irascibility which he had recently exhibited, opened wide his empty hawk-like eyes and yelled furiously: “A—ah! Poverty! Did you want to work at so much the hour?”

“Of course!” angrily shouted Mitrofan, inflating his Dahomey-like nostrils and staring point-blank at Akim with blazing eyes. “Twenty hours for twenty kopeks?”

“A—ah! But you wanted a ruble an hour? You’re a greedy one, devil take you!”

But the wrangle subsided as quickly as it had flared up. A minute later Mitrofan was talking quietly and scalding himself with the porridge: “As if he weren’t greedy himself! Why, he, that blind devil, would strangle himself in the sanctuary for the sake of a kopek. If you’ll believe it, he sold his wife for fifteen kopeks! God is my witness that I am not jesting. Off yonder in our village of Lipetzk there’s a little old man, Pankoff by name, who also used to work as gardener—well, and now he has retired and is very fond of that sort of affair.”

“Why, doesn’t Akim come from over Lipetzk way?” interrupted Kuzma.

“From Studenko, from the village,” said Akim indifferently, exactly as if they were not discussing him at all.

“Right, right,” Mitrofan confirmed his statement.

“A peasant from the roots up. He lives with his brother, controls the land and the farmyard in common with him, but nevertheless somewhat in the position of a fool; and, of course, his wife has already run away from him. But we learned the reason why she ran away, from the man himself: he made a bargain with Pankoff, for fifteen kopeks, to admit him of a night, instead of himself, into the chamber—and he did it.”

Akim remained silent, tapping the table with his spoon and staring at the lamp. He had already eaten his fill, wiped his mouth, and was now engaged in thinking over something.

“Jabbering is not working, young man,” he said at last. “And what if I did admit him: my wife is withering, isn’t she?” And as he listened to hear what they would say to that, he bared his teeth in a grin, elevated his eyebrows, and his tiny face, which was like a Suzdal holy picture, assumed a joyously sad expression and became covered with large wooden wrinkles. “I’d like to get that fellow with a gun!” he said with a specially strong squeak and twisting of his consonants. “Wouldn’t he go head over heels!”

“Of whom are you speaking?” inquired Kuzma.

“Why, that nightingale—”

Kuzma set his teeth and, after reflection, said: “Well, you are a putrid peasant. A wild beast.”

“Well, and who cares for what you think?” retorted Akim. And, giving vent to a hiccough, he rose to his feet. “Well, what’s the use of burning the lamp for nothing?”

Mitrofan began to roll a cigarette. The baker gathered up the spoons. Crawling from under the table, he turned his back on the lamp and, hurriedly crossing himself thrice, with a flourish he bent low to the holy picture, in the direction of the dark corner of the hut, shook back his straight hair, which resembled bast, and, raising his face, murmured a prayer. His large shadow fell upon some chests made of boards and broke across them, while he himself seemed to Kuzma even smaller than a short time previously. Kuzma remembered how he had once been called for conscription. Five hundred men had been summoned, only one hundred and twenty being wanted. He had drawn Number 492: yet he had almost been obliged to undress, so many of those naked youths—they resembled sparrows, with arms as thin as whiplashes and huge, solid bellies—had been rejected. Akim hastily crossed himself once more, and once more made a flourishing reverence—and Kuzma gazed at him with a feeling akin to hatred. There was Akim praying—but just try asking him whether he believed in God! His hawk eyes would leap out of their sockets! Evidently he had the idea that no one in all the world believed as he did. He was convinced to the very bottom of his soul that, in order to please God and avoid the condemnation of men, it was necessary to comply in the strictest possible manner with even the smallest fraction of what was appointed in regard to the Church, fasts, feasts, good deeds; that for the salvation of his soul—not out of good feeling, naturally!—those acts must be fulfilled punctually; candles must be placed before the holy pictures, he must eat fish, and oil instead of butter; and on feast-days he must celebrate, and conciliate the priest with patties and chickens. And every one was firmly convinced that Akim was a profound believer, although Akim himself had never in the whole course of his life wondered what his God was actually like, just as he had never pondered upon either heaven or earth, birth or death. Why should he think? His thinking had been done for him! He knew all the answers—calm answers, prepared a thousand years ago. Didn’t he know that in heaven were paradise, angels, the saints; in hell, devils and sinners; on earth, men who cultivate the earth, and build houses, and trade, and accumulate money, and marry, and live for their pleasure? Not all of them, certainly—far from all—but what was to be done about that? All the same, people ought to strive toward that—and when the right time arrived, Akim, too, would show of what he was capable! So said Kuzma to himself, recalling, as always, with amazement and fear, the massacres. Well, and the mystery of birth and death—that did not concern him. After one was born, it was necessary to be baptized, and to live according to our own manner, the Russian manner, not after the manner of dogs—that is, like Turks and Frenchmen. When one died, it was indispensable to receive the Sacrament—otherwise one could not escape hell—and the best of all was to receive the Holy Unction with Oil.[31] That was all. There are also on the earth insects, flowers, birds, animals. But Akim did not condescend to think about flowers and insects—he simply crushed them. Among plants he noticed only those which bore fruit or berries or furnished food. Birds fly, sing—and ’tis a most gallant thing to shoot for food those which are fit for such use, but those which are not fit should be shot for amusement. All wild beasts, to the very last one, must be exterminated, but procedure with regard to animals varies: one’s own should be kept in good condition, that they may be of service to the owner, but old animals and animals which belong to other people should have their eyes lashed out with a whip, and their legs should be broken.

“And what does he care,” thought Kuzma sadly, “what is it to him, seeing that he has no establishment of his own, that it rains or hails, or that the thunder rumbles for a week, that the lightnings flash; that perchance at this very moment they are lighting up a dead, blue little face in the dark fly-filled hut where that blind girl lies sleeping?”

It seemed as if he had set out from the town a year ago; as if, now, he should never be able to drag himself back to it. His wet cap weighed heavily; his cold feet ached, cramped in his muddy boots. In that one day his face had become weather-beaten and burned. His body had been lamed by the springless cart, by discomfort, by the longing for rest. But sleep—no, one could not get to sleep yet. Rising from the bench, Kuzma went out against the damp gale, to the gate which led into the fields, to the waste spaces of the long-abandoned cemetery. A faint light from the hut fell upon the mud; but as soon as Kuzma had taken his departure, Akim blew out the lamp, the light vanished, and night immediately closed in. The bluish lightning flashed out still more vividly and unexpectedly, laid bare the whole sky, the extreme recesses of the orchard to the most distant apple trees, where stood the bath-house, and suddenly inundated everything with such blackness that one’s head swam. And once more, somewhere low down, the dull, far-away thunder began to rumble; and from behind the rustling of the trees and the droning of the rain came the abrupt whining, barking, and snarling of the dogs, feasting outside the orchard on a cow which had died. After standing still for a while, until he made out the dim light which filtered under the gate, Kuzma emerged into the road which ran past the earth wall, past rustling ancient lindens and maple trees, and began to stroll slowly to and fro. The rain began to patter down once more on his cap and his hands. But he wanted to think out what he had begun. Suddenly the black darkness was again deeply rent; the raindrops glistened; and on the waste land, in a corpse-like blue light, the figure of a dripping, thin-necked horse stood out in sharp lines. A field of oats, of a pallid, metallic green hue, flashed into momentary sight beyond the waste land, against an inky black background; and the horse raised his head. Dread overpowered Kuzma. The horse was promptly swallowed up in the darkness. But—to whom did he belong? why was he not hobbled? why was he thus roaming about without oversight? And Kuzma turned back toward the gate. In the ditch alongside the earthen wall, among the dock-weeds and nettles, some one was half growling, half snoring. Stumbling along with his hands outstretched, as if he were a blind man, Kuzma approached the ditch.

“Who’s there?” he shouted.

But the snore was that of a person dead drunk, powerful and choking. Everything else round about was wrapped in profound slumber. The lightning flashes had ceased; the trees, invisible in the darkness, rustled dully and gloomily under the increasing downpour. And when, at last, Kuzma had found his way to the bath-house by the sense of feeling alone, the rain was pouring down upon the earth with such force that he began to be assailed, as he had been in his childhood, by terrible thoughts about the Flood. He struck a match, and beheld a broad sleeping-ledge near the tiny window. Rolling up his overcoat, he threw it on the head end. In the darkness he crawled upon the ledge and with a deep sigh stretched himself out on it; he lay, after the fashion of old people, on his back, and shut his weary eyes. Great God, what a stupid and toilsome journey! And how had he chanced to come hither? In the manor-house also darkness now reigned, and the flashes of lightning were fleetingly, stealthily reflected in the mirrors. In the hut, beneath the heavy downpour of the rain, Akim was sleeping. Here in this bath-house devils had frequently been seen, as a matter of course: did Akim possess a proper faith in devils? No. People had so believed a thousand years ago, and Akim had merely accepted his heritage mechanically. But, even though he did not believe, he could nevertheless narrate how, once on a time, his deceased grandfather had gone to the grain crib for some bran and had found the devil, as shaggy as a dog, sitting, his legs twisted into a knot, on one of the girders.

Crooking one knee, Kuzma laid his wrist on his forehead and began to doze, sighing and grieving the while.


HE had passed the summer waiting for a place. That night, in the orchard at Kazakovo, it became clear to him that his dreams of orchards were foolish. On his return to the town, after carefully thinking over his situation he began to hunt for a position as a shop or counting-house clerk; then he began to reconcile himself to anything that offered, provided only that it furnished him a morsel of bread. But his searches, efforts, and entreaties were vain. Despair seized upon him. How was it he had failed to see that he had nothing to hope for? In the town he had long borne the reputation of being a very eccentric person. Drunkenness and lack of employment had converted him into a laughing-stock. In the beginning his manner of life had amazed the town; later on, it had come to seem suspicious. And, of a truth, who had ever heard of such a thing as a petty burgher at his age living in a lodging-house, being unmarried and poor as an organ-grinder? All his property consisted of a chest and a ponderous old umbrella! Kuzma began to look at himself in the mirror: really, now, what sort of man was the one he beheld before him? He slept in the “common room,” among strangers, chance people who came and went; in the morning he crawled in the heat about the bazaar and to the eating-houses, where he picked up rumours concerning jobs; after dinner, he took a nap, then seated himself at the window and read Kostomaroff’s History, gazed at the dusty, glaring white street and at the sky, pale blue with sultriness. For whom and for what was he living in the world—that petty burgher, broad of bone though lean, and already grey-haired from hunger and austere thinking; who called himself an anarchist and was not able to explain intelligently what an anarchist is? He sat and read; he sighed and paced to and fro in the room; he squatted down on his heels and unlocked his small chest; he arranged in more orderly fashion his tattered little books and manuscripts, two or three faded shirts, an old long-skirted great-coat, a waistcoat, the much worn certificates of his birth and his baptism. And he dropped his hands forlornly. What meaning was there to all this? Such poverty, such loneliness! And he shuddered at the thought of what lay ahead of him. Tikhon was childless, and rich—but Tikhon wouldn’t give so much as a copper coin to bury him....

The summer stretched out in endless length. The Duma was dissolved, but that did not break the monotony of the long, hot days. A vast revolt in the country districts was expected, but no one so much as lifted an eyebrow so long as absolutely nothing of any magnitude took place. Fresh and savage attacks on the Jews were contrived; day after day executions and shootings took place; but the town ceased to take the slightest interest in them. In the country, at the manor-houses, terror reigned—especially after that famous day when the peasants rose in rebellion at the “order” of some one or other. But what cared the town for the country districts? Kazakoff sent an extra company of kazaks. The local newspaper was closed down three times, and at last they made an end of the whole business by prohibiting the sale of the newspapers from the capitals. Once more poster advertisements began to bear the inscription: “By permission of the Authorities, temporarily in this Town,” and the posters themselves again became abominable. Little Russians arrived, attracted by the presentation of “the famous historical drama ‘Taras Bulba, the murderer of his own son,’” and by the announcement that “the entire company will take part” in the national dance, the Hopak, “in sumptuous costumes,” and that there would be “free presents”—a milch cow and a tea set “worth seventy-five rubles.” Swift runners and fortune-tellers reappeared, as well as certain knaves who exhibited human monstrosities—twins, a bearded lady, a young girl who weighed five hundred and seventy-six pounds, “the marvel of the XX century—a live freak captured in the Red Sea,” which lay dead in a zinc bathtub behind a cotton print curtain.

“Cursed be the day I was born into this thrice-accursed country!” Kuzma said at times, as he hurled his newspaper on to the table, closed his eyes, and gritted his teeth. “People ought now to be shouting so that it could be heard throughout the whole world: ‘To arms, ye who believe in God.’”

“And you’ll go on shouting until you make yourself heard,” some one quietly answered him.

Then he turned the conversation to the crops, the drought. And Kuzma relapsed into silence: the events which were taking place were so atrocious that the human mind was unable to grasp them.

Rain fell now and then in the countryside, but in town, day after day from May until August, an infernal drought held uninterrupted sway. The lodging-house, a corner building, baked in the sun. At night one’s blood hammered in one’s head from the stifling heat, and every noise which came through the open windows wakened one with a start. It was impossible to sleep in the hayloft because of the fleas, the crowing of the young cocks, and the odour of the manure-yard. Moreover, smoking was prohibited there: the landlord was fat, weak, and nervous as an old woman. All summer long Kuzma never abandoned the hope of getting to Voronezh. Akh, how little he had prized the days of his youth! If now he might only saunter between trains through the streets of Voronezh, gaze at the familiar poplar trees, at the tiny blue house outside the town—! But what was the use? Should he spend ten or fifteen rubles, and then have to deny himself a candle or a roll of white bread? More than that, it was shameful for an old man to surrender himself to memories of love. And how about Klasha? Was she really his daughter? He had seen her a couple of years ago: she was sitting at the window, weaving lace; she had a charming, modest face, but resembled only her mother. What could he say to her, even if he should make up his mind to go? How could he look old Ivan Semyonitch in the face?

Time flowed on in intolerable boredom. There were not even any visitors at the inn. During the whole of July the only person who put up there was a youthful deacon, rather a queer fellow, after the pattern of seminary queer sticks. A relative of his came to see him, but the visit ended in nothing: the deacon was absent in the bazaar, and his name, Krasnobaeff, was written up on the board after the Latin fashion: Benedictoff.

As autumn drew near, Kuzma persuaded himself that it was indispensable for him to make a pilgrimage to the holy places, to some monastery, or—to give up the struggle for good and all and take to drinking again in order to spite some one or other. One day, having unlocked his chest, he found Tolstoy’s “Confession,” opened it, and read the pencilled inscription which he had written while in a state of intoxication, during his services with Kasatkin: “It is impossible to wean all men from vodka.” A couple of months earlier he would merely have contracted his brows in a frown—what a stupid inscription!—but now he grinned and said to himself: “Why not consign everything to the devil’s mother, burn everything to the last thread, and draw a razor across my throat?”

Autumn set in. In the bazaar there was a fragrance of apples and plums. The schoolboys were brought back to the gymnasium from their vacation in the country. The horse races began. The sun began to set behind Chips Square. If one emerged from the gate in the evening and crossed the intersection of the streets, one was blinded: to the left the whole street, ending at the square in the distance, was flooded with a low, mournful light. The gardens, behind their fences, were full of dust and spiders’ webs. Polozoff came to meet one, wearing a coat with sleeve-flaps, but he had already exchanged his hat for a peaked cap with military insignia. There was not a soul in the town park. The band-stand for the musicians was boarded up; so was the kiosk where, in summer, kumys and lemonade were sold; the wooden refreshment counter was closed. And one day, as he sat near the band-stand, Kuzma was so overwhelmed with depression that he seriously meditated committing suicide. The sun had set; its light was reddish; thin, rose-hued foliage was drifting along the alley; a cold wind was blowing. The cathedral bells were ringing the summons to the All-Night Vigil Service, and one’s soul ached unbearably at this closely set, methodical peal, executed in countrified Saturday fashion.

All at once, from under the band-stand, a cough became audible, and a clearing of the throat. “Motka,” Kuzma said to himself. And sure enough, from under the stairs crawled Duck-Headed Matty. He wore rusty soldier’s boots, an extremely long uniform from the shoulders of a second-school boy, besprinkled with flour—evidently the bazaar had been making merry—and a straw hat which had once been run over by wheels. With his eyes still closed, spitting and staggering with intoxication, he stalked past, without so much as asking for a smoke. Kuzma, repressing his tears, shouted to him: “Mot! Come, let’s have a chat, and a smoke—”

And Motka turned, seated himself on the bench, began drowsily, with twitching brows, to roll himself a cigarette. But apparently he had only a dim idea as to the identity of the person who was sitting by his side—who it was that was complaining to him about his fate....

On the following day that same Motka brought Tikhon’s note to Kuzma. And, once more, the noose which had come near strangling Kuzma broke.

At the end of September he went to Durnovka.