The Village by Ivan Alekseevich Bunin, chapter name PART THREE



THE estate at Durnovka was arranged after the plan of a farm. In fact, it had originally borne precisely that title. Durnovo had owned several estates and had occupied the chief of them, the one at Zusha. Afanasiy Ilitch, who had hunted the Gipsy with dogs, came only occasionally to Durnovka, on his way from a hunting expedition. Nil Afansaievitch, the Marshal of the Nobility, had no taste for farms: he had spent his whole life in organizing dinners, drinking sherry at his club, glorying in his fat, his appetite, his ringing whisper—he had a silver throat—in his lavishness, his witticisms, and his absence of mind. And his son, also, the Uhlan, who bore the name of his grandfather, rarely looked in at Durnovka. The Uhlan still considered himself a great landed proprietor. On retiring from the service he decided to accumulate millions, to show how an estate ought to be managed. But the Uhlan was not fond of being in the fields, and his passion for making purchases helped to ruin him: he bought almost everything his eye fell upon. His trips to Moscow and his amorous constitution likewise contributed to his ruin. His son, who did not finish at the Lyceum, received as his heritage only two farms—Laukhino and Durnovka. And the Lyceum student ruined these to such a point that, during the last year he spent at Durnovka, the duties of watchman were discharged by an old scullery-maid, who went about at night with her mallet, garbed in a rusty raccoon cloak. “Well, never mind,” Kuzma said to himself, rejoiced to the verge of tears by Tikhon’s proposal, and profoundly concealing his joy. “If ’tis a farm, call it a farm! A good thing, too: ’tis a regular end-of-nowhere, savage as in the Tatar times!”

At one period Ilya Mironoff had lived in Durnovka for a couple of years. At the time Kuzma had been a mere child, and all he retained of it in his memory was, first, the fragrant hemp-fields, which drowned Durnovka, as it were, in a dark-green sea, and, secondly, one dark summer night. There had been not a single light in the village on that night. Past their cottage had filed, their chemises gleaming white in the darkness, “nine maidens, nine women, and the tenth a widow,” all barefoot, with hair flowing free, armed with brooms, oaken cudgels, and pitchforks. A deafening ringing of bells had arisen, and a thumping of oven-covers and frying pans, high above which soared a wild choral chant. The widow dragged a plough; alongside her walked a maiden carrying a large holy picture; while the rest rang bells, and thumped, and when the widow led off in a low tone,

“Thou cow-death,

Enter not our village!”

the chorus repeated in long-drawn tones, with funereal intonations:

“We plough—”

and mournfully, in throaty tones, took up the refrain,

“With incense, with the cross ...”

Now the aspect of the Durnovka fields was commonplace. The hemp plantations had vanished, and, even if they had not, the fields would have been bare in autumn, as well as the vegetable patches and the back yards. Kuzma set forth from Vorgol in a cheerful and slightly intoxicated state. Tikhon Ilitch had treated him to liqueur cordial at dinner, and at tea, after dinner, Nastasya Petrovna had treated him to two kinds of preserves. Tikhon Ilitch was very kindly disposed on that day. He recalled his youth, his childhood; how they had eaten buckwheat cakes together, how they had shouted “Tallyho!” after the Dog’s Pistol, and had studied with Byelkin; he called his wife “auntie” and ridiculed her trips to the nun Polukarpia for the good of her soul; he said, with regard to Kuzma’s salary: “We’ll square that, dear brother, we’ll make that right—I’ll not wrong you!” He referred briefly to the revolution: “That little bird started singing too early—look out, or the cat will eat it!” Kuzma rode a dark brown gelding, and around him lay outspread a sea of dark brown ploughed fields. The sun, almost like that of summer, the transparent air, the clear pale-blue sky, all gladdened him and gave promise of prolonged repose. The grey, crooked wormwood, turned up roots and all by the plough, was so plentiful that it was being carried off by the carload. Close to the farm itself, in the ploughed field, stood a wretched little nag, with burdocks in his forelock, and a springless cart, piled high with wormwood; and beside it lay Yakoff, bare-legged, in dusty breeches and a long hempen shirt, his side squeezed against a large grey dog which he was holding by the ear. The dog was growling and darting angry sidelong glances.

“Does he bite?” shouted Kuzma.

“He’s savage—there’s no taming him!” Yakoff made haste to reply, as he raised his slanting beard. “He jumps at the horses’ muzzles.”

And Kuzma burst out laughing with pleasure. The peasant was a regular peasant—and the steppe was a genuine steppe!

The road ran down a hill, and the horizon became narrower. In front the new iron roof of a grain-kiln gleamed green, seeming drowned in the dense low growths of the park. Beyond the park, on the opposite slope, stood a long row of cottages constructed of bricks moulded from clay, and roofed with straw. On the right, beyond the ploughed fields, stretched a large ravine, merging into the one which separated the farm from the village. At the point where the ravines came together, a pond lay sparkling in the sunlight. On the promontory between them the wings of two unsheathed windmills reared themselves aloft, surrounded by several cottages belonging to one-homestead owners—the Mysoffs,[32] as Oska had dubbed them—and the whitewashed schoolhouse gleamed white on the pasture land.

“Well, and do the children get schooling?” inquired Kuzma.

“’Tis obligatory,” said Oska. “They have a scholar who is a terror!”

“What scholar are you talking about? Do you mean a teacher?”

“Well, then, teacher, it’s all the same. The way he has educated those brats—I tell you, ’tis fine. He’s a soldier. He beats them unmercifully, but on the other hand he has them well trained in all sorts of ways. Tikhon Ilitch and I happened to drop in one day—and if they didn’t all leap to their feet and bark out: ‘We wish you health!’ just as well as if they were soldiers!”

And once more Kuzma broke into a laugh.

But when he had passed the threshing-floor, had descended by the defective road past the cherry orchard and turned to the left, to the long farmyard, lying well dried and golden-hued in the sun, his heart actually began to beat violently. Here he was, at home, at last. And as he mounted the porch and stepped across the threshold, Kuzma gave vent to a sigh, and, making the sign of the cross on brow and breast, he bowed low before the dark holy picture in the corner of the ante-room....

And for a long time he cared not whether the Russian people had a future or not. He roamed about the manor estate, the village; he sat for hours at a time on the doorsteps of the cottages, on the threshing-floors—watching the inhabitants of Durnovka, enjoying the possibility of breathing pure air, of chatting with his new neighbours.


OPPOSITE the house, with their rear to Durnovka, to the wide ravine, stood the storehouses. From the porch, half of the village was visible, and beyond the storehouses the pond and a part of the promontory—one windmill and the schoolhouse. The sun rose to the left, beyond the fields, beyond the railway line on the horizon. In the morning the pond glittered with a bright, fresh exhalation, and from the park behind the house was wafted an odour of foliage from evergreens and leaf trees, steppe grass, apples, and dew. The rooms were small and empty. In the study, papered with old music sheets, rye was stored; in the hall and the drawing-room no furniture was left save a few Viennese chairs with broken seats and a large extension table. The windows of the drawing-room overlooked the park, and during almost the entire autumn Kuzma passed the night in it, on a broken-down couch, without closing the windows. The floor was never swept: the widow Odnodvorka lived there temporarily, in the capacity of cook; she had been the mistress of young Durnovo, and was obliged to run after her small children and prepare food, after a fashion, for herself, Kuzma, and the labourer. Kuzma himself prepared the samovar in the morning, after which he sat at the window in the hall and drank tea and ate apples.

Through the early glitter, beyond the brilliant mist over the ploughed fields, the railway train dashed past in the morning; and, above, rose-coloured wreaths floated behind it. Dense smoke hung over the roofs of the village. The garden was freshly fragrant; silvery hoar-frost lay upon the storehouses. At noon the sun stood over the village; it was hot out of doors; in the park the maples and lindens grew thin, quietly dropping their leaves; the vast spaces and the transparent dry air of the fields were filled with silence and with peace. The doves, warmed up by the sun, dozed all day long on the sloping roof of the kitchen, whose new straw roof gleamed yellow against the clear blue sky. The labourer rested after his dinner. Odnodvorka went off to her own home.

But Kuzma roamed about. He went to the threshing-floor, rejoicing in the sun, the firm road, the withered steppe grass, the beet-tops which had turned dark brown, the charming late flower of the blue chicory, and the down of the cotton thistle floating quietly through the air. The ploughed spaces in the fields gleamed in the sunlight with the silken threads of barely visible spiders’ webs, which extended to an immense distance. In the vegetable garden, goldfinches perched on the dry stalks of the burdocks. Upon the threshing-floor, amid the profound stillness in the sultry heat, grasshoppers diligently emitted their hoarse cry.

From the threshing-floor Kuzma climbed across the earthen well and returned to the manor-house through the orchard and the fir plantation. In the orchard he chatted with the petty burghers, the lessees of the orchard, with the Bride and the Goat, who were gathering up the windfalls, and forced his way, in their company, into the nettle patch where lay the ripest fruit of all. Sometimes he wandered to the village, to the schoolhouse. He became freshened up, sunburned; he felt himself almost happy.

The Goat amazed him by her health, her cheery stupidity, her senselessly brilliant Egyptian eyes. The Bride was handsome and strange. With him, as with Tikhon, she remained silent; not a word was to be got out of her. But when one went away she gave vent to a harsh laugh, indulged in bawling conversations with the petty burghers, and would suddenly strike up:

“Let them thrash me, curse me—

My pretty eyes will twinkle more ...”

The soldier-teacher, born stupid, had lost in the service what small wits he had ever possessed. In appearance he was the most commonplace sort of peasant, about forty years of age. But he always spoke in such an extraordinary manner, and uttered such nonsense, that all one could do was to throw up one’s hands in despair. He was for ever smiling with the greatest appearance of slyness at something or other; he looked down upon his interlocutor condescendingly, with his eyes screwed up, and never replied to any question immediately.

“How am I to address you?” Kuzma asked him the first time he visited the school.

The soldier blinked and considered the matter. “The sheep without a name might be a ram,” he said at last, at his leisure. “But I will ask you something also. Is Adam a name, or is it not?”

“It is.”

“Very well. And about how many people, for example, have died since then?”

“I don’t know,” said Kuzma. “Why do you inquire?”

“Simply because that’s one of the things we never were born to understand. Now, take any busybody you like. Do you indulge in revolt? Do it, my dear man: perhaps you will become a fit-marshal! Only, at best, that they may stretch you out without your breeches for a flogging. Are you a peasant? Till the soil. Are you a cooper? In that case, equally, attend to your business. I, for example, am a soldier and a veterinary. Not long ago I was passing through the Fair, and what should I see but a horse with the glanders? I went at once to the policeman: ‘Thus and so,’ says I, ‘Your High Well-born.’ ‘But can you kill that horse with a feather?’ ‘With the greatest pleasure!’”

“With what sort of a feather?” inquired Kuzma.

“Why, a goose feather. I took it, sharpened it, jabbed it into his spinal cord, blew a little—into the feather, I mean—and the thing was done. ’Tis a simple matter, to all appearance, but just try to do it!” And the soldier winked craftily and tapped his brow with his finger: “Understanding is needed here.”

Kuzma shrugged his shoulders and made no reply. And as he passed Odnodvorka’s cottage he found out from her boy Senka what the soldier’s name was. It turned out to be Parmen.

“And what’s your task for to-morrow?” added Kuzma, gazing with curiosity at Senka’s fiery red mop of hair, his lively green eyes, his pock-marked face, his rickety little body, and his hands and feet all cracked with mud and chaps.

“The tasks are verses,” said Senka, grasping his uplifted foot in his right hand and hopping up and down on one spot.

“What sort of tasks?”

“Counting the geese. A flock of geese has flown past—”

“Ah, I know,” said Kuzma. “And what else?”

“Also mice—”

“They are to be counted too?”

“Yes. Six mice were walking along carrying six copper coins,” mumbled Senka rapidly, casting a sidelong glance at Kuzma’s silver watch chain. “One mouse, which was bigger, carried two coins. How many does that make in all—?”

“Splendid. And what are the verses?”

Senka released his foot.

“The verses are ‘Who is he?’”

“Have you learned them?”

“Yes, I have.”

“Well, then, say them.”

And Senka muttered still more rapidly about a horseman who was riding above the Neva through the forests, where there were only—

“‘Firs, pine-trees, and green moss....’”

“Grey,” said Kuzma, “not green.”

“Well, then, grey,” assented Senka.

“And who was that horseman?”

Senka considered the matter. “Why, a sorcerer,” said he.

“Exactly. Now, tell your mother that she ought to cut your hair, on your temples at least. ’Tis all the worse for you as it is, when the teacher pulls it.”

“Then he’ll find my ears,” said Senka unconcernedly, again grasping his foot, and off he hopped on the pasture common.


THE promontory and Durnovka lived in a state of perpetual enmity and mutual disdain, as adjoining villages always do. The promontory dwellers regarded the Durnovka folk in the light of bandits and beggars, while the Durnovka people returned the compliment precisely and in full measure. Durnovka was “gentry property,” while on the promontory dwelt “boors,” one-farm petty owners—more properly speaking, the remains of the one-farm people who had emigrated to the Tomsk Government. Odnodvorka was the only person who was not included in this enmity, these quarrels. Small, thin, dependable, she was lively, even-tempered, and agreeable in intercourse; and she was observant. She knew every family on the promontory and in Durnovka as well as if it were her own; she was the first to inform the manor-house of every smallest happening in the life of the village. And every one was also thoroughly well acquainted with her life.

She never concealed anything from anybody; she talked calmly and simply about her husband and Durnovo and stated that she had become a procuress when he went away. “What could I do?” she said, with a faint sigh. “I was dreadfully poor; I had not enough bread even after the new harvest. My good husband loved me, to speak the plain truth, but one has to submit, you know. The master gave three whole carloads of rye for me. ‘What can I do?’ I said to my husband. ’Twas plain, I must go, he said. He went for the rye, dragged home measure after measure, and his tears drip-dripped, drip-dripped all the while.”

And, after a moment’s thought, she added:

“Well, and later on, when the master went away, and my husband went to Rostoff, I began to bring people together, as chance occurred. You’re immoral dogs, the Lord forgive you!”

By day she toiled, never pausing for a moment; by night she mended, sewed, stole snow-screens from the railway. Once late at night, when Kuzma was driving to Tikhon Ilitch, he ascended a hillock and halted paralyzed with fright: across the ploughed land, half deluged in darkness, on a faintly smouldering strip of the sunset, something black, huge, sprang up and bore down smoothly on Kuzma.

“Who’s that?” he shouted feebly, tugging at his reins.

“Oï!” feebly and in affright shouted that which had so swiftly and smoothly sprung up against the sky; and it disappeared with a crash.

Kuzma recovered himself—and instantly recognized, in the darkness, Odnodvorka. She had been running toward him on her light, unshod feet, all bent together with the weight of two screens a fathom long—the sort that are set up, in winter, along the railway line, to protect it from snowdrifts. And, having rearranged herself, she whispered, with a quiet laugh:

“You frightened me to death. When one runs off somewhere of a night, one is all a-tremble, but what can one do? The whole village uses these for firewood, and that’s the only way we save ourselves from freezing.”

The farm-hand Koshel, on the other hand, was a man not devoid of interest. There was nothing one could talk about with him, and he was not loquacious by nature. Like the majority of the Durnovka people, he merely repeated antiquated, insignificant apophthegms, reasserted that which had been known for many a long year. If the weather turned bad he cast an eye at the sky: “The weather’s spoiling. Rain is what the growing green things most need at the present moment.” The fields were ploughed a second time, and he remarked: “If you won’t give a second ploughing you’ll be left without bread. That’s what the old people have always said.”

He had been a soldier in his day—had been in the Caucasus—but the military life had left no traces on him. He was unable to pronounce the word “post-office” properly: he called it “spost-office.” He could tell absolutely nothing whatsoever about the Caucasus, with the exception of the facts that mountain followed mountain there, and that terribly hot and strange waters spurted out of the ground. If you placed a piece of mutton in them, it was boiled in one minute, and if you didn’t take it out at the proper time, it got raw again. And he was not in the least proud of the fact that he had seen the world; he even bore himself with scorn toward people who knew the world. It is well understood that people only “rove about” because they are forced to do so, or through poverty. He never believed a single rumour—“all lies!”—but he did believe, and swore to it as a fact, that not long ago a witch had rolled in the form of a wheel through the twilight shades near Basovka, and that one peasant, who was no fool, had taken and caught hold of that wheel and thrust his belt through the hub and tied it fast.

“Well, and what happened next?” asked Kuzma.

“What?” replied Koshel. “That witch waked up early in the morning, and, lo and behold, that belt was sticking out her mouth and behind, and was tied fast over her stomach.”

“But why didn’t she untie it?”

“Evidently, the knot had had the sign of the cross made over it.”

“And aren’t you ashamed to believe such nonsense?”

“What is there for me to be ashamed of? People lie, and I let them talk.”

So Kuzma only liked to hear the man’s songs. As he sat in the darkness at the open window, without a light anywhere, with the village barely discernible like a black spot on the other side of the ravine, it was so quiet round about that the apples could be heard falling from the wild apple trees beyond the corner of the house. And Koshel walked slowly about the farmyard with his mallet, and with a serene melancholy hummed to himself in his falsetto voice: “Cease your song, canary, little bird.” He kept watch over the manor until morning and slept by day. He had hardly anything to do: Tikhon Ilitch had made haste to settle up Durnovka affairs betimes that year, and out of all the cattle only one horse and a cow remained. So things were quiet, even rather boresome, at the manor-house. The clear days were followed by colder days, bluish-grey, soundless. The goldfinches and tomtits began to whistle in the bare park, the cross-bills to pipe in the fir trees, the cedar-birds made their appearance, bullfinches, and some sort of leisurely tiny birds which hopped in flocks from place to place on the threshing-floor, whose supports were already sprouting with bright green new growths; sometimes a very silent, light little bird of that sort perched all alone on a spear of grass in the field. In the vegetable gardens behind Durnovka, the last potatoes were being dug among the sheaves. And at times, as evening drew on, some one of the peasants would stand there for a long space, absorbed in thought and gazing at the fields, as he bore on his back a plaited basket filled with ears of grain. Darkness began to fall early, and at the manor-house they said: “How late the train passes by nowadays!” although there had been no change in the schedule of the trains. Kuzma sat near the window and read newspapers all day long; he had written down his spring trip to Kazakovo and his conversations with Akim; he had jotted down remarks in an old account book—all he had seen and heard in the village. What occupied his attention most of all was Syery, the Grey Man.


THE village was deserted. Many had gone away to work on the clover. Trifon had died in mid-August, at Assumption-tide—he had choked himself, as he broke the fast, on a bit of raw ham. At the beginning of September Komar, one of the chief rioters, renowned for his strength, his cleverness, and his daring in his dealings with the members of the gentry class, had entered a distillery near Eletz, fallen into the malt-kiln while in a state of intoxication, and been suffocated. No one had known that he was there, and the door had been bolted. Komar had bent the door in his efforts to escape into the air, but evidently such a death had been written in his fate. Another rebel, Vanka Krasny, had again betaken himself to the Donetz mines. The harness-maker was working about on different estates. Rodka was working on the railway. Deniska had disappeared somewhere. And everybody hypocritically pitied Syery, taking advantage of the opportunity to ridicule both son and father. Yakoff’s hands trembled when he began to talk about Syery. And what could they do but tremble? What had that Syery done with the land which Yakoff was ready to “devour in handfuls”? No one in all Durnovka suffered the hundredth part of what Yakoff suffered when rumours became current about rebellions, cases of arson, and the expropriation of land. He merely held his peace—thanks to that subterranean secretiveness which thousands of his forebears had sucked in with their mothers’ milk. And, indeed, his breath would have failed him had he tried to speak. Now, when the rumours became more and more desperate, he even became reconciled to his son Vaska, for the sake of the land. His son was a pock-marked, rough, thickset young fellow, all overgrown with a beard at the age of twenty, broad-shouldered, curly-haired, and so strong that even pincers could not have pulled out a single one of his hairs. The son, with that beard, his head closely clipped, garbed in a red shirt, resembled a convict, but he dressed his wife in the style of a petty citizen of the towns. He had turned out the image of his father so far as greed was concerned, and had already begun to trade secretly in vodka, coarse tobacco, soap, and kerosene. And Yakoff became reconciled, in the hope of satisfying his land-hunger by the aid of his son—in the hope that he might become rich and begin to lease it. Why did Syery make peace with Deniska, who had repeatedly given him “a healthy drubbing”? What was he hoping for, that he thus altered his course, like the poorest beggar? He had leased his land, he did not live out on jobs. He sat at home cold and hungry and had no thought for anything save how he might procure the wherewithal for a smoke: he could not get through the day without his pipe. He attended all the village assemblies, but always arrived just as they were coming to an end. He never missed a single wedding or baptism or funeral, although he huddled up against the door; and when he extended his hand to the host, who was serving refreshments to his guests, he not infrequently received nothing but rough denunciations. Syery did not care greatly for liquor, but no drinking to seal a bargain ever passed off without his presence: he intruded himself not only into all the community drinking-bouts, but also into all those of his neighbours—after purchases, sales, and exchanges. And his neighbours had grown so accustomed to this that they were not even surprised when Syery presented himself. And he really was entertaining to listen to.

“He is valiant, so far as words go,” people said of Syery. And it was true: if he were at ease in his mind—and he was at ease when his pouch was filled with tobacco—what an active, serious peasant Syery could appear to be!

“Well, now, ’tis time to marry off my son,” he argued in leisurely fashion, as he held his pipe between his teeth and ground the stalks of the coarse tobacco by strong rubbing in his palms. “If he gets married, he’ll bring every kopek home, he will become eager for work, he’ll take to digging round about the house as a beetle burrows in a dung-heap. And we’re not afraid of work, brother! Only give us a chance!”

But Syery almost never had either peace of mind or work. His appearance justified his nickname: he was grey, lean, of medium stature, with sloping shoulders; his short coat was extremely short, tattered, and dirty; his felt boots were broken and their soles were made of rope; as for his cap, it is not worth mentioning at all. As he sat in his cottage, with this cap eternally on his head, his pipe never removed from his mouth, and anxiously meditated upon something or other, he had the appearance of living in imminent vague expectation. But, according to his own statement, he had devilish bad luck. Nothing worth while ever came his way. Well, and he didn’t care about playing jackstraws—taking chances. Every one was on the watch to condemn a man, of course. “’Tis well known that the tongue can break bones, though it has none itself,” Syery was wont to remark. “Do you first place the job in my hand, and then you can jabber.”

He had a fairly large amount of land—three desyatini. But he was taxed for ten. And Syery no longer put a hand to his land: “You simply have to give it up, that land: dear heart, it ought to be kept in proper order, but where’s the order here?” He himself planted no more than half a field, and even the grain in that he sold standing—he “got rid of the unwelcome for the welcome.” And again he had a reason ready: “Only wait to see what comes of it—just you try it!”

“’Tis always better, for example, to await the upshot of anything,” muttered Yakoff with a sidelong glance and a malicious laugh.

But Syery laughed also, sadly and scornfully. “Yes, ’tis better!” he grinned. “It’s all well enough for you to chatter nonsense: you’ve got a husband for your girl, and married off your son. But just look at me and the lot of small children who sit in the corner at my house. They don’t belong to other folks, you see. And I keep a goat for them, and I’m fattening a young pig. They have to have food and drink, don’t they?”

“Well, but a goat is nothing new, for example, in such cases,” retorted Yakoff, getting angry. “The trouble with you is, for example, that you think of nothing but vodka and tobacco, tobacco and vodka.” And, in order to avoid a senseless quarrel with his neighbour, he hastened to get away from Syery.

But Syery calmly and practically shouted after him: “A drunkard will come to his senses, brother, but a fool never will.”

After sharing his property with his brother, Syery had wandered about for a long time, living in hired lodgings, and had got jobs in the town and on divers estates. He also went to work on the clover. And, on that job, luck one day came his way. An organized gang of workmen which Syery had joined engaged themselves to get in a large crop at eighty kopeks a pud,[33] but behold, the crop turned out twice as heavy as had been calculated. They winnowed it, and Syery was hired to run the machine. He drove some of the grain out through the waste-spout and bought it. And he grew rich: that same autumn he built a brick cottage. But his calculations had been faulty: it turned out that the cottage must be heated. And where was the money to come from? that was the question. Why, there was not even enough to provide food. So it became necessary to burn the top of the cottage; and there it stood, roofless, for a year, and turned completely black. And the chimney went for the price of a horse-collar. There were no horses as yet, it is true; but, naturally, one must begin to fit oneself out some time or other. And Syery let his arms fall by his side in despair: he decided to sell the cottage, to build a cheaper one of beaten clay. His argument ran as follows: There must be in the cottage—well, at the very least, ten thousand bricks; he could sell them for five or even six rubles a thousand; the sum-total, of course, would be about one hundred and fifty rubles. But it turned out that there were only three thousand five hundred bricks, and he was forced to accept two rubles and a half for each girder, instead of five rubles. And for a long time a bare mound of rubbish occupied the site of the splendid cottage, solidifying under the rain: there was no money available for clearing it away, and one’s hands simply refused to undertake the task. Yakoff harangued on the subject: “Matters ought, for example, to have been more cheaply managed from the start.” “But, devil take it,” Syery said to himself, “a cheap thing doesn’t last long, does it?” And, much troubled in mind, he proceeded to look up a new cottage—and spent a whole year in bargaining for precisely those which were beyond his means. He had reconciled himself to his present domicile merely in the firm expectation of a future cottage which should be strong, spacious, and warm.

“I simply don’t intend to live on here!” he snapped one day.

Yakoff stared at him attentively and shook his cap. “Exactly so. That means you are expecting your ships to come in?”

“They’ll come, all right,” replied Syery mysteriously.

“Oï, drop your nonsense,” said Yakoff. “Get yourself a place somewhere—anywhere you can—and keep your teeth, for example, in their proper place.”

But the thought of a fine farmstead, good order, some suitable, real work, poisoned Syery’s entire life. He got bored when working in a place.

“Evidently, working at home isn’t as sweet as honey, either,” said his neighbours.

“Never you mind, it might be honey-sweet if the house were managed sensibly!”

“Just so. And will you take a place by the month, or until the working season?”

“I’ll get one, never fear. Oversight is needed at home, isn’t it?”

“But all you do is to sit in the house and smoke your pipe.”

“What am I to do, then? can’t I even smoke?”

And Syery, suddenly becoming animated, jerked the cold pipe out of his mouth and began his favourite story: how, while still a bachelor, he had lived two full years honestly and nobly at the house of a priest near Eletz. “Yes, and if I were to go there this minute, they would fairly tear me to pieces with joy!” he exclaimed. “I need say only one word: ‘I’ve come, papa, to work for you—will you take me or not?’ ‘But why do you ask that, light of my life? Don’t I know you? Yes, good Lord, live here with us for ever and ever, if you will’!”

“Well, and you might go there, for example—”

“I might go there! Look at them—all those brats in the corner! We know all about that; ’tis another man’s grief, I’ll not meddle. But a man is being wasted here, in vain.”


SYERY was being wasted, in vain, this year also. He had sat at home all winter long, with care-worn countenance, without light, cold and hungry. During the Great Fast (Lent), he had managed somehow or other to get a place with Rusanoff, near Tula: no one in his own neighbourhood would any longer give him a place. But before the month was out, Rusanoff’s establishment had become more repulsive to him than a bitter radish.

“Oï, young fellow!” the manager once remarked to him. “I can see right through you: you are picking a quarrel so that you can take to your heels. Here, you dog, here’s your money in advance, and now be off with you into the bushes!”

“Perhaps some sort of vagabond might take himself off, but not me,” retorted Syery sharply.

But the manager did not understand the hint. And it became necessary to adopt more decisive means. One day Syery was set to hauling in some husks for the cattle. He went to the threshing-floor and began to load a cart with straw. The manager came along:

“Didn’t I tell you, in good plain Russian, to load up with husks?”

“’Tis not the right time to load them,” replied Syery firmly.

“Why not?”

“Sensible farmers give husks for dinner, not at night.”

“And how do you come to be a teacher?”

“I don’t like to starve the cattle. That’s all there is to my being a teacher.”

“But you are hauling straw.”

“One must know the proper time for everything.”

“Stop loading this very minute.”

Syery turned pale. “No, I won’t stop my work. I can’t stop my work.”

“Hand me over that fork, you dog, and get out, lest worse happen.”

“I’m no dog, but a baptized Christian man. When I’ve driven in this load, I’ll get out. And I’ll go for good.”

“Well, brother, that’s not likely! You’ll go away, and pretty soon you’ll be back again—and get locked up in the county jail.”

Syery leaped from the cart and hurled his pitchfork into the straw: “I’m going to be locked up, am I?”

“Yes, you are!”

“Hey, young fellow, see that you don’t get locked up yourself! As if we didn’t know something about you! The master has nothing good to say about you, either, brother—”

The manager’s fat cheeks became suffused with dark blood, his eyeballs protruded until they seemed all whites. With the back of his wrist he thrust his peaked cap over on the nape of his neck and, drawing a deep breath, he rapidly ejaculated: “A—ah! So that’s the way of it! Hasn’t a good word to say of me? Tell me, if that’s the case—why not?”

“I have nothing to say,” mumbled Syery, feeling his legs instantaneously grow cold with fear.

“Yes, you have, brother: you’re talking nonsense—you’ll tell!”

“Well, and what became of the flour?” suddenly shouted Syery.

“The flour? What flour?”

“The stolen flour. From the mill.”

The manager seized Syery by the collar in a death-like grip, fit to suffocate him, and for the space of a moment the two stood stock still.

“What do you mean by it—grabbing a man like that, by his shirt?” calmly inquired Syery. “Do you want to choke me?” Then, all of a sudden, he began to squeak furiously: “Come on, thrash me, thrash while your heart is hot!” And with a jerk he wrenched himself free and seized his pitchfork.

“Come on, men!” the manager yelled, although there was no one anywhere in the vicinity. “Help the manager! Hearken to this: he tried to stab me to death, the dog!”

“Don’t come near me, or I’ll break your nose,” said Syery, balancing his pitchfork. “Don’t forget, times are not what they used to be!”

But at this point the manager made a wide sweep with his arm, and Syery flew headlong into the straw.

The melancholy which had once more begun to take powerful effect on Kuzma along with the change in weather, went on constantly increasing in force in proportion to his closer acquaintance with Dumovka, with Syery. At first the latter was merely sad and ridiculous: what a stupid man! Then he became irritating and repulsive: a degenerate! All summer long he had sat on the doorstep of his cottage smoking, waiting for favours from the Duma. All the autumn he had roamed from farmstead to farmstead, in the hope of attaching himself to some one who was bound for the clover work. On a hot, sunny day a new grain-rick on the edge of the village took fire. Syery was the first person to present himself at the conflagration, where he shouted himself hoarse, singed his eyelashes off, and got drenched to the skin directing the water-carriers and the men who, pitchforks in hand, flung themselves into the huge rosy-golden flame, dragging out in all directions the blazing thatches, and those who merely dashed about in the midst of the fire, the crackling flames, the gushing water, the uproar, the holy pictures, casks, and spinning-wheels heaped up near the cottages, the sobbing women, and the showers of blackened leaves scattered abroad from the burnt bushes. But what did he do that was practical? In October, when, after inundating rains and an icy storm, the pond froze over and a neighbour’s boar-pig slipped from an ice-clad mound, broke through the ice, and began to drown, Syery was the first to arrive at full speed, leap into the water, and save it. But why? In order that he might be the hero of the day, that he might have the right to rush from the pond into the servants’ hall, demand vodka, tobacco, and a bite to eat. At first he was all purple; his teeth were chattering; he could barely move his white lips as he dressed himself from head to foot in some one else’s clothes—Koshel’s. Then he became animated, got intoxicated, began to brag—and once more narrated how he had served honestly, nobly, at a priest’s, and how cleverly he had married off his daughter several years previously. He sat at the table greedily devouring chunks of raw ham and announcing in self-satisfied wise:

“Good. Matriushka, my girl, you see, had been making up to that Yegor. Well, she made eyes at him and made up to him. Nothing happened. One evening I was sitting, so, near the window, when I saw Yegor walk past the cottage once, then again—and that daughter of mine keeps diving, diving toward the window. That signifies, says I to myself, that they’ve settled matters. And I said to my wife: ‘Do you go give the cattle their fodder: I’m off, summoned to the village assembly.’ I set myself down on the straw behind the cottage, and there I sat and waited. And the first snow began to fall. And I saw Yegorka come sneaking along again. And she was on hand too. They went behind the cellar-house; then—they whisked into the cottage, the new empty one alongside. I waited a bit—”

“A nice story!” remarked Kuzma, with an embarrassed laugh.

But Syery took that for praise, for enthusiasm over his cleverness and craft. And, feeling himself a hero, he went on, now raising his voice, now viciously lowering it: “So there I sat and listened, and waited to find out what would happen next. So, as I was saying, I waited a bit—then after them I went. I leaped over the threshold—and straight at her, and seized her! Weren’t they frightened, though—horribly! He tumbled flat on the floor, as limp as a sack—helpless enough for any one to cut his throat—while she went off in a faint—lay there like a dead duck. ‘Well,’ says he, ‘now thrash me.’ That was what he said. ‘I don’t ne-ed to thrash you,’ says I. I took his coat, and I took his waistcoat, too—left him in his drawers only—pretty nearly in the condition when his mother gave him birth. ‘Now,’ says I, ‘get out, go wherever you please.’ And I myself set out for my house. I looked round—and he was behind me. The snow was white, and he was white, and he was sniffling. He had no place to go—whither could he run? But my Matryona Mikolavna rushes off to the fields the minute I am out of the cottage! She went at a lively pace—a woman neighbour had difficulty in grabbing her by the sleeve when she had got almost to Basovka, and brought her to me. I let her rest a while, then I said: ‘We are poor folks, ain’t we?’ She said never a word. ‘And your mother—is she a poor wretch, or is she a decent woman?’ No answer. ‘You’ve put us to shame. Hey, haven’t you? What do you mean by it—are you thinking you’ll fill my house with that sort, with your bastards—and I’m to shut my eyes to what’s going on? Seeing how poor we are, you ought to watch what you’re about, and not make us a laughing-stock, dragging your maiden braids all over the place—you trash!’ Then I began to tan her hide—I had a fine suitable little whip on hand. Well, to say it simply, I cut up her whole body to such a degree that she slid down at my feet and kissed my felt boots, while he sat up on the bench and yelled. Then I began on him, the dear man—”

“And did he marry her?” inquired Kuzma.

“I should say he did!” exclaimed Syery; and, conscious that intoxication was getting the better of him, he began to scrape up the fragments of ham from the platter and stuff them into the pockets of his breeches. “And what a wedding we made of it! As for the expense, I don’t have to blink my eyes over that, brother!”


“WELL, that was a fine tale!” Kuzma meditated within himself, for a long time after that evening. And the weather turned bad, to boot. He did not feel like writing; his melancholy increased in strength. The poverty and lack of practical common sense on the part of Syery and Deniska amazed him: the village was rotting! The beastly tale of the Bride’s experience in the orchard, the death of Rodka, stupefied him. The life of Tikhon Ilitch astonished him. And it certainly took a good deal to astonish him! Didn’t he know his country, his people? With grief and anger he poured out his heart to Tikhon Ilitch, exhorted him, stung him. But if Tikhon Ilitch had only known with what joy Kuzma rushed to the window when he espied on the porch his overcoat, his peaked cap, and his grey beard! How afraid he was lest his brother would not spend the night with him, how he tried to detain him as long as possible, dragged him into discussions, reminiscences! Kuzma found the situation tiresome late in the autumn; ugh, how boresome! The sole joy he had was when some one presented himself with a petition. Gololoby from Baskova came several times—a peasant with a perfectly bald head and a huge cap—to write a complaint against his daughter’s father-in-law for breaking his collar-bone. The widow Butylotchka came from the promontory to have a letter written to her son; and she was a mass of rags, wet through and icy cold with the rain. She was tearful when she began to dictate.

“Town of Serpukhoff, at the Nobility Bath-Zheltukhin house—”

Here she burst out weeping.

“Well, what next?” asked Kuzma, sorrowfully gazing sidewise at Butylotchka, after the fashion of old people, over his eyeglasses. “Well, I’ve written that. What more?”

“What more?” inquired Butylotchka in a whisper, and, making an effort to control her voice, she went on: “Write further, my dear, in your very best style: To be given to Mikhail Nazarytch Khlusoff—into his own hands, you understand—” Then she began—now with pauses, now entirely without: “A letter to our dear and beloved son, Misha, why have you forgotten us, Misha, we haven’t had a word from you. You know yourself that we are living in lodgings, and now they are turning us out, and where are we to go now. Our dear little son Misha, we beg you, for the Lord God’s sake, that you will come home as fast as you can—” And once more, through her tears, in a whisper: “Then you and we will dig out an earthen hut, and so we shall be in a home of our own....”

The storms and icy downpours of rain, the days that seemed all twilight, the mud at the manor-farm, all besprinkled with the fine yellow foliage of the acacias, the boundless ploughed fields and fields of winter grain round about Durnovka, and the dark clouds which endlessly hung over them—all began once more to oppress him with a fierce hatred for this accursed country where there were eight months of snow-storms and four of rain-storms; where for the commonest needs of nature one was forced to go to the barn or the cherry-shed. When the bad weather set in it became necessary to board up the drawing-room closely and move into the hall, so as to sleep all winter long there, and dine, and smoke, and pass the long evenings by the light of a dim kitchen lamp, pacing from corner to corner, muffled up in overcoat and cap, which barely protected one from the cold and the wind that blew in through the crevices. Sometimes it happened that they forgot to renew the supply of kerosene, and Kuzma passed the twilight hours wholly without a light; and at times, of an evening, he lighted a candle end merely for the purpose of supping off potato soup and warm wheat groats, which the Bride served in silence and with a stern countenance.

“Whither can I go?” Kuzma said to himself, once in a while.

There were only three neighbours in the immediate vicinity: old Princess Shakova, who did not receive even the Marshal of Nobility, because she regarded him as ill-bred; the retired gendarme Zakrzhevsky, a hæmorrhoidally vicious and self-conceitedly stupid man who would not have permitted Kuzma to cross his threshold; and, finally, a member of the gentry, Basoff, a petty landed proprietor who lived in a peasant cottage, had married the dissipated widow of a soldier, and could talk of nothing but horse-collars and cattle. Father Petr, the priest from Kolodeza, of which Durnovka was a parish, called once upon Kuzma. But neither the one nor the other cared to continue the acquaintance. Kuzma entertained the priest with nothing stronger than tea—and the priest laughed harshly and awkwardly when he saw the samovar on the table. “A samovar-man! Capital! You, I see, are no match for your good brother—you’re not lavish in your entertainment!” Kuzma announced frankly that he never went to church, out of conviction. The priest began to shout with laughter in more amazement than ever, and still more harshly and loudly: “A—ah! Those nice little new ideas! Capital! And it’s cheaper, too!” Laughter was not in the least becoming to him: it was as if some one else were laughing for that tall, lean man with the big cheek-bones and coarse black hair, the furtive greedy eyes—anxiously absent-minded eyes, for ever meditating something offensive and tactlessly free of manner. “But at night, surely, at night you cross yourself, nevertheless—you get scared?” he said, loudly and hurriedly, as he put on his coat and overshoes in the ante-room, amazing Kuzma by his queries concerning the management of the farm, and suddenly beginning to address him as “thou.”

“Yes, I make the sign of the cross,” admitted Kuzma, with a melancholy smile. “But, you know, fear is not faith, and I don’t cross myself to your God.”

Kuzma did not go often to visit his brother. And the latter came to him only when he was perturbed over something. Altogether, the loneliness was so desperate that at times Kuzma called himself Dreyfus on Devil’s Island. He compared himself to Syery. Ah, and he too, like Syery, was poor, weak of will, forced out of his proper course, and all his life had been waiting for some happy days, for work.

An unpleasant memory lingered of drunken Syery’s bravery, his story, his boastfulness. But, ordinarily, Syery was not like that, even when he was intoxicated: he was merely loquacious, troubled by something, and merry in a timid way. Moreover, he did not have an opportunity to get drunk more than five times in the course of a year. He was not eager for liquor—not at all as he was for tobacco. For the sake of tobacco he was ready to endure any and all humiliations; ready to sit for hours by the side of a man who was smoking, agree with everything he said, flatter him, do anything in order that he might, after awaiting a favourable moment, say as if quite accidentally: “Pray, gossip, give me a filling for my pipe.” He was passionately fond, also, of cards, long conversations, evening reunions in the cottages—in those cottages where there were large families, where it was warm, and where a light was burning; where itinerant wool-carders prepared the wool, and roving tailors made winter coats. But people were not, as yet, assembling thus in the cottages, and Syery sat at home. After Kuzma had been to see him a few times he felt that it was not right to bear malice toward Syery or to make fun of him. Syery lived on what was earned by day-labour during the working season—by his wife, a peaceable, silent, rather crack-brained woman—and on what he managed to beg from Deniska (who now and then made his appearance in Durnovka with his valise, white bread, and sausage, of which he was inordinately fond, cursing the Tsar and the gentry without the slightest restraint). At the first snowfall Syery went away somewhere and was gone for a week. He returned home in a gloomy mood.

“Have you been at Rusanoff’s again?” the neighbours inquired.

“Yes, I have,” replied Syery.


“He was urging me to hire with him.”

“Just so. You did not consent?”

“More stupid than he I have never been and never shall be, for ever and a day. You don’t suppose I signed the contract with my own blood?”

And Syery sat there on the bench for a long time, without removing his cap. And the mere sight of his cottage in the twilight made one sad at heart. In the twilight, beyond the broad snow-covered ravine, Durnovka lay in melancholy blackness, with its grain-ricks and bushes in the back yards. But when darkness fully descended, and the little lights began to twinkle, it seemed as if all were peaceful and cosy in the cottages. Syery’s hut alone remained disagreeably black. It was dull, dead. Kuzma knew all about it: if you entered its half-open ante-room, you felt almost as if you were on the threshold of some wild beast’s lair. There was an odour of snow; through the holes in the roof the gloomy sky was visible; the wind rustled the manure and the dry branches which had been tossed at haphazard upon the rafters; if, by feeling about, you found the slanting wall and opened door, you would encounter cold, darkness, a frost-covered little window barely discernible through the gloom. No one was to be seen, but one could guess how things were: the master of the house was sitting on the bench—his pipe glowed with a tiny fire; the housewife was quietly rocking a squeaking cradle in which a pale child with the rickets, and drowsy with hunger, was jolting about. The brood of small children had taken refuge on top of the oven, which was barely warm, and were vivaciously narrating something to one another in a whisper. In the rotten straw beneath the sleeping-board, the goat and the suckling pig, which were great chums, were rustling about. It was necessary to bend down terribly, in order to avoid knocking one’s head on the ceiling. Then, too, you could not turn about without taking precautions: the distance between the threshold and the opposite wall was not more than five paces.

“Who’s there?” a low voice resounded from the darkness.


“It can’t be Kuzma Ilitch, can it?”

“’Tis he himself.”

Syery moves aside, makes room on the bench. Kuzma sits down and lights his pipe. Oppressed by the darkness, Syery is simple, sad, confesses to his weaknesses. Now and then his voice quivers.


THE long, snowy winter set in.

The plain, gleaming palely white beneath a bluish lowering sky, appeared broader, more spacious, and even more deserted than ever. The cottages, sheds, bushes, grain-ricks stood out sharply against the new-fallen snow. Then the blizzards began and swept the country, burying it under so much snow that the village assumed a bleak northern aspect and began to show as its black points only the doors and tiny windows, which hardly peeped out from beneath white snow caps pulled well down, from amid the white masses of the earthen banks around the houses. Following the blizzards, across the concealed grey surface of the frozen crust on the fields swept cruel winds which tore away the last remaining light-brown foliage from the unsheltered oak scrub in the ravines. And then the one-farm owner, Taras Milyaeff, who resembled a native Siberian and was as keen on hunting as a real Siberian, set forth, plunging deep into the impenetrable snowdrifts, all dotted with the footprints of hares, and the water barrels were converted into frozen blocks, and slippery ice-coated hillocks formed around the water-holes; the roads wound among snowdrifts—and the ordinary winter conditions reigned. Epidemic diseases broke out in the villages: smallpox, typhus, scarlet fever, croup. But those maladies had existed uninterruptedly in the countryside since time immemorial, during the winter season, and people had become so used to them that they made no more mention of them than they did of changes in the weather. Around the holes cut in the ice, at which all Durnovka drank, over the fetid dark bottle-green water, the peasant women stood for days at a time, bent low, with their petticoats tucked up higher than their bare blue knees: they were in wet bast-slippers, and their heads were hugely muffled. Out of their iron kettles of ashes they dragged their own grey hempen chemises, patched to the waist with calico; their husbands’ heavy breeches; their children’s soiled swaddling-cloths—rinsed them out, beat them with clothes-mallets, and screamed at one another, imparting the information that their hands were “numbed from the steam,” that at Makaroff’s homestead his wife was dying of the typhus, that Yakoff’s daughter-in-law had got her throat stopped up. The little girls capered out of the cottages, straight from the stoves, with nothing on but their tiny chemises, and round the corner on the mounds of hardened snow. The little boys, dressed in their fathers’ old clothes, slid down the hills on their rude sleds, flew head over heels, screeched, were racked with terrible coughs, and returned home at evening in a state of fever, with heavy, bewildered heads. They were so chilled that they could barely move their lips as they begged for a drink, and, after drinking, they crept tearfully upon the oven. But even the mothers paid no attention to those who were ill. And darkness settled down at three o’clock, and the shaggy dogs sat on the roofs, almost on a level with the snowdrifts. Not a soul knew on what food those dogs existed. Nevertheless they were lively, even ferocious.

People woke early in the manor-house. At daybreak in the blue darkness, when the lights began to twinkle from the cottages, they made the fires in the stoves, and through the crevices under the eaves slowly poured the thick milky smoke. In the wing, with its frozen grey window, it became as cold as in the vestibule. Kuzma was awakened by the banging of doors and the rustling of frozen, snow-coated straw which Koshel was dragging from the truck-sledge. His low, hoarse voice became audible—the voice of a man who had risen earlier than any one else, working on an empty stomach, and chilled through. The pipe of the samovar began to rattle, and the Bride conversed with Koshel in a stern whisper. She did not sleep in the servants’ quarters, where the roaches bit arms and legs until they drew blood, but in the ante-room—and the whole village was convinced that there was a good reason for this. The village knew well what the Bride had undergone in the autumn: how she had been overwhelmed with disgrace—Rodka’s death—how her mother had gone away on a begging expedition, having locked up the empty cottage. Silent, crushed by the burden of her sorrow, the Bride was more severe and mournful than a cloistered nun. But what cared the village for other people’s woes? Kuzma had already heard, from Odnodvorka, what was being said in the village, and, as he woke, he always recalled it with shame and disgust. He pounded on the wall with his fist and, clearing his throat, began to smoke a cigarette: this quieted his heart and relieved his chest. He slept under his sheepskin coat, and, loath to part with the warmth, he continued to smoke, and said to himself: “A shameless people! Why, I have a daughter almost as old as she is....” The fact that a young woman slept on the other side of the partition wall excited only paternal tenderness in him. By day she was taciturn and serious, niggardly of words, shy with the modesty of a young maiden. And when she was asleep, there was even something childlike, sad, and lonely about her. One day she fell asleep after dinner on her chest in the ante-room, her head wrapped in a hempen shawl, her legs drawn up and one knee revealed. Her feet, in their bark shoes, lay in womanly wise, and the chilled knee gleamed white like that of a little girl. And Kuzma, as he passed her, turned away and called to her, so that she woke up and covered it. But would the village believe that? Even Tikhon Ilitch did not believe it: he laughed in a very peculiar way, at times. Indeed, he always had been distrustful, suspicious, coarse in his suspicions; and now he had completely lost his head. Say what you would to him, he had one answer for everything.

“Have you heard, Tikhon Ilitch? They say that Zakrzhevsky is dying of catarrh: they have taken him to Orel.”

“Stuff and nonsense. We know what that catarrh really is!”

“But the medical man told me.”

“Believe him if it suits you—”

“I want to subscribe to a newspaper,” you would say to him. “Please let me have ten rubles of my wages on account.”

“Hm! Why does a man want to stuff his head with lies? Well, and to tell the truth, I haven’t more than fifteen or twenty kopeks in my pocket—”

The Bride would enter the room, with downcast eyes: “We have hardly any flour on hand, Tikhon Ilitch—”

“How comes that? Hardly any? Oï, you’re talking nonsense, woman!” And he would contract his brows in a frown. And while he was proving that the flour ought to last for another three days, at least, he kept darting swift glances now at Kuzma, now at the Bride. Once he even inquired, with a grin: “And how do you sleep—all right? are you warm?”

And the Bride, who was embarrassed already by his visits, blushed deeply and, bowing her head, left the room, while Kuzma’s fingers turned cold with shame and wrath.

“Shame on you, brother Tikhon Ilitch,” he blurted out, turning away to the window. “And especially after what you told me yourself—”

“But then why did she blush?” inquired Tikhon Ilitch maliciously, with a perturbed and awkward smile.


THE most unpleasant thing in the morning was—washing oneself. A frosty atmosphere was brought into the ante-room with the straw; ice that was like broken glass floated in the wash-basin. Kuzma sometimes began to drink his tea after having washed only his hands and, thus fresh from his slumbers, appeared truly an old man. Thanks to lack of cleanliness and the cold, he had grown extremely thin and grey since the autumn. His hands had grown thinner, and the skin on them had become more delicate, shiny, and covered with certain tiny purplish spots.

“The old grey horse has gone down a steep hill,” he said to himself.

It was a grey morning. Beneath the crusted grey snow the village also had become quite grey in hue by St. Philip’s Day. The frozen household linen hung like grey boards from the rafters under the roofs of the sheds. Everything round about the cottages was frozen—they poured out the slops and threw out the ashes. Tattered little urchins hurried through the streets between the cottages and sheds to school, ran up the snowdrifts and slid down them on their bark slippers; all of them had heavy crash bags containing slates and bread. From the opposite direction came aged, ailing dark-faced Tohugunok,[34] with not a trace of his former agility remaining, clad in his thin little overcoat, and bowed beneath the weight of his yoke, from which hung two buckets; stumbling along in his hideous felt boots, which had turned stiff as oaken boards, and were bound with pigskin. From drift to drift a horse dragged the water-cask, plugged with straw, rocking and splashing as it went; and behind it ran white-eyed Kobylyai—the stammerer. Women passed, on their way to borrow from one another salt, millet, a scoop of flour for griddlecakes, or a hasty pudding. The threshing-floors were deserted. Only at Yakoff’s place was smoke issuing from the gate of the kiln: in imitation of the rich peasants, he threshed during the winter. And beyond the threshing-floors, beyond the bare bushes in the back yards, beneath a low-hanging whitish sky, stretched the grey snow-covered plain, a waste of snow-crust frozen in the semblance of waves. It was in truth more cosy in the village, but the place seemed infected with the plague: almost every household had a case of smallpox or spotted typhus.

Occasionally Kuzma went to eat luncheon with Koshel in the servants’ quarters—potatoes as hot as fire itself, or the remains of the sour cabbage soup left over from the previous day. He recalled the town where he had lived all his life, and was amazed to find that he had no longing whatsoever to go back there. The town was Tikhon’s cherished dream; he scorned and hated the country with all his soul. Kuzma only tried to hate it. He now reviewed his existence with more terror than ever. He had grown thoroughly wild and unsociable in Durnovka; he did nothing, was bored, was distressed by his own idleness; frequently he omitted to wash himself; he did not take off his undercoat; he ate greedily out of one bowl with Koshel. But the worst of it all was that, while alarmed at his mode of existence, which was aging him not merely from day to day but actually from hour to hour, he was conscious that it was nevertheless agreeable to him; that he seemed to have got back into precisely that rut which, possibly, had rightly belonged to him from the day of his birth. Not for nothing, apparently, did the Durnovka blood flow in his veins! Nevertheless, that interminable Durnovka winter oppressed him to the point of pain—those cottages, the holes in the ice of the pond, the horrid little boys, the dogs on the roofs, the cold, the dirt, the sickness, the animal-like laziness of the peasant men. Nearly every day he called to mind Menshoff, Akim, Syery....

After luncheon he sometimes took a stroll over the manor-farm or in the village. He went also to Yakoff’s threshing-floor, or dropped in at the cottage of Syery or that of Koshel, whose old woman lived alone, was reputed to be a witch, was tall and frightfully emaciated, and had teeth as intrusively conspicuous as those of a skull. She spoke roughly and decisively, like a man, and smoked a pipe: she would make a fire in the stove, seat herself on the sleeping-board, and set to smoking, all by herself, swinging back and forth as she did so her long, thin leg in its heavy black bark shoe. During the entire Fast Kuzma went away from the farm only twice—once to the post-office, and once to see his brother. And those little trips were pleasant, but painful; Kuzma got so thoroughly chilled that he could not feel whether he had any feet or not. At the beginning of the autumn he had still possessed a firm glance, a tidy appearance. But the firmness of the glance had vanished, and his clothing had grown dilapidated. The collar of his shirt was reduced to a fringe, and the elbows of his coat wore through; his calfskin boots had become fairly red with rust, thin, and, in places, gaping. His sheepskin coat had served him so long that it was dotted all over with bald spots. And the wind on the plain was savage. After sitting in the house so long at Durnovka he was not able to endure the strong, fresh winter air. After prolonged inspection of the village the snowy grey expanse came as a surprise; the far distance, enveloped in blue tints of winter, seemed as a picture so beautiful that one could never gaze one’s fill. The horse dashed along smartly in the face of the harsh wind, snorting as he went; frozen lumps of snow flew from beneath his shod hoofs against the dashboard of the sledge. Koshel, with a blackish-purple frost-bitten cheek, briskly clearing his throat, sprang from the box at the slopes and leaped back into the sledge sidewise, on the run. But the wind pierced straight through him; his feet, tucked into straw that was all mixed with snow, ached and stiffened; his forehead and cheek-bones were racked with rheumatic pains. And it was so boresome in the low-ceiled post-office at Ulianovka—boresome as it can be only in official offices in the wilds. There was an odour of mildew, of sealing-wax. The ragged postman was pounding with his stamp. Grumpy Sakharoff, who resembled a gorilla, was roaring at the peasants, raging because it had not occurred to Kuzma to send him half a dozen fowls or, at least, a pud of flour; and he inquired: “What’s your name, and your family name?”—and, after rummaging in the closet, he announced with decision: “Nothing for you.” In the vicinity of Tikhon Ilitch’s house Kuzma was upset by the stench of manure fumes, which reminded him that in the world exist towns, people, newspapers, news. It was agreeable, also, to chat with his brother, to rest at his house and get warm.

But the chat never was a success. His brother was called off every minute to the shop, or about some detail of domestic management, and, besides, he could talk of nothing but his property matters, the lies, craftiness, and malice of the peasants—about the sheer necessity of getting rid of the estate as speedily as possible. Nastasya Petrovna was pitiable. Evidently she had come to fear her husband most terribly; she burst into the conversation at unseasonable moments, at equally unseasonable moments she praised him—his intelligence, his keen managerial eye, the fact that he entered into everything, every minute detail of the business, himself.

“And he’s so accessible to every one, so approachable!” she said—and Tikhon Ilitch roughly cut her short, while Kuzma did not know what to say, fearing to get mixed up in a quarrel. They had exchanged roles: now it was not he who suggested alarm, but his brother who frightened and exhorted him; it was not he but his brother who demonstrated that it was impossible to live in Russia. After an hour of that sort of conversation, Kuzma began to long to get home, to get back to the manor. “What is to become of me?” he thought in alarm, as he listened to his brother discussing the sale of the estate. And was it possible that that dreadful marriage between Deniska and the Bride would come off? And why did Tikhon so obstinately insist that the marriage must take place? “He has gone mad, he certainly has gone mad!” muttered Kuzma on his way home, as he called to mind Tikhon’s surly and malevolent face, his uncommunicativeness, his suspiciousness, and his wearisome repetition of one and the same thing over and over. He began to shout at Koshel, at the horse, feeling in a hurry to hide in his little house his sadness, his old, cold clothing, his loneliness, and his tenderness at the thought of the Bride’s sweet, sorrowful face, her womanliness and—her taciturnity. “Ekh, and how could she fail to go to ruin here!” he said sadly to himself, as he gazed through the twilight gloom at the meagre lights in Durnovka.


DURING the Christmas holidays Ivanushka, from Basovka, dropped in to see Kuzma. He was an old-fashioned peasant who had grown foolish from old age, although once on a time he had been renowned for his bear-like strength. Thickset, bent into a bow, he never lifted his shaggy dark brown head. He always walked with his toes turned inward. And he amazed Kuzma even more than had Menshoff, Akim, and Syery. In the cholera year of ’ninety-two, the whole of Ivanushka’s huge family had died. All he had left was a son, a soldier, who was now working for the railway as a line-guard, about five versts from Durnovka. Ivanushka might have passed his declining days with his son, but he preferred to roam about and ask alms. He strode lightly, in his bandy-legged way, across the farmyard, with his cap and his staff in his left hand, a bag in his right, and his head, on which the snow shone white, uncovered—and for some reason or other the sheep dogs did not growl at him. He entered the house, mumbled “May God bless this house and the master of this house,” and seated himself on the floor against the wall. Kuzma dropped his book and in amazement stared timidly at him over his eyeglasses, as if he had been some wild beast from the steppe, whose presence inside a house was a prodigy.

Silently, with downcast lashes and a slight amiable smile, the Bride made her appearance, walking lightly in her bark-slippers, gave Ivanushka a bowl of boiled potatoes and the entire corner crust of a loaf, all grey with salt, and remained standing at the door-jamb. She wore bark-slippers; she was broad and robust in the shoulders; and her handsome, faded face was so simple and old-fashioned, in the peasant style, that it seemed as if she could not possibly address Ivanushka otherwise than as “grandfather.” And, smiling for him and him alone, she did indeed say softly: “Eat, eat, grandfather.”

And he, without raising his head, and recognizing her kindliness from her voice alone, quietly wailed in reply, at times mumbling: “The Lord save ye, granddaughter!” then crossed himself broadly and awkwardly, as if his hand had been a paw, and eagerly fell to on the food. The snow melted on his dark brown hair, supernaturally thick and coarse. The water streamed down from his bark-shoes on to the floor. From his ancient dark brown fitted coat, worn over a dirty hemp-crash shirt, emanated the smoky odour of a chimneyless hovel. His hands were deformed by long toil, and his horny unbending fingers fished up the potatoes with difficulty.

“You must feel cold in that thin coat, don’t you?” inquired Kuzma, in a loud tone.

“Hey?” answered Ivanushka in a faint wail, holding his hand to his ear, which was all overgrown with hair.

“You are cold, aren’t you?”

Ivanushka thought it over. “Why cold?” he replied, pausing between his words. “Not a bit cold. ’Twas a lot colder in days gone by.”

“Lift up your head; put your hair in order!”

Ivanushka slowly shook his head.

“I can’t raise it now, brother. It drags earthward.” And with a dim smile he made an effort to lift his dreadful face, all overgrown with hair, and his tiny screwed-up eyes.

When he had finished eating he heaved a sigh, made the sign of the cross, collected the crumbs from his knees and chewed them up; then he felt about at his sides, in search of his bag, stick, and cap, and, having found them, and recovered his equanimity, he began a leisurely conversation. He was capable of sitting silent for the whole day, but Kuzma and the Bride plied him with questions, and he answered, as if asleep and from a far distance. He narrated in his clumsy, ancient language that the Tsar was made entirely of gold; that the Tsar could not eat fish—’twas exceeding salt—that once on a time the Prophet Elijah broke through the sky and tumbled down on the earth—“he was exceedingly heavy”—that John the Baptist was as shaggy as a ram when he was born, and that at his baptism he beat his godfather over the head with his iron crutch, in order that the man might “come to his senses”; that every horse, once a year, on St. Flor and St. Lavr’s Day, seeks an opportunity to kill a man. He told how in days of yore the rye had grown up so densely that it was impossible for a snake to crawl through it; how in those times they reaped at the rate of two desyatini a day for each man; how he himself had owned a gelding which was kept “on a chain,” so powerful and terrible was it; how one day sixty years agone he, Ivanushka, had had a shaft arch stolen from him for which he would not have accepted two rubles. He was firmly convinced that his family had died, not of cholera, but because after a fire they had gone to a new cottage and had passed the night in it without having first let a cock pass the night there, and that he and his son had been saved solely by accident: he had slept on the grain-rick.

Toward evening Ivanushka rose and walked away, without paying the slightest heed to what the weather was like and without yielding to all their admonitions to remain until the morrow. And he caught his death cold, and on Epiphany Day he died in his son’s guard-box. His son urged him to receive the Sacrament. Ivanushka would not consent; he said that once you received the Communion you would surely die, whereas he was firmly determined not to “yield to death.” For whole days at a time he lay unconscious; but even in his delirium he begged his daughter-in-law to say that he was not at home if Death should knock at the door. Once, at night, he came to himself, collected his forces, crept down from the top of the oven, and knelt down in front of the holy picture, illuminated by a shrine-lamp. He sighed heavily, mumbled for a long time, kept repeating: “O Lord—Dear Little Father—forgive my sins.” Then he became thoughtful and remained silent for a long time, with his head bowed on the floor. Then, all of a sudden, he rose to his feet and said firmly: “No. I will not yield!” But the next morning he noticed that his daughter-in-law was rolling out the dough for patties and heating the oven hot.

“Are you preparing for my funeral?” he asked, in a quavering voice.

His daughter-in-law made no reply. Again he collected his forces, again crawled down from the oven, and went out into the vestibule. Yes, it was true: there, upright against the wall, stood a huge purple coffin, adorned with white eight-pointed crosses. Then he remembered what had happened thirty years before, to his neighbour old Lukyan: Lukyan had fallen ill, and they had bought a coffin for him—it, too, was a fine, expensive coffin—and brought from the town flour, vodka, salted striped bass; but Lukyan went and got well. What was to be done with the coffin? How were they to justify the outlay? They cursed Lukyan about it for the space of five years thereafter, made life unendurable with their reproaches, tortured him with hunger, drove him frantic with lice and dirt. Ivanushka, recalling this, bowed his head and submissively went back into the cottage. And that night, as he lay on his back, unconscious, he began, in a trembling, plaintive voice, to sing, ever more and more softly. And suddenly he shook his knees, hiccoughed, raised his chest high with a sigh, and, with foam on his parted lips, grew cold in death....


KUZMA lay in his bed for almost a month, because of Ivanushka. On Epiphany morning people declared that a bird would freeze stiff as it flew, and Kuzma did not even possess felt boots. Nevertheless, he went to take a last look at the dead man. His hands, folded and rigid below his vast chest on a clean hempen shirt, deformed by calloused growths in the course of full eighty years of rudimentarily heavy toil, were so coarse and dreadful that Kuzma hastily turned his eyes away. And he was unable to cast even so much as a sidelong glance at Ivanushka’s hair and his dead wild-beast face. He drew the white calico up over him as speedily as possible. And from beneath the calico there suddenly was wafted a suffocatingly repulsive sweetish odour....

With a view to warming himself up, Kuzma drank some vodka and seated himself in front of the hotly flaming oven. It was warm there in the guardsman’s box, and neat as for a festival. Over the head of the spacious purple coffin, covered with calico, twinkled the golden flame of a small wax candle affixed to the dark holy picture in the corner; and a cheap wood-cut, manufactured by the Josif Brothers, glared forth in vivid colours. The soldier’s courteous wife easily lifted on her oven-fork and thrust into the oven kettles weighing at least a pud, chatted cheerfully about government, supplied fuel, and kept entreating him to remain until her husband should return from the village. But Kuzma was shaking with fever; his face burned from the vodka, which, coursing like poison through his chilled body, began to induce causeless tears to well up in his eyes. And without having got warm, he drove away across the white, strong billows of the plain, to Tikhon Ilitch. Covered with hoar-frost, the whitish-curly gelding trotted swiftly along, emitting roaring and quacking sounds, like a drake, ejecting from his nostrils columns of grey vapour. The sledge squeaked; its iron runners screeched sonorously over the hard snow. Behind Kuzma, in frozen circles, the low-hanging sun shone yellow; in front, from the North, came a wind which scorched one and cut short one’s breath. The branches which marked out the road bent under a thick, curly coating of rime; the big grey gold-hammers flew in flocks ahead of the horse, scattered over the glistening road, pecked at the frozen manure, again took flight, and again dispersed. Kuzma gazed at them through his heavy white eyelashes, feeling that his face had turned to wood, and that, with his beard and mustache like white curls, he had come to resemble a Christmastide mask. The sun was setting; the snowy billows gleamed with a death-like green in the orange glow, and blue shadows extended from their crests and crenellations. Kuzma turned his horse sharply about and drove it back, in the direction of home. The sun had set; a faint light glimmered in the house with its grey, neglected panes; the blue twilight hung over it, and it looked cold and unsociable. The bullfinch which had hung in a cage near the window, overlooking the orchard, had died—in all probability from the coarse, strong tobacco—and lay with its legs sticking up, its feathers ruffled, and its crimson beak agape.

“Done for!” said Kuzma, and picked up the bullfinch to throw out.

Durnovka, overwhelmed with frozen snow, was so far from all the world on that mournful evening, in the heart of the steppe winter, that he suddenly felt frightened by it. All was over! His burning head was confused and heavy. He would take to his bed at once, and never rise from it again.

The Bride, her bark-shoes screeching on the snow as she walked, approached the porch, carrying a pail in her hand.

“I am ill, Duniushka!” said Kuzma caressingly, in the hope of hearing from her lips a caressing word.

But the Bride replied indifferently, drily: “Shall I bring in the samovar?” And she did not even inquire what was the matter with him. Neither did she ask anything about Ivanushka.

Kuzma returned to the dark house and, shivering all over and wondering with alarm where he could now go when need compelled, lay down on the divan. And the evenings slipped into nights and the nights slipped into days, and he lost all count of them.

About three o’clock on the first night he woke up and pounded on the wall with his fist, in order to ask for a drink: he had been tormented in his sleep by thirst and the thought, had they thrown out the bullfinch? No one answered his knocking: the Bride had gone off to the servants’ quarters to pass the night. And Kuzma, conscious now, remembered that he was sick unto death, and he was overpowered by such melancholy as would have seized him in a tomb. Obviously the vestibule, which smelled of snow and straw and horse-collars, was empty! Obviously he, sick and helpless, was utterly alone in that dark, ice-cold little house, where the windows gleamed dim and grey amid the winter night, with that useless cage hanging beside them!

“O Lord, save and have mercy; O Lord, help in some way,” he murmured, pulling himself up and fumbling with trembling hands through his pockets.

He wanted to strike a match. But his whisper was feverish; something rustled and reverberated in his burning head; his hands and feet were icy cold. Klasha came, quickly threw open the door, placed his head on the pillow, and sat down on a chair by the side of the couch. She was dressed like a young lady, in a velvet cloak and a little cap and muff of white fur; her hands were scented with perfume, her eyes shone, her cheeks had turned crimson with the frost. “Ah, how well everything has come out!” some one whispered. But what was not nice was that Klasha, for some reason, had not lighted the lamp; that she had come, not to see him, but to go to Ivanushka’s funeral; that she suddenly began to sing, accompanying herself on a guitar: “Haz-Bulat, the dauntless, thy mountain hut is poor.”... Then, all at once, the whole thing vanished; he opened his eyes—and not a trace remained of that mysterious, agitating, and alarming affair which had filled his head with nonsense. Again he beheld the dark, cold room, the grey gleaming windows; he comprehended that everything around him was plain and simple, too simple—that he was ill and quite, quite alone....

In the deadly melancholy which poisoned his soul at the beginning of his illness, Kuzma had raved about the bullfinch, Klasha, Voronezh. But even in his delirium the thought had never left him that he must tell some one that they must show pity on him in one respect—they must not bury him in Kolodezy. But, my God! was it not madness to hope for pity in Durnovka? Once he came to himself in the morning, when the fire was being made in the stove—and the simple, quiet voices of Koshel and the Bride seemed to him pitiless, alien, and strange, as the life of well people always appears pitiless, alien, strange to a sick person. He tried to call out, to ask for the samovar—but remained dumb and almost fell to weeping. The angry whisper of Koshel became audible—discussing him, the sick man, of course—and the Bride’s abrupt reply: “Well, all’s up with him! He’ll die—and be buried....”

Then his melancholy began to abate. The sun, declining to the west, shone through the windows, athwart the bare branches of the acacias. The tobacco smoke hung in a blue cloud. Beside the bed sat the aged medical man, redolent of drugs and frosty freshness, pulling icicles from his mustache. On the table the samovar was bubbling, and Tikhon Ilitch, tall, grey, severe, was brewing aromatic tea as he stood by it. The medical man drank eight or ten glasses, talked about his cows, the price of flour and butter; Tikhon Ilitch described how wonderful, how expensive, Nastasya Petrovna’s funeral had been, and how glad he was that at last he had found a purchaser for Durnovka. Kuzma understood that Tikhon Ilitch had just come from the town, that Nastasya Petrovna had died there suddenly, on her way to a railway station; he understood that the funeral had cost Tikhon Ilitch frightfully dear, and that he had already taken earnest-money for Durnovka—and he was completely indifferent.


ONE day he awakened very late and, feeling neither weakness nor trembling in his legs, sat up to drink his tea. The day was overcast, warm, and much snow had fallen. Syery passed the window, making on the new snow imprints of his bark-shoes, sprinkled with tiny crosses. The sheep dogs were running beside him, sniffing at his tattered coattails. And he was leading by the bridle a tall horse of a dirty light bay colour, hideously old and skinny, its shoulders abraded by the collar; it had an in-curving back and a thin, unclean tail. The horse was limping on three legs and dragging the fourth, which was broken below the knee. Then Kuzma recalled that two days previously Tikhon Ilitch had been there, and had said that he had ordered Syery to give the dogs a treat—to find and kill an old horse; that Syery had in former days been engaged in that occupation at times—the purchase of dead or worthless cattle for their hides. A terrible thing had recently happened to Syery, Tikhon Ilitch had said: in making ready to kill a mare, Syery had forgotten to hobble her—he had merely bound her and turned her muzzle to one side—and the mare, as soon as, crossing himself, he had plunged the thin small knife into her jugular vein, had uttered a scream and, screaming, had hurled herself upon her assassin, her yellow teeth laid bare in pain and rage, streams of black blood spurting out upon the snow, and had pursued him for a long time, exactly as if she had been a man—and would have caught him but that, “luckily, the snow was deep.”

Kuzma had been so deeply impressed by this incident that now, as he glanced through the window, he felt the heaviness returning in his legs. He began to gulp down the boiling hot tea, and gradually recovered himself. He lighted his cigarette and sat for a while smoking. At last he rose, went into the ante-room, and looked out at the bare, sparse orchard through the window, which had thawed. In the orchard, on the snow-white pall of the meadow, a high-ribbed, bloody carcass with a long neck and a crushed head stood out redly. The dogs, their backs all hunched up and their paws braced on the meat, were greedily tearing out and dragging away the entrails. Two aged blackish-grey crows were hopping sidewise toward the head, and had started to fly thither, when the dogs, snarling, darted upon them; and once more they alighted on the virginally pure snow. “Ivanushka, Syery, the crows—” Kuzma said to himself. “Perhaps those crows can recall the times of Ivan the Terrible. O Lord, save and show mercy—take me away from here!”

Kuzma’s indisposition did not leave him for another fortnight. The thought of spring affected him both mournfully and joyfully; he longed to get away from Durnovka as speedily as possible. He knew that the end of winter was not yet in sight; but the thaw had already set in. The first week of February was dark and foggy. The fog covered the plain and devoured the snow. The village turned black; water stood between the dirty snowdrifts; the village policeman drove through the village one day, his horses hitched tandem, all spattered with horse droppings. The cocks took to crowing; through the ventilators penetrated a disturbing spring-like dampness. He wanted to go on living; to go on living and wait for the spring, his removal to the town; to live on, submitting to fate, and to do any sort of work whatsoever, if only to earn a single bit of bread. And to work, of course, for his brother—regardless of what he was like. Why, his brother had proposed to him while he was ill that they should move over to Vorgol. “Why should I turn you out of doors?” he had said after pondering the matter.—“I’m giving up the shop and the homestead on the first of March: let’s go to the town, brother, as far as possible from these cutthroats.”

And it was true: cutthroats they were. Odnodvorka had come in and imparted the particulars of a recent encounter with Syery. Deniska had returned from Tula, and had been knocking about without work, gabbling about the village that he wanted to marry; that he had no money, but would soon earn some of first-class quality. At first the village had pronounced these tales absurd nonsense; then, following Deniska’s hints, it had come to understand the drift of the matter and had believed him. Syery, too, had believed him, and began to curry favour with his son. But after slaying the horse and receiving a ruble from Tikhon Ilitch and securing half a ruble for the skin, he had begun to chatter incautiously and had gone on a spree. He drank for two days, and lost his pipe, and lay down on the oven to recover. His head ached, and he had nothing in which to put tobacco for a smoke. So, to make cigarettes, he began to peel the ceiling, which Deniska had pasted over with newspapers and divers pictures. He did his peeling on the sly, of course; but nevertheless, one day, Deniska caught him at it. He caught him and began to roar at him. Syery, being intoxicated, began to roar in return. Thereupon, Deniska pulled him off the oven and thrashed him within an inch of his life, until the neighbors rushed in. Peace was concluded on the evening of the following day, it is true, over cracknels and vodka; but, as Kuzma said to himself, was not Tikhon Ilitch a cut-throat also when he insisted, with the obstinacy of a crazy man, on the marriage of the Bride to one of these cutthroats?

When Kuzma first heard about that marriage, he firmly made up his mind that he would not permit it. What a horror, what folly! But later on, when he recovered consciousness during his illness, he actually rejoiced over this foolish idea. He had been surprised and impressed by the indifference which the Bride had displayed toward him, a sick man. “A beast, a savage!” he had said to himself; and, calling to mind the wedding, he had added spitefully: “And that’s capital! That’s exactly what she deserves!” Now, after his illness, both his decision and his wrath disappeared. He managed to get into conversation with the Bride about Tikhon Ilitch’s intentions; and she replied calmly:

“Well, yes, I did have some talk about that affair with Tikhon Ilitch. God grant him good health for such a fine idea!”

“A fine idea?” said Kuzma in amazement.

The Bride looked at him and shook her head. “Well, and why isn’t it fine? Great heavens, but you are queer, Kuzma Ilitch! He offers money, and takes the expense of the wedding on himself. Then again, he has not picked out some widower or other, but a young, unmarried man, without vices—neither rotten nor a drunkard—”

“But he’s a sluggard, a bully, a downright fool,” added Kuzma.

The Bride dropped her eyes and made no reply. Heaving a sigh, she turned and went toward the door.

“As you like,” she said, her voice trembling. “’Tis your affair. Break it off—God help you—”

Kuzma opened his eyes very wide and shouted: “Stop! have you lost your senses? Do you think I wish you ill?”

The Bride turned round and halted. “And isn’t it wishing me ill?” she said hotly and roughly, her cheeks flushing and her eyes blazing. “What is to become of me, according to your idea? Am I to go on for ever as an outcast, at the thresholds of other people’s houses? Eating the crusts of strangers? Wandering about, a homeless beggar? Or am I to hunt up some old widower? Haven’t I swallowed tears enough already?”

And her voice broke. She fell to weeping and left the room. In the evening Kuzma tried to convince her that he had no intention of breaking up the affair, and at last she believed him and smiled a friendly, reserved smile.

“Well, thank you,” she said in the pleasant tone which she used to Ivanushka.

But at this point the tears began to quiver on her eyelashes, and once more Kuzma gave up in despair. “What’s the matter now?” said he.

And the Bride answered softly: “Well, perhaps Deniska is not much of a joy—”

Koshel brought from the post-office a newspaper nearly six weeks old. The days were dark and foggy, and Kuzma read from morning till night, seated at the window.

And when he had finished and had made himself dizzy with the number of fresh executions, he was benumbed. Heretofore he had been suffocated with rage when he read the newspapers—futile rage, because human receptivity was unequal to taking in what one read there. Now his fingers grew cold—nothing more. Yes, yes, there was nothing to get excited about. Everything went as if according to programme. Everything fitted together perfectly. He raised his head: the sleet was driving in white slanting lines, falling upon the black, miserable little village, on the muddy roads with their hillocks and hollows, on the horse-dung, the ice, and the pools of water. A twilight mist concealed the boundless plain—all that vast empty space with its snows, forests, settlements, towns—the kingdom of cold and of death.

“Avdotya!” shouted Kuzma, as he rose to his feet. “Tell Koshel to harness the horse to the sledge. I’m going to my brother’s....”


TIKHON ILITCH was at home. In a Russian shirt of cotton print, huge and powerful, swarthy of countenance, with white beard and grey frowning brows, he was sitting with the samovar and brewing himself some tea.

“Ah! how are you, brother?” he exclaimed in welcome, but with his brows still contracted. “So you have crawled out through God’s snow? Look out: isn’t it rather early?”

“I was so deadly bored, brother,” replied Kuzma, as they kissed each other.

“Well, if you were bored, come and warm yourself and we’ll have a chat....”

After questioning each other as to whether there were any news, they began in silence to drink tea, after which they started to smoke.

“You are growing very thin, dear brother!” remarked Tikhon Ilitch as he inhaled his smoke and scrutinized Kuzma with a sidelong glance.

“One does get thin,” replied Kuzma quietly. “Don’t you read the newspapers?”

Tikhon Ilitch smiled. “That nonsense? No, God preserve me.”

“If you only knew how many executions there are!”

“Executions? That’s all right. Haven’t you heard what happened near Eletz? At the farm of the Bykoff brothers? Probably you remember—those fellows who can’t pronounce their letters right? Well, those Bykoffs were sitting, just as you and I are sitting together now, playing checkers one evening. Suddenly—what was it? There was a stamping on the porch and a shout of ‘Open the door!’ Well, brother, and before those Bykoffs had time to blink an eye, in rolls their labourer, a peasant after the pattern of Syery, and behind him two scalawags of some breed or other—hooligan adventurers, in a word. And all of them armed with crowbars. They brandished their crowbars and began to yell: ‘Put up your hands, curse your mother’s memory!’ Of course, the Bykoffs were thoroughly scared—scared to death—and they leaped to their feet and shouted: ‘What’s the meaning of this?’ And their nice little peasant yells, ‘Put ’em oop, put ’em oop!’” Here Tikhon Ilitch smiled, became thoughtful, and stopped talking.

“Well, tell the rest of it,” said Kuzma.

“There’s nothing more to tell. They stuck up their hands, as a matter of course, and asked: ‘What do you want?’ ‘Give us some ham! Where are your keys?’ ‘Damn you! As if you didn’t know! There they are yonder, on the door lintel, hanging on the nail.’”

“And they said that with their hands raised?” interrupted Kuzma.

“Of course they had their hands raised. And those men are going to pay heavily for those upraised hands! They’ll be hanged, naturally. They are already in jail, the dear creatures—”

“Are they going to hang them on account of the ham?”

“No! for the fun of it, Lord forgive me for my sin,” retorted Tikhon Ilitch, half angrily, half in jest. “For the love of God, do stop talking balderdash and trying to pretend you’re a Balashkin! ’Tis time to drop that.”

Kuzma pulled at his grey beard. His haggard, emaciated face, his mournful eyes, his left brow, which slanted upward, all were reflected in the mirror, and as he looked at himself he silently assented.

“Talking balderdash? Truly it is time—I ought to have dropped that long ago....”

Then Tikhon Ilitch turned the conversation to business. Evidently he had been thinking things over a little while previously, during the story, merely because something far more important than executions had occurred to him—a bit of business.

“Here now, I’ve already told Deniska that he is to finish off that music as soon as possible,” he began firmly, clearly, and sternly, sifting tea into the teapot from his fist. “And I beg you, brother, to take a hand in it also—in that music. It is awkward for me, you understand. And after it is over, you can move over here. ’Twill be comfortable, brother! Once we have made up our mind to change our entire investment, down to the last scrap, there’s no sense in your stopping on there with nothing to do. It only doubles the expense. And once we have removed elsewhere, why, get into harness alongside me. Once we have shifted the burden from our shoulders, we’ll go off to the town, God willing, to amass grain, and we’ll get into real business. And then we’ll never come back to this hole of a place again. We’ll shake the dust of it from our feet, and it may go to hell for all I care. I don’t propose to rot in it! Bear in mind,” he said, contracting his brows in a frown, stretching out his arms, and clenching his fists, “you can’t wrest things out of my grasp yet a while. ’Tis too early for me to take to lying on top of the oven! I’m still capable of ripping the horns off the devil himself!”

Kuzma listened, staring almost in terror at his fixed, fairly crazed eyes, at his mouth set awry, at his words distinctly uttered in a rapacious sort of way—listened and held his peace. Later on he inquired: “Brother, tell me, for Christ’s sake, what profit to you is there in this marriage? I don’t understand; God is my witness, I don’t understand it. I can’t bear even the sight of that Deniska of yours. That’s a new type—new Russia will be worse than all the old types. Don’t you make any mistake, thinking he is bashful and sentimental and only pretends to be a fool: he’s an extremely cynical beast. People are saying of me that I am living with the Bride—”

“Well, you don’t know moderation in anything,” interrupted Tikhon Ilitch with a frown. “You’re for ever hammering away at the same thing: ‘an unhappy nation, an unhappy nation!’ And now—you call them brutes!”

“Yes, I do hammer at that idea, and I shall go on hammering at it!” Kuzma broke in hotly. “But I’ve lost my wits completely! Nowadays I don’t understand at all: whether it is an unhappy nation, or— Come now, listen to me. You know you hate that man yourself, that Deniska! You both hate each other! He never speaks of you except to call you a ‘bloodsucker who has gnawed himself into the very vitals of the people,’ and here you are calling him a bloodsucker! He is boasting insolently about the village that now he is the equal of the king!”

“Well, I know that,” Tikhon Ilitch again interrupted.

“But do you know what he is saying about the Bride?” went on Kuzma, not listening to him. “She’s handsome—she has, you know, such a white, delicate complexion—but he, the stupid animal—do you know what he is saying about her? ‘She’s all enameled, the trollop!’ And, by this time, you must understand one thing: he certainly will not live in the village. You couldn’t keep that vagabond in the country now with a lasso. What sort of a farmer and what sort of a family man do you suppose he’ll be? Yesterday, I heard, he was roaming about the village and singing in a lewd voice: ‘She’s beautiful as an angel from heaven, as sly as a damon from hell.’”

“I know it!” yelled Tikhon Ilitch. “He won’t live in the country—not for any consideration on earth, he won’t! Well, and devil take him! And as for his being no sort of a farmer, you and I are nice farmers ourselves, ain’t we? I remember how I was talking to you about business—in the eating-house, do you remember?—and all the while you were listening to that quail. Well, go on; what comes next?”

“What do you mean? What has the quail to do with it?” inquired Kuzma.

Tikhon Ilitch began to drum on the table with his fingers and said sternly, uttering each word with great distinctness: “Bear in mind: if you grind water, you’ll be left with just water as the result. My word is sacred to ages of ages. Once I have said I’ll do a thing—I’ll do it. I won’t set a candle before the holy picture in atonement for my sin, but I’ll do a good deed instead. Although I may give only a mite, the Lord will remember me for that mite.”

Kuzma sprang from his seat. “The Lord, the Lord!” he cried, in a falsetto tone. “What has the Lord to do with that affair of yours? What can the Lord mean to Deniska, to Akimka, to Menshoff, to Syery, to you, or to me?”

“Eh?” inquired Tikhon Ilitch severely. “What Akimka is that you’re talking about?”

“When I lay there dying,” pursued Kuzma, paying no heed to him, “did I think very much about Him? I thought just one thing: ‘I don’t know anything about Him, and I don’t know how to think’!” shouted Kuzma. “I’m an ignorant man!”

And glancing about him with roving, suffering eyes, as he buttoned and unbuttoned his coat, he strode across the room and halted directly in front of Tikhon Ilitch.

“Remember this, brother,” he said, his cheek-bones reddening. “Remember this: your life and mine are finished. And no candles on earth will save us. Do you hear? We are—Durnovka folk. We’re neither candle for God nor oven-fork for the devil.” And, unable to find words in his agitation, he fell silent.

But Tikhon Ilitch had again thought of something, and suddenly assented: “Correct. ’Tis a good-for-nothing people! Just you consider—” And, animated, carried away by his new idea:

“Just you consider: they’ve been tilling the soil for a whole thousand years—what am I saying? for longer than that!—but how to till the soil properly not a soul of them understands! They don’t know how to do their one and only business! They don’t know the proper time to begin field work! Nor when to sow, nor when to reap! ‘As the people always have done, so will we always do’—that’s the whole story. Note that!” Contracting his brows, he shouted sternly, as Kuzma had recently shouted at him. “‘As the people always have done, so will we always do!’ Not a single peasant woman knows how to bake bread—the top crust is burned as black as the devil and falls off, and underneath that crust—there’s nothing but sour water!”

Kuzma was dumbfounded. His thoughts were reduced to a jumble. “He has lost his senses!” he said to himself, with uncomprehending eyes watching his brother, who was lighting the lamp.

But Tikhon Ilitch, giving him no time to recover himself, continued wrathfully: “The people! Lewd, lazy, liars, and so shameless that not one of them believes another! Note this,” he roared, not perceiving that the lighted wick was smoking and the soot billowing up almost to the ceiling. “’Tis not us they refuse to trust, but one another! And they are all like that—every one of them!” he shouted in a tearful voice, as he jammed the chimney on the lamp with a crash.

The outdoor light was beginning to filter blue through the windows. New, fresh snow was fluttering down on the pools of water and the snowdrifts. Kuzma gazed at it and held his peace. The conversation had taken such an unexpected turn that even Kuzma’s eagerness had vanished. Not knowing what to say, unable to bring himself to look at his brother’s furious eyes, he began to roll himself a cigarette.

“He has gone crazy!” he said to himself despairingly. “Well, so be it! It makes no difference! Nothing—nothing makes any difference. Enough!”

He began to smoke, and Tikhon Ilitch also began to calm down. He seated himself and, staring at the lamp, muttered softly: “You were talking about ‘Deniska.’ Have you heard what Makar Ivanovitch, that pilgrim fellow, has been up to? He and that friend of his caught a peasant woman on the road and dragged her to the sentry-box at Kliutchiki, and kept her there for four days, visiting her in turn. Well, and now they are in jail—”

“Tikhon Ilitch,” said Kuzma amiably, “why do you talk nonsense? What’s the object? You must be feeling ill. You keep jumping from one thing to another; now you assert one thing, a minute later you assert something different. Are you drinking too much, perhaps?”

Tikhon Ilitch remained silent for a while. He merely waved his hand, and tears trembled in his eyes, which were riveted on the flame of the lamp.

“Are you drinking?” repeated Kuzma quietly.

“Yes, I am,” quietly replied Tikhon Ilitch. “And ’tis enough to make any one take to drink! Has it been easy for me to acquire this golden cage, think you? Do you imagine that it has been easy for me to live like a chained hound all my life, and with my old woman into the bargain? I have never shown any pity to any one, brother. Well, and has any one shown the least pity on me? Do you think I don’t know how I am hated? Do you think they wouldn’t have murdered me in some fashion if those peasants had once got the breeching under their tail in proper style? If they had had luck in that revolution? Wait a bit, wait— There’ll be something doing; it’s coming! We have cut their throats!”

“And they are to be hanged—on account of a little ham?” asked Kuzma.

“Well, as for the hanging,” replied Tikhon Ilitch in agonized tones, “why, I just said the first thing that came to my tongue—”

“But they certainly will hang them!”

“Well—and that’s no affair of ours. They must answer for that to the Most High.” And, frowning, he fell into thought and closed his eyes. “Ah!” he said contritely, with a profound sigh. “Ah, my dear brother! Soon, very soon, we also must appear before His throne for judgment! I read the Trebnik[35] of an evening, and I weep and I wail over that same book. I am greatly amazed; how was it possible to invent such sweet words? But here, wait a minute—”

And he rose hastily, drew from behind the mirror a thick book in ecclesiastical binding, with trembling hands donned his spectacles, and with tears in his voice began to read, hurriedly, as if he feared to be interrupted.

“‘I weep and I wail when I think upon death, and behold our beauty, fashioned after the image of God, lying in the tomb disfigured, dishonoured, bereft of form....

“‘Of a truth, all things are vanity, and life is but a shadow and a dream. For in vain doth every one who is born of earth disquiet himself, as saith the Scriptures: when we have acquired the world, then do we take up our abode in the grave, where kings and beggars lie down together....’

“‘Kings and beggars!’” repeated Tikhon Ilitch with ecstatic melancholy, and shook his head. “Life is over, dear brother! I had, you understand, a dumb cook; I gave her, the stupid thing, a kerchief from foreign parts; and what does she do but take and wear it completely to rags, wrong side out! Do you understand? Out of stupidity and greed. She begrudged wearing it right side out on ordinary days—and when a feast-day came along nothing was left of it but rags. And that’s exactly the way it is with me and with my life. ’Tis truly so!”

On returning to Durnovka Kuzma was conscious of only one feeling—a certain dull agony. And all the last days of his stay at Durnovka were passed in that dull agony.


DURING those days snow fell, and they were only waiting for that snow at Syery’s farmstead, so that the road might be in order for the celebration of the wedding.

On the twelfth of February, towards evening, in the gloom of the cold entrance lobby, a low-toned conversation was in progress. Beside the stove stood the Bride, a yellow kerchief besprinkled with black polka-dots pulled well down on her forehead, staring at her bark-shoes. By the door stood short-legged Deniska, hatless, in a heavy undercoat, with drooping shoulders. He, too, was gazing downward, at some women’s high shoes with metal tips, which he was twisting about in his hands. The boots belonged to the Bride. Deniska had mended them, and had come to receive five kopeks for his work.

“But I haven’t got it,” the Bride was saying, “and I think Kuzma Ilitch is taking a nap. Just you wait until to-morrow.”

“I can’t possibly wait,” replied Deniska in a sing-song, meditative voice, as he picked at the metal tip with his finger nail.

“Well, what are we going to do about it?”

Deniska reflected, sighed, and, shaking back his thick hair, suddenly raised his head. “Well, and what’s the good of wagging one’s tongue for nothing?” he said loudly and decisively, without glancing at the Bride, and mastering his shyness. “Has Tikhon Ilitch said anything to you?”

“Yes, he has,” replied the Bride. “He has downright bored me with his talk.”

“In that case I will come at once with my father. It won’t hurt Kuzma Ilitch to get up immediately and drink tea—”

The Bride thought it over. “That’s as you like—”

Deniska set the shoes on the window-sill and went away, without making any further mention of money. And half an hour later the knocking of bark-shoes coated with snow became audible on the porch. Deniska had returned with Syery—and Syery, for some unknown reason, was girt about the hips, over his kazak coat, with a red belt. Kuzma came out to receive them. Deniska and Syery crossed themselves for a long time toward the dark corner, then tossed back their hair and raised their faces.

“Matchmaker or not, yet a fine man!” began Syery without haste, in an unusually easy and pleasant tone. “You have an adopted daughter to marry off. I have a son who wants a wife. In good agreement, for their happiness, let us discuss the matter between us.”

“But she has a mother, you know,” said Kuzma.

“Her mother is no housewife; she’s a homeless widow, her cottage is dilapidated, and no one knows where she is,” replied Syery, still maintaining his tone. “Consider her as an orphan!” And he made a low, stately reverence.

Repressing a sickly smile, Kuzma ordered the Bride to be summoned.

“Run, hunt her up,” Syery commanded Deniska, speaking in a whisper as if they were in church.

“Here I am,” said the Bride, emerging from behind the door in back of the stove and bowing to Syery.

Silence ensued. The samovar, which stood on the floor, its grating glowing red through the darkness, boiled and bubbled. Their faces were not visible, but it could be felt that all of them were perturbed.

“Well, daughter, how is it to be? decide,” said Kuzma.

The Bride reflected.

“I have nothing against the young man—”

“And how about you, Deniska?”

Deniska also remained silent. “Well, anyhow, I’ve got to marry some time or other. Possibly, with God’s aid, this will go all right—”

Thereupon the two matchmakers exchanged congratulations on the affair’s having been begun. The samovar was carried away to the servants’ hall. Odnodvorka, who had learned the news earlier than all the rest and had run over from the promontory, lighted the small lamp in the servants’ hall, sent Koshel off for vodka and sunflower seeds, seated the bride and the bridegroom beneath the holy pictures, poured them out tea, sat down herself alongside Syery, and, in order to banish the awkwardness, started to sing in a high, sharp voice, glancing the while at Deniska and his long eyelashes:

“When in our little garden,

Amid our grape vines green,

There walked and roamed a gallant youth,

Comely of face, and white, so white....”

But Kuzma wandered to and fro from corner to corner in the dark hall, shaking his head, wrinkling up his face and muttering: “Aï, great heavens! Aï, what a shame, what folly, what a wretched affair!”

On the following day, every one who had heard from Syery about this festival grinned and offered him advice: “You might help the young couple a bit!” Koshel said the same: “They are a young couple starting life, and young people ought to be helped!” Syery went off home in silence. Presently he brought to the Bride, who was ironing in the ante-room, two iron kettles and a hank of black bread. “Here, dear little daughter-in-law,” he said in confusion, “take these; your mother-in-law sends them. Perhaps they may be of use. I haven’t anything else—if I had had, I would have jumped out of my shirt with joy!”

The Bride bowed and thanked him. She was ironing a curtain, sent by Tikhon Ilitch “in lieu of a veil,” and her eyes were wet and red. Syery tried to comfort her, saying that things weren’t honey-sweet with him, either; but he hesitated, sighed, and, placing the kettles on the window-sill, went away. “I have put the thread in the littlest kettle,” he mumbled.

“Thanks, batiushka,” the Bride thanked him once more, in that same kindly and special tone which she had used only toward Ivanushka; and the moment Syery was gone she suddenly indulged in a faint ironic smile and began to sing:

“When in our little garden ...”

Kuzma thrust his head out of the hall and looked sternly at her over the top of his eyeglasses. She subsided into silence.

“Listen to me,” said Kuzma. “Perhaps you would like to drop this whole business?”

“It’s too late, now,” replied the Bride in a low voice. “As it is, one can’t get rid of the disgrace. Doesn’t everybody know whose money will pay for the feast? And we have already begun to spend it.”

Kuzma shrugged his shoulders. It was true: Tikhon Ilitch, along with the window-curtain, had sent twenty-five rubles, a sack of fine wheaten flour, millet, a skinny pig. But there was no reason why she should ruin her life simply because they had already killed the pig!

“Okh!” said Kuzma. “How you have tortured me! ‘Disgraced’! ‘we’ve spent it’— Are you cheaper than the pig?”

“Whether I’m cheaper or not, what is done is done—the dead are not brought back from the cemetery,” firmly and simply replied the Bride; and, sighing, she folded the warm, freshly-ironed curtain neatly. “Will you have your dinner immediately?” Her face was calm.

“Well, that settles it! You can do nothing with her!” thought Kuzma, and he said: “Well, manage your affairs as you see fit—”


AFTER he had dined he smoked and looked out of the window. It had grown dark. He knew that in the servants’ wing they were already baking the twisted buns of rye flour—the “ceremonial patties.” They were making ready to boil two kettles of fish in jelly, a kettle of vermicelli-paste, a kettle of sour cabbage soup, a kettle of buckwheat groats—all fresh from the slaughter-house. And Syery was making himself very busy on a hillock of snow between the storehouses and the shed. On the snow-mound, in the bluish shades of twilight, there blazed with an orange-coloured flame the straw with which they had surrounded the slaughtered pig. Around the fire, awaiting their prey, sat the sheep dogs. Their muzzles shone white; their breasts were of a silky rose hue. Syery, stamping through the snow, ran hither and thither, mending the fire, swinging his arms at the dogs. He had tucked up high the tails of his coat, thrusting them into his belt, and kept pushing his cap to the back of his head with the wrists of his right hand, in which glittered a knife. Fleetingly and brilliantly illuminated, now from this side, now from that, Syery cast a huge, dancing shadow on the snow—the shadow of a pagan. Then, past the storehouse along the footpath leading to the village, ran Odnodvorka, and disappeared beneath the snow-mound—to summon the women for the ceremonial rites and to ask Domashka for the fir-tree, carefully preserved in her cellar and passed on from one bride’s party to another on the eve of the wedding. And when Kuzma, after brushing his hair and changing his round jacket with the ragged elbows for the conventional long-tailed frock coat, had donned his overcoat and emerged upon the porch, all white with the falling snow in the soft grey gloom, a large crowd of children, little girls and boys, were still outlined blackly against the lighted windows; they were screaming and talking, and three accordions were being played simultaneously, and all playing different tunes. Kuzma, his shoulders hunched, picking at his fingers and cracking them, stepped up to the crowd, pushed his way through it, and, bending low, disappeared into the darkness of the ante-room. It was full of people, crowded even, in that entry-way. Small urchins darted about between people’s legs, were seized by the scruff of the neck and thrust outside—whereupon they promptly crawled back again.

“Come now, let me in, for God’s sake!” said Kuzma, who was squeezed tightly in the doorway.

They squeezed him all the harder—and some one jerked open the door. Surrounded by jets of vapour, he crossed the threshold and came to a halt at the jamb. At that point the better-class people were congregated—maidens in flowered shawls, children in complete new outfits. There was an odour of woven goods, fur coats, kerosene, cheap tobacco, and evergreens. A small green tree, decorated with scraps of red cotton cloth, stood on the table, its branches outstretched above the dim tin lamp. Around the table beneath the moist little windows, which had thawed out, along the damp blackened walls, sat the ceremonial women, festively adorned, their faces coarsely painted red and white. Their eyes flashed. All wore silk and woolen kerchiefs on their heads, with drooping rainbow-tinted feathers from the tail of a drake stuck into their hair at the temples. Just as Kuzma entered, Domashka, a lame girl with a dark, malicious, and intelligent face, sharp black eyes, and black eyebrows which met over her nose, had struck up in a rough, hoarse voice the ancient “exaltation” song:

“At our house in the evening, fully evening,

At the very last end of the evening,

At Avdotya’s betrothal feast....”

In a dense, discordant chorus the maidens repeated her last words. And all turned toward the Bride. She was sitting, in accordance with custom, by the stove, her hair flowing loose, her head covered with a large dark shawl; and she was bound to answer the song with loud weeping and wailing: “My own dear father, my own mother dear, how am I to live forevermore thus grieving with woe in marriage?” But the Bride uttered never a word. And the maidens, having finished their song, involuntarily regarded her askance. They began to whisper among themselves, and, frowning, they slowly, in a drawling tone, struck up the “orphan’s song”:

“Heat yourself hot, you little bath,

Ring out, you sonorous bell!”

And Kuzma’s tightly clenched jaws began to quiver; a chill darted through his head and his legs; his cheek-bones ached agreeably, and his eyes were filled and dimmed with tears.

“Stop that, you girls!” some one shouted.

“Stop it, my dear, stop it!” cried Odnodvorka, slipping down from the bench. “’Tis unseemly.”

But the girls did not obey:

“Ring out, you sonorous bell,

Awaken my father dear....”

And the Bride began, with a groan, to fall face down on her knees, on her arms, and choked with tears. She was led away at last, trembling, staggering, and shrieking, to the cold summer half of the cottage, to be dressed.

After that was done, Kuzma bestowed the blessing on her. The bridegroom arrived with Vaska, Yakoff’s son. The bridegroom had donned the latter’s boots; his hair had been freshly clipped short; his neck, encircled by the collar of a blue shirt with lace, had been shaved to redness. He had washed himself with soap, and appeared much younger; he was even not at all ill looking, and, conscious of that fact, he had drooped his dark eyelashes in dignified and modest fashion.

Vaska, his best man, in red shirt and knee-length fur coat worn unbuttoned, with his hair close-cut, pock-marked, robust, resembled a convict, as usual. He entered, frowned, and darted a sidelong look at the ceremonial girls.

“Stop that yowling!” he said roughly and peremptorily. “Get out of here. Begone!”

The girls answered him in chorus: “Without the Trinity a house cannot be built, without four corners the cottage cannot be roofed. Place a ruble at each corner, a fifth ruble in the middle, and a bottle of vodka.” Vaska pulled a bottle out of his pocket and set it on the table. The girls took it and rose to their feet. The crowd had become more dense than ever. Once more the door flew open, once more there were steam and cold. Odnodvorka entered, carrying a tinsel-adorned holy picture and thrusting the people out of her way, followed by the Bride in a blue dress with a basque. Every one uttered an exclamation of admiration, she was so pale, gentle, quiet, and lovely. Vaska, with the back of his fist, administered a resounding blow on the forehead of a broad-shouldered, big-headed urchin whose legs were as crooked as those of a dachshund; then he flung upon the straw in the centre of the cottage some one’s old short fur coat. Upon it the bride and groom were placed. Kuzma, without lifting his head, took the holy picture from the hands of Odnodvorka. It became so quiet that the whistling breath of the inquisitive big-headed lad was audible. Bride and bridegroom fell on their knees simultaneously and bowed down to Kuzma’s feet. They rose, and once more knelt down. Kuzma glanced at the Bride; and in their eyes, which met for an instant, there was a flash of horror. Kuzma turned pale, said to himself in terror: “In another minute I shall throw this holy picture on the floor.” But his hands mechanically made the sign of the cross with the ikona in the air; and the Bride, barely touching her lips to it, fastened them on his hand and timidly reached up to his lips. He thrust the holy picture into the hands of some one beside him, grasped the Bride’s head with paternal pain and tenderness, and, as he kissed her new, fragrant headkerchief, burst into sweet tears. Then, seeing nothing because of his tears, he turned away and, thrusting the people out of his path, strode into the vestibule. It was already deserted. The snow-laden wind beat in his face. The snow-covered threshold shone white through the darkness. The roof was humming. Beyond the threshold an impenetrable blizzard was raging; and the snow, falling out of the tiny window recesses from the sheer weight of the drifts, hung like columns of smoke in the air.


WHEN morning came the blizzard was still raging. In that grey whirling tempest neither Durnovka nor the windmill on the promontory was visible. Once in a while it grew brighter, once in a while the light became like that at nightfall. The orchard was all white, and its roar mingled with the roar of the wind, in which one kept imagining the peal of bells. The sharp-pointed apexes of the snowdrifts were smoking. From the porch, on which, with eyes screwed up, scenting athwart the chill of the blizzard the savoury aroma from the chimney of the servant’s wing, sat the watchdogs, all coated with snow. Kuzma was barely able to make out the dark, misty forms of the peasants, their horses, sledges, the jingling of the sleighbells. Two horses had been hitched to the bridegroom’s sledge; one horse was allotted to that of the bride. The sledges were covered with kazan felt lap robes with black patterns on the ends. The participants in the ceremonial procession had girt themselves with sashes of divers hues. The women, who had donned wadded coats and wrapped their heads in shawls, walked to the sledges circumspectly, taking tiny steps, ceremoniously remarking: “Heavens, God’s daylight is not visible!” Rarely was a woman garbed in her own clothes: everything had been collected among the neighbours. Accordingly, special caution was needed not to fall, and they lifted their long skirts as high as possible. The bride’s fur coat and her blue gown had been turned up over her head, and she sat in the sledge protected only by her white petticoat. Her head, adorned with a small wreath of paper flowers, was enveloped in undershawls. She had become so weak from her weeping that she saw as in a dream the dark figures through the blizzard, heard its roar, the conversation, and the festive pealing of the small bells. The horses laid their ears flat and tossed their muzzles from side to side to escape the snow-laden gale; and it bore away the chatter and the shouts of command, glued eyes tightly together, whitened mustaches, beards, and caps, and the groomsmen had difficulty in recognizing one another in the darkness and gloom.

“Ugh, damn it all!” exclaimed Vaska as he ducked his head, gathered up the reins, and took his seat beside the bridegroom. And he shouted roughly, indifferently, into the teeth of the storm: “Messrs. boyars, bestow your blessing on the bridegroom, that he may go in search of his bride!”

Some one made answer: “May God bless him.”

Then the sleighbells began to wail, the runners to screech; the snowdrifts, as the runners cut through them, turned to smoke and small whirlwinds; the forelocks, manes, and tails of the horses were blown to one side....

At the church-warden’s house in the village, where they warmed themselves up while waiting for the priest, all became well suffocated. In the church, also, there was the odour of fire-gas, cold, and gloom, thanks to the blizzard, the low ceilings, and the gratings in the windows. Lighted candles were held only by the bridegroom and the bride and in the hand of the swarthy priest. He had big cheek-bones, and he bent low over his book, which was all bespattered with wax-droppings, and read hurriedly through his spectacles. On the floor stood pools of water—much snow had been brought in on their boots and bark-shoes. The wind from the open door blew on their backs. The priest glanced sternly now at the door, again at the groom and bride—at their tense forms, prepared for anything that might present itself; at their faces, congealed, as it were, in obedience and submission, illuminated from below by the golden gleam of candles. From habit, he pronounced some words as if he felt them, making them stand out apart from the touching prayers; but in reality he was thinking not at all of the words or of those to whom they were applied.

“‘O God most pure, the Creator of every living thing,’” he said hastily, now lowering, now raising his voice. “‘Thou who didst bless Thy servant Abraham, and, opening the womb of Sarah ... who didst give Isaac unto Rebecca ... who didst join Jacob unto Rachel ... vouchsafe unto these Thy servants....’”

“Name—?” he interrupted himself in a stern whisper, without altering the expression of his countenance, addressing the lay reader. And, having caught the answer, “Denis, Avdotya,” he continued, with feeling:

“‘Vouchsafe unto these Thy servants, Denis and Evdokhia, a peaceful life, length of days, chastity ... grant that they may behold their children’s children ... and give them of the dew of heaven from on high.... Fill their houses with wheat and wine and oil ... exhalt thou them like unto the cedars of Lebanon....’”

But even if those who were present had listened to him and understood, they would have been thinking of the blizzard, the strange horses, the return home through the twilight to Durnovka, Syery’s house—and not of Abraham and Isaac. And they would have grinned at comparing Deniska to a cedar of Lebanon. And it was awkward for Deniska himself, his short legs encased in borrowed boots, his body clad in an old undercoat, to admit that the bride was taller than he; it was awkward and terrible to bear on his motionless head the imperial crown[36]—a huge brass crown with a cross on top, resting far down on his very ears. And the hand of the Bride, who looked more beautiful and more lifeless than ever in her crown, trembled, and the wax of the melting candle dripped down on the flounce of her blue gown....

The return home was more comfortable. The blizzard was even more terrible in the twilight, but they were cheered by the consciousness that a burden had been removed from their shoulders: whether for good or for evil, the deed had been done. So they whipped up their horses smartly, dashing ahead at random, trusting solely to the ill-defined forms of the small trees which marked out the road. And the loud-mouthed wife of Vanka Krasny stood upright in the leading sledge and danced, flourishing her handkerchief and screeching to the gale, through the dark, raging turmoil, through the snow which whipped against her lips and drowned her wolf’s voice:

“The dove, the grey dove,

Has a head of gold.”

Moscow, 1909.