In The Ravine by Anton Chekhov
THE village of Ukleevo lay in a ravine so that only the belfry and the chimneys of the printed cottons factories could be seen from the high road and the railway-station. When visitors asked what village this was, they were told:
“That’s the village where the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral.”
It had happened at the dinner at the funeral of Kostukov that the old deacon saw among the savouries some large-grained caviare and began eating it greedily; people nudged him, tugged at his arm, but he seemed petrified with enjoyment: felt nothing, and only went on eating. He ate up all the caviare, and there were four pounds in the jar. And years had passed since then, the deacon had long been dead, but the caviare was still remembered. Whether life was so poor here or people had not been clever enough to notice anything but that unimportant incident that had occurred ten years before, anyway the people had nothing else to tell about the village Ukleevo.
The village was never free from fever, and there was boggy mud there even in the summer, especially under the fences over which hung old willow-trees that gave deep shade. Here there was always a smell from the factory refuse and the acetic acid which was used in the finishing of the cotton print.
The three cotton factories and the tanyard were not in the village itself, but a little way off. They were small factories, and not more than four hundred workmen were employed in all of them. The tanyard often made the water in the little river stink; the refuse contaminated the meadows, the peasants’ cattle suffered from Siberian plague, and orders were given that the factory should be closed. It was considered to be closed, but went on working in secret with the connivance of the local police officer and the district doctor, who was paid ten roubles a month by the owner. In the whole village there were only two decent houses built of brick with iron roofs; one of them was the local court, in the other, a two-storied house just opposite the church, there lived a shopkeeper from Epifan called Grigory Petrovitch Tsybukin.
Grigory kept a grocer’s shop, but that was only for appearance’ sake: in reality he sold vodka, cattle, hides, grain, and pigs; he traded in anything that came to hand, and when, for instance, magpies were wanted abroad for ladies’ hats, he made some thirty kopecks on every pair of birds; he bought timber for felling, lent money at interest, and altogether was a sharp old man, full of resources.
He had two sons. The elder, Anisim, was in the police in the detective department and was rarely at home. The younger, Stepan, had gone in for trade and helped his father: but no great help was expected from him as he was weak in health and deaf; his wife Aksinya, a handsome woman with a good figure, who wore a hat and carried a parasol on holidays, got up early and went to bed late, and ran about all day long, picking up her skirts and jingling her keys, going from the granary to the cellar and from there to the shop, and old Tsybukin looked at her good-humouredly while his eyes glowed, and at such moments he regretted she had not been married to his elder son instead of to the younger one, who was deaf, and who evidently knew very little about female beauty.
The old man had always an inclination for family life, and he loved his family more than anything on earth, especially his elder son, the detective, and his daughter-in-law. Aksinya had no sooner married the deaf son than she began to display an extraordinary gift for business, and knew who could be allowed to run up a bill and who could not: she kept the keys and would not trust them even to her husband; she kept the accounts by means of the reckoning beads, looked at the horses’ teeth like a peasant, and was always laughing or shouting; and whatever she did or said the old man was simply delighted and muttered:
“Well done, daughter-in-law! You are a smart wench!”
He was a widower, but a year after his son’s marriage he could not resist getting married himself. A girl was found for him, living twenty miles from Ukleevo, called Varvara Nikolaevna, no longer quite young, but good-looking, comely, and belonging to a decent family. As soon as she was installed into the upper-storey room everything in the house seemed to brighten up as though new glass had been put into all the windows. The lamps gleamed before the ikons, the tables were covered with snow-white cloths, flowers with red buds made their appearance in the windows and in the front garden, and at dinner, instead of eating from a single bowl, each person had a separate plate set for him. Varvara Nikolaevna had a pleasant, friendly smile, and it seemed as though the whole house were smiling, too. Beggars and pilgrims, male and female, began to come into the yard, a thing which had never happened in the past; the plaintive sing-song voices of the Ukleevo peasant women and the apologetic coughs of weak, seedy-looking men, who had been dismissed from the factory for drunkenness were heard under the windows. Varvara helped them with money, with bread, with old clothes, and afterwards, when she felt more at home, began taking things out of the shop. One day the deaf man saw her take four ounces of tea and that disturbed him.
“Here, mother’s taken four ounces of tea,” he informed his father afterwards; “where is that to be entered?”
The old man made no reply but stood still and thought a moment, moving his eyebrows, and then went upstairs to his wife.
“Varvarushka, if you want anything out of the shop,” he said affectionately, “take it, my dear. Take it and welcome; don’t hesitate.”
And the next day the deaf man, running across the yard, called to her:
“If there is anything you want, mother, take it.”
There was something new, something gay and light-hearted in her giving of alms, just as there was in the lamps before the ikons and in the red flowers. When at Carnival or at the church festival, which lasted for three days, they sold the peasants tainted salt meat, smelling so strong it was hard to stand near the tub of it, and took scythes, caps, and their wives’ kerchiefs in pledge from the drunken men; when the factory hands stupefied with bad vodka lay rolling in the mud, and sin seemed to hover thick like a fog in the air, then it was a relief to think that up there in the house there was a gentle, neatly dressed woman who had nothing to do with salt meat or vodka; her charity had in those burdensome, murky days the effect of a safety valve in a machine.
The days in Tsybukin’s house were spent in business cares. Before the sun had risen in the morning Aksinya was panting and puffing as she washed in the outer room, and the samovar was boiling in the kitchen with a hum that boded no good. Old Grigory Petrovitch, dressed in a long black coat, cotton breeches and shiny top boots, looking a dapper little figure, walked about the rooms, tapping with his little heels like the father-in-law in a well-known song. The shop was opened. When it was daylight a racing droshky was brought up to the front door and the old man got jauntily on to it, pulling his big cap down to his ears; and, looking at him, no one would have said he was fifty-six. His wife and daughter-in-law saw him off, and at such times when he had on a good, clean coat, and had in the droshky a huge black horse that had cost three hundred roubles, the old man did not like the peasants to come up to him with their complaints and petitions; he hated the peasants and disdained them, and if he saw some peasants waiting at the gate, he would shout angrily:
“Why are you standing there? Go further off.”
Or if it were a beggar, he would say:
“God will provide!”
He used to drive off on business; his wife, in a dark dress and a black apron, tidied the rooms or helped in the kitchen. Aksinya attended to the shop, and from the yard could be heard the clink of bottles and of money, her laughter and loud talk, and the anger of customers whom she had offended; and at the same time it could be seen that the secret sale of vodka was already going on in the shop. The deaf man sat in the shop, too, or walked about the street bare-headed, with his hands in his pockets looking absent-mindedly now at the huts, now at the sky overhead. Six times a day they had tea; four times a day they sat down to meals; and in the evening they counted over their takings, put them down, went to bed, and slept soundly.
All the three cotton factories in Ukleevo and the houses of the factory owners — Hrymin Seniors, Hrymin Juniors, and Kostukov — were on a telephone. The telephone was laid on in the local court, too, but it soon ceased to work as bugs and beetles bred there. The elder of the rural district had had little education and wrote every word in the official documents in capitals. But when the telephone was spoiled he said:
“Yes, now we shall be badly off without a telephone.”
The Hrymin Seniors were continually at law with the Juniors, and sometimes the Juniors quarrelled among themselves and began going to law, and their factory did not work for a month or two till they were reconciled again, and this was an entertainment for the people of Ukleevo, as there was a great deal of talk and gossip on the occasion of each quarrel. On holidays Kostukov and the Juniors used to get up races, used to dash about Ukleevo and run over calves. Aksinya, rustling her starched petticoats, used to promenade in a low-necked dress up and down the street near her shop; the Juniors used to snatch her up and carry her off as though by force. Then old Tsybukin would drive out to show his new horse and take Varvara with him.
In the evening, after the races, when people were going to bed, an expensive concertina was played in the Juniors’ yard and, if it were a moonlight night, those sounds sent a thrill of delight to the heart, and Ukleevo no longer seemed a wretched hole.
The elder son Anisim came home very rarely, only on great holidays, but he often sent by a returning villager presents and letters written in very good writing by some other hand, always on a sheet of foolscap in the form of a petition. The letters were full of expressions that Anisim never made use of in conversation: “Dear papa and mamma, I send you a pound of flower tea for the satisfaction of your physical needs.”
At the bottom of every letter was scratched, as though with a broken pen: “Anisim Tsybukin,” and again in the same excellent hand: “Agent.”
The letters were read aloud several times, and the old father, touched, red with emotion, would say:
“Here he did not care to stay at home, he has gone in for an intellectual line. Well, let him! Every man to his own job!
It happened just before Carnival there was a heavy storm of rain mixed with hail; the old man and Varvara went to the window to look at it, and lo and behold! Anisim drove up in a sledge from the station. He was quite unexpected. He came indoors, looking anxious and troubled about something, and he remained the same all the time; there was something free and easy in his manner. He was in no haste to go away, it seemed, as though he had been dismissed from the service. Varvara was pleased at his arrival; she looked at him with a sly expression, sighed, and shook her head.
“How is this, my friends?” she said. “Tut, tut, the lad’s in his twenty-eighth year, and he is still leading a gay bachelor life; tut, tut, tut. . . .”
From the other room her soft, even speech sounded like tut, tut, tut. She began whispering with her husband and Aksinya, and their faces wore the same sly and mysterious expression as though they were conspirators.
It was decided to marry Anisim.
“Oh, tut, tut . . . the younger brother has been married long ago,” said Varvara, “and you are still without a helpmate like a cock at a fair. What is the meaning of it? Tut, tut, you will be married, please God, then as you choose — you will go into the service and your wife will remain here at home to help us. There is no order in your life, young man, and I see you have forgotten how to live properly. Tut, tut, it’s the same trouble with all you townspeople.”
When the Tsybukins married, the most handsome girls were chosen as brides for them as rich men. For Anisim, too, they found a handsome one. He was himself of an uninteresting and inconspicuous appearance; of a feeble, sickly build and short stature; he had full, puffy cheeks which looked as though he were blowing them out; his eyes looked with a keen, unblinking stare; his beard was red and scanty, and when he was thinking he always put it into his mouth and bit it; moreover he often drank too much, and that was noticeable from his face and his walk. But when he was informed that they had found a very beautiful bride for him, he said:
“Oh well, I am not a fright myself. All of us Tsybukins are handsome, I may say.”
The village of Torguevo was near the town. Half of it had lately been incorporated into the town, the other half remained a village. In the first — the town half — there was a widow living in her own little house; she had a sister living with her who was quite poor and went out to work by the day, and this sister had a daughter called Lipa, a girl who went out to work, too. People in Torguevo were already talking about Lipa’s good looks, but her terrible poverty put everyone off; people opined that some widower or elderly man would marry her regardless of her poverty, or would perhaps take her to himself without marriage, and that her mother would get enough to eat living with her. Varvara heard about Lipa from the matchmakers, and she drove over to Torguevo.
Then a visit of inspection was arranged at the aunt’s, with lunch and wine all in due order, and Lipa wore a new pink dress made on purpose for this occasion, and a crimson ribbon like a flame gleamed in her hair. She was pale-faced, thin, and frail, with soft, delicate features sunburnt from working in the open air; a shy, mournful smile always hovered about her face, and there was a childlike look in her eyes, trustful and curious.
She was young, quite a little girl, her bosom still scarcely perceptible, but she could be married because she had reached the legal age. She really was beautiful, and the only thing that might be thought unattractive was her big masculine hands which hung idle now like two big claws.
“There is no dowry — and we don’t think much of that,” said Tsybukin to the aunt. “We took a wife from a poor family for our son Stepan, too, and now we can’t say too much for her. In house and in business alike she has hands of gold.”
Lipa stood in the doorway and looked as though she would say: “Do with me as you will, I trust you,” while her mother Praskovya the work-woman hid herself in the kitchen numb with shyness. At one time in her youth a merchant whose floors she was scrubbing stamped at her in a rage; she went chill with terror and there always was a feeling of fear at the bottom of her heart. When she was frightened her arms and legs trembled and her cheeks twitched. Sitting in the kitchen she tried to hear what the visitors were saying, and she kept crossing herself, pressing her fingers to her forehead, and gazing at the ikons. Anisim, slightly drunk, opened the door into the kitchen and said in a free-and-easy way:
“Why are you sitting in here, precious mamma? We are dull without you.”
And Praskovya, overcome with timidity, pressing her hands to her lean, wasted bosom, said:
“Oh, not at all. . . . It’s very kind of you.”
After the visit of inspection the wedding day was fixed. Then Anisim walked about the rooms at home whistling, or suddenly thinking of something, would fall to brooding and would look at the floor fixedly, silently, as though he would probe to the depths of the earth. He expressed neither pleasure that he was to be married, married so soon, on Low Sunday, nor a desire to see his bride, but simply went on whistling. And it was evident he was only getting married because his father and stepmother wished him to, and because it was the custom in the village to marry the son in order to have a woman to help in the house. When he went away he seemed in no haste, and behaved altogether not as he had done on previous visits — was particularly free and easy, and talked inappropriately.
In the village Shikalovo lived two dressmakers, sisters, belonging to the Flagellant sect. The new clothes for the wedding were ordered from them, and they often came to try them on, and stayed a long while drinking tea. They were making Varvara a brown dress with black lace and bugles on it, and Aksinya a light green dress with a yellow front, with a train. When the dressmakers had finished their work Tsybukin paid them not in money but in goods from the shop, and they went away depressed, carrying parcels of tallow candles and tins of sardines which they did not in the least need, and when they got out of the village into the open country they sat down on a hillock and cried.
Anisim arrived three days before the wedding, rigged out in new clothes from top to toe. He had dazzling india-rubber goloshes, and instead of a cravat wore a red cord with little balls on it, and over his shoulder he had hung an overcoat, also new, without putting his arms into the sleeves.
After crossing himself sedately before the ikon, he greeted his father and gave him ten silver roubles and ten half-roubles; to Varvara he gave as much, and to Aksinya twenty quarter-roubles. The chief charm of the present lay in the fact that all the coins, as though carefully matched, were new and glittered in the sun. Trying to seem grave and sedate he pursed up his face and puffed out his cheeks, and he smelt of spirits. Probably he had visited the refreshment bar at every station. And again there was a free-and-easiness about the man — something superfluous and out of place. Then Anisim had lunch and drank tea with the old man, and Varvara turned the new coins over in her hand and inquired about villagers who had gone to live in the town.
“They are all right, thank God, they get on quite well,” said Anisim. “Only something has happened to Ivan Yegorov: his old wife Sofya Nikiforovna is dead. From consumption. They ordered the memorial dinner for the peace of her soul at the confectioner’s at two and a half roubles a head. And there was real wine. Those who were peasants from our village — they paid two and a half roubles for them, too. They ate nothing, as though a peasant would understand sauce!”
“Two and a half,” said his father, shaking his head.
“Well, it’s not like the country there, you go into a restaurant to have a snack of something, you ask for one thing and another, others join till there is a party of us, one has a drink — and before you know where you are it is daylight and you’ve three or four roubles each to pay. And when one is with Samorodov he likes to have coffee with brandy in it after everything, and brandy is sixty kopecks for a little glass.”
“And he is making it all up,” said the old man enthusiastically; “he is making it all up, lying!”
“I am always with Samorodov now. It is Samorodov who writes my letters to you. He writes splendidly. And if I were to tell you, mamma,” Anisim went on gaily, addressing Varvara, “the sort of fellow that Samorodov is, you would not believe me. We call him Muhtar, because he is black like an Armenian. I can see through him, I know all his affairs like the five fingers of my hand, and he feels that, and he always follows me about, we are regular inseparables. He seems not to like it in a way, but he can’t get on without me. Where I go he goes. I have a correct, trustworthy eye, mamma. One sees a peasant selling a shirt in the market place. ‘Stay, that shirt’s stolen.’ And really it turns out it is so: the shirt was a stolen one.”
“What do you tell from?” asked Varvara.
“Not from anything, I have just an eye for it. I know nothing about the shirt, only for some reason I seem drawn to it: it’s stolen, and that’s all I can say. Among us detectives it’s come to their saying, ‘Oh, Anisim has gone to shoot snipe!’ That means looking for stolen goods. Yes. . . . Anybody can steal, but it is another thing to keep! The earth is wide, but there is nowhere to hide stolen goods.”
“In our village a ram and two ewes were carried off last week,” said Varvara, and she heaved a sigh, and there is no one to try and find them. . . . Oh, tut, tut. .”
“Well, I might have a try. I don’t mind.”
The day of the wedding arrived. It was a cool but bright, cheerful April day. People were driving about Ukleevo from early morning with pairs or teams of three horses decked with many-coloured ribbons on their yokes and manes, with a jingle of bells. The rooks, disturbed by this activity, were cawing noisily in the willows, and the starlings sang their loudest unceasingly as though rejoicing that there was a wedding at the Tsybukins’.
Indoors the tables were already covered with long fish, smoked hams, stuffed fowls, boxes of sprats, pickled savouries of various sorts, and a number of bottles of vodka and wine; there was a smell of smoked sausage and of sour tinned lobster. Old Tsybukin walked about near the tables, tapping with his heels and sharpening the knives against each other. They kept calling Varvara and asking for things, and she was constantly with a distracted face running breathlessly into the kitchen, where the man cook from Kostukov’s and the woman cook from Hrymin Juniors’ had been at work since early morning. Aksinya, with her hair curled, in her stays without her dress on, in new creaky boots, flew about the yard like a whirlwind showing glimpses of her bare knees and bosom.
It was noisy, there was a sound of scolding and oaths; passers-by stopped at the wide-open gates, and in everything there was a feeling that something extraordinary was happening.
“They have gone for the bride!”
The bells began jingling and died away far beyond the village. . . . Between two and three o’clock people ran up: again there was a jingling of bells: they were bringing the bride! The church was full, the candelabra were lighted, the choir were singing from music books as old Tsybukin had wished it. The glare of the lights and the bright coloured dresses dazzled Lipa; she felt as though the singers with their loud voices were hitting her on the head with a hammer. Her boots and the stays, which she had put on for the first time in her life, pinched her, and her face looked as though she had only just come to herself after fainting; she gazed about without understanding. Anisim, in his black coat with a red cord instead of a tie, stared at the same spot lost in thought, and when the singers shouted loudly he hurriedly crossed himself. He felt touched and disposed to weep. This church was familiar to him from earliest childhood; at one time his dead mother used to bring him here to take the sacrament; at one time he used to sing in the choir; every ikon he remembered so well, every corner. Here he was being married, he had to take a wife for the sake of doing the proper thing, but he was not thinking of that now, he had forgotten his wedding completely. Tears dimmed his eyes so that he could not see the ikons, he felt heavy at heart; he prayed and besought God that the misfortunes that threatened him, that were ready to burst upon him to-morrow, if not to-day, might somehow pass him by as storm-clouds in time of drought pass over the village without yielding one drop of rain. And so many sins were heaped up in the past, so many sins, all getting away from them or setting them right was so beyond hope that it seemed incongruous even to ask forgiveness. But he did ask forgiveness, and even gave a loud sob, but no one took any notice of that, since they all supposed he had had a drop too much.
There was a sound of a fretful childish wail:
“Take me away, mamma darling!”
“Quiet there!” cried the priest.
When they returned from the church people ran after them; there were crowds, too, round the shop, round the gates, and in the yard under the windows. The peasant women came in to sing songs of congratulation to them. The young couple had scarcely crossed the threshold when the singers, who were already standing in the outer room with their music books, broke into a loud chant at the top of their voices; a band ordered expressly from the town began playing. Foaming Don wine was brought in tall wine-glasses, and Elizarov, a carpenter who did jobs by contract, a tall, gaunt old man with eyebrows so bushy that his eyes could scarcely be seen, said, addressing the happy pair:
“Anisim and you, my child, love one another, live in God’s way, little children, and the Heavenly Mother will not abandon you.”
He leaned his face on the old father’s shoulder and gave a sob.
“Grigory Petrovitch, let us weep, let us weep with joy!” he said in a thin voice, and then at once burst out laughing in a loud bass guffaw. “Ho-ho-ho! This is a fine daughter-in-law for you too! Everything is in its place in her; all runs smoothly, no creaking, the mechanism works well, lots of screws in it.”
He was a native of the Yegoryevsky district, but had worked in the factories in Ukleevo and the neighborhood from his youth up, and had made it his home. He had been a familiar figure for years as old and gaunt and lanky as now, and for years he had been nicknamed “Crutch.” Perhaps because he had been for forty years occupied in repairing the factory machinery he judged everybody and everything by its soundness or its need of repair. And before sitting down to the table he tried several chairs to see whether they were solid, and he touched the smoked fish also.
After the Don wine, they all sat down to the table. The visitors talked, moving their chairs. The singers were singing in the outer room. The band was playing, and at the same time the peasant women in the yard were singing their songs all in chorus — and there was an awful, wild medley of sounds which made one giddy.
Crutch turned round in his chair and prodded his neighbours with his elbows, prevented people from talking, and laughed and cried alternately.
“Little children, little children, little children,” he muttered rapidly. “Aksinya my dear, Varvara darling, we will live all in peace and harmony, my dear little axes. . . .”
He drank little and was now only drunk from one glass of English bitters. The revolting bitters, made from nobody knows what, intoxicated everyone who drank it as though it had stunned them. Their tongues began to falter.
The local clergy, the clerks from the factories with their wives, the tradesmen and tavern-keepers from the other villages were present. The clerk and the elder of the rural district who had served together for fourteen years, and who had during all that time never signed a single document for anybody nor let a single person out of the local court without deceiving or insulting him, were sitting now side by side, both fat and well-fed, and it seemed as though they were so saturated in injustice and falsehood that even the skin of their faces was somehow peculiar, fraudulent. The clerk’s wife, a thin woman with a squint, had brought all her children with her, and like a bird of prey looked aslant at the plates and snatched anything she could get hold of to put in her own or her children’s pockets.
Lipa sat as though turned to stone, still with the same expression as in church. Anisim had not said a single word to her since he had made her acquaintance, so that he did not yet know the sound of her voice; and now, sitting beside her, he remained mute and went on drinking bitters, and when he got drunk he began talking to the aunt who was sitting opposite:
“I have a friend called Samorodov. A peculiar man. He is by rank an honorary citizen, and he can talk. But I know him through and through, auntie, and he feels it. Pray join me in drinking to the health of Samorodov, auntie!”
Varvara, worn out and distracted, walked round the table pressing the guests to eat, and was evidently pleased that there were so many dishes and that everything was so lavish — no one could disparage them now. The sun set, but the dinner went on: the guests were beyond knowing what they were eating or drinking, it was impossible to distinguish what was said, and only from time to time when the band subsided some peasant woman could be heard shouting:
“They have sucked the blood out of us, the Herods; a pest on them!”
In the evening they danced to the band. The Hrymin Juniors came, bringing their wine, and one of them, when dancing a quadrille, held a bottle in each hand and a wineglass in his mouth, and that made everyone laugh. In the middle of the quadrille they suddenly crooked their knees and danced in a squatting position; Aksinya in green flew by like a flash, stirring up a wind with her train. Someone trod on her flounce and Crutch shouted:
“Aie, they have torn off the panel! Children!”
Aksinya had nave grey eyes which rarely blinked, and a nave smile played continually on her face. And in those unblinking eyes, and in that little head on the long neck, and in her slenderness there was something snake-like; all in green but for the yellow on her bosom, she looked with a smile on her face as a viper looks out of the young rye in the spring at the passers-by, stretching itself and lifting its head. The Hrymins were free in their behaviour to her, and it was very noticeable that she was on intimate terms with the elder of them. But her deaf husband saw nothing, he did not look at her; he sat with his legs crossed and ate nuts, cracking them so loudly that it sounded like pistol shots.
But, behold, old Tsybukin himself walked into the middle of the room and waved his handkerchief as a sign that he, too, wanted to dance the Russian dance, and all over the house and from the crowd in the yard rose a roar of approbation:
“He’s going to dance! He himself!”
Varvara danced, but the old man only waved his handkerchief and kicked up his heels, but the people in the yard, propped against one another, peeping in at the windows, were in raptures, and for the moment forgave him everything — his wealth and the wrongs he had done them.
“Well done, Grigory Petrovitch!” was heard in the crowd. “That’s right, do your best! You can still play your part! Ha-ha!”
It was kept up till late, till two o’clock in the morning. Anisim, staggering, went to take leave of the singers and bandsmen, and gave each of them a new half-rouble. His father, who was not staggering but still seemed to be standing on one leg, saw his guests off, and said to each of them:
“The wedding has cost two thousand.”
As the party was breaking up, someone took the Shikalovo innkeeper’s good coat instead of his own old one, and Anisim suddenly flew into a rage and began shouting:
“Stop, I’ll find it at once; I know who stole it, stop.”
He ran out into the street and pursued someone. He was caught, brought back home and shoved, drunken, red with anger, and wet, into the room where the aunt was undressing Lipa, and was locked in.
Five days had passed. Anisim, who was preparing to go, went upstairs to say good-bye to Varvara. All the lamps were burning before the ikons, there was a smell of incense, while she sat at the window knitting a stocking of red wool.
“You have not stayed with us long,” she said. “You’ve been dull, I dare say. Oh, tut, tut. We live comfortably; we have plenty of everything. We celebrated your wedding properly, in good style; your father says it came to two thousand. In fact we live like merchants, only it’s dreary. We treat the people very badly. My heart aches, my dear; how we treat them, my goodness! Whether we exchange a horse or buy something or hire a labourer — it’s cheating in everything. Cheating and cheating. The Lenten oil in the shop is bitter, rancid, the people have pitch that is better. But surely, tell me pray, couldn’t we sell good oil?”
“Every man to his job, mamma.”
“But you know we all have to die? Oy, oy, really you ought to talk to your father . . . !”
“Why, you should talk to him yourself.”
“Well, well, I did put in my word, but he said just what you do: ‘Every man to his own job.’ Do you suppose in the next world they’ll consider what job you have been put to? God’s judgment is just.”
“Of course no one will consider,” said Anisim, and he heaved a sigh. “There is no God, anyway, you know, mamma, so what considering can there be?”
Varvara looked at him with surprise, burst out laughing, and clasped her hands. Perhaps because she was so genuinely surprised at his words and looked at him as though he were a queer person, he was confused.
“Perhaps there is a God, only there is no faith. When I was being married I was not myself. Just as you may take an egg from under a hen and there is a chicken chirping in it, so my conscience was beginning to chirp in me, and while I was being married I thought all the time there was a God! But when I left the church it was nothing. And indeed, how can I tell whether there is a God or not? We are not taught right from childhood, and while the babe is still at his mother’s breast he is only taught ‘every man to his own job.’ Father does not believe in God, either. You were saying that Guntorev had some sheep stolen. . . . I have found them; it was a peasant at Shikalovo stole them; he stole them, but father’s got the fleeces . . . so that’s all his faith amounts to.”
Anisim winked and wagged his head.
“The elder does not believe in God, either,” he went on. “And the clerk and the deacon, too. And as for their going to church and keeping the fasts, that is simply to prevent people talking ill of them, and in case it really may be true that there will be a Day of Judgment. Nowadays people say that the end of the world has come because people have grown weaker, do not honour their parents, and so on. All that is nonsense. My idea, mamma, is that all our trouble is because there is so little conscience in people. I see through things, mamma, and I understand. If a man has a stolen shirt I see it. A man sits in a tavern and you fancy he is drinking tea and no more, but to me the tea is neither here nor there; I see further, he has no conscience. You can go about the whole day and not meet one man with a conscience. And the whole reason is that they don’t know whether there is a God or not. . . . Well, good-bye, mamma, keep alive and well, don’t remember evil against me.”
Anisim bowed down at Varvara’s feet.
“I thank you for everything, mamma,” he said. “You are a great gain to our family. You are a very ladylike woman, and I am very pleased with you.”
Much moved, Anisim went out, but returned again and said:
“Samorodov has got me mixed up in something: I shall either make my fortune or come to grief. If anything happens, then you must comfort my father, mamma.”
“Oh, nonsense, don’t you worry, tut, tut, tut. . . God is merciful. And, Anisim, you should be affectionate to your wife, instead of giving each other sulky looks as you do; you might smile at least.”
“Yes, she is rather a queer one,” said Anisim, and he gave a sigh. “She does not understand anything, she never speaks. She is very young, let her grow up.”
A tall, sleek white stallion was already standing at the front door, harnessed to the chaise.
Old Tsybukin jumped in jauntily with a run and took the reins. Anisim kissed Varvara, Aksinya, and his brother. On the steps Lipa, too, was standing; she was standing motionless, looking away, and it seemed as though she had not come to see him off but just by chance for some unknown reason. Anisim went up to her and just touched her cheek with his lips.
“Good-bye,” he said.
And without looking at him she gave a strange smile; her face began to quiver, and everyone for some reason felt sorry for her. Anisim, too, leaped into the chaise with a bound and put his arms jauntily akimbo, for he considered himself a good-looking fellow.
When they drove up out of the ravine Anisim kept looking back towards the village. It was a warm, bright day. The cattle were being driven out for the first time, and the peasant girls and women were walking by the herd in their holiday dresses. The dun-coloured bull bellowed, glad to be free, and pawed the ground with his forefeet. On all sides, above and below, the larks were singing. Anisim looked round at the elegant white church — it had only lately been whitewashed — and he thought how he had been praying in it five days before; he looked round at the school with its green roof, at the little river in which he used once to bathe and catch fish, and there was a stir of joy in his heart, and he wished that walls might rise up from the ground and prevent him from going further, and that he might be left with nothing but the past.
At the station they went to the refreshment room and drank a glass of sherry each. His father felt in his pocket for his purse to pay.
“I will stand treat,” said Anisim. The old man, touched and delighted, slapped him on the shoulder, and winked to the waiter as much as to say, “See what a fine son I have got.”
“You ought to stay at home in the business, Anisim,” he said; “you would be worth any price to me! I would shower gold on you from head to foot, my son.”
“It can’t be done, papa.”
The sherry was sour and smelt of sealing-wax, but they had another glass.
When old Tsybukin returned home from the station, for the first moment he did not recognize his younger daughter-in-law. As soon as her husband had driven out of the yard, Lipa was transformed and suddenly brightened up. Wearing a threadbare old petticoat, with her feet bare and her sleeves tucked up to the shoulders, she was scrubbing the stairs in the entry and singing in a silvery little voice, and when she brought out a big tub of dirty water and looked up at the sun with her childlike smile it seemed as though she, too, were a lark.
An old labourer who was passing by the door shook his head and cleared his throat.
“Yes, indeed, your daughters-in-law, Grigory Petrovitch, are a blessing from God,” he said. “Not women, but treasures!”
On Friday the 8th of July, Elizarov, nicknamed Crutch, and Lipa were returning from the village of Kazanskoe, where they had been to a service on the occasion of a church holiday in the honour of the Holy Mother of Kazan. A good distance after them walked Lipa’s mother Praskovya, who always fell behind, as she was ill and short of breath. It was drawing towards evening.
“A-a-a . . .” said Crutch, wondering as he listened to Lipa. “A-a! . . . We-ell!
“I am very fond of jam, Ilya Makaritch,” said Lipa. “I sit down in my little corner and drink tea and eat jam. Or I drink it with Varvara Nikolaevna, and she tells some story full of feeling. We have a lot of jam — four jars. ‘Have some, Lipa; eat as much as you like.’ “
“A-a-a, four jars!”
“They live very well. We have white bread with our tea; and meat, too, as much as one wants. They live very well, only I am frightened with them, Ilya Makaritch. Oh, oh, how frightened I am!”
“Why are you frightened, child?” asked Crutch, and he looked back to see how far Praskovya was behind.
“To begin with, when the wedding had been celebrated I was afraid of Anisim Grigoritch. Anisim Grigoritch did nothing, he didn’t ill-treat me, only when he comes near me a cold shiver runs all over me, through all my bones. And I did not sleep one night, I trembled all over and kept praying to God. And now I am afraid of Aksinya, Ilya Makaritch. It’s not that she does anything, she is always laughing, but sometimes she glances at the window, and her eyes are so fierce and there is a gleam of green in them — like the eyes of the sheep in the shed. The Hrymin Juniors are leading her astray: ‘Your old man,’ they tell her, ‘has a bit of land at Butyokino, a hundred and twenty acres,’ they say, ‘and there is sand and water there, so you, Aksinya,’ they say, ‘build a brickyard there and we will go shares in it.’ Bricks now are twenty roubles the thousand, it’s a profitable business. Yesterday at dinner Aksinya said to my father-in-law: ‘I want to build a brickyard at Butyokino; I’m going into business on my own account.’ She laughed as she said it. And Grigory Petrovitch’s face darkened, one could see he did not like it. ‘As long as I live,’ he said, ‘the family must not break up, we must go on altogether.’ She gave a look and gritted her teeth. . . . Fritters were served, she would not eat them.”
“A-a-a! . . .” Crutch was surprised.
“And tell me, if you please, when does she sleep?” said Lipa. “She sleeps for half an hour, then jumps up and keeps walking and walking about to see whether the peasants have not set fire to something, have not stolen something. . . . I am frightened with her, Ilya Makaritch. And the Hrymin Juniors did not go to bed after the wedding, but drove to the town to go to law with each other; and folks do say it is all on account of Aksinya. Two of the brothers have promised to build her a brickyard, but the third is offended, and the factory has been at a standstill for a month, and my uncle Prohor is without work and goes about from house to house getting crusts. ‘Hadn’t you better go working on the land or sawing up wood, meanwhile, uncle?’ I tell him; ‘why disgrace yourself?’ ‘I’ve got out of the way of it,’ he says; ‘I don’t know how to do any sort of peasant’s work now, Lipinka.’ . . .”
They stopped to rest and wait for Praskovya near a copse of young aspen-trees. Elizarov had long been a contractor in a small way, but he kept no horses, going on foot all over the district with nothing but a little bag in which there was bread and onions, and stalking along with big strides, swinging his arms. And it was difficult to walk with him.
At the entrance to the copse stood a milestone. Elizarov touched it; read it. Praskovya reached them out of breath. Her wrinkled and always scared-looking face was beaming with happiness; she had been at church to-day like anyone else, then she had been to the fair and there had drunk pear cider. For her this was unusual, and it even seemed to her now that she had lived for her own pleasure that day for the first time in her life. After resting they all three walked on side by side. The sun had already set, and its beams filtered through the copse, casting a light on the trunks of the trees. There was a faint sound of voices ahead. The Ukleevo girls had long before pushed on ahead but had lingered in the copse, probably gathering mushrooms.
“Hey, wenches!” cried Elizarov. “Hey, my beauties!”
There was a sound of laughter in response.
“Crutch is coming! Crutch! The old horseradish.”
And the echo laughed, too. And then the copse was left behind. The tops of the factory chimneys came into view. The cross on the belfry glittered: this was the village: “the one at which the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral.” Now they were almost home; they only had to go down into the big ravine. Lipa and Praskovya, who had been walking barefooted, sat down on the grass to put on their boots; Elizar sat down with them. If they looked down from above Ukleevo looked beautiful and peaceful with its willow-trees, its white church, and its little river, and the only blot on the picture was the roof of the factories, painted for the sake of cheapness a gloomy ashen grey. On the slope on the further side they could see the rye — some in stacks and sheaves here and there as though strewn about by the storm, and some freshly cut lying in swathes; the oats, too, were ripe and glistened now in the sun like mother-of-pearl. It was harvest-time. To-day was a holiday, to-morrow they would harvest the rye and carry the hay, and then Sunday a holiday again; every day there were mutterings of distant thunder. It was misty and looked like rain, and, gazing now at the fields, everyone thought, God grant we get the harvest in in time; and everyone felt gay and joyful and anxious at heart.
“Mowers ask a high price nowadays,” said Praskovya. “One rouble and forty kopecks a day.”
People kept coming and coming from the fair at Kazanskoe: peasant women, factory workers in new caps, beggars, children. . . . Here a cart would drive by stirring up the dust and behind it would run an unsold horse, and it seemed glad it had not been sold; then a cow was led along by the horns, resisting stubbornly; then a cart again, and in it drunken peasants swinging their legs. An old woman led a little boy in a big cap and big boots; the boy was tired out with the heat and the heavy boots which prevented his bending his legs at the knees, but yet blew unceasingly with all his might at a tin trumpet. They had gone down the slope and turned into the street, but the trumpet could still be heard.
“Our factory owners don’t seem quite themselves . . .” said Elizarov. “There’s trouble. Kostukov is angry with me. ‘Too many boards have gone on the cornices.’ ‘Too many? As many have gone on it as were needed, Vassily Danilitch; I don’t eat them with my porridge.’ ‘How can you speak to me like that?’ said he, ‘you good-for-nothing blockhead! Don’t forget yourself! It was I made you a contractor.’ ‘That’s nothing so wonderful,’ said I. ‘Even before I was a contractor I used to have tea every day.’ ‘You are a rascal . . .’ he said. I said nothing. ‘We are rascals in this world,’ thought I, ‘and you will be rascals in the next. . . .’ Ha-ha-ha! The next day he was softer. ‘Don’t you bear malice against me for my words, Makaritch,’ he said. ‘If I said too much,’ says he, ‘what of it? I am a merchant of the first guild, your superior — you ought to hold your tongue.’ ‘You,’ said I, ‘are a merchant of the first guild and I am a carpenter, that’s correct. And Saint Joseph was a carpenter, too. Ours is a righteous calling and pleasing to God, and if you are pleased to be my superior you are very welcome to it, Vassily Danilitch.’ And later on, after that conversation I mean, I thought: ‘Which was the superior? A merchant of the first guild or a carpenter?’ The carpenter must be, my child!”
Crutch thought a minute and added:
“Yes, that’s how it is, child. He who works, he who is patient is the superior.”
By now the sun had set and a thick mist as white as milk was rising over the river, in the church enclosure, and in the open spaces round the factories. Now when the darkness was coming on rapidly, when lights were twinkling below, and when it seemed as though the mists were hiding a fathomless abyss, Lipa and her mother who were born in poverty and prepared to live so till the end, giving up to others everything except their frightened, gentle souls, may have fancied for a minute perhaps that in the vast, mysterious world, among the endless series of lives, they, too, counted for something, and they, too, were superior to someone; they liked sitting here at the top, they smiled happily and forgot that they must go down below again all the same.
At last they went home again. The mowers were sitting on the ground at the gates near the shop. As a rule the Ukleevo peasants did not go to Tsybukin’s to work, and they had to hire strangers, and now in the darkness it seemed as though there were men sitting there with long black beards. The shop was open, and through the doorway they could see the deaf man playing draughts with a boy. The mowers were singing softly, scarcely audibly, or loudly demanding their wages for the previous day, but they were not paid for fear they should go away before to-morrow. Old Tsybukin, with his coat off, was sitting in his waistcoat with Aksinya under the birch-tree, drinking tea; a lamp was burning on the table.
“I say, grandfather,” a mower called from outside the gates, as though taunting him, “pay us half anyway! Hey, grandfather.”
And at once there was the sound of laughter, and then again they sang hardly audibly. . . . Crutch, too, sat down to have some tea.
“We have been at the fair, you know,” he began telling them. “We have had a walk, a very nice walk, my children, praise the Lord. But an unfortunate thing happened: Sashka the blacksmith bought some tobacco and gave the shopman half a rouble to be sure. And the half rouble was a false one” –Crutch went on, and he meant to speak in a whisper, but he spoke in a smothered husky voice which was audible to everyone. “The half-rouble turned out to be a bad one. He was asked where he got it. ‘Anisim Tsybukin gave it me,’ he said. ‘When I went to his wedding,’ he said. They called the police inspector, took the man away. . . . Look out, Grigory Petrovitch, that nothing comes of it, no talk. . . .”
“Gra-ndfather!” the same voice called tauntingly outside the gates. “Gra-andfather!”
A silence followed.
“Ah, little children, little children, little children . . .” Crutch muttered rapidly, and he got up. He was overcome with drowsiness. “Well, thank you for the tea, for the sugar, little children. It is time to sleep. I am like a bit of rotten timber nowadays, my beams are crumbling under me. Ho-ho-ho! I suppose it’s time I was dead.”
And he gave a gulp. Old Tsybukin did not finish his tea but sat on a little, pondering; and his face looked as though he were listening to the footsteps of Crutch, who was far away down the street.
“Sashka the blacksmith told a lie, I expect,” said Aksinya, guessing his thoughts.
He went into the house and came back a little later with a parcel; he opened it, and there was the gleam of roubles — perfectly new coins. He took one, tried it with his teeth, flung it on the tray; then flung down another.
“The roubles really are false . . .” he said, looking at Aksinya and seeming perplexed. “These are those Anisim brought, his present. Take them, daughter,” he whispered, and thrust the parcel into her hands. “Take them and throw them into the well . . . confound them! And mind there is no talk about it. Harm might come of it. . . . Take away the samovar, put out the light.”
Lipa and her mother sitting in the barn saw the lights go out one after the other; only overhead in Varvara’s room there were blue and red lamps gleaming, and a feeling of peace, content, and happy ignorance seemed to float down from there. Praskovya could never get used to her daughter’s being married to a rich man, and when she came she huddled timidly in the outer room with a deprecating smile on her face, and tea and sugar were sent out to her. And Lipa, too, could not get used to it either, and after her husband had gone away she did not sleep in her bed, but lay down anywhere to sleep, in the kitchen or the barn, and every day she scrubbed the floor or washed the clothes, and felt as though she were hired by the day. And now, on coming back from the service, they drank tea in the kitchen with the cook, then they went into the barn and lay down on the ground between the sledge and the wall. It was dark here and smelt of harness. The lights went out about the house, then they could hear the deaf man shutting up the shop, the mowers settling themselves about the yard to sleep. In the distance at the Hrymin Juniors’ they were playing on the expensive concertina. . . . Praskovya and Lipa began to go to sleep.
And when they were awakened by somebody’s steps it was bright moonlight; at the entrance of the barn stood Aksinya with her bedding in her arms.
“Maybe it’s a bit cooler here,” she said; then she came in and lay down almost in the doorway so that the moonlight fell full upon her.
She did not sleep, but breathed heavily, tossing from side to side with the heat, throwing off almost all the bedclothes. And in the magic moonlight what a beautiful, what a proud animal she was! A little time passed, and then steps were heard again: the old father, white all over, appeared in the doorway.
“Aksinya,” he called, ” are you here?”
“Well?” she responded angrily.
“I told you just now to throw the money into the well, have you done so?”
“What next, throwing property into the water! I gave them to the mowers. . . .”
“Oh my God!” cried the old man, dumbfounded and alarmed. “Oh my God! you wicked woman. . . .”
He flung up his hands and went out, and he kept saying something as he went away. And a little later Aksinya sat up and sighed heavily with annoyance, then got up and, gathering up her bedclothes in her arms, went out.
“Why did you marry me into this family, mother?” said Lipa.
“One has to be married, daughter. It was not us who ordained it.”
And a feeling of inconsolable woe was ready to take possession of them. But it seemed to them that someone was looking down from the height of the heavens, out of the blue from where the stars were seeing everything that was going on in Ukleevo, watching over them. And however great was wickedness, still the night was calm and beautiful, and still in God’s world there is and will be truth and justice as calm and beautiful, and everything on earth is only waiting to be made one with truth and justice, even as the moonlight is blended with the night.
And both, huddling close to one another, fell asleep comforted.
News had come long before that Anisim had been put in prison for coining and passing bad money. Months passed, more than half a year passed, the long winter was over, spring had begun, and everyone in the house and the village had grown used to the fact that Anisim was in prison. And when anyone passed by the house or the shop at night he would remember that Anisim was in prison; and when they rang at the churchyard for some reason, that, too, reminded them that he was in prison awaiting trial.
It seemed as though a shadow had fallen upon the house. The house looked darker, the roof was rustier, the heavy, iron-bound door into the shop, which was painted green, was covered with cracks, or, as the deaf man expressed it, “blisters”; and old Tsybukin seemed to have grown dingy, too. He had given up cutting his hair and beard, and looked shaggy. He no longer sprang jauntily into his chaise, nor shouted to beggars: “God will provide!” His strength was on the wane, and that was evident in everything. People were less afraid of him now, and the police officer drew up a formal charge against him in the shop though he received his regular bribe as before; and three times the old man was called up to the town to be tried for illicit dealing in spirits, and the case was continually adjourned owing to the non-appearance of witnesses, and old Tsybukin was worn out with worry.
He often went to see his son, hired somebody, handed in a petition to somebody else, presented a holy banner to some church. He presented the governor of the prison in which Anisim was confined with a silver glass stand with a long spoon and the inscription: “The soul knows its right measure.”
“There is no one to look after things for us,” said Varvara. “Tut, tut. . . . You ought to ask someone of the gentlefolks, they would write to the head officials. . . . At least they might let him out on bail! Why wear the poor fellow out?”
She, too, was grieved, but had grown stouter and whiter; she lighted the lamps before the ikons as before, and saw that everything in the house was clean, and regaled the guests with jam and apple cheese. The deaf man and Aksinya looked after the shop. A new project was in progress — a brickyard in Butyokino — and Aksinya went there almost every day in the chaise. She drove herself, and when she met acquaintances she stretched out her neck like a snake out of the young rye, and smiled navely and enigmatically. Lipa spent her time playing with the baby which had been born to her before Lent. It was a tiny, thin, pitiful little baby, and it was strange that it should cry and gaze about and be considered a human being, and even be called Nikifor. He lay in his swinging cradle, and Lipa would walk away towards the door and say, bowing to him:
“Good-day, Nikifor Anisimitch!”
And she would rush at him and kiss him. Then she would walk away to the door, bow again, and say:
‘Good-day, Nikifor Anisimitch!
And he kicked up his little red legs, and his crying was mixed with laughter like the carpenter Elizarov’s.
At last the day of the trial was fixed. Tsybukin went away five days before. Then they heard that the peasants called as witnesses had been fetched; their old workman who had received a notice to appear went too.
The trial was on a Thursday. But Sunday had passed, and Tsybukin was still not back, and there was no news. Towards the evening on Tuesday Varvara was sitting at the open window, listening for her husband to come. In the next room Lipa was playing with her baby. She was tossing him up in her arms and saying enthusiastically:
“You will grow up ever so big, ever so big. You will be a peasant, we shall go out to work together! We shall go out to work together!”
“Come, come,” said Varvara, offended. “Go out to work, what an idea, you silly girl! He will be a merchant . . .!”
Lipa sang softly, but a minute later she forgot and again:
“You will grow ever so big, ever so big. You will be a peasant, we’ll go out to work together.”
“There she is at it again!”
Lipa, with Nikifor in her arms, stood still in the doorway and asked:
“Why do I love him so much, mamma? Why do I feel so sorry for him?” she went on in a quivering voice, and her eyes glistened with tears. “Who is he? What is he like? As light as a little feather, as a little crumb, but I love him; I love him like a real person. Here he can do nothing, he can’t talk, and yet I know what he wants with his little eyes.”
Varvara was listening; the sound of the evening train coming in to the station reached her. Had her husband come? She did not hear and she did not heed what Lipa was saying, she had no idea how the time passed, but only trembled all over — not from dread, but intense curiosity. She saw a cart full of peasants roll quickly by with a rattle. It was the witnesses coming back from the station. When the cart passed the shop the old workman jumped out and walked into the yard. She could hear him being greeted in the yard and being asked some questions. . . .
“Deprivation of rights and all his property,” he said loudly, “and six years’ penal servitude in Siberia.”
She could see Aksinya come out of the shop by the back way; she had just been selling kerosene, and in one hand held a bottle and in the other a can, and in her mouth she had some silver coins.
“Where is father?” she asked, lisping.
“At the station,” answered the labourer. ” ‘When it gets a little darker,’ he said, ‘then I shall come.’ “
And when it became known all through the household that Anisim was sentenced to penal servitude, the cook in the kitchen suddenly broke into a wail as though at a funeral, imagining that this was demanded by the proprieties:
“There is no one to care for us now you have gone, Anisim Grigoritch, our bright falcon. . . .”
The dogs began barking in alarm. Varvara ran to the window, and rushing about in distress, shouted to the cook with all her might, straining her voice:
“Sto-op, Stepanida, sto-op! Don’t harrow us, for Christ’s sake!”
They forgot to set the samovar, they could think of nothing. Only Lipa could not make out what it was all about and went on playing with her baby.
When the old father arrived from the station they asked him no questions. He greeted them and walked through all the rooms in silence; he had no supper.
“There was no one to see about things . . .” Varvara began when they were alone. “I said you should have asked some of the gentry, you would not heed me at the time. . . . A petition would . . .”
“I saw to things,” said her husband with a wave of his hand. “When Anisim was condemned I went to the gentleman who was defending him. ‘It’s no use now,’ he said, ‘it’s too late’; and Anisim said the same; it’s too late. But all the same as I came out of the court I made an agreement with a lawyer, I paid him something in advance. I’ll wait a week and then I will go again. It is as God wills.”
Again the old man walked through all the rooms, and when he went back to Varvara he said:
“I must be ill. My head’s in a sort of . . . fog. My thoughts are in a maze.”
He closed the door that Lipa might not hear, and went on softly:
“I am unhappy about my money. Do you remember on Low Sunday before his wedding Anisim’s bringing me some new roubles and half-roubles? One parcel I put away at the time, but the others I mixed with my own money. When my uncle Dmitri Filatitch — the kingdom of heaven be his — was alive, he used constantly to go journeys to Moscow and to the Crimea to buy goods. He had a wife, and this same wife, when he was away buying goods, used to take up with other men. She had half a dozen children. And when uncle was in his cups he would laugh and say: ‘I never can make out,’ he used to say, ‘which are my children and which are other people’s.’ An easy-going disposition, to be sure; and so I now can’t distinguish which are genuine roubles and which are false ones. And it seems to me that they are all false.”
“Nonsense, God bless you.”
“I take a ticket at the station, I give the man three roubles, and I keep fancying they are false. And I am frightened. I must be ill.”
“There’s no denying it, we are all in God’s hands. . . . Oh dear, dear . . .” said Varvara, and she shook her head. “You ought to think about this, Grigory Petrovitch: you never know, anything may happen, you are not a young man. See they don’t wrong your grandchild when you are dead and gone. Oy, I am afraid they will be unfair to Nikifor! He has as good as no father, his mother’s young and foolish . . . you ought to secure something for him, poor little boy, at least the land, Butyokino, Grigory Petrovitch, really! Think it over!” Varvara went on persuading him. “The pretty boy, one is sorry for him! You go to-morrow and make out a deed; why put it off?”
“I’d forgotten about my grandson,” said Tsybukin. “I must go and have a look at him. So you say the boy is all right? Well, let him grow up, please God.”
He opened the door and, crooking his finger, beckoned to Lipa. She went up to him with the baby in her arms.
“If there is anything you want, Lipinka, you ask for it,” he said. “And eat anything you like, we don’t grudge it, so long as it does you good. . . .” He made the sign of the cross over the baby. “And take care of my grandchild. My son is gone, but my grandson is left.”
Tears rolled down his cheeks; he gave a sob and went away. Soon afterwards he went to bed and slept soundly after seven sleepless nights.
Old Tsybukin went to the town for a short time. Someone told Aksinya that he had gone to the notary to make his will and that he was leaving Butyokino, the very place where she had set up a brickyard, to Nikifor, his grandson. She was informed of this in the morning when old Tsybukin and Varvara were sitting near the steps under the birch-tree, drinking their tea. She closed the shop in the front and at the back, gathered together all the keys she had, and flung them at her father-in-law’s feet.
“I am not going on working for you,” she began in a loud voice, and suddenly broke into sobs. “It seems I am not your daughter-in-law, but a servant! Everybody’s jeering and saying, ‘See what a servant the Tsybukins have got hold of!’ I did not come to you for wages! I am not a beggar, I am not a slave, I have a father and mother.”
She did not wipe away her tears, she fixed upon her father-in-law eyes full of tears, vindictive, squinting with wrath; her face and neck were red and tense, and she was shouting at the top of her voice.
“I don’t mean to go on being a slave!” she went on. “I am worn out. When it is work, when it is sitting in the shop day in and day out, scurrying out at night for vodka — then it is my share, but when it is giving away the land then it is for that convict’s wife and her imp. She is mistress here, and I am her servant. Give her everything, the convict’s wife, and may it choke her! I am going home! Find yourselves some other fool, you damned Herods!”
Tsybukin had never in his life scolded or punished his children, and had never dreamed that one of his family could speak to him rudely or behave disrespectfully; and now he was very much frightened; he ran into the house and there hid behind the cupboard. And Varvara was so much flustered that she could not get up from her seat, and only waved her hands before her as though she were warding off a bee.
“Oh, Holy Saints! what’s the meaning of it?” she muttered in horror. “What is she shouting? Oh, dear, dear! . . . People will hear! Hush. Oh, hush!”
“He has given Butyokino to the convict’s wife,” Aksinya went on bawling. “Give her everything now, I don’t want anything from you! Let me alone! You are all a gang of thieves here! I have seen my fill of it, I have had enough! You have robbed folks coming in and going out; you have robbed old and young alike, you brigands! And who has been selling vodka without a licence? And false money? You’ve filled boxes full of false coins, and now I am no more use!”
A crowd had by now collected at the open gate and was staring into the yard.
“Let the people look,” bawled Aksinya. “I will shame you all! You shall burn with shame! You shall grovel at my feet. Hey! Stepan,” she called to the deaf man, “let us go home this minute! Let us go to my father and mother; I don’t want to live with convicts. Get ready!”
Clothes were hanging on lines stretched across the yard; she snatched off her petticoats and blouses still wet and flung them into the deaf man’s arms. Then in her fury she dashed about the yard by the linen, tore down all of it, and what was not hers she threw on the ground and trampled upon.
“Holy Saints, take her away,” moaned Varvara. “What a woman! Give her Butyokino! Give it her, for the Lord’s sake!
“Well! Wha-at a woman!” people were saying at the gate. “She’s a wo-oman! She’s going it — something like!”
Aksinya ran into the kitchen where washing was going on. Lipa was washing alone, the cook had gone to the river to rinse the clothes. Steam was rising from the trough and from the caldron on the side of the stove, and the kitchen was thick and stifling from the steam. On the floor was a heap of unwashed clothes, and Nikifor, kicking up his little red legs, had been put down on a bench near them, so that if he fell he should not hurt himself. Just as Aksinya went in Lipa took the former’s chemise out of the heap and put it in the trough, and was just stretching out her hand to a big ladle of boiling water which was standing on the table.
“Give it here,” said Aksinya, looking at her with hatred, and snatching the chemise out of the trough; “it is not your business to touch my linen! You are a convict’s wife, and ought to know your place and who you are.”
Lipa gazed at her, taken aback, and did not understand, but suddenly she caught the look Aksinya turned upon the child, and at once she understood and went numb all over.
“You’ve taken my land, so here you are!” Saying this Aksinya snatched up the ladle with the boiling water and flung it over Nikifor.
After this there was heard a scream such as had never been heard before in Ukleevo, and no one would have believed that a little weak creature like Lipa could scream like that. And it was suddenly silent in the yard.
Aksinya walked into the house with her old nave smile. . . . The deaf man kept moving about the yard with his arms full of linen, then he began hanging it up again, in silence, without haste. And until the cook came back from the river no one ventured to go into the kitchen and see what was there.
Nikifor was taken to the district hospital, and towards evening he died there. Lipa did not wait for them to come for her, but wrapped the dead baby in its little quilt and carried it home.
The hospital, a new one recently built, with big windows, stood high up on a hill; it was glittering from the setting sun and looked as though it were on fire from inside. There was a little village below. Lipa went down along the road, and before reaching the village sat down by a pond. A woman brought a horse down to drink and the horse did not drink.
“What more do you want?” said the woman to it softly. “What do you want?”
A boy in a red shirt, sitting at the water’s edge, was washing his father’s boots. And not another soul was in sight either in the village or on the hill.
“It’s not drinking,” said Lipa, looking at the horse.
Then the woman with the horse and the boy with the boots walked away, and there was no one left at all. The sun went to bed wrapped in cloth of gold and purple, and long clouds, red and lilac, stretched across the sky, guarded its slumbers. Somewhere far away a bittern cried, a hollow, melancholy sound like a cow shut up in a barn. The cry of that mysterious bird was heard every spring, but no one knew what it was like or where it lived. At the top of the hill by the hospital, in the bushes close to the pond, and in the fields the nightingales were trilling. The cuckoo kept reckoning someone’s years and losing count and beginning again. In the pond the frogs called angrily to one another, straining themselves to bursting, and one could even make out the words: “That’s what you are! That’s what you are! ” What a noise there was! It seemed as though all these creatures were singing and shouting so that no one might sleep on that spring night, so that all, even the angry frogs, might appreciate and enjoy every minute: life is given only once.
A silver half-moon was shining in the sky; there were many stars. Lipa had no idea how long she sat by the pond, but when she got up and walked on everybody was asleep in the little village, and there was not a single light. It was probably about nine miles’ walk home, but she had not the strength, she had not the power to think how to go: the moon gleamed now in front, now on the right, and the same cuckoo kept calling in a voice grown husky, with a chuckle as though gibing at her: “Oy, look out, you’ll lose your way!” Lipa walked rapidly; she lost the kerchief from her head . . . she looked at the sky and wondered where her baby’s soul was now: was it following her, or floating aloft yonder among the stars and thinking nothing now of his mother? Oh, how lonely it was in the open country at night, in the midst of that singing when one cannot sing oneself; in the midst of the incessant cries of joy when one cannot oneself be joyful, when the moon, which cares not whether it is spring or winter, whether men are alive or dead, looks down as lonely, too. . . . When there is grief in the heart it is hard to be without people. If only her mother, Praskovya, had been with her, or Crutch, or the cook, or some peasant!
“Boo-oo!” cried the bittern. “Boo-oo!”
And suddenly she heard clearly the sound of human speech: “Put the horses in, Vavila!”
By the wayside a camp fire was burning ahead of her: the flames had died down, there were only red embers. She could hear the horses munching. In the darkness she could see the outlines of two carts, one with a barrel, the other, a lower one with sacks in it, and the figures of two men; one was leading a horse to put it into the shafts, the other was standing motionless by the fire with his hands behind his back. A dog growled by the carts. The one who was leading the horse stopped and said:
“It seems as though someone were coming along the road.”
“Sharik, be quiet!” the other called to the dog.
And from the voice one could tell that the second was an old man. Lipa stopped and said:
“God help you.”
The old man went up to her and answered not immediately:
“Your dog does not bite, grandfather?”
“No, come along, he won’t touch you.”
“I have been at the hospital,” said Lipa after a pause. “My little son died there. Here I am carrying him home.”
It must have been unpleasant for the old man to hear this, for he moved away and said hurriedly:
“Never mind, my dear. It’s God’s will. You are very slow, lad,” he added, addressing his companion; “look alive!
“Your yoke’s nowhere,” said the young man; “it is not to be seen.”
“You are a regular Vavila.”
The old man picked up an ember, blew on it — only his eyes and nose were lighted up — then, when they had found the yoke, he went with the light to Lipa and looked at her, and his look expressed compassion and tenderness.
“You are a mother,” he said; “every mother grieves for her child.”
And he sighed and shook his head as he said it. Vavila threw something on the fire, stamped on it — and at once it was very dark; the vision vanished, and as before there were only the fields, the sky with the stars, and the noise of the birds hindering each other from sleep. And the landrail called, it seemed, in the very place where the fire had been.
But a minute passed, and again she could see the two carts and the old man and lanky Vavila. The carts creaked as they went out on the road.
“Are you holy men?” Lipa asked the old man.
“No. We are from Firsanovo.”
“You looked at me just now and my heart was softened. And the young man is so gentle. I thought you must be holy men.”
“Are you going far?”
“Get in, we will give you a lift as far as Kuzmenki, then you go straight on and we turn off to the left.”
Vavila got into the cart with the barrel and the old man and Lipa got into the other. They moved at a walking pace, Vavila in front.
“My baby was in torment all day,” said Lipa. “He looked at me with his little eyes and said nothing; he wanted to speak and could not. Holy Father, Queen of Heaven! In my grief I kept falling down on the floor. I stood up and fell down by the bedside. And tell me, grandfather, why a little thing should be tormented before his death? When a grown-up person, a man or woman, are in torment their sins are forgiven, but why a little thing, when he has no sins? Why?”
“Who can tell?” answered the old man.
They drove on for half an hour in silence.
“We can’t know everything, how and wherefore,” said the old man. “It is ordained for the bird to have not four wings but two because it is able to fly with two; and so it is ordained for man not to know everything but only a half or a quarter. As much as he needs to know so as to live, so much he knows.”
“It is better for me to go on foot, grandfather. Now my heart is all of a tremble.”
“Never mind, sit still.”
The old man yawned and made the sign of the cross over his mouth.
“Never mind,” he repeated. “Yours is not the worst of sorrows. Life is long, there will be good and bad to come, there will be everything. Great is mother Russia,” he said, and looked round on each side of him. “I have been all over Russia, and I have seen everything in her, and you may believe my words, my dear. There will be good and there will be bad. I went as a delegate from my village to Siberia, and I have been to the Amur River and the Altai Mountains and I settled in Siberia; I worked the land there, then I was homesick for mother Russia and I came back to my native village. We came back to Russia on foot; and I remember we went on a steamer, and I was thin as thin, all in rags, barefoot, freezing with cold, and gnawing a crust, and a gentleman who was on the steamer — the kingdom of heaven be his if he is dead — looked at me pitifully, and the tears came into his eyes. ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘your bread is black, your days are black. . . .’ And when I got home, as the saying is, there was neither stick nor stall; I had a wife, but I left her behind in Siberia, she was buried there. So I am living as a day labourer. And yet I tell you: since then I have had good as well as bad. Here I do not want to die, my dear, I would be glad to live another twenty years; so there has been more of the good. And great is our mother Russia!” and again he gazed to each side and looked round.
“Grandfather,” Lipa asked, “when anyone dies, how many days does his soul walk the earth?”
“Who can tell! Ask Vavila here, he has been to school. Now they teach them everything. Vavila!” the old man called to him.
“Vavila, when anyone dies how long does his soul walk the earth?
Vavila stopped the horse and only then answered:
“Nine days. My uncle Kirilla died and his soul lived in our hut thirteen days after.”
“How do you know?”
“For thirteen days there was a knocking in the stove.”
“Well, that’s all right. Go on,” said the old man, and it could be seen that he did not believe a word of all that.
Near Kuzmenki the cart turned into the high road while Lipa went straight on. It was by now getting light. As she went down into the ravine the Ukleevo huts and the church were hidden in fog. It was cold, and it seemed to her that the same cuckoo was calling still.
When Lipa reached home the cattle had not yet been driven out; everyone was asleep. She sat down on the steps and waited. The old man was the first to come out; he understood all that had happened from the first glance at her, and for a long time he could not articulate a word, but only moved his lips without a sound.
“Ech, Lipa,” he said, “you did not take care of my grandchild. . . .”
Varvara was awakened. She clasped her hands and broke into sobs, and immediately began laying out the baby.
“And he was a pretty child . . .” she said. “Oh, dear, dear. . . . You only had the one child, and you did not take care enough of him, you silly girl. . . .”
There was a requiem service in the morning and the evening. The funeral took place the next day, and after it the guests and the priests ate a great deal, and with such greed that one might have thought that they had not tasted food for a long time. Lipa waited at table, and the priest, lifting his fork on which there was a salted mushroom, said to her:
“Don’t grieve for the babe. For of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
And only when they had all separated Lipa realized fully that there was no Nikifor and never would be, she realized it and broke into sobs. And she did not know what room to go into to sob, for she felt that now that her child was dead there was no place for her in the house, that she had no reason to be here, that she was in the way; and the others felt it, too.
“Now what are you bellowing for?” Aksinya shouted, suddenly appearing in the doorway; in honour of the funeral she was dressed all in new clothes and had powdered her face. “Shut up!”
Lipa tried to stop but could not, and sobbed louder than ever.
“Do you hear?” shouted Aksinya, and she stamped her foot in violent anger. “Who is it I am speaking to? Go out of the yard and don’t set foot here again, you convict s wife. Get away.”
“There, there, there,” the old man put in fussily. “Aksinya, don’t make such an outcry, my girl. . . . She is crying, it is only natural . . . her child is dead. . . .”
” ‘It’s only natural,’ ” Aksinya mimicked him. “Let her stay the night here, and don’t let me see a trace of her here to-morrow! ‘It’s only natural!’ . . .” she mimicked him again, and, laughing, she went into the shop.
Early the next morning Lipa went off to her mother at Torguevo.
At the present time the steps and the front door of the shop have been repainted and are as bright as though they were new, there are gay geraniums in the windows as of old, and what happened in Tsybukin’s house and yard three years ago is almost forgotten.
Grigory Petrovitch is looked upon as the master as he was in old days, but in reality everything has passed into Aksinya’s hands; she buys and sells, and nothing can be done without her consent. The brickyard is working well; and as bricks are wanted for the railway the price has gone up to twenty-four roubles a thousand; peasant women and girls cart the bricks to the station and load them up in the trucks and earn a quarter-rouble a day for the work.
Aksinya has gone into partnership with the Hrymin Juniors, and their factory is now called Hrymin Juniors and Co. They have opened a tavern near the station, and now the expensive concertina is played not at the factory but at the tavern, and the head of the post office often goes there, and he, too, is engaged in some sort of traffic, and the stationmaster, too. Hrymin Juniors have presented the deaf man Stepan with a gold watch, and he is constantly taking it out of his pocket and putting it to his ear.
People say of Aksinya that she has become a person of power; and it is true that when she drives in the morning to her brickyard, handsome and happy, with the nave smile on her face, and afterwards when she is giving orders there, one is aware of great power in her. Everyone is afraid of her in the house and in the village and in the brickyard. When she goes to the post the head of the postal department jumps up and says to her:
“I humbly beg you to be seated, Aksinya Abramovna!”
A certain landowner, middle-aged but foppish, in a tunic of fine cloth and patent leather high boots, sold her a horse, and was so carried away by talking to her that he knocked down the price to meet her wishes. He held her hand a long time and, looking into her merry, sly, nave eyes, said:
“For a woman like you, Aksinya Abramovna, I should be ready to do anything you please. Only say when we can meet where no one will interfere with us?”
“Why, when you please.”
And since then the elderly fop drives up to the shop almost every day to drink beer. And the beer is horrid, bitter as wormwood. The landowner shakes his head, but he drinks it.
Old Tsybukin does not have anything to do with the business now at all. He does not keep any money because he cannot distinguish between the good and the false, but he is silent, he says nothing of this weakness. He has become forgetful, and if they don’t give him food he does not ask for it. They have grown used to having dinner without him, and Varvara often says:
“He went to bed again yesterday without any supper.”
And she says it unconcernedly because she is used to it. For some reason, summer and winter alike, he wears a fur coat, and only in very hot weather he does not go out but sits at home. As a rule putting on his fur coat, wrapping it round him and turning up his collar, he walks about the village, along the road to the station, or sits from morning till night on the seat near the church gates. He sits there without stirring. Passers-by bow to him, but he does not respond, for as of old he dislikes the peasants. If he is asked a question he answers quite rationally and politely, but briefly.
There is a rumour going about in the village that his daughter-in-law turns him out of the house and gives him nothing to eat, and that he is fed by charity; some are glad, others are sorry for him.
Varvara has grown even fatter and whiter, and as before she is active in good works, and Aksinya does not interfere with her.
There is so much jam now that they have not time to eat it before the fresh fruit comes in; it goes sugary, and Varvara almost sheds tears, not knowing what to do with it.
They have begun to forget about Anisim. A letter has come from him written in verse on a big sheet of paper as though it were a petition, all in the same splendid handwriting. Evidently his friend Samorodov was sharing his punishment. Under the verses in an ugly, scarcely legible handwriting there was a single line: “I am ill here all the time; I am wretched, for Christ’s sake help me!”
Towards evening — it was a fine autumn day — old Tsybukin was sitting near the church gates, with the collar of his fur coat turned up and nothing of him could be seen but his nose and the peak of his cap. At the other end of the long seat was sitting Elizarov the contractor, and beside him Yakov the school watchman, a toothless old man of seventy. Crutch and the watchman were talking.
“Children ought to give food and drink to the old. . . . Honour thy father and mother . . .” Yakov was saying with irritation, “while she, this daughter-in-law, has turned her father-in-law out of his own house; the old man has neither food nor drink, where is he to go? He has not had a morsel for these three days.”
“Three days!” said Crutch, amazed.
“Here he sits and does not say a word. He has grown feeble. And why be silent? He ought to prosecute her, they wouldn’t flatter her in the police court.”
“Wouldn’t flatter whom?” asked Crutch, not hearing.
“The woman’s all right, she does her best. In their line of business they can’t get on without that . . . without sin, I mean. . . .”
“From his own house,” Yakov went on with irritation. “Save up and buy your own house, then turn people out of it! She is a nice one, to be sure! A pla-ague!”
Tsybukin listened and did not stir.
“Whether it is your own house or others’ it makes no difference so long as it is warm and the women don’t scold . . .” said Crutch, and he laughed. “When I was young I was very fond of my Nastasya. She was a quiet woman. And she used to be always at it: ‘Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house, Makaritch! Buy a house, Makaritch!’ She was dying and yet she kept on saying, ‘Buy yourself a racing droshky, Makaritch, that you may not have to walk.’ And I bought her nothing but gingerbread.”
“Her husband’s deaf and stupid,” Yakov went on, not hearing Crutch; “a regular fool, just like a goose. He can’t understand anything. Hit a goose on the head with a stick and even then it does not understand.”
Crutch got up to go home to the factory. Yakov also got up, and both of them went off together, still talking. When they had gone fifty paces old Tsybukin got up, too, and walked after them, stepping uncertainly as though on slippery ice.
The village was already plunged in the dusk of evening and the sun only gleamed on the upper part of the road which ran wriggling like a snake up the slope. Old women were coming back from the woods and children with them; they were bringing baskets of mushrooms. Peasant women and girls came in a crowd from the station where they had been loading the trucks with bricks, and their noses and their cheeks under their eyes were covered with red brick-dust. They were singing. Ahead of them all was Lipa singing in a high voice, with her eyes turned upwards to the sky, breaking into trills as though triumphant and ecstatic that at last the day was over and she could rest. In the crowd was her mother Praskovya, who was walking with a bundle in her arms and breathless as usual.
“Good-evening, Makaritch! ” cried Lipa, seeing Crutch. “Good-evening, darling!”
“Good-evening, Lipinka,” cried Crutch delighted. “Dear girls and women, love the rich carpenter! Ho-ho! My little children, my little children. (Crutch gave a gulp.) My dear little axes!”
Crutch and Yakov went on further and could still be heard talking. Then after them the crowd was met by old Tsybukin and there was a sudden hush. Lipa and Praskovya had dropped a little behind, and when the old man was on a level with them Lipa bowed down low and said:
“Good-evening, Grigory Petrovitch.”
Her mother, too, bowed down. The old man stopped and, saying nothing, looked at the two in silence; his lips were quivering and his eyes full of tears. Lipa took out of her mother’s bundle a piece of savoury turnover and gave it him. He took it and began eating.
The sun had by now set: its glow died away on the road above. It grew dark and cool. Lipa and Praskovya walked on and for some time they kept crossing themselves.