A Sportsman's Sketches
Part 2 out of 4
offensive readiness to become intimate with every one he came across.
In reality you felt at the same time that he could not be friends, nor
be really intimate with anyone, and that he could not be so, not
because in general he was independent of other people, but because his
whole being was for a time turned inwards upon himself. Looking at
Radilov, I could never imagine him happy either now or at any time. He,
too, was not handsome; but in his eyes, his smile, his whole being,
there was a something, mysterious and extremely attractive--yes,
mysterious is just what it was. So that you felt you would like to know
him better, to get to love him. Of course, at times the landowner and
the man of the steppes peeped out in him; but all the same he was a
We were beginning to talk about the new marshal of the district, when
suddenly we heard Olga's voice at the door: 'Tea is ready.' We went
into the drawing-room. Fyodor Miheitch was sitting as before in his
corner between the little window and the door, his legs curled up under
him. Radilov's mother was knitting a stocking. From the opened windows
came a breath of autumn freshness and the scent of apples. Olga was
busy pouring out tea. I looked at her now with more attention than at
dinner. Like provincial girls as a rule, she spoke very little, but at
any rate I did not notice in her any of their anxiety to say something
fine, together with their painful consciousness of stupidity and
helplessness; she did not sigh as though from the burden of unutterable
emotions, nor cast up her eyes, nor smile vaguely and dreamily. Her
look expressed tranquil self-possession, like a man who is taking
breath after great happiness or great excitement. Her carriage and her
movements were resolute and free. I liked her very much.
I fell again into conversation with Radilov. I don't recollect what
brought us to the familiar observation that often the most
insignificant things produce more effect on people than the most
'Yes,' Radilov agreed, 'I have experienced that in my own case. I, as
you know, have been married. It was not for long--three years; my wife
died in child-birth. I thought that I should not survive her; I was
fearfully miserable, broken down, but I could not weep--I wandered
about like one possessed. They decked her out, as they always do, and
laid her on a table--in this very room. The priest came, the deacons
came, began to sing, to pray, and to burn incense; I bowed to the
ground, and hardly shed a tear. My heart seemed turned to stone--and my
head too--I was heavy all over. So passed my first day. Would you
believe it? I even slept in the night. The next morning I went in to
look at my wife: it was summer-time, the sunshine fell upon her from
head to foot, and it was so bright. Suddenly I saw ...' (here Radilov
gave an involuntary shudder) 'what do you think? One of her eyes was
not quite shut, and on this eye a fly was moving.... I fell down in a
heap, and when I came to myself, I began to weep and weep ... I could
not stop myself....'
Radilov was silent. I looked at him, then at Olga.... I can never
forget the expression of her face. The old lady had laid the stocking
down on her knees, and taken a handkerchief out of her reticule; she
was stealthily wiping away her tears. Fyodor Miheitch suddenly got up,
seized his fiddle, and in a wild and hoarse voice began to sing a song.
He wanted doubtless to restore our spirits; but we all shuddered at his
first note, and Radilov asked him to be quiet.
'Still what is past, is past,' he continued; 'we cannot recall the
past, and in the end ... all is for the best in this world below, as I
think Voltaire said,' he added hurriedly.
'Yes,' I replied, 'of course. Besides, every trouble can be endured,
and there is no position so terrible that there is no escape from it.'
'Do you think so?' said Radilov. 'Well, perhaps you are right. I
recollect I lay once in the hospital in Turkey half dead; I had typhus
fever. Well, our quarters were nothing to boast of--of course, in time
of war--and we had to thank God for what we had! Suddenly they bring in
more sick--where are they to put them? The doctor goes here and there--
there is no room left. So he comes up to me and asks the attendant, "Is
he alive?" He answers, "He was alive this morning." The doctor bends
down, listens; I am breathing. The good man could not help saying,
"Well, what an absurd constitution; the man's dying; he's certain to
die, and he keeps hanging on, lingering, taking up space for nothing,
and keeping out others." Well, I thought to myself, "So you are in a bad
way, Mihal Mihalitch...." And, after all, I got well, and am alive till
now, as you may see for yourself. You are right, to be sure.'
'In any case I am right,' I replied; 'even if you had died, you would
just the same have escaped from your horrible position.'
'Of course, of course,' he added, with a violent blow of his fist on
the table. 'One has only to come to a decision.... What is the use of
being in a horrible position?... What is the good of delaying,
Olga rose quickly and went out into the garden.
'Well, Fedya, a dance!' cried Radilov.
Fedya jumped up and walked about the room with that artificial and
peculiar motion which is affected by the man who plays the part of a
goat with a tame bear. He sang meanwhile, 'While at our Gates....'
The rattle of a racing droshky sounded in the drive, and in a few
minutes a tall, broad-shouldered and stoutly made man, the peasant
proprietor, Ovsyanikov, came into the room.
But Ovsyanikov is such a remarkable and original personage that, with
the reader's permission, we will put off speaking about him till the
next sketch. And now I will only add for myself that the next day I
started off hunting at earliest dawn with Yermolai, and returned home
after the day's sport was over ... that a week later I went again to
Radilov's, but did not find him or Olga at home, and within a fortnight
I learned that he had suddenly disappeared, left his mother, and gone
away somewhere with his sister-in-law. The whole province was excited,
and talked about this event, and I only then completely understood the
expression of Olga's face while Radilov was telling us his story. It
was breathing, not with sympathetic suffering only: it was burning with
Before leaving the country I called on old Madame Radilov. I found her
in the drawing-room; she was playing cards with Fyodor Miheitch.
'Have you news of your son?' I asked her at last.
The old lady began to weep. I made no more inquiries about Radilov.
THE PEASANT PROPRIETOR OVSYANIKOV
Picture to yourselves, gentle readers, a stout, tall man of seventy,
with a face reminding one somewhat of the face of Kriloff, clear and
intelligent eyes under overhanging brows, dignified in bearing, slow in
speech, and deliberate in movement: there you have Ovsyanikov. He wore
an ample blue overcoat with long sleeves, buttoned all the way up, a
lilac silk-handkerchief round his neck, brightly polished boots with
tassels, and altogether resembled in appearance a well-to-do merchant.
His hands were handsome, soft, and white; he often fumbled with the
buttons of his coat as he talked. With his dignity and his composure,
his good sense and his indolence, his uprightness and his obstinacy,
Ovsyanikov reminded me of the Russian boyars of the times before Peter
the Great.... The national holiday dress would have suited him well. He
was one of the last men left of the old time. All his neighbours had a
great respect for him, and considered it an honour to be acquainted
with him. His fellow peasant-proprietors almost worshipped him, and
took off their hats to him from a distance: they were proud of him.
Generally speaking, in these days, it is difficult to tell a peasant-
proprietor from a peasant; his husbandry is almost worse than the
peasant's; his calves are wretchedly small; his horses are only half
alive; his harness is made of rope. Ovsyanikov was an exception to the
general rule, though he did not pass for a wealthy man. He lived alone
with his wife in a clean and comfortable little house, kept a few
servants, whom he dressed in the Russian style and called his
'workmen.' They were employed also in ploughing his land. He did not
attempt to pass for a nobleman, did not affect to be a landowner;
never, as they say, forgot himself; he did not take a seat at the first
invitation to do so, and he never failed to rise from his seat on the
entrance of a new guest, but with such dignity, with such stately
courtesy, that the guest involuntarily made him a more deferential bow.
Ovsyanikov adhered to the antique usages, not from superstition (he was
naturally rather independent in mind), but from habit. He did not, for
instance, like carriages with springs, because he did not find them
comfortable, and preferred to drive in a racing droshky, or in a pretty
little trap with leather cushions, and he always drove his good bay
himself (he kept none but bay horses). His coachman, a young, rosy-
cheeked fellow, his hair cut round like a basin, in a dark blue coat
with a strap round the waist, sat respectfully beside him. Ovsyanikov
always had a nap after dinner and visited the bath-house on Saturdays;
he read none but religious books and used gravely to fix his round
silver spectacles on his nose when he did so; he got up, and went to
bed early. He shaved his beard, however, and wore his hair in the
German style. He always received visitors cordially and affably, but he
did not bow down to the ground, nor fuss over them and press them to
partake of every kind of dried and salted delicacy. 'Wife!' he would
say deliberately, not getting up from his seat, but only turning his
head a little in her direction, 'bring the gentleman a little of
something to eat.' He regarded it as a sin to sell wheat: it was the
gift of God. In the year '40, at the time of the general famine and
terrible scarcity, he shared all his store with the surrounding
landowners and peasants; the following year they gratefully repaid
their debt to him in kind. The neighbours often had recourse to
Ovsyanikov as arbitrator and mediator between them, and they almost
always acquiesced in his decision, and listened to his advice. Thanks
to his intervention, many had conclusively settled their boundaries....
But after two or three tussles with lady-landowners, he announced that
he declined all mediation between persons of the feminine gender. He
could not bear the flurry and excitement, the chatter of women and the
'fuss.' Once his house had somehow got on fire. A workman ran to him in
headlong haste shrieking, 'Fire, fire!' 'Well, what are you screaming
about?' said Ovsyanikov tranquilly, 'give me my cap and my stick.' He
liked to break in his horses himself. Once a spirited horse he was
training bolted with him down a hillside and over a precipice. 'Come,
there, there, you young colt, you'll kill yourself!' said Ovsyanikov
soothingly to him, and an instant later he flew over the precipice
together with the racing droshky, the boy who was sitting behind, and
the horse. Fortunately, the bottom of the ravine was covered with heaps
of sand. No one was injured; only the horse sprained a leg. 'Well, you
see,' continued Ovsyanikov in a calm voice as he got up from the
ground, 'I told you so.' He had found a wife to match him. Tatyana
Ilyinitchna Ovsyanikov was a tall woman, dignified and taciturn, always
dressed in a cinnamon-coloured silk dress. She had a cold air, though
none complained of her severity, but, on the contrary, many poor
creatures called her their little mother and benefactress. Her regular
features, her large dark eyes, and her delicately cut lips, bore
witness even now to her once celebrated beauty. Ovsyanikov had no
I made his acquaintance, as the reader is already aware, at Radilov's,
and two days later I went to see him. I found him at home. He was
reading the lives of the Saints. A grey cat was purring on his
shoulder. He received me, according to his habit, with stately
cordiality. We fell into conversation.
'But tell me the truth, Luka Petrovitch,' I said to him, among other
things; 'weren't things better of old, in your time?'
'In some ways, certainly, things were better, I should say,' replied
Ovsyanikov; 'we lived more easily; there was a greater abundance of
everything. ... All the same, things are better now, and they will be
better still for your children, please God.'
'I had expected you, Luka Petrovitch, to praise the old times.'
'No, I have no special reason to praise old times. Here, for instance,
though you are a landowner now, and just as much a landowner as your
grandfather was, you have not the same power--and, indeed, you are not
yourself the same kind of man. Even now, some noblemen oppress us; but,
of course, it is impossible to help that altogether. Where there are
mills grinding there will be flour. No; I don't see now what I have
experienced myself in my youth.'
'What, for instance?'
'Well, for instance, I will tell you about your grandfather. He was an
overbearing man; he oppressed us poorer folks. You know, perhaps--
indeed, you surely know your own estates--that bit of land that runs
from Tchepligin to Malinina--you have it under oats now.... Well, you
know, it is ours--it is all ours. Your grandfather took it away from
us; he rode by on his horse, pointed to it with his hand, and said,
"It's my property," and took possession of it. My father (God rest his
soul!) was a just man; he was a hot-tempered man, too; he would not put
up with it--indeed, who does like to lose his property?--and he laid a
petition before the court. But he was alone: the others did not appear
--they were afraid. So they reported to your grandfather that "Piotr
Ovsyanikov is making a complaint against you that you were pleased to
take away his land." Your grandfather at once sent his huntsman Baush
with a detachment of men.... Well, they seized my father, and carried
him to your estate. I was a little boy at that time; I ran after him
barefoot. What happened? They brought him to your house, and flogged
him right under your windows. And your grandfather stands on the
balcony and looks on; and your grandmother sits at the window and looks
on too. My father cries out, "Gracious lady, Marya Vasilyevna,
intercede for me! have mercy on me!" But her only answer was to keep
getting up to have a look at him. So they exacted a promise from my
father to give up the land, and bade him be thankful they let him go
alive. So it has remained with you. Go and ask your peasants--what do
they call the land, indeed? It's called "The Cudgelled Land," because
it was gained by the cudgel. So you see from that, we poor folks can't
bewail the old order very much.'
I did not know what answer to make Ovsyanikov, and I had not the
courage to look him in the face.
'We had another neighbour who settled amongst us in those days, Komov,
Stepan Niktopolionitch. He used to worry my father out of his life;
when it wasn't one thing, it was another. He was a drunken fellow, and
fond of treating others; and when he was drunk he would say in French,
"_Say bon_," and "Take away the holy images!" He would go to all the
neighbours to ask them to come to him. His horses stood always in
readiness, and if you wouldn't go he would come after you himself at
once!... And he was such a strange fellow! In his sober times he was
not a liar; but when he was drunk he would begin to relate how he had
three houses in Petersburg--one red, with one chimney; another yellow,
with two chimneys; and a third blue, with no chimneys; and three sons
(though he had never even been married), one in the infantry, another
in the cavalry, and the third was his own master.... And he would say
that in each house lived one of his sons; that admirals visited the
eldest, and generals the second, and the third only Englishmen! Then he
would get up and say, "To the health of my eldest son; he is the most
dutiful!" and he would begin to weep. Woe to anyone who refused to
drink the toast! "I will shoot him!" he would say; "and I won't let him
be buried!" ... Then he would jump up and scream, "Dance, God's people,
for your pleasure and my diversion!" Well, then, you must dance; if you
had to die for it, you must dance. He thoroughly worried his serf-girls
to death. Sometimes all night long till morning they would be singing
in chorus, and the one who made the most noise would have a prize. If
they began to be tired, he would lay his head down in his hands, and
begins moaning: "Ah, poor forsaken orphan that I am! They abandon me,
poor little dove!" And the stable-boys would wake the girls up at once.
He took a liking to my father; what was he to do? He almost drove my
father into his grave, and would actually have driven him into it, but
(thank Heaven!) he died himself; in one of his drunken fits he fell off
the pigeon-house. ... There, that's what our sweet little neighbours
'How the times have changed!' I observed.
'Yes, yes,' Ovsyanikov assented. 'And there is this to be said--in the
old days the nobility lived more sumptuously. I'm not speaking of the
real grandees now. I used to see them in Moscow. They say such people
are scarce nowadays.'
'Have you been in Moscow?'
'I used to stay there long, very long ago. I am now in my seventy-third
year; and I went to Moscow when I was sixteen.'
'Whom did you see there?'
'I saw a great many grandees--and every one saw them; they kept open
house for the wonder and admiration of all! Only no one came up to
Count Alexey Grigoryevitch Orlov-Tchesmensky. I often saw Alexey
Grigoryevitch; my uncle was a steward in his service. The count was
pleased to live in Shabolovka, near the Kaluga Gate. He was a grand
gentleman! Such stateliness, such gracious condescension you can't
imagine! and it's impossible to describe it. His figure alone was worth
something, and his strength, and the look in his eyes! Till you knew
him, you did not dare come near him--you were afraid, overawed indeed;
but directly you came near him he was like sunshine warming you up and
making you quite cheerful. He allowed every man access to him in
person, and he was devoted to every kind of sport. He drove himself in
races and out-stripped every one, and he would never get in front at
the start, so as not to offend his adversary; he would not cut it
short, but would pass him at the finish; and he was so pleasant--he
would soothe his adversary, praising his horse. He kept tumbler-pigeons
of a first-rate kind. He would come out into the court, sit down in an
arm-chair, and order them to let loose the pigeons; and his men would
stand all round on the roofs with guns to keep off the hawks. A large
silver basin of water used to be placed at the count's feet, and he
looked at the pigeons reflected in the water. Beggars and poor people
were fed in hundreds at his expense; and what a lot of money he used to
give away!... When he got angry, it was like a clap of thunder.
Everyone was in a great fright, but there was nothing to weep over;
look round a minute after, and he was all smiles again! When he gave a
banquet he made all Moscow drunk!--and see what a clever man he was!
you know he beat the Turk. He was fond of wrestling too; strong men
used to come from Tula, from Harkoff, from Tamboff, and from everywhere
to him. If he threw any one he would pay him a reward; but if any one
threw him, he perfectly loaded him with presents, and kissed him on the
lips.... And once, during my stay at Moscow, he arranged a hunting
party such as had never been in Russia before; he sent invitations to
all the sportsmen in the whole empire, and fixed a day for it, and gave
them three months' notice. They brought with them dogs and grooms:
well, it was an army of people--a regular army!
'First they had a banquet in the usual way, and then they set off into
the open country. The people flocked there in thousands! And what do
you think?... Your father's dog outran them all.'
'Wasn't that Milovidka?' I inquired.
'Milovidka, Milovidka!... So the count began to ask him, "Give me your
dog," says he; "take what you like for her." "No, count," he said, "I
am not a tradesman; I don't sell anything for filthy lucre; for your
sake I am ready to part with my wife even, but not with Milovidka.... I
would give myself into bondage first." And Alexey Grigoryevitch praised
him for it. "I like you for it," he said. Your grandfather took her
back in the coach with him, and when Milovidka died, he buried her in
the garden with music at the burial--yes, a funeral for a dog--and put
a stone with an inscription on it over the dog.'
'Then Alexey Grigoryevitch did not oppress anyone,' I observed.
'Yes, it is always like that; those who can only just keep themselves
afloat are the ones to drag others under.'
'And what sort of a man was this Baush?' I asked after a short silence.
'Why, how comes it you have heard about Milovidka, and not about Baush?
He was your grandfather's chief huntsman and whipper-in. Your
grandfather was as fond of him as of Milovidka. He was a desperate
fellow, and whatever order your grandfather gave him, he would carry it
out in a minute--he'd have run on to a sword at his bidding.... And
when he hallooed ... it was something like a tally-ho in the forest.
And then he would suddenly turn nasty, get off his horse, and lie down
on the ground ... and directly the dogs ceased to hear his voice, it
was all over! They would give up the hottest scent, and wouldn't go on
for anything. Ay, ay, your grandfather did get angry! "Damn me, if I
don't hang the scoundrel! I'll turn him inside out, the antichrist!
I'll stuff his heels down his gullet, the cut-throat!" And it ended by
his going up to find out what he wanted; why he wouldn't halloo to the
hounds? Usually, on such occasions, Baush asked for some vodka, drank
it up, got on his horse, and began to halloo as lustily as ever again.'
'You seem to be fond of hunting too, Luka Petrovitch?'
'I should have been--certainly, not now; now my time is over--but in my
young days.... But you know it was not an easy matter in my position.
It's not suitable for people like us to go trailing after noblemen.
Certainly you may find in our class some drinking, good-for-nothing
fellow who associates with the gentry--but it's a queer sort of
enjoyment.... He only brings shame on himself. They mount him on a
wretched stumbling nag, keep knocking his hat off on to the ground and
cut at him with a whip, pretending to whip the horse, and he must laugh
at everything, and be a laughing-stock for the others. No, I tell you,
the lower your station, the more reserved must be your behaviour, or
else you disgrace yourself directly.'
'Yes,' continued Ovsyanikov with a sigh, 'there's many a gallon of
water has flowed down to the sea since I have been living in the world;
times are different now. Especially I see a great change in the
nobility. The smaller landowners have all either become officials, or
at any rate do not stop here; as for the larger owners, there's no
making them out. I have had experience of them--the larger landowners--
in cases of settling boundaries. And I must tell you; it does my heart
good to see them: they are courteous and affable. Only this is what
astonishes me; they have studied all the sciences, they speak so
fluently that your heart is melted, but they don't understand the
actual business in hand; they don't even perceive what's their own
interest; some bailiff, a bondservant, drives them just where he
pleases, as though they were in a yoke. There's Korolyov--Alexandr
Vladimirovitch--for instance; you know him, perhaps--isn't he every
inch a nobleman? He is handsome, rich, has studied at the 'versities,
and travelled, I think, abroad; he speaks simply and easily, and shakes
hands with us all. You know him?... Well, listen then. Last week we
assembled at Beryozovka at the summons of the mediator, Nikifor Ilitch.
And the mediator, Nikifor Ilitch, says to us: "Gentlemen, we must
settle the boundaries; it's disgraceful; our district is behind all the
others; we must get to work." Well, so we got to work. There followed
discussions, disputes, as usual; our attorney began to make objections.
But the first to make an uproar was Porfiry Ovtchinnikov.... And what
had the fellow to make an uproar about?... He hasn't an acre of ground;
he is acting as representative of his brother. He bawls: "No, you shall
not impose on me! no, you shan't drive me to that! give the plans here!
give me the surveyor's plans, the Judas's plans here!" "But what is
your claim, then?" "Oh, you think I'm a fool! Indeed! do you suppose I
am going to lay bare my claim to you offhand? No, let me have the plans
here--that's what I want!" And he himself is banging his fist on the
plans all the time. Then he mortally offended Marfa Dmitrievna. She
shrieks out, "How dare you asperse my reputation?" "Your reputation,"
says he; "I shouldn't like my chestnut mare to have your reputation."
They poured him out some Madeira at last, and so quieted him; then
others begin to make a row. Alexandr Vladimirovitch Korolyov, the dear
fellow, sat in a corner sucking the knob of his cane, and only shook
his head. I felt ashamed; I could hardly sit it out. "What must he be
thinking of us?" I said to myself. When, behold! Alexandr
Vladimirovitch has got up, and shows signs of wanting to speak. The
mediator exerts himself, says, "Gentlemen, gentlemen, Alexandr
Vladimirovitch wishes to speak." And I must do them this credit; they
were all silent at once. And so Alexandr Vladimirovitch began and said
"that we seemed to have forgotten what we had come together for; that,
indeed, the fixing of boundaries was indisputably advantageous for
owners of land, but actually what was its object? To make things easier
for the peasant, so that he could work and pay his dues more
conveniently; that now the peasant hardly knows his own land, and often
goes to work five miles away; and one can't expect too much of him."
Then Alexandr Vladimirovitch said "that it was disgraceful in a
landowner not to interest himself in the well-being of his peasants;
that in the end, if you look at it rightly, their interests and our
interests are inseparable; if they are well-off we are well-off, and if
they do badly we do badly, and that, consequently, it was injudicious
and wrong to disagree over trifles" ... and so on--and so on.... There,
how he did speak! He seemed to go right to your heart.... All the
gentry hung their heads; I myself, faith, it nearly brought me to
tears. To tell the truth, you would not find sayings like that in the
old books even.... But what was the end of it? He himself would not
give up four acres of peat marsh, and wasn't willing to sell it. He
said, "I am going to drain that marsh for my people, and set up a
cloth-factory on it, with all the latest improvements. I have already,"
he said, "fixed on that place; I have thought out my plans on the
subject." And if only that had been the truth, it would be all very
well; but the simple fact is, Alexandr Vladimirovitch's neighbour,
Anton Karasikov, had refused to buy over Korolyov's bailiff for a
hundred roubles. And so we separated without having done anything. But
Alexandr Vladimirovitch considers to this day that he is right, and
still talks of the cloth-factory; but he does not start draining the
'And how does he manage in his estate?'
'He is always introducing new ways. The peasants don't speak well of
him--but it's useless to listen to them. Alexandr Vladimirovitch is
'How's that, Luka Petrovitch? I thought you kept to the old ways.'
'I--that's another thing. You see I am not a nobleman or a landowner.
What sort of management is mine?... Besides, I don't know how to do
things differently. I try to act according to justice and the law, and
leave the rest in God's hands! Young gentlemen don't like the old
method; I think they are right.... It's the time to take in ideas. Only
this is the pity of it; the young are too theoretical. They treat the
peasant like a doll; they turn him this way and that way; twist him
about and throw him away. And their bailiff, a serf, or some overseer
from the German natives, gets the peasant under his thumb again. Now,
if any one of the young gentlemen would set us an example, would show
us, "See, this is how you ought to manage!" ... What will be the end of
it? Can it be that I shall die without seeing the new methods?... What
is the proverb?--the old is dead, but the young is not born!'
I did not know what reply to make to Ovsyanikov. He looked round, drew
himself nearer to me, and went on in an undertone:
'Have you heard talk of Vassily Nikolaitch Lubozvonov?'
'No, I haven't.'
'Explain to me, please, what sort of strange creature he is. I can't
make anything of it. His peasants have described him, but I can't make
any sense of their tales. He is a young man, you know; it's not long
since he received his heritage from his mother. Well, he arrived at his
estate. The peasants were all collected to stare at their master.
Vassily Nikolaitch came out to them. The peasants looked at him--
strange to relate! the master wore plush pantaloons like a coachman,
and he had on boots with trimming at the top; he wore a red shirt and a
coachman's long coat too; he had let his beard grow, and had such a
strange hat and such a strange face--could he be drunk? No, he wasn't
drunk, and yet he didn't seem quite right. "Good health to you, lads!"
he says; "God keep you!" The peasants bow to the ground, but without
speaking; they began to feel frightened, you know. And he too seemed
timid. He began to make a speech to them: "I am a Russian," he says,
"and you are Russians; I like everything Russian.... Russia," says he,
"is my heart, and my blood too is Russian".... Then he suddenly gives
the order: "Come, lads, sing a Russian national song!" The peasants'
legs shook under them with fright; they were utterly stupefied. One
bold spirit did begin to sing, but he sat down at once on the ground
and hid himself behind the others.... And what is so surprising is
this: we have had landowners like that, dare-devil gentlemen, regular
rakes, of course: they dressed pretty much like coachmen, and danced
themselves and played on the guitar, and sang and drank with their
house-serfs and feasted with the peasants; but this Vassily Nikolaitch
is like a girl; he is always reading books or writing, or else
declaiming poetry aloud--he never addresses any one; he is shy, walks
by himself in his garden; seems either bored or sad. The old bailiff at
first was in a thorough scare; before Vassily Nikolaitch's arrival he
was afraid to go near the peasants' houses; he bowed to all of them--
one could see the cat knew whose butter he had eaten! And the peasants
were full of hope; they thought, 'Fiddlesticks, my friend!--now they'll
make you answer for it, my dear; they'll lead you a dance now, you
robber!' ... But instead of this it has turned out--how shall I explain
it to you?--God Almighty could not account for how things have turned
out! Vassily Nikolaitch summoned him to his presence and says, blushing
himself and breathing quick, you know: "Be upright in my service; don't
oppress any one--do you hear?" And since that day he has never asked to
see him in person again! He lives on his own property like a stranger.
Well, the bailiff's been enjoying himself, and the peasants don't dare
to go to Vassily Nikolaitch; they are afraid. And do you see what's a
matter for wonder again; the master even bows to them and looks
graciously at them; but he seems to turn their stomachs with fright!
'What do you say to such a strange state of things, your honour? Either
I have grown stupid in my old age, or something.... I can't understand
I said to Ovsyanikov that Mr. Lubozvonov must certainly be ill.
'Ill, indeed! He's as broad as he's long, and a face like this--God
bless him!--and bearded, though he is so young.... Well, God knows!'
And Ovsyanikov gave a deep sigh.
'Come, putting the nobles aside,' I began, 'what have you to tell me
about the peasant proprietors, Luka Petrovitch?'
'No, you must let me off that,' he said hurriedly. 'Truly.... I could
tell you ... but what's the use!' (with a wave of his hand). 'We had
better have some tea.... We are common peasants and nothing more; but
when we come to think of it, what else could we be?'
He ceased talking. Tea was served. Tatyana Ilyinitchna rose from her
place and sat down rather nearer to us. In the course of the evening
she several times went noiselessly out and as quietly returned. Silence
reigned in the room. Ovsyanikov drank cup after cup with gravity and
'Mitya has been to see us to-day,' said Tatyana Ilyinitchna in a low
'What does he want?'
'He came to ask forgiveness.'
Ovsyanikov shook his head.
'Come, tell me,' he went on, turning to me, 'what is one to do with
relations? And to abandon them altogether is impossible.... Here God
has bestowed on me a nephew. He's a fellow with brains--a smart fellow
--I don't dispute that; he has had a good education, but I don't expect
much good to come of him. He went into a government office; threw up
his position--didn't get on fast enough, if you please.... Does he
suppose he's a noble? And even noblemen don't come to be generals all
at once. So now he is living without an occupation.... And that, even,
would not be such a great matter--except that he has taken to
litigation! He gets up petitions for the peasants, writes memorials; he
instructs the village delegates, drags the surveyors over the coals,
frequents drinking houses, is seen in taverns with city tradesmen and
inn-keepers. He's bound to come to ruin before long. The constables and
police-captains have threatened him more than once already. But he
luckily knows how to turn it off--he makes them laugh; but they will
boil his kettle for him some day.... But, there, isn't he sitting in
your little room?' he added, turning to his wife; 'I know you, you see;
you're so soft-hearted--you will always take his part.'
Tatyana Ilyinitchna dropped her eyes, smiled, and blushed.
'Well, I see it is so,' continued Ovsyanikov. 'Fie! you spoil the boy!
Well, tell him to come in.... So be it, then; for the sake of our good
guest I will forgive the silly fellow.... Come, tell him, tell him.'
Tatyana Ilyinitchna went to the door, and cried 'Mitya!'
Mitya, a young man of twenty-eight, tall, well-made, and curly-headed,
came into the room, and seeing me, stopped short in the doorway. His
costume was in the German style, but the unnatural size of the puffs on
his shoulders was enough alone to prove convincingly that the tailor
who had cut it was a Russian of the Russians.
'Well, come in, come in,' began the old man; 'why are you bashful? You
must thank your aunt--you're forgiven.... Here, your honour, I commend
him to you,' he continued, pointing to Mitya; 'he's my own nephew, but
I don't get on with him at all. The end of the world is coming!' (We
bowed to one another.) 'Well, tell me what is this you have got mixed
up in? What is the complaint they are making against you? Explain it to
Mitya obviously did not care to explain matters and justify himself
'Later on, uncle,' he muttered.
'No, not later--now,' pursued the old man.... 'You are ashamed, I see,
before this gentleman; all the better--it's only what you deserve.
Speak, speak; we are listening.'
'I have nothing to be ashamed of,' began Mitya spiritedly, with a toss
of his head. 'Be so good as to judge for yourself, uncle. Some peasant
proprietors of Reshetilovo came to me, and said, "Defend us, brother."
"What is the matter?"' "This is it: our grain stores were in perfect
order--in fact, they could not be better; all at once a government
inspector came to us with orders to inspect the granaries. He inspected
them, and said, 'Your granaries are in disorder--serious neglect; it's
my duty to report it to the authorities.' 'But what does the neglect
consist in?' 'That's my business,' he says.... We met together, and
decided to tip the official in the usual way; but old Prohoritch
prevented us. He said, 'No; that's only giving him a taste for more.
Come; after all, haven't we the courts of justice?' We obeyed the old
man, and the official got in a rage, and made a complaint, and wrote a
report. So now we are called up to answer to his charges." "But are
your granaries actually in order?" I asked. "God knows they are in
order; and the legal quantity of corn is in them." "Well, then," say I,
"you have nothing to fear"; and I drew up a document for them.... And
it is not yet known in whose favour it is decided.... And as to the
complaints they have made to you about me over that affair--it's very
easy to understand that--every man's shirt is nearest to his own skin.
'Everyone's, indeed--but not yours seemingly,' said the old man in an
undertone. 'But what plots have you been hatching with the
'How do you know anything of it?'
'Never mind; I do know of it.'
'And there, too, I am right--judge for yourself again. A neighbouring
landowner, Bezpandin, has ploughed over four acres of the Shutolomovsky
peasants' land. "The land's mine," he says. The Shutolomovsky people
are on the rent-system; their landowner has gone abroad--who is to
stand up for them? Tell me yourself? But the land is theirs beyond
dispute; they've been bound to it for ages and ages. So they came to
me, and said, "Write us a petition." So I wrote one. And Bezpandin
heard of it, and began to threaten me. "I'll break every bone in that
Mitya's body, and knock his head off his shoulders...." We shall see
how he will knock it off; it's still on, so far.'
'Come, don't boast; it's in a bad way, your head,' said the old man.
'You are a mad fellow altogether!'
'Why, uncle, what did you tell me yourself?'
'I know, I know what you will say,' Ovsyanikov interrupted him; 'of
course a man ought to live uprightly, and he is bound to succour his
neighbour. Sometimes one must not spare oneself.... But do you always
behave in that way? Don't they take you to the tavern, eh? Don't they
treat you; bow to you, eh? "Dmitri Alexyitch," they say, "help us, and
we will prove our gratitude to you." And they slip a silver rouble or
note into your hand. Eh? doesn't that happen? Tell me, doesn't that
'I am certainly to blame in that,' answered Mitya, rather confused;
'but I take nothing from the poor, and I don't act against my
'You don't take from them now; but when you are badly off yourself,
then you will. You don't act against your conscience--fie on you! Of
course, they are all saints whom you defend!... Have you forgotten
Borka Perohodov? Who was it looked after him? Who took him under his
'Perohodov suffered through his own fault, certainly.'
'He appropriated the public moneys.... That was all!'
'But, consider, uncle: his poverty, his family.'
'Poverty, poverty.... He's a drunkard, a quarrelsome fellow; that's
what it is!'
'He took to drink through trouble,' said Mitya, dropping his voice.
'Through trouble, indeed! Well, you might have helped him, if your
heart was so warm to him, but there was no need for you to sit in
taverns with the drunken fellow yourself. Though he did speak so finely
... a prodigy, to be sure!'
'He was a very good fellow.'
'Every one is good with you.... But did you send him?' ... pursued
Ovsyanikov, turning to his wife; 'come; you know?'
Tatyana Ilyinitchna nodded.
'Where have you been lately?' the old man began again.
'I have been in the town.'
'You have been doing nothing but playing billiards, I wager, and
drinking tea, and running to and fro about the government offices,
drawing up petitions in little back rooms, flaunting about with
merchants' sons? That's it, of course?... Tell us!'
'Perhaps that is about it,' said Mitya with a smile.... 'Ah! I had
almost forgotten--Funtikov, Anton Parfenitch asks you to dine with him
'I shan't go to see that old tub. He gives you costly fish and puts
rancid butter on it. God bless him!'
'And I met Fedosya Mihalovna.'
'What Fedosya is that?'
'She belongs to Garpentchenko, the landowner, who bought Mikulino by
auction. Fedosya is from Mikulino. She lived in Moscow as a dress-
maker, paying her service in money, and she paid her service-money
accurately--a hundred and eighty two-roubles and a half a year.... And
she knows her business; she got good orders in Moscow. But now
Garpentchenko has written for her back, and he retains her here, but
does not provide any duties for her. She would be prepared to buy her
freedom, and has spoken to the master, but he will not give any
decisive answer. You, uncle, are acquainted with Garpentchenko ... so
couldn't you just say a word to him?... And Fedosya would give a good
price for her freedom.'
'Not with your money I hope? Hey? Well, well, all right; I will speak
to him, I will speak to him. But I don't know,' continued the old man
with a troubled face; 'this Garpentchenko, God forgive him! is a shark;
he buys up debts, lends money at interest, purchases estates at
auctions.... And who brought him into our parts? Ugh, I can't bear
these new-comers! One won't get an answer out of him very quickly....
However, we shall see.'
'Try to manage it, uncle.'
'Very well, I will see to it. Only you take care; take care of
yourself! There, there, don't defend yourself.... God bless you! God
bless you!... Only take care for the future, or else, Mitya, upon my
word, it will go ill with you.... Upon my word, you will come to
grief.... I can't always screen you ... and I myself am not a man of
influence. There, go now, and God be with you!'
Mitya went away. Tatyana Ilyinitchna went out after him.
'Give him some tea, you soft-hearted creature,' cried Ovsyanikov after
her. 'He's not a stupid fellow,' he continued, 'and he's a good heart,
but I feel afraid for him.... But pardon me for having so long kept you
occupied with such details.'
The door from the hall opened. A short grizzled little man came in, in
a velvet coat.
'Ah, Frantz Ivanitch!' cried Ovsyanikov, 'good day to you. Is God
merciful to you?'
Allow me, gentle reader, to introduce to you this gentleman.
Frantz Ivanitch Lejeune, my neighbour, and a landowner of Orel, had
arrived at the respectable position of a Russian nobleman in a not
quite ordinary way. He was born in Orleans of French parents, and had
gone with Napoleon, on the invasion of Russia, in the capacity of a
drummer. At first all went smoothly, and our Frenchman arrived in
Moscow with his head held high. But on the return journey poor Monsieur
Lejeune, half-frozen and without his drum, fell into the hands of some
peasants of Smolensk. The peasants shut him up for the night in an
empty cloth factory, and the next morning brought him to an ice-hole
near the dyke, and began to beg the drummer '_de la Grrrrande Armee_'
to oblige them; in other words, to swim under the ice. Monsieur Lejeune
could not agree to their proposition, and in his turn began to try to
persuade the Smolensk peasants, in the dialect of France, to let him go
to Orleans. 'There, messieurs,' he said, '_my mother is living, une
tendre mere_' But the peasants, doubtless through their ignorance of
the geographical position of Orleans, continued to offer him a journey
under water along the course of the meandering river Gniloterka, and
had already begun to encourage him with slight blows on the vertebrae
of the neck and back, when suddenly, to the indescribable delight of
Lejeune, the sound of bells was heard, and there came along the dyke a
huge sledge with a striped rug over its excessively high dickey,
harnessed with three roan horses. In the sledge sat a stout and red-
faced landowner in a wolfskin pelisse.
'What is it you are doing there?' he asked the peasants.
'We are drowning a Frenchman, your honour.'
'Ah!' replied the landowner indifferently, and he turned away.
'Monsieur! Monsieur!' shrieked the poor fellow.
'Ah, ah!' observed the wolfskin pelisse reproachfully, 'you came with
twenty nations into Russia, burnt Moscow, tore down, you damned
heathen! the cross from Ivan the Great, and now--mossoo, mossoo,
indeed! now you turn tail! You are paying the penalty of your sins!...
Go on, Filka!'
The horses were starting.
'Stop, though!' added the landowner. 'Eh? you mossoo, do you know
anything of music?'
'_Sauvez-moi, sauvez-moi, mon bon monsieur!_' repeated Lejeune.
'There, see what a wretched people they are! Not one of them knows
Russian! Muzeek, muzeek, savey muzeek voo? savey? Well, speak, do!
Compreny? savey muzeek voo? on the piano, savey zhooey?'
Lejeune comprehended at last what the landowner meant, and persistently
nodded his head.
'_Oui, monsieur, oui, oui, je suis musicien; je joue tous les
instruments possibles! Oui, monsieur.... Sauvez-moi, monsieur!_'
'Well, thank your lucky star!' replied the landowner. 'Lads, let him
go: here's a twenty-copeck piece for vodka.'
'Thank you, your honour, thank you. Take him, your honour.'
They sat Lejeune in the sledge. He was gasping with delight, weeping,
shivering, bowing, thanking the landowner, the coachman, the peasants.
He had nothing on but a green jacket with pink ribbons, and it was
freezing very hard. The landowner looked at his blue and benumbed
shoulders in silence, wrapped the unlucky fellow in his own pelisse,
and took him home. The household ran out. They soon thawed the
Frenchman, fed him, and clothed him. The landowner conducted him to his
'Here, children!' he said to them, 'a teacher is found for you. You
were always entreating me to have you taught music and the French
jargon; here you have a Frenchman, and he plays on the piano.... Come,
mossoo,' he went on, pointing to a wretched little instrument he had
bought five years before of a Jew, whose special line was eau de
Cologne, 'give us an example of your art; zhooey!'
Lejeune, with a sinking heart, sat down on the music-stool; he had
never touched a piano in his life.
'Zhooey, zhooey!' repeated the landowner.
In desperation, the unhappy man beat on the keys as though on a drum,
and played at hazard. 'I quite expected,' he used to tell afterwards,
'that my deliverer would seize me by the collar, and throw me out of
the house.' But, to the utmost amazement of the unwilling improvisor,
the landowner, after waiting a little, patted him good-humouredly on
'Good, good,' he said; 'I see your attainments; go now, and rest
Within a fortnight Lejeune had gone from this landowner's to stay with
another, a rich and cultivated man. He gained his friendship by his
bright and gentle disposition, was married to a ward of his, went into
a government office, rose to the nobility, married his daughter to
Lobizanyev, a landowner of Orel, and a retired dragoon and poet, and
settled himself on an estate in Orel.
It was this same Lejeune, or rather, as he is called now, Frantz
Ivanitch, who, when I was there, came in to see Ovsyanikov, with whom
he was on friendly terms....
But perhaps the reader is already weary of sitting with me at the
Ovsyanikovs', and so I will become eloquently silent.
'Let us go to Lgov,' Yermolai, whom the reader knows already, said to
me one day; 'there we can shoot ducks to our heart's content.'
Although wild duck offers no special attraction for a genuine
sportsman, still, through lack of other game at the time (it was the
beginning of September; snipe were not on the wing yet, and I was tired
of running across the fields after partridges), I listened to my
huntsman's suggestion, and we went to Lgov.
Lgov is a large village of the steppes, with a very old stone church
with a single cupola, and two mills on the swampy little river Rossota.
Five miles from Lgov, this river becomes a wide swampy pond, overgrown
at the edges, and in places also in the centre, with thick reeds. Here,
in the creeks or rather pools between the reeds, live and breed a
countless multitude of ducks of all possible kinds--quackers, half-
quackers, pintails, teals, divers, etc. Small flocks are for ever
flitting about and swimming on the water, and at a gunshot, they rise
in such clouds that the sportsman involuntarily clutches his hat with
one hand and utters a prolonged Pshaw! I walked with Yermolai along
beside the pond; but, in the first place, the duck is a wary bird, and
is not to be met quite close to the bank; and secondly, even when some
straggling and inexperienced teal exposed itself to our shots and lost
its life, our dogs were not able to get it out of the thick reeds; in
spite of their most devoted efforts they could neither swim nor tread
on the bottom, and only cut their precious noses on the sharp reeds for
'No,' was Yermolai's comment at last, 'it won't do; we must get a
boat.... Let us go back to Lgov.'
We went back. We had only gone a few paces when a rather wretched-
looking setter-dog ran out from behind a bushy willow to meet us, and
behind him appeared a man of middle height, in a blue and much-worn
greatcoat, a yellow waistcoat, and pantaloons of a nondescript grey
colour, hastily tucked into high boots full of holes, with a red
handkerchief round his neck, and a single-barrelled gun on his
shoulder. While our dogs, with the ordinary Chinese ceremonies peculiar
to their species, were sniffing at their new acquaintance, who was
obviously ill at ease, held his tail between his legs, dropped his ears
back, and kept turning round and round showing his teeth--the stranger
approached us, and bowed with extreme civility. He appeared to be about
twenty-five; his long dark hair, perfectly saturated with kvas, stood
up in stiff tufts, his small brown eyes twinkled genially; his face was
bound up in a black handkerchief, as though for toothache; his
countenance was all smiles and amiability.
'Allow me to introduce myself,' he began in a soft and insinuating
voice; 'I am a sportsman of these parts--Vladimir.... Having heard of
your presence, and having learnt that you proposed to visit the shores
of our pond, I resolved, if it were not displeasing to you, to offer
you my services.'
The sportsman, Vladimir, uttered those words for all the world like a
young provincial actor in the _role_ of leading lover. I agreed to his
proposition, and before we had reached Lgov I had succeeded in learning
his whole history. He was a freed house-serf; in his tender youth had
been taught music, then served as valet, could read and write, had
read--so much I could discover--some few trashy books, and existed now,
as many do exist in Russia, without a farthing of ready money; without
any regular occupation; fed by manna from heaven, or something hardly
less precarious. He expressed himself with extraordinary elegance, and
obviously plumed himself on his manners; he must have been devoted to
the fair sex too, and in all probability popular with them: Russian
girls love fine talking. Among other things, he gave me to understand
that he sometimes visited the neighbouring landowners, and went to stay
with friends in the town, where he played preference, and that he was
acquainted with people in the metropolis. His smile was masterly and
exceedingly varied; what specially suited him was a modest, contained
smile which played on his lips as he listened to any other man's
conversation. He was attentive to you; he agreed with you completely,
but still he did not lose sight of his own dignity, and seemed to wish
to give you to understand that he could, if occasion arose, express
convictions of his own. Yermolai, not being very refined, and quite
devoid of 'subtlety,' began to address him with coarse familiarity. The
fine irony with which Vladimir used 'Sir' in his reply was worth
'Why is your face tied up? 'I inquired; 'have you toothache?'
'No,' he answered; 'it was a most disastrous consequence of
carelessness. I had a friend, a good fellow, but not a bit of a
sportsman, as sometimes occurs. Well, one day he said to me, "My dear
friend, take me out shooting; I am curious to learn what this diversion
consists in." I did not like, of course, to refuse a comrade; I got him
a gun and took him out shooting. Well, we shot a little in the ordinary
way; at last we thought we would rest I sat down under a tree; but he
began instead to play with his gun, pointing it at me meantime. I asked
him to leave off, but in his inexperience he did not attend to my
words, the gun went off, and I lost half my chin, and the first finger
of my right hand.'
We reached Lgov. Vladimir and Yermolai had both decided that we could
not shoot without a boat.
'Sutchok (_i.e._ the twig) has a punt,' observed Vladimir, 'but I
don't know where he has hidden it. We must go to him.'
'To whom?' I asked.
'The man lives here; Sutchok is his nickname.'
Vladimir went with Yermolai to Sutchok's. I told them I would wait for
them at the church. While I was looking at the tombstones in the
churchyard, I stumbled upon a blackened, four-cornered urn with the
following inscription, on one side in French: 'Ci-git Theophile-Henri,
Vicomte de Blangy'; on the next; 'Under this stone is laid the body of
a French subject, Count Blangy; born 1737, died 1799, in the 62nd year
of his age': on the third, 'Peace to his ashes': and on the fourth:--
'Under this stone there lies from France an emigrant.
Of high descent was he, and also of talent.
A wife and kindred murdered he bewailed,
And left his land by tyrants cruel assailed;
The friendly shores of Russia he attained,
And hospitable shelter here he gained;
Children he taught; their parents' cares allayed:
Here, by God's will, in peace he has been laid.'
The approach of Yermolai with Vladimir and the man with the strange
nickname, Sutchok, broke in on my meditations.
Barelegged, ragged and dishevelled, Sutchok looked like a discharged
stray house-serf of sixty years old.
'Have you a boat?' I asked him.
'I have a boat,' he answered in a hoarse, cracked voice; 'but it's a
very poor one.'
'Its boards are split apart, and the rivets have come off the cracks.'
'That's no great disaster!' interposed Yermolai; 'we can stuff them up
'Of course you can,' Sutchok assented.
'And who are you?'
'I am the fisherman of the manor.'
'How is it, when you're a fisherman, your boat is in such bad
'There are no fish in our river.'
'Fish don't like slimy marshes,' observed my huntsman, with the air of
'Come,' I said to Yermolai, 'go and get some tow, and make the boat
right for us as soon as you can.'
Yermolai went off.
'Well, in this way we may very likely go to the bottom,' I said to
Vladimir. 'God is merciful,' he answered. 'Anyway, we must suppose that
the pond is not deep.'
'No, it is not deep,' observed Sutchok, who spoke in a strange, far-
away voice, as though he were in a dream, 'and there's sedge and mud at
the bottom, and it's all overgrown with sedge. But there are deep holes
'But if the sedge is so thick,' said Vladimir, 'it will be impossible
'Who thinks of rowing in a punt? One has to punt it. I will go with
you; my pole is there--or else one can use a wooden spade.'
'With a spade it won't be easy; you won't touch the bottom perhaps in
some places,' said Vladimir.
'It's true; it won't be easy.'
I sat down on a tomb-stone to wait for Yermolai. Vladimir moved a
little to one side out of respect to me, and also sat down. Sutchok
remained standing in the same place, his head bent and his hands
clasped behind his back, according to the old habit of house-serfs.
'Tell me, please,' I began, 'have you been the fisherman here long?'
'It is seven years now,' he replied, rousing himself with a start.
'And what was your occupation before?'
'I was coachman before.'
'Who dismissed you from being coachman?'
'The new mistress.'
'Oh, that bought us. Your honour does not know her; Alyona Timofyevna;
she is so fat ... not young.'
'Why did she decide to make you a fisherman?'
'God knows. She came to us from her estate in Tamboff, gave orders for
all the household to come together, and came out to us. We first kissed
her hand, and she said nothing; she was not angry.... Then she began to
question us in order; "How are you employed? what duties have you?" She
came to me in my turn; so she asked: "What have you been?" I say,
"Coachman." "Coachman? Well, a fine coachman you are; only look at you!
You're not fit for a coachman, but be my fisherman, and shave your
beard. On the occasions of my visits provide fish for the table; do you
hear?" ... So since then I have been enrolled as a fisherman. "And mind
you keep my pond in order." But how is one to keep it in order?'
'Whom did you belong to before?'
'To Sergai Sergiitch Pehterev. We came to him by inheritance. But he
did not own us long; only six years altogether. I was his coachman ...
but not in town, he had others there--only in the country.'
'And were you always a coachman from your youth up?'
'Always a coachman? Oh, no! I became a coachman in Sergai Sergiitch's
time, but before that I was a cook--but not town-cook; only a cook in
'Whose cook were you, then?'
'Oh, my former master's, Afanasy Nefeditch, Sergai Sergiitch's uncle.
Lgov was bought by him, by Afanasy Nefeditch, but it came to Sergai
Sergiitch by inheritance from him.'
'Whom did he buy it from?'
'From Tatyana Vassilyevna.'
'What Tatyana Vassilyevna was that?'
'Why, that died last year in Bolhov ... that is, at Karatchev, an old
maid.... She had never married. Don't you know her? We came to her from
her father, Vassily Semenitch. She owned us a goodish while ... twenty
'Then were you cook to her?'
'At first, to be sure, I was cook, and then I was coffee-bearer.'
'What were you?'
'What sort of duty is that?'
'I don't know, your honour. I stood at the sideboard, and was called
Anton instead of Kuzma. The mistress ordered that I should be called
'Your real name, then, is Kuzma?'
'And were you coffee-bearer all the time?'
'No, not all the time; I was an actor too.'
'Yes, I was.... I played in the theatre. Our mistress set up a theatre
of her own.'
'What kind of parts did you take?'
'What did you please to say?'
'What did you do in the theatre?'
'Don't you know? Why, they take me and dress me up; and I walk about
dressed up, or stand or sit down there as it happens, and they say,
"See, this is what you must say," and I say it. Once I represented a
blind man.... They laid little peas under each eyelid.... Yes, indeed.'
'And what were you afterwards?'
'Afterwards I became a cook again.'
'Why did they degrade you to being a cook again?'
'My brother ran away.'
'Well, and what were you under the father of your first mistress?'
'I had different duties; at first I found myself a page; I have been a
postilion, a gardener, and a whipper-in.'
'A whipper-in?... And did you ride out with the hounds?'
'Yes, I rode with the hounds, and was nearly killed; I fell off my
horse, and the horse was injured. Our old master was very severe; he
ordered them to flog me, and to send me to learn a trade to Moscow, to
'To learn a trade? But you weren't a child, I suppose, when you were a
'I was twenty and over then.'
'But could you learn a trade at twenty?'
'I suppose one could, some way, since the master ordered it. But he
luckily died soon after, and they sent me back to the country.'
'And when were you taught to cook?'
Sutchok lifted his thin yellowish little old face and grinned.
'Is that a thing to be taught?... Old women can cook.'
'Well,' I commented, 'you have seen many things, Kuzma, in your time!
What do you do now as a fisherman, seeing there are no fish?'
'Oh, your honour, I don't complain. And, thank God, they made me a
fisherman. Why another old man like me--Andrey Pupir--the mistress
ordered to be put into the paper factory, as a ladler. "It's a sin,"
she said, "to eat bread in idleness." And Pupir had even hoped for
favour; his cousin's son was clerk in the mistress's counting-house: he
had promised to send his name up to the mistress, to remember him: a
fine way he remembered him!... And Pupir fell at his cousin's knees
before my eyes.'
'Have you a family? Have you married?'
'No, your honour, I have never been married. Tatyana Vassilyevna--God
rest her soul!--did not allow anyone to marry. "God forbid!" she said
sometimes, "here am I living single: what indulgence! What are they
'What do you live on now? Do you get wages?'
'Wages, your honour!... Victuals are given me, and thanks be to Thee,
Lord! I am very contented. May God give our lady long life!'
'The boat is repaired,' he announced churlishly. 'Go after your pole--
Sutchok ran to get his pole. During the whole time of my conversation
with the poor old man, the sportsman Vladimir had been staring at him
with a contemptuous smile.
'A stupid fellow,' was his comment, when the latter had gone off; 'an
absolutely uneducated fellow; a peasant, nothing more. One cannot even
call him a house-serf, and he was boasting all the time. How could he
be an actor, be pleased to judge for yourself! You were pleased to
trouble yourself for no good in talking to him.'
A quarter of an hour later we were sitting in Sutchok's punt. The dogs
we left in a hut in charge of my coachman. We were not very
comfortable, but sportsmen are not a fastidious race. At the rear end,
which was flattened and straight, stood Sutchok, punting; I sat with
Vladimir on the planks laid across the boat, and Yermolai ensconced
himself in front, in the very beak. In spite of the tow, the water soon
made its appearance under our feet. Fortunately, the weather was calm
and the pond seemed slumbering.
We floated along rather slowly. The old man had difficulty in drawing
his long pole out of the sticky mud; it came up all tangled in green
threads of water-sedge; the flat round leaves of the water-lily also
hindered the progress of our boat last we got up to the reeds, and then
the fun began. Ducks flew up noisily from the pond, scared by our
unexpected appearance in their domains, shots sounded at once after
them; it was a pleasant sight to see these short-tailed game turning
somersaults in the air, splashing heavily into the water. We could not,
of course, get at all the ducks that were shot; those who were slightly
wounded swam away; some which had been quite killed fell into such
thick reeds that even Yermolai's little lynx eyes could not discover
them, yet our boat was nevertheless filled to the brim with game for
Vladimir, to Yermolai's great satisfaction, did not shoot at all well;
he seemed surprised after each unsuccessful shot, looked at his gun and
blew down it, seemed puzzled, and at last explained to us the reason
why he had missed his aim. Yermolai, as always, shot triumphantly; I--
rather badly, after my custom. Sutchok looked on at us with the eyes of
a man who has been the servant of others from his youth up; now and
then he cried out: 'There, there, there's another little duck'; and he
constantly rubbed his back, not with his hands, but by a peculiar
movement of the shoulder-blades. The weather kept magnificent; curly
white clouds moved calmly high above our heads, and were reflected
clearly in the water; the reeds were whispering around us; here and
there the pond sparkled in the sunshine like steel. We were preparing
to return to the village, when suddenly a rather unpleasant adventure
For a long time we had been aware that the water was gradually filling
our punt. Vladimir was entrusted with the task of baling it out by
means of a ladle, which my thoughtful huntsman had stolen to be ready
for any emergency from a peasant woman who was staring away in another
direction. All went well so long as Vladimir did not neglect his duty.
But just at the end the ducks, as if to take leave of us, rose in such
flocks that we scarcely had time to load our guns. In the heat of the
sport we did not pay attention to the state of our punt--when suddenly,
Yermolai, in trying to reach a wounded duck, leaned his whole weight on
the boat's-edge; at his over-eager movement our old tub veered on one
side, began to fill, and majestically sank to the bottom, fortunately
not in a deep place. We cried out, but it was too late; in an instant
we were standing in the water up to our necks, surrounded by the
floating bodies of the slaughtered ducks. I cannot help laughing now
when I recollect the scared white faces of my companions (probably my
own face was not particularly rosy at that moment), but I must confess
at the time it did not enter my head to feel amused. Each of us kept
his gun above his head, and Sutchok, no doubt from the habit of
imitating his masters, lifted his pole above him. The first to break
the silence was Yermolai.
'Tfoo! curse it!' he muttered, spitting into the water; 'here's a go.
It's all you, you old devil!' he added, turning wrathfully to Sutchok;
'you've such a boat!'
'It's my fault,' stammered the old man.
'Yes; and you're a nice one,' continued my huntsman, turning his head
in Vladimir's direction; 'what were you thinking of? Why weren't you
baling out?--you, you?'
But Vladimir was not equal to a reply; he was shaking like a leaf, his
teeth were chattering, and his smile was utterly meaningless. What had
become of his fine language, his feeling of fine distinctions, and of
his own dignity!
The cursed punt rocked feebly under our feet... At the instant of our
ducking the water seemed terribly cold to us, but we soon got hardened
to it, when the first shock had passed off. I looked round me; the
reeds rose up in a circle ten paces from us; in the distance above
their tops the bank could be seen. 'It looks bad,' I thought.
'What are we to do?' I asked Yermolai.
'Well, we'll take a look round; we can't spend the night here,' he
answered. 'Here, you, take my gun,' he said to Vladimir.
Vladimir obeyed submissively.
'I will go and find the ford,' continued Yermolai, as though there must
infallibly be a ford in every pond: he took the pole from Sutchok, and
went off in the direction of the bank, warily sounding the depth as he
'Can you swim?' I asked him.
'No, I can't,' his voice sounded from behind the reeds.
'Then he'll be drowned,' remarked Sutchok indifferently. He had been
terrified at first, not by the danger, but through fear of our anger,
and now, completely reassured, he drew a long breath from time to time,
and seemed not to be aware of any necessity for moving from his present
'And he will perish without doing any good,' added Vladimir piteously.
Yermolai did not return for more than an hour. That hour seemed an
eternity to us. At first we kept calling to him very energetically;
then his answering shouts grew less frequent; at last he was completely
silent. The bells in the village began ringing for evening service.
There was not much conversation between us; indeed, we tried not to
look at one another. The ducks hovered over our heads; some seemed
disposed to settle near us, but suddenly rose up into the air and flew
away quacking. We began to grow numb. Sutchok shut his eyes as though
he were disposing himself to sleep.
At last, to our indescribable delight, Yermolai returned.
'I have been to the bank; I have found the ford.... Let us go.'
We wanted to set off at once; but he first brought some string out of
his pocket out of the water, tied the slaughtered ducks together by
their legs, took both ends in his teeth, and moved slowly forward;
Vladimir came behind him, and I behind Vladimir, and Sutchok brought up
the rear. It was about two hundred paces to the bank. Yermolai walked
boldly and without stopping (so well had he noted the track), only
occasionally crying out: 'More to the left--there's a hole here to the
right!' or 'Keep to the right--you'll sink in there to the left....'
Sometimes the water was up to our necks, and twice poor Sutchok, who
was shorter than all the rest of us, got a mouthful and spluttered.
'Come, come, come!' Yermolai shouted roughly to him--and Sutchok,
scrambling, hopping and skipping, managed to reach a shallower place,
but even in his greatest extremity was never so bold as to clutch at
the skirt of my coat. Worn out, muddy and wet, we at last reached the
Two hours later we were all sitting, as dry as circumstances would
allow, in a large hay barn, preparing for supper. The coachman
Yehudiil, an exceedingly deliberate man, heavy in gait, cautious and
sleepy, stood at the entrance, zealously plying Sutchok with snuff (I
have noticed that coachmen in Russia very quickly make friends);
Sutchok was taking snuff with frenzied energy, in quantities to make
him ill; he was spitting, sneezing, and apparently enjoying himself
greatly. Vladimir had assumed an air of languor; he leaned his head on
one side, and spoke little. Yermolai was cleaning our guns. The dogs
were wagging their tails at a great rate in the expectation of
porridge; the horses were stamping and neighing in the out-house....
The sun had set; its last rays were broken up into broad tracts of
purple; golden clouds were drawn out over the heavens into finer and
ever finer threads, like a fleece washed and combed out. ... There was
the sound of singing in the village.
It was a glorious July day, one of those days which only come after
many days of fine weather. From earliest morning the sky is clear; the
sunrise does not glow with fire; it is suffused with a soft roseate
flush. The sun, not fiery, not red-hot as in time of stifling drought,
not dull purple as before a storm, but with a bright and genial
radiance, rises peacefully behind a long and narrow cloud, shines out
freshly, and plunges again into its lilac mist. The delicate upper edge
of the strip of cloud flashes in little gleaming snakes; their
brilliance is like polished silver. But, lo! the dancing rays flash
forth again, and in solemn joy, as though flying upward, rises the
mighty orb. About mid-day there is wont to be, high up in the sky, a
multitude of rounded clouds, golden-grey, with soft white edges. Like
islands scattered over an overflowing river, that bathes them in its
unbroken reaches of deep transparent blue, they scarcely stir; farther
down the heavens they are in movement, packing closer; now there is no
blue to be seen between them, but they are themselves almost as blue as
the sky, filled full with light and heat. The colour of the horizon, a
faint pale lilac, does not change all day, and is the same all round;
nowhere is there storm gathering and darkening; only somewhere rays of
bluish colour stretch down from the sky; it is a sprinkling of scarce-
perceptible rain. In the evening these clouds disappear; the last of
them, blackish and undefined as smoke, lie streaked with pink, facing
the setting sun; in the place where it has gone down, as calmly as it
rose, a crimson glow lingers long over the darkening earth, and, softly
flashing like a candle carried carelessly, the evening star flickers in
the sky. On such days all the colours are softened, bright but not
glaring; everything is suffused with a kind of touching tenderness. On
such days the heat is sometimes very great; often it is even 'steaming'
on the slopes of the fields, but a wind dispels this growing
sultriness, and whirling eddies of dust--sure sign of settled, fine
weather--move along the roads and across the fields in high white
columns. In the pure dry air there is a scent of wormwood, rye in
blossom, and buckwheat; even an hour before nightfall there is no
moisture in the air. It is for such weather that the farmer longs, for
harvesting his wheat....
On just such a day I was once out grouse-shooting in the Tchern
district of the province of Tula. I started and shot a fair amount of
game; my full game-bag cut my shoulder mercilessly; but already the
evening glow had faded, and the cool shades of twilight were beginning
to grow thicker, and to spread across the sky, which was still bright,
though no longer lighted up by the rays of the setting sun, when I at
last decided to turn back homewards. With swift steps I passed through
the long 'square' of underwoods, clambered up a hill, and instead of
the familiar plain I expected to see, with the oakwood on the right and
the little white church in the distance, I saw before me a scene
completely different, and quite new to me. A narrow valley lay at my
feet, and directly facing me a dense wood of aspen-trees rose up like a
thick wall. I stood still in perplexity, looked round me.... 'Aha!' I
thought, 'I have somehow come wrong; I kept too much to the right,' and
surprised at my own mistake, I rapidly descended the hill. I was at
once plunged into a disagreeable clinging mist, exactly as though I had
gone down into a cellar; the thick high grass at the bottom of the
valley, all drenched with dew, was white like a smooth tablecloth; one
felt afraid somehow to walk on it. I made haste to get on the other
side, and walked along beside the aspenwood, bearing to the left. Bats
were already hovering over its slumbering tree-tops, mysteriously
flitting and quivering across the clear obscure of the sky; a young
belated hawk flew in swift, straight course upwards, hastening to its
nest. 'Here, directly I get to this corner,' I thought to myself, 'I
shall find the road at once; but I have come a mile out of my way!'
I did at last reach the end of the wood, but there was no road of any
sort there; some kind of low bushes overgrown with long grass extended
far and wide before me; behind them in the far, far distance could be
discerned a tract of waste land. I stopped again. 'Well? Where am I?' I
began ransacking my brain to recall how and where I had been walking
during the day.... 'Ah! but these are the bushes at Parahin,' I cried
at last; 'of course! then this must be Sindyev wood. But how did I get
here? So far?... Strange! Now I must bear to the right again.'
I went to the right through the bushes. Meantime the night had crept
close and grown up like a storm-cloud; it seemed as though, with the
mists of evening, darkness was rising up on all sides and flowing down
from overhead. I had come upon some sort of little, untrodden,
overgrown path; I walked along it, gazing intently before me. Soon all
was blackness and silence around--only the quail's cry was heard from
time to time. Some small night-bird, flitting noiselessly near the
ground on its soft wings, almost flapped against me and skurried away
in alarm. I came out on the further side of the bushes, and made my way
along a field by the hedge. By now I could hardly make out distant
objects; the field showed dimly white around; beyond it rose up a
sullen darkness, which seemed moving up closer in huge masses every
instant. My steps gave a muffled sound in the air, that grew colder and
colder. The pale sky began again to grow blue--but it was the blue of
night. The tiny stars glimmered and twinkled in it.
What I had been taking for a wood turned out to be a dark round
hillock. 'But where am I, then?' I repeated again aloud, standing still
for the third time and looking inquiringly at my spot and tan English
dog, Dianka by name, certainly the most intelligent of four-footed
creatures. But the most intelligent of four-footed creatures only
wagged her tail, blinked her weary eyes dejectedly, and gave me no
sensible advice. I felt myself disgraced in her eyes and pushed
desperately forward, as though I had suddenly guessed which way I ought
to go; I scaled the hill, and found myself in a hollow of no great
depth, ploughed round.
A strange sensation came over me at once. This hollow had the form of
an almost perfect cauldron, with sloping sides; at the bottom of it
were some great white stones standing upright--it seemed as though they
had crept there for some secret council--and it was so still and dark
in it, so dreary and weird seemed the sky, overhanging it, that my
heart sank. Some little animal was whining feebly and piteously among
the stones. I made haste to get out again on to the hillock. Till then
I had not quite given up all hope of finding the way home; but at this
point I finally decided that I was utterly lost, and without any
further attempt to make out the surrounding objects, which were almost
completely plunged in darkness, I walked straight forward, by the aid
of the stars, at random.... For about half-an-hour I walked on in this
way, though I could hardly move one leg before the other. It seemed as
if I had never been in such a deserted country in my life; nowhere was
there the glimmer of a fire, nowhere a sound to be heard. One sloping
hillside followed another; fields stretched endlessly upon fields;
bushes seemed to spring up out of the earth under my very nose. I kept
walking and was just making up my mind to lie down somewhere till
morning, when suddenly I found myself on the edge of a horrible
I quickly drew back my lifted foot, and through the almost opaque
darkness I saw far below me a vast plain. A long river skirted it in a
semi-circle, turned away from me; its course was marked by the steely
reflection of the water still faintly glimmering here and there. The
hill on which I found myself terminated abruptly in an almost
overhanging precipice, whose gigantic profile stood out black against
the dark-blue waste of sky, and directly below me, in the corner formed
by this precipice and the plain near the river, which was there a dark,
motionless mirror, under the lee of the hill, two fires side by side
were smoking and throwing up red flames. People were stirring round
them, shadows hovered, and sometimes the front of a little curly head
was lighted up by the glow.
I found out at last where I had got to. This plain was well known in
our parts under the name of Byezhin Prairie.... But there was no
possibility of returning home, especially at night; my legs were
sinking under me from weariness. I decided to get down to the fires and
to wait for the dawn in the company of these men, whom I took for
drovers. I got down successfully, but I had hardly let go of the last
branch I had grasped, when suddenly two large shaggy white dogs rushed
angrily barking upon me. The sound of ringing boyish voices came from
round the fires; two or three boys quickly got up from the ground. I
called back in response to their shouts of inquiry. They ran up to me,
and at once called off the dogs, who were specially struck by the
appearance of my Dianka. I came down to them.
I had been mistaken in taking the figures sitting round the fires for
drovers. They were simply peasant boys from a neighbouring village, who
were in charge of a drove of horses. In hot summer weather with us they
drive the horses out at night to graze in the open country: the flies
and gnats would give them no peace in the daytime; they drive out the
drove towards evening, and drive them back in the early morning: it's a
great treat for the peasant boys. Bare-headed, in old fur-capes, they
bestride the most spirited nags, and scurry along with merry cries and
hooting and ringing laughter, swinging their arms and legs, and leaping
into the air. The fine dust is stirred up in yellow clouds and moves
along the road; the tramp of hoofs in unison resounds afar; the horses
race along, pricking up their ears; in front of all, with his tail in
the air and thistles in his tangled mane, prances some shaggy chestnut,
constantly shifting his paces as he goes.
I told the boys I had lost my way, and sat down with them. They asked
me where I came from, and then were silent for a little and turned
away. Then we talked a little again. I lay down under a bush, whose
shoots had been nibbled off, and began to look round. It was a
marvellous picture; about the fire a red ring of light quivered and
seemed to swoon away in the embrace of a background of darkness; the
flame flaring up from time to time cast swift flashes of light beyond
the boundary of this circle; a fine tongue of light licked the dry
twigs and died away at once; long thin shadows, in their turn breaking
in for an instant, danced right up to the very fires; darkness was
struggling with light. Sometimes, when the fire burnt low and the
circle of light shrank together, suddenly out of the encroaching
darkness a horse's head was thrust in, bay, with striped markings or
all white, stared with intent blank eyes upon us, nipped hastily the
long grass, and drawing back again, vanished instantly. One could only
hear it still munching and snorting. From the circle of light it was
hard to make out what was going on in the darkness; everything close at
hand seemed shut off by an almost black curtain; but farther away hills
and forests were dimly visible in long blurs upon the horizon.
The dark unclouded sky stood, inconceivably immense, triumphant, above
us in all its mysterious majesty. One felt a sweet oppression at one's
heart, breathing in that peculiar, overpowering, yet fresh fragrance--
the fragrance of a summer night in Russia. Scarcely a sound was to be
heard around.... Only at times, in the river near, the sudden splash of
a big fish leaping, and the faint rustle of a reed on the bank, swaying
lightly as the ripples reached it ... the fires alone kept up a subdued
The boys sat round them: there too sat the two dogs, who had been so
eager to devour me. They could not for long after reconcile themselves
to my presence, and, drowsily blinking and staring into the fire, they
growled now and then with an unwonted sense of their own dignity; first
they growled, and then whined a little, as though deploring the
impossibility of carrying out their desires. There were altogether five
boys: Fedya, Pavlusha, Ilyusha, Kostya and Vanya. (From their talk I
learnt their names, and I intend now to introduce them to the reader.)
The first and eldest of all, Fedya, one would take to be about
fourteen. He was a well-made boy, with good-looking, delicate, rather
small features, curly fair hair, bright eyes, and a perpetual half-
merry, half-careless smile. He belonged, by all appearances, to a well-
to-do family, and had ridden out to the prairie, not through necessity,
but for amusement. He wore a gay print shirt, with a yellow border; a
short new overcoat slung round his neck was almost slipping off his
narrow shoulders; a comb hung from his blue belt. His boots, coming a
little way up the leg, were certainly his own--not his father's. The
second boy, Pavlusha, had tangled black hair, grey eyes, broad cheek-
bones, a pale face pitted with small-pox, a large but well-cut mouth;
his head altogether was large--'a beer-barrel head,' as they say--and
his figure was square and clumsy. He was not a good-looking boy--
there's no denying it!--and yet I liked him; he looked very sensible
and straightforward, and there was a vigorous ring in his voice. He had
nothing to boast of in his attire; it consisted simply of a homespun
shirt and patched trousers. The face of the third, Ilyusha, was rather
uninteresting; it was a long face, with short-sighted eyes and a hook
nose; it expressed a kind of dull, fretful uneasiness; his tightly-
drawn lips seemed rigid; his contracted brow never relaxed; he seemed
continually blinking from the firelight. His flaxen--almost white--hair
hung out in thin wisps under his low felt hat, which he kept pulling
down with both hands over his ears. He had on new bast-shoes and
leggings; a thick string, wound three times round his figure, carefully
held together his neat black smock. Neither he nor Pavlusha looked more
than twelve years old. The fourth, Kostya, a boy of ten, aroused my
curiosity by his thoughtful and sorrowful look. His whole face was
small, thin, freckled, pointed at the chin like a squirrel's; his lips
were barely perceptible; but his great black eyes, that shone with
liquid brilliance, produced a strange impression; they seemed trying to
express something for which the tongue--his tongue, at least--had no
words. He was undersized and weakly, and dressed rather poorly. The
remaining boy, Vanya, I had not noticed at first; he was lying on the
ground, peacefully curled up under a square rug, and only occasionally
thrust his curly brown head out from under it: this boy was seven years
old at the most.
So I lay under the bush at one side and looked at the boys. A small pot
was hanging over one of the fires; in it potatoes were cooking.
Pavlusha was looking after them, and on his knees he was trying them by
poking a splinter of wood into the boiling water. Fedya was lying
leaning on his elbow, and smoothing out the skirts of his coat. Ilyusha
was sitting beside Kostya, and still kept blinking constrainedly.
Kostya's head drooped despondently, and he looked away into the
distance. Vanya did not stir under his rug. I pretended to be asleep.
Little by little, the boys began talking again.
At first they gossiped of one thing and another, the work of to-morrow,
the horses; but suddenly Fedya turned to Ilyusha, and, as though taking
up again an interrupted conversation, asked him:
'Come then, so you've seen the domovoy?'
'No, I didn't see him, and no one ever can see him,' answered Ilyusha,
in a weak hoarse voice, the sound of which was wonderfully in keeping
with the expression of his face; 'I heard him.... Yes, and not I
'Where does he live--in your place?' asked Pavlusha.
'In the old paper-mill.'
'Why, do you go to the factory?'
'Of course we do. My brother Avdushka and I, we are paper-glazers.'
'Well, how did you hear it, then?' asked Fedya.
'It was like this. It happened that I and my brother Avdushka, with
Fyodor of Mihyevska, and Ivashka the Squint-eyed, and the other Ivashka
who comes from the Red Hills, and Ivashka of Suhorukov too--and there
were some other boys there as well--there were ten of us boys there
altogether--the whole shift, that is--it happened that we spent the
night at the paper-mill; that's to say, it didn't happen, but Nazarov,
the overseer, kept us. 'Why,' said he, "should you waste time going
home, boys; there's a lot of work to-morrow, so don't go home, boys."
So we stopped, and were all lying down together, and Avdushka had just
begun to say, "I say, boys, suppose the domovoy were to come?" And
before he'd finished saying so, some one suddenly began walking over
our heads; we were lying down below, and he began walking upstairs
overhead, where the wheel is. We listened: he walked; the boards seemed
to be bending under him, they creaked so; then he crossed over, above
our heads; all of a sudden the water began to drip and drip over the
wheel; the wheel rattled and rattled and again began to turn, though
the sluices of the conduit above had been let down. We wondered who
could have lifted them up so that the water could run; any way, the
wheel turned and turned a little, and then stopped. Then he went to the
door overhead and began coming down-stairs, and came down like this,
not hurrying himself; the stairs seemed to groan under him too....
Well, he came right down to our door, and waited and waited ... and all
of a sudden the door simply flew open. We were in a fright; we looked--
there was nothing.... Suddenly what if the net on one of the vats
didn't begin moving; it got up, and went rising and ducking and moving
in the air as though some one were stirring with it, and then it was in
its place again. Then, at another vat, a hook came off its nail, and
then was on its nail again; and then it seemed as if some one came to
the door, and suddenly coughed and choked like a sheep, but so
loudly!... We all fell down in a heap and huddled against one
another.... Just weren't we in a fright that night!'
'I say!' murmured Pavel, 'what did he cough for?'
'I don't know; perhaps it was the damp.'
All were silent for a little.
'Well,' inquired Fedya, 'are the potatoes done?'
Pavlusha tried them.
'No, they are raw.... My, what a splash!' he added, turning his face in
the direction of the river; 'that must be a pike.... And there's a star
'I say, I can tell you something, brothers,' began Kostya, in a shrill
little voice; 'listen what my dad told me the other day.'
'Well, we are listening,' said Fedya with a patronising air.
'You know Gavrila, I suppose, the carpenter up in the big village?'
'Yes, we know him.'
'And do you know why he is so sorrowful always, never speaks? do you
know? I'll tell you why he's so sorrowful; he went one day, daddy said,
he went, brothers, into the forest nutting. So he went nutting into the
forest and lost his way; he went on--God only can tell where he got to.
So he went on and on, brothers--but 'twas no good!--he could not find
the way; and so night came on out of doors. So he sat down under a
tree. "I'll wait till morning," thought he. He sat down and began to
drop asleep. So as he was falling asleep, suddenly he heard some one
call him. He looked up; there was no one. He fell asleep again; again
he was called. He looked and looked again; and in front of him there
sat a russalka on a branch, swinging herself and calling him to her,
and simply dying with laughing; she laughed so.... And the moon was
shining bright, so bright, the moon shone so clear--everything could be
seen plain, brothers. So she called him, and she herself was as bright
and as white sitting on the branch as some dace or a roach, or like
some little carp so white and silvery.... Gavrila the carpenter almost
fainted, brothers, but she laughed without stopping, and kept beckoning
him to her like this. Then Gavrila was just getting up; he was just
going to yield to the russalka, brothers, but--the Lord put it into his
heart, doubtless--he crossed himself like this.... And it was so hard
for him to make that cross, brothers; he said, "My hand was simply like
a stone; it would not move." ... Ugh! the horrid witch.... So when he
made the cross, brothers, the russalka, she left off laughing, and all
at once how she did cry.... She cried, brothers, and wiped her eyes
with her hair, and her hair was green as any hemp. So Gavrila looked
and looked at her, and at last he fell to questioning her. "Why are you
weeping, wild thing of the woods?" And the russalka began to speak to
him like this: "If you had not crossed yourself, man," she says, "you
should have lived with me in gladness of heart to the end of your days;
and I weep, I am grieved at heart because you crossed yourself; but I
will not grieve alone; you too shall grieve at heart to the end of your
days." Then she vanished, brothers, and at once it was plain to Gavrila
how to get out of the forest.... Only since then he goes always
sorrowful, as you see.'
'Ugh!' said Fedya after a brief silence; 'but how can such an evil
thing of the woods ruin a Christian soul--he did not listen to her?'
'And I say!' said Kostya. 'Gavrila said that her voice was as shrill
and plaintive as a toad's.'
'Did your father tell you that himself?' Fedya went on.
'Yes. I was lying in the loft; I heard it all.'
'It's a strange thing. Why should he be sorrowful?... But I suppose she
liked him, since she called him.'
'Ay, she liked him!' put in Ilyusha. 'Yes, indeed! she wanted to tickle
him to death, that's what she wanted. That's what they do, those
'There ought to be russalkas here too, I suppose,' observed Fedya.
'No,' answered Kostya, 'this is a holy open place. There's one thing,
though: the river's near.'
All were silent. Suddenly from out of the distance came a prolonged,
resonant, almost wailing sound, one of those inexplicable sounds of the
night, which break upon a profound stillness, rise upon the air,
linger, and slowly die away at last. You listen: it is as though there
were nothing, yet it echoes still. It is as though some one had uttered
a long, long cry upon the very horizon, as though some other had
answered him with shrill harsh laughter in the forest, and a faint,
hoarse hissing hovers over the river. The boys looked round about
'Christ's aid be with us!' whispered Ilyusha.
'Ah, you craven crows!' cried Pavel, 'what are you frightened of? Look,
the potatoes are done.' (They all came up to the pot and began to eat
the smoking potatoes; only Vanya did not stir.) 'Well, aren't you
coming?' said Pavel.
But he did not creep out from under his rug. The pot was soon
'Have you heard, boys,' began Ilyusha, 'what happened with us at
'Near the dam?' asked Fedya.
'Yes, yes, near the dam, the broken-down dam. That is a haunted place,
such a haunted place, and so lonely. All round there are pits and
quarries, and there are always snakes in pits.'
'Well, what did happen? Tell us.'
'Well, this is what happened. You don't know, perhaps, Fedya, but there
a drowned man was buried; he was drowned long, long ago, when the water
was still deep; only his grave can still be seen, though it can only
just be seen ... like this--a little mound.... So one day the bailiff
called the huntsman Yermil, and says to him, "Go to the post, Yermil."
Yermil always goes to the post for us; he has let all his dogs die;
they never will live with him, for some reason, and they have never
lived with him, though he's a good huntsman, and everyone liked him. So
Yermil went to the post, and he stayed a bit in the town, and when he
rode back, he was a little tipsy. It was night, a fine night; the moon
was shining.... So Yermil rode across the dam; his way lay there. So,
as he rode along, he saw, on the drowned man's grave, a little lamb, so
white and curly and pretty, running about. So Yermil thought, "I will
take him," and he got down and took him in his arms. But the little
lamb didn't take any notice. So Yermil goes back to his horse, and the
horse stares at him, and snorts and shakes his head; however, he said
"wo" to him and sat on him with the lamb, and rode on again; he held
the lamb in front of him. He looks at him, and the lamb looks him
straight in the face, like this. Yermil the huntsman felt upset. "I
don't remember," he said, "that lambs ever look at any one like that";
however, he began to stroke it like this on its wool, and to say,
"Chucky! chucky!" And the lamb suddenly showed its teeth and said too,
The boy who was telling the story had hardly uttered this last word,
when suddenly both dogs got up at once, and, barking convulsively,
rushed away from the fire and disappeared in the darkness. All the boys
were alarmed. Vanya jumped up from under his rug. Pavlusha ran shouting
after the dogs. Their barking quickly grew fainter in the distance....
There was the noise of the uneasy tramp of the frightened drove of
horses. Pavlusha shouted aloud: 'Hey Grey! Beetle!' ... In a few
minutes the barking ceased; Pavel's voice sounded still in the
distance.... A little time more passed; the boys kept looking about in
perplexity, as though expecting something to happen.... Suddenly the
tramp of a galloping horse was heard; it stopped short at the pile of
wood, and, hanging on to the mane, Pavel sprang nimbly off it. Both the
dogs also leaped into the circle of light and at once sat down, their
red tongues hanging out.
'What was it? what was it?' asked the boys.
'Nothing,' answered Pavel, waving his hand to his horse; 'I suppose the
dogs scented something. I thought it was a wolf,' he added, calmly
drawing deep breaths into his chest.
I could not help admiring Pavel. He was very fine at that moment. His
ugly face, animated by his swift ride, glowed with hardihood and
determination. Without even a switch in his hand, he had, without the
slightest hesitation, rushed out into the night alone to face a
wolf.... 'What a splendid fellow!' I thought, looking at him.
'Have you seen any wolves, then?' asked the trembling Kostya.
'There are always a good many of them here,' answered Pavel; 'but they
are only troublesome in the winter.'
He crouched down again before the fire. As he sat down on the ground,
he laid his hand on the shaggy head of one of the dogs. For a long
while the flattered brute did not turn his head, gazing sidewise with
grateful pride at Pavlusha.
Vanya lay down under his rug again.
'What dreadful things you were telling us, Ilyusha!' began Fedya, whose
part it was, as the son of a well-to-do peasant, to lead the
conversation. (He spoke little himself, apparently afraid of lowering
his dignity.) 'And then some evil spirit set the dogs barking....
Certainly I have heard that place was haunted.'
'Varnavitsi?... I should think it was haunted! More than once, they
say, they have seen the old master there--the late master. He wears,
they say, a long skirted coat, and keeps groaning like this, and
looking for something on the ground. Once grandfather Trofimitch met
him. "What," says he, "your honour, Ivan Ivanitch, are you pleased to
look for on the ground?"'
'He asked him?' put in Fedya in amazement.
'Yes, he asked him.'
'Well, I call Trofimitch a brave fellow after that.... Well, what did
'"I am looking for the herb that cleaves all things," says he. But he
speaks so thickly, so thickly. "And what, your honour, Ivan Ivanitch,
do you want with the herb that cleaves all things?" "The tomb weighs on
me; it weighs on me, Trofimitch: I want to get away--away."'
'My word!' observed Fedya, 'he didn't enjoy his life enough, I
'What a marvel!' said Kosyta. 'I thought one could only see the
departed on All Hallows' day.'
'One can see the departed any time,' Ilyusha interposed with
conviction. From what I could observe, I judged he knew the village
superstitions better than the others.... 'But on All Hallows' day you
can see the living too; those, that is, whose turn it is to die that
year. You need only sit in the church porch, and keep looking at the
road. They will come by you along the road; those, that is, who will
die that year. Last year old Ulyana went to the porch.'
'Well, did she see anyone?' asked Kostya inquisitively.
'To be sure she did. At first she sat a long, long while, and saw no
one and heard nothing ... only it seemed as if some dog kept whining
and whining like this somewhere.... Suddenly she looks up: a boy comes
along the road with only a shirt on. She looked at him. It was Ivashka
'He who died in the spring?' put in Fedya.
'Yes, he. He came along and never lifted up his head. But Ulyana knew
him. And then she looks again: a woman came along. She stared and
stared at her.... Ah, God Almighty! ... it was herself coming along the
road; Ulyana herself.'
'Could it be herself?' asked Fedya.
'Yes, by God, herself.'
'Well, but she is not dead yet, you know?' 'But the year is not over
yet. And only look at her; her life hangs on a thread.'
All were still again. Pavel threw a handful of dry twigs on to the
fire. They were soon charred by the suddenly leaping flame; they
cracked and smoked, and began to contract, curling up their burning
ends. Gleams of light in broken flashes glanced in all directions,
especially upwards. Suddenly a white dove flew straight into the bright
light, fluttered round and round in terror, bathed in the red glow, and
disappeared with a whirr of its wings.
'It's lost its home, I suppose,' remarked Pavel. 'Now it will fly till
it gets somewhere, where it can rest till dawn.'
'Why, Pavlusha,' said Kostya, 'might it not be a just soul flying to
Pavel threw another handful of twigs on to the fire.
'Perhaps,' he said at last.
'But tell us, please, Pavlusha,' began Fedya, 'what was seen in your
parts at Shalamovy at the heavenly portent?'
[Footnote: This is what the peasants call an eclipse.--_Author's
'When the sun could not be seen? Yes, indeed.'
'Were you frightened then?'
'Yes; and we weren't the only ones. Our master, though he talked to us
beforehand, and said there would be a heavenly portent, yet when it got
dark, they say he himself was frightened out of his wits. And in the
house-serfs' cottage the old woman, directly it grew dark, broke all
the dishes in the oven with the poker. 'Who will eat now?' she said;
'the last day has come.' So the soup was all running about the place.
And in the village there were such tales about among us: that white
wolves would run over the earth, and would eat men, that a bird of prey
would pounce down on us, and that they would even see Trishka.'
[Footnote: The popular belief in Trishka is probably derived from some
tradition of Antichrist.--_Author's Note_.]
'What is Trishka?' asked Kostya.
'Why, don't you know?' interrupted Ilyusha warmly. 'Why, brother, where
have you been brought up, not to know Trishka? You're a stay-at-home,
one-eyed lot in your village, really! Trishka will be a marvellous man,
who will come one day, and he will be such a marvellous man that they
will never be able to catch him, and never be able to do anything with
him; he will be such a marvellous man. The people will try to take him;
for example, they will come after him with sticks, they will surround
him, but he will blind their eyes so that they fall upon one another.
They will put him in prison, for example; he will ask for a little
water to drink in a bowl; they will bring him the bowl, and he will
plunge into it and vanish from their sight. They will put chains on
him, but he will only clap his hands--they will fall off him. So this
Trishka will go through villages and towns; and this Trishka will be a
wily man; he will lead astray Christ's people ... and they will be able
to do nothing to him.... He will be such a marvellous, wily man.'
'Well, then,' continued Pavel, in his deliberate voice, 'that's what he
's like. And so they expected him in our parts. The old men declared
that directly the heavenly portent began, Trishka would come. So the
heavenly portent began. All the people were scattered over the street,
in the fields, waiting to see what would happen. Our place, you know,
is open country. They look; and suddenly down the mountain-side from
the big village comes a man of some sort; such a strange man, with such
a wonderful head ... that all scream: "Oy, Trishka is coming! Oy,
Back to Full Books