A Sportsman's Sketches
Part 3 out of 4
Trishka is coming!" and all run in all directions! Our elder crawled
into a ditch; his wife stumbled on the door-board and screamed with all
her might; she terrified her yard-dog, so that he broke away from his
chain and over the hedge and into the forest; and Kuzka's father,
Dorofyitch, ran into the oats, lay down there, and began to cry like a
quail. 'Perhaps' says he, 'the Enemy, the Destroyer of Souls, will
spare the birds, at least.' So they were all in such a scare! But he
that was coming was our cooper Vavila; he had bought himself a new
pitcher, and had put the empty pitcher over his head.'
All the boys laughed; and again there was a silence for a while, as
often happens when people are talking in the open air. I looked out
into the solemn, majestic stillness of the night; the dewy freshness of
late evening had been succeeded by the dry heat of midnight; the
darkness still had long to lie in a soft curtain over the slumbering
fields; there was still a long while left before the first whisperings,
the first dewdrops of dawn. There was no moon in the heavens; it rose
late at that time. Countless golden stars, twinkling in rivalry, seemed
all running softly towards the Milky Way, and truly, looking at them,
you were almost conscious of the whirling, never--resting motion of the
earth.... A strange, harsh, painful cry, sounded twice together over
the river, and a few moments later, was repeated farther down....
Kostya shuddered. 'What was that?'
'That was a heron's cry,' replied Pavel tranquilly.
'A heron,' repeated Kostya.... 'And what was it, Pavlusha, I heard
yesterday evening,' he added, after a short pause; 'you perhaps will
'What did you hear?'
'I will tell you what I heard. I was going from Stony Ridge to
Shashkino; I went first through our walnut wood, and then passed by a
little pool--you know where there's a sharp turn down to the ravine--
there is a water-pit there, you know; it is quite overgrown with reeds;
so I went near this pit, brothers, and suddenly from this came a sound
of some one groaning, and piteously, so piteously; oo-oo, oo-oo! I was
in such a fright, my brothers; it was late, and the voice was so
miserable. I felt as if I should cry myself.... What could that have
'It was in that pit the thieves drowned Akim the forester, last
summer,' observed Pavel; 'so perhaps it was his soul lamenting.'
'Oh, dear, really, brothers,' replied Kostya, opening wide his eyes,
which were round enough before, 'I did not know they had drowned Akim
in that pit. Shouldn't I have been frightened if I'd known!'
'But they say there are little, tiny frogs,' continued Pavel, 'who cry
piteously like that.'
'Frogs? Oh, no, it was not frogs, certainly not. (A heron again uttered
a cry above the river.) Ugh, there it is!' Kostya cried involuntarily;
'it is just like a wood-spirit shrieking.'
'The wood-spirit does not shriek; it is dumb,' put in Ilyusha; 'it only
claps its hands and rattles.'
'And have you seen it then, the wood-spirit?' Fedya asked him
'No, I have not seen it, and God preserve me from seeing it; but others
have seen it. Why, one day it misled a peasant in our parts, and led
him through the woods and all in a circle in one field.... He scarcely
got home till daylight.'
'Well, and did he see it?'
'Yes. He says it was a big, big creature, dark, wrapped up, just like a
tree; you could not make it out well; it seemed to hide away from the
moon, and kept staring and staring with its great eyes, and winking and
winking with them....'
'Ugh!' exclaimed Fedya with a slight shiver, and a shrug of the
'And how does such an unclean brood come to exist in the world?' said
Pavel; 'it's a wonder.'
'Don't speak ill of it; take care, it will hear you,' said Ilyusha.
Again there was a silence.
'Look, look, brothers,' suddenly came Vanya's childish voice; 'look at
God's little stars; they are swarming like bees!'
He put his fresh little face out from under his rug, leaned on his
little fist, and slowly lifted up his large soft eyes. The eyes of all
the boys were raised to the sky, and they were not lowered quickly.
'Well, Vanya,' began Fedya caressingly, 'is your sister Anyutka well?'
'Yes, she is very well,' replied Vanya with a slight lisp.
'You ask her, why doesn't she come to see us?'
'I don't know.'
'You tell her to come.'
'Tell her I have a present for her.'
'And a present for me too?'
'Yes, you too.'
'No; I don't want one. Better give it to her; she is so kind to us at
And Vanya laid his head down again on the ground. Pavel got up and took
the empty pot in his hand.
'Where are you going?' Fedya asked him.
'To the river, to get water; I want some water to drink.'
The dogs got up and followed him.
'Take care you don't fall into the river!' Ilyusha cried after him.
'Why should he fall in?' said Fedya. 'He will be careful.'
'Yes, he will be careful. But all kinds of things happen; he will stoop
over, perhaps, to draw the water, and the water-spirit will clutch him
by the hand, and drag him to him. Then they will say, "The boy fell
into the water." ... Fell in, indeed! ... "There, he has crept in among
the reeds," he added, listening.
The reeds certainly 'shished,' as they call it among us, as they were
'But is it true,' asked Kostya, 'that crazy Akulina has been mad ever
since she fell into the water?'
'Yes, ever since.... How dreadful she is now! But they say she was a
beauty before then. The water-spirit bewitched her. I suppose he did
not expect they would get her out so soon. So down there at the bottom
he bewitched her.'
(I had met this Akulina more than once. Covered with rags, fearfully
thin, with face as black as a coal, blear-eyed and for ever grinning,
she would stay whole hours in one place in the road, stamping with her
feet, pressing her fleshless hands to her breast, and slowly shifting
from one leg to the other, like a wild beast in a cage. She understood
nothing that was said to her, and only chuckled spasmodically from time
'But they say,' continued Kostya, 'that Akulina threw herself into the
river because her lover had deceived her.'
'Yes, that was it.'
'And do you remember Vasya? added Kostya, mournfully.
'What Vasya?' asked Fedya.
'Why, the one who was drowned,' replied Kostya,' in this very river.
Ah, what a boy he was! What a boy he was! His mother, Feklista, how she
loved him, her Vasya! And she seemed to have a foreboding, Feklista
did, that harm would come to him from the water. Sometimes, when Vasya
went with us boys in the summer to bathe in the river, she used to be
trembling all over. The other women did not mind; they passed by with
the pails, and went on, but Feklista put her pail down on the ground,
and set to calling him, 'Come back, come back, my little joy; come
back, my darling!' And no one knows how he was drowned. He was playing
on the bank, and his mother was there haymaking; suddenly she hears, as
though some one was blowing bubbles through the water, and behold!
there was only Vasya's little cap to be seen swimming on the water. You
know since then Feklista has not been right in her mind: she goes and
lies down at the place where he was drowned; she lies down, brothers,
and sings a song--you remember Vasya was always singing a song like
that--so she sings it too, and weeps and weeps, and bitterly rails
'Here is Pavlusha coming,' said Fedya.
Pavel came up to the fire with a full pot in his hand.
'Boys,' he began, after a short silence, 'something bad happened.'
'Oh, what?' asked Kostya hurriedly.
'I heard Vasya's voice.'
They all seemed to shudder.
'What do you mean? what do you mean?' stammered Kostya.
'I don't know. Only I went to stoop down to the water; suddenly I hear
my name called in Vasya's voice, as though it came from below water:
"Pavlusha, Pavlusha, come here." I came away. But I fetched the water,
'Ah, God have mercy upon us!' said the boys, crossing themselves.
'It was the water-spirit calling you, Pavel,' said Fedya; 'we were just
talking of Vasya.'
'Ah, it's a bad omen,' said Ilyusha, deliberately.
'Well, never mind, don't bother about it,' Pavel declared stoutly, and
he sat down again; 'no one can escape his fate.'
The boys were still. It was clear that Pavel's words had produced a
strong impression on them. They began to lie down before the fire as
though preparing to go to sleep.
'What is that?' asked Kostya, suddenly lifting his head.
'It's the curlews flying and whistling.'
'Where are they flying to?'
'To a land where, they say, there is no winter.'
'But is there such a land?'
'Is it far away?'
'Far, far away, beyond the warm seas.'
Kostya sighed and shut his eyes.
More than three hours had passed since I first came across the boys.
The moon at last had risen; I did not notice it at first; it was such a
tiny crescent. This moonless night was as solemn and hushed as it had
been at first.... But already many stars, that not long before had been
high up in the heavens, were setting over the earth's dark rim;
everything around was perfectly still, as it is only still towards
morning; all was sleeping the deep unbroken sleep that comes before
daybreak. Already the fragrance in the air was fainter; once more a dew
seemed falling.... How short are nights in summer!... The boys' talk
died down when the fires did. The dogs even were dozing; the horses, so
far as I could make out, in the hardly-perceptible, faintly shining
light of the stars, were asleep with downcast heads.... I fell into a
state of weary unconsciousness, which passed into sleep.
A fresh breeze passed over my face. I opened my eyes; the morning was
beginning. The dawn had not yet flushed the sky, but already it was
growing light in the east. Everything had become visible, though dimly
visible, around. The pale grey sky was growing light and cold and
bluish; the stars twinkled with a dimmer light, or disappeared; the
earth was wet, the leaves covered with dew, and from the distance came
sounds of life and voices, and a light morning breeze went fluttering
over the earth. My body responded to it with a faint shudder of
delight. I got up quickly and went to the boys. They were all sleeping
as though they were tired out round the smouldering fire; only Pavel
half rose and gazed intently at me.
I nodded to him, and walked homewards beside the misty river. Before I
had walked two miles, already all around me, over the wide dew-drenched
prairie, and in front from forest to forest, where the hills were
growing green again, and behind, over the long dusty road and the
sparkling bushes, flushed with the red glow, and the river faintly blue
now under the lifting mist, flowed fresh streams of burning light,
first pink, then red and golden.... All things began to stir, to
awaken, to sing, to flutter, to speak. On all sides thick drops of dew
sparkled in glittering diamonds; to welcome me, pure and clear as
though bathed in the freshness of morning, came the notes of a bell,
and suddenly there rushed by me, driven by the boys I had parted from,
the drove of horses, refreshed and rested....
Sad to say, I must add that in that year Pavel met his end. He was not
drowned; he was killed by a fall from his horse. Pity! he was a
KASSYAN OF FAIR SPRINGS
I was returning from hunting in a jolting little trap, and overcome by
the stifling heat of a cloudy summer day (it is well known that the
heat is often more insupportable on such days than in bright days,
especially when there is no wind), I dozed and was shaken about,
resigning myself with sullen fortitude to being persecuted by the fine
white dust which was incessantly raised from the beaten road by the
warped and creaking wheels, when suddenly my attention was aroused by
the extraordinary uneasiness and agitated movements of my coachman, who
had till that instant been more soundly dozing than I. He began tugging
at the reins, moved uneasily on the box, and started shouting to the
horses, staring all the while in one direction. I looked round. We were
driving through a wide ploughed plain; low hills, also ploughed over,
ran in gently sloping, swelling waves over it; the eye took in some
five miles of deserted country; in the distance the round-scolloped
tree-tops of some small birch-copses were the only objects to break the
almost straight line of the horizon. Narrow paths ran over the fields,
disappeared into the hollows, and wound round the hillocks. On one of
these paths, which happened to run into our road five hundred paces
ahead of us, I made out a kind of procession. At this my coachman was
It was a funeral. In front, in a little cart harnessed with one horse,
and advancing at a walking pace, came the priest; beside him sat the
deacon driving; behind the cart four peasants, bareheaded, carried the
coffin, covered with a white cloth; two women followed the coffin. The
shrill wailing voice of one of them suddenly reached my ears; I
listened; she was intoning a dirge. Very dismal sounded this chanted,
monotonous, hopelessly-sorrowful lament among the empty fields. The
coachman whipped up the horses; he wanted to get in front of this
procession. To meet a corpse on the road is a bad omen. And he did
succeed in galloping ahead beyond this path before the funeral had had
time to turn out of it into the high-road; but we had hardly got a
hundred paces beyond this point, when suddenly our trap jolted
violently, heeled on one side, and all but overturned. The coachman
pulled up the galloping horses, and spat with a gesture of his hand.
'What is it?' I asked.
My coachman got down without speaking or hurrying himself.
'But what is it?'
'The axle is broken ... it caught fire,' he replied gloomily, and he
suddenly arranged the collar on the off-side horse with such
indignation that it was almost pushed over, but it stood its ground,
snorted, shook itself, and tranquilly began to scratch its foreleg
below the knee with its teeth.
I got out and stood for some time on the road, a prey to a vague and
unpleasant feeling of helplessness. The right wheel was almost
completely bent in under the trap, and it seemed to turn its centre-
piece upwards in dumb despair.
'What are we to do now?' I said at last.
'That's what's the cause of it!' said my coachman, pointing with his
whip to the funeral procession, which had just turned into the highroad
and was approaching us. 'I have always noticed that,' he went on; 'it's
a true saying--"Meet a corpse"--yes, indeed.'
And again he began worrying the off-side horse, who, seeing his ill-
humour, resolved to remain perfectly quiet, and contented itself with
discreetly switching its tail now and then. I walked up and down a
little while, and then stopped again before the wheel.
Meanwhile the funeral had come up to us. Quietly turning off the road
on to the grass, the mournful procession moved slowly past us. My
coachman and I took off our caps, saluted the priest, and exchanged
glances with the bearers. They moved with difficulty under their
burden, their broad chests standing out under the strain. Of the two
women who followed the coffin, one was very old and pale; her set face,
terribly distorted as it was by grief, still kept an expression of
grave and severe dignity. She walked in silence, from time to time
lifting her wasted hand to her thin drawn lips. The other, a young
woman of five-and-twenty, had her eyes red and moist and her whole face
swollen with weeping; as she passed us she ceased wailing, and hid her
face in her sleeve.... But when the funeral had got round us and turned
again into the road, her piteous, heart-piercing lament began again. My
coachman followed the measured swaying of the coffin with his eyes in
silence. Then he turned to me.
'It's Martin, the carpenter, they're burying,' he said; 'Martin of
'How do you know?'
'I know by the women. The old one is his mother, and the young one's
'Has he been ill, then?'
'Yes ... fever. The day before yesterday the overseer sent for the
doctor, but they did not find the doctor at home. He was a good
carpenter; he drank a bit, but he was a good carpenter. See how upset
his good woman is.... But, there; women's tears don't cost much, we
know. Women's tears are only water ... yes, indeed.'
And he bent down, crept under the side-horse's trace, and seized the
wooden yoke that passes over the horses' heads with both hands.
'Any way,' I observed, 'what are we going to do?'
My coachman just supported himself with his knees on the shaft-horse's
shoulder, twice gave the back-strap a shake, and straightened the pad;
then he crept out of the side-horse's trace again, and giving it a blow
on the nose as he passed, went up to the wheel. He went up to it, and,
never taking his eyes off it, slowly took out of the skirts of his coat
a box, slowly pulled open its lid by a strap, slowly thrust into it his
two fat fingers (which pretty well filled it up), rolled and rolled up
some snuff, and creasing up his nose in anticipation, helped himself to
it several times in succession, accompanying the snuff-taking every time
by a prolonged sneezing. Then, his streaming eyes blinking faintly, he
relapsed into profound meditation.
'Well?' I said at last.
My coachman thrust his box carefully into his pocket, brought his hat
forward on to his brows without the aid of his hand by a movement of
his head, and gloomily got up on the box.
'What are you doing?' I asked him, somewhat bewildered.
'Pray be seated,' he replied calmly, picking up the reins.
'But how can we go on?'
'We will go on now.'
'But the axle.'
'Pray be seated.'
'But the axle is broken.'
'It is broken; but we will get to the settlement ... at a walking pace,
of course. Over here, beyond the copse, on the right, is a settlement;
they call it Yudino.'
'And do you think we can get there?'
My coachman did not vouchsafe me a reply.
'I had better walk,' I said.
'As you like....' And he nourished his whip. The horses started.
We did succeed in getting to the settlement, though the right front
wheel was almost off, and turned in a very strange way. On one hillock
it almost flew off, but my coachman shouted in a voice of exasperation,
and we descended it in safety.
Yudino settlement consisted of six little low-pitched huts, the walls
of which had already begun to warp out of the perpendicular, though
they had certainly not been long built; the back-yards of some of the
huts were not even fenced in with a hedge. As we drove into this
settlement we did not meet a single living soul; there were no hens
even to be seen in the street, and no dogs, but one black crop-tailed
cur, which at our approach leaped hurriedly out of a perfectly dry and
empty trough, to which it must have been driven by thirst, and at once,
without barking, rushed headlong under a gate. I went up to the first
hut, opened the door into the outer room, and called for the master of
the house. No one answered me. I called once more; the hungry mewing of
a cat sounded behind the other door. I pushed it open with my foot; a
thin cat ran up and down near me, her green eyes glittering in the
dark. I put my head into the room and looked round; it was empty, dark,
and smoky. I returned to the yard, and there was no one there
either.... A calf lowed behind the paling; a lame grey goose waddled a
little away. I passed on to the second hut. Not a soul in the second
hut either. I went into the yard....
In the very middle of the yard, in the glaring sunlight, there lay,
with his face on the ground and a cloak thrown over his head, a boy, as
it seemed to me. In a thatched shed a few paces from him a thin little
nag with broken harness was standing near a wretched little cart. The
sunshine falling in streaks through the narrow cracks in the
dilapidated roof, striped his shaggy, reddish-brown coat in small bands
of light. Above, in the high bird-house, starlings were chattering and
looking down inquisitively from their airy home. I went up to the
sleeping figure and began to awaken him.
He lifted his head, saw me, and at once jumped up on to his feet....
'What? what do you want? what is it?' he muttered, half asleep.
I did not answer him at once; I was so much impressed by his
Picture to yourself a little creature of fifty years old, with a little
round wrinkled face, a sharp nose, little, scarcely visible, brown
eyes, and thick curly black hair, which stood out on his tiny head like
the cap on the top of a mushroom. His whole person was excessively thin
and weakly, and it is absolutely impossible to translate into words the
extraordinary strangeness of his expression.
'What do you want?' he asked me again. I explained to him what was the
matter; he listened, slowly blinking, without taking his eyes off me.
'So cannot we get a new axle?' I said finally; 'I will gladly pay for
'But who are you? Hunters, eh?' he asked, scanning me from head to
'You shoot the fowls of heaven, I suppose?... the wild things of the
woods?... And is it not a sin to kill God's birds, to shed the innocent
The strange old man spoke in a very drawling tone. The sound of his
voice also astonished me. There was none of the weakness of age to be
heard in it; it was marvellously sweet, young and almost feminine in
'I have no axle,' he added after a brief silence. 'That thing will not
suit you.' He pointed to his cart. 'You have, I expect, a large trap.'
'But can I get one in the village?'
'Not much of a village here!... No one has an axle here.... And there
is no one at home either; they are all at work. You must go on,' he
announced suddenly; and he lay down again on the ground.
I had not at all expected this conclusion.
'Listen, old man,' I said, touching him on the shoulder; 'do me a
kindness, help me.'
'Go on, in God's name! I am tired; I have driven into the town,' he
said, and drew his cloak over his head.
'But pray do me a kindness,' I said. 'I ... I will pay for it.' 'I
don't want your money.'
'But please, old man.'
He half raised himself and sat up, crossing his little legs.
'I could take you perhaps to the clearing. Some merchants have bought
the forest here--God be their judge! They are cutting down the forest,
and they have built a counting-house there--God be their judge! You
might order an axle of them there, or buy one ready made.'
'Splendid!' I cried delighted; 'splendid! let us go.'
'An oak axle, a good one,' he continued, not getting up from his place.
'And is it far to this clearing?'
'Come, then! we can drive there in your trap.'
'Come, let us go,' I said; 'let us go, old man! The coachman is waiting
for us in the road.'
The old man rose unwillingly and followed me into the street. We found
my coachman in an irritable frame of mind; he had tried to water his
horses, but the water in the well, it appeared, was scanty in quantity
and bad in taste, and water is the first consideration with
coachmen.... However, he grinned at the sight of the old man, nodded
his head and cried: 'Hallo! Kassyanushka! good health to you!'
'Good health to you, Erofay, upright man!' replied Kassyan in a
I at once made known his suggestion to the coachman; Erofay expressed
his approval of it and drove into the yard. While he was busy
deliberately unharnessing the horses, the old man stood leaning with
his shoulders against the gate, and looking disconsolately first at him
and then at me. He seemed in some uncertainty of mind; he was not very
pleased, as it seemed to me, at our sudden visit.
'So they have transported you too?' Erofay asked him suddenly, lifting
the wooden arch of the harness.
'Ugh!' said my coachman between his teeth. 'You know Martin the
carpenter.... Of course, you know Martin of Ryaby?'
'Well, he is dead. We have just met his coffin.'
'Dead?' he said, and his head sank dejectedly.
'Yes, he is dead. Why didn't you cure him, eh? You know they say you
cure folks; you're a doctor.'
My coachman was apparently laughing and jeering at the old man.
'And is this your trap, pray?' he added, with a shrug of his shoulders
in its direction.
'Well, a trap ... a fine trap!' he repeated, and taking it by the
shafts almost turned it completely upside down. 'A trap!... But what
will you drive in it to the clearing?... You can't harness our horses
in these shafts; our horses are all too big.'
'I don't know,' replied Kassyan, 'what you are going to drive; that
beast perhaps,' he added with a sigh.
'That?' broke in Erofay, and going up to Kassyan's nag, he tapped it
disparagingly on the back with the third finger of his right hand.
'See,' he added contemptuously, 'it's asleep, the scare-crow!'
I asked Erofay to harness it as quickly as he could. I wanted to drive
myself with Kassyan to the clearing; grouse are fond of such places.
When the little cart was quite ready, and I, together with my dog, had
been installed in the warped wicker body of it, and Kassyan huddled up
into a little ball, with still the same dejected expression on his
face, had taken his seat in front, Erofay came up to me and whispered
with an air of mystery:
'You did well, your honour, to drive with him. He is such a queer
fellow; he's cracked, you know, and his nickname is the Flea. I don't
know how you managed to make him out....'
I tried to say to Erofay that so far Kassyan had seemed to me a very
sensible man; but my coachman continued at once in the same voice:
'But you keep a look-out where he is driving you to. And, your honour,
be pleased to choose the axle yourself; be pleased to choose a sound
one.... Well, Flea,' he added aloud, 'could I get a bit of bread in
'Look about; you may find some,' answered Kassyan. He pulled the reins
and we rolled away.
His little horse, to my genuine astonishment, did not go badly. Kassyan
preserved an obstinate silence the whole way, and made abrupt and
unwilling answers to my questions. We quickly reached the clearing, and
then made our way to the counting-house, a lofty cottage, standing by
itself over a small gully, which had been dammed up and converted into
a pool. In this counting-house I found two young merchants' clerks,
with snow-white teeth, sweet and soft eyes, sweet and subtle words, and
sweet and wily smiles. I bought an axle of them and returned to the
clearing. I thought that Kassyan would stay with the horse and await my
return; but he suddenly came up to me.
'Are you going to shoot birds, eh?' he said.
'Yes, if I come across any.'
'I will come with you.... Can I?'
So we went together. The land cleared was about a mile in length. I
must confess I watched Kassyan more than my dogs. He had been aptly
called 'Flea.' His little black uncovered head (though his hair,
indeed, was as good a covering as any cap) seemed to flash hither and
thither among the bushes. He walked extraordinarily swiftly, and seemed
always hopping up and down as he moved; he was for ever stooping down
to pick herbs of some kind, thrusting them into his bosom, muttering to
himself, and constantly looking at me and my dog with such a strange
searching gaze. Among low bushes and in clearings there are often
little grey birds which constantly flit from tree to tree, and which
whistle as they dart away. Kassyan mimicked them, answered their calls;
a young quail flew from between his feet, chirruping, and he chirruped
in imitation of him; a lark began to fly down above him, moving his
wings and singing melodiously: Kassyan joined in his song. He did not
speak to me at all....
The weather was glorious, even more so than before; but the heat was no
less. Over the clear sky the high thin clouds were hardly stirred,
yellowish-white, like snow lying late in spring, flat and drawn out
like rolled-up sails. Slowly but perceptibly their fringed edges, soft
and fluffy as cotton-wool, changed at every moment; they were melting
away, even these clouds, and no shadow fell from them. I strolled about
the clearing for a long while with Kassyan. Young shoots, which had not
yet had time to grow more than a yard high, surrounded the low
blackened stumps with their smooth slender stems; and spongy funguses
with grey edges--the same of which they make tinder--clung to these;
strawberry plants flung their rosy tendrils over them; mushrooms
squatted close in groups. The feet were constantly caught and entangled
in the long grass, that was parched in the scorching sun; the eyes were
dazzled on all sides by the glaring metallic glitter on the young
reddish leaves of the trees; on all sides were the variegated blue
clusters of vetch, the golden cups of bloodwort, and the half-lilac,
half-yellow blossoms of the heart's-ease. In some places near the
disused paths, on which the tracks of wheels were marked by streaks on
the fine bright grass, rose piles of wood, blackened by wind and rain,
laid in yard-lengths; there was a faint shadow cast from them in
slanting oblongs; there was no other shade anywhere. A light breeze
rose, then sank again; suddenly it would blow straight in the face and
seem to be rising; everything would begin to rustle merrily, to nod, to
shake around one; the supple tops of the ferns bow down gracefully, and
one rejoices in it, but at once it dies away again, and all is at rest
once more. Only the grasshoppers chirrup in chorus with frenzied
energy, and wearisome is this unceasing, sharp dry sound. It is in
keeping with the persistent heat of mid-day; it seems akin to it, as
though evoked by it out of the glowing earth.
Without having started one single covey we at last reached another
clearing. There the aspen-trees had only lately been felled, and lay
stretched mournfully on the ground, crushing the grass and small
undergrowth below them: on some the leaves were still green, though
they were already dead, and hung limply from the motionless branches;
on others they were crumpled and dried up. Fresh golden-white chips lay
in heaps round the stumps that were covered with bright drops; a
peculiar, very pleasant, pungent odour rose from them. Farther away,
nearer the wood, sounded the dull blows of the axe, and from time to
time, bowing and spreading wide its arms, a bushy tree fell slowly and
majestically to the ground.
For a long time I did not come upon a single bird; at last a corncrake
flew out of a thick clump of young oak across the wormwood springing up
round it. I fired; it turned over in the air and fell. At the sound of
the shot, Kassyan quickly covered his eyes with his hand, and he did
not stir till I had reloaded the gun and picked up the bird. When I had
moved farther on, he went up to the place where the wounded bird had
fallen, bent down to the grass, on which some drops of blood were
sprinkled, shook his head, and looked in dismay at me.... I heard him
afterwards whispering: 'A sin!... Ah, yes, it's a sin!'
The heat forced us at last to go into the wood. I flung myself down
under a high nut-bush, over which a slender young maple gracefully
stretched its light branches. Kassyan sat down on the thick trunk of a
felled birch-tree. I looked at him. The leaves faintly stirred
overhead, and their thin greenish shadows crept softly to and fro over
his feeble body, muffled in a dark coat, and over his little face. He
did not lift his head. Bored by his silence, I lay on my back and began
to admire the tranquil play of the tangled foliage on the background of
the bright, far away sky. A marvellously sweet occupation it is to lie
on one's back in a wood and gaze upwards! You may fancy you are looking
into a bottomless sea; that it stretches wide below you; that the trees
are not rising out of the earth, but, like the roots of gigantic weeds,
are dropping--falling straight down into those glassy, limpid depths;
the leaves on the trees are at one moment transparent as emeralds, the
next, they condense into golden, almost black green. Somewhere, afar
off, at the end of a slender twig, a single leaf hangs motionless
against the blue patch of transparent sky, and beside it another
trembles with the motion of a fish on the line, as though moving of its
own will, not shaken by the wind. Round white clouds float calmly
across, and calmly pass away like submarine islands; and suddenly, all
this ocean, this shining ether, these branches and leaves steeped in
sunlight--all is rippling, quivering in fleeting brilliance, and a
fresh trembling whisper awakens like the tiny, incessant plash of
suddenly stirred eddies. One does not move--one looks, and no word can
tell what peace, what joy, what sweetness reigns in the heart. One
looks: the deep, pure blue stirs on one's lips a smile, innocent as
itself; like the clouds over the sky, and, as it were, with them, happy
memories pass in slow procession over the soul, and still one fancies
one's gaze goes deeper and deeper, and draws one with it up into that
peaceful, shining immensity, and that one cannot be brought back from
that height, that depth....
'Master, master!' cried Kassyan suddenly in his musical voice.
I raised myself in surprise: up till then he had scarcely replied to my
questions, and now he suddenly addressed me of himself.
'What is it?' I asked.
'What did you kill the bird for?' he began, looking me straight in the
'What for? Corncrake is game; one can eat it.'
'That was not what you killed it for, master, as though you were going
to eat it! You killed it for amusement.'
'Well, you yourself, I suppose, eat geese or chickens?'
'Those birds are provided by God for man, but the corncrake is a wild
bird of the woods: and not he alone; many they are, the wild things of
the woods and the fields, and the wild things of the rivers and marshes
and moors, flying on high or creeping below; and a sin it is to slay
them: let them live their allotted life upon the earth. But for man
another food has been provided; his food is other, and other his
sustenance: bread, the good gift of God, and the water of heaven, and
the tame beasts that have come down to us from our fathers of old.'
I looked in astonishment at Kassyan. His words flowed freely; he did
not hesitate for a word; he spoke with quiet inspiration and gentle
dignity, sometimes closing his eyes.
'So is it sinful, then, to kill fish, according to you?' I asked.
'Fishes have cold blood,' he replied with conviction. 'The fish is a
dumb creature; it knows neither fear nor rejoicing. The fish is a
voiceless creature. The fish does not feel; the blood in it is not
living.... Blood,' he continued, after a pause, 'blood is a holy thing!
God's sun does not look upon blood; it is hidden away from the light
... it is a great sin to bring blood into the light of day; a great sin
and horror.... Ah, a great sin!'
He sighed, and his head drooped forward. I looked, I confess, in
absolute amazement at the strange old man. His language did not sound
like the language of a peasant; the common people do not speak like
that, nor those who aim at fine speaking. His speech was meditative,
grave, and curious.... I had never heard anything like it.
'Tell me, please, Kassyan,' I began, without taking my eyes off his
slightly flushed face, 'what is your occupation?'
He did not answer my question at once. His eyes strayed uneasily for an
'I live as the Lord commands,' he brought out at last; 'and as for
occupation--no, I have no occupation. I've never been very clever from
a child: I work when I can: I'm not much of a workman--how should I be?
I have no health; my hands are awkward. In the spring I catch
'You catch nightingales?... But didn't you tell me that we must not
touch any of the wild things of the woods and the fields, and so on?'
'We must not kill them, of a certainty; death will take its own without
that. Look at Martin the carpenter; Martin lived, and his life was not
long, but he died; his wife now grieves for her husband, for her little
children.... Neither for man nor beast is there any charm against
death. Death does not hasten, nor is there any escaping it; but we must
not aid death.... And I do not kill nightingales--God forbid! I do not
catch them to harm them, to spoil their lives, but for the pleasure of
men, for their comfort and delight.'
'Do you go to Kursk to catch them?'
'Yes, I go to Kursk, and farther too, at times. I pass nights in the
marshes, or at the edge of the forests; I am alone at night in the
fields, in the thickets; there the curlews call and the hares squeak
and the wild ducks lift up their voices.... I note them at evening; at
morning I give ear to them; at daybreak I cast my net over the
bushes.... There are nightingales that sing so pitifully sweet ... yea,
'And do you sell them?'
'I give them to good people.'
'And what are you doing now?'
'What am I doing?'
'Yes, how are you employed?'
The old man was silent for a little.
'I am not employed at all.... I am a poor workman. But I can read and
'You can read?'
'Yes, I can read and write. I learnt, by the help of God and good
'Have you a family?'
'No, not a family.'
'How so?... Are they dead, then?'
'No, but ... I have never been lucky in life. But all that is in God's
hands; we are all in God's hands; and a man should be righteous--that
is all! Upright before God, that is it.'
'And you have no kindred?'
'Yes ... well....'
The old man was confused.
'Tell me, please,' I began: 'I heard my coachman ask you why you did
not cure Martin? You cure disease?'
'Your coachman is a righteous man,' Kassyan answered thoughtfully. 'I
too am not without sin. They call me a doctor.... Me a doctor, indeed!
And who can heal the sick? That is all a gift from God. But there are
... yes, there are herbs, and there are flowers; they are of use, of a
certainty. There is plantain, for instance, a herb good for man; there
is bud-marigold too; it is not sinful to speak of them: they are holy
herbs of God. Then there are others not so; and they may be of use, but
it's a sin; and to speak of them is a sin. Still, with prayer, may
be.... And doubtless there are such words.... But who has faith, shall
be saved,' he added, dropping his voice.
'You did not give Martin anything?' I asked.
'I heard of it too late,' replied the old man. 'But what of it! Each
man's destiny is written from his birth. The carpenter Martin was not
to live; he was not to live upon the earth: that was what it was. No,
when a man is not to live on the earth, him the sunshine does not warm
like another, and him the bread does not nourish and make strong; it is
as though something is drawing him away.... Yes: God rest his soul!'
'Have you been settled long amongst us?' I asked him after a short
'No, not long; four years. In the old master's time we always lived in
our old houses, but the trustees transported us. Our old master was a
kind heart, a man of peace--the Kingdom of Heaven be his! The trustees
doubtless judged righteously.'
'And where did you live before?'
'At Fair Springs.'
'Is it far from here?'
'A hundred miles.'
'Well, were you better off there?'
'Yes ... yes, there there was open country, with rivers; it was our
home: here we are cramped and parched up.... Here we are strangers.
There at home, at Fair Springs, you could get up on to a hill--and ah,
my God, what a sight you could see! Streams and plains and forests, and
there was a church, and then came plains beyond. You could see far,
very far. Yes, how far you could look--you could look and look, ah,
yes! Here, doubtless, the soil is better; it is clay--good fat clay, as
the peasants say; for me the corn grows well enough everywhere.'
'Confess then, old man; you would like to visit your birth-place
'Yes, I should like to see it. Still, all places are good. I am a man
without kin, without neighbours. And, after all, do you gain much,
pray, by staying at home? But, behold! as you walk, and as you walk,'
he went on, raising his voice, 'the heart grows lighter, of a truth.
And the sun shines upon you, and you are in the sight of God, and the
singing comes more tunefully. Here, you look--what herb is growing; you
look on it--you pick it. Here water runs, perhaps--spring water, a
source of pure holy water; so you drink of it--you look on it too. The
birds of heaven sing.... And beyond Kursk come the steppes, that
steppes-country: ah, what a marvel, what a delight for man! what
freedom, what a blessing of God! And they go on, folks tell, even to
the warm seas where dwells the sweet-voiced bird, the Hamayune, and
from the trees the leaves fall not, neither in autumn nor in winter,
and apples grow of gold, on silver branches, and every man lives in
uprightness and content. And I would go even there.... Have I journeyed
so little already! I have been to Romyon and to Simbirsk the fair city,
and even to Moscow of the golden domes; I have been to Oka the good
nurse, and to Tsna the dove, and to our mother Volga, and many folks,
good Christians have I seen, and noble cities I have visited.... Well,
I would go thither ... yes ... and more too ... and I am not the only
one, I a poor sinner ... many other Christians go in bast-shoes,
roaming over the world, seeking truth, yea!... For what is there at
home? No righteousness in man--it's that.'
These last words Kassyan uttered quickly, almost unintelligibly; then
he said something more which I could not catch at all, and such a
strange expression passed over his face that I involuntarily recalled
the epithet 'cracked.' He looked down, cleared his throat, and seemed
to come to himself again. 'What sunshine!' he murmured in a low voice.
'It is a blessing, oh, Lord! What warmth in the woods!'
He gave a movement of the shoulders and fell into silence. With a vague
look round him he began softly to sing. I could not catch all the words
of his slow chant; I heard the following:
'They call me Kassyan,
But my nickname's the Flea.'
'Oh!' I thought, 'so he improvises.' Suddenly he started and ceased
singing, looking intently at a thick part of the wood. I turned and saw
a little peasant girl, about seven years old, in a blue frock, with a
checked handkerchief over her head, and a woven bark-basket in her
little bare sunburnt hand. She had certainly not expected to meet us;
she had, as they say, 'stumbled upon' us, and she stood motionless in a
shady recess among the thick foliage of the nut-trees, looking dismayed
at me with her black eyes. I had scarcely time to catch a glimpse of
her; she dived behind a tree.
'Annushka! Annushka! come here, don't be afraid!' cried the old man
'I'm afraid,' came her shrill voice.
'Don't be afraid, don't be afraid; come to me.'
Annushka left her hiding place in silence, walked softly round--her
little childish feet scarcely sounded on the thick grass--and came out
of the bushes near the old man. She was not a child of seven, as I had
fancied at first, from her diminutive stature, but a girl of thirteen
or fourteen. Her whole person was small and thin, but very neat and
graceful, and her pretty little face was strikingly like Kassyan's own,
though he was certainly not handsome. There were the same thin
features, and the same strange expression, shy and confiding,
melancholy and shrewd, and her gestures were the same.... Kassyan kept
his eyes fixed on her; she took her stand at his side.
'Well, have you picked any mushrooms?' he asked.
'Yes,' she answered with a shy smile.
'Did you find many?'
'Yes.' (She stole a swift look at him and smiled again.)
'Are they white ones?'
'Show me, show me.... (She slipped the basket off her arm and half-
lifted the big burdock leaf which covered up the mushrooms.) 'Ah!' said
Kassyan, bending down over the basket; 'what splendid ones! Well done,
'She's your daughter, Kassyan, isn't she?' I asked. (Annushka's face
'No, well, a relative,' replied Kassyan with affected indifference.
'Come, Annushka, run along,' he added at once, 'run along, and God be
with you! And take care.'
'But why should she go on foot?' I interrupted. 'We could take her with
Annushka blushed like a poppy, grasped the handle of her basket with
both hands, and looked in trepidation at the old man.
'No, she will get there all right,' he answered in the same languid and
indifferent voice. 'Why not?... She will get there.... Run along.'
Annushka went rapidly away into the forest. Kassyan looked after her,
then looked down and smiled to himself. In this prolonged smile, in the
few words he had spoken to Annushka, and in the very sound of his voice
when he spoke to her, there was an intense, indescribable love and
tenderness. He looked again in the direction she had gone, again smiled
to himself, and, passing his hand across his face, he nodded his head
'Why did you send her away so soon?' I asked him. 'I would have bought
'Well, you can buy them there at home just the same, sir, if you like,'
he answered, for the first time using the formal 'sir' in addressing
'She's very pretty, your girl.'
'No ... only so-so,' he answered, with seeming reluctance, and from
that instant he relapsed into the same uncommunicative mood as at
Seeing that all my efforts to make him talk again were fruitless, I
went off into the clearing. Meantime the heat had somewhat abated; but
my ill-success, or, as they say among us, my 'ill-luck,' continued, and
I returned to the settlement with nothing but one corncrake and the new
axle. Just as we were driving into the yard, Kassyan suddenly turned to
'Master, master,' he began, 'do you know I have done you a wrong; it
was I cast a spell to keep all the game off.'
'Oh, I can do that. Here you have a well-trained dog and a good one,
but he could do nothing. When you think of it, what are men? what are
they? Here's a beast; what have they made of him?'
It would have been useless for me to try to convince Kassyan of the
impossibility of 'casting a spell' on game, and so I made him no reply.
Meantime we had turned into the yard.
Annushka was not in the hut: she had had time to get there before us,
and to leave her basket of mushrooms. Erofay fitted in the new axle,
first exposing it to a severe and most unjust criticism; and an hour
later I set off, leaving a small sum of money with Kassyan, which at
first he was unwilling to accept, but afterwards, after a moment's
thought, holding it in his hand, he put it in his bosom. In the course
of this hour he had scarcely uttered a single word; he stood as before,
leaning against the gate. He made no reply to the reproaches of my
coachman, and took leave very coldly of me.
Directly I turned round, I could see that my worthy Erofay was in a
gloomy frame of mind.... To be sure, he had found nothing to eat in the
country; the only water for his horses was bad. We drove off. With
dissatisfaction expressed even in the back of his head, he sat on the
box, burning to begin to talk to me. While waiting for me to begin by
some question, he confined himself to a low muttering in an undertone,
and some rather caustic instructions to the horses. 'A village,' he
muttered; 'call that a village? You ask for a drop of kvas--not a drop
of kvas even.... Ah, Lord!... And the water--simply filth!' (He spat
loudly.) 'Not a cucumber, nor kvas, nor nothing.... Now, then!' he
added aloud, turning to the right trace-horse; 'I know you, you
humbug.' (And he gave him a cut with the whip.) 'That horse has learnt
to shirk his work entirely, and yet he was a willing beast once. Now,
'Tell me, please, Erofay,' I began, 'what sort of a man is Kassyan?'
Erofay did not answer me at once: he was, in general, a reflective and
deliberate fellow; but I could see directly that my question was
soothing and cheering to him.
'The Flea?' he said at last, gathering up the reins; 'he's a queer
fellow; yes, a crazy chap; such a queer fellow, you wouldn't find
another like him in a hurry. You know, for example, he's for all the
world like our roan horse here; he gets out of everything--out of work,
that's to say. But, then, what sort of workman could he be?... He's
hardly body enough to keep his soul in ... but still, of course....
He's been like that from a child up, you know. At first he followed his
uncle's business as a carrier--there were three of them in the
business; but then he got tired of it, you know--he threw it up. He
began to live at home, but he could not keep at home long; he's so
restless--a regular flea, in fact. He happened, by good luck, to have a
good master--he didn't worry him. Well, so ever since he has been
wandering about like a lost sheep. And then, he's so strange; there's
no understanding him. Sometimes he'll be as silent as a post, and then
he'll begin talking, and God knows what he'll say! Is that good
manners, pray? He's an absurd fellow, that he is. But he sings well,
for all that.'
'And does he cure people, really?'
'Cure people!... Well, how should he? A fine sort of doctor! Though he
did cure me of the king's evil, I must own.... But how can he? He's a
stupid fellow, that's what he is,' he added, after a moment's pause.
'Have you known him long?'
'A long while. I was his neighbour at Sitchovka up at Fair Springs.'
'And what of that girl--who met us in the wood, Annushka--what relation
is she to him?'
Erofay looked at me over his shoulder, and grinned all over his face.
'He, he!... yes, they are relations. She is an orphan; she has no
mother, and it's not even known who her mother was. But she must be a
relation; she's too much like him.... Anyway, she lives with him. She's
a smart girl, there's no denying; a good girl; and as for the old man,
she's simply the apple of his eye; she's a good girl. And, do you know,
you wouldn't believe it, but do you know, he's managed to teach
Annushka to read? Well, well! that's quite like him; he's such an
extraordinary fellow, such a changeable fellow; there's no reckoning on
him, really.... Eh! eh! eh!' My coachman suddenly interrupted himself,
and stopping the horses, he bent over on one side and began sniffing.
'Isn't there a smell of burning? Yes! Why, that new axle, I do
declare!... I thought I'd greased it.... We must get on to some water;
why, here is a puddle, just right.'
And Erofay slowly got off his seat, untied the pail, went to the pool,
and coming back, listened with a certain satisfaction to the hissing of
the box of the wheel as the water suddenly touched it.... Six times
during some eight miles he had to pour water on the smouldering axle,
and it was quite evening when we got home at last.
Twelve miles from my place lives an acquaintance of mine, a landowner
and a retired officer in the Guards--Arkady Pavlitch Pyenotchkin. He
has a great deal of game on his estate, a house built after the design
of a French architect, and servants dressed after the English fashion;
he gives capital dinners, and a cordial reception to visitors, and,
with all that, one goes to see him reluctantly. He is a sensible and
practical man, has received the excellent education now usual, has been
in the service, mixed in the highest society, and is now devoting
himself to his estate with great success. Arkady Pavlitch is, to judge
by his own words, severe but just; he looks after the good of the
peasants under his control and punishes them--for their good. 'One has
to treat them like children,' he says on such occasions; 'their
ignorance, _mon cher; il faut prendre cela en consideration_.' When
this so-called painful necessity arises, he eschews all sharp or
violent gestures, and prefers not to raise his voice, but with a
straight blow in the culprit's face, says calmly, 'I believe I asked
you to do something, my friend?' or 'What is the matter, my boy? what
are you thinking about?' while he sets his teeth a little, and the
corners of his mouth are drawn. He is not tall, but has an elegant
figure, and is very good-looking; his hands and nails are kept
perfectly exquisite; his rosy cheeks and lips are simply the picture of
health. He has a ringing, light-hearted laugh, and there is sometimes a
very genial twinkle in his clear brown eyes. He dresses in excellent
taste; he orders French books, prints, and papers, though he's no great
lover of reading himself: he has hardly as much as waded through the
_Wandering Jew_. He plays cards in masterly style. Altogether, Arkady
Pavlitch is reckoned one of the most cultivated gentlemen and most
eligible matches in our province; the ladies are perfectly wild over
him, and especially admire his manners. He is wonderfully well
conducted, wary as a cat, and has never from his cradle been mixed up
in any scandal, though he is fond of making his power felt,
intimidating or snubbing a nervous man, when he gets a chance. He has a
positive distaste for doubtful society--he is afraid of compromising
himself; in his lighter moments, however, he will avow himself a
follower of Epicurus, though as a rule he speaks slightingly of
philosophy, calling it the foggy food fit for German brains, or at
times, simply, rot. He is fond of music too; at the card-table he is
given to humming through his teeth, but with feeling; he knows by heart
some snatches from _Lucia_ and _Somnambula_, but he is always apt to
sing everything a little sharp. The winters he spends in Petersburg.
His house is kept in extraordinarily good order; the very grooms feel
his influence, and every day not only rub the harness and brush their
coats, but even wash their faces. Arkady Pavlitch's house-serfs have,
it is true, something of a hang-dog look; but among us Russians there's
no knowing what is sullenness and what is sleepiness. Arkady Pavlitch
speaks in a soft, agreeable voice, with emphasis and, as it were, with
satisfaction; he brings out each word through his handsome perfumed
moustaches; he uses a good many French expressions too, such as: _Mais
c'est impayable! Mais comment donc_? and so so. For all that, I, for
one, am never over-eager to visit him, and if it were not for the
grouse and the partridges, I should probably have dropped his
acquaintance altogether. One is possessed by a strange sort of
uneasiness in his house; the very comfort is distasteful to one, and
every evening when a befrizzed valet makes his appearance in a blue
livery with heraldic buttons, and begins, with cringing servility,
drawing off one's boots, one feels that if his pale, lean figure could
suddenly be replaced by the amazingly broad cheeks and incredibly thick
nose of a stalwart young labourer fresh from the plough, who has yet
had time in his ten months of service to tear his new nankin coat open
at every seam, one would be unutterably overjoyed, and would gladly run
the risk of having one's whole leg pulled off with the boot....
In spite of my aversion for Arkady Pavlitch, I once happened to pass a
night in his house. The next day I ordered my carriage to be ready
early in the morning, but he would not let me start without a regular
breakfast in the English style, and conducted me into his study. With
our tea they served us cutlets, boiled eggs, butter, honey, cheese, and
so on. Two footmen in clean white gloves swiftly and silently
anticipated our faintest desires. We sat on a Persian divan. Arkady
Pavlitch was arrayed in loose silk trousers, a black velvet smoking
jacket, a red fez with a blue tassel, and yellow Chinese slippers
without heels. He drank his tea, laughed, scrutinised his finger-nails,
propped himself up with cushions, and was altogether in an excellent
humour. After making a hearty breakfast with obvious satisfaction,
Arkady Pavlitch poured himself out a glass of red wine, lifted it to
his lips, and suddenly frowned.
'Why was not the wine warmed?' he asked rather sharply of one of the
The footman stood stock-still in confusion, and turned white.
'Didn't I ask you a question, my friend?' Arkady Pavlitch resumed
tranquilly, never taking his eyes off the man.
The luckless footman fidgeted in his place, twisted the napkin, and
uttered not a word.
Arkady Pavlitch dropped his head and looked up at him thoughtfully from
under his eyelids.
'_Pardon, mon cher_', he observed, patting my knee amicably, and again
he stared at the footman. 'You can go,' he added, after a short
silence, raising his eyebrows, and he rang the bell.
A stout, swarthy, black-haired man, with a low forehead, and eyes
positively lost in fat, came into the room.
'About Fyodor ... make the necessary arrangements,' said Arkady
Pavlitch in an undertone, and with complete composure.
'Yes, sir,' answered the fat man, and he went out.
'_Voila, mon cher, les desagrements de la campagne_,' Arkady Pavlitch
remarked gaily. 'But where are you off to? Stop, you must stay a
'No,' I answered; 'it's time I was off.'
'Nothing but sport! Oh, you sportsmen! And where are you going to shoot
'Thirty-five miles from here, at Ryabovo.'
'Ryabovo? By Jove! now in that case I will come with you. Ryabovo's
only four miles from my village Shipilovka, and it's a long while since
I've been over to Shipilovka; I've never been able to get the time.
Well, this is a piece of luck; you can spend the day shooting in
Ryabovo and come on in the evening to me. We'll have supper together--
we'll take the cook with us, and you'll stay the night with me.
Capital! capital!' he added without waiting for my answer.
'_C'est arrange_.... Hey, you there! Have the carriage brought out, and
look sharp. You have never been in Shipilovka? I should be ashamed to
suggest your putting up for the night in my agent's cottage, but you're
not particular, I know, and at Ryabovo you'd have slept in some
hayloft.... We will go, we will go!'
And Arkady Pavlitch hummed some French song.
'You don't know, I dare say,' he pursued, swaying from side to side;
'I've some peasants there who pay rent. It's the custom of the place--
what was I to do? They pay their rent very punctually, though. I
should, I'll own, have put them back to payment in labour, but there's
so little land. I really wonder how they manage to make both ends meet.
However, _c'est leur affaire_. My agent there's a fine fellow, _une
forte tete_, a man of real administrative power! You shall see....
Really, how luckily things have turned out!'
There was no help for it. Instead of nine o'clock in the morning, we
started at two in the afternoon. Sportsmen will sympathise with my
impatience. Arkady Pavlitch liked, as he expressed it, to be
comfortable when he had the chance, and he took with him such a supply
of linen, dainties, wearing apparel, perfumes, pillows, and dressing-
cases of all sorts, that a careful and self-denying German would have
found enough to last him for a year. Every time we went down a steep
hill, Arkady Pavlitch addressed some brief but powerful remarks to the
coachman, from which I was able to deduce that my worthy friend was a
thorough coward. The journey was, however, performed in safety, except
that, in crossing a lately-repaired bridge, the trap with the cook in
it broke down, and he got squeezed in the stomach against the hind-
Arkady Pavlitch was alarmed in earnest at the sight of the fall of
Karem, his home-made professor of the culinary art, and he sent at once
to inquire whether his hands were injured. On receiving a reassuring
reply to this query, his mind was set at rest immediately. With all
this, we were rather a long time on the road; I was in the same
carriage as Arkady Pavlitch, and towards the end of the journey I was a
prey to deadly boredom, especially as in a few hours my companion ran
perfectly dry of subjects of conversation, and even fell to expressing
his liberal views on politics. At last we did arrive--not at Ryabovo,
but at Shipilovka; it happened so somehow. I could have got no shooting
now that day in any case, and so, raging inwardly, I submitted to my
The cook had arrived a few minutes before us, and apparently had had
time to arrange things and prepare those whom it concerned, for on our
very entrance within the village boundaries we were met by the village
bailiff (the agent's son), a stalwart, red-haired peasant of seven
feet; he was on horseback, bareheaded, and wearing a new overcoat, not
buttoned up. 'And where's Sofron?' Arkady Pavlitch asked him. The
bailiff first jumped nimbly off his horse, bowed to his master till he
was bent double, and said: 'Good health to you, Arkady Pavlitch, sir!'
then raised his head, shook himself, and announced that Sofron had gone
to Perov, but they had sent after him.
'Well, come along after us,' said Arkady Pavlitch. The bailiff
deferentially led his horse to one side, clambered on to it, and
followed the carriage at a trot, his cap in his hand. We drove through
the village. A few peasants in empty carts happened to meet us; they
were driving from the threshing-floor and singing songs, swaying
backwards and forwards, and swinging their legs in the air; but at the
sight of our carriage and the bailiff they were suddenly silent, took
off their winter caps (it was summer-time) and got up as though waiting
for orders. Arkady Pavlitch nodded to them graciously. A flutter of
excitement had obviously spread through the hamlet. Peasant women in
check petticoats flung splinters of wood at indiscreet or over-zealous
dogs; an old lame man with a beard that began just under his eyes
pulled a horse away from the well before it had drunk, gave it, for
some obscure reason, a blow on the side, and fell to bowing low. Boys
in long smocks ran with a howl to the huts, flung themselves on their
bellies on the high door-sills, with their heads down and legs in the
air, rolled over with the utmost haste into the dark outer rooms, from
which they did not reappear again. Even the hens sped in a hurried
scuttle to the turning; one bold cock with a black throat like a satin
waistcoat and a red tail, rumpled up to his very comb, stood his ground
in the road, and even prepared for a crow, then suddenly took fright
and scuttled off too. The agent's cottage stood apart from the rest in
the middle of a thick green patch of hemp. We stopped at the gates. Mr.
Pyenotchkin got up, flung off his cloak with a picturesque motion, and
got out of the carriage, looking affably about him. The agent's wife
met us with low curtseys, and came up to kiss the master's hand. Arkady
Pavlitch let her kiss it to her heart's content, and mounted the steps.
In the outer room, in a dark corner, stood the bailiff's wife, and she
too curtsied, but did not venture to approach his hand. In the cold
hut, as it is called--to the right of the outer room--two other women
were still busily at work; they were carrying out all the rubbish,
empty tubs, sheepskins stiff as boards, greasy pots, a cradle with a
heap of dish-clouts and a baby covered with spots, and sweeping out the
dirt with bathbrooms. Arkady Pavlitch sent them away, and installed
himself on a bench under the holy pictures. The coachmen began bringing
in the trunks, bags, and other conveniences, trying each time to subdue
the noise of their heavy boots.
Meantime Arkady Pavlitch began questioning the bailiff about the crops,
the sowing, and other agricultural subjects. The bailiff gave
satisfactory answers, but spoke with a sort of heavy awkwardness, as
though he were buttoning up his coat with benumbed fingers. He stood at
the door and kept looking round on the watch to make way for the nimble
footman. Behind his powerful shoulders I managed to get a glimpse of
the agent's wife in the outer room surreptitiously belabouring some
other peasant woman. Suddenly a cart rumbled up and stopped at the
steps; the agent came in.
This man, as Arkady Pavlitch said, of real administrative power, was
short, broad-shouldered, grey, and thick-set, with a red nose, little
blue eyes, and a beard of the shape of a fan. We may observe, by the
way, that ever since Russia has existed, there has never yet been an
instance of a man who has grown rich and prosperous without a big,
bushy beard; sometimes a man may have had a thin, wedge-shape beard all
his life; but then he begins to get one all at once, it is all round
his face like a halo--one wonders where the hair has come from! The
agent must have been making merry at Perov: his face was unmistakably
flushed, and there was a smell of spirits about him.
'Ah, our father, our gracious benefactor!' he began in a sing-song
voice, and with a face of such deep feeling that it seemed every minute
as if he would burst into tears; 'at last you have graciously deigned
to come to us ... your hand, your honour's hand,' he added, his lips
protruded in anticipation. Arkady Pavlitch gratified his desire. 'Well,
brother Sofron, how are things going with you?' he asked in a friendly
'Ah, you, our father!' cried Sofron; 'how should they go ill? how
should things go ill, now that you, our father, our benefactor,
graciously deign to lighten our poor village with your presence, to
make us happy till the day of our death? Thank the Lord for thee,
Arkady Pavlitch! thank the Lord for thee! All is right by your gracious
At this point Sofron paused, gazed upon his master, and, as though
carried away by a rush of feeling (tipsiness had its share in it too),
begged once more for his hand, and whined more than before.
'Ah, you, our father, benefactor ... and ... There, God bless me! I'm a
regular fool with delight.... God bless me! I look and can't believe my
eyes! Ah, our father!'
Arkady Pavlitch glanced at me, smiled, and asked: '_N'est-ce pas que
'But, Arkady Pavlitch, your honour,' resumed the indefatigable agent;
'what are you going to do? You'll break my heart, your honour; your
honour didn't graciously let me know of your visit. Where are you to
put up for the night? You see here it's dirty, nasty.'
'Nonsense, Sofron, nonsense!' Arkady Pavlitch responded, with a smile;
'it's all right here.'
'But, our father, all right--for whom? For peasants like us it's all
right; but for you ... oh, our father, our gracious protector! oh, you
... our father!... Pardon an old fool like me; I'm off my head, bless
me! I'm gone clean crazy.'
Meanwhile supper was served; Arkady Pavlitch began to eat. The old man
packed his son off, saying he smelt too strong.
'Well, settled the division of land, old chap, hey?' enquired Mr.
Pyenotchkin, obviously trying to imitate the peasant speech, with a
wink to me.
'We've settled the land shares, your honour; all by your gracious
favour. Day before yesterday the list was made out. The Hlinovsky folks
made themselves disagreeable about it at first ... they were
disagreeable about it, certainly. They wanted this ... and they wanted
that ... and God knows what they didn't want! but they're a set of
fools, your honour!--an ignorant lot. But we, your honour, graciously
please you, gave an earnest of our gratitude, and satisfied Nikolai
Nikolaitch, the mediator; we acted in everything according to your
orders, your honour; as you graciously ordered, so we did, and nothing
did we do unbeknown to Yegor Dmitritch.'
'Yegor reported to me,' Arkady Pavlitch remarked with dignity.
'To be sure, your honour, Yegor Dmitritch, to be sure.'
'Well, then, now I suppose you 're satisfied.'
Sofron had only been waiting for this.
'Ah, you are our father, our benefactor!' he began, in the same sing-
song as before. 'Indeed, now, your honour ... why, for you, our father,
we pray day and night to God Almighty.... There's too little land, of
Pyenotchkin cut him short.
'There, that'll do, that'll do, Sofron; I know you're eager in my
service.... Well, and how goes the threshing?'
'Well, our father, the threshing's none too good. But there, your
honour, Arkady Pavlitch, let me tell you about a little matter that
came to pass.' (Here he came closer to Mr. Pyenotchkin, with his arms
apart, bent down, and screwed up one eye.) 'There was a dead body found
on our land.'
'How was that?'
'I can't think myself, your honour; it seems like the doing of the evil
one. But, luckily, it was found near the boundary; on our side of it,
to tell the truth. I ordered them to drag it on to the neighbour's
strip of land at once, while it was still possible, and set a watch
there, and sent word round to our folks. "Mum's the word," says I. But
I explained how it was to the police officer in case of the worst. "You
see how it was," says I; and of course I had to treat him and slip some
notes into his hand.... Well, what do you say, your honour? We shifted
the burden on to other shoulders; you see a dead body's a matter of two
hundred roubles, as sure as ninepence.'
Mr. Pyenotchkin laughed heartily at his agent's cunning, and said
several times to me, indicating him with a nod, '_Quel gaillard_, eh!'
Meantime it was quite dark out of doors; Arkady Pavlitch ordered the
table to be cleared, and hay to be brought in. The valet spread out
sheets for us, and arranged pillows; we lay down. Sofron retired after
receiving his instructions for the next day. Arkady Pavlitch, before
falling asleep, talked a little more about the first-rate qualities of
the Russian peasant, and at that point made the observation that since
Sofron had had the management of the place, the Shipilovka peasants had
never been one farthing in arrears.... The watchman struck his board; a
baby, who apparently had not yet had time to be imbued with a sentiment
of dutiful self-abnegation, began crying somewhere in the cottage ...
we fell asleep.
The next morning we got up rather early; I was getting ready to start
for Ryabovo, but Arkady Pavlitch was anxious to show me his estate, and
begged me to remain. I was not averse myself to seeing more of the
first-rate qualities of that man of administrative power--Sofron--in
their practical working. The agent made his appearance. He wore a blue
loose coat, tied round the waist with a red handkerchief. He talked
much less than on the previous evening, kept an alert, intent eye on
his master's face, and gave connected and sensible answers. We set off
with him to the threshing-floor. Sofron's son, the seven-foot bailiff,
by every external sign a very slow-witted fellow, walked after us also,
and we were joined farther on by the village constable, Fedosyitch, a
retired soldier, with immense moustaches, and an extraordinary
expression of face; he looked as though he had had some startling shock
of astonishment a very long while ago, and had never quite got over it.
We took a look at the threshing-floor, the barn, the corn-stacks, the
outhouses, the windmill, the cattle-shed, the vegetables, and the
hempfields; everything was, as a fact, in excellent order; only the
dejected faces of the peasants rather puzzled me. Sofron had had an eye
to the ornamental as well as the useful; he had planted all the ditches
with willows, between the stacks he had made little paths to the
threshing-floor and strewn them with fine sand; on the windmill he had
constructed a weathercock of the shape of a bear with his jaws open and
a red tongue sticking out; he had attached to the brick cattle-shed
something of the nature of a Greek facade, and on it inscribed in white
letters: 'Construt in the village Shipilovky 1 thousand eight Hunderd
farthieth year. This cattle-shed.' Arkady Pavlitch was quite touched,
and fell to expatiating in French to me upon the advantages of the
system of rent-payment, adding, however, that labour-dues came more
profitable to the owner--'but, after all, that wasn't everything.' He
began giving the agent advice how to plant his potatoes, how to prepare
cattle-food, and so on. Sofron heard his master's remarks out with
attention, sometimes replied, but did not now address Arkady Pavlitch
as his father, or his benefactor, and kept insisting that there was too
little land; that it would be a good thing to buy more. 'Well, buy some
then,' said Arkady Pavlitch; 'I've no objection; in my name, of
course.' To this Sofron made no reply; he merely stroked his beard.
'And now it would be as well to ride down to the copse,' observed Mr.
Pyenotchkin. Saddle-horses were led out to us at once; we went off to
the copse, or, as they call it about us, the 'enclosure.' In this
'enclosure' we found thick undergrowth and abundance of wild game, for
which Arkady Pavlitch applauded Sofron and clapped him on the shoulder.
In regard to forestry, Arkady Pavlitch clung to the Russian ideas, and
told me on that subject an amusing--in his words--anecdote, of how a
jocose landowner had given his forester a good lesson by pulling out
nearly half his beard, by way of a proof that growth is none the
thicker for being cut back. In other matters, however, neither Sofron
nor Arkady Pavlitch objected to innovations. On our return to the
village, the agent took us to look at a winnowing machine he had
recently ordered from Moscow. The winnowing machine did certainly work
beautifully, but if Sofron had known what a disagreeable incident was
in store for him and his master on this last excursion, he would
doubtless have stopped at home with us.
This was what happened. As we came out of the barn the following
spectacle confronted us. A few paces from the door, near a filthy pool,
in which three ducks were splashing unconcernedly, there stood two
peasants--one an old man of sixty, the other, a lad of twenty--both in
patched homespun shirts, barefoot, and with cord tied round their
waists for belts. The village constable Fedosyitch was busily engaged
with them, and would probably have succeeded in inducing them to retire
if we had lingered a little longer in the barn, but catching sight of
us, he grew stiff all over, and seemed bereft of all sensation on the
spot. Close by stood the bailiff gaping, his fists hanging irresolute.
Arkady Pavlitch frowned, bit his lip, and went up to the suppliants.
They both prostrated themselves at his feet in silence.
'What do you want? What are you asking about?' he inquired in a stern
voice, a little through his nose. (The peasants glanced at one another,
and did not utter a syllable, only blinked a little as if the sun were
in their faces, and their breathing came quicker.)
'Well, what is it?' Arkady Pavlitch said again; and turning at once to
Sofron, 'Of what family?'
'The Tobolyev family,' the agent answered slowly.
'Well, what do you want?' Mr. Pyenotchkin said again; 'have you lost
your tongues, or what? Tell me, you, what is it you want?' he added,
with a nod at the old man. 'And don't be afraid, stupid.'
The old man craned forward his dark brown, wrinkled neck, opened his
bluish twitching lips, and in a hoarse voice uttered the words,
'Protect us, lord!' and again he bent his forehead to the earth. The
young peasant prostrated himself too. Arkady Pavlitch looked at their
bent necks with an air of dignity, threw back his head, and stood with
his legs rather wide apart. 'What is it? Whom do you complain of?'
'Have mercy, lord! Let us breathe.... We are crushed, worried,
tormented to death quite. (The old man spoke with difficulty.)
'Who worries you?'
'Sofron Yakovlitch, your honour.'
Arkady Pavlitch was silent a minute.
'What's your name?'
'Antip, your honour.'
'And who's this?'
'My boy, your honour.'
Arkady Pavlitch was silent again; he pulled his moustaches.
'Well! and how has he tormented you?' he began again, looking over his
moustaches at the old man.
'Your honour, he has ruined us utterly. Two sons, your honour, he's
sent for recruits out of turn, and now he is taking the third also.
Yesterday, your honour, our last cow was taken from the yard, and my
old wife was beaten by his worship here: that is all the pity he has
for us!' (He pointed to the bailiff.)
'Hm!' commented Arkady Pavlitch.
'Let him not destroy us to the end, gracious protector!'
Mr. Pyenotchkin scowled, 'What's the meaning of this?' he asked the
agent, in a low voice, with an air of displeasure.
'He's a drunken fellow, sir,' answered the agent, for the first time
using this deferential address, 'and lazy too. He's never been out of
arrears this five years back, sir.'
'Sofron Yakovlitch paid the arrears for me, your honour,' the old man
went on; 'it's the fifth year's come that he's paid it, he's paid it--
and he's brought me into slavery to him, your honour, and here--'
'And why did you get into arrears?' Mr. Pyenotchkin asked
threateningly. (The old man's head sank.) 'You're fond of drinking,
hanging about the taverns, I dare say.' (The old man opened his mouth
to speak.) 'I know you,' Arkady Pavlitch went on emphatically; 'you
think you've nothing to do but drink, and lie on the stove, and let
steady peasants answer for you.'
'And he's an impudent fellow, too,' the agent threw in.
'That's sure to be so; it's always the way; I've noticed it more than
once. The whole year round, he's drinking and abusive, and then he
falls at one's feet.'
'Your honour, Arkady Pavlitch,' the old man began despairingly, 'have
pity, protect us; when have I been impudent? Before God Almighty, I
swear it was beyond my strength. Sofron Yakovlitch has taken a dislike
to me; for some reason he dislikes me--God be his judge! He will ruin
me utterly, your honour.... The last ... here ... the last boy ... and
him he....' (A tear glistened in the old man's wrinkled yellow eyes).
'Have pity, gracious lord, defend us!'
'And it's not us only,' the young peasant began....
Arkady Pavlitch flew into a rage at once.
'And who asked your opinion, hey? Till you're spoken to, hold your
tongue.... What's the meaning of it? Silence, I tell you, silence!...
Why, upon my word, this is simply mutiny! No, my friend, I don't advise
you to mutiny on my domain ... on my ... (Arkady Pavlitch stepped
forward, but probably recollected my presence, turned round, and put
his hands in his pockets ...) '_Je vous demande bien pardon, mon
cher_,' he said, with a forced smile, dropping his voice significantly.
'_C'est le mauvais cote de la medaille_ ... There, that'll do, that'll
do,' he went on, not looking at the peasants: 'I say ... that'll do,
you can go.' (The peasants did not rise.) 'Well, haven't I told you ...
that'll do. You can go, I tell you.'
Arkady Pavlitch turned his back on them. 'Nothing but vexation,' he
muttered between his teeth, and strode with long steps homewards.
Sofron followed him. The village constable opened his eyes wide,
looking as if he were just about to take a tremendous leap into space.
The bailiff drove a duck away from the puddle. The suppliants remained
as they were a little, then looked at each other, and, without turning
their heads, went on their way.
Two hours later I was at Ryabovo, and making ready to begin shooting,
accompanied by Anpadist, a peasant I knew well. Pyenotchkin had been
out of humour with Sofron up to the time I left. I began talking to
Anpadist about the Shipilovka peasants, and Mr. Pyenotchkin, and asked
him whether he knew the agent there.
'Sofron Yakovlitch? ... ugh!'
'What sort of man is he?'
'He's not a man; he's a dog; you couldn't find another brute like him
between here and Kursk.'
'Why, Shipilovka's hardly reckoned as--what's his name?--Mr.
Pyenotchkin's at all; he's not the master there; Sofron's the master.'
'You don't say so!'
'He's master, just as if it were his own. The peasants all about are in
debt to him; they work for him like slaves; he'll send one off with the
waggons; another, another way.... He harries them out of their lives.'
'They haven't much land, I suppose?'
'Not much land! He rents two hundred acres from the Hlinovsky peasants
alone, and two hundred and eighty from our folks; there's more than
three hundred and seventy-five acres he's got. And he doesn't only
traffic in land; he does a trade in horses and stock, and pitch, and
butter, and hemp, and one thing and the other.... He's sharp, awfully
sharp, and rich too, the beast! But what's bad--he beats them. He's a
brute, not a man; a dog, I tell you; a cur, a regular cur; that's
what he is!'
'How is it they don't make complaints of him?'
'I dare say, the master'd be pleased! There's no arrears; so what does
he care? Yes, you'd better,' he added, after a brief pause; 'I should
advise you to complain! No, he'd let you know ... yes, you'd better try
it on.... No, he'd let you know....'
I thought of Antip, and told him what I had seen.
'There,' commented Anpadist, 'he will eat him up now; he'll simply eat
the man up. The bailiff will beat him now. Such a poor, unlucky chap,
come to think of it! And what's his offence?... He had some wrangle in
meeting with him, the agent, and he lost all patience, I suppose, and
of course he wouldn't stand it.... A great matter, truly, to make so
much of! So he began pecking at him, Antip. Now he'll eat him up
altogether. You see, he's such a dog. Such a cur--God forgive my
transgressions!--he knows whom to fall upon. The old men that are a
bit richer, or've more children, he doesn't touch, the red-headed
devil! but there's all the difference here! Why he's sent Antip's sons
for recruits out of turn, the heartless ruffian, the cur! God forgive
We went on our way.
It was autumn. For some hours I had been strolling across country with
my gun, and should probably not have returned till evening to the
tavern on the Kursk high-road where my three-horse trap was awaiting
me, had not an exceedingly fine and persistent rain, which had worried
me all day with the obstinacy and ruthlessness of some old maiden lady,
driven me at last to seek at least a temporary shelter somewhere in the
neighbourhood. While I was still deliberating in which direction to go,
my eye suddenly fell on a low shanty near a field sown with peas. I
went up to the shanty, glanced under the thatched roof, and saw an old
man so infirm that he reminded me at once of the dying goat Robinson
Crusoe found in some cave on his island. The old man was squatting on
his heels, his little dim eyes half-closed, while hurriedly, but
carefully, like a hare (the poor fellow had not a single tooth), he
munched a dry, hard pea, incessantly rolling it from side to side. He
was so absorbed in this occupation that he did not notice my entrance.
'Grandfather! hey, grandfather!' said I. He ceased munching, lifted his
eyebrows high, and with an effort opened his eyes.
'What?' he mumbled in a broken voice.
'Where is there a village near?' I asked.
The old man fell to munching again. He had not heard me. I repeated my
question louder than before.
'A village?... But what do you want?'
'Why, shelter from the rain.'
'Shelter from the rain.'
'Ah!' (He scratched his sunburnt neck.) 'Well, now, you go,' he said
suddenly, waving his hands indefinitely, 'so ... as you go by the
copse--see, as you go--there'll be a road; you pass it by, and keep
right on to the right; keep right on, keep right on, keep right on....
Well, there will be Ananyevo. Or else you'd go to Sitovka.'
I followed the old man with difficulty. His moustaches muffled his
voice, and his tongue too did not obey him readily.
'Where are you from?' I asked him.
'Where are you from?'
'What are you doing here?'
'Why, what are you watching?'
I could not help smiling.
'Really!--how old are you?'
'Your sight's failing, I expect.'
'Your sight's failing, I daresay?'
'Yes, it's failing. At times I can hear nothing.'
'Then how can you be a watchman, eh?'
'Oh, my elders know about that.'
'Elders!' I thought, and I gazed not without compassion at the poor old
man. He fumbled about, pulled out of his bosom a bit of coarse bread,
and began sucking it like a child, with difficulty moving his sunken
I walked in the direction of the copse, turned to the right, kept on,
kept right on as the old man had advised me, and at last got to a large
village with a stone church in the new style, _i.e._ with columns, and
a spacious manor-house, also with columns. While still some way off I
noticed through the fine network of falling rain a cottage with a deal
roof, and two chimneys, higher than the others, in all probability the
dwelling of the village elder; and towards it I bent my steps in the
hope of finding, in this cottage, a samovar, tea, sugar, and some not
absolutely sour cream. Escorted by my half-frozen dog, I went up the
steps into the outer room, opened the door, and instead of the usual
appurtenances of a cottage, I saw several tables, heaped up with
papers, two red cupboards, bespattered inkstands, pewter boxes of
blotting sand weighing half a hundred-weight, long penholders, and so
on. At one of the tables was sitting a young man of twenty with a
swollen, sickly face, diminutive eyes, a greasy-looking forehead, and
long straggling locks of hair. He was dressed, as one would expect, in
a grey nankin coat, shiny with wear at the waist and the collar.
'What do you want?' he asked me, flinging his head up like a horse
taken unexpectedly by the nose.
'Does the bailiff live here... or--'
'This is the principal office of the manor,' he interrupted. 'I'm the
clerk on duty.... Didn't you see the sign-board? That's what it was put
'Where could I dry my clothes here? Is there a samovar anywhere in the
'Samovars, of course,' replied the young man in the grey coat with
dignity; 'go to Father Timofey's, or to the servants' cottage, or else
to Nazar Tarasitch, or to Agrafena, the poultry-woman.'
'Who are you talking to, you blockhead? Can't you let me sleep, dummy!'
shouted a voice from the next room.
'Here's a gentleman's come in to ask where he can dry himself.'
'What sort of a gentleman?'
'I don't know. With a dog and a gun.'
A bedstead creaked in the next room. The door opened, and there came in
a stout, short man of fifty, with a bull neck, goggle-eyes,
extraordinarily round cheeks, and his whole face positively shining
'What is it you wish?' he asked me.
'To dry my things.'
'There's no place here.'
'I didn't know this was the counting-house; I am willing, though, to
'Well, perhaps it could be managed here,' rejoined the fat man; 'won't
you come inside here?' (He led me into another room, but not the one he
had come from.) 'Would this do for you?'
'Very well.... And could I have tea and milk?'
'Certainly, at once. If you'll meantime take off your things and rest,
the tea shall be got ready this minute.'
'Whose property is this?'
'Madame Losnyakov's, Elena Nikolaevna.'
He went out I looked round: against the partition separating my room
from the office stood a huge leather sofa; two high-backed chairs, also
covered in leather, were placed on both sides of the solitary window
which looked out on the village street. On the walls, covered with a
green paper with pink patterns on it, hung three immense oil paintings.
One depicted a setter-dog with a blue collar, bearing the inscription:
'This is my consolation'; at the dog's feet flowed a river; on the
opposite bank of the river a hare of quite disproportionate size with
ears cocked up was sitting under a pine tree. In another picture two
old men were eating a melon; behind the melon was visible in the
distance a Greek temple with the inscription: 'The Temple of
Satisfaction.' The third picture represented the half-nude figure of a
woman in a recumbent position, much fore-shortened, with red knees and
very big heels. My dog had, with superhuman efforts, crouched under the
sofa, and apparently found a great deal of dust there, as he kept
sneezing violently. I went to the window. Boards had been laid across
the street in a slanting direction from the manor-house to the
counting-house--a very useful precaution, as, thanks to our rich black
soil and the persistent rain, the mud was terrible. In the grounds of
the manor-house, which stood with its back to the street, there was the
constant going and coming there always is about manor-houses: maids in
faded chintz gowns flitted to and fro; house-serfs sauntered through
the mud, stood still and scratched their spines meditatively; the
constable's horse, tied up to a post, lashed his tail lazily, and with
his nose high up, gnawed at the hedge; hens were clucking; sickly
turkeys kept up an incessant gobble-gobble. On the steps of a dark
crumbling out-house, probably the bath-house, sat a stalwart lad with a
guitar, singing with some spirit the well-known ballad:
'I'm leaving this enchanting spot
To go into the desert.'
The fat man came into the room.
'They're bringing you in your tea,' he told me, with an affable smile.
The young man in the grey coat, the clerk on duty, laid on the old
card-table a samovar, a teapot, a tumbler on a broken saucer, a jug of
cream, and a bunch of Bolhovo biscuit rings. The fat man went out.
'What is he?' I asked the clerk; 'the steward?'
'No, sir; he was the chief cashier, but now he has been promoted to be
'Haven't you got a steward, then?'
'No, sir. There's an agent, Mihal Vikulov, but no steward.'
'Is there a manager, then?'
'Yes; a German, Lindamandol, Karlo Karlitch; only he does not manage
'Who does manage it, then?'
'Our mistress herself.'
'You don't say so. And are there many of you in the office?'
The young man reflected.
'There are six of us.'
'Who are they?' I inquired.
'Well, first there's Vassily Nikolaevitch, the head cashier; then
Piotr, one clerk; Piotr's brother, Ivan, another clerk; the other Ivan,
a clerk; Konstantin Narkizer, another clerk; and me here--there's a lot
of us, you can't count all of them.'
'I suppose your mistress has a great many serfs in her house?'
'No, not to say a great many.'
'How many, then?'
'I dare say it runs up to about a hundred and fifty.'
We were both silent for a little.
'I suppose you write a good hand, eh?' I began again.
The young man grinned from ear to ear, went into the office and brought
in a sheet covered with writing.
'This is my writing,' he announced, still with the same smile on his
I looked at it; on the square sheet of greyish paper there was written,
in a good bold hand, the following document:--
From the Chief Office of the Manor of Ananyevo to
the Agent, Mihal Vikulov.
'Whereas some person unknown entered the garden at Ananyevo last night
in an intoxicated condition, and with unseemly songs waked the French
governess, Madame Engene, and disturbed her; and whether the watchmen
saw anything, and who were on watch in the garden and permitted such
disorderliness: as regards all the above-written matters, your orders
are to investigate in detail, and report immediately to the Office.'
'_Head-Clerk_, NIKOLAI HVOSTOV.'
A huge heraldic seal was attached to the order, with the inscription:
'Seal of the chief office of the manor of Ananyevo'; and below stood
the signature: 'To be executed exactly, Elena Losnyakov.'
'Your lady signed it herself, eh?' I queried.
'To be sure; she always signs herself. Without that the order would be
of no effect.'
'Well, and now shall you send this order to the agent?'
'No, sir. He'll come himself and read it. That's to say, it'll be read
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