The Schoolmistress and Other Stories
Part 2 out of 4
Probably I frowned, for my wife looked grave and whispered
"Of course it is queer her having come, but don't be cross,
Nikolay, and don't be hard on her. She is unhappy, you know;
Uncle Semyon Fyodoritch really is ill-natured and tyrannical, it
is difficult to live with him. She says she will only stay three
days with us, only till she gets a letter from her brother."
My wife whispered a great deal more nonsense to me about her
despotic uncle; about the weakness of mankind in general and of
young wives in particular; about its being our duty to give
shelter to all, even great sinners, and so on. Unable to make
head or tail of it, I put on my new coat and went to make
acquaintance with my "aunt."
A little woman with large black eyes was sitting at the table. My
table, the gray walls, my roughly-made sofa, everything to the
tiniest grain of dust seemed to have grown younger and more
cheerful in the presence of this new, young, beautiful, and
dissolute creature, who had a most subtle perfume about her. And
that our visitor was a lady of easy virtue I could see from her
smile, from her scent, from the peculiar way in which she glanced
and made play with her eyelashes, from the tone in which she
talked with my wife -- a respectable woman. There was no need to
tell me she had run away from her husband, that her husband was
old and despotic, that she was good-natured and lively; I took it
all in at the first glance. Indeed, it is doubtful whether there
is a man in all Europe who cannot spot at the first glance a
woman of a certain temperament.
"I did not know I had such a big nephew!" said my aunt, holding
out her hand to me and smiling.
"And I did not know I had such a pretty aunt," I answered.
Supper began over again. The cork flew with a bang out of the
second bottle, and my aunt swallowed half a glassful at a gulp,
and when my wife went out of the room for a moment my aunt did
not scruple to drain a full glass. I was drunk both with the
wine and with the presence of a woman. Do you remember the song?
"Eyes black as pitch, eyes full of passion,
Eyes burning bright and beautiful,
How I love you,
How I fear you!"
I don't remember what happened next. Anyone who wants to know how
love begins may read novels and long stories; I will put it
shortly and in the words of the same silly song:
"It was an evil hour
When first I met you."
Everything went head over heels to the devil. I remember a
fearful, frantic whirlwind which sent me flying round like a
feather. It lasted a long while, and swept from the face of the
earth my wife and my aunt herself and my strength. From the
little station in the steppe it has flung me, as you see, into
this dark street.
Now tell me what further evil can happen to me?
AFTER THE THEATRE
NADYA ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre
where she had seen a performance of "Yevgeny Onyegin." As soon as
she reached her own room she threw off her dress, let down her
hair, and in her petticoat and white dressing-jacket hastily sat
down to the table to write a letter like Tatyana's.
"I love you," she wrote, "but you do not love me, do not love
She wrote it and laughed.
She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that
an officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved her,
but now after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of their love.
To be unloved and unhappy -- how interesting that was. There is
something beautiful, touching, and poetical about it when one
loves and the other is indifferent. Onyegin was interesting
because he was not in love at all, and Tatyana was fascinating
because she was so much in love; but if they had been equally in
love with each other and had been happy, they would perhaps have
"Leave off declaring that you love me," Nadya went on writing,
thinking of Gorny. "I cannot believe it. You are very clever,
cultivated, serious, you have immense talent, and perhaps a
brilliant future awaits you, while I am an uninteresting girl of
no importance, and you know very well that I should be only a
hindrance in your life. It is true that you were attracted by me
and thought you had found your ideal in me, but that was a
mistake, and now you are asking yourself in despair: 'Why did I
meet that girl?' And only your goodness of heart prevents you
from owning it to yourself. . . ."
Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on:
"It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I should
take a nun's veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you
would be left free and would love another. Oh, if I were dead! "
She could not make out what she had written through her tears;
little rainbows were quivering on the table, on the floor, on the
ceiling, as though she were looking through a prism. She could
not write, she sank back in her easy-chair and fell to thinking
My God! how interesting, how fascinating men were! Nadya recalled
the fine expression, ingratiating, guilty, and soft, which came
into the officer's face when one argued about music with him, and
the effort he made to prevent his voice from betraying his
passion. In a society where cold haughtiness and indifference are
regarded as signs of good breeding and gentlemanly bearing, one
must conceal one's passions. And he did try to conceal them, but
he did not succeed, and everyone knew very well that he had a
passionate love of music. The endless discussions about music and
the bold criticisms of people who knew nothing about it kept him
always on the strain; he was frightened, timid, and silent. He
played the piano magnificently, like a professional pianist, and
if he had not been in the army he would certainly have been a
The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny had
declared his love at a Symphony concert, and again downstairs by
the hatstand where there was a tremendous draught blowing in all
"I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance of
Gruzdev, our student friend," she went on writing. "He is a very
clever man, and you will be sure to like him. He came to see us
yesterday and stayed till two o'clock. We were all delighted
with him, and I regretted that you had not come. He said a great
deal that was remarkable."
Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on them, and
her hair covered the letter. She recalled that the student, too,
loved her, and that he had as much right to a letter from her as
Gorny. Wouldn't it be better after all to write to Gruzdev?
There was a stir of joy in her bosom for no reason whatever; at
first the joy was small, and rolled in her bosom like an
india-rubber ball; then it became more massive, bigger, and
rushed like a wave. Nadya forgot Gorny and Gruzdev; her thoughts
were in a tangle and her joy grew and grew; from her bosom it
passed into her arms and legs, and it seemed as though a light,
cool breeze were breathing on her head and ruffling her hair. Her
shoulders quivered with subdued laughter, the table and the lamp
chimney shook, too, and tears from her eyes splashed on the
letter. She could not stop laughing, and to prove to herself that
she was not laughing about nothing she made haste to think of
"What a funny poodle," she said, feeling as though she would
choke with laughter. "What a funny poodle! "
She thought how, after tea the evening before, Gruzdev had played
with Maxim the poodle, and afterwards had told them about a very
intelligent poodle who had run after a crow in the yard, and the
crow had looked round at him and said: "Oh, you scamp! "
The poodle, not knowing he had to do with a learned crow, was
fearfully confused and retreated in perplexity, then began
barking. . . .
"No, I had better love Gruzdev," Nadya decided, and she tore up
the letter to Gorny.
She fell to thinking of the student, of his love, of her love;
but the thoughts in her head insisted on flowing in all
directions, and she thought about everything -- about her mother,
about the street, about the pencil, about the piano. . . . She
thought of them joyfully, and felt that everything was good,
splendid, and her joy told her that this was not all, that in a
little while it would be better still. Soon it would be spring,
summer, going with her mother to Gorbiki. Gorny would come for
his furlough, would walk about the garden with her and make love
to her. Gruzdev would come too. He would play croquet and
skittles with her, and would tell her wonderful things. She had a
passionate longing for the garden, the darkness, the pure sky,
the stars. Again her shoulders shook with laughter, and it seemed
to her that there was a scent of wormwood in the room and that a
twig was tapping at the window.
She went to her bed, sat down, and not knowing what to do with
the immense joy which filled her with yearning, she looked at the
holy image hanging at the back of her bed, and said:
"Oh, Lord God! Oh, Lord God!"
A LADY'S STORY
NINE years ago Pyotr Sergeyitch, the deputy prosecutor, and I
were riding towards evening in hay-making time to fetch the
letters from the station.
The weather was magnificent, but on our way back we heard a peal
of thunder, and saw an angry black storm-cloud which was coming
straight towards us. The storm-cloud was approaching us and we
were approaching it.
Against the background of it our house and church looked white
and the tall poplars shone like silver. There was a scent of rain
and mown hay. My companion was in high spirits. He kept laughing
and talking all sorts of nonsense. He said it would be
nice if we could suddenly come upon a medieval castle with
turreted towers, with moss on it and owls, in which we could take
shelter from the rain and in the end be killed by a thunderbolt.
. . .
Then the first wave raced through the rye and a field of oats,
there was a gust of wind, and the dust flew round and round in
the air. Pyotr Sergeyitch laughed and spurred on his horse.
"It's fine!" he cried, "it's splendid!"
Infected by his gaiety, I too began laughing at the thought that
in a minute I should be drenched to the skin and might be struck
Riding swiftly in a hurricane when one is breathless with the
wind, and feels like a bird, thrills one and puts one's heart in
a flutter. By the time we rode into our courtyard the wind had
gone down, and big drops of rain were pattering on the grass and
on the roofs. There was not a soul near the stable.
Pyotr Sergeyitch himself took the bridles off, and led the horses
to their stalls. I stood in the doorway waiting for him to
finish, and watching the slanting streaks of rain; the sweetish,
exciting scent of hay was even stronger here than in the fields;
the storm-clouds and the rain made it almost twilight.
"What a crash!" said Pyotr Sergeyitch, coming up to me after a
very loud rolling peal of thunder when it seemed as though the
sky were split in two. "What do you say to that?"
He stood beside me in the doorway and, still breathless from his
rapid ride, looked at me. I could see that he was admiring me.
"Natalya Vladimirovna," he said, "I would give anything only to
stay here a little longer and look at you. You are lovely
His eyes looked at me with delight and supplication, his face was
pale. On his beard and mustache were glittering raindrops, and
they, too, seemed to be looking at me with love.
"I love you," he said. "I love you, and I am happy at seeing you.
I know you cannot be my wife, but I want nothing, I ask nothing;
only know that I love you. Be silent, do not answer me, take no
notice of it, but only know that you are dear to me and let me
look at you."
His rapture affected me too; I looked at his enthusiastic face,
listened to his voice which mingled with the patter of the rain,
and stood as though spellbound, unable to stir.
I longed to go on endlessly looking at his shining eyes and
"You say nothing, and that is splendid," said Pyotr Sergeyitch.
"Go on being silent."
I felt happy. I laughed with delight and ran through the
drenching rain to the house; he laughed too, and, leaping as he
went, ran after me.
Both drenched, panting, noisily clattering up the stairs like
children, we dashed into the room. My father and brother, who
were not used to seeing me laughing and light-hearted, looked at
me in surprise and began laughing too.
The storm-clouds had passed over and the thunder had ceased, but
the raindrops still glittered on Pyotr Sergeyitch's beard. The
whole evening till supper-time he was singing, whistling, playing
noisily with the dog and racing about the room after it, so that
he nearly upset the servant with the samovar. And at supper he
ate a great deal, talked nonsense, and maintained that when one
eats fresh cucumbers in winter there is the fragrance of spring
in one's mouth.
When I went to bed I lighted a candle and threw my window wide
open, and an undefined feeling took possession of my soul. I
remembered that I was free and healthy, that I had rank and
wealth, that I was beloved; above all, that I had rank and
wealth, rank and wealth, my God! how nice that was! . . . Then,
huddling up in bed at a touch of cold which reached me from the
garden with the dew, I tried to discover whether I loved Pyotr
Sergeyitch or not, . . . and fell asleep unable to reach any
And when in the morning I saw quivering patches of sunlight and
the shadows of the lime trees on my bed, what had happened
yesterday rose vividly in my memory. Life seemed to me rich,
varied, full of charm. Humming, I dressed quickly and went out
into the garden. . . .
And what happened afterwards? Why -- nothing. In the winter when
we lived in town Pyotr Sergeyitch came to see us from time to
time. Country acquaintances are charming only in the country and
in summer; in the town and in winter they lose their charm. When
you pour out tea for them in the town it seems as though they are
wearing other people's coats, and as though they stirred their
tea too long. In the town, too, Pyotr Sergeyitch spoke sometimes
of love, but the effect was not at all the same as in the
country. In the town we were more vividly conscious of the wall
that stood between us. I had rank and wealth, while he was poor,
and he was not even a nobleman, but only the son of a deacon and
a deputy public prosecutor; we both of us -- I through my youth
and he for some unknown reason -- thought of that wall as very
high and thick, and when he was with us in the town he would
criticize aristocratic society with a forced smile, and maintain
a sullen silence when there was anyone else in the drawing-room.
There is no wall that cannot be broken through, but the heroes of
the modern romance, so far as I know them, are too timid,
spiritless, lazy, and oversensitive, and are too ready to resign
themselves to the thought that they are doomed to failure, that
personal life has disappointed them; instead of struggling they
merely criticize, calling the world vulgar and forgetting that
their criticism passes little by little into vulgarity.
I was loved, happiness was not far away, and seemed to be almost
touching me; I went on living in careless ease without trying to
understand myself, not knowing what I expected or what I wanted
from life, and time went on and on. . . . People passed by me
with their love, bright days and warm nights flashed by, the
nightingales sang, the hay smelt fragrant, and all this, sweet
and overwhelming in remembrance, passed with me as with everyone
rapidly, leaving no trace, was not prized, and vanished like
mist. . . . Where is it all?
My father is dead, I have grown older; everything that delighted
me, caressed me, gave me hope -- the patter of the rain, the
rolling of the thunder, thoughts of happiness, talk of love --
all that has become nothing but a memory, and I see before me a
flat desert dist ance; on the plain not one living soul, and out
there on the horizon it is dark and terrible. . . .
A ring at the bell. . . . It is Pyotr Sergeyitch. When in the
winter I see the trees and remember how green they were for me in
the summer I whisper:
"Oh, my darlings!"
And when I see people with whom I spent my spring-time, I feel
sorrowful and warm and whisper the same thing.
He has long ago by my father's good offices been transferred to
town. He looks a little older, a little fallen away. He has long
given up declaring his love, has left off talking nonsense,
dislikes his official work, is ill in some way and
disillusioned; he has given up trying to get anything out of
life, and takes no interest in living. Now he has sat down by the
hearth and looks in silence at the fire. . . .
Not knowing what to say I ask him:
"Well, what have you to tell me?"
"Nothing," he answers.
And silence again. The red glow of the fire plays about his
I thought of the past, and all at once my shoulders began
quivering, my head dropped, and I began weeping bitterly. I felt
unbearably sorry for myself and for this man, and passionately
longed for what had passed away and what life refused us now. And
now I did not think about rank and wealth.
I broke into loud sobs, pressing my temples, and muttered:
"My God! my God! my life is wasted!"
And he sat and was silent, and did not say to me: "Don't weep."
He understood that I must weep, and that the time for this had
I saw from his eyes that he was sorry for me; and I was sorry for
him, too, and vexed with this timid, unsuccessful man who could
not make a life for me, nor for himself.
When I saw him to the door, he was, I fancied, purposely a long
while putting on his coat. Twice he kissed my hand without a
word, and looked a long while into my tear-stained face. I
believe at that moment he recalled the storm, the streaks of
rain, our laughter, my face that day; he longed to say something
to me, and he would have been glad to say it; but he said
nothing, he merely shook his head and pressed my hand. God help
After seeing him out, I went back to my study and again sat on
the carpet before the fireplace; the red embers were covered with
ash and began to grow dim. The frost tapped still more angrily at
the windows, and the wind droned in the chimney.
The maid came in and, thinking I was asleep, called my name.
OLD SEMYON, nicknamed Canny, and a young Tatar, whom no one knew
by name, were sitting on the river-bank by the camp-fire; the
other three ferrymen were in the hut. Semyon, an old man of
sixty, lean and toothless, but broad shouldered and still
healthy-looking, was drunk; he would have gone in to sleep long
before, but he had a bottle in his pocket and he was afraid that
the fellows in the hut would ask him for vodka. The Tatar was ill
and weary, and wrapping himself up in his rags was describing
how nice it was in the Simbirsk province, and what a beautiful
and clever wife he had left behind at home. He was not more than
twenty five, and now by the light of the camp-fire, with his pale
and sick, mournful face, he looked like a boy.
"To be sure, it is not paradise here," said Canny. "You can see
for yourself, the water, the bare banks, clay, and nothing else.
. . . Easter has long passed and yet there is ice on the river,
and this morning there was snow. . ."
"It's bad! it's bad!" said the Tatar, and looked round him in
The dark, cold river was flowing ten paces away; it grumbled,
lapped against the hollow clay banks and raced on swiftly towards
the far-away sea. Close to the bank there was the dark blur of a
big barge, which the ferrymen called a "karbos." Far away on the
further bank, lights, dying down and flickering up again,
zigzagged like little snakes; they were burning last year's
grass. And beyond the little snakes there was darkness again.
There little icicles could be heard knocking against the barge
It was damp and cold. . . .
The Tatar glanced at the sky. There were as many stars as at
home, and the same blackness all round, but something was
lacking. At home in the Simbirsk province the stars were quite
different, and so was the sky.
"It's bad! it's bad!" he repeated.
"You will get used to it," said Semyon, and he laughed. "Now you
are young and foolish, the milk is hardly dry on your lips, and
it seems to you in your foolishness that you are more wretched
than anyone; but the time will come when you will say to
yourself: 'I wish no one a better life than mine.' You look at
me. Within a week the floods will be over and we shall set up the
ferry; you will all go wandering off about Siberia while I shall
stay and shall begin going from bank to bank. I've been going
like that for twenty-two years, day and night. The pike and the
salmon are under the water while I am on the water. And thank God
for it, I want nothing; God give everyone such a life."
The Tatar threw some dry twigs on the camp-fire, lay down closer
to the blaze, and said:
"My father is a sick man. When he dies my mother and wife will
come here. They have promised."
"And what do you want your wife and mother for?" asked Canny.
"That's mere foolishness, my lad. It's the devil confounding you,
damn his soul! Don't you listen to him, the cursed one. Don't let
him have his way. He is at you about the women, but you spite
him; say, 'I don't want them!' He is on at you about freedom, but
you stand up to him and say: 'I don't want it!' I want nothing,
neither father nor mother, nor wife, nor freedom, nor post, nor
paddock; I want nothing, damn their souls!"
Semyon took a pull at the bottle and went on:
"I am not a simple peasant, not of the working class, but the son
of a deacon, and when I was free I lived at Kursk; I used to wear
a frockcoat, and now I have brought myself to such a pass that I
can sleep naked on the ground and eat grass. And I wish no one a
better life. I want nothing and I am afraid of nobody, and the
way I look at it is that there is nobody richer and freer than I
am. When they sent me here from Russia from the first day I stuck
it out; I want nothing! The devil was at me about my wife and
about my home and about freedom, but I told him: 'I want
nothing.' I stuck to it, and here you see I live well, and I
don't complain, and if anyone gives way to the devil and listens
to him, if but once, he is lost, there is no salvation for him:
he is sunk in the bog to the crown of his head and will never get
"It is not only a foolish peasant like you, but even gentlemen,
well-educated people, are lost. Fifteen years ago they sent a
gentleman here from Russia. He hadn't shared something with his
brothers and had forged something in a will. They did say he was
a prince or a baron, but maybe he was simply an official -- who
knows? Well, the gentleman arrived here, and first thing he
bought himself a house and land in Muhortinskoe. 'I want to live
by my own work,' says he, 'in the sweat of my brow, for I am not
a gentleman now,' says he, 'but a settler.' 'Well,' says I, 'God
help you, that's the right thing.' He was a young man then, busy
and careful; he used to mow himself and catch fish and ride sixty
miles on horseback. Only this is what happened: from the very
first year he took to riding to Gyrino for the post; he used to
stand on my ferry and sigh: 'Ech, Semyon, how long it is since
they sent me any money from home!' 'You don't want money, Vassily
Sergeyitch,' says I. 'What use is it to you? You cast away the
past, and forget it as though it had never been at all, as though
it had been a dream, and begin to live anew. Don't listen to the
devil,' says I; 'he will bring you to no good, he'll draw you
into a snare. Now you want money,' says I, ' but in a very
little while you'll be wanting something else, and then more and
more. If you want to be happy,' says I, the chief thing is not to
want anything. Yes. . . . If,' says I, 'if Fate has wronged you
and me cruelly it's no good asking for her favor and bowing down
to her, but you despise her and laugh at her, or else she will
laugh at you.' That's what I said to him. . . .
"Two years later I ferried him across to this side, and he was
rubbing his hands and laughing. ' I am going to Gyrino to meet my
wife,' says he. 'She was sorry for me,' says he; 'she has come.
She is good and kind.' And he was breathless with joy. So a day
later he came with his wife. A beautiful young lady in a hat; in
her arms was a baby girl. And lots of luggage of all sorts. And
my Vassily Sergeyitch was fussing round her; he couldn't take his
eyes off her and couldn't say enough in praise of her. 'Yes,
brother Semyon, even in Siberia people can live!' 'Oh, all
right,' thinks I, 'it will be a different tale presently.' And
from that time forward he went almost every week to inquire
whether money had not come from Russia. He wanted a lot of
money. 'She is losing her youth and beauty here in Siberia for my
sake,' says he, 'and sharing my bitter lot with me, and so I
ought,' says he, 'to provide her with every comfort. . . .'
"To make it livelier for the lady he made acquaintance with the
officials and all sorts of riff-raff. And of course he had to
give food and drink to all that crew, and there had to be a piano
and a shaggy lapdog on the sofa -- plague take it! . . . Luxury,
in fact, self-indulgence. The lady did not stay with him long.
How could she? The clay, the water, the cold, no vegetables for
you, no fruit. All around you ignorant and drunken people and no
sort of manners, and she was a spoilt lady from Petersburg or
Moscow. . . . To be sure she moped. Besides, her husband, say
what you like, was not a gentleman now, but a settler -- not the
"Three years later, I remember, on the eve of the Assumption,
there was shouting from the further bank. I went over with the
ferry, and what do I see but the lady, all wrapped up, and with
her a young gentleman, an official. A sledge with three horses.
. . . I ferried them across here, they got in and away like the
wind. They were soon lost to sight. And towards morning Vassily
Sergeyitch galloped down to the ferry. 'Didn't my wife come this
way with a gentleman in spectacles, Semyon?' 'She did,' said I;
'you may look for the wind in the fields!' He galloped in pursuit
of them. For five days and nights he was riding after them. When
I ferried him over to the other side afterwards, he flung himself
on the ferry and beat his head on the boards of the ferry and
howled. 'So that's how it is,' says I. I laughed, and reminded
him 'people can live even in Siberia!' And he beat his head
harder than ever. . . .
"Then he began longing for freedom. His wife had slipped off to
Russia, and of course he was drawn there to see her and to get
her away from her lover. And he took, my lad, to galloping almost
every day, either to the post or the town to see the commanding
officer; he kept sending in petitions for them to have mercy on
him and let him go back home; and he used to say that he had
spent some two hundred roubles on telegrams alone. He sold his
land and mortgaged his house to the Jews. He grew gray and bent,
and yellow in the face, as though he was in consumption. If he
talked to you he would go, khee -- khee -- khee,. . . and there
were tears in his eyes. He kept rushing about like this with
petitions for eight years, but now he has grown brighter and
more cheerful again: he has found another whim to give way to.
You see, his daughter has grown up. He looks at her, and she is
the apple of his eye. And to tell the truth she is all right,
good-looking, with black eyebrows and a lively disposition.
Every Sunday he used to ride with her to church in Gyrino. They
used to stand on the ferry, side by side, she would laugh and he
could not take his eyes off her. 'Yes, Semyon,' says he, 'people
can live even in Siberia. Even in Siberia there is happiness.
Look,' says he, 'what a daughter I have got! I warrant you
wouldn't find another like her for a thousand versts round.'
'Your daughter is all right,' says I, 'that's true, certainly.'
But to myself I thought: 'Wait a bit, the wench is young,
her blood is dancing, she wants to live, and there is no
life here.' And she did begin to pine, my lad. . . .
She faded and faded, and now she can hardly crawl about.
"So you see what Siberian happiness is, damn its soul! You see
how people can live in Siberia. . . . He has taken to going from
one doctor to another and taking them home with him. As soon as
he hears that two or three hundred miles away there is a
doctor or a sorcerer, he will drive to fetch him. A terrible lot
of money he spent on doctors, and to my thinking he had better
have spent the money on drink. . . . She'll die just the same.
She is certain to die, and then it will be all over with him.
He'll hang himself from grief or run away to Russia -- that's a
sure thing. He'll run away and they'll catch him, then he will be
tried, sent to prison, he will have a taste of the lash. . . ."
"Good! good!" said the Tatar, shivering with cold.
"What is good?" asked Canny.
"His wife, his daughter. . . . What of prison and what of sorrow!
-- anyway, he did see his wife and his daughter. . . . You say,
want nothing. But 'nothing' is bad! His wife lived with him three
years -- that was a gift from God. 'Nothing' is bad,
but three years is good. How not understand?"
Shivering and hesitating, with effort picking out the Russian
words of which he knew but few, the Tatar said that God forbid
one should fall sick and die in a strange land, and be buried in
the cold and dark earth; that if his wife came to him for one
day, even for one hour, that for such happiness he would be ready
to bear any suffering and to thank God. Better one day of
happiness than nothing.
Then he described again what a beautiful and clever wife he had
left at home. Then, clutching his head in both hands, he began
crying and assuring Semyon that he was not guilty, and was
suffering for nothing. His two brothers and an uncle had carried
off a peasant's horses, and had beaten the old man till he was
half dead, and the commune had not judged fairly, but had
contrived a sentence by which all the three brothers were sent to
Siberia, while the uncle, a rich man, was left at home.
"You will get used to it!" said Semyon.
The Tatar was silent, and stared with tear-stained eyes at the
fire; his face expressed bewilderment and fear, as though he
still did not understand why he was here in the darkness and the
wet, beside strangers, and not in the Simbirsk province.
Canny lay near the fire, chuckled at something, and began humming
a song in an undertone.
"What joy has she with her father?" he said a little later. "He
loves her and he rejoices in her, that's true; but, mate, you
must mind your ps and qs with him, he is a strict old man, a
harsh old man. And young wenches don't want strictness. They
want petting and ha-ha-ha! and ho-ho-ho! and scent and pomade.
Yes. . . . Ech! life, life," sighed Semyon, and he got up
heavily. "The vodka is all gone, so it is time to sleep. Eh? I am
going, my lad. . . ."
Left alone, the Tatar put on more twigs, lay down and stared at
the fire; he began thinking of his own village and of his wife.
If his wife could only come for a month, for a day; and then if
she liked she might go back again. Better a month or even a day
than nothing. But if his wife kept her promise and came, what
would he have to feed her on? Where could she live here?
"If there were not something to eat, how could she live?" the
Tatar asked aloud.
He was paid only ten kopecks for working all day and all night at
the oar; it is true that travelers gave him tips for tea and for
vodkas but the men shared all they received among themselves, and
gave nothing to the Tatar, but only laughed at him.
And from poverty he was hungry, cold, and frightened. . . . Now,
when his whole body was aching and shivering, he ought to go into
the hut and lie down to sleep; but he had nothing to cover him
there, and it was colder than on the river-bank; here he had
nothing to cover him either, but at least he could make up the
fire. . . .
In another week, when the floods were quite ov er and they set
the ferry going, none of the ferrymen but Semyon would be wanted,
and the Tatar would begin going from village to village begging
for alms and for work. His wife was only seventeen; she was
beautiful, spoilt, and shy; could she possibly go from village to
village begging alms with her face unveiled? No, it was terrible
even to think of that. . . .
It was already getting light; the barge, the bushes of willow on
the water, and the waves could be clearly discerned, and if one
looked round there was the steep clay slope; at the bottom of it
the hut thatched with dingy brown straw, and the huts of the
village lay clustered higher up. The cocks were already crowing
in the village.
The rusty red clay slope, the barge, the river, the strange,
unkind people, hunger, cold, illness, perhaps all that was not
real. Most likely it was all a dream, thought the Tatar. He felt
that he was asleep and heard his own snoring. . . . Of course he
was at home in the Simbirsk province, and he had only to call his
wife by name for her to answer; and in the next room was his
mother. . . . What terrible dreams there are, though! What are
they for? The Tatar smiled and opened his eyes. What river was
this, the Volga?
Snow was falling.
"Boat!" was shouted on the further side. "Boat!"
The Tatar woke up, and went to wake his mates and row over to the
other side. The ferrymen came on to the river-bank, putting on
their torn sheepskins as they walked, swearing with voices husky
from sleepiness and shivering from the cold. On waking
from their sleep, the river, from which came a breath of
piercing cold, seemed to strike them as revolting and horrible.
They jumped into the barge without hurrying themselves. . . . The
Tatar and the three ferrymen took the long, broad-bladed oars,
which in the darkness looked like the claws of crabs; Semyon
leaned his stomach against the tiller. The shout on the other
side still continued, and two shots were fired from a revolver,
probably with the idea that the ferrymen were asleep or had gone
to the pot-house in the village.
"All right, you have plenty of time," said Semyon in the tone of
a man convinced that there was no necessity in this world to
hurry -- that it would lead to nothing, anyway.
The heavy, clumsy barge moved away from the bank and floated
between the willow-bushes, and only the willows slowly moving
back showed that the barge was not standing still but moving. The
ferrymen swung the oars evenly in time; Semyon lay with his
stomach on the tiller and, describing a semicircle in the air,
flew from one side to the other. In the darkness it looked as
though the men were sitting on some antediluvian animal with long
paws, and were moving on it through a cold, desolate land, the
land of which one sometimes dreams in nightmares.
They passed beyond the willows and floated out into the open. The
creak and regular splash of the oars was heard on the further
shore, and a shout came: "Make haste! make haste!"
Another ten minutes passed, and the barge banged heavily against
"And it keeps sprinkling and sprinkling," muttered Semyon, wiping
the snow from his face; "and where it all comes from God only
On the bank stood a thin man of medium height in a jacket lined
with fox fur and in a white lambskin cap. He was standing at a
little distance from his horses and not moving; he had a gloomy,
concentrated expression, as though he were trying to remember
something and angry with his untrustworthy memory. When Semyon
went up to him and took off his cap, smiling, he said:
"I am hastening to Anastasyevka. My daughter's worse again, and
they say that there is a new doctor at Anastasyevka."
They dragged the carriage on to the barge and floated back. The
man whom Semyon addressed as Vassily Sergeyitch stood all the
time motionless, tightly compressing his thick lips and staring
off into space; when his coachman asked permission to smoke in
his presence he made no answer, as though he had not heard.
Semyon, lying with his stomach on the tiller, looked mockingly at
him and said:
"Even in Siberia people can live -- can li-ive!"
There was a triumphant expression on Canny's face, as though he
had proved something and was delighted that things had happened
as he had foretold. The unhappy helplessness of the man in the
foxskin coat evidently afforded him great pleasure.
"It's muddy driving now, Vassily Sergeyitch," he said when the
horses were harnessed again on the bank. "You should have put off
going for another fortnight, when it will be drier. Or else not
have gone at all. . . . If any good would come of your going --
but as you know yourself, people have been driving about for
years and years, day and night, and it's alway's been no use.
That's the truth."
Vassily Sergeyitch tipped him without a word, got into his
carriage and drove off.
"There, he has galloped off for a doctor!" said Semyon, shrinking
from the cold. "But looking for a good doctor is like chasing the
wind in the fields or catching the devil by the tail, plague take
your soul! What a queer chap, Lord forgive me a sinner!"
The Tatar went up to Canny, and, looking at him with hatred and
repulsion, shivering, and mixing Tatar words with his broken
Russian, said: "He is good . . . good; but you are bad! You are
bad! The gentleman is a good soul, excellent, and you are a
beast, bad! The gentleman is alive, but you are a dead carcass.
. . . God created man to be alive, and to have joy and grief and
sorrow; but you want nothing, so you are not alive, you are
stone, clay! A stone wants nothing and you want nothing. You are
a stone, and God does not love you, but He loves the gentleman!"
Everyone laughed; the Tatar frowned contemptuously, and with a
wave of his hand wrapped himself in his rags and went to the
campfire. The ferrymen and Semyon sauntered to the hut.
"It's cold," said one ferryman huskily as he stretched himself on
the straw with which the damp clay floor was covered.
"Yes, its not warm," another assented. "It's a dog's life. . . ."
They all lay down. The door was thrown open by the wind and the
snow drifted into the hut; nobody felt inclined to get up and
shut the door: they were cold, and it was too much trouble.
"I am all right," said Semyon as he began to doze. "I wouldn't
wish anyone a better life."
"You are a tough one, we all know. Even the devils won't take
Sounds like a dog's howling came from outside.
"What's that? Who's there?"
"It's the Tatar crying."
"I say. . . . He's a queer one!"
"He'll get u-used to it!" said Semyon, and at once fell asleep.
The others were soon asleep too. The door remained unclosed.
THE long goods train has been standing for hours in the little
station. The engine is as silent as though its fire had gone out;
there is not a soul near the train or in the station yard.
A pale streak of light comes from one of the vans and glides over
the rails of a siding. In that van two men are sitting on an
outspread cape: one is an old man with a big gray beard, wearing
a sheepskin coat and a high lambskin hat, somewhat like a busby;
the other a beardless youth in a threadbare cloth reefer jacket
and muddy high boots. They are the owners of the goods. The old
man sits, his legs stretched out before him, musing in silence;
the young man half reclines and softly strums on a cheap
accordion. A lantern with a tallow candle in it is hanging on the
wall near them.
The van is quite full. If one glances in through the dim light of
the lantern, for the first moment the eyes receive an impression
of something shapeless, monstrous, and unmistakably alive,
something very much like gigantic crabs which move their claws
and feelers, crowd together, and noiselessly climb up the walls
to the ceiling; but if one looks more closely, horns and their
shadows, long lean backs, dirty hides, tails, eyes begin to stand
out in the dusk. They are cattle and their shadows. There are
eight of them in the van. Some turn round and stare at the men
and swing their tails. Others try to stand or lie d own more
comfortably. They are crowded. If one lies down the others must
stand and huddle closer. No manger, no halter, no litter, not a
wisp of hay. . . .*
At last the old man pulls out of his pocket a silver watch and
looks at the time: a quarter past two.
"We have been here nearly two hours," he says, yawning. "Better
go and stir them up, or we may be here till morning. They have
gone to sleep, or goodness knows what they are up to."
The old man gets up and, followed by his long shadow, cautiously
gets down from the van into the darkness. He makes his way along
beside the train to the engine, and after passing some two dozen
vans sees a red open furnace; a human figure sits motionless
facing it; its peaked cap, nose, and knees are lighted up by the
crimson glow, all the rest is black and can scarcely be
distinguished in the darkness.
"Are we going to stay here much longer?" asks the old man.
No answer. The motionless figure is evidently asleep. The old man
clears his throat impatiently and, shrinking from the penetrating
damp, walks round the engine, and as he does so the brilliant
light of the two engine lamps dazzles his eyes for an instant
and makes the night even blacker to him; he goes to the station.
The platform and steps of the station are wet. Here and there are
white patches of freshly fallen melting snow. In the station
itself it is light and as hot as a steam-bath. There is a smell
of paraffin. Except for the weighing-machine and a yellow seat on
which a man wearing a guard's uniform is asleep, there is no
furniture in the place at all. On the left are two wide-open
doors. Through one of them the telegraphic apparatus and a lamp
with a green shade on it can be seen; through the other, a small
room, half of it taken up by a dark cupboard. In this room the
head guard and the engine-driver are sitting on the window-sill.
They are both feeling a cap with their fingers and disputing.
"That's not real beaver, it's imitation," says the engine-driver.
"Real beaver is not like that. Five roubles would be a high price
for the whole cap, if you care to know!"
"You know a great deal about it, . . ." the head guard says,
offended. "Five roubles, indeed! Here, we will ask the merchant.
Mr. Malahin," he says, addressing the old man, "what do you say:
is this imitation beaver or real?"
Old Malahin takes the cap into his hand, and with the air of a
connoisseur pinches the fur, blows on it, sniffs at it, and a
contemptuous smile lights up his angry face.
"It must be imitation!" he says gleefully. "Imitation it is."
A dispute follows. The guard maintains that the cap is real
beaver, and the engine-driver and Malahin try to persuade him
that it is not. In the middle of the argument the old man
suddenly remembers the object of his coming.
"Beaver and cap is all very well, but the train's standing still,
gentlemen!" he says. "Who is it we are waiting for? Let us
"Let us," the guard agrees. "We will smoke another cigarette and
go on. But there is no need to be in a hurry. . . . We shall be
delayed at the next station anyway!"
"Why should we?"
"Oh, well. . . . We are too much behind time. . . . If you are
late at one station you can't help being delayed at the other
stations to let the trains going the opposite way pass. Whether
we set off now or in the morning we shan't be number fourteen.
We shall have to be number twenty-three."
"And how do you make that out?"
"Well, there it is."
Malahin looks at the guard, reflects, and mutters mechanically as
though to himself:
"God be my judge, I have reckoned it and even jotted it down in a
notebook; we have wasted thirty-four hours standing still on the
journey. If you go on like this, either the cattle will die, or
they won't pay me two roubles for the meat when I do get there.
It's not traveling, but ruination."
The guard raises his eyebrows and sighs with an air that seems to
say: "All that is unhappily true!" The engine-driver sits silent,
dreamily looking at the cap. From their faces one can see that
they have a secret thought in common, which they do not utter,
not because they want to conceal it, but because such thoughts
are much better expressed by signs than by words. And the old man
understands. He feels in his pocket, takes out a ten-rouble note,
and without preliminary words, without any change in the tone of
his voice or the expression of his face, but with the confidence
and directness with which probably only Russians give and take
bribes, he gives the guard the note. The latter takes it, folds
it in four, and without undue haste puts it in his pocket.
After that all three go out of the room, and waking the sleeping
guard on the way, go on to the platform.
"What weather!" grumbles the head guard, shrugging his shoulders.
"You can't see your hand before your face."
"Yes, it's vile weather."
From the window they can see the flaxen head of the telegraph
clerk appear beside the green lamp and the telegraphic apparatus;
soon after another head, bearded and wearing a red cap, appears
beside it -- no doubt that of the station-master. The
station-master bends down to the table, reads something on a blue
form, rapidly passing his cigarette along the lines. . . .
Malahin goes to his van.
The young man, his companion, is still half reclining and hardly
audibly strumming on the accordion. He is little more than a boy,
with no trace of a mustache; his full white face with its broad
cheek-bones is childishly dreamy; his eyes have a melancholy and
tranquil look unlike that of a grown-up person, but he is broad,
strong, heavy and rough like the old man; he does not stir nor
shift his position, as though he is not equal to moving his big
body. It seems as though any movement he made would tear his
clothes and be so noisy as to frighten both him and the cattle.
From under his big fat fingers that clumsily pick out the stops
and keys of the accordion comes a steady flow of thin, tinkling
sounds which blend into a simple, monotonous little tune; he
listens to it, and is evidently much pleased with his
A bell rings, but with such a muffled note that it seems to come
from far away. A hurried second bell soon follows, then a third
and the guard's whistle. A minute passes in profound silence; the
van does not move, it stands still, but vague sounds begin to
come from beneath it, like the crunch of snow under
sledge-runners; the van begins to shake and the sounds cease.
Silence reigns again. But now comes the clank of buffers, the
violent shock makes the van start and, as it were, give a lurch
forward, and all the cattle fall against one another.
"May you be served the same in the world to come," grumbles the
old man, setting straight his cap, which had slipped on the back
of his head from the jolt. "He'll maim all my cattle like this!"
Yasha gets up without a word and, taking one of the fallen beasts
by the horns, helps it to get on to its legs. . . . The jolt is
followed by a stillness again. The sounds of crunching snow come
from under the van again, and it seems as though the train had
moved back a little.
"There will be another jolt in a minute," says the old man. And
the convulsive quiver does, in fact, run along the train, there
is a crashing sound and the bullocks fall on one another again.
"It's a job!" says Yasha, listening. "The train must be heavy. It
seems it won't move."
"It was not heavy before, but now it has suddenly got heavy. No,
my lad, the guard has not gone shares with him, I expect. Go and
take him something, or he will be jolting us till morning."
Yasha takes a three-rouble note from the old man and jumps out of
the van. The dull thud of his heavy footsteps resounds outside
the van and gradually dies away. Stillness. . . . In the next
van a bullock utters a prolonged subdued "moo," as though
it were singing.
Yasha comes back. A cold damp wind darts into the van.
"Shut the door, Yasha, and we will go to bed," says the old man.
"Why burn a candle for nothing?"
Yasha moves the heavy door; there is a sound of a whistle, the
engine and the train set off.
"It's cold," mutters the old man, stretching himself on the cape
and laying his head on a bundle. "It is very different at home!
It's warm and clean and soft, and there is room to say your
prayers, but here we are worse off than any pigs. It's four
days and nights since I have taken off my boots."
Yasha, staggering from the jolting of the train, opens the
lantern and snuffs out the wick with his wet fingers. The light
flares up, hisses like a frying pan and goes out.
"Yes, my lad," Malahin goes on, as he feels Yasha lie down beside
him and the young man's huge back huddle against his own, "it's
cold. There is a draught from every crack. If your mother or your
sister were to sleep here for one night they would be dead by
morning. There it is, my lad, you wouldn't study and go to the
high school like your brothers, so you must take the cattle with
your father. It's your own fault, you have only yourself to
blame. . . . Your brothers are asleep in their beds now, they
are snug under the bedclothes, but you, the careless and lazy
one, are in the same box as the cattle. . . . Yes. . . . "
The old man's words are inaudible in the noise of the train, but
for a long time he goes on muttering, sighing and clearing his
throat. . . . The cold air in the railway van grows thicker and
more stifling The pungent odor of fresh dung and smoldering
candle makes it so repulsive and acrid that it irritates Yasha's
throat and chest as he falls asleep. He coughs and sneezes, while
the old man, being accustomed to it, breathes with his whole
chest as though nothing were amiss, and merely clears his throat.
To judge from the swaying of the van and the rattle of the wheels
the train is moving rapidly and unevenly. The engine breathes
heavily, snorting out of time with the pulsation of the train,
and altogether there is a medley of sounds. The bullocks huddle
together uneasily and knock their horns against the walls.
When the old man wakes up, the deep blue sky of early morning is
peeping in at the cracks and at the little uncovered window. He
feels unbearably cold, especially in the back and the feet. The
train is standing still; Yasha, sleepy and morose, is busy with
The old man wakes up out of humor. Frowning and gloomy, he clears
his throat angrily and looks from under his brows at Yasha who,
supporting a bullock with his powerful shoulder and slightly
lifting it, is trying to disentangle its leg.
"I told you last night that the cords were too long," mutters the
old man; "but no, 'It's not too long, Daddy.' There's no making
you do anything, you will have everything your own way. . . .
He angrily moves the door open and the light rushes into the van.
A passenger train is standing exactly opposite the door, and
behind it a red building with a roofed-in platform -- a big
station with a refreshment bar. The roofs and bridges of the
trains, the earth, the sleepers, all are covered with a thin
coating of fluffy, freshly fallen snow. In the spaces between the
carriages of the passenger train the passengers can be seen
moving to and fro, and a red-haired, red-faced gendarme walking
up and down; a waiter in a frock-coat and a snow-white
shirt-front, looking cold and sleepy, and probably very much
dissatisfied with his fate, is running along the platform
carrying a glass of tea and two rusks on a tray.
The old man gets up and begins saying his prayers towards the
east. Yasha, having finished with the bullock and put down the
spade in the corner, stands beside him and says his prayers also.
He merely moves his lips and crosses himself; the father prays
in a loud whisper and pronounces the end of each prayer aloud and
". . . And the life of the world to come. Amen," the old man says
aloud, draws in a breath, and at once whispers another prayer,
rapping out clearly and firmly at the end: " . . . and lay calves
upon Thy altar!"
After saying his prayers, Yasha hurriedly crosses himself and
says: "Five kopecks, please."
And on being given the five-kopeck piece, he takes a red copper
teapot and runs to the station for boiling water. Taking long
jumps over the rails and sleepers, leaving huge tracks in the
feathery snow, and pouring away yesterday's tea out of the
teapot he runs to the refreshment room and jingles his
five-kopeck piece against his teapot. From the van the bar-keeper
can be seen pushing away the big teapot and refusing to give half
of his samovar for five kopecks, but Yasha turns the tap himself
and, spreading wide his elbows so as not to be interfered with
fills his teapot with boiling water.
"Damned blackguard!" the bar-keeper shouts after him as he runs
back to the railway van.
The scowling face of Malahin grows a little brighter over the
"We know how to eat and drink, but we don't remember our work.
Yesterday we could do nothing all day but eat and drink, and I'll
be bound we forgot to put down what we spent. What a memory! Lord
have mercy on us!"
The old man recalls aloud the expenditure of the day before, and
writes down in a tattered notebook where and how much he had
given to guards, engine-drivers, oilers. . . .
Meanwhile the passenger train has long ago gone off, and an
engine runs backwards and forwards on the empty line, apparently
without any definite object, but simply enjoying its freedom. The
sun has risen and is playing on the snow; bright drops are
falling from the station roof and the tops of the vans.
Having finished his tea, the old man lazily saunters from the van
to the station. Here in the middle of the first-class
waiting-room he sees the familiar figure of the guard standing
beside the station-master, a young man with a handsome beard and
in a magnificent rough woollen overcoat. The young man, probably
new to his position, stands in the same place, gracefully
shifting from one foot to the other like a good racehorse, looks
from side to side, salutes everyone that passes by, smiles and
screws up his eyes. . . . He is red-cheeked, sturdy, and
good-humored; his face is full of eagerness, and is as fresh as
though he had just fallen from the sky with the feathery snow.
Seeing Malahin, the guard sighs guiltily and throws up his
"We can't go number fourteen," he says. "We are very much behind
time. Another train has gone with that number."
The station-master rapidly looks through some forms, then turns
his beaming blue eyes upon Malahin, and, his face radiant with
smiles and freshness, showers questions on him:
"You are Mr. Malahin? You have the cattle? Eight vanloads? What
is to be done now? You are late and I let number fourteen go in
the night. What are we to do now?"
The young man discreetly takes hold of the fur of Malahin's coat
with two pink fingers and, shifting from one foot to the other,
explains affably and convincingly that such and such numbers have
gone already, and that such and such are going, and that he is
ready to do for Malahin everything in his power. And from his
face it is evident that he is ready to do anything to please not
only Malahin, but the whole world -- he is so happy, so pleased,
and so delighted! The old man listens, and though he can make
absolutely nothing of the intricate system of numbering the
trains, he nods his head approvingly, and he, too, puts two
fingers on the soft wool of the rough coat. He enjoys seeing and
hearing the polite and genial young man. To show goodwill on his
side also, he takes out a ten-rouble note and, after a moment's
thought, adds a couple of rouble notes to it, and gives them to
the station-master. The latter takes them, puts his finger to his
cap, and gracefully thrusts them into his pocket.
"Well, gentlemen, can't we arrange it like this?" he says,
kindled by a new idea that has flashed on him. "The troop train
is late, . . . as you see, it is not here, . . . so why shouldn't
you go as the troop train?** And I will let the troop train
go as twenty-eight. Eh?"
"If you like," agrees the guard.
"Excellent!" the station-master says, delighted. "In that case
there is no need for you to wait here; you can set off at once.
I'll dispatch you immediately. Excellent!"
He salutes Malahin and runs off to his room, reading forms as he
goes. The old man is very much pleased by the conversation that
has just taken place; he smiles and looks about the room as
though looking for something else agreeable.
"We'll have a drink, though," he says, taking the guard's arm.
"It seems a little early for drinking."
"No, you must let me treat you to a glass in a friendly way."
They both go to the refreshment bar. After having a drink the
guard spends a long time selecting something to eat.
He is a very stout, elderly man, with a puffy and discolored
face. His fatness is unpleasant, flabby-looking, and he is sallow
as people are who drink too much and sleep irregularly.
"And now we might have a second glass," says Malahin. "It's cold
now, it's no sin to drink. Please take some. So I can rely upon
you, Mr. Guard, that there will be no hindrance or unpleasantness
for the rest of the journey. For you know in moving cattle every
hour is precious. To-day meat is one price; and to-morrow, look
you, it will be another. If you are a day or two late and don't
get your price, instead of a profit you get home -- excuse my
saying it -- with out your breeches. Pray take a little. . . .
I rely on you, and as for standing you something or what you
like, I shall be pleased to show you my respect at any time."
After having fed the guard, Malahin goes back to the van.
"I have just got hold of the troop train," he says to his son.
"We shall go quickly. The guard says if we go all the way with
that number we shall arrive at eight o'clock to-morrow evening.
If one does not bestir oneself, my boy, one gets nothing. . . .
That's so. . . . So you watch and learn. . . ."
After the first bell a man with a face black with soot, in a
blouse and filthy frayed trousers hanging very slack, comes to
the door of the van. This is the oiler, who had been creeping
under the carriages and tapping the wheels with a hammer.
"Are these your vans of cattle?" he asks.
"Why, because two of the vans are not safe. They can't go on,
they must stay here to be repaired."
"Oh, come, tell us another! You simply want a drink, to get
something out of me. . . . You should have said so."
"As you please, only it is my duty to report it at once."
Without indignation or protest, simply, almost mechanically, the
old man takes two twenty-kopeck pieces out of his pocket and
gives them to the oiler. He takes them very calmly, too, and
looking good-naturedly at the old man enters into conversation.
"You are going to sell your cattle, I suppose. . . . It's good
Malahin sighs and, looking calmly at the oiler's black face,
tells him that trading in cattle used certainly to be profitable,
but now it has become a risky and losing business.
"I have a mate here," the oiler interrupts him. "You merchant
gentlemen might make him a little present. . .."
Malahin gives something to the mate too. The troop train goes
quickly and the waits at the stations are comparatively short.
The old man is pleased. The pleasant impression made by the young
man in the rough overcoat has gone deep, the vodka he has
drunk slightly clouds his brain, the weather is magnificent, and
everything seems to be going well. He talks without ceasing, and
at every stopping place runs to the refreshment bar. Feeling the
need of a listener, he takes with him first the guard, and then
the engine-driver, and does not simply drink, but makes a long
business of it, with suitable remarks and clinking of glasses.
"You have your job and we have ours," he says with an affable
smile. "May God prosper us and you, and not our will but His be
The vodka gradually excites him and he is worked up to a great
pitch of energy. He wants to bestir himself, to fuss about, to
make inquiries, to talk incessantly. At one minute he fumbles in
his pockets and bundles and looks for some form. Then he thinks
of something and cannot remember it; then takes out his
pocketbook, and with no sort of object counts over his money. He
bustles about, sighs and groans, clasps his hands. . . . Laying
out before him the letters and telegrams from the meat salesmen
in the city, bills, post office and telegraphic receipt forms,
and his note book, he reflects aloud and insists on Yasha's
And when he is tired of reading over forms and talking about
prices, he gets out at the stopping places, runs to the vans
where his cattle are, does nothing, but simply clasps his hands
and exclaims in horror.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" he says in a complaining voice. "Holy
Martyr Vlassy! Though they are bullocks, though they are beasts,
yet they want to eat and drink as men do. . . . It's four days
and nights since they have drunk or eaten. Oh, dear! oh, dear!"
Yasha follows him and does what he is told like an obedient son.
He does not like the old man's frequent visits to the refreshment
bar. Though he is afraid of his father, he cannot refrain from
remarking on it.
"So you have begun already!" he says, looking sternly at the old
man. "What are you rejoicing at? Is it your name-day or what?"
"Don't you dare teach your father."
"Fine goings on!"
When he has not to follow his father along the other vans Yasha
sits on the cape and strums on the accordion. Occasionally he
gets out and walks lazily beside the train; he stands by the
engine and turns a prolonged, unmoving stare on the wheels or
on the workmen tossing blocks of wood into the tender; the hot
engine wheezes, the falling blocks come down with the mellow,
hearty thud of fresh wood; the engine-driver and his assistant,
very phlegmatic and imperturbable persons, perform
incomprehensible movements and don't hurry themselves. After
standing for a while by the engine, Yasha saunters lazily to the
station; here he looks at the eatables in the refreshment bar,
reads aloud some quite uninteresting notice, and goes back
slowly to the cattle van. His face expresses neither boredom nor
desire; apparently he does not care where he is, at home, in the
van, or by the engine.
Towards evening the train stops near a big station. The lamps
have only just been lighted along the line; against the blue
background in the fresh limpid air the lights are bright and pale
like stars; they are only red and glowing under the station
roof, where it is already dark. All the lines are loaded up with
carriages, and it seems that if another train came in there would
be no place for it. Yasha runs to the station for boiling water
to make the evening tea. Well-dressed ladies and high-school
boys are walking on the platform. If one looks into the distance
from the platform there are far-away lights twinkling in the
evening dusk on both sides of the station -- that is the town.
What town? Yasha does not care to know. He sees only the dim
lights and wretched buildings beyond the station, hears the
cabmen shouting, feels a sharp, cold wind on his face, and
imagines that the town is probably disagreeable, uncomfortable,
While they are having tea, when it is quite dark and a lantern is
hanging on the wall again as on the previous evening, the train
quivers from a slight shock and begins moving backwards. After
going a little way it stops; they hear indistinct shouts,
someone sets the chains clanking near the buffers and shouts,
"Ready!" The train moves and goes forward. Ten minutes later it
is dragged back again.
Getting out of the van, Malahin does not recognize his train. His
eight vans of bullocks are standing in the same row with some
trolleys which were not a part of the train before. Two or three
of these are loaded with rubble and the others are empty. The
guards running to and fro on the platform are strangers. They
give unwilling and indistinct answers to his questions. They have
no thoughts to spare for Malahin; they are in a hurry to get the
train together so as to finish as soon as possible and be back
in the warmth.
"What number is this?" asks Malahin
"And where is the troop train? Why have you taken me off the
Getting n o answer, the old man goes to the station. He looks
first for the familiar figure of the head guard and, not finding
him, goes to the station-master. The station-master is sitting at
a table in his own room, turning over a bundle of forms. He is
busy, and affects not to see the newcomer. His appearance is
impressive: a cropped black head, prominent ears, a long hooked
nose, a swarthy face; he has a forbidding and, as it were,
offended expression. Malahin begins making his complaint at
"What?" queries the station-master. "How is this?" He leans
against the back of his chair and goes on, growing indignant:
"What is it? and why shouldn't you go by number eighteen? Speak
more clearly, I don't understand! How is it? Do you want me to
be everywhere at once?"
He showers questions on him, and for no apparent reason grows
sterner and sterner. Malahin is already feeling in his pocket for
his pocketbook, but in the end the station-master, aggrieved and
indignant, for some unknown reason jumps up from his seat and
runs out of the room. Malahin shrugs his shoulders, and goes out
to look for someone else to speak to.
From boredom or from a desire to put the finishing stroke to a
busy day, or simply that a window with the inscription
"Telegraph! " on it catches his eye, he goes to the window and
expresses a desire to send off a telegram. Taking up a pen, he
thinks for a moment, and writes on a blue form: "Urgent. Traffic
Manager. Eight vans of live stock. Delayed at every station.
Kindly send an express number. Reply paid. Malahin."
Having sent off the telegram, he goes back to the
station-master's room. There he finds, sitting on a sofa covered
with gray cloth, a benevolent-looking gentleman in spectacles and
a cap of raccoon fur; he is wearing a peculiar overcoat very much
like a lady's, edged with fur, with frogs and slashed sleeves.
Another gentleman, dried-up and sinewy, wearing the uniform of a
railway inspector, stands facing him.
"Just think of it," says the inspector, addressing the gentleman
in the queer overcoat. " I'll tell you an incident that really is
A1! The Z. railway line in the coolest possible way stole three
hundred trucks from the N. line. It's a fact, sir! I swear it!
They carried them off, repainted them, put their letters on them,
and that's all about it. The N. line sends its agents everywhere,
they hunt and hunt. And then -- can you imagine it? -- the
Company happen to come upon a broken-down carriage of the Z.
line. They repair it at their depot, and all at once, bless my
soul! see their own mark on the wheels What do you say to that?
Eh? If I did it they would send me to Siberia, but the railway
companies simply snap their fingers at it!"
It is pleasant to Malahin to talk to educated, cultured people.
He strokes his beard and joins in the conversation with dignity.
"Take this case, gentlemen, for instance," he says. I am
transporting cattle to X. Eight vanloads. Very good. . . . Now
let us say they charge me for each vanload as a weight of ten
tons; eight bullocks don't weigh ten tons, but much less, yet
they don't take any notice of that. . . ."
At that instant Yasha walks into the room looking for his father.
He listens and is about to sit down on a chair, but probably
thinking of his weight goes and sits on the window-sill
"They don't take any notice of that," Malahin goes on, "and
charge me and my son the third-class fare, too, forty-two
roubles, for going in the van with the bullocks. This is my son
Yakov. I have two more at home, but they have gone in for study.
Well and apart from that it is my opinion that the railways have
ruined the cattle trade. In old days when they drove them in
herds it was better."
The old man's talk is lengthy and drawn out. After every sentence
he looks at Yasha as though he would say: "See how I am talking
to clever people."
"Upon my word!" the inspector interrupts him. "No one is
indignant, no one criticizes. And why? It is very simple. An
abomination strikes the eye and arouses indignation only when it
is exceptional, when the established order is broken by it. Here,
where, saving your presence, it constitutes the long-established
program and forms and enters into the basis of the order itself,
where every sleeper on the line bears the trace of it and stinks
of it, one too easily grows accustomed to it! Yes, sir!"
The second bell rings, the gentlemen in the queer overcoat gets
up. The inspector takes him by the arm and, still talking with
heat, goes off with him to the platform. After the third bell the
station-master runs into his room, and sits down at his table.
"Listen, with what number am I to go?" asks Malahin.
The station-master looks at a form and says indignantly:
"Are you Malahin, eight vanloads? You must pay a rouble a van and
six roubles and twenty kopecks for stamps. You have no stamps.
Total, fourteen roubles, twenty kopecks."
Receiving the money, he writes something down, dries it with
sand, and, hurriedly snatching up a bundle of forms, goes quickly
out of the room.
At ten o'clock in the evening Malahin gets an answer from the
traffic manager: "Give precedence."
Reading the telegram through, the old man winks significantly
and, very well pleased with himself, puts it in his pocket.
"Here," he says to Yasha, "look and learn."
At midnight his train goes on. The night is dark and cold like
the previous one; the waits at the stations are long. Yasha sits
on the cape and imperturbably strums on the accordion, while the
old man is still more eager to exert himself. At one of
the stations he is overtaken by a desire to lodge a complaint.
At his request a gendarme sits down and writes:
"November 10, 188-. -- I, non-commissioned officer of the Z.
section of the N. police department of railways, Ilya Tchered, in
accordance with article II of the statute of May 19, 1871, have
drawn up this protocol at the station of X. as herewith follows.
. . . "
"What am I to write next?" asks the gendarme.
Malahin lays out before him forms, postal and telegraph receipts,
accounts. . . . He does not know himself definitely what he wants
of the gendarme; he wants to describe in the protocol not any
separate episode but his whole journey, with all his losses and
conversations with station-masters -- to describe it lengthily
"At the station of Z.," he says, "write that the station-master
unlinked my vans from the troop train because he did not like my
And he wants the gendarme to be sure to mention his countenance.
The latter listens wearily, and goes on writing without hearing
him to the end. He ends his protocol thus:
"The above deposition I, non-commissioned officer Tchered, have
written down in this protocol with a view to present it to the
head of the Z. section, and have handed a copy thereof to Gavril
The old man takes the copy, adds it to the papers with which his
side pocket is stuffed, and, much pleased, goes back to his van.
In the morning Malahin wakes up again in a bad humor, but his
wrath vents itself not on Yasha but the cattle.
"The cattle are done for!" he grumbles. "They are done for! They
are at the last gasp! God be my judge! they will all die. Tfoo!"
The bullocks, who have had nothing to drink for many days,
tortured by thirst, are licking the hoar frost on the walls, and
when Malachin goes up to them they begin licking his cold fur
jacket. From their clear, tearful eyes it can be seen that they
are exhausted by thirst and the jolting of the train, that they
are hungry and miserable.
"It's a nice job taking you by rail, you wretched brutes!"
mutters Malahin. "I could wish you were dead to get it over! It
makes me sick to look at you!"
At midday the train stops at a big station where, according to
the regulations, there was drinking water provided for cattle.
Water is given to the cattle, but the bullocks will not drink it:
the water is too cold. . . .
* * * * * * *
Two more days and nights pass, and at last in the distance in the
murky fog the city comes into sight. The jou rney is over. The
train comes to a standstill before reaching the town, near a
goods' station. The bullocks, released from the van, stagger and
stumble as though they were walking on slippery ice.
Having got through the unloading and veterinary inspection,
Malahin and Yasha take up their quarters in a dirty, cheap hotel
in the outskirts of the town, in the square in which the
cattle-market is held. Their lodgings are filthy and their food
is disgusting, unlike what they ever have at home; they sleep to
the harsh strains of a wretched steam hurdy-gurdy which plays day
and night in the restaurant under their lodging.
The old man spends his time from morning till night going about
looking for purchasers, and Yasha sits for days in the hotel
room, or goes out into the street to look at the town. He sees
the filthy square heaped up with dung, the signboards of
restaurants, the turreted walls of a monastery in the fog.
Sometimes he runs across the street and looks into the grocer's
shop, admires the jars of cakes of different colors, yawns, and
lazily saunters back to his room. The city does not interest him.
At last the bullocks are sold to a dealer. Malahin hires drovers.
The cattle are divided into herds, ten in each, and driven to the
other end of the town. The bullocks, exhausted, go with drooping
heads through the noisy streets, and look indifferently at what
they see for the first and last time in their lives. The tattered
drovers walk after them, their heads drooping too. They are
bored. . . . Now and then some drover starts out of his brooding,
remembers that there are cattle in front of him intrusted to his
charge, and to show that he is doing his duty brings a stick down
full swing on a bullock's back. The bullock staggers with the
pain, runs forward a dozen paces, and looks about him as though
he were ashamed at being beaten before people.
After selling the bullocks and buying for his family presents
such as they could perfectly well have bought at home, Malahin
and Yasha get ready for their journey back. Three hours before
the train goes the old man, who has already had a drop too much
with the purchaser and so is fussy, goes down with Yasha to the
restaurant and sits down to drink tea. Like all provincials, he
cannot eat and drink alone: he must have company as fussy and as
fond of sedate conversation as himself.
"Call the host!" he says to the waiter; "tell him I should like
to entertain him."
The hotel-keeper, a well-fed man, absolutely indifferent to his
lodgers, comes and sits down to the table.
"Well, we have sold our stock," Malahin says, laughing. "I have
swapped my goat for a hawk. Why, when we set off the price of
meat was three roubles ninety kopecks, but when we arrived it had
dropped to three roubles twenty-five. They tell us we are too
late, we should have been here three days earlier, for now there
is not the same demand for meat, St. Philip's fast has come. . .
. Eh? It's a nice how-do-you-do! It meant a loss of fourteen
roubles on each bullock. Yes. But only think what it costs to
bring the stock! Fifteen roubles carriage, and you must put down
six roubles for each bullock, tips, bribes, drinks, and one thing
and another. . . ."
The hotel-keeper listens out of politeness and reluctantly drinks
tea. Malahin sighs and groans, gesticulates, jests about his
ill-luck, but everything shows that the loss he has sustained
does not trouble him much. He doesn't mind whether he has lost
or gained as long as he has listeners, has something to make a
fuss about, and is not late for his train.
An hour later Malahin and Yasha, laden with bags and boxes, go
downstairs from the hotel room to the front door to get into a
sledge and drive to the station. They are seen off by the
hotel-keeper, the waiter, and various women. The old man is
touched. He thrusts ten-kopeck pieces in all directions, and says
in a sing-song voice:
"Good by, good health to you! God grant that all may be well with
you. Please God if we are alive and well we shall come again in
Lent. Good-by. Thank you. God bless you!"
Getting into the sledge, the old man spends a long time crossing
himself in the direction in which the monastery walls make a
patch of darkness in the fog. Yasha sits beside him on the very
edge of the seat with his legs hanging over the side. His face
as before shows no sign of emotion and expresses neither boredom
nor desire. He is not glad that he is going home, nor sorry that
he has not had time to see the sights of the city.
The cabman whips up the horse and, turning round, begins swearing
at the heavy and cumbersome luggage.
---- * On many railway lines, in order to avoid accidents, it is
against the regulations to carry hay on the trains, and so live
stock are without fodder on the journey. -- Author's Note.
**The train destined especially for the transport of troops is
called the troop train; when they are no troops it takes goods,
and goes more rapidly than ordinary goods train. -- Author's
THE turner, Grigory Petrov, who had been known for years past as
a splendid craftsman, and at the same time as the most senseless
peasant in the Galtchinskoy district, was taking his old woman to
the hospital. He had to drive over twenty miles, and
it was an awful road. A government post driver could hardly have
coped with it, much less an incompetent sluggard like Grigory. A
cutting cold wind was blowing straight in his face. Clouds of
snowflakes were whirling round and round in all directions, so
that one could not tell whether the snow was falling from the sky
or rising from the earth. The fields, the telegraph posts, and
the forest could not be seen for the fog of snow. And when a
particularly violent gust of wind swooped down on Grigory, even
the yoke above the horse's head could not be seen. The wretched,
feeble little nag crawled slowly along. It took all its strength
to drag its legs out of the snow and to tug with its head. The
turner was in a hurry. He kept restlessly hopping up and down on
the front seat and lashing the horse's back.
"Don't cry, Matryona, . . ." he muttered. "Have a little
patience. Please God we shall reach the hospital, and in a trice
it will be the right thing for you. . . . Pavel Ivanitch will
give you some little drops, or tell them to bleed you; or maybe
his honor will be pleased to rub you with some sort of spirit --
it'll . . . draw it out of your side. Pavel Ivanitch will do his
best. He will shout and stamp about, but he will do his best. . .
. He is a nice gentleman, affable, God give him health! As soon
as we get there he will dart out of his room and will begin
calling me names. 'How? Why so?' he will cry. 'Why did you not
come at the right time? I am not a dog to be hanging about
waiting on you devils all day. Why did you not come
in the morning? Go away! Get out of my sight. Come again
to-morrow.' And I shall say: 'Mr. Doctor! Pavel Ivanitch! Your
honor!' Get on, do! plague take you, you devil! Get on!"
The turner lashed his nag, and without looking at the old woman
went on muttering to himself:
"'Your honor! It's true as before God. . . . Here's the Cross
for you, I set off almost before it was light. How could I be
here in time if the Lord. . . .The Mother of God . . . is wroth,
and has sent such a snowstorm? Kindly look for yourself. .
. . Even a first-rate horse could not do it, while mine -- you
can see for yourself -- is not a horse but a disgrace.' And Pavel
Ivanitch will frown and shout: 'We know you! You always find some
excuse! Especially you, Grishka; I know you of old! I'll be
bound you have stopped at half a dozen taverns!' And I shall say:
'Your honor! am I a criminal or a heathen? My old woman is giving
up her soul to God, she is dying, and am I going to run from
tavern to tavern! What an idea, upon my word! Plague take them,
the taverns!' Then Pavel Ivanitch will order you to be taken into
the hospital, and I shall fall at his feet. . . . 'Pavel
Ivanitch! Your honor, we thank you most humbly! Forgive us fools
and anathemas, don't be hard on us peasants! We deserve a good
kicking, whi le you graciously put yourself out and mess your
feet in the snow!' And Pavel Ivanitch will give me a look as
though he would like to hit me, and will say: 'You'd much better
not be swilling vodka, you fool, but taking pity on your old
woman instead of falling at my feet. You want a thrashing!' 'You
are right there -- a thrashing, Pavel Ivanitch, strike me God!
But how can we help bowing down at your feet if you are our
benefactor, and a real father to us? Your honor! I give you my
word, . . . here as before God, . . . you may spit in my face if
I deceive you: as soon as my Matryona, this same here, is well
again and restored to her natural condition, I'll make anything
for your honor that you would like to order! A cigarette-case,
if you like, of the best birchwood, . . . balls for croquet,
skittles of the most foreign pattern I can turn. . . . I will
make anything for you! I won't take a farthing from you. In
Moscow they would charge you four roubles for such a
cigarette-case, but I won't take a farthing.' The doctor will
laugh and say: 'Oh, all right, all right. . . . I see! But it's a
pity you are a drunkard. . . .' I know how to manage the gentry,
old girl. There isn't a gentleman I couldn't talk to. Only God
grant we don't get off the road. Oh, how it is blowing! One's
eyes are full of snow."
And the turner went on muttering endlessly. He prattled on
mechanically to get a little relief from his depressing feelings.
He had plenty of words on his tongue, but the thoughts and
questions in his brain were even more numerous. Sorrow had come
upon the turner unawares, unlooked-for, and unexpected, and now
he could not get over it, could not recover himself. He had lived
hitherto in unruffled calm, as though in drunken
half-consciousness, knowing neither grief nor joy, and now he was
suddenly aware of a dreadful pain in his heart. The careless
idler and drunkard found himself quite suddenly in the position
of a busy man, weighed down by anxieties and haste, and even
struggling with nature.
The turner remembered that his trouble had begun the evening
before. When he had come home yesterday evening, a little drunk
as usual, and from long-established habit had begun swearing and
shaking his fists, his old woman had looked at her rowdy spouse
as she had never looked at him before. Usually, the expression in
her aged eyes was that of a martyr, meek like that of a dog
frequently beaten and badly fed; this time she had looked at him
sternly and immovably, as saints in the holy pictures or dying
people look. From that strange, evil look in her eyes the trouble
had begun. The turner, stupefied with amazement, borrowed a horse
from a neighbor, and now was taking his old woman to the hospital
in the hope that, by means of powders and ointments, Pavel
Ivanitch would bring back his old woman's habitual expression.
"I say, Matryona, . . ." the turner muttered, "if Pavel Ivanitch
asks you whether I beat you, say, 'Never!' and I never will beat
you again. I swear it. And did I ever beat you out of spite? I
just beat you without thinking. I am sorry for you. Some men
wouldn't trouble, but here I am taking you. . . . I am doing my
best. And the way it snows, the way it snows! Thy Will be done, O
Lord! God grant we don't get off the road. . . . Does your side
ache, Matryona, that you don't speak? I ask you, does your side
It struck him as strange that the snow on his old woman's face
was not melting; it was queer that the face itself looked somehow
drawn, and had turned a pale gray, dingy waxen hue and had grown
grave and solemn.
"You are a fool!" muttered the turner. . . . "I tell you on my
conscience, before God,. . . and you go and . . . Well, you are a
fool! I have a good mind not to take you to Pavel Ivanitch!"
The turner let the reins go and began thinking. He could not
bring himself to look round at his old woman: he was frightened.
He was afraid, too, of asking her a question and not getting an
answer. At last, to make an end of uncertainty, without looking
round he felt his old woman's cold hand. The lifted hand fell
like a log.
"She is dead, then! What a business!"
And the turner cried. He was not so much sorry as annoyed. He
thought how quickly everything passes in this world! His trouble
had hardly begun when the final catastrophe had happened. He had
not had time to live with his old woman, to show her he was
sorry for her before she died. He had lived with her for forty
years, but those forty years had passed by as it were in a fog.
What with drunkenness, quarreling, and poverty, there had been no
feeling of life. And, as though to spite him, his old woman died
at the very time when he felt he was sorry for her, that he could
not live without her, and that he had behaved dreadfully badly to
"Why, she used to go the round of the village," he remembered. "I
sent her out myself to beg for bread. What a business! She ought
to have lived another ten years, the silly thing; as it is I'll
be bound she thinks I really was that sort of man. . . . Holy
Mother! but where the devil am I driving? There's no need for a
doctor now, but a burial. Turn back!"
Grigory turned back and lashed the horse with all his might. The
road grew worse and worse every hour. Now he could not see the
yoke at all. Now and then the sledge ran into a young fir tree, a
dark object scratched the turner's hands and flashed before his
eyes, and the field of vision was white and whirling again.
"To live over again," thought the turner.
He remembered that forty years ago Matryona had been young,
handsome, merry, that she had come of a well-to-do family. They
had married her to him because they had been attracted by his
handicraft. All the essentials for a happy life had been there,
but the trouble was that, just as he had got drunk after the
wedding and lay sprawling on the stove, so he had gone on without
waking up till now. His wedding he remembered, but of what
happened after the wedding -- for the life of him he could
remember nothing, except perhaps that he had drunk, lain on the
stove, and quarreled. Forty years had been wasted like that.
The white clouds of snow were beginning little by little to turn
gray. It was getting dusk.
"Where am I going?" the turner suddenly bethought him with a
start. "I ought to be thinking of the burial, and I am on the way
to the hospital. . . . It as is though I had gone crazy."
Grigory turned round again, and again lashed his horse. The
little nag strained its utmost and, with a snort, fell into a
little trot. The turner lashed it on the back time after time. .
. . A knocking was audible behind him, and though he did not
look round, he knew it was the dead woman's head knocking against
the sledge. And the snow kept turning darker and darker, the wind
grew colder and more cutting. . . .
"To live over again!" thought the turner. "I should get a new
lathe, take orders, . . . give the money to my old woman. . . ."
And then he dropped the reins. He looked for them, tried to pick
them up, but could not -- his hands would not work. . . .
"It does not matter," he thought, "the horse will go of itself,
it knows the way. I might have a little sleep now. . . . Before
the funeral or the requiem it would be as well to get a little
rest. . . ."
The turner closed his eyes and dozed. A little later he heard the
horse stop; he opened his eyes and saw before him something dark
like a hut or a haystack. . . .
He would have got out of the sledge and found out what it was,
but he felt overcome by such inertia that it seemed better to
freeze than move, and he sank into a peaceful sleep.
He woke up in a big room with painted walls. Bright sunlight was
streaming in at the windows. The turner saw people facing him,
and his first feeling was a desire to show himself a respectable
man who knew how things should be done.
"A requiem, brothers, for my old woman," he said. "The priest
should be told. . . ."
"Oh, all right, all right; lie down," a voice cut him short.
"Pavel Ivanitch!" the turner cried in surprise, seeing the doctor
before him. "Your honor, benefactor! "
He wanted to leap up and fall on his knees before the doctor,
but felt that his arms and legs would not obey him.
"Your honor, where are my legs, where are my arms!"
"Say good-by to your arms and legs. . . . They've been frozen
off. Come, come! . . . What are you crying for ? You've lived
your life, and thank God for it! I suppose you have had sixty
years of it -- that's enough for you! . . ."
"I am grieving. . . . Graciously forgive me! If I could have
another five or six years! . . ."
"The horse isn't mine, I must give it back. . . . I must bury my
old woman. . . . How quickly it is all ended in this world! Your
honor, Pavel Ivanitch! A cigarette-case of birchwood of the best!
I'll turn you croquet balls. . . ."
The doctor went out of the ward with a wave of his hand. It was
all over with the turner.
ON OFFICIAL DUTY
THE deputy examining magistrate and the district doctor were
going to an inquest in the village of Syrnya. On the road they
were overtaken by a snowstorm; they spent a long time going round
and round, and arrived, not at midday, as they had intended, but
in the evening when it was dark. They put up for the night at the
Zemstvo hut. It so happened that it was in this hut that the dead
body was lying -- the corpse of the Zemstvo insurance agent,
Lesnitsky, who had arrived in Syrnya three
days before and, ordering the samovar in the hut, had shot
himself, to the great surprise of everyone; and the fact that he
had ended his life so strangely, after unpacking his eatables and
laying them out on the table, and with the samovar before him,
led many people to suspect that it was a case of murder; an
inquest was necessary.
In the outer room the doctor and the examining magistrate shook
the snow off themselves and knocked it off their boots. And
meanwhile the old village constable, Ilya Loshadin, stood by,
holding a little tin lamp. There was a strong smell of paraffin.
"Who are you?" asked the doctor.
"Conshtable, . . ." answered the constable.
He used to spell it "conshtable" when he signed the receipts at
the post office.
"And where are the witnesses?"
"They must have gone to tea, your honor."
On the right was the parlor, the travelers' or gentry's room; on
the left the kitchen, with a big stove and sleeping shelves under
the rafters. The doctor and the examining magistrate, followed by
the constable, holding the lamp high above his head, went into
the parlor. Here a still, long body covered with white linen was
lying on the floor close to the table-legs. In the dim light of
the lamp they could clearly see, besides the white covering, new
rubber goloshes, and everything about it was uncanny and
sinister: the dark walls, and the silence, and the goloshes, and
the stillness of the dead body. On the table stood a samovar,
cold long ago; and round it parcels, probably the eatables.
"To shoot oneself in the Zemstvo hut, how tactless!" said the
doctor. "If one does want to put a bullet through one's brains,
one ought to do it at home in some outhouse."
He sank on to a bench, just as he was, in his cap, his fur coat,
and his felt overboots; his fellow-traveler, the examining
magistrate, sat down opposite.
"These hysterical, neurasthenic people are great egoists," the
doctor went on hotly. "If a neurasthenic sleeps in the same room
with you, he rustles his newspaper; when he dines with you, he
gets up a scene with his wife without troubling about your
presence; and when he feels inclined to shoot himself, he shoots
himself in a village in a Zemstvo hut, so as to give the maximum
of trouble to everybody. These gentlemen in every circumstance of
life think of no one but themselves! That's why the elderly so
dislike our 'nervous age.'"
"The elderly dislike so many things," said the examining
magistrate, yawning. "You should point out to the elder
generation what the difference is between the suicides of the
past and the suicides of to-day. In the old days the so-called
gentleman shot himself because he had made away with Government
money, but nowadays it is because he is sick of life, depressed.
. . . Which is better?"
"Sick of life, depressed; but you must admit that he might have
shot himself somewhere else."
"Such trouble!" said the constable, "such trouble! It's a real
affliction. The people are very much upset, your honor; they
haven't slept these three nights. The children are crying. The
cows ought to be milked, but the women won't go to the stall --
they are afraid . . . for fear the gentleman should appear to
them in the darkness. Of course they are silly women, but some of
the men are frightened too. As soon as it is dark they won't go
by the hut one by one, but only in a flock together. And the
witnesses too. . . ."
Dr. Startchenko, a middle-aged man in spectacles with a dark
beard, and the examining magistrate Lyzhin, a fair man, still
young, who had only taken his degree two years before and looked
more like a student than an official, sat in silence, musing.
They were vexed that they were late. Now they had to wait till
morning, and to stay here for the night, though it was not yet
six o'clock; and they had before them a long evening, a dark
night, boredom, uncomfortable beds, beetles, and cold in the
morning; and listening to the blizzard that howled in the chimney
and in the loft, they both thought how unlike all this was the
life which they would have chosen for themselves and of which
they had once dreamed, and how far away they both were from
their contemporaries, who were at that moment walking about the
lighted streets in town without noticing the weather, or were
getting ready for the theatre, or sitting in their studies over a
book. Oh, how much they would have given now only to stroll
along the Nevsky Prospect, or along Petrovka in Moscow, to listen
to decent singing, to sit for an hour or so in a restaurant!
"Oo-oo-oo-oo!" sang the storm in the loft, and something outside
slammed viciously, probably the signboard on the hut.
"You can do as you please, but I have no desire to stay here,"
said Startchenko, getting up. "It's not six yet, it's too early
to go to bed; I am off. Von Taunitz lives not far from here, only
a couple of miles from Syrnya. I shall go to see him and spend
the evening there. Constable, run and tell my coachman not to
take the horses out. And what are you going to do?" he asked
"I don't know; I expect I shall go to sleep."
The doctor wrapped himself in his fur coat and went out. Lyzhin
could hear him talking to the coachman and the bells beginning to
quiver on the frozen horses. He drove off.
"It is not nice for you, sir, to spend the night in here," said
the constable; "come into the other room. It's dirty, but for one
night it won't matter. I'll get a samovar from a peasant and heat
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