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