The Inn by Ivan Turgenev
On the high road to B., at an equal distance from the two towns
through which it runs, there stood not long ago a roomy inn, very well
known to the drivers of troikas, peasants with trains of waggons,
merchants, clerks, pedlars and the numerous travellers of all sorts
who journey upon our roads at all times of the year. Everyone used to
call at the inn; only perhaps a landowner's coach, drawn by six
home-bred horses, would roll majestically by, which did not prevent
either the coachman or the groom on the footboard from looking with
peculiar feeling and attention at the little porch so familiar to them;
or some poor devil in a wretched little cart and with three five-kopeck
pieces in the bag in his bosom would urge on his weary nag when he
reached the prosperous inn, and would hasten on to some night's lodging
in the hamlets that lie by the high road in a peasant's hut, where he
would find nothing but bread and hay, but, on the other hand, would not
have to pay an extra kopeck. Apart from its favourable situation, the
inn with which our story deals had many attractions: excellent water in
two deep wells with creaking wheels and iron buckets on a chain; a
spacious yard with a tiled roof on posts; abundant stores of oats in
the cellar; a warm outer room with a very huge Russian stove with long
horizontal flues attached that looked like titanic shoulders, and
lastly two fairly clean rooms with the walls covered with reddish
lilac paper somewhat frayed at the lower edge with a painted wooden
sofa, chairs to match and two pots of geraniums in the windows, which
were, however, never cleaned--and were dingy with the dust of years.
The inn had other advantages: the blacksmith's was close by, the mill
was just at hand; and, lastly, one could get a good meal in it, thanks
to the cook, a fat and red-faced peasant woman, who prepared rich and
appetizing dishes and dealt out provisions without stint; the nearest
tavern was reckoned not half a mile away; the host kept snuff which
though mixed with wood-ash, was extremely pungent and pleasantly
irritated the nose; in fact there were many reasons why visitors of
all sorts were never lacking in that inn. It was liked by those who
used it--and that is the chief thing; without which nothing, of course,
would succeed and it was liked principally as it was said in the
district, because the host himself was very fortunate and successful
in all his undertakings, though he did not much deserve his good
fortune; but it seems if a man is lucky, he is lucky.
The innkeeper was a man of the working class called Naum Ivanov. He
was a man of middle height with broad, stooping shoulders; he had a
big round head and curly hair already grey, though he did not look
more than forty; a full and fresh face, a low but white and smooth
forehead and little bright blue eyes, out of which he looked in a very
queer way from under his brows and yet with an insolent expression, a
combination not often met with. He always held his head down and
seemed to turn it with difficulty, perhaps because his neck was very
short. He walked at a trot and did not swing his arms, but slowly
moved them with his fists clenched as he walked. When he smiled, and
he smiled often without laughing, as it were smiling to himself, his
thick lips parted unpleasantly and displayed a row of close-set,
brilliant teeth. He spoke jerkily and with a surly note in his voice.
He shaved his beard, but dressed in Russian style. His costume
consisted of a long, always threadbare, full coat, full breeches and
shoes on his bare feet. He was often away from home on business and he
had a great deal of business--he was a horse-dealer, he rented land,
had a market garden, bought up orchards and traded in various ways--but
his absences never lasted long; like a kite, to which he had
considerable resemblance, especially in the expression of his eyes, he
used to return to his nest. He knew how to keep that nest in order. He
was everywhere, he listened to everything and gave orders, served out
stores, sent things out and made up his accounts himself, and never
knocked off a farthing from anyone's account, but never asked more
than his due.
The visitors did not talk to him, and, indeed, he did not care to
waste words. "I want your money and you want my victuals," he used to
say, as it were, jerking out each word: "We have not met for a
christening; the traveller has eaten, has fed his beasts, no need to
sit on. If he is tired, let him sleep without chattering." The
labourers he kept were healthy grown-up men, but docile and well
broken in; they were very much afraid of him. He never touched
intoxicating liquor and he used to give his men ten kopecks for vodka
on the great holidays; they did not dare to drink on other days.
People like Naum quickly get rich ... but to the magnificent position
in which he found himself--and he was believed to be worth forty or
fifty thousand roubles--Naum Ivanov had not arrived by the strait
The inn had existed on the same spot on the high road twenty years
before the time from which we date the beginning of our story. It is
true that it had not then the dark red shingle roof which made Naum
Ivanov's inn look like a gentleman's house; it was inferior in
construction and had thatched roofs in the courtyard, and a humble
fence instead of a wall of logs; nor had it been distinguished by the
triangular Greek pediment on carved posts; but all the same it had
been a capital inn--roomy, solid and warm--and travellers were glad to
frequent it. The innkeeper at that time was not Naum Ivanov, but a
certain Akim Semyonitch, a serf belonging to a neighbouring lady,
Lizaveta Prohorovna Kuntse, the widow of a staff officer. This Akim
was a shrewd trading peasant who, having left home in his youth with
two wretched nags to work as a carrier, had returned a year later with
three decent horses and had spent almost all the rest of his life on
the high roads; he used to go to Kazan and Odessa, to Orenburg and to
Warsaw and abroad to Leipsic and used in the end to travel with two
teams, each of three stout, sturdy stallions, harnessed to two huge
carts. Whether it was that he was sick of his life of homeless
wandering, whether it was that he wanted to rear a family (his wife
had died in one of his absences and what children she had borne him
were dead also), anyway, he made up his mind at last to abandon his
old calling and to open an inn. With the permission of his mistress,
he settled on the high road, bought in her name about an acre and a
half of land and built an inn upon it. The undertaking prospered. He
had more than enough money to furnish and stock it. The experience he
had gained in the course of his years of travelling from one end of
Russia to another was of great advantage to him; he knew how to please
his visitors, especially his former mates, the drivers of troikas,
many of whom he knew personally and whose good-will is particularly
valued by innkeepers, as they need so much food for themselves and
their powerful beasts. Akim's inn became celebrated for hundreds of
miles round. People were even readier to stay with him than with his
successor, Naum, though Akim could not be compared with Naum as a
manager. Under Akim everything was in the old-fashioned style, snug,
but not over clean; and his oats were apt to be light, or musty; the
cooking, too, was somewhat indifferent: dishes were sometimes put on
the table which would better have been left in the oven and it was not
that he was stingy with the provisions, but just that the cook had not
looked after them. On the other hand, he was ready to knock off
something from the price and did not refuse to trust a man's word for
payment--he was a good man and a genial host. In talking, in
entertaining, he was lavish, too; he would sometimes chatter away over
the samovar till his listeners pricked up their ears, especially when
he began telling them about Petersburg, about the Circassian steppes,
or even about foreign parts; and he liked getting a little drunk with
a good companion, but not disgracefully so, more for the sake of
company, as his guests used to say of him. He was a great favourite
with merchants and with all people of what is called the old school,
who do not set off for a journey without tightening up their belts and
never go into a room without making the sign of the cross, and never
enter into conversation with a man without first wishing him good
health. Even Akim's appearance disposed people in his favour: he was
tall, rather thin, but graceful even at his advanced years; he had a
long face, with fine-looking regular features, a high and open brow, a
straight and delicate nose and a small mouth. His brown and prominent
eyes positively shone with friendly gentleness, his soft, scanty hair
curled in little rings about his neck; he had very little left on the
top of his head. Akim's voice was very pleasant, though weak; in his
youth he had been a good singer, but continual travelling in the open
air in the winter had affected his chest. But he talked very smoothly
and sweetly. When he laughed wrinkles like rays that were very
charming came round his eyes:--such wrinkles are only to be seen in
kind-hearted people. Akim's movements were for the most part
deliberate and not without a certain confidence and dignified courtesy
befitting a man of experience who had seen a great deal in his day.
In fact, Akim--or Akim Semyonitch as he was called even in his
mistress's house, to which he often went and invariably on Sundays
after mass--would have been excellent in all respects--if he had not
had one weakness which has been the ruin of many men on earth, and was
in the end the ruin of him, too--a weakness for the fair sex. Akim's
susceptibility was extreme, his heart could never resist a woman's
glance: he melted before it like the first snow of autumn in the
sun ... and dearly he had to pay for his excessive sensibility.
For the first year after he had set up on the high road Akim was so
busy with building his yard, stocking the place, and all the business
inseparable from moving into a new house that he had absolutely no
time to think of women and if any sinful thought came into his mind he
immediately drove it away by reading various devotional works for
which he cherished a profound respect (he had learned to read when
first he left home), singing the psalms in a low voice or some other
pious occupation. Besides, he was then in his forty-sixth year and at
that time of life every passion grows perceptibly calmer and cooler
and the time for marrying was past. Akim himself began to think that,
as he expressed it, this foolishness was over and done with ... But
evidently there is no escaping one's fate.
Akim's former mistress, Lizaveta Prohorovna Kuntse, the widow of an
officer of German extraction, was herself a native of Mittau, where
she had spent the first years of her childhood and where she had
numerous poor relations, about whom she concerned herself very little,
especially after a casual visit from one of her brothers, an infantry
officer of the line. On the day after his arrival he had made a great
disturbance and almost beaten the lady of the house, calling her "du
lumpenmamselle," though only the evening before he had called her in
broken Russian: "sister and benefactor." Lizaveta Prohorovna lived
almost permanently on her pretty estate which had been won by the
labours of her husband who had been an architect. She managed it
herself and managed it very well. Lizaveta Prohorovna never let slip
the slightest advantage; she turned everything into profit for
herself; and this, as well as her extraordinary capacity for making a
farthing do the work of a halfpenny, betrayed her German origin; in
everything else she had become very Russian. She kept a considerable
number of house serfs, especially many maids, who earned their salt,
however: from morning to night their backs were bent over their work.
She liked driving out in her carriage with grooms in livery on the
footboard. She liked listening to gossip and scandal and was a clever
scandal-monger herself; she liked to lavish favours upon someone, then
suddenly crush him with her displeasure, in fact, Lizaveta Prohorovna
behaved exactly like a lady. Akim was in her good graces; he paid her
punctually every year a very considerable sum in lieu of service; she
talked graciously to him and even, in jest, invited him as a guest...
but it was precisely in his mistress's house that trouble was in store
Among Lizaveta Prohorovna's maidservants was an orphan girl of twenty
called Dunyasha. She was good-looking, graceful and neat-handed;
though her features were irregular, they were pleasing; her fresh
complexion, her thick flaxen hair, her lively grey eyes, her
little round nose, her rosy lips and above all her half-mocking,
half-provocative expression--were all rather charming in their way. At
the same time, in spite of her forlorn position, she was strict, almost
haughty in her deportment. She came of a long line of house serfs. Her
father, Arefy, had been a butler for thirty years, while her
grandfather, Stepan had been valet to a prince and officer of the
Guards long since dead. She dressed neatly and was vain over her
hands, which were certainly very beautiful. Dunyasha made a show of
great disdain for all her admirers; she listened to their compliments
with a self-complacent little smile and if she answered them at all it
was usually some exclamation such as: "Yes! Likely! As though I
should! What next!" These exclamations were always on her lips.
Dunyasha had spent about three years being trained in Moscow where she
had picked up the peculiar airs and graces which distinguish
maidservants who have been in Moscow or Petersburg. She was spoken of
as a girl of self-respect (high praise on the lips of house serfs)
who, though she had seen something of life, had not let herself down.
She was rather clever with her needle, too, yet with all this Lizaveta
Prohorovna was not very warmly disposed toward her, thanks to the
headmaid, Kirillovna, a sly and intriguing woman, no longer young.
Kirillovna exercised great influence over her mistress and very
skilfully succeeded in getting rid of all rivals.
With this Dunyasha Akim must needs fall in love! And he fell in love
as he had never fallen in love before. He saw her first at church: she
had only just come back from Moscow.... Afterwards, he met her several
times in his mistress's house; finally he spent a whole evening with
her at the steward's, where he had been invited to tea in company with
other highly respected persons. The house serfs did not disdain him,
though he was not of their class and wore a beard; he was a man of
education, could read and write and, what was more, had money; and he
did not dress like a peasant but wore a long full coat of black cloth,
high boots of calf leather and a kerchief on his neck. It is true that
some of the house serfs did say among themselves that: "One can see
that he is not one of us," but to his face they almost flattered him.
On that evening at the steward's Dunyasha made a complete conquest of
Akim's susceptible heart, though she said not a single word in answer
to his ingratiating speeches and only looked sideways at him from time
to time as though wondering why that peasant was there. All that only
added fuel to the flames. He went home, pondered and pondered and made
up his mind to win her hand.... She had somehow "bewitched" him. But
how can I describe the wrath and indignation of Dunyasha when five
days later Kirillovna with a friendly air invited her into her room
and told her that Akim (and evidently he knew how to set to work) that
bearded peasant Akim, to sit by whose side she considered almost an
indignity, was courting her.
Dunyasha first flushed crimson, then she gave a forced laugh, then she
burst into tears; but Kirillovna made her attack so artfully, made the
girl feel her own position in the house so clearly, so tactfully
hinted at the presentable appearance, the wealth and blind devotion of
Akim and finally mentioned so significantly the wishes of their
mistress that Dunyasha went out of the room with a look of hesitation
on her face and meeting Akim only gazed intently into his face and did
not turn away. The indescribably lavish presents of the love-sick man
dissipated her last doubts. Lizaveta Prohorovna, to whom Akim in his
joy took a hundred peaches on a large silver dish, gave her consent to
the marriage, and the marriage took place. Akim spared no expense--and
the bride, who on the eve of her wedding at her farewell party to her
girl friends sat looking a figure of misery, and who cried all the
next morning while Kirillovna was dressing her for the wedding, was
soon comforted.... Her mistress gave her her own shawl to wear in the
church and Akim presented her the same day with one like it, almost
And so Akim was married, and took his young bride home.... They began
their life together.... Dunyasha turned out to be a poor housewife, a
poor helpmate to her husband. She took no interest in anything, was
melancholy and depressed unless some officer sitting by the big
samovar noticed her and paid her compliments; she was often absent,
sometimes in the town shopping, sometimes at the mistress's house,
which was only three miles from the inn. There she felt at home, there
she was surrounded by her own people; the girls envied her finery.
Kirillovna regaled her with tea; Lizaveta Prohorovna herself talked to
her. But even these visits did not pass without some bitter
experiences for Dunyasha.... As an innkeeper's wife, for instance, she
could not wear a hat and was obliged to tie up her head in a kerchief,
"like a merchant's lady," said sly Kirillovna, "like a working woman,"
thought Dunyasha to herself.
More than once Akim recalled the words of his only relation, an uncle
who had lived in solitude without a family for years: "Well,
Akimushka, my lad," he had said, meeting him in the street, "I hear
you are getting married."
"Why, yes, what of it?"
"Ech, Akim, Akim. You are above us peasants now, there's no denying
that; but you are not on her level either."
"In what way not on her level?"
"Why, in that way, for instance," his uncle had answered, pointing to
Akim's beard, which he had begun to clip in order to please his
betrothed, though he had refused to shave it completely.... Akim
looked down; while the old man turned away, wrapped his tattered
sheepskin about him and walked away, shaking his head.
Yes, more than once Akim sank into thought, cleared his throat and
sighed.... But his love for his pretty wife was no less; he was proud
of her, especially when he compared her not merely with peasant women,
or with his first wife, to whom he had been married at sixteen, but
with other serf girls; "look what a fine bird we have caught," he
thought to himself.... Her slightest caress gave him immense pleasure.
"Maybe," he thought, "she will get used to it; maybe she will get into
the way of it." Meanwhile her behaviour was irreproachable and no one
could say anything against her.
Several years passed like this. Dunyasha really did end by growing
used to her way of life. Akim's love for her and confidence in her
only increased as he grew older; her girl friends, who had been
married not to peasants, were suffering cruel hardships, either from
poverty or from having fallen into bad hands.... Akim went on getting
richer and richer. Everything succeeded with him--he was always lucky;
only one thing was a grief: God had not given him children. Dunyasha
was by now over five and twenty; everyone addressed her as Avdotya
Arefyevna. She never became a real housewife, however--but she grew
fond of her house, looked after the stores and superintended the woman
who worked in the house. It is true that she did all this only after a
fashion; she did not keep up a high standard of cleanliness and order;
on the other hand, her portrait painted in oils and ordered by herself
from a local artist, the son of the parish deacon, hung on the wall of
the chief room beside that of Akim. She was depicted in a white dress
with a yellow shawl with six strings of big pearls round her neck,
long earrings, and a ring on every finger. The portrait was
recognisable though the artist had painted her excessively stout and
rosy--and had made her eyes not grey but black and even slightly
squinting.... Akim's was a complete failure, the portrait had come out
dark--à la Rembrandt--so that sometimes a visitor would go up
to it, look at it and merely give an inarticulate murmur. Avdotya had
taken to being rather careless in her dress; she would fling a big
shawl over her shoulders, while the dress under it was put on anyhow:
she was overcome by laziness, that sighing apathetic drowsy laziness
to which the Russian is only too liable, especially when his
livelihood is secure....
With all that, the fortunes of Akim and his wife prospered
exceedingly; they lived in harmony and had the reputation of an
exemplary pair. But just as a squirrel will wash its face at the very
instant when the sportsman is aiming at it, man has no presentiment of
his troubles, till all of a sudden the ground gives way under him like
One autumn evening a merchant in the drapery line put up at Akim's
inn. He was journeying by various cross-country roads from Moscow to
Harkov with two loaded tilt carts; he was one of those travelling
traders whose arrival is sometimes awaited with such impatience by
country gentlemen and still more by their wives and daughters. This
travelling merchant, an elderly man, had with him two companions, or,
speaking more correctly, two workmen, one thin, pale and hunchbacked,
the other a fine, handsome young fellow of twenty. They asked for
supper, then sat down to tea; the merchant invited the innkeeper and
his wife to take a cup with him, they did not refuse. A conversation
quickly sprang up between the two old men (Akim was fifty-six); the
merchant inquired about the gentry of the neighbourhood and no one
could give him more useful information about them than Akim; the
hunchbacked workman spent his time looking after the carts and finally
went off to bed; it fell to Avdotya to talk to the other one.... She
sat by him and said little, rather listening to what he told her, but
it was evident that his talk pleased her; her face grew more animated,
the colour came into her cheeks and she laughed readily and often. The
young workman sat almost motionless with his curly head bent over the
table; he spoke quietly, without haste and without raising his voice;
but his eyes, not large but saucily bright and blue, were rivetted on
Avdotya; at first she turned away from them, then she, too, began
looking him in the face. The young fellow's face was fresh and smooth
as a Crimean apple; he often smiled and tapped with his white fingers
on his chin covered with soft dark down. He spoke like a merchant, but
very freely and with a sort of careless self-confidence and went on
looking at her with the same intent, impudent stare.... All at once he
moved a little closer to her and without the slightest change of
countenance said to her: "Avdotya Arefyevna, there's no one like you
in the world; I am ready to die for you."
Avdotya laughed aloud.
"What is it?" asked Akim.
"Why, he keeps saying such funny things," she said, without any
The old merchant grinned.
"Ha, ha, yes, my Naum is such a funny fellow, don't listen to him."
"Oh! Really! As though I should," she answered, and shook her head.
"Ha, ha, of course not," observed the old man. "But, however," he went
on in a singsong voice, "we will take our leave; we are thoroughly
satisfied, it is time for bed, ..." and he got up.
"We are well satisfied, too," Akim brought out and he got up, "for
your entertainment, that is, but we wish you a good night.
Avdotyushka, come along."
Avdotya got up as it were unwillingly. Naum, too, got up after her ...
the party broke up. The innkeeper and his wife went off to the little
lobby partitioned off, which served them as a bedroom. Akim was
snoring immediately. It was a long time before Avdotya could get to
sleep.... At first she lay still, turning her face to the wall, then
she began tossing from side to side on the hot feather bed, throwing
off and pulling up the quilt alternately ... then she sank into a light
doze. Suddenly she heard from the yard a loud masculine voice: it was
singing a song of which it was impossible to distinguish the words,
prolonging each note, though not with a melancholy effect. Avdotya
opened her eyes, propped herself on her elbows and listened.... The
song went on.... It rang out musically in the autumn air.
Akim raised his head.
"Who's that singing?" he asked.
"I don't know," she answered.
"He sings well," he added, after a brief pause. "Very well. What a
strong voice. I used to sing in my day," he went on. "And I sang well,
too, but my voice has gone. That's a fine voice. It must be that young
fellow singing, Naum is his name, isn't it?" And he turned over on the
other side, gave a sigh and fell asleep again.
It was a long time before the voice was still ... Avdotya listened and
listened; all at once it seemed to break off, rang out boldly once
more and slowly died away.... Avdotya crossed herself and laid her
head on the pillow.... Half an hour passed.... She sat up and softly
got out of bed.
"Where are you going, wife?" Akim asked in his sleep.
"To see to the little lamp," she said, "I can't get to sleep."
"You should say a prayer," Akim mumbled, falling asleep.
Avdotya went up to the lamp before the ikon, began trimming it and
accidentally put it out; she went back and lay down. Everything was
Early next morning the merchant set off again on his journey with his
companions. Avdotya was asleep. Akim went half a mile with them: he
had to call at the mill. When he got home he found his wife dressed
and not alone. Naum, the young man who had been there the night
before, was with her. They were standing by the table in the window
talking. When Avdotya saw Akim, she went out of the room without a
word, and Naum said that he had come for his master's gloves which the
latter, he said, had left behind on the bench; and he, too, went away.
We will now tell the reader what he has probably guessed already:
Avdotya had fallen passionately in love with Naum. It is hard to say
how it could have happened so quickly, especially as she had hitherto
been irreproachable in her behaviour in spite of many opportunities
and temptations to deceive her husband. Later on, when her intrigue
with Naum became known, many people in the neighbourhood declared that
he had on the very first evening put a magic potion that was a love
spell in her tea (the efficacy of such spells is still firmly believed
in among us), and that this could be clearly seen from the appearance
of Avdotya who, so they said, soon after began to pine away and look
However that may have been, Naum began to be frequently seen in Akim's
yard. At first he came again with the same merchant and three months
later arrived alone, with wares of his own; then the report spread
that he had settled in one of the neighbouring district towns, and
from that time forward not a week passed without his appearing on the
high road with his strong, painted cart drawn by two sleek horses
which he drove himself. There was no particular friendship between
Akim and him, nor was there any hostility noticed between them; Akim
did not take much notice of him and only thought of him as a sharp
young fellow who was rapidly making his way in the world. He did not
suspect Avdotya's real feelings and went on believing in her as
Two years passed like this.
One summer day it happened that Lizaveta Prohorovna--who had somehow
suddenly grown yellow and wrinkled during those two years in spite of
all sorts of unguents, rouge and powder--about two o'clock in the
afternoon went out with her lap dog and her folding parasol for a
stroll before dinner in her neat little German garden. With a faint
rustle of her starched petticoats, she walked with tiny steps along
the sandy path between two rows of erect, stiffly tied-up dahlias,
when she was suddenly overtaken by our old acquaintance Kirillovna,
who announced respectfully that a merchant desired to speak to her on
important business. Kirillovna was still high in her mistress's favour
(in reality it was she who managed Madame Kuntse's estate) and she had
some time before obtained permission to wear a white cap, which gave
still more acerbity to the sharp features of her swarthy face.
"A merchant?" said her mistress; "what does he want?"
"I don't know what he wants," answered Kirillovna in an insinuating
voice, "only I think he wants to buy something from you."
Lizaveta Prohorovna went back into the drawing-room, sat down in her
usual seat--an armchair with a canopy over it, upon which a climbing
plant twined gracefully--and gave orders that the merchant should be
Naum appeared, bowed, and stood still by the door.
"I hear that you want to buy something of me," said Lizaveta
Prohorovna, and thought to herself, "What a handsome man this merchant
"Just so, madam."
"What is it?"
"Would you be willing to sell your inn?"
"Why, the one on the high road not far from here."
"But that inn is not mine, it is Akim's."
"Not yours? Why, it stands on your land."
"Yes, the land is mine ... bought in my name; but the inn is his."
"To be sure. But wouldn't you be willing to sell it to me?"
"How could I sell it to you?"
"Well, I would give you a good price for it."
Lizaveta Prohorovna was silent for a space.
"It is really very queer what you are saying," she said. "And what
would you give?" she added. "I don't ask that for myself but for
"For all the buildings and the appurtenances, together with the land
that goes with it, of course, I would give two thousand roubles."
"Two thousand roubles! That is not enough," replied Lizaveta
"It's a good price."
"But have you spoken to Akim?"
"What should I speak to him for? The inn is yours, so here I am
talking to you about it."
"But I have told you.... It really is astonishing that you don't
"Not understand, madam? But I do understand."
Lizaveta Prohorovna looked at Naum and Naum looked at Lizaveta
"Well, then," he began, "what do you propose?"
"I propose..." Lizaveta Prohorovna moved in her chair. "In the first
place I tell you that two thousand is too little and in the second..."
"I'll add another hundred, then."
Lizaveta Prohorovna got up.
"I see that you are talking quite off the point. I have told you
already that I cannot sell that inn--am not going to sell it. I
cannot ... that is, I will not."
Naum smiled and said nothing for a space.
"Well, as you please, madam," he said, shrugging his shoulders. "I beg
to take leave." He bowed and took hold of the door handle.
Lizaveta Prohorovna turned round to him.
"You need not go away yet, however," she said, with hardly perceptible
agitation. She rang the bell and Kirillovna came in from the study.
"Kirillovna, tell them to give this gentleman some tea. I will see you
again," she added, with a slight inclination of her head.
Naum bowed again and went out with Kirillovna. Lizaveta Prohorovna
walked up and down the room once or twice and rang the bell again.
This time a page appeared. She told him to fetch Kirillovna. A few
moments later Kirillovna came in with a faint creak of her new
"Have you heard," Lizaveta Prohorovna began with a forced laugh, "what
this merchant has been proposing to me? He is a queer fellow, really!"
"No, I haven't heard. What is it, madam?" and Kirillovna faintly
screwed up her black Kalmuck eyes.
"He wants to buy Akim's inn."
"Well, why not?"
"But how could he? What about Akim? I gave it to Akim."
"Upon my word, madam, what are you saying? Isn't the inn yours? Don't
we all belong to you? And isn't all our property yours, our
"Good gracious, Kirillovna, what are you saying?" Lizaveta Prohorovna
pulled out a batiste handkerchief and nervously blew her nose. "Akim
bought the inn with his own money."
"His own money? But where did he get the money? Wasn't it through your
kindness? He has had the use of the land all this time as it is. It
was all through your gracious permission. And do you suppose, madam,
that he would have no money left? Why, he is richer than you are, upon
my word, he is!"
"That's all true, of course, but still I can't do it.... How could I
sell the inn?"
"And why not sell it," Kirillovna went on, "since a purchaser has
luckily turned up? May I ask, madam, how much he offers you?"
"More than two thousand roubles," said Lizaveta Prohorovna softly.
"He will give more, madam, if he offers two thousand straight off. And
you will arrange things with Akim afterwards; take a little off his
yearly duty or something. He will be thankful, too."
"Of course, I must remit part of his duty. But no, Kirillovna, how can
I sell it?" and Lizaveta Prohorovna walked up and down the room. "No,
that's out of the question, that won't do ... no, please don't speak
of it again ... or I shall be angry."
But in spite of her agitated mistress's warning, Kirillovna did
continue speaking of it and half an hour later she went back to Naum,
whom she had left in the butler's pantry at the samovar.
"What have you to tell me, good madam?" said Naum, jauntily turning
his tea-cup wrong side upwards in the saucer.
"What I have to tell you is that you are to go in to the mistress; she
"Certainly," said Naum, and he got up and followed Kirillovna into the
The door closed behind them.... When the door opened again and Naum
walked out backwards, bowing, the matter was settled: Akim's inn
belonged to him. He had bought it for 2800 paper roubles. It was
arranged that the legal formalities should take place as quickly as
possible and that till then the matter should not be made public.
Lizaveta Prohorovna received a deposit of a hundred roubles and two
hundred went to Kirillovna for her assistance. "It has not cost me
much," thought Naum as he got into his coat, "it was a lucky chance."
While the transaction we have described was going forward in the
mistress's house, Akim was sitting at home alone on the bench by the
window, stroking his beard with a discontented expression. We have
said already that he did not suspect his wife's feeling for Naum,
although kind friends had more than once hinted to him that it was
time he opened his eyes; it is true that he had noticed himself that
of late his wife had become rather difficult, but we all know that the
female sex is capricious and changeable. Even when it really did
strike him that things were not going well in his house, he merely
dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand; he did not like the
idea of a squabble; his good nature had not lessened with years and
indolence was asserting itself, too. But on that day he was very much
out of humour; the day before he had overheard quite by chance in the
street a conversation between their servant and a neighbouring peasant
The peasant woman asked the servant why she had not come to see her on
the holiday the day before. "I was expecting you," she said.
"I did set off," replied the servant, "but as ill-luck would have it,
I ran into the mistress ... botheration take her."
"Ran into her?" repeated the peasant woman in a sing-song voice and
she leaned her cheek on her hand. "And where did you run into her, my
"Beyond the priest's hemp-patch. She must have gone to the hemp-patch
to meet her Naum, but I could not see them in the dusk, owing to the
moon, maybe, I don't know; I simply dashed into them."
"Dashed into them?" the other woman repeated. "Well, and was she
standing with him, my good girl?"
"Yes, she was. He was standing there and so was she. She saw me and
said, 'Where are you running to? Go home.' So I went home."
"You went home?" The peasant woman was silent. "Well, good-bye,
Fetinyushka," she brought out at last, and trudged off.
This conversation had an unpleasant effect on Akim. His love for
Avdotya had cooled, but still he did not like what the servant had
said. And she had told the truth: Avdotya really had gone out that
evening to meet Naum, who had been waiting for her in the patch of
dense shade thrown on the road by the high motionless hemp. The dew
bathed every stalk of it from top to bottom; the strong, almost
overpowering fragrance hung all about it. A huge crimson moon had just
risen in the dingy, blackish mist. Naum heard the hurried footsteps of
Avdotya a long way off and went to meet her. She came up to him, pale
with running; the moon lighted up her face.
"Well, have you brought it?" he asked.
"Brought it--yes, I have," she answered in an uncertain voice. "But,
"Give it me, since you have brought it," he interrupted her, and held
out his hand.
She took a parcel from under her shawl. Naum took it at once and
thrust it in his bosom.
"Naum Ivanitch," Avdotya said slowly, keeping her eyes fixed on him,
"oh, Naum Ivanitch, you will bring my soul to ruin."
It was at that instant that the servant came up to them.
And so Akim was sitting on the bench discontentedly stroking his
beard. Avdotya kept coming into the room and going out again. He
simply followed her with his eyes. At last she came into the room and
after taking a jerkin from the lobby was just crossing the threshold,
when he could not restrain himself and said, as though speaking to
"I wonder," he began, "why it is women are always in a fuss? It's no
good expecting them to sit still. That's not in their line. But
running out morning or evening, that's what they like. Yes."
Avdotya listened to her husband's words without changing her position;
only at the word "evening," she moved her head slightly and seemed to
"Once you begin talking, Semyonitch," she commented at last with
vexation, "there is no stopping you."
And with a wave of her hand she went away and slammed the door.
Avdotya certainly did not appreciate Akim's eloquence and often in the
evenings when he indulged in conversation with travellers or fell to
telling stories she stealthily yawned or went out of the room. Akim
looked at the closed door. "Once you begin talking," he repeated in an
undertone.... "The fact is, I have not talked enough to you. And who
is it? A peasant like any one of us, and what's more...." And he got
up, thought a little and tapped the back of his head with his fist.
Several days passed in a rather strange way. Akim kept looking at his
wife as though he were preparing to say something to her, and she, for
her part, looked at him suspiciously; meanwhile, they both preserved a
strained silence. This silence, however, was broken from time to time
by some peevish remark from Akim in regard to some oversight in the
housekeeping or in regard to women in general. For the most part
Avdotya did not answer one word. But in spite of Akim's good-natured
weakness, it certainly would have come to a decisive explanation
between him and Avdotya, if it had not been for an event which
rendered any explanation useless.
One morning Akim and wife were just beginning lunch (owing to the
summer work in the fields there were no travellers at the inn) when
suddenly a cart rattled briskly along the road and pulled up sharply
at the front door. Akim peeped out of window, frowned and looked down:
Naum got deliberately out of the cart. Avdotya had not seen him, but
when she heard his voice in the entry the spoon trembled in her hand.
He told the labourers to put up the horse in the yard. At last the
door opened and he walked into the room.
"Good-day," he said, and took off his cap.
"Good-day," Akim repeated through his teeth. "Where has God brought
"I was in the neighbourhood," replied Naum, and he sat down on the
bench. "I have come from your lady."
"From the lady," said Akim, not getting up from his seat. "On
"Yes, on business. My respects to you, Avdotya Arefyevona."
"Good morning, Naum Ivanitch," she answered. All were silent.
"What have you got, broth, is it?" began Naum.
"Yes, broth," replied Akim and all at once he turned pale, "but not
Naum glanced at Akim with surprise.
"Not for me?"
"Not for you, and that's all about it." Akim's eyes glittered and he
brought his fist on the table. "There is nothing in my house for you,
do you hear?"
"What's this, Semyonitch, what is the matter with you?"
"There's nothing the matter with me, but I am sick of you, Naum
Ivanitch, that's what it is." The old man got up, trembling all over.
"You poke yourself in here too often, I tell you."
Naum, too, got up.
"You've gone clean off your head, old man," he said with a jeer.
"Avdotya Arefyevna, what's wrong with him?"
"I tell you," shouted Akim in a cracked voice, "go away, do you
hear? ... You have nothing to do with Avdotya Arefyevna ... I tell
you, do you hear, get out!"
"What's that you are saying to me?" Naum asked significantly.
"Go out of the house, that's what I am telling to you. Here's God and
here's the door ... do you understand? Or there will be trouble."
Naum took a step forward.
"Good gracious, don't fight, my dears," faltered Avdotya, who till
then had sat motionless at the table.
Naum glanced at her.
"Don't be uneasy, Avdotya Arefyevna, why should we fight? Fie,
brother, what a hullabaloo you are making!" he went on, addressing
Akim. "Yes, really. You are a hasty one! Has anyone ever heard of
turning anyone out of his house, especially the owner of it?" Naum
added with slow deliberateness.
"Out of his house?" muttered Akim. "What owner?"
"Me, if you like."
And Naum screwed up his eyes and showed his white teeth in a grin.
"You? Why, it's my house, isn't it?"
"What a slow-witted fellow you are! I tell you it's mine."
Akim gazed at him open-eyed.
"What crazy stuff is it you are talking? One would think you had gone
silly," he said at last. "How the devil can it be yours?"
"What's the good of talking to you?" cried Naum impatiently. "Do you
see this bit of paper?" he went on, pulling out of his pocket a sheet
of stamped paper, folded in four, "do you see? This is the deed of
sale, do you understand, the deed of sale of your land and your house;
I have bought them from the lady, from Lizaveta Prohorovna; the deed
was drawn up at the town yesterday; so I am master here, not you. Pack
your belongings today," he added, putting the document back in his
pocket, "and don't let me see a sign of you here to-morrow, do you
Akim stood as though struck by a thunderbolt.
"Robber," he moaned at last, "robber.... Heigh, Fedka, Mitka, wife,
wife, seize him, seize him--hold him."
He lost his head completely.
"Mind now, old man," said Naum menacingly, "mind what you are about,
don't play the fool...."
"Beat him, wife, beat him!" Akim kept repeating in a tearful voice,
trying helplessly and in vain to get up. "Murderer, robber.... She is
not enough for you, you want to take my house, too, and everything....
But no, stop a bit ... that can't be.... I'll go myself, I'll speak
myself ... how ... why should she sell it? Wait a bit, wait a bit."
And he dashed out bareheaded.
"Where are you off to, Akim Ivanitch?" said the servant Fetinya,
running into him in the doorway.
"To our mistress! Let me pass! To our mistress!" wailed Akim, and
seeing Naum's cart which had not yet been taken into the yard, he
jumped into it, snatched the reins and lashing the horse with all his
might set off at full speed to his mistress's house.
"My lady, Lizaveta Prohorovna," he kept repeating to himself all the
way, "how have I lost your favour? I should have thought I had done my
And meantime he kept lashing and lashing the horse. Those who met him
moved out of his way and gazed after him.
In a quarter of an hour Akim had reached Lizaveta Prohorovna's house,
had galloped up to the front door, jumped out of the cart and dashed
straight into the entry.
"What do you want?" muttered the frightened footman who was sleeping
sweetly on the hall bench.
"The mistress, I want to see the mistress," said Akim loudly.
The footman was amazed.
"Has anything happened?" he began.
"Nothing has happened, but I want to see the mistress."
"What, what," said the footman, more and more astonished, and he
slowly drew himself up.
Akim pulled himself up.... He felt as though cold water had been
poured on him.
"Announce to the mistress, please, Pyotr Yevgrafitch," he said with a
low bow, "that Akim asks leave to see her."
"Very good ... I'll go ... I'll tell her ... but you must be drunk,
wait a bit," grumbled the footman, and he went off.
Akim looked down and seemed confused.... His determination had
evaporated as soon as he went into the hall.
Lizaveta Prohorovna was confused, too, when she was informed that Akim
had come. She immediately summoned Kirillovna to her boudoir.
"I can't see him," she began hurriedly, as soon as the latter
appeared. "I absolutely cannot. What am I to say to him? I told you he
would be sure to come and complain," she added in annoyance and
agitation. "I told you."
"But why should you see him?" Kirillovna answered calmly, "there is no
need to. Why should you be worried! No, indeed!"
"What is to be done then?"
"If you will permit me, I will speak to him."
Lizaveta Prohorovna raised her head.
"Please do, Kirillovna. Talk to him. You tell him ... that I found it
necessary ... but that I will compensate him ... say what you think
best. Please, Kirillovna."
"Don't you worry yourself, madam," answered Kirillovna, and she went
out, her shoes creaking.
A quarter of an hour had not elapsed when their creaking was heard
again and Kirillovna walked into the boudoir with the same unruffled
expression on her face and the same sly shrewdness in her eyes.
"Well?" asked her mistress, "how is Akim?"
"He is all right, madam. He says that it must all be as you graciously
please; that if only you have good health and prosperity he can get
along very well."
"And he did not complain?"
"No, madam. Why should he complain?"
"What did he come for, then?" Lizaveta Prohorovna asked in some
"He came to ask whether you would excuse his yearly payment for next
year, that is, until he has been compensated."
"Of course, of course," Lizaveta Prohorovna caught her up eagerly. "Of
course, with pleasure. And tell him, in fact, that I will make it up
to him. Thank you, Kirillovna. I see he is a good-hearted man. Stay,"
she added, "give him this from me," and she took a three-rouble note
out of her work-table drawer, "Here, take this, give it to him."
"Certainly, madam," answered Kirillovna, and going calmly back to her
room she locked the note in an iron-cased box which stood at the head
of her bed; she kept in it all her spare cash, and there was a
considerable amount of it.
Kirillovna had reassured her mistress by her report but the
conversation between herself and Akim had not been quite what she
represented. She had sent for him to the maid's room. At first he had
not come, declaring that he did not want to see Kirillovna but
Lizaveta Prohorovna herself; he had, however, at last obeyed and gone
by the back door to see Kirillovna. He found her alone. He stopped at
once on getting into the room and leaned against the wall by the door;
he would have spoken but he could not.
Kirillovna looked at him intently.
"You want to see the mistress, Akim Semyonitch?" she began.
He simply nodded.
"It's impossible, Akim Semyonitch. And what's the use? What's done
can't be undone, and you will only worry the mistress. She can't see
you now, Akim Semyonitch."
"She cannot," he repeated and paused. "Well, then," he brought out at
last, "so then my house is lost?"
"Listen, Akim Semyonitch. I know you have always been a sensible man.
Such is the mistress's will and there is no changing it. You can't
alter that. Whatever you and I might say about it would make no
difference, would it?"
Akim put his arm behind his back.
"You'd better think," Kirillovna went on, "shouldn't you ask the
mistress to let you off your yearly payment or something?"
"So my house is lost?" repeated Akim in the same voice.
"Akim Semyonitch, I tell you, it's no use. You know that better than
"Yes. Anyway, you might tell me what the house went for?"
"I don't know, Akim Semyonitch, I can't tell you.... But why are you
standing?" she added. "Sit down."
"I'd rather stand, I am a peasant. I thank you humbly."
"You a peasant, Akim Semyonitch? You are as good as a merchant, let
alone a house-serf! What do you mean? Don't distress yourself for
nothing. Won't you have some tea?"
"No, thank you, I don't want it. So you have got hold of my house
between you," he added, moving away from the wall. "Thank you for
that. I wish you good-bye, my lady."
And he turned and went out. Kirillovna straightened her apron and went
to her mistress.
"So I am a merchant, it seems," Akim said to himself, standing before
the gate in hesitation. "A nice merchant!" He waved his hand and
laughed bitterly. "Well, I suppose I had better go home."
And entirely forgetting Naum's horse with which he had come, he
trudged along the road to the inn. Before he had gone the first mile
he suddenly heard the rattle of a cart beside him.
"Akim, Akim Semyonitch," someone called to him.
He raised his eyes and saw a friend of his, the parish clerk, Yefrem,
nicknamed the Mole, a little, bent man with a sharp nose and
dim-sighted eyes. He was sitting on a bundle of straw in a wretched
little cart, and leaning forward against the box.
"Are you going home?" he asked Akim.
"Shall I give you a lift?"
Yefrem moved to one side and Akim climbed into the cart. Yefrem, who
seemed to be somewhat exhilarated, began lashing at his wretched
little horse with the ends of his cord reins; it set off at a weary
trot continually tossing its unbridled head.
They drove for nearly a mile without saying one word to each other.
Akim sat with his head bent while Yefrem muttered to himself,
alternately urging on and holding back his horse.
"Where have you been without your cap, Semyonitch?" he asked Akim
suddenly and, without waiting for an answer, went on, "You've left it
at some tavern, that's what you've done. You are a drinking man; I
know you and I like you for it, that you are a drinker; you are not a
murderer, not a rowdy, not one to make trouble; you are a good
manager, but you are a drinker and such a drinker, you ought to have
been pulled up for it long ago, yes, indeed; for it's, a nasty
habit.... Hurrah!" he shouted suddenly at the top of his voice,
"Stop! Stop!" a woman's voice sounded close by, "Stop!"
Akim looked round. A woman so pale and dishevelled that at first he
did not recognise her, was running across the field towards the cart.
"Stop! Stop!" she moaned again, gasping for breath and waving her
Akim started: it was his wife.
He snatched up the reins.
"What's the good of stopping?" muttered Yefrem. "Stopping for a woman?
But Akim pulled the horse up sharply. At that instant Avdotya ran up
to the road and flung herself down with her face straight in the dust.
"Akim Semyonitch," she wailed, "he has turned me out, too!"
Akim looked at her and did not stir; he only gripped the reins
"Hurrah!" Yefrem shouted again.
"So he has turned you out?" said Akim.
"He has turned me out, Akim Semyonitch, dear," Avdotya answered,
sobbing. "He has turned me out. The house is mine, he said, so you can
"Capital! That's a fine thing ... capital," observed Yefrem.
"So I suppose you thought to stay on?" Akim brought out bitterly,
still sitting in the cart.
"How could I! But, Akim Semyonitch," went on Avdotya, who had raised
her head but let it sink to the earth again, "you don't know, I ...
kill me, Akim Semyonitch, kill me here on the spot."
"Why should I kill you, Arefyevna?" said Akim dejectedly, "you've been
your own ruin. What's the use?"
"But do you know what, Akim Semyonitch, the money ... your money ...
your money's gone.... Wretched sinner as I am, I took it from under
the floor, I gave it all to him, to that villain Naum.... Why did you
tell me where you hid your money, wretched sinner as I am? ... It's
with your money he has bought the house, the villain."
Sobs choked her voice.
Akim clutched his head with both hands.
"What!" he cried at last, "all the money, too ... the money and the
house, and you did it.... Ah! You took it from under the floor, you
took it.... I'll kill you, you snake in the grass!" And he leapt out
of the cart.
"Semyonitch, Semyonitch, don't beat her, don't fight," faltered
Yefrem, on whom this unexpected adventure began to have a sobering
"No, Akim Semyonitch, kill me, wretched sinner as I am; beat me, don't
heed him," cried Avdotya, writhing convulsively at Akim's feet.
He stood a moment, looked at her, moved a few steps away and sat down
on the grass beside the road.
A brief silence followed. Avdotya turned her head in his direction.
"Semyonitch! hey, Semyonitch," began Yefrem, sitting up in the cart,
"give over ... you know ... you won't make things any better. Tfoo,
what a business," he went on as though to himself. "What a damnable
woman.... Go to him," he added, bending down over the side of the cart
to Avdotya, "you see, he's half crazy."
Avdotya got up, went nearer to Akim and again fell at his feet.
"Akim Semyonitch!" she began, in a faint voice.
Akim got up and went back to the cart. She caught at the skirt of his
"Get away!" he shouted savagely, and pushed her off.
"Where are you going?" Yefrem asked, seeing that he was getting in
beside him again.
"You were going to take me to my home," said Akim, "but take me to
yours ... you see, I have no home now. They have bought mine."
"Very well, come to me. And what about her?"
Akim made no answer.
"And me? Me?" Avdotya repeated with tears, "are you leaving me all
alone? Where am I to go?"
"You can go to him," answered Akim, without turning round, "the man
you have given my money to.... Drive on, Yefrem!"
Yefrem lashed the horse, the cart rolled off, Avdotya set up a
Yefrem lived three-quarters of a mile from Akim's inn in a little
house close to the priest's, near the solitary church with five
cupolas which had been recently built by the heirs of a rich merchant
in accordance with the latter's will. Yefrem said nothing to Akim all
the way; he merely shook his head from time to time and uttered such
ejaculations as "Dear, dear!" and "Upon my soul!" Akim sat without
moving, turned a little away from Yefrem. At last they arrived. Yefrem
was the first to get out of the cart. A little girl of six in a smock
tied low round the waist ran out to meet him and shouted,
"And where is your mother?" asked Yefrem.
"She is asleep in the shed."
"Well, let her sleep. Akim Semyonitch, won't you get out, sir, and
(It must be noted that Yefrem addressed him familiarly only when he
was drunk. More important persons than Yefrem spoke to Akim with
Akim went into the sacristan's hut.
"Here, sit on the bench," said Yefrem. "Run away, you little rascals,"
he cried to three other children who suddenly came out of different
corners of the room together with two lean cats covered with wood
ashes. "Get along! Sh-sh! Come this way, Akim Semyonitch, this way!"
he went on, making his guest sit down, "and won't you take something?"
"I tell you what, Yefrem," Akim articulated at last, "could I have
Yefrem pricked up his ears.
"Vodka? You can. I've none in the house, but I will run this minute to
Father Fyodor's. He always has it.... I'll be back in no time."
And he snatched up his cap with earflaps.
"Bring plenty, I'll pay for it," Akim shouted after him. "I've still
money enough for that."
"I'll be back in no time," Yefrem repeated again as he went out of the
door. He certainly did return very quickly with two bottles under his
arm, of which one was already uncorked, put them on the table, brought
two little green glasses, part of a loaf and some salt.
"Now this is what I like," he kept repeating, as he sat down opposite
Akim. "Why grieve?" He poured out a glass for Akim and another for
himself and began talking freely. Avdotya's conduct had perplexed him.
"It's a strange business, really," he said, "how did it happen? He
must have bewitched her, I suppose? It shows how strictly one must
look after a wife! You want to keep a firm hand over her. All the same
it wouldn't be amiss for you to go home; I expect you have got a lot
of belongings there still." Yefrem added much more to the same effect;
he did not like to be silent when he was drinking.
This is what was happening an hour later in Yefrem's house. Akim, who
had not answered a word to the questions and observations of his
talkative host but had merely gone on drinking glass after glass, was
sleeping on the stove, crimson in the face, a heavy, oppressive sleep;
the children were looking at him in wonder, and Yefrem ... Yefrem,
alas, was asleep, too, but in a cold little lumber room in which he
had been locked by his wife, a woman of very masculine and powerful
physique. He had gone to her in the shed and begun threatening her or
telling her some tale, but had expressed himself so unintelligibly and
incoherently that she instantly saw what was the matter, took him by
the collar and deposited him in a suitable place. He slept in the
lumber room, however, very soundly and even serenely. Such is the
effect of habit.
* * * * *
Kirillovna had not quite accurately repeated to Lizaveta Prohorovna
her conversation with Akim ... the same may be said of Avdotya. Naum
had not turned her out, though she had told Akim that he had; he had
no right to turn her out. He was bound to give the former owners time
to pack up. An explanation of quite a different character took place
between him and Avdotya.
When Akim had rushed out crying that he would go to the mistress,
Avdotya had turned to Naum, stared at him open-eyed and clasped her
"Good heavens!" she cried, "Naum Ivanitch, what does this mean? You've
bought our inn?"
"Well, what of it?" he replied. "I have."
Avdotya was silent for a while; then she suddenly started.
"So that is what you wanted the money for?"
"You are quite right there. Hullo, I believe your husband has gone off
with my horse," he added, hearing the rumble of the wheels. "He is a
"But it's robbery!" wailed Avdotya. "Why, it's our money, my husband's
money and the inn is ours...."
"No, Avdotya Arefyevna," Naum interrupted her, "the inn was not yours.
What's the use of saying that? The inn was on your mistress's land, so
it was hers. The money was yours, certainly; but you were, so to say,
so kind as to present it to me; and I am grateful to you and will even
give it back to you on occasion--if occasion arises; but you wouldn't
expect me to remain a beggar, would you?"
Naum said all this very calmly and even with a slight smile.
"Holy saints!" cried Avdotya, "it's beyond everything! Beyond
everything! How can I look my husband in the face after this? You
villain," she added, looking with hatred at Naum's fresh young face.
"I've ruined my soul for you, I've become a thief for your sake, why,
you've turned us into the street, you villain! There's nothing left
for me but to hang myself, villain, deceiver! You've ruined me, you
monster!" And she broke into violent sobbing.
"Don't excite yourself, Avdotya Arefyevna," said Naum. "I'll tell you
one thing: charity begins at home, and that's what the pike is in the
sea for, to keep the carp from going to sleep."
"Where are we to go now. What's to become of us?" Avdotya faltered,
"That I can't say."
"But I'll cut your throat, you villain, I'll cut your throat."
"No, you won't do that, Avdotya Arefyevna; what's the use of talking
like that? But I see I had better leave you for a time, for you are
very much upset.... I'll say good-bye, but I shall be back to-morrow
for certain. But you must allow me to send my workmen here today," he
added, while Avdotya went on repeating through her tears that she
would cut his throat and her own.
"Oh, and here they are," he observed, looking out of the window. "Or,
God forbid, some mischief might happen.... It will be safer so. Will
you be so kind as to put your belongings together to-day and they'll
keep guard here and help you, if you like. I'll say goodbye."
He bowed, went out and beckoned the workmen to him.
Avdotya sank on the bench, then bent over the table, wringing her
hands, then suddenly leapt up and ran after her husband.... We have
described their meeting.
When Akim drove away from her with Yefrem, leaving her alone in the
field, for a long time she remained where she was, weeping. When she
had wept away all her tears she went in the direction of her
mistress's house. It was very bitter for her to go into the house,
still more bitter to go into the maids' room. All the maids flew to
meet her with sympathy and consideration. Seeing them, Avdotya could
not restrain her tears; they simply spurted from her red and swollen
eyes. She sank, helpless, on the first chair that offered itself.
Someone ran to fetch Kirillovna. Kirillovna came, was very friendly to
her, but kept her from seeing the mistress just as she had Akim.
Avdotya herself did not insist on seeing Lizaveta Prohorovna; she had
come to her old home simply because she had nowhere else to go.
Kirillovna ordered the samovar to be brought in. For a long while
Avdotya refused to take tea, but yielded at last to the entreaties and
persuasion of all the maids and after the first cup drank another
four. When Kirillovna saw that her guest was a little calmer and only
shuddered and gave a faint sob from time to time, she asked her where
they meant to move to and what they thought of doing with their
things. Avdotya began crying again at this question, and protesting
that she wanted nothing but to die; but Kirillovna as a woman with a
head on her shoulders, checked her at once and advised her without
wasting time to set to work that very day to move their things to the
hut in the village which had been Akim's and in which his uncle (the
old man who had tried to dissuade him from his marriage) was now
living; she told her that with their mistress's permission men and
horses should be sent to help them in packing and moving. "And as for
you, my love," added Kirillovna, twisting her cat-like lips into a wry
smile, "there will always be a place for you with us and we shall be
delighted if you stay with us till you are settled in a house of your
own again. The great thing is not to lose heart. The Lord has given,
the Lord has taken away and will give again. Lizaveta Prohorovna, of
course, had to sell your inn for reasons of her own but she will not
forget you and will make up to you for it; she told me to tell Akim
Semyonitch so. Where is he now?"
Avdotya answered that when he met her he had been very unkind to her
and had driven off to Yefrem's.
"Oh, to that fellow's!" Kirillovna replied significantly. "Of course,
I understand that it's hard for him now. I daresay you won't find him
to-day; what's to be done? I must make arrangements. Malashka," she
added, turning to one of the maids, "ask Nikanop Ilyitch to come here:
we will talk it over with him."
Nikanop Ilyitch, a feeble-looking man who was bailiff or something of
the sort, made his appearance at once, listened with servility to all
that Kirillovna said to him, said, "it shall be done," went out and
gave orders. Avdotya was given three waggons and three peasants; a
fourth who said that he was "more competent than they were,"
volunteered to join them and she went with them to the inn where she
found her own labourers and the servant Fetinya in a state of great
confusion and alarm.
Naum's newly hired labourers, three very stalwart young men, had come
in the morning and had not left the place since. They were keeping
very zealous guard, as Naum had said they would--so zealous that the
iron tyres of a new cart were suddenly found to be missing.
It was a bitter, bitter task for poor Avdotya to pack. In spite of the
help of the "competent" man, who turned out, however, only capable of
walking about with a stick in his hand, looking at the others and
spitting on the ground, she was not able to get it finished that day
and stayed the night at the inn, begging Fetinya to spend the night in
her room. But she only fell into a feverish doze towards morning and
the tears trickled down her cheeks even in her sleep.
Meanwhile Yefrem woke up earlier than usual in his lumber room and
began knocking and asking to be let out. At first his wife was
unwilling to release him and told him through the door that he had not
yet slept long enough; but he aroused her curiosity by promising to
tell her of the extraordinary thing that had happened to Akim; she
unbolted the door. Yefrem told her what he knew and ended by asking
"Is he awake yet, or not?"
"The Lord only knows," answered his wife. "Go and look yourself; he
hasn't got down from the stove yet. How drunk you both were yesterday!
You should look at your face--you don't look like yourself. You are as
black as a sweep and your hair is full of hay!"
"That doesn't matter," answered Yefrem, and, passing his hand over his
head, he went into the room. Akim was no longer asleep; he was sitting
on the stove with his legs hanging down; he, too, looked strange and
unkempt. His face showed the effects the more as he was not used to
"Well, how have you slept, Akim Semyonitch?" Yefrem began.
Akim looked at him with lustreless eyes.
"Well, brother Yefrem," he said huskily, "could we have some again?"
Yefrem took a swift glance at Akim.... He felt a slight tremor at that
moment; it was a tremor such as is felt by a sportsman when he hears
the yap of his dog at the edge of the wood from which he had fancied
all the game had been driven.
"What, more?" he asked at last.
"My wife will see," thought Yefrem, "she won't let me out, most
"All right," he pronounced aloud, "have a little patience."
He went out and, thanks to skilfully taken precautions, succeeded in
bringing in unseen a big bottle under his coat.
Akim took the bottle. But Yefrem did not sit down with him as he had
the day before--he was afraid of his wife--and informing Akim that he
would go and have a look at what was going on at the inn and would see
that his belongings were being packed and not stolen--at once set off,
riding his little horse which he had neglected to feed--but judging
from the bulging front of his coat he had not forgotten his own needs.
Soon after he had gone, Akim was on the stove again, sleeping like the
dead.... He did not wake up, or at least gave no sign of waking when
Yefrem returned four hours later and began shaking him and trying to
rouse him and muttering over him some very muddled phrases such as
that "everything was moved and gone, and the ikons have been taken out
and driven away and that everything was over, and that everyone was
looking for him but that he, Yefrem, had given orders and not allowed
them, ..." and so on. But his mutterings did not last long. His wife
carried him off to the lumber room again and, very indignant both with
her husband and with the visitor, owing to whom her husband had been
drinking, lay down herself in the room on the shelf under the
ceiling.... But when she woke up early, as her habit was, and glanced
at the stove, Akim was not there. The second cock had not crowed and
the night was still so dark that the sky hardly showed grey overhead
and at the horizon melted into the darkness when Akim walked out of
the gate of the sacristan's house. His face was pale but he looked
keenly around him and his step was not that of a drunken man.... He
walked in the direction of his former dwelling, the inn, which had now
completely passed into the possession of its new owner--Naum.
Naum, too, was awake when Akim stole out of Yefrem's house. He was not
asleep; he was lying on a bench with his sheepskin coat under him. It
was not that his conscience was troubling him--no! he had with amazing
coolness been present all day at the packing and moving of all Akim's
possessions and had more than once addressed Avdotya, who was so
downcast that she did not even reproach him ... his conscience was at
rest but he was disturbed by various conjectures and calculations. He
did not know whether he would be lucky in his new career; he had never
before kept an inn, nor had a home of his own at all; he could not
sleep. "The thing has begun well," he thought, "how will it go
on?" ... Towards evening, after seeing off the last cart with Akim's
belongings (Avdotya walked behind it, weeping), he looked all over the
yard, the cellars, sheds, and barns, clambered up into the loft, more
than once instructed his labourers to keep a very, very sharp look-out
and when he was left alone after supper could not go to sleep. It so
happened that day that no visitor stayed at the inn for the night;
this was a great relief to him. "I must certainly buy a dog from the
miller to-morrow, as fierce a one as I can get; they've taken theirs
away," he said to himself, as he tossed from side to side, and all at
once he raised his head quickly ... he fancied that someone had passed
by the window ... he listened ... there was nothing. Only a cricket
from time to time gave a cautious churr, and a mouse was scratching
somewhere; he could hear his own breathing. Everything was still in
the empty room dimly lighted by the little glass lamp which he had
managed to hang up and light before the ikon in the corner.... He let
his head sink; again he thought he heard the gate creak ... then a
faint snapping sound from the fence.... He could not refrain from
jumping up; he opened the door of the room and in a low voice called,
"Fyodor! Fyodor!" No one answered.... He went out into the passage and
almost fell over Fyodor, who was lying on the floor. The man stirred
in his sleep with a faint grunt; Naum roused him.
"What's there? What do you want?" Fyodor began.
"What are you bawling for, hold your tongue!" Naum articulated in a
whisper. "How you sleep, you damned fellows! Have you heard nothing?"
"Nothing," answered the man.... "What is it?"
"Where are the others sleeping?"
"Where they were told to sleep.... Why, is there anything ..."
"Hold your tongue--come with me."
Naum stealthily opened the door and went out into the yard. It was
very dark outside.... The roofed-in parts and the posts could only be
distinguished because they were a still deeper black in the midst of
the black darkness.
"Shouldn't we light a lantern?" said Fyodor in a low voice.
But Naum waved his hand and held his breath.... At first he could hear
nothing but those nocturnal sounds which can almost always be heard in
an inhabited place: a horse was munching oats, a pig grunted faintly
in its sleep, a man was snoring somewhere; but all at once his ear
detected a suspicious sound coming from the very end of the yard, near
Someone seemed to be stirring there, and breathing or blowing. Naum
looked over his shoulder towards Fyodor and cautiously descending the
steps went towards the sound.... Once or twice he stopped, listened
and stole on further.... Suddenly he started.... Ten paces from him,
in the thick darkness there came the flash of a bright light: it was a
glowing ember and close to it there was visible for an instant the
front part of a face with lips thrust out.... Quickly and silently,
like a cat at a mouse, Naum darted to the fire.... Hurriedly rising up
from the ground a long body rushed to meet him and, nearly knocking
him off his feet, almost eluded his grasp; but Naum hung on to it with
all his strength.
"Fyodor! Andrey! Petrushka!" he shouted at the top of his voice. "Make
haste! here! here! I've caught a thief trying to set fire to the
The man whom he had caught fought and struggled violently ... but Naum
did not let him go. Fyodor at once ran to his assistance.
"A lantern! Make haste, a lantern! Run for a lantern, wake the
others!" Naum shouted to him. "I can manage him alone for a time--I am
sitting on him.... Make haste! And bring a belt to tie his hands."
Fyodor ran into the house.... The man whom Naum was holding suddenly
left off struggling.
"So it seems wife and money and home are not enough for you, you want
to ruin me, too," he said in a choking voice.
Naum recognised Akim's voice.
"So that's you, my friend," he brought out; "very good, you wait a
"Let me go," said Akim, "aren't you satisfied?"
"I'll show you before the judge to-morrow whether I am satisfied," and
Naum tightened his grip of Akim.
The labourers ran up with two lanterns and cords. "Tie his arms," Naum
ordered sharply. The men caught hold of Akim, stood him up and twisted
his arms behind his back.... One of them began abusing him, but
recognising the former owner of the inn lapsed into silence and only
exchanged glances with the others.
"Do you see, do you see!" Naum kept repeating, meanwhile throwing the
light of the lantern on the ground, "there are hot embers in the pot;
look, there's a regular log alight here! We must find out where he got
this pot ... here, he has broken up twigs, too," and Naum carefully
stamped out the fire with his foot. "Search him, Fyodor," he added,
"see if he hasn't got something else on him."
Fyodor rummaged Akim's pockets and felt him all over while the old man
stood motionless, with his head drooping on his breast as though he
"Here's a knife," said Fyodor, taking an old kitchen knife out of the
front of Akim's coat.
"Aha, my fine gentleman, so that's what you were after," cried Naum.
"Lads, you are witnesses ... here he wanted to murder me and set fire
to the house.... Lock him up for the night in the cellar, he can't get
out of that.... I'll keep watch all night myself and to-morrow as soon
as it is light we will take him to the police captain ... and you are
witnesses, do you hear!"
Akim was thrust into the cellar and the door was slammed.... Naum set
two men to watch it and did not go to bed himself.
Meanwhile, Yefrem's wife having convinced herself that her uninvited
guest had gone, set about her cooking though it was hardly
daylight.... It was a holiday. She squatted down before the stove to
get a hot ember and saw that someone had scraped out the hot ashes
before her; then she wanted her knife and searched for it in vain;
then of her four cooking pots one was missing. Yefrem's wife had the
reputation of being a woman with brains, and justly so. She stood and
pondered, then went to the lumber room, to her husband. It was not
easy to wake him--and still more difficult to explain to him why he
was being awakened.... To all that she said to him Yefrem made the
"He's gone away--well, God bless him.... What business is it of mine?
He's taken our knife and our pot--well, God bless him, what has it to
do with me?"
At last, however, he got up and after listening attentively to his
wife came to the conclusion that it was a bad business, that something
must be done.
"Yes," his wife repeated, "it is a bad business; maybe he will be
doing mischief in his despair.... I saw last night that he was not
asleep but was just lying on the stove; it would be as well for you to
go and see, Yefrem Alexandritch."
"I tell you what, Ulyana Fyodorovna," Yefrem began, "I'll go myself to
the inn now, and you be so kind, mother, as to give me just a drop to
"Well," she decided at last, "I'll give you the vodka, Yefrem
Alexandritch; but mind now, none of your pranks."
"Don't you worry, Ulyana Fyodorovna."
And fortifying himself with a glass, Yefrem made his way to the inn.
It was only just getting light when he rode up to the inn but, already
a cart and a horse were standing at the gate and one of Naum's
labourers was sitting on the box holding the reins.
"Where are you off to?" asked Yefrem.
"To the town," the man answered reluctantly.
The man simply shrugged his shoulders and did not answer. Yefrem
jumped off his horse and went into the house. In the entry he came
upon Naum, fully dressed and with his cap on.
"I congratulate the new owner on his new abode," said Yefrem, who knew
him. "Where are you off to so early?"
"Yes, you have something to congratulate me on," Naum answered grimly.
"On the very first day the house has almost been burnt down."
Yefrem started. "How so?"
"Oh, a kind soul turned up who tried to set fire to it. Luckily I
caught him in the act; now I am taking him to the town."
"Was it Akim, I wonder?" Yefrem asked slowly.
"How did you know? Akim. He came at night with a burning log in a pot
and got into the yard and was setting fire to it ... all my men are
witnesses. Would you like to see him? It's time for us to take him, by
"My good Naum Ivanitch," Yefrem began, "let him go, don't ruin the old
man altogether. Don't take that sin upon your soul, Naum Ivanitch.
Only think--the man was in despair--he didn't know what he was doing."
"Give over that nonsense," Naum cut him short. "What! Am I likely to
let him go! Why, he'd set fire to the house to-morrow if I did."
"He wouldn't, Naum Ivanitch, believe me. Believe me you will be easier
yourself for it--you know there will be questions asked, a trial--you
can see that for yourself."
"Well, what if there is a trial? I have no reason to be afraid of it."
"My good Naum Ivanitch, one must be afraid of a trial."
"Oh, that's enough. I see you are drunk already, and to-day a saint's
Yefrem all at once, quite unexpectedly, burst into tears.
"I am drunk but I am speaking the truth," he muttered. "And for the
sake of the holiday you ought to forgive him."
"Well, come along, you sniveller."
And Naum went out on to the steps.
"Forgive him, for Avdotya Arefyevna's sake," said Yefrem following him
on to the steps.
Naum went to the cellar and flung the door wide open. With timid
curiosity Yefrem craned his neck from behind Naum and with difficulty
made out the figure of Akim in the corner of the cellar. The once
well-to-do innkeeper, respected all over the neighbourhood, was
sitting on straw with his hands tied behind him like a criminal.
Hearing a noise he raised his head.... It seemed as though he had
grown fearfully thin in those last few days, especially during the
previous night--his sunken eyes could hardly be seen under his high,
waxen-yellow forehead, his parched lips looked dark ... his whole face
was changed and wore a strange expression--savage and frightened.
"Get up and come along," said Naum.
Akim got up and stepped over the threshold.
"Akim Semyonitch!" Yefrem wailed, "you've brought ruin on yourself, my
Akim glanced at him without speaking.
"If I had known why you asked for vodka I would not have given it to
you, I really would not. I believe I would have drunk it all myself!
Eh, Naum Ivanitch," he added clutching at Naum's arm, "have mercy upon
him, let him go!"
"What next!" Naum replied with a grin. "Well, come along," he added
addressing Akim again. "What are you waiting for?"
"Naum Ivanitch," Akim began.
"What is it?"
"Naum Ivanitch," Akim repeated, "listen: I am to blame; I wanted to
settle my accounts with you myself; but God must be the judge between
us. You have taken everything from me, you know yourself, everything I
had. Now you can ruin me, only I tell you this: if you let me go now,
then--so be it--take possession of everything! I agree and wish you
all success. I promise you as before God, if you let me go you will
not regret it. God be with you."
Akim shut his eyes and ceased speaking.
"A likely story!" retorted Naum, "as though one could believe you!"
"But, by God, you can," said Yefrem, "you really can. I'd stake my
life on Akim Semyonitch's good faith--I really would."
"Nonsense," cried Naum. "Come along."
Akim looked at him.
"As you think best, Naum Ivanitch. It's for you to decide. But you are
laying a great burden on your soul. Well, if you are in such a hurry,
let us start."
Naum in his turn looked keenly at Akim.
"After all," he thought to himself, "hadn't I better let him go? Or
people will never have done pestering me about him. Avdotya will give
me no peace." While Naum was reflecting, no one uttered a word. The
labourer in the cart who could see it all through the gate did nothing
but toss his head and flick the horse's sides with the reins. The two
other labourers stood on the steps and they too were silent.
"Well, listen, old man," Naum began, "when I let you go and tell these
fellows" (he motioned with his head towards the labourers) "not to
talk, shall we be quits--do you understand me--quits ... eh?"
"I tell you, you can have it all."
"You won't consider me in your debt?"
"You won't be in my debt, I shall not be in yours."
Naum was silent again.
"And will you swear it?"
"Yes, as God is holy," answered Akim.
"Well, I know I shall regret it," said Naum, "but there, come what
may! Give me your hands."
Akim turned his back to him; Naum began untying him.
"Now, mind, old man," he added as he pulled the cord off his wrists,
"remember, I have spared you, mind that!"
"Naum Ivanitch, my dear," faltered Yefrem, "the Lord will have mercy
Akim freed his chilled and swollen hands and was moving towards the
Naum suddenly "showed the Jew" as the saying is--he must have
regretted that he had let Akim off.
"You've sworn now, mind!" he shouted after him. Akim turned, and
looking round the yard, said mournfully, "Possess it all, so be it
forever! ... Good-bye."
And he went slowly out into the road accompanied by Yefrem. Naum
ordered the horse to be unharnessed and with a wave of his hand went
back into the house.
"Where are you off to, Akim Semyonitch? Aren't you coming back to me?"
cried Yefrem, seeing that Akim was hurrying to the right out of the
"No, Yefremushka, thank you," answered Akim. "I am going to see what
my wife is doing."
"You can see afterwards.... But now we ought to celebrate the
"No, thank you, Yefrem.... I've had enough. Good-bye."
And Akim walked off without looking round.
"Well! 'I've had enough'!" the puzzled sacristan pronounced. "And I
pledged my word for him! Well, I never expected this," he added, with
vexation, "after I had pledged my word for him, too!"
He remembered that he had not thought to take his knife and his pot
and went back to the inn.... Naum ordered his things to be given to
him but never even thought of offering him a drink. He returned home
thoroughly annoyed and thoroughly sober.
"Well?" his wife inquired, "found?"
"Found what?" answered Yefrem, "to be sure I've found it: here is your
"Akim?" asked his wife with especial emphasis.
Yefrem nodded his head.
"Yes. But he is a nice one! I pledged my word for him; if it had not
been for me he'd be lying in prison, and he never offered me a drop!
Ulyana Fyodorovna, you at least might show me consideration and give
me a glass!"
But Ulyana Fyodorovna did not show him consideration and drove him out
of her sight.
Meanwhile, Akim was walking with slow steps along the road to Lizaveta
Prohorovna's house. He could not yet fully grasp his position; he was
trembling all over like a man who had just escaped from a certain
death. He seemed unable to believe in his freedom. In dull
bewilderment he gazed at the fields, at the sky, at the larks
quivering in the warm air. From the time he had woken up on the
previous morning at Yefrem's he had not slept, though he had lain on
the stove without moving; at first he had wanted to drown in vodka the
insufferable pain of humiliation, the misery of frenzied and impotent
anger ... but the vodka had not been able to stupefy him completely;
his anger became overpowering and he began to think how to punish the
man who had wronged him.... He thought of no one but Naum; the idea of
Lizaveta Prohorovna never entered his head and on Avdotya he mentally
turned his back. By the evening his thirst for revenge had grown to a
frenzy, and the good-natured and weak man waited with feverish
impatience for the approach of night and ran, like a wolf to its prey,
to destroy his old home.... But then he had been caught ... locked
up.... The night had followed. What had he not thought over during
that cruel night! It is difficult to put into words all that a man
passes through at such moments, all the tortures that he endures; more
difficult because those tortures are dumb and inarticulate in the man
himself.... Towards morning, before Naum and Yefrem had come to the
door, Akim had begun to feel as it were more at ease. Everything is
lost, he thought, everything is scattered and gone ... and he
dismissed it all. If he had been naturally bad-hearted he might at
that moment have become a criminal; but evil was not natural to Akim.
Under the shock of undeserved and unexpected misfortune, in the
delirium of despair he had brought himself to crime; it had shaken him
to the depths of his being and, failing, had left in him nothing but
intense weariness.... Feeling his guilt in his mind he mentally tore
himself from all things earthly and began praying, bitterly but
fervently. At first he prayed in a whisper, then perhaps by accident
he uttered a loud "Oh, God!" and tears gushed from his eyes.... For a
long time he wept and at last grew quieter.... His thoughts would
probably have changed if he had had to pay the penalty of his
attempted crime ... but now he had suddenly been set free ... and he
was walking to see his wife, feeling only half alive, utterly crushed
Lizaveta Prohorovna's house stood about a mile from her village to the
left of the cross road along which Akim was walking. He was about to
stop at the turning that led to his mistress's house ... but he walked
on instead. He decided first to go to what had been his hut, where his
Akim's small and somewhat dilapidated hut was almost at the end of the
village; Akin walked through the whole street without meeting a soul.
All the people were at church. Only one sick old woman raised a little
window to look after him and a little girl who had run out with an
empty pail to the well gaped at him, and she too looked after him. The
first person he met was the uncle he was looking for. The old man had
been sitting all the morning on the ledge under his window taking
pinches of snuff and warming himself in the sun; he was not very well,
so he had not gone to church; he was just setting off to visit another
old man, a neighbour who was also ailing, when he suddenly saw
Akim.... He stopped, let him come up to him and glancing into his
"Good-day," answered Akim, and passing the old man went in at the
gate. In the yard were standing his horses, his cow, his cart; his
poultry, too, were there.... He went into the hut without a word. The
old man followed him. Akim sat down on the bench and leaned his fists
on it. The old man standing at the door looked at him compassionately.
"And where is my wife?" asked Akim.
"At the mistress's house," the old man answered quickly. "She is
there. They put your cattle here and what boxes there were, and she
has gone there. Shall I go for her?"
Akim was silent for a time.
"Yes, do," he said at last.
"Oh, uncle, uncle," he brought out with a sigh while the old man was
taking his hat from a nail, "do you remember what you said to me the
day before my wedding?"
"It's all God's will, Akimushka."
"Do you remember you said to me that I was above you peasants, and now
you see what times have come.... I'm stripped bare myself."
"There's no guarding oneself from evil folk," answered the old man,
"if only someone such as a master, for instance, or someone in
authority, could give him a good lesson, the shameless fellow--but as
it is, he has nothing to be afraid of. He is a wolf and he behaves
like one." And the old man put on his cap and went off.
Avdotya had just come back from church when she was told that her
husband's uncle was asking for her. Till then she had rarely seen him;
he did not come to see them at the inn and had the reputation of being
queer altogether: he was passionately fond of snuff and was usually
She went out to him.
"What do you want, Petrovitch? Has anything happened?"
"Nothing has happened, Avdotya Arefyevna; your husband is asking for
"Has he come back?"
"Where is he, then?"
"He is in the village, sitting in his hut."
Avdotya was frightened.
"Well, Petrovitch," she inquired, looking straight into his face, "is
"He does not seem so."
Avdotya looked down.
"Well, let us go," she said. She put on a shawl and they set off
together. They walked in silence to the village. When they began to
get close to the hut, Avdotya was so overcome with terror that her
knees began to tremble.
"Good Petrovitch," she said, "go in first.... Tell him that I have
The old man went into the hut and found Akim lost in thought, sitting
just as he had left him.
"Well?" said Akim raising his head, "hasn't she come?"
"Yes," answered the old man, "she is at the gate...."
"Well, send her in here."
The old man went out, beckoned to Avdotya, said to her, "go in," and
sat down again on the ledge. Avdotya in trepidation opened the door,
crossed the threshold and stood still.
Akim looked at her.
"Well, Arefyevna," he began, "what are we going to do now?"
"I am guilty," she faltered.
"Ech Arefyevna, we are all sinners. What's the good of talking about
"It's he, the villain, has ruined us both," said Avdotya in a cringing
voice, and tears flowed down her face. "You must not leave it like
that, Akim Semyonitch, you must get the money back. Don't think of me.
I am ready to take my oath that I only lent him the money. Lizaveta
Prohorovna could sell our inn if she liked, but why should he rob
us.... Get your money back."
"There's no claiming the money back from him," Akim replied grimly,
"we have settled our accounts."
Avdotya was amazed. "How is that?"
"Why, like this. Do you know," Akim went on and his eyes gleamed, "do
you know where I spent the night? You don't know? In Naum's cellar,
with my arms and legs tied like a sheep--that's where I spent the
night. I tried to set fire to the place, but he caught me--Naum did;
he is too sharp! And to-day he meant to take me to the town but he let
me off; so I can't claim the money from him.... 'When did I borrow
money from you?' he would say. Am I to say to him, 'My wife took it
from under the floor and brought it to you'? 'Your wife is telling
lies,' he will say. Hasn't there been scandal enough for you,
Arefyevna? You'd better say nothing, I tell you, say nothing."
"I am guilty, Semyonitch, I am guilty," Avdotya, terrified, whispered
"That's not what matters," said Akim, after a pause. "What are we
going to do? We have no home or no money."
"We shall manage somehow, Akim Semyonitch. We'll ask Lizaveta
Prohorovna, she will help us, Kiriliovna has promised me."
"No, Arefyenva, you and your Kirillovna had better ask her together;
you are berries off the same bush. I tell you what: you stay here and
good luck to you; I shall not stay here. It's a good thing we have no
children, and I shall be all right, I dare say, alone. There's always
enough for one."
"What will you do, Semyonitch? Take up driving again?"
Akim laughed bitterly.
"I should be a fine driver, no mistake! You have pitched on the right
man for it! No, Arefyenva, that's a job not like getting married, for
instance; an old man is no good for the job. I don't want to stay
here, just because I don't want them to point the finger at me--do you
understand? I am going to pray for my sins, Arefyevna, that's what I
am going to do."
"What sins have you, Semyonitch?" Avdotya pronounced timidly.
"Of them I know best myself, wife."
"But are you leaving me all alone, Semyonitch? How can I live without
"Leaving you alone? Oh, Arefyevna, how you do talk, really! Much you
need a husband like me, and old, too, and ruined as well! Why, you got
on without me in the past, you can get on in the future. What property
is left us, you can take; I don't want it."
"As you like, Semyonitch," Avdotya replied mournfully. "You know
"That's better. Only don't you suppose that I am angry with you,
Arefyevna. No, what's the good of being angry when ... I ought to have
been wiser before. I've been to blame. I am punished." (Akim sighed.)
"As you make your bed so you must lie on it. I am old, it's time to
think of my soul. The Lord himself has brought me to understanding.
Like an old fool I wanted to live for my own pleasure with a young
wife.... No, the old man had better pray and beat his head against the
earth and endure in patience and fast.... And now go along, my dear. I
am very weary, I'll sleep a little."
And Akim with a groan stretched himself on the bench.
Avdotya wanted to say something, stood a moment, looked at him, turned
away and went out.
"Well, he didn't beat you then?" asked Petrovitch sitting bent up on
the ledge when she was level with him. Avdotya passed by him without
speaking. "So he didn't beat her," the old man said to himself; he
smiled, ruffled up his beard and took a pinch of snuff.
* * * * *
Akim carried out his intention. He hurriedly arranged his affairs and
a few days after the conversation we have described went, dressed
ready for his journey, to say goodbye to his wife who had settled for
a time in a little lodge in the mistress's garden. His farewell did
not take long. Kirillovna, who happened to be present, advised Akim to
see his mistress; he did so, Lizaveta Prohorovna received him with
some confusion but graciously let him kiss her hand and asked him
where he meant to go. He answered he was going first to Kiev and after
that where it would please the Lord. She commended his decision and
dismissed him. From that time he rarely appeared at home, though he
never forgot to bring his mistress some holy bread.... But wherever
Russian pilgrims gather his thin and aged but always dignified and
handsome face could be seen: at the relics of St. Sergey; on the
shores of the White Sea, at the Optin hermitage, and at the far-away
Valaam; he went everywhere.
This year he has passed by you in the ranks of the innumerable
people who go in procession behind the ikon of the Mother of God to
the Korennaya; last year you found him sitting with a wallet on
his shoulders with other pilgrims on the steps of Nikolay, the
wonder-worker, at Mtsensk ... he comes to Moscow almost every spring.
From land to land he has wandered with his quiet, unhurried, but
never-resting step--they say he has been even to Jerusalem. He seems
perfectly calm and happy and those who have chanced to converse with
him have said much of his piety and humility. Meanwhile, Naum's
fortunes prospered exceedingly. He set to work with energy and good
sense and got on, as the saying is, by leaps and bounds. Everyone in
the neighbourhood knew by what means he had acquired the inn, they
knew too that Avdotya had given him her husband's money; nobody liked
Naum because of his cold, harsh disposition.... With censure they told
the story of him that once when Akim himself had asked alms under his
window he answered that God would give, and had given him nothing; but
everyone agreed that there never had been a luckier man; his corn came
better than other people's, his bees swarmed more frequently; even his
hens laid more eggs; his cattle were never ill, his horses did not go
lame.... It was a long time before Avdotya could bear to hear his name
(she had accepted Lizaveta Prohorovna's invitation and had reentered
her service as head sewing-maid), but in the end her aversion was
somewhat softened; it was said that she had been driven by poverty to
appeal to him and he had given her a hundred roubles.... She must not
be too severely judged: poverty breaks any will and the sudden and
violent change in her life had greatly aged and humbled her: it was
hard to believe how quickly she lost her looks, how completely she let
herself go and lost heart....
How did it all end? the reader will ask. Why, like this: Naum, after
having kept the inn successfully for about fifteen years, sold it
advantageously to another townsman. He would never have parted from
the inn if it had not been for the following, apparently
insignificant, circumstance: for two mornings in succession his dog,
sitting before the windows, had kept up a prolonged and doleful howl.
He went out into the road the second time, looked attentively at the
howling dog, shook his head, went up to town and the same day agreed
on the price with a man who had been for a long time anxious to
purchase it. A week later he had moved to a distance--out of the
province; the new owner settled in and that very evening the inn was
burnt to ashes; not a single outbuilding was left and Naum's successor
was left a beggar. The reader can easily imagine the rumours that this
fire gave rise to in the neighbourhood.... Evidently he carried his
"luck" away with him, everyone repeated. Of Naum it is said that he
has gone into the corn trade and has made a great fortune. But will it
last long? Stronger pillars have fallen and evil deeds end badly
sooner or later. There is not much to say about Lizaveta Prohorovna.
She is still living and, as is often the case with people of her sort,
is not much changed, she has not even grown much older--she only seems
to have dried up a little; on the other hand, her stinginess has
greatly increased though it is difficult to say for whose benefit she
is saving as she has no children and no attachments. In conversation
she often speaks of Akim and declares that since she has understood
his good qualities she has begun to feel great respect for the Russian
peasant. Kirillovna bought her freedom for a considerable sum and
married for love a fair-haired young waiter who leads her a dreadful
life; Avdotya lives as before among the maids in Lizaveta Prohorovna's
house, but has sunk to a rather lower position; she is very poorly,
almost dirtily dressed, and there is no trace left in her of the
townbred airs and graces of a fashionable maid or of the habits of a
prosperous innkeeper's wife.... No one takes any notice of her and she
herself is glad to be unnoticed; old Petrovitch is dead and Akim is
still wandering, a pilgrim, and God only knows how much longer his
pilgrimage will last!