A May Night by Nicholas Gogol
Songs were echoing in the village street. It
was just the time when the young men and girls,
tired with the work and cares of the day, were
in the habit of assembling for the dance. In the
mild evening light, cheerful songs blended with
mild melodies. A mysterious twilight obscured
the blue sky and made everything seem indistinct
and distant. It was growing dark, but the
songs were not hushed.
A young Cossack, Levko by name, the son of
the village headman, had stolen away from the
singers, guitar in hand. With his embroidered
cap set awry on his head, and his hand playing
over the strings, he stepped a measure to the
music. Then he stopped at the door of a house
half hidden by blossoming cherry-trees. Whose
house was it? To whom did the door lead?
After a little while he played and sang:
“The night is nigh, the sun is down,
Come out to me, my love, my own!”
“No one is there; my bright-eyed beauty is
fast asleep,” said the Cossack to himself as he
finished the song and approached the window.
“Hanna, Hanna, are you asleep, or won't you
come to me? Perhaps you are afraid someone
will see us, or will not expose your delicate face
to the cold! Fear nothing! The evening is
warm, and there is no one near. And if anyone
comes I will wrap you in my caftan, fold you in
my arms, and no one will see us. And if the wind
blows cold, I will press you close to my heart,
warm you with my kisses, and lay my cap on your
tiny feet, my darling. Only throw me a single
glance. No, you are not asleep, you proud
thing!” he exclaimed now louder, in a voice
which betrayed his annoyance at the humiliation.
“You are laughing at me! Good-bye!”
Then he turned away, set his cap jauntily, and,
still lightly touching his guitar, stepped back
from the window. Just then the wooden handle
of the door turned with a grating noise, and a girl
who counted hardly seventeen springs looked
out timidly through the darkness, and still keeping
hold of the handle, stepped over the threshold.
In the twilight her bright eyes shone like
little stars, her coral necklace gleamed, and the
pink flush on her cheeks did not escape the
“How impatient you are!” she said in a
whisper. “You get angry so quickly! Why
did you choose such a time? There are crowds
of people in the street…. I tremble all over.”
“Don't tremble, my darling! Come close
to me!” said the Cossack, putting down his
guitar, which hung on a long strap round his
neck, and sitting down with her on the door-step.
“You know I find it hard to be only an
hour without seeing you.”
“Do you know what I am thinking of?”
interrupted the young girl, looking at him
thoughtfully. “Something whispers to me that
we shall not see so much of each other in the
future. The people here are not well disposed
to you, the girls look so envious, and the young
fellows…. I notice also that my mother
watches me carefully for some time past. I
must confess I was happier when among
strangers.” Her face wore a troubled expression
as she spoke.
“You are only two months back at home,
and are already tired of it!” said the Cossack.
“And of me too perhaps?”
“Oh no!” she replied, smiling. “I love
you, you black-eyed Cossack! I love you because
of your dark eyes, and my heart laughs
in my breast when you look at me. I feel so
happy when you come down the street stroking
your black moustache, and enjoy listening to
your song when you play the guitar!”
“Oh my Hanna!” exclaimed the Cossack,
kissing the girl and drawing her closer to
“Stop, Levko! Tell me whether you have
spoken to your father?”
“About what?” he answered absent-mindedly.
“About my marrying you? Yes,
I did.” But he seemed to speak almost
“Well? What more?”
“What can you make of him? The old
curmudgeon pretends to be deaf; he will not
listen to anything, and blames me for loafing with
fellows, as he says, about the streets. But don't
worry, Hanna! I give you my word as a
Cossack, I will break his obstinacy.”
“You only need to say a word, Levko, and it
shall be as you wish. I know that of myself.
Often I do not wish to obey you, but you speak
only a word, and I involuntarily do what you
wish. Look, look!” she continued, laying her
head on his shoulder and raising her eyes to the
sky, the immeasurable heaven of the Ukraine;
“there far away are twinkling little stars—one,
two, three, four, five. Is it not true that those
are angels opening the windows of their bright
little homes and looking down on us. Is it not
so, Levko? They are looking down on earth. If
men had wings like birds, how high they could
fly. But ah! not even our oaks reach the sky.
Still people say there is in some distant land a
tree whose top reaches to heaven, and that God
descends by it on the earth, the night before
“No, Hanna. God has a long ladder which
reaches from heaven to earth. Before Easter
Sunday holy angels set it up, and as soon as God
puts His foot on the first rung, all evil spirits
take to flight and fall in swarms into hell. That
is why on Easter Day there are none of them on
“How gently the water ripples! Like a child
in the cradle,” continued Hanna, pointing to the
pool begirt by dark maples and weeping-willows,
whose melancholy branches drooped in the
water. On a hill near the wood slumbered an
old house with closed shutters. The roof was
covered with moss and weeds; leafy apple-trees
had grown high up before the windows; the wood
cast deep shadows on it; a grove of nut-trees
spread from the foot of the hill as far as the pool.
“I remember as if in a dream,” said Hanna,
keeping her eyes fixed on the house, “a long,
long time ago, when I was little and lived with
mother, someone told a terrible story about this
house. You must know it—tell me.”
“God forbid, my dear child! Old women
and stupid people talk a lot of nonsense. It
would only frighten you and spoil your sleep.”
“Tell me, my darling, my black-eyed
Cossack,” she said, pressing her cheek to his.
“No, you don't love me; you have certainly
another sweetheart! I will not be frightened,
and will sleep quite quietly. If you refuse to tell
me, that would keep me awake. I would keep
on worrying and thinking about it. Tell me,
“Certainly it is true what people say, that the
devil possesses girls, and stirs up their curiosity.
Well then, listen. Long ago there lived in
that house an elderly man who had a beautiful
daughter white as snow, just like you. His wife
had been dead a long time, and he was thinking
of marrying again.
“‘Will you pet me as before, father, if you
take a second wife?’ asked his daughter.
“‘Yes, my daughter,’ he answered, ‘I shall
love you more than ever, and give you yet more
rings and necklaces.’
“So he brought a young wife home, who was
beautiful and white and red, but she cast such
an evil glance at her stepdaughter that she cried
aloud, but not a word did her sulky stepmother
speak to her all day long.
“When night came, and her father and his
wife had retired, the young girl locked herself up
in her room, and feeling melancholy began to
weep bitterly. Suddenly she spied a hideous
black cat creeping towards her; its fur was aflame
and its claws struck on the ground like iron. In
her terror the girl sprang on a chair; the cat
followed her. Then she sprang into bed; the
cat sprang after her, and seizing her by
the throat began to choke her. She tore the
creature away, and flung it on the ground, but
the terrible cat began to creep towards her again.
Rendered desperate with terror, she seized her
father's sabre which hung on the wall, and struck
at the cat, wounding one of its paws. The
animal disappeared, whimpering.
“The next day the young wife did not leave
her bedroom; the third day she appeared with
her hand bound up.
“The poor girl perceived that her stepmother
was a witch, and that she had wounded her
“On the fourth day her father told her to
bring water, to sweep the floor like a servant-maid,
and not to show herself where he and his
wife sat. She obeyed him, though with a heavy
heart. On the fifth day he drove her barefooted
out of the house, without giving her any food
for her journey. Then she began to sob and
covered her face with her hands.
“‘You have ruined your own daughter,
father!’ she cried; ‘and the witch has ruined
your soul. May God forgive you! He will not
allow me to live much longer.’
“And do you see,” continued Levko, turning
to Hanna and pointing to the house, “do you
see that high bank; from that bank she threw
herself into the water, and has been no more
seen on earth.”
“And the witch?” Hanna interrupted,
timidly fastening her tearful eyes on him.
“The witch? Old women say that when the
moon shines, all those who have been drowned
come out to warm themselves in its rays, and
that they are led by the witch's stepdaughter.
One night she saw her stepmother by the pool,
caught hold of her, and dragged her screaming
into the water. But this time also the witch
played her a trick; she changed herself into one
of those who had been drowned,
the chastisement she would have received at
“Let anyone who likes believe the old
women's stories. They say that the witch's
stepdaughter gathers together those who have
been drowned every night, and looks in their
faces in order to find out which of them is the
witch; but has not done so yet. Such are the
old wives' tales. It is said to be the intention
of the present owner to erect a distillery on the
spot. But I hear voices. They are coming
home from the dancing. Good-bye, Hanna!
Sleep well, and don't think of all that nonsense.”
So saying he embraced her, kissed her, and
“Good-bye, Levko!” said Hanna, still gazing
at the dark pine wood.
The brilliant moon was now rising and filling
all the earth with splendour. The pool shone
like silver, and the shadows of the trees stood
out in strong relief.
“Good-bye, Hanna!” she heard again as she
spoke, and felt the light pressure of a kiss.
“You have come back!” she said, looking
round, but started on seeing a stranger before
There was another “Good-bye, Hanna!”
and again she was kissed.
“Has the devil brought a second?” she
“Good-bye, dear Hanna!”
“There is a third!”
“Good-bye, good-bye, good-bye, Hanna!”
and kisses rained from all sides.
“Why, there is a whole band of them!” cried
Hanna, tearing herself from the youths who had
gathered round. “Are they never tired of the
eternal kissing? I shall soon not be able to show
myself on the street!” So saying, she closed
the door and bolted it.
THE VILLAGE HEADMAN
Do you know a Ukraine night? No, you do not
know a night in the Ukraine. Gaze your full
on it. The moon shines in the midst of the sky;
the immeasurable vault of heaven seems to have
expanded to infinity; the earth is bathed in silver
light; the air is warm, voluptuous, and redolent
of innumerable sweet scents. Divine night!
Magical night! Motionless, but inspired with
divine breath, the forests stand, casting enormous
shadows and wrapped in complete darkness.
Calmly and placidly sleep the lakes surrounded
by dark green thickets. The virginal groves of
the hawthorns and cherry-trees stretch their
roots timidly into the cool water; only now and
then their leaves rustle unwillingly when that
freebooter, the night-wind, steals up to kiss them.
The whole landscape is hushed in slumber;
but there is a mysterious breath upon the
heights. One falls into a weird and unearthly
mood, and silvery apparitions rise from the
depths. Divine night! Magical night! Suddenly
the woods, lakes, and steppes become
alive. The nightingales of the Ukraine are singing,
and it seems as though the moon itself were
listening to their song. The village sleeps as
though under a magic spell; the cottages shine
in the moonlight against the darkness of the
woods behind them. The songs grow silent,
and all is still. Only here and there is a glimmer
of light in some small window. Some families,
sitting up late, are finishing their supper at the
thresholds of their houses.
“No, the ‘gallop’ is not danced like that!
Now I see, it does not go properly! What did
my godfather tell me? So then! Hop! tralala!
Hop! tralala! Hop! Hop! Hop!” Thus
a half-intoxicated, middle-aged Cossack talked
to himself as he danced through the street.
“By heaven, a ‘gallop’ is not danced like that!
What is the use of lying! On with it then!
Hop! tralala! Hop! tralala! Hop! Hop!
“See that fool there! If he were only a
young fellow! But to see a grown man dancing,
and the children laughing at him,” exclaimed an
old woman who was passing by, carrying a
bundle of straw. “Go home! It is quite time
to go to sleep!”
“I am going!” said the Cossack, standing
still. “I am going. What do I care about the
headman? He thinks because he is the eldest,
and throws cold water on people, and carries his
head high. As to being headman—I myself am
a headman. Yes indeed—otherwise——” As
he spoke, he stepped up to the door of the first
cottage he came to, stood at the window, drumming
with his fingers on the glass, and feeling
for the door-handle. “Woman, open! Woman,
open quickly I tell you! It is time for me to go
“Where are you going, Kalenik? That is
the wrong house!” some young girls who were
returning from the dance called to him as they
passed. “Shall we show you yours?”
“Yes, please, ladies!”
“Ladies! Just listen to him!” one of them
exclaimed. “How polite Kalenik is! We will
show you the house—but no, first dance before
“Dance before you? Oh, you are clever
girls!” said Kalenik in a drawling voice, and
laughing. He threatened them with his finger,
and stumbled, not being able to stand steadily.
“And will you let yourselves be kissed? I will
kiss the lot.” With tottering steps he began to
run after them.
The girls cried out and ran apart; but they
soon plucked up courage and went on the other
side of the road, when they saw that Kalenik
was not firm on his legs.
“There is your house!” they called to him,
pointing to one which was larger than the rest,
and which belonged to the village headman.
Kalenik turned towards it, and began again
to revile the headman.
But who is this headman to whose disadvantage
so much has been said? Oh, he is a very
important person in the village. Before Kalenik
reaches his house, we shall doubtless find enough
time to say something about him. Everyone in
the village takes off his cap at the sight of him,
and even the smallest girls wish him good
morning. Which of the young Cossacks would
not like to be a headman? The headman has
an entry everywhere, and every stalwart rustic
stands respectfully, cap in hand, so long as the
headman feels round his snuff-box with his thick,
coarse finger. In parish-meetings and other
assemblies, although his power may be limited
by the votes of the majority, the headman still
maintains the upper hand, and sends whom
he chooses to make roads or dig ditches. In
outward manners he is morose and severe, and
not fond of talking. Long ago, when the
Empress Catherine of blessed memory journeyed
to the Crimea, he was chosen as one of her
escort for two whole days, and had the high
honour of sitting with the imperial coachman on
Since then the headman has formed the habit
of shaking his head solemnly and thoughtfully,
of stroking his long, drooping moustache, and of
darting hawk-like glances from his eyes. Whatever
the topic of conversation may be, he
manages to refer to his having accompanied the
Empress, and sat on the box of the imperial
coach. He often pretends to be hard of hearing,
especially when he hears something that he does
not like. He has an aversion for dandies, and
himself wears under a black caftan of cloth, made
at home, a simple, embroidered, woollen waist-band.
No one has seen him wear any other
dress except, of course, on the occasion of the
Czarina's journey to the Crimea, when he wore a
blue Cossack's uniform. Hardly anyone in the
village remembers that time, and he keeps the
uniform packed up in a chest.
The headman is a widower, but his sister-in-law
lives with him. She cooks his dinner and
supper, keeps the house and furniture clean,
weaves linen, and acts as housekeeper generally.
The village gossips say that she is not a relation
of his; but we must remark that the headman has
many enemies who spread all kinds of slanders
about him. We have now said what we considered
to be necessary about the headman, and
the drunken Kalenik is not yet half-way to his
house. He continued to abuse the headman in
terms which might be expected from one in his
AN UNEXPECTED RIVAL—THE CONSPIRACY
“No, you fellows, I won't. What is the
good of all those silly goings-on? Aren't you
tired of these foolish jokes? People already call
us good-for-nothing scapegraces. Better go to
bed!” So Levko said one evening to his companions,
who were trying to persuade him to
take part with them in further practical jokes.
“Farewell, brothers! Good night!” he said,
and left them with quick steps.
“Does my bright-eyed Hanna sleep?” he
thought as he passed the house shaded by the
cherry-trees. Then in the silence he heard
the sound of a whispered conversation. Levko
stood still. Between the trees there glimmered
something white. “What is that?” he thought,
as he crept closer and hid himself behind a tree.
By the light of the moon he saw the face of a
girl standing opposite him. It was Hanna. But
who was the tall man who had his back turned to
him? In vain he strained his eyes; the whole
figure was hidden in shadow, and the slightest
forward step on Levko's part would expose him
to the risk of discovery. He therefore leant
quietly against the tree, and determined to
remain where he was. Then he heard the girl
utter his name distinctly.
“Levko? Levko is a baby,” said the tall man
in an undertone. “If I ever find him with you,
I will pull his hair.”
“I should like to know what rascal is boasting
of pulling my hair,” said Levko to himself,
stretching out his head and endeavouring to miss
no word. But the stranger continued to speak
so low that he was inaudible.
“What, aren't you ashamed?” said Hanna
after he had finished. “You are lying and
deceiving me; I will never believe that you love
“I know,” continued the tall man, “that
Levko has talked nonsense to you and turned
your head.” (Here it seemed to the Cossack
as though the stranger's voice were not quite
unknown to him, and that he must have heard it
somewhere or other.) “But Levko shall learn to
know me,” continued the stranger. “He thinks
I don't notice his rascally tricks; but he will yet
feel the weight of my fists, the scoundrel!”
At these words Levko could no longer restrain
his wrath. He came three steps nearer, and
took a run in order to plant a blow which would
have stretched the stranger on the ground in
spite of his strength. At that moment, however,
a ray of light fell on the latter's face, and Levko
stood transfixed, for he saw it was his father.
But he only expressed his surprise by an involuntary
shake of the head and a low whistle.
On the other side there was the sound of
approaching footsteps. Hanna ran hastily into
the house and closed the door behind her.
“Good-bye, Hanna!” cried one of the youths,
who had stolen up and embraced the headman,
but started back alarmed when he felt a rough
“Good-bye, my darling!” cried another, but
speedily executed a somersault in consequence
of a violent blow from the headman.
“Good-bye, good-bye, Hanna!” exclaimed
several youths, falling on his neck.
“Go to the deuce, you infernal scoundrels!”
shouted the headman, defending himself with
both hands and feet. “What kind of Hanna do
you take me for? Hang yourselves like your
fathers did, you children of the devil! Falling
on one like flies on honey! I will show you who
“The headman! The headman! It is the
headman!” cried the youths, running away in
“Aha, father!” said Levko to himself,
recovering from his astonishment and looking
after the headman as he departed, cursing and
scolding. “Those are the tricks you like to
play! Splendid! And I wonder and puzzle my
head why he pretends to be deaf when I only
touch on the matter! Wait, you old sinner, I
will teach you to cajole other people's sweethearts.
Hi! you fellows, come here!” he cried,
beckoning to the youths, who gathered round
him. “Come nearer! I told you to go to bed,
but I am differently minded now, and am ready
to go round with you all night.”
“That is reasonable,” exclaimed a broad-shouldered,
stout fellow, who was regarded as
the chief toper and good-for-nothing in the
village. “I always feel uncomfortable if I do
not have a good fling, and play some practical
jokes. I always feel as though there were something
wanting, as though I had lost my cap or my
pipe—in a word, I don't feel like a proper
“Do you really want to bait the headman?”
“Yes, the headman. I don't know for whom
he takes himself. He carries on as though he
were a duke. It is not only that he treats us as
if we were his serfs, but he comes after our
“Quite right! That is true!” exclaimed all
the youths together.
“But are we made of any worse stuff than he?
We are, thank God! free Cossacks. Let us show
“Yes, we will show him!” they shouted.
“But when we go for the headman, we must not
forget his clerk.”
“The clerk shall have his share, too. Just
now a song that suits the headman occurs to me.
Go on! I will teach it you!” continued Levko,
striking the strings of his guitar. “But listen!
Disguise yourselves as well as you can.”
“Hurrah for the Cossacks!” cried the stout
reveller, dancing and clapping his hands.
“Long live freedom! When one lets the reins
go, one thinks of the good old times. It
feels as jolly as though one were in paradise.
Hurrah, you fellows! Go ahead!”
The youths rushed noisily through the village
street, and the pious old women, aroused from
their sleep, looked through the windows, crossed
themselves drowsily, and thought, “There they
go, the wild young fellows!”
Only in one house at the end of the street there
still burned a light; it was the headman's. He
had long finished his supper, and would certainly
have gone to sleep but that he had a guest
with him, the brandy-distiller. The latter had
been sent to superintend the building of a distillery
for the lords of the manor, who possessed
small allotments between the lands of the free
Cossacks. At the upper end of the table, in the
place of honour, sat the guest—a short, stout
man with small, merry eyes. He smoked his
short pipe with obvious satisfaction, spitting
every moment and constantly pushing the
tobacco down in the bowl. The clouds of smoke
collected over his head, and veiled him in a bluish
mist. It seemed as though the broad chimney
of a distillery, which was bored at always being
perched up on the roof, had hit upon the idea of
taking a little recreation, and had now settled
itself comfortably at the headman's table. Close
under his nose bristled his short, thick moustache,
which in the dim, smoky atmosphere
resembled a mouse which the distiller had caught
and held in his mouth, usurping the functions of
a dining-room cat. The headman sat there, as
master of the house, wearing only his shirt and
linen breeches. His eagle eye began to grow
dim like the setting sun, and to half close. At
the lower end of the table sat, smoking his pipe,
one of the village council, of which the headman
was superintendent. Out of respect for the
latter he had not removed his caftan.
“How soon do you think,” asked the headman,
turning to the distiller and putting his hand
before his gaping mouth, “will you have the
distillery put up?”
“With God's help we shall be distilling brandy
this autumn. On Conception Day I bet the
headman will be tracing the figure eight with his
feet on his way home.” So saying, the distiller
laughed so heartily that his small eyes
disappeared altogether, his body was convulsed,
and his twitching lips actually let go of the
reeking pipe for a moment.
“God grant it!” said the headman, on whose
face the shadow of a smile was visible. “Now,
thank heaven, the number of distilleries is increasing
a little; but in the old days, when I
accompanied the Czarina on the Perejlaslov
Road, and the late Besborodko——”
“Yes, my friend, those were bad times.
Then from Krementchuk to Romen there were
hardly two distilleries. And now—but have you
heard what the infernal Germans have invented?
They say they will no longer use wood for fuel in
the distilleries, but devilish steam.” At these
words the distiller stared at the table reflectively,
and at his arms resting on it. “But how they
can use steam—by heavens! I don't know.”
“What fools these Germans are!” said the
headman. “I should like to give these sons
of dogs a good thrashing. Whoever heard of
cooking with steam? At this rate one will not
be able to get a spoonful of porridge or a bit of
bacon into one's mouth.”
“And you, friend,” broke in the headman's
sister-in-law, who was sitting by the stove; “will
you be with us the whole time without your
“Do I want her then? If she were only
“She is not pretty, then?” asked the headman
with a questioning glance.
“How should she be; as old as Satan, and with
a face as full of wrinkles as an empty purse,”
said the distiller, shaking again with laughter.
Then a noise was heard at the door, which
opened and a Cossack stepped over the threshold
without removing his cap, and remained standing
in an absent-minded way in the middle of the
room, with open mouth and gazing at the ceiling.
It was Kalenik, whose acquaintance we have
“Now I am at home,” he said, taking his
seat by the door, without taking any notice of
those present. “Ah! to what a length Satan
made the road stretch. I went on and on, and
there was no end. My legs are quite broken.
Woman, bring me my fur blanket to lie down on.
There it is in the corner; but mind you don't
upset the little pot of snuff. But no; better not
touch it! Leave it alone! You are really quite
drunk—I had better get it myself.”
Kalenik tried to rise, but an invincible power
fettered him to his seat.
“That's a nice business!” said the headman.
“He comes into a strange house, and behaves
as though he were at home! Push him out, in
“Let him rest a bit, friend!” said the
distiller, seizing the headman's arm. “The
man is very useful; if we had only plenty of this
kind, our distillery would get on grandly….”
For the rest, it was not good-nature which
inspired these words. The distiller was full of
superstition, and to turn out a man who had
already sat down, seemed to him to be tantamount
to invoking the devil.
“That comes of being old,” grumbled
Kalenik, stretching himself out along the seat.
“People might say I was drunk, but no, I am
not! Why should I lie? I am ready to tell the
headman to his face! Who is the headman
anyway? May he break his neck, the son of a
dog! I spit at him! May he be run over by a
cart, the one-eyed devil!”
“Ah! the drunken sot has crawled into the
house, and now he lays his paws on the table,”
said the headman, rising angrily; but at that
moment a heavy stone, breaking a window-pane
to pieces, fell at his feet. The headman remained
standing. “If I knew,” he said, “what
jail-bird has thrown it, I would give him something.
What devil's trick is this?” he continued,
looking at the stone, which he held in his
hand, with burning eyes. “I wish I could
choke him with it!”
“Stop! Stop! God preserve you, friend!”
broke in the distiller, looking pale. “God keep
you in this world and the next, but don't curse
“Ah! now we have his defender! May he be
“Listen, friend! You don't know what happened
to my late mother-in-law.”
“Yes, my mother-in-law. One evening,
perhaps rather earlier than this, they were sitting
at supper, my late mother-in-law, my father-in-law,
their two servants, and five children. My
mother-in-law emptied some dumplings from the
cooking-pot into a dish in order to cool them.
But the others, being hungry after the day's
work, did not wait till they were quite cooled, but
stuck their long wooden forks into them and ate
them at once. All at once a stranger entered—heaven
knows whence!—and asked to be allowed
to share their meal. They could not refuse to
feed a hungry man, and gave him also a wooden
fork. But the guest made as short work with
the dumplings as a cow with hay. Before the
family had each of them finished his or her
dumpling and reached out their forks again for
another, the dish had been swept as clean as
the floor of a nobleman's drawing-room. My
mother-in-law emptied out some more dumplings;
she thought to herself, ‘Now the guest is
satisfied, and will not be so greedy.’ But on the
contrary, he began to swallow them faster than
ever, and emptied the second dish also. ‘May
one of them choke you!’ said my mother-in-law
under her breath. Suddenly the guest seemed
to try to clear his throat, and fell back. They
rushed to his help, but his breath had stopped
and he was dead.”
“Served him right, the cursed glutton!”
“But it turned out quite otherwise; since that
time my mother-in-law has no rest. No sooner
is it dark than the dead man approaches the
house. He then sits astride the chimney, the
scoundrel, holding a dumpling between his teeth.
During the day it is quite quiet—one hears and
sees nothing; but as soon as it begins to grow
dark, and one casts a look at the roof, there he
is comfortably perched on the chimney!”
“A wonderful story, friend! I heard something
similar from my late——”
Then the headman suddenly stopped. Outside
there were noises, and the stamping of
dancers' feet. The strings of a guitar were
being struck gently, to the accompaniment of
a voice. Then the guitar was played more
loudly, many voices joined in, and the whole
chorus struck up a song in ridicule of the
When it was over, the distiller said, with his
head bent a little on one side, to the headman
who was almost petrified by the audacity of the
serenaders, “A fine song, my friend!”
“Very fine! Only it is a pity that they insult
He folded his arms with a certain measure of
composure on the table, and prepared to listen
further, for the singing and noise outside continued.
A sharp observer, however, would have
seen that it was not mere torpidity which made
the headman sit so quietly. In the same way a
crafty cat often allows an inexperienced mouse
to play about her tail, while she is quickly devising
a plan to cut it off from the mouse-hole.
The headman's one eye was still fastened on
the window, and his hand, after he had given
the village councillor a sign, was reaching for
the door-handle, when suddenly a loud noise
and shouts were heard from the street. The
distiller, who beside many other characteristics
possessed a keen curiosity, laid down his pipe
quickly and ran into the street; but the ne'er-do-wells
had all dispersed.
“No, you don't escape me!” cried the
headman, dragging someone muffled up in a
sheepskin coat with the hair turned outwards, by
The distiller rapidly seized a favourable
moment to look at the face of this disturber of
the peace; but he started back when he saw a
long beard and a grim, painted face.
“No, you don't escape me!” exclaimed the
headman again as he dragged his prisoner into
The latter offered no resistance, and followed
him as quietly as though it had been his own
“Karpo, open the store-room!” the headman
called to the village councillor. “We will
throw him in there! Then we will awake the
clerk, call the village council together, catch this
impudent rabble, and pass our sentence on them
The village councillor unlocked the store-room;
then in the darkness of the vestibule, the
prisoner made a desperate effort to break loose
from the headman's arms.
“Ah! you would, would you?” exclaimed
the headman, holding him more firmly by the
“Let me go! It is I!” a half-stifled voice
was heard saying.
“It is no good, brother! You may squeal if
you choose, like the devil, instead of imitating
a woman, but you won't get round me.” So
saying, he thrust the prisoner with such violence
into the dark room that he fell on the ground and
The victorious headman, accompanied by the
village councillor, now betook himself to the
clerk's; they were followed by the distiller, who
was veiled in clouds of tobacco-smoke, and
resembled a steamer.
They were all three walking reflectively with
bent heads, when suddenly, turning into a dark
side-alley, they uttered a cry and started back in
consequence of coming into collision with three
other men, who on their side shouted with equal
loudness. The headman saw with his one eye,
to his no small astonishment, the clerk with two
“I was just coming to you, Mr Notary.”
“And I was on my way to your honour.”
“These are strange goings-on, Mr Notary.”
“Indeed they are, your honour.”
“Have you seen them then?” asked the
“The young fellows are roaming about the
streets using vile language. They are abusing
your honour in a way—in a word, it is a scandal.
A drunken Russian would be ashamed to use
The lean notary, in his gaily striped breeches
and yeast-coloured waistcoat, kept on stretching
forward and drawing back his neck while he
“Hardly had I gone to sleep,” he continued,
“than the cursed loafers woke me up with their
shameful songs and their noise. I meant to give
them a sound rating, but while I was putting on
my breeches and vest, they all ran away. But
the ringleader has not escaped; for the present
he is shut up in the hut which we use as a prison.
I was very curious to know who the scapegrace
is, but his face is as sooty as the devil's when
he forges nails for sinners.”
“What clothes does he wear, Mr Notary?”
“The son of a dog wears a black sheepskin
coat turned inside out, your honour.”
“Aren't you telling me a lie, Mr Notary?
The same good-for-nothing is now shut up in my
store-room under lock and key.”
“No, your honour! You have drawn the
long bow a little yourself, and should not be
vexed at what I say.”
“Bring a light! We will take a look at him
They returned to the headman's house; the
store-room door was opened, and the headman
groaned for sheer amazement as he saw his sister-in-law
standing before him.
“Tell me then,” she said, stepping forward,
“have you quite lost your senses? Had you a
single particle of brains in your one-eyed fish-head
when you locked me up in the dark
It is a mercy I did not break my head against the
iron door hinge. Didn't I shout out that it was
I? Then he seized me, the cursed bear, with
his iron claws, and pushed me in. May Satan
hereafter so push you into hell!” The last
words she spoke from the street, having wisely
gone out of his reach.
“Yes, now I see that it is you!” said
the headman, who had slowly recovered his
“Is he not a scamp and a scoundrel, Mr
Clerk?” he continued.
“Yes, certainly, your honour.”
“Isn't it high time to give all these loose
fellows a lesson, that they may at last betake
themselves to their work?”
“Yes, it is high time, your honour.”
“The fools have combined in a gang. What
the deuce is that? It sounded like my sister-in-law's
voice. The blockheads think that I am
like her, an ordinary Cossack.”
Here he coughed and cleared his throat, and
a gleam in his eyes showed that he was about to
say something very important. “In the year
one thousand—I cannot keep these cursed dates
in my memory, if I was to be killed for it.
Well, never mind when it was, the Commissary
Ledatcho was commanded to choose out a
Cossack who was cleverer than the rest. Yes,”
he added, raising his forefinger, “cleverer than
the rest, to accompany the Czar. Then I
“Yes, yes,” the notary interrupted him, “we
all know, headman, that you well deserved the
imperial favour. But confess now that I was
right: you made a mistake when you declared
that you had caught the vagabond in the reversed
“This disguised devil I will have imprisoned
to serve as a warning to the rest. They will have
to learn what authority means. Who has appointed
the headman, if not the Czar? Then we
will tackle the other fellows. I don't forget how
the scamps drove a whole herd of swine into my
garden, which ate up all the cabbages and
cucumbers; I don't forget how those sons of
devils refused to thrash my rye for me. I don't
forget—to the deuce with them! We must first
find out who this scoundrel in the sheepskin
“He is a sly dog anyway,” said the distiller,
whose cheeks during the whole conversation had
been as full of smoke as a siege-cannon, and
whose lips, when he took his pipe out of his
mouth, seemed to emit sparks.
Meanwhile they had approached a small ruined
hut. Their curiosity had mounted to the highest
pitch, and they pressed round the door. The
notary produced a key and tried to turn the lock,
but it did not fit; it was the key of his trunk.
The impatience of the onlookers increased. He
plunged his hand into the wide pocket of his gaily
striped breeches, bent his back, scraped with his
feet, uttered imprecations, and at last cried
triumphantly, “I have it!”
At these words the hearts of our heroes beat
so loud, that the turning of the key in the lock
was almost inaudible. At last the door opened,
and the headman turned as white as a sheet.
The distiller felt a shiver run down his spine, and
his hair stood on end. Terror and apprehension
were stamped on the notary's face; the village
councillors almost sank into the ground and could
not shut their wide-open mouths. Before them
stood the headman's sister-in-law!
She was not less startled than they, but
recovered herself somewhat, and made a movement
as if to approach them.
“Stop!” cried the headman in an excited
voice, and slammed the door again. “Sirs,
Satan is behind this!” he continued. “Bring
fire quickly! Never mind the hut! Set it
alight and burn it up so that not even the witch's
“Wait a minute, brother!” exclaimed the
distiller. “Your hair is grey, but you are not
very intelligent; no ordinary fire will burn a
witch. Only the fire of a pipe can do it. I will
manage it all right.” So saying, he shook some
glowing ashes from his pipe on to a bundle of
straw, and began to fan the flame.
Despair gave the unfortunate woman courage;
she began to implore them in a loud voice.
“Stop a moment, brother! Perhaps we are
incurring guilt needlessly. Perhaps she is really
no witch!” said the notary. “If the person
sitting in there declares herself ready to make
the sign of the cross, then she is not a child of
The proposal was accepted. “Look out,
Satan!” continued the notary, speaking at a
chink in the door. “If you promise not to
move, we will open the door.”
The door was opened.
“Cross yourself!” exclaimed the headman,
looking round him for a safe place of retreat in
case of necessity.
His sister-in-law crossed herself.
“The deuce! It is really you, sister-in-law!”
“What evil spirit dragged you into this hole,
friend?” asked the notary.
The headman's sister related amid sobs how
the rioters had seized her on the street, and in
spite of her resistance, pushed her through a
large window into the hut, on which they had
closed the shutters. The notary looked and
found that the bolt of the shutter had been
wrenched off, and that it was held in its place by
a wooden bar placed across it outside.
“You are a nice fellow, you one-eyed
Satan!” she now exclaimed, advancing towards
the headman, who stepped backwards and continued
to contemplate her from head to foot.
“I know your thoughts; you were glad of an
opportunity to get me shut up in order to run
after that petticoat, so that no one could see the
grey-haired sinner making a fool of himself.
You think I don't know how you talked this
evening with Hanna. Oh, I know everything.
You must get up earlier if you want to make a
fool of me, you great stupid! I have endured
for a long time, but at last don't take it ill
She made a threatening gesture with her fist,
and ran away swiftly, leaving the headman quite
“The devil really has something to do with
it!” he thought, rubbing his bald head.
“We have him!” now exclaimed the two
village councillors as they approached.
“Whom have you?” asked the headman.
“The devil in the sheepskin.”
“Bring him here!” cried the headman,
seizing the prisoner by the arm. “Are you
mad? This is the drunken Kalenik!”
“It is witchcraft! He was in our hands,
your honour!” replied the village councillors.
“The rascals were rushing about in the narrow
side-streets, dancing and behaving like idiots—the
devil take them! How it was we got hold of
this fellow instead of him, heaven only knows!”
“In virtue of my authority, and that of the
village assembly,” said the headman, “I issue
the order to seize these robbers and other young
vagabonds which may be met with in the streets,
and to bring them before me to be dealt with.”
“Excuse us, your honour,” answered the
village councillors, bowing low. “If you could
only see the hideous faces they had; may heaven
punish us if ever anyone has seen such miscreations
since he was born and baptised. These
devils might frighten one into an illness.”
“I'll teach you to be afraid! You won't
obey then? You are certainly in the conspiracy
with them! You mutineers! What is the
meaning of that? What? You abet robbery
and murder! You!—I will inform the Commissary.
Go at once, do you hear; fly like birds.
I shall—you will——”
They all dispersed in different directions.
THE DROWNED GIRL
Without troubling himself in the least about
those who had been sent to pursue him, the
originator of all this confusion slowly walked
towards the old house and the pool. We hardly
need to say it was Levko. His black fur coat
was buttoned up; he carried his cap in his hand,
and the perspiration was pouring down his face.
The moon poured her light on the gloomy majesty
of the dark maple-wood.
The coolness of the air round the motionless
pool enticed the weary wanderer to rest by it a
while. Universal silence prevailed, only that in
the forest thickets the nightingales' songs were
heard. An overpowering drowsiness closed his
eyes; his tired limbs relaxed, and his head
“Ah! am I going to sleep?” he said, rising
and rubbing his eyes.
He looked round; the night seemed to him still
more beautiful. The moonlight seemed to have
an intoxicating quality about it, a glamour which
he had never perceived before. The landscape
was veiled in a silver mist. The air was redolent
with the perfume of the apple-blossoms and
the night-flowers. Entranced, he gazed on the
motionless pool. The old, half-ruined house
was clearly reflected without a quiver in the
water. But instead of dark shutters, he saw
light streaming from brilliantly lit windows.
Presently one of them opened. Holding his
breath, and without moving a muscle, he fastened
his eyes on the pool and seemed to penetrate
its depths. What did he see? First he saw
at the window a graceful, curly head with shining
eyes, propped on a white arm; the head moved
and smiled. His heart suddenly began to beat.
The water began to break into ripples, and the
Quietly he withdrew from the pool, and looked
towards the house. The dark shutters were
flung back; the window-panes gleamed in the
moonlight. “How little one can believe what
people say!” he thought to himself. “The
, and looks as though it
had only just been painted. It is certainly
He stepped nearer cautiously, but the house
was quite silent. The clear song of the nightingales
rose powerfully and distinctly on the air,
and as they died away one heard the chirping
and rustling of the grasshoppers, and the
marshbird clapping his slippery beak in the
Levko felt enraptured with the sweetness and
stillness of the night. He struck the strings of
his guitar and sang:
“Oh lovely moon
Thou steepst in light
The house where my darling
Sleeps all night.”
A window opened gently, and the same girl
whose image he had seen in the pool looked out
and listened attentively to the song. Her long-lashed
eyelids were partly drooping over her
eyes; she was as pale as the moonlight, but
wonderfully beautiful. She smiled, and a shiver
ran through Levko.
“Sing me a song, young Cossack!” she said
gently, bending her head sideways and quite
closing her eyes.
“What song shall I sing you, dear girl?”
Tears rolled down her pale cheeks.
“Cossack,” she said, and there was something
inexpressibly touching in her tone, “Cossack,
find my stepmother for me. I will do everything
for you; I will reward you; I will give you
abundant riches. I have armlets embroidered
with silk and coral necklaces; I will give you a
girdle set with pearls. I have gold. Cossack,
seek my stepmother for me. She is a terrible
witch; she allowed me no peace in the beautiful
world. She tortured me; she made me work like
a common maid-servant. Look at my face; she
has banished the redness from my cheeks with
her unholy magic. Look at my white neck; they
cannot be washed away, they cannot be washed
away—the blue marks of her iron claws. Look
at my white feet; they did not walk on carpets,
but on hot sand, on damp ground, on piercing
thorns. And my eyes—look at them; they are
almost blind with weeping. Seek my stepmother!”
Her voice, which had gradually become louder,
stopped, and she wept.
The Cossack felt overpowered by sympathy and
grief. “I am ready to do everything to please
you, dear lady,” he cried with deep emotion;
“but where and how can I find her?”
“Look, look!” she said quickly, “she is
here! She dances on the lake-shore with my
maidens, and warms herself in the moonlight.
Yet she is cunning and sly. She has assumed the
shape of one who is drowned, yet I know and
hear that she is present. I am so afraid of her.
Because of her I cannot swim free and light as a
fish. I sink and fall to the bottom like a piece
of iron. Look for her, Cossack!”
Levko cast a glance at the lake-shore. In a
silvery mist there moved, like shadows, girls in
white dresses decked with May flowers; gold
necklaces and coins gleamed on their necks; but
they were very pale, as though formed of transparent
clouds. They danced nearer him, and he
could hear their voices, somewhat like the sound
of reeds stirred in the quiet evening by the
“Let us play the raven-game! Let us play
“Who will be the raven?”
Lots were cast, and a girl stepped out of the
line of the dancers.
Levko observed her attentively. Her face and
clothing resembled those of the others; but she
was evidently unwilling to play the part assigned
her. The dancers revolved rapidly round her,
without her being able to catch one of
“No, I won't be the raven any more,” she
said, quite exhausted. “I do not like to rob the
poor mother-hen of her chickens.”
“You are not a witch,” thought Levko.
The girls again gathered together in order to
cast lots who should be the raven.
“I will be the raven!” called one from the
Levko watched her closely. Boldly and
rapidly she ran after the dancers, and made every
effort to catch her prey. Levko began to notice
that her body was not transparent like the
others; there was something black in the midst
of it. Suddenly there was a cry; the “raven”
had rushed on a girl, embraced her, and it
seemed to Levko as though she had stretched out
claws, and as though her face shone with
“Witch!” he cried out, pointing at her
suddenly with his finger, and turning towards the
The girl at the window laughed, and the
other girls dragged the “raven” screaming
along with them.
“How shall I reward you, Cossack?” said
the maiden. “I know you do not need gold;
you love Hanna, but her harsh father will not
allow you to marry. But give him this note, and
he will cease to hinder it.”
She stretched out her white hand, and her face
shone wonderfully. With strange shudders and
a beating heart, he grasped the paper and—awoke.
“Have I then been really asleep?” Levko
asked himself as he stood up. “Everything
seemed so real, as though I were awake. Wonderful!
Wonderful!” he repeated, looking
round him. The position of the moon vertical
overhead showed that it was midnight; a waft of
coolness came from the pool. The ruined house
with the closed shutters stood there with a
melancholy aspect; the moss and weeds which
grew thickly upon it showed that it had not been
entered by any human foot for a long time.
Then he suddenly opened his hand, which had
been convulsively clenched during his sleep, and
cried aloud with astonishment when he saw the
note in it. “Ah! if I could only read,” he
thought, turning it this way and that. At that
moment he heard a noise behind him.
“Fear nothing! Lay hold of him! What
are you afraid of? There are ten of us. I
wager that he is a man, and not the devil.”
It was the headman encouraging his companions.
Levko felt himself seized by several arms,
many of which were trembling with fear.
“Throw off your mask, friend! Cease trying
to fool us,” said the headman, taking him by
the collar. But he started back when he saw
him closely. “Levko! My son!” he exclaimed,
letting his arms sink. “It is you,
miserable boy! I thought some rascal, or disguised
devil, was playing these tricks; but now
it seems you have cooked this mess for your own
father—placed yourself at the head of a band
of robbers, and composed songs to ridicule
him. Eh, Levko! What is the meaning of
that? It seems your back is itching. Tie him
“Stop, father! I have been ordered to give
you this note,” said Levko.
“Let me see it then! But bind him all the
“Wait, headman,” said the notary, unfolding
the note; “it is the Commissary's handwriting!”
“The Commissary's?” echoed the village
“The Commissary's? Wonderful! Still
more incomprehensible!” thought Levko.
“Read! Read!” said the headman. “What
does the Commissary write?”
“Let us hear!” exclaimed the distiller,
holding his pipe between his teeth, and lighting
The notary cleared his throat and began to
“‘Order to the headman, Javtuk Makohonenko.
“‘It has been brought to our knowledge that
you, old id——’”
“Stop! Stop! That is unnecessary!” exclaimed
the headman. “Even if I have not
heard it, I know that that is not the chief matter.
“‘Consequently I order you at once to marry
your son, Levko Makohonenko, to the Cossack's
daughter, Hanna Petritchenka, to repair the
bridges on the post-road, and to give no horses
belonging to the lords of the manor to the
county-court magistrates without my knowledge.
If on my arrival I do not find these orders carried
out, I shall hold you singly responsible.
“‘Lieut. Kosma Derkatch-Drischpanowski,
“There we have it!” exclaimed the headman,
with his mouth open. “Have you heard
it? The headman is made responsible for everything,
and therefore everyone has to obey him
without contradiction! Otherwise, I beg to resign
my office. And you,” he continued, turning to
Levko, “I will have married, as the Commissary
directs, though it seems to me strange how he
knows of the affair; but you will get a taste of my
knout first—the one, you know, which hangs on
the wall at my bed-head. But how did you get
hold of the note?”
Levko, in spite of the astonishment which the
unexpected turn of affairs caused him, had had
the foresight to prepare an answer, and to conceal
the way in which the note had come into
his possession. “I was in the town last night,”
he said, “and met the Commissary just as
he was alighting from his droshky. When he
heard from which village I was he gave me the
note and bid me tell you by word of mouth,
father, that he would dine with us on his way
“Did he say that?”
“Have you heard it?” said the headman,
with a solemn air turning to his companions.
“The Commissary himself, in his own person,
comes to us, that is to me, to dine.” The
headman lifted a finger and bent his head as
though he were listening to something. “The
Commissary, do you hear, the Commissary is
coming to dine with me! What do you think,
Mr Notary? And what do you think, friend?
That is not a little honour, is it?”
“As far as I can recollect,” the notary broke
in, “no Commissary has ever dined with a
“All headmen are not alike,” he answered
with a self-satisfied air. Then he uttered a
hoarse laugh and said, “What do you think,
Mr Notary? Isn't it right to order that in
honour of the distinguished guest, a fowl, linen,
and other things should be offered by every
“Yes, they should.”
“And when is the wedding to be, father?”
“Wedding! I should like to celebrate your
wedding in my way! Well, in honour of the
distinguished guest, to-morrow the pope will
marry you. Let the Commissary see that you
are punctual. Now, children, we will go to bed.
Go to your houses. The present occasion
reminds me of the time when I——” At these
words the headman assumed his customary
“Now the headman will relate how he accompanied
the Czarina!” said Levko to himself, and
hastened quickly, and full of joy, to the cherry-tree-shaded
house, which we know. “May God
bless you, beloved, and the holy angels smile
on you. To no one will I relate the wonders of
this night except to you, Hanna; you alone will
believe it, and pray with me for the repose of the
souls of the poor drowned maidens.”
He approached the house; the window was
open; the moonbeams fell on Hanna, who was
sleeping by it. Her head was supported on her
arm; her cheeks glowed; her lips moved, gently
murmuring his name.
“Sleep sweetly, my darling. Dream of
everything that is good, and yet the awaking will
surpass all.” He made the sign of the cross
over her, closed the window, and gently withdrew.
In a few moments the whole village was buried
in slumber. Only the moon hung as brilliant
and wonderful as before in the immensity of
the Ukraine sky. The divine night continued
her reign in solemn stillness, while the earth
lay bathed in silvery radiance. The universal
silence was only broken here and there by the
bark of a dog; only the drunken Kalenik still
wandered about the empty streets seeking for his