The Inn by Iván Turgénieff

Translator: Isabel Hapgood

(1852)

On the great B*** highway, almost equidistant from the two county towns through which it passes, there was still standing, not long since, a spacious inn, very well known to drivers of tróďka-teams, to freight-sledge peasants, to merchants' clerks, to traders of the petty-burgher class, and, in general, to all the numerous and varied travellers, who at all seasons of the year roll along our roads. Everybody used to drop in at this inn; except only some landed proprietor's carriage, drawn by six home-bred horses, would glide solemnly past, which, however, did not prevent the coachman and the lackey on the foot-board from looking with particular feeling and attention at the porch but too familiar to them; or some very poor fellow, in a rickety cart, with fifteen kopéks in the purse stuffed into his bosom, on coming to the fine inn, would urge on his weak nag, hastening to his night's lodging in the suburb on the great highway, to the house of the peasant-host, where you will find nothing except hay and bread, but, on the other hand, will not be obliged to pay a kopék too much.

In addition to its advantageous situation, the inn of which we have just spoken possessed many attractions: capital water in two deep wells with creaking wheels and iron buckets on chains; a spacious stable-yard with plenty of board sheds on stout pillars; an abundant supply of good oats in the cellar; a warm house, with a huge Russian stove, into which, as upon the shoulders of an epic hero, long logs were thrust; two fairly-clean little chambers with reddish-lilac paper on the walls somewhat tattered at the bottom, with a painted wooden divan, chairs to match, and two pots of geranium in the windows, which, however, were never washed and were dim with the dust of many years. This inn offered other comforts:—the blacksmith's shop was near at hand, and the mill was situated almost alongside of it; in conclusion, good food was to be had in it, thanks to the fat and rosy-cheeked peasant-woman who was the cook, and who prepared the viands in a savoury manner and with plenty of fat, and was not stingy of her stores; the nearest dram-shop was only half a verst distant; the landlord kept snuff, which, although mixed with ashes, was extremely heady, and tickled the nose agreeably: in a word, there were many reasons why guests of every sort were not lacking in that inn. Travellers had taken a fancy to it—that is the principal thing; without that, as is well known, no business will thrive; and it was liked most of all because, as people said in the countryside, the landlord himself was very lucky and succeeded in all his enterprises, although he little deserved his luck, and it was evident that if a man is destined to be lucky he will be.

This landlord was a petty burgher, Naúm Ivánoff by name. He was of medium stature, thick-set, stooping and broad-shouldered; he had a large, round head, hair which was wavy and already grizzled, although in appearance he was not over forty years of age; a plump and rosy face, a low, but white and smooth brow, and small, bright blue eyes, with which he gazed forth very strangely—askance, and, at the same time, insolently, which is a combination rarely encountered. He always held his head in a drooping position, and turned it with difficulty, perhaps because his neck was very short; he walked briskly and did not swing his arms, but opened his clenched fists as he walked. When he smiled,—and he smiled frequently, but without laughter, as though to himself,—his large lips moved apart in an unpleasant way, and displayed a row of compact and dazzling teeth. He spoke abruptly, and with a certain surly sound in his voice. He shaved off his beard, but did not adopt the foreign dress. His garments consisted of a long, extremely-threadbare kaftan, ample bag-trousers, and shoes worn on the bare feet. He often absented himself from home on business,—and he had a great deal of business: he was a jobber of horses, he hired land, he raised vegetables for the market, he purchased gardens, and in general occupied himself with various commercial speculations,—but his absences never lasted long; like the hawk, to whom in particular, especially as to the expression of his eyes, he bore a strong resemblance, he kept returning to his nest. He understood how to keep that nest in order; he kept track of everything, he heard everything, and gave orders about everything; he dealt out, he served out, and calculated everything himself, and while he did not reduce his price a kopék to any one, yet he did not overcharge.

The lodgers did not enter into conversation with him, and he himself was not fond of wasting words without cause. "I need your money, and you need my victuals," he was wont to explain, as though he were tearing off each separate word: "you and I have n't got to stand godparents to a child and become cronies; the traveller has eaten, I have fed him his fill, let him not outstay his welcome. And if he is sleepy, then let him sleep, not chatter." He kept sturdy and healthy, but tame and submissive labourers; they were extremely afraid of him. He never took a drop of intoxicating liquor into his mouth, but he gave each of them ten kopéks for vodka on festival days; on other days they did not dare to drink. People like Naúm speedily grow rich;.... but Naúm Ivánoff had not reached the brilliant condition in which he found himself—and he was reckoned to be worth forty or fifty thousand rubles—by straightforward ways....

Twenty years previous to the date at which we have set the beginning of our story, an inn existed on that same site upon the highway. Truth to tell, it had not that dark-red plank roof which imparted to Naúm Ivánoff's house the aspect of a nobleman's manor-house; and it was poorer in its construction, and the sheds in the stable-yard were thatched, and the walls were made of wattled boughs instead of boards; neither was it distinguished by a triangular Greek pediment on turned columns; but it was a very decent sort of inn, nevertheless,—spacious, solid, and warm,—and travellers gladly frequented it. Its landlord at that time was not Naúm Ivánoff, but a certain Akím Semyónoff, the serf of a neighbouring landed proprietress, Lizavéta Prókhorovna Kuntze—the widow of a staff-officer. This Akím was an intelligent peasant, with good business capacity, who, having started with two wretched little nags as a carrier, in his youth, returned a year later with three good horses, and from that time forth spent the greater part of his life in roaming along the highways, visited Kazán and Odessa, Orenbúrg and Warsaw, and went abroad to "Lipetzk," and travelled toward the last with two tróďkas of huge and powerful stallions harnessed to two enormous carts. Whether it was that he became bored by this homeless, roving life, or whether he was seized with the desire to set up a family (in one of his absences his wife had died; the children which he had had died also), at all events he decided, at last, to abandon his former avocation and set up an inn.

With the permission of his mistress, he established himself on the highway, purchased in her name half a desyatína of land, and erected thereon an inn. The venture proved a success. He had more than enough money for the installation; the experience which he had acquired in his prolonged wanderings to all parts of Russia was of the greatest advantage to him: he knew how to please travellers, especially men of his own former calling,—three-horse-team carriers,—with many of whom he was personally acquainted, and whose patronage is particularly valued by the tavern-keepers: so much do these people eat and consume for themselves and their robust horses. Akím's inn became known for hundreds of versts round about.... People were even fonder of patronising him than they were of patronising Naúm, who afterward succeeded him, although Akím was far from being comparable to Naúm in his knowledge of the landlord's business.

Akím had everything established on the old-fashioned footing,—warm but not quite clean; and it sometimes happened that his oats turned out to be light, or damp, and the food also was prepared in rather indifferent fashion; such victuals were sometimes served on his table as had been better left in the oven for good, and that not because he was stingy with material, but just because it happened so—his wife had not looked after things. On the other hand, he was ready to deduct from the price, and he would even not refuse to give credit. In a word, he was a good man and an amiable landlord. He was liberal also with his conversation and standing treat; over the samovár he would sometimes get to babbling so that you would prick up your ears, especially when he began to talk about Peter, about the Tcherkessian steppes, or about foreign parts; well, and as a matter of course, he was fond of drinking with a nice man, only not to excess, and more for the sake of sociability—so travellers said of him.

Merchants bore great good-will toward him, as, in general, did all those people who call themselves old-fashioned—those people who do not set out on a journey without having girded themselves and who do not enter a room without crossing themselves, and who will not enter into conversation with a man without having preliminarily bidden him "good morning." Akím's mere personal appearance disposed one in his favour; he was tall, rather gaunt, but very well built, even in his mature years; he had a long, comely and regular face, a high, open brow, a thin, straight nose, and small lips. The glance of his prominent brown eyes fairly beamed with gentle cordiality, his thin, soft hair curled in rings about his neck: very little of it remained on the crown of his head. The sound of Akím's voice was very agreeable, although weak; in his youth he had been a capital singer, but his long journeys in the open air, in winter, had impaired his lungs. On the other hand, he spoke very fluently and sweetly. When he laughed, ray-like wrinkles, very pleasant to behold, spread themselves out around his eyes;—such wrinkles are to be seen only in kind people. Akím's movements were generally slow and not devoid of a certain self-confidence and sedate courtesy, as was befitting a man of experience who had seen much in his day.

In fact, Akím would have been all right,—or, as they called him even in the manor-house, whither he was wont to go frequently, as well as unfailingly on Sundays after the morning service in church, Akím Semyónovitch,—would have been all right in every respect had he not had one failing, which has ruined many men on this earth, and in the end ruined him also—a weakness for the female sex. Akím's amorousness went to extremes: his heart was utterly unable to resist a feminine glance; he melted in it, as the first autumnal snow melts in the sun .... and he had to pay dearly for his superfluous sensibility.

In the course of the first year after he had settled down upon the highway, Akím was so occupied with the building of his inn, with the installation of his establishment, and with all the worries which are inseparable from all new households, that he positively had not time to think of women, and if any sinful thoughts did enter his head, he promptly expelled them by the perusal of divers holy books, for which he cherished a great respect (he had taught himself to read and write during his first trip as carrier), by chanting the Psalms in an undertone, or by some other pious occupation. Moreover, he was already in his forty-sixth year,—and at that age all passions sensibly calm down and grow cool; and the time for marrying was past. Akím himself had begun to think that that folly, as he expressed it, had broken loose from him ... but evidently no man can escape his fate.

Akím's former owner, Lizavéta Prókhorovna Kuntze, who had been left a widow by her husband, a staff-officer of German extraction, was herself a native of the town of Mittau, where she had passed the early days of her childhood, and where she still had a very numerous and needy family, concerning whom, however, she troubled herself very little, especially since one of her brothers, an officer in an army infantry regiment, had unexpectedly presented himself at her house and on the following day had raised such an uproar that he had all but thrashed the mistress of the house herself, and had addressed her, into the bargain, as "du Lumpenmamsell!" while on the preceding evening he had himself called her in broken Russian: "sister and benefactress." Lizavéta Prókhorovna hardly ever left the nice little estate acquired by the efforts of her spouse, who had been an architect; she herself managed it, and managed it far from badly. Lizavéta Prókhorovna did not let slip the smallest source of profit; she derived advantage to herself from everything; and in this point, as well as in that of remarkable cleverness in making one kopék serve instead of two, her German nationality betrayed itself; in everything else she had become extremely Russified. She had a considerable number of domestic serfs; in particular, she kept a great many maids, who, however, did not eat the bread of idleness: from morning until night their backs were bowed over work. She was fond of driving out in her carriage with liveried lackeys on the foot-board; she was fond of having people retail gossip to her and play the sycophant; and she herself was a first-rate gossip; she was fond of loading a man down with her favours, and suddenly stunning him with disgrace—in a word, Lizavéta Prókhorovna conducted herself exactly like a nobly-born dame.—She favoured Akím,—he paid her a good round quit-rent with punctuality,—she chatted graciously with him, and even, in jest, invited him to be her guest ... but it was precisely in the manor-house that calamity awaited Akím.

Among the number of Lizavéta Prókhorovna's maids, there was one young girl of twenty, an orphan, Dunyásha by name. She was not ill-favoured, was well formed and clever; her features, although not regular, were calculated to please; her fresh complexion, her thick, fair hair, her red lips, and a certain dashing, half-sneering, half-challenging expression of face, were all quite charming in their way. Moreover, in spite of her orphaned state, she bore herself staidly, almost haughtily; she was descended from an ancient line of house-serfs; her late father, Aréfy, had been major-domo for thirty years, and her grandfather, Stepán, had served as valet to a gentleman long since deceased, a sergeant of the Guards and a prince. She dressed neatly, and was proud of her hands, which really were extremely handsome. Dunyásha showed great disdain for all her admirers, listened to their sweet sayings with a conceited smile, and if she answered them, it was chiefly by exclamation only, in the nature of: "Yes! certainly! catch me doing that! the idea!"... These exclamations scarcely ever left her tongue. Dunyásha had spent about three years in Moscow, under instruction, where she had acquired those peculiar grimaces and manners which characterise chambermaids who have sojourned in the capitals. People spoke of her as a conceited girl (a great encomium in the mouths of domestics) who, although she had seen much of life, had not lowered her dignity. She sewed far from badly, moreover; but, nevertheless, Lizavéta Prókhorovna had no particular liking for her, thanks to the head maid, Kiríllovna, a woman no longer young, sly, and fond of intrigue. Kiríllovna profited by her great influence over her mistress, and contrived very artfully to keep rivals out of the way.

And it was with this Dunyásha that Akím fell in love! And in a way such as he had never loved before. He beheld her for the first time in church; she had only just returned from Moscow;.... then he met her several times in the manor-house; at last he spent a whole evening with her at the overseer's, whither he had been invited to tea, along with other honourable personages. The house-serfs did not look down on him, although he did not belong to their social class, and wore a beard; but he was a cultured man, could read and write, and—chief thing of all—he had money; moreover, he did not dress in peasant fashion, but wore a long kaftan of black cloth, boots of dressed calf-leather, and a small kerchief round his neck. To tell the truth, some of the house-serfs did make remarks among themselves to the effect, "'t is plain, nevertheless, that he is not one of us," but to his face they almost flattered him. That evening at the overseer's, Dunyásha completed the conquest of Akím's amorous heart, although she positively did not reply by a single word to all his ingratiating speeches, and only now and then cast a side-long glance at him, as though astonished at seeing that peasant there. All this only inflamed Akím the more. He went off home, thought, and thought, and made up his mind to obtain her hand.... So thoroughly had she "bewitched" him. But how shall we describe Dunyásha's wrath and indignation when, five days later, Kiríllovna, affectionately calling her into her room, announced to her that Akím (and evidently he had understood how to set about the business),—that that beard-wearer and peasant Akím, to sit beside whom she had regarded as an insult,—was courting her!

At first Dunyásha flushed hot all over, then she emitted a forced laugh, then fell to weeping; but Kiríllovna conducted the attack so artfully, so clearly made her feel her position in the house, so cleverly hinted at Akím's decent appearance, wealth, and blind devotion, and, in conclusion, so significantly alluded to the mistress's own wishes, that Dunyásha left the room with hesitation depicted on her face, and encountering Akím, merely gazed intently into his eyes, but did not turn away. The fabulously lavish gifts of this enamoured man dispelled her last doubts.... Lizavéta Prókhorovna, to whom Akím, in his joy, had presented a hundred peaches on a large silver salver, gave her consent to his marriage with Dunyásha, and the wedding took place. Akím spared no expense—and the bride, who on the eve of the wedding had sat in the maids' room like one on the verge of expiring, and had done nothing but cry on the very morning of the wedding, while Kiríllovna was dressing her for the ceremony, was speedily comforted.... Her mistress gave her her own shawl to wear in church—and that very same day Akím gave her another of the same sort, only almost better.

So then Akím married, and transported his young wife to his inn.... They began to live. Dunyásha proved to be a bad housekeeper, a poor helpmeet for her husband. She never looked after anything, she grieved, was bored, unless some passing officer was attentive to her and paid court to her, as he sat behind the capacious samovár; she frequently absented herself, sometimes going to the town to shop, sometimes to the mistress's manor-house, which lay four versts distant from the inn. In the manor-house she refreshed herself; there people of her own sort surrounded her; the maids envied her smart attire; Kiríllovna treated her to tea; Lizavéta Prókhorovna herself chatted with her.... But even these visits did not pass off without bitter emotions for Dunyásha.... For instance, being a house-serf, she was not allowed to wear a bonnet, and was obliged to muffle her head up in a kerchief .... "like a merchant's wife," as the crafty Kiríllovna said to her.... "Like the wife of a petty burgher," thought Dunyásha to herself.

More than once there recurred to Akím's mind the words of his only relative, an aged uncle, an inveterate peasant, a man without family or land: "Well, brother, Akímushka," he had said to him, when he met him in the street, "I have heard that thou 'rt a-courting...."

"Well, yes, I am; what of it?"

"Ekh, Akím, Akím! Thou 'rt no mate for us peasants now, there 's no denying it; neither is she a mate for thee."

"But why is n't she a mate for me?"

"Why, for this reason, at least,"—returned the other, pointing to Akím's beard, which he, to please his bride, had begun to clip close—he would not consent to shave it off entirely.... Akím dropped his eyes; and the old man turned away, wrapped about him the skirts of his sheepskin coat, which was ragged on the shoulders, and went his way, shaking his head.

Yes, more than once did Akím grow pensive, grunt and sigh.... But his love for his pretty wife did not diminish; he was proud of her, especially when he compared her, not only with the other peasant women, or with his former wife, whom he had married at the age of sixteen, but with the other maids of the house-serf class: as much as to say: "Just see what sort of a bird we 've captured!".... Her slightest caress afforded him great pleasure... "Perhaps," he thought to himself, "she 'll get used to me, she 'll grow accustomed to her new life..." Moreover, she conducted herself very well, and no one could say an evil word concerning her.

Several years passed in this manner. Dunyásha really did end by becoming used to her existence. The older Akím grew, the more attached he became to her, and the more he trusted her; her friends, who had married men not of the peasant class, suffered dire need, or were in distress, or had fallen into evil hands.... But Akím continued to wax richer and richer. He succeeded in everything—he was lucky; only one thing grieved him: God had not given him any children. Dunyásha was already in her twenty-fifth year; every one had come to call her Avdótya Aréfyevna. Nevertheless, she had not become a good housewife.—But she had come to love her home, she attended to the stores of provisions, she looked after the servant-maids.... Truth to tell, she did all this in an indifferent way, and did not exercise the proper oversight as to cleanliness and order; but, on the other hand, in the principal room of the inn, alongside the portrait of Akím, hung her portrait, painted in oils and ordered by her from a home-bred artist, the son of the parish deacon.—She was represented in a white gown and a yellow shawl, with six rows of large pearls on her neck, long earrings in her ears, and rings on every finger... It was possible to recognise her,—although the painter had depicted her as extremely corpulent and rosy-cheeked, and had painted her eyes black instead of grey, and even a trifle squinting... He had not succeeded at all with Akím: the latter had, somehow, turned out very dark—ŕ la Rembrandt,—so that a traveller would sometimes step up and stare at it, and merely bellow a bit.

Avdótya had begun to dress with a good deal of carelessness; she would throw a large kerchief over her shoulders, and the gown under it would fit anyhow; indolence had taken possession of her, that sighing, languid, sleepy indolence to which Russians are but too greatly inclined, especially when their existence is assured.....

Nevertheless, the affairs of Akím and his wife throve very well; they lived in concord, and bore the reputation of being an exemplary married pair. But, like the squirrel which is cleaning its nose at the very moment when the arrow is aimed at it, a man has no foreboding of his own disaster—and suddenly down he crashes, as though on the ice....

One autumn evening a merchant with dry-goods stopped at Akím's inn. He was making his way, by devious roads, with two loaded kibítkas, from Moscow to Khárkoff; he was one of those peddlers whom the wives and daughters of landed proprietors sometimes await with so much impatience. With this peddler, already an elderly man, were travelling two comrades, or, to put it more accurately, two workmen—one pale, thin, hump-backed, the other a stately, handsome young fellow of twenty. They ordered supper, then sat down to drink tea; the peddler invited the landlord and landlady to drink a cup with him—and they did not refuse. A conversation was speedily under way between the two old men (Akím had seen his fifty-sixth birthday); the peddler was making inquiries concerning the neighbouring landed proprietors,—and no one could impart to him all necessary details about them better than could Akím. The hump-backed labourer kept continually going out to look at the carts, and at last took himself off to sleep; Avdótya was left to chat with the other labourer.... She sat beside him and talked little, and chiefly listened to what he narrated to her; but evidently his remarks pleased her; her face grew animated, a flush played over her cheeks, and she laughed quite often and readily. The young labourer sat almost motionless, with his curly head bent toward the table; he spoke softly without raising his voice, and without haste; on the other hand his eyes, not large, but audaciously bright and blue, fairly bored into Avdótya; at first she turned away from them, then she began to gaze into his face. The young fellow's face was as fresh and smooth as a Crimean apple; he smiled frequently and drummed his white fingers on his white chin, already covered with sparse, dark down. He expressed himself after the merchant fashion, but with great ease, and with a certain careless self-confidence—and kept staring at her all the while with the same insistent and insolent look.... Suddenly he moved a little closer to her, and without changing the expression of his face in the least, he said to her: "Avdótya Aréfyevna, there 's nobody in the world nicer than you; I 'm ready to die for you, I do believe."

Avdótya laughed loudly.

"What 's the matter with thee?"—Akím asked her.

"Why, this man here is telling such absurd things,"—she said, but without any special confusion.

The old peddler grinned.

"He, he, yes, ma'am; that Naúm of mine is such a joker, sir. But you must n't listen to him, ma'am."

"Yes, certainly! as if I would listen to him,"—she replied, and shook her head.

"He, he, of course, ma'am,"—remarked the old man.—"Well, but,"—he added in a drawl,—"good-bye, I 'm much obliged, ma'am, but now 't is time to go to roost, ma'am...." And he rose to his feet.

"And we are much obliged, sir, too, sir,"—said Akím also,—"for the entertainment, that is to say; but now we wish you good night, sir. Rise, Avdótyushka."

Avdótya rose, as though reluctantly, and after her Naúm rose also .... and all dispersed.

The landlord and landlady betook themselves to the small, closet-like room which served them as a bedroom. Akím set to snoring instantly. Avdótya could not get to sleep for a long time.... At first she lay still, with her face turned to the wall, then she began to toss about on the hot feather-bed, now throwing off, now drawing up the coverlet .... then she fell into a light doze. All of a sudden, a man's loud voice resounded in the yard; it was singing some slow but not mournful song, the words of which could not be distinguished. Avdótya opened her eyes, raised herself on her elbow, and began to listen.... The song still went on.... It poured forth sonorously on the autumnal air.

Akím raised his head.

"Who 's that singing?"—he inquired.

"I don't know,"—she replied.

"He sings well,"—he added, after a brief pause.—"Well. What a strong voice. I used to sing in my day,"—he continued,—"and I sang well, but my voice is ruined. But that 's a fine singer. It must be that young fellow singing. Naúm is his name, I think."—And he turned over on his other side—drew a deep breath, and fell asleep again.

The voice did not cease for a long time thereafter.... Avdótya continued to listen and listen; at last it suddenly broke off short, as it were, then uttered one more wild shout, and slowly died away. Avdótya crossed herself, and laid her head on the pillow.... Half an hour elapsed.... She raised herself and began softly to get out of bed....

"Whither art thou going, wife?"—Akím asked her through his sleep.

She stopped short.

"To adjust the shrine-lamp,"—she answered; "somehow or other I can't sleep."

"Thou hadst better say thy prayers,"—stammered Akím as he fell asleep.

Avdótya went to the shrine-lamp, began to adjust it, and incautiously extinguished it; she returned and lay down in bed. Silence reigned.

Early on the following morning the merchant set out on his way with his companions. Avdótya was sleeping. Akím escorted them for about half a verst; he was obliged to go to the mill. On returning home he found his wife already dressed, and no longer alone; with her was the young fellow of the previous evening, Naúm. They were standing by the table, near the window, and talking together. On catching sight of Akím, Avdótya silently left the room, but Naúm said that he had returned for his master's mittens, which the latter had forgotten on the bench, and he also left the room.

We shall now inform our readers of that which they, no doubt, have already divined without our aid: Avdótya had fallen passionately in love with Naúm. How this could come to pass so quickly, it is difficult to explain; it is all the more difficult, in that, up to that time, she had behaved in an irreproachable manner, notwithstanding numerous opportunities and temptations to betray her marital vows. Later on, when her relations with Naúm became public, many persons in the countryside declared that on that very first evening he had put some magic herb into her tea (people with us still believe firmly in the efficacy of this method), and that this was very readily to be discerned in Avdótya, who, they said, very soon thereafter began to grow thin and bored.

However that may be, at all events Naúm began to be frequently seen at Akím's inn. First, he journeyed past with that same merchant, but three months later he made his appearance alone, with his own wares; then a rumour became current that he had taken up his residence in one of the near-by towns of the county, and from that time forth not a week passed that his stout, painted cart, drawn by a pair of plump horses which he drove himself, did not make its appearance on the highway.

There was no great friendship between him and Akím, but no hostility between them was apparent; Akím paid no great attention to him, and knew nothing about him, except that he was an intelligent young fellow, who had started out boldly. He did not suspect Avdótya's real feelings, and continued to trust her as before.

Thus passed two years more.

Then, one summer day, before dinner, about one o'clock, Lizavéta Prókhorovna, who precisely during the course of those two years had somehow suddenly grown wrinkled and sallow, despite all sorts of massage, rouge, and powder,—Lizavéta Prókhorovna, with her lap-dog and her folding parasol, strolled forth for a walk in her neat little German park. Lightly rustling her starched gown, she was walking with mincing steps along the sanded path, between two rows of dahlias drawn up in military array, when suddenly she was overtaken by our old acquaintance, Kiríllovna, who respectfully announced that a certain merchant from B*** desired to see her on a very important matter. Kiríllovna, as of yore, enjoyed the mistress's favour (in reality, she managed the estate of Madame Kuntze), and some time previously had received permission to wear a white mob-cap, which imparted still more harshness to the thin features of her swarthy face.

"A merchant?"—inquired the lady. "What does he want?"

"I don't know, ma'am, what he wants,"—replied Kiríllovna in a wheedling voice;—"but, apparently, he wishes to purchase something from you, ma'am."

Lizavéta Prókhorovna returned to the drawing-room, seated herself in her customary place, an arm-chair with a canopy, over which ivy meandered prettily, and ordered the merchant from B*** to be summoned.

Naúm entered, made his bow, and halted at the door.

"I have heard that you wish to buy something from me,"—began Lizavéta Prókhorovna, and thought to herself the while:—"What a handsome man this merchant is!"

"Exactly so, ma'am."

"And precisely what is it?"

"Will you not deign to sell your inn?"

"What inn?"

"Why, the one which stands on the highway, not far from here."

"But that inn does not belong to me. That is Akím's inn."

"Why is n't it yours? It stands on your land, ma'am."

"Assuming that the land is mine .... bought in my name; still the inn is his."

"Just so, ma'am. So then, won't you sell it to us, ma'am?"

"I am to sell it?"

"Just so, ma'am. And we would pay a good price for it."

Lizavéta Prókhorovna maintained silence for a while.

"Really, this is strange,"—she began again; "what are you saying? But how much would you give?"—she added.—"That is to say, I am not asking for myself, but for Akím."

"Why, with all the buildings and, ma'am, dependencies, ma'am ... well ... and, of course, with the land attached to the inn, we would give two thousand rubles, ma'am."

"Two thousand rubles! That 's very little,"—replied Lizavéta Prókhorovna.

"That 's the proper price, ma'am."

"But, have you talked it over with Akím?"

"Why should we talk with him, ma'am? The inn is yours, so we have thought best to discuss it with you, ma'am."

"But I have already told you .... really, this is astonishing! How is it that you do not understand me?"

"Why don't we understand, ma'am? We do."

Lizavéta Prókhorovna looked at Naúm, Naúm looked at Lizavéta Prókhorovna.

"How is it to be, then, ma'am?"—he began:—"what proposal have you to make on your side, that is to say, ma'am?"

"On my side ...." Lizavéta Prókhorovna fidgeted about in her easy-chair.—"In the first place, I tell you that two thousand is not enough, and in the second place ...."

"We 'll add a hundred, if you like."

Lizavéta Prókhorovna rose.

"I see that you are talking at cross-purposes, and I have already told you that I cannot and will not sell that inn. I cannot .... that is to say, I will not."

Naúm smiled and made no reply for a while.

"Well, as you like, ma'am ...." he remarked, with a slight shrug of the shoulders;—"I will bid you good-day, ma'am."—And he made his bow, and grasped the door-handle.

Lizavéta Prókhorovna turned toward him.

"However,...." she said, with barely perceptible hesitation,—"you need not go just yet."—She rang the bell; Kiríllovna made her appearance from the boudoir.

"Kiríllovna, order the servants to give the merchant tea.—I will see you later on,"—she added, with a slight inclination of her head.

Naúm bowed again, and left the room in company with Kiríllovna.

Lizavéta Prókhorovna paced up and down the room a couple of times, then rang the bell again. This time a page entered. She ordered him to summon Kiríllovna. In a few moments Kiríllovna entered, with barely a squeak of her new goat's-leather shoes.

"Didst thou hear,"—began Lizavéta Prókhorovna, with a constrained smile,—"what that merchant is proposing to me? Such a queer man, really!"

"No, ma'am, I did n't hear.... What is it, ma'am?"—And Kiríllovna slightly narrowed her little, black, Kalmýk eyes.

"He wants to buy Akím's inn from me."

"And what of that, ma'am?"

"Why, seest thou .... But how about Akím? I have given it to Akím."

"And, good gracious, my lady, what is it you are pleased to say? Is n't that inn yours? Are n't we your property, pray? And everything we have,—is n't that also the property of the mistress?"

"Mercy me, what 's that thou 'rt saying, Kiríllovna?"—Lizavéta Prókhorovna got out her batiste handkerchief and nervously blew her nose.—"Akím bought that inn out of his own money."

"Out of his own money? And where did he get that money?—Was n't it through your kindness? And, then, see how long he has enjoyed the use of the land.... Surely, all this is through your kindness. And do you think, madam, that even so he will not have more money left? Why, he 's richer than you are, as God is my witness, ma'am!"

"All that is so, of course, but, nevertheless, I cannot.... How am I to sell that inn?"

"But why not sell it, ma'am?"—went on Kiríllovna.—"Luckily, a purchaser has turned up. Permit me to inquire, ma'am, how much does he offer you?"

"Over two thousand rubles,"—said Lizavéta Prókhorovna, softly.

"He 'll give more, madam, if he offers two thousand at the first word. And you can settle with Akím afterward; you can reduce his quit-rent, I suppose.—He will still be grateful."

"Of course, his quit-rent must be reduced. But no, Kiríllovna; how can I sell?..." And Lizavéta Prókhorovna paced up and down the room.... "No, it is impossible; it is n't right;.... no; please say no more to me about it ... or I shall get angry...."

But in spite of the prohibition of the excited Lizavéta Prókhorovna, Kiríllovna continued to talk, and half an hour later she returned to Naúm, whom she had left in the butler's pantry with the samovár.

"What have you to tell me, my most respected?"—said Naúm, foppishly turning his empty cup upside down on his saucer.

"This is what I have to tell you,"—returned Kiríllovna:—"that you are to go to the mistress; she bids you come."

"I obey, ma'am,"—replied Naúm, rising, and followed Kiríllovna to the drawing-room.

The door closed behind them.... When, at last, that door opened again and Naúm backed out of it bowing, the matter was already settled; Akím's inn belonged to him; he had acquired it for two thousand eight hundred rubles in bank-bills. They had decided to complete the deed of sale as promptly as possible, and not to announce the sale until that was accomplished; Lizavéta Prókhorovna had received one hundred rubles as deposit, and two hundred rubles went to Kiríllovna as commission.

"I have got it at a bargain,"—thought Naúm, as he climbed into his cart; "I 'm glad it turned out well."

At that very time, when the bargain which we have described was being effected at the manor-house, Akím was sitting alone on the wall-bench under the window, in his own room, and stroking his beard with an air of displeasure.... We have stated above that he did not suspect his wife's fondness for Naúm, although kind persons had, more than once, hinted to him that it was high time for him to listen to reason; of course, he himself was sometimes able to observe that his housewife, for some time past, had become more restive; but then, all the world knows that the female sex is vain and capricious. Even when it really seemed to him that something was wrong, he merely waved it from him; he did not wish, as the saying is, to raise a row; his good-nature had not diminished with the years, and, moreover, indolence was making itself felt. But on that day he was very much out of sorts; on the previous evening he had unexpectedly overheard on the street a conversation between his maid-servant and another woman, one of his neighbours....

The woman had asked his maid-servant why she had not run in to see her on the evening of the holiday. "I was expecting thee," she said.

"Why, I would have come,"—replied the maid-servant,—"but, shameful to say, I caught the mistress at her capers .... bad luck to her!"

"Thou didst catch her ...." repeated the peasant-wife in a peculiarly-drawling tone, propping her cheek on her hand.—"And where didst thou catch her, my mother?"

"Why, behind the hemp-patches—the priest's hemp-patches. The mistress, seest thou, had gone out to the hemp-patches to meet that fellow of hers, that Naúm, and I could n't see in the dark, whether because of the moonlight, or what not, the Lord knows, and so I ran right against them."

"Thou didst run against them,"—repeated the peasant-wife again.—"Well, and what was she doing, my mother? Was she standing with him?"

"She was standing, right enough. He was standing and she was standing. She caught sight of me, and says she: 'Whither art thou running to? Take thyself off home.' So I went."

"Thou wentest."—The peasant-wife was silent for a space.—"Well, good-bye, Fetíniushka,"—she said, and went her way.

This conversation had produced an unpleasant effect on Akím. His love for Avdótya had already grown cold, but, nevertheless, the maid-servant's words displeased him. And she had told the truth: as a matter of fact, Avdótya had gone out that evening to meet Naúm, who had waited for her in the dense shadow which fell upon the road from the tall and motionless hemp-patch. The dew had drenched its every stalk from top to bottom; the scent, powerful to the point of oppressiveness, lay all around. The moon had only just risen, huge and crimson, in the dim and the blackish mist. Naúm had heard Avdótya's hasty footsteps from afar, and had advanced to meet her. She reached him all pale with running; the moon shone directly in her face.

"Well, how now; hast thou brought it?"—he asked her.

"Yes, I have,"—she replied in an irresolute tone:—"but, Naúm Ivánovitch, what ...."

"Give it here, if thou hast brought it,"—he interrupted her, stretching out his hand.

She drew from beneath her kerchief on her neck some sort of packet. Naúm instantly grasped it and thrust it into his breast.

"Naúm Ivánitch,"—enunciated Avdótya, slowly, and without taking her eyes from him.... "Okh, Naúm Ivánitch, I am ruining my soul for thee...."

At that moment the maid-servant had come upon them.

So, then, Akím was sitting on the wall-bench and stroking his beard with his dissatisfaction. Avdótya kept entering the house and leaving it. He merely followed her with his eyes. At last she entered yet again, and taking a warm wadded jacket from the little room, she was already crossing the threshold; but he could endure it no longer, and began to talk, as though to himself:

"I wonder,"—he began,—"what makes these women-folks always so fidgety? That they should sit still in one spot is something that can't be demanded of them. That 's no affair of theirs. But what they do love is to be running off somewhere or other, morning or evening.—Yes."

Avdótya heard her husband's speech out to the end without changing her attitude; only, at the word "evening," she moved her head a mere trifle, and seemed to become thoughtful.

"Well, Semyónitch,"—she said at last, with irritation,—"'t is well known that when thou beginnest to talk, why...."

She waved her hand and departed, slamming the door behind her. Avdótya did not, in fact, hold Akím's eloquence in high esteem, and it sometimes happened, when he undertook of an evening to argue with the travellers, or began to tell stories, she would yawn quietly or walk out of the room. Akím stared at the closed door.... "When thou beginnest to talk," he repeated in an undertone .... "that 's exactly it, that I have talked very little with thee.... And who art thou? My equal, and, moreover ...." And he rose, meditated, and dealt himself a blow on the nape of his neck with his clenched fist....

A few days passed after this day in a decidedly queer manner. Akím kept on staring at his wife, as though he were preparing to say something to her; and she, on her side, darted suspicious glances at him; moreover, both of them maintained a constrained silence; this silence, however, was generally broken by some snappish remark from Akím about some neglect in the housekeeping, or on the subject of women in general; Avdótya, for the most part, did not answer him with a single word. But, despite all Akím's good-natured weakness, matters would infallibly have come to a decisive explanation between him and Avdótya had it not been for the fact that, at last, an incident occurred, after which all explanations would have been superfluous.

Namely, one morning, Akím and his wife were just preparing to take a light meal after the noon hour (there was not a single traveller in the inn, after the summer labours), when suddenly a small cart rumbled energetically along the road, and drew up at the porch. Akím glanced through the small window, frowned, and dropped his eyes; from the cart, without haste, Naúm alighted. Avdótya did not see him, but when his voice resounded in the anteroom, the spoon trembled weakly in her hand. He ordered the hired man to put his horse in the yard. At last the door flew wide open, and he entered the room.

"Morning,"—he said, and doffed his cap.

"Morning,"—repeated Akím through his teeth.—"Whence has God brought thee?"

"From the neighbourhood,"—returned the other, seating himself on the wall-bench.—"I come from the lady-mistress."

"From the mistress,"—said Akím, still not rising from his seat.—"On business, pray?"

"Yes, on business. Avdótya Aréfyevna, our respects to you."

"Good morning, Naúm,"—she replied.

All remained silent for a space.

"What have you there—some sort of porridge, I suppose?"—began Naúm....

"Yes, porridge,"—retorted Akím, and suddenly paled:—"but it is n't for thee."

Naúm darted a glance of astonishment at Akím.

"Why is n't it for me?"

"Why, just because it is n't for thee."—Akím's eyes began to flash, and he smote the table with his fist.—"There is nothing in my house for thee, dost hear me?"

"What ails thee, Semyónitch, what ails thee? What 's the matter with thee?"

"There 's nothing the matter with me, but I 'm tired of thee, Naúm Ivánitch, that 's what."—The old man rose to his feet, trembling all over.—"Thou hast taken to haunting my house altogether too much, that 's what."

Naúm also rose to his feet.

"Thou hast gone crazy, brother, I do believe,"—he said with a smile.—"Avdótya Aréfyevna, what 's the matter with him?"...

"I tell thee,"—yelled Akím, in a quivering voice,—"get out. Dost hear me?.... What hast thou to do with Avdótya Aréfyevna?.... Begone, I tell thee! Dost hear me?"

"What 's that thou art saying to me?"—inquired Naúm, significantly.

"Take thyself away from here; that 's what I 'm saying to thee. There is God, and there is the threshold .... dost understand? or 't will be the worse for thee!"

Naúm strode forward.

"Good heavens, don't fight, my dear little doves,"—stammered Avdótya, who until then had remained sitting motionless at the table....

Naúm cast a glance at her.

"Don't worry, Avdótya Aréfyevna, why should we fight! Ek-sta, brother,"—he continued, addressing Akím:—"thou hast deafened me with thy yells. Really. What an insolent fellow thou art! Did any one ever hear of such a thing as expelling a man from another man's house,"—added Naúm, with deliberate enunciation:—"and the master of the house, into the bargain?"

"What dost thou mean by another man's house?"—muttered Akím.—"What master of the house?"

"Why, me, for example."

And Naúm screwed up his eyes, and displayed his white teeth in a grin.

"Thee, forsooth? Ain't I the master of the house?"

"What a stupid fellow thou art, my good fellow.—I am the master of the house, I tell thee."

Akím opened his eyes to their widest.

"What nonsense is that thou art prating, as though thou hadst eaten mad-wort?"—he said at last.—"How the devil dost thou come to be the master?"

"Well, what 's the use of talking to thee,"—shouted Naúm, impatiently.—"Dost see this document,"—he added, jerking out of his pocket a sheet of stamped paper folded in four:—"dost see it? This is a deed of sale, understand, a deed of sale for thy land, and for the inn; I have bought them from the landed proprietress, Lizavéta Prókhorovna. We signed the deed of sale yesterday, in B***—consequently, I am the master here, not thou. Gather up thy duds this very day,"—he added, putting the paper back in his pocket;—"and let there be not a sign of thee here by to-morrow; hearest thou?"

Akím stood as though he had been struck by lightning.

"Brigand!"—he moaned at last;—"the brigand... Hey, Fédka, Mítka, wife, wife, seize him, seize him—hold him!"

He had completely lost his wits.

"Look out, look out,"—ejaculated Naúm, menacingly:—"look out, old man, don't play the fool...."

"But beat him, beat him, wife!"—Akím kept repeating in a tearful voice, vainly and impotently trying to leave his place.—"The soul-ruiner, the brigand... She was n't enough for thee ... thou wantest to take my house away from me also, and everything.... But no, stay .... that cannot be.... I will go myself. I will tell her myself ... how .... but why sell?... Stop .... stop...."

And he rushed hatless into the street.

"Whither art thou running, Akím Ivánitch, whither art thou running, dear little father?"—cried the maid-servant Fetínya, who collided with him in the doorway.

"To the mistress! let me go! To the mistress...." roared Akím, and catching sight of Naúm's cart, which the servants had not yet had time to put in the stable-yard, he sprang into it, seized the reins, and lashing the horse with all his might, he set off at a gallop to the lady's manor-house.

"Dear little mother, Lizavéta Prókhorovna,"—he kept repeating to himself all the way,—"why such unkindness? I have shown zeal, methinks!"

And, in the meantime, he kept on beating the horse. Those who met him drew aside and gazed long after him.

In a quarter of an hour Akím had reached Lizavéta Prókhorovna's manor, had dashed up to the porch, had leaped from the cart, and burst straight into the anteroom.

"What dost thou want?"—muttered the startled footman, who was sweetly dozing on the locker.

"The mistress—I must see the mistress," vociferated Akím loudly.

The lackey was astounded.

"Has anything happened?"—he began.

"Nothing has happened, but I must see the mistress."

"What, what?"—said the lackey, more and more astounded, straightening himself up.

Akím recovered himself... It was as though he had been drenched with cold water.

"Announce to the mistress, Piótr Evgráfitch,"—he said, with a low obeisance,—"that Akím wishes to see her...."

"Good,... I will go .... I will announce thee .... but evidently thou art drunk. Wait,"—grumbled the lackey, and withdrew.

Akím dropped his eyes and became confused, as it were.... His boldness had swiftly abandoned him from the very moment he had entered the anteroom.

Lizavéta Prókhorovna was also disconcerted when Akím's arrival was announced to her. She immediately gave orders that Kiríllovna should be called to her in her boudoir.

"I cannot receive him,"—she said hurriedly, as soon as the latter made her appearance;—"I cannot possibly do it. What can I say to him? Did n't I tell thee that he would be sure to come and would complain?"—she added, with vexation and agitation;—"I said so...."

"Why should you receive him, ma'am?"—calmly replied Kiríllovna;—"that is not necessary, ma'am. Why should you disturb yourself, pray?"

"But what am I to do?"

"If you will permit me, I will talk with him."

Lizavéta Prókhorovna raised her head.

"Pray, do me the favour, Kiríllovna. Do talk with him. Do thou tell him .... there—well, that I found it necessary ... and, moreover, that I will make it up to him .... well, there now, thou knowest what to say. Pray, do, Kiríllovna."

"Please do not fret, madam,"—returned Kiríllovna, and withdrew, with squeaking shoes.

A quarter of an hour had not elapsed when their squeaking became audible again, and Kiríllovna entered the boudoir with the same composed expression on her face, with the same crafty intelligence in her eyes.

"Well,"—inquired her mistress,—"how about Akím?"

"'T is all right, ma'am. He says, ma'am, that everything is in your power, he submits himself wholly to the will of your Graciousness, and if only you keep well and prosperous, he will forever be satisfied with his lot."

"And he made no complaint?"

"None whatever, ma'am. What was there for him to complain about?"

"But why did he come, then?"—said Lizavéta Prókhorovna, not without some surprise.

"Why, he came to ask, ma'am, until he receives compensation, whether you will not be so gracious as to remit his quit-rent for the coming year, that is to say ...."

"Of course I will! I will remit it,"—put in Lizavéta Prókhorovna, with vivacity;—"of course. And, tell him, in general terms, that I will reward him. Well, I thank thee, Kiríllovna. And he is a good peasant, I see. Stay,"—she added:—"here, give him this from me."—And she took out of her work-table a three-ruble bill.—"Here, take this and give it to him."

"I obey, ma'am,"—replied Kiríllovna, and coolly returning to her own room, she coolly locked up the bank-bill in an iron-bound casket which stood by the head of her bed; she kept in it all her ready money, and the amount was not small.

Kiríllovna by her report had soothed her lady, but the conversation between her and Akím had, in reality, not been precisely as she represented it, but to wit: she had ordered him to be summoned to her in the maids' hall. At first he refused to go to her, declaring that he did not wish to see Kiríllovna, but Lizavéta Prókhorovna herself; nevertheless, at last, he submitted, and wended his way through the back door to Kiríllovna. He found her alone. On entering the room he came to a halt at once, leaned against the wall near the door, and made an effort to speak .... and could not.

Kiríllovna stared intently at him.

"Do you wish to see the mistress, Akím Semyónitch?"—she began.

He merely nodded his head.

"That is impossible, Akím Semyónitch. And what is the use? What is done can't be undone, and you will only worry her. She cannot receive you now, Akím Semyónitch."

"She cannot,"—he repeated, and paused for a space.—"Then how is it to be,"—he said at last;—"that means that I must lose my house?"

"Hearken, Akím Semyónitch. I know that you have always been a reasonable man. This is the mistress's will. And it cannot be changed. You cannot alter it. There is nothing for you and me to discuss, for it will lead to no result. Is n't that so?"

Akím put his hands behind his back.

"But you had better consider,"—went on Kiríllovna,—"whether you ought not to ask the mistress to remit your quit-rent, had n't you?..."

"That means that I must lose the house,"—repeated Akím, in the same tone as before.

"Akím Semyónitch, I 've told you already 't is impossible to change that. You know that yourself even better than I do."

"Yes. But tell me, at any rate, how much my inn sold for?"

"I don't know that, Akím Semyónitch; I can't tell you.... But why do you stand there?"—she added.—"Sit down...."

"I 'll stand as I am, ma'am. I 'm a peasant. I thank you humbly."

"Why do you say that you are a peasant, Akím Semyónitch? You are the same as a merchant; you cannot be compared even with the house-serfs; why do you say that? Don't decry yourself without cause. Won't you have some tea?"

"No, thanks; I don't require it. And so my dear little house has become your property,"—he added, quitting the wall.—"Thanks for that, also. I will bid you good day, my little madam."

Thereupon he wheeled round, and left the room. Kiríllovna smoothed down her apron, and betook herself to her mistress.

"So it appears that I actually have become a merchant,"—said Akím to himself, as he paused in thought before the gate.—"A fine merchant!"He waved his hand and laughed a bitter laugh.—"Well, I might as well go home!"

And utterly oblivious of Naúm's horse, which he had driven thither, he trudged along the road to the inn. Before he had covered the first verst, he heard the rattle of a cart alongside of him.

"Akím, Akím Semyónitch!"—some one called to him.

He raised his eyes and beheld his acquaintance, the chanter of the parish church, Efrém, nicknamed "The Mole," a small, round-shouldered man, with a sharp-pointed little nose, and purblind eyes. He was sitting in a rickety little cart on a whisp of straw, with his breast leaning on the driver's seat.

"Art thou on thy way home, pray?"—he asked Akím.

Akím halted.

"Yes."

"I 'll drive you there,—shall I?"

"All right, do."

Efrém moved aside, and Akím clambered into the cart. Efrém, who was jolly with drink, it appeared, set to lashing his miserable little nag with the ends of his rope reins; the horse advanced at a weary trot, incessantly twitching her unbridled muzzle.

They drove about a verst, without saying one word to each other. Akím sat with bowed head, and Efrém merely mumbled something to himself, now stimulating the horse to greater speed, now reining it in.

"Whither hast thou been without a hat, Semyónitch?"—he suddenly asked Akím, and, without waiting for a reply, he went on in an undertone:—"thou hast left it in a nice little dram-shop, that 's what. Thou 'rt a tippler; I know thee, and I love thee because thou art a tippler—'t was high time, long ago, to place thee under ecclesiastical censure, God is my witness; because 't is a bad business.... Hurrah!"—he shouted suddenly, at the top of his lungs,—"hurrah! hurrah!"

"Halt! halt!"—rang out a woman's voice close at hand.—"Halt!"

Akím glanced round. Across the fields, in the direction of the cart, a woman was running, so pale and dishevelled that he did not recognise her at first.

"Halt, halt!"—she moaned again, panting and waving her arms.

Akím shuddered: it was his wife.

He seized the reins.

"And why should we halt?"—muttered Efrém;—"why should we halt for a female? Get u-uup!"

But Akím jerked the horse abruptly on its haunches.

At that moment Avdótya reached the road, and fairly tumbled headlong, face downward, in the dust.

"Dear little father, Akím Semyónitch,"—she shrieked;—"he has actually turned me out of doors!"

Akím gazed at her, and did not move, but merely drew the reins still more taut.

"Hurrah!"—cried Efrém again.

"And so he has turned thee out?"—said Akím.

"He has, dear little father, my dear little dove," replied Avdótya, sobbing.—"He has turned me out, dear little father. 'The house is mine now,' says he; 'so get out,' says he."

"Capital, that 's just fine ... capital!"—remarked Efrém.

"And thou wert counting on remaining, I suppose?"—said Akím, bitterly, as he continued to sit in the cart.

"Remain, indeed! Yes, dear little father,"—put in Avdótya, who had raised herself on her knees, and again beat her brow against the ground;—"for thou dost not know, seest thou, I.... Kill me, Akím Semyónitch, kill me here, on the spot...."

"Why should I beat thee, Aréfyevna!"—replied Akím, dejectedly:—"thou hast vanquished thyself! what more is there to say?"

"But what wilt thou think, Akím Semyónitch.... Why, the money .... was thy money.... It is gone, thy money... For I took it, accursed that I am, I got it from the cellar..... I gave it all to that man, that villain, that Naúm, accursed creature that I am!... And why didst thou tell me where thou hadst hidden thy money, wretched being that I am!.... For he bought the inn with thy money .... the villain...."

Sobs drowned her voice.

Akím clutched his head with both hands.

"What!"—he screamed at last;—"and so all the money too ... the money, and the inn, thou hast.... Ah! thou hast got it from the cellar .... from the cellar.... Yes, I will kill thee, thou brood of vipers!..."

And he leaped from the cart....

"Semyónitch, Semyónitch, don't beat her, don't fight,"—stammered Efrém, whose intoxication began to dissipate at such an unexpected event.

"Yes, dear little father, kill me, kill me, dear little father, kill me, the vile creature: beat away, don't heed him!"—shrieked Avdótya, as she writhed convulsively at Akím's feet.

He stood awhile and stared at her, then retreated a few paces, and sat down on the grass, by the roadside.

A brief silence ensued. Avdótya turned her head in his direction.

"Semyónitch, hey, Semyónitch!"—began Efrém, half-rising in the cart;—"have done with that—that will do ... for thou canst not repair the calamity. Phew, what an affair!"—he continued, as though to himself;—"what a damned bad woman... Do thou go to him,"—he added, bending over the cart-rail toward Avdótya;—"canst not see that he has gone crazy?"

Avdótya rose, approached Akím and again fell at his feet.

"Dear little father,"—she began in a faint voice.

Akím rose and went back to the cart. She clutched the skirt of his kaftan.

"Get away!"—he shouted fiercely, repulsing her.

"Whither art thou going?"—Efrém asked him, perceiving that he was taking his seat again beside him.

"Why, thou didst offer to drive me to the inn,"—said Akím:—"so drive me to thy house.... I have none any more, seest thou. They have bought it from me, you know."

"Well, all right, let 's go to my house. And how about her?"

Akím made no answer.

"And me, me,"—chimed in Avdótya, weeping;—"to whose care dost thou leave me .... whither am I to go?"

"Go to him,"—returned Akím, without turning round:—"to the man to whom thou didst carry my money... Drive on, Efrém!"

Efrém whipped up the horse, the cart rolled off, and Avdótya set up a shrill scream....

Efrém lived a verst from Akím's inn, in a tiny cot in the priest's glebe, disposed around the solitary five-domed church, which had recently been erected by the heirs of a wealthy merchant, in conformity with his testamentary dispositions. Efrém did not speak to Akím all the way, and only shook his head from time to time, uttering words of the following nature: "Akh, thou!" and, "Ekh, thou!" Akím sat motionless, slightly turned away from Efrém. At last they arrived. Efrém sprang out first from the cart. A little girl of six years in a little chemise girt low ran out to meet him, and screamed:

"Daddy! daddy!"

"And where is thy mother?"—Efrém asked her.

"She 's asleep in the kennel."

"Well, let her sleep. Akím Semyónitch, won't you please come into the house?"

(It must be observed that Efrém addressed him as "thou" only when he was intoxicated. Far more important persons than he addressed Akím as "you.")

Akím entered the chanter's cottage.

"Pray, come hither to the bench,"—said Efrém.—"Run along, you little rogues,"—he shouted at three other brats who, along with two emaciated cats bespattered with ashes, suddenly made their appearance from various corners of the room.—"Run away! Scat! Here, Akím Semyónitch, come here,"—he went on, as he seated his guest:—"and would n't you like something?"

"What shall I say to thee, Efrém?"—articulated Akím at last.—"Could n't I have some liquor?"

Efrém gave a start.

"Liquor? Certainly. I have none in the house,—liquor, that is to say,—but here, I 'll run at once to Father Feódor. He always has some on hand..... I 'll be back in a jiffy...."

And he snatched up his large-eared cap.

"And bring as much as possible; I 'll pay for it,"—shouted Akím after him.—"I still have money enough for that."

"In a jiffy,"... repeated Efrém once more, as he disappeared through the door. He really did return very speedily with two quart bottles under his arm, one of which was already uncorked, placed them on the table, got out two small green glasses, the heel of a loaf, and salt.

"That 's what I love,"—he kept repeating, as he seated himself opposite Akím.—"What 's the use of grieving?"—he filled the glasses for both .... and set to babbling.... Avdótya's behaviour had stunned him.—"'T is an astonishing affair, truly,"—said he:—"how did it come about? He must have bewitched her to himself by magic .... hey? That 's what it means, that a woman should be strictly watched! She ought to have had a tight hand kept over her. And yet, it would n't be a bad thing for you to go home; for you must have a lot of property left there, I think."—And to many more speeches of the same sort did Efrém give utterance; when he was drinking he did not like to hold his tongue.

An hour later, this is what took place in Efrém's house. Akím, who had not replied by a single word, during the entire course of the drinking-bout, to the interrogations and comments of his loquacious host, and had merely drained glass after glass, was fast asleep on the oven, all red in the face—in a heavy, anguished slumber; the youngsters were wondering at him, while Efrém .... Alas! Efrém was asleep also, but only in a very cramped and cold lumber-room, in which he had been locked up by his wife, a woman of extremely masculine and robust build. He had gone to her in the stable, and had begun to threaten her, if she repeated something or other, but so incoherently and unintelligibly did he express himself that she instantly divined what the trouble was, grasped him by the collar, and led him to the proper place. However, he slept very well and even comfortably in the lumber-room. Habit!

Kiríllovna had not reported her conversation with Akím very accurately to Lizavéta Prókhorovna .... and the same may be said concerning Avdótya. Naúm had not turned her out of the house, although she had told Akím that he had done so; he had not the right to expel her.... He was bound to give the former proprietors time to move out. Explanations of quite another sort had taken place between him and Avdótya. When Akím had rushed into the street, shouting that he would go to the mistress, Avdótya had turned to Naúm, had stared at him with all her eyes, and clasped her hands.

"O Lord!"—she began;—"Naúm Ivánitch, what is the meaning of this? Have you bought our inn?"

"What if I have, ma'am?"—he retorted.—"I have bought it, ma'am."

Avdótya said nothing for a while, then suddenly took fright.

"So that is what you wanted the money for?"

"Precisely as you are pleased to put it, ma'am. Ehe, I do believe that measly little husband of yours has driven off with my horse,"—he added, as the rumble of wheels reached his ear.—"What a fine dashing fellow he is!"

"Why, but this is robbery, nothing else!"—shrieked Avdótya.—"For the money is ours, my husband's, and the inn is ours ...."

"No, ma'am, Avdótya Aréfyevna,"—Naúm interrupted her:—"the inn was n't yours, and what 's the use of saying so; the inn stood on the lady-mistress's land, so it belonged to her also; and the money really was yours, only you were so kind, I may put it, as to contribute it to me, ma'am; and I shall remain grateful to you, and shall even, if the occasion arises, return it to you,—if I should see my way to it; only, it is n't right that I should strip myself bare. Just judge for yourself if that is n't so."

Naúm said all this very calmly, and even with a slight smile.

"Good heavens!"—screamed Avdótya;—"but what 's the meaning of this? What is it? But how am I to show myself in my husband's sight after this? Thou villain!"—she added, gazing with hatred at Naúm's young, fresh face;—"have n't I ruined my soul for thee, have n't I become a thief for thy sake, hast not thou turned us out of doors, thou abominable villain?! After this there is nothing left for me but to put a noose about my neck, villain, deceiver, thou destroyer of me...."

And she wept in torrents....

"Pray, don't worry, Avdótya Aréfyevna,"—said Naúm;—"I 'll tell you one thing; a fellow must look out for number one; moreover, that 's what the pike is in the sea for, Avdótya Aréfyevna—to keep the carp from getting drowsy."

"Where are we to go now, what is to become of us?"—stammered Avdótya through her tears.

"That 's more than I can tell, ma'am."

"But I 'll cut thy throat, thou villain; I will, I will!..."

"No, you won't do that, Avdótya Aréfyevna; what 's the use of saying that? But I see that it will be better for me to go away from here for a while, or you will be much upset.... I will bid you good day, ma'am, and to-morrow I shall return without fail.... And you will be so good as to permit me to send my hired men to you to-day,"—he added, while Avdótya continued to repeat, through her tears, that she would cut his throat and her own also.

"And yonder they come, by the way,"—he remarked, looking out of the window. "Otherwise, some catastrophe might happen, which God forbid.... Matters will be more tranquil so. Do me the favour to get your belongings together to-day, ma'am, while they will stand guard over you and help you, if you like. I bid you good day, ma'am."

He bowed, left the room and called his men to him....

Avdótya sank down on the wall-bench, then laid herself breast down on the table, and began to wring her hands, then suddenly sprang to her feet, and ran after her husband.... We have described their meeting.

When Akím drove away from her in company with Efrém, leaving her alone in the fields, she first wept for a long time, without stirring from the spot. Having wept her fill, she directed her course to the mistress's manor. It was a bitter thing for her to enter the house, and still more bitter to show herself in the maids'-hall. All the maids flew to greet her with sympathy and expressions of regret. At the sight of them, Avdótya could not restrain her tears; they fairly gushed forth from her red and swollen eyes. Completely unnerved, she dropped down on the first chair she came to. They ran for Kiríllovna. Kiríllovna came, treated her very affectionately, but would not admit her to see the mistress, any more than she had admitted Akím. Avdótya herself did not insist very strongly on seeing Lizavéta Prókhorovna; she had come to the manor-house solely because she positively did not know where to lay her head.

Kiríllovna ordered the samovár to be prepared. For a long time Avdótya refused to drink tea, but yielded, at last, to the entreaties and persuasions of all the maids, and after the first cup drank four more. When Kiríllovna perceived that her visitor was somewhat pacified, and only shuddered from time to time, sobbing faintly, she asked her whither they intended to remove, and what they wished to do with their things. This question set Avdótya to crying again, and she began to asseverate that she wanted nothing more, except to die; but Kiríllovna, being a woman of brains, immediately stopped her and advised her to set about transferring her things that very day, without useless waste of time, to Akím's former cottage in the village, where dwelt his uncle, that same old man who had tried to dissuade him from marrying; she announced that, with the mistress's permission, they would be furnished with transportation, and the aid of people and horses; "and as for you, my dearest,"—added Kiríllovna, compressing her cat-like lips in a sour smile,—"there will always be a place for you in our house, and it will be very agreeable to us if you will be our guest until you recover yourself and get settled in your house. The principal thing is—you must not get downcast. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away, and He will give again: everything depends on His will. Lizavéta Prókhorovna, of course, was obliged to sell your house, according to her calculations, but she will not forget you, and will reward you; she bade me say so to Akím Semyónitch... Where is he now?"

Avdótya replied that, on meeting her, he had grossly insulted her, and had driven off to Chanter Efrém's.

"To that creature's!"—replied Kiríllovna, significantly.—"Well, I understand that it is painful for him now, and I don't believe you can hunt him up to-day. What is to be done? We must take measures, Maláshka,"—she added, turning to one of the chambermaids. "Just ask Nikanór Ílitch to step here; I will have a talk with him."

Nikanór Ílitch, a man of very paltry appearance, who served somewhat in the capacity of overseer, immediately presented himself, obsequiously listened to everything which Kiríllovna said to him,—remarked: "It shall be executed," left the room and issued his orders. Avdótya was furnished with three carts and three peasants; these were voluntarily joined by a fourth, who said of himself that he would be "more intelligent than they," and she set off in company with them for the inn, where she found her former hired men and her maid-servant, Fetínya, in great terror and excitement....

Naúm's recruits, three extremely robust young fellows, had arrived in the morning, and had gone nowhere since, but had maintained a very zealous guard over the inn, according to Naúm's promise—so zealous, that one cart speedily proved to be devoid of tires...

Bitter, very bitter was it for poor Avdótya to pack up her things. Despite the assistance of the "intelligent" man, who, by the way, knew how to do nothing but stalk about with a staff in his hand, and watch the others, and spit to one side, she did not succeed in moving out that day, and remained to spend the night in the inn, having first requested Fetínya not to leave her room; but it was not until daybreak that she fell into a feverish doze, and the tears streamed down her cheeks even in her sleep.

In the meantime, Efrém awoke earlier than was his wont in his lumber-room, and began to thump and demand his release. At first his wife would not let him out, declaring to him through the door that he had not yet had enough sleep; but he excited her curiosity by promising to tell her about the remarkable thing which had happened to Akím; she undid the latch.—Efrém imparted to her everything he knew, and wound up with the question: "Was he awake or not?"

"Why, the Lord knows,"—replied his wife;—"go and see for thyself; he has not climbed down from the oven yet.—You both got pretty drunk last night; thou shouldst just see thyself—thy face has no semblance of a face; 't is like some sort of ladle; and what a lot of hay has got into thy hair!"

"Never mind if it has,"—returned Efrém,—and passing his hand over his head, he entered the house.—Akím was no longer asleep; he was sitting on the oven with his legs dangling; his face also was very strange and discomposed. It appeared all the more distorted because Akím was not in the habit of drinking heavily.

"Well, how now, Akím Semyónitch, how have you slept?"—began Efrém....

Akím looked at him with a turbid gaze.

"Come, brother Efrém,"—he said hoarsely,—"can't we do it again—thou knowest what?"

Efrém darted a swift glance at Akím .... at that moment he felt a sort of thrill; that is the kind of sensation a sportsman experiences when standing on the skirt of the woods, at the sudden yelping of his hound in the forest, from which, apparently, all the wild beasts have already fled.

"What—more?"—he asked at last.

"Yes; more."

"My wife will see,"—thought Efrém,—"and I don't believe she will allow it."—"All right, it can be done,"—he said aloud;—"have patience."—He went out and, thanks to artfully conceived measures, succeeded in smuggling in a huge bottle unperceived beneath the skirt of his coat....

Akím seized the bottle ... But Efrém did not start to drink with him as on the preceding evening—he was afraid of his wife, and,—having told Akím that he would go and see how things were progressing at his house, and how his belongings were being packed, and whether he were not being robbed,—he immediately set off for the inn astride of his unfed little nag,—not forgetting himself, however, if we may take into consideration his projecting bosom.

Soon after his departure, Akím fell asleep again, and lay like one dead on the oven.... He did not even wake up—at all events, he showed no signs of being awake—when Efrém, returning four hours later, began to shove him and try to rouse him, and whisper over him some extremely indistinct words to the effect that everything was gone and transported and the holy pictures were gone too, and everything was already over—and that every one was hunting for him, but that he, Efrém, had taken due measures, and had prohibited ... and so forth. But he did not whisper long. His wife led him off to the lumber-room again, and herself lay down in the house, on the platform over the oven, in great indignation at her husband and at the guest, thanks to whom her husband had got drunk.... But when, on awakening very early, according to her wont, she cast a glance at the oven, Akím was no longer on it.... The cocks had not yet crowed for the second time, and the night was still so dark that the sky was barely turning grey directly overhead, and at the rim was still completely drowned in vapour, when Akím emerged from the gate of the chanter's house. His face was pale, but he darted a keen glance around him, and his gait did not betray the drunkard.... He walked in the direction of his former dwelling—the inn, which had already definitively become the property of its new owner, Naúm.

Naúm was not sleeping either, at the time when Akím stealthily quitted Efrém's house. He was not asleep; he was lying completely dressed on the wall-bench, with his sheepskin coat rolled up under his head. It was not that his conscience was tormenting him—no! he had been present with astounding cold-bloodedness, from the morning on, at the packing and transportation of Akím's household goods, and had more than once spoken to Avdótya, who was downcast to such a degree that she did not even upbraid him.... His conscience was at ease, but divers surmises and calculations occupied his mind. He did not know whether he was going to make a success of his new career; up to that time, he had never kept an inn—and, generally speaking, had never even had a nook of his own; and so he could not get to sleep.—"This little affair has been begun well,"—he thought;—"what will the future be?"... When the last cart-load of Akím's effects had set off just before night-fall (Avdótya had followed it weeping), he had inspected the entire inn, all the stables, cellars, and barns; he had crawled up into the attic, had repeatedly ordered his labourers to maintain a strict watch, and, when he was left alone after supper, he had not been able to get to sleep. It so happened that on that day none of the travellers stopped to pass the night; and this pleased him greatly. "I must buy a dog without fail to-morrow,—the worst-tempered dog I can get, from the miller; for they have carried off theirs,"—he said to himself, as he tossed from side to side, and, all of a sudden, he raised his head hastily.... It seemed to him as though some one had stolen past under the window... He listened... Not a sound. Only a grasshopper shrilled behind the oven, from time to time, and a mouse was gnawing somewhere, and his own breath was audible. All was still in the empty room, dimly illuminated by the yellow rays of a tiny glass shrine-lamp, which he had found time to suspend and light in front of a small holy picture in the corner... He lowered his head; and now again he seemed to hear the gate squeaking .... then the wattled hedge crackled faintly.... He could not endure it, leaped to his feet, opened the door into the next room, and called in a low tone: "Feódor, hey, Feódor!"—No one answered him.... He went out into the anteroom and nearly fell prone, as he stumbled over Feódor, who was sprawling on the floor. The labourer stirred, growling in his sleep; he shook him.

"Who 's there? What 's wanted?"—Feódor was beginning....

"What art thou yelling for? Hold thy tongue!"—articulated Naúm in a whisper.—"The idea of your sleeping, you damned brutes! Hast thou not heard anything?"

"No,"—replied the man.... "Why?"

"And where are the others sleeping?"

"The others are sleeping where they were ordered to.... But has anything happened?..."

"Silence!—Follow me."

Naúm softly opened the door leading from the anteroom into the yard.... Out of doors everything was very dark;... it was possible to make out the sheds with their pillars only because they stood out still more densely black in the midst of the black mist....

"Sha'n't I light a lantern?"—said Feódor in a low voice.

But Naúm waved his hand and held his breath.... At first he could hear nothing except those nocturnal sounds which one can almost always hear in inhabited places: a horse was munching oats, a pig grunted once faintly in its sleep, a man was snoring somewhere; but suddenly there reached his ear a suspicious sort of noise, proceeding from the extreme end of the yard, close to the fence....

It seemed as though some one was moving about, and breathing or blowing.... Naúm looked over Feódor's shoulder, and, cautiously descending the steps, walked in the direction of the sound.... A couple of times he halted, and listened, then continued to creep stealthily onward.... Suddenly he gave a start.... Ten paces from him, in the dense gloom, a point of light suddenly glimmered brightly: it was a red-hot coal, and beside the coal there showed itself for a brief instant the front part of some one's face, with lips puffed out.... Swiftly and silently Naúm darted at the light, as a cat darts at a mouse.... Hastily rising from the ground, a long body rushed to meet him, and almost knocked him from his feet, almost slipped through his hands, but he clung to it with all his might....

"Feódor! Andréi! Petrúshka!"—he shouted, at the top of his lungs;—"come here quick, quick! I 've caught a thief, an incendiary!"

The man whom he had captured struggled and resisted .... but Naúm did not release him.... Feódor immediately darted to his assistance.

"A lantern, quick, a lantern! Run for a lantern! wake the others, be quick!"—Naúm shouted to him,—"and I 'll manage him alone meanwhile—I 'll sit on him... Be quick! and fetch a belt to bind him with!"

Feódor flew to the cottage.... The man whom Naúm was holding suddenly ceased his resistance....

"So, evidently, 't is not enough for thee to have taken my wife and my money, and my house, but thou art bent on destroying me also,"—he said in a dull tone....

Naúm recognised Akím's voice.

"So 't is thou, dear little dove,"—said he;—"good, just wait a bit!"

"Let me go,"—said Akím.—"Art not thou satisfied?"

"See here, to-morrow I 'll show you in the presence of the judge how satisfied I am...." And Naúm tightened his hold on Akím....

The labourers ran up with two lanterns and some ropes.... "Bind him!"—ordered Naúm, sharply.... The labourers seized Akím, lifted him up, and bound his hands behind him.... One of them was beginning to swear, but on recognising the former landlord of the inn, he held his peace, and merely exchanged glances with the others.

"Just see there, see there, now,"—Naúm kept repeating the while, as he passed the lantern along the ground;—"yonder, there are coals in a pot; just look, he has brought a whole firebrand in the pot—we must find out where he got that pot ... and here, he has broken twigs...." And Naúm assiduously stamped out the fire with his foot.—"Search him, Feódor!"—he added, "and see whether he has anything more about him."

Feódor searched and felt Akím, who stood motionless with his head drooping on his breast, like a dead man.—"There is—here 's a knife,"—said Feódor, drawing an old kitchen-knife from Akím's breast.

"Ehe, my dear fellow, so that 's what thou hadst in mind!"—exclaimed Naúm.—"You are witnesses, my lads—see there, he intended to cut my throat, to burn up my house.... Lock him up in the cellar until morning; he can't get out of there.... I will stand watch all night myself, and to-morrow at dawn we will take him to the chief of police .... and you are witnesses, do you hear...."

They thrust Akím into the cellar, and slammed the door behind him.... Naúm stationed two of the labourers there, and did not lie down to sleep himself.

In the meantime, Efrém's wife, having convinced herself that her unbidden guest had taken himself off, was on the point of beginning her cooking, although it was hardly daylight out of doors as yet. She squatted down by the oven to get some coals, and saw that some one had already raked out the live embers thence; then she bethought herself of her knife—and did not find it; in conclusion, one of her four pots was missing. Efrém's wife bore the reputation of being anything but a stupid woman—and with good reason. She stood for a while in thought, then went to the lumber-room to her husband. It was not easy to arouse him fully—and still more difficult was it to make him understand why he had been awakened... To everything which his wife said, Chanter Efrém made one and the same reply:

"He 's gone,—well, God be with him ... but what business is that of mine? He has carried off a knife and a pot—well, God be with him—but what business is that of mine?"

But, at last, he rose, and after listening intently to his wife, he decided that it was a bad business, and that it could not be left as it now stood.

"Yes,"—the chanter's wife insisted,—"'t is a bad business; I do believe he 'll do mischief out of desperation.... I noticed last night that he was not asleep as he lay there on the oven; it would n't be a bad idea for thee, Efrém Alexándritch, to find out whether ...."

"See here, Ulyána Feódorovna, I 'll tell thee what,"—began Efrém;—"I 'll go to the inn myself immediately; and do thou be kind, dear little mother; give me a little glass of liquor to cure me of my drunkenness."

Ulyána reflected.

"Well,"—she decided at last,—"I 'll give thee some liquor, Efrém Alexándritch; only look out, don't dally."

"Be at ease, Ulyána Feódorovna."

And, having fortified himself with a glass of liquor, Efrém set out for the inn.

Day had but just dawned when he rode up to the inn, and at the gate a cart was already standing harnessed, and one of Naúm's labourers was sitting on the driver's seat, holding the reins in his hands.

"Whither art thou going?"—Efrém asked him.

"To town,"—replied the labourer.

"Why?"

The labourer merely shrugged his shoulders and made no reply. Efrém sprang from his horse and entered the house. In the anteroom he ran across Naúm, fully dressed, and wearing a cap.

"I congratulate the new landlord on his new domicile,"—said Efrém, who was personally acquainted with him.—"Whither away so early?"

"Yes, there is cause for congratulation,"—replied Naúm, surlily.—"This is my first day, and I have almost been burnt out."

Efrém started.—"How so?"

"Why, just that; a kind man turned up, who tried to set the house on fire. Luckily, I caught him in the act; now I 'm taking him to town."

"It can't be Akím, can it?".... asked Efrém, slowly.

"And how dost thou know? It is Akím. He came by night, with a firebrand in a pot, and had already crept into the yard, and laid a fire.... All my lads are witnesses.—Wouldst like to take a look? But, by the way, 't is high time we were carrying him off."

"Dear little father, Naúm Ivánitch,"—began Efrém,—"release him; don't utterly ruin the old man. Don't take that sin on your soul, Naúm Ivánitch. Just reflect,—the man is desperate,—he has lost, you know ...."

"Stop that prating!"—Naúm interrupted him.—"The idea! As though I would let him go! Why, he would set me on fire again to-morrow...."

"He will not do it, Naúm Ivánitch, believe me. Believe me, you yourself will be more at ease so—for, you see, there will be inquiries—the court—you surely know what I mean."

"Well, and what about the court? I have nothing to fear from the court...."

"Dear little father, Naúm Ivánitch, how can you help fearing the court?..."

"Eh, stop that; I see that thou art drunk early, and to-day is a feast-day, to boot."

Efrém suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, fell to weeping.

"I am drunk, but I 'm speaking the truth,"—he blurted out.—"But do you release him, in honour of Christ's festival."

"Come, let 's be starting, cry-baby."

And Naúm went out on the porch....

"Forgive him for Avdótya Aréfyevna's sake,"—said Efrém, following him.

Naúm approached the cellar, and threw the door wide open. Efrém, with timorous curiosity, craned his neck from behind Naúm's back, and with difficulty made out Akím in one corner of the shallow cellar. The former wealthy householder, the man respected in all the countryside, was sitting with pinioned arms on the straw, like a criminal... On hearing the noise, he raised his head.... He seemed to have grown frightfully thin in the last two days, especially during the last night—his sunken eyes were hardly visible beneath his lofty brow, yellow as wax, his parched lips had turned dark ... his whole face had undergone a change, and assumed a strange expression: both harsh and terrified.

"Get up and come out,"—said Naúm.

Akím rose, and stepped across the threshold.

"Akím Semyónitch,"—roared Efrém,—"thou hast ruined thyself, my dear man!"

Akím glanced at him in silence.

"If I had known why thou didst ask for liquor, I would n't have given it to thee; indeed, I would n't! I do believe I would have drunk it all myself! Ekh, Naúm Ivánitch,"—added Efrém, seizing Naúm by the hand;—"have mercy on him, let him go!"

"Thou 'rt joking,"—retorted Naúm, with a grin.—"Come out, there,"—he added, again addressing Akím... "What art thou waiting for?"

"Naúm Ivánoff,".... began Akím.

"What?"

"Naúm Ivánoff,"—repeated Akím;—"listen; I am guilty; I wanted to punish thee myself; but God must judge between thou and me. Thou hast taken everything from me, thou knowest that thyself—everything, to the very last morsel.—Now thou canst ruin me, and this is all I have to say to thee: If thou wilt release me now—well! let things stand! do thou possess everything! I agree, and wish thee all success. And I say to thee, as in the presence of God: If thou dost release me—thou shalt not regret it. God bless thee!"

Akím shut his eyes, and ceased speaking.

"Certainly, certainly,"—retorted Naúm;—"as though one could trust thee!"

"But thou canst, by God, thou canst!"—said Efrém; "really, thou canst. I 'm ready to go bail for Akím Semyónitch with my head—come now, really!"

"Nonsense!"—exclaimed Naúm.—"Let 's be off!"

Akím looked at him.

"As thou wilt, Naúm Ivánitch. Thou hast the power. Only, thou art taking a great deal on thy soul. All right, if thou art impatient,—let us start...."

Naúm, in his turn, darted a keen glance at Akím. "But it really would be better,"—he thought to himself, "to let him go to the devil! Otherwise, folks will devour me alive. There 'll be no living for Avdótya.".... While Naúm was reasoning with himself no one uttered a single word. The labourer on the cart, who could see everything through the gate, merely shook his head and slapped the reins on the horse's back. The other two labourers stood on the porch and also maintained silence.

"Come, listen to me, old man,"—began Naúm;—"if I let thee go,—and I forbid these fine fellows" (he nodded his head in the direction of the labourers) "to blab; shall we be quits, thou and I—thou understandest me—quits .... hey?"

"Possess everything, I say."

"Thou wilt not consider me in thy debt?"

"Thou wilt not be in debt to me, neither shall I be in debt to thee." Again Naúm was silent for a space.

"Well, take thy oath on that!"

"I do, as God is holy,"—replied Akím.

"Here goes then, although I know beforehand that I shall repent of it,"—remarked Naúm.—"But so be it! Give me your hands."

Akím turned his back toward him; Naúm began to unbind him.

"Look out, old man,"—he added, as he slipped the rope over his wrists:—"remember, I have spared thee; be careful!"

"You 're a dear, Naúm Ivánitch,"—stammered the deeply-moved Efrém.—"The Lord will be merciful to you!"

Akím stretched out his chilled and swollen arms, and was starting for the gate....

All of a sudden Naúm "turned Jewish," asthe expression is—evidently, he was sorry that he had released Akím....

"Thou hast taken an oath, look out,"—he shouted after him.

Akím turned round, and surveying the house with an embracing glance, said sadly:—"Possess thou everything, forever, undisturbed .... farewell."

And he stepped quietly into the street, accompanied by Efrém. Naúm waved his hand, ordered the cart to be unharnessed, and went back into the house.

"Whither away, Akím Semyónitch? Art not thou coming to my house?"—exclaimed Efrém,—perceiving that Akím turned to the right from the highway.

"No, Efrémushka, thanks,"—replied Akím.... "I will go and see what my wife is doing."

"Thou canst see later on.... But now thou must for joy .. thou knowest ...."

"No, thanks, Efrém.... I 've had enough as it is. Farewell."—And Akím walked away without looking behind him.

"Eka! He has had enough as it is!"—ejaculated the astounded chanter;—"and I have taken my oath on his behalf! Well, I did n't expect this,"—he added with vexation,—"after I had vouched for him. Phew!"

He remembered that he had forgotten to take his knife and pot, and returned to the inn.... Naúm gave orders that his things should be delivered to him, but it never entered his head to entertain him. Thoroughly enraged and completely sober he presented himself at home.

"Well, what?"—his wife asked him;—"didst thou find him?"

"Did I find him?"—retorted Efrém;—"certainly I found him; there are thy utensils for thee."

"Akím?"—inquired his wife, with special emphasis.

Efrém nodded his head.

"Yes, Akím. But what a goose he is! I went bail for him; without me he would have been put in prison, and he never even treated me to a glass of liquor. Ulyána Feódorovna, do you, at least, show me consideration; give me just one little glass."

But Ulyána Feódorovna showed him no consideration and drove him out of her sight.

In the meantime, Akím was proceeding with quiet strides along the road which led to Lizavéta Prókhorovna's village. He had not yet been able fully to recover himself; he was all quivering inside, like a man who has but just escaped imminent death. He seemed not to believe in his freedom. With dull amazement he stared at the fields, at the sky, at the larks which were fluttering their wings in the warm air. On the previous day, at Efrém's house, he had not slept at all since dinner, although he had lain motionless on the oven; at first he had tried to drown with liquor the intolerable pain of injury within him, the anguish of wrathful, impotent indignation .... but the liquor could not entirely overcome him; his heart waxed hot within him, and he began to meditate how he might pay off his malefactor.... He thought of Naúm alone; Lizavéta Prókhorovna did not enter his head, and from Avdótya he mentally turned away. Toward evening, the thirst for revenge had blazed up in him to the point of crime, and he, the good-natured, weak man, with feverish impatience waited for the night, and like a wolf pouncing on its prey, he rushed forth with fire in his hand to annihilate his former home... But he had been captured .... locked up.... Night came. What had not he turned over in his mind during that atrocious night! It is difficult to convey in words all the tortures which he had undergone; it is all the more difficult, because these torments even in the man himself were wordless and dumb.... Toward morning, before the arrival of Naúm and Efrém, Akím had felt somewhat easier in mind... "Everything is lost!".... he thought .... "everything is scattered to the winds!"—and he waved his hand in despair over everything.... If he had been born with an evil soul, he might have turned into a criminal at that moment; but evil was not a characteristic of Akím. Beneath the shock of the unexpected and undeserved calamity, in the reek of despair, he had made up his mind to a felonious deed; it had shaken him to the very foundations, and, having miscarried, it had left behind in him a profound weariness.... Conscious of his guilt, he wrenched his heart free from all earthly things, and began to pray bitterly but zealously. At first he prayed in a whisper, at last, accidentally, perhaps, he ejaculated almost aloud: "O Lord!"—and the tears gushed from his eyes.... Long did he weep, then calmed down at last.... His thoughts probably would have undergone a change, had he been forced to smart for his attempt of the day before ... but now he had suddenly recovered his liberty ... and, half-alive, all shattered, but calm, he was on his way to an interview with his wife.

Lizavéta Prókhorovna's manor stood a verst and a half distant from her village, on the left-hand side of the country road along which Akím was walking. At the turn which led to the manor, he was on the point of pausing .... but he marched past. He had decided first to go to his former cottage, to his old uncle.

Akím's tiny and already rickety cottage was situated almost at the extreme end of the village; Akím traversed the entire length of the street without encountering a single soul. The whole population was in church. Only one ailing old woman lifted her window to gaze after him, and a little girl, who had run out to the well with an empty bucket, gaped in wonder at him and also followed him with her eyes. The first person whom he met was precisely the uncle whom he was seeking. The old man had been sitting since early morning on the earthen bank outside the cottage under the windows, taking snuff, and warming himself in the sun; he was not quite well, and for that reason had not gone to church; he was on his way to see another ailing old man, a neighbour, when he suddenly espied Akím.... He stopped short, let the latter come up to him, and looking him in the face, he said:

"Morning, Akímushka!"

"Morning,"—replied Akím, and stepping past the old man, he entered the gate to his cottage.... In the yard stood his horses, his cow, his cart; and his chickens were roaming about there also.... He entered the cottage in silence. The old man followed him. Akím seated himself on the bench, and rested his clenched fists on it. The old man gazed compassionately at him, from his stand at the door.

"And where is my housewife?"—inquired Akím.

"Why, at the manor-house,"—replied the old man, briskly. "She is there. They have placed thy cattle here, and thy coffers, just as they were—but she is yonder. Shall I go for her?"

Akím did not reply immediately.

"Yes, go,"—he said at last.

"Ekh, uncle, uncle,"—he articulated with a sigh, while the latter was taking his cap from its nail:—"dost thou remember what thou saidst to me on the eve of my wedding?"

"God's will rules all things, Akímushka."

"Dost thou remember how thou saidst to me that I was no fit mate for you peasants—and now see what a pass things have come to.... I myself have become as poor as a church mouse."

"A man can't make calculations against bad people,"—replied the old man;—"and as for him, the dishonest scoundrel, if any one were to teach him a good lesson, some gentleman, for instance, or any other power,—what cause would there be to fear him? The wolf recognised his prey."—And the old man put on his cap and departed.

Avdótya had but just returned from church when she was informed that her husband's uncle was inquiring for her. Up to that time she had very rarely seen him; he had not been in the habit of coming to their inn, and in general he bore the reputation of being a queer fellow; he was passionately fond of snuff, and preserved silence most of the time.

She went out to him.

"What dost thou want, Petróvitch? Has anything happened, pray?"

"Nothing has happened, Avdótya Aréfyevna; thy husband is asking for thee."

"Has he returned?"

"Yes."

"But where is he?"

"Why, in the village; he 's sitting in his cottage."

Avdótya quailed.

"Well, Petróvitch,"—she asked, looking him straight in the eye,—"is he angry?"

"'T is not perceptible that he is."

Avdótya dropped her eyes.

"Well, come along,"—she said, throwing on a large kerchief, and the two set out. They walked in silence until they reached the village. But when they began to draw near to the cottage, Avdótya was seized with such alarm that her knees trembled under her.

"Dear little father, Petróvitch,"—she said,—"do thou go in first.... Tell him that I have come."

Petróvitch entered the cottage and found Akím sitting buried in profound thought, on the selfsame spot where he had left him.

"Well,"—said Akím, raising his head;—"has n't she come?"

"Yes, she has come,"—replied the old man.—"She 's standing at the gate...."

"Send her hither."

The old man went out, waved his hand to Avdótya, said to her: "Go along!" and sat down again himself on the earthen bank along the cottage wall. With trepidation Avdótya opened the door, crossed the threshold and paused....

Akím looked at her.

"Well, Aréfyevna,"—he began,—"what are we—thou and I—to do now?"

"Forgive me,"—she whispered.

"Ekh, Aréfyevna, we are all sinful folks. What 's the use of discussing it!"

"That villain has ruined both of us,"—began Avdótya in a voice which jingled and broke, and the tears streamed down her face.—"Thou must not let things stand as they are, Akím Semyónitch; thou must get the money from him. Do not spare me. I am ready to declare under oath that I lent the money to him. Lizavéta Prókhorovna had a right to sell our house, but why should he rob us?.... Get the money from him."

"I have no money to receive from him,"—replied Akím, gloomily.—"He and I have settled our accounts."

Avdótya was astounded.—"How so?"

"Why, because we have. Knowest thou,"—pursued Akím, and his eyes began to blaze;—"knowest thou where I spent the night? Thou dost not know? In Naúm's cellar, bound hand and foot, like a ram, that 's where I spent last night. I tried to burn down his house, and he caught me, did Naúm; he 's awfully clever! And to-day he was preparing to carry me to the town, but he pardoned me; consequently, there is no money coming to me from him.... 'And when did I ever borrow any money of thee?' he will say. And am I to say: 'My wife took it out from under my floor, and carried it to thee?'—'Thy wife is a liar,' he will say. And would n't it be a big exposure for thee, Aréfyevna? Hold thy tongue, rather, I tell thee, hold thy tongue."

"Forgive me, Semyónitch, forgive me,"—whispered the thoroughly frightened Avdótya.

"That 's not the point,"—replied Akím, after remaining silent for a while:—"but what are we—thou and I—to do? We no longer have a home ... nor money either...."

"We 'll get along somehow, Akím Semyónitch;—we will ask Lizavéta Prókhorovna and she will help us; Kiríllovna has promised me that."

"No, Aréfyevna, thou mayest ask her for thyself along with thy Kiríllovna; thou and she are birds of a feather. But I 'll tell thee what: do thou stay here, with God's blessing. I shall not stay here. Luckily, we have no children, and perhaps I shall not starve alone. One person can worry along alone."

"What wilt thou do, Semyónitch—dost mean to go as carrier again?"

Akím laughed bitterly.

"A pretty carrier I would make, there 's no denying that! A fine, dashing young fellow thou hast picked out! No, Aréfyevna, that is not the same sort of business as marrying, for example; an old man is not fit for it. Only I will not remain here, that 's what; I won't have people pointing the finger at me .... understand? I shall go to pray away my sins, Aréfyevna, that 's where I shall go."

"What sins hast thou, Semyónitch?"—articulated Avdótya, timidly.

"Well, wife, I know what they are."

"But in whose care wilt thou leave me, Semyónitch? How am I to live without a husband?"

"In whose care shall I leave thee? Ekh, Aréfyevna, how thou sayest that, forsooth! Much need hast thou of a husband like me, and an old man and a ruined one to boot. The idea! Thou has dispensed with me before, thou canst dispense with me hereafter also. And what property we have left thou mayest take for thyself, curse it!...."

"As thou wilt, Semyónitch,"—replied Avdótya, sadly;—"thou knowest best about that."

"Exactly so. Only, don't think that I am angry with thee, Aréfyevna.

"No, what 's the use of being angry, when .... I ought to have discovered how things stood earlier in the day. I myself am to blame—and I am punished."—(Akím heaved a sigh.)—"As you have made your bed, so you must lie upon it. I am advanced in years, and 't is time for me to be thinking of my soul. The Lord Himself has brought me to my senses. Here was I, seest thou, an old fool, who wanted to live at his ease with a young wife.... No, brother—old man, first do thou pray, and beat thy brow against the earth, and be patient, and fast.... And now, go, my mother. I am very tired and I will get a bit of sleep."

And Akím stretched himself out, grunting on the bench.

Avdótya started to say something, stood for a while gazing at him, then turned and went away....

"Well, did n't he thrash thee?"—Petróvitch asked her, as he sat, all bent double, on the earthen bank, when she came alongside of him. Avdótya passed him in silence.—"See there now, he did n't beat her,"—said the old man to himself, as he grinned, ruffled up his hair, and took a pinch of snuff.

Akím carried out his purpose. He speedily put his petty affairs in order, and a few days after the conversation which we have transcribed, he went, already garbed for the journey, to bid farewell to his wife, who had settled for the time being in a tiny wing of the mistress's manor-house. Their leave-taking did not last long.... Kiríllovna, who chanced to be on hand, advised Akím to present himself to the mistress; and he did so. Lizavéta Prókhorovna received him with a certain amount of confusion, but affably permitted him to kiss her hand, and inquired where he was intending to betake himself? He replied that he was going first to Kíeff, and thence wherever God should grant. She lauded his purpose, and dismissed him. From that time forth he rarely made his appearance at home, although he never forgot to bring his mistress a blessed bread with a particle taken out for her health.... But, on the other hand, everywhere where devout Russians congregate, his gaunt and aged but still comely and sedate face was to be seen: at the shrine of St. Sergius, and on the White Shores, and in the Óptin Hermitage, and in distant Valaám. He went everywhere.... This year he passed you in the ranks of the countless throng which marched in a procession of the cross behind the holy picture of the Birth-giver of God at the Korennáya Hermitage; next year you would find him sitting with his wallet on his back, along with other pilgrims on the porch of St. Nicholas the Wonder-Worker in Mtzensk.... He made his appearance in Moscow nearly every spring.

From place to place he trudged with his quiet, unhurried but unceasing stride—'t is said that he even went to Jerusalem.... He appeared to be perfectly composed and happy, and many persons talked about his piety and humility, especially those people who had chanced to converse with him.

In the meanwhile, Naúm's affairs throve exceedingly. He took hold briskly and understandingly, and, as the saying is, went to the head fast. Everybody in the neighbourhood knew by what means he had acquired possession of the inn, and they knew also that Avdótya had given him her husband's money; no one liked Naúm because of his cold and harsh character..... They narrated with condemnation concerning him that one day he had replied to Akím himself, who had begged alms under his window, "God will provide," and had brought out nothing to him; but all agreed that no more lucky man than he existed; his grain throve better than his neighbours' grain; his bees swarmed more abundantly; even his hens laid more eggs; his cattle never fell ill; his horses never went lame..... For a long time Avdótya could not endure to hear his name (she had accepted Lizavéta Prókhorovna's offer, and had again entered her service in the capacity of head-seamstress); but eventually, her aversion diminished somewhat; 't was said that want forced her to have recourse to him, and he gave her a hundred rubles.... We shall not condemn her too severely; poverty will break any one's spirit, and the sudden revolution in her life had aged and tamed her down greatly; it is difficult to believe how quickly she lost her good looks, how she grew disheartened and low-spirited....

"And how did it all end?"—the reader will ask.

Thus: Naúm, after having conducted his business successfully for fifteen years, sold his inn on profitable terms to a petty burgher.... He never would have parted with his house if the following apparently insignificant incident had not occurred: two mornings in succession his dog, as it sat in front of the windows, howled in a prolonged and mournful manner; on the second occasion he went out into the street, gazed attentively at the howling dog, shook his head, set off for the town, and that very day agreed on the price with a petty burgher, who had long been trying to purchase his inn.... A week later he departed for some distant place—out of the Government,—and what think you? that very night the inn was burned to the ground; not even a kennel remained intact, and Naúm's successor was reduced to beggary. The reader can easily imagine what rumours arose in the neighbourhood concerning this conflagration.... Evidently he carried his "luck" away with him, all declared.... It is reported that he engaged in the grain business, and became very wealthy. But was it for long? Other equally firm pillars have fallen prone, and sooner or later a bad deed has a bad ending.

 

It is not worth while to say much about Lizavéta Prókhorovna: she is alive to this day, and as often happens with people of that sort, she has not changed in the least; she has not even aged much, but only seems to have grown more lean; moreover, her penuriousness has increased to an extreme degree, although it is difficult to understand for whom she is always hoarding, since she has no children, and is related to no one. In conversation she frequently alludes to Akím, and avers that ever since she discovered all his fine qualities, she has come to cherish a great respect for the Russian peasant. Kiríllovna has purchased her freedom from Lizavéta Prókhorovna for a considerable sum and has married, for love, some fair-haired young butler or other, at whose hands she endures bitter torture; Avdótya is living, as of yore, in the woman's wing of Lizavéta Prókhorovna's house, but has descended several rungs lower, dresses very poorly, almost filthily, and retains not a trace of the cityfied affectations of the fashionable maid, or the habits of a well-to-do landlady.... No one takes any notice of her, and she herself is glad that they do not; old Petróvitch is dead, but Akím is still roving on pilgrimages—and God alone knows how much longer he is destined to wander!