THE VILLAGE

 

 

 

THIS AUTHORISED TRANSLATION HAS

BEEN MADE FROM THE ORIGINAL

RUSSIAN TEXT BY ISABEL HAPGOOD

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

By Ivan Bunin

 

 

 

LONDON: MARTIN SECKER

 

NUMBER FIVE JOHN STREET ADELPHI

 

 

 

 

 

 

LONDON : MARTIN SECKER (LTD.) 1923

 

 

 

CONTENTS

 

PART ONE 15

 

PART TWO 131

 

PART THREE 203

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

Dear Publisher:

 

You have asked me to furnish you with data con-

cerning my life and literary activities. Permit me

to repeat what I have already told my French pub-

lishers in answer to a similar request.

 

I am a descendant of an ancient noble family which

has given to Russia a considerable number of promi-

nent names, both in the field of statesmanship and

in the realm of art. In the latter, two poets are espe-

cially well-known, Anna Petrovna Bunina and Vasili

Zhookovski, one of the shining lights of Russian Lit-

erature, the son of Afanasi Bunin and a Turkish cap-

tive, Salma.

 

All my ancestors had always been connected with

the people and with the land; they were landed propri-

etors. My parents were also land-owners, who pos-

sessed estates in Central Asia, in the fertile fringe of

the steppes, where the ancient Tsars of Moscow had

created settlements of colonists from various Russian

territories, to serve as protectors of their Kingdom

against the incursions of the Southern Tartars.

Thanks to this, it was here that the richest Russian

language developed, and from here have come nearly

all the greatest Russian writers, with Turgenev and

Tolstoy at their head.

 

[7]

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

I was born in 1870, in the town of Voronezh, and

passed my childhood and youth almost entirely in the

country, on my father's estates. As a boy, I was

deeply affected by the death of my little sister, and

passed through a violent religious crisis, which left,

however, no morbid traces whatsoever in my soul.

 

I also had a passion for painting, which, I believe,

has manifested itself in my literary works. I began

to write both verse and prose rather early in my

life. My first appearance in print was likewise at an

early date.

 

When publishing my books, I nearly always made

them up of prose and verse, both original and trans-

lated from the English. If classified according to their

literary varieties, these books would constitute some

four volumes of original poems, approximately two of

translations, and six volumes or so of prose.

 

The attention of the critics was very quickly at-

tracted to me. Later on my books were more than

once granted the highest award within the gift of the

Russian Academy of Sciences — the prize bearing Push-

kin's name. In 1909 that Academy elected me one of

the twelve Honorary Academicians, who correspond

to the French Immortals, and of whom Lyof Tolstoy

was one at that time.

 

For a long time, however, I did not enjoy any wide

popularity, owing to many reasons: for years, after

my first stories had appeared in print, I wrote and

published almost nothing but verse; I took no part

in politics and, in my works, never touched upon ques-

tions connected with politics; I belonged to no particu-

 

[8]

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

lar literary school, called myself neither decadent, nor

symbolist, nor romantic, nor naturalist, donned no

mask of any kind, and hung out no flamboyant flag.

Yet, during these last stormy decades in Russia, the

fate of a Russian writer has frequently depended upon

such questions as: Is he an opponent of the existing

form of Government? Has he come from "the peo-

ple"? Has he been in prison, in exile? Or, does he

take part in the literary hubbub, in the "literary rev-

olution," which — merely in imitation of Western Eu-

rope — went on during those years in Russia, together

with a rapid development of public life in the towns, of

new critics and readers from among the young bour-

geoisie and the youthful proletariat, who were as ig-

norant in the understanding of art as they were avid

of imaginary novelties and all kinds of sensations.

Besides, I mixed very little in literary society. I lived

a great deal in the country, and traveled extensively

both in Russia and abroad: in Italy, in Sicily, in Tur-

key, in the Balkans, in Greece, in Syria, in °alestine,

in Egypt, in Algeria, in Tunisia, in the iropics. I

strove "to view the face of the earth and leave thereon

the impress of my soul," to quote Saadi, and I have

been interested in philosophic, religious, ethical and

historical problems.

 

Twelve years ago I published my novel "The Vil-

lage." This was the first of a whole series of works

v/hich depicted the Russian character without adorn-

ment, the Russian soul, its peculiar complexity, its

depths, both bright and dark, though almost invari-

ably tragic. On the part of the Russian critics and

 

19]

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

among the Russian intellectuals, where "the people"

had nearly always been idealized, owing to numerous

Russian conditions sui generis, and, of late, merely be-

cause of the ignorance of the people, or for political

reasons, — these "merciless" works of mine called forth

passionate controversies and, as a final result, brought

me what is called success, success strengthened still

further by my subsequent works.

 

During those years I felt my hand growing firmer

every hour; I felt that the powers which had accumu-

lated and matured in me, passionately and boldly,

demanded an outlet. Just then the World War broke

out and afterwards the Russian Revolution came. I

was not among those who were taken unawares by

these events, for whom their extent and beastliness

were a complete surprise; yet the reality has surpassed

all my expectations.

 

What the Russian Revolution turned into very soon,

none will comprehend who has not seen it. This spec-

tacle was utterably unbearable to any one who had

not ceased to be a man in the image and likeness of

God, and all who had a chance to flee, fled from Rus-

sia. Flight was sought by the vast majority of the

most prominent Russian writers, primarily, because

in Russia there awaited them either senseless death at

the hands of the first chance miscreant, drunk with

licentiousness and impunity, with rapine, with wine,

with blood, with cocaine; or an ignominious existence

as a slave in the darkness, teeming with lice, in rags,

amid epidemic diseases, exposed to cold, to hunger, to

the primitive torments of the stomach, and absorbed in

 

[10]

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

that single, degrading concern, under the eternal

threat of being thrown out of his mendicant's den into

the street, of being sent to the barracks to clean up

the soldiers' filth, of being — without any reason what-

ever, — arrested, beaten, abused, of seeing one's own

mother, sister or wife violated — and yet having to

preserve utter silence, for in Russia they cut out

tongues for the slightest word of freedom.

 

I left Moscow in May, 1918, lived in the South of

Russia (which passed back and forth from the hands

of the "Whites" into those of the "Reds") and then

emigrated in February, 1919, after having drained to

the dregs the cup of unspeakable suffering and vain

hopes. For too long I had believed that the eyes of

the Christian world would be opened, that it would be

horrified at its own heartlessness, and would extend to

us a helping hand in the name of God, of humanity

and of its own safety.

 

Some critics have called me cruel and gloomy. I

do not think that this definition is fair and accurate.

But of course, I have derived much honey and still

more bitterness from my wanderings throughout the

world, and my observations of human life. I had felt

a vague fear for the fate of Russia, when I was depict-

ing her. Is it my fault that reality, the reality in

which Russia has been living for more than five years

now, has justified my apprehensions beyond all meas-

ure; that those pictures of mine which had once upon

a time appeared black, and wide of the truth, even in

the eyes of Russian people, have become prophetic, as

some call them now? "Woe unto thee, Babylon!" —

 

111]

 

 

 

AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE

 

those terrible words of the Apocalypse kept persist-

ently ringing in my soul when I wrote "The Brothers"

and conceived "The Gentleman from San Francisco,"

only a few months before the War, when I had a pre-

sentiment of all its horror, and of the abysses which

have since been laid bare in our present-day civiliza-

tion. Is it my fault, that here again my presentiments

have not deceived me?

 

However, does it mean that my soul is filled only

with darkness and despair? Not at all. "As the hart

panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul

after thee, O God!"

 

Ivan Bunin.

 

 

 

{12]

 

 

 

PART ONE

 

 

 

I

 

 

 

THE great-grandfather of the Krasoffs, known by

the manor-house servants under the nickname

of "The Gipsy," was hunted with wolf-hounds

by Cavalry Captain Durnovo. The Gipsy had lured

his lord-and-master's mistress away from him. Dur-

novo gave orders that The Gipsy should be taken out

into the fields and placed on a hillock. Then he him-

self went out there with a pack of hounds and shouted

"Tallyho! Go for him!" The Gipsy, who was sitting

there in a state of stupor, started to run. But there

is no use in running away from wolf-hounds.

 

The grandfather of the Krasoffs, for some reason or

other, was given a letter of enfranchisement. Me

went off with his family to the town — and soon dis-

tinguished himself by becoming a famous thief. He

hired a tiny hovel in the Black Suburb for his wife

and set her to weaving lace for sale, while he, in

company with a petty burgher named Byelokopytoff,

roamed about the province robbing churches. At the

end of a couple of years he was caught. But at his

trial he bore himself in such fashion that his replies to

the judges were current for a long time thereafter. He

stood before them, it appears, in a velveteen kaftan,

with a silver watch and goat-hide boots, making in-

 

[15]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

solent play with his cheek-bones and his eyes and, in

the most respectful manner, confessing every one of his

innumerable crimes, even the most insignificant: "Yes,

sir. Just so, sir."

 

The father of the Krasoffs was a petty huckster.

He roved about the county, lived for a time in

Durnovka, set up a pot-house and a little shop, failed,

took to drink, returned to the town, and soon died.

After serving for a while in shops his sons, Tikhon and

Kuzma, who were almost of an age, also took to ped-

dling. They drove about in a peasant cart which had

a carved front and a roofed, shop-like arrangement in

the middle, and shouted in doleful tones: "Wo-omen,

here's merchandise! Wo-omen, here's merchandise!"

 

The merchandise consisted of small mirrors, cheap

soap, rings, thread, kerchiefs, needles, cracknels — these

in the covered shop. The open-body cart contained-

everything they gathered in: dead cats, eggs, heavy

linen, crash, rags. But one day, after having thus

travelled about for the space of several years, the

brothers came near cutting each other's throats — in a

dispute over the division of the profits, rumour averred

— and separated to avoid a catastrophe. Kuzma hired

himself to a drover. Tikhon took over a small post-

ing-house on the metalled highway of Vorgol, five

versts x from Durnovka, and opened a dram-shop and

a tiny "popular" shop. — "I deal in small wears tea

shugar tubako sigars and so furth."

 

1 A verst is two-thirds of a mile. — trans.

 

 

 

[16]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

 

 

II

 

 

 

BY the time Tikhon Hitch was about forty years

of age his beard resembled silver with patterns

of black enamel. But he was handsome and

tall, with a fine figure, as before. He was austere and

swarthy of face, slightly pock-marked, with broad, lean

shoulders; authoritative and abrupt of speech, quick

and supple in his movements. Only — his eyebrows had

begun to come closer together and his eyes to flash

more frequently and more sharply than before. Busi-

ness demanded it!

 

Indcfatigably he followed up the rural police on

those dull autumnal days when taxes are collected and

forced sale follows forced sale. Unweariedly he bought

standing grain on the stalk from the landed proprietors

and took land from them and from the peasants, in

small parcels, not scorning even half a meadow. He

lived for a long time with his dumb cook — "A dumb

woman can't betray anything with her chatter!" — and

had by her one child, whom she overlay and crushed in

her sleep, after which he married an elderly waiting-

maW of old Princess Schakhovoy. And on marrying

and receiving the dowry he "finished off" the last scion

of the impoverished Durnovo family, a fat, affable

young nobleman, bald at twenty-five, but possessed of

a magnificent chestnut beard. And the peasants fairly

grunted with pride when Tikhon took possession of the

 

[17]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

Durnovo estate — for almost the whole of Durnovka

consisted of Krasoffs!

 

They s/>ed and ob-ed, also, over the way in which

he had cunningly contrived not to ruin himself. He

bargained and bought, went to the estate almost every

day, kept watch with the eye of a vulture over every

hand's breadth of the land. They uttered admiring ex-

clamations and said: "Yes, there's nothing to be done

with us devils by kindness, you know! There's a mas-

ter for you! You couldn't have one more just!"

 

And Tikhon Hitch dealt with them in the same spirit.

When he was in an amiable mood he read them their

lesson thus: "It's all right to live — but not to squan-

der. I shall pluck you if I get the chance! I shall

bring you back. But I shall be just. I'm a Russian

man, brother." When in an evil mood, he would say

curtly, with eyes blazing: "Pigs! There is not a

juster man in the world than I am!" "Pigs, all right

— but that's not me," the peasant would think, averting

his eyes from that gaze. And he would mumble sub-

missively: "Oh, Lord, don't we know it?" "Yes, you

know it, but you have forgotten. I don't want your

property gratis, but bear this in mind: I won't give you

a scrap of what's mine! There's that brother of mine:

he's a rascal, a toper, but I would help him if he came

and implored me. I call God as my witness that I

would help him! But coddle him — ! No, take note

of that: I do no coddling. I'm no brainless Little

Russian, brother!"

 

And Nastasya Petrovna, who walked like a duck,

with her toes turned inward, and waddled, thanks to her

 

[18]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

incessant pregnancies which always ended up with dead

girl-babies — Nastasya Petrovna, a yellow, puffy woman

with scanty whitish-blond hair, would groan and back

him up: "Okh, you are a simpleton, in my opinion!

Why do you bother with him, with that stupid man?

Is he a fit associate for you? You just knock some

sense into him; 'twill do him no harm. Look at the

way he's straddling with his legs — as if he were a bo-

khar of emir!" 1 She was "terribly fond" of pigs and

fowls, and Tikhon Hitch began to fatten sucking pigs,

turkey chicks, hens, and geese. But his ruling passion

was amassing grain. In autumn, alongside his house,

which stood with one side turned toward the highway

and the other toward the posting-station, the creaking

of wheels arose in a groan; the wagon trains turned in

from above and below. And in the farmyard horse-

traders, peddlers, chicken-vendors, cracknel peddlers,

scythe-vendors, and pilgrims passed the night. Every

moment a pulley was squeaking — now on the door of

the dram-shop, where Nastasya Petrovna bustled

about; now on the approach to the shop, a dark, dirty

place, reeking of soap, herrings, rank tobacco, ginger-

bread flavoured with peppermint, horse-collars, and

kerosene. And incessantly there rang out in the dram-

shop:

 

"U-ukh! Your vodka is strong, Petrovna! It has

knocked me in the head, devil take it!"

 

" 'Twill make your mouth water, my dear man!"

 

1 This muddling of "Emir of Bukhara" is only one ex-

ample of the ignorant combinations and locutions used by the

peasant characters. — trans.

 

[19]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

"Is there snuff in your vodka?"

 

"Well, now, you fool yourself!"

 

In the shop the crowd was even more dense.

 

"Hitch, weigh me out a pound of ham."

 

"This year, brother, I'm so well stocked with ham —

so well stocked, thank God!"

 

"What's the price?"

 

"Tis cheap!"

 

"Hey, proprietor, have you good tar?"

 

"Better tar than your grandfather had at his wed-

ding, my good man!" x

 

"What's the price?"

 

And it seemed as if, at the KrasofTs', there were never

any other conversation than that about the prices of

things: What's the price of ham, what's the price

of boards, what's the price of groats, what's the price

of tar?

 

 

 

Ill

 

 

 

THE abandonment of his hope of having children

and the closing of the dram-shops by the gov-

ernment were great events. Tikhon visibly

aged when there no longer remained any doubt that he

was not to become a father. At first he jested about

it: "No sir, I'll get my way. Without children a

man is not a man. He's only so-so — a sort of spot

 

X A play on words, "tar" in the second sentence meaning

"liquor."— trans.

 

[20]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

missed in the sowing." But later on he was assailed by

terror. What did it mean? one overlay her child, the

other bore only dead children.

 

And the period of Nastasya Petrovna's last preg-

nancy had been a difficult time. Tikhon Hitch suf-

fered and raged: Nastasya Petrovna prayed in secret,

wept in secret, and was a pitiful sight when, of a night

by the light of the shrine-lamp, she slipped out of bed,

assuming that her husband was asleep, and began with

difficulty to kneel down, touch her brow to the floor as

she whispered her prayers, gaze with anguish at the

holy pictures, and rise from her knees painfully, like an

old woman. Hitherto, before going to bed, she had

donned slippers and dressing-gown, said her prayers in-

differently, and, as she prayed, taken pleasure in run-

ning over the list of her acquaintances and abusing

them. Now there stood before the holy picture a

simple peasant woman in a short cotton petticoat, white

woolen stockings, and a chemise which did not cover

her neck and arms, fat like those of an old person.

 

Tikhon Hitch had never, from his childhood, liked

shrine-lamps, although he had never been willing to

confess it, even to himself; nor did he like their uncer-

tain churchly light. All his life there had remained

impressed upon his mind that November night when,

in the tiny lop-sided hut in the Black Suburb, a shrine-

lamp had also burned, peaceful and sweetly-sad, the

shadows of its chains barely moving, while everything

around was deathly silent; and on the bench below the

holy pictures his father lay motionless with eyes closed,

his sharp nose raised, his big purplish-waxen hands

 

[21]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

crossed on his breast; while by his side, just beyond the

tiny window curtained with its red rag, the conscripts

marched past with wildly mournful songs and shouts,

their accordions squealing discordantly. — Now the

shrine-lamp burned uninterruptedly, and Tikhon Hitch

felt as if Nastasya Petrovna were carrying on some

sort of secret affair with uncanny powers.

 

A number of book-hawkers from the Vladimir gov-

ernment halted by the posting-house to bait their

horses — with the result that there made its appearance

in the house a "New Complete Oracle and Magician,

which foretells the future in answer to questions; with

Supplement setting forth the easiest methods of tell-

ing fortunes by cards, beans, and coffee." And of an

evening Nastasya Petrovna would put on her spec-

tacles, mould a little ball of wax, and set to rolling it

over the circles of the "Oracle." And Tikhon Hitch

would look on, with sidelong glances. But all the

answers turned out to be either insulting, menacing, or

senseless.

 

"Does my husband love me?" Nastasya Petrovna

would inquire.

 

And the "Oracle" replied: "He loves you as a dog

loves a stick."

 

"How many children shall I have?"

 

"You are fated to die: the field must be cleared

of weeds."

 

Then Tikhon Hitch would say: "Give it here. I'll

have a try." And he would propound the question:

"Ought I to start a law-suit with a person whose name

I won't mention?"

 

[22]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

But he, likewise, got nonsense for an answer:

"Count the teeth in your mouth."

 

One day Tikhon Hitch, when he glanced into the

kitchen, saw his wife beside the cradle in which lay the

cook's baby. A speckled chicken which was wandering

along the window ledge, pecking and catching flies,

tapped the glass with its beak; but she sat there on the

sleeping-board and, while she rocked the cradle, sang

in a pitiful quaver:

 

"Where lieth my little child?

Where is his tiny bed?

He is in the lofty chamber,

In the painted cradle gay.

 

Let no one come there to us,

Or knock at the chamber door!

He hath fallen asleep, he resteth

Beneath the canopy dark,

Covered with flowered silk. . . ."

 

And Tikhon Hitch's face underwent such a change at

that moment that Nastasya Petrovna, as she glanced

at him, experienced no confusion, felt no fear, but only

fell a-weeping and, brushing away her tears, said

softly: "Take me away, for Christ's dear sake, to the

Holy Man."

 

And Tikhon Hitch took her to Zadonsk. But as he

went he was thinking in his heart that God would cer-

tainly chastise him because, in the bustle and cares

of life, he went to church only for the service on Easter

Day, and otherwise lived as if he were a Tatar. Sacri-

legious thoughts also wormed their way into his head.

 

[23]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

He kept comparing himself to the parents of the

Saints, who likewise had long remained childless. This

was not clever — but he had long since come to per-

ceive that; there dwe! .vithin him some one who was

more stupid than himself. Before his departure he

had received a letter from Mount Athos: "Most God-

loving Benefactor, Tikhon Hitch! Peace be unto you,

and salvation, the blessing of the Lord and the honour-

able Protection of the All-Sung Mother of God, from

her earthly portion, the holy Mount Athos! I have

had the happiness of hearing about your good works,

and that with love you apportion your mite for the

building and adornment of God's temples and monastic

cells. With the years my hovel has reached such a

dilapidated condition. . . ." And Tikhon Hitch sent a

ten-ruble bank-note to be used for repairing the hovel.

The time was long past when he had believed, with

ingenuous pride, that rumours concerning him had ac-

tually reached as far as Mount Athos, and he knew

well enough that far too many hovels on Mount Athos

had become dilapidated. Nevertheless, he sent the

money.

 

But even that proved of no avail.

 

The government monopoly of the liquor trade acted

as salt on a raw wound. When the hope of children

failed him utterly, the thought occurred ever more fre-

quently to Tikhon Hitch: "What's the object of all

this convict hard labour, anyway? devil take it!" And

his hands began to tremble with rage, his brows to con-

tract and arch themselves, his upper lip to quiver —

 

[24]

 

 

 

tHE VILLAGE

 

especially when he uttered the phrase which was inces-

santly in his mouth: "Bear in mind — !" He con-

tinued, as before, to affect youthfulness — wore dandy-

fied soft boots and art embroidered shirt fastened at

one side, Russian style, under a double-breagted short

coat. But his beard grew ever whiter, more sparse,

more tangled.

 

And that summer, as if with malicious intent, turned

out to be hot and dry. The rye was absolutely ruined.

It became a pleasure to whine to the buyers. "I'm

closing down my business — shutting up shop!" Tikhon

Hitch said with satisfaction, referring to his liquor

trade. He enunciated every word clearly. "The

Minister has a fancy for going into trade on his own

account, to be sure!"

 

"Okh, just look at you!" groaned Nastasya Petrovna.

"You're calling down bad luck. You'll be chased off

to a place so far that even the crows don't drag their

bones there!"

 

"Don't you worry, ma'am," Tikhon Hitch inter-

rupted her brusquely, with a frown. "No, ma'am!

You can't gag every mouth with a kerchief!" And

again, enunciating even more sharply, he addressed.the

customer: "And the rye, sir, is a joy to behold!

Bear that in mind — a joy to everybody! By night,

sir, if you'll believe it — by night, sir, even then it can

be seen. You step out on the threshold and gaze at

the fields by the light of the moon : it's as sparse as the

hair on a bald head. You go out and stare: the fields

are shining-naked!"

 

[25]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

 

 

IV

 

DURING the Fast of St. Peter Tikhon Hitch spent

four days in the town at the Fair and got

still more out of tune, thanks to his worries,

the heat, and sleepless nights. Ordinarily he set out for

the Fair with great gusto. At twilight the carts were

greased and heaped with hay. Behind one, that in

which the manager of his farm rode, were hitched the

horses or cows destined for sale; in the other, in which

the master himself was to ride, were placed cushions

and a peasant overcoat. Making a late start, they

journeyed squeaking all night long until daybreak.

First of all they indulged in friendly discussion and

smoking. The men told each other frightful old tales

of merchants murdered on the road and at halting

places for the night. Then Tikhon Hitch disposed him-

self for sleep; and it was extremely pleasant to hear

through his dreams the voices of those whom they met,

to feel the vigorous swaying of the cart, as if it were

constantly descending a hill, and his cheeks slipping

deep into a pillow while his cap fell off and the night

chill cooled his head. It was agreeable, too, to wake

up before sunrise in the rosy, dewy morning, in the

midst of the dull-green grain, and to see, far away in

the blue lowlands, the town shining as a cheerful white

spot, and the gleam of its churches; to yawn mightily,

cross himself at the faint sound of the bells, and take

 

[26]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

the reins from the hands of the half-slumbering old

man, who sat relaxed like a child in the morning chill

and was as white as chalk in the light of the dawn.

 

But on this occasion Tikhon Hitch sent off the carts

with his head man and drove himself in a runabout.

The night was warm and bright; there was a rosy tone

in the moonlight. He drove fast, but became extremely

weary. The lights on the Fair buildings, the jail and

the hospital, were visible from the steppe at a distance

of ten versts as one approached the town, and it seemed

as if one would never reach them — those distant, sleepy

lights. And at the posting-house on the Ststchepnoy

Square it was so hot, and the fleas bit so viciously, and

voices rang out so frequently at the entrance-gate,

and the carts rattled so as they drove into the stone-

paved courtyard, and the cocks began to screech and

the pigeons to start their rumbling coo so early, and the

sky to grow white beyond the open windows, that he

never closed an eye. He slept little the second night,

too, which he tried to pass at the Fair in his cart. The

horses neighed, lights blazed in the stalls, people walked

and talked all around him; and at dawn, when his eye-

lids were fairly sticking together with sleep, the bells on

the jail and the hospital began to ring. And right

over his head the horrible bellow of a cow boomed out.

"Might as well be a criminal condemned to hard labour

in prison!" was a thought which recurred incessantly

during those days and nights. "Struggling — getting all

snarled up — and going to destruction over trifles, ab-

surdities!"

The Fair, scattered over the town pasture land for

 

[27]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

a whole verst, was, as usual, noisy and muddled.

Brooms, scythes, wooden tubs with handles, shovels,

wheels lay about in heaps. A dull, discordant roar

hung over it all — the neighing of horses, the shrilling

of children's whistles, the polkas and marches thun-

dered out by the orchestrions of the merry-go-rounds.

An idle, chattering throng of peasant men and women

surged about in waves from morning till night on the

dusty, dung-strewn alleyways among the carts and

stalls, the horses and the cows, the amusement sheds

and the eating booths, whence were wafted fetid odours

of frying grease. As always, there was a huge throng

of horse-dealers, who injected a terrible irritability

into all discussion and barter. Blind men and pau-

pers, beggars, cripples on crutches and in carts, filed

past in endless bands, chanting their snuffling ballads.

The troika team of the rural police chief moved slowly

through the crowd, its bells jingling, restrained by a

coachman in a sleeveless velveteen coat and a hat

adorned with peacock feathers.

 

Tikhon Hitch had many customers. But nothing be-

yond empty chaffer resulted. Gipsies came, blue-black

of face; Jews from the south-west, grey of countenance,

red-haired, covered with dust, in long, wide coats of

canvas and boots down at the heel; sun-browned mem-

bers of the gentry class of small estates, in sleeveless

peasant over-jackets and caps; the commissary of rural

police and the village policeman; the wealthy merchant

Safonoff, an old man wearing a sort of overcoat af-

fected by the lower classes, fat, clean-shaven, and smok-

ing a cigar. The handsome hussar officer, Prince

 

[28]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

Bakhtin, came also, accompanied by his wife in an

English walking suit, and Khvostoff, the decrepit hero

of the Sevastopol campaign, tall, bony, with large

features and a dark, wrinkled face, wearing a long uni-

form coat, sagging trousers, broad-toed boots, and a

big uniform cap with a yellow band beneath which his

dyed locks, of a dead dark-brown shade, were combed

forward on his temples.

 

All these people gave themselves the air of being ex-

pert judges, talked fluently about colours, paces, dis-

coursed about the horses they owned. The petty

landed gentry lied and boasted. Bakhtin did not con-

descend to speak to Tikhon Hitch, although the latter

rose respectfully at his approach and said: "Tis a

suitable horse for Your Illustrious Highness, sir."

Bakhtin merely fell back a pace as he inspected the

horse, smiled gravely into his moustache, which he wore

with side-supplements, and exchanged brief suggestions

with his wife as he wriggled his leg in his cherry-

coloured cavalry breeches.

 

But Khvostoff, shuffling up to the horse and casting

a sidelong fiery glance at it, came to a halt in such a

posture that it seemed as if he were on the point of

falling down, elevated his crutch, and for the tenth time

demanded in a dull, absolutely expressionless voice:

"How much do you ask for him?"

 

And Tikhon Hitch was obliged to answer them all.

Out of sheer boredom he bought a little book entitled

"Oi, Schmul and Rivke: Collection of fashionable

farces, puns, and stories, from the wanderings of our

worthy Hebrews" — and, as he sat in his cart, he dipped

 

[29]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

into it frequently. But no sooner did he begin to read:

"Iveryboady knows, zhentelmen, zat vee, ze Zhews,

iss ferightfully foand of beezness/' than some one hailed

him. And Tikhon Hitch raised his eyes and answered,

although with an effort and with clenched jaws.

 

He grew extremely thin, sunburned, yet pallid, flew

into bad tempers, and was conscious of being bored to

death and of feeling weak all over. He got his stomach

so badly out of order that he had cramps. He was

compelled to resort to the hospital; and there he waited

two hours for his turn, seated in a resounding cor-

ridor, inhaling the repulsive odour of carbolic acid and

feeling as if he were not Tikhon Hitch and a person of

consequence, but rather as if he were waiting humbly

in the ante-room of his master or of some official. And

when the doctor — who resembled a deacon, a red-faced,

bright-eyed man in a bob-tailed coat, redolent of soap,

with a sniff — applied his cold ear to his chest, he made

haste to say that his belly-ache was almost gone, and

did not refuse a dose of castor oil simply because he

was too timid to do so. When he returned to the Fair

ground he gulped down a glass of vodka flavoured with

pepper and salt, and began once more to eat sausage,

sour black rye bread made of second-rate flour, and

to drink tea, raw vodka, and sour cabbage soup — and

he was still unable to quench his thirst. His acquaint-

ances advised him to refresh himself with beer, and he

went for some. The lame kvas-dealer shouted:

"Here's your fine kvas, the sort that makes your nose

sting! A kopek a glass — prime lemonade!" And

Tikhon Hitch bade the kvas-peddler halt. "He-ere's

 

[30]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

your ices!" chanted in a tenor voice a bald, perspiring

vendor, a paunch-bellied old man in a red shirt. And

Tikhon Hitch ate, with the little bone spoon, ices

which were hardly more than snow, and which made

his head ache cruelly.

 

Dusty, ground to powder by feet, wheels, and hoofs,

littered and covered with dung, the pasture was already

being deserted — the Fair was dispersing. But Tikhon

Hitch, as if with deliberate intent to spite some one or

other, persisted in keeping his unsold horses there in

the heat, and sat on and on in his cart. It seemed as

if he were overwhelmed not so much by illness as by

the spectacle of the great poverty, the vast wretchedness

which, from time immemorial, had reigned over this

town and its whole county. Lord God, what a coun-

try! Black-loam soil over three feet deep! But —

what of that? Never did five years pass without a

famine. The town was famous throughout all Russia

as a grain mart — but not more than a hundred persons

in the whole town ate their fill of the grain. And the

Fair? Beggars, idiots, blind men, cripples — a whole

regiment of them — and such monstrosities as it made

one frightened and sick at the stomach to behold!

 

 

 

ON a hot, sunny morning Tikhon Hitch started

homeward through the big Old Town. First

he drove through the town and the bazaar,

past the cathedral, across the shallow little river,

 

[31]

 

 

 

The village

 

which reeked with the sourly fetid odour of the tan-

yards, and beyond the river, up the hill, through the

Black Suburb. In the bazaar he and his brother had

once worked in Matorin's shop. Now every one in

the bazaar bowed low before him. In the Black

Suburb his childhood had been passed. There, half-

way up the hill, among the mud huts embedded in the

ground, with their black and decaying roofs, in the

midst of dung which lay drying in the sun for use as

fuel, amid litter, ashes, and rags, it had been his great

delight to race, with shrill shouting and whistling,

after the poverty-stricken teacher of the county school

— a malicious, depraved old man, long since expelled

from his post, who wore felt boots summer and winter,

under-drawers, and a short overcoat with a beaver

collar which was peeling off. He had been known to

the town by the peculiar nickname of "the Dog's

Pistol."

 

Not a trace was now left of that mud hut in which

Tikhon Hitch had been born and had grown up. On

its site stood a small new house of planking, with a

rusty sign over the entrance: "Ecclesiastical Tailor

SobolefT." Everything else in the Suburb was pre-

cisely as it had always been — pigs and hens in the

narrow alleys; tall poles at the gateways, and on each

pole a ram's horn; the big pallid faces of the lace-

makers peering forth from behind the pots of flowers

in the tiny windows; bare-legged little urchins with

one suspender over a shoulder, launching a paper snake

with a tail of bast fibre; quiet flaxen-haired little

 

[32]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

girls engaged in their favourite play, burying a doll,

beside the mound of earth encircling the house.

 

On the plain at the crest of the hill, he crossed him-

self before the cemetery, behind the fence of which,

among the trees, was the grave which had once been

such a source of terror to him — that of the rich miser

Zykoff, which had caved in at the very moment when

they were filling it. And, after a moment's reflection,

he turned the horse in at the gate of the cemetery.

 

By the side of that large white gate had been wont

to sit uninterruptedly, jingling a little bell to which

were attached a handle and a small bag, a squint-eyed

monk garbed in a black cassock and boots red with

age — an extremely powerful, shaggy, and fierce fel-

low, to judge by appearances; a drunkard, with a re-

markable command of abusive language. No monk

was there now. In his place sat an old woman, busy

knitting a stocking. She looked like the ancient crone

of a fairy tale, with spectacles, a beak, and sunken

lips. She was one of the widows who lived in the

asylum by the cemetery.

 

'"Morning, my good woman!" Tikhon Hitch called

out pleasantly, as he hitched his horse to a post near

the gate. "Can you look after my horse?"

 

The old woman rose to her feet, made a deep rev-

erence, and mumbled: "Yes, batiushka." 1

 

i"Matushka" and "batiushka" (literally, "Little Mother"

 

and "Little Father") are the characteristic Russian formula

 

for addressing elderly strangers, regardless of class distinc-

tions. — TRANS.

 

[33]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

Tikhon Hitch removed his cap, crossed himself once

more, rolling his eyes upward as he did so before the

holy picture of the Assumption of the Mother of God

over the gateway, and added: "Are there many of

you nowadays?"

 

"Twelve old women in all, batiushka."

 

"Well, and do you squabble often?"

 

"Yes, often, batiushka."

 

Tikhon Hitch walked at a leisurely pace among the

trees and the crosses along the alley leading to the

ancient wooden church, once painted in ochre. Dur-

ing the Fair he had had his hair cut close and his

beard trimmed and shortened, and he was looking

much younger. His leanness and sunburn also con-

tributed to the youthfulness of his appearance. The

delicate skin shone white on the recently clipped tri-

angles on his temples. The memories of his childhood

and youth made him younger; so did his new peaked

canvas cap. His face was thoughtful. He glanced

from side to side. How brief, how devoid of meaning,

was life! And what peace, what repose, was round

about, in that sunny stillness within the enclosure of

the ancient churchyard! A hot breeze drifted across

the crests of the bright trees which pierced the cloud-

less sky, their foliage made scanty before its season by

the torrid heat, their light, transparent shadows cast in

waves athwart the stones and monuments. And when

it died away the sun once more heated up the flowers

and the grass; birds warbled sweetly in the languor;

sumptuously-hued butterflies sank motionless upon the

hot paths. On one cross Tikhon Hitch read:

 

[34]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

"What terrible quit-rents

Doth Death collect from men!"

 

But there was nothing awful about the spot. He

strolled on, even noticing with considerable satisfaction

that the cemetery was growing; that many new and ex-

cellent mausoleums had made their appearance among

those ancient stones in the shapes of coffins on legs,

heavy cast-iron plates, and huge rough crosses, already

in process of decay, which now filled it. "Died in the

year 1819, on November 7, at five o'clock in the morn-

ing" — it was painful to read such inscriptions: death

was repulsive at dawn of a stormy autumnal day, in

that old county town! But alongside it a marble

angel gleamed white through the trees, as he stood

there with eyes fixed upon the blue sky; and beneath

it, on the mirror-smooth black granite, were cut in gold

letters the words: "Blessed are the dead who die in

the Lord." On the iron monument of some Collegiate

Assessor, tinted in rainbow hues by foul weather and

the hand of time, one could decipher the verses:

 

"His Tsar he honourably served,

His neighbour cordially loved,

And was revered of men."

 

And these verses struck Tikhon Hitch as hypocritical.

But in this place even a lie was touching. For —

where is truth? Yonder in the bushes lies a human

jawbone, neglected, looking as if it were made of dirty

wax — all that remains of a man. But is it all?

 

[35]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

Flowers, ribbons, crosses, coffins, and bones in the

earth decay — all is death and corruption. But Tikhon

Hitch walked on further and read: "Thus it is in the

resurrection of the dead; it is sown in corruption, it is

raised in incorruption." — "Our darling son, thy mem-

ory will never die in our hearts to all eternity!"

 

His brow furrowed even more severely; he removed

his cap and made the sign of the cross. He was pale,

and still weak from his illness. He recalled his child-

hood — his youth — Kuzma. He walked to the far cor-

ner of the cemetery where all his relatives were buried

— father, mother, the sister who had died when a little

girl. The inscriptions spoke touchingly and peace-

fully of rest, repose; of tenderness towards fathers,

mothers, husbands and wives; of a love which, appar-

ently, does not exist and never will exist on this earth;

of that devotion to one another and submission to God,

that fervent faith in a future life, that meeting once

more in another and blessed land, in which one be-

lieves only here; and of that equality which death

alone confers — of those moments when folk bestow the

last kiss upon the lips of the dead beggar as on a

brother's, compare him with kings and prelates, say

over him the loftiest and most solemn words.

 

And there in a distant corner of the enclosure,

among bushes of elder which dozed in the parching

heat — there where formerly had been graves, but now

were only mounds and hollows, overgrown with grass

and white flowers 1 — Tikhon Hitch saw a fresh little

grave, the grave of a child, and on the cross a couplet:

 

[36]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

"Softly, leaves: do not rustle,

Do not wake my Kostya dear."

 

And as he recalled his own child, crushed in its sleep

by the dumb cook, he began to blink back the welling

tears.

 

 

 

VI

 

NO one ever drove on the highway which ran past

the cemetery and lost itself among "he rolling

fields. Now and then some light-footed tramp

straggled along it — some young fellow in a faded pink

shirt and drawers of parti-coloured patches. But peo-

ple drove on the country road alongside. Along that

country road drove Tikhon Hitch also. His first en-

counter was with a dilapidated public carriage which

approached at racing speed — provincial cabmen

drive wildly! — and in which sat a huntsman, an official

of the bank. At his feet lay a spotted setter dog; on

his knees rested a gun in its cover; his legs were en-

cased in tall wading-boots, though there had never

been any marshes in the county. Next, diving across

the dusty hummocks, came a young postman mounted

on a bicycle of an ancient model, with an enormous

front wheel and a tiny rear one. He frightened the

horse, and Tikhon Hitch gritted his teeth with rage;

the rascal ought to be degraded to the ranks of the

 

[37]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

workingmen ! The mid-day sun scorched; a hot

breeze was blowing; the cloudless sky became slate-

coloured. And, as he meditated upon the brevity and

senselessness of life, Tikhon Hitch turned away with

ever-increasing irritation from the dust which whirled

along the road, and with ever-increasing anxiety cast

sidelong glances at the spindling, prematurely drying

stalks of the grain.

 

Throngs of pilgrims armed with long staffs, tortured

by fatigue and the heat, tramped on at a peaceful gait.

They made low, meek reverences to Tikhon Hitch; but

their obeisances struck him as shams. "Those fellows

meek! I'll bet they fight among themselves like cats

and dogs at their halting-places!" he muttered.

Drunken peasants returning from the Fair — red-

headed, black-haired, flaxen-haired, but all alike hid-

eous and tattered, and with about ten crowded into

each cart — raised clouds of dust as they whipped up

their wretched little horses. As he overtook their

rattling carts Tikhon Hitch shook his head. "Ugh,

you roving beggars, may the devil fly away with you."

 

One of them, in a print shirt torn to ribbons, lay

fast asleep and was bumped about like a corpse,

stretched supine with his head thrown back, his beard

blood-stained, his nose swollen and clotted with dried

blood. Another stumbled as he ran after his cap,

which had been blown off by the wind; and Tikhon

Hitch, with malicious delight, lashed him with his whip.

Then came a cart filled with sieves, shovels, and peas-

ant women. They sat with their backs to the horses,

rattling and bumping about. One had a new child's

 

[38]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

cap on her head, worn wrong side before; another was

singing with her mouth full of bread; a third flour-

ished her arms and, laughing, shouted after Tikhon

Hitch: "Hey there, uncle, you've lost your linch-pin!"

And Tikhon Hitch reined in his horse, let them catch

up with him, and lashed this woman, too, with his

whip.

 

Beyond the toll-gate, where the highway turned off

to one side, and where the rattling peasant carts fell to

the rear, and silence, the wide space and sultriness of

the steppe reigned, he felt once more that, in spite of

everything, the chief item in the world was Business.

He thought with supreme scorn of the landed proprie-

tors, putting on swagger at the Fair — they, with their

wretched troika teams! Ekh, and the poverty on

every side! The peasants were utterly ruined, with

not a scrap left on their impoverished little farms

scattered about the country. A master .was needed

here — a master!

 

"But you're not the right master, my good fellow!"

he announced to himself with a spiteful grin. "You're

a poor, crazy, landless stick yourself!"

 

Midway of his journey lay Rovnoe, a large village

in which the inhabitants were freeholders. A scorch-

ing breeze coursed through the deserted streets and

across the heat-singed bushes. Fowls were ruffling up

their feathers and burying themselves in the ashes at

the thresholds. A church of crude hue reared itself

starkly, harshly on the bare common. Beyond the

church a tiny clayey pond gleamed in the sunlight be-

low a dam of manure, a sheet of thick yellow water in

 

[39]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

which stood a herd of cows, incessantly discharging ac-

cording to the demands of nature; and there a naked

peasant was soaping his head. He, too, had waded

into the water up to his waist; on his breast glistened

his brass baptismal cross; his neck and face were black

with sunburn, his body strikingly white, pallid.

- "Unbridle my horse for me," said Tikhon Hitch,

driving into the pond, which reeked of the cattle.

 

The peasant tossed his fragment of blue-marbled

soap on the shore, black with cow-dung, and, his head

all grey, with a modest gesture as though to cover him-

self, he made haste to comply with the command. The

mare bent greedily to the water, but it was so warm

and repulsive that she raised her muzzle and turned

away. Whistling to her, Tikhon Hitch waved his

cap:

 

"Well, nice water you have! Do you drink it?"

 

"Well, then, and is yours sugar-water, I wonder?"

retorted the peasant, amiably and gaily. "We've been

drinking it these thousand years! But what's water?

— 'tis bread we're lacking."

 

And Tikhon Hitch was forced to hold his tongue; for

in Durnovka the water was no better, and there was no

bread there either. What was more, there would be

none.

 

Beyond Rovnoe the road ran again through fields of

rye — but what fields! The grain was spindling, weak,

almost wholly lacking in ears, and smothered in

corn-flowers. And near Vyselki, not far from Dur-

novka, clouds of rooks perched on the gnarled, hollow

willow-trees with their silvery beaks wide open.

 

[40]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

Nothing was left of Vyselki that day save its name —

the rest was only black skeletons of cottages in the

midst of rubbish! The rubbish was smoking, with a

milky-bluish emanation; there was a rank odour of

burning. And the thought of a conflagration from

lightning transfixed Tikhon Hitch. "Calamity!" he

said to himself, turning paler Nothing he owned was

insured: everything might be reduced to ashes in an

hour.

 

 

 

VII

 

FROM that Fast of St. Peter, that memorable trip

to the Fair, Tikhon Hitch began to drink fre-

quently — not to the point of downright drunk-

enness, but to the stage at which his face became pass-

ably red. This did not, however, interfere in the

slightest degree with his business, and, according to

his own account, it did not interfere with his health.

"Vodka polishes the blood," he was wont to remark;

and, truth to tell, to all appearances he became more

robust than ever. Not infrequently now he called his

life that of a galley-slave — the hangman's noose — a

gilded cage. But he strode along his pathway with

ever-increasing confidence, paying no attention to the

condition of the weather or the road. Commonplace,

uneventful days ruled supreme in his house, and sev-

eral years passed in such monotonous fashion that

everything merged together into one long working-

day. But certain new, vast events which no one had

 

[41]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

looked for came to pass — the war with Japan and the

revolution.

 

The rumours concerning the war began, of course,

with bragging. "The kazaks will soon flay his yellow

skin off him, brother!" But it smouldered so very

short a time, this pale image of former boasts! A dif-

ferent sort of talk speedily made itself heard.

 

"We have more land than we can manage!" said

Tikhon Hitch, in the stern tone of an expert — prob-

ably for the first time in the whole course of his life

not referring to his own land in Durnovka, but to the

whole expanse of Russia. " 'Tis not war, sir, but

downright madness!"

 

Another thing made itself felt, the sort of thing

which has prevailed from time immemorial — the in-

clination to take the winning side. And the news

about the frightful defeats of the Russian army excited

his enthusiasm: "Ukh, that's fine. Curse them, the

brutes!" He waxed enthusiastic also over the con-

quests of the revolution, over the assassinations:

"That Minister got a smashing blow!" said Tikhon

Hitch occasionally, in the fire of his ecstasy. "He got

such a good one that not even his ashes were left!"

 

But his uneasiness increased, too. As soon as any

discussion connected with the land came up, his wrath

awoke. Tis all the work of the Jews! Of the Jews,

and of those frowzy long-haired fellows, the students!"

What irritated Tikhon Hitch worst of all was, that the

son of the deacon in Ulianovka, a student in the Theo-

logical Seminary who was hanging around without

work and living on his father, called himself a Social-

 

[42]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

Democrat. And the whole situation was incomprehen-

sible. Everybody was talking about the revolution,

the Revolution, while round about everything was go-

ing on the same as ever, in the ordinary everyday fash-

ion: the sun shone, the rye blossomed in the fields, the

carts wended their way to the station. The populace

were incomprehensible in their taciturnity, in the eva-

siveness of their talk.

 

"They're an underhand lot, the populace! They

fairly scare one with their slyness!" said Tikhon Hitch.

And, forgetting the Jews, he added: "Let us assume

that not all that music is craft. Changing the govern-

ment and evening up the shares of land — why, an in-

fant could understand that, sir. And, naturally, 'tis

perfectly clear to whom they will pay court — that pop-

ulace, sir. But, of course, they hold their tongues.

And, of course, we must watch, and try to meet their

humour, so that they may go on holding their tongues.

We must put a spoke in their wheel! If you don't,

look out for yourself: they'll scent success, they'll get

wind of the fact that they've got the breeching under

their tail — and they'll smash things to smithereens,

sir!" -

 

When he read or heard that land was to be taken

from only such as possessed more than five hundred

desyatini 1 he himself became an "agitator." He even

entered into disputes with the Durnovka people. This

is the sort of thing that would happen: —

 

A peasant stood alongside Tikhon Hitch's shop; the

 

1 A desyatina is a unit of land measurement equalling 2.07

acres. — trans.

 

[43]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

man had bought vodka at the railway station, dried

salt fish and cracknels at the shop, and had doffed his

cap; but he prolonged his enjoyment, and said:

 

"No, Tikhon Hitch, 'tis no use your explaining. It

can be taken, at a just price. But not the way you say

— that's no good."

 

An odour arose from the pine boards piled up near

the granary, opposite the yard. The dried fish and

the linden bast on which the cracknels were strung had

an irritating smell. The hot locomotive of the freight-

train could be heard hissing and getting up steam be-

yond the trees, behind the buildings of the railway sta-

tion. Tikhon Hitch stood bare-headed beside his shop,

screwing up his eyes and smiling slily. Smilingly he

made reply:

 

"Bosh! But what if he is not a master, but a

tramp?"

 

"Who? The noble owner, you mean?"

 

"No — a low-born man."

 

"Well, that's a different matter. 'Tis no sin to take

it from such a man, with all his innards to boot!"

 

"Well now, that's exactly the point!"

 

But another rumour reached them: the land would

be taken from those who owned less than five hundred

desyatini! And immediately his soul was assailed by

preoccupation, suspicion, irritability. Everything that

was done in the house began to seem abhorrent.

 

Egorka, the assistant, brought flour-sacks out of the

shop and began to shake them. And the man's head

reminded him of the head of the town fool, "Duck-

Headed Matty." The crown of his head ran up to a

 

[44]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

point, his hair was harsh and thick — "Now, why is it

that fools have such thick hair?" — his forehead was

sunken, his face resembled an oblique egg, he had pro-

truding eyes, and his eyelids, with their calf-like

lashes, seemed drawn tightly over them; it looked as if

there were not enough skin — if he were to close his

eyes, his mouth would fly open of necessity, and if he

closed his mouth, he would be compelled to open his

eyes very wide. And Tikhon Hitch shouted spite-

fully: "Babbler! Blockhead! What are you shak-

ing your head at me for?"

 

The cook brought out a smallish box, opened it,

placed it upside down on the ground, and began to

thump the bottom with her fist. And, understanding

what that meant, Tikhon Hitch slowly shook his head:

"Akh, you housewife, curse you! You're knocking out

the cockroaches?"

 

'There's a regular cloud of them in there!" replied

the cook gaily. "When I peeped in — Lord, what a

sight!"

 

And, gritting his teeth, Tikhon Hitch walked out to

the highway and gazed long at the rolling plain, in the

direction of Durnovka.

 

 

 

[45]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

 

 

VIII

 

 

 

HIS living-rooms, the kitchen, the shop, and the

granary, where formerly his liquor-trade had

been carried on, constituted a single mass under

one iron roof. On three sides the straw-thatched sheds

of the cattle-yard were closely connected with it, and

a pleasing quadrangle was thus obtained. The porch

and all the windows faced the south. But the view

was cut off by the grain-sheds, which stood opposite

the windows and across the road. To the right was

the railway station, to the left the highway. Beyond

the highway was a small grove of birches. And when

Tikhon Hitch felt out of sorts, he went out on the

highway. It ran southward in a white winding rib-

bon from hillock to hillock, ever following the fields

in their declivities and rising again toward the horizon

from the far-away watch-tower, where the railway,

coming from the south-east, intersected it. And if

any one of the Durnovka peasants chanced to be driv-

ing to Ulianovka — one of the more energetic and

clever, that is, such as Yakoff, whom every one called

Yakoff Mikititch 1 because he was greedy, and held

 

1 When a man or woman begins to get on in the world his

admiring neighbours signalize their appreciation by adding to

the Christian name the patronymic, as if the clever one were

of gentle (noble) birth. In this story, Tikhon soon receives

the public acknowledgment of success, having begun as plain

"Tikhon." Peasant-fashion, "Nikititch" was transmuted into

"Mikititch."—TRANS.

 

[46]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

fast to his little store of grain a second year, and owned

three excellent horses — Tikhon Hitch stopped him.

 

"You might buy yourself a cheap little cap with a

visor, at least!" he shouted to YakofF, with a grin.

 

YakofT, in a peakless cap, hemp-crash shirt, and

trousers of heavy striped linen, was sitting barefoot

on the side-rail of his springless cart.

 

" 'Morning, Tikhon Hitch," he said, staidly.

 

" 'Morning! I tell you, 'tis time you sacrificed your

round cap for a jackdaw's nest!"

 

Yakoff, grinning shrewdly earthwards, shook his

head.

 

"That — how should it be expressed? — would not be

a bad idea. But, you see, my capital, so to speak, will

not permit."

 

"Oh, stop your babbling. We know all about you

Kazan orphans! 1 You've married off your girl, and

got a wife for your lad, and you have plenty of money.

What more is there left for you to want from the

Lord God?"

 

This flattered Yakoff, but he became more uncom-

municative than ever. "O, Lord!" he muttered, with

a sigh, in a sort of chuckling tone. "Money — I don't

know the sight of it, so to speak. And my lad — well,

what of him? The boy's no comfort to me. No com-

fort at all, to speak the plain truth! Young folks

are no comfort nowadays!"

 

Yakoff, like many peasants, was extremely nervous,

 

1 Sharpers who pretend to be the poverty-stricken descend-

ants of the Tatar Princes who ruled Kazan before it was

conquered, during the rein of Ivan the Terrible. — trans.

 

[47]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

especially if his family or his affairs were in question.

He was remarkably secretive, but on such occasions

nervousness overpowered him, although only his dis-

connected, trembling speech betrayed the fact. So, in

order to complete his disquiet, Tikhon Hitch inquired

sympathetically: "So he isn't a comfort? Tell me,

pray, is it all because of the woman?"

 

Yakoff, looking about him, scratched his breast with

his finger-nails. "Yes, because of the woman, his wife,

his father may go break his back with work."

 

"Is she jealous?"

 

"Yes, she is. People set me down as the lover of my

daughter-in-law."

 

-"H'm!" ejaculated Tikhon Hitch sympathetically, al-

though he knew full well that there is never smoke

without fire.

 

But Yakoff 's eyes were already wandering: "She

complained to her husband; how she complained!

And, just think, she wanted to poison me. Sometimes,

for example, a fellow catches cold and smokes a bit

to relieve his chest. Well, she noticed that — and stuck

a cigarette under my pillow. If I hadn't happened to

see it — I'd have been done for!"

 

"What sort of a cigarette?"

 

"She had pounded up the bones of dead men, and

stuffed it with that in place of tobacco."

 

"That boy of yours is a fool! He ought to teach

her a lesson, in Russian style — the damned hussy!"

 

"What are you thinking of! He climbed on my

breast, so to speak. And he wriggled like a serpent.

 

[48]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

I grabbed him by the head, but his head was shaved!

I grabbed hold of his stomach. I hated to tear his

shirt!"

 

Tikhon Hitch shook his head, remained silent for a

minute, and at last reached a decision: "Well, and

how are things going with you over there? Are you

still expecting the rebellion?"

 

But thereupon Yakoff's secrecy was restored instan-

taneously. He grinned and waved his hand. "Well!"

he muttered volubly. "What would we do with a

rebellion? Our folks are peaceable. Yes, a peace-

able lot." And he tightened the reins, as though his

horse were restive and would not stand.

 

"Then why did you have a village assembly last

Sunday?" Tikhon Hitch maliciously and abruptly

interjected.

 

"A village assembly, did you say? The plague only

knows! They started an awful row, so to speak."

 

"I know what the row was about! I know!"

 

"Well, what of it? I'm not making a secret of it.

They gabbled, so to speak, said orders had been issued

— orders had been issued — that no one was to work

any more at the former price."

 

It was extremely mortifying to reflect that, because

of wretched little Durnovka, affairs were escaping from

his grasp. And there were only thirty homesteads

altogether in that same Durnovka. And it was situ-

ated in a devil of a ravine: a broad gorge, with peasant

cottages on one side, and on the other the tiny manor.

And that manor exchanged glances with the cottages

 

[49]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

and from day to day expected some "order." Ekh,

he'd like to apply a few kazaks with their whips to

the situation!

 

 

 

IX

 

 

 

BUT the "order" came, at last. One Sunday a

rumour began to circulate in Durnovka that the

village assembly had worked out a plan for an

attack upon the manor. With maliciously merry eyes,

a feeling of unusual strength and daring, and a readi-

ness to "break the horns of the devil himself," Tikhon

Hitch shouted orders to have the colt harnessed to

the runabout, and within ten minutes he was driving

him at high speed along the highway to Durnovka.

The sun was setting, after a rainy day, in greyish-red

clouds; the boles of the trees in the birch-grove were

crimson; the country dirt-road, which stood out as a

line of blackish-purple mud amid the fresh greenery,

afforded heavy going. Rose-hued foam dripped from

the haunches of the colt and from the breeching which

jerked about on them. But he was not considering the

colt. Slapping him stoutly with the reins, Tikhon

Hitch turned aside from the railway, drove to the right

along the road across the fields, and, on coming within

sight of Durnovka, was inclined to doubt, for a mo-

ment, the correctness of the rumours about a rebellion.

Peaceful stillness lay all about, the larks were warbling

 

[50]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

their evening song in peace, the air was simply and

peacefully impregnated with an odour of damp earth

and with the fragrance of wild flowers. But all of

a sudden his glance fell upon the fallow-field alongside

the manor, thickly sown with sweet-clover. On that

fallow-field, a drove of horses belonging to the peasants

was grazing!

 

So it had begun. And, tugging at the reins, Tikhon

Hitch flew past the drove, past the barns overgrown

with burdocks and nettles, past a low-growing cherry-

orchard filled with sparrows, past the stables and the

cottages of the domestics, and leaped with a bound

into the farmyard.

 

Then something incongruous happened. There, in

the twilight, in the middle of the field, sat Tikhon Hitch

in his runabout, overwhelmed with wrath, mortifica-

tion, and terror. His heart beat violently, his hands

trembled, his face burned, his hearing was as acute

as that of a wild animal. There he sat, listening to

the shouts which were wafted from Durnovka, and re-

called how the crowd, which had seemed to him im-

mense, on catching sight of him from afar had swarmed

across the gorge to the manor and filled the yard with

uproar and abusive words, had massed themselves on

the porch and pinioned him against the door. All the

weapon he had had was the whip in his hand. And

he brandished it, now retreating, now hurling himself

in desperation against the crowd. But the harness-

maker, a vicious emaciated fellow with a sunken belly

and a sharp nose, wearing tall boots and a lavender

print shirt, advanced brandishing his stick even more

 

[51]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

furiously. On behalf of the whole throng, he screeched

that an order had been issued to "make an end of that

Outfit" — to make an end on one and the same day and

hour throughout the entire government. The hired

labourers from outside were to be chased out of all the

estates and replaced with local labourers — at a ruble

a day! — while the owners were to be expelled neck

and crop, in any direction, so that they would never

be seen again. And Tikhon Hitch yelled still more

frantically, in the endeavour to drown out the harness-

maker: "A — a! So that's it! Have you been whet-

ting yourself, you tramp, on the deacon's son? Have

you lost your wits?"

 

But the harness-maker disputatiously caught his

words on the fly: "Tramp yourself!" he yelled until

he was hoarse, and his face was suffused with blood.

"You're an old fool! Haven't I managed to get along

all my life without the deacon's son? Don't I know

how much land you own? How much is it, you skin-

flint? Two hundred desyatini? But I — damn it! —

own, in all, about as much ground as is covered by

your porch! And why? Who are you? Who are

you, anyway, I ask you? What's your brew — any

better sort than the rest of us?"

 

"Come to your senses, Mitka!" shouted Tikhon

Hitch helplessly at last; and, conscious that his wits

were getting muddled, he made a dash through the

crowd to his runabout. "I'll pay you off for this!"

 

But no one was afraid of his threats, and unanimous

laughter, yells, and whistling followed him. Then he

had made the round of the manor-estate, his heart

 

[52]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

sinking within him, and listened. He drove out upon

the road to the cross-roads and halted with his face

to the darkening west, toward the railway station,

holding himself in readiness to whip up his horse at

any moment. It was very quiet, warm, damp, and

dark. The land, which rose toward the horizon, where

a faint reddish gleam still smouldered, was as black

as the nethermost abyss.

 

"Sta-and still, you carrion!" Tikhon Hitch whis-

pered through set teeth to his restive horse. "Sta-and

still!"

 

And, from afar, first shouts, then songs, were wafted

to him. And among all the voices the voice of Vanka

Krasny, who had already been twice in the mines of

the Donetz Basin, was distinguishable above the rest.

And then, suddenly, a dark-fiery . column rose above

the manor-house: the peasants had shaken off all the

immature fruit in the orchard and set fire to the watch-

man's hut. A pistol which the gardener, a petty

burgher, had left behind him in the hut began to dis-

charge itself, out of the fire.

 

It became known, later on, that in truth a remark-

able thing had taken place. On one and the same

day, the peasants had risen through almost the entire

county. The inns in the town were crowded for a

long time thereafter with land-owners who had sought

protection of the authorities. Afterwards, Tikhon

Hitch recalled with shame that he also had sought it —

with shame, because the whole uprising had been lim-

ited to the Durnovka people's shouting for a while,

doing a lot of damage, and then quieting down. The

 

[53]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

harness-maker began, before long, to present himself

in the shop at Vorgol as though nothing whatever had

happened, and doffed his cap on the threshold as if he

did not perceive that Tikhon Hitch's face darkened

at his appearance. Nevertheless, rumours were still

in circulation to the effect that the Durnovka folk

intended to murder Tikhon Hitch. And he, afraid

to be caught out after dark on the road from Dur-

novka, fumbled in his pocket for his bulldog revolver,

which weighed down the pocket of his full trousers

in an annoying manner, and registered a vow that he

would burn Durnovka to the ground some fine night,

or poison the water in the Durnovka wells. Then even

these rumours died away. But Tikhon Hitch began

to think seriously of ridding himself of Durnovka.

"Real money is the money in your pocket, not the

money you're going to inherit from your grand-

mother!" Moreover, the peasants had become impu-

dent in their manner to him, and they seemed pecu-

liarly well-informed. The Durnovka folks knew "all

the ins and outs of things," and for that reason alone,

if for no other, it was stupid to entrust the oversight

and management of affairs at the manor to any of the

Durnovka labourers. More than that, Rodka was the

village Elder.

 

That year — the most alarming of all recent years —

Tikhon Hitch reached the age of fifty. But he had

not abandoned his dream of becoming a father. And,

lo and behold, precisely that was what brought him

into collision with Rodka.

 

[54]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

 

 

X

 

 

 

RODKA, a tall, thin, sullen young fellow from

Ulianovka, had gone two years previously to

live with Fedot, the brother of Yakoff; he had

married, and had buried Fedot, who had died from

over-drinking at the wedding; and he had then gone

away to do his military service. But the bride, a

young woman with fine figure, an extremely white,

soft skin faintly tinged with crimson, and eyelashes

for ever downcast, began to work for daily wages at

the farm. And those eyelashes perturbed Tikhon Hitch

terribly. The peasant women of Durnovka wear

"horns" on their heads: immediately after the wedding

they coil their braided hair on the crown of the head

and cover it with a kerchief, which produces a queer

effect, similar to the horns of a cow. They wear dark-

blue skirts of the antique pattern, trimmed with gal-

loon, a white apron not unlike a sarafan x in shape,

and bast-slippers. But the Bride — that name stuck

to her — was beautiful in that garb. And one evening

in the dark barn, where the Bride was alone and fin-

ishing the clearing up of the rye-ears, Tikhon Hitch,

after casting a precautionary glance around him, en-

tered, went up to her, and said hastily: "You shall

 

1 A straight, loose gown, falling from the armpits, worn by

unmarried girls, — trans.

 

[55]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

have pretty shoes and silk kerchiefs. I shall not be-

grudge a twenty-five-ruble banknote!"

 

But the Bride remained silent as death.

 

"Do you hear what I say?" cried Tikhon Hitch, in

a whisper.

 

But the Bride seemed turned to stone, and with

bowed head went on wielding her rake.

 

So he accomplished nothing at all. All of a sud-

den, Rodka appeared — ahead of his time, and minus an

eye. That was soon after the rebellion of the Dur-

novka peasants, and Tikhon Hitch immediately hired

him and his wife for the Durnovka farm, on the ground

that "nowadays it won't do to be without a soldier on

the place." About St. Ilya's Day, while Rodka had

gone off to the town, the Bride was scrubbing the

floors in the house. Picking his way among the pud-

dles, Tikhon Hitch entered the room, cast a glance

at the Bride, who was bending over the floor — at her

white calves bespattered with dirty water — at the whole

of her plump body as it flattened out before him.

And, suddenly turning the key in the door, he strode

up to the Bride. She straightened up hastily, raised

her flushed, agitated face and, clutching in her hand

the dripping floor-rag, screamed at him in a strange

tone: "I'll give you a soaking, young fellow!"

 

An odour of hot soapsuds, heated body, perspiration,

pervaded the air. Seizing the Bride by the hand, he

squeezed it in a brutal grip, shaking it and making

her drop the rag. Tikhon Hitch grasped the Bride

by the waist with his right arm — pressed her to him

with such force that her bones cracked — and bore

 

[56]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

her off into another room where there was a bed. And

the Bride, with head thrown back and eyes staring

wide open, no longer struggled, no longer resisted.

 

After that incident it was painful to the point of

torment to see his wife, to see Rodka; to know that

Rodka slept with the Bride, that he beat her ferociously

every day and every night. But before long the situa-

tion became alarming as well. Inscrutable are the

ways by which a jealous man arrives at the truth.

And Rodka found out. Lean, one-eyed, long-armed,

and strong as an ape, with a small closely-cropped

black head which he always carried bent forward as

he shot sidelong glances from his deep-set eyes, he

became downright terrifying. During his service as

a soldier he had acquired a stock of Little Russian

words and an accent. And if the Bride ventured to

make any reply to his curt, harsh speeches, he calmly

picked up his leather-strap knout, approached her with

a vicious grin, and calmly inquired, accenting the "re":

"What's that you're remarking?" Thereupon he gave

her such a flogging that everything turned black be-

fore her eyes.

 

On one occasion Tikhon Hitch himself happened

upon a thrashing of this sort and, unable to restrain

his indignation, shouted: "What are you doing, you

damned rascal?" But Rodka quietly seated himself

on the bench and merely looked at him. "What's that

you're remarking?" he inquired. And Tikhon Hitch

made haste to retreat, slamming the door behind him.

 

Wild thoughts began to dart through his mind.

Should he poison his wife? — with stove-gas, for ex-

 

[57]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

ample? — or should he arrange matters so that Rodka

would be crushed by a falling roof or earth? But

one month passed, then another — and hope, that hope

which had inspired in him these intoxicating thoughts,

was cruelly deceived. The Bride was not pregnant.

Every one in Durnovka was convinced that it was

Rodka's fault. Tikhon Hitch himself was convinced

of it, and cherished strong hopes. But one day in

September, when Rodka was absent at the railway sta-

tion, Tikhon Hitch presented himself and fairly groaned

aloud at the sight of the face of the Bride, all its

feminine beauty distorted with terror.

 

"Are you done for again?" he cried, as he ran up

the steps of the porch.

 

The Bride's lips turned white, her nose became waxen

in hue, and her eyes opened very wide; yet again,

it appeared, she was not with child. She expected to

receive a deadly blow on the head, and involuntarily

recoiled from it. But Tikhon Hitch controlled him-

self, merely uttering a groan of pain and rage.

 

A moment later he took his departure — and from

that day forth Rodka had no reason for jealousy.

Conscious of that fact, Rodka began to feel timid in

the presence of Tikhon Hitch. And the latter now

harboured, secretly, only one desire: to drive Rodka

out of his sight, and that as speedily as possible. But

whom could he find to take his place?

 

 

 

[58]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

 

 

XI

 

ACCIDENT came to the rescue of Tikhon Hitch.

Quite unexpectedly he became reconciled to his

brother, and persuaded him to undertake the

management of Durnovka.

 

He had learned from an acquaintance in the town

that Kuzma had ceased to drink and for a long time

had been serving as clerk with a landed proprietor

named Kasatkin. And, what was most amazing of

all, he had become "an author." Yes, it was said that

he had printed a whole little volume of his verses, and

on the cover was the inscription: "For sale by the

Author."

 

"Oh, come no-ow!" drawled Tikhon Hitch when he

heard this. "He's the same old Kuzma, and that's all

right! But let me ask one thing: Did he really

print it so — The Works of Kuzma KrasofT'?"

 

"Give you my word he did," replied the acquaint-

ance, being fully persuaded, nevertheless — as were

many others in the town — that Kuzma "skinned" his

verses from books and newspapers.

 

Thereupon Tikhon Hitch, without quitting his seat

at the table of DaefT's eating-house, wrote a brief, per-

emptory letter to his brother: 'twas high time for old

men to make peace, to repent. And there, in that

same eating-house, the reconciliation took place —

swiftly, almost without the utterance of a word.

 

[59]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

And on the following day came the business talk.

 

It was morning; the eating-house was still almost

empty. The sun shone through the dusty windows,

lighted up the small tables covered with greyish-red

tablecloths, the floor newly washed with bran and

emitting an odour of the stable, and the waiters in

their white shirts and white trousers. In a cage a

canary was singing in all possible modulations, but

like a mechanical bird which had been wound up

rather than a live one. Next door, the bells of St.

Michael Archangel's church were ringing for the Lit-

urgy, and the dense, sonorous peal shook the walls and

boomed quivering overhead. With nervous, serious

countenance, Tikhon Hitch seated himself at a table,

ordered at first only tea for two, but became impa-

tient and reached for the bill-of-fare — a novelty which

had excited the mirth of all Daeff's patrons. On the

card was printed: "A small carafe of vodka, with

snack, 25 kopeks. With tasty snack, 40 kopeks."

Tikhon Hitch ordered the carafe of vodka at forty

kopeks. He tossed off two glasses with avidity and

was on the point of drinking a third, when a long-

familiar voice resounded in his ear: "Well, good

morning once more."

 

Kuzma was garbed in the same fashion as his

brother. He was shorter of stature, with larger bones,

more withered, and a trifle broader of shoulder. He

had the large thin face with prominent cheek-bones

of a shrewd old peasant shopkeeper, grey overhanging

eyebrows, and large greenish eyes. His manner of

beginning was not simple:

 

[60]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

"First of all, I must expound to you, Tikhon Hitch,"

he began, as soon as Tikhon Hitch had poured him a

cup of tea, "I must expound to you what sort of a

man I am, so that you may know" — he chuckled —

"with whom you are dealing." 'He had a way of enun-

ciating his words very distinctly, elevating his brows,

unfastening and fastening the upper button of his short

coat while he talked. So, having buttoned it, he con-

tinued: "I, you see, am an anarchist. . . ."

 

Tikhon Hitch raised his eyebrows.

 

"Don't be afraid. I don't meddle with politics. But

you can't give a man orders how he is to think. It

won't harm you in the least. I shall manage the estate

faithfully, but I tell you straight from the shoulder

that I will not skin the people."

 

"Anyway, that can't be done at the present time,"

sighed Tikhon Hitch.

 

"Well, times are the same as they always were. It

is still possible to fleece people. I'll do my managing

properly, but my leisure I shall devote to self-devel-

opment. That is to say, to reading."

 

"Okh, bear in mind: Too much poking in books is

bad for the poke!" said Tikhon Hitch, shaking his

head, and making a grimace. "However, that's no

affair of ours."

 

"Well, that's not the way I look at it," retorted

Kuzma. "I, brother — how shall 1 put it to you? — I'm

a strange Russian type."

 

"I'm a Russian man myself, bear that in mind," in-

terposed Tikhon Hitch.

 

"But another sort. I don't mean to say that I'm bet-

 

[61]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

ter than you, but — I'm different. Now here are you,

I see, priding yourself on being a Russian, while I,

brother, okh! am very far from being a Slavophil!

It's not proper to jabber much, but one thing I will

say: for God's sake, don't brag of being a Russian!

We're an uncivilized people and an extremely unreli-

able one — neither candle for God nor oven-fork for the

devil. But we will discuss this as time goes on."

 

Tikhon Hitch contracted his brows, drummed on the

table with his fingers. "That's right, probably," he

said, and slowly filled his glass. "We're a savage lot.

A crack-brained race."

 

"Well, and that's precisely the point. I have, I may

say, roamed about the world a good bit. Well, and

what then? Absolutely nowhere have I seen more tire-

some and lazy types. And those who are not lazy" —

here Kuzma shot a sidelong look at his brother — "have

no sense at all. They toil and strive and acquire a

nest for themselves; but where's the sense in it, after

all?"

 

"What do you mean by that? What's sense?" asked

Tikhon Hitch.

 

"Just what I say. One must use sense in making

one's nest. I'll weave me a nest, says the man, and

then I'll live as a man should. In this way and in

that."

 

Here Kuzma tapped his breast and his brow with

his finger.

 

Tikhon Hitch poured himself out another glass of

liquor. Kuzma, having donned a silver-framed pair

of eyeglasses, sipped the boiling-hot amber fluid from

 

[62]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

his saucer. Tikhon Hitch gazed at him with beaming

eyes; and after turning something over in his mind, he

said: "Evidently, brother, that sort of thing is not

for the likes of us. If you live in the country, sup

your coarse cabbage-soup and wear wretched bast-

shoes. Do as your neighbours do!"

 

"Bast-shoes!" retorted Kuzma tartly. "We've been

wearing them a couple of thousand years, brother — the

thrice-accursed things! For two thousand years we've

been living with our mouths agape. We're doing the

devil's work. And who is to blame? What I have to

say about it is this: 'tis high time to get ashamed of

casting shame for everything on our neighbours — blam-

ing our neighbours instead of ourselves! The Tatars

oppressed us, you see! We're a young nation, you see!

Just as if, over there in Europe, all sorts of Mongols

didn't oppress folks a lot, too! As if the Germans

were any older than we are! Well, anyhow, that's a

special subject."

 

"Correct!" said Tikhon Hitch. "Come on, we'd bet-

ter get down to business."

 

Kuzma turned his empty glass upside down on the

saucer, lighted a cigarette, and resumed his exposition.

 

"I don't go to church."

 

"That signifies that you are a molokan?" x asked

Tikhon Hitch, and said to himself: "I'm lost! Evi-

dently, I must get rid of Durnovka!"

 

"A sort of molokan," grinned Kuzma. "And do you

 

1 A heretic. Literally, one who drinks milk (moloko) dur-

ing the Fasts in defiance to the Orthodox Catholic Church.

 

— TRANS.

 

[63]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

go to church? If it weren't for fear and necessity,

one would forget all about it."

 

"Well, I'm not the first, neither am I the last," re-

torted Tikhon Hitch, again contracting his brows in a

scowl. "We are all sinners. But 'tis stated, you

know: One sigh buys forgiveness for everything."

 

Kuzma shook his head.

 

"You're saying the usual things!" he remarked, se-

verely. "But if you will only pause and reflect, how

can that be so? You've been living on and on pig-

fashion all your life, and you utter a sigh — and every-

thing is wiped out without leaving a trace! Is there

any sense in that, or not?"

 

The conversation was becoming painful. "That's

correct," Tikhon Hitch said to himself, as he stared at

the table with flashing eyes. But, as always, he

wanted to dodge thought, and discussion about God

and about life; and he said the first thing that came

to the tip of his tongue: "I'd be glad enough to go

to Paradise, but my sins won't let me."

 

"There, there, there!" Kuzma caught him up,

tapping the table with his finger-nail. "The very

thing we love the best, our most pernicious char-

acteristic, is precisely that: words are one thing,

deeds are quite another! 'Tis the genuine Russian

tune, brother: I live disgustingly, pig-fashion, but

nevertheless I am living, and I shall continue to live,

pig-fashion! You're a type, brother! A type! — Well,

now talk business."

 

The pealing of the bells had ceased, the canary had

quieted down. People had assembled in the eating-

 

[64]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

house, and conversation was increasing at the little

tables. A waiter opened a window, and chatter from

the bazaar also became audible. Somewhere in a shop

a quail was uttering his call, very clearly and melo-

diously. And while the business talk was in progress

Kuzma kept listening to it, and from time to time in-

terposed, "That's clever!" in an undertone. And when

all had been said he slapped the table with the palm

of his hand and said energetically: "Well, all right,

so be it — don't let's discuss it!" and thrusting his hand

into the side pocket of his short coat, he drew forth a

regular heap of papers and paper scraps, sorted out

from among them a small book in a grey-marbled

binding, and laid it in front of his brother. "There!"

said he. "I yield to your request and to my own weak-

ness. Tis a wretched little book, casual verses, written

long ago. But 'tis done, and it cannot be helped.

Here, take it and put it out of sight."

 

And once more Tikhon Hitch, who had already be-

come extremely red in the face from the vodka, was

agitated by the consciousness that his brother was an

author; that upon that grey-marbled cover was printed:

"Poems by K. I. KrasofT." He turned the book about

in his hands, and said diffidently: "Suppose you read

me something. Hey? Pray do, read me three or four

verses."

 

And, with head bent low and in some confusion,

holding the book at a distance and gazing severely at

it through his glasses, Kuzma read the sort of thing

which the self-taught usually write: imitations of Kolt-

zoff and Nikitin, complaints against Fate and misery,

 

[65]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

challenges to impending storm-clouds and bad weather.

It is true that he himself was conscious that all this

was old and false. But behind the alien, incongruous

form lay the truth — that which had been violently and

painfully experienced at some time or other. And

upon his thin cheek-bones patches of pink made their

appearance, and his voice trembled from time to time.

Tikhon Hitch's eyes gleamed, too. It was of no im-

portance whether the verses were good or bad — the

important point was that they had been composed by

his own brother, a poor man, a simple plain fellow

who reeked of cheap tobacco and old boots.

 

"But with us, Kuzma Hitch," he said when Kuzma

had finished and, removing his eyeglasses, dropped his

eyes, "but with us there is only one song." And he

twisted his lips unpleasantly and bitterly: "The

only song we know is: 'What's the price of pig's

bristles?"

 

 

 

XII

 

 

 

NEVERTHELESS, after establishing his brother

at Durnovka he set about singing that song

with more gusto than ever. Before placing

Durnovka in his brother's hands, he had picked a quar-

rel with Rodka over some new harness-straps which

had been devoured by the dogs, and had discharged

him. Rodka smiled insolently by way of reply and

calmly strode off to his cottage to collect his belong-

ings. The Bride, also, listened with apparent compo-

se]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

sure to the dismissal. On breaking with Tikhon Hitch

she had resumed her habit of maintaining silence and

never looking him in the eye. But half an hour later,

when he had got everything together, Rodka came,

accompanied by her, to ask forgiveness. The Bride

remained standing on the threshold, pale, her eyes

swollen with weeping, and held her peace; Rodka

bowed his head, fumbled with his cap, and also made

an effort to weep, — it resulted in a repulsive grimace, —

but Tikhon Hitch sat at the table with lowering

brows and rattled the balls on his abacus, shaking

his head the while. Not one of the three could raise

his eyes — especially the Bride, who felt herself the

most guilty of them all — and their entreaties were un-

availing. Tikhon Hitch showed mercy on one point

only: he did not deduct the price of the straps from

their wages.

 

Now he was on a firm foundation. Having got rid

of Rodka and transferred his affairs to his brother's

charge, he felt alert, at his ease. "My brother is un-

reliable, a trifling fellow, apparently, but he'll do for

the present!" And returning to Vorgol he bustled

about unweariedly through the whole month of Octo-

ber. Nastasya Petrovna was ailing all the time — her

feet, hands, and face were swollen and yellow — and

Tikhon Hitch now began to meditate at times on the

possibility of her dying, and bore himself with increas-

ing lenience to her weakness, to her uselessness in all

affairs connected with the house and the shop. And,

as though in harmony with his mood, magnificent

weather prevailed during the whole of October. But

 

[67]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

suddenly it broke up and was followed by storms and

torrents of rain; and in Durnovka something utterly

unexpected came to pass.

 

During October Rodka had been working on the

railway line, and the Bride had been sitting, without

work, at home, enduring the reproaches of her mother

and only occasionally earning fifteen or twenty kopeks

in the garden of the manor. But her behaviour was

peculiar: at home she said never a word, but only

wept, and in the garden she was shrilly merry, shouted

with laughter, sang songs with Donka the Goat, an

extremely stupid and pretty little girl who resembled

an Egyptian. The Goat was living with a petty

burgher who had leased the garden, while the Bride,

who for some reason or other had struck up a friend-

ship with her, made bold eyes at her brother, an im-

pudent youth, and as she ogled him hinted in song

that she was wasting away with love for some one.

Whether anything occurred between them was not

known, but the whole affair ended in a great catas-

trophe. When the petty burghers were departing for

the town just before the Feast of Our Lady of Kazan

they arranged an "evening party" in their watchman's

hut, invited the Goat and the Bride, played all night

on two peasant pipes, fed their guests with crude del-

icacies, and gave them tea and vodka for beverages.

And at dawn, when their cart was already harnessed,

they suddenly, with roars of laughter, flung the in-

toxicated Bride on the ground, bound her arms, lifted

her petticoats, tied them in a knot over her head, and

began to fasten them securely there with a cord. The

 

[68]

 

 

 

THE VI LLAGE

 

Goat started to run away, and made a headlong dive

in her fright into the tall, wet steppe-grass. When

she peeped out from that shelter, after the cart with

the petty burghers had rolled briskly away out of the

garden, she espied the Bride, naked to the waist, hang-

ing from a tree. The dawn was dreary and overcast;

a fine rain was whispering through the garden. The

Goat wept in streams, and her teeth chattered as she

untied the Bride from the tree, vowing by the memory

of her father and mother that lightning might kill her,

the Goat, but never should they discover in the village

what had taken place in the garden. Nevertheless, not

a week had elapsed before rumours concerning the

Bride's disgrace became current in Durnovka.

 

It was impossible, of course, to verify these rumours:

"As for seeing it — why, nobody saw it. Well, and the

Goat's tongue was hung in the middle when it came

to telling absurd tales." The Bride herself, who had

aged five years in that one week, replied to them with

such insolent vituperation that even her own mother

was terrified by her face at such moments. But the

discussions provoked by the rumours did not cease, and

every one awaited with immense impatience the ar-

rival of Rodka and his chastisement of his wife.

Much agitated — once more jarred out of his rut — Tik-

hon Hitch also awaited that impending chastisement,

having heard from his own labourers of what had oc-

curred in the garden. Why, that scandal might end

in murder! But it ended in such a manner that it is

still a matter of doubt which would have startled the

Durnovka folks more powerfully — murder, or such a

 

[69]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

termination. On the night before the Feast of St.

Michael, Rodka, who had returned home "to change

his shirt," and who had not laid a finger on the Bride,

died suddenly of "stomach trouble"! This became

known in Vorgol late in the evening; but Tikhon

Hitch instantly gave orders to harness his horse, and

drove at top speed, through the darkness and the rain,

to his brother. And after having gulped down, on

top of his tea, a whole bottle of fruit brandy, he made

confession to him, in his burning excitement, with pas-

sionate expressions, and eyes wildly rolling: '"Tis

my fault, brother; the sin is mine!"

 

Having heard him out, Kuzma held his peace for a

long time, and for a long time paced up and down the

room plucking at his fingers, twisting them, cracking

their joints. At last he said: "Just think it over: is

there any nation more ferocious than ours? In town,

if a petty thief snatches from a hawker's tray a pan-

cake worth a farthing, the whole population of the

eating-house section pursues him, and when they catch

him they force him to eat soap. The whole town turns

out for a fire, or a fight, and how sorry they are that

the fire or the fight is so soon ended! Don't shake

your head, don't do it: they are sorry! And how they

revel in it when some one beats his wife to death, or

thrashes a small boy within an inch of his life, or

jeers at him! That's the most amusing thing in the

world."

 

Tikhon Hitch inquired: "What's your object in say-

ing that?"

 

[70]

 

 

 

THE VILLAGE

 

"Just for the sake of talking!" replied Kuzma, an-

grily, and went on: "Take that half-witted girl,

Fesha, who wanders about Durnovka, for example.

The young fellows squander their last coppers on her —

put her down on the village common and set to work

whacking her over her cropped head, at the rate of

ten whacks for a farthing! And is that done out of

ill-nature? Yes, out of ill-nature, certainly; and also

from a sort of stupidity, curse it! Well, and that's

the case with the Bride."

 

"Bear in mind," interrupted Tikhon Hitch hotly,

"that there are always plenty of blackguards and block-

heads everywhere."

 

"Exactly so. And didn't you yourself bring that —

well, what's his name?"

 

"Duck-headed Motya, you mean?" asked Tikhon

Hitch.

 

"Yes, that's it. Didn't you bring him here for your

own amusement?"

 

And Tikhon Hitch burst out laughing: he had done

that very thing. Once, even, Motya had been sent

to him by the railway in a sugar-cask. The town

was only about an arm's length distant, and he knew

the officials — so they sent the man to him. And the

inscription on the cask ran : "With care. A complete

Fool."

 

"And these same fools are taught vices, for amuse-

ment!" Kuzma went on bitterly. — "The yard-gates of

poor brides are smeared with tar! Beggars are hunted

with dogs! For amusement, pigeons are knocked off

 

[71]