A.P. Chekhov -
The Story of a Journey
EARLY one morning in July a shabby covered
chaise, one of those antediluvian chaises without springs in
which no one travels in Russia nowadays, except merchant's
clerks, dealers and the less well-to-do among priests, drove out
of N., the principal town of the province of Z., and rumbled
noisily along the posting-track. It rattled and creaked at every
movement; the pail, hanging on behind, chimed in gruffly, and
from these sounds alone and from the wretched rags of leather
hanging loose about its peeling body one could judge of its
decrepit age and readiness to drop to pieces.
Two of the inhabitants of N. were sitting in the chaise; they
were a merchant of N. called Ivan Ivanitch Kuzmitchov, a man
with a shaven face wearing glasses and a straw hat, more like a
government clerk than a merchant, and Father Christopher
Sireysky, the priest of the Church of St. Nikolay at N., a
little old man with long hair, in a grey canvas cassock, a
wide-brimmed top-hat and a coloured embroidered girdle. The
former was absorbed in thought, and kept tossing his head to
shake off drowsiness; in his countenance an habitual
business-like reserve was struggling with the genial expression
of a man who has just said good-bye to his relatives and has had
a good drink at parting. The latter gazed with moist eyes
wonderingly at God's world, and his smile was so broad that it
seemed to embrace even the brim of his hat; his face was red and
looked frozen. Both of them, Father Christopher as well as
Kuzmitchov, were going to sell wool. At parting with their
families they had just eaten heartily of pastry puffs and cream,
and although it was so early in the morning had had a glass or
two. . . . Both were in the best of humours.
Apart from the two persons described above and the coachman
Deniska, who lashed the pair of frisky bay horses, there was
another figure in the chaise -- a boy of nine with a sunburnt
face, wet with tears. This was Yegorushka, Kuzmitchov's nephew.
With the sanction of his uncle and the blessing of Father
Christopher, he was now on his way to go to school. His mother,
Olga Ivanovna, the widow of a collegiate secretary, and
Kuzmitchov's sister, who was fond of educated people and refined
society, had entreated her brother to take Yegorushka with him
when he went to sell wool and to put him to school; and now the
boy was sitting on the box beside the coachman Deniska, holding
on to his elbow to keep from falling off, and dancing up and
down like a kettle on the hob, with no notion where he was going
or what he was going for. The rapid motion through the air blew
out his red shirt like a balloon on his back and made his new
hat with a peacock's feather in it, like a coachman's, keep
slipping on to the back of his head. He felt himself an
intensely unfortunate person, and had an inclination to cry.
When the chaise drove past the prison, Yegorushka glanced at the
sentinels pacing slowly by the high white walls, at the little
barred windows, at the cross shining on the roof, and remembered
how the week before, on the day of the Holy Mother of Kazan, he
had been with his mother to the prison church for the Dedication
Feast, and how before that, at Easter, he had gone to the prison
with Deniska and Ludmila the cook, and had taken the prisoners
Easter bread, eggs, cakes and roast beef. The prisoners had
thanked them and made the sign of the cross, and one of them had
given Yegorushka a pewter buckle of his own making.
The boy gazed at the familiar places, while the hateful chaise
flew by and left them all behind. After the prison he caught
glimpses of black grimy foundries, followed by the snug green
cemetery surrounded by a wall of cobblestones; white crosses and
tombstones, nestling among green cherry-trees and looking in the
distance like patches of white, peeped out gaily from behind the
wall. Yegorushka remembered that when the cherries were in
blossom those white patches melted with the flowers into a sea
of white; and that when the cherries were ripe the white
tombstones and crosses were dotted with splashes of red like
bloodstains. Under the cherry trees in the cemetery Yegorushka's
father and granny, Zinaida Danilovna, lay sleeping day and
night. When Granny had died she had been put in a long narrow
coffin and two pennies had been put upon her eyes, which would
not keep shut. Up to the time of her death she had been brisk,
and used to bring soft rolls covered with poppy seeds from the
market. Now she did nothing but sleep and sleep. . . .
Beyond the cemetery came the smoking brickyards. From under the
long roofs of reeds that looked as though pressed flat to the
ground, a thick black smoke rose in great clouds and floated
lazily upwards. The sky was murky above the brickyards and the
cemetery, and great shadows from the clouds of smoke crept over
the fields and across the roads. Men and horses covered with red
dust were moving about in the smoke near the roofs.
The town ended with the brickyards and the open country began.
Yegorushka looked at the town for the last time, pressed his
face against Deniska's elbow, and wept bitterly.
"Come, not done howling yet, cry-baby!" cried Kuzmitchov. "You
are blubbering again, little milksop! If you don't want to go,
stay behind; no one is taking you by force!
"Never mind, never mind, Yegor boy, never mind," Father
Christopher muttered rapidly -- "never mind, my boy. . . . Call
upon God. . . . You are not going for your harm, but for your
good. Learning is light, as the saying is, and ignorance is
darkness. . . . That is so, truly."
"Do you want to go back?" asked Kuzmitchov.
"Yes, . . . yes, . . ." answered Yegorushka, sobbing.
"Well, you'd better go back then. Anyway, you are going for
nothing; it's a day's journey for a spoonful of porridge."
"Never mind, never mind, my boy," Father Christopher went on.
"Call upon God. . . . Lomonosov set off with the fishermen in
the same way, and he became a man famous all over Europe.
Learning in conjunction with faith brings forth fruit pleasing
to God. What are the words of the prayer? For the glory of our
Maker, for the comfort of our parents, for the benefit of our
Church and our country. . . . Yes, indeed!"
"The benefit is not the same in all cases," said Kuzmitchov,
lighting a cheap cigar; "some will study twenty years and get no
sense from it."
"That does happen."
"Learning is a benefit to some, but others only muddle their
brains. My sister is a woman who does not understand; she is set
upon refinement, and wants to turn Yegorka into a learned man,
and she does not understand that with my business I could settle
Yegorka happily for the rest of his life. I tell you this, that
if everyone were to go in for being learned and refined there
would be no one to sow the corn and do the trading; they would
all die of hunger."
"And if all go in for trading and sowing corn there will be no
one to acquire learning."
And considering that each of them had said something weighty and
convincing, Kuzmitchov and Father Christopher both looked
serious and cleared their throats simultaneously.
Deniska, who had been listening to their conversation without
understanding a word of it, shook his head and, rising in his
seat, lashed at both the bays. A silence followed.
Meanwhile a wide boundless plain encircled by a chain of low
hills lay stretched before the travellers' eyes. Huddling
together and peeping out from behind one another, these hills
melted together into rising ground, which stretched right to the
very horizon and disappeared into the lilac distance; one drives
on and on and cannot discern where it begins or where it ends. .
. . The sun had already peeped out from beyond the town behind
them, and quietly, without fuss, set to its accustomed task. At
first in the distance before them a broad, bright, yellow streak
of light crept over the ground where the earth met the sky, near
the little barrows and the windmills, which in the distance
looked like tiny men waving their arms. A minute later a similar
streak gleamed a little nearer, crept to the right and embraced
the hills. Something warm touched Yegorushka's spine; the streak
of light, stealing up from behind, darted between the chaise and
the horses, moved to meet the other streak, and soon the whole
wide steppe flung off the twilight of early morning, and was
smiling and sparkling with dew.
The cut rye, the coarse steppe grass, the milkwort, the wild
hemp, all withered from the sultry heat, turned brown and half
dead, now washed by the dew and caressed by the sun, revived, to
fade again. Arctic petrels flew across the road with joyful
cries; marmots called to one another in the grass. Somewhere,
far away to the left, lapwings uttered their plaintive notes. A
covey of partridges, scared by the chaise, fluttered up and with
their soft "trrrr!" flew off to the hills. In the grass
crickets, locusts and grasshoppers kept up their churring,
But a little time passed, the dew evaporated, the air grew
stagnant, and the disillusioned steppe began to wear its jaded
July aspect. The grass drooped, everything living was hushed.
The sun-baked hills, brownish-green and lilac in the distance,
with their quiet shadowy tones, the plain with the misty
distance and, arched above them, the sky, which seems terribly
deep and transparent in the steppes, where there are no woods or
high hills, seemed now endless, petrified with dreariness. . . .
How stifling and oppressive it was! The chaise raced along,
while Yegorushka saw always the same -- the sky, the plain, the
low hills. . . . The music in the grass was hushed, the petrels
had flown away, the partridges were out of sight, rooks hovered
idly over the withered grass; they were all alike and made the
steppe even more monotonous.
A hawk flew just above the ground, with an even sweep of its
wings, suddenly halted in the air as though pondering on the
dreariness of life, then fluttered its wings and flew like an
arrow over the steppe, and there was no telling why it flew off
and what it wanted. In the distance a windmill waved its sails.
. . .
Now and then a glimpse of a white potsherd or a heap of stones
broke the monotony; a grey stone stood out for an instant or a
parched willow with a blue crow on its top branch; a marmot
would run across the road and -- again there flitted before the
eyes only the high grass, the low hills, the rooks. . . .
But at last, thank God, a waggon loaded with sheaves came to
meet them; a peasant wench was lying on the very top. Sleepy,
exhausted by the heat, she lifted her head and looked at the
travellers. Deniska gaped, looking at her; the horses stretched
out their noses towards the sheaves; the chaise, squeaking,
kissed the waggon, and the pointed ears passed over Father
Christopher's hat like a brush.
"You are driving over folks, fatty!" cried Deniska. "What a
swollen lump of a face, as though a bumble-bee had stung it!"
The girl smiled drowsily, and moving her lips lay down again;
then a solitary poplar came into sight on the low hill. Someone
had planted it, and God only knows why it was there. It was hard
to tear the eyes away from its graceful figure and green
drapery. Was that lovely creature happy? Sultry heat in summer,
in winter frost and snowstorms, terrible nights in autumn when
nothing is to be seen but darkness and nothing is to be heard
but the senseless angry howling wind, and, worst of all, alone,
alone for the whole of life. . . . Beyond the poplar stretches
of wheat extended like a bright yellow carpet from the road to
the top of the hills. On the hills the corn was already cut and
laid up in sheaves, while at the bottom they were still cutting.
. . . Six mowers were standing in a row swinging their scythes,
and the scythes gleamed gaily and uttered in unison together "Vzhee,
vzhee!" From the movements of the peasant women binding the
sheaves, from the faces of the mowers, from the glitter of the
scythes, it could be seen that the sultry heat was baking and
stifling. A black dog with its tongue hanging out ran from the
mowers to meet the chaise, probably with the intention of
barking, but stopped halfway and stared indifferently at Deniska,
who shook his whip at him; it was too hot to bark! One peasant
woman got up and, putting both hands to her aching back,
followed Yegorushka's red shirt with her eyes. Whether it was
that the colour pleased her or that he reminded her of her
children, she stood a long time motionless staring after him.
But now the wheat, too, had flashed by; again the parched plain,
the sunburnt hills, the sultry sky stretched before them; again
a hawk hovered over the earth. In the distance, as before, a
windmill whirled its sails, and still it looked like a little
man waving his arms. It was wearisome to watch, and it seemed as
though one would never reach it, as though it were running away
from the chaise.
Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov were silent. Deniska lashed
the horses and kept shouting to them, while Yegorushka had left
off crying, and gazed about him listlessly. The heat and the
tedium of the steppes overpowered him. He felt as though he had
been travelling and jolting up and down for a very long time,
that the sun had been baking his back a long time. Before they
had gone eight miles he began to feel "It must be time to rest."
The geniality gradually faded out of his uncle's face and
nothing else was left but the air of business reserve; and to a
gaunt shaven face, especially when it is adorned with spectacles
and the nose and temples are covered with dust, this reserve
gives a relentless, inquisitorial appearance. Father Christopher
never left off gazing with wonder at God's world, and smiling.
Without speaking, he brooded over something pleasant and nice,
and a kindly, genial smile remained imprinted on his face. It
seemed as though some nice and pleasant thought were imprinted
on his brain by the heat.
"Well, Deniska, shall we overtake the waggons to-day?" asked
Deniska looked at the sky, rose in his seat, lashed at his
horses and then answered:
"By nightfall, please God, we shall overtake them."
There was a sound of dogs barking. Half a dozen steppe
sheep-dogs, suddenly leaping out as though from ambush, with
ferocious howling barks, flew to meet the chaise. All of them,
extraordinarily furious, surrounded the chaise, with their
shaggy spider-like muzzles and their eyes red with anger, and
jostling against one another in their anger, raised a hoarse
howl. They were filled with passionate hatred of the horses, of
the chaise, and of the human beings, and seemed ready to tear
them into pieces. Deniska, who was fond of teasing and beating,
was delighted at the chance of it, and with a malignant
expression bent over and lashed at the sheep-dogs with his whip.
The brutes growled more than ever, the horses flew on; and
Yegorushka, who had difficulty in keeping his seat on the box,
realized, looking at the dogs' eyes and teeth, that if he fell
down they would instantly tear him to bits; but he felt no fear
and looked at them as malignantly as Deniska, and regretted that
he had no whip in his hand.
The chaise came upon a flock of sheep.
"Stop!" cried Kuzmitchov. "Pull up! Woa!"
Deniska threw his whole body backwards and pulled up the horses.
"Come here!" Kuzmitchov shouted to the shepherd. "Call off the
dogs, curse them!"
The old shepherd, tattered and barefoot, wearing a fur cap, with
a dirty sack round his loins and a long crook in his hand -- a
regular figure from the Old Testament -- called off the dogs,
and taking off his cap, went up to the chaise. Another similar
Old Testament figure was standing motionless at the other end of
the flock, staring without interest at the travellers.
"Whose sheep are these?" asked Kuzmitchov.
"Varlamov's," the old man answered in a loud voice.
"Varlamov's," repeated the shepherd standing at the other end of
"Did Varlamov come this way yesterday or not?"
"He did not; his clerk came. . . ."
The chaise rolled on and the shepherds, with their angry dogs,
were left behind. Yegorushka gazed listlessly at the lilac
distance in front, and it began to seem as though the windmill,
waving its sails, were getting nearer. It became bigger and
bigger, grew quite large, and now he could distinguish clearly
its two sails. One sail was old and patched, the other had only
lately been made of new wood and glistened in the sun. The
chaise drove straight on, while the windmill, for some reason,
began retreating to the left. They drove on and on, and the
windmill kept moving away to the left, and still did not
"A fine windmill Boltva has put up for his son," observed
"And how is it we don't see his farm?"
"It is that way, beyond the creek."
Boltva's farm, too, soon came into sight, but yet the windmill
did not retreat, did not drop behind; it still watched
Yegorushka with its shining sail and waved. What a sorcerer!