The waggons remained by the river the whole day, and set off
again when the sun was setting.
Yegorushka was lying on the bales again; the waggon creaked
softly and swayed from side to side. Panteley walked below,
stamping his feet, slapping himself on his thighs and muttering.
The air was full of the churring music of the steppes, as it had
been the day before.
Yegorushka lay on his back, and, putting his hands under his
head, gazed upwards at the sky. He watched the glow of sunset
kindle, then fade away; guardian angels covering the horizon
with their gold wings disposed themselves to slumber. The day
had passed peacefully; the quiet peaceful night had come, and
they could stay tranquilly at home in heaven. . . . Yegorushka
saw the sky by degrees grow dark and the mist fall over the
earth -- saw the stars light up, one after the other. . . .
When you gaze a long while fixedly at the deep sky thoughts and
feelings for some reason merge in a sense of loneliness. One
begins to feel hopelessly solitary, and everything one used to
look upon as near and akin becomes infinitely remote and
valueless; the stars that have looked down from the sky
thousands of years already, the mists and the incomprehensible
sky itself, indifferent to the brief life of man, oppress the
soul with their silence when one is left face to face with them
and tries to grasp their significance. One is reminded of the
solitude awaiting each one of us in the grave, and the reality
of life seems awful . . . full of despair. . . .
Yegorushka thought of his grandmother, who was sleeping now
under the cherry-trees in the cemetery. He remembered how she
lay in her coffin with pennies on her eyes, how afterwards she
was shut in and let down into the grave; he even recalled the
hollow sound of the clods of earth on the coffin lid. . . . He
pictured his granny in the dark and narrow coffin, helpless and
deserted by everyone. His imagination pictured his granny
suddenly awakening, not understanding where she was, knocking
upon the lid and calling for help, and in the end swooning with
horror and dying again. He imagined his mother dead, Father
Christopher, Countess Dranitsky, Solomon. But however much he
tried to imagine himself in the dark tomb, far from home,
outcast, helpless and dead, he could not succeed; for himself
personally he could not admit the possibility of death, and felt
that he would never die. . . .
Panteley, for whom death could not be far away, walked below and
went on reckoning up his thoughts.
"All right. . . . Nice gentlefolk, . . ." he muttered. "Took his
little lad to school -- but how he is doing now I haven't heard
say -- in Slavyanoserbsk. I say there is no establishment for
teaching them to be very clever. . . . No, that's true -- a nice
little lad, no harm in him. . . . He'll grow up and be a help to
his father. . . . You, Yegory, are little now, but you'll grow
big and will keep your father and mother. . . . So it is
ordained of God, 'Honour your father and your mother.' . . . I
had children myself, but they were burnt. . . . My wife was
burnt and my children, . . . that's true. . . . The hut caught
fire on the night of Epiphany. . . . I was not at home, I was
driving in Oryol. In Oryol. . . . Marya dashed out into the
street, but remembering that the children were asleep in the
hut, ran back and was burnt with her children. . . . Next day
they found nothing but bones."
About midnight Yegorushka and the waggoners were again sitting
round a small camp fire. While the dry twigs and stems were
burning up, Kiruha and Vassya went off somewhere to get water
from a creek; they vanished into the darkness, but could be
heard all the time talking and clinking their pails; so the
creek was not far away. The light from the fire lay a great
flickering patch on the earth; though the moon was bright, yet
everything seemed impenetrably black beyond that red patch. The
light was in the waggoners' eyes, and they saw only part of the
great road; almost unseen in the darkness the waggons with the
bales and the horses looked like a mountain of undefined shape.
Twenty paces from the camp fire at the edge of the road stood a
wooden cross that had fallen aslant. Before the camp fire had
been lighted, when he could still see things at a distance,
Yegorushka had noticed that there was a similar old slanting
cross on the other side of the great road.
Coming back with the water, Kiruha and Vassya filled the
cauldron and fixed it over the fire. Styopka, with the notched
spoon in his hand, took his place in the smoke by the cauldron,
gazing dreamily into the water for the scum to rise. Panteley
and Emelyan were sitting side by side in silence, brooding over
something. Dymov was lying on his stomach, with his head propped
on his fists, looking into the fire. . . . Styopka's shadow was
dancing over him, so that his handsome face was at one minute
covered with darkness, at the next lighted up. . . . Kiruha and
Vassya were wandering about at a little distance gathering dry
grass and bark for the fire. Yegorushka, with his hands in his
pockets, was standing by Panteley, watching how the fire
devoured the grass.
All were resting, musing on something, and they glanced
cursorily at the cross over which patches of red light were
dancing. There is something melancholy, pensive, and extremely
poetical about a solitary tomb; one feels its silence, and the
silence gives one the sense of the presence of the soul of the
unknown man who lies under the cross. Is that soul at peace on
the steppe? Does it grieve in the moonlight? Near the tomb the
steppe seems melancholy, dreary and mournful; the grass seems
more sorrowful, and one fancies the grasshoppers chirrup less
freely, and there is no passer-by who would not remember that
lonely soul and keep looking back at the tomb, till it was left
far behind and hidden in the mists. . . .
"Grandfather, what is that cross for?" asked Yegorushka.
Panteley looked at the cross and then at Dymov and asked:
"Nikola, isn't this the place where the mowers killed the
Dymov not very readily raised himself on his elbow, looked at
the road and said:
"Yes, it is. . . ."
A silence followed. Kiruha broke up some dry stalks, crushed
them up together and thrust them under the cauldron. The fire
flared up brightly; Styopka was enveloped in black smoke, and
the shadow cast by the cross danced along the road in the dusk
beside the waggons.
"Yes, they were killed," Dymov said reluctantly. "Two merchants,
father and son, were travelling, selling holy images. They put
up in the inn not far from here that is now kept by Ignat Fomin.
The old man had a drop too much, and began boasting that he had
a lot of money with him. We all know merchants are a boastful
set, God preserve us. . . . They can't resist showing off before
the likes of us. And at the time some mowers were staying the
night at the inn. So they overheard what the merchants said and
took note of it."
"O Lord! . . . Holy Mother!" sighed Panteley.
"Next day, as soon as it was light," Dymov went on, "the
merchants were preparing to set off and the mowers tried to join
them. 'Let us go together, your worships. It will be more
cheerful and there will be less danger, for this is an
out-of-the-way place. . . .' The merchants had to travel at a
walking pace to avoid breaking the images, and that just suited
the mowers. . . ."
Dymov rose into a kneeling position and stretched.
"Yes," he went on, yawning. "Everything went all right till they
reached this spot, and then the mowers let fly at them with
their scythes. The son, he was a fine young fellow, snatched the
scythe from one of them, and he used it, too. . . . Well, of
course, they got the best of it because there were eight of
them. They hacked at the merchants so that there was not a sound
place left on their bodies; when they had finished they dragged
both of them off the road, the father to one side and the son to
the other. Opposite that cross there is another cross on this
side. . . . Whether it is still standing, I don't know. . . . I
can't see from here. . . ."
"It is," said Kiruha.
"They say they did not find much money afterwards."
"No," Panteley confirmed; "they only found a hundred roubles."
"And three of them died afterwards, for the merchant had cut
them badly with the scythe, too. They died from loss of blood.
One had his hand cut off, so that they say he ran three miles
without his hand, and they found him on a mound close to
Kurikovo. He was squatting on his heels, with his head on his
knees, as though he were lost in thought, but when they looked
at him there was no life in him and he was dead. . . ."
"They found him by the track of blood," said Panteley.
Everyone looked at the cross, and again there was a hush. From
somewhere, most likely from the creek, floated the mournful cry
of the bird: "Sleep! sleep! sleep!"
"There are a great many wicked people in the world," said
"A great many," assented Panteley, and he moved up closer to the
fire as though he were frightened. "A great many," he went on in
a low voice. "I've seen lots and lots of them. . . . Wicked
people! . . . I have seen a great many holy and just, too. . . .
Queen of Heaven, save us and have mercy on us. I remember once
thirty years ago, or maybe more, I was driving a merchant from
Morshansk. The merchant was a jolly handsome fellow, with money,
too . . . the merchant was . . . a nice man, no harm in him. . .
. So we put up for the night at an inn. And in Russia the inns
are not what they are in these parts. There the yards are roofed
in and look like the ground floor, or let us say like barns in
good farms. Only a barn would be a bit higher. So we put up
there and were all right. My merchant was in a room, while I was
with the horses, and everything was as it should be. So, lads, I
said my prayers before going to sleep and began walking about
the yard. And it was a dark night, I couldn't see anything; it
was no good trying. So I walked about a bit up to the waggons,
or nearly, when I saw a light gleaming. What could it mean? I
thought the people of the inn had gone to bed long ago, and
besides the merchant and me there were no other guests in the
inn. . . . Where could the light have come from? I felt
suspicious. . . . I went closer . . . towards the light. . . .
The Lord have mercy upon me! and save me, Queen of Heaven! I
looked and there was a little window with a grating, . . . close
to the ground, in the house. . . I lay down on the ground and
looked in; as soon as I looked in a cold chill ran all down me.
. . ."
Kiruha, trying not to make a noise, thrust a handful of twigs
into the fire. After waiting for it to leave off crackling and
hissing, the old man went on:
"I looked in and there was a big cellar, black and dark. . . .
There was a lighted lantern on a tub. In the middle of the
cellar were about a dozen men in red shirts with their sleeves
turned up, sharpening long knives. . . . Ugh! So we had fallen
into a nest of robbers. . . . What's to be done? I ran to the
merchant, waked him up quietly, and said: 'Don't be frightened,
merchant,' said I, 'but we are in a bad way. We have fallen into
a nest of robbers,' I said. He turned pale and asked: 'What are
we to do now, Panteley? I have a lot of money that belongs to
orphans. As for my life,' he said, 'that's in God's hands. I am
not afraid to die, but it's dreadful to lose the orphans'
money,' said he. . . . What were we to do? The gates were
locked; there was no getting out. If there had been a fence one
could have climbed over it, but with the yard shut up! . . .
'Come, don't be frightened, merchant,' said I; 'but pray to God.
Maybe the Lord will not let the orphans suffer. Stay still.'
said I, 'and make no sign, and meanwhile, maybe, I shall think
of something. . . .' Right! . . . I prayed to God and the Lord
put the thought into my mind. . . . I clambered up on my chaise
and softly, . . . softly so that no one should hear, began
pulling out the straw in the thatch, made a hole and crept out,
crept out. . . . Then I jumped off the roof and ran along the
road as fast as I could. I ran and ran till I was nearly dead. .
. . I ran maybe four miles without taking breath, if not more.
Thank God I saw a village. I ran up to a hut and began tapping
at a window. 'Good Christian people,' I said, and told them all
about it, 'do not let a Christian soul perish. . . .' I waked
them all up. . . . The peasants gathered together and went with
me, . . one with a cord, one with an oakstick, others with
pitchforks. . . . We broke in the gates of the inn-yard and went
straight to the cellar. . . . And the robbers had just finished
sharpening their knives and were going to kill the merchant. The
peasants took them, every one of them, bound them and carried
them to the police. The merchant gave them three hundred roubles
in his joy, and gave me five gold pieces and put my name down.
They said that they found human bones in the cellar afterwards,
heaps and heaps of them. . . . Bones! . . . So they robbed
people and then buried them, so that there should be no traces.
. . . Well, afterwards they were punished at Morshansk."
Panteley had finished his story, and he looked round at his
listeners. They were gazing at him in silence. The water was
boiling by now and Styopka was skimming off the froth.
"Is the fat ready?" Kiruha asked him in a whisper.
"Wait a little. . . . Directly."
Styopka, his eyes fixed on Panteley as though he were afraid
that the latter might begin some story before he was back, ran
to the waggons; soon he came back with a little wooden bowl and
began pounding some lard in it.
"I went another journey with a merchant, too, . . ." Panteley
went on again, speaking as before in a low voice and with fixed
unblinking eyes. "His name, as I remember now, was Pyotr
Grigoritch. He was a nice man, . . . the merchant was. We
stopped in the same way at an inn. . . . He indoors and me with
the horses. . . . The people of the house, the innkeeper and his
wife, seemed friendly good sort of people; the labourers, too,
seemed all right; but yet, lads, I couldn't sleep. I had a queer
feeling in my heart, . . . a queer feeling, that was just it.
The gates were open and there were plenty of people about, and
yet I felt afraid and not myself. Everyone had been asleep long
ago. It was the middle of the night; it would soon be time to
get up, and I was lying alone in my chaise and could not close
my eyes, as though I were some owl. And then, lads, I heard this
sound, 'Toop! toop! toop!' Someone was creeping up to the
chaise. I poke my head out, and there was a peasant woman in
nothing but her shift and with her feet bare. . . . 'What do you
want, good woman?' I asked. And she was all of a tremble; her
face was terror-stricken. . . 'Get up, good man,' said she; 'the
people are plotting evil. . . . They mean to kill your merchant.
With my own ears I heard the master whispering with his wife. .
. .' So it was not for nothing, the foreboding of my heart! 'And
who are you?' I asked. 'I am their cook,' she said. . . . Right!
. . . So I got out of the chaise and went to the merchant. I
waked him up and said: 'Things aren't quite right, Pyotr
Grigoritch. . . . Make haste and rouse yourself from sleep, your
worship, and dress now while there is still time,' I said; 'and
to save our skins, let us get away from trouble.' He had no
sooner begun dressing when the door opened and, mercy on us! I
saw, Holy Mother! the innkeeper and his wife come into the room
with three labourers. . . . So they had persuaded the labourers
to join them. 'The merchant has a lot of money, and we'll go
shares,' they told them. Every one of the five had a long knife
in their hand each a knife. The innkeeper locked the door and
said: 'Say your prayers, travellers, . . . and if you begin
screaming,' they said, 'we won't let you say your prayers before
you die. . . .' As though we could scream! I had such a lump in
my throat I could not cry out. . . . The merchant wept and said:
'Good Christian people! you have resolved to kill me because my
money tempts you. Well, so be it; I shall not be the first nor
shall I be the last. Many of us merchants have been murdered at
inns. But why, good Christian brothers,' says he, 'murder my
driver? Why should he have to suffer for my money?' And he said
that so pitifully! And the innkeeper answered him: 'If we leave
him alive,' said he, 'he will be the first to bear witness
against us. One may just as well kill two as one. You can but
answer once for seven misdeeds. . . Say your prayers, that's all
you can do, and it is no good talking!' The merchant and I knelt
down side by side and wept and said our prayers. He thought of
his children. I was young in those days; I wanted to live. . . .
We looked at the images and prayed, and so pitifully that it
brings a tear even now. . . . And the innkeeper's wife looks at
us and says: 'Good people,' said she, 'don't bear a grudge
against us in the other world and pray to God for our
punishment, for it is want that drives us to it.' We prayed and
wept and prayed and wept, and God heard us. He had pity on us, I
suppose. . . . At the very minute when the innkeeper had taken
the merchant by the beard to rip open his throat with his knife
suddenly someone seemed to tap at the window from the yard! We
all started, and the innkeeper's hands dropped. . . . Someone
was tapping at the window and shouting: 'Pyotr Grigoritch,' he
shouted, 'are you here? Get ready and let's go!' The people saw
that someone had come for the merchant; they were terrified and
took to their heels. . . . And we made haste into the yard,
harnessed the horses, and were out of sight in a minute. . ."
"Who was it knocked at the window?" asked Dymov.
"At the window? It must have been a holy saint or angel, for
there was no one else. . . . When we drove out of the yard there
wasn't a soul in the street. . . . It was the Lord's doing."
Panteley told other stories, and in all of them "long knives"
figured and all alike sounded made up. Had he heard these
stories from someone else, or had he made them up himself in the
remote past, and afterwards, as his memory grew weaker, mixed up
his experiences with his imaginations and become unable to
distinguish one from the other? Anything is possible, but it is
strange that on this occasion and for the rest of the journey,
whenever he happened to tell a story, he gave unmistakable
preference to fiction, and never told of what he really had
experienced. At the time Yegorushka took it all for the genuine
thing, and believed every word; later on it seemed to him
strange that a man who in his day had travelled all over Russia
and seen and known so much, whose wife and children had been
burnt to death, so failed to appreciate the wealth of his life
that whenever he was sitting by the camp fire he was either
silent or talked of what had never been.
Over their porridge they were all silent, thinking of what they
had just heard. Life is terrible and marvellous, and so, however
terrible a story you tell in Russia, however you embroider it
with nests of robbers, long knives and such marvels, it always
finds an echo of reality in the soul of the listener, and only a
man who has been a good deal affected by education looks askance
distrustfully, and even he will be silent. The cross by the
roadside, the dark bales of wool, the wide expanse of the plain,
and the lot of the men gathered together by the camp fire -- all
this was of itself so marvellous and terrible that the fantastic
colours of legend and fairy-tale were pale and blended with
All the others ate out of the cauldron, but Panteley sat apart
and ate his porridge out of a wooden bowl. His spoon was not
like those the others had, but was made of cypress wood, with a
little cross on it. Yegorushka, looking at him, thought of the
little ikon glass and asked Styopka softly:
"Why does Grandfather sit apart?"
"He is an Old Believer," Styopka and Vassya answered in a
whisper. And as they said it they looked as though they were
speaking of some secret vice or weakness.
All sat silent, thinking. After the terrible stories there was
no inclination to speak of ordinary things. All at once in the
midst of the silence Vassya drew himself up and, fixing his
lustreless eyes on one point, pricked up his ears.
"What is it?" Dymov asked him.
"Someone is coming," answered Vassya.
"Where do you see him?"
"Yo-on-der! There's something white. . ."
There was nothing to be seen but darkness in the direction in
which Vassya was looking; everyone listened, but they could hear
no sound of steps.
"Is he coming by the highroad?" asked Dymov.
"No, over the open country. . . . He is coming this way."
A minute passed in silence.
"And maybe it's the merchant who was buried here walking over
the steppe," said Dymov.
All looked askance at the cross, exchanged glances and suddenly
broke into a laugh. They felt ashamed of their terror.
"Why should he walk?" asked Panteley. "It's only those walk at
night whom the earth will not take to herself. And the merchants
were all right. . . . The merchants have received the crown of
But all at once they heard the sound of steps; someone was
coming in haste.
"He's carrying something," said Vassya.
They could hear the grass rustling and the dry twigs crackling
under the feet of the approaching wayfarer. But from the glare
of the camp fire nothing could be seen. At last the steps
sounded close by, and someone coughed. The flickering light
seemed to part; a veil dropped from the waggoners' eyes, and
they saw a man facing them.
Whether it was due to the flickering light or because everyone
wanted to make out the man's face first of all, it happened,
strangely enough, that at the first glance at him they all saw,
first of all, not his face nor his clothes, but his smile. It
was an extraordinarily good-natured, broad, soft smile, like
that of a baby on waking, one of those infectious smiles to
which it is difficult not to respond by smiling too. The
stranger, when they did get a good look at him, turned out to be
a man of thirty, ugly and in no way remarkable. He was a tall
Little Russian, with a long nose, long arms and long legs;
everything about him seemed long except his neck, which was so
short that it made him seem stooping. He was wearing a clean
white shirt with an embroidered collar, white trousers, and new
high boots, and in comparison with the waggoners he looked quite
a dandy. In his arms he was carrying something big, white, and
at the first glance strange-looking, and the stock of a gun also
peeped out from behind his shoulder.
Coming from the darkness into the circle of light, he stopped
short as though petrified, and for half a minute looked at the
waggoners as though he would have said: "Just look what a smile
Then he took a step towards the fire, smiled still more
radiantly and said:
"Bread and salt, friends!"
"You are very welcome!" Panteley answered for them all.
The stranger put down by the fire what he was carrying in his
arms -- it was a dead bustard -- and greeted them once more.
They all went up to the bustard and began examining it.
"A fine big bird; what did you kill it with?" asked Dymov.
"Grape-shot. You can't get him with small shot, he won't let you
get near enough. Buy it, friends! I will let you have it for
"What use would it be to us? It's good roast, but I bet it would
be tough boiled; you could not get your teeth into it. . . ."
"Oh, what a pity! I would take it to the gentry at the farm;
they would give me half a rouble for it. But it's a long way to
go -- twelve miles!"
The stranger sat down, took off his gun and laid it beside him.
He seemed sleepy and languid; he sat smiling, and, screwing up
his eyes at the firelight, apparently thinking of something very
agreeable. They gave him a spoon; he began eating.
"Who are you?" Dymov asked him.
The stranger did not hear the question; he made no answer, and
did not even glance at Dymov. Most likely this smiling man did
not taste the flavour of the porridge either, for he seemed to
eat it mechanically, lifting the spoon to his lips sometimes
very full and sometimes quite empty. He was not drunk, but he
seemed to have something nonsensical in his head.
"I ask you who you are?" repeated Dymov.
"I?" said the unknown, starting. "Konstantin Zvonik from Rovno.
It's three miles from here."
And anxious to show straight off that he was not quite an
ordinary peasant, but something better, Konstantin hastened to
"We keep bees and fatten pigs."
"Do you live with your father or in a house of your own?"
"No; now I am living in a house of my own. I have parted. This
month, just after St. Peter's Day, I got married. I am a married
man now!. . . It's eighteen days since the wedding."
"That's a good thing," said Panteley. "Marriage is a good thing.
. . . God's blessing is on it."
"His young wife sits at home while he rambles about the steppe,"
laughed Kiruha. "Queer chap!"
As though he had been pinched on the tenderest spot, Konstantin
started, laughed and flushed crimson.
"But, Lord, she is not at home!" he said quickly, taking the
spoon out of his mouth and looking round at everyone with an
expression of delight and wonder. "She is not; she has gone to
her mother's for three days! Yes, indeed, she has gone away, and
I feel as though I were not married. . . ."
Konstantin waved his hand and turned his head; he wanted to go
on thinking, but the joy which beamed in his face prevented him.
As though he were not comfortable, he changed his attitude,
laughed, and again waved his hand. He was ashamed to share his
happy thoughts with strangers, but at the same time he had an
irresistible longing to communicate his joy.
"She has gone to Demidovo to see her mother," he said, blushing
and moving his gun. "She'll be back to-morrow. . . . She said
she would be back to dinner."
"And do you miss her?" said Dymov.
"Oh, Lord, yes; I should think so. We have only been married
such a little while, and she has gone away. . . . Eh! Oh, but
she is a tricky one, God strike me dead! She is such a fine,
splendid girl, such a one for laughing and singing, full of life
and fire! When she is there your brain is in a whirl, and now
she is away I wander about the steppe like a fool, as though I
had lost something. I have been walking since dinner."
Konstantin rubbed his eyes, looked at the fire and laughed.
"You love her, then, . . ." said Panteley.
"She is so fine and splendid," Konstantin repeated, not hearing
him; "such a housewife, clever and sensible. You wouldn't find
another like her among simple folk in the whole province. She
has gone away. . . . But she is missing me, I kno-ow! I know the
little magpie. She said she would be back to-morrow by
dinner-time. . . . And just think how queer!" Konstantin almost
shouted, speaking a note higher and shifting his position. "Now
she loves me and is sad without me, and yet she would not marry
"But eat," said Kiruha.
"She would not marry me," Konstantin went on, not heeding him.
"I have been struggling with her for three years! I saw her at
the Kalatchik fair; I fell madly in love with her, was ready to
hang myself. . . . I live at Rovno, she at Demidovo, more than
twenty miles apart, and there was nothing I could do. I sent
match-makers to her, and all she said was: 'I won't!' Ah, the
magpie! I sent her one thing and another, earrings and cakes,
and twenty pounds of honey -- but still she said: 'I won't!' And
there it was. If you come to think of it, I was not a match for
her! She was young and lovely, full of fire, while I am old: I
shall soon be thirty, and a regular beauty, too; a fine beard
like a goat's, a clear complexion all covered with pimples --
how could I be compared with her! The only thing to be said is
that we are well off, but then the Vahramenkys are well off,
too. They've six oxen, and they keep a couple of labourers. I
was in love, friends, as though I were plague-stricken. I
couldn't sleep or eat; my brain was full of thoughts, and in
such a maze, Lord preserve us! I longed to see her, and she was
in Demidovo. What do you think? God be my witness, I am not
lying, three times a week I walked over there on foot just to
have a look at her. I gave up my work! I was so frantic that I
even wanted to get taken on as a labourer in Demidovo, so as to
be near her. I was in misery! My mother called in a witch a
dozen times; my father tried thrashing me. For three years I was
in this torment, and then I made up my mind. 'Damn my soul!' I
said. 'I will go to the town and be a cabman. . . . It seems it
is fated not to be.' At Easter I went to Demidovo to have a last
look at her. . . ."
Konstantin threw back his head and went off into a mirthful
tinkling laugh, as though he had just taken someone in very
"I saw her by the river with the lads," he went on. "I was
overcome with anger. . . . I called her aside and maybe for a
full hour I said all manner of things to her. She fell in love
with me! For three years she did not like me! she fell in love
with me for what I said to her. . . ."
"What did you say to her?" asked Dymov.
"What did I say? I don't remember. . . How could one remember?
My words flowed at the time like water from a tap, without
stopping to take breath. Ta-ta-ta! And now I can't utter a word.
. . . Well, so she married me. . . . She's gone now to her
mother's, the magpie, and while she is away here I wander over
the steppe. I can't stay at home. It's more than I can do!"
Konstantin awkwardly released his feet, on which he was sitting,
stretched himself on the earth, and propped his head in his
fists, then got up and sat down again. Everyone by now
thoroughly understood that he was in love and happy, poignantly
happy; his smile, his eyes, and every movement, expressed
fervent happiness. He could not find a place for himself, and
did not know what attitude to take to keep himself from being
overwhelmed by the multitude of his delightful thoughts. Having
poured out his soul before these strangers, he settled down
quietly at last, and, looking at the fire, sank into thought.
At the sight of this happy man everyone felt depressed and
longed to be happy, too. Everyone was dreamy. Dymov got up,
walked about softly by the fire, and from his walk, from the
movement of his shoulder-blades, it could be seen that he was
weighed down by depression and yearning. He stood still for a
moment, looked at Konstantin and sat down.
The camp fire had died down by now; there was no flicker, and
the patch of red had grown small and dim. . . . And as the fire
went out the moonlight grew clearer and clearer. Now they could
see the full width of the road, the bales of wool, the shafts of
the waggons, the munching horses; on the further side of the
road there was the dim outline of the second cross. . . .
Dymov leaned his cheek on his hand and softly hummed some
plaintive song. Konstantin smiled drowsily and chimed in with a
thin voice. They sang for half a minute, then sank into silence.
Emelyan started, jerked his elbows and wriggled his fingers.
"Lads," he said in an imploring voice, "let's sing something
sacred!" Tears came into his eyes. "Lads," he repeated, pressing
his hands on his heart, "let's sing something sacred!"
"I don't know anything," said Konstantin.
Everyone refused, then Emelyan sang alone. He waved both arms,
nodded his head, opened his mouth, but nothing came from his
throat but a discordant gasp. He sang with his arms, with his
head, with his eyes, even with the swelling on his face; he sang
passionately with anguish, and the more he strained his chest to
extract at least one note from it, the more discordant were his
Yegorushka, like the rest, was overcome with depression. He went
to his waggon, clambered up on the bales and lay down. He looked
at the sky, and thought of happy Konstantin and his wife. Why
did people get married? What were women in the world for?
Yegorushka put the vague questions to himself, and thought that
a man would certainly be happy if he had an affectionate, merry
and beautiful woman continually living at his side. For some
reason he remembered the Countess Dranitsky, and thought it
would probably be very pleasant to live with a woman like that;
he would perhaps have married her with pleasure if that idea had
not been so shameful. He recalled her eyebrows, the pupils of
her eyes, her carriage, the clock with the horseman. . . . The
soft warm night moved softly down upon him and whispered
something in his ear, and it seemed to him that it was that
lovely woman bending over him, looking at him with a smile and
meaning to kiss him. . . .
Nothing was left of the fire but two little red eyes, which kept
on growing smaller and smaller. Konstantin and the waggoners
were sitting by it, dark motionless figures, and it seemed as
though there were many more of them than before. The twin
crosses were equally visible, and far, far away, somewhere by
the highroad there gleamed a red light -- other people cooking
their porridge, most likely.
"Our Mother Russia is the he-ad of all the world!" Kiruha sang
out suddenly in a harsh voice, choked and subsided. The steppe
echo caught up his voice, carried it on, and it seemed as though
stupidity itself were rolling on heavy wheels over the steppe.
"It's time to go," said Panteley. "Get up, lads."
While they were putting the horses in, Konstantin walked by the
waggons and talked rapturously of his wife.
"Good-bye, mates!" he cried when the waggons started. "Thank you
for your hospitality. I shall go on again towards that light.
It's more than I can stand."
And he quickly vanished in the mist, and for a long time they
could hear him striding in the direction of the light to tell
those other strangers of his happiness.
When Yegorushka woke up next day it was early morning; the sun
had not yet risen. The waggons were at a standstill. A man in a
white cap and a suit of cheap grey material, mounted on a little
Cossack stallion, was talking to Dymov and Kiruha beside the
foremost waggon. A mile and a half ahead there were long low
white barns and little houses with tiled roofs; there were
neither yards nor trees to be seen beside the little houses.
"What village is that, Grandfather?" asked Yegorushka.
"That's the Armenian Settlement, youngster," answered Panteley.
"The Armenians live there. They are a good sort of people, . . .
the Arnienians are."
The man in grey had finished talking to Dymov and Kiruha; he
pulled up his little stallion and looked across towards the
"What a business, only think!" sighed Panteley, looking towards
the settlement, too, and shuddering at the morning freshness.
"He has sent a man to the settlement for some papers, and he
doesn't come. . . . He should have sent Styopka."
"Who is that, Grandfather?" asked Yegorushka.
My goodness! Yegorushka jumped up quickly, getting upon his
knees, and looked at the white cap. It was hard to recognize the
mysterious elusive Varlamov, who was sought by everyone, who was
always "on his rounds," and who had far more money than Countess
Dranitsky, in the short, grey little man in big boots, who was
sitting on an ugly little nag and talking to peasants at an hour
when all decent people were asleep.
"He is all right, a good man," said Panteley, looking towards
the settlement. "God give him health -- a splendid gentleman,
Semyon Alexandritch. . . . It's people like that the earth rests
upon. That's true. . . . The cocks are not crowing yet, and he
is already up and about. . . . Another man would be asleep, or
gallivanting with visitors at home, but he is on the steppe all
day, . . . on his rounds. . . . He does not let things slip. . .
. No-o! He's a fine fellow. . ."
Varlamov was talking about something, while he kept his eyes
fixed. The little stallion shifted from one leg to another
"Semyon Alexandritch!" cried Panteley, taking off his hat.
"Allow us to send Styopka! Emelyan, call out that Styopka should
But now at last a man on horseback could be seen coming from the
settlement. Bending very much to one side and brandishing his
whip above his head like a gallant young Caucasian, and wanting
to astonish everyone by his horsemanship, he flew towards the
waggons with the swiftness of a bird.
"That must be one of his circuit men," said Panteley. "He must
have a hundred such horsemen or maybe more."
Reaching the first waggon, he pulled up his horse, and taking
off his hat, handed Varlamov a little book. Varlamov took
several papers out of the book, read them and cried:
"And where is Ivantchuk's letter?"
The horseman took the book back, looked at the papers and
shrugged his shoulders. He began saying something, probably
justifying himself and asking to be allowed to ride back to the
settlement again. The little stallion suddenly stirred as though
Varlamov had grown heavier. Varlamov stirred too.
"Go along!" he cried angrily, and he waved his whip at the man.
Then he turned his horse round and, looking through the papers
in the book, moved at a walking pace alongside the waggons. When
he reached the hindmost, Yegorushka strained his eyes to get a
better look at him. Varlamov was an elderly man. His face, a
simple Russian sunburnt face with a small grey beard, was red,
wet with dew and covered with little blue veins; it had the same
expression of businesslike coldness as Ivan Ivanitch's face, the
same look of fanatical zeal for business. But yet what a
difference could be felt between him and Kuzmitchov! Uncle Ivan
Ivanitch always had on his face, together with his business-like
reserve, a look of anxiety and apprehension that he would not
find Varlamov, that he would be late, that he would miss a good
price; nothing of that sort, so characteristic of small and
dependent persons, could be seen in the face or figure of
Varlamov. This man made the price himself, was not looking for
anyone, and did not depend on anyone; however ordinary his
exterior, yet in everything, even in the manner of holding his
whip, there was a sense of power and habitual authority over the
As he rode by Yegorushka he did not glance at him. Only the
little stallion deigned to notice Yegorushka; he looked at him
with his large foolish eyes, and even he showed no interest.
Panteley bowed to Varlamov; the latter noticed it, and without
taking his eyes off the sheets of paper, said lisping:
"How are you, old man?"
Varlamov's conversation with the horseman and the way he had
brandished his whip had evidently made an overwhelming
impression on the whole party. Everyone looked grave. The man on
horseback, cast down at the anger of the great man, remained
stationary, with his hat off, and the rein loose by the foremost
waggon; he was silent, and seemed unable to grasp that the day
had begun so badly for him.
"He is a harsh old man, . ." muttered Panteley. "It's a pity he
is so harsh! But he is all right, a good man. . . . He doesn't
abuse men for nothing. . . . It's no matter. . . ."
After examining the papers, Varlamov thrust the book into his
pocket; the little stallion, as though he knew what was in his
mind, without waiting for orders, started and dashed along the