- Peasant Wives
IN the village of Reybuzh, just facing the
church, stands a two-storeyed house with a stone foundation and
an iron roof. In the lower storey the owner himself, Filip
Ivanov Kashin, nicknamed Dyudya, lives with his family, and on
the upper floor, where it is apt to be very hot in summer and
very cold in winter, they put up government officials,
merchants, or landowners, who chance to be travelling that way.
Dyudya rents some bits of land, keeps a tavern on the highroad,
does a trade in tar, honey, cattle, and jackdaws, and has
already something like eight thousand roubles put by in the bank
in the town.
His elder son, Fyodor, is head engineer in the factory, and, as
the peasants say of him, he has risen so high in the world that
he is quite out of reach now. Fyodor's wife, Sofya, a plain,
ailing woman, lives at home at her father-in-law's. She is for
ever crying, and every Sunday she goes over to the hospital for
medicine. Dyudya's second son, the hunchback Alyoshka, is living
at home at his father's. He has only lately been married to
Varvara, whom they singled out for him from a poor family. She
is a handsome young woman, smart and buxom. When officials or
merchants put up at the house, they always insist on having
Varvara to bring in the samovar and make their beds.
One June evening when the sun was setting and the air was full
of the smell of hay, of steaming dung-heaps and new milk, a
plain-looking cart drove into Dyudya's yard with three people in
it: a man of about thirty in a canvas suit, beside him a little
boy of seven or eight in a long black coat with big bone
buttons, and on the driver's seat a young fellow in a red shirt.
The young fellow took out the horses and led them out into the
street to walk them up and down a bit, while the traveller
washed, said a prayer, turning towards the church, then spread a
rug near the cart and sat down with the boy to supper. He ate
without haste, sedately, and Dyudya, who had seen a good many
travellers in his time, knew him from his manners for a
businesslike man, serious and aware of his own value.
Dyudya was sitting on the step in his waistcoat without a cap
on, waiting for the visitor to speak first. He was used to
hearing all kinds of stories from the travellers in the evening,
and he liked listening to them before going to bed. His old
wife, Afanasyevna, and his daughter-in-law Sofya, were milking
in the cowshed. The other daughter-in-law, Varvara, was sitting
at the open window of the upper storey, eating sunflower seeds.
"The little chap will be your son, I'm thinking?" Dyudya asked
"No; adopted. An orphan. I took him for my soul's salvation."
They got into conversation. The stranger seemed to be a man fond
of talking and ready of speech, and Dyudya learned from him that
he was from the town, was of the tradesman class, and had a
house of his own, that his name was Matvey Savitch, that he was
on his way now to look at some gardens that he was renting from
some German colonists, and that the boy's name was Kuzka. The
evening was hot and close, no one felt inclined for sleep. When
it was getting dark and pale stars began to twinkle here and
there in the sky, Matvey Savitch began to tell how he had come
by Kuzka. Afanasyevna and Sofya stood a little way off,
listening. Kuzka had gone to the gate.
"It's a complicated story, old man," began Matvey Savitch, "and
if I were to tell you all just as it happened, it would take all
night and more. Ten years ago in a little house in our street,
next door to me, where now there's a tallow and oil factory,
there was living an old widow, Marfa Semyonovna Kapluntsev, and
she had two sons: one was a guard on the railway, but the other,
Vasya, who was just my own age, lived at home with his mother.
Old Kapluntsev had kept five pair of horses and sent carriers
all over the town; his widow had not given up the business, but
managed the carriers as well as her husband had done, so that
some days they would bring in as much as five roubles from their
"The young fellow, too, made a trifle on his own account. He
used to breed fancy pigeons and sell them to fanciers; at times
he would stand for hours on the roof, waving a broom in the air
and whistling; his pigeons were right up in the clouds, but it
wasn't enough for him, and he'd want them to go higher yet.
Siskins and starlings, too, he used to catch, and he made cages
for sale. All trifles, but, mind you, he'd pick up some ten
roubles a month over such trifles. Well, as time went on, the
old lady lost the use of her legs and took to her bed. In
consequence of which event the house was left without a woman to
look after it, and that's for all the world like a man without
an eye. The old lady bestirred herself and made up her mind to
marry Vasya. They called in a matchmaker at once, the women got
to talking of one thing and another, and Vasya went off to have
a look at the girls. He picked out Mashenka, a widow's daughter.
They made up their minds without loss of time and in a week it
was all settled. The girl was a little slip of a thing,
seventeen, but fair-skinned and pretty-looking, and like a lady
in all her ways; and a decent dowry with her, five hundred
roubles, a cow, a bed. . . . Well, the old lady -- it seemed as
though she had known it was coming -- three days after the
wedding, departed to the Heavenly Jerusalem where is neither
sickness nor sighing. The young people gave her a good funeral
and began their life together. For just six months they got on
splendidly, and then all of a sudden another misfortune. It
never rains but it pours: Vasya was summoned to the recruiting
office to draw lots for the service. He was taken, poor chap,
for a soldier, and not even granted exemption. They shaved his
head and packed him off to Poland. It was God's will; there was
nothing to be done. When he said good-bye to his wife in the
yard, he bore it all right; but as he glanced up at the hay-loft
and his pigeons for the last time, he burst out crying. It was
pitiful to see him.
"At first Mashenka got her mother to stay with her, that she
mightn't be dull all alone; she stayed till the baby -- this
very Kuzka here -- was born, and then she went off to Oboyan to
another married daughter's and left Mashenka alone with the
baby. There were five peasants -- the carriers -- a drunken
saucy lot; horses, too, and dray-carts to see to, and then the
fence would be broken or the soot afire in the chimney -- jobs
beyond a woman, and through our being neighbours, she got into
the way of turning to me for every little thing. . . . Well, I'd
go over, set things to rights, and give advice. . . . Naturally,
not without going indoors, drinking a cup of tea and having a
little chat with her. I was a young fellow, intellectual, and
fond of talking on all sorts of subjects; she, too, was
well-bred and educated. She was always neatly dressed, and in
summer she walked out with a sunshade. Sometimes I would begin
upon religion or politics with her, and she was flattered and
would entertain me with tea and jam. . . . In a word, not to
make a long story of it, I must tell you, old man, a year had
not passed before the Evil One, the enemy of all mankind,
confounded me. I began to notice that any day I didn't go to see
her, I seemed out of sorts and dull. And I'd be continually
making up something that I must see her about: 'It's high time,'
I'd say to myself, 'to put the double windows in for the
winter,' and the whole day I'd idle away over at her place
putting in the windows and take good care to leave a couple of
them over for the next day too.
" 'I ought to count over Vasya's pigeons, to see none of them
have strayed,' and so on. I used always to be talking to her
across the fence, and in the end I made a little gate in the
fence so as not to have to go so far round. From womankind comes
much evil into the world and every kind of abomination. Not we
sinners only; even the saints themselves have been led astray by
them. Mashenka did not try to keep me at a distance. Instead of
thinking of her husband and being on her guard, she fell in love
with me. I began to notice that she was dull without me, and was
always walking to and fro by the fence looking into my yard
through the cracks.
"My brains were going round in my head in a sort of frenzy. On
Thursday in Holy Week I was going early in the morning -- it was
scarcely light -- to market. I passed close by her gate, and the
Evil One was by me -- at my elbow. I looked -- she had a gate
with open trellis work at the top -- and there she was, up
already, standing in the middle of the yard, feeding the ducks.
I could not restrain myself, and I called her name. She came up
and looked at me through the trellis. . . . Her little face was
white, her eyes soft and sleepy-looking. . . . I liked her looks
immensely, and I began paying her compliments, as though we were
not at the gate, but just as one does on namedays, while she
blushed, and laughed, and kept looking straight into my eyes
without winking. . . . I lost all sense and began to declare my
love to her. . . . She opened the gate, and from that morning we
began to live as man and wife. . . ."
The hunchback Alyoshka came into the yard from the street and
ran out of breath into the house, not looking at any one. A
minute later he ran out of the house with a concertina. Jingling
some coppers in his pocket, and cracking sunflower seeds as he
ran, he went out at the gate.
"And who's that, pray?" asked Matvey Savitch.
"My son Alexey," answered Dyudya. "He's off on a spree, the
rascal. God has afflicted him with a hump, so we are not very
hard on him."
"And he's always drinking with the other fellows, always
drinking," sighed Afanasyevna. "Before Carnival we married him,
thinking he'd be steadier, but there! he's worse than ever."
"It's been no use. Simply keeping another man's daughter for
nothing," said Dyudya.
Somewhere behind the church they began to sing a glorious,
mournful song. The words they could not catch and only the
voices could be heard -- two tenors and a bass. All were
listening; there was complete stillness in the yard. . . . Two
voices suddenly broke off with a loud roar of laughter, but the
third, a tenor, still sang on, and took so high a note that
every one instinctively looked upwards, as though the voice had
soared to heaven itself.
Varvara came out of the house, and screening her eyes with her
hand, as though from the sun, she looked towards the church.
"It's the priest's sons with the schoolmaster," she said.
Again all the three voices began to sing together. Matvey
Savitch sighed and went on:
"Well, that's how it was, old man. Two years later we got a
letter from Vasya from Warsaw. He wrote that he was being sent
home sick. He was ill. By that time I had put all that
foolishness out of my head, and I had a fine match picked out
all ready for me, only I didn't know how to break it off with my
sweetheart. Every day I'd make up my mind to have it out with
Mashenka, but I didn't know how to approach her so as not to
have a woman's screeching about my ears. The letter freed my
hands. I read it through with Mashenka; she turned white as a
sheet, while I said to her: 'Thank God; now,' says I, 'you'll be
a married woman again.' But says she: 'I'm not going to live
with him.' 'Why, isn't he your husband?' said I. 'Is it an easy
thing? . . . I never loved him and I married him not of my own
free will. My mother made me.' 'Don't try to get out of it,
silly,' said I, 'but tell me this: were you married to him in
church or not?' 'I was married,' she said, 'but it's you that I
love, and I will stay with you to the day of my death. Folks may
jeer. I don't care. . . .' 'You're a Christian woman,' said I,
'and have read the Scriptures; what is written there?'
"Once married, with her husband she must live," said Dyudya.
" 'Man and wife are one flesh. We have sinned,' I said, 'you and
I, and it is enough; we must repent and fear God. We must
confess it all to Vasya,' said I; 'he's a quiet fellow and soft
-- he won't kill you. And indeed,' said I, 'better to suffer
torments in this world at the hands of your lawful master than
to gnash your teeth at the dread Seat of Judgment.' The wench
wouldn't listen; she stuck to her silly, 'It's you I love!' and
nothing more could I get out of her.
"Vasya came back on the Saturday before Trinity, early in the
morning. From my fence I could see everything; he ran into the
house, and came back a minute later with Kuzka in his arms, and
he was laughing and crying all at once; he was kissing Kuzka and
looking up at the hay-loft, and hadn't the heart to put the
child down, and yet he was longing to go to his pigeons. He was
always a soft sort of chap -- sentimental. That day passed off
very well, all quiet and proper. They had begun ringing the
church bells for the evening service, when the thought struck
me: 'To-morrow's Trinity Sunday; how is it they are not decking
the gates and the fence with green? Something's wrong,' I
thought. I went over to them. I peeped in, and there he was,
sitting on the floor in the middle of the room, his eyes staring
like a drunken man's, the tears streaming down his cheeks and
his hands shaking; he was pulling cracknels, necklaces,
gingerbread nuts, and all sorts of little presents out of his
bundle and flinging them on the floor. Kuzka -- he was three
years old -- was crawling on the floor, munching the
gingerbreads, while Mashenka stood by the stove, white and
shivering all over, muttering: 'I'm not your wife; I can't live
with you,' and all sorts of foolishness. I bowed down at Vasya's
feet, and said: 'We have sinned against you, Vassily Maximitch;
forgive us, for Christ's sake!' Then I got up and spoke to
Mashenka: 'You, Marya Semyonovna, ought now to wash Vassily
Maximitch's feet and drink the water. Do you be an obedient wife
to him, and pray to God for me, that He in His mercy may forgive
my transgression.' It came to me like an inspiration from an
angel of Heaven; I gave her solemn counsel and spoke with such
feeling that my own tears flowed too. And so two days later
Vasya comes to me: 'Matyusha,' says he, 'I forgive you and my
wife; God have mercy on you! She was a soldier's wife, a young
thing all alone; it was hard for her to be on her guard. She's
not the first, nor will she be the last. Only,' he says, 'I beg
you to behave as though there had never been anything between
you, and to make no sign, while I,' says he, 'will do my best to
please her in every way, so that she may come to love me again.'
He gave me his hand on it, drank a cup of tea, and went away
" 'Well,' thought I, 'thank God!' and I did feel glad that
everything had gone off so well. But no sooner had Vasya gone
out of the yard, when in came Mashenka. Ah! What I had to
suffer! She hung on my neck, weeping and praying: 'For God's
sake, don't cast me off; I can't live without you!' "
"The vile hussy!" sighed Dyudya.
"I swore at her, stamped my foot, and dragging her into the
passage, I fastened the door with the hook. 'Go to your
husband,' I cried. 'Don't shame me before folks. Fear God!' And
every day there was a scene of that sort.
"One morning I was standing in my yard near the stable cleaning
a bridle. All at once I saw her running through the little gate
into my yard, with bare feet, in her petticoat, and straight
towards me; she clutched at the bridle, getting all smeared with
the pitch, and shaking and weeping, she cried: 'I can't stand
him; I loathe him; I can't bear it! If you don't love me, better
kill me!' I was angry, and I struck her twice with the bridle,
but at that instant Vasya ran in at the gate, and in a
despairing voice he shouted: 'Don't beat her! Don't beat her!'
But he ran up himself, and waving his arms, as though he were
mad, he let fly with his fists at her with all his might, then
flung her on the ground and kicked her. I tried to defend her,
but he snatched up the reins and thrashed her with them, and all
the while, like a colt's whinny, he went: 'He -- he-- he!' "
"I'd take the reins and let you feel them," muttered Varvara,
moving away; "murdering our sister, the damned brutes! . . ."
"Hold your tongue, you jade!" Dyudya shouted at her.
" 'He -- he -- he!' " Matvey Savitch went on. "A carrier ran out
of his yard; I called to my workman, and the three of us got
Mashenka away from him and carried her home in our arms. The
disgrace of it! The same day I went over in the evening to see
how things were. She was lying in bed, all wrapped up in
bandages, nothing but her eyes and nose to be seen; she was
looking at the ceiling. I said: 'Good-evening, Marya
Semyonovna!' She did not speak. And Vasya was sitting in the
next room, his head in his hands, crying and saying: 'Brute that
I am! I've ruined my life! O God, let me die!' I sat for half an
hour by Mashenka and gave her a good talking-to. I tried to
frighten her a bit. 'The righteous,' said I, 'after this life go
to Paradise, but you will go to a Gehenna of fire, like all
adulteresses. Don't strive against your husband, go and lay
yourself at his feet.' But never a word from her; she didn't so
much as blink an eyelid, for all the world as though I were
talking to a post. The next day Vasya fell ill with something
like cholera, and in the evening I heard that he was dead. Well,
so they buried him, and Mashenka did not go to the funeral; she
didn't care to show her shameless face and her bruises. And soon
there began to be talk all over the district that Vasya had not
died a natural death, that Mashenka had made away with him. It
got to the ears of the police; they had Vasya dug up and cut
open, and in his stomach they found arsenic. It was clear he had
been poisoned; the police came and took Mashenka away, and with
her the innocent Kuzka. They were put in prison. . . . The woman
had gone too far -- God punished her. . . . Eight months later
they tried her. She sat, I remember, on a low stool, with a
little white kerchief on her head, wearing a grey gown, and she
was so thin, so pale, so sharp-eyed it made one sad to look at
her. Behind her stood a soldier with a gun. She would not
confess her guilt. Some in the court said she had poisoned her
husband and others declared he had poisoned himself for grief. I
was one of the witnesses. When they questioned me, I told the
whole truth according to my oath. 'Hers,' said I, 'is the guilt.
It's no good to conceal it; she did not love her husband, and
she had a will of her own. . . .' The trial began in the morning
and towards night they passed this sentence: to send her to hard
labour in Siberia for thirteen years. After that sentence
Mashenka remained three months longer in prison. I went to see
her, and from Christian charity I took her a little tea and
sugar. But as soon as she set eyes on me she began to shake all
over, wringing her hands and muttering: 'Go away! go away!' And
Kuzka she clasped to her as though she were afraid I would take
him away. 'See,' said I, 'what you have come to! Ah, Masha,
Masha! you would not listen to me when I gave you good advice,
and now you must repent it. You are yourself to blame,' said I;
'blame yourself!' I was giving her good counsel, but she: 'Go
away, go away!' huddling herself and Kuzka against the wall, and
trembling all over.
"When they were taking her away to the chief town of our
province, I walked by the escort as far as the station and
slipped a rouble into her bundle for my soul's salvation. But
she did not get as far as Siberia. . . . She fell sick of fever
and died in prison."
"Live like a dog and you must die a dog's death," said Dyudya.
"Kuzka was sent back home. . . . I thought it over and took him
to bring up. After all -- though a convict's child -- still he
was a living soul, a Christian. . . . I was sorry for him. I
shall make him my clerk, and if I have no children of my own,
I'll make a merchant of him. Wherever I go now, I take him with
me; let him learn his work."
All the while Matvey Savitch had been telling his story, Kuzka
had sat on a little stone near the gate. His head propped in
both hands, he gazed at the sky, and in the distance he looked
in the dark like a stump of wood.
"Kuzka, come to bed," Matvey Savitch bawled to him.
"Yes, it's time," said Dyudya, getting up; he yawned loudly and
"Folks will go their own way, and that's what comes of it."
Over the yard the moon was floating now in the heavens; she was
moving one way, while the clouds beneath moved the other way;
the clouds were disappearing into the darkness, but still the
moon could be seen high above the yard.
Matvey Savitch said a prayer, facing the church, and saying
good-night, he lay down on the ground near his cart. Kuzka, too,
said a prayer, lay down in the cart, and covered himself with
his little overcoat; he made himself a little hole in the hay so
as to be more comfortable, and curled up so that his elbows
looked like knees. From the yard Dyudya could be seen lighting a
candle in his room below, putting on his spectacles and standing
in the corner with a book. He was a long while reading and
The travellers fell asleep. Afanasyevna and Sofya came up to the
cart and began looking at Kuzka.
"The little orphan's asleep," said the old woman. "He's thin and
frail, nothing but bones. No mother and no one to care for him
"My Grishutka must be two years older," said Sofya. "Up at the
factory he lives like a slave without his mother. The foreman
beats him, I dare say. When I looked at this poor mite just now,
I thought of my own Grishutka, and my heart went cold within
A minute passed in silence.
"Doesn't remember his mother, I suppose," said the old woman.
"How could he remember?"
And big tears began dropping from Sofya's eyes.
"He's curled himself up like a cat," she said, sobbing and
laughing with tenderness and sorrow. . . . "Poor motherless
Kuzka started and opened his eyes. He saw before him an ugly,
wrinkled, tear-stained face, and beside it another, aged and
toothless, with a sharp chin and hooked nose, and high above
them the infinite sky with the flying clouds and the moon. He
cried out in fright, and Sofya, too, uttered a cry; both were
answered by the echo, and a faint stir passed over the stifling
air; a watchman tapped somewhere near, a dog barked. Matvey
Savitch muttered something in his sleep and turned over on the
Late at night when Dyudya and the old woman and the neighbouring
watchman were all asleep, Sofya went out to the gate and sat
down on the bench. She felt stifled and her head ached from
weeping. The street was a wide and long one; it stretched for
nearly two miles to the right and as far to the left, and the
end of it was out of sight. The moon was now not over the yard,
but behind the church. One side of the street was flooded with
moonlight, while the other side lay in black shadow. The long
shadows of the poplars and the starling-cotes stretched right
across the street, while the church cast a broad shadow, black
and terrible that enfolded Dyudya's gates and half his house.
The street was still and deserted. From time to time the strains
of music floated faintly from the end of the street -- Alyoshka,
most likely, playing his concertina.
Someone moved in the shadow near the church enclosure, and Sofya
could not make out whether it were a man or a cow, or perhaps
merely a big bird rustling in the trees. But then a figure
stepped out of the shadow, halted, and said something in a man's
voice, then vanished down the turning by the church. A little
later, not three yards from the gate, another figure came into
sight; it walked straight from the church to the gate and
stopped short, seeing Sofya on the bench.
"Varvara, is that you?" said Sofya.
"And if it were?"
It was Varvara. She stood still a minute, then came up to the
bench and sat down.
"Where have you been?" asked Sofya.
Varvara made no answer.
"You'd better mind you don't get into trouble with such
goings-on, my girl," said Sofya. "Did you hear how Mashenka was
kicked and lashed with the reins? You'd better look out, or
they'll treat you the same."
"Well, let them!"
Varvara laughed into her kerchief and whispered:
"I have just been with the priest's son."
"It's a sin!" whispered Sofya.
"Well, let it be. . . . What do I care? If it's a sin, then it
is a sin, but better be struck dead by thunder than live like
this. I'm young and strong, and I've a filthy crooked hunchback
for a husband, worse than Dyudya himself, curse him! When I was
a girl, I hadn't bread to eat, or a shoe to my foot, and to get
away from that wretchedness I was tempted by Alyoshka's money,
and got caught like a fish in a net, and I'd rather have a viper
for my bedfellow than that scurvy Alyoshka. And what's your
life? It makes me sick to look at it. Your Fyodor sent you
packing from the factory and he's taken up with another woman.
They have robbed you of your boy and made a slave of him. You
work like a horse, and never hear a kind word. I'd rather pine
all my days an old maid, I'd rather get half a rouble from the
priest's son, I'd rather beg my bread, or throw myself into the
well. . .
"It's a sin!" whispered Sofya again.
"Well, let it be."
Somewhere behind the church the same three voices, two tenors
and a bass, began singing again a mournful song. And again the
words could not be distinguished.
"They are not early to bed," Varvara said, laughing.
And she began telling in a whisper of her midnight walks with
the priest's son, and of the stories he had told her, and of his
comrades, and of the fun she had with the travellers who stayed
in the house. The mournful song stirred a longing for life and
freedom. Sofya began to laugh; she thought it sinful and
terrible and sweet to hear about, and she felt envious and sorry
that she, too, had not been a sinner when she was young and
In the churchyard they heard twelve strokes beaten on the
"It's time we were asleep," said Sofya, getting up, "or, maybe,
we shall catch it from Dyudya."
They both went softly into the yard.
"I went away without hearing what he was telling about
Mashenka," said Varvara, making herself a bed under the window.
"She died in prison, he said. She poisoned her husband."
Varvara lay down beside Sofya a while, and said softly:
"I'd make away with my Alyoshka and never regret it."
"You talk nonsense; God forgive you."
When Sofya was just dropping asleep, Varvara, coming close,
whispered in her ear:
"Let us get rid of Dyudya and Alyoshka!"
Sofya started and said nothing. Then she opened her eyes and
gazed a long while steadily at the sky.
"People would find out," she said.
"No, they wouldn't. Dyudya's an old man, it's time he did die;
and they'd say Alyoshka died of drink."
"I'm afraid . . . God would chastise us."
"Well, let Him. . . ."
Both lay awake thinking in silence.
"It's cold," said Sofya, beginning to shiver all over. "It will
soon be morning. . . . Are you asleep?"
"No. . . . Don't you mind what I say, dear," whispered Varvara;
"I get so mad with the damned brutes, I don't know what I do
say. Go to sleep, or it will be daylight directly. . . . Go to
Both were quiet and soon they fell asleep.
Earlier than all woke the old woman. She waked up Sofya and they
went together into the cowshed to milk the cows. The hunchback
Alyoshka came in hopelessly drunk without his concertina; his
breast and knees had been in the dust and straw -- he must have
fallen down in the road. Staggering, he went into the cowshed,
and without undressing he rolled into a sledge and began to
snore at once. When first the crosses on the church and then the
windows were flashing in the light of the rising sun, and
shadows stretched across the yard over the dewy grass from the
trees and the top of the well, Matvey Savitch jumped up and
began hurrying about:
"Kuzka! get up!" he shouted. "It's time to put in the horses!
The bustle of morning was beginning. A young Jewess in a brown
gown with flounces led a horse into the yard to drink. The
pulley of the well creaked plaintively, the bucket knocked as it
went down. . . .
Kuzka, sleepy, tired, covered with dew, sat up in the cart,
lazily putting on his little overcoat, and listening to the drip
of the water from the bucket into the well as he shivered with
"Auntie!" shouted Matvey Savitch to Sofya, "tell my lad to hurry
up and to harness the horses!"
And Dyudya at the same instant shouted from the window:
"Sofya, take a farthing from the Jewess for the horse's drink!
They're always in here, the mangy creatures!"
In the street sheep were running up and down, baaing; the
peasant women were shouting at the shepherd, while he played his
pipes, cracked his whip, or answered them in a thick sleepy
bass. Three sheep strayed into the yard, and not finding the
gate again, pushed at the fence.
Varvara was waked by the noise, and bundling her bedding up in
her arms, she went into the house.
"You might at least drive the sheep out!" the old woman bawled
after her, "my lady!"
"I dare say! As if I were going to slave for you Herods!"
muttered Varvara, going into the house.
Dyudya came out of the house with his accounts in his hands, sat
down on the step, and began reckoning how much the traveller
owed him for the night's lodging, oats, and watering his horses.
"You charge pretty heavily for the oats, my good man," said
"If it's too much, don't take them. There's no compulsion,
When the travellers were ready to start, they were detained for
a minute. Kuzka had lost his cap.
"Little swine, where did you put it?" Matvey Savitch roared
angrily. "Where is it?"
Kuzka's face was working with terror; he ran up and down near
the cart, and not finding it there, ran to the gate and then to
the shed. The old woman and Sofya helped him look.
"I'll pull your ears off!" yelled Matvey Savitch. "Dirty brat!"
The cap was found at the bottom of the cart.
Kuzka brushed the hay off it with his sleeve, put it on, and
timidly he crawled into the cart, still with an expression of
terror on his face as though he were afraid of a blow from
Matvey Savitch crossed himself. The driver gave a tug at the
reins and the cart rolled out of the yard.
Dyudya: or Dyoudya; "hefty"
shaved his head: peasants drafted into the army had their
foreheads shaved to make them easily identifiable if they ran
Poland: Poland was then under Russia rule
one flesh: cf. Genesis 2:24
a watchman tapped: Russian watchmen would tap with a stick or
rattle in order to warn thieves that they were on the job