The Murder -
When he went back into the house the
policeman was no longer there, but the waiter was sitting with
Matvey, counting something on the reckoning beads. He was in the
habit of coming often, almost every day, to the tavern; in old
days he had come to see Yakov Ivanitch, now he came to see
Matvey. He was continually reckoning on the beads, while his
face perspired and looked strained, or he would ask for money
or, stroking his whiskers, would describe how he had once been
in a first-class station and used to prepare champagne-punch for
officers, and at grand dinners served the sturgeon-soup with his
own hands. Nothing in this world interested him but refreshment
bars, and he could only talk about things to eat, about wines
and the paraphernalia of the dinner-table. On one occasion,
handing a cup of tea to a young woman who was nursing her baby
and wishing to say something agreeable to her, he expressed
himself in this way:
"The mother's breast is the baby's refreshment bar."
Reckoning with the beads in Matvey's room, he asked for money;
said he could not go on living at Progonnaya, and several times
repeated in a tone of voice that sounded as though he were just
going to cry:
"Where am I to go? Where am I to go now? Tell me that, please."
Then Matvey went into the kitchen and began peeling some boiled
potatoes which he had probably put away from the day before. It
was quiet, and it seemed to Yakov Ivanitch that the waiter was
gone. It was past the time for evening service; he called Aglaia,
and, thinking there was no one else in the house sang out aloud
without embarrassment. He sang and read, but was inwardly
pronouncing other words, "Lord, forgive me! Lord, save me!" and,
one after another, without ceasing, he made low bows to the
ground as though he wanted to exhaust himself, and he kept
shaking his head, so that Aglaia looked at him with wonder. He
was afraid Matvey would come in, and was certain that he would
come in, and felt an anger against him which he could overcome
neither by prayer nor by continually bowing down to the ground.
Matvey opened the door very softly and went into the
"It's a sin, such a sin!" he said reproachfully, and heaved a
sigh. "Repent! Think what you are doing, brother!"
Yakov Ivanitch, clenching his fists and not looking at him for
fear of striking him, went quickly out of the room. Feeling
himself a huge terrible wild beast, just as he had done before
on the road, he crossed the passage into the grey, dirty room,
reeking with smoke and fog, in which the peasants usually drank
tea, and there he spent a long time walking from one corner to
the other, treading heavily, so that the crockery jingled on the
shelves and the tables shook. It was clear to him now that he
was himself dissatisfied with his religion, ant could not pray
as he used to do. He must repent, he must think things over,
reconsider, live and pray in some other way. But how pray? And
perhaps all this was a temptation of the devil, and nothing of
this was necessary? . . . How was it to be? What was he to do?
Who could guide him? What helplessness! He stopped and,
clutching at his head, began to think, but Matvey's being near
him prevented him from reflecting calmly. And he went rapidly
into the room.
Matvey was sitting in the kitchen before a bowl of potato,
eating. Close by, near the stove, Aglaia and Dashutka were
sitting facing one another, spinning yarn. Between the stove and
the table at which Matvey was sitting was stretched an
ironing-board; on it stood a cold iron.
"Sister," Matvey asked, "let me have a little oil!"
"Who eats oil on a day like this?" asked Aglaia.
"I am not a monk, sister, but a layman. And in my weak health I
may take not only oil but milk."
"Yes, at the factory you may have anything."
Aglaia took a bottle of Lenten oil from the shelf and banged it
angrily down before Matvey, with a malignant smile evidently
pleased that he was such a sinner.
"But I tell you, you can't eat oil!" shouted Yakov.
Aglaia and Dashutka started, but Matvey poured the oil into the
bowl and went on eating as though he had not heard.
"I tell you, you can't eat oil!" Yakov shouted still more
loudly; he turned red all over, snatched up the bowl, lifted it
higher that his head, and dashed it with all his force to the
ground, so that it flew into fragments. "Don't dare to speak!"
he cried in a furious voice, though Matvey had not said a word.
"Don't dare!" he repeated, and struck his fist on the table.
Matvey turned pale and got up.
"Brother!" he said, still munching -- "brother, think what you
"Out of my house this minute!" shouted Yakov; he loathed
Matvey's wrinkled face, and his voice, and the crumbs on his
moustache, and the fact that he was munching. "Out, I tell you!"
"Brother, calm yourself! The pride of hell has confounded you!"
"Hold your tongue!" (Yakov stamped.) "Go away, you devil!"
"If you care to know," Matvey went on in a loud voice, as he,
too, began to get angry, "you are a backslider from God and a
heretic. The accursed spirits have hidden the true light from
you; your prayer is not acceptable to God. Repent before it is
too late! The deathbed of the sinner is terrible! Repent,
Yakov seized him by the shoulders and dragged him away from the
table, while he turned whiter than ever, and frightened and
bewildered, began muttering, "What is it? What's the matter?"
and, struggling and making efforts to free himself from Yakov's
hands, he accidentally caught hold of his shirt near the neck
and tore the collar; and it seemed to Aglaia that he was trying
to beat Yakov. She uttered a shriek, snatched up the bottle of
Lenten oil and with all her force brought it down straight on
the skull of the cousin she hated. Matvey reeled, and in one
instant his face became calm and indifferent. Yakov, breathing
heavily, excited, and feeling pleasure at the gurgle the bottle
had made, like a living thing, when it had struck the head, kept
him from falling and several times (he remembered this very
distinctly) motioned Aglaia towards the iron with his finger;
and only when the blood began trickling through his hands and he
heard Dashutka's loud wail, and when the ironing-board fell with
a crash, and Matvey rolled heavily on it, Yakov left off feeling
anger and understood what had happened.
"Let him rot, the factory buck!" Aglaia brought out with
repulsion, still keeping the iron in her hand. The white
bloodstained kerchief slipped on to her shoulders and her grey
hair fell in disorder. "He's got what he deserved!"
Everything was terrible. Dashutka sat on the floor near the
stove with the yarn in her hands, sobbing, and continually
bowing down, uttering at each bow a gasping sound. But nothing
was so terrible to Yakov as the potato in the blood, on which he
was afraid of stepping, and there was something else terrible
which weighed upon him like a bad dream and seemed the worst
danger, though he could not take it in for the first minute.
This was the waiter, Sergey Nikanoritch, who was standing in the
doorway with the reckoning beads in his hands, very pale,
looking with horror at what was happening in the kitchen. Only
when he turned and went quickly into the passage and from there
outside, Yakov grasped who it was and followed him.
Wiping his hands on the snow as he went, he reflected. The idea
flashed through his mind that their labourer had gone away long
before and had asked leave to stay the night at home in the
village; the day before they had killed a pig, and there were
huge bloodstains in the snow and on the sledge, and even one
side of the top of the well was splattered with blood, so that
it could not have seemed suspicious even if the whole of Yakov's
family had been stained with blood. To conceal the murder would
be agonizing, but for the policeman, who would whistle and smile
ironically, to come from the station, for the peasants to arrive
and bind Yakov's and Aglaia's hands, and take them solemnly to
the district courthouse and from there to the town, while
everyone on the way would point at them and say mirthfully,
"They are taking the Godlies!" -- this seemed to Yakov more
agonizing than anything, and he longed to lengthen out the time
somehow, so as to endure this shame not now, but later, in the
"I can lend you a thousand roubles, . . ." he said, overtaking
Sergey Nikanoritch. "If you tell anyone, it will do no good. . .
. There's no bringing the man back, anyway;" and with difficulty
keeping up with the waiter, who did not look round, but tried to
walk away faster than ever, he went on: "I can give you fifteen
hundred. . . ."
He stopped because he was out of breath, while Sergey
Nikanoritch walked on as quickly as ever, probably afraid that
he would be killed, too. Only after passing the railway crossing
and going half the way from the crossing to the station, he
furtively looked round and walked more slowly. Lights, red and
green, were already gleaming in the station and along the line;
the wind had fallen, but flakes of snow were still coming down
and the road had turned white again. But just at the station
Sergey Nikanoritch stopped, thought a minute, and turned
resolutely back. It was growing dark.
"Oblige me with the fifteen hundred, Yakov Ivanitch," he said,
trembling all over. "I agree."