NIKOLAY TCHIKILDYEEV, a waiter in the Moscow
hotel, Slavyansky Bazaar, was taken ill. His legs went numb and
his gait was affected, so that on one occasion, as he was going
along the corridor, he tumbled and fell down with a tray full of
ham and peas. He had to leave his job. All his own savings and
his wife's were spent on doctors and medicines; they had nothing
left to live upon. He felt dull with no work to do, and he made
up his mind he must go home to the village. It is better to be
ill at home, and living there is cheaper; and it is a true
saying that the walls of home are a help.
He reached Zhukovo towards evening. In his memories of childhood
he had pictured his home as bright, snug, comfortable. Now,
going into the hut, he was positively frightened; it was so
dark, so crowded, so unclean. His wife Olga and his daughter
Sasha, who had come with him, kept looking in bewilderment at
the big untidy stove, which filled up almost half the hut and
was black with soot and flies. What lots of flies! The stove was
on one side, the beams lay slanting on the walls, and it looked
as though the hut were just going to fall to pieces. In the
corner, facing the door, under the holy images, bottle labels
and newspaper cuttings were stuck on the walls instead of
pictures. The poverty, the poverty! Of the grown-up people there
were none at home; all were at work at the harvest. On the stove
was sitting a white-headed girl of eight, unwashed and
apathetic; she did not even glance at them as they came in. On
the floor a white cat was rubbing itself against the oven fork.
"Puss, puss!" Sasha called to her. "Puss!"
"She can't hear," said the little girl; "she has gone deaf."
"How is that?"
"Oh, she was beaten."
Nikolay and Olga realized from the first glance what life was
like here, but said nothing to one another; in silence they put
down their bundles, and went out into the village street. Their
hut was the third from the end, and seemed the very poorest and
oldest-looking; the second was not much better; but the last one
had an iron roof, and curtains in the windows. That hut stood
apart, not enclosed; it was a tavern. The huts were in a single
row, and the whole of the little village -- quiet and dreamy,
with willows, elders, and mountain-ash trees peeping out from
the yards -- had an attractive look.
Beyond the peasants homesteads there was a slope down to the
river, so steep and precipitous that huge stones jutted out bare
here and there through the clay. Down the slope, among the
stones and holes dug by the potters, ran winding paths; bits of
broken pottery, some brown, some red, lay piled up in heaps, and
below there stretched a broad, level, bright green meadow, from
which the hay had been already carried, and in which the
peasants' cattle were wandering. The river, three-quarters of a
mile from the village, ran twisting and turning, with beautiful
leafy banks; beyond it was again a broad meadow, a herd of
cattle, long strings of white geese; then, just as on the near
side, a steep ascent uphill, and on the top of the hill a
hamlet, and a church with five domes, and at a little distance
"It's lovely here in your parts!" said Olga, crossing herself at
the sight of the church. "What space, oh Lord!"
Just at that moment the bell began ringing for service (it was
Saturday evening). Two little girls, down below, who were
dragging up a pail of water, looked round at the church to
listen to the bell.
"At this time they are serving the dinners at the Slavyansky
Bazaar," said Nikolay dreamily.
Sitting on the edge of the slope, Nikolay and Olga watched the
sun setting, watched the gold and crimson sky reflected in the
river, in the church windows, and in the whole air -- which was
soft and still and unutterably pure as it never was in Moscow.
And when the sun had set the flocks and herds passed, bleating
and lowing; geese flew across from the further side of the
river, and all sank into silence; the soft light died away in
the air, and the dusk of evening began quickly moving down upon
Meanwhile Nikolay's father and mother, two gaunt, bent,
toothless old people, just of the same height, came back. The
women -- the sisters-in-law Marya and Fyokla -- who had been
working on the landowner's estate beyond the river, arrived
home, too. Marya, the wife of Nikolay's brother Kiryak, had six
children, and Fyokla, the wife of Nikolay's brother Denis -- who
had gone for a soldier -- had two; and when Nikolay, going into
the hut, saw all the family, all those bodies big and little
moving about on the lockers, in the hanging cradles and in all
the corners, and when he saw the greed with which the old father
and the women ate the black bread, dipping it in water, he
realized he had made a mistake in coming here, sick, penniless,
and with a family, too -- a great mistake!
"And where is Kiryak?" he asked after they had exchanged
"He is in service at the merchant's," answered his father; "a
keeper in the woods. He is not a bad peasant, but too fond of
"He is no great help!" said the old woman tearfully. "Our men
are a grievous lot; they bring nothing into the house, but take
plenty out. Kiryak drinks, and so does the old man; it is no use
hiding a sin; he knows his way to the tavern. The Heavenly
Mother is wroth."
In honour of the visitors they brought out the samovar. The tea
smelt of fish; the sugar was grey and looked as though it had
been nibbled; cockroaches ran to and fro over the bread and
among the crockery. It was disgusting to drink, and the
conversation was disgusting, too -- about nothing but poverty
and illnesses. But before they had time to empty their first
cups there came a loud, prolonged, drunken shout from the yard:
"It looks as though Kiryak were coming," said the old man.
"Speak of the devil."
All were hushed. And again, soon afterwards, the same shout,
coarse and drawn-out as though it came out of the earth:
Marya, the elder sister-in-law, turned pale and huddled against
the stove, and it was strange to see the look of terror on the
face of the strong, broad-shouldered, ugly woman. Her daughter,
the child who had been sitting on the stove and looked so
apathetic, suddenly broke into loud weeping.
"What are you howling for, you plague?" Fyokla, a handsome
woman, also strong and broad-shouldered, shouted to her. "He
won't kill you, no fear!"
From his old father Nikolay learned that Marya was afraid to
live in the forest with Kiryak, and that when he was drunk he
always came for her, made a row, and beat her mercilessly.
"Ma-arya!" the shout sounded close to the door.
"Protect me, for Christ's sake, good people!" faltered Marya,
breathing as though she had been plunged into very cold water.
"Protect me, kind people. . . ."
All the children in the hut began crying, and looking at them,
Sasha, too, began to cry. They heard a drunken cough, and a
tall, black-bearded peasant wearing a winter cap came into the
hut, and was the more terrible because his face could not be
seen in the dim light of the little lamp. It was Kiryak. Going
up to his wife, he swung his arm and punched her in the face
with his fist. Stunned by the blow, she did not utter a sound,
but sat down, and her nose instantly began bleeding.
"What a disgrace! What a disgrace!" muttered the old man,
clambering up on to the stove. "Before visitors, too! It's a
The old mother sat silent, bowed, lost in thought; Fyokla rocked
Evidently conscious of inspiring fear, and pleased at doing so,
Kiryak seized Marya by the arm, dragged her towards the door,
and bellowed like an animal in order to seem still more
terrible; but at that moment he suddenly caught sight of the
visitors and stopped.
"Oh, they have come, . . ." he said, letting his wife go; "my
own brother and his family. . . ."
Staggering and opening wide his red, drunken eyes, he said his
prayer before the image and went on:
"My brother and his family have come to the parental home . . .
from Moscow, I suppose. The great capital Moscow, to be sure,
the mother of cities. . . . Excuse me."
He sank down on the bench near the samovar and began drinking
tea, sipping it loudly from the saucer in the midst of general
silence. . . . He drank off a dozen cups, then reclined on the
bench and began snoring.
They began going to bed. Nikolay, as an invalid, was put on the
stove with his old father; Sasha lay down on the floor, while
Olga went with the other women into the barn.
"Aye, aye, dearie," she said, lying down on the hay beside Marya;
"you won't mend your trouble with tears. Bear it in patience,
that is all. It is written in the Scriptures: 'If anyone smite
thee on the right cheek, offer him the left one also.' . . .
Aye, aye, dearie."
Then in a low singsong murmur she told them about Moscow, about
her own life, how she had been a servant in furnished lodgings.
"And in Moscow the houses are big, built of brick," she said;
"and there are ever so many churches, forty times forty, dearie;
and they are all gentry in the houses, so handsome and so
Marya told her that she had not only never been in Moscow, but
had not even been in their own district town; she could not read
or write, and knew no prayers, not even "Our Father." Both she
and Fyokla, the other sister-in-law, who was sitting a little
way off listening, were extremely ignorant and could understand
nothing. They both disliked their husbands; Marya was afraid of
Kiryak, and whenever he stayed with her she was shaking with
fear, and always got a headache from the fumes of vodka and
tobacco with which he reeked. And in answer to the question
whether she did not miss her husband, Fyokla answered with
They talked a little and sank into silence.
It was cool, and a cock crowed at the top of his voice near the
barn, preventing them from sleeping. When the bluish morning
light was already peeping through all the crevices, Fyokla got
up stealthily and went out, and then they heard the sound of her
bare feet running off somewhere.