The arrival of the visitors was already known in the village,
and directly after mass a number of people gathered together in
the hut. The Leonytchevs and Matvyeitchevs and the Ilyitchovs
came to inquire about their relations who were in service in
Moscow. All the lads of Zhukovo who could read and write were
packed off to Moscow and hired out as butlers or waiters (while
from the village on the other side of the river the boys all
became bakers), and that had been the custom from the days of
serfdom long ago when a certain Luka Ivanitch, a peasant from
Zhukovo, now a legendary figure, who had been a waiter in one of
the Moscow clubs, would take none but his fellow-villagers into
his service, and found jobs for them in taverns and restaurants;
and from that time the village of Zhukovo was always called
among the inhabitants of the surrounding districts Slaveytown.
Nikolay had been taken to Moscow when he was eleven, and Ivan
Makaritch, one of the Matvyeitchevs, at that time a headwaiter
in the "Hermitage" garden, had put him into a situation. And
now, addressing the Matvyeitchevs, Nikolay said emphatically:
"Ivan Makaritch was my benefactor, and I am bound to pray for
him day and night, as it is owing to him I have become a good
"My good soul!" a tall old woman, the sister of Ivan Makaritch,
said tearfully, "and not a word have we heard about him, poor
"In the winter he was in service at Omon's, and this season
there was a rumour he was somewhere out of town, in gardens. . .
. He has aged! In old days he would bring home as much as ten
roubles a day in the summer-time, but now things are very quiet
everywhere. The old man frets."
The women looked at Nikolay's feet, shod in felt boots, and at
his pale face, and said mournfully:
"You are not one to get on, Nikolay Osipitch; you are not one to
get on! No, indeed!"
And they all made much of Sasha. She was ten years old, but she
was little and very thin, and might have been taken for no more
than seven. Among the other little girls, with their sunburnt
faces and roughly cropped hair, dressed in long faded smocks,
she with her white little face, with her big dark eyes, with a
red ribbon in her hair, looked funny, as though she were some
little wild creature that had been caught and brought into the
"She can read, too," Olga said in her praise, looking tenderly
at her daughter. "Read a little, child!" she said, taking the
gospel from the corner. "You read, and the good Christian people
The testament was an old and heavy one in leather binding, with
dog's-eared edges, and it exhaled a smell as though monks had
come into the hut. Sasha raised her eyebrows and began in a loud
" 'And the angel of the Lord . . . appeared unto Joseph, saying
unto him: Rise up, and take the Babe and His mother.' "
"The Babe and His mother," Olga repeated, and flushed all over
" 'And flee into Egypt, . . . and tarry there until such time as
. . .' "
At the word "tarry" Olga could not refrain from tears. Looking
at her, Marya began to whimper, and after her Ivan Makaritch's
sister. The old father cleared his throat, and bustled about to
find something to give his grand-daughter, but, finding nothing,
gave it up with a wave of his hand. And when the reading was
over the neighbours dispersed to their homes, feeling touched
and very much pleased with Olga and Sasha.
As it was a holiday, the family spent the whole day at home. The
old woman, whom her husband, her daughters-in-law, her
grandchildren all alike called Granny, tried to do everything
herself; she heated the stove and set the samovar with her own
hands, even waited at the midday meal, and then complained that
she was worn out with work. And all the time she was uneasy for
fear someone should eat a piece too much, or that her husband
and daughters-in-law would sit idle. At one time she would hear
the tavern-keeper's geese going at the back of the huts to her
kitchen-garden, and she would run out of the hut with a long
stick and spend half an hour screaming shrilly by her cabbages,
which were as gaunt and scraggy as herself; at another time she
fancied that a crow had designs on her chickens, and she rushed
to attack it with loud words of abuse. She was cross and
grumbling from morning till night. And often she raised such an
outcry that passers-by stopped in the street.
She was not affectionate towards the old man, reviling him as a
lazy-bones and a plague. He was not a responsible, reliable
peasant, and perhaps if she had not been continually nagging at
him he would not have worked at all, but would have simply sat
on the stove and talked. He talked to his son at great length
about certain enemies of his, complained of the insults he said
he had to put up with every day from the neighbours, and it was
tedious to listen to him.
"Yes," he would say, standing with his arms akimbo, "yes. . . .
A week after the Exaltation of the Cross I sold my hay willingly
at thirty kopecks a pood. . . . Well and good. . . . So you see
I was taking the hay in the morning with a good will; I was
interfering with no one. In an unlucky hour I see the village
elder, Antip Syedelnikov, coming out of the tavern. 'Where are
you taking it, you ruffian?' says he, and takes me by the ear."
Kiryak had a fearful headache after his drinking bout, and was
ashamed to face his brother.
"What vodka does! Ah, my God!" he muttered, shaking his aching
head. "For Christ's sake, forgive me, brother and sister; I'm
not happy myself."
As it was a holiday, they bought a herring at the tavern and
made a soup of the herring's head. At midday they all sat down
to drink tea, and went on drinking it for a long time, till they
were all perspiring; they looked positively swollen from the
tea-drinking, and after it began sipping the broth from the
herring's head, all helping themselves out of one bowl. But the
herring itself Granny had hidden.
In the evening a potter began firing pots on the ravine. In the
meadow below the girls got up a choral dance and sang songs.
They played the concertina. And on the other side of the river a
kiln for baking pots was lighted, too, and the girls sang songs,
and in the distance the singing sounded soft and musical. The
peasants were noisy in and about the tavern. They were singing
with drunken voices, each on his own account, and swearing at
one another, so that Olga could only shudder and say:
"Oh, holy Saints!"
She was amazed that the abuse was incessant, and those who were
loudest and most persistent in this foul language were the old
men who were so near their end. And the girls and children heard
the swearing, and were not in the least disturbed by it, and it
was evident that they were used to it from their cradles.
It was past midnight, the kilns on both sides of the river were
put out, but in the meadow below and in the tavern the
merrymaking still went on. The old father and Kiryak, both
drunk, walking arm-in-arm and jostling against each other's
shoulders, went to the barn where Olga and Marya were lying.
"Let her alone," the old man persuaded him; "let her alone. . .
. She is a harmless woman. . . . It's a sin. . . ."
"Ma-arya!" shouted Kiryak.
"Let her be. . . . It's a sin. . . . She is not a bad woman."
Both stopped by the barn and went on.
"I lo-ove the flowers of the fi-ield," the old man began singing
suddenly in a high, piercing tenor. "I lo-ove to gather them in
Then he spat, and with a filthy oath went into the hut.