Granny put Sasha by her kitchen-garden and told her to keep
watch that the geese did not go in. It was a hot August day. The
tavernkeeper's geese could make their way into the
kitchen-garden by the backs of the huts, but now they were
busily engaged picking up oats by the tavern, peacefully
conversing together, and only the gander craned his head high as
though trying to see whether the old woman were coming with her
stick. The other geese might come up from below, but they were
now grazing far away the other side of the river, stretched out
in a long white garland about the meadow. Sasha stood about a
little, grew weary, and, seeing that the geese were not coming,
went away to the ravine.
There she saw Marya's eldest daughter Motka, who was standing
motionless on a big stone, staring at the church. Marya had
given birth to thirteen children, but she only had six living,
all girls, not one boy, and the eldest was eight. Motka in a
long smock was standing barefooted in the full sunshine; the sun
was blazing down right on her head, but she did not notice that,
and seemed as though turned to stone. Sasha stood beside her and
said, looking at the church:
"God lives in the church. Men have lamps and candles, but God
has little green and red and blue lamps like little eyes. At
night God walks about the church, and with Him the Holy Mother
of God and Saint Nikolay, thud, thud, thud! . . . And the
watchman is terrified, terrified! Aye, aye, dearie," she added,
imitating her mother. "And when the end of the world comes all
the churches will be carried up to heaven."
"With the-ir be-ells?" Motka asked in her deep voice, drawling
"With their bells. And when the end of the world comes the good
will go to Paradise, but the angry will burn in fire eternal and
unquenchable, dearie. To my mother as well as to Marya God will
say: 'You never offended anyone, and for that go to the right to
Paradise'; but to Kiryak and Granny He will say: 'You go to the
left into the fire.' And anyone who has eaten meat in Lent will
go into the fire, too."
She looked upwards at the sky, opening wide her eyes, and said:
"Look at the sky without winking, you will see angels."
Motka began looking at the sky, too, and a minute passed in
"Do you see them?" asked Sasha.
"I don't," said Motka in her deep voice.
"But I do. Little angels are flying about the sky and flap, flap
with their little wings as though they were gnats."
Motka thought for a little, with her eyes on the ground, and
"Will Granny burn?"
"She will, dearie."
From the stone an even gentle slope ran down to the bottom,
covered with soft green grass, which one longed to lie down on
or to touch with one's hands. . . Sasha lay down and rolled to
the bottom. Motka with a grave, severe face, taking a deep
breath, lay down, too, and rolled to the bottom, and in doing so
tore her smock from the hem to the shoulder.
"What fun it is!" said Sasha, delighted.
They walked up to the top to roll down again, but at that moment
they heard a shrill, familiar voice. Oh, how awful it was!
Granny, a toothless, bony, hunchbacked figure, with short grey
hair which was fluttering in the wind, was driving the geese out
of the kitchen-garden with a long stick, shouting.
"They have trampled all the cabbages, the damned brutes! I'd cut
your throats, thrice accursed plagues! Bad luck to you!"
She saw the little girls, flung down the stick and picked up a
switch, and, seizing Sasha by the neck with her fingers, thin
and hard as the gnarled branches of a tree, began whipping her.
Sasha cried with pain and terror, while the gander, waddling and
stretching his neck, went up to the old woman and hissed at her,
and when he went back to his flock all the geese greeted him
approvingly with "Ga-ga-ga!" Then Granny proceeded to whip
Motka, and in this Motka's smock was torn again. Feeling in
despair, and crying loudly, Sasha went to the hut to complain.
Motka followed her; she, too, was crying on a deeper note,
without wiping her tears, and her face was as wet as though it
had been dipped in water.
"Holy Saints!" cried Olga, aghast, as the two came into the hut.
"Queen of Heaven!"
Sasha began telling her story, while at the same time Granny
walked in with a storm of shrill cries and abuse; then Fyokla
flew into a rage, and there was an uproar in the hut.
"Never mind, never mind!" Olga, pale and upset, tried to comfort
them, stroking Sasha's head. "She is your grandmother; it's a
sin to be angry with her. Never mind, my child."
Nikolay, who was worn out already by the everlasting hubbub,
hunger, stifling fumes, filth, who hated and despised the
poverty, who was ashamed for his wife and daughter to see his
father and mother, swung his legs off the stove and said in an
irritable, tearful voice, addressing his mother:
"You must not beat her! You have no right to beat her!"
"You lie rotting on the stove, you wretched creature!" Fyokla
shouted at him spitefully. "The devil brought you all on us,
eating us out of house and home."
Sasha and Motka and all the little girls in the hut huddled on
the stove in the corner behind Nikolay's back, and from that
refuge listened in silent terror, and the beating of their
little hearts could be distinctly heard. Whenever there is
someone in a family who has long been ill, and hopelessly ill,
there come painful moments when all timidly, secretly, at the
bottom of their hearts long for his death; and only the children
fear the death of someone near them, and always feel horrified
at the thought of it. And now the children, with bated breath,
with a mournful look on their faces, gazed at Nikolay and
thought that he was soon to die; and they wanted to cry and to
say something friendly and compassionate to him.
He pressed close to Olga, as though seeking protection, and said
to her softly in a quavering voice:
"Olya darling, I can't stay here longer. It's more than I can
bear. For God's sake, for Christ's sake, write to your sister
Klavdia Abramovna. Let her sell and pawn everything she has; let
her send us the money. We will go away from here. Oh, Lord," he
went on miserably, "to have one peep at Moscow! If I could see
it in my dreams, the dear place!"
And when the evening came on, and it was dark in the hut, it was
so dismal that it was hard to utter a word. Granny, very
ill-tempered, soaked some crusts of rye bread in a cup, and was
a long time, a whole hour, sucking at them. Marya, after milking
the cow, brought in a pail of milk and set it on a bench; then
Granny poured it from the pail into a jug just as slowly and
deliberately, evidently pleased that it was now the Fast of the
Assumption, so that no one would drink milk and it would be left
untouched. And she only poured out a very little in a saucer for
Fyokla's baby. When Marya and she carried the jug down to the
cellar Motka suddenly stirred, clambered down from the stove,
and going to the bench where stood the wooden cup full of
crusts, sprinkled into it some milk from the saucer.
Granny, coming back into the hut, sat down to her soaked crusts
again, while Sasha and Motka, sitting on the stove, gazed at
her, and they were glad that she had broken her fast and now
would go to hell. They were comforted and lay down to sleep, and
Sasha as she dozed off to sleep imagined the Day of Judgment: a
huge fire was burning, somewhat like a potter's kiln, and the
Evil One, with horns like a cow's, and black all over, was
driving Granny into the fire with a long stick, just as Granny
herself had been driving the geese.