On the day of the Feast of the Assumption, between ten and
eleven in the evening, the girls and lads who were merrymaking
in the meadow suddenly raised a clamour and outcry, and ran in
the direction of the village; and those who were above on the
edge of the ravine could not for the first moment make out what
was the matter.
"Fire! Fire!" they heard desperate shouts from below. "The
village is on fire!"
Those who were sitting above looked round, and a terrible and
extraordinary spectacle met their eyes. On the thatched roof of
one of the end cottages stood a column of flame, seven feet
high, which curled round and scattered sparks in all directions
as though it were a fountain. And all at once the whole roof
burst into bright flame, and the crackling of the fire was
The light of the moon was dimmed, and the whole village was by
now bathed in a red quivering glow: black shadows moved over the
ground, there was a smell of burning, and those who ran up from
below were all gasping and could not speak for trembling; they
jostled against each other, fell down, and they could hardly see
in the unaccustomed light, and did not recognize each other. It
was terrible. What seemed particularly dreadful was that doves
were flying over the fire in the smoke; and in the tavern, where
they did not yet know of the fire, they were still singing and
playing the concertina as though there were nothing the matter.
"Uncle Semyon's on fire," shouted a loud, coarse voice.
Marya was fussing about round her hut, weeping and wringing her
hands, while her teeth chattered, though the fire was a long way
off at the other end of the village. Nikolay came out in high
felt boots, the children ran out in their little smocks. Near
the village constable's hut an iron sheet was struck. Boom,
boom, boom! . . . floated through the air, and this repeated,
persistent sound sent a pang to the heart and turned one cold.
The old women stood with the holy ikons. Sheep, calves, cows
were driven out of the back-yards into the street; boxes,
sheepskins, tubs were carried out. A black stallion, who was
kept apart from the drove of horses because he kicked and
injured them, on being set free ran once or twice up and down
the village, neighing and pawing the ground; then suddenly
stopped short near a cart and began kicking it with his
They began ringing the bells in the church on the other side of
Near the burning hut it was hot and so light that one could
distinctly see every blade of grass. Semyon, a red-haired
peasant with a long nose, wearing a reefer-jacket and a cap
pulled down right over his ears, sat on one of the boxes which
they had succeeded in bringing out: his wife was lying on her
face, moaning and unconscious. A little old man of eighty, with
a big beard, who looked like a gnome -- not one of the
villagers, though obviously connected in some way with the fire
-- walked about bareheaded, with a white bundle in his arms. The
glare was reflected on his bald head. The village elder, Antip
Syedelnikov, as swarthy and black-haired as a gypsy, went up to
the hut with an axe, and hacked out the windows one after
another -- no one knew why -- then began chopping up the roof.
"Women, water!" he shouted. "Bring the engine! Look sharp!"
The peasants, who had been drinking in the tavern just before,
dragged the engine up. They were all drunk; they kept stumbling
and falling down, and all had a helpless expression and tears in
"Wenches, water!" shouted the elder, who was drunk, too. "Look
The women and the girls ran downhill to where there was a
spring, and kept hauling pails and buckets of water up the hill,
and, pouring it into the engine, ran down again. Olga and Marya
and Sasha and Motka all brought water. The women and the boys
pumped the water; the pipe hissed, and the elder, directing it
now at the door, now at the windows, held back the stream with
his finger, which made it hiss more sharply still.
"Bravo, Antip!" voices shouted approvingly. "Do your best."
Antip went inside the hut into the fire and shouted from within.
"Pump! Bestir yourselves, good Christian folk, in such a
The peasants stood round in a crowd, doing nothing but staring
at the fire. No one knew what to do, no one had the sense to do
anything, though there were stacks of wheat, hay, barns, and
piles of faggots standing all round. Kiryak and old Osip, his
father, both tipsy, were standing there, too. And as though to
justify his doing nothing, old Osip said, addressing the woman
who lay on the ground:
"What is there to trouble about, old girl! The hut is insured --
why are you taking on?"
Semyon, addressing himself first to one person and then to
another, kept describing how the fire had started.
"That old man, the one with the bundle, a house-serf of General
Zhukov's. . . . He was cook at our general's, God rest his soul!
He came over this evening: 'Let me stay the night,' says he. . .
. Well, we had a glass, to be sure. . . . The wife got the
samovar -- she was going to give the old fellow a cup of tea,
and in an unlucky hour she set the samovar in the entrance. The
sparks from the chimney must have blown straight up to the
thatch; that's how it was. We were almost burnt ourselves. And
the old fellow's cap has been burnt; what a shame!"
And the sheet of iron was struck indefatigably, and the bells
kept ringing in the church the other side of the river. In the
glow of the fire Olga, breathless, looking with horror at the
red sheep and the pink doves flying in the smoke, kept running
down the hill and up again. It seemed to her that the ringing
went to her heart with a sharp stab, that the fire would never
be over, that Sasha was lost. . . . And when the ceiling of the
hut fell in with a crash, the thought that now the whole village
would be burnt made her weak and faint, and she could not go on
fetching water, but sat down on the ravine, setting the pail
down near her; beside her and below her, the peasant women sat
wailing as though at a funeral.
Then the stewards and watchmen from the estate the other side of
the river arrived in two carts, bringing with them a
fire-engine. A very young student in an unbuttoned white tunic
rode up on horseback. There was the thud of axes. They put a
ladder to the burning framework of the house, and five men ran
up it at once. Foremost of them all was the student, who was red
in the face and shouting in a harsh hoarse voice, and in a tone
as though putting out fires was a thing he was used to. They
pulled the house to pieces, a beam at a time; they dragged away
the corn, the hurdles, and the stacks that were near.
"Don't let them break it up!" cried stern voices in the crowd.
"Don't let them."
Kiryak made his way up to the hut with a resolute air, as though
he meant to prevent the newcomers from breaking up the hut, but
one of the workmen turned him back with a blow in his neck.
There was the sound of laughter, the workman dealt him another
blow, Kiryak fell down, and crawled back into the crowd on his
hands and knees.
Two handsome girls in hats, probably the student's sisters, came
from the other side of the river. They stood a little way off,
looking at the fire. The beams that had been dragged apart were
no longer burning, but were smoking vigorously; the student, who
was working the hose, turned the water, first on the beams, then
on the peasants, then on the women who were bringing the water.
"George!" the girls called to him reproachfully in anxiety,
The fire was over. And only when they began to disperse they
noticed that the day was breaking, that everyone was pale and
rather dark in the face, as it always seems in the early morning
when the last stars are going out. As they separated, the
peasants laughed and made jokes about General Zhukov's cook and
his cap which had been burnt; they already wanted to turn the
fire into a joke, and even seemed sorry that it had so soon been
"How well you extinguished the fire, sir!" said Olga to the
student. "You ought to come to us in Moscow: there we have a
fire every day."
"Why, do you come from Moscow?" asked one of the young ladies.
"Yes, miss. My husband was a waiter at the Slavyansky Bazaar.
And this is my daughter," she said, indicating Sasha, who was
cold and huddling up to her. "She is a Moscow girl, too."
The two young ladies said something in French to the student,
and he gave Sasha a twenty-kopeck piece.
Old Father Osip saw this, and there was a gleam of hope in his
"We must thank God, your honour, there was no wind," he said,
addressing the student, "or else we should have been all burnt
up together. Your honour, kind gentlefolks," he added in
embarrassment in a lower tone, "the morning's chilly . . .
something to warm one . . . half a bottle to your honour's
Nothing was given him, and clearing his throat he slouched home.
Olga stood afterwards at the end of the street and watched the
two carts crossing the river by the ford and the gentlefolks
walking across the meadow; a carriage was waiting for them the
other side of the river. Going into the hut, she described to
her husband with enthusiasm:
"Such good people! And so beautiful! The young ladies were like
"Plague take them!" Fyokla, sleepy, said spitefully.