- The New Villa
Two miles from the village of Obrutchanovo a
huge bridge was being built. From the village, which stood up
high on the steep river-bank, its trellis-like skeleton could be
seen, and in foggy weather and on still winter days, when its
delicate iron girders and all the scaffolding around was covered
with hoar frost, it presented a picturesque and even fantastic
spectacle. Kutcherov, the engineer who was building the bridge,
a stout, broad-shouldered, bearded man in a soft crumpled cap
drove through the village in his racing droshky or his open
carriage. Now and then on holidays navvies working on the bridge
would come to the village; they begged for alms, laughed at the
women, and sometimes carried off something. But that was rare;
as a rule the days passed quietly and peacefully as though no
bridge-building were going on, and only in the evening, when
camp fires gleamed near the bridge, the wind faintly wafted the
songs of the navvies. And by day there was sometimes the
mournful clang of metal, don-don-don.
It happened that the engineer's wife came to see him. She was
pleased with the river-banks and the gorgeous view over the
green valley with trees, churches, flocks, and she began begging
her husband to buy a small piece of ground and to build them a
cottage on it. Her husband agreed. They bought sixty acres of
land, and on the high bank in a field, where in earlier days the
cows of Obrutchanovo used to wander, they built a pretty house
of two storeys with a terrace and a verandah, with a tower and a
flagstaff on which a flag fluttered on Sundays -- they built it
in about three months, and then all the winter they were
planting big trees, and when spring came and everything began to
be green there were already avenues to the new house, a gardener
and two labourers in white aprons were digging near it, there
was a little fountain, and a globe of looking-glass flashed so
brilliantly that it was painful to look at. The house had
already been named the New Villa.
On a bright, warm morning at the end of May two horses were
brought to Obrutchanovo to the village blacksmith, Rodion Petrov.
They came from the New Villa. The horses were sleek, graceful
beasts, as white as snow, and strikingly alike.
"Perfect swans!" said Rodion, gazing at them with reverent
His wife Stepanida, his children and grandchildren came out into
the street to look at them. By degrees a crowd collected. The
Lytchkovs, father and son, both men with swollen faces and
entirely beardless, came up bareheaded. Kozov, a tall, thin old
man with a long, narrow beard, came up leaning on a stick with a
crook handle: he kept winking with his crafty eyes and smiling
ironically as though he knew something.
"It's only that they are white; what is there in them?" he said.
"Put mine on oats, and they will be just as sleek. They ought to
be in a plough and with a whip, too. . . ."
The coachman simply looked at him with disdain, but did not
utter a word. And afterwards, while they were blowing up the
fire at the forge, the coachman talked while he smoked
cigarettes. The peasants learned from him various details: his
employers were wealthy people; his mistress, Elena Ivanovna, had
till her marriage lived in Moscow in a poor way as a governess;
she was kind-hearted, compassionate, and fond of helping the
poor. On the new estate, he told them, they were not going to
plough or to sow, but simply to live for their pleasure, live
only to breathe the fresh air. When he had finished and led the
horses back a crowd of boys followed him, the dogs barked, and
Kozov, looking after him, winked sarcastically.
"Landowners, too-oo!" he said. "They have built a house and set
up horses, but I bet they are nobodies -- landowners, too-oo."
Kozov for some reason took a dislike from the first to the new
house, to the white horses, and to the handsome, well-fed
coachman. Kozov was a solitary man, a widower; he had a dreary
life (he was prevented from working by a disease which he
sometimes called a rupture and sometimes worms) he was
maintained by his son, who worked at a confectioner's in Harkov
and sent him money; and from early morning till evening he
sauntered at leisure about the river or about the village; if he
saw, for instance, a peasant carting a log, or fishing, he would
say: "That log's dry wood -- it is rotten," or, "They won't bite
in weather like this." In times of drought he would declare that
there would not be a drop of rain till the frost came; and when
the rains came he would say that everything would rot in the
fields, that everything was ruined. And as he said these things
he would wink as though he knew something.
At the New Villa they burned Bengal lights and sent up fireworks
in the evenings, and a sailing-boat with red lanterns floated by
Obrutchanovo. One morning the engineer's wife, Elena Ivanovna,
and her little daughter drove to the village in a carriage with
yellow wheels and a pair of dark bay ponies; both mother and
daughter were wearing broad-brimmed straw hats, bent down over
This was exactly at the time when they were carting manure, and
the blacksmith Rodion, a tall, gaunt old man, bareheaded and
barefooted, was standing near his dirty and repulsive-looking
cart and, flustered, looked at the ponies, and it was evident by
his face that he had never seen such little horses before.
"The Kutcherov lady has come!" was whispered around. "Look, the
Kutcherov lady has come!"
Elena Ivanovna looked at the huts as though she were selecting
one, and then stopped at the very poorest, at the windows of
which there were so many children's heads -- flaxen, red, and
dark. Stepanida, Rodion's wife, a stout woman, came running out
of the hut; her kerchief slipped off her grey head; she looked
at the carriage facing the sun, and her face smiled and wrinkled
up as though she were blind.
"This is for your children," said Elena Ivanovna, and she gave
her three roubles.
Stepanida suddenly burst into tears and bowed down to the
ground. Rodion, too, flopped to the ground, displaying his
brownish bald head, and as he did so he almost caught his wife
in the ribs with the fork. Elena Ivanovna was overcome with
confusion and drove back.