- In the Ravine
In the village Shikalovo lived two
dressmakers, sisters, belonging to the Flagellant sect. The new
clothes for the wedding were ordered from them, and they often
came to try them on, and stayed a long while drinking tea. They
were making Varvara a brown dress with black lace and bugles on
it, and Aksinya a light green dress with a yellow front, with a
train. When the dressmakers had finished their work Tsybukin
paid them not in money but in goods from the shop, and they went
away depressed, carrying parcels of tallow candles and tins of
sardines which they did not in the least need, and when they got
out of the village into the open country they sat down on a
hillock and cried.
Anisim arrived three days before the wedding, rigged out in new
clothes from top to toe. He had dazzling india-rubber goloshes,
and instead of a cravat wore a red cord with little balls on it,
and over his shoulder he had hung an overcoat, also new, without
putting his arms into the sleeves.
After crossing himself sedately before the ikon, he greeted his
father and gave him ten silver roubles and ten half-roubles; to
Varvara he gave as much, and to Aksinya twenty quarter-roubles.
The chief charm of the present lay in the fact that all the
coins, as though carefully matched, were new and glittered in
the sun. Trying to seem grave and sedate he pursed up his face
and puffed out his cheeks, and he smelt of spirits. Probably he
had visited the refreshment bar at every station. And again
there was a free-and-easiness about the man -- something
superfluous and out of place. Then Anisim had lunch and drank
tea with the old man, and Varvara turned the new coins over in
her hand and inquired about villagers who had gone to live in
"They are all right, thank God, they get on quite well," said
Anisim. "Only something has happened to Ivan Yegorov: his old
wife Sofya Nikiforovna is dead. From consumption. They ordered
the memorial dinner for the peace of her soul at the
confectioner's at two and a half roubles a head. And there was
real wine. Those who were peasants from our village -- they paid
two and a half roubles for them, too. They ate nothing, as
though a peasant would understand sauce!"
"Two and a half," said his father, shaking his head.
"Well, it's not like the country there, you go into a restaurant
to have a snack of something, you ask for one thing and another,
others join till there is a party of us, one has a drink -- and
before you know where you are it is daylight and you've three or
four roubles each to pay. And when one is with Samorodov he
likes to have coffee with brandy in it after everything, and
brandy is sixty kopecks for a little glass."
"And he is making it all up," said the old man enthusiastically;
"he is making it all up, lying!"
"I am always with Samorodov now. It is Samorodov who writes my
letters to you. He writes splendidly. And if I were to tell you,
mamma," Anisim went on gaily, addressing Varvara, "the sort of
fellow that Samorodov is, you would not believe me. We call him
Muhtar, because he is black like an Armenian. I can see through
him, I know all his affairs like the five fingers of my hand,
and he feels that, and he always follows me about, we are
regular inseparables. He seems not to like it in a way, but he
can't get on without me. Where I go he goes. I have a correct,
trustworthy eye, mamma. One sees a peasant selling a shirt in
the market place. 'Stay, that shirt's stolen.' And really it
turns out it is so: the shirt was a stolen one."
"What do you tell from?" asked Varvara.
"Not from anything, I have just an eye for it. I know nothing
about the shirt, only for some reason I seem drawn to it: it's
stolen, and that's all I can say. Among us detectives it's come
to their saying, 'Oh, Anisim has gone to shoot snipe!' That
means looking for stolen goods. Yes. . . . Anybody can steal,
but it is another thing to keep! The earth is wide, but there is
nowhere to hide stolen goods."
"In our village a ram and two ewes were carried off last week,"
said Varvara, and she heaved a sigh, and there is no one to try
and find them. . . . Oh, tut, tut. ."
"Well, I might have a try. I don't mind."
The day of the wedding arrived. It was a cool but bright,
cheerful April day. People were driving about Ukleevo from early
morning with pairs or teams of three horses decked with many-coloured
ribbons on their yokes and manes, with a jingle of bells. The
rooks, disturbed by this activity, were cawing noisily in the
willows, and the starlings sang their loudest unceasingly as
though rejoicing that there was a wedding at the Tsybukins'.
Indoors the tables were already covered with long fish, smoked
hams, stuffed fowls, boxes of sprats, pickled savouries of
various sorts, and a number of bottles of vodka and wine; there
was a smell of smoked sausage and of sour tinned lobster. Old
Tsybukin walked about near the tables, tapping with his heels
and sharpening the knives against each other. They kept calling
Varvara and asking for things, and she was constantly with a
distracted face running breathlessly into the kitchen, where the
man cook from Kostukov's and the woman cook from Hrymin Juniors'
had been at work since early morning. Aksinya, with her hair
curled, in her stays without her dress on, in new creaky boots,
flew about the yard like a whirlwind showing glimpses of her
bare knees and bosom.
It was noisy, there was a sound of scolding and oaths;
passers-by stopped at the wide-open gates, and in everything
there was a feeling that something extraordinary was happening.
"They have gone for the bride!"
The bells began jingling and died away far beyond the village. .
. . Between two and three o'clock people ran up: again there was
a jingling of bells: they were bringing the bride! The church
was full, the candelabra were lighted, the choir were singing
from music books as old Tsybukin had wished it. The glare of the
lights and the bright coloured dresses dazzled Lipa; she felt as
though the singers with their loud voices were hitting her on
the head with a hammer. Her boots and the stays, which she had
put on for the first time in her life, pinched her, and her face
looked as though she had only just come to herself after
fainting; she gazed about without understanding. Anisim, in his
black coat with a red cord instead of a tie, stared at the same
spot lost in thought, and when the singers shouted loudly he
hurriedly crossed himself. He felt touched and disposed to weep.
This church was familiar to him from earliest childhood; at one
time his dead mother used to bring him here to take the
sacrament; at one time he used to sing in the choir; every ikon
he remembered so well, every corner. Here he was being married,
he had to take a wife for the sake of doing the proper thing,
but he was not thinking of that now, he had forgotten his
wedding completely. Tears dimmed his eyes so that he could not
see the ikons, he felt heavy at heart; he prayed and besought
God that the misfortunes that threatened him, that were ready to
burst upon him to-morrow, if not to-day, might somehow pass him
by as storm-clouds in time of drought pass over the village
without yielding one drop of rain. And so many sins were heaped
up in the past, so many sins, all getting away from them or
setting them right was so beyond hope that it seemed incongruous
even to ask forgiveness. But he did ask forgiveness, and even
gave a loud sob, but no one took any notice of that, since they
all supposed he had had a drop too much.
There was a sound of a fretful childish wail:
"Take me away, mamma darling!"
"Quiet there!" cried the priest.
When they returned from the church people ran after them; there
were crowds, too, round the shop, round the gates, and in the
yard under the windows. The peasant women came in to sing songs
of congratulation to them. The young couple had scarcely crossed
the threshold when the singers, who were already standing in the
outer room with their music books, broke into a loud chant at
the top of their voices; a band ordered expressly from the town
began playing. Foaming Don wine was brought in tall
wine-glasses, and Elizarov, a carpenter who did jobs by
contract, a tall, gaunt old man with eyebrows so bushy that his
eyes could scarcely be seen, said, addressing the happy pair:
"Anisim and you, my child, love one another, live in God's way,
little children, and the Heavenly Mother will not abandon you."
He leaned his face on the old father's shoulder and gave a sob.
"Grigory Petrovitch, let us weep, let us weep with joy!" he said
in a thin voice, and then at once burst out laughing in a loud
bass guffaw. "Ho-ho-ho! This is a fine daughter-in-law for you
too! Everything is in its place in her; all runs smoothly, no
creaking, the mechanism works well, lots of screws in it."
He was a native of the Yegoryevsky district, but had worked in
the factories in Ukleevo and the neighborhood from his youth up,
and had made it his home. He had been a familiar figure for
years as old and gaunt and lanky as now, and for years he had
been nicknamed "Crutch." Perhaps because he had been for forty
years occupied in repairing the factory machinery he judged
everybody and everything by its soundness or its need of repair.
And before sitting down to the table he tried several chairs to
see whether they were solid, and he touched the smoked fish
After the Don wine, they all sat down to the table. The visitors
talked, moving their chairs. The singers were singing in the
outer room. The band was playing, and at the same time the
peasant women in the yard were singing their songs all in chorus
-- and there was an awful, wild medley of sounds which made one
Crutch turned round in his chair and prodded his neighbours with
his elbows, prevented people from talking, and laughed and cried
"Little children, little children, little children," he muttered
rapidly. "Aksinya my dear, Varvara darling, we will live all in
peace and harmony, my dear little axes. . . ."
He drank little and was now only drunk from one glass of English
bitters. The revolting bitters, made from nobody knows what,
intoxicated everyone who drank it as though it had stunned them.
Their tongues began to falter.
The local clergy, the clerks from the factories with their
wives, the tradesmen and tavern-keepers from the other villages
were present. The clerk and the elder of the rural district who
had served together for fourteen years, and who had during all
that time never signed a single document for anybody nor let a
single person out of the local court without deceiving or
insulting him, were sitting now side by side, both fat and
well-fed, and it seemed as though they were so saturated in
injustice and falsehood that even the skin of their faces was
somehow peculiar, fraudulent. The clerk's wife, a thin woman
with a squint, had brought all her children with her, and like a
bird of prey looked aslant at the plates and snatched anything
she could get hold of to put in her own or her children's
Lipa sat as though turned to stone, still with the same
expression as in church. Anisim had not said a single word to
her since he had made her acquaintance, so that he did not yet
know the sound of her voice; and now, sitting beside her, he
remained mute and went on drinking bitters, and when he got
drunk he began talking to the aunt who was sitting opposite:
"I have a friend called Samorodov. A peculiar man. He is by rank
an honorary citizen, and he can talk. But I know him through and
through, auntie, and he feels it. Pray join me in drinking to
the health of Samorodov, auntie!"
Varvara, worn out and distracted, walked round the table
pressing the guests to eat, and was evidently pleased that there
were so many dishes and that everything was so lavish -- no one
could disparage them now. The sun set, but the dinner went on:
the guests were beyond knowing what they were eating or
drinking, it was impossible to distinguish what was said, and
only from time to time when the band subsided some peasant woman
could be heard shouting:
"They have sucked the blood out of us, the Herods; a pest on
In the evening they danced to the band. The Hrymin Juniors came,
bringing their wine, and one of them, when dancing a quadrille,
held a bottle in each hand and a wineglass in his mouth, and
that made everyone laugh. In the middle of the quadrille they
suddenly crooked their knees and danced in a squatting position;
Aksinya in green flew by like a flash, stirring up a wind with
her train. Someone trod on her flounce and Crutch shouted:
"Aie, they have torn off the panel! Children!"
Aksinya had nave grey eyes which rarely blinked, and a nave
smile played continually on her face. And in those unblinking
eyes, and in that little head on the long neck, and in her
slenderness there was something snake-like; all in green but for
the yellow on her bosom, she looked with a smile on her face as
a viper looks out of the young rye in the spring at the
passers-by, stretching itself and lifting its head. The Hrymins
were free in their behaviour to her, and it was very noticeable
that she was on intimate terms with the elder of them. But her
deaf husband saw nothing, he did not look at her; he sat with
his legs crossed and ate nuts, cracking them so loudly that it
sounded like pistol shots.
But, behold, old Tsybukin himself walked into the middle of the
room and waved his handkerchief as a sign that he, too, wanted
to dance the Russian dance, and all over the house and from the
crowd in the yard rose a roar of approbation:
"He's going to dance! He himself!"
Varvara danced, but the old man only waved his handkerchief and
kicked up his heels, but the people in the yard, propped against
one another, peeping in at the windows, were in raptures, and
for the moment forgave him everything -- his wealth and the
wrongs he had done them.
"Well done, Grigory Petrovitch!" was heard in the crowd. "That's
right, do your best! You can still play your part! Ha-ha!"
It was kept up till late, till two o'clock in the morning.
Anisim, staggering, went to take leave of the singers and
bandsmen, and gave each of them a new half-rouble. His father,
who was not staggering but still seemed to be standing on one
leg, saw his guests off, and said to each of them:
"The wedding has cost two thousand."
As the party was breaking up, someone took the Shikalovo
innkeeper's good coat instead of his own old one, and Anisim
suddenly flew into a rage and began shouting:
"Stop, I'll find it at once; I know who stole it, stop."
He ran out into the street and pursued someone. He was caught,
brought back home and shoved, drunken, red with anger, and wet,
into the room where the aunt was undressing Lipa, and was locked