- In the Ravine
Five days had passed. Anisim, who was
preparing to go, went upstairs to say good-bye to Varvara. All
the lamps were burning before the ikons, there was a smell of
incense, while she sat at the window knitting a stocking of red
"You have not stayed with us long," she said. "You've been dull,
I dare say. Oh, tut, tut. We live comfortably; we have plenty of
everything. We celebrated your wedding properly, in good style;
your father says it came to two thousand. In fact we live like
merchants, only it's dreary. We treat the people very badly. My
heart aches, my dear; how we treat them, my goodness! Whether we
exchange a horse or buy something or hire a labourer -- it's
cheating in everything. Cheating and cheating. The Lenten oil in
the shop is bitter, rancid, the people have pitch that is
better. But surely, tell me pray, couldn't we sell good oil?"
"Every man to his job, mamma."
"But you know we all have to die? Oy, oy, really you ought to
talk to your father . . . !"
"Why, you should talk to him yourself."
"Well, well, I did put in my word, but he said just what you do:
'Every man to his own job.' Do you suppose in the next world
they'll consider what job you have been put to? God's judgment
"Of course no one will consider," said Anisim, and he heaved a
sigh. "There is no God, anyway, you know, mamma, so what
considering can there be?"
Varvara looked at him with surprise, burst out laughing, and
clasped her hands. Perhaps because she was so genuinely
surprised at his words and looked at him as though he were a
queer person, he was confused.
"Perhaps there is a God, only there is no faith. When I was
being married I was not myself. Just as you may take an egg from
under a hen and there is a chicken chirping in it, so my
conscience was beginning to chirp in me, and while I was being
married I thought all the time there was a God! But when I left
the church it was nothing. And indeed, how can I tell whether
there is a God or not? We are not taught right from childhood,
and while the babe is still at his mother's breast he is only
taught 'every man to his own job.' Father does not believe in
God, either. You were saying that Guntorev had some sheep
stolen. . . . I have found them; it was a peasant at Shikalovo
stole them; he stole them, but father's got the fleeces . . . so
that's all his faith amounts to."
Anisim winked and wagged his head.
"The elder does not believe in God, either," he went on. "And
the clerk and the deacon, too. And as for their going to church
and keeping the fasts, that is simply to prevent people talking
ill of them, and in case it really may be true that there will
be a Day of Judgment. Nowadays people say that the end of the
world has come because people have grown weaker, do not honour
their parents, and so on. All that is nonsense. My idea, mamma,
is that all our trouble is because there is so little conscience
in people. I see through things, mamma, and I understand. If a
man has a stolen shirt I see it. A man sits in a tavern and you
fancy he is drinking tea and no more, but to me the tea is
neither here nor there; I see further, he has no conscience. You
can go about the whole day and not meet one man with a
conscience. And the whole reason is that they don't know whether
there is a God or not. . . . Well, good-bye, mamma, keep alive
and well, don't remember evil against me."
Anisim bowed down at Varvara's feet.
"I thank you for everything, mamma," he said. "You are a great
gain to our family. You are a very ladylike woman, and I am very
pleased with you."
Much moved, Anisim went out, but returned again and said:
"Samorodov has got me mixed up in something: I shall either make
my fortune or come to grief. If anything happens, then you must
comfort my father, mamma."
"Oh, nonsense, don't you worry, tut, tut, tut. . . God is
merciful. And, Anisim, you should be affectionate to your wife,
instead of giving each other sulky looks as you do; you might
smile at least."
"Yes, she is rather a queer one," said Anisim, and he gave a
sigh. "She does not understand anything, she never speaks. She
is very young, let her grow up."
A tall, sleek white stallion was already standing at the front
door, harnessed to the chaise.
Old Tsybukin jumped in jauntily with a run and took the reins.
Anisim kissed Varvara, Aksinya, and his brother. On the steps
Lipa, too, was standing; she was standing motionless, looking
away, and it seemed as though she had not come to see him off
but just by chance for some unknown reason. Anisim went up to
her and just touched her cheek with his lips.
"Good-bye," he said.
And without looking at him she gave a strange smile; her face
began to quiver, and everyone for some reason felt sorry for
her. Anisim, too, leaped into the chaise with a bound and put
his arms jauntily akimbo, for he considered himself a
When they drove up out of the ravine Anisim kept looking back
towards the village. It was a warm, bright day. The cattle were
being driven out for the first time, and the peasant girls and
women were walking by the herd in their holiday dresses. The
dun-coloured bull bellowed, glad to be free, and pawed the
ground with his forefeet. On all sides, above and below, the
larks were singing. Anisim looked round at the elegant white
church -- it had only lately been whitewashed -- and he thought
how he had been praying in it five days before; he looked round
at the school with its green roof, at the little river in which
he used once to bathe and catch fish, and there was a stir of
joy in his heart, and he wished that walls might rise up from
the ground and prevent him from going further, and that he might
be left with nothing but the past.
At the station they went to the refreshment room and drank a
glass of sherry each. His father felt in his pocket for his
purse to pay.
"I will stand treat," said Anisim. The old man, touched and
delighted, slapped him on the shoulder, and winked to the waiter
as much as to say, "See what a fine son I have got."
"You ought to stay at home in the business, Anisim," he said;
"you would be worth any price to me! I would shower gold on you
from head to foot, my son."
"It can't be done, papa."
The sherry was sour and smelt of sealing-wax, but they had
When old Tsybukin returned home from the station, for the first
moment he did not recognize his younger daughter-in-law. As soon
as her husband had driven out of the yard, Lipa was transformed
and suddenly brightened up. Wearing a threadbare old petticoat,
with her feet bare and her sleeves tucked up to the shoulders,
she was scrubbing the stairs in the entry and singing in a
silvery little voice, and when she brought out a big tub of
dirty water and looked up at the sun with her childlike smile it
seemed as though she, too, were a lark.
An old labourer who was passing by the door shook his head and
cleared his throat.
"Yes, indeed, your daughters-in-law, Grigory Petrovitch, are a
blessing from God," he said. "Not women, but treasures!"
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