- In the Ravine
On Friday the 8th of July, Elizarov,
nicknamed Crutch, and Lipa were returning from the village of
Kazanskoe, where they had been to a service on the occasion of a
church holiday in the honour of the Holy Mother of Kazan. A good
distance after them walked Lipa's mother Praskovya, who always
fell behind, as she was ill and short of breath. It was drawing
"A-a-a . . ." said Crutch, wondering as he listened to Lipa.
"A-a! . . . We-ell!
"I am very fond of jam, Ilya Makaritch," said Lipa. "I sit down
in my little corner and drink tea and eat jam. Or I drink it
with Varvara Nikolaevna, and she tells some story full of
feeling. We have a lot of jam -- four jars. 'Have some, Lipa;
eat as much as you like.' "
"A-a-a, four jars!"
"They live very well. We have white bread with our tea; and
meat, too, as much as one wants. They live very well, only I am
frightened with them, Ilya Makaritch. Oh, oh, how frightened I
"Why are you frightened, child?" asked Crutch, and he looked
back to see how far Praskovya was behind.
"To begin with, when the wedding had been celebrated I was
afraid of Anisim Grigoritch. Anisim Grigoritch did nothing, he
didn't ill-treat me, only when he comes near me a cold shiver
runs all over me, through all my bones. And I did not sleep one
night, I trembled all over and kept praying to God. And now I am
afraid of Aksinya, Ilya Makaritch. It's not that she does
anything, she is always laughing, but sometimes she glances at
the window, and her eyes are so fierce and there is a gleam of
green in them -- like the eyes of the sheep in the shed. The
Hrymin Juniors are leading her astray: 'Your old man,' they tell
her, 'has a bit of land at Butyokino, a hundred and twenty
acres,' they say, 'and there is sand and water there, so you,
Aksinya,' they say, 'build a brickyard there and we will go
shares in it.' Bricks now are twenty roubles the thousand, it's
a profitable business. Yesterday at dinner Aksinya said to my
father-in-law: 'I want to build a brickyard at Butyokino; I'm
going into business on my own account.' She laughed as she said
it. And Grigory Petrovitch's face darkened, one could see he did
not like it. 'As long as I live,' he said, 'the family must not
break up, we must go on altogether.' She gave a look and gritted
her teeth. . . . Fritters were served, she would not eat them."
"A-a-a! . . ." Crutch was surprised.
"And tell me, if you please, when does she sleep?" said Lipa.
"She sleeps for half an hour, then jumps up and keeps walking
and walking about to see whether the peasants have not set fire
to something, have not stolen something. . . . I am frightened
with her, Ilya Makaritch. And the Hrymin Juniors did not go to
bed after the wedding, but drove to the town to go to law with
each other; and folks do say it is all on account of Aksinya.
Two of the brothers have promised to build her a brickyard, but
the third is offended, and the factory has been at a standstill
for a month, and my uncle Prohor is without work and goes about
from house to house getting crusts. 'Hadn't you better go
working on the land or sawing up wood, meanwhile, uncle?' I tell
him; 'why disgrace yourself?' 'I've got out of the way of it,'
he says; 'I don't know how to do any sort of peasant's work now,
Lipinka.' . . ."
They stopped to rest and wait for Praskovya near a copse of
young aspen-trees. Elizarov had long been a contractor in a
small way, but he kept no horses, going on foot all over the
district with nothing but a little bag in which there was bread
and onions, and stalking along with big strides, swinging his
arms. And it was difficult to walk with him.
At the entrance to the copse stood a milestone. Elizarov touched
it; read it. Praskovya reached them out of breath. Her wrinkled
and always scared-looking face was beaming with happiness; she
had been at church to-day like anyone else, then she had been to
the fair and there had drunk pear cider. For her this was
unusual, and it even seemed to her now that she had lived for
her own pleasure that day for the first time in her life. After
resting they all three walked on side by side. The sun had
already set, and its beams filtered through the copse, casting a
light on the trunks of the trees. There was a faint sound of
voices ahead. The Ukleevo girls had long before pushed on ahead
but had lingered in the copse, probably gathering mushrooms.
"Hey, wenches!" cried Elizarov. "Hey, my beauties!"
There was a sound of laughter in response.
"Crutch is coming! Crutch! The old horseradish."
And the echo laughed, too. And then the copse was left behind.
The tops of the factory chimneys came into view. The cross on
the belfry glittered: this was the village: "the one at which
the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral." Now they were
almost home; they only had to go down into the big ravine. Lipa
and Praskovya, who had been walking barefooted, sat down on the
grass to put on their boots; Elizar sat down with them. If they
looked down from above Ukleevo looked beautiful and peaceful
with its willow-trees, its white church, and its little river,
and the only blot on the picture was the roof of the factories,
painted for the sake of cheapness a gloomy ashen grey. On the
slope on the further side they could see the rye -- some in
stacks and sheaves here and there as though strewn about by the
storm, and some freshly cut lying in swathes; the oats, too,
were ripe and glistened now in the sun like mother-of-pearl. It
was harvest-time. To-day was a holiday, to-morrow they would
harvest the rye and carry the hay, and then Sunday a holiday
again; every day there were mutterings of distant thunder. It
was misty and looked like rain, and, gazing now at the fields,
everyone thought, God grant we get the harvest in in time; and
everyone felt gay and joyful and anxious at heart.
"Mowers ask a high price nowadays," said Praskovya. "One rouble
and forty kopecks a day."
People kept coming and coming from the fair at Kazanskoe:
peasant women, factory workers in new caps, beggars, children. .
. . Here a cart would drive by stirring up the dust and behind
it would run an unsold horse, and it seemed glad it had not been
sold; then a cow was led along by the horns, resisting
stubbornly; then a cart again, and in it drunken peasants
swinging their legs. An old woman led a little boy in a big cap
and big boots; the boy was tired out with the heat and the heavy
boots which prevented his bending his legs at the knees, but yet
blew unceasingly with all his might at a tin trumpet. They had
gone down the slope and turned into the street, but the trumpet
could still be heard.
"Our factory owners don't seem quite themselves . . ." said
Elizarov. "There's trouble. Kostukov is angry with me. 'Too many
boards have gone on the cornices.' 'Too many? As many have gone
on it as were needed, Vassily Danilitch; I don't eat them with
my porridge.' 'How can you speak to me like that?' said he, 'you
good-for-nothing blockhead! Don't forget yourself! It was I made
you a contractor.' 'That's nothing so wonderful,' said I. 'Even
before I was a contractor I used to have tea every day.' 'You
are a rascal . . .' he said. I said nothing. 'We are rascals in
this world,' thought I, 'and you will be rascals in the next. .
. .' Ha-ha-ha! The next day he was softer. 'Don't you bear
malice against me for my words, Makaritch,' he said. 'If I said
too much,' says he, 'what of it? I am a merchant of the first
guild, your superior -- you ought to hold your tongue.' 'You,'
said I, 'are a merchant of the first guild and I am a carpenter,
that's correct. And Saint Joseph was a carpenter, too. Ours is a
righteous calling and pleasing to God, and if you are pleased to
be my superior you are very welcome to it, Vassily Danilitch.'
And later on, after that conversation I mean, I thought: 'Which
was the superior? A merchant of the first guild or a carpenter?'
The carpenter must be, my child!"
Crutch thought a minute and added:
"Yes, that's how it is, child. He who works, he who is patient
is the superior."
By now the sun had set and a thick mist as white as milk was
rising over the river, in the church enclosure, and in the open
spaces round the factories. Now when the darkness was coming on
rapidly, when lights were twinkling below, and when it seemed as
though the mists were hiding a fathomless abyss, Lipa and her
mother who were born in poverty and prepared to live so till the
end, giving up to others everything except their frightened,
gentle souls, may have fancied for a minute perhaps that in the
vast, mysterious world, among the endless series of lives, they,
too, counted for something, and they, too, were superior to
someone; they liked sitting here at the top, they smiled happily
and forgot that they must go down below again all the same.
At last they went home again. The mowers were sitting on the
ground at the gates near the shop. As a rule the Ukleevo
peasants did not go to Tsybukin's to work, and they had to hire
strangers, and now in the darkness it seemed as though there
were men sitting there with long black beards. The shop was
open, and through the doorway they could see the deaf man
playing draughts with a boy. The mowers were singing softly,
scarcely audibly, or loudly demanding their wages for the
previous day, but they were not paid for fear they should go
away before to-morrow. Old Tsybukin, with his coat off, was
sitting in his waistcoat with Aksinya under the birch-tree,
drinking tea; a lamp was burning on the table.
"I say, grandfather," a mower called from outside the gates, as
though taunting him, "pay us half anyway! Hey, grandfather."
And at once there was the sound of laughter, and then again they
sang hardly audibly. . . . Crutch, too, sat down to have some
"We have been at the fair, you know," he began telling them. "We
have had a walk, a very nice walk, my children, praise the Lord.
But an unfortunate thing happened: Sashka the blacksmith bought
some tobacco and gave the shopman half a rouble to be sure. And
the half rouble was a false one" --Crutch went on, and he meant
to speak in a whisper, but he spoke in a smothered husky voice
which was audible to everyone. "The half-rouble turned out to be
a bad one. He was asked where he got it. 'Anisim Tsybukin gave
it me,' he said. 'When I went to his wedding,' he said. They
called the police inspector, took the man away. . . . Look out,
Grigory Petrovitch, that nothing comes of it, no talk. . . ."
"Gra-ndfather!" the same voice called tauntingly outside the
A silence followed.
"Ah, little children, little children, little children . . ."
Crutch muttered rapidly, and he got up. He was overcome with
drowsiness. "Well, thank you for the tea, for the sugar, little
children. It is time to sleep. I am like a bit of rotten timber
nowadays, my beams are crumbling under me. Ho-ho-ho! I suppose
it's time I was dead."
And he gave a gulp. Old Tsybukin did not finish his tea but sat
on a little, pondering; and his face looked as though he were
listening to the footsteps of Crutch, who was far away down the
"Sashka the blacksmith told a lie, I expect," said Aksinya,
guessing his thoughts.
He went into the house and came back a little later with a
parcel; he opened it, and there was the gleam of roubles --
perfectly new coins. He took one, tried it with his teeth, flung
it on the tray; then flung down another.
"The roubles really are false . . ." he said, looking at Aksinya
and seeming perplexed. "These are those Anisim brought, his
present. Take them, daughter," he whispered, and thrust the
parcel into her hands. "Take them and throw them into the well .
. . confound them! And mind there is no talk about it. Harm
might come of it. . . . Take away the samovar, put out the
Lipa and her mother sitting in the barn saw the lights go out
one after the other; only overhead in Varvara's room there were
blue and red lamps gleaming, and a feeling of peace, content,
and happy ignorance seemed to float down from there. Praskovya
could never get used to her daughter's being married to a rich
man, and when she came she huddled timidly in the outer room
with a deprecating smile on her face, and tea and sugar were
sent out to her. And Lipa, too, could not get used to it either,
and after her husband had gone away she did not sleep in her
bed, but lay down anywhere to sleep, in the kitchen or the barn,
and every day she scrubbed the floor or washed the clothes, and
felt as though she were hired by the day. And now, on coming
back from the service, they drank tea in the kitchen with the
cook, then they went into the barn and lay down on the ground
between the sledge and the wall. It was dark here and smelt of
harness. The lights went out about the house, then they could
hear the deaf man shutting up the shop, the mowers settling
themselves about the yard to sleep. In the distance at the
Hrymin Juniors' they were playing on the expensive concertina. .
. . Praskovya and Lipa began to go to sleep.
And when they were awakened by somebody's steps it was bright
moonlight; at the entrance of the barn stood Aksinya with her
bedding in her arms.
"Maybe it's a bit cooler here," she said; then she came in and
lay down almost in the doorway so that the moonlight fell full
She did not sleep, but breathed heavily, tossing from side to
side with the heat, throwing off almost all the bedclothes. And
in the magic moonlight what a beautiful, what a proud animal she
was! A little time passed, and then steps were heard again: the
old father, white all over, appeared in the doorway.
"Aksinya," he called, "are you here?"
"Well?" she responded angrily.
"I told you just now to throw the money into the well, have you
"What next, throwing property into the water! I gave them to the
mowers. . . ."
"Oh my God!" cried the old man, dumbfounded and alarmed. "Oh my
God! you wicked woman. . . ."
He flung up his hands and went out, and he kept saying something
as he went away. And a little later Aksinya sat up and sighed
heavily with annoyance, then got up and, gathering up her
bedclothes in her arms, went out.
"Why did you marry me into this family, mother?" said Lipa.
"One has to be married, daughter. It was not us who ordained
And a feeling of inconsolable woe was ready to take possession
of them. But it seemed to them that someone was looking down
from the height of the heavens, out of the blue from where the
stars were seeing everything that was going on in Ukleevo,
watching over them. And however great was wickedness, still the
night was calm and beautiful, and still in God's world there is
and will be truth and justice as calm and beautiful, and
everything on earth is only waiting to be made one with truth
and justice, even as the moonlight is blended with the night.
And both, huddling close to one another, fell asleep comforted.