In the Ravine
- A. P. Chekhov
Nikifor was taken to the district hospital,
and towards evening he died there. Lipa did not wait for them to
come for her, but wrapped the dead baby in its little quilt and
carried it home.
The hospital, a new one recently built, with big windows, stood
high up on a hill; it was glittering from the setting sun and
looked as though it were on fire from inside. There was a little
village below. Lipa went down along the road, and before
reaching the village sat down by a pond. A woman brought a horse
down to drink and the horse did not drink.
"What more do you want?" said the woman to it softly. "What do
A boy in a red shirt, sitting at the water's edge, was washing
his father's boots. And not another soul was in sight either in
the village or on the hill.
"It's not drinking," said Lipa, looking at the horse.
Then the woman with the horse and the boy with the boots walked
away, and there was no one left at all. The sun went to bed
wrapped in cloth of gold and purple, and long clouds, red and
lilac, stretched across the sky, guarded its slumbers. Somewhere
far away a bittern cried, a hollow, melancholy sound like a cow
shut up in a barn. The cry of that mysterious bird was heard
every spring, but no one knew what it was like or where it
lived. At the top of the hill by the hospital, in the bushes
close to the pond, and in the fields the nightingales were
trilling. The cuckoo kept reckoning someone's years and losing
count and beginning again. In the pond the frogs called angrily
to one another, straining themselves to bursting, and one could
even make out the words: "That's what you are! That's what you
are!" What a noise there was! It seemed as though all these
creatures were singing and shouting so that no one might sleep
on that spring night, so that all, even the angry frogs, might
appreciate and enjoy every minute: life is given only once.
A silver half-moon was shining in the sky; there were many
stars. Lipa had no idea how long she sat by the pond, but when
she got up and walked on everybody was asleep in the little
village, and there was not a single light. It was probably about
nine miles' walk home, but she had not the strength, she had not
the power to think how to go: the moon gleamed now in front, now
on the right, and the same cuckoo kept calling in a voice grown
husky, with a chuckle as though gibing at her: "Oy, look out,
you'll lose your way!" Lipa walked rapidly; she lost the
kerchief from her head . . . she looked at the sky and wondered
where her baby's soul was now: was it following her, or floating
aloft yonder among the stars and thinking nothing now of his
mother? Oh, how lonely it was in the open country at night, in
the midst of that singing when one cannot sing oneself; in the
midst of the incessant cries of joy when one cannot oneself be
joyful, when the moon, which cares not whether it is spring or
winter, whether men are alive or dead, looks down as lonely,
too. . . . When there is grief in the heart it is hard to be
without people. If only her mother, Praskovya, had been with
her, or Crutch, or the cook, or some peasant!
"Boo-oo!" cried the bittern. "Boo-oo!"
And suddenly she heard clearly the sound of human speech: "Put
the horses in, Vavila!"
By the wayside a camp fire was burning ahead of her: the flames
had died down, there were only red embers. She could hear the
horses munching. In the darkness she could see the outlines of
two carts, one with a barrel, the other, a lower one with sacks
in it, and the figures of two men; one was leading a horse to
put it into the shafts, the other was standing motionless by the
fire with his hands behind his back. A dog growled by the carts.
The one who was leading the horse stopped and said:
"It seems as though someone were coming along the road."
"Sharik, be quiet!" the other called to the dog.
And from the voice one could tell that the second was an old
man. Lipa stopped and said:
"God help you."
The old man went up to her and answered not immediately:
"Your dog does not bite, grandfather?"
"No, come along, he won't touch you."
"I have been at the hospital," said Lipa after a pause. "My
little son died there. Here I am carrying him home."
It must have been unpleasant for the old man to hear this, for
he moved away and said hurriedly:
"Never mind, my dear. It's God's will. You are very slow, lad,"
he added, addressing his companion; "look alive!
"Your yoke's nowhere," said the young man; "it is not to be
"You are a regular Vavila."
The old man picked up an ember, blew on it -- only his eyes and
nose were lighted up -- then, when they had found the yoke, he
went with the light to Lipa and looked at her, and his look
expressed compassion and tenderness.
"You are a mother," he said; "every mother grieves for her
And he sighed and shook his head as he said it. Vavila threw
something on the fire, stamped on it -- and at once it was very
dark; the vision vanished, and as before there were only the
fields, the sky with the stars, and the noise of the birds
hindering each other from sleep. And the landrail called, it
seemed, in the very place where the fire had been.
But a minute passed, and again she could see the two carts and
the old man and lanky Vavila. The carts creaked as they went out
on the road.
"Are you holy men?" Lipa asked the old man.
"No. We are from Firsanovo."
"You looked at me just now and my heart was softened. And the
young man is so gentle. I thought you must be holy men."
"Are you going far?"
"Get in, we will give you a lift as far as Kuzmenki, then you go
straight on and we turn off to the left."
Vavila got into the cart with the barrel and the old man and
Lipa got into the other. They moved at a walking pace, Vavila in
"My baby was in torment all day," said Lipa. "He looked at me
with his little eyes and said nothing; he wanted to speak and
could not. Holy Father, Queen of Heaven! In my grief I kept
falling down on the floor. I stood up and fell down by the
bedside. And tell me, grandfather, why a little thing should be
tormented before his death? When a grown-up person, a man or
woman, are in torment their sins are forgiven, but why a little
thing, when he has no sins? Why?"
"Who can tell?" answered the old man.
They drove on for half an hour in silence.
"We can't know everything, how and wherefore," said the old man.
"It is ordained for the bird to have not four wings but two
because it is able to fly with two; and so it is ordained for
man not to know everything but only a half or a quarter. As much
as he needs to know so as to live, so much he knows."
"It is better for me to go on foot, grandfather. Now my heart is
all of a tremble."
"Never mind, sit still."
The old man yawned and made the sign of the cross over his
"Never mind," he repeated. "Yours is not the worst of sorrows.
Life is long, there will be good and bad to come, there will be
everything. Great is mother Russia," he said, and looked round
on each side of him. "I have been all over Russia, and I have
seen everything in her, and you may believe my words, my dear.
There will be good and there will be bad. I went as a delegate
from my village to Siberia, and I have been to the Amur River
and the Altai Mountains and I settled in Siberia; I worked the
land there, then I was homesick for mother Russia and I came
back to my native village. We came back to Russia on foot; and I
remember we went on a steamer, and I was thin as thin, all in
rags, barefoot, freezing with cold, and gnawing a crust, and a
gentleman who was on the steamer -- the kingdom of heaven be his
if he is dead -- looked at me pitifully, and the tears came into
his eyes. 'Ah,' he said, 'your bread is black, your days are
black. . . .' And when I got home, as the saying is, there was
neither stick nor stall; I had a wife, but I left her behind in
Siberia, she was buried there. So I am living as a day labourer.
And yet I tell you: since then I have had good as well as bad.
Here I do not want to die, my dear, I would be glad to live
another twenty years; so there has been more of the good. And
great is our mother Russia!" and again he gazed to each side and
"Grandfather," Lipa asked, "when anyone dies, how many days does
his soul walk the earth?"
"Who can tell! Ask Vavila here, he has been to school. Now they
teach them everything. Vavila!" the old man called to him.
"Vavila, when anyone dies how long does his soul walk the
Vavila stopped the horse and only then answered:
"Nine days. My uncle Kirilla died and his soul lived in our hut
thirteen days after."
"How do you know?"
"For thirteen days there was a knocking in the stove."
"Well, that's all right. Go on," said the old man, and it could
be seen that he did not believe a word of all that.
Near Kuzmenki the cart turned into the high road while Lipa went
straight on. It was by now getting light. As she went down into
the ravine the Ukleevo huts and the church were hidden in fog.
It was cold, and it seemed to her that the same cuckoo was
When Lipa reached home the cattle had not yet been driven out;
everyone was asleep. She sat down on the steps and waited. The
old man was the first to come out; he understood all that had
happened from the first glance at her, and for a long time he
could not articulate a word, but only moved his lips without a
"Ech, Lipa," he said, "you did not take care of my grandchild. .
Varvara was awakened. She clasped her hands and broke into sobs,
and immediately began laying out the baby.
"And he was a pretty child . . ." she said. "Oh, dear, dear. . .
. You only had the one child, and you did not take care enough
of him, you silly girl. . . ."
There was a requiem service in the morning and the evening. The
funeral took place the next day, and after it the guests and the
priests ate a great deal, and with such greed that one might
have thought that they had not tasted food for a long time. Lipa
waited at table, and the priest, lifting his fork on which there
was a salted mushroom, said to her:
"Don't grieve for the babe. For of such is the kingdom of
And only when they had all separated Lipa realized fully that
there was no Nikifor and never would be, she realized it and
broke into sobs. And she did not know what room to go into to
sob, for she felt that now that her child was dead there was no
place for her in the house, that she had no reason to be here,
that she was in the way; and the others felt it, too.
"Now what are you bellowing for?" Aksinya shouted, suddenly
appearing in the doorway; in honour of the funeral she was
dressed all in new clothes and had powdered her face. "Shut up!"
Lipa tried to stop but could not, and sobbed louder than ever.
"Do you hear?" shouted Aksinya, and she stamped her foot in
violent anger. "Who is it I am speaking to? Go out of the yard
and don't set foot here again, you convict s wife. Get away."
"There, there, there," the old man put in fussily. "Aksinya,
don't make such an outcry, my girl. . . . She is crying, it is
only natural . . . her child is dead. . . ."
" 'It's only natural,' " Aksinya mimicked him. "Let her stay the
night here, and don't let me see a trace of her here to-morrow!
'It's only natural!' . . ." she mimicked him again, and,
laughing, she went into the shop.
Early the next morning Lipa went off to her mother at Torguevo.