Byezhin Prairie

 It was a glo­ri­ous July day, one of those days which only come after many days of fine weather. From ear­li­est morn­ing the sky is clear; the sun­rise does not glow with fire; it is suf­fused with a soft roseate flush. The sun, not fiery, not red-hot as in time of sti­fling drought, not dull pur­ple as be­fore a storm, but with a bright and ge­nial ra­di­ance, rises peace­fully be­hind a long and nar­row cloud, shines out freshly, and plunges again into its lilac mist. The del­i­cate upper edge of the strip of cloud flashes in lit­tle gleam­ing snakes; their bril­liance is like pol­ished sil­ver. But, lo! the danc­ing rays flash forth again, and in solemn joy, as though fly­ing up­ward, rises the mighty orb. About mid-day there is wont to be, high up in the sky, a mul­ti­tude of rounded clouds, golden-grey, with soft white edges. Like is­lands scat­tered over an over­flow­ing river, that bathes them in its un­bro­ken reaches of deep trans­par­ent blue, they scarcely stir; far­ther down the heav­ens they are in move­ment, pack­ing closer; now there is no blue to be seen be­tween them, but they are them­selves al­most as blue as the sky, filled full with light and heat. The colour of the hori­zon, a faint pale lilac, does not change all day, and is the same all round; nowhere is there storm gath­er­ing and dark­en­ing; only some­where rays of bluish colour stretch down from the sky; it is a sprin­kling of scarce- per­cep­ti­ble rain. In the evening these clouds dis­ap­pear; the last of them, black­ish and un­de­fined as smoke, lie streaked with pink, fac­ing the set­ting sun; in the place where it has gone down, as calmly as it rose, a crim­son glow lingers long over the dark­en­ing earth, and, softly flash­ing like a can­dle car­ried care­lessly, the evening star flick­ers in the sky. On such days all the colours are soft­ened, bright but not glar­ing; every­thing is suf­fused with a kind of touch­ing ten­der­ness. On such days the heat is some­times very great; often it is even ‘steam­ing’ on the slopes of the fields, but a wind dis­pels this grow­ing sul­tri­ness, and whirling ed­dies of dust—sure sign of set­tled, fine weather—move along the roads and across the fields in high white columns. In the pure dry air there is a scent of worm­wood, rye in blos­som, and buck­wheat; even an hour be­fore night­fall there is no mois­ture in the air. It is for such weather that the farmer longs, for har­vest­ing his wheat….On just such a day I was once out grouse-shoot­ing in the Tch­ern dis­trict of the province of Tula. I started and shot a fair amount of game; my full game-bag cut my shoul­der mer­ci­lessly; but al­ready the evening glow had faded, and the cool shades of twi­light were be­gin­ning to grow thicker, and to spread across the sky, which was still bright, though no longer lighted up by the rays of the set­ting sun, when I at last de­cided to turn back home­wards. With swift steps I passed through the long ‘square’ of un­der­woods, clam­bered up a hill, and in­stead of the fa­mil­iar plain I ex­pected to see, with the oak­wood on the right and the lit­tle white church in the dis­tance, I saw be­fore me a scene com­pletely dif­fer­ent, and quite new to me. A nar­row val­ley lay at my feet, and di­rectly fac­ing me a dense wood of as­pen-trees rose up like a thick wall. I stood still in per­plex­ity, looked round me…. ‘Aha!’ I thought, ‘I have some­how come wrong; I kept too much to the right,’ and sur­prised at my own mis­take, I rapidly de­scended the hill. I was at once plunged into a dis­agree­able cling­ing mist, ex­actly as though I had gone down into a cel­lar; the thick high grass at the bot­tom of the val­ley, all drenched with dew, was white like a smooth table­cloth; one felt afraid some­how to walk on it. I made haste to get on the other side, and walked along be­side the as­pen­wood, bear­ing to the left. Bats were al­ready hov­er­ing over its slum­ber­ing tree-tops, mys­te­ri­ously flit­ting and quiv­er­ing across the clear ob­scure of the sky; a young be­lated hawk flew in swift, straight course up­wards, has­ten­ing to its nest. ‘Here, di­rectly I get to this cor­ner,’ I thought to my­self, ‘I shall find the road at once; but I have come a mile out of my way!’I did at last reach the end of the wood, but there was no road of any sort there; some kind of low bushes over­grown with long grass ex­tended far and wide be­fore me; be­hind them in the far, far dis­tance could be dis­cerned a tract of waste land. I stopped again. ‘Well? Where am I?’ I began ran­sack­ing my brain to re­call how and where I had been walk­ing dur­ing the day…. ‘Ah! but these are the bushes at Parahin,’ I cried at last; ‘of course! then this must be Sindyev wood. But how did I get here? So far?… Strange! Now I must bear to the right again.’I went to the right through the bushes. Mean­time the night had crept close and grown up like a storm-cloud; it seemed as though, with the mists of evening, dark­ness was ris­ing up on all sides and flow­ing down from over­head. I had come upon some sort of lit­tle, un­trod­den, over­grown path; I walked along it, gaz­ing in­tently be­fore me. Soon all was black­ness and si­lence around—only the quail’s cry was heard from time to time. Some small night-bird, flit­ting noise­lessly near the ground on its soft wings, al­most flapped against me and skur­ried away in alarm. I came out on the fur­ther side of the bushes, and made my way along a field by the hedge. By now I could hardly make out dis­tant ob­jects; the field showed dimly white around; be­yond it rose up a sullen dark­ness, which seemed mov­ing up closer in huge masses every in­stant. My steps gave a muf­fled sound in the air, that grew colder and colder. The pale sky began again to grow blue—but it was the blue of night. The tiny stars glim­mered and twin­kled in it.What I had been tak­ing for a wood turned out to be a dark round hillock. ‘But where am I, then?’ I re­peated again aloud, stand­ing still for the third time and look­ing in­quir­ingly at my spot and tan Eng­lish dog, Di­anka by name, cer­tainly the most in­tel­li­gent of four-footed crea­tures. But the most in­tel­li­gent of four-footed crea­tures only wagged her tail, blinked her weary eyes de­ject­edly, and gave me no sen­si­ble ad­vice. I felt my­self dis­graced in her eyes and pushed des­per­ately for­ward, as though I had sud­denly guessed which way I ought to go; I scaled the hill, and found my­self in a hol­low of no great depth, ploughed round.A strange sen­sa­tion came over me at once. This hol­low had the form of an al­most per­fect caul­dron, with slop­ing sides; at the bot­tom of it were some great white stones stand­ing up­right—it seemed as though they had crept there for some se­cret coun­cil—and it was so still and dark in it, so dreary and weird seemed the sky, over­hang­ing it, that my heart sank. Some lit­tle an­i­mal was whin­ing fee­bly and piteously among the stones. I made haste to get out again on to the hillock. Till then I had not quite given up all hope of find­ing the way home; but at this point I fi­nally de­cided that I was ut­terly lost, and with­out any fur­ther at­tempt to make out the sur­round­ing ob­jects, which were al­most com­pletely plunged in dark­ness, I walked straight for­ward, by the aid of the stars, at ran­dom…. For about half-an-hour I walked on in this way, though I could hardly move one leg be­fore the other. It seemed as if I had never been in such a de­serted coun­try in my life; nowhere was there the glim­mer of a fire, nowhere a sound to be heard. One slop­ing hill­side fol­lowed an­other; fields stretched end­lessly upon fields; bushes seemed to spring up out of the earth under my very nose. I kept walk­ing and was just mak­ing up my mind to lie down some­where till morn­ing, when sud­denly I found my­self on the edge of a hor­ri­ble precipice.I quickly drew back my lifted foot, and through the al­most opaque dark­ness I saw far below me a vast plain. A long river skirted it in a semi-cir­cle, turned away from me; its course was marked by the steely re­flec­tion of the water still faintly glim­mer­ing here and there. The hill on which I found my­self ter­mi­nated abruptly in an al­most over­hang­ing precipice, whose gi­gan­tic pro­file stood out black against the dark-blue waste of sky, and di­rectly below me, in the cor­ner formed by this precipice and the plain near the river, which was there a dark, mo­tion­less mir­ror, under the lee of the hill, two fires side by side were smok­ing and throw­ing up red flames. Peo­ple were stir­ring round them, shad­ows hov­ered, and some­times the front of a lit­tle curly head was lighted up by the glow.I found out at last where I had got to. This plain was well known in our parts under the name of Byezhin Prairie…. But there was no pos­si­bil­ity of re­turn­ing home, es­pe­cially at night; my legs were sink­ing under me from weari­ness. I de­cided to get down to the fires and to wait for the dawn in the com­pany of these men, whom I took for drovers. I got down suc­cess­fully, but I had hardly let go of the last branch I had grasped, when sud­denly two large shaggy white dogs rushed an­grily bark­ing upon me. The sound of ring­ing boy­ish voices came from round the fires; two or three boys quickly got up from the ground. I called back in re­sponse to their shouts of in­quiry. They ran up to me, and at once called off the dogs, who were spe­cially struck by the ap­pear­ance of my Di­anka. I came down to them.I had been mis­taken in tak­ing the fig­ures sit­ting round the fires for drovers. They were sim­ply peas­ant boys from a neigh­bour­ing vil­lage, who were in charge of a drove of horses. In hot sum­mer weather with us they drive the horses out at night to graze in the open coun­try: the flies and gnats would give them no peace in the day­time; they drive out the drove to­wards evening, and drive them back in the early morn­ing: it’s a great treat for the peas­ant boys. Bare-headed, in old fur-capes, they be­stride the most spir­ited nags, and scurry along with merry cries and hoot­ing and ring­ing laugh­ter, swing­ing their arms and legs, and leap­ing into the air. The fine dust is stirred up in yel­low clouds and moves along the road; the tramp of hoofs in uni­son re­sounds afar; the horses race along, prick­ing up their ears; in front of all, with his tail in the air and this­tles in his tan­gled mane, prances some shaggy chest­nut, con­stantly shift­ing his paces as he goes.I told the boys I had lost my way, and sat down with them. They asked me where I came from, and then were silent for a lit­tle and turned away. Then we talked a lit­tle again. I lay down under a bush, whose shoots had been nib­bled off, and began to look round. It was a mar­vel­lous pic­ture; about the fire a red ring of light quiv­ered and seemed to swoon away in the em­brace of a back­ground of dark­ness; the flame flar­ing up from time to time cast swift flashes of light be­yond the bound­ary of this cir­cle; a fine tongue of light licked the dry twigs and died away at once; long thin shad­ows, in their turn break­ing in for an in­stant, danced right up to the very fires; dark­ness was strug­gling with light. Some­times, when the fire burnt low and the cir­cle of light shrank to­gether, sud­denly out of the en­croach­ing dark­ness a horse’s head was thrust in, bay, with striped mark­ings or all white, stared with in­tent blank eyes upon us, nipped hastily the long grass, and draw­ing back again, van­ished in­stantly. One could only hear it still munch­ing and snort­ing. From the cir­cle of light it was hard to make out what was going on in the dark­ness; every­thing close at hand seemed shut off by an al­most black cur­tain; but far­ther away hills and forests were dimly vis­i­ble in long blurs upon the hori­zon.The dark un­clouded sky stood, in­con­ceiv­ably im­mense, tri­umphant, above us in all its mys­te­ri­ous majesty. One felt a sweet op­pres­sion at one’s heart, breath­ing in that pe­cu­liar, over­pow­er­ing, yet fresh fra­grance— the fra­grance of a sum­mer night in Rus­sia. Scarcely a sound was to be heard around…. Only at times, in the river near, the sud­den splash of a big fish leap­ing, and the faint rus­tle of a reed on the bank, sway­ing lightly as the rip­ples reached it … the fires alone kept up a sub­dued crack­ling.The boys sat round them: there too sat the two dogs, who had been so eager to de­vour me. They could not for long after rec­on­cile them­selves to my pres­ence, and, drowsily blink­ing and star­ing into the fire, they growled now and then with an un­wonted sense of their own dig­nity; first they growled, and then whined a lit­tle, as though de­plor­ing the im­pos­si­bil­ity of car­ry­ing out their de­sires. There were al­to­gether five boys: Fedya, Pavlusha, Ilyusha, Kostya and Vanya. (From their talk I learnt their names, and I in­tend now to in­tro­duce them to the reader.)The first and el­dest of all, Fedya, one would take to be about four­teen. He was a well-made boy, with good-look­ing, del­i­cate, rather small fea­tures, curly fair hair, bright eyes, and a per­pet­ual half- merry, half-care­less smile. He be­longed, by all ap­pear­ances, to a well- to-do fam­ily, and had rid­den out to the prairie, not through ne­ces­sity, but for amuse­ment. He wore a gay print shirt, with a yel­low bor­der; a short new over­coat slung round his neck was al­most slip­ping off his nar­row shoul­ders; a comb hung from his blue belt. His boots, com­ing a lit­tle way up the leg, were cer­tainly his own—not his fa­ther’s. The sec­ond boy, Pavlusha, had tan­gled black hair, grey eyes, broad cheek- bones, a pale face pit­ted with small-pox, a large but well-cut mouth; his head al­to­gether was large—’a beer-bar­rel head,’ as they say—and his fig­ure was square and clumsy. He was not a good-look­ing boy— there’s no deny­ing it!—and yet I liked him; he looked very sen­si­ble and straight­for­ward, and there was a vig­or­ous ring in his voice. He had noth­ing to boast of in his at­tire; it con­sisted sim­ply of a home­spun shirt and patched trousers. The face of the third, Ilyusha, was rather un­in­ter­est­ing; it was a long face, with short-sighted eyes and a hook nose; it ex­pressed a kind of dull, fret­ful un­easi­ness; his tightly- drawn lips seemed rigid; his con­tracted brow never re­laxed; he seemed con­tin­u­ally blink­ing from the fire­light. His flaxen—al­most white—hair hung out in thin wisps under his low felt hat, which he kept pulling down with both hands over his ears. He had on new bast-shoes and leg­gings; a thick string, wound three times round his fig­ure, care­fully held to­gether his neat black smock. Nei­ther he nor Pavlusha looked more than twelve years old. The fourth, Kostya, a boy of ten, aroused my cu­rios­ity by his thought­ful and sor­row­ful look. His whole face was small, thin, freck­led, pointed at the chin like a squir­rel’s; his lips were barely per­cep­ti­ble; but his great black eyes, that shone with liq­uid bril­liance, pro­duced a strange im­pres­sion; they seemed try­ing to ex­press some­thing for which the tongue—his tongue, at least—had no words. He was un­der­sized and weakly, and dressed rather poorly. The re­main­ing boy, Vanya, I had not no­ticed at first; he was lying on the ground, peace­fully curled up under a square rug, and only oc­ca­sion­ally thrust his curly brown head out from under it: this boy was seven years old at the most.So I lay under the bush at one side and looked at the boys. A small pot was hang­ing over one of the fires; in it pota­toes were cook­ing. Pavlusha was look­ing after them, and on his knees he was try­ing them by pok­ing a splin­ter of wood into the boil­ing water. Fedya was lying lean­ing on his elbow, and smooth­ing out the skirts of his coat. Ilyusha was sit­ting be­side Kostya, and still kept blink­ing con­strainedly. Kostya’s head drooped de­spon­dently, and he looked away into the dis­tance. Vanya did not stir under his rug. I pre­tended to be asleep. Lit­tle by lit­tle, the boys began talk­ing again.At first they gos­siped of one thing and an­other, the work of to-mor­row, the horses; but sud­denly Fedya turned to Ilyusha, and, as though tak­ing up again an in­ter­rupted con­ver­sa­tion, asked him:’Come then, so you’ve seen the do­movoy?”No, I didn’t see him, and no one ever can see him,’ an­swered Ilyusha, in a weak hoarse voice, the sound of which was won­der­fully in keep­ing with the ex­pres­sion of his face; ‘I heard him…. Yes, and not I alone.”Where does he live—in your place?’ asked Pavlusha.’In the old pa­per-mill.”Why, do you go to the fac­tory?”Of course we do. My brother Av­dushka and I, we are pa­per-glaz­ers.”I say—fac­tory-hands!”Well, how did you hear it, then?’ asked Fedya.’It was like this. It hap­pened that I and my brother Av­dushka, with Fy­o­dor of Mi­hyevska, and Ivashka the Squint-eyed, and the other Ivashka who comes from the Red Hills, and Ivashka of Suho­rukov too—and there were some other boys there as well—there were ten of us boys there al­to­gether—the whole shift, that is—it hap­pened that we spent the night at the pa­per-mill; that’s to say, it didn’t hap­pen, but Nazarov, the over­seer, kept us. ‘Why,’ said he, “should you waste time going home, boys; there’s a lot of work to-mor­row, so don’t go home, boys.” So we stopped, and were all lying down to­gether, and Av­dushka had just begun to say, “I say, boys, sup­pose the do­movoy were to come?” And be­fore he’d fin­ished say­ing so, some one sud­denly began walk­ing over our heads; we were lying down below, and he began walk­ing up­stairs over­head, where the wheel is. We lis­tened: he walked; the boards seemed to be bend­ing under him, they creaked so; then he crossed over, above our heads; all of a sud­den the water began to drip and drip over the wheel; the wheel rat­tled and rat­tled and again began to turn, though the sluices of the con­duit above had been let down. We won­dered who could have lifted them up so that the water could run; any way, the wheel turned and turned a lit­tle, and then stopped. Then he went to the door over­head and began com­ing down-stairs, and came down like this, not hur­ry­ing him­self; the stairs seemed to groan under him too…. Well, he came right down to our door, and waited and waited … and all of a sud­den the door sim­ply flew open. We were in a fright; we looked— there was noth­ing…. Sud­denly what if the net on one of the vats didn’t begin mov­ing; it got up, and went ris­ing and duck­ing and mov­ing in the air as though some one were stir­ring with it, and then it was in its place again. Then, at an­other vat, a hook came off its nail, and then was on its nail again; and then it seemed as if some one came to the door, and sud­denly coughed and choked like a sheep, but so loudly!… We all fell down in a heap and hud­dled against one an­other…. Just weren’t we in a fright that night!”I say!’ mur­mured Pavel, ‘what did he cough for?”I don’t know; per­haps it was the damp.’All were silent for a lit­tle.’Well,’ in­quired Fedya, ‘are the pota­toes done?’Pavlusha tried them.’No, they are raw…. My, what a splash!’ he added, turn­ing his face in the di­rec­tion of the river; ‘that must be a pike…. And there’s a star falling.”I say, I can tell you some­thing, broth­ers,’ began Kostya, in a shrill lit­tle voice; ‘lis­ten what my dad told me the other day.”Well, we are lis­ten­ing,’ said Fedya with a pa­tro­n­is­ing air.’You know Gavrila, I sup­pose, the car­pen­ter up in the big vil­lage?”Yes, we know him.”And do you know why he is so sor­row­ful al­ways, never speaks? do you know? I’ll tell you why he’s so sor­row­ful; he went one day, daddy said, he went, broth­ers, into the for­est nut­ting. So he went nut­ting into the for­est and lost his way; he went on—God only can tell where he got to. So he went on and on, broth­ers—but ’twas no good!—he could not find the way; and so night came on out of doors. So he sat down under a tree. “I’ll wait till morn­ing,” thought he. He sat down and began to drop asleep. So as he was falling asleep, sud­denly he heard some one call him. He looked up; there was no one. He fell asleep again; again he was called. He looked and looked again; and in front of him there sat a rus­salka on a branch, swing­ing her­self and call­ing him to her, and sim­ply dying with laugh­ing; she laughed so…. And the moon was shin­ing bright, so bright, the moon shone so clear—every­thing could be seen plain, broth­ers. So she called him, and she her­self was as bright and as white sit­ting on the branch as some dace or a roach, or like some lit­tle carp so white and sil­very…. Gavrila the car­pen­ter al­most fainted, broth­ers, but she laughed with­out stop­ping, and kept beck­on­ing him to her like this. Then Gavrila was just get­ting up; he was just going to yield to the rus­salka, broth­ers, but—the Lord put it into his heart, doubt­less—he crossed him­self like this…. And it was so hard for him to make that cross, broth­ers; he said, “My hand was sim­ply like a stone; it would not move.” … Ugh! the hor­rid witch…. So when he made the cross, broth­ers, the rus­salka, she left off laugh­ing, and all at once how she did cry…. She cried, broth­ers, and wiped her eyes with her hair, and her hair was green as any hemp. So Gavrila looked and looked at her, and at last he fell to ques­tion­ing her. “Why are you weep­ing, wild thing of the woods?” And the rus­salka began to speak to him like this: “If you had not crossed your­self, man,” she says, “you should have lived with me in glad­ness of heart to the end of your days; and I weep, I am grieved at heart be­cause you crossed your­self; but I will not grieve alone; you too shall grieve at heart to the end of your days.” Then she van­ished, broth­ers, and at once it was plain to Gavrila how to get out of the for­est…. Only since then he goes al­ways sor­row­ful, as you see.”Ugh!’ said Fedya after a brief si­lence; ‘but how can such an evil thing of the woods ruin a Chris­t­ian soul—he did not lis­ten to her?”And I say!’ said Kostya. ‘Gavrila said that her voice was as shrill and plain­tive as a toad’s.”Did your fa­ther tell you that him­self?’ Fedya went on.’Yes. I was lying in the loft; I heard it all.”It’s a strange thing. Why should he be sor­row­ful?… But I sup­pose she liked him, since she called him.”Ay, she liked him!’ put in Ilyusha. ‘Yes, in­deed! she wanted to tickle him to death, that’s what she wanted. That’s what they do, those rus­salkas.”There ought to be rus­salkas here too, I sup­pose,’ ob­served Fedya.’No,’ an­swered Kostya, ‘this is a holy open place. There’s one thing, though: the river’s near.’All were silent. Sud­denly from out of the dis­tance came a pro­longed, res­o­nant, al­most wail­ing sound, one of those in­ex­plic­a­ble sounds of the night, which break upon a pro­found still­ness, rise upon the air, linger, and slowly die away at last. You lis­ten: it is as though there were noth­ing, yet it echoes still. It is as though some one had ut­tered a long, long cry upon the very hori­zon, as though some other had an­swered him with shrill harsh laugh­ter in the for­est, and a faint, hoarse hiss­ing hov­ers over the river. The boys looked round about shiv­er­ing….’Christ’s aid be with us!’ whis­pered Ilyusha.’Ah, you craven crows!’ cried Pavel, ‘what are you fright­ened of? Look, the pota­toes are done.’ (They all came up to the pot and began to eat the smok­ing pota­toes; only Vanya did not stir.) ‘Well, aren’t you com­ing?’ said Pavel.But he did not creep out from under his rug. The pot was soon com­pletely emp­tied.’Have you heard, boys,’ began Ilyusha, ‘what hap­pened with us atVar­nav­itsi?”Near the dam?’ asked Fedya.’Yes, yes, near the dam, the bro­ken-down dam. That is a haunted place, such a haunted place, and so lonely. All round there are pits and quar­ries, and there are al­ways snakes in pits.”Well, what did hap­pen? Tell us.”Well, this is what hap­pened. You don’t know, per­haps, Fedya, but there a drowned man was buried; he was drowned long, long ago, when the water was still deep; only his grave can still be seen, though it can only just be seen … like this—a lit­tle mound…. So one day the bailiff called the hunts­man Yer­mil, and says to him, “Go to the post, Yer­mil.” Yer­mil al­ways goes to the post for us; he has let all his dogs die; they never will live with him, for some rea­son, and they have never lived with him, though he’s a good hunts­man, and every­one liked him. So Yer­mil went to the post, and he stayed a bit in the town, and when he rode back, he was a lit­tle tipsy. It was night, a fine night; the moon was shin­ing…. So Yer­mil rode across the dam; his way lay there. So, as he rode along, he saw, on the drowned man’s grave, a lit­tle lamb, so white and curly and pretty, run­ning about. So Yer­mil thought, “I will take him,” and he got down and took him in his arms. But the lit­tle lamb didn’t take any no­tice. So Yer­mil goes back to his horse, and the horse stares at him, and snorts and shakes his head; how­ever, he said “wo” to him and sat on him with the lamb, and rode on again; he held the lamb in front of him. He looks at him, and the lamb looks him straight in the face, like this. Yer­mil the hunts­man felt upset. “I don’t re­mem­ber,” he said, “that lambs ever look at any one like that”; how­ever, he began to stroke it like this on its wool, and to say, “Chucky! chucky!” And the lamb sud­denly showed its teeth and said too, “Chucky! chucky!”‘The boy who was telling the story had hardly ut­tered this last word, when sud­denly both dogs got up at once, and, bark­ing con­vul­sively, rushed away from the fire and dis­ap­peared in the dark­ness. All the boys were alarmed. Vanya jumped up from under his rug. Pavlusha ran shout­ing after the dogs. Their bark­ing quickly grew fainter in the dis­tance…. There was the noise of the un­easy tramp of the fright­ened drove of horses. Pavlusha shouted aloud: ‘Hey Grey! Bee­tle!’ … In a few min­utes the bark­ing ceased; Pavel’s voice sounded still in the dis­tance…. A lit­tle time more passed; the boys kept look­ing about in per­plex­ity, as though ex­pect­ing some­thing to hap­pen…. Sud­denly the tramp of a gal­lop­ing horse was heard; it stopped short at the pile of wood, and, hang­ing on to the mane, Pavel sprang nim­bly off it. Both the dogs also leaped into the cir­cle of light and at once sat down, their red tongues hang­ing out.’What was it? what was it?’ asked the boys.’Noth­ing,’ an­swered Pavel, wav­ing his hand to his horse; ‘I sup­pose the dogs scented some­thing. I thought it was a wolf,’ he added, calmly draw­ing deep breaths into his chest.I could not help ad­mir­ing Pavel. He was very fine at that mo­ment. His ugly face, an­i­mated by his swift ride, glowed with hardi­hood and de­ter­mi­na­tion. With­out even a switch in his hand, he had, with­out the slight­est hes­i­ta­tion, rushed out into the night alone to face a wolf…. ‘What a splen­did fel­low!’ I thought, look­ing at him.’Have you seen any wolves, then?’ asked the trem­bling Kostya.’There are al­ways a good many of them here,’ an­swered Pavel; ‘but they are only trou­ble­some in the win­ter.’He crouched down again be­fore the fire. As he sat down on the ground, he laid his hand on the shaggy head of one of the dogs. For a long while the flat­tered brute did not turn his head, gaz­ing side­wise with grate­ful pride at Pavlusha.Vanya lay down under his rug again.’What dread­ful things you were telling us, Ilyusha!’ began Fedya, whose part it was, as the son of a well-to-do peas­ant, to lead the con­ver­sa­tion. (He spoke lit­tle him­self, ap­par­ently afraid of low­er­ing his dig­nity.) ‘And then some evil spirit set the dogs bark­ing…. Cer­tainly I have heard that place was haunted.”Var­nav­itsi?… I should think it was haunted! More than once, they say, they have seen the old mas­ter there—the late mas­ter. He wears, they say, a long skirted coat, and keeps groan­ing like this, and look­ing for some­thing on the ground. Once grand­fa­ther Trofim­itch met him. “What,” says he, “your ho­n­our, Ivan Ivan­itch, are you pleased to look for on the ground?””He asked him?’ put in Fedya in amaze­ment.’Yes, he asked him.”Well, I call Trofim­itch a brave fel­low after that…. Well, what did he say?””I am look­ing for the herb that cleaves all things,” says he. But he speaks so thickly, so thickly. “And what, your ho­n­our, Ivan Ivan­itch, do you want with the herb that cleaves all things?” “The tomb weighs on me; it weighs on me, Trofim­itch: I want to get away—away.”‘
‘My word!’ ob­served Fedya, ‘he didn’t enjoy his life enough, I sup­pose.”What a mar­vel!’ said Kosyta. ‘I thought one could only see the de­parted on All Hal­lows’ day.”One can see the de­parted any time,’ Ilyusha in­ter­posed with con­vic­tion. From what I could ob­serve, I judged he knew the vil­lage su­per­sti­tions bet­ter than the oth­ers…. ‘But on All Hal­lows’ day you can see the liv­ing too; those, that is, whose turn it is to die that year. You need only sit in the church porch, and keep look­ing at the road. They will come by you along the road; those, that is, who will die that year. Last year old Ulyana went to the porch.”Well, did she see any­one?’ asked Kostya in­quis­i­tively.’To be sure she did. At first she sat a long, long while, and saw no one and heard noth­ing … only it seemed as if some dog kept whin­ing and whin­ing like this some­where…. Sud­denly she looks up: a boy comes along the road with only a shirt on. She looked at him. It was Ivashka Fe­dosyev.”He who died in the spring?’ put in Fedya.’Yes, he. He came along and never lifted up his head. But Ulyana knew him. And then she looks again: a woman came along. She stared and stared at her…. Ah, God Almighty! … it was her­self com­ing along the road; Ulyana her­self.”Could it be her­self?’ asked Fedya.’Yes, by God, her­self.”Well, but she is not dead yet, you know?’ ‘But the year is not over yet. And only look at her; her life hangs on a thread.’All were still again. Pavel threw a hand­ful of dry twigs on to the fire. They were soon charred by the sud­denly leap­ing flame; they cracked and smoked, and began to con­tract, curl­ing up their burn­ing ends. Gleams of light in bro­ken flashes glanced in all di­rec­tions, es­pe­cially up­wards. Sud­denly a white dove flew straight into the bright light, flut­tered round and round in ter­ror, bathed in the red glow, and dis­ap­peared with a whirr of its wings.’It’s lost its home, I sup­pose,’ re­marked Pavel. ‘Now it will fly till it gets some­where, where it can rest till dawn.”Why, Pavlusha,’ said Kostya, ‘might it not be a just soul fly­ing to heaven?’Pavel threw an­other hand­ful of twigs on to the fire.’Per­haps,’ he said at last.’But tell us, please, Pavlusha,’ began Fedya, ‘what was seen in your parts at Sha­la­m­ovy at the heav­enly por­tent?”When the sun could not be seen? Yes, in­deed.”Were you fright­ened then?”Yes; and we weren’t the only ones. Our mas­ter, though he talked to us be­fore­hand, and said there would be a heav­enly por­tent, yet when it got dark, they say he him­self was fright­ened out of his wits. And in the house-serfs’ cot­tage the old woman, di­rectly it grew dark, broke all the dishes in the oven with the poker. ‘Who will eat now?’ she said; ‘the last day has come.’ So the soup was all run­ning about the place. And in the vil­lage there were such tales about among us: that white wolves would run over the earth, and would eat men, that a bird of prey would pounce down on us, and that they would even see Tr­ishka.”What is Tr­ishka?’ asked Kostya.’Why, don’t you know?’ in­ter­rupted Ilyusha warmly. ‘Why, brother, where have you been brought up, not to know Tr­ishka? You’re a stay-at-home, one-eyed lot in your vil­lage, re­ally! Tr­ishka will be a mar­vel­lous man, who will come one day, and he will be such a mar­vel­lous man that they will never be able to catch him, and never be able to do any­thing with him; he will be such a mar­vel­lous man. The peo­ple will try to take him; for ex­am­ple, they will come after him with sticks, they will sur­round him, but he will blind their eyes so that they fall upon one an­other. They will put him in prison, for ex­am­ple; he will ask for a lit­tle water to drink in a bowl; they will bring him the bowl, and he will plunge into it and van­ish from their sight. They will put chains on him, but he will only clap his hands—they will fall off him. So this Tr­ishka will go through vil­lages and towns; and this Tr­ishka will be a wily man; he will lead astray Christ’s peo­ple … and they will be able to do noth­ing to him…. He will be such a mar­vel­lous, wily man.”Well, then,’ con­tin­ued Pavel, in his de­lib­er­ate voice, ‘that’s what he ‘s like. And so they ex­pected him in our parts. The old men de­clared that di­rectly the heav­enly por­tent began, Tr­ishka would come. So the heav­enly por­tent began. All the peo­ple were scat­tered over the street, in the fields, wait­ing to see what would hap­pen. Our place, you know, is open coun­try. They look; and sud­denly down the moun­tain-side from the big vil­lage comes a man of some sort; such a strange man, with such a won­der­ful head … that all scream: “Oy, Tr­ishka is com­ing! Oy, Tr­ishka is com­ing!” and all run in all di­rec­tions! Our elder crawled into a ditch; his wife stum­bled on the door-board and screamed with all her might; she ter­ri­fied her yard-dog, so that he broke away from his chain and over the hedge and into the for­est; and Kuzka’s fa­ther, Do­ro­fy­itch, ran into the oats, lay down there, and began to cry like a quail. ‘Per­haps’ says he, ‘the Enemy, the De­stroyer of Souls, will spare the birds, at least.’ So they were all in such a scare! But he that was com­ing was our cooper Vav­ila; he had bought him­self a new pitcher, and had put the empty pitcher over his head.’All the boys laughed; and again there was a si­lence for a while, as often hap­pens when peo­ple are talk­ing in the open air. I looked out into the solemn, ma­jes­tic still­ness of the night; the dewy fresh­ness of late evening had been suc­ceeded by the dry heat of mid­night; the dark­ness still had long to lie in a soft cur­tain over the slum­ber­ing fields; there was still a long while left be­fore the first whis­per­ings, the first dew­drops of dawn. There was no moon in the heav­ens; it rose late at that time. Count­less golden stars, twin­kling in ri­valry, seemed all run­ning softly to­wards the Milky Way, and truly, look­ing at them, you were al­most con­scious of the whirling, never—rest­ing mo­tion of the earth…. A strange, harsh, painful cry, sounded twice to­gether over the river, and a few mo­ments later, was re­peated far­ther down….Kostya shud­dered. ‘What was that?”That was a heron’s cry,’ replied Pavel tran­quilly.’A heron,’ re­peated Kostya…. ‘And what was it, Pavlusha, I heard yes­ter­day evening,’ he added, after a short pause; ‘you per­haps will know.”What did you hear?”I will tell you what I heard. I was going from Stony Ridge to Shashkino; I went first through our wal­nut wood, and then passed by a lit­tle pool—you know where there’s a sharp turn down to the ravine— there is a wa­ter-pit there, you know; it is quite over­grown with reeds; so I went near this pit, broth­ers, and sud­denly from this came a sound of some one groan­ing, and piteously, so piteously; oo-oo, oo-oo! I was in such a fright, my broth­ers; it was late, and the voice was so mis­er­able. I felt as if I should cry my­self…. What could that have been, eh?”It was in that pit the thieves drowned Akim the forester, last sum­mer,’ ob­served Pavel; ‘so per­haps it was his soul lament­ing.”Oh, dear, re­ally, broth­ers,’ replied Kostya, open­ing wide his eyes, which were round enough be­fore, ‘I did not know they had drowned Akim in that pit. Shouldn’t I have been fright­ened if I’d known!”But they say there are lit­tle, tiny frogs,’ con­tin­ued Pavel, ‘who cry piteously like that.”Frogs? Oh, no, it was not frogs, cer­tainly not. (A heron again ut­tered a cry above the river.) Ugh, there it is!’ Kostya cried in­vol­un­tar­ily; ‘it is just like a wood-spirit shriek­ing.”The wood-spirit does not shriek; it is dumb,’ put in Ilyusha; ‘it only claps its hands and rat­tles.”And have you seen it then, the wood-spirit?’ Fedya asked him iron­i­cally.’No, I have not seen it, and God pre­serve me from see­ing it; but oth­ers have seen it. Why, one day it mis­led a peas­ant in our parts, and led him through the woods and all in a cir­cle in one field…. He scarcely got home till day­light.”Well, and did he see it?”Yes. He says it was a big, big crea­ture, dark, wrapped up, just like a tree; you could not make it out well; it seemed to hide away from the moon, and kept star­ing and star­ing with its great eyes, and wink­ing and wink­ing with them….”Ugh!’ ex­claimed Fedya with a slight shiver, and a shrug of the shoul­ders; ‘pfoo.”And how does such an un­clean brood come to exist in the world?’ saidPavel; ‘it’s a won­der.”Don’t speak ill of it; take care, it will hear you,’ said Ilyusha.Again there was a si­lence.’Look, look, broth­ers,’ sud­denly came Vanya’s child­ish voice; ‘look atGod’s lit­tle stars; they are swarm­ing like bees!’He put his fresh lit­tle face out from under his rug, leaned on his lit­tle fist, and slowly lifted up his large soft eyes. The eyes of all the boys were raised to the sky, and they were not low­ered quickly.’Well, Vanya,’ began Fedya ca­ress­ingly, ‘is your sis­ter Anyutka well?”Yes, she is very well,’ replied Vanya with a slight lisp.’You ask her, why doesn’t she come to see us?”I don’t know.”You tell her to come.”Very well.”Tell her I have a pre­sent for her.”And a pre­sent for me too?”Yes, you too.’Vanya sighed.’No; I don’t want one. Bet­ter give it to her; she is so kind to us at home.’And Vanya laid his head down again on the ground. Pavel got up and took the empty pot in his hand.’Where are you going?’ Fedya asked him.’To the river, to get water; I want some water to drink.’The dogs got up and fol­lowed him.’Take care you don’t fall into the river!’ Ilyusha cried after him.’Why should he fall in?’ said Fedya. ‘He will be care­ful.”Yes, he will be care­ful. But all kinds of things hap­pen; he will stoop over, per­haps, to draw the water, and the wa­ter-spirit will clutch him by the hand, and drag him to him. Then they will say, “The boy fell into the water.” … Fell in, in­deed! … “There, he has crept in among the reeds,” he added, lis­ten­ing.The reeds cer­tainly ‘shished,’ as they call it among us, as they were parted.’But is it true,’ asked Kostya, ‘that crazy Akulina has been mad ever since she fell into the water?”Yes, ever since…. How dread­ful she is now! But they say she was a beauty be­fore then. The wa­ter-spirit be­witched her. I sup­pose he did not ex­pect they would get her out so soon. So down there at the bot­tom he be­witched her.'(I had met this Akulina more than once. Cov­ered with rags, fear­fully thin, with face as black as a coal, blear-eyed and for ever grin­ning, she would stay whole hours in one place in the road, stamp­ing with her feet, press­ing her flesh­less hands to her breast, and slowly shift­ing from one leg to the other, like a wild beast in a cage. She un­der­stood noth­ing that was said to her, and only chuck­led spas­mod­i­cally from time to time.)’But they say,’ con­tin­ued Kostya, ‘that Akulina threw her­self into the river be­cause her lover had de­ceived her.”Yes, that was it.”And do you re­mem­ber Vasya? added Kostya, mourn­fully.’What Vasya?’ asked Fedya.’Why, the one who was drowned,’ replied Kostya,’ in this very river. Ah, what a boy he was! What a boy he was! His mother, Fek­lista, how she loved him, her Vasya! And she seemed to have a fore­bod­ing, Fek­lista did, that harm would come to him from the water. Some­times, when Vasya went with us boys in the sum­mer to bathe in the river, she used to be trem­bling all over. The other women did not mind; they passed by with the pails, and went on, but Fek­lista put her pail down on the ground, and set to call­ing him, ‘Come back, come back, my lit­tle joy; come back, my dar­ling!’ And no one knows how he was drowned. He was play­ing on the bank, and his mother was there hay­mak­ing; sud­denly she hears, as though some one was blow­ing bub­bles through the water, and be­hold! there was only Vasya’s lit­tle cap to be seen swim­ming on the water. You know since then Fek­lista has not been right in her mind: she goes and lies down at the place where he was drowned; she lies down, broth­ers, and sings a song—you re­mem­ber Vasya was al­ways singing a song like that—so she sings it too, and weeps and weeps, and bit­terly rails against God.”Here is Pavlusha com­ing,’ said Fedya.Pavel came up to the fire with a full pot in his hand.’Boys,’ he began, after a short si­lence, ‘some­thing bad hap­pened.”Oh, what?’ asked Kostya hur­riedly.’I heard Vasya’s voice.’They all seemed to shud­der.’What do you mean? what do you mean?’ stam­mered Kostya.’I don’t know. Only I went to stoop down to the water; sud­denly I hear my name called in Vasya’s voice, as though it came from below water: “Pavlusha, Pavlusha, come here.” I came away. But I fetched the water, though.”Ah, God have mercy upon us!’ said the boys, cross­ing them­selves.’It was the wa­ter-spirit call­ing you, Pavel,’ said Fedya; ‘we were just talk­ing of Vasya.”Ah, it’s a bad omen,’ said Ilyusha, de­lib­er­ately.’Well, never mind, don’t bother about it,’ Pavel de­clared stoutly, and he sat down again; ‘no one can es­cape his fate.’The boys were still. It was clear that Pavel’s words had pro­duced a strong im­pres­sion on them. They began to lie down be­fore the fire as though prepar­ing to go to sleep.’What is that?’ asked Kostya, sud­denly lift­ing his head.Pavel lis­tened.’It’s the curlews fly­ing and whistling.”Where are they fly­ing to?”To a land where, they say, there is no win­ter.”But is there such a land?”Yes.”Is it far away?”Far, far away, be­yond the warm seas.’Kostya sighed and shut his eyes.More than three hours had passed since I first came across the boys. The moon at last had risen; I did not no­tice it at first; it was such a tiny cres­cent. This moon­less night was as solemn and hushed as it had been at first…. But al­ready many stars, that not long be­fore had been high up in the heav­ens, were set­ting over the earth’s dark rim; every­thing around was per­fectly still, as it is only still to­wards morn­ing; all was sleep­ing the deep un­bro­ken sleep that comes be­fore day­break. Al­ready the fra­grance in the air was fainter; once more a dew seemed falling…. How short are nights in sum­mer!… The boys’ talk died down when the fires did. The dogs even were doz­ing; the horses, so far as I could make out, in the hardly-per­cep­ti­ble, faintly shin­ing light of the stars, were asleep with down­cast heads…. I fell into a state of weary un­con­scious­ness, which passed into sleep.A fresh breeze passed over my face. I opened my eyes; the morn­ing was be­gin­ning. The dawn had not yet flushed the sky, but al­ready it was grow­ing light in the east. Every­thing had be­come vis­i­ble, though dimly vis­i­ble, around. The pale grey sky was grow­ing light and cold and bluish; the stars twin­kled with a dim­mer light, or dis­ap­peared; the earth was wet, the leaves cov­ered with dew, and from the dis­tance came sounds of life and voices, and a light morn­ing breeze went flut­ter­ing over the earth. My body re­sponded to it with a faint shud­der of de­light. I got up quickly and went to the boys. They were all sleep­ing as though they were tired out round the smoul­der­ing fire; only Pavel half rose and gazed in­tently at me.I nod­ded to him, and walked home­wards be­side the misty river. Be­fore I had walked two miles, al­ready all around me, over the wide dew-drenched prairie, and in front from for­est to for­est, where the hills were grow­ing green again, and be­hind, over the long dusty road and the sparkling bushes, flushed with the red glow, and the river faintly blue now under the lift­ing mist, flowed fresh streams of burn­ing light, first pink, then red and golden…. All things began to stir, to awaken, to sing, to flut­ter, to speak. On all sides thick drops of dew sparkled in glit­ter­ing di­a­monds; to wel­come me, pure and clear as though bathed in the fresh­ness of morn­ing, came the notes of a bell, and sud­denly there rushed by me, dri­ven by the boys I had parted from, the drove of horses, re­freshed and rested….Sad to say, I must add that in that year Pavel met his end. He was not drowned; he was killed by a fall from his horse. Pity! he was a splen­did fel­low!

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