Kassyan of Fair Springs

by Ivan Turgenev


I was re­turn­ing from hunt­ing in a jolt­ing lit­tle trap, and over­come by the sti­fling heat of a cloudy sum­mer day (it is well known that the heat is often more in­sup­port­able on such days than in bright days, es­pe­cially when there is no wind), I dozed and was shaken about, re­sign­ing my­self with sullen for­ti­tude to being per­se­cuted by the fine white dust which was in­ces­santly raised from the beaten road by the warped and creak­ing wheels, when sud­denly my at­ten­tion was aroused by the ex­tra­or­di­nary un­easi­ness and ag­i­tated move­ments of my coach­man, who had till that in­stant been more soundly doz­ing than I. He began tug­ging at the reins, moved un­easily on the box, and started shout­ing to the horses, star­ing all the while in one di­rec­tion. I looked round. We were dri­ving through a wide ploughed plain; low hills, also ploughed over, ran in gen­tly slop­ing, swelling waves over it; the eye took in some five miles of de­serted coun­try; in the dis­tance the round-scol­loped tree-tops of some small birch-copses were the only ob­jects to break the al­most straight line of the hori­zon. Nar­row paths ran over the fields, dis­ap­peared into the hol­lows, and wound round the hillocks. On one of these paths, which hap­pened to run into our road five hun­dred paces ahead of us, I made out a kind of pro­ces­sion. At this my coach­man was look­ing.

It was a fu­neral. In front, in a lit­tle cart har­nessed with one horse, and ad­vanc­ing at a walk­ing pace, came the priest; be­side him sat the dea­con dri­ving; be­hind the cart four peas­ants, bare­headed, car­ried the cof­fin, cov­ered with a white cloth; two women fol­lowed the cof­fin. The shrill wail­ing voice of one of them sud­denly reached my ears; I lis­tened; she was in­ton­ing a dirge. Very dis­mal sounded this chanted, mo­not­o­nous, hope­lessly-sor­row­ful lament among the empty fields. The coach­man whipped up the horses; he wanted to get in front of this pro­ces­sion. To meet a corpse on the road is a bad omen. And he did suc­ceed in gal­lop­ing ahead be­yond this path be­fore the fu­neral had had time to turn out of it into the high-road; but we had hardly got a hun­dred paces be­yond this point, when sud­denly our trap jolted vi­o­lently, heeled on one side, and all but over­turned. The coach­man pulled up the gal­lop­ing horses, and spat with a ges­ture of his hand.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

My coach­man got down with­out speak­ing or hur­ry­ing him­self.

‘But what is it?’

‘The axle is bro­ken … it caught fire,’ he replied gloomily, and he sud­denly arranged the col­lar on the off-side horse with such in­dig­na­tion that it was al­most pushed over, but it stood its ground, snorted, shook it­self, and tran­quilly began to scratch its fore­leg below the knee with its teeth.

I got out and stood for some time on the road, a prey to a vague and un­pleas­ant feel­ing of help­less­ness. The right wheel was al­most com­pletely bent in under the trap, and it seemed to turn its cen­tre- piece up­wards in dumb de­spair.

‘What are we to do now?’ I said at last.

‘That’s what’s the cause of it!’ said my coach­man, point­ing with his whip to the fu­neral pro­ces­sion, which had just turned into the high­road and was ap­proach­ing us. ‘I have al­ways no­ticed that,’ he went on; ‘it’s a true say­ing—”Meet a corpse”—yes, in­deed.’

And again he began wor­ry­ing the off-side horse, who, see­ing his ill- hu­mour, re­solved to re­main per­fectly quiet, and con­tented it­self with dis­creetly switch­ing its tail now and then. I walked up and down a lit­tle while, and then stopped again be­fore the wheel.

Mean­while the fu­neral had come up to us. Qui­etly turn­ing off the road on to the grass, the mourn­ful pro­ces­sion moved slowly past us. My coach­man and I took off our caps, saluted the priest, and ex­changed glances with the bear­ers. They moved with dif­fi­culty under their bur­den, their broad chests stand­ing out under the strain. Of the two women who fol­lowed the cof­fin, one was very old and pale; her set face, ter­ri­bly dis­torted as it was by grief, still kept an ex­pres­sion of grave and se­vere dig­nity. She walked in si­lence, from time to time lift­ing her wasted hand to her thin drawn lips. The other, a young woman of five-and-twenty, had her eyes red and moist and her whole face swollen with weep­ing; as she passed us she ceased wail­ing, and hid her face in her sleeve…. But when the fu­neral had got round us and turned again into the road, her piteous, heart-pierc­ing lament began again. My coach­man fol­lowed the mea­sured sway­ing of the cof­fin with his eyes in si­lence. Then he turned to me.

‘It’s Mar­tin, the car­pen­ter, they’re bury­ing,’ he said; ‘Mar­tin of Ryaby.’

‘How do you know?’

‘I know by the women. The old one is his mother, and the young one’s his wife.’

‘Has he been ill, then?’

‘Yes … fever. The day be­fore yes­ter­day the over­seer sent for the doc­tor, but they did not find the doc­tor at home. He was a good car­pen­ter; he drank a bit, but he was a good car­pen­ter. See how upset his good woman is…. But, there; women’s tears don’t cost much, we know. Women’s tears are only water … yes, in­deed.’

And he bent down, crept under the side-horse’s trace, and seized the wooden yoke that passes over the horses’ heads with both hands.

‘Any way,’ I ob­served, ‘what are we going to do?’

My coach­man just sup­ported him­self with his knees on the shaft-horse’s shoul­der, twice gave the back-strap a shake, and straight­ened the pad; then he crept out of the side-horse’s trace again, and giv­ing it a blow on the nose as he passed, went up to the wheel. He went up to it, and, never tak­ing his eyes off it, slowly took out of the skirts of his coat a box, slowly pulled open its lid by a strap, slowly thrust into it his two fat fin­gers (which pretty well filled it up), rolled and rolled up some snuff, and creas­ing up his nose in an­tic­i­pa­tion, helped him­self to it sev­eral times in suc­ces­sion, ac­com­pa­ny­ing the snuff-tak­ing every time by a pro­longed sneez­ing. Then, his stream­ing eyes blink­ing faintly, he re­lapsed into pro­found med­i­ta­tion.

‘Well?’ I said at last.

My coach­man thrust his box care­fully into his pocket, brought his hat for­ward on to his brows with­out the aid of his hand by a move­ment of his head, and gloomily got up on the box.

‘What are you doing?’ I asked him, some­what be­wil­dered.

‘Pray be seated,’ he replied calmly, pick­ing up the reins.

‘But how can we go on?’

‘We will go on now.’

‘But the axle.’

‘Pray be seated.’

‘But the axle is bro­ken.’

‘It is bro­ken; but we will get to the set­tle­ment … at a walk­ing pace, of course. Over here, be­yond the copse, on the right, is a set­tle­ment; they call it Yudino.’

‘And do you think we can get there?’

My coach­man did not vouch­safe me a reply.

‘I had bet­ter walk,’ I said.

‘As you like….’ And he nour­ished his whip. The horses started.

We did suc­ceed in get­ting to the set­tle­ment, though the right front wheel was al­most off, and turned in a very strange way. On one hillock it al­most flew off, but my coach­man shouted in a voice of ex­as­per­a­tion, and we de­scended it in safety.

Yudino set­tle­ment con­sisted of six lit­tle low-pitched huts, the walls of which had al­ready begun to warp out of the per­pen­dic­u­lar, though they had cer­tainly not been long built; the back-yards of some of the huts were not even fenced in with a hedge. As we drove into this set­tle­ment we did not meet a sin­gle liv­ing soul; there were no hens even to be seen in the street, and no dogs, but one black crop-tailed cur, which at our ap­proach leaped hur­riedly out of a per­fectly dry and empty trough, to which it must have been dri­ven by thirst, and at once, with­out bark­ing, rushed head­long under a gate. I went up to the first hut, opened the door into the outer room, and called for the mas­ter of the house. No one an­swered me. I called once more; the hun­gry mew­ing of a cat sounded be­hind the other door. I pushed it open with my foot; a thin cat ran up and down near me, her green eyes glit­ter­ing in the dark. I put my head into the room and looked round; it was empty, dark, and smoky. I re­turned to the yard, and there was no one there ei­ther…. A calf lowed be­hind the pal­ing; a lame grey goose wad­dled a lit­tle away. I passed on to the sec­ond hut. Not a soul in the sec­ond hut ei­ther. I went into the yard….

In the very mid­dle of the yard, in the glar­ing sun­light, there lay, with his face on the ground and a cloak thrown over his head, a boy, as it seemed to me. In a thatched shed a few paces from him a thin lit­tle nag with bro­ken har­ness was stand­ing near a wretched lit­tle cart. The sun­shine falling in streaks through the nar­row cracks in the di­lap­i­dated roof, striped his shaggy, red­dish-brown coat in small bands of light. Above, in the high bird-house, star­lings were chat­ter­ing and look­ing down in­quis­i­tively from their airy home. I went up to the sleep­ing fig­ure and began to awaken him.

He lifted his head, saw me, and at once jumped up on to his feet….

‘What? what do you want? what is it?’ he mut­tered, half asleep.

I did not an­swer him at once; I was so much im­pressed by his ap­pear­ance.

Pic­ture to your­self a lit­tle crea­ture of fifty years old, with a lit­tle round wrin­kled face, a sharp nose, lit­tle, scarcely vis­i­ble, brown eyes, and thick curly black hair, which stood out on his tiny head like the cap on the top of a mush­room. His whole per­son was ex­ces­sively thin and weakly, and it is ab­solutely im­pos­si­ble to trans­late into words the ex­tra­or­di­nary strange­ness of his ex­pres­sion.

‘What do you want?’ he asked me again. I ex­plained to him what was the mat­ter; he lis­tened, slowly blink­ing, with­out tak­ing his eyes off me.

‘So can­not we get a new axle?’ I said fi­nally; ‘I will gladly pay for it.’

‘But who are you? Hunters, eh?’ he asked, scan­ning me from head to foot.

‘Hunters.’

‘You shoot the fowls of heaven, I sup­pose?… the wild things of the woods?… And is it not a sin to kill God’s birds, to shed the in­no­cent blood?’

The strange old man spoke in a very drawl­ing tone. The sound of his voice also as­ton­ished me. There was none of the weak­ness of age to be heard in it; it was mar­vel­lously sweet, young and al­most fem­i­nine in its soft­ness.

‘I have no axle,’ he added after a brief si­lence. ‘That thing will not suit you.’ He pointed to his cart. ‘You have, I ex­pect, a large trap.’

‘But can I get one in the vil­lage?’

‘Not much of a vil­lage here!… No one has an axle here…. And there is no one at home ei­ther; they are all at work. You must go on,’ he an­nounced sud­denly; and he lay down again on the ground.

I had not at all ex­pected this con­clu­sion.

‘Lis­ten, old man,’ I said, touch­ing him on the shoul­der; ‘do me a kind­ness, help me.’

‘Go on, in God’s name! I am tired; I have dri­ven into the town,’ he said, and drew his cloak over his head.

‘But pray do me a kind­ness,’ I said. ‘I … I will pay for it.’ ‘I don’t want your money.’

‘But please, old man.’

He half raised him­self and sat up, cross­ing his lit­tle legs.

‘I could take you per­haps to the clear­ing. Some mer­chants have bought the for­est here—God be their judge! They are cut­ting down the for­est, and they have built a count­ing-house there—God be their judge! You might order an axle of them there, or buy one ready made.’

‘Splen­did!’ I cried de­lighted; ‘splen­did! let us go.’

‘An oak axle, a good one,’ he con­tin­ued, not get­ting up from his place.

‘And is it far to this clear­ing?’

‘Three miles.’

‘Come, then! we can drive there in your trap.’

‘Oh, no….’

‘Come, let us go,’ I said; ‘let us go, old man! The coach­man is wait­ing for us in the road.’

The old man rose un­will­ingly and fol­lowed me into the street. We found my coach­man in an ir­ri­ta­ble frame of mind; he had tried to water his horses, but the water in the well, it ap­peared, was scanty in quan­tity and bad in taste, and water is the first con­sid­er­a­tion with coach­men…. How­ever, he grinned at the sight of the old man, nod­ded his head and cried: ‘Hallo! Kassyanushka! good health to you!’

‘Good health to you, Ero­fay, up­right man!’ replied Kassyan in a de­jected voice.

I at once made known his sug­ges­tion to the coach­man; Ero­fay ex­pressed his ap­proval of it and drove into the yard. While he was busy de­lib­er­ately un­har­ness­ing the horses, the old man stood lean­ing with his shoul­ders against the gate, and look­ing dis­con­so­lately first at him and then at me. He seemed in some un­cer­tainty of mind; he was not very pleased, as it seemed to me, at our sud­den visit.

‘So they have trans­ported you too?’ Ero­fay asked him sud­denly, lift­ing the wooden arch of the har­ness.

‘Yes.’

‘Ugh!’ said my coach­man be­tween his teeth. ‘You know Mar­tin the car­pen­ter…. Of course, you know Mar­tin of Ryaby?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well, he is dead. We have just met his cof­fin.’

Kassyan shud­dered.

‘Dead?’ he said, and his head sank de­ject­edly.

‘Yes, he is dead. Why didn’t you cure him, eh? You know they say you cure folks; you’re a doc­tor.’

My coach­man was ap­par­ently laugh­ing and jeer­ing at the old man.

‘And is this your trap, pray?’ he added, with a shrug of his shoul­ders in its di­rec­tion.

‘Yes.’

‘Well, a trap … a fine trap!’ he re­peated, and tak­ing it by the shafts al­most turned it com­pletely up­side down. ‘A trap!… But what will you drive in it to the clear­ing?… You can’t har­ness our horses in these shafts; our horses are all too big.’

‘I don’t know,’ replied Kassyan, ‘what you are going to drive; that beast per­haps,’ he added with a sigh.

‘That?’ broke in Ero­fay, and going up to Kassyan’s nag, he tapped it dis­parag­ingly on the back with the third fin­ger of his right hand. ‘See,’ he added con­temp­tu­ously, ‘it’s asleep, the scare-crow!’

I asked Ero­fay to har­ness it as quickly as he could. I wanted to drive my­self with Kassyan to the clear­ing; grouse are fond of such places. When the lit­tle cart was quite ready, and I, to­gether with my dog, had been in­stalled in the warped wicker body of it, and Kassyan hud­dled up into a lit­tle ball, with still the same de­jected ex­pres­sion on his face, had taken his seat in front, Ero­fay came up to me and whis­pered with an air of mys­tery:

‘You did well, your ho­n­our, to drive with him. He is such a queer fel­low; he’s cracked, you know, and his nick­name is the Flea. I don’t know how you man­aged to make him out….’

I tried to say to Ero­fay that so far Kassyan had seemed to me a very sen­si­ble man; but my coach­man con­tin­ued at once in the same voice:

‘But you keep a look-out where he is dri­ving you to. And, your ho­n­our, be pleased to choose the axle your­self; be pleased to choose a sound one…. Well, Flea,’ he added aloud, ‘could I get a bit of bread in your house?’

‘Look about; you may find some,’ an­swered Kassyan. He pulled the reins and we rolled away.

His lit­tle horse, to my gen­uine as­ton­ish­ment, did not go badly. Kassyan pre­served an ob­sti­nate si­lence the whole way, and made abrupt and un­will­ing an­swers to my ques­tions. We quickly reached the clear­ing, and then made our way to the count­ing-house, a lofty cot­tage, stand­ing by it­self over a small gully, which had been dammed up and con­verted into a pool. In this count­ing-house I found two young mer­chants’ clerks, with snow-white teeth, sweet and soft eyes, sweet and sub­tle words, and sweet and wily smiles. I bought an axle of them and re­turned to the clear­ing. I thought that Kassyan would stay with the horse and await my re­turn; but he sud­denly came up to me.

‘Are you going to shoot birds, eh?’ he said.

‘Yes, if I come across any.’

‘I will come with you…. Can I?’

‘Cer­tainly, cer­tainly.’

So we went to­gether. The land cleared was about a mile in length. I must con­fess I watched Kassyan more than my dogs. He had been aptly called ‘Flea.’ His lit­tle black un­cov­ered head (though his hair, in­deed, was as good a cov­er­ing as any cap) seemed to flash hither and thither among the bushes. He walked ex­tra­or­di­nar­ily swiftly, and seemed al­ways hop­ping up and down as he moved; he was for ever stoop­ing down to pick herbs of some kind, thrust­ing them into his bosom, mut­ter­ing to him­self, and con­stantly look­ing at me and my dog with such a strange search­ing gaze. Among low bushes and in clear­ings there are often lit­tle grey birds which con­stantly flit from tree to tree, and which whis­tle as they dart away. Kassyan mim­ic­ked them, an­swered their calls; a young quail flew from be­tween his feet, chirrup­ing, and he chirruped in im­i­ta­tion of him; a lark began to fly down above him, mov­ing his wings and singing melo­di­ously: Kassyan joined in his song. He did not speak to me at all….

The weather was glo­ri­ous, even more so than be­fore; but the heat was no less. Over the clear sky the high thin clouds were hardly stirred, yel­low­ish-white, like snow lying late in spring, flat and drawn out like rolled-up sails. Slowly but per­cep­ti­bly their fringed edges, soft and fluffy as cot­ton-wool, changed at every mo­ment; they were melt­ing away, even these clouds, and no shadow fell from them. I strolled about the clear­ing for a long while with Kassyan. Young shoots, which had not yet had time to grow more than a yard high, sur­rounded the low black­ened stumps with their smooth slen­der stems; and spongy fun­guses with grey edges—the same of which they make tin­der—clung to these; straw­berry plants flung their rosy ten­drils over them; mush­rooms squat­ted close in groups. The feet were con­stantly caught and en­tan­gled in the long grass, that was parched in the scorch­ing sun; the eyes were daz­zled on all sides by the glar­ing metal­lic glit­ter on the young red­dish leaves of the trees; on all sides were the var­ie­gated blue clus­ters of vetch, the golden cups of blood­wort, and the half-lilac, half-yel­low blos­soms of the heart’s-ease. In some places near the dis­used paths, on which the tracks of wheels were marked by streaks on the fine bright grass, rose piles of wood, black­ened by wind and rain, laid in yard-lengths; there was a faint shadow cast from them in slant­ing ob­longs; there was no other shade any­where. A light breeze rose, then sank again; sud­denly it would blow straight in the face and seem to be ris­ing; every­thing would begin to rus­tle mer­rily, to nod, to shake around one; the sup­ple tops of the ferns bow down grace­fully, and one re­joices in it, but at once it dies away again, and all is at rest once more. Only the grasshop­pers chirrup in cho­rus with fren­zied en­ergy, and weari­some is this un­ceas­ing, sharp dry sound. It is in keep­ing with the per­sis­tent heat of mid-day; it seems akin to it, as though evoked by it out of the glow­ing earth.

With­out hav­ing started one sin­gle covey we at last reached an­other clear­ing. There the as­pen-trees had only lately been felled, and lay stretched mourn­fully on the ground, crush­ing the grass and small un­der­growth below them: on some the leaves were still green, though they were al­ready dead, and hung limply from the mo­tion­less branches; on oth­ers they were crum­pled and dried up. Fresh golden-white chips lay in heaps round the stumps that were cov­ered with bright drops; a pe­cu­liar, very pleas­ant, pun­gent odour rose from them. Far­ther away, nearer the wood, sounded the dull blows of the axe, and from time to time, bow­ing and spread­ing wide its arms, a bushy tree fell slowly and ma­jes­ti­cally to the ground.

For a long time I did not come upon a sin­gle bird; at last a corn­crake flew out of a thick clump of young oak across the worm­wood spring­ing up round it. I fired; it turned over in the air and fell. At the sound of the shot, Kassyan quickly cov­ered his eyes with his hand, and he did not stir till I had re­loaded the gun and picked up the bird. When I had moved far­ther on, he went up to the place where the wounded bird had fallen, bent down to the grass, on which some drops of blood were sprin­kled, shook his head, and looked in dis­may at me…. I heard him af­ter­wards whis­per­ing: ‘A sin!… Ah, yes, it’s a sin!’

The heat forced us at last to go into the wood. I flung my­self down under a high nut-bush, over which a slen­der young maple grace­fully stretched its light branches. Kassyan sat down on the thick trunk of a felled birch-tree. I looked at him. The leaves faintly stirred over­head, and their thin green­ish shad­ows crept softly to and fro over his fee­ble body, muf­fled in a dark coat, and over his lit­tle face. He did not lift his head. Bored by his si­lence, I lay on my back and began to ad­mire the tran­quil play of the tan­gled fo­liage on the back­ground of the bright, far away sky. A mar­vel­lously sweet oc­cu­pa­tion it is to lie on one’s back in a wood and gaze up­wards! You may fancy you are look­ing into a bot­tom­less sea; that it stretches wide below you; that the trees are not ris­ing out of the earth, but, like the roots of gi­gan­tic weeds, are drop­ping—falling straight down into those glassy, limpid depths; the leaves on the trees are at one mo­ment trans­par­ent as emer­alds, the next, they con­dense into golden, al­most black green. Some­where, afar off, at the end of a slen­der twig, a sin­gle leaf hangs mo­tion­less against the blue patch of trans­par­ent sky, and be­side it an­other trem­bles with the mo­tion of a fish on the line, as though mov­ing of its own will, not shaken by the wind. Round white clouds float calmly across, and calmly pass away like sub­ma­rine is­lands; and sud­denly, all this ocean, this shin­ing ether, these branches and leaves steeped in sun­light—all is rip­pling, quiv­er­ing in fleet­ing bril­liance, and a fresh trem­bling whis­per awak­ens like the tiny, in­ces­sant plash of sud­denly stirred ed­dies. One does not move—one looks, and no word can tell what peace, what joy, what sweet­ness reigns in the heart. One looks: the deep, pure blue stirs on one’s lips a smile, in­no­cent as it­self; like the clouds over the sky, and, as it were, with them, happy mem­o­ries pass in slow pro­ces­sion over the soul, and still one fan­cies one’s gaze goes deeper and deeper, and draws one with it up into that peace­ful, shin­ing im­men­sity, and that one can­not be brought back from that height, that depth….

‘Mas­ter, mas­ter!’ cried Kassyan sud­denly in his mu­si­cal voice.

I raised my­self in sur­prise: up till then he had scarcely replied to my ques­tions, and now he sud­denly ad­dressed me of him­self.

‘What is it?’ I asked.

‘What did you kill the bird for?’ he began, look­ing me straight in the face.

‘What for? Corn­crake is game; one can eat it.’

‘That was not what you killed it for, mas­ter, as though you were going to eat it! You killed it for amuse­ment.’

‘Well, you your­self, I sup­pose, eat geese or chick­ens?’

‘Those birds are pro­vided by God for man, but the corn­crake is a wild bird of the woods: and not he alone; many they are, the wild things of the woods and the fields, and the wild things of the rivers and marshes and moors, fly­ing on high or creep­ing below; and a sin it is to slay them: let them live their al­lot­ted life upon the earth. But for man an­other food has been pro­vided; his food is other, and other his sus­te­nance: bread, the good gift of God, and the water of heaven, and the tame beasts that have come down to us from our fa­thers of old.’

I looked in as­ton­ish­ment at Kassyan. His words flowed freely; he did not hes­i­tate for a word; he spoke with quiet in­spi­ra­tion and gen­tle dig­nity, some­times clos­ing his eyes.

‘So is it sin­ful, then, to kill fish, ac­cord­ing to you?’ I asked.

‘Fishes have cold blood,’ he replied with con­vic­tion. ‘The fish is a dumb crea­ture; it knows nei­ther fear nor re­joic­ing. The fish is a voice­less crea­ture. The fish does not feel; the blood in it is not liv­ing…. Blood,’ he con­tin­ued, after a pause, ‘blood is a holy thing! God’s sun does not look upon blood; it is hid­den away from the light … it is a great sin to bring blood into the light of day; a great sin and hor­ror…. Ah, a great sin!’

He sighed, and his head drooped for­ward. I looked, I con­fess, in ab­solute amaze­ment at the strange old man. His lan­guage did not sound like the lan­guage of a peas­ant; the com­mon peo­ple do not speak like that, nor those who aim at fine speak­ing. His speech was med­i­ta­tive, grave, and cu­ri­ous…. I had never heard any­thing like it.

‘Tell me, please, Kassyan,’ I began, with­out tak­ing my eyes off his slightly flushed face, ‘what is your oc­cu­pa­tion?’

He did not an­swer my ques­tion at once. His eyes strayed un­easily for an in­stant.

‘I live as the Lord com­mands,’ he brought out at last; ‘and as for oc­cu­pa­tion—no, I have no oc­cu­pa­tion. I’ve never been very clever from a child: I work when I can: I’m not much of a work­man—how should I be? I have no health; my hands are awk­ward. In the spring I catch nightin­gales.’

‘You catch nightin­gales?… But didn’t you tell me that we must not touch any of the wild things of the woods and the fields, and so on?’

‘We must not kill them, of a cer­tainty; death will take its own with­out that. Look at Mar­tin the car­pen­ter; Mar­tin lived, and his life was not long, but he died; his wife now grieves for her hus­band, for her lit­tle chil­dren…. Nei­ther for man nor beast is there any charm against death. Death does not has­ten, nor is there any es­cap­ing it; but we must not aid death…. And I do not kill nightin­gales—God for­bid! I do not catch them to harm them, to spoil their lives, but for the plea­sure of men, for their com­fort and de­light.’

‘Do you go to Kursk to catch them?’

‘Yes, I go to Kursk, and far­ther too, at times. I pass nights in the marshes, or at the edge of the forests; I am alone at night in the fields, in the thick­ets; there the curlews call and the hares squeak and the wild ducks lift up their voices…. I note them at evening; at morn­ing I give ear to them; at day­break I cast my net over the bushes…. There are nightin­gales that sing so piti­fully sweet … yea, piti­fully.’

‘And do you sell them?’

‘I give them to good peo­ple.’

‘And what are you doing now?’

‘What am I doing?’

‘Yes, how are you em­ployed?’

The old man was silent for a lit­tle.

‘I am not em­ployed at all…. I am a poor work­man. But I can read and write.’

‘You can read?’

‘Yes, I can read and write. I learnt, by the help of God and good peo­ple.’

‘Have you a fam­ily?’

‘No, not a fam­ily.’

‘How so?… Are they dead, then?’

‘No, but … I have never been lucky in life. But all that is in God’s hands; we are all in God’s hands; and a man should be right­eous—that is all! Up­right be­fore God, that is it.’

‘And you have no kin­dred?’

‘Yes … well….’

The old man was con­fused.

‘Tell me, please,’ I began: ‘I heard my coach­man ask you why you did not cure Mar­tin? You cure dis­ease?’

‘Your coach­man is a right­eous man,’ Kassyan an­swered thought­fully. ‘I too am not with­out sin. They call me a doc­tor…. Me a doc­tor, in­deed! And who can heal the sick? That is all a gift from God. But there are … yes, there are herbs, and there are flow­ers; they are of use, of a cer­tainty. There is plan­tain, for in­stance, a herb good for man; there is bud-marigold too; it is not sin­ful to speak of them: they are holy herbs of God. Then there are oth­ers not so; and they may be of use, but it’s a sin; and to speak of them is a sin. Still, with prayer, may be…. And doubt­less there are such words…. But who has faith, shall be saved,’ he added, drop­ping his voice.

‘You did not give Mar­tin any­thing?’ I asked.

‘I heard of it too late,’ replied the old man. ‘But what of it! Each man’s des­tiny is writ­ten from his birth. The car­pen­ter Mar­tin was not to live; he was not to live upon the earth: that was what it was. No, when a man is not to live on the earth, him the sun­shine does not warm like an­other, and him the bread does not nour­ish and make strong; it is as though some­thing is draw­ing him away…. Yes: God rest his soul!’

‘Have you been set­tled long amongst us?’ I asked him after a short pause.

Kassyan started.

‘No, not long; four years. In the old mas­ter’s time we al­ways lived in our old houses, but the trustees trans­ported us. Our old mas­ter was a kind heart, a man of peace—the King­dom of Heaven be his! The trustees doubt­less judged right­eously.’

‘And where did you live be­fore?’

‘At Fair Springs.’

‘Is it far from here?’

‘A hun­dred miles.’

‘Well, were you bet­ter off there?’

‘Yes … yes, there there was open coun­try, with rivers; it was our home: here we are cramped and parched up…. Here we are strangers. There at home, at Fair Springs, you could get up on to a hill—and ah, my God, what a sight you could see! Streams and plains and forests, and there was a church, and then came plains be­yond. You could see far, very far. Yes, how far you could look—you could look and look, ah, yes! Here, doubt­less, the soil is bet­ter; it is clay—good fat clay, as the peas­ants say; for me the corn grows well enough every­where.’

‘Con­fess then, old man; you would like to visit your birth-place again?’

‘Yes, I should like to see it. Still, all places are good. I am a man with­out kin, with­out neigh­bours. And, after all, do you gain much, pray, by stay­ing at home? But, be­hold! as you walk, and as you walk,’ he went on, rais­ing his voice, ‘the heart grows lighter, of a truth. And the sun shines upon you, and you are in the sight of God, and the singing comes more tune­fully. Here, you look—what herb is grow­ing; you look on it—you pick it. Here water runs, per­haps—spring water, a source of pure holy water; so you drink of it—you look on it too. The birds of heaven sing…. And be­yond Kursk come the steppes, that steppes-coun­try: ah, what a mar­vel, what a de­light for man! what free­dom, what a bless­ing of God! And they go on, folks tell, even to the warm seas where dwells the sweet-voiced bird, the Hamayune, and from the trees the leaves fall not, nei­ther in au­tumn nor in win­ter, and ap­ples grow of gold, on sil­ver branches, and every man lives in up­right­ness and con­tent. And I would go even there…. Have I jour­neyed so lit­tle al­ready! I have been to Romyon and to Sim­birsk the fair city, and even to Moscow of the golden domes; I have been to Oka the good nurse, and to Tsna the dove, and to our mother Volga, and many folks, good Chris­tians have I seen, and noble cities I have vis­ited…. Well, I would go thither … yes … and more too … and I am not the only one, I a poor sin­ner … many other Chris­tians go in bast-shoes, roam­ing over the world, seek­ing truth, yea!… For what is there at home? No right­eous­ness in man—it’s that.’

These last words Kassyan ut­tered quickly, al­most un­in­tel­li­gi­bly; then he said some­thing more which I could not catch at all, and such a strange ex­pres­sion passed over his face that I in­vol­un­tar­ily re­called the ep­i­thet ‘cracked.’ He looked down, cleared his throat, and seemed to come to him­self again. ‘What sun­shine!’ he mur­mured in a low voice. ‘It is a bless­ing, oh, Lord! What warmth in the woods!’

He gave a move­ment of the shoul­ders and fell into si­lence. With a vague look round him he began softly to sing. I could not catch all the words of his slow chant; I heard the fol­low­ing:

‘They call me Kassyan,

But my nick­name’s the Flea.’

‘Oh!’ I thought, ‘so he im­pro­vises.’ Sud­denly he started and ceased singing, look­ing in­tently at a thick part of the wood. I turned and saw a lit­tle peas­ant girl, about seven years old, in a blue frock, with a checked hand­ker­chief over her head, and a woven bark-bas­ket in her lit­tle bare sun­burnt hand. She had cer­tainly not ex­pected to meet us; she had, as they say, ‘stum­bled upon’ us, and she stood mo­tion­less in a shady re­cess among the thick fo­liage of the nut-trees, look­ing dis­mayed at me with her black eyes. I had scarcely time to catch a glimpse of her; she dived be­hind a tree.

‘An­nushka! An­nushka! come here, don’t be afraid!’ cried the old man ca­ress­ingly.

‘I’m afraid,’ came her shrill voice.

‘Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid; come to me.’

An­nushka left her hid­ing place in si­lence, walked softly round—her lit­tle child­ish feet scarcely sounded on the thick grass—and came out of the bushes near the old man. She was not a child of seven, as I had fan­cied at first, from her diminu­tive stature, but a girl of thir­teen or four­teen. Her whole per­son was small and thin, but very neat and grace­ful, and her pretty lit­tle face was strik­ingly like Kassyan’s own, though he was cer­tainly not hand­some. There were the same thin fea­tures, and the same strange ex­pres­sion, shy and con­fid­ing, melan­choly and shrewd, and her ges­tures were the same…. Kassyan kept his eyes fixed on her; she took her stand at his side.

‘Well, have you picked any mush­rooms?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ she an­swered with a shy smile.

‘Did you find many?’

‘Yes.’ (She stole a swift look at him and smiled again.)

‘Are they white ones?’

‘Yes.’

‘Show me, show me…. (She slipped the bas­ket off her arm and half-

lifted the big bur­dock leaf which cov­ered up the mush­rooms.) ‘Ah!’ said

Kassyan, bend­ing down over the bas­ket; ‘what splen­did ones! Well done,

An­nushka!’

‘She’s your daugh­ter, Kassyan, isn’t she?’ I asked. (An­nushka’s face flushed faintly.)

‘No, well, a rel­a­tive,’ replied Kassyan with af­fected in­dif­fer­ence. ‘Come, An­nushka, run along,’ he added at once, ‘run along, and God be with you! And take care.’

‘But why should she go on foot?’ I in­ter­rupted. ‘We could take her with us.’

An­nushka blushed like a poppy, grasped the han­dle of her bas­ket with both hands, and looked in trep­i­da­tion at the old man.

‘No, she will get there all right,’ he an­swered in the same lan­guid and in­dif­fer­ent voice. ‘Why not?… She will get there…. Run along.’

An­nushka went rapidly away into the for­est. Kassyan looked after her, then looked down and smiled to him­self. In this pro­longed smile, in the few words he had spo­ken to An­nushka, and in the very sound of his voice when he spoke to her, there was an in­tense, in­de­scrib­able love and ten­der­ness. He looked again in the di­rec­tion she had gone, again smiled to him­self, and, pass­ing his hand across his face, he nod­ded his head sev­eral times.

‘Why did you send her away so soon?’ I asked him. ‘I would have bought her mush­rooms.’

‘Well, you can buy them there at home just the same, sir, if you like,’ he an­swered, for the first time using the for­mal ‘sir’ in ad­dress­ing me.

‘She’s very pretty, your girl.’

‘No … only so-so,’ he an­swered, with seem­ing re­luc­tance, and from that in­stant he re­lapsed into the same un­com­mu­nica­tive mood as at first.

See­ing that all my ef­forts to make him talk again were fruit­less, I went off into the clear­ing. Mean­time the heat had some­what abated; but my ill-suc­cess, or, as they say among us, my ‘ill-luck,’ con­tin­ued, and I re­turned to the set­tle­ment with noth­ing but one corn­crake and the new axle. Just as we were dri­ving into the yard, Kassyan sud­denly turned to me.

‘Mas­ter, mas­ter,’ he began, ‘do you know I have done you a wrong; it was I cast a spell to keep all the game off.’

‘How so?’

‘Oh, I can do that. Here you have a well-trained dog and a good one, but he could do noth­ing. When you think of it, what are men? what are they? Here’s a beast; what have they made of him?’

It would have been use­less for me to try to con­vince Kassyan of the im­pos­si­bil­ity of ‘cast­ing a spell’ on game, and so I made him no reply. Mean­time we had turned into the yard.

An­nushka was not in the hut: she had had time to get there be­fore us, and to leave her bas­ket of mush­rooms. Ero­fay fit­ted in the new axle, first ex­pos­ing it to a se­vere and most un­just crit­i­cism; and an hour later I set off, leav­ing a small sum of money with Kassyan, which at first he was un­will­ing to ac­cept, but af­ter­wards, after a mo­ment’s thought, hold­ing it in his hand, he put it in his bosom. In the course of this hour he had scarcely ut­tered a sin­gle word; he stood as be­fore, lean­ing against the gate. He made no reply to the re­proaches of my coach­man, and took leave very coldly of me.

Di­rectly I turned round, I could see that my wor­thy Ero­fay was in a gloomy frame of mind…. To be sure, he had found noth­ing to eat in the coun­try; the only water for his horses was bad. We drove off. With dis­sat­is­fac­tion ex­pressed even in the back of his head, he sat on the box, burn­ing to begin to talk to me. While wait­ing for me to begin by some ques­tion, he con­fined him­self to a low mut­ter­ing in an un­der­tone, and some rather caus­tic in­struc­tions to the horses. ‘A vil­lage,’ he mut­tered; ‘call that a vil­lage? You ask for a drop of kvas—not a drop of kvas even…. Ah, Lord!… And the water—sim­ply filth!’ (He spat loudly.) ‘Not a cu­cum­ber, nor kvas, nor noth­ing…. Now, then!’ he added aloud, turn­ing to the right trace-horse; ‘I know you, you hum­bug.’ (And he gave him a cut with the whip.) ‘That horse has learnt to shirk his work en­tirely, and yet he was a will­ing beast once. Now, then—look alive!’

‘Tell me, please, Ero­fay,’ I began, ‘what sort of a man is Kassyan?’

Ero­fay did not an­swer me at once: he was, in gen­eral, a re­flec­tive and de­lib­er­ate fel­low; but I could see di­rectly that my ques­tion was sooth­ing and cheer­ing to him.

‘The Flea?’ he said at last, gath­er­ing up the reins; ‘he’s a queer fel­low; yes, a crazy chap; such a queer fel­low, you wouldn’t find an­other like him in a hurry. You know, for ex­am­ple, he’s for all the world like our roan horse here; he gets out of every­thing—out of work, that’s to say. But, then, what sort of work­man could he be?… He’s hardly body enough to keep his soul in … but still, of course…. He’s been like that from a child up, you know. At first he fol­lowed his uncle’s busi­ness as a car­rier—there were three of them in the busi­ness; but then he got tired of it, you know—he threw it up. He began to live at home, but he could not keep at home long; he’s so rest­less—a reg­u­lar flea, in fact. He hap­pened, by good luck, to have a good mas­ter—he didn’t worry him. Well, so ever since he has been wan­der­ing about like a lost sheep. And then, he’s so strange; there’s no un­der­stand­ing him. Some­times he’ll be as silent as a post, and then he’ll begin talk­ing, and God knows what he’ll say! Is that good man­ners, pray? He’s an ab­surd fel­low, that he is. But he sings well, for all that.’

‘And does he cure peo­ple, re­ally?’

‘Cure peo­ple!… Well, how should he? A fine sort of doc­tor! Though he did cure me of the king’s evil, I must own…. But how can he? He’s a stu­pid fel­low, that’s what he is,’ he added, after a mo­ment’s pause.

‘Have you known him long?’

‘A long while. I was his neigh­bour at Sitchovka up at Fair Springs.’

‘And what of that girl—who met us in the wood, An­nushka—what re­la­tion is she to him?’

Ero­fay looked at me over his shoul­der, and grinned all over his face.

‘He, he!… yes, they are re­la­tions. She is an or­phan; she has no mother, and it’s not even known who her mother was. But she must be a re­la­tion; she’s too much like him…. Any­way, she lives with him. She’s a smart girl, there’s no deny­ing; a good girl; and as for the old man, she’s sim­ply the apple of his eye; she’s a good girl. And, do you know, you wouldn’t be­lieve it, but do you know, he’s man­aged to teach An­nushka to read? Well, well! that’s quite like him; he’s such an ex­tra­or­di­nary fel­low, such a change­able fel­low; there’s no reck­on­ing on him, re­ally…. Eh! eh! eh!’ My coach­man sud­denly in­ter­rupted him­self, and stop­ping the horses, he bent over on one side and began sniff­ing. ‘Isn’t there a smell of burn­ing? Yes! Why, that new axle, I do de­clare!… I thought I’d greased it…. We must get on to some water; why, here is a pud­dle, just right.’

And Ero­fay slowly got off his seat, un­tied the pail, went to the pool, and com­ing back, lis­tened with a cer­tain sat­is­fac­tion to the hiss­ing of the box of the wheel as the water sud­denly touched it…. Six times dur­ing some eight miles he had to pour water on the smoul­der­ing axle, and it was quite evening when we got home at last.


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