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    In A Mountain Defile

    by Maxim Gorky
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    In a mountain defile near a little tributary of the Sunzha, there
    was being built a workman's barraque-- a low, long edifice which
    reminded one of a large coffin lid.

    The building was approaching completion, and, meanwhile, a score
    of carpenters were employed in fashioning thin planks into doors
    of equal thinness, knocking together benches and tables, and
    fitting window-frames into the small window-squares.

    Also, to assist these carpenters in the task of protecting the
    barraque from tribesmen's nocturnal raids, the shrill-voiced
    young student of civil engineering who had been set in charge of
    the work had sent to the place, as watchman, an ex-soldier named
    Paul Ivanovitch, a man of the Cossack type, and myself.

    Yet whereas we were out-at-elbows, the carpenters were sleek,
    respectable, monied, well-clad fellows. Also, there was something
    dour and irritating about them, since, for one thing, they had
    failed to respond to our greeting on our first appearance, and
    eyed us with nothing but dislike and suspicion. Hence, hurt by
    their chilly attitude, we had withdrawn from their immediate
    neighbourhood, constructed a causeway of stepping stones to the
    eastern bank of the rivulet, and taken up our abode beneath the
    chaotic grey mists which enveloped the mountain side in that

    Also, over the carpenters there was a foreman--a man whose bony
    frame, clad in a white shirt and a pair of white trousers, looked
    always as though it were ready-attired for death. Moreover, he
    wore no cap to conceal the yellow patch of baldness which covered
    most of his head, and, in addition, his nose was squat and grey,
    his neck and face had over them skin of a porous, pumice-like
    consistency, his eyes were green and dim, and upon his features
    there was stamped a dead and disagreeable expression. To be
    candid, however, behind the dark lips lay a set of fine, close
    teeth, while the hairs of the grey beard (a beard trimmed after
    the Tartar fashion) were thick and, seemingly, soft.

    Never did this man put a hand actually to the work; always he
    kept roaming about with the large, rigid-looking fingers of his
    hands tucked into his belt, and his fixed and expressionless eyes
    scanning the barraque, the men, and the work as his lips vented
    some such lines as:

    Oh God our Father, bound hast Thou
    A crown of thorns upon my brow!
    Listen to my humble prayer!
    Lighten the burden which I bear!

    "What on earth can be in the man's mind?" once remarked the ex-
    soldier, with a frowning glance at the singer.

    As for our duties, my mates and I had nothing to do, and soon
    began to find the time tedious. For his part, the man with the
    Cossack physiognomy scaled the mountain side; whence he could be
    heard whistling and snapping twigs with his heavy feet, while the
    ex-soldier selected a space between two rocks for a shelter of
    ace-rose boughs, and, stretching himself on his stomach, fell to
    smoking strong mountain tobacco in his large meerschaum pipe as
    dimly, dreamily he contemplated the play of the mountain torrent.
    Lastly, I myself selected a seat on a rock which overhung the
    brook, dipped my feet in the coolness of the water, and proceeded
    to mend my shirt.

    At intervals, the defile would convey to our ears a dull echo of
    sounds so wholly at variance with the locality as muffled hammer-
    blows, a screeching of saws, a rasping of planes, and a confused
    murmur of human voices.

    Also, a moist breeze blew constantly from the dark-blue depths of
    the defile, and caused the stiff, upright larches on the knoll
    behind the barraque to rustle their boughs, and distilled from
    the rank soil the voluptuous scents of ace-rose and pitch-pine,
    and evoked in the trees' quiet gloom a soft, crooning, somnolent

    About a sazhen [Fathom] below the level of the barraque there
    coursed noisily over its bed of stones a rivulet white with foam.
    Yet though of other sounds in the vicinity there were but few,
    the general effect was to suggest that everything in the
    neighbourhood was speaking or singing a tale of such sort as to
    shame the human species into silence.

    On our own side of the valley the ground lay bathed in sunshine--
    lay scorched to the point of seeming to have spread over it a
    tissue-cloth. Old gold in colour, while from every side arose the
    sweet perfume of dried grasses, and in dark clefts there could be
    seen sprouting the long, straight spears and fiery, reddish,
    cone-shaped blossoms of that bold, hardy plant which is known to
    us as saxifrage--the plant of which the contemplation makes one
    long to burst into music, and fills one's whole body with
    sensuous languor.

    Laced with palpitating, snow-white foam, the beautiful rivulet
    pursued its sportive way over tessellated stones which flashed
    through the eddies of the glassy, sunlit, amber-coloured water
    with the silken sheen of a patchwork carpet or costly shawl of

    Through the mouth of the defile one could reach the valley of the
    Sunzha, whence, since men were ther, building a railway to
    Petrovsk on the Caspian Sea, there kept issuing and breaking
    against the crags a dull rumble of explosions, of iron rasped
    against stone, of whistles of works locomotives, and of animated
    human voices.

    From the barraque the distance to the point where the defile
    debouched upon the valley was about a hundred paces, and as one
    issued thence one could see, away to the left, the level steppes
    of the Cis-Caucasus, with a boundary wall of blue hills, topped
    by the silver-hewn saddle of Mount Elburz behind it. True, for
    the most part the steppes had a dry, yellow, sandy look, with
    merely here and there dark patches of gardens or black poplar
    clumps which rendered the golden glare more glaring still; yet
    also there could be discerned on the expanse farm buildings
    shaped like lumps of sugar or butter, with, in their vicinity,
    toylike human beings and diminutive cattle -- the whole shimmering
    and melting in a mirage born of the heat. And at the mere sight
    of those steppes, with their embroidery of silk under the blue of
    the zenith, one's muscles tightened, and one felt inspired with a
    longing to spring to one's feet, close one's eyes, and walk for
    ever with the soft, mournful song of the waste crooning in one's

    To the right also of the defile lay the winding valley of the
    Sunzha, with more hills; and above those hills hung the blue sky,
    and in their flanks were clefts which, full of grey mist, kept
    emitting a ceaseless din of labour, a sound of dull explosions, as
    a great puissant force attained release.

    Yet almost at the same moment would that hurly-burly so merge
    with the echo of our defile, so become buried in the defile's
    verdure and rock crevices, that once more the place would seem to
    be singing only its own gentle, gracious song.

    And, should one turn to glance up the defile, it could be seen to
    grow narrower and narrower as it ascended towards the mists, and
    the latter to grow thicker and thicker until the whole defile was
    swathed in a dark blue pall. Higher yet there could be discerned
    the brilliant gleam of blue sky. Higher yet one could distinguish
    the ice-capped peak of Kara Dagh, floating and dissolving amid
    the ( from here) invisible sunlight. Highest of all again brooded
    the serene, steadfast peace of heaven.

    Also, everything was bathed in a strange tint of bluish grey: to
    which circumstance must have been due the fact that always one's
    soul felt filled with restlessness, one's heart stirred to
    disquietude, and fired as with intoxication, charged with
    incomprehensible thoughts, and conscious as of a summons to set
    forth for some unknown destination.


    The foreman of the carpenters shaded his eyes to gaze in our
    direction; and as he did so, he drawled and rasped out in tedious

    "Some shall to the left be sent,
    And in the pit of Hell lie pent.
    While others, holding palm in hand,
    Shall on God's right take up their stand."

    "DID you hear that?" the ex-soldier growled through clenched
    teeth. "'Palm in hand' indeed! Why, the fellow must be a
    Mennonite or a Molokan, though the two, really, are one, and
    absolutely indistinguishable, as well as equally foolish. Yes,
    'palm in hand' indeed!"

    Similarly could I understand the ex-soldier's indignation, for,
    like him, I felt that such dreary, monotonous singing was
    altogether out of place in a spot where everything could troll a
    song so delightful as to lead one to wish to hear nothing more,
    to hear only the whispering of the forest and the babbling of the
    stream. And especially out of place did the terms "palm" and
    "Mennonite" appear.

    Yet I had no great love for the ex-soldier. Somehow he jarred
    upon me. Middle-aged, squat, square, and bleached with the sun,
    he had faded eyes, flattened-out features, and an expression of
    restless moroseness. Never could I make out what he really
    wanted, what he was really seeking. For instance, once, after
    reviewing the Caucasus from Khassav-Urt to Novorossisk, and from
    Batum to Derbent, and, during the review, crossing the mountain
    range by three different routes at least, he remarked with a
    disparaging smile:

    "I suppose the Lord God made the country."

    "You do not like it, then? How should I? Good for nothing is
    what I call it."

    Then, with a further glance at me, and a twist of his sinewy
    neck, he added:

    "However, not bad altogether are its forests."

    A native of Kaluga, he had served in Tashkend, and, in fighting
    with the Chechintzes of that region,had been wounded in the head
    with a stone. Yet as he told me the story of this incident, he
    smiled shamefacedly, and, throughout, kept his glassy eyes fixed
    upon the ground.

    "Though I am ashamed to confess it," he said, "once a woman
    chipped a piece out of me. You see, the women of that region are
    shrieking devils--there is no other word for it; and when we
    captured a village called Akhal-Tiapa a number of them had to be
    cut up, so that they lay about in heaps, and their blood made
    walking slippery. Just as our company of the reserve entered the
    street, something caught me on the head. Afterwards, I learnt that
    a woman on a roof had thrown a stone, and, like the rest, had had
    to be put out of the way."

    Here, knitting his brows, the ex-soldier went on in more serious

    "Yet all that folk used to say about those women, about their
    having beards to shave, turned out to be so much gossip, as I
    ascertained for myself. I did so by lifting the woman's skirt on
    the point of my bayonet, when I perceived that, though she was
    lean, and smelt like a goat, she was quite as regular as, as--"

    "Things must have been indeed terrible on that expedition!" I

    "I do not know for certain, since, though men who took an actual
    part in the expedition's engagements have said that they were so
    (the Chechintze is a vicious brute, and never gives in), I myself
    know but little of the affair, since I spent my whole time in the
    reserve, and never once did my company advance to the assault.
    No, it merely lay about on the sand, and fired at long range. In
    fact, nothing but sand was to be seen thereabouts; nor did we
    ever succeed in finding out what the fighting was for. True, if a
    piece of country be good, it is in our interest to take it; but
    in the present case the country was poor and bare, with never a
    river in sight, and a climate so hot that all one thought of was
    one's mortal need of a drink. In fact, some of our fellows died
    of thirst outright. Moreover, in those parts there grows a sort
    of millet called dzhugar -- millet which not only has a horrible
    taste, but proves absolutely delusive, since the more one eats of
    it, the less one feels filled."

    As the ex-soldier told me the tale colourlessly and reluctantly,
    with frequent pauses between the sentences (as though either he
    found it difficult to recall the experience or he were thinking
    of something else), he never once looked me straight in the face,
    but kept his eyes shamefacedly fixed upon the ground.

    Unwieldily and unhealthily stout, he always conveyed to me the
    impression of being charged with a vague discontent, a sort of
    captious inertia.

    "Absolutely unfit for settlement is this country " he continued as
    he glanced around him. "It is fit only to do nothing in. For
    that matter, one doesn't WANT to do anything in it, save to live
    with one's eyes bulging like a drunkard's-- for the climate is too
    hot, and the place smells like a chemist's shop or a hospital."

    Nevertheless, for the past eight years had he been roaming this
    "too hot" country, as though fascinated!

    "Why not return to Riazan?" I suggested.

    "Nothing would there be there for me to do," he replied through
    his teeth, and with an odd division of his words.

    My first encounter with him had been at the railway station at
    Armavir, where, purple in the face with excitement, he had been
    stamping like a horse, and, with distended eyes, hissing, or,
    rather, snarling, at a couple of Greeks:

    "I'll tear the flesh from your bones!"

    Meanwhile the two lean, withered, ragged, identically similar
    denizens of Hellas had been baring their sharp white teeth at
    intervals, and saying apologetically:

    "What has angered you, sir?"

    Finally, regardless of the Greeks' words, the ex-soldier had beat
    his breast like a drum, and shouted in accents of increased

    "Now, where are you living? In Russia, do you say? Then who is
    supporting you there? Aha-a-a! Russia, it is said, is a good
    foster-mother. I expect you say the same."

    And, lastly, he had approached a fat, grey-headed, bemedalled
    gendarme, and complained to him:

    "Everyone curses us born Russians, yet everyone comes to live
    with us--Greeks, Germans, Songs, and the lot. And while they get
    their livelihood here, and cat and drink their fill, they
    continue to curse us. A scandal, is it not?"


    The third member of our party was a man of about thirty who wore
    a Cossack cap over his left ear, and had a Cossack forelock,
    rounded features, a large nose, a dark moustache, and a retrousse
    lip. When the volatile young engineering student first brought
    him to us and said, "Here is another man for you," the newcomer
    glanced at me through the lashes of his elusive eyes--then plunged
    his hands into the pockets of his Turkish overalls. Just as we
    were departing, however, he withdrew one hand from the left
    trouser pocket, passed it slowly over the dark bristles of his
    unshaven chin, and asked in musical tones:

    "Do you come from Russia?"

    "Whence else, I should like to know?" snapped the ex-soldier

    Upon this the newcomer twisted his right-hand moustache then
    replaced his hand in his pocket. Broad-shouldered, sturdy, and
    well-built throughout, he walked with the stride of a man who is
    accustomed to cover long distances. Yet with him he had brought
    neither wallet nor gripsack, and somehow his supercilious,
    retrousse upper lip and thickly fringed eyes irritated me, and
    inclined me to be suspicious of, and even actively to dislike,
    the man.

    Suddenly, while we were proceeding along the causeway by the side
    of the rivulet, he turned to us, and said, as he nodded towards
    the sportively coursing water:

    "Look at the matchmaker!"

    The ex-soldier hoisted his bleached eyebrows, and gazed around
    him for a moment in bewilderment. Then he whispered:

    "The fool!"

    But, for my own part, I considered that what the man had said was
    apposite; that the rugged, boisterous little river did indeed
    resemble some fussy, light-hearted old lady who loved to arrange
    affaires du coeur both for her own private amusement and for the
    purpose of enabling other folk to realise the joys of affection
    amid which she was living, and of which she would never grow
    weary, and to which she desired to introduce the rest of the
    world as speedily as possible.

    Similarly, when we arrived at the barraque this man with the
    Cossack face glanced at the rivulet, and then at the mountains
    and the sky, and, finally, appraised the scene in one pregnant,
    comprehensive exclamation of " Slavno! " [How splendid!]

    The ex-soldier, who was engaged in ridding himself of his
    knapsack, straightened himself, and asked with his arms set

    "WHAT is it that is so splendid?"

    For a moment or two the newcomer merely eyed the squat figure of
    his questioner--a figure upon which hung drab shreds as lichen
    hangs upon a stone. Then he said with a smile:

    "Cannot you see for yourself? Take that mountain there, and that
    cleft in the mountain-- are they not good to look at?"

    And as he moved away, the ex-soldier gaped after him with a
    repeated whisper of:

    "The fool!"

    To which presently he added in a louder, as well as a mysterious,

    "I have heard that occasionally they send fever patients hither
    for their health."

    The same evening saw two sturdy women arrive with supper for the
    carpenters; whereupon the clatter of labour ceased, and therefore
    the rustling of the forest and the murmuring of the rivulet
    became the more distinct.

    Next, deliberately, and with many coughs, the ex-soldier set to
    work to collect some twigs and chips for the purpose of lighting
    a fire. After which, having arranged a kettle over the flames, he
    said to me suggestively:

    "You too should collect some firewood, for in these parts the
    nights are dark and chilly."

    I set forth in search of chips among the stones which lay around
    the barraque, and, in so doing, stumbled across the newcomer, who
    was lying with his body resting on an elbow, and his head on his
    hand, as he conned a manuscript spread out before him. As he
    raised his eyes to gaze vaguely, inquiringly into my face, I saw
    that one of his eyes was larger than the other.

    Evidently he divined that he interested me, for he smiled. Yet so
    taken aback by this was I, that I passed on my way without

    Meanwhile the carpenters, disposed in two circles around the
    barraque (a circle to each woman), partook of a silent supper.

    Deeper and deeper grew the shadow of night over the defile.
    Warmer and warmer, denser and denser, grew the air, until the
    twilight caused the slopes of the mountains to soften in outline,
    and the rocks to seem to swell and merge with the bluish-
    blackness which overhung the bed of the defile, and the
    superimposed heights to form a single apparent whole, and the
    scene in general to resolve itself into, become united into, one
    compact bulk.

    Quietly then did tints hitherto red extinguish their tremulous
    glow--softly there flared up, dusted purple in the sunset's sheen,
    the peak of Kara Dagh. Vice versa, the foam of the rivulet now
    blushed to red, and, seemingly, assuaged its vehemence--flowed
    with a deeper, a more pensive, note; while similarly the forest
    hushed its voice, and appeared to stoop towards the water while
    emitting ever more powerful, intoxicating odours to mingle with
    the resinous, cloyingly sweet perfume of our wood fire.

    The ex-soldier squatted down before the little blaze, and
    rearranged some fuel under the kettle.

    "Where is the other man?" said he. "Go and fetch him."

    I departed for the purpose, and, on my way, heard one of the
    carpenters in the neighbourhood of the barraque say in a thick,
    unctuous, sing-song voice.

    "A great work is it indeed!"

    Whereafter I heard the two women fall to drawling in low, hungry

    "With the flesh I'll conquer pain;
    The spirit shall my lust restrain;
    All-supreme the soul shall reign;
    And carnal vices lure in vain."

    True, the women pronounced their words distinctly enough; yet
    always they prolonged the final "u" sound of the stanza's first
    and third lines until, as the melody floated away into the
    darkness, and, as it were, sank to earth, it came to resemble the
    long-drawn howl of a wolf.

    In answer to my invitation to come to supper, the newcomer sprang
    to his feet, folded up his manuscript, stuffed it into one of the
    pockets of his ragged coat, and said with a smile:

    "I had just been going to resort to the carpenters, for they
    would have given us some bread, I suppose? Long is it since I
    tasted anything."

    The same words he repeated on our approaching the ex-soldier;
    much as though he took a pleasure in their phraseology.

    "You suppose that they would have given us bread?" echoed the ex-
    soldier as he unfastened his wallet. "Not they! No love is lost
    between them and ourselves."

    "Whom do you mean by 'ourselves'?"

    "Us here--you and myself--all Russian folk who may happen to be in
    these parts. From the way in which those fellows keep singing
    about palms, I should judge them to be sectarians of the sort
    called Mennonites."

    "Or Molokans, rather?" the other man suggested as he seated
    himself in front of the fire.

    "Yes, or Molokans. Molokans or Mennonites-- they're all one. It is
    a German faith and though such fellows love a Teuton, they do not
    exactly welcome US."

    Upon this the man with the Cossack forelock took a slice of bread
    which the ex-soldier cut from a loaf, with an onion and a pinch
    of salt. Then, as he regarded us with a pair of good-humoured
    eyes, he said, balancing his food on the palms of his hands:

    "There is a spot on the Sunzha, near here, where those fellows
    have a colony of their own. Yes, I myself have visited it. True,
    those fellows are hard enough, but at the same time to speak
    plainly, NO ONE in these parts has any regard for us since only
    too many of the sort of Russian folk who come here in search of
    work are not overly-desirable."

    "Where do you yourself come from?" The ex-soldier's tone was

    "From Kursk, we might say."

    "From Russia, then?"

    "Yes, I suppose so. But I have no great opinion even of myself."

    The ex-soldier glanced distrustfully at the newcomer. Then he

    "What you say is cant, sheer Jesuitism. It is fellows like
    THOSE, rather, that ought to have a poor opinion of themselves."

    To this the other made no reply--merely he put a piece of bread
    into his mouth. For a moment or two the ex-soldier eyed him
    frowningly. Then he continued:

    "You seem to me to be a native of the Don country? "

    "Yes, I have lived on the Don as well."

    "And also served in the army?"

    "No. I was an only son."

    "Of a miestchanin? " [A member of the small commercial class.]

    "No, of a merchant."

    "And your name--?"

    "Is Vasili."

    The last reply came only after a pause, and reluctantly;
    wherefore, perceiving that the Kurskan had no particular desire
    to discuss his own affairs, the ex-soldier said no more on the
    subject, but lifted the kettle from the fire.

    The Molokans also had kindled a blaze behind the corner of the
    barraque, and now its glow was licking the yellow boards of the
    structure until they seemed almost to be liquescent, to be about
    to dissolve and flow over the ground in a golden stream.

    Presently, as their fervour increased, the carpenters, invisible
    amid the obscurity, fell to singing hymns--the basses intoning
    monotonously, " Sing, thou Holy Angel! " and voices of higher
    pitch responding, coldly and formally.

    "Sing ye!
    Sing glory unto Christ, thou Angel of Holiness!
    Sing ye!
    Our singing will we add unto Thine,
    Thou Angel of Holiness!"

    And though the chorus failed altogether to dull the splashing of
    the rivulet and the babbling of the by-cut over a bed of stones,
    it seemed out of place in this particular spot;it aroused
    resentment against men who could not think of a lay more atune
    with the particular living, breathing objects around us.

    Gradually darkness enveloped the defile until only over the mouth
    of the pass, over the spot where, gleaming a brilliant blue, the
    rivulet escaped into a cleft that was overhung with a mist of a
    deeper shade, was there not yet suspended the curtain of the
    Southern night.

    Presently, the gloom caused one of the rocks in our vicinity to
    assume the guise of a monk who, kneeling in prayer, had his head
    adorned with a pointed skull-cap, and his face buried in his
    hands. Similarly, the stems of the trees stirred in the firelight
    until they developed the semblance of a file of friars entering,
    for early Mass, the porch of their chapel-of-ease.

    To my mind there then recurred a certain occasion when, on just
    such a dark and sultry night as this, I had been seated tale-
    telling under the boundary-wall of a row of monastic cells in the
    Don country. Suddenly I had heard a window above my head open,
    and someone exclaim in a kindly, youthful voice:

    "The Mother of God be blessed for all this goodly world of ours!"

    And though the window had closed again before I had had time to
    discern the speaker, I had known that there was resident in the
    monastery a friar who had large eyes, and a limp, and just such a
    face as had Vasili here; wherefore, in all probability it had been
    he who had breathed the benediction upon mankind
    at large, for the reason that moments there are when all humanity
    seems to be one's own body, and in oneself there seems to beat
    the heart of all humanity. . . .

    Vasili consumed his food deliberately as, breaking off morsels
    from his slice, and neatly parting his moustache, he placed the
    morsels in his mouth with a curious stirring of two globules
    which underlay the skin near the ears.

    The ex-soldier, however, merely nibbled at his food--he ate but
    little, and that lazily. Then he extracted a pipe from his breast
    pocket, filled it with tobacco, lit it with a faggot taken from
    the fire, and said as he set himself to listen to the singing of
    the Molokans:

    "They are filled full, and have started bleating. Always folk
    like them seek to be on the right side of the Almighty."

    "Does that hurt you in any way?" Vasili asked with a smile.

    "No, but I do not respect them--they are less saints than
    humbugs, than prevaricators whose first word is God, and second
    word rouble."

    "How do you know that?" cried Vasili amusedly. "And even if
    their first word IS God, and their second word rouble, we had
    best not be too hard upon them, since if they chose to be hard
    upon US, where should WE be? Yes, we have only to open our mouths
    to speak a word or two for ourselves, and we should find every
    fist at our teeth."

    " Quite so," the ex-soldier agreed as, taking up a square of
    scantling, he examined it attentively.

    "Whom DO you respect?" Vasili continued after a pause.

    "I respect," the ex-soldier said with some emphasis, "only the
    Russian people, the true Russian people, the folk who labour on
    land whereon labour is hard. Yet who are the folk whom you find
    HERE? In this part of the world the business of living is an easy
    one. Much of every sort of natural produce is to be had, and the
    soil is generous and light--you need but to scratch it for it to
    bear, and for yourself to reap. Yes, it is indulgent to a fault.
    Rather, it is like a maiden. Do but touch her, and a child will

    "Agreed," was Vasili's remark as he drank tea from a tin mug.
    "Yet to this very part of the world is it that I should like to
    transport every soul in Russia."

    "And why?"

    "Because here they could earn a living."

    "Then is not that possible in Russia? "

    "Well, why are you yourself here?"

    "Because I am a man lacking ties."

    "And why are you lacking ties?"

    "Because it has been so ordered--it is, so to speak, my lot."

    "Then had you not better consider WHY it is your lot?"

    The ex-soldier took his pipe from his mouth, let fall the hand
    which held it, and smoothed his plain features in silent
    amazement. Then he exclaimed in uncouth, querulous tones:

    "Had I not better consider WHY it is my lot, and so forth? Why,
    damn it, the causes are many. For one thing, if one has
    neighbours who neither live nor see things as oneself does, but
    are uncongenial, what does one do? One just leaves them, and
    clears out--more especially if one be neither a priest nor a
    magistrate. Yet YOU say that I had better consider why this is my
    lot. Do you think that YOU are the only man able to consider
    things, possessed of a brain? "

    And in an access of fury the speaker replaced his pipe, and sat
    frowning in silence. Vasili eyed his interlocutor's features as
    the firelight played red upon them, and, finally, said in an

    "Yes, it is always so. We fail to get on with our neighbours,
    yet lack a charter of our own, so, having no roots to hold us,
    just fall to wandering, troubling other folk, and earning

    "The dislike of whom?" gruffly queried the ex-soldier.

    "The dislike of everyone, as you yourself have said!"

    In answer the ex-soldier merely emitted a cloud of smoke which
    completely concealed his form. Yet Vasili's voice had in it an
    agreeable note, and was flexible and ingratiating, while
    enunciating its words roundly and distinctly.

    A mountain owl, one of those splendid brown creatures which have
    the crafty physiognomy of a cat, and the sharp grey ears of a
    mouse, made the forest echo with its obtrusive cry. A bird of
    this species I once encountered among the defile's crags, and as
    the creature sailed over my head it startled me with the glassy
    eyes which, as round as buttons, seemed to be lit from within
    with menacing fire. Indeed, for a moment or two I stood half-
    stupefied with terror, for I could not conceive what the creature

    "Whence did you get that splendid pipe?" next asked Vasili as
    he rolled himself a cigarette. "Surely it is a pipe of old
    German make?"

    "You need not fear that I stole it," the ex-soldier responded as
    he removed it from his lips and regarded it proudly. "It was
    given me by a woman."

    To which, with a whimsical wink, he added a sigh.

    "Tell me how it happened," said Vasili softly. Then he flung up
    his arms, and stretched himself with a despondent cry of:

    "Ah, these nights here! Never again may God send me such bad
    ones! Try to sleep as one may, one never succeeds. Far easier,
    indeed, is it to sleep during the daytime, provided that one can
    find a shady spot. During such nights I go almost mad with
    thinking, and my heart swells and murmurs."

    The ex-soldier, who had listened with mouth agape and eyebrows
    raised even higher than usual, responded to this:

    "It is the same with me. If one could only--What did you say?"

    This last was addressed to myself, who had been about to remark,
    "The same with me also," but on seeing the pair exchanging a
    strange glance (as though involuntarily they had surprised one
    another), had left the words unspoken. My companions then set
    themselves to a mutually eager questioning with respect to their
    respective identities, past experiences, places of origin, and
    destinations, even as though they had been two kinsmen who,
    meeting unexpectedly, had discovered for the first time their
    bond of relationship.

    Meanwhile the black, fringed boughs of the pine trees hung
    stretched over the flames of the Molokans' fire as though they
    would catch some of the fire's glow and warmth, or seize it
    altogether, and put it out. And when, at times, their red tongues
    projected beyond the corner of the barraque, they made the
    building look as though it had caught alight, and extended their
    glow even to the rivulet. Constantly the night was growing denser
    and more stifling; constantly it seemed to embrace the body more
    and more caressingly, until one bathed in it as in an ocean.
    Also, much as a wave removes dirt from the skin, so the softly
    vocal darkness seemed to refresh and cleanse the soul. For it is
    on such nights as that that the soul dons its finest raiment, and
    trembles like a bride at the expectation of something glorious.

    "You say that she had a squint?" presently I heard Vasili
    continue in an undertone, and the ex-soldier slowly reply:

    "Yes, she had one from childhood upwards--she had one from the
    day when a fall from a cart caused her to injure her eyes. Yet,
    if she had not always gone about with one of her eyes shaded, you
    would never have guessed the fact. Also, she was so neat and
    practical! And her kindness--well, it was kindness as
    inexhaustible as the water of that rivulet there; it was kindness
    of the sort that wished well to all the world, and to all
    animals, and to every beggar, and even to myself! So at last
    there gripped my heart the thought, 'Why should I not try a
    soldier's luck? She is the master's favourite--true; yet none the
    less the attempt shall be made by me.' However, this way or that,
    always the reply was 'No'; always she put out at me an elbow, and
    cut me short."

    Vasili, lying prone upon his back, twitched his moustache, and
    chewed a stalk of grass. His eyes were fully open, and for the
    second time I perceived that one of them was larger than the
    other. The ex-soldier, seated near Vasili's shoulder, stirred the
    fire with a bit of charred stick, and sent sparks of gold flying
    to join the midges which were gliding to and fro over the blaze.
    Ever and anon night-moths subsided into the flames with a plop,
    crackled, and became changed into lumps of black. For my own
    part, I constructed a couch on a pile of pine boughs, and there
    lay down. And as I listened to the ex-soldier's familiar story, I
    recalled persons whom I had on one and another occasion
    remembered, and speeches which on one and another occasion had
    made an impression upon me.

    "But at last," the ex-soldier continued, "I took heart of
    grace, and caught her in a barn. Pressing her into a corner, I
    said: 'Now let it be yes or no. Of, course it shall be as you
    wish, but remember that I am a soldier with a small stock of
    patience.' Upon that she began to struggle and exclaim: 'What do
    you want? What do you want?' until, bursting into tears like a
    girl, she said through her sobs: 'Do not touch me. I am not the
    sort of woman for you. Besides, I love another--not our master,
    but another, a workman, a former lodger of ours. Before he
    departed he said to me: "Wait for me until I have found you a
    nice home, and returned to fetch you"; and though it is
    seventeen years since I heard speech or whisper of him, and maybe
    he has since forgotten me, or fallen in love with someone else,
    or come to grief, or been murdered, you, who are a map, will
    understand that I must bide a little while longer.' True, this
    offended me (for in what respect was I any worse than the other
    man?); yet also I felt sorry for her, and grieved that I should
    have wronged her by thinking her frivolous, when all the time
    there had been THIS at her heart. I drew back, therefore--I could
    not lay a finger upon her, though she was in my power. And at
    last I said: 'Good-bye! I am going away.' 'Go,' she replied.
    'Yes, go for the love of Christ!' . . . Wherefore, on the
    following evening I settled accounts with our master, and at dawn
    of a Sunday morning packed my wallet, took with me this pipe, and
    departed. 'Yes, take the pipe, Paul Ivanovitch,' she said before
    my departure. 'Perhaps it will serve to keep you in remembrance
    of me--you whom henceforth I shall regard as a brother, and whom I
    thank.' . . . As I walked away I was very nigh to tears, so keen
    was the pain in my heart. Aye, keen it was indeed! "

    "You did right," Vasili remarked softly after a pause.

    "Things must always so befall. Always must it be a case either
    of 'Yes?' 'Yes,' and of folk coming together, or of 'No' 'No,'
    and of folk parting. And invariably the one person in the case
    grieves the other. Why should that be?"

    Emitting a cloud of grey smoke, the ex-soldier replied

    "Yes, I know I did right; but that right was done only at a
    great cost."

    "And always that too is the case," Vasili agreed. Then he added:

    "Generally such fortune falls to the lot of people who have
    tender consciences. He who values himself also values his
    fellows; but, unfortunately a man all too seldom values even

    "To whom are you referring? To you and myself?"

    "To our Russian folk in general."

    "Then you cannot have very much respect for Russia." The ex-
    soldier's tone had taken on a curious note. He seemed to be
    feeling both astonished at and grieved for his companion.

    The other, however, did not reply; and after a few moments the
    ex-soldier softly concluded:

    "So now you have heard my story."

    By this time the carpenters had ceased singing around the
    barraque, and let their fire die down until quivering on the wall
    of the edifice there was only a fiery-red patch, a patch barely
    sufficient to render visible the shadows of the rocks; while
    beside the fire there was seated only a tall figure with a black
    beard which had, grasped in its hands, a heavy cudgel, and, lying
    near its right foot, an axe. The figure was that of a watchman
    set by the carpenters to keep an eye upon ourselves, the
    appointed watchmen; though the fact in no way offended us.

    Over the defile, in a ragged strip of sky, there were gleaming
    stars, while the rivulet was bubbling and purling, and from the
    obscurity of the forest there kept coming to our ears, now the
    cautious, rustling tread of some night animal, and now the
    mournful cry of an owl, until all nature seemed to be instinct
    with a secret vitality the sweet breath of which kept moving the
    heart to hunger insatiably for the beautiful.

    Also, as I lay listening to the voice of the ex-soldier, a voice
    reminiscent of a distant tambourine, and to Vasili's pensive
    questions, I conceived a liking for the men, and began to detect
    that in their relations there was dawning something good and
    human. At the same time, the effect of some of Vasili's dicta on
    Russia was to arouse in me mingled feelings which impelled me at
    once to argue with him and to induce him to speak at greater
    length, with more clarity, on the subject of our mutual
    fatherland. Hence always I have loved that night for the visions
    which it brought to me--visions which still come back to me like a
    dear, familiar tale.

    I thought of a student of Kazan whom I had known in the days of
    the past, of a young fellow from Viatka who, pale-browed, and
    sententious of diction, might almost have been brother to the ex-
    soldier himself. And once again I heard him declare that "before
    all things must I learn whether or not there exists a God; pre-
    eminently must I make a beginning there."

    And I thought, too, of a certain accoucheuse named Velikova who
    had been a comely, but reputedly gay, woman. And I remembered a
    certain occasion when, on a hill overlooking the river Kazan and
    the Arski Plain, she had stood contemplating the marshes below,
    and the far blue line of the Volga; until suddenly turning pale,
    she had, with tears of joy sparkling in her fine eyes, cried
    under her breath, but sufficiently loudly for all present to hear

    "Ah, friends, how gracious and how fair is this land of ours!
    Come, let us salute that land for having deemed us worthy of
    residence therein!"

    Whereupon all present, including a deacon-student from the
    Ecclesiastical School, a Morduine from the Foreign College, a
    student of veterinary science, and two of our tutors, had done
    obeisance. At the same time I recalled the fact that subsequently
    one of the party had gone mad, and committed suicide.

    Again, I recalled how once, on the Piani Bor [Liquor Wharf] by
    the river Kama, a tall, sandy young fellow with intelligent eyes
    and the face of a ne'er-do-well had caught my attention. The day
    had been a hot, languorous Sunday on which all things had seemed
    to be exhibiting their better side, and telling the sun that it
    was not in vain that he was pouring out his brilliant potency,
    and diffusing his living gold; while the man of whom I speak had,
    dressed in a new suit of blue serge, a new cap cocked awry, and a
    pair of brilliantly polished boots, been standing at the edge of
    the wharf, and gazing at the brown waters of the Kama, the
    emerald expanse beyond them and the silver-scaled pools left
    behind by the tide. Until, as the sun had begun to sink towards
    the marshes on the other side of the river, and to become
    dissolved into streaks, the man had smiled with increasing
    rapture, and his face had glowed with creasing eagerness and
    delight; until finally he had snatched the cap from his head,
    flung it, with a powerful throw far out into the russet waters,
    and shouted: "Kama, O my mother, I love you, and never will
    desert you!"

    And the last, and also the best, recollection of things seen
    before the night of which I speak was the recollection of an
    occasion when, one late autumn, I had been crossing the Caspian
    Sea on an old two-masted schooner laden with dried apricots,
    plums, and peaches. Sailing on her also she had had some hundred
    fishermen from the Bozhi Factory, men who, originally forest
    peasants of the Upper Volga, had been well-built, bearded,
    healthy, goodhumoured, animal-spirited young fellows, youngsters
    tanned with the wind, and salted with the sea water; youngsters
    who, after working hard at their trade, had been rejoicing at the
    prospect of returning home. And careering about the deck like
    youthful bears as ever and anon lofty, sharp-pointed waves had
    seized and tossed aloft the schooner, and the yards had cracked,
    and the taut-run rigging had whistled, and the sails had bellied
    into globes, and the howling wind had shaved off the white crests
    of billows, and partially submerged the vessel in clouds of foam.

    And seated on the deck with his broad back resting against the
    mainmast there had been one young giant in particular. Clad in a
    white linen shirt and a pair of blue serge trousers, and innocent
    alike of beard and moustache, this young fellow had had full, red
    lips, blue, boyish, and exceedingly translucent eyes, and a face
    intoxicated in excelsis with the happiness of youth; while
    leaning across his knees as they had rested sprawling over the
    deck there had been a young female trimmer of fish, a wench as
    massive and tall as the young man himself, and a wench whose face
    had become tanned to roughness with the sun and wind, eyebrows
    dark, full, and as large as the wings of a swallow, breasts as
    firm as stone, and teats around which, as they projected from the
    folds of a red bodice, there had lain a pattern of blue veins.

    The broad, iron-black palm of the young fellow's long, knotted
    hand had been resting on the woman's left breast, with the arm
    bare to the elbow; while in his right hand, as he had sat gazing
    pensively at the woman's robust figure, there had been grasped a
    tin mug from which some of the red liquor had scattered stains
    over the front of his linen shirt.

    Meanwhile, around the pair there had been hovering some of the
    youngster's comrades, who, with coats buttoned to the throat, and
    caps gripped to prevent their being blown away by the wind, had
    employed themselves with scanning the woman's figure with envious
    eyes, and viewing her from either side. Nay, the shaggy green
    waves themselves had been stealing occasional glimpses at the
    picture as clouds had swirled across the sky, gulls had uttered
    their insatiable scream, and the sun, dancing on the foam-flecked
    waters, had vested the billows, now in tints of blue, now in
    natural tints as of flaming jewels.

    In short, all the passengers on the schooner had been shouting
    and laughing and singing, while the great bearded peasants had
    also been paying assiduous court to a large leathern bottle which
    had lain ensconced on a heap of peach-sacks, with the result that
    the scene had come to have about it something of the antique,
    legendary air of the return of Stepan Razin from his Persian

    At length the buffeting of the wind had caused an old man with a
    crooked nose set on a hairy, faun-like face to stumble over one
    of the woman's feet; whereupon he had halted, thrown up his head
    with nonsenile vigour, and exclaimed:

    "May the devil fly away with you, you shameless hussy! Why lie
    sprawling about the deck like this? See, too, how exposed you

    The woman had not stirred at the words--she had not even opened an
    eye; only over her lips there had passed a faint tremor. Whereas
    the young fellow had straightened himself, deposited his tin mug
    upon the deck, and cried loudly as he laid his disengaged hand
    upon the woman's breast.

    "Ah, you envy me, do you, Yakim Petrov? Never mind, though you
    have done no great harm. But run no risks; do not look for
    needless trouble, for your day for sucking sugarplums is past."

    Whereafter, raising both his hands, the young fellow had softly
    let them sink again upon the woman's bosom as he added

    "These breasts could feed all Russia! "

    Then, and only then, had the woman smiled a long, slow smile. And
    as she had done so everything in the vicinity had seemed to smile
    in unison, and to rise and fall in harmony with her bosom--yes,
    the whole vessel, and the vessel's freight. And at the moment
    when a particularly large wave had struck the bulwarks, and
    besprinkled all on board with spray, the woman had opened her
    dark eyes, looked kindly at the old man, and at the young fellow,
    and at the scene in general--then set herself to recover her

    "Nay," the young fellow had cried as he interposed to remove her
    hands. "There is no need for that, there is no need for that.
    Let them ALL look."


    Such the memories that came back to my recollection that night.
    Gladly I would have recounted them to my companions, but,
    unfortunately, these had, by now, succumbed to slumber. The ex-
    soldier, resting in a sitting posture, and snoring loudly, had
    his back prised against his wallet, his head sloped sideways, and
    his hands clasped upon his knees, while Vasili was lying on his
    back with his face turned upwards, his hands clasped behind his
    head, his dark, finely moulded brows raised a little, and his
    moustache erect. Also, he was weeping in his sleep--tears were
    coursing down his brown, sunburnt cheeks; tears which, in the
    moonlight, had in them something of the greenish tint of a
    chrysolite or sea water, and which, on such a manly face, looked
    strange indeed!

    Still the rivulet was purling as it flowed, and the fire
    crackling; while bathed in the red glow of the flames there was
    sitting, bent forward, the dark, stonelike figure of the
    Molokans' watchman, with the axe at his feet reflecting the
    radiant gleam of the moon in the sky above us.

    All the earth seemed to be sleeping as ever the waning stars
    seemed to draw nearer and nearer. . . .

    The slow length of the next day was dragged along amid an inertia
    born of the moist heat, the song of the river, and the
    intoxicating scents of forest and flowers. In short, one felt
    inclined to do nothing, from morn till night, save roam the
    defile without the exchanging of a word, the conceiving of a
    desire, or the formulating of a thought.

    At sunset, when we were engaged in drinking tea by the fire, the
    ex-soldier remarked:

    "I hope that life in the next world will exactly resemble life
    in this spot, and be just as quiet and peaceful and immune from
    work. Here one needs but to sit and melt like butter and suffer
    neither from wrong nor anxiety."

    Then, as carefully he withdrew his pipe from his lips, and
    sighed, he added:

    "Aye! If I could but feel sure that life in the next world will
    be like life here, I would pray to God: 'For Christ's sake take
    my soul at the earliest conceivable moment.'"

    "What might suit YOU would not suit ME," Vasili thoughtfully
    observed. "I would not always live such a life as this. I might
    do so for a time, but not in perpetuity."

    "Ah, but never have you worked hard," grunted the ex-soldier.

    In every way the evening resembled the previous one; there were
    to be observed the same luscious flooding of the defile with
    dove-coloured mist, the same flashing of the silver crags in the
    roseate twilight, the same rocking of the dense, warm forest's
    soft, leafy tree-tops, the same softening of the rocks' outlines
    in the gloom, the same gradual uplift of shadows, the same
    chanting of the "matchmaking" river, the same routine on the
    part of the big, sleek carpenters around the barraque--a routine
    as slow and ponderous in its course as the movements of a drove
    of wild boars.

    More than once during the off hours of the day had we sought to
    make the carpenters' acquaintance, to start a conversation with
    them, but always their answers had been given reluctantly, in
    monosyllables, and never had a discussion seemed likely to get
    under way without the whiteheaded foreman shouting to the
    particular member of the gang concerned: " Hi, you, Pavlushka!
    Get back to work, there! " Indeed, he, the foreman, had outdone
    all in his manifestations of dislike for our friendship, and as
    monotonously as though he had been minded to rival the rivulet as
    a songster, he had hummed his pious ditties, or else raised his
    snuffling voice to sing them with an ever-importunate measure of
    insistence, so that all day long those ditties had been coursing
    their way in a murky, melancholy-compelling flood. Indeed, as the
    foreman had stepped cautiously on thin legs from stone to stone
    during his ceaseless inspection of the work of his men, he had
    come to seem to have for his object the describing of an
    invisible, circular path, as a means of segregating us more
    securely than ever from the society of the carpenters.

    Personally, however, I had no desire to converse with him, for
    his frozen eyes chilled and repelled me and from the moment when
    I had approached him, and seen him fold his hands behind him, and
    recoil a step as he inquired with suppressed sternness, "What do
    you want?" there had fallen away from me all further ambition to
    learn the nature of the songs which he sang.

    The ex-soldier gazed at him resentfully, then said with an oath:

    "The old wizard and pilferer! Take my word for it that a lump of
    piety like that has got a pretty store put away somewhere."

    Whereafter, as he lit his pipe and squinted in the direction of
    the carpenters, he added with stifled wrath:

    "The airs that the 'elect' give themselves--the sons of
    bitches! "

    "It is always so," commented Vasili with a resentment equal to
    the last speaker's. "Yes, no sooner, with us, does a man
    accumulate a little money than he sticks his nose in the air, and
    falls to thinking himself a real barin."

    "Why is it that you always say 'With us,' and 'Among us,' and so

    "Among us Russians, then, if you like it better."

    "I do like it better. For you are not a German, are you, nor a

    "No. It is merely that I can see the faults in our Russian

    Upon that (not for the first time) the pair plunged into a
    discussion which had come so to weary them that now they spoke
    only indifferently, without effort.

    "The word 'faults' is, I consider, an insult," began the ex-
    soldier as he puffed at his pipe. "Besides, you don't speak
    consistently. Only this moment I observed a change in your

    "To what?"

    "To the term 'Russians.'"

    "What should you prefer?"

    A new sound floated into the defile as from some point on the
    steppe the sound of a bell summoning folk to the usual Saturday
    vigil service. Removing his pipe from his mouth, the ex-soldier
    listened for a moment or two. Then, at the third and last stroke
    of the bell, he doffed his cap, crossed himself with punctilious
    piety, and said:

    "There are not very many churches in these parts."

    Whereafter he threw a glance across the river, and added

    "Those devils THERE don't cross themselves, the accursed Serbs!"

    Vasili looked at him, twisted a left-hand moustache, smoothed it
    again, regarded for a moment the sky and the defile, and sank his

    "The trouble with me," he remarked in an undertone, "is that I
    can never remain very long in one place--always I keep fancying
    that I shall meet with better things elsewhere, always I keep
    hearing a bird singing in my heart, 'Do you go further, do you
    go further.'"

    "That bird sings in the heart of EVERY man," the ex-soldier
    growled sulkily.

    With a glance at us both, Vasili laughed a subdued laugh.

    "'In the heart of every man'? " he repeated. "Why, such a
    statement is absurd. For it means, does it not, that every one of
    us is an idler, every one of us is constantly waiting for
    something to turn up--that, in fact, no one of us is any better
    than, or able to do any better than, the folk whose sole
    utterance is 'Give unto us, pray give unto us'? Yes, if that be
    the case, it is an unfortunate case indeed!"

    And again he laughed. Yet his eyes were sorrowful, and as the
    fingers of his right hand lay upon his knee they twitched as
    though they were longing to grasp something unseen.

    The ex-soldier frowned and snorted. For my own part, however, I
    felt troubled for, and sorry for, Vasili. Presently he rose,
    broke into a soft whistle, and moved away by the side of the

    "His head is not quite right," muttered the ex-soldier as he
    winked in the direction of the retreating figure. "Yes, I tell
    you that straight, for from the first it was clear to me.
    Otherwise, what could his words in depredation of Russia mean,
    when of Russia nothing the least hard or definite can be said?
    Who really knows her? What is she in reality, seeing that each of
    her provinces is a soul to itself, and no one could state which
    of the two Holy Mothers stands nearest to God--the Holy Mother of
    Smolensk, or the Holy Mother of Kazan? "

    For a while the speaker sat scraping greasy deposit from the
    bottom and sides of the kettle; and all that while he grumbled as
    though he had a grudge against someone. At length, however, he
    assumed an attitude of attention, with his neck stretched out as
    though to listen to some sound.

    "Hist!" was his exclamation.

    What then followed, followed as unexpectedly as when, like an
    evil bird, a summer whirlwind suddenly sweeps up from the
    horizon, and discharges a bluish-black cloud in torrents of rain
    and hail, until everything is overwhelmed and battered to mud.

    That is to say, with much din of whistling and other sounds there
    now came pouring into the defile, and began to ascend the trail
    beside the stream, a straggling procession of some thirty workmen
    with, gleaming dully in the hands of their leading files, flagons
    of vodka, and, suspended on the backs and shoulders of others,
    wallets and bags of bread and other comestibles, and, in two
    instances, poised on the heads of yet other processionists, large
    black cauldrons the effect of which was to make their bearers
    look like mushrooms.

    "A vedro [2 3/4 gallons] and a half to the cauldron!" whispered
    the ex-soldier with a computative grunt as he gained his feet.

    "Yes, a vedro and a half," he repeated. As he spoke the tip of
    his tongue protruded until it rested on the under-lip of his
    half-opened mouth. In his face there was a curiously thirsty,
    gross expression, and his attitude, as he stood there, was that
    of one who had just received a blow, and was about to cry out in

    Meanwhile the defile rumbled like a barrel into which heavy
    weights are being dropped, for one of the newcomers was beating
    an empty tin pail, and another one whistling in a manner the
    tossed echoes of which drowned even the rivulet's murmur as
    nearer and nearer came the mob of men, a mob clad variously in
    black, grey, or russet, with sleeves rolled up, and heads, in
    many cases, bare save for their own towsled, dishevelled locks,
    and bodies bent with fatigue, or carried stumblingly along on
    legs bowed outwards. Meanwhile, as the dull, polyphonous roar of
    voices swept through the neck of the defile, a man shouted in
    broken, but truculent, accents:

    "I say no! Fiddlesticks! Not a man is there who could drink more
    than a vedro of 'blood-and-sweat' in a day."

    "A man could drink a lake of it."

    "No, a vedro and a half. That is the proper reckoning."

    "Aye, a vedro and a half." And the ex-soldier, as he repeated
    the words, spoke both as though he were an expert in the matter
    and as though he felt for the matter a touch of respect. Then,
    lurching forward like a man pushed by the scruff of the neck, he
    crossed the rivulet, intercepted the crowd, and became swallowed
    up in its midst.

    Around the barraque the carpenters (the foreman ever glimmering
    among them) were hurriedly collecting tools. Presently Vasili
    returned--his right hand thrust into his pocket, and his left
    holding his cap.

    "Before long those fellows will be properly drunk! " he said
    with a frown. "Ah, that vodka of ours! It is a perfect curse!"
    Then to me: "Do YOU drink?"

    "No," I replied.

    "Thank God for that! If one does not drink one will never really
    get into trouble."

    For a moment he gazed gloomily in the direction of the newcomers.
    Then he said without moving, without even looking at me:

    "You have remarkable eyes, young fellow. Also, they seem
    familiar to me--I have seen them somewhere before. Possibly that
    happened in a dream, though I cannot be sure. Where do you come

    I answered, but, after scanning me perplexedly, he shook his

    "No," he remarked. "I have never visited that part of the
    country, or indeed, been so far from home."

    "But this place is further still?"

    "Further still?"

    "Yes--from Kursk."

    He laughed.

    "I must tell you the truth," he said. "I am not a Kurskan at
    all, but a Pskovian. The reason why I told the ex-soldier that I
    was from Kursk was that I neither liked him nor cared to tell him
    the whole truth-he was not worth the trouble. And as for my real
    name, it is Paul, not Vasili--Paul Nikolaev Silantiev-- and is so
    marked on my passport (for a passport, and a passport quite in
    order, I have got)."

    "And why are you on your travels? "

    "For the reason that I am so--I can say no more. I look back from
    a given place, and wave my hand, and am gone again as a feather
    floats before the wind."


    "Silence!" a threatening voice near the barraque broke in. "I
    am the foreman here."

    The voice of the ex-soldier replied:

    "What workmen are these of yours? They are mere sectarians,
    fellows who are for ever singing hymns."

    To which someone else added:

    "Besides, old devil that you are, aren't you bound to finish all
    building work before the beginning of a Sunday?"

    "Let us throw their tools into the stream."

    "Yes, and start a riot," was Silantiev's comment as he squatted
    before the embers of the fire.

    Around the barraque, picked out against the yellow of its
    framework, a number of dark figures were surging to and fro as
    around a conflagration. Presently we heard something smashed to
    pieces--at all events, we heard the cracking and scraping of wood
    against stone, and then the strident, hilarious command:

    "Hold on there! I'LL soon put things to rights! Carpenters, just
    hand over the saw!"

    Apparently there were three men in charge of the proceedings: the
    one a red-bearded muzhik in a seaman's blouse; the second a tall
    man with hunched shoulders, thin legs, and long arms who kept
    grasping the foreman by the collar, shaking him, and bawling,
    "Where are your lathes? Bring them out!" (while noticeable also
    was a broad-shouldered young fellow in a ragged red shirt who
    kept thrusting pieces of scantling through the windows of the
    barraque, and shouting, "Catch hold of these! Lay them out in a
    row!"); and the third the ex-soldier himself. The last-named, as
    he jostled his way among the crowd, kept vociferating, viciously,
    virulently, and with a curious system of division of his

    "Aha-a, ra-abble, secta-arians. Yo-ou would have nothing to say
    to me, you Se-erbs! Yet I say to YOU: Go along, my chickens, for
    the re-est of us are ti-ired of you, and come to sa-ay so!"

    "What does he want?" asked Silantiev quietly as he lit a
    cigarette. "Vodka? Oh, THEY'LL give him vodka! . . . Yet are you
    not sorry for fellows of that stamp?"

    Through the blue tobacco-smoke he gazed into the glowing embers;
    until at last he took a charred stick, and collected the embers
    into a heap glowing red-gold like a bouquet of fiery poppies; and
    as he did so, his handsome eyes gleamed with just such a reverent
    affection, such a prayerful kindliness, as must have lurked in
    the eyes of primeval, nomadic man in the presence of the dancing,
    beneficent source of light and heat.

    "At least I am sorry for such fellows," Vasili continued.
    "Aye, the very thought of the many, many folk who have come to
    nothing! The very thought of it! Terrible, terrible!"

    A touch of daylight was still lingering on the tops of the
    mountains, but in the defile itself night was beginning to loom,
    and to lull all things to sleep--to incline one neither to speak
    oneself nor to listen to the dull clamour of those others on the
    opposite bank, where even to the murmur of the rivulet the
    distasteful din seemed to communicate a note of anger.

    There the crowd had lit a huge bonfire, and then added to it a
    second one which, crackling, hissing, and emitting coils of
    bluish-tinted smoke, had fallen to vying with its fellow in
    lacing the foam of the rivulet with muslin-like patterns in red.
    As the mass of dark figures surged between the two flares an
    hilarious voice shouted to us the invitation:

    "Come over here, you! Don't be backward! Come over here, I say!"

    Upon which followed a clatter as of the smashing of a drinking-
    vessel, while from the red-bearded muzhik came a thick, raucous
    shout of:

    "These fellows needed to be taught a lesson!"

    Almost at the same moment the foreman of the carpenters broke his
    way clear of the crowd, and, carefully crossing the rivulet by
    the stepping-stones which we had constructed, squatted down upon
    his heels by the margin, and with much puffing and blowing fell
    to rinsing his face, a face which in the murky firelight looked
    flushed and red.

    "I think that someone has given him a blow," hazarded Silantiev
    sotto voce.

    And when the foreman rose to approach us this proved to be the
    case, for then we saw that dripping from his nose, and meandering
    over his moustache and soaked white beard, there was a stream of
    dark blood which had spotted and streaked his shirt-front.

    "Peace to this gathering!" he said gravely as, pressing his
    left hand to his stomach, he bowed.

    "And we pray your indulgence," was Silantiev's response, though
    he did not raise his eyes as he spoke. "Pray be seated."

    Small, withered, and, for all but his blood-stained shirt,
    scrupulously clean, the old man reminded me of certain pictures
    of old-time hermits, and the more so since either pain or shame
    or the gleam of the firelight had caused his hitherto dead eyes
    to gather life and grow brighter--aye, and sterner. Somehow, as I
    looked at him, I felt awkward and abashed.

    A cough twisted his broad nose. Then he wiped his beard on the
    palm of his hand, and his hand on his knee; whereafter, as he
    stretched forth the pair of senile, dark-coloured hands, and held
    them over the embers, he said:

    "How cold the water of the rivulet is! It is absolutely icy."

    With a glance from under his brows Silantiev inquired:

    "Are you very badly hurt?"

    "No. Merely a man caught me a blow on the bridge of the nose,
    where the blood flows readily. Yet, as God knows, he will gain
    nothing by his act, whereas the suffering which he has caused me
    will go to swell my account with the Holy Spirit."

    As the man spoke he glanced across the rivulet. On the opposite
    bank two men were staggering along, and drunkenly bawling the
    tipsy refrain:

    "In the du-u-uok let me die,
    In the au-autumn time!"

    "Aye, long is it since I received a blow," the old man
    continued, scanning the two revellers from under his hand.
    "Twenty years it must be since last I did so. And now the blow was
    struck for nothing, for no real fault.. You see, I have been
    allowed no nails for the doing of the work, and have been obliged
    to make use of wooden clamps for most of it, while battens also
    have not been forthcoming; and, this being so, it was through no
    remissness of mine that the work could not be finished by sunset
    tonight. I suspect, too, that, to eke out its wages, that rabble
    has been thieving, with the eldest leading the rest. And that,
    again, is not a thing for which I can be held responsible. True,
    this is a Government job, and some of those fellows are young,
    and young, hungry fellows such as they will (may they be
    forgiven!) steal, since everyone hankers to get something in
    return for a very little. But, once more, how is that my fault?
    Yes, that rabble must be a regular set of rascals! Just now they
    deprived my eldest son of a saw, of a brand-new saw; and
    thereafter they spilt my blood, the blood of a greybeard!"

    Here his small, grey face contracted into wrinkles, and, closing
    his eyes, he sobbed a dry, grating sob.

    Silantiev fidgeted--then sighed. Presently the old man looked at
    him, blew his nose, wiped his hand upon his trousers, and said

    "Somewhere, I think, I have seen you before."

    "That is so. You saw me one evening when I visited your
    settlement for the mending of a thresher."

    "Yes, yes. That is where I DID see you. It was you, was it not?
    Well, do you still disagree with me? "

    To which the old man added with a nod and a smile:

    "See how well I remember your words! You are, I imagine, still
    of the same opinion?"

    "How should I not be?" responded Silantiev dourly.

    "Ah, well! Ah, well!"

    And the old man stretched his hands over the fire once more,
    discoloured hands the thumbs of which were curiously bent
    outwards and splayed, and, seemingly, unable to move in harmony
    with the fingers.

    The ex-soldier shouted across the river:

    "The land here is easy to work, and makes the people lazy. Who
    would care to live in such a region? Who would care to come to
    it? Much rather would I go and earn a living on difficult land."

    The old man paid no heed, but said to Silantiev--said to him with
    an austere, derisive smile:

    "Do you STILL think it necessary to struggle against what has
    been ordained of God? Do you STILL think that long-suffering is
    bad, and resistance good? Young man, your soul is weak indeed:
    and remember that it is only the soul that can overcome Satan."

    In response Silantiev rose to his feet, shook his fist at the old
    man, and shouted in a rough, angry voice, a voice that was not
    his own:

    "All that I have heard before, and from others besides yourself.
    The truth is that I hold all you father-confessors in abhorrence.
    "Moreover," (this last was added with a violent oath) "it is not
    Satan that needs to be resisted, but such devil's ravens, such
    devil's vampires, as YOU."

    Which said, he kicked a stone away from the fire, thrust his
    hands into his pockets, and turned slowly on his heel, with his
    elbows pressed close to his sides. Nevertheless the old man,
    still smiling, said to me in an undertone:

    "He is proud, but that will not last for long."

    "Why not?"

    "Because I know in advance that--"

    Breaking off short, he turned his head upon his shoulder, and sat
    listening to some shouting that was going on across the river.
    Everyone in that quarter was drunk, and, in particular, someone
    could be heard bawling in a tone of challenge:

    "Oh? I, you say? A-a-ah! Then take that!"

    Silantiev, stepping lightly from stone to stone, crossed the
    river. Then he mingled--a conspicuous figure (owing to his
    apparent handlessness)--with the crowd. Somehow, on his departure,
    I felt ill at ease.

    Twitching his fingers as though performing a conjuring trick, the
    old man continued to sit with his hands stretched over the
    embers. By this time his nose had swollen over the bridge, and
    bruises risen under his eyes which tended to obscure his vision.
    Indeed, as he sat there, sat mouthing with dark, bestreaked lips
    under a covering of hoary beard and moustache, I found that his
    bloodstained, disfigured, wrinkled, as it were "antique" face
    reminded me more than ever of those of great sinners of ancient
    times who abandoned this world for the forest and the desert.

    "I have seen many proud folk," he continued with a shake of his
    hatless head and its sparse hairs. "A fire may burn up quickly,
    and continue to burn fiercely, yet, like these embers, become
    turned to ashes, and. so lie smouldering till dawn. Young man,
    there you have something to think of. Nor are they merely my
    words. They are the words of the Holy Gospel itself."

    Ever descending, ever weighing more heavily upon us, the night
    was as black and hot and stifling as the previous one had been,
    albeit as kindly as a mother. Still the two fires on the opposite
    bank of the rivulet were aflame, and sending hot blasts of vapour
    across a seeming brook of gold.

    Folding his arms upon his breast, the old man tucked the palms of
    his hands into his armpits, and settled himself more comfortably.
    Nevertheless, when I made as though to add more twigs and
    shavings to the embers he exclaimed imperiously:

    "There is no need for that."

    "Why is there not? "

    "Because that would cause the fire to be seen, and bring some of
    those men over here."

    Again, as he kicked away some boughs which I had just broken up,
    he repeated:

    "There is no need for that, I tell you."

    Presently, there approached us through the shimmering fire light
    on the opposite bank two carpenters with boxes on their backs,
    and axes in their hands.

    "Are all the rest of our men gone?" inquired the foreman of the

    "Yes," replied one of them, a tall man with a drooping moustache
    and no beard.

    "Well, 'shun evil, and good will result.'"

    "Aye, and we likewise wish to depart."

    "But a task ought not to be left unfinished. At dinner-time I
    sent Olesha to say that none of those fellows had better be
    released from work; but released they have been, and now the
    result is apparent! Presently, when they have drunk a little more
    of their poison, they will fire the barraque."

    Every time that the first of the two carpenters inhaled the smoke
    of my cigarette he spat into the embers, while the other man, a
    young fellow as plump as a female baker, sank his towsled head
    upon his breast as soon as he sat down, and fell asleep.

    Next, the clamour across the rivulet subsided for awhile. But
    suddenly I heard the ex-soldier exclaim in drunken, singsong
    accents which came from the very centre of the tumult:

    "Hi, do you answer me! How comes it that you have no respect for
    Russia? Is not Riazan a part of Russia? What is Russia, then, I
    should like to know? "

    "A tavern," the foreman commented quietly; whereafter, turning
    to me, he added more loudly:

    "I say this of such fellows-- that a tavern... But what a noise
    those roisterers are making, to be sure!"

    The young fellow in the red shirt had just shouted:

    "Hi, there, soldier! Seize him by the throat! Seize him, seize

    While from Silantiev had come the gruff retort:

    "What? Do you suppose that you are hunting a pack of hounds?"

    "Here, answer me!" was the next shouted utterance--it came from
    the ex-soldier-- whereupon the old man remarked to me in an

    "It would seem that a fight is brewing."

    Rising, I moved in the direction of the uproar. As I did so, I
    heard the old man say softly to his companions:

    "He too is gone, thank God!"

    Suddenly there surged towards me from the opposite bank a crowd
    of men. Belching, hiccuping, and grunting, they seemed to be
    carrying or dragging in their midst some heavy weight. Presently
    a woman's voice screamed, "Ya-av-sha!" and other voices raised
    mingled shouts of "Throw him in! Give him a thrashing!" and
    "Drag him along!"

    The next moment we saw Silantiev break out of the crowd,
    straighten himself, swing his right fist in the air, and hurl
    himself at the crowd again. As he did so the young fellow in the
    red shirt raised a gigantic arm, and there followed the sound of
    a muffled, grisly blow. Staggering backwards, Silantiev slid
    silently into the water, and lay there at my feet.

    "That's right!" was the comment of someone.

    For a moment or two the clamour subsided a little, and during
    that moment or two one's ears once more became laved with the
    sweet singsong of the river. Shortly afterwards someone threw
    into the water a huge stone, and someone else laughed in a dull

    As I was bending to look at Silantiev some of the men jostled me.
    Nevertheless, I continued to struggle to raise him from the spot
    where, half in and half out of the water, he lay with his head
    and breast resting against the stepping-stones.

    "You have killed him!" next I shouted--not because I believed
    the statement to be true, but because I had a mind to frighten
    into sobriety the men who were impeding me.

    Upon this someone exclaimed in a faltering, sobered tone:

    "Surely not?"

    As for the young fellow in the red shirt, he passed me by with a
    braggart, resentful shout of:

    "Well? He had no right to insult me. Why should he have said
    that I was a nuisance to the whole country?"

    And someone else shouted:

    "Where is the ex-soldier? Who is the watchman here?"

    "Bring a light," was the cry of a third.

    Yet all these voices were more sober, more subdued, more
    restrained than they had been, and presently a little muzhik
    whose poll was swathed in a red handkerchief stooped and raised
    Silantiev's head. But almost as instantly he let it fall again,
    and, dipping his hands into the water, said gravely:

    "You have killed him. He is dead."

    At the moment I did not believe the words; but presently, as I
    stood watching how the water coursed between Silantiev's legs,
    and turned them this way and that, and made them stir as though
    they were striving to divest themselves of the shabby old boots,
    I realised with all my being that the hands which were resting in
    mine were the hands of a corpse. And, true enough, when I
    released them they slapped down upon the surface like wet dish-

    Until now, about a dozen men had been standing on the bank to
    observe what was toward, but as soon as the little muzhik's words
    rang out these men recoiled, and, with jostlings, began to vent,
    in subdued, uneasy tones, cries of:

    "Who was it first struck him?"

    "This will lose us our jobs."

    "It was the soldier that first started the racket."

    "Yes, that is true."

    "Let us go and denounce him."

    As for the young fellow in the red shirt, he cried:

    "I swear on my honour, mates, that the affair was only a

    "To hit a man with a bludgeon is more than a quarrel."

    "It was a stone that was used, not a bludgeon."

    "The soldier ought to--"

    A woman's high-pitched voice broke in with a plaintive cry of:

    "Good Lord! Always something happens to us! "

    As for myself, I felt stunned and hurt as I seated myself upon
    the stepping-stones; and though everything was plain to my sight,
    nothing was plain to my understanding, while in my breast a
    strange emptiness was present, save that the clamour of the
    bystanders aroused me to a certain longing to outshout them all,
    to send forth my voice into the night like the voice of a brazen

    Presently two other men approached us. In the hand of the first
    was a torch which he kept waving to and fro to prevent its being
    extinguished, and whence, therefore, he kept strewing showers of
    golden sparks. A fair-headed little fellow, he had a body as thin
    as a pike when standing on its tail, a grey, stonelike
    countenance that was deeply sunken between the shoulders, a mouth
    perpetually half-agape, and round, owlish-looking eyes.

    As he approached the corpse he bent forward with one hand upon
    his knee to throw the more light upon Silantiev's bruised head
    and body. That head was resting turned upon the shoulder, and no
    longer could I recognise the once handsome Cossack face, so
    buried was the jaunty forelock under a clot of black-red mud, and
    concealed by a swelling which had made its appearance above the
    left ear. Also, since the mouth and moustache had been bashed
    aside the teeth lay bared in a twisted, truly horrible smile,
    while, as the most horrible point of all, the left eye was
    hanging from its socket, and, become hideously large, gazing,
    seemingly, at the inner pocket of the flap of Silantiev's pea-
    jacket, whence there was protruding a white edging of paper.

    Slowly the torch holder described a circle of fire in the air,
    and thereby sprinkled a further shower of sparks over the poor
    mutilated face, with its streaks of shining blood. Then he
    muttered with a smack of the lips:

    "You can see for yourselves who the man is."

    As he spoke a few more sparks descended upon Silantiev's scalp
    and wet cheeks, and went out, while the flare's reflection so
    played in the ball of Silantiev's eye as to communicate to it an
    added appearance of death.

    Finally the torch holder straightened his back, threw his torch
    into the river, expectorated after it, and said to his companion
    as he smoothed a flaxen poll which, in the darkness, looked
    almost greenish:

    "Do you go to the barraque, and tell them that a man has been
    done to death."

    "No; I should be afraid to go alone."

    "Come, come! Nothing is there to be afraid of. Go, I tell you."

    "But I would much rather not."

    "Don't be such a fool!"

    Suddenly there sounded over my head the quiet voice of the

    "I will accompany you," he said. Then he added disgustedly as he
    scraped his foot against a stone:

    "How horrible the blood smells! It would seem that my very foot
    is smeared with it."

    With a frown the fair-headed muzhik eyed him, while the foreman
    returned the muzhik's gaze with a scrutiny that never wavered.
    Finally the elder man commented with cold severity:

    "All the mischief has come of vodka and tobacco, the devil's

    Not only were the pair strangely alike, but both of them
    strangely resembled wizards, in that both were short of stature,
    as sharp-finished as gimlets, and as green-tinted by the darkness
    as tufts of lichen.

    "Let us go, brother," the foreman said. "Go we with the Holy

    And, omitting even to inquire who had been killed, or even to
    glance at the corpse, or even to pay it the last salute demanded
    of custom, the foreman departed down the stream, while in his
    wake followed the messenger, a man who kept stumbling as he
    picked his way from stone to stone. Amid the gloom the pair moved
    as silently as ghosts.

    The narrow-chested, fair-headed little muzhik then raked me with
    his eyes; whereafter he produced a cigarette from a tin box,
    snapped-to the lid of the box, struck a match (illuminating once
    more the face of the dead man), and applied the flame to the
    cigarette. Lastly he said:

    "This is the sixth murder which I have seen one thing and
    another commit."

    "One thing and another commit?" I queried.

    The reply came only after a pause; when the little muzhik asked:
    " What did you say? I did not quite catch it."

    I explained that human beings, not inanimate entities, murdered
    human beings.

    "Well, be they human beings or machinery or lightning or
    anything else, they are all one. One of my mates was caught in
    some machinery at Bakhmakh. Another one had his throat cut in a
    brawl. Another one was crushed against the bucket in a coal mine.
    Another one was--"

    Carefully though the man counted, he ended by erring in his
    reckoning to the extent of making his total "five." Accordingly
    he re-computed the list--and this time succeeded in making the
    total amount to "seven."

    "Never mind," he remarked with a sigh as he blew his cigarette
    into a red glow which illuminated the whole of his face. "The
    truth is that I cannot always repeat the list correctly, just as
    I should like. Were I older than I am, I too should contrive to
    get finished off; for old-age is a far from desirable thing. Yes,
    indeed! But, as things are, I am still alive, nor, thank the
    Lord, does anything matter very much."

    Presently, with a nod towards Silantiev, he continued:

    "Even now HIS kinsfolk or his wife may be looking for news of
    him, or a letter from him. Well, never again will he write, and
    as likely as not his kinsfolk will end by saying to themselves:
    'He has taken to bad ways, and forgotten his family.' Yes, good

    By this time the clamour around the barraque had ceased, and the
    two fires had burnt themselves out, and most of the men
    dispersed. From the smooth yellow walls of the barraque dark,
    round, knot-holes were gazing at the rivulet like eyes. Only in a
    single window without a frame was there visible a faint light,
    while at intervals there issued thence fragmentary, angry
    exclamations such as:

    "Look sharp there, and deal! Clubs will be the winners."

    "Ah! Here is a trump!"

    "Indeed? What luck, damn it!"

    The fair-headed muzhik blew the ashes from his cigarette, and

    "No such thing is there at cards as luck--only skill."

    At this juncture we saw approaching us softly from across the
    rivulet a young carpenter who wore a moustache. He halted beside
    us, and drew a deep breath.

    "Well, mate?" the fair-headed muzhik inquired.

    "Would you mind giving me something to smoke?" the carpenter
    asked. The obscurity caused him to look large and shapeless,
    though his manner of speaking was bashful and subdued.

    "Certainly. Here is a cigarette."

    "Christ reward you! Today my wife forgot to bring my tobacco,
    and my grandfather has strict ideas on the subject of smoking."

    "Was it he who departed just now? It was."

    As the carpenter inhaled a whiff he continued:

    "I suppose that man was beaten to death?"

    "He was--to death."

    For a while the pair smoked in silence. The hour was past

    Over the defile the jagged strip of sky which roofed it looked
    like a river of blue flowing at an immense height above the
    night-enveloped earth, and bearing the brilliant stars on its
    smooth current.

    Quieter and quieter was everything growing; more and more was
    everything becoming part of the night....

    One might have thought that nothing particular had happened.
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