A. P. Chekhov -
Towards midday the chaise turned off the road to the right; it
went on a little way at walking pace and then stopped.
Yegorushka heard a soft, very caressing gurgle, and felt a
different air breathe on his face with a cool velvety touch.
Through a little pipe of hemlock stuck there by some unknown
benefactor, water was running in a thin trickle from a low hill,
put together by nature of huge monstrous stones. It fell to the
ground, and limpid, sparkling gaily in the sun, and softly
murmuring as though fancying itself a great tempestuous torrent,
flowed swiftly away to the left. Not far from its source the
little stream spread itself out into a pool; the burning
sunbeams and the parched soil greedily drank it up and sucked
away its strength; but a little further on it must have mingled
with another rivulet, for a hundred paces away thick reeds
showed green and luxuriant along its course, and three snipe
flew up from them with a loud cry as the chaise drove by.
The travellers got out to rest by the stream and feed the
horses. Kuzmitchov, Father Christopher and Yegorushka sat down
on a mat in the narrow strip of shade cast by the chaise and the
unharnessed horses. The nice pleasant thought that the heat had
imprinted in Father Christopher's brain craved expression after
he had had a drink of water and eaten a hard-boiled egg. He bent
a friendly look upon Yegorushka, munched, and began:
"I studied too, my boy; from the earliest age God instilled into
me good sense and understanding, so that while I was just such a
lad as you I was beyond others, a comfort to my parents and
preceptors by my good sense. Before I was fifteen I could speak
and make verses in Latin, just as in Russian. I was the
crosier-bearer to his Holiness Bishop Christopher. After mass
one day, as I remember it was the patron saint's day of His
Majesty Tsar Alexandr Pavlovitch of blessed memory, he unrobed
at the altar, looked kindly at me and asked, 'Puer bone, quam
appelaris?' And I answered, 'Christopherus sum;' and he said,
'Ergo connominati sumus' -- that is, that we were namesakes. . .
Then he asked in Latin, 'Whose son are you?' To which I
answered, also in Latin, that I was the son of deacon Sireysky
of the village of Lebedinskoe. Seeing my readiness and the
clearness of my answers, his Holiness blessed me and said,
'Write to your father that I will not forget him, and that I
will keep you in view.' The holy priests and fathers who were
standing round the altar, hearing our discussion in Latin, were
not a little surprised, and everyone expressed his pleasure in
praise of me. Before I had moustaches, my boy, I could read
Latin, Greek, and French; I knew philosophy, mathematics,
secular history, and all the sciences. The Lord gave me a
marvellous memory. Sometimes, if I read a thing once or twice, I
knew it by heart. My preceptors and patrons were amazed, and so
they expected I should make a learned man, a luminary of the
Church. I did think of going to Kiev to continue my studies, but
my parents did not approve. 'You'll be studying all your life,'
said my father; 'when shall we see you finished?' Hearing such
words, I gave up study and took a post. . . . Of course, I did
not become a learned man, but then I did not disobey my parents;
I was a comfort to them in their old age and gave them a
creditable funeral. Obedience is more than fasting and prayer.
"I suppose you have forgotten all your learning?" observed
"I should think so! Thank God, I have reached my eightieth year!
Something of philosophy and rhetoric I do remember, but
languages and mathematics I have quite forgotten."
Father Christopher screwed up his eyes, thought a minute and
said in an undertone:
"What is a substance? A creature is a self-existing object, not
requiring anything else for its completion."
He shook his head and laughed with feeling.
"Spiritual nourishment!" he said. "Of a truth matter nourishes
the flesh and spiritual nourishment the soul!"
"Learning is all very well," sighed Kuzmitchov, "but if we don't
overtake Varlamov, learning won't do much for us."
"A man isn't a needle -- we shall find him. He must be going his
rounds in these parts."
Among the sedge were flying the three snipe they had seen
before, and in their plaintive cries there was a note of alarm
and vexation at having been driven away from the stream. The
horses were steadily munching and snorting. Deniska walked about
by them and, trying to appear indifferent to the cucumbers,
pies, and eggs that the gentry were eating, he concentrated
himself on the gadflies and horseflies that were fastening upon
the horses' backs and bellies; he squashed his victims
apathetically, emitting a peculiar, fiendishly triumphant,
guttural sound, and when he missed them cleared his throat with
an air of vexation and looked after every lucky one that escaped
"Deniska, where are you? Come and eat," said Kuzmitchov, heaving
a deep sigh, a sign that he had had enough.
Deniska diffidently approached the mat and picked out five thick
and yellow cucumbers (he did not venture to take the smaller and
fresher ones), took two hard-boiled eggs that looked dark and
were cracked, then irresolutely, as though afraid he might get a
blow on his outstretched hand, touched a pie with his finger.
"Take them, take them," Kuzmitchov urged him on.
Deniska took the pies resolutely, and, moving some distance
away, sat down on the grass with his back to the chaise. At once
there was such a sound of loud munching that even the horses
turned round to look suspiciously at Deniska.
After his meal Kuzmitchov took a sack containing something out
of the chaise and said to Yegorushka:
"I am going to sleep, and you mind that no one takes the sack
from under my head."
Father Christopher took off his cassock, his girdle, and his
full coat, and Yegorushka, looking at him, was dumb with
astonishment. He had never imagined that priests wore trousers,
and Father Christopher had on real canvas trousers thrust into
high boots, and a short striped jacket. Looking at him,
Yegorushka thought that in this costume, so unsuitable to his
dignified position, he looked with his long hair and beard very
much like Robinson Crusoe. After taking off their outer garments
Kuzmitchov and Father Christopher lay down in the shade under
the chaise, facing one another, and closed their eyes. Deniska,
who had finished munching, stretched himself out on his back and
also closed his eyes.
"You look out that no one takes away the horses!" he said to
Yegorushka, and at once fell asleep.
Stillness reigned. There was no sound except the munching and
snorting of the horses and the snoring of the sleepers;
somewhere far away a lapwing wailed, and from time to time there
sounded the shrill cries of the three snipe who had flown up to
see whether their uninvited visitors had gone away; the rivulet
babbled, lisping softly, but all these sounds did not break the
stillness, did not stir the stagnation, but, on the contrary,
lulled all nature to slumber.
Yegorushka, gasping with the heat, which was particularly
oppressive after a meal, ran to the sedge and from there
surveyed the country. He saw exactly the same as he had in the
morning: the plain, the low hills, the sky, the lilac distance;
only the hills stood nearer; and he could not see the windmill,
which had been left far behind. From behind the rocky hill from
which the stream flowed rose another, smoother and broader; a
little hamlet of five or six homesteads clung to it. No people,
no trees, no shade were to be seen about the huts; it looked as
though the hamlet had expired in the burning air and was dried
up. To while away the time Yegorushka caught a grasshopper in
the grass, held it in his closed hand to his ear, and spent a
long time listening to the creature playing on its instrument.
When he was weary of its music he ran after a flock of yellow
butterflies who were flying towards the sedge on the
watercourse, and found himself again beside the chaise, without
noticing how he came there. His uncle and Father Christopher
were sound asleep; their sleep would be sure to last two or
three hours till the horses had rested. . . . How was he to get
through that long time, and where was he to get away from the
heat? A hard problem. . . . Mechanically Yegorushka put his lips
to the trickle that ran from the waterpipe; there was a
chilliness in his mouth and there was the smell of hemlock. He
drank at first eagerly, then went on with effort till the sharp
cold had run from his mouth all over his body and the water was
spilt on his shirt. Then he went up to the chaise and began
looking at the sleeping figures. His uncle's face wore, as
before, an expression of business-like reserve. Fanatically
devoted to his work, Kuzmitchov always, even in his sleep and at
church when they were singing, "Like the cherubim," thought
about his business and could never forget it for a moment; and
now he was probably dreaming about bales of wool, waggons,
prices, Varlamov. . . . Father Christopher, now, a soft,
frivolous and absurd person, had never all his life been
conscious of anything which could, like a boa-constrictor, coil
about his soul and hold it tight. In all the numerous
enterprises he had undertaken in his day what attracted him was
not so much the business itself, but the bustle and the contact
with other people involved in every undertaking. Thus, in the
present expedition, he was not so much interested in wool, in
Varlamov, and in prices, as in the long journey, the
conversations on the way, the sleeping under a chaise, and the
meals at odd times. . . . And now, judging from his face, he
must have been dreaming of Bishop Christopher, of the Latin
discussion, of his wife, of puffs and cream and all sorts of
things that Kuzmitchov could not possibly dream of.
While Yegorushka was watching their sleeping faces he suddenly
heard a soft singing; somewhere at a distance a woman was
singing, and it was difficult to tell where and in what
direction. The song was subdued, dreary and melancholy, like a
dirge, and hardly audible, and seemed to come first from the
right, then from the left, then from above, and then from
underground, as though an unseen spirit were hovering over the
steppe and singing. Yegorushka looked about him, and could not
make out where the strange song came from. Then as he listened
he began to fancy that the grass was singing; in its song,
withered and half-dead, it was without words, but plaintively
and passionately, urging that it was not to blame, that the sun
was burning it for no fault of its own; it urged that it
ardently longed to live, that it was young and might have been
beautiful but for the heat and the drought; it was guiltless,
but yet it prayed forgiveness and protested that it was in
anguish, sad and sorry for itself. . . .
Yegorushka listened for a little, and it began to seem as though
this dreary, mournful song made the air hotter, more suffocating
and more stagnant. . . . To drown the singing he ran to the
sedge, humming to himself and trying to make a noise with his
feet. From there he looked about in all directions and found out
who was singing. Near the furthest hut in the hamlet stood a
peasant woman in a short petticoat, with long thin legs like a
heron. She was sowing something. A white dust floated languidly
from her sieve down the hillock. Now it was evident that she was
singing. A couple of yards from her a little bare-headed boy in
nothing but a smock was standing motionless. As though
fascinated by the song, he stood stock-still, staring away into
the distance, probably at Yegorushka's crimson shirt.
The song ceased. Yegorushka sauntered back to the chaise, and to
while away the time went again to the trickle of water.
And again there was the sound of the dreary song. It was the
same long-legged peasant woman in the hamlet over the hill.
Yegorushka's boredom came back again. He left the pipe and
looked upwards. What he saw was so unexpected that he was a
little frightened. Just above his head on one of the big clumsy
stones stood a chubby little boy, wearing nothing but a shirt,
with a prominent stomach and thin legs, the same boy who had
been standing before by the peasant woman. He was gazing with
open mouth and unblinking eyes at Yegorushka's crimson shirt and
at the chaise, with a look of blank astonishment and even fear,
as though he saw before him creatures of another world. The red
colour of the shirt charmed and allured him. But the chaise and
the men sleeping under it excited his curiosity; perhaps he had
not noticed how the agreeable red colour and curiosity had
attracted him down from the hamlet, and now probably he was
surprised at his own boldness. For a long while Yegorushka
stared at him, and he at Yegorushka. Both were silent and
conscious of some awkwardness. After a long silence Yegorushka
"What's your name?"
The stranger's cheeks puffed out more than ever; he pressed his
back against the rock, opened his eyes wide, moved his lips, and
answered in a husky bass: "Tit!"
The boys said not another word to each other; after a brief
silence, still keeping his eyes fixed on Yegorushka, the
mysterious Tit kicked up one leg, felt with his heel for a niche
and clambered up the rock; from that point he ascended to the
next rock, staggering backwards and looking intently at
Yegorushka, as though afraid he might hit him from behind, and
so made his way upwards till he disappeared altogether behind
the crest of the hill.
After watching him out of sight, Yegorushka put his arms round
his knees and leaned his head on them. . . . The burning sun
scorched the back of his head, his neck, and his spine. The
melancholy song died away, then floated again on the stagnant
stifling air. The rivulet gurgled monotonously, the horses
munched, and time dragged on endlessly, as though it, too, were
stagnant and had come to a standstill. It seemed as though a
hundred years had passed since the morning. Could it be that
God's world, the chaise and the horses would come to a
standstill in that air, and, like the hills, turn to stone and
remain for ever in one spot? Yegorushka raised his head, and
with smarting eyes looked before him; the lilac distance, which
till then had been motionless, began heaving, and with the sky
floated away into the distance. . . . It drew after it the brown
grass, the sedge, and with extraordinary swiftness Yegorushka
floated after the flying distance. Some force noiselessly drew
him onwards, and the heat and the wearisome song flew after in
pursuit. Yegorushka bent his head and shut his eyes. . . .
Deniska was the first to wake up. Something must have bitten
him, for he jumped up, quickly scratched his shoulder and said:
"Plague take you, cursed idolater!"
Then he went to the brook, had a drink and slowly washed. His
splashing and puffing roused Yegorushka from his lethargy. The
boy looked at his wet face with drops of water and big freckles
which made it look like marble, and asked:
"Shall we soon be going?"
Deniska looked at the height of the sun and answered:
"I expect so."
He dried himself with the tail of his shirt and, making a very
serious face, hopped on one leg.
"I say, which of us will get to the sedge first?" he said.
Yegorushka was exhausted by the heat and drowsiness, but he
raced off after him all the same. Deniska was in his twentieth
year, was a coachman and going to be married, but he had not
left off being a boy. He was very fond of flying kites, chasing
pigeons, playing knuckle-bones, running races, and always took
part in children's games and disputes. No sooner had his master
turned his back or gone to sleep than Deniska would begin doing
something such as hopping on one leg or throwing stones. It was
hard for any grown-up person, seeing the genuine enthusiasm with
which he frolicked about in the society of children, to resist
saying, "What a baby!" Children, on the other hand, saw nothing
strange in the invasion of their domain by the big coachman.
"Let him play," they thought, "as long as he doesn't fight!" In
the same way little dogs see nothing strange in it when a
simple-hearted big dog joins their company uninvited and begins
playing with them.
Deniska outstripped Yegorushka, and was evidently very much
pleased at having done so. He winked at him, and to show that he
could hop on one leg any distance, suggested to Yegorushka that
he should hop with him along the road and from there, without
resting, back to the chaise. Yegorushka declined this
suggestion, for he was very much out of breath and exhausted.
All at once Deniska looked very grave, as he did not look even
when Kuzmitchov gave him a scolding or threatened him with a
stick; listening intently, he dropped quietly on one knee and an
expression of sternness and alarm came into his face, such as
one sees in people who hear heretical talk. He fixed his eyes on
one spot, raised his hand curved into a hollow, and suddenly
fell on his stomach on the ground and slapped the hollow of his
hand down upon the grass.
"Caught!" he wheezed triumphantly, and, getting up, lifted a big
grasshopper to Yegorushka's eyes.
The two boys stroked the grasshopper's broad green back with
their fingers and touched his antenna, supposing that this would
please the creature. Then Deniska caught a fat fly that had been
sucking blood and offered it to the grasshopper. The latter
moved his huge jaws, that were like the visor of a helmet, with
the utmost unconcern, as though he had been long acquainted with
Deniska, and bit off the fly's stomach. They let him go. With a
flash of the pink lining of his wings, he flew down into the
grass and at once began his churring notes again. They let the
fly go, too. It preened its wings, and without its stomach flew
off to the horses.
A loud sigh was heard from under the chaise. It was Kuzmitchov
waking up. He quickly raised his head, looked uneasily into the
distance, and from that look, which passed by Yegorushka and
Deniska without sympathy or interest, it could be seen that his
thought on awaking was of the wool and of Varlamov.
"Father Christopher, get up; it is time to start," he said
anxiously. "Wake up; we've slept too long as it is! Deniska, put
the horses in."
Father Christopher woke up with the same smile with which he had
fallen asleep; his face looked creased and wrinkled from sleep,
and seemed only half the size. After washing and dressing, he
proceeded without haste to take out of his pocket a little
greasy psalter; and standing with his face towards the east,
began in a whisper repeating the psalms of the day and crossing
"Father Christopher," said Kuzmitchov reproachfully, "it's time
to start; the horses are ready, and here are you, . . . upon my
"In a minute, in a minute," muttered Father Christopher. "I must
read the psalms. . . . I haven't read them to-day."
"The psalms can wait."
"Ivan Ivanitch, that is my rule every day. . . . I can't . . ."
"God will overlook it."
For a full quarter of an hour Father Christopher stood facing
the east and moving his lips, while Kuzmitchov looked at him
almost with hatred and impatiently shrugged his shoulders. He
was particularly irritated when, after every "Hallelujah,"
Father Christopher drew a long breath, rapidly crossed himself
and repeated three times, intentionally raising his voice so
that the others might cross themselves, "Hallelujah, hallelujah,
hallelujah! Glory be to Thee, O Lord!" At last he smiled, looked
upwards at the sky, and, putting the psalter in his pocket,
A minute later the chaise had started on the road. As though it
were going backwards and not forwards, the travellers saw the
same scene as they had before midday.
The low hills were still plunged in the lilac distance, and no
end could be seen to them. There were glimpses of high grass and
heaps of stones; strips of stubble land passed by them and still
the same rooks, the same hawk, moving its wings with slow
dignity, moved over the steppe. The air was more sultry than
ever; from the sultry heat and the stillness submissive nature
was spellbound into silence. . . . No wind, no fresh cheering
sound, no cloud.
But at last, when the sun was beginning to sink into the west,
the steppe, the hills and the air could bear the oppression no
longer, and, driven out of all patience, exhausted, tried to
fling off the yoke. A fleecy ashen-grey cloud unexpectedly
appeared behind the hills. It exchanged glances with the steppe,
as though to say, "Here I am," and frowned. Suddenly something
burst in the stagnant air; there was a violent squall of wind
which whirled round and round, roaring and whistling over the
steppe. At once a murmur rose from the grass and last year's dry
herbage, the dust curled in spiral eddies over the road, raced
over the steppe, and carrying with it straws, dragon flies and
feathers, rose up in a whirling black column towards the sky and
darkened the sun. Prickly uprooted plants ran stumbling and
leaping in all directions over the steppe, and one of them got
caught in the whirlwind, turned round and round like a bird,
flew towards the sky, and turning into a little black speck,
vanished from sight. After it flew another, and then a third,
and Yegorushka saw two of them meet in the blue height and
clutch at one another as though they were wrestling.
A bustard flew up by the very road. Fluttering his wings and his
tail, he looked, bathed in the sunshine, like an angler's
glittering tin fish or a waterfly flashing so swiftly over the
water that its wings cannot be told from its antenna, which seem
to be growing before, behind and on all sides. . . . Quivering
in the air like an insect with a shimmer of bright colours, the
bustard flew high up in a straight line, then, probably
frightened by a cloud of dust, swerved to one side, and for a
long time the gleam of his wings could be seen. . . .
Then a corncrake flew up from the grass, alarmed by the
hurricane and not knowing what was the matter. It flew with the
wind and not against it, like all the other birds, so that all
its feathers were ruffled up and it was puffed out to the size
of a hen and looked very angry and impressive. Only the rooks
who had grown old on the steppe and were accustomed to its
vagaries hovered calmly over the grass, or taking no notice of
anything, went on unconcernedly pecking with their stout beaks
at the hard earth.
There was a dull roll of thunder beyond the hills; there came a
whiff of fresh air. Deniska gave a cheerful whistle and lashed
his horses. Father Christopher and Kuzmitchov held their hats
and looked intently towards the hills. . . . How pleasant a
shower of rain would have been!
One effort, one struggle more, and it seemed the steppe would
have got the upper hand. But the unseen oppressive force
gradually riveted its fetters on the wind and the air, laid the
dust, and the stillness came back again as though nothing had
happened, the cloud hid, the sun-baked hills frowned
submissively, the air grew calm, and only somewhere the troubled
lapwings wailed and lamented their destiny. . . .
Soon after that the evening came on.