Nikolay Gogol. Viy
Translated by Richard Pvear and Larissa Volokhonsky
*Viy is i colossal creation of folk imagination. This name is applied
by people in Utlle Russia to the chief of [he gnomes, whose eyelids teach to
the ground. The whole story is a popular legend. 1 did not wish to change it
in any way and tell it almost as simply is 1 heard it. (Author's note)
As soon as the booming seminary bell that hung by the gates of the
Bratsky Monastery in Kiev rang out in the morning, crowds of schoolboys and
seminarians' came hurrying from all over the city. Grammarians,
rhetoricians, philosophers, and theologians, notebooks under their arms,
trudged to class. The grammarians were still very small; as they walked they
pushed each other and quarreled among themselves in the thinnest trebles;
their clothes were almost all torn or dirty, and their pockets were
eternally fall of various sorts of trash, such as knucklebones, whistles
made from feathers, unfinished pieces of pie, and occasionally even a little
sparrow that, by chirping suddenly amidst the extraordinary silence of the
classroom, would procure for its patron a decent beating on both hands, and
sometimes the cherrywood rod. The rhetoricians walked more sedately: their
clothes were often perfectly intact, but instead their faces were almost
always adorned with some rhetorical trope: one eye completely closed, or a
big bubble instead of a lip, or some other mark; these swore by God and
talked among themselves in tenors. The philosophers dropped a whole octave
lower: there was nothing in their pockets except strong, coarse tobacco.
They kept nothing stashed away and ate whatever came along on the spot; the
smell of pipes and vodka sometimes spread so far around them that a passing
artisan would stand for a long time sniffing the air like a hound.
The marketplace at that time was usually just beginning to stir, and
women with bagels, rolls, watermelon seeds, and poppyseed cakes tugged those
who had them by their coattails of thin broadcloth or some sort of cotton.
"Young sirs! Young sirs! Here! Here!" they said on all sides. "There
are good bagels, poppyseed cakes, twists, rolls! Fine ones, by God! with
Another woman, holding up something long made of twisted dough, cried;
"Here's an icicle, young sirs! Buy an icicle!"
"Don't buy anything from that one! Look how foul she is-her nose is
awful and her hands are dirty . . ."
But they were afraid to pester the philosophers and theologians,
because the philosophers and theologians liked to sample things, and always
by the handful.
On reaching the seminary, the whole crowd settled by classes in
low-ceilinged but raiher spacious rooms with small windows, wide doors, and
dirty desks. The classroom would suddenly be filled with the hum of many
voices: the monitors listened to their charges, the ringing treble of a
grammarian would fall in tune with the jingling of the windowpanes in the
small windows, the glass echoing with almost the same sound; from the corner
came the low buzz of a rhetorician whose mouth and thick lips ought to have
belonged to philosophy at the least. He buzzed in 3 bass, and from afar all
you heard was: boo, boo, boo, boo . . . The monitors, as they heard the
lessons, looked with one eye under the desk, where a roll or dumpling or
pumpkin seeds stuck out of their subordinate's pocket.
If all this learned crowd managed to come a little earlier, or if they
knew that the professors would be later than usual, then, with universal
agreement, a battle would be planned, and in this battle everyone had to
take part, even the censors, whose duty was to look after the order and
morals of all the student estate. Usually two theologians decided bow the
battle would go; whether each class should stand separately for itself, or
they should divide themselves into two halves, the boarders and the
seminary. In any case, it was the grammarians who would begin it first, but
as soon as the rhetoricians mixed in, they would flee and stand on higher
ground to watch the battle. Then philosophy with long black mustaches would
step forth, and finally theology in terrible ballooning trousers and with
the thickest necks. The usual end was that theology would beat them all, and
philosophy, rubbing its sides, would be hustled into class, where it settled
down to rest at the desks. A professor who had once taken part in such
battles himself, on entering the classroom, would know at once from his
students' flushed faces that it had been a fine battle, and while he gave
the rhetorics a knuckle-rapping, in another class another professor would be
applying the wooden slats to the hands of philosophy. With the theologians
it was done in a totally different way: each was allotted, as the professor
of theology put it, a measure of "big peas," dealt out with a short leather
For feast days and solemnities, the boarders and seminarians went
around visiting houses with miracle plays. Sometimes they performed a
comedy, and on such occasions some theologian, nearly as tall as the Kiev
belfry, would always distinguish himself playing Herodias or the wife of the
Egyptian courtier Fotiphar.2 As a reward they might get a length
of linen, or a sack of millet, or half a boiled goose, or the like.
All these learned folk, both seminary and boarders, while living in
some sort of hereditary hostility among themselves, had extremely poor means
of obtaining food and were at the same time extraordinarily voracious; so
that to count how many dumplings each of them gobbled up at supper would
have been a quite impossible task; and therefore the voluntary donations of
wealthy citizens were never enough. Then a senate comprised of philosophers
and theologians would send out the grammarians and rhetoricians, under the
leadership of one philosopher-and would sometimes join them itself-sacks
over their shoulders, to lay waste people's kitchen gardens. And pumpkin
gruel would appear in the school. The senators ate so much melon and
watermelon that the monitors would hear two lessons instead of one from them
the next day: one proceeding from the mouth, the other growling in the
senatorial stomach. Boarders and seminary wore what looked like some sort of
long frock coats which reached heretofore, a technical term meaning below
The most solemn event for the seminary was vacation, beginning with the
month of June, when the boarders used to be sent home. Then the whole high
road would be covered with grammarians, philosophers, and theologians.
Whoever did not have his own refuge would go to one of his friends.
Philosophers and theologians would go on conditions-that is, they would
undertake to teach or prepare the children of wealthy people for school, and
would earn a new pair of boots by it and occasionally enough for a frock
coat. This whole crowd would string along together like a Gypsy camp, cook
kasha-1 for themselves, and sleep in the fields. Each dragged a
sack on his back with a shirt and a pair of foot-rags. The theologians were
especially thrifty and neat: to avoid wearing out their boots, they would
take them off, hang them on a stick, and carry them over their shoulder,
especially when there-was mud. Then, rolling their trousers to the knee,
they would go splashing fearlessly through the puddles. As soon as they
caught sight of a farmstead, they would turn off the high road and,
approaching a cottage that looked better kept than the others, would line up
in front of the windows and begin a full-throated hymn. The cottager, some
old Cossack peasant, would listen to them for a long time, leaning on both
arms, then weep very bitterly and say, turning to his wife: "Wife! what
these students are singing must be something very intelligent; bring out
some lard for them and whatever else we've got!" And a whole bowi of
dumplings would be poured into a sack. A decent hunk of lard, a few white
loaves, and sometimes even a trussed-up chicken would go in as well.
Fortified with these supplies, the grammarians, rhetoricians, philosophers,
and theologians would continue on their way. However, the further they went,
the smaller the crowd became. Almost all of them would have reached home,
leaving only those whose parental nests were further away than the others.
Once during such a journey three students turned off the high road in
order to provide themselves with victuals at the first farmstead they
happened upon, because their sack had long been empty. These were: the
theologian Khalyava, the philosopher Khoma Brut, and the rhetorician Tiberiy
The theologian was a tall, broad-shouldered man, and of an extremely
strange character: whatever lay near him he was sure to steal. On other
occasions his character was extremely glum, and when he got drunk he would
hide in the weeds, and it would cost the seminary enormous efforts to find
The philosopher Khoma Brut was of a merry disposition. He liked very
much to lie about and smoke his pipe. When he drank, he was sure to hire
musicians and dance the trepak. He often got a taste of the "big peas," but
with perfectly philosophical indifference, saying what will be, will be.
The rhetorician Tiberiy Gorobets did not yet have the right to grow a
mustache, drink vodka, and smoke a pipe. All he had was his topknot, and
therefore his character was not much developed at that time; but judging by
the big bumps on the forehead with which he often came to class, one could
suppose he would make a fine warrior. The theologian Khalyava and the
philosopher Khoma often pulled him by the topknot as a sign of their
patronage and employed him as their deputy.
It was already evening when they turned off the high road. The sun had
just gone down and the warmth of the day was still in the air. The
theologian and the philosopher walked along silently smoking their pipes;
the rhetorician Tiberiy Gorobets knocked the heads off burdocks growing on
the roadside with a stick. The road went among stands of oak and hazel
bushes that dotted the meadows. The plain was occasionally disrupted by
slopes and small hills, green and round as cupolas. A field of ripening
grain showed in two places, making it known that some village must soon
appear. But it was more than an hour since they had passed the strips of
grain and no dwelling had come along yet. Twilight was already darkening the
sky, and only in the west was there a pale remnant of vermilion radiance,
"What the devil!" said the philosopher Khoma Brut. "It certainly looked
as if there'd be a farmstead."
The theologian said nothing; he looked around, then put his pipe back
in his mouth, and they all went on their way.
"By God!" the philosopher said, stopping again. "It's as dark as the
"Maybe there'll be some farm further on," said the theologian, without
releasing his pipe.
Meanwhile, however, it was already night, and a rather dark night at
that, Clouds made it gloomier still, and by all tokens neither stars nor
moon were to be expected. The students noticed that they had lost their way
and for a long while had not been walking on the road.
The philosopher, after feeling in all directions with his feet, at last
"But where's the road?"
The theologian pondered silendy and observed:
"Yes, it's a dark night."
The rhetorician stepped to one side and tried to feel for the road on
all fours, but his hands kept ending up in fox holes. Everywhere there was
nothing but steppe where it seemed no one passed. The travelers made another
effort to move forward a bit, but everywhere was the same wilderness. The
philosopher tried shouting, but his voice was completely muffled on all
sides and met no response. Only a little later came a faint wailing that
resembled the howling of a wolf.
"Well, what do we do now?" said the philosopher.
"Why, we stay and spend the night in the fields!" said the theologian,
and he went to his pocket to get his tinderbox and light up his pipe again.
But the philosopher could not agree to that. He had always been in the habit
of packing away a ten-pound hunk of bread and some four pounds of lard
before going to bed and this time felt a sort of unbearable solitude in his
stomach. Besides, for all his merry disposition, the philosopher was
somewhat afraid of wolves.
"No, Khalyava, we can't," he said. "What, lie down and stretch out like
some dog without fortifying ourselves? Let's try again, maybe we'll happen
onto some dwelling and manage to get at least a glass of vodka for the
At the word vodka the theologian spat to one side and observed:
"Sure, there's no point staying in the fields."
The students went on and, to their greatest joy, fancied they heard a
distant barking. Figuring out the direction, they listened, set off more
cheerfully and, after going a little further, saw a light.
"A farmstead! By God, a farmstead!" said the philosopher.
His anticipation did not disappoint him; in a short while they indeed
saw a small farmstead that consisted of just two cottages sharing the same
yard. There was light in the windows. A dozen plum trees stuck up by the
paling. Peeking through cracks in the boards of the gates, the students saw
a yard filled with ox carts. Just then stars appeared here and there in the
"Watch out, brothers, don't hang back! We must get a night's lodging at
The three learned men knocked at the gate with one accord and shouted:
The door of one cottage creaked, and a minute later the students saw
before them an old woman in a sheepskin coat.
"Who's there?" she cried with a muffled cough.
"Let us in for the night, granny. We've lost our way. It's as bad out
in the fields as it is in a hungry belly."
"And what sort of folk are you?"
"We're harmless folk: the theologian Khalyava, the philosopher Brut,
and the rhetorician Gorobets."
"Can't do it," the old woman grumbled. "I've got a yard full of people,
and every corner of the cottage is taken. Where will I put you? And such big
and hefty folk at that! My cottage will fall apart if I take in the likes of
you. I know these philosophers and theologians. Once you start taking in
those drunkards, there soon won't be any house. Away! Away with you! There's
no room for you here!"
"Have mercy, granny! Can it be chat Christian souls must perish for no
reason at all? Put us up wherever you like. And if we somehow do something
or other-let our arms wither, and whatever else God only knows. There!"
The old woman seemed to soften a little.
"Very well," she said, as if considering, "I'll let you in. Only I'll
make you all sleep in different places, for my heart won't be at peace if
you lie together."
"That's as you will, we won't object," replied the students.
The gates creaked and they went into the yard.
"Well, granny," said the philosopher, following the old woman, "and
what if, as they say ... by God, it's as if wheels are turning in my
stomach. We haven't had a sliver in our mouths since morning"
"See what he's after!" the old woman said. "I've got nothing,
nothing like that, and I didn't start the stove all day."
"And tomorrow," the philosopher went on, "we'll pay for it all, well
and good, in cash. Yes," he went on softly, "the devil of a cent you'll
"Go on, go on! and be content with what you've got. Such tender young
sirs the devil's brought us!"
The philosopher Khoma became utterly despondent at these words. But
suddenly his nose caught the scent of dried fish. He glanced at the trousers
of the theologian walking beside him and saw an enormous fish tail sticking
out of his pocket: the theologian had already managed to snatch a whole carp
off a wagon. And since he had done it not for any profit but simply from
habit, and, having forgotten his carp completely, was looking around for
something else to filch, not intending to overlook even a broken wheel, the
philosopher Khoma put his hand into his pocket as if it were his very own
and pulled out the carp.
The old woman got the students installed: the rhetorician was put in
the cottage, the theologian was shut up in an empty closet, the philosopher
was assigned to the sheep pen, also empty.
The philosopher, left alone, ate the carp in one minute, examined the
wattled sides of the pen, shoved his foot into the curious snout that a pig
had poked through from the next pen, and rolled over on his other side in
order to fall into a dead sleep. Suddenly the low door opened and the old
woman, stooping down, came into the pen.
"Well, granny, what do you want?" said the philosopher.
But the old woman came toward him with outspread arms.
"Oh-ho!" thought the philosopher. "Only no, dearie, you're obsolete!"
He moved slightly further off, but again the old woman unceremoniously came
"Listen, granny," said the philosopher, "it's a fast period, and I'm
the sort of man who won't break his fast even for a thousand gold roubles."
But the old woman kept spreading her arms and grasping for him without
saying a word.
The philosopher became frightened, especially when he noticed that her
eyes flashed with some extraordinary light.
"Granny! What is it? Go, go with God!" he cried.
But the old woman did not say a word and kept grabbing for him with her
He jumped to his feet, intending to flee, but the old woman stood in
the doorway, fixing her flashing eyes on him, and again began to come toward
The philosopher wanted to push her away with his hands, but noticed to
his astonishment that his arms would not rise, nor would his legs move; with
horror he discovered that the sound of his voice would not even come from
his mouth: the words stirred soundlessly on his lips. He heard only how his
own heart was beating; he saw how the old woman came up to him, folded his
arms, bent his neck, jumped with catlike quickness onto his back, struck him
on the side with a broom, and he, leaping like a saddle horse, carried her
on his back. All this happened so quickly that the philosopher barely
managed to recover his senses and seize both his knees with his hands in an
effort to stop his legs; but, to his great amazement, they kept moving
against his will and performed leaps quicker than a Circassian racer. When
they passed the farmstead, and a smooth hollow opened out before them, and
the coal-black forest spread out to one side, only then did he say to
himself: "Oh-oh, this is a witch!"
A reverse crescent moon shone in the sky. The timid midnight radiance
lay lightly as a transparent blanket and steamed over the earth. Forest,
meadows, sky, valleys-all seemed to be sleeping with open eyes. Not a
flutter of wind anywhere. There was something damply warm in the night's
freshness. The shadows of trees and bushes, like comets, fell in sharp
wedges over the sloping plain. Such was the night when the philosopher Khoma
Brut galloped with an incomprehensible rider on his back. He felt some
languid, unpleasant, and at the same time sweet feeling coming into his
heart. He lowered his head and saw that the grass, which was almost under
his feet, seemed to be growing deep and distant and that over it was water
as transparent as a mountain spring, and the grass seemed to be at the deep
bottom of some bright, transparent sea; at least he clearly saw his own
reflection in it, together with the old woman sitting on his back. He saw
some sun shining there instead of the moon; he heard bluebells tinkle,
bending their heads. He saw a water nymph swim from behind the sedge; her
back and leg flashed, round, lithe, made all of a shining and quivering. She
turned toward him, and her face, with its light, sharp, shining eyes, with
its soul-invading song, now approached him, was already at the surface,
then, shaking with sparkling laughter, withdrew-and then she turned over on
her back, and the sun shone through her nebulous breasts, matte as unglazed
porcelain, at the edges of their white, tenderly elastic roundness. Water
covered them in tiny bubbles like beads. She trembles all over and laughs m
the water . . .
Is he seeing it, or is he not? Is he awake or asleep? But what now?
Wind or music: ringing, ringing, and whirling, and approaching, and piercing
the soul with some unbearable trill . . .
"What is it?" thought the philosopher Khoma Brut, looking down, as he
raced on at top speed. Sweat streamed from him. He felt a demonically sweet
feeling, he felt some piercing, some languidly terrible pleasure. It often
seemed to him as if his heart were no longer there at all, and in fear he
would clutch at it with his hand. Exhausted, bewildered, he began to recall
all the prayers he ever knew. He ran through all the exorcisms against
spirits-and suddenly felt some relief; he felt his step beginning to become
lazier, the witch held somehow more weakly to liis back. Thick grass touched
him, and he no longer saw anything extraordinary in it. The bright crescent
shone in the sky.
"All right, then!" thought the philosopher Khoma, and he began saying
exorcisms almost aloud. Finally, quick as lightning, he jumped from under
the old woman and in his turn leaped on her back. With her small, quick step
the old woman ran so fast that the rider could hardly catch his breath. The
earth just flashed beneath him. Everything was clear in the moonlight,
though the moon was not full. The valleys were smooth, but owing to the
speed everything flashed vaguely and confusedly in his eyes. He snatched up
a billet lying in the road and started beating the old woman as hard as he
could with it. She let out wild screams; first they were angry and
threatening, then they turned weaker, more pleasant, pure, and then soft,
barely ringing, like fine silver bells, penetrating his soul. A thought
flashed inadvertently in his head: Is this really an old woman? "Oh, I can't
take any more!" she said in exhaustion and fell to the ground.
He got to his feet and looked into her eyes: dawn was breaking and the
golden domes of the Kievan churches shone in the distance. Before him lay a
beauty with a disheveled, luxurious braid and long, pointy eyelashes.
Insensibly, she spread her bare white arms and moaned, looking up with
Khoma trembled like a leaf on a tree: pity and some strange excitement
and timidity, incomprehensible to himself, came over him; he broke into a
headlong run. His heart beat uneasily on the way, and he was quite unable to
explain to himself this strange new feeling that had come over him. He no
longer wanted to go around to the farmsteads and hastened back to Kiev,
pondering this incomprehensible incident as he went.
There were almost no students in the city: they had all gone to the
farmsteads, either on conditions, or simply without any conditions, because
on Little Russian farmsteads one can eat dumplings, cheese, sour cream,
fritters as big as a hat, without paying a penny. The big, sprawling house
where the boarders lodged was decidedly empty, and thoroughly as the
philosopher searched in all the corners, even feeling in all the holes and
crannies under the roof, nowhere did he find a piece of bacon or at least an
old knish- things usually stashed away by the boarders.
However, the philosopher soon found a solution to his troubles: he
strolled, whistling, through the marketplace three times or so, exchanged
winks at the very end with some young widow in a yellow cap who sold
ribbons, lead shot, and wheels-and that same day was fed wheat dumplings,
chicken ... in a word, there was no counting what lay before him on the
table, set in a small clay house amid cherry trees. That same evening the
philosopher was seen in the tavern: he was lying on a bench smoking his
pipe, as was his custom, and in front of everybody tossed a gold piece to
the Jew tavern keeper. Before him stood a mug. He looked at people coming
and going with coolly contented eyes and no longer gave any thought to his
meanwhile, the rumor spread everywhere that the daughter of one of the
richest Cossack chiefs, whose farmstead was some thirty-five miles from
Kiev, had come home from a walk one day all beaten up, had barely managed to
reach her father's house, was now lying near death, and before her dying
hour had expressed the wish that the prayers at her deathbed and for three
days after her death be read by one of the Kievan seminarians: Khoma Brut.
The philosopher learned it from the rector himself, who summoned him
specially to his room and announced that he must hasten on his way without
delay, that the eminent chief had specially sent people and a cart for him.
The philosopher gave a start from some unaccountable feeling which he
could not explain to himself. A dark foreboding told him that something bad
lay in store for him. Not knowing why himself, he announced directly that he
would not go.
"Listen, domine Khoma!"6 said the rector (on certain
occasions he spoke very courteously with his subordinates), "the devil if
anyone's asking you whether you want to go or not. I'm telling you only
this, that if you keep standing on your mettle and being clever, I'll order
you whipped with young birch rods on the back and other parts-so well that
you won't need to go to the steam-baths."
The philosopher, scratching lightly behind his ear, walked out without
saying a word, intending to trust to his legs at the first opportunity. Deep
in thought, he was going down the steep steps to the poplar-ringed courtyard
when he stopped for a minute, hearing quite clearly the voice of the rector
giving orders to his housekeeper and someone else, probably one of those the
chief had sent to fetch him.
"Thank your master for the grain and eggs," the rector was saying, "and
tell him that as soon as the books he wrote about are ready, I'll send them
at once. I've already given them to the scribe for copying. And don't
forget, dear heart, to tell the master that I know there are good fish to be
had on his farmstead, especially sturgeon, which he can send whenever
there's a chance: at the markets here it's expensive and no good. And you,
Yavtukh, give the lads a glass of vodka. And tie up the philosopher,
otherwise he'll take off."
"Why, that devil's son!" the philosopher thought to himself, "he's got
wind of it, the long-legged slicker!"
He went down the steps and saw a kibitka, which at first he took for a
granary on wheels. Indeed, it was as deep as a brick kiln. This was an
ordinary Krakow vehicle such as Jews hire, fifty of them squeezing in along
with their goods, to carry them to every town where their noses smell a
fair. He was awaited by some six stalwart and sturdy Cossacks, no longer
young men. Jackets of fine flannel with fringe showed that they belonged to
a considerable and wealthy owner. Small scars bespoke their having once been
to war, not without glory.
"No help for it! What will be, will be!" the philosopher thought to
himself and, addressing the Cossacks, said loudly:
"Greetings, friends and comrades!"
"Greetings to you, master philosopher!" some of the Cossacks replied.
"So I'm supposed to get in there with you? A fine wagon!" he went on,
climbing in. "Just hire some musicians and you could dance in it!"
"Yes, a commensurate vehicle!" said one of the Cossacks, getting up on
the box along with the coachman, who had a rag wrapped around his head
instead of his hat, which he had already left in the tavern. The other five,
together with the philosopher, climbed deep inside and settled on sacks
filled with various purchases made in town.
"I'd be curious to know," said the philosopher, "if this wagon were to
be loaded, for example, with certain goods-salt, say, or iron wedges-how
many horses would it need?"
"Yes," the Cossack on the box said after some silence, "it would need a
sufficient number of horses."
After which satisfactory answer, the Cossack considered he had the
right to keep silent the rest of the way.
The philosopher had a great desire to find out in more detail who this
chief was, what sort of character he had, what this rumor was about his
daughter, who had come home in such an extraordinary fashion and was now
dying, and whose story was now connected with his own, how it was with them
and what went on in the house? He addressed them with questions; but the
Cossacks must also have been philosophers, because they said nothing in
reply, lay on the sacks and smoked their pipes. Only orie of them addressed
the coachman sitting on the box with a brief order; "Keep an eye out,
Overko, you old gawk. When you get near the tavern, the one on the
Chukhrailovsky road, don't forget to stop, and wake me and the other lads up
if we happen to fall asleep." After that he fell rather loudly asleep.
However, these admonitions were quite superfluous, because as soon as the
gigantic wagon approached the tavern on the Chukhrailovsky road, everybody
shouted with one voice: "Stop!" Besides, Overko's horses were already so
used to it that they themselves stopped in front of every tavern. Despite
the hot July day, everybody got out of the wagon and went into the low,
dingy room where the Jew tavern keeper rushed with signs of joy to welcome
his old acquaintances. Under his coat skirts the Jew brought several pork
sausages and, having placed them on the table, immediately turned away from
this Talmud-forbidden fruit. They all settled around the table. A clay mug
appeared in front of each guest. The philosopher Khoma had to take part in
the general feasting. And since people in Little Russia, once they get a bit
merry, are sure to start kissing each other or weeping, the whole place was
soon filled with kissing: "Well, now, Spirid, give us a smack!" "Come here,
Dorosh, till I embrace you!"
One Cossack who was a bit older than the others, with a gray mustache,
rested his cheek on his hand and began sobbing his heart out over his having
no father or mother and being left all alone in the world. Another was a
great reasoner and kept comforting him, saying: "Don't cry, by God, don't
cry! What's this now. . . God, He knows how and what it is." The one named
Dorosh became extremely inquisitive and, addressing himself to the
philosopher Khoma, kept asking him:
"I'd like to know what they teach you at the seminary-the same as what
the deacon reads in church, or something else?"
"Don't ask!" drawled the reasoner. "Let it all be as it has been. God,
He knows how it should be; God knows everything."
"No," Dorosh went on, "I want to know what's written in those books.
Maybe something completely different from the deacon's."
"Oh, my God, my God!" the esteemed mentor said to that. "What on earth
are you talking about? God's will decided it so. It's all as God gave it,
they can't go changing it."
"I want to know all what's written there. I'll go to the seminary, by
God, I will! What do you think, that I can't learn? I'll learn all of it,
all of it!"
"Oh, my God, my goddy God! . . ." the comforter said and lowered his
head to the table, because he was quite unable to hold it up on his
shoulders any longer.
The other Cossacks talked about landowners and why the moon shines in
The philosopher Khoma, seeing such a disposition of minds, decided to
take advantage of it and slip away. First he addressed the gray-haired
Cossack who was grieving over his father and mother:
"What's there to cry about, uncle," he said, "I'm an orphan myself! Let
me go free, lads! What do you need me for?"
"Let's set him free!" some replied. "He's an orphan. Let him go where
"Oh, my God, my goddy God!" the comforter said, raising his head. "Free
him! Let him go!"
And the Cossacks were going to take him to the open fields themselves,
but the one who showed his curiosity stopped them, saying:
"Hands off! I want to talk to him about the seminary. I'm going to the
seminary myself. . ."
Anyhow, this escape could hardly have been accomplished, because when
the philosopher decided to get up from the table, his legs turned as if to
wood, and he began to see so many doors in the room that it was unlikely he
could have found the real one.
Only in the evening did this company all remember that they had to be
on their way. Scrambling into the wagon, they drove off, urging their horses
on and singing a song, the words and meaning of which could hardly be made
out. After spending the better half of the night rambling about, constantly
losing the way, which they knew by heart, they finally descended a steep
hill into a valley, and the philosopher noticed a palisade or wattle fence
stretching along the sides, low trees and roofs peeking from behind them.
This was the big settlement belonging to the chief. It was long past
midnight; the sky was dark and small stars flashed here and there. There was
no light in any of the huts. Accompanied by the barking of a dog, they drove
into the yard. On both sides thatch-roofed sheds and cottages could be seen.
One of them, in the middle, direcdy facing the gates, was bigger than the
rest and seemed to be the owner's dwelling. The wagon stopped before
something like a small shed, and our travelers went to sleep. The
philosopher, however, wanted to look the master's mansion over a little; but
however wide he opened his eyes, he could see nothing clearly: instead of
the house, he saw a bear; the chimney turned into a rector. The philosopher
waved his hand and went to sleep.
When the philosopher woke up, the whole house was astir: during the
night the master's daughter had died. Servants ran to and fro in a flurry.
Some old woman cried. A crowd of the curious looked through the fence into
the master's yard, as if there was anything to be seen there.
The philosopher began leisurely to examine the places he had been
unable to make out at night. The masters house was a small, low building
such as was commonly built in Little Russia in the old days. It had a
thatched roof. The sharp and high little pediment, with a small window
resembling an upturned eye, was painted ail over with blue and yellow
flowers and red crescents. It was held up by oak posts, the upper half
rounded and the lower hexagonal, with fancy turning at the tops. Under this
pediment was a small porch with benches on both sides. At the ends of the
house were shed roofs on the same sort of posts, some of them twisted. A
tall pear tree with a pyramidal top and trembling leaves greened in front of
the house. Several barns stood in two rows in the yard, forming a sort of
wide street leading to the house. Beyond the barns, toward the gates, the
triangles of two cellars stood facing each other, also roofed with thatch.
The triangular wall of each was furnished with a door and painted over with
various images. On one of them a Cossack was portrayed sitting on a barrel,
holding a mug over his head with the inscription: "I'll Drink It All." On
the other, a flask, bottles, and around them, for the beauty of it, an
upside-down horse, a pipe, tambourines, and the inscription: "Drink-the
Cossack's Delight." From the loft of one of the barns, through an enormous
dormer window, peeked a drum and some brass trumpets. By the gates stood two
cannon. Everything showed that the master of the house liked to make merry
and that the yard often resounded with the noise of feasting. Outside the
gates were two windmills. Behind the house ran the gardens; and through the
treetops one could see only the dark caps of chimneys hiding in the green
mass of cottages. The entire settlement was situated on a wide and level
mountain ledge. To the north everything was screened off by a steep
mountain, the foot of which came right down to the yard. Looked at from
below, it seemed steeper still, and on its high top the irregular stems of
skimpy weeds stuck out here and there, black against the bright sky. Its
bare and clayey appearance evoked a certain despondency. It was all furrowed
with gullies and grooves left by rain. In two places, cottages were stuck to
its steep slope; over one of them an apple tree, propped by small stakes and
a mound of dirt at its roots, spread its branches broadly. Windfallen apples
rolled right down into the master's yard. From the top a road wound down all
over the mountain and in its descent went past the yard into the settlement.
When the philosopher measured its terrible steepness and remembered the
previous day's journey, he decided that either the master's horses were very
smart or the Cossacks' heads were very strong to have managed, even in
drunken fumes, not to tumble down head first along with the boundless wagon
and the baggage. The philosopher stood on the highest point of the yard, and
when he turned and looked in the opposite direction, he was presented with a
totally different sight. The settlement, together with the slope, rolled
down onto a plain. Vast meadows opened out beyond the reach of sight; their
bright greenery became darker in the distance, and whole rows of villages
blued far off, though they were more than a dozen miles away. To the right
of these meadows, mountains stretched and the distant, barely noticeable
strip of the Dnieper burned and darkled.
"Ah, a fine spot!" said the philosopher. "To live here, to fish in the
Dnieper and the ponds, to take a net or a gun and go hunting for snipe and
curlew! Though I suppose there's also no lack of bustards in these meadows.
Quantities of fruit can be dried and sold in town or, even better, distilled
into vodka-because no liquor can touch vodka made from fruit. And it also
wouldn't hurt to consider how to slip away from here."
He noticed a small path beyond the wattle fence, completely overgrown
with weeds. He mechanically stepped onto it, thinking at first only of
taking a stroll, and then of quietly blowing out between the cottages into
the meadows, when he felt a rather strong hand on his shoulder.
Behind him stood the same old Cossack who had grieved so bitterly
yesterday over the death of his mother and father and his own loneliness.
"You oughtn't to be thinking, master philosopher, about skipping from
the farmstead!" he said. "It's not set up here so as you can run away; and
the roads are bad for walking. Better go to the master: he's been waiting
for you a long time in his room."
"Let's go! Why not? . . . It's my pleasure," said the philosopher, and
he followed after the Cossack.
The chief, an elderly man with a gray mustache and an expression of
gloomy sorrow, was sitting at a table in his room, his head propped in both
hands. He was about fifty years old; but the deep despondency on his face
and a sort of wasted pallor showed that his soul had been crushed and
destroyed all of a sudden, in a single moment, and all the old gaiety and
noisy life had disappeared forever. When Khoma came in together with the old
Cossack, he took away one of his hands and nodded slighdy to their low bow.
Khoma and the Cossack stopped respectfully by the door.
"Who are you, and where from, and of what estate, good man?" the chief
said, neither kindly nor sternly.
"I'm the philosopher Khoma Brut, a student."
"And who was your father?"
"I don't know, noble sir."
"And your mother?"
"I don't know my mother, either. Reasonably considering, of course,
chere was a mother; but who she was, and where from, and when she lived-by
God, your honor, I don't know."
The chiet paused and seemed to sit pondering for a moment.
"And how did you become acquainted with my daughter?"
"I didn't become acquainted, noble sir, by God, I didn't. I've never
had any dealings with young ladies in all my born days. Deuce take them, not
to say something improper."
"Then why was it none other than you, precisely, that she appointed to
The philosopher shrugged his shoulders:
"God knows how to explain that. It's a known fact that masters
sometimes want something that even the most literate man can't figure out.
And as the saying goes: 'Hop faster, mind the master!'"
"And you wouldn't happen to be lying, mister philosopher?"
"May lightning strike me right here if I'm lying."
"If you'd lived only one litde minute longer," the chief said sadly,
"I'd surely have learned everything. 'Don't let anybody read over me, daddy,
but send to the Kiev seminary at once and bring the student Khoma Brut. Let
him pray three nights for my sinful soul. He knows . . .' But what he knows,
I didn't hear. She, dear soul, could only say that, and then she died.
Surely, good man, you
must be known for your holy life and God-pleasing deeds, and maybe she
heard about you."
"Who, me?" the student said, stepping back in amazement, "Me, a holy
life?" he said, looking the chief straight in the eye, "God help you, sir!
Indecent though it is to say, I went calling on the baker's wife on Holy
"Well. . . surely you were appointed for some reason. You'll have to
start the business this same day."
"To that, your honor, I'd reply ... of course, anybody versed in Holy
Scripture could commensurably . . . only here it would call for a deacon, or
at least a subdeacon. They're smart folk and know how it's done, while I ...
And I haven't got die voice for it, and myself I'm-devi! knows what.
Nothing to look at."
"That's all very well, only I'll do everything my little dove told me
to do, I won't leave anything out. And once you've prayed over her properly
for three nights, starting today, I'll reward you. Otherwise-I wouldn't
advise even (he devil himself to make me angry."
The chief uttered these last words with such force that the philosopher
fully understood their meaning.
"Follow me!" said the chief.
They stepped out to the front hall. The chief opened the door to
another room opposite the first. The philosopher stopped in the hall for a
moment to blow his nose and then with some unaccountable fear crossed the
threshold. The whole floor was covered with red cotton cloth. In the corner,
under the icons, on a high table, lay the body of the dead girl, on a cover
of blue velvet adorned with gold fringe and tassels. Tall wax candles twined
with guelder rose stood at her head and feet, shedding their dim light, lost
in the brightness of day. The face of the dead girl was screened from him by
the disconsolate father, who sat before her, his back to the door. The
philosopher was struck by the words he heard:
"I'm not sorry, my darling daughter, that you, to my sorrow and grief,
have left the earth in the flower of your youth, without living out your
allotted term. I'm sorry, my little dove, that I do not know who it was,
what wicked enemy of mine, that caused your death. And if I knew of anyone
who might only think of insulting you or just of saying something unpleasant
about you, I swear to God he wou