ld never see his children again, if he
happened to be as old as I am, or his father and mother, if he was still a
young man; and his body would be thrown to the birds and beasts of the
steppe. But woe is me, my wild marigold, my little quail, my bright star,
that I must live out the rest of my life with no delight, wiping the tears
with my coattails as they flow from my aged eyes, while my enemy rejoices
and laughs secretly at the feeble old man . . ."
He stopped, and the reason for it was the rending grief that resolved
itself in a whole Hood of tears.
The philosopher was moved by such inconsolable sorrow. He coughed and
gave a muffled grunt, wishing thereby to clear his voice a little.
The chief turned and pointed to the place at the dead girl's head,
before a small lectern on which some books lay.
"I can do the three nights' work somehow," thought the philosopher,
"and the master will fill both my pockets with gold coins for it."
He approached and, clearing his throat once more, began to read, paying
no attention to anything around him and not daring to look into the dead
girl's face. A deep silence settled in. He noticed that the chief had left.
Slowly he turned his head to look at the dead girl, and . . .
A shudder ran through his veins: before him lay a beauty such as there
had never been on earth. It seemed that facial features had never before
been assembled into such sharp yet harmonious beauty. She lay as if alive.
Her brow, beautiful, tender, like snow, like silver, seemed thoughtful; her
eyebrows-night amid a sunny day, thin, regular-rose proudly over her
closed eyes, and her eyelashes, falling pointy on her cheeks, burned with
the heat of hidden desires; her mouth-rubies about to smile . . . Yet in
them, in these same features, he saw something terribly piercing. He felt
his soul begin to ache somehow painfully, as if, in the whirl of merriment
and giddiness of a crowd, someone suddenly struck up a song about oppressed
people. The rubies of her mouth seemed to make the blood scald his heart.
Suddenly something terribly familiar showed in her face.
"The witch!" he cried out in a voice not his own, looked away, turned
pale, and began reading his prayers.
It was the very witch he had killed.
When the sun began to set, the dead girl was taken to the church. The
philosopher supported the black-draped coffin with one shoulder, and on that
shoulder he felt something cold as ice. The chief himself walked in front,
bearing the right side of the dead girl's cramped house. The blackened
wooden church, adorned with green moss and topped by three conical cupolas,
stood desolate almost at the edge of die village. One could see it was long
since any service had been celebrated in it. Candles burned before almost
every icon. The coffin was placed in the middle, right in front of the
altar. The old chief kissed the dead girl once more, made a prostration, and
walked out together with the bearers, ordering the philosopher to be given a
good meal and taken to the church after supper. Going into the kitcheu, all
those who had carried the coffin started touching the stove, something
people in Little Russia have the custom of doing after they see a dead body.
The hunger that the philosopher began to feel just then made him forget
all about the deceased for a few moments. Soon all the household servants
began gradually to gather in the kitchen. The kitchen of the chief's house
was something like a club, to which everything that inhabited the yard
flowed, including the dogs, who came right up to the door wagging their
tails for bones and scraps. Wherever anyone might be sent, on whatever
errand, he would always stop at the kitchen first, to rest on a bench for a
moment and smoke a pipe. The bachelors who lived in the house and paraded
around in Cossack blouses all lay about here for almost the whole day, on
the benches, under the benches, on the stove-in short, wherever they could
find a comfortable place to he. Besides, everybody was forever forgetting
something in the kitchen-a hat, a knout for stray dogs, or the like. But
the most numerous gathering was at suppertime, when the horseherd came after
rounding up all his horses, and the cowherd after bringing the cows home for
milking, and all the rest who were not to be seen in the course of the day.
During supper, loquacity would come to the most taciturn tongues. Here
everything was usually talked about: someone who was having new trousers
made for himself. . . and what was inside the earth. . . and someone who had
seen a wolf. . . There were numerous bonmotists7 here, of whom
there is no lack among the people of Little Russia.
The philosopher sat down with the others in a wide circle under the
open sky in front of the kitchen porch. Soon a woman in a red cap stuck
herself out the door holding a hot pot of dumplings with both hands, and
placed it in the midst of those ready to eat. Each of them took a wooden
spoon from his pocket, or some, lacking a spoon, a splinter of wood. As soon
as the mouths began to move a bit more slowly and the wolfish appetite of
the whole gathering subsided a little, many began to talk. The talk
naturally had to turn to the dead girl.
"Is it true," said one young shepherd, who had stuck so many buttons
and brass badges on his leather pipe strap that he looked like a mercer's
shop, "is it true that the young miss, not to speak ill of her, kept company
with the unclean one?"
"Who? The young miss?" said Dorosh, already known to our philosopher.
"But she was a downright witch! I'll swear she was a witch!"
"Enough, enough, Dorosh!" said another, the one who had shown such
readiness to give comfort during the trip. "God help them, it's none of our
business. No point in talking about it."
But Dorosh was not at all disposed to be silent. He had only just gone
to the cellar with the steward on some necessary business and, after bending
a couple of times to two or three barrels, had come out extremely cheerful
and talking nonstop.
"What do you want? For me to keep quiet?" he said. "But she rode on me,
on me myself! By God, she did!"
"And what, uncle," said the young shepherd with the buttons, "are there
some tokens you can tell a witch by?"
"No," answered Dorosh. "There's no way to tell. Read through all the
psalters, you still won't be able to tell."
"You can, too, Dorosh. Don't say that," said the same comforter. "Not
for nothing did God give everybody a special trait. People who've got some
learning say witches have little tails."
"When a woman's old, she's a witch," the gray-haired Cossack said
"Ah, you're a good lot, too!" picked up the woman, who was just then
pouring fresh dumplings into the emptied pot. "Real fat boars!"
The old Cossack, whose name was Yavtukh but who was nicknamed Kovtun,
showed a smile of pleasure on his lips, seeing that his words had struck the
old woman to the quick; and the cowherd let out such dense laughter as if
two bulls, facing each other, had bellowed at once.
The beginning conversation awakened an irrepressible desire and
curiosity in the philosopher to learn more in detail about the chief's
deceased daughter. And therefore, wishing to bring him back to the former
matter, he addressed his neighbor with these words:
"I wanted to ask, why is it that all the folk sitting here over supper
consider the young miss a witch? What, did she cause some evil or put a hex
on somebody or other?"
"There were all kinds of things," replied one of the seated men, with a
smooth face extremely like a shovei.
"And who doesn't remember the huntsman Mikita, or that. . ."
"And what about the huntsman Mikita?" said the philosopher.
"Wait! I'll tell about the huntsman Mikita," said Dorosh.
"I'll tell about Mikita," said the herdsman, "because he was my chum."
"I'll tell about Mikita," said Spirid.
"Let him! Let Spirid tell it!" shouted the crowd.
"You, mister philosopher Khoma, didn't know Mikita, Ah, what a rare man
he was! He knew every dog like his own father, so he did. The present
huntsman Mikola, who's sitting third down from me, can't hold a candle to
him. He also knows his business, but next to Mikita he's trash, slops."
"You're telling it good, really good!" said Dorosh, nodding
Spirid went on:
"He'd spot a rabbit quicker than you could take a pinch of snuff.
He'd whistle: 'Here, Robber! Here, Racer!' and be off at full speed on
his horse, and there'd be no telling whether he was ahead of the dog or the
dog ahead of him. He'd toss off a pint of rotgut as if it had never been
there. A fine huntsman he was! Only in more recent days he started staring
at the young miss all the time. Either he was really smitten, or she'd put a
spell on him, only it was the end of the man, he went all soft, turned into
devil knows what- pah! it's even indecent to say it."
"Good," said Dorosh.
"The young miss would no sooner glance at him than he'd drop the
bridle, call Robber Grouchy, stumble all over, and do God knows what. Once
the young miss tame to the stable where he was grooming a horse. 'Mikitka,'
she says, 'let me lay my little leg on you.' And he, the tomfool, gets all
happy 'Not only your little leg,' he says, 'you can sit right on me.' The
young miss lifted up her leg, and when he saw her bare leg, white and plump,
the charm, he says, just stunned him. He bent his back, the tomfool, grabbed
her bare legs with both hands, and went galloping like a horse all over the
fields. And he couldn't tell anything about where they rode, only he came
back barely alive, and after that he got all wasted, like a chip of wood.
And once, when they came to the stable, instead of him there was just a heap
of ashes and an empty bucket lying there: he burned up, burned up of his own
self. And what a huntsman he was, you won't find another like him in the
When Spirid finished his story, talk came from all sides about the
merits of the former huntsman.
"And have you heard about Shepchikha?" said Dorosh, addressing Khoma.
"Oh-ho! Then it's clear they don't teach you much sense there in your
seminary. Well, listen! In our settlement there's a Cossack named Sheptun. A
good Cossack! He likes to stea! or tell a he sometimes without any need,
but... a good Cossack! His place isn't far from here. At this same time as
we're now having supper, Sheptun and his wife finished eating and went to
bed, and since the weather was fine, Shepchikha slept outside and Sheptun
on a bench; or, no, it was Shepchikha inside on a bench and Shep-Cun
outside . . ."
"And not on a bench, Shepchikha lay on the floor," the woman picked up,
standing in the doorway, her cheek propped on her hand.
Dorosh looked at her, then at the floor, then at her again, and after a
"When 1 pull your underwear off in front of everybody, it won't be so
This warning had its effect. The old woman fell silent and did not
Dorosh went on.
"And in a cradle that hung in the middle of the hut lay their
one-year-old baby-1 don't know whether of male or female sex. Shepchikha
lay there, and then she heard a dog scratching outside the door and howling
so loud you just wanted to flee the house. She got frightened-for women are
such foolish folk that you could stick your tongue out at her behind the
door at night and she'd have her heart in her mouth. 'Anyhow,' she thinks,
'why don't I go and hit the cursed dog in the snout, maybe it'll stop
howling.' And taking her poker, she went to open the door. As soon as it was
slightly open, the dog darted between her legs and went straight for the
baby's cradle. Shepchikha saw that it was no longer a dog but the young
miss. And if it had been the young miss looking the way she knew her, it
would have been nothing; but there was this one thing and circumstance: that
she was all blue and her eyes were burning like coals. She grabbed the baby,
bit its throat, and began drinking its blood. Shepchikha only cried out,
'Ah, evil thing!' and fled. But she saw that the front doors were locked.
She ran to the attic. The foolish woman sat there trembling, and then she
saw that the young miss was coming to the attic. She fell on the foolish
woman and started biting her. It was morning before Sheptun got his wife out
of there, blue and bitten all over. And the next day the foolish woman died.
That's what arrangements and temptations can happen! Though she's the
master's progeny, all the same a witch is a witch,"
After this story, Dorosli looked around smugly and poked his forefinger
into his pipe, preparing to fill it with tobacco. The material about the
witch became inexhaustible. Each in turn hastened to tell something. The
witch drove right up to the door of one man's house in the form of a
haystack; she stole another's hat or pipe; cut off" the braids of many
village girls; drank several buckets of blood from others.
At last the whole company came to their senses and saw that they had
been talking too much, because it was already quite dark outside. They all
began trudging off to sleep, putting themselves either in the kitchen, or in
the sheds, or in the middle of the yard.
"Well, now, Mr. Khoma, it's time we went to the deceased," said the
gray-haired Cossack, turning to the philosopher, and the four of them,
Spirid and Dorosh included, went to the church, swinging their knouts at the
dogs, of which there were a great many and which angrily bit at their
The philosopher, though he had fortified himself with a good mug of
vodka, secretly felt timorousness creeping over him as they drew near the
lighted church. The talcs and strange stories he had heard helped to affect
his imagination still more. The darkness under the paling and trees began to
thin; the place was becoming more bare. They finally stepped past the
decrepit church fence into the small yard, beyond which there were no trees
and nothing opened out but empty fields and meadows swallowed by the
darkness of night. Together with Khoma, the three Cossacks climbed the steep
steps of the porch and went into the church. Here they left the philosopher,
having wished him a successful performance of his duty, and locked the door
on him as the master had ordered.
The philosopher remained alone. First he yawned, then stretched
himself, then blew on both hands, and finally looked around. In the middle
stood the black coffin. Candles flickered before dark icons. Their light
illumined only the iconostasisa and, faintly, the middle of the
church. The far corners of the vestibule were shrouded in darkness. The
tall, ancient iconostasis showed a profound decrepitude; its openwork,
covered in gold, now gleamed only in sparks. The gilding had fallen off in
some places, and was
quite blackened in others; the faces of the saints, completely
darkened, looked somehow gloomy. The philosopher glanced around once more.
"Why," he said, "what's frightening about it? No man can get in here,
and against the dead and visitors from the other world I've got such prayers
that, once I've read them, they'll never lay a finger on me. Nothing to it,"
he said with a wave of the hand, "let's read!"
Going up to the choir, he saw several bundles of candles.
"That's good," thought the philosopher, "I must light up the whole
church so that it's bright as day. Ah, too bad I can't smoke my pipe in
And he began sticking wax candles to all the ledges, lecterns, and
icons, not stinting in the least, and soon the whole church was filled with
light. Only the darkness above seemed to become deeper, and the dark, images
looked more gloomily from the old carved frames on which gold gleamed here
and there. He went up to the coffin, timidly looked into the dead girl's
face, and could not help shutting bis eyes with a slight start.
Such terrible, dazzling beauty!
He turned and wanted to step away; but with strange curiosity, with the
strange, self-contradictory feeling that will not leave a man especially in
a time of fear, he could not refrain from glancing at her as he went, and
then, with the same feeling of trepidation, glancing once more. Indeed, the
deceased girl's sharp beauty seemed frightful. Perhaps she even would not
have struck him with such panic terror if she had been slightly ugly. But
there was in her features nothing dull, lusterless, dead. The face was
alive, and it seemed to the philosopher that she was looking at him through
closed eyes. It even seemed to him that a tear rolled from under her right
eyelash, and when it stopped on her cheek, he made out clearly that it was a
drop of blood.
He hastily went over to the choir, opened the book and, to cheer
himself up, began reading in his loudest voice. His voice struck the wooden
walls of the church, long silent and deaf. Solitary, without echo, it poured
in a low bass into the utterly dead silence and seemed a little wild even to
the reader himself.
"What's there to be afraid of?" he thought to himself meanwhile. "She
won't get up from her coffin, because she'll be afraid of God's word. Let
her lie there! And what kind of Cossack am I if I'm scared? So I drank a
bit-that's why it seems so frightening. If I could take some snuff--ah,
fine tobacco! Nice tobacco! Good tobacco!"
And yet, as he turned each page, he kept glancing sidelong at the
coffin, and an involuntary feeling seemed to whisper to him: "Look, look,
she's going to get up, she's going to rise, she's going to peek out of the
But there was a deathly silence. The coffin stood motionless. The
candles poured out a whole flood of light. Terrible is a lit-up church at
night, with a dead body and not a living soul!
Raising his voice, he began singing in various voices, trying to stifle
the remnants of his fear. Yet he turned his eyes to the coffin every other
moment, as if asking the inadvertent question: "What if she rises, what if
she gets up?"
But the coffin did not stir. If only there was a sound, some living
being, even the chirp of a cricket in the corner! There was just the slight
sizzle of some remote candle and the faint spatter of wax dripping on the
"Well, what if she gets up? . . ."
She raised her head . . .
He gazed wildly and rubbed his eyes. But she was indeed no longer lying
but sitting up in the coffin. He turned his eyes away, then again looked
with horror at the coffin. She's standing up ... she's walking through the
church with her eyes closed, constantly spreading her arms as if wishing to
She was walking straight toward him. In fear he drew a circle around
himself. With an effort he began reading prayers and reciting the
incantations that had been taught him by one monk who had seen witches and
unclean spirits ail his life.
She stood almost on the line itself; but it was clearly beyond her
power to cross it, and she turned all blue, like someone dead for several
days. Khoma did not have the courage to look at her. She was frightful. She
clacked her teeth and opened her dead eyes. But, seeing nothing, she turned
in the other direction with a fury that
showed in her twitching face and, spreading her arms, clutched with
them at every pillar and corner, trying to catch Khoma. Finally she stopped,
shook her finger, and lay down in her coffin.
The philosopher still could not come to his senses and kept glancing
fearfully at the witch's cramped dwelling. Finally the coffin suddenly tore
from its place and with a whistle began flying all through the church,
crossing the air in every direction. The philosopher saw it almost over his
head, buc at the same time he saw that it could not enter the circle he had
drawn, so he stepped up his incantations. The coffin crashed down in the
middle of the church and remained motionless. The corpse again rose up from
it, blue, turning green. But just then came the distant crowing of a cock.
The corpse sank back into the coffin and the coffin lid slammed shut.
The philosopher's heart was pounding and sweat streamed from him; but,
encouraged by the crowing of the cock, he quickly finished reading the pages
he ought to have read earlier. At daybreak he was relieved by the beadle and
gray-haired Yavtukh, who on this occasion performed the duties of a church
Having gone to lie down, the philosopher was unable to fall asleep for
a long time, but fatigue overcame him and he slept till dinner. When he woke
up, all the events of the night seemed to have happened in a dream. To
bolster his strength, he was given a pint of vodka. At dinner he quickly
relaxed, contributed observations on this and that, and ate a rather mature
pig almost by himself. However, he did not venture to speak of his
experiences in the church, from some feeling unaccountable to himself, and,
to the questions of the curious, replied: "Yes, there were all sorts of
wonders." The philosopher was one of those people in whom, once they have
been fed, an extraordinary philanthropy awakens. Pipe in his teeth, he lay
looking at them all with extraordinarily sweet eyes and kept spitting to the
After dinner the philosopher was in the highest spirits. He managed to
walk about the whole village and make the acquaintance of nearly everybody;
he was even chased out of two cottages; one comely young wench gave him a
decent whack on the back with a shovel when he decided to feel and find out
what kind of material
her blouse and kirtle were made of. But the closer it came to evening,
the more pensive the philosopher grew. An hour before supper, almost all the
household people would gather to play kasha or kragli-a variety of skittles
in which long sticks are used instead of balls and the winner has the right
to ride on his partner's back. Then the game would become very interesting
for the spectator: often the cowherd, broad as a pancake, got astride the
swineherd, puny, short, consisting of nothing but wrinkles. Another time the
cowherd would bend his back and Dorosh would jump onto it, always saying:
"Hey, what a hefty bull!" Those who were more sober-minded sat by the
kitchen porch. They had an extremely serious air as they smoked their pipes,
even when the young people laughed heartily over some witticism of the
cowherd or Spirid. In vain did Khoma try to take part in this fun: some dark
thought, like a nail, was lodged in his head. Over supper, hard though he
tried to cheer himself up, fear kindled in him as darkness spread over the
"Well, our time has come, mister student!" the familiar gray-haired
Cossack said to him, getting up from his place together with Dorosh. "Let's
go to work."
Khoma was again taken to the church in the same way; again he was left
alone, and the door was locked on him. No sooner was he left alone than
timorousness began once more to creep into his breast. Again he saw the dark
icons, the gleaming frames, and the familiar black coffin standing in
menacing silence and immobility in the middle of the church.
"Well," he said, "this marvel doesn't make me marvel now. It's only
frightening the first time. Yes! it's only a little frightening the first
time, and then it's not frightening anymore, not frightening at all."
He hastened to the choir, drew a circle around himself, spoke several
incantations, and began reading loudly, resolved not to raise his eyes from
the book or pay attention to anything. He had been reading for about an hour
already, and had begun to weary and to cough a litde. He took a snuff bottle
from his pocket and, before taking a pinch, timorously turned his gaze to
the coffin. His heart went cold.
The corpse was already standing before him, right on the line, fixing
her dead green eyes on him. The student shuddered and felt a chill run
through all his veins. Dropping his eyes to the book, he began reading his
prayers and exorcisms louder and heard the corpse clack her teeth again and
wave her arm, wishing to seize him. But, looking out of the corner of one
eye, he saw that the corpse was trying to catch him in the wrong place and
evidently could not see him. She was growling hollowly, and began to utter
dreadful words with her dead lips; they spluttered hoarsely, like the
gurgling of boiling pitch. He could not have said what they meant, but
something dreadful was contained in them. The philosopher fearfully realized
that she was reciting incantations.
Wind swept through the church at these words, and there was a noise as
of a multitude of fluttering wings. He heard wings beating against the glass
of the church windows and their iron frames, heard claws scratching iron
with a rasping noise and countless powers banging on the doors, trying to
break in. His heart pounded heavily all the while; shutting his eyes, he
kept reading incantations and prayers. At last something suddenly whistled
far away. It was the distant crowing of a cock. The exhausted philosopher
stopped and rested his soul.
Those who came to relieve the philosopher found him barely alive. He
was leaning back against the wall, goggle-eyed, and stared fixedly at the
Cossacks who where shaking him. They practically carried him out and had to
support him all the way. Coming to the master's yard, he roused himself and
asked to be given a pint of vodka. After drinking it, he smoothed the hair
on his head and said:
"There's all sorts of trash in this world! And such horrors happen
as-oh, well. . ." At that the philosopher waved his hand.
The circle that had gathered around him hung their heads on hearing
such words. Even the young boy whom all the servants considered their
rightful representative when it came to such matters as cleaning the stables
or toting water, even this poor boy also stood gaping.
Just then a not entirely old wench passed by in a tight-fitting apron
that displayed her round and firm shape, the old cook's assis-
tant, a terrible flirt, who always found something to pin to her cap-a
bit of ribbon, or a carnation, or even a scrap of paper if there was nothing
"Greetings, Khoma!" she said, seeing the philosopher. "Ai-yai-yai!
what's happened to you?" she cried out, clasping her hands.
"What do you mean, foolish woman?"
"Ah, my God! But you've gone all gray!"
"Oh-oh! And it's the truth she's telling!" said Spirid, studying him
intently. "You've really gone all gray like our old Yavtukh."
On hearing this, the philosopher rushed headlong to the kitchen, where
he had noticed a triangular piece of mirror glued to the wall and stained by
flies, in front of which forget-me-nots, periwinkles, and even a garland of
marigolds were stuck, showing that it was intended for the stylish flirt's
toilette. He saw with horror the truth of their words: half of his hair had
indeed turned white.
Khoma Brut hung his head and gave himself over to reflection.
"I'll go to the master," he said finally, "tell him everything, and
explain that 1 don't want to read anymore. Let him send me back to Kiev
In such thoughts, he directed his steps toward the porch of the
The chief was sitting almost motionless in his room; the same hopeless
sorrow that the philosopher had met on his face earlier remained there
still. Only his cheeks were much more sunken than before. It was clear that
he had taken very little food, or perhaps not touched anything at all. His
extraordinary pallor gave him a sort of stony immobility.
"Greetings, poor lad," he said, seeing Khoma, who stood hat in hand in
the doorway. "Well, how is it with you? Everything fine?"
"Fine, fine indeed. Such devilish goings-on, I'd like to just grab my
hat and flee wherever my legs will take me."
"It's your daughter, sir ... Reasonably considering, of course, she's
of noble birth; nobody will maintain the contrary; only, not to anger you by
saying so, God rest her soul. . ."
"What about my daughter?"
"She's had some dealings with Satan. Giving me such horrors [hat I
can't read any scriptures."
"Read, read! It was not for nothing that she called you. She was
worried about her soul, my little dove, and wished to drive away all wicked
thoughts by prayer."
"Have it your way, sir-by God, it's too much for me!"
"Read, read!" the chief went on in the same admonitory voice. "You've
got one night left now. You'll do a Christian deed, and I'll reward you."
"Rewards or no rewards... As you like, sir, only I won't read!" Khoma
"Listen, philosopher!" said the chief, and his voice grew strong and
menacing, "I don't like these notions. You can do that in your seminary, but
not with me: I'll give you such a thrashing as your rector never gave. Do
you know what a good leather whip is?"
"How could I not!" said the philosopher, lowering his voice. "Everybody
knows what a leather whip is: an insufferable thing in large quantities."
"Yes. Only you still don't know what a scotching my boys can deliver!"
the chief said menacingly, getting to his feet, and his face acquired an
imperious and ferocious expression that revealed all his unbridled
character, only temporarily lulled by sorrow. "First they'll scotch you for
me, then douse you with vodka, then start over. Go, go! do your business! If
you don't, you won't get up; if you do-a thousand pieces of gold!"
"Oh-ho-ho! Some customer!" the philosopher thought, going out. "No
joking with this one. Just you wait, brother: I'll cut and run so fast your
dogs will never catch me."
And Khoma resolved to escape without fail. He only waited till the time
after dinner, when the household people all had the habit of getting into
the hay under the sheds and producing, open-mouthed, such a snoring and
piping that the yard came to resemble a factory. This time finally came.
Even Yavtukh stretched out in the sun, his eyes closed. In fear and
trembling, the philosopher quietly went to the garden, from where it seemed
to him it would be easier and less conspicuous to escape into the fields.
This garden, as commonly happens, was terribly overgrown and thus highly
conducive to any secret undertaking. Except for one path beaten down on
household necessity, the rest was hidden by thickly spreading cherry trees,
elders, burdock that stuck its tall stalks with clingy pink knobs way up.
Hops covered the top of this whole motley collection of trees and bushes
like a net, forming a roof above them that spread over to the wattle fence
and hung down it in twining snakes along with wild field bluebells. Beyond
the wattle fence that served as a boundary to the garden, there spread a
whole forest of weeds which no one seemed to be interested in, and a scythe
would have broken to pieces if it had decided to put its blade to their
thick, woody stems.
As the philosopher went to step over the wattle fence, his teeth
chattered and his heart pounded so hard that it frightened him. The skirt of
his long chlamys seemed stuck to the ground, as if someone had nailed it
down. As he was stepping over, it seemed to him that some voice rattled in
his ears with a deafening whistle: "Where to, where to?" The philosopher
flitted into the weeds and broke into a run, constantly stumbling over old
roots and crushing moles underfoot. He could see that once he got through
the weeds, all he had to do was run across a field, beyond which darkled a
thicket of blackthorn, where he reckoned he would be safe, and passing
through which he supposed he would come to the road straight to Kiev. He ran
across the field at once and wound up amid the dense blackthorns. He got
through the blackthorns, leaving pieces of his frock coat on every sharp
thorn in lieu of a toll, and found himself in a small hollow. A pussy willow
spread its hanging branches almost to the ground. A small spring shone pure
as silver. The philosopher's first business was to he down and drink his
fill, hecause he felt unbearably thirsty.
"Good water!" he said, wiping his mouth. "I could rest here." "No,
better keep running. You might have somebody after you." These words came
from above his ears. He turned: before him stood Yavtukh.
"Yavtukh, you devil!" the philosopher thought to himself. "I could just
take you by the legs and . . . and beat your vile mug in, and whatever else
you've got, with an oak log."
"You oughtn't to have made such a detour," Yavtukh went on.
"Much better to take the path I did: straight past the stables. And
it's too bad about the frock coat. Good broadcloth. How much did you pay per
yard? Anyhow, we've had a nice walk, it's time for home,"
The philosopher, scratching himself, trudged after Yavtukh. "The
accursed witch will give me a hot time now," he thought. "Though what's with
me, really? What am 1 afraid of? Am I not a Cossack? I did read for two
nights, God will help with the third. The accursed witch must have done a
good deal of sinning for the unclean powers to stand by her like that."
These reflections occupied him as he entered the master's yard. Having
encouraged himself with such observations, he persuaded liorosh, who,
through his connection with the steward, occasionally had access to the
master's cellar, to fetch a jug of rotgut, and the two friends, sitting
under the shed, supped not much less than half a bucket, so that the
philosopher, suddenly getting to his feet, shouted: "Musicians! We must have
musicians!"-and, without waiting for the musicians, broke into a trepak in
the cleared spot in the middle of the yard. He danced until it came time for
the afternoon snack, when the household people, standing in a circle around
him, as is usual in such cases, finally spat and went away, saying, "Look
how long the mans been dancing!" Finally the philosopher went right to
sleep, and only a good dousing with cold water could wake him up for supper.
Over supper he talked about what a Cossack is and how he should not be
afraid of anything in the world.
"It's time," said Yavtukh, "let's go."
"Bite on a nail, you accursed hog!" thought the philosopher, and
getting to his feet, said:
On the way, the philosopher constantly glanced to right and left and
tried to talk a little with his guides. But Yavtukh kept mum; Dorosh himself
was untalkative. The night was infernal. Far off a whole pack of wolves
howled. And even the dogs' barking was somehow frightening.
"Seems like it's something else howling-that's not a wolf," said
Yavtukh kept mum. The philosopher found nothing to say.
They approached the church and stepped in under its decrepit vaults,
which showed how little the owner of the estate cared about God and his own
soul. Yavtukh and Dorosh withdrew as before, and the philosopher remained
alone. Everything was the same. Everything had the same menacingly familiar
look. He paused for a minute. In the middle, as ever, stood the motionless
coffin of the terrible witch. "I won't be afraid, by God, I won't be
afraid!" he said, and, again drawing a circle around himself, he began
recalling all his incantations. The silence was dreadful; the candles
flickered, pouring light all over the church. The philosopher turned one
page, then another, and noticed that he was not reading what was in the book
at all. In fear he crossed himself and began to sing. This cheered him
somewhat: the reading went ahead, and pages flashed by one after another.
Suddenly . . . amidst the silence . . . the iron lid of the coffin burst
with a crack and the dead body rose. It was still more horrible than the
first time. Its teeth clacked horribly, row against row; its lips twitched
convulsively and, with wild shrieks, incantations came rushing out. Wind
whirled through the church, icons fell to the floor, broken glass dropped
from the windows. The doors tore from their hinges, and a numberless host of
monsters flew into God's church. A terrible noise of wings and scratching
claws filled the whole church. Everything flew and rushed about, seeking the
Khoma's head cleared of the last trace of drunkenness. He just kept
crossing himself and reading prayers at random. And at the same time he
heard the unclean powers flitting about him, all but brushing him with the
tips of their wings and repulsive tails. He did not have the courage to look
at them closely; he only saw the whole wall occupied by a huge monster
standing amidst its own tangled hair as in a forest; through the web of hair
two eyes stared horribly, the eyebrows raised slightly. Above it in the air
there was something like an immense bubble, with a thousand tongs and
scorpion stings reaching from its middle. Black earth hung on them in lumps.
They all looked at him, searching, unable to see him, surrounded by the
"Bring Viy! Go get Viy!" the words of the dead body rang out.
And suddenly there was silence in the church; the wolves' howling could
be heard far away, and soon heavy footsteps rang out in the church; with a
sidelong glance he saw them leading in some squat, hefty, splay-footed man.
He was black earth all over. His earth-covered legs and arms snick out like
strong, sinewy roots. Heavily he trod, stumbling all the time. His long
eyelids were lowered to the ground. With horror Khoma noticed that the face
on him was made of iron. He was brought in under the arms and put right by
the place where Khoma stood.
"Lift my eyelids, I can't see!" Viy said in a subterranean voice- and
the entire host rushed to lift his eyelids.
"Don't look!" some inner voice whispered to the philosopher. He could
not help himself and looked.
"There he is!" Viy cried and fixed an iron finger on him. And all that
were there fell upon the philosopher. Breathless, he crashed to the ground
and straightaway the spirit flew out of him in terror.
A cockcrow rang out. This was already the second cockcrow; the gnomes
had mjssed the first. The frightened spirits rushed pell-mell for the
windows and doors in order to fly out quickly, but nothing doing: and so
they stayed there, stuck in the doors and windows. When the priest came in,
he stopped at the sight of such disgrace in God's sanctuary and did not dare
serve a panikhida9 in such a place. So the church remained
forever with monsters stuck in its doors and windows, overgrown with forest,
roots, weeds, wild blackthorn; and no one now can find the path to it.
when rumors of this reached Kiev and the theologian Khalyava heard,
finally, that such had been the lot of the philosopher Khoma, he fell to
thinking for a whole hour. In the meantime great changes had happened with
him. Fortune had smiled on him: upon completing his studies, he had been
made bell-ringer of the tallest belfry, and he almost always went about with
a bloody nose, because the wooden stairs of the belfry had been put together
every which way.
"Have you heard what happened with Khonia?" Tiberiy Goro-
bets, by then a philosopher and sporting a fresh mustache, said, coming
up to him.
"It's what God granted him," said the ringer Khalyava. "Let's go to the
tavern and commemorate his soul!"
The young philosopher, who had come into his rights with the passion of
an enthusiast, so that his trousers and frock coat and even his hat gave off
a whiff of spirits and coarse tobacco, instantly expressed his readiness.
"Khoma was a nice man!" said the ringer, as the lame tavern keeper set
the third mug down in front of him. "A fine man! And he perished for
"No, I know why he perished: because he got scared. If he hadn't been
scared, the witch couldn't have done anything to him. You just have to cross
yourself and spit right on her tail, and nothing will happen. I know all
about it. Here in Kiev, the women sitting in the marketplace are all
To this the ringer nodded as a sign of agreement. But, noticing that
his tongue was unable to articulate a single word, he carefully got up from
the table and, swaying from side to side, went off to hide himself in the
remotest part of the weeds. Withal not forgetting, out of long habit, to
steal an old boot sole that was lying on a bench.