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Title: Peasant Tales of Russia
Author: Nemirovitch-Dantchenko, V.I.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Peasant Tales of Russia" ***

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[Illustration: [Russian font: B. N. Nemirovitch-Dantchenko.]]

  PEASANT TALES OF RUSSIA

  BY

  V. I. NEMIROVITCH-DANTCHENKO

  TRANSLATED BY

  CLAUD FIELD, M.A.
  Editor of "Jewish Legends of the Middle Ages."


[Illustration: [_Frontispiece._

"Holding his torch high, Ivan skirted the precipice."]

[Illustration]


  PEASANT TALES
  OF RUSSIA

  [Illustration]

  LONDON: ROBERT SCOTT
  ROXBURGHE HOUSE
  PATERNOSTER ROW, E.C.

 _All rights reserved_

  MCMXVII



CONTENTS


                                                           PAGE

  THE DESERTED MINE                                           3

  MAHMOUD'S FAMILY                                           61

  A MISUNDERSTANDING                                         91

  THE LUCK OF IVAN THE FORGETFUL                            129



_LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS_


                                                                    PAGE

  "Holding his torch high, Ivan skirted the
  precipice"                                               _Frontispiece_

  "Your prediction is fulfilled. The Turk has
  escaped"                                                            60

  "From all directions nuns came gliding
  towards the lighted portal"                                         90

  "A strange sight brought her to a standstill"                      128

  "At the edge of the wood lay a dead woman,
  with a little living creature sobbing over
  her"                                                               145



_THE DESERTED MINE_

[Illustration]



_THE DESERTED MINE_


I

At the entrance of the Voskressensky mine stood a group of miners. All
were quite silent.

It was still dark, for the autumn days begin late. Heavy grey clouds
glided slowly over the sky, in which the first streaks of dawn were
hardly visible. These clouds glided so low that they seemed to wish to
lie on the earth in order to hide this black hole, this well-like
orifice which was about to swallow up the miners one by one. The air was
saturated with a cloud of damp dust, particles of which fell on the
men's hair and faces. The miners wore leather jerkins, and small lamps,
whose light flickered fitfully, hung at their belts. An imaginative
person might have thought that they trembled with fear at having to
descend into the heavy dense darkness of the mine.

"Listen, old man! You can never go down alone," said the young overseer
to an old miner who was of tall stature, thin and withered. His long
grey beard fell in disarray over his hollow chest, and his breath came
and went with a thin whistling sound, as though the damp air of this
dark morning found as much difficulty in entering as in leaving it. The
features of the old miner's face were strongly marked, and his two black
eyes burned in the depths of their sockets with a brilliant, almost
fantastic light. This death's-head seemed almost buried from sight
between two very high shoulders. When he walked, his back was arched,
and his whole long body leaned forward, so that he seemed to be looking
for something he had lost, or to be picking his steps very carefully.
His feeble arms hung languidly by his side, and his legs tottered and
gave way every moment under the weight of his body, slight as it was.

"You will never be able to descend the ladders! We will put you into the
basket! Hullo! you fellows over there, come and help to start old
Ivan!" the overseer called to the rest.

"Here we are, Father Ivan!" they cried, saying to each other jocosely,
"Fancy his wishing to go down the ladders with us!"

The old miner turned towards them. It was a long time ago since he had
been born in a mine about five versts distant which had been
subsequently closed. His mother, who had lost her husband by the
falling-in of one of the mine-galleries, continued to work in the same
gallery after it had been repaired. Ivan had been born in the eternal
darkness. His first cry had been drowned by the noise of blasting rocks,
his first glance met nothing but the gloom of the subterranean gallery.
He was hoisted to the surface of the ground in a large bucket full of
ore. All the first impressions of his sad childhood were intimately
connected with the mine where his mother, who was obliged to earn her
living, always worked. As she had no one to whom to entrust the child,
she took him with her, and he remained lying beside her, fixing his
wide-open eyes on his mother's flickering lamp, while he sucked at his
milk-bottle. It was this black hole which echoed to his laughter and his
crying, especially to the latter. His mother, who was naturally
taciturn, had scarcely time to caress her child, for she would have had
to quit her work; when she heard the little one's sobs, she redoubled
the blows of her pickaxe against the dark mass of coal, as though she
wished by the noise they made to drown the feeble wailing of the infant.

It was in this mine that he grew and made his first experiments in
walking; later on he began to explore, first the narrow passage where
his mother worked at her daily task, then venturing into the other
galleries of this subterranean kingdom. As his mind developed, a whole
world of phantoms created by his imagination rose around him. All these
masses of black earth with their blocks of metal, which had slumbered
for centuries in the depths, seemed to him living beings, and all the
mysterious muffled sounds which came one knew not whence, sounded in his
ears like the groans of victims imprisoned by evil genii in gloomy
caves. For him the water which filtered through the walls of the mine
was a shower of tears, and that which trickled, yellow of tint, across
the ore resembled flowing blood. The darkness was constantly traversed
by vague and ever new apparitions, vanishing as soon as they appeared,
which nevertheless left a trace of their passage on the child's
impressionable mind.

When a miner's song reached him, deadened by distance, it seemed to him
to issue from the depths of the rocks. By dint of practice, his sense of
hearing had acquired a fine subtlety, and sometimes putting his ear to
the rugged walls, he listened with so much attention that he could catch
the faintest unknown and inexplicable sounds. It was perhaps only the
wrathful murmur of some imprisoned spring, but for Ivan it was the groan
of a human being struggling in his dungeon. All the objects round
him--the ore, the rocks, the water--were animated with a life visible
and comprehensible to him alone. These things were not for him, simple
parts of inanimate nature, but creatures with souls, full of life,
similar to himself, watching and listening to him as he watched and
listened to them.

Later on he made friends with an old man. He was a miner of a somewhat
sombre disposition, but his eyes always grew moist when the child ran
towards him. He would lay his wrinkled hand, hard as iron, tenderly on
the head of the little one, and, as he rested, tell him how one day our
Lord Jesus Christ had descended to the depths of this subterranean
kingdom, and since then remained there with the miners. "Jesus is in the
midst of us, I tell you," the old man would say dreamily, peering
intently into the darkness, as though his half-blind eyes could really
distinguish the divine Saviour there. As long as he was a child, Ivan
saw Him also, and seeing Him feared Him, because he knew that Jesus does
not love evil deeds and dark thoughts. Jesus is everywhere at once; He
has thousands of eyes at His disposal; He sees and knows the slightest
movements of men's hearts.

One day when the child was sitting on the old miner's knees, they heard
far off in the direction where Ivan's mother was working a dull shock--a
noise like a sigh escaping from the breast of Mother Earth herself. The
shock re-echoed in all the mine-shafts and smallest recesses of all the
galleries. The earth fell in in several places.

"Save us, Lord!" cried the old man, rising quickly. "Pray to God, little
one. A child's prayer avails much with Him."

Little Ivan knelt down, and prayed without knowing why or for what. All
his prayer consisted in repeating, "Kind Jesus!... Good Jesus!... Dear
old Jesus!" Since for him goodness was personified in the old miner, and
as on the other hand Jesus was the very incarnation of goodness, it
followed that Jesus must be old, very old. It was thus that the child
imagined Him, and under this aspect that he sometimes saw Him standing
in the darkness of the mine.

The subterranean shocks re-echoed to a great distance and did not cease
till they passed beyond the boundaries of the mine. Then only a vague
vibration remained in the air like the presentiment of a great calamity.
The old miner turned in the direction where Ivan's mother had been
working. He walked with uncertain steps and then returned hesitatingly
towards the child. When they reached the gallery they found it narrower
and contracted above where the earth had sunk. Presently they came to a
point where it shrank to a narrow hole. The old man and the child
crawled through it with difficulty. Soon, fortunately, they could stand
upright. A few steps more and the old man abruptly fell on his knees.

The place where Ivan's mother had been working no longer existed. The
child and the old man were confronted by a huge mass of damp earth. Its
dampness was constantly increasing, for it was traversed by a thread of
water from a spring which had suddenly been liberated, one knew not how,
from its long imprisonment. From underneath this damp mass projected the
feet of Ivan's mother. The child rushed forward, seized the coarse boots
which she wore and tugged at them, but in vain; the earth which lay on
his mother guarded its prey well.

"Maria! Maria!" cried the old miner in a despairing voice.

There was no reply. The feet in their coarse boots, feebly lighted by
the little lamp, remained motionless.

When Ivan grew up and became a miner in his turn his surroundings
changed their aspect in his eyes and became inanimate. The springs and
the metals, these bondslaves of the earth, no longer possessed a soul
for him. The dark rocks, when his pickaxe laid their sides open, were as
inanimate as the damp masses of ore. Jesus also, Whom he saw so clearly
in his childhood, had disappeared from the time that they had abandoned
the old mine for another one. But the impressions made on him in
childhood remained hidden and shut up in the profoundest depth of Ivan's
heart, resembling in this the hidden springs in the heart of the rock.
Later on, under the inexorable pressure of time when Ivan had become
old, these impressions rose again to the surface, and he found himself
once more surrounded by vague apparitions and mysterious murmurs. Only
Jesus remained absent, though the fixed gaze of the old Ivan searched
for Him perseveringly in the darkness of the subterranean kingdom.


II

"Well, old man, get in!" said the miners. The moving windlass brought to
the mouth of the shaft the bucket in which the ore was brought up. The
rusty iron chain unrolled slowly with a harsh grating sound. Below the
darkness was so dense that one could not even perceive the reflection of
water which is always visible at the bottom of the deepest wells. Ivan
squatted down in the bucket.

"Now, in the name of God! you will turn round a bit, old man."

"It won't hurt him to swing a little," said others jokingly.

"Look, you fellows, we will get him down in the twinkling of an eye."

The windlass creaked, the rusty chain groaned plaintively, and the
bucket began to descend by jerks, knocking against the wooden lining of
the shaft with a metallic echo. Ivan raised his eyes; above him the
pit-mouth looked like a greyish patch, round him was impenetrable
darkness. The bucket turned with the chain and descended slowly. The
little lamp fastened to his waist cast trembling gleams on the damp
walls, and its light flickered timidly, hardly making visible the drops
of water which trickled across the wooden lining of the shaft; in fact
it seemed on the point of going out. Any one unused to such a descent
would at once have become giddy, but to old Ivan it seemed a mere
trifle. How often already he had thus descended and come up!

The walls of the shaft became more and more damp. Above, the grey patch
shrank and shrank. It seemed as though the day staring fixedly into the
darkness of the pit gradually closed its grey eye, baffled at its depth.

"Yes, this shaft is very old," thought the miner to himself; "I remember
the day it was sunk, and it must be quite sixty years ago, if I
recollect right. It is quite time to repair the lining; the wood has
decayed till it is black. I wonder how it can still hold together. Jesus
must certainly be watching over us. I am getting old too; they say I am
eighty-four. It is a lucky thing that they don't dismiss me, and only
give me easy work; otherwise I should starve, or at any rate be obliged
to beg."

Thoughts of all kinds passed through the old man's head. He was
accustomed to think much but never spoke. It was a long time since any
one had heard the sound of his voice, and it was thought that he had
forgotten how to speak because he had always lived surrounded by the
silence of the mine. The fact was that, hearing nothing but the sound
of his pickaxe, the noise of the ore being crushed, etc., he had lost
the habit of replying to questions. When any one spoke to him, he
quickly removed his leather cap, and answered by a bow so low that one
could see the top of his head adorned only by two locks of yellow hair.
People finished by leaving him in peace.

No one went so far as to ridicule him. He was, so to speak, one of the
curiosities of the mine, for it was known that he had been present at
its opening. The proprietors of the mine knew that in former days he was
always the first to go down, and that it was he who had loosened the
first yellow block from which the first piece of copper had been
extracted. All his contemporaries who were not dead had grown old around
him, and he himself, decrepit and bent, was still alive and even worked,
as far as his strength permitted.

"Old Ivan is a true miner; he was born in a gallery of the old mine,"
the workmen often said to one another. They had forgotten for a long
time past where the old worked-out mine which had been abandoned sixty
years ago was situated. His disuse of speech only augmented the respect
they felt for him. Some even thought that his silence was in consequence
of a vow. "He is Ivan the Silent," they would say. "Disbelieve it if
you like, but it is quite ten years since he has been silent."

Meanwhile the bucket suspended from the chain which rattled
remorselessly continued to descend. The greyish patch of the orifice was
no more visible at all, and its last vague glimmer had been swallowed up
in the damp cold darkness of the pit. The wooden lining had come to an
end, and the walls were formed of strata of different metals. On one
hand the sides and sharp edges of a great black stone projected, on the
other was damp mud encrusted with fragments of rock. Then the pale light
of the little lamp glided windingly over the rounded outlines of flint
fossils. It then zigzagged over a layer of brilliant white mineral,
which was soon succeeded by another of mud.

Through all--the earth, the flints, the edges of rent rocks--there
trickled innumerable water-drops. Was it the blood of the earth
escaping from a deep wound? Or was it shedding tears over the hard lot
of hundreds of men shut up in the eternal darkness of its mysterious
kingdom?

The tears fell thickly, one by one, forming threads of water, which in
their turn formed rivulets. Now the old man heard something else beside
the creaking of the rusted chain, every link of which seemed to be
complaining of extreme weariness, the result of long service. His ear,
accustomed to silence, caught the murmur of rivulets, and the noise of
water-drops, falling one by one, resembling the sound of grains of lead
falling on stone. Here is a spring which has escaped from its narrow
prison in the heart of the mountain and which forms a wide stream, but
which, finding on its escape from its long bondage only darkness as deep
as that of its prison, seems to moan as it glides over the damp stones.

The bucket continued its descent. He could no longer see above or below
him and the journey appeared interminable. The light of the little lamp,
which had nearly gone out, grew suddenly brighter. Around him
innumerable springs were trickling, running and descending on all sides.
Here and there uniting in large streams, they came down in cascades,
splashing Ivan's clothes. The darkness was full of the babbling, rushing
and noise of this water.

The old man knew that for sixty years it had been ceaselessly
undermining this shaft. Long ago, when he first went down it, only a few
drops of water used to filter through its sides. Later on these became
more numerous, and collecting together, finished by channelling for
themselves convenient passages and by flowing in streams. By this time
the work of destruction had become more and more threatening and the
earth was everywhere like a sponge. It seemed as though the springs
imprisoned in the mountain had found out the existence of this shaft and
had united to flow into it.

"They will certainly end by flooding the shaft," thought the old man.
"What is to be done? One can only hope in God. As long as He wills, the
shaft will exist, but as soon as He does not will it, it will be
destroyed from top to bottom."

Formerly the shaft was supported by the rocks, but the water had
succeeded in undermining them, sometimes by infiltration underneath
them, sometimes by dislodging them from their places and making them
lose their equilibrium; some of them projected through the walls of the
shaft and their sides were black with moisture. Presently these
undermined rocks would collapse, dragging down in their fall all the
surrounding earth. What a disaster it would be. The miners would be
buried alive like earth-worms. Only their feet would be visible, thought
the old man, as had been the case with his mother. "Entombed by the will
of God." It would be no use digging and trying to reach them; they would
be too far down; the shaft was three hundred fathoms deep and the whole
mine was dangerous. The walls of its galleries were as thin as those of
a bee-hive. So much ore had been extracted from it that entire caves had
been formed in the spongy earth. Whenever the shaft should collapse, the
walls of the galleries would not hold out any more, the whole mine would
fall in, and nothing would be left but an enormous cavity to show the
curious sightseer.

The old man regarded the prospect of such a collapse calmly, for to die
in a mine seemed to him quite natural as he had been born there. He
would have found it strange if his sad existence had ended on the
surface of the ground; on the other hand a death down here seemed quite
simple and natural. Here he felt at home. He remembered how when seized
with illness on one occasion, before he had become old, he had not even
ascended to the surface, but remained in the gallery where he worked all
the time, his comrades bringing him food. He had often passed the night
in his gallery stretched on comparatively soft ground. In old times he
had been often seized with a desire to ascend, to see again the sun and
the starry nights, but all that was now far away. Now he felt at home
here in this darkness where it was so warm and so comfortable, that,
but for the dampness, one would like to remain there always!

The water kept on coming down in resonant cascades. But in spite of
this, the old man distinctly heard not far off the blows of the miners'
innumerable pickaxes, the dull echoes of explosions in distant
galleries, and vague human noises. Here and there in the walls of the
shaft one saw black holes, once the entrances to ancient galleries which
had long ago been exhausted of their ore and abandoned.

The miners were now working in another stratum. But the old Ivan had not
forgotten these ancient galleries, for he had left in each of them a
little of his strength, and each of them had been moistened by his
perspiration. He rose and looked downwards; the flickerings of little
lamps like his own were visible, and vague sounds came up to him. The
gleam of water was also to be seen, for the bottom of the shaft was
entirely flooded. Pumps were no longer of any use to expel the water,
for pump as one might, the water kept pouring in. However, they had to
keep on pumping, for if they stopped, even for an hour, the whole mine
would have been flooded and the water would have rapidly penetrated all
the galleries, drowning the miners who were working in them.

"Earth and water--both are in the hands of God," said the miner to
himself.

The rusty chain ceased to unwind and the bucket stopped its descent
half-submerged in the water which covered the bottom of the shaft. The
miners ran up from all sides, holding their little lamps. "See who
comes!" they said with a laugh. "Good day, father!" They laid a plank
for him and helped him to get out. Then, as he always did, he removed
his cap and made a low bow to the miners, showing his bald head.

Numerous galleries diverged from this point in all directions, and their
darkness was pierced by little lights which ran hither and thither.
Sounds of voices were heard clearly as well as the noise of subterranean
explosions, but all other sounds were dominated by the roar of the
waters.

The old man re-lighted his little lamp, which had gone out, and stooping
forward, as though he were examining some mysterious footprints, he went
towards his gallery with unsteady steps.


III

The gallery in which the old man worked was fairly high. Here and there
beams sustaining the roof were visible, but their decrepit condition
testified to their age. Above these worm-eaten beams, the earth formed
protuberances bristling with pointed rocks. The ground was strewn with
fragments of rock which had fallen from the roof.

Old Ivan remembered having seen one day one of these fragments kill as
it fell a little boy who had been a great pet of his. This little boy
generally accompanied his father, and his gay bursts of careless
laughter animated a little the sepulchral silence of the mine. It seemed
but yesterday that the old man had seen the child running merrily along
the gallery. All at once a misshapen block protruded from the roof. The
child stopped, out of curiosity, raised his clear eyes to see what it
was, and the huge stone suddenly dropped, burying and crushing him
entirely. His father was in utter despair and the other miners could not
restrain their tears; as for Ivan, he persisted in prowling for a long
time round the great black stone, as though he were expecting to hear
from under the enormous block the well-known laugh of the little one.
But nothing came to awaken the melancholy silence of the gallery.

The old man now halted near this murderous rock and held his lamp near
it, lighting up the indistinct outlines of a cross rudely engraved in
the stone. After looking round, as though he were afraid of being seen,
he rapidly made the sign of the cross above the "tomb." If the miners
had been able to watch him just then, they would have been astonished to
his perpetually closed lips moving. But no one could have said whether
he only wished to speak or actually spoke, for none but himself heard
the vague murmur which issued from his lips.

On his left hand there was an extremely narrow passage; the old man
entered it, crawled through it, and stood upright again, for he had
reached the place where he worked, which was fairly roomy. However,
although one could stand upright in it, the place had a sepulchral
aspect.

The old man raised his lamp, whose tiny gleam lit up for a moment the
black walls discoloured by stains of yellowish rust. Here it was almost
dry and the light of the lamp revealed no moisture. Little irregular
heaps of ore dotted the ground. However, there was one damp corner, and
in it grew thickly together a little group of mushrooms with little flat
hoods of a sickly white colour on stalks which were also white and very
slender. The old man took care of them and avoided covering them with
any of the earth which he dug out. One day he had even brought to this
corner a piece of turf in the midst of which were some field-flowers.
But neither the buttercups nor the daisies consented to live without
the sun; they gradually died, fading away by stages like consumptives
who are deprived of the sun and of its warmth. Only one little flower
had a tougher life than the rest and held out a long time, although it
completely lost its colour in the eternal darkness of this tomb. Ivan
watched it with curiosity until it also hung its head over its
desiccated stalk. Then he had nothing left but the mushrooms and a kind
of greyish lichen which spotted the rock at intervals.

To-day old Ivan was very tired; he sat down on a heap of ore, placed his
little lamp in a niche of the rock, which was already blackened with
smoke, and buried his head in his hands. Not a single echo reached this
spot. A melancholy silence reigned in this vault, but the old man was
accustomed to it. He for whom the darkness was peopled by mysterious
apparitions vanishing as soon as they appeared, heard also strange
voices down here. Sometimes it was like the fragment of an incomplete
song or a distant call which pierced the silence. At other times, when
his pickaxe penetrated deeply the heart of the rock, he fancied he heard
a stifled sigh as if the tool had pierced the breast of a living
creature. All these vague sounds seemed to him full of significance.
Having nothing in common with the world of reality, he lived in fancies
and dreams.

Sometimes, after making sure that he had a supply of matches, he put out
his lamp, lay on his back on the ground and fixed his wide-open eyes on
the darkness. Then it seemed to him that the walls of his black prison
expanded indefinitely. The vaulted roof overhead rose to a prodigious
height, and he felt himself for the first few moments lost in such a
terrible void that his breath seemed to stop. He felt a strange
uneasiness mixed with fear, for in the absolute darkness he seemed
suspended alone and without the least support in the immensity of space,
and every moment about to fall.

But this lasted only a short time, and the darkness gradually became
less dense. First of all the blackness was diversified by spots of
light, then by blazing spirals of fire; these then changed into golden
circles, which in their turn disappeared in showers of sparks. Then the
spots of light assumed all the colours of the rainbow and the fiery
spirals shone with a dazzling light, revolving rapidly in the darkness,
which, however, was not dispersed by this lightning-like splendour. Then
they melted together and rose to giddy heights, appearing up there like
glittering mirages. Sometimes the spots of light assumed indistinct
shapes which seemed to have transparent wings, while white robes
fluttered behind them. Mysterious spirits who shunned the light of the
lamp escaped from the black rock bastion and gathered round the old man,
leaning over him and gazing intently into his wide-open eyes. At such
times he heard a vague rustling around him.

He seemed to feel the breath of the rocks reaching him through invisible
fissures. He heard the musical complaint of a spring imprisoned in the
rock, or it might be a distant song. His ear caught distinctly
harmonious sounds, which sometimes melted together and sometimes
followed each other, sporting like butterflies in the field, and he
eagerly listened to their ineffable melody. Thus he would pass hours and
even entire nights while, forgotten by his comrades, he remained alone
in the enormous mine, alone with his visions and the fantastic echoes of
a world unknown and invisible. But to-day these things hardly occupied
his mind at all.

The next day was a Saturday, and he had to break as much ore possible
and convey it, together with the piles already prepared, to the
principal gallery, where the overseer of the mine would take it over. In
the evening he would receive his pay, the whole of which he would take
to an old woman living in the village. She looked after him, prepared
his meagre repasts, mended his clothes, and bought his boots. People
said she was his sister, but he felt doubtful about it. He knew that he
had passed his childhood far away from her, for while he was always in
the mine with his mother, she was growing up in a strange family who
took care of her. He never spoke to her. When he entered in the evening
he silently placed his money on the table, let his head drop in his
hands, and remained sitting in this attitude. When she called him to sit
down at table, he rose and obeyed, otherwise he would have remained as
he was till the morning, as motionless as a log. When he happened to
remain in the mine for the night, his sister was not anxious about it;
she knew that he had taken with him a large chunk of bread and a handful
of salt; as for water, there was no lack of that in the mine! She knew
also that in a corner of the sepulchral vault, where he worked like a
mole from morning to night, there was a can of oil, and that he could
re-light his lamp whenever it went out.

Ivan stooped down, looked for his pickaxe, found it, and sat down to
break pieces from a block of ore which projected from the wall. This
ferruginous earth was as hard to break as stone. Ivan worked slowly,
sparing his strength because he could not do otherwise; care had been
taken to show him a place where the rock was not so hard as elsewhere.
Fragments of yellowish earth fell on the ground, and the rays of the
little lamp lit up the particles of copper which glittered here and
there in the pieces of rock. After two hours' work the pickaxe fell from
the old man's hand. Feeling quite exhausted, he squatted down on the
ground, cut himself a large slice of bread, sprinkled it plentifully
with salt, and began to munch the soft part of it with the remnants of
his teeth.

There was in one corner a wheelbarrow light enough for the old man to
push it. After having rested, he filled it with ore, and crawled,
pushing the barrow in front of him, through the narrow passage which led
to the main gallery. At the end of the passage a point of yellow light
was visible. This proceeded from the main gallery where a large number
of miners worked, and the yellow light was that cast by their lamps.
Several times the old man sank exhausted on his stomach on the ground;
then after resting a minute or two to recover strength, he began to
crawl on again, pushing his load in front of him. The point of light
grew larger from moment to moment and soon became a broad luminous disk
against which the outline of a miner stood out in sharp relief. A few
minutes more and the wheelbarrow issued from the passage, pushed by the
old man, who sank as he did so on the ground.

"Stop a minute! You are tired: let me help you, old man," said a young
miner who had finished his work. The old man lifted his head, looked at
him for a moment, and sank down again. The younger laid hold of the
wheelbarrow, but Ivan took it brusquely from him, and shook his head
with an air of disapproval.

"What fly is buzzing in your head, comrade?" several of the other miners
said to the young one. "Have you forgotten the old man's habits? You
know that he never allows any one to enter his hole, nor to touch his
barrow, for he has heaped up riches in it. Since he has worked in the
mine, he has found so much gold that he has become a regular Croesus."

The miners laughed good-naturedly, tapping the old man's shoulder with
their horny fingers.

"March on in front, Ivan, and the other one will follow," they said to
soothe him.

Instead of answering, Ivan removed his old leather cap and commenced
bowing to right and to left as if to give his comrades a good view of
his bald head.

"That's enough, old man! Yes, we know your zeal!" said the miners,
laughing. "He is quite a child, eh?"

"He has forgotten how to talk," some one remarked.

"Yes, he is an innocent. Ah, my God! What is that?"

In the twinkling of an eye every one was on their feet. It seemed as
though the huge mountain was breathing with all its lungs. The noise
came from a distance and drowned all the others. The miners were
deafened. Suddenly a gust of wind rushed violently through the gallery,
extinguishing nearly all the lamps. Somewhere, one knew not where, rose
cries of anguish which were soon lost in an immense uproar. After
hurriedly re-lighting their lamps, the miners rushed in the direction of
the cries. A gleam of intelligence lit up the eyes of old Ivan as he
tottered after them on his feeble legs.


IV

In front of what had been the exit from the gallery the miners stood
silent. Others were running up from the more or less distant side
galleries; their steps could be heard approaching and their lamps seen.

"What has happened, sir?" they exclaimed in alarm, as they came staring
in a stupefied way at the place where a moment before had stood the
principal shaft of the mine.

If the vaulted roof of the gallery had resisted the formidable shock of
the collapse, it was only because it was part of the solid rock. Already
the miners' feet were standing in water which had been liberated by this
displacement of masses of earth and flowed into the gallery, reflecting
the faint lights of the lamps and the vivid flame of the torch which the
overseer of the mine held above his head, while its smoke ascended
towards the high black vaulted roof.

"Lost! We are lost!" some one exclaimed in the crowd with a sob.

Old Ivan pushed his way to the front of the crowd. Neither he nor the
others noticed that the water was flowing round their ankles. They found
themselves confronted by a huge and visibly growing mass, composed of a
mixture of stones from the ruined shaft and fragments of timber-work and
earth. In the midst of all lay upside-down, the bucket which had become
detached from its chain and carried away.

The overseer held his torch near a mass of earth which had assumed a
round shape. It lit up the head of a miner with eyes immensely wide open
whose fixed look seemed to be concentrated on the flame of the torch.
There was something terrible in the sight of those motionless eyelids,
those white teeth gleaming between two torn lips, that deep wound in the
temple from which blood was oozing. A little lower down one saw
projecting from the earth a hand with wide-extended fingers and a broken
wrist. Still lower down could be seen the feet of miners whose bodies
were invisible, buried under the earth. Not a single one moved.

Up to that moment no one had noticed them, but when the torch lit up
this tragic spectacle the whole crowd of miners instinctively started
backward. As he turned round, the overseer only saw faces pale with
fright and shrinking from his torch as though there were something
terrible about it. However, one miner, leaning his hand on the wall,
bent forward, looking attentively at the dead man's face. What did he
see extraordinary in it? He could not have said himself, but it was
plain that he had not the power to turn his terrified eyes away from it.
Another miner approached and touched something with his pickaxe which he
quickly withdrew.

"Look at that piece of bread!" he exclaimed.

The overseer looked in his turn. He saw another hand projecting from
underneath the earth holding a slice of bread sprinkled with coarse
salt in its curved fingers. But the owner of the hand was completely
buried and invisible.

Other miners ran up. Each pushed his way to the front, eager to see,
then having contemplated the huge mass, retired with his face working.
One of them put his hand over his eyes in order not to see the terrible
sight. Others stood motionless, their faces turned to the wall, as
though petrified, and seemed unable to turn their heads. One young
workman, pale with fear, had seized hold of another, who as though
rendered temporarily idiotic, kept on passing his finger over the damp
black wall of the rock.

"There are perhaps still living men below," stammered the overseer in a
low voice. A plaintive groan as though in answer to his question came to
his ears from below the mass of fallen earth. He approached it again,
but the groan was not repeated.

"Now, comrades, we must dig!" he said.

"Come you there, Orefieff Smirnoff! Let us get to work."

So speaking, the overseer seized a miner by the hand, led him before the
mass of collapsed earth and began to work with him. Hardly had they
commenced than a second landslip took place, and the first mass of
earth, pressed by the second which had just fallen, spread in liquid mud
over the gallery. The two men only leaped back just in time.

The overseer could now properly estimate the magnitude of the disaster.
It was evident that they were imprisoned and that no help could reach
them from without. But at any rate they could breathe easily, and the
fact that the air circulated in the gallery much more freely than before
the accident, showed that there was still some means of ventilation
left. They must hasten to take advantage of it. In a few hours the whole
mine would collapse owing to this immense falling-in of earth.

"Come here quickly, comrades!" said the overseer.

In the twinkling of an eye they surrounded him.

"There is only one way of saving ourselves," he said, "and that is by
reaching the old upper gallery. Let those who care for their lives
follow me. Perhaps the shaft is still intact on that side. It ought to
be so, for the air circulates freely. Call those who are working in the
side galleries, and all of you come back here."

Some of the miners, who had preserved more presence of mind than the
rest, rushed to the side galleries to summon their companions.


V

In less than a quarter of an hour, all the survivors of the catastrophe
were collected. The overseer ordered them to provide themselves with
torches, of which a reserve store was always kept in a dry place under
the roof. Then the roll of names was called and seven miners were found
to be missing. They had been buried alive and there was no hope of
finding them.

"Now, listen to me, comrades," said the overseer. "I mean to be obeyed.
Above all, no quarrelling; this is not the time for it. If we begin
that, we are all lost. I think that if we try by the old gallery above
we shall reach the shaft, which is possibly only flooded below, and may
still be practicable above. You, Ivan, lean on somebody. Support the old
man, comrades. We must not leave him here. You are the strongest of all,
Terenti, help him. God will reward you. And now forward with God's
help!"

He uncovered and crossed himself. Every one followed his example.

"What are we to do with these?" asked a miner, pointing to the dead
bodies.

"Nothing. God has undertaken to bury them," answered several voices.
"They are well where they are, for to die thus in an accident is the
same thing as dying after confession. God Himself has willed it. Every
one knows that among us in the Ural."

"Well, may the earth lie lightly upon them."

The overseer raised his torch still higher and the march began. The
miners followed him, skirting the walls timidly. They soon reached the
slanting passage leading to the old deserted gallery, which was above
the one they were leaving.

The overseer entered it resolutely. Keeping closely together, the miners
began to climb up the steep incline, stopping at moments, sometimes to
see if they would be able to advance, sometimes to listen whether there
was not a noise behind them, and whether the gallery they had just
quitted had not fallen in. Before and behind them there was nothing but
darkness, the only light being the flame of the torch. The miners walked
in this dim light while the darkness seemed to follow them and dog their
footsteps. They thus climbed upwards for twenty minutes, sometimes
stooping when the roof came low, then walking erect when possible. If
one of them found himself lagging a little behind, he hastened to rejoin
the rest, their chief fear seeming now to be left alone, as those who
loitered too long were sure to perish.

From time to time the overseer slackened his pace, in order to make
sure that all were present; then he resumed the march.

Suddenly a strong gust of air made the flame of the torch waver. As the
draught became stronger the flame was blown backward and became a long
tongue of fire. A thick smoke blackened the miners' faces, but they took
no notice of it and still advanced. The passage became wider. Remnants
of old beams, decayed with age, projected from the walls and barred
their way, but they strode over them. Suddenly the end of the procession
found itself plunged in darkness--the torch had disappeared. The
overseer and several others had finally reached the old gallery.

He gave the order to light several torches. Now they saw the old gallery
stretching before them. The rock appeared intact. When the torches were
raised, the roof was seen to be still solid, though here and there water
filtered through. On the ground was a pool in the midst of which a
slight gurgling noise was heard, evidently caused by a subterranean
spring. A long thread of water escaped from this pool, flowing to the
exit from the gallery which opened on the shaft. The miners followed it.

"Stop, comrades!" said the chief miner, turning round. "Wait for me here
a moment. I will first go alone and see if there is any danger in
proceeding farther."

In alarm, the miners halted, keeping close one to another. The
overseer's torch gradually became more distant and soon was only a
little luminous point in the darkness. Then they saw this little point
stop, rise and sink again, finally rest motionless, and soon commence to
grow larger as it approached. Then the overseer's figure was distinctly
seen. His face was pale with alarm. He approached the miners without
speaking, while they also remained silent.

"My friends, there is nothing left us but to die!"

A strong agitation ran through the crowd of miners. The overseer
approached the exit of the gallery, and at the risk of falling into the
shaft, he leant over and lit it up with his torch. Then one could see to
what extent the mine had been damaged. Huge fragments of rock were
displaced and threatened to fall at any moment. One great block
undermined by the water had been detached immediately above the shaft,
whose opening it obstructed, destroying all hope of getting out that
way. As for the ladders, they existed no longer.


VI

"It is impossible to go back, my friends, for in an hour or two the
other gallery will fall in."

The miners listened in silence to the words of the overseer, whose words
sounded hollowly. The flame of the torch quivered, agitated by currents
of air coming from all sides.

"Shall we wait here?" suggested a miner timidly.

"Wait for what?"

"Perhaps help will come from outside."

"What help can one hope for, when the mine has entirely collapsed? This
gallery, moreover, affords no safety. When the one we have just left
falls in, this will not resist long."

There was no answer, and nothing was audible but the crackling of
torches and the breath which came in gasps from many chests.

"However, I still have an idea!" said the overseer.

The crowd of miners gathered closely around him again.

"You know that this mine is next to the old abandoned one. Is there
among you any one who has worked in it?"

"Only old Ivan."

"There is nothing to be done then. In the first place, he must have
forgotten everything; and secondly, one cannot extract a word from him."

During this time old Ivan, who seemed to have no idea that any one was
talking of him, was gazing intently into the deep darkness which filled
the gallery; he stood erect, his dim eyes were wide open, and a tremor
passed over his wrinkled face, the expression of which was constantly
changing from one moment to another, and betrayed now terror, now a kind
of joy, then surprise. Finally he put his hand before his eyes as though
they could not endure a dazzling splendour which issued from that
darkness.

"If he wished, he could get us out of this," said a miner. "He worked
for a long time in the old mine. But we cannot reckon on him; he is not
even able to speak. He has been silent for ten years."

Suddenly something startling and unexpected happened. Ivan had just
seized the miner who was nearest to him by the hand, and pointed into
the darkness. When the miner saw the dilated pupils of the old man's
eyes, he staggered with astonishment.

"Look at him! He is going mad!" they whispered.

"Here I am!" cried Ivan, as though answering a call.

The crowd fell back from him.

"Here I am! Here I am!" repeated Ivan.

The overseer approached him with his torch uplifted. Ivan turned his
face toward him radiant with an inner light.

"Look! There He is Jesus! It is sixty years since He came, and
now--there He is. He is calling us!"

"But what do you see? Who is calling us?"

"Jesus, I tell you. Stop! Look! There He is standing, in a white robe.
He signs to us to follow Him.... Here I am, Lord! Here I am!"

Suddenly, when no one was expecting it, old Ivan snatched the torch from
the overseer's hand, and held it above his head.

"Jesus will save us! I tell you He will save us all! Here I am, Lord, I
am coming! Behold Him, our Lord full of mercy. I am coming! Here I
am!..."

Then without looking round, or lowering the torch which he held aloft
with a firm hand, the old man, suddenly grown quite cheerful, walked
steadily towards the end of the gallery. Who had given this strength to
his feeble legs, and straightened his hollow chest? Old Ivan was
unrecognizable.

After a moment's hesitation the chief miner signed to the others to
obey, and all followed the old man, holding their breath and not daring
to speak. A mysterious force seemed to be guiding him, for without even
looking at his feet he avoided the very numerous crevasses, and strode
over huge stones which had fallen from the roof. As they went along the
overseer had some more torches lit, and the crowd, which advanced in
silence, was followed by a broad train of black smoke, momentarily lit
up by the red reflection of the flame, and at other times lost in the
increasing darkness behind them. The walls and wet roofs of the gallery
were visible by its flickering light. Now and again drops of water fell
on the torches with a hissing sound.

Some one behind him called to the old man, "Ivan!" but the latter did
not turn his head, only gazing in front of him intently. He seemed to
see some one who was only visible to himself.

"Here I am, Lord, here I am!" he repeated from time to time, and it was
surprising to hear how his voice sounded like that of a young man. What
strange cause had roused him so far as to restore to him his former
strength, and what inner flame glowed within him?

"Who is there then?" asked the chief miner, catching him up. "Whom do
you see, Ivan?"

"It is a very long time since I saw Him. When I was a little fellow, I
saw him often. There He is in front of me, all in white. I see His halo.
He marches in the darkness like the sun.... Here I am, Lord, here I am!"

After that no one asked Ivan any more questions.

At the end of the gallery they came up against an obstructing wall
formed by the rock itself; but the old man seemed to see a gleam of
light.

"Here He has passed ... here! There are His shining footsteps," he said,
pointing to the blocks of earth which lay on one side.

The miners began to ply their picks. The earth was so soft that in a few
seconds an opening was made through which the air rushed with such
violence that it nearly extinguished the already flickering flames of
the torches. It was plain that the gallery extended still much farther,
and that if just where it turned round the rock it was obstructed by a
mass of earth, this must be caused by a landslip.

Before they had time to enlarge the opening which had been made, the old
man had already entered it.

"I see Him! There He is! I come, Lord. I come!" These words were heard
from the other side of the passage which was lit up by old Ivan's
torch. The miners followed him, crawling one after the other.

On the other side of the opening the gallery, which was hollowed through
the rock itself, was much higher. The torches showed seams of flint and
strata of white marble. The air circulated freely, and it seemed as
though there were somewhere an invisible outlet; the flames of the
torches flickered violently and it felt cold. A torrent of water fell
down from the top of the rocky walls, and ran noisily along the gallery,
winding from one wall to another. Soon it fell roaring into the black
gaping mouth of a crevasse and disappeared in the bottomless depth.
Still holding his torch high, Ivan skirted the precipice without
appearing to notice it.

"There is one thing I should like to know," said a little boy, pressing
up close to a miner in the gloom.

"What is that?" asked the latter in a low voice.

"What is it the old man sees there?"

"Hush! Some heavenly power is guiding him."

The gallery through which they were passing just now still formed part
of the Voskressensky mine, but it had been deserted for a long time,
after having been worked out. As it had been cut through the native
rock, the walls were solid and unshakable. Suddenly Ivan stopped.

"Well, what is it?"

"He is there.... Standing. Oh, listen! Do you hear?"

Ivan leant forward, straining his ear to catch mysterious sounds. As a
matter of fact distant and strange moanings were audible. Was it the
complaint of a spring imprisoned in the rock? Was it the noise of a
landslip? Or was it simply the sound made by a current of air passing
through the fissures of the rock?

"A terrible thing happened here. Blood has been shed, yes, yes, I
remember," murmured the old man, talking to himself and glancing about
him. "Yes, it is there. He struck him on the head with his pick. He
killed his brother ... like Cain. This is where they buried him.... Here
I am, Lord, here I am!" And he resumed his march.

The chief miner who had heard him remembered a long-forgotten tragedy,
that of two brothers who had quarrelled just here. The elder, goaded to
fury by the jeers of the younger, had raised his pickaxe and struck his
brother with the point. Without even uttering a cry, the latter had
collapsed. He had been probably buried on the spot where he had fallen.


VII

However, the more they went on, the more alarmed the miners grew.
Whither was the old man leading them? What would happen if they lost
themselves in the labyrinth of these subterranean galleries, whose
silence had not been disturbed for long years? The darkness itself
seemed startled by the sight of this terrified crowd. The miners would
have gladly halted, but what would happen then? To go back was to go to
certain destruction. As long as they followed Ivan, they had a vague
hope of some mysterious aid, reckoning on the unknown power which
supported him and had restored to him for some hours a little of his
former vigour for the deliverance of his comrades perhaps. Those who had
no belief in this hesitated nevertheless to separate from the rest,
knowing not what to do in this silence and darkness. If they had to die,
they would die together. At any rate, they soon understood that they
would have inevitably perished in the gallery which they had just left,
for they had hardly been following the old man for an hour when a dull
and prolonged sound was heard in the distance. Then it came nearer, as
though it were pursuing them. Its last echo seemed to them quite close,
behind the wall they were skirting at that moment. It was evident that
the gallery where they worked, as well the one which they had just
quitted, had both fallen in. If they had remained there, they would have
shared the fate of those of their comrades whose hands and feet only
were projecting from the mass of earth which covered them.

The distant shock also re-echoed in the gallery they were traversing
when they heard it. Fragments of earth fell from the roof and a great
rock suddenly projected just above old Ivan's head, while the wall on
the right hand bulged out. The miners rushed forward terrified, but Ivan
stopped them and made them go more slowly. Some cowards flung themselves
on their stomachs and hid their faces, but they were lifted up and
obliged to proceed. The gallery they were now in became narrower and
narrower. After having begun their march five abreast, they could now
only go two by two with difficulty. A few minutes more, and they were
obliged to walk in single file. Then the chief miner let the rest go in
front of him and took the last place. He was among the few who had not
lost their heads and acted thus, lest some cowards might remain behind
stretched on the ground in an access of blind fear.

The gallery became ever more contracted. However, that did not seem to
trouble old Ivan, who continued to advance with confidence. He still
saw distinctly the white Apparition Who shed a mysterious radiance in
the darkness. From time to time he murmured, "Here I am Lord, here I
am!" and that renewed his strength.

Even now when his two elbows touched the walls, and the lowness of the
rocky roof above his head prevented him raising his torch which he was
obliged to hold in front of him a little slanted and at arm's length,
the old man never doubted that he was guided by our Lord in person, Who
pointed him out the way. Behind him the miners were half suffocated
because the thick smoke of the torches filled the narrow passage in
which it was difficult to breathe, as the confined atmosphere had been
unchanged for an immeasurable time. This was apparent by the way in
which the flames of the torches lengthened themselves, seeming to seek
the oxygen they required, and then burning dimly in the darkness.

All at once Ivan halted. He was confronted by a dead wall without any
apparent outlet. However, doubt was not possible for him, for he had
distinctly seen the white Apparition pass through the wall. Now it was
waiting for him on the other side of the wall which had so unexpectedly
intervened.

"He has stopped there; I have seen Him!" Ivan stretched out his lean arm
in front of him, no one knew why.

The chief miner decided to make a last attempt, "Let us dig, my
children! We must make a way for ourselves."

But though he gave the order, he doubted whether there was anything on
the other side of the wall but a mass of earth, rocks and ore.
Fortunately, just here the passage was a little wider and they could
work three abreast. They set to work bravely. However, the flames of the
torches exhausted the air and they grew very dim. Their smoke blinded
and half-choked the miners, but they persisted and dug huge holes in the
earth which was not very hard.

Leaning his back against a wall, Ivan looked straight in front of him.
He knew that behind this mass of earth and stones the Apparition which
he had known so well in his childhood awaited him.

"We are buried alive!" murmured one of the men.

"Are we making any way?" asked the chief miner, ignoring the remark.

But the men, with perspiration pouring from them, continued their work
without replying.


VIII

Half an hour passed in this way. Half-suffocated, some of the miners lay
down flat on the ground. Many of them hid their faces as though
unwilling to see death face to face--death which seemed so horrible in
this black hole so far from the earth's surface. The pickaxes and
shovels which were at work on the wall which barred their progress moved
but slowly. Finally, the last batch who were working stopped, having no
longer the strength to continue. In vain were their chests expanded to
take deeper breaths--they were stifled, their throats were contracted,
blood rushed to their heads; the air was failing them. The horrible
consciousness of certain death was weighing upon them. But in any case
the unfortunate men would not have had the strength to escape from this
grim cul-de-sac. Their torches, flung to the earth, burnt no longer, but
filled with smoke the gloom in which they were plunged.

The chief miner had an attack of vertigo. At his side a young miner
began to bleed copiously at the mouth; another was struggling on the
ground in an epileptic fit. Some began cursing and quarrelling or
accusing old Ivan and the chief miner. One man uttered a cry, for
another stretched at his side, had, in his frenzy, seized him by the
throat. The chief miner thought he saw red streaks in the black darkness
and felt as though something damp and slimy glided over his face. He
collected all his remaining strength, rose with difficulty and took up
his pickaxe again. His legs tottered. Several times he buried the pick
in the black mass of earth which scattered and crumbled beneath his
blows; his tool sank under the projecting rock and fragments of damp
earth fell with a dull sound. He felt his arms grow numb and threaten to
drop the tool.

"Can any of you help me?" he murmured, but he perceived with terror that
he was voiceless, for although he thought he had spoken aloud, no one
had heard him. It was like a struggle in a nightmare when the dreamer
sees some terrible sight, e.g., an assassin creeping towards his bed,
and tries to cry but in vain, for he is dumb. He makes a fresh effort as
fruitless as the last and sees the assassin's knife come nearer. A
fiendish face bends over him. He collects his last strength; it seems to
him that his cry must wake the whole house and be heard in the street,
yet the sleeping cat curled up on his bed does not hear the feeble groan
which escapes from his labouring chest, "Come and help me!"

Well, it was the end. There was nothing more to hope for. Mechanically
his hand again thrust the pick under the projecting rock. He felt a
shock of surprise; the pick passed right through it; a shudder thrilled
him; he clenched his teeth, made a superhuman effort, buried his pick
still more deeply, throwing as much weight into it as he could, and then
fell prostrate, his face towards the ground. His pickaxe had escaped
from his hand and fallen through to the other side.

Through the opening thus formed there rushed a gust of refreshing air
which at once increased in strength. The smoking torches which had been
flung on the ground were spontaneously re-kindled. Their flame licked
the walls. The miners began to breathe heavily; those who had half
swooned revived a little and began to move. Many raised their heads,
drinking in the air with such avidity that they became sick. The chief
miner crept with difficulty through the opening and began to breathe
with deep gasps the vivifying air.

"It is there ... there!" repeated old Ivan dreamily.

"Yes, old man, it _is_ there, you are right," the miners answered,
suddenly recovering their courage.

All the men who had been half-insane a moment before were now convinced
that they were saved. In any case, it was a respite; they would not die
yet. Death had been left behind in the race once more; they would be
able to wrestle with it, and they must profit by this respite to get out
of this place. If they had to die after all, well, they would die, but
elsewhere, not in this cramped black hole. They set to work again, and
this time so zealously that in a short time they succeeded in clearing
away the mass of earth which obstructed the opening into the
neighbouring gallery. To judge from the quantity of air which came from
below they guessed it must be much larger than the narrow passage in
which they were working. They hastened to work at this outlet which
promised deliverance. The pickaxes struck the rocks violently, and the
shovels dug deeply. They disputed with each other the right to work, and
he who could clear away the most won; they nearly came to blows in order
to dig near the opening in order to reach the new passage. The opening
grew larger every moment. Old Ivan glanced at it and his face grew
radiant with joy, because he saw beyond it the white Apparition waiting.

"Here I am, Lord, here I am!" he murmured, and if his comrades had not
prevented him, he would have tried to pass through the opening at the
risk of blocking it up.

After another half-hour of work they could pass through the opening,
although they had to stoop very low. The chief miner went first followed
by all the rest. Once he was in the new gallery, old Ivan lifted his
torch as high as before.

"I have never seen this gallery!" exclaimed the chief miner. He turned
towards Ivan, but at the sight of him the words died in his throat, and
he could only stammer, "What is the matter?"

Great tears were running down the old man's wrinkled cheeks; he was
contemplating with an expression of profound grief the dark entrance of
a side gallery.

"Well, old man! What is the matter?" the miners asked, surrounding him.
He continued to gaze in the same direction. "Does this place remind you
of something?" asked the chief miner. They all listened eagerly for his
answer.

"It is here that my mother was buried in a landslip. Yes, here on this
side."

"Comrades!" the chief miner exclaimed joyfully. "There is no doubt about
it! We are in the Znamensky mine!"

So true is it that one man's grief is another man's happiness.

Old Ivan himself was forgotten. They saw that he had guided them all to
the old mine, which had been long abandoned, but which he remembered
from his childhood. As the mine had been dug in the rock itself, the
shaft was undamaged, but they had to find the entrance to it.

The old man remained motionless where he was, his eyes fixed on the
place where his mother had perished. The chief miner, who had recovered
his collectedness of mind, approached him.

"Well, old man, has Jesus gone without you?"

"No ... He is there.... He waits for me. Here I am, Lord, here I am."

He resumed his march, and the miners followed him cheerfully.


IX

This last part of the journey was not very long. The old mine was not so
narrow as the one they had just left. Large and lofty galleries led
directly to the shaft; it had not been necessary to dig very deep here
in order to find copper ore, and the shaft, which was of a moderate
depth and dry, remained as it had always been. Although they no longer
needed the old man, he still continued to lead them. The exaltation of
spirit which he had shown, gave no sign of sinking, his walk was firm,
and he held with a steady hand his brilliantly-burning torch. There
still seemed to be some living occupants of the mine, though it had been
quite abandoned, for now and then, as the miners proceeded, something
fled out of their path, either a mole frightened by the unexpected sight
of men, or a pole-cat which had made its home in these subterranean
passages.

Ivan continued to see in front of him the white Apparition, and he
believed that he heard Jesus calling and inviting him to follow.

The ground they were now passing over was almost entirely dry. It was
evident that if here water had ever streamed from the roofs and the
walls, it had long ago drained off down the slanting passages, probably
into the neighbouring mine. Here and there some water-drops were visible
shining on the stones, but one did not hear the loud noise of the
water-springs, nor the roar of the torrents rushing down the crevasses.
When the miners reached the shaft they beheld above their heads a
greyish light, a certain indication that they were no longer very far
from the surface of the earth.

"Well, now, how are we to get up?"

"There are still ladders left, but so rotten that they would not support
us."

"Listen to me," said the chief miner. "One of us must try to get up
there. Once he has got up, he will go and get help from the village.
Hullo! Where is the old man?"

Still under the impression of his fixed idea, the old man had seen Jesus
mounting the ladders and did not wish to remain behind. He thought no
more of his comrades; he had forgotten them. However, the higher he
climbed, clinging to the ladders, the more weary he felt. His weakness
overcame him again, and long-forgotten phantoms seemed to be climbing at
his side--he did not know whether they were phantoms or living beings.
He saw his mother; she was wearing the same miner's boots which he had
seen projecting from the mass of earth which covered her. He saw also
the old man who had loved and petted him when he was a child. He saw him
with his beard just as he used to be, wearing the same coarse shirt with
unbuttoned collar, showing his chest covered with grey hair. Both these
dumb companions smiled affectionately at him.

Overhead the orifice of the shaft continued to grow larger. The old man
could already distinguish a fragment of pure blue sky, for what seemed
from below the grey light of morning was, above the surface, the
splendour of a sunny day. And in this splendour, Jesus was continually
ascending, and was now well above the opening of the shaft.

He reached the last rung of the ladder. The earth was basking under the
bright autumnal sun. The grass, although withered, appeared rejuvenated
by it; yellowed leaves hung thickly on the branches of the birches.
Birds were winging a zigzag flight through the cloudless sky. On the
horizon mountains showed their forest-clothed summits. The air was
impregnated with a pleasant warmth.

Ivan gazed above him with an expression of astonishment. The Apparition
ascended higher and higher, inviting him to follow. His mother stood on
one side, the old man on the other, gazing at him....

The miners had seen the old man scale the ladders of the shaft. Then,
without listening to the chief miner, they hastened to follow him. They
followed so close one after the other that they seemed to be climbing on
each others' backs. When they reached the surface of the ground, they
suddenly paused and remained without moving, after having uncovered
their heads. They did not dare to disturb by a word the mystery which
was being consummated before their eyes. Nor was the consummation long
in coming. The miners formed a circle in the midst of which lay old
Ivan stretched on the ground, his face turned towards the sky, his arms
already numb, stretched far apart; his wide-open eyes saw no one; they
were intently fixed on the blue vault above him as though following some
one who was mounting in infinite space. His lips were seen to be feebly
moving, and when the chief miner bent over him, his keen ear caught the
dying old man's last whispers, "Here I am, Lord.... I am following You!"

[Illustration]



_MAHMOUD'S FAMILY_

[Illustration: "Your prediction is fulfilled. The Turk has escaped."]



_MAHMOUD'S FAMILY_


I. MAHMOUD

A fusillade of musketry fire had just broken out between the Russian and
Turkish advance-posts.

The fog was so dense that the confused masses of the Balkan mountains
could hardly be distinguished. They seemed more like clouds which had
descended on the earth to pass the night there. A red light showed
through the fog from a distance; perhaps it was a Turkish bivouac-fire
or the conflagration of some lonely farm. The Cossacks turned their
piercing eyes in this direction, but in vain, for it was absolutely
impossible to make out what it was in such dense gloom.

It was the Turks who had begun firing; the Russians were content with
merely replying. Neither side was visible to the other, but they fired,
fearing lest, owing to the denseness of the fog, the enemy might
approach close to them without being seen. On such occasions one fires
involuntarily; it is a kind of mutual warning, "I am not asleep, you
understand; take care!"

The sounds of firing died away in the damp and heavy atmosphere. Slowly
the night fell, gradually blotting out from view the field of battle,
and the corpses still lying on the snow. Everything was silent; only a
groan from a wounded man or the death-rattle of a horse was audible from
time to time. But that was all, and the soldiers, exhausted by marching
during the day and fighting in the evening, had not sufficient energy
left to think of carrying away the bodies of their comrades. They wished
for nothing but a night of rest and sleep.

"Not very cheerful for us, the night of the New Year, eh, Major?" said
the Colonel, a short stout man addressing a tall thin one, who had his
arm in a sling. The two were sitting on the balcony of a Turkish house.

"No, it isn't! And no letters from home either."

"That is the least of my anxieties; I know our military post too well."

"Ah, how gladly one would see those one loves, were it only for a single
moment! But to spend Christmas in the Shipka Pass and the New Year here,
sapristi! there is no fun in that. In our house the Christmas tree is
lighted and the children are running round it. Your wife and children
are sure to be with mine, and they will be talking of us. Probably they
are anxious because of our silence. As if we could write--we who only
rush on, like madmen, at the risk of breaking our heads! By the way, how
is your arm?"

"Not very grand, you know."

"Well, make use of it!"

"To do what?"

"To go away. Apply for leave for health's sake."

"_You_ ought not to say so to me."

"Why?"

"Because we are already short of officers as you know very well. In my
battalion there are sub-lieutenants commanding whole companies.
Moreover, you and I are not in the habit of separating. We will return
home together, that is all. Don't let us talk any more about it."

It was now quite dark, and the horizon was hidden. Here and there the
darkness was pierced by the luminous points of some windows in the
village which were still lit up. Suddenly there appeared in the street
the red moving flame of torch and in the circle of light formed by it a
red face wearing a pair of moustaches. At moments there also came to
view in the same luminous circle a horse's head with its ears erect.

"Panteleieff!" cried the Colonel in the direction of the torch. The
torch entered into the courtyard, and soon the horse stood before the
officers, snorting and scraping the hard snow with its hoofs. The
Cossack who was riding it reversed his torch, and clouds of black smoke,
rising heavily, surrounded his arm.

"Where are you going like that?"

"To the advance-posts, Colonel."

"Why?"

"The firing has begun again."

"Go and tell them, that if it is nothing unusual, it is useless to
reply. When the Turks are tired of throwing away ammunition, they will
stop of themselves."

Several soldiers entered the courtyard, stamping heavily. Panteleieff
lifted his torch and it was seen that they had some one in their midst.

"March on, march on, shaven pate! There is no chance of getting any rest
with you fellows about; may the Devil take you!" the soldiers said,
grumbling. It was evident that they were not yet aware of the officers'
presence.

"Well, well! Must we then encourage you with a butt-end?"

"What is it, my children?" said the Colonel, rising.

"We are bringing a Turk, Colonel. We met him by chance--picked him up
under a bush."

"Under a bush? How?"

"He was crouched down like a quail. Lieutenant Vassilieff told us to
take him alive and to bring him to you, Colonel. His name is Mahmoud."

"Give us a light, Panteleieff."

The Cossack held his torch near the group and the red light showed
distinctly a face with a large nose and straggling grey moustaches. The
nose had a lump in the middle; the reddish scar of a recent wound was
visible on the forehead surmounted by a turban formed of a piece of
dirty cloth snatched from some old tent. Mahmoud also wore a yellow
cloak made of camel-skin.

"Stop! Stop! he is an officer," said the Colonel, turning towards his
friend.

The Major looked at the Turk attentively. "Yes, and he is also an old
acquaintance. Don't you recognize him. That scar to begin with, and I am
sure he has two fingers missing from his left hand. Show us his left
hand."

The soldier who was standing next to Mahmoud took hold of his hand and
held it up.

"Yes, it is Mahmoud Bey, a Turkish Colonel. Prisoner and runaway; his
account is settled. The general will probably have him shot. That
depends on the mood he is in. It is a pity. Bring him here, my children.
One of you stay with us; the rest go as quickly as possible."

Mahmoud Bey was brought into the room next to the balcony. A soldier
armed with a musket stationed himself on the threshold.

The prisoner was almost a giant, thickset and broad-shouldered. He
appeared to be over fifty. His eyes had a melancholy expression under
their bristling grey eyebrows; his ragged moustache, also grey, was
constantly twitching; his feet were bound round with rags, his cloak was
torn and had a blood-stain on one shoulder.

"What is this blood?"

"Kyriloff tickled him up a little with his bayonet behind the bush,
Colonel."

"Why?"

"Because, Colonel, it was in vain that we called to him in good Russian,
'Come out, shaven-pate!' He did not listen to us, but only waved his
hands. Kyriloff was annoyed, and pricked him a little. Then he left his
bush. To tell the truth, we wanted to finish him on the spot, but
Lieutenant Vassilieff told us to bring him here."

"Somione! give him a chair."

The prisoner sat down, after placing his hand on his heart, his mouth,
and his head successively. His expression was still melancholy; he
evidently did not expect anything pleasant from his new masters. His
large nose drooped over his ragged moustaches, his head was sunk between
his shoulders.


II. THE EXAMINATION

Having, in the course of his military career, served in the regiment on
the frontier of the Caucasus, the Major had picked up a little Turkish.
So they dispensed with an interpreter.

"I think we have met before?" he said to the prisoner. "You are Colonel
Mahmoud Bey?"

The Turk lowered his head, and assumed an attitude of utter prostration.

"Perhaps there is a mistake, and I am taking you for some one else?"
added the Major.

"I never lie!" said the prisoner, rising. "I escaped here from Kazanlik
and have been recaptured by your soldiers. One cannot go far on foot!"
he added, smiling sadly, "especially when one is, like myself, wounded
in the head and the leg. And I have been again wounded in the shoulder."

"You should know that according to the usages of war," answered the
Major, who attempted, but in vain, to speak in an official tone.

"It is superfluous to tell me that. The power is on your side. You are
the victors; tell them to kill me. I knew perfectly well the risk I ran
when last night I escaped from the house of the officer in whose charge
I was. I have played, I have lost, and I must die."

The Major, touched by the prisoner's tone, began to speak to him more
gently.

"Were you uncomfortable where you lodged?"

"No."

"Did they treat you well?"

"The officer with whom I lodged is a very generous man. He obliged me to
take his bed; he gave me food and drink; he treated me like a brother
not like an enemy."

"But were you afraid of being ill-treated in Russia?"

"No. I know that the Russians always treat their prisoners well."

"In that case, why did you run away?"

"What is that to you? Here I am in your hands; do your duty. But be
quick! be quick!"

Something very like a choked-down sob contracted the throat of the old
Turk, and again his head sank.

"What did you hope to get by escaping? The Turks are retreating
everywhere, famine reigns among you, and the population has fled. Would
you not have done better to have waited? The war will soon be over, and
you would have been able to go home to your own house."

"Home to my own house? Where is that?"

"I don't understand you."

"Well, you soon will. I know how things are going on and have no
illusions. An order has recently come from Constantinople telling people
to emigrate to Asia Minor. Every one will go; my family with the rest.
Where will they go? How am I to find them again? Bah! Don't let us talk
about it; it is useless. I did what I thought was my duty; do your own.
No one escapes death. That which is to happen, will happen; it is
written. No one lives beyond the limit fixed by destiny. What I did was
certainly not for myself...."

The prisoner's voice broke again, and he made a despairing gesture.

"You spoke of your family.... I also have a family," said the Major with
a pensive air.

"You are very lucky then to be alive, and to be able to go and meet
them. You are not a prisoner."

"It is for the sake of your family that I question you. You have
children?"

The prisoner's head sank still lower. There was silence.

"Have you many children?" added the Major.

"Four," murmured Mahmoud Bey in a low voice.

"Are they grown up?"

"No, all little. The eldest of the little girls is just six."

"Just the age of my rascal," said the Major, as though speaking to
himself.

"My girl will be very beautiful when she grows up," said the prisoner in
a livelier tone. "She has large eyes, which glow already. It is five
months since I saw her; she wept much when I went away. My youngest is
not yet a year old; he could not yet walk at the time of my departure.
They all live down there just outside Adrianople. I had a house and
vineyard ... it is so pleasant there. I hoped to see them growing up
under my eyes, the little brats. Then this war had to come. A curse on
those who provoked it. God is just; He will punish those who have shed
our blood and destroyed the happiness of our children."

"Yes, what is the good of war?" exclaimed the Major. "What is the use of
it? All my fortune is my officer's pay. If I am killed to-morrow, what
will become of my family?"

The examination of the prisoner had changed its character and become a
conversation about families. The Major translated everything to the
Colonel and the latter felt a keen sympathy with the prisoner's
misfortunes.

"Tell him, my friend, that if he really had love for his children, he
would have quietly let himself be taken to Russia, instead of trying to
escape at the risk of death. On his return, he could have taken up
their education again. It would not have been a long interval, only some
months."

Mahmoud Bey replied sadly: "If our wives and kinsmen knew what the
Russians really are, they would all have quietly remained at home,
waiting our return. But no! In a few days from now the whole population
will have fled, and soon as your soldiers arrive in sight of Adrianople,
the town will be abandoned by the inhabitants. Only the Christians will
remain.

"You asked me just now," he continued with a sudden heat, "why I escaped
from the generous officer in whose charge I was. Simply on account of my
family. I wished to go and save my wife and children. You who talk to me
about them, do you know what will become of them? I will tell you. My
wife will be panic-struck and begin by abandoning the house, the
kitchen-garden and everything. It will all become the prey of some Greek
or Armenian. My wife will depart for Constantinople, taking the children
with her. When she has arrived there, she will get no help from the
Government, for where do you think there will be money enough to satisfy
the needs of so many ruined families? There are more than a hundred
thousand of them. Then they will be sent over to Asia Minor, to Scutari,
where they will be forgotten. What will she do herself alone? There
will be only one result. My daughters being beautiful and healthy, she
will be able to sell them to harems, where the poor young things will
forget the very name of their father. My boys will become slaves, while
my daughters will be sold again some day to some rich old man of Aleppo
or Damascus. As to my wife, her first grief once over, she also will go
into some harem. And after a year, when I return, what shall I find?
Nothing, neither house, nor family! I shall not even know where they are
gone; people will not be able to give me any information. I shall have
lost all that I possess, and my house will have changed its master.

"You asked why I escaped. Because I could not support the mental anguish
which tortured me. I wept all the night, previous to taking flight; I
knew I was exposing myself to the risk of death. But at such a time, to
live or to die--is it not the same thing? If I had succeeded, I would
have saved my children; I have not succeeded--well, I shall die. Kismet!
It is not that death frightens me. Since the beginning of the war I have
been exposed to it every day, and have been accustomed to face it
without trembling. What dismays me is to know that my family are
deserted, unhappy and dying of hunger--to know that they are quite near
me and that I cannot fly to their help...."

The old Turk, burying his head in his hands, began to sob, to the great
embarrassment of the officers. The Colonel leaped from his seat, and
began to stride up and down the room. He made a gesture with his hand,
as though he wished to brush away something which prevented him seeing
distinctly; then he got angry with himself.

"The deuce!" he said, "I was nearly becoming a woman." He looked at the
Major, who as pale as himself, remained sitting at the table, on which
his fingers were tracing strange designs.

"Yes, war is a dreadful thing," he murmured.

The prisoner resumed his talk. "Before this war I had never left my
house. I had seen all my children born and watched their growth every
day. As they grew, their minds developed; no details escaped me; neither
the moment when they recognized me for the first time, nor the moment
when they began to stammer their first letters. I remember everything,
everything--their little limbs when still weak ... their mouths open
like nestlings. Who will bring them their daily food now? Their mother?
She is in danger herself. Only the other day...."

He could not finish; his strength failed him.

"Just as it is with us at home, my friend. The same thing exactly," said
the Colonel, pacing nervously up and down the room.

"What shall we do in the meantime? I think myself we might wait till
to-morrow before sending him to the general. What do you say, Colonel?"

"Yes, yes, to-morrow will do."

"Shall he stay with us for the present?"

"Yes, he can stay with us. I will tell Somione to make up a bed for him.
Four children! What a story!"

"And if the general has him shot, Colonel?"

"Hm! yes.... It all depends on the mood he is in. One cannot talk about
children with the general."

"War is a horrible thing, Colonel. Is it not?"

"Yes, it is, if you want my opinion. But duty, you know, and the uniform
and the military oath. I'd as soon they all went to the devil. Don't let
us think of it any more till to-morrow. It gives me a feeling of
constriction at the heart. Ask him if he will take wine. We will have
supper together."


III. DREAMS

The prisoner's bed was placed in the same room with the Colonel and the
Major.

Soon all was silent. From time to time came the noise of single
cannon-shots, deadened by the fog. It was the Turks who would not be
quiet, but continued to fire at the Russians. But as the latter did not
reply, they also finally ceased. Night now reigned alone over the world,
wrapping everything in darkness and dampness--both the snow-covered
summits of the mountains and their peaceable defiles covered with
Turkish villages abandoned by their inhabitants as though a plague had
been raging.

In the valley below lay thousands of corpses with fixed eyes widely open
gazing at the dark mysterious heavens. Their intent gaze seemed to wish
to penetrate the darkness as though obstinately asking heaven whither
had passed that something which had animated their bodies that very
morning, and what had become of the last sigh which escaped from their
bayonet-pierced or bullet-riddled breasts. But the dark inaccessible sky
regarded them sadly from above, letting fall now and then cold tears on
these disfigured faces.

The Major could not get to sleep. He turned and turned again under the
felt cloak which served him as a blanket, throwing it aside and pulling
it over himself again, recommencing for the tenth time to read a
newspaper and letting it fall, casting furtive glances at the
slumbering Turk, and hearing the vague words which escaped him in his
uneasy sleep. Weary with his restlessness, the Major tried to oblige
himself to think of something else, but his thoughts always returned to
the same point.

Even when he had finally closed his eyes and his breath had become more
equal, when night had cast its soft spell over the room, his thoughts
continued without change to work in the same direction. He dreamt of
children, not the prisoner's unfortunate brats, but of his own
surrounded by all the care of a mother and sheltered from danger in the
midst of the profound quiet of the steppe which surrounded the little
Russian town where his family dwelt. His thoughts flew to them over
thousands of versts.

All else had vanished; nothing of the present remained, neither the
battles, nor the innumerable corpses, nor that ocean of disasters which
for a long time had been rolling its blood-stained waves under the
Major's eyes.

This is what he saw--a moderately-sized room with a sacred icon[1] in
one corner. A night-light burns softly before the icon as though
intimidated by the constant sight of the saint's austere face, whose
expression appears still more sombre in contrast with the silver
ornaments of the frame in which it is set. The feeble rays of this pale
light show in the shadow the outlines of two little beds with very white
curtains from behind which proceeds the sound of equable breathing. The
Major lifts one of these curtains; the little girl in this bed is too
hot; she has pushed off her coverlet, and all rosy with sleep, she
slumbers without dreaming, her little plump legs gathered up close to
her body, and her pulpy mouth half-open. The little monkey is tired with
running about the whole day. She has rolled down ice-slopes, she has
teased her favourite fowls and her cock, she has fed the pigeons, and
among other things she has fought with her little brother. Now she slips
her little fat hand under her head. She seems about to open her eyes and
close them again, smiling at the sight of her father's face as he hangs
over her. He takes a long look at her.

[Footnote 1: Saint's picture.]

"Sleep, my darling, sleep, my angel," he murmurs, making the sign of the
cross above her.

Then he turns to the other little bed. Do you see this brat? He is not
yet two years old, but he is already covered with scratches because he
does nothing but fight, sometimes with the cat, and sometimes with his
little sister, whom he torments. Accordingly, his cheek is marked all
over by the cat's claws, who, however, appears at present to have made
a truce with her enemy, for there she lies rolled up, looking like a
ball of grey wool. Isn't he fat and sturdy, the Major's rascal? He is so
fat that his pretty hands, his little feet and his neck look as though
they were encircled with a thread, as those of quite young infants do.
And what red and chubby cheeks, so chubby that they have almost
extinguished the nose, which appears between them only like a little
button! His round head is covered with hair so blond that it is almost
white, and there is a dimple in his elbow. Suppose he were to kiss the
dimple? But no--the child might wake up. Good! Good! Let him sleep. And
the father makes the sign of the cross over the spoilt child. Then he
approaches the night-lamp. Its wick is charred and he turns it up a
little, so that the room is better lighted.

In a corner snores the old nurse; it sounds like the purring of a cat.
The Major goes on tip-toe towards the next room. His eldest son is there
who looks down on his little sister and his brat of a brother with
profound disdain. In the absence of his father he sleeps in his mother's
bed, where he is rolled up like a ball. The languid light of a lamp
covered with a blue shade falls on both of them. By the bed-side is a
little round table. The Major's wife must have been reading newspapers
before going to sleep, for there are some on the table, open at the page
where his detachment is spoken of. On the wall there is a portrait of
him, and there are others on the table. His memory seems to pervade the
place; he has certainly not been forgotten. Full of gratitude, he leans
over the sleepers, he touches softly and carefully the half-open lips of
his wife, he kisses gently her forehead and her closed eyes. She seems
to him to have grown thinner. Her nightdress is open at her neck, on
which the light of the lamp directly falls. It is quite natural that she
should have grown thinner through anxiety on account of her husband. She
has put one arm round the neck of her boy, who sleeps cosily, his curly
head resting on his mother's shoulder, his mouth a little open. What
teeth he has! And one eye is blackened!

What peace reigns here! It seems as though a spirit of purity brooded in
the atmosphere. Everything here breathes of love, calm and serenity. It
is as though an angel's prayer hovered over these two rooms, protecting
these dear heads from all evil thoughts, from despair and hatred.

If any one at this moment had watched the face of the Major as he lay
asleep, he would have seen a happy smile pass over the lips of this
thin tall man--so happy that the old Turk who lay not far from him
could not have supported the sight of it.

The latter was, all the night long, tormented by painful thoughts; he
turned uneasily on his couch, and now and then a scalding tear rolled
down his face. The night herself seemed struck by the contrast. She sent
him a mysterious vision, and as soon as the sleeper perceived it, his
expression changed immediately. His contracted muscles relaxed, his
mouth, almost invisible before under the great nose, showed a smile. The
tears on his cheeks dried; the prisoner was evidently dreaming of
something happy. The night hung over him, her visage veiled in black;
she murmured beloved names in his ear, and sent him only dreams of
happiness; then, softly and gently, she glided towards the Major.

What is the matter with him? He seems to be having a trembling-fit.
Night hangs over him and covers him with her black veil. Any one who
watched him just now would be struck with the sudden change in his
expression. His features betray astonishment and terror. He tries to
rise, to shake off the heavy chains of sleep, but night holds him in her
grasp. She has placed her hand on his chest. He sees a thing so strange
and extravagant that his blood turns to ice in his veins. The quiet
rooms of his home seem to be filled with a strange murmur. The children
rise in their beds and fix their eyes, dilated with terror, on a black
menacing cloud which hovers slowly above their heads. The father looks
at it. What is there in the cloud which so alarms his children? His
heart beats violently.

The cloud continues to descend. The children jump down from their beds.
The little boy who was sleeping in the next room runs hither. They call
their nurse--she has disappeared; there is nothing but a heap of old
rags in the place where she was lying. The children call to their
mother, but the black cloud hides her from their eyes. There they are
alone, face to face with it. It sinks slowly on the ground as though it
were descending into the waves of the ocean. Its vague fluctuating
outlines assume distinctness. The Major and his children at last
perceive what it contained. What they see is a body of enormous length
stretched out; round it are standing four little children with great
black eyes full of anguish and distress. The children weep bitterly, and
their tears fall on the corpse which they surround. The Major's children
approach them and begin to examine the body whose grey head, with its
large nose, the scar on the forehead, and the grey bristling
moustaches, leave no doubt in the Major's mind as to its identity. The
body is that of Mahmoud Bey. Everything is there--the fresh wound on the
shoulder, the clotted blood on the ragged cloak, the stiffened feet
wrapped in rags.

"But who ... who has done that?" asks the Major's little girl, a moment
before flushed with sleep, becoming suddenly pale.

"Who has killed him?" asks the little boy of six with the black eye. The
youngest of the children is holding him by the shirt-sleeve.

The Turk's children, the black-eyed brats of a tawny tint, turn towards
the Major and point at him.

"It is he who has killed our father. Yes, it is he. He has cast us on
the street and reduced us to poverty and helplessness."

The Major tries to speak or cry. His heart is nearly bursting with
agony; his tongue feels paralysed; his voice is choked in his throat.
This father sees his children turn from him with horror. The youngest
even lifts her little hand as though to shield herself. He tries to
approach her, but she runs away, her features convulsed with terror. She
points to his hands and cries, "Blood! Blood!"

The Major looks at his hands; the little girl is right; they are
covered with blood. Then he tries to speak, but he cannot articulate a
word; he feels as though some one had seized him by the throat, and were
trying to choke him. He struggles desperately, makes a final effort and
... awakes.

Throwing away the cloak which covers him, he rises. The Turk was not
asleep; he was sitting at table with the Colonel.

"Well, Major, it seems to me that you have had a good sleep for the New
Year."

"Yes ... and I have had a dream."

"You too?" said the Colonel in an embarrassed tone.

"Why do you say, 'You too'?"

"Yes. You can't imagine what absurd dreams I have been having. I had
never believed myself so sentimental."

"Had your dream anything to do with the prisoner?"

"Naturally. You remember my Volodia?"

"A curious question, as I am his godfather."

"Indeed you are right. My head is decidedly queer. Well, I have had that
rascal at my heels the whole night. He insisted obstinately that I
should give the Turk up to him. 'Why?' I asked. And he answered, 'He
also has little Volodia's, and I will let him free to go and find
them.' Yet, my friend, I don't think we drank more than usual last
night."

"Certainly not." The Major looked fixedly at the Colonel.

"But think what I have dreamt; it is much more serious."

"Not really."

"Yes, indeed."

The Major related his dream.

"We are becoming superstitious," said the Colonel. "Come what will, we
must make up our minds. I will send this Turk to the General as quickly
as possible. May God look after him! The General must decide his fate.
If we keep him here, we shall end by going mad."

"In that case I have a favour to ask of you."

"What is it?"

"I wish to go myself to the General."

"You?"

"Yes; allow me to conduct Mahmoud Bey to him."

The Colonel gave a side-glance in order to preserve a serious
expression, and finally said, without looking at the Major:

"There is nothing against it. But you will need a horse."

"It is easy to find one. Have we not taken enough from the Turks?"

"True. Very well, there is no obstacle. Hand the prisoner over to the
General," added the Colonel, in the tone of a superior officer giving an
order.

Walking slowly and accompanied by Mahmoud Bey, who looked as melancholy
as ever, the Major arrived at the Russian advance-posts.

A Cossack on horseback emerged from the fog. It was a sentinel. Two
other Cossacks lay stretched on the ground. Their horses, attached to
pickets, munched a bundle of hay. At the sight of the officer, the
Cossacks rose quickly.

"Where does this trench lead, my good fellows?" asked the Major,
pointing to a very deep one close to where they stood.

"Straight to the enemy, Major."

"Has any one seen the Turks to-day?"

"Not one has shown himself. They are quieter this morning. Yesterday
they raged like madmen, but thank God, they are giving us a respite
now."

"They have understood that they were wasting ammunition."

The Major signed to the prisoner to follow him and descended into the
trench. A moment after, one of the Cossacks was at his side.

"What do you want?"

"One must take precautions, Major. We never know what may happen. The
Turks are not very far away, you know."

"It is unnecessary."

"But, Major, your prisoner may escape."

"No, he won't; he has even promised to point me out the Turkish
positions. Return to your post."

The Cossack went back. The two others rode in silence for half an hour.
Finally the Major halted.

"Listen to me, Mahmoud Bey. The Turkish army is not very far from here.
Escape, and go to Adrianople to find your children. You understand me? I
have children also. Well, what are you waiting for? Go, escape, and be
quick. There is no time to lose. I might change my mind," he added,
half-smiling.

The Turk seemed absolutely petrified. He blinked his eyes. Evidently he
understood nothing.

"I tell you to go and find your family. Do you understand?"

Quickly, and before the Major understood what he was going to do,
Mahmoud Bey stooped down, seized his hand and kissed it.

"Listen to me, Russian! I can never requite you this kindness. I do not
dare to wish for you that you may find yourself one day in my position
and chance upon a Turk as good as yourself. But know well there is only
one God. Religions are diverse, but God is One. I promise you that I and
my children, as long as we are alive, will pray God to preserve you for
your children as you have preserved me for mine. May the sun shine on
you for many years! Farewell, Russian, farewell!"

Then as though fearing that the Major might change his mind, he whipped
up his horse and disappeared.

After waiting some minutes to allow him to get to some distance, the
Major returned. When he arrived at the Russian outposts, he met the same
Cossack who had wished to accompany him and said, "Your prediction is
fulfilled. The Turk has escaped."

The Cossack studied the Major's face and said, "I wish him luck. It is
not prisoners we are in want of. We shall soon not know where to put
them."

When the Major rejoined the Colonel, he found him walking up and down
the room in a state of great agitation.

"Well?"

"Arrest me! I have let the prisoner go!"

The Colonel hastened towards him, and embraced him nervously.

"There! Volodia has his New Year's gift! Let us hope that now he will
let me sleep in peace."

"But ought not a report to be made?"

"Why?"

"And the papers dealing with the prisoner's case?"

"The papers? There are their ashes in the stove. I have burnt them. Poor
wretch! He will have to hurry--he will have to hurry to find his
family."

[Illustration]



_A MISUNDERSTANDING_

[Illustration: "From all directions nuns came gliding towards the
lighted portal."]

[Illustration]



A MISUNDERSTANDING


I

Vespers were drawing to a close. A young nun, Sister Helene, who had
just finished her novitiate and taken the veil, stood in a dark recess,
viewed from whence, the old church, with its round columns, seemed to
fade away into the mysterious darkness under the cupola. She watched the
black outlines of the "Sisters in Jesus" kneeling in the middle of the
nave, the gilded "iconostasis" or church-screen with its blackened
pictures set in frames sparkling with precious stones, its wax-tapers
and lamps burning softly in the heavy incense-laden air. Each time that
the deacon passed, waving his censer, they seemed to burn more brightly.
But Sister Helene was lost in contemplation of a painting which had just
been finished by the nun who shared her cell. The figure of the Holy
Virgin seemed to stand out from the dark background; her large eyes were
sadly fixed on the heads bent in devotion; the flickering flame seemed
to cast light and shadow alternately on the divine features. It seemed
sometimes to Helene that the sorrowful eyes of the Mother of God glowed
with a misty light. Helene was not praying. Rapt in a self-forgetful
reverie, her soul soared higher than the arches of the church; she had
not heard the broken voice of the old priest, which sounded like a sob,
any more than she heard the beatings of her own heart; she took no
account of the flight of time till she felt a hand touch her arm.

"Are you going to stay there till morning?" a little misshapen old woman
asked her with a discontented air.

"It is a real sin in you younger ones to stay so, absent-minded, without
even making the sign of the cross. See! the wax-tapers have burnt out.
You have been thinking long enough in your self-conceit, 'Here I am
alone, and all the others have gone.'"

"Pardon, Sister Seraphine," murmured the nun.

"Very well! God will pardon you. Go now, I am closing the church. But
make the sign of the cross; that will not break your arm, and then an
obeisance. God be with you. All the same, it is a sin in you young ones.
Ah, if they would only give us another abbess."

Helene turned once more to look at the church-screen.

The church was now plunged in silence and darkness; the old nun hobbled
before the altar, then disappeared behind the columns. Here and there
were visible the little flames of the lamps which are never put out. A
bunch of keys fell on the flag-stones, sounding like the clash of
chains. Sister Seraphine had dropped them.

Once more she watched the young nun's figure as it vanished in the
darkness.

"One of the intellectuals!" grumbled the old woman.

"Are we not then all equal before God, those who know as well as those
who are ignorant. To speak seven languages, is to multiply one's sins
sevenfold. Jesus did not seek for His apostles among the learned, but
among fishermen. It is better then to be ignorant. If we had another
Superior, Mother Anempodista for instance, she would not have hesitated
to give you her blessing and send you to wash the dishes or knead the
dough. We are one community; service and trouble, all ought to be
shared. It is not French that the Apostle Peter will speak at the gate
of Paradise; he will not be afraid to strike you on the forehead with
his key and to say, 'Be off, blue-stocking, to the eternal fire; go and
talk French to the devils.' No, there is something seriously wrong with
these young ones. The Evil One hovers about them trying to entangle
them. Certainly it was better under Mother Anempodista; in her time the
blue-stockings would not have given themselves airs over the others."

Still hobbling as she went, the old woman closed the church and went in
the darkness to the clock tower where she had lived for about forty
years. From the time of her first arrival at the convent and entrance on
her novitiate, she had been entrusted with the duty of the portress and
remained in that post. There under the bells, in a tiny cell like a
niche in a wall, Sister Seraphine grew old and suffered, became bent and
looked forward to die the death of the righteous. She lived
half-forgotten there, the little old woman, but content. Above her
boomed the great bells of the convent, close by her ear tinkled the bell
of the main entrance when a visitor called. Sometimes, when gusts of
wind roared in the bell-tower, Sister Seraphine would cross herself,
murmuring, "Holy saints have mercy! How excited the Evil One is! Whose
soul is he coming to seek? Can it be Sister Elizabeth's? To-day a fine
aroma of coffee came from her cell. What a temptation!"

Sister Seraphine's cell was occupied almost entirely by a bed of rough
planks; a mattress, a white pillow, a sheepskin coverlet constituted all
her luxuries. On the narrow sill of the little window--almost a
loop-hole--were placed a piece of bread, some black radishes, salt and
kvass; high up in a corner a lamp burned before the icon.

On entering she made the sign of the cross and lay down on her pallet,
but suddenly the gate-bell rang wildly. In a moment she was on her feet.

"I am coming! I hear! I hear! The lunatics to ring like that!" she
grumbled, taking down the great key from the wall; "here is fine music."

She descended, shivering, and opened with difficulty the large gate
which grated on its hinges.

"Well, what makes you ring like that? We are not deaf," she said to a
huge footman wrapped in his fur-lined livery. "Where have you come from
and from whom?" she asked, seeing a closed carriage standing a little
way off.

"Let me pass first, little old woman; I shall find my way quite well."

"Answer first; to whom are you going?"

"To the Lady Abbess, old crow of a portress! It is Madame the wife of
General Khlobestovsky who sends me; don't you recognize me? Take your
eyes out of your pocket."

"Yes, if one had time to study your face! You have all the same faces,
as like each other as the curbstones of pavements. It is a sin to have
to do with you. Wait till I call Sister Anastasia; she will go to our
Mother. Have you a letter? Give it me. A pretty word--'crow of a
portress.' You think yourself somebody because you are covered with
clothes belonging to your master. Wait! Wait! when the hour of your
death strikes, you will remember that 'crow of a portress,' and you will
repent. But God is good; He will pardon you; because you lack brains.
Consider at any rate, great booby, where you are. 'A crow' ... the
idiot!"


II

Sister Helene, after having left the empty church, turned to the left to
reach her cell. A row of little windows, constructed at different
heights, illuminated the darkness here and there, and were reflected in
the pools of water formed by the last rain-fall. A pavement formed of
planks ran along the length of these little dwellings; there was no
uniformity in their design, but some of them were picturesque; by
daylight the convent presented an original aspect. None of these
dwellings resembled each other; some were two stories, others a story
and a half high. In these lived the sisters who were well-to-do. They
were painted different colours--grey, rose, white, etc. In summer lime
trees and birches sheltered them from the sun. To-day the wind whistled
through the naked branches.

Helene had not yet reached her door, when she saw approaching her, like
a red point in the darkness, some one carrying a lantern.

"Who comes there?" she asked.

"Is it you, Sister?" answered a youthful voice whose musical tones
sounded strange in the blackness of the night.

"What! Is it you? You come to meet me?"

"Yes, I have prepared the samovar (tea-urn). As you did not come, I
feared something had happened, and here I am."

"I had forgotten in the church how time passed, and Sister Seraphine
made me come out."

"It was time; it has struck seven."

"And you--what have you been doing? I have not seen you the whole day."

"I have been painting; then I tried to read, but my head felt heavy. I
think my John the Baptist is not a success."

"Why?"

"I cannot give him the aspect of an ascetic; his eyes, his smile are too
sweet; the desert sun had bronzed him, his features must have been
harsher."

"Paint him as God inspires you. This evening, during vespers, I looked
at your Holy Virgin the whole time."

"You think it good."

"It is perfect. Her sad eyes, her inspired face seem to say that she
knows her divine Son will suffer for humanity."

"Well, but Sister Seraphine is not pleased with it."

"What does she say?" asked Helene with a smile.

"That it is hardly befitting to have beautiful pictures in convents,
that the eyes of nuns ought not to dwell on the works of sinners."

"God bless her! She grumbles, but she is good at bottom. When I was ill,
before you came, she hardly ever left me. Here we are at my door."

Helene and the novice Olia rapidly ascended the steps of the staircase,
shaking the water from their cloaks. When they reached her well-warmed
room, Helene took off her short black pelisse and the cap which
concealed her hair. Her dwelling had two stages; Olia, her guest, lodged
and worked on the ground floor; Helene occupied the upper one. The
furniture was very simple--a table of white wood, a small very hard sofa
covered with brown holland, two old arm-chairs and straw-bottomed chairs
ranged along the wall. Above the sofa hung the portrait of some unknown
nun with dark eyes shadowed by a black veil and pale wrinkled lips. In
one corner, a lamp burned before an icon in a gold frame.

Helene was not yet thirty years old; her face, pale and thin, had
already assumed the monastic expression, but her refined features were
still beautiful; her large proud eyes recalled by their sadness and
their passionate expression Carlo Dolce's martyrs. One could guess that
in this soul which had already long suffered, the sacrifice was not yet
consummated, and the struggle still continued. In those dark eyes there
often came also the poignant look of physical suffering; her face showed
signs of sleepless nights, suppressed tears and sobs choked down.

Olia, with her sharp ear, heard her sometimes leap from her bed, run to
the window, open it and fall on her knees in prayer. It was not the
conventual life which weighed on Helene, but that which she had left
outside the walls. Her life in the convent was pleasant and easy; the
inmates had for her the regard which a sister deserves who brings a
considerable fortune, and who was, moreover, highly cultured, a fact
which lent peculiar distinction to the community. When illustrious
benefactresses visited the convent, Sister Helene was immediately sent
for in order to talk French; these ladies departed delighted, and in
aristocratic circles talked of "our convent," in order to distinguish it
from the other at the opposite end of the town, which was humble and
poverty-stricken, without cultured nuns and unvisited by grand ladies.

This time also, scarcely had Helene sat down to her tea than she was
sent for by the abbess.

"May I come in?" said a voice behind the door.

"Certainly," answered Helene. "Ah, it is you, Sister Athanasia."

"Peace be with you, and God bless you; will you come to our Mother
Varlaama."

"What is it?"

"Nothing; only a note for you, and they are waiting."

The abbess was a stout, heavy woman, with a plain but honest face such
as is often seen in tradesmen's widows who have lived a quiet life with
a sober and affectionate husband. She received Helene with a tender
kiss:

"General Khlobestovsky's lady asks me to let you go to her this evening;
she is particularly anxious about it and has sent the carriage."

"But it was just this evening that I did not want to go out."

"And why, may I ask? She is one of your old school-fellows, and what is
more, rich and a fine lady. Go then for our sakes. Yesterday again her
husband has sent us from the country two carts full of meal, flour and
oil. We cannot refuse anything to such benefactors; he would regard it
as a want of respect and would become indifferent to us. Make this
sacrifice, Sister Helene, for the great advantage of us all. Finally I
exact it as an act of obedience, as part of your conventual service. Go!
Go!"

So saying, she embraced and dismissed her.


III

Helene felt ill at ease every time that she entered the Khlobestovsky's
drawing-room, not exactly because she disliked the mistress of the
house; they had been school-fellows and had remained friends. The
general was always absent; he preferred country life and the
superintendence of his estate, in the first place because his affairs
got on the better for it, and secondly he was thus out of reach of the
sentimental and romantic claims of his wife, claims which his personal
appearance did little to justify.

Each time that the general's wife saw Helene again, she applied a fine
cambric handkerchief to her eyes to wipe away some tears, her flabby
cheeks quivered, and innumerable wrinkles appeared round her chin and
mouth.

"What self-sacrifice!" she invariably exclaimed, pressing her friend's
hands. "How happy you are, my darling! while we are--how does one say
it?--drowned in sin."

"Plunged," corrected her children's governess.

"Yes, plunged. Exactly so! You, on the other, are saving your soul, and
are quite absorbed in God."

Then she took Helene's hand and said, "You are tired; take my arm."

"No, I am not, I assure you."

"Still, do it, dear Sister."

It was one of the general's wife's principles on commencing the
conversation to speak with deference to her friend, though she was the
younger of the two.

"These matins, these vespers, these masses! ... It will indeed be well
with you up there." And she lifted her large green eyes to the ceiling.

This time also she did not omit the inevitable comedy, and taking
Helene's arm, she drew her to her boudoir, where the sound of several
voices was audible.

"Come, dear, I have absolute confidence in you."

The "lady bountiful," a friend of General Khlobestovsky, was already
seated in the boudoir. Her goggle eyes and projecting jaws well adapted
to frighten poor people, opened wide at Helene's arrival, and in a
high-pitched voice, imitating a famous actress, she exclaimed with a
sigh, "How happy I am! How delighted! Holy woman!" and then turning
towards a young girl very simply dressed who was also smiling at the
nun, said, "Ah, Sacha, how long have you been here?"

Sacha was a niece of the general, and had been taking a course of music
lessons at Petrograd. When she saw her, Helene's face lighted up.

"My course was over a fortnight ago, and I took advantage of it to come
home again."

"You would do much better," said the "benefactress," looking at Helene,
"to follow her example than to follow your course; I tell her so in your
presence, Sister, because I tell her so when you are not there to hear.
To think that at your age, with your beauty, you have been able to go
through such severe tests in order to overcome sin!"

"Why did you send for me?" Helene asked.

"Because, dear, we have decided to make a blue altar-cloth embroidered
with gold and silk for your convent. Without your advice we do not know
how to set about it; it is impossible for us to choose the design and
the colours."

The table was already covered with the velvet cloth in question which
reached down to the ground; on it were lying skeins of silk, fringes and
gold thread. As soon as Helene had taken her seat the ladies began an
earnest discussion on the question whether they should embroider the
flowers flame-colour, the stalks white, the leaves red, and at the top
in gold a border of moss-roses.

"But would it look natural?" said the nun.

"Then what are we to do?" answered the "benefactress" in an agitated
way. "Enlighten us, dear Sister; without you we are in darkness."

When the consultation was over, Sacha, who had waited impatiently,
approached Helene, took her arm, and led her to the drawing-room.

"I have been to your church to-day," she said. "I have looked for you
everywhere without seeing you."

"I generally stand on the right in a corner."

"In the shadow?"

"Yes; one feels more comfortable out of observation."

"It is a pity; I was looking forward so much to meeting you again, and
did not succeed."

"Why regret it?"

"Ah well! As a devotee you are simply superb; one would say you had
stepped out of the frame of a holy picture. And how they sing at your
convent! You have a magnificent voice."

"Who says so?"

"My aunt in the first place. At school it seems that you already held
every one under a spell."

"Your aunt is too kind."

"Not at all; she is only just. But tell me why do you not take part in
the convent choirs?"

"I do not wish to," said Helene, and a shadow passed over her face.

"Pardon me," murmured Sacha, taking her hand. "I have perhaps vexed you;
I am so foolish."

"Not at all," answered Helene. "It is not that. But you see, I ought not
to sing. Doubtless, you do not understand me. Anna Petrovna declares in
her kindness that I have overcome all sins, but it is not so. A nun
ought to seek before all things to forget the world where she has lived.
It ought not to attract her any more. No one knows anything of our
struggles and our mental distresses. If I recommenced to sing, the past
would rise again at once. Ah! I have experienced it already; one day I
was singing a church chant in my room; all the past came up in my heart,
and I nearly choked. That which I had fled from, that which I believed
dead and buried, returned. You see a spiritual victory is not won so
easily. Till one is 'dead to the world' one has many trials to pass
through. It is only outsiders who imagine that peace reigns in a
convent. If people could glance into our souls, they would see troubles
and storms at the bottom of each. But these are only words! Come and see
me, won't you?"

"Yes, certainly!" answered Sacha, stretching out her hand.

"I love you much, Sacha; you are honest. Au revoir. God be with you."

"Where are you going?" exclaimed the general's wife. "What! Without
taking tea. I won't let you go. After tea they will put up for you a
basket of preserves to take to the abbess, that good soul. She prefers
quince-preserve. As for you, I don't offer you any; you have renounced
all these luxuries; you no longer belong to this world!"

And once more her cheeks began to quiver and her green eyes grew moist.

"How charming you were at school! Tall, well-shaped, like a figure in
Dresden china. Do you ever remember the school, Sister Helene?"

"Yes, of course," said Helene, with an abstracted air, only
half-attending to her.

"I remember they had brought you from far away--the Caucasus, wasn't it?
They had written to me, I remember."

The nun bent her head in order to hide her disturbance of mind. When she
raised it again, she had grown still paler, and her sad eyes showed
physical pain controlled with difficulty. But the general's wife, who
never paused to notice anything, did not guess at her trouble. She had
risen, and stuttering very fast, said, "This evening we will give you a
musical treat. I know you love music, Helene, and that is not a sin. I
think there was a saint--what was her name?"

"Saint Cecilia," said the governess.

"Yes, precisely. She was a musician, and yet she has been canonized; you
will find it in books."

Helene remained. She felt an irresistible desire to hear
music--something besides the human voice or the voice of her heart.

"Is it you who will play?" she said, approaching Sacha.

"Yes; tell me what you prefer; I only warn you that I don't play
anything very serious."

"Play something that I have not yet heard; all that calls up
associations of the past makes me feel poorly. During the four years
that I have been at the convent you must have learnt many things which I
don't know. You know, perhaps, Beethoven's Sonata 'Quasi una fantasia.'"

"Certainly. Would you like to hear it? 'It is an old piece that is
always new,' our musical professor used to say."

"Yes. To-day I feel drawn to it, though I know it will make me suffer."

"Do you know that it is a little alarming to see you as a nun? Why
should it be? Our family has been always given to religion; my
grandmother entered a convent at the close of her days; and my mother
spent her days in visiting the Holy Places."

Sacha went to the piano and the general's wife came and sat by Helene.
She took her hands and said to her in a sentimental tone, "Do you
remember how often we used to play duets at school?"

"We must confess that we played very badly," answered Helene with a
smile.

"Yes, but the recollection is a delightful one. Do you remember the
venerable Father who used to come to listen to us? Do you know I was
quite in love with him! But pardon me; I forgot that before you.... Ah,
you are quite removed from all that to-day, happy woman!"

"But are not you happy?"

"Non. Life is not what it appeared to us through the rose-coloured
curtains of the school. I do not complain of my husband, but he is quite
incapable of letting himself go or of becoming enthusiastic."

For a moment or two she shed tears, which she wiped away as Sacha struck
her first notes.

Helene listened as though in a trance. God only knew how much the music
recalled to her of that past which she thought had been blotted out. She
saw once more her country, whose soil she would never tread again; she
heard the murmurs of the plane-trees, the low warbling of the brooks; a
more brilliant sun glowed in a deeper sky; she closed her eyes and would
have liked to withdraw into herself, and see no more of her
surroundings. The unutterable yearning and burning passion of the sonata
struck painfully and without cessation on her suffering heart. For a
long time she had believed that a day would come when the old story
which she had confided to no one would be finally forgotten, when she
would be able to look at her past with the same indifference with which
one contemplates the mists of autumn or the snows of winter; then she
would return to her own people content and serene; they would receive
her with joy, not guessing what she had sacrificed for them. To-day,
alas! she understood that it would be vain to seek to bury that past; it
would always rise again as vivid and sad as ever. No, she would never be
able to see her country again. Moreover time, solitude and mental
sufferings would not be long in putting an end to her physical life. A
few more years, and she would rest in her coffin with a visage as
immovable as that of the Sister dead yesterday in the convent, who also
had known suffering. But those happy people down there, happy in the
country she loved so well, did they still remember her? Perhaps they
had forgotten her or thought her already dead.

Under the stress of these thoughts her heavy black garb became
insupportable, and her head-dress weighed upon her like lead. She rose
suddenly, before the sonata was finished.

"I will see you to-morrow," said the general's wife without attempting
to detain her; "the carriage is there. This large packet is for the
abbess, and the one wrapped up in a newspaper is for you."

"For me?" asked Helene in a reproachful tone. "You know that I do not
like...."

"Well, give it from me to poor Olia."

"Thanks. God be with you!"

After warmly embracing Sacha, Helene took her leave. When she had
settled herself in a corner of the carriage, she felt an inexpressible
depression overwhelm her. She would have liked to open the
carriage-door, to plunge into the cold fog, and to run into the infinite
darkness, far away for ever.


IV

Despite the cold of an autumn night, scarcely had Helene entered her
room than she opened her window and inhaled deep breaths of the damp
frosty air which poured into her chamber. She was afraid of the coming
night. She felt that she would not sleep and be sleepless till the
morning. She took a strong dose of a composing draught, but her nerves
were too much disturbed to feel the effect of it.

Just then Olia ran into her room. "How cold it is here," she said.

"For my part I am stifling and feel the want of air," said Helene,
attempting to smile.

"Take care; you will make yourself ill."

"What does that matter," answered Helene with indifference.

"Stop, Olia, see what the general's wife has sent you."

"I am glad to have it," said the novice joyfully, "although they say it
is a sin; I do not hear with that ear." Smiling she opened the packet.
"Bonbons and sweetmeats--hurrah!"

"Take them all away; I do not like sweets; and now, my child, go down
and go to sleep; I want to be alone; I have not prayed to-day."

Helene closed the door and entered her tiny bedroom, a great space in
which was occupied by a screen with sacred pictures. The whitewashed
walls were bare, and so was the floor. The general's wife had sent her a
carpet, but Helene had at once given it to the church. In one corner
was a narrow bed, on a little table a Gospel richly bound, the _Life of
Jesus Christ_ by Ferrara, and some devotional books. Under the table was
a box containing all her property, old letters and portraits. This she
called her "cemetery." She lit the wax candles before the sacred images
and amid the surrounding darkness, the gold frames, and bright haloes
cast their reflections on the austere faces of the saints who could
scarcely be distinguished against their black background. Helene
remembered the nights of prayer which her mother and grandmother had
passed, prostrate at the foot of these same icons, and her sad heart was
penetrated by a warm feeling of devotion. When she left her home these
relics were the only things she had taken with her as they constituted a
link with her past; they afforded her a refuge from her sad thoughts.
But to-day, how could she get rid of them? She was incapable of praying;
her lips murmured the familiar words, her hands made the sign of the
cross, but there was no peace nor humility in her heart. She knelt down
and closed her eyes, but prayer did not come. In spite of years and of
distance, familiar faces surrounded her, and loved voices whispered in
her ear, "How pale you are!" "Why did you leave us to go so far?"

As though she feared insulting the sanctity of the icons she put out the
candles and went into the next room. She tried to tire herself out by
walking up and down her cell, but in vain; the vision followed her. She
did not struggle any more; like a swimmer at the end of his strength,
she yielded to the rising waves which were carrying her far away to the
land of memories.

The five years of struggles through which she had passed, those years of
prayers and struggles, all disappeared; she no longer saw her black
garments; even the walls of her cell had fallen; a whole world lay open
before her. Yes, it was the past which transported her to its magic
circle; she saw her youth again. Her sister Nina, with gentle trusting
eyes, came to her and embraced her with her tender arms in order to tell
her in broken tones a young girl's secrets. There was five years'
difference between the two sisters; the younger one was eighteen. She,
the elder, seemed somewhat too serious for her age; that perhaps was
owing to the influence of her mother, to her continual visits to
convents, and to that atmosphere of incense, prayer and meditation which
had surrounded her from her earliest infancy. The younger sister grew up
quite different; she was a butterfly who needed the sun, blue sky and
flower-beds; her laughter rang clear, contagious and musical. Helene
herself who had received the nickname "the nun," yielded to the charm of
this child-like gaiety. What she loved best in the world was to sit at
her window in the evening, listening to her sister telling her in her
gentle voice her great joys and her little sorrows. Why then one day had
she suddenly risen and pushed her away? Why had some words of her
favourite made her treat harshly, were it only for a moment, this dear
little bird who came to seek protection with her? What had the child
said that its memory should still burn in her heart to-day?

Nina, with blushing and tears, had confessed to her that for two years
she had been in love. When she uttered the name of the man she loved
Helene had pushed her away so abruptly that the poor little thing had
fallen against a piece of furniture. The "nun" remembered her mad fit of
anger; without being touched by her sister's sobs, she shut herself in
her room, refusing to open the door each time that Nina came and knocked
at it.

On the morrow her anger had cooled and been succeeded by a sad
tenderness, a profound remorse for her harshness. She went to her
sister's room and found her asleep without having undressed, her cheeks
still showing the traces of tears. She bent over her to embrace her.
Nina flung her arms around her, whispering in her ear, with tears of joy
this time:

"I knew that you would not long be vexed with me; there was no reason
why you should be, I am no longer a child; I am eighteen; I could not
hide it from you any longer."

"But he--how does he feel towards you?" interrupted Helene.

As she put this fateful question, she pressed her hand to her heart as
though she feared it would betray her by its beating.

"I think ... he also loves me; he is so attentive, so affectionate in
his manner."

Helene did not ask any more; she forced herself to smile, and till the
hour of her departure, she was constantly with her sister; at the bottom
of her heart she wished her to be happy, but in this same heart an icy
despair was daily growing more intense.

"He has been affectionate and attentive to me also," she said to
herself. Had she not seen his gaze constantly following her? Did not the
very tone of his voice change when he spoke to her? She had deceived
herself then! And indeed how could she, the taciturn "nun," hope to
rival her graceful little sister? She had been blind, and worse than
that--ridiculous. He loved Nina, and naturally had more smiles for her
elder sister than for others.

Shortly after her sister's avowal, Helene went to pay a visit to some
relatives, where she remained several days, considering what she should
do. One moment she believed that he hesitated between her and Nina. But
Nina had been entrusted to her care by her dying mother; could she ever
come between her and her happiness? Never! Should she bring tears to
those clear eyes? Should she ruin by her egotism "her child's" future?
_He_ might hesitate, but she must not! Only what should she do?

She had not to reflect long. Her mother had taught her to forget herself
and accustomed her to the thought of self-sacrifice. Happiness bought at
the cost of another's suffering could not be endurable, she said to
herself. Even if he did not yet love Nina, she would entrust her to his
care, at the moment of her departure, and love would soon follow. Her
sister would not miss her; those who are in love do not need a third
person. Her life, as far as she was concerned, was finished; she would
never love again; natures like hers neither change nor forget. As for
being present to witness the spectacle of this youthful happiness, that
was beyond her power. Perhaps in course of time, when everything had
settled down, she might return. At present she must go where they could
not discover her, or even if they did so, not be able to bring her back
into the world.

It was then that she recollected the peace that she thought she had seen
pervading the convents which she had visited with her mother, and that
devotional atmosphere which soothes those whom life has cheated. She
recalled to memory the face of Sister Melanie, of whom it was said that
she had lived through all the trials that can come upon a woman. How
serene her face was and how grand and noble that once passionate heart!

After her absence, Helene, returning one evening to her house, found her
sister and him in the garden. A nightingale was singing, and the flowers
were exhaling their scents. She thought she saw on the faces of the two
young people an expression of happiness. The next day she told her
sister that she was leaving for Petrograd, and that their aunt would
stay with her during her absence. She took leave of both for "a certain
time" as she said, and ignored his melancholy air when she entrusted her
little girl to his care. She wrote seldom from Petrograd; Nina's letters
showed signs of ennui; Helene explained it to herself by the fact that
the younger one had never been without her before. Later on, she left
for a foreign country, and it was from thence that she announced to her
family the unexpected news of her entering the convent; she was happy,
she said, and wished them the same happiness; she would only write
seldom, and perhaps would never return to Russia.

She did return, however, chose at random a small provincial town,
entered a convent there as a novice, and disappeared from the world. She
never knew if her family had looked for her; it was as though a curtain
had dropped between her and her former life.

Since then five long sad years had passed. She hoped she had secured the
happiness of those she loved, but she had not gained that sweet
quietude, that healing forgetfulness which she had expected. On the
contrary, her sadness increased with the lapse of time; memory became
more active; through the most of her tears she no longer even saw the
great ideal which was to safeguard her from herself. One single thought
possessed her: she would never be able to return again to those she
loved so well.

Sometimes, as she lay on her bed, her lean arms crossed over her breast,
she said to herself, that one day she would be so stretched in her
coffin, but then her sufferings would be ended, and death did not alarm
her; she smiled at him as a prisoner smiles at the radiant hour of
deliverance. But that hour came very slowly.

It was still dark when the bells rang for matins. Helene dressed herself
quickly and went out. From all sides black figures were gliding in the
shadow towards the lighted portal of the church. Some saluted her,
others did not notice her. Silence reigned everywhere.

She went to efface herself in her favourite corner, in the shadow where
she loved to stand, leaning her head against the cold wall. She did not
succeed in attaining to forgetfulness; on the contrary her memories
oppressed her, though she tried to lose herself in the contemplation of
the gentle Virgin who seemed to regard her with pity. It would have been
a relief if at least she could have shared her sorrow with some sister
soul, but Sister Seraphine was the only one who passed and re-passed
her, grumbling to herself as she went.

"Why do you stand there, like a statue? Make at any rate on your
forehead the penitent's sign of the cross! They are a real sorrow, these
young ones! You all have your eyes fixed on the holy pictures, but your
hearts are elsewhere. Think of it, Sister Helene! At the hour of death
you will be glad to pray, but then your hand will not have the power to
make the sign of the holy cross." And the old woman disappeared behind
the columns.

Helene went back to her room. It was still dark, and the gloom had
invaded her soul also. Why was it that she was suffering to-day more
than usual? Was it a presentiment which oppressed her heart? What was
going to happen?


V

Six o'clock had just struck. The grey light of morning broke into the
cell in which Helene walked up and down with a nervous step, casting
from time to time a sad glance out of the window; she felt that to-day
neither sleep nor calm would come to her. Olia, woken by the sound of
her footsteps, had come several times to her door; but Helene had always
sent her away, begging her not to be anxious about her.

There was nothing in her past with which she had to reproach herself.
She had given all that she had. Why then did the consciousness of having
acted rightly not bring her the peace for which she longed? Then,
catching herself murmuring, she began to pray, but the prayer did not
come from her heart. Her exhaustion caused her to feel giddy; she even
rejoiced in this, seeing in it a sign of the torpor for which she
craved. Passing into her inner room, she lay down on her bed, with her
eyes closed, but sleep did not come. Dawn broadened into day, and the
austere countenances of the icons seemed to be bent fixedly on poor
Helene as she lay, deprived of strength. She made a movement and her
hand touched the old newspapers in which the preserves sent by the
general's wife had been wrapped. Hardly knowing what she did, she
unfolded one of them, and glanced at it carelessly; the paper glided
with a light rustle behind her bed; a vague desire to know what was
going on in the world seized her; she took another sheet; her eye fell
on the not very edifying details of a divorce case; she turned the page
and found there, by a strange chance, a correspondent's letter from her
native town of which she had heard nothing for so long. She saw that the
date of this letter was that of the year in which she had left her
country.

Scarcely had she glanced through some lines than her blood turned to ice
in her veins and a chill pierced her heart. She uttered such a groan
that Olia awoke with a start. As though she could not trust her eyes,
poor Helene read the article a second time. Yes, they were there, those
cursed lines! a thing more horrible than murder. She had not yet taken
in the awfulness of it. A fit of frenzy seized her brain. She seized the
newspaper and brandished it at the sacred pictures, saying, "There!
There!"

What she had read was as follows:

"A tragedy has just disturbed our quiet provincial town. Two young girls
of good society fell in love with the same young man; one was
twenty-five, the other nineteen. There was an explanation between the
two sisters: the elder did not wish to stand in the way of the happiness
of the younger; she went away for good, telling her friends that she
intended to enter a convent, and would never return. This is where the
affair took a dramatic turn. The young man loved the girl who had gone
away; he only waited for her return to declare himself. When he heard of
the step she had taken, he applied to the authorities to be exchanged
into another regiment, and went off without informing any one. This
morning the younger of the two sisters was found dead in her room,
killed by a pistol-shot. On the table was a short note:

     "'DEAR SISTER,--

     "'Where are you? Forgive me! I could not, I ought not, I dared not
     live any longer.

     "'NINA.'"

"No! It is impossible! It is false! I am delirious!" exclaimed poor
Helene, crushing the paper in her clenched hand. She went near the
window in order to read again the fatal lines. They were indeed there;
they did not disappear! Nothing took their place. They turned from black
to red; they blazed like fire; they burned her heart!

     "DEAR SISTER,--

     "Where are you? Forgive me! I could not, I ought not, I dared not
     live any longer.

     "NINA."

Helene seized her black head-dress and bursting into wild laughter
rushed towards the door. She herself had fastened it, but she imagined
that some one was holding it from without, and shook it, sobbing and
laughing at the same time. Then without hesitation she turned the key,
went out, passed Olia who, pale as a sheet, gazed at her without
comprehension and ran down the stairs uttering unintelligible sounds.

A moment after she was hammering at the closed door of the church and
uttering maledictions to the great alarm of Sister Seraphine, who ran to
tell the abbess, making the sign of the cross and crying, "Saints
preserve us! It was not for nothing that the wind last night blew so
fiercely against the windows. It is a real sin of these young ones."

At the sound of Helene's wild cries the other nuns, frightened and
half-dressed, left their cells and ran in the raw cold of the morning to
help their unhappy sister.

Alas! she had misunderstood!

[Illustration]



_THE LUCK OF IVAN THE FORGETFUL_

[Illustration: "A strange sight brought her to a standstill."]



_THE LUCK OF IVAN THE FORGETFUL_


I

The old convict spent the whole day walking up and down the prison
courtyard, wearing a gloomy expression and sunk in deep meditation like
a man trying to recollect something which he had long forgotten. He was
entered on the roll of prisoners as Ivan the Forgetful, but his
fellow-prisoners nicknamed him "Ivan the Runaway," because of his
numerous attempts to escape. No one spoke to him, for all knew that
nothing could be got from him but words of abuse and gloomy looks. On
this particular day Ivan the Runaway was in a specially bad humour.

The spring had arrived in the previous night, and the mounds of snow at
the corners of the grey towers, which in winter were so hard that the
prisoners could amuse themselves by climbing on them, were now as full
of holes as a sponge and discharged dirty-looking rivulets into the
pools near them.

The sky was so warm and bright, and the wind blew so softly that a
strange giddiness seized the old man, and the thick walls with the
iron-barred windows seemed to him more hateful than ever. He was taken
back to his cell; the key turned creaking in the door; he felt as though
something in his heart were turned round with it, and his expression
became more gloomy and morose than ever; he looked at the door like a
hunted wolf. Ah, if he could only grip the warder's throat!--one squeeze
would finish the business! The convict went to the window, and laid his
hot face against the cold rusty iron bars. He could not gaze long enough
at the deep blue sky behind them, and dreamt of dark forests, wide
fields and majestic rivers rolling freely along. Just then a little
cloud rose and hung motionless in space; rosy lights passed over it and
its edges glowed like fiery gold. "The sun is setting," thought the
prisoner, and lingered by the window till the little wandering cloud
turned pale and was lost in the darkness, and the first star began to
tremble in the sky. Ivan the Runaway went to sleep, but in dreams he
heard the tops of the pines whispering, and the fir-cones dropping on
the soft soil of the forest; he heard invisible wings beating and the
stream fretting against the gnarled roots which barred its way to
liberty.


II

The first thunderstorm, the harbinger of spring, has aroused the earth
from her light slumber. At day-break, the convicts were mustered outside
the prison walls. "Ivan the Forgetful," called out the warder, with the
list in his hand. The old convict sulkily took his place in the row. He
scanned with a searching glance the weak-looking undergrown soldiers of
the escort, who in their ill-fitting grey cloaks looked almost deformed.
Their bayonets gleamed in the sun, their musket-barrels were stopped
with wads of cloth. "Loaded," said the old man to himself and smiled
significantly. It was on just such a spring morning in the previous year
that blindly-fired shots had rung out behind him. He remembered the warm
scent of the earth on which he had then flung himself, as though he
wished to be one with it, and then the deep weird silence during which
he seemed to hear incessantly soft creeping footsteps behind him ... and
finally, for a time, freedom. But now? Would he really have to
recommence the hated hard labour with which he had already been so
familiar? The dark mine-shaft yawned plainly enough at his feet; like
mole-holes the galleries wound through rocks and earth; here and there
in the darkness glimmered the miners' lamps, and he heard the melancholy
sound of monotonous, ceaseless hammering. The convicts were driven down
into the subterranean darkness before sunrise, and only when the sun had
sunk behind the blue mountains could they come up again, so that they
never saw the cheerful daylight.

Ivan jogged his neighbour with his elbow. "Where do you come from?"

"From a long way off;--farther than you can see."

"I expect you have already run away once?" asked the old man with a
peculiar intonation of voice.

"Certainly I did not fly."

"Did you confess it or deny it?"

"You can confess if you choose to."

"What is your name?"

"Ivan the Distant. If you like you can also call me 'The Near'; it's all
the same to me."

"Ah well, you suit us." Ivan's good humour increased perceptibly. "And
what are you thinking of doing now?"

"That will be seen soon enough. I have got twenty years."

"What? Hard labour?"

"Did you think I meant sentinel duty?"

"Well, that is another point in which we are similar."

Two days had passed. The weary convicts and the no less weary warders
had not been long asleep in the prison which stood in the midst of an
impenetrable wood, when the sentinel suddenly heard a strange noise.
There was the sound of a human body falling on the ground once--twice,
and then the clanking of a chain. A dark mass rolled towards the wood.
The soldier aimed hastily, a flash cut through the darkness, and the
echoes of the shot woke the forest; a cry died away in the distance.

"Ivan the Distant is hit," said Ivan the Forgetful, and darted blindly
forwards at random into the mysterious realm of the aged giant trees
which towered like shadows in the darkness of the night. Shots and cries
echoed behind him. The wood seemed to grow alive; it clutched at him
with hard horny hands, it seized the skirts of his coat and dug sharp
claws into his trembling body, it threw obstacles in his way so that he
stumbled, it drew the ground from under his feet so that he fell into a
depth; wet grass sprinkled his face with dew, and he found that he had
fallen down a steep declivity. He recovered from the shock and saw that
his fall had been arrested by the projecting stump of a tree. He raised
his head and listened. There was deep darkness and silence above him and
beneath him; only from time to time he saw the faint reflection of a
flash and heard the rolling echo of distant shots. Ivan climbed
carefully lower down and crawled farther on, looking round him on all
sides like a beast of prey and disregarding the pain of his torn hands
and knees. "It is all up with Ivan the Distant," he said to himself. "He
had no luck." And he crept on farther and farther, without knowing
whither, into the impenetrable darkness of the warm spring night.


III

O Liberty! With a thousand tongues she spoke to him, with a thousand
tones and colours she greeted the fugitive everywhere. For two weeks he
saw nothing overhead but the immense expanse of blue sky, against which
the branches with their reddish opening blossoms showed in delicate
relief. It seemed as if there were no such things in the world as gloomy
walls and rusty prison bars. Only in his dreams at times the fugitive
still heard the clanking of chains and the rattling of locks; then he
awoke in terror to see above him the starry sky of night and the waving
pine-tops. He would lie for hours without moving, listening to the
solemn sound of the wind roaring through the forest. O Liberty!

He did not know how many versts he was from the great high road, along
which he had been driven together with the whole herd of prisoners. At
first he had come across clearings and settlements in the forest, seen
the smoke of chimneys from a distance, and made a wide detour. It was
only at night that he ventured into the neighbourhood of human
dwellings, and looked about, like a wild animal, to see where he could
clamber in, and get some bread without awaking the dogs. On one occasion
hunger drove him into a cottage in the window of which he had seen a
candle burning. An old woman who was cowering down by the hearth was
paralysed by fear and began to tremble all over. What wonder? Who did
not know the yellow sign on the convict's back? He tried to speak
gently. "Don't fear, mother! Have you any bread?" But the old woman's
tongue could not move. So he looked for and found a crust of bread and
drank some water. He saw her desperate poverty and asked, "Have you got
no more bread?"

Then the old woman recovered herself a little. "Go!" she stammered;
"to-morrow I will get some more."

"Shall I take your last piece?" he said, left the crust lying on the
table and departed.

Another day he met a hunter in the forest and would probably have passed
him with an ordinary greeting, had not the latter pointed his gun at
him.

Then a cloud came before Ivan's eyes; he rushed at the stranger and tore
him down. His breath was soon choked out of him, and no one knew how
long his body lay in the forest before the wolves devoured it. He had
brought his death on himself. The fugitive was glad to get rid of his
convict's garb and now wore a coat of sheepskin. He also had a gun to
protect himself from wild beasts. If his hair had only been longer, he
had no need to go out of people's way.

O Liberty! His conscience was silent; no recollection of the blood which
he had shed stirred in him, or if it did occur to his mind, it troubled
him as little as it troubles a beast of prey. Men had always been the
old vagabond's worst enemies. He had grown up like a hungry, young dog,
a mark for missiles and kicks. He received little to eat and many blows,
and when hunger drove him to steal, he received more blows. In the house
of correction the priest spoke to him of the sufferings of Christ, of
repentance and reform. He listened gloomily and returned to his cell.
"Christ is gracious to sinners," he thought, "but who has ever been
gracious to me?"

After he had shed blood once, his soul seemed to become covered with a
hard crust. He became like an animal, escaped from prison when he could,
and no longer had a home. Since then his eyebrows were closely
contracted over his gloomy eyes, and he was filled with bitter hatred
against the whole world. He only longed for one thing, the solitude of
field and forest, for liberty and loneliness, where he felt no one near
him.

Still farther and farther he roamed between the grey scarred
tree-trunks. Through the carpet of pine-needles over which his foot
passed, there were springing here and there pointed little leaves and
the first grass-blades. The squirrels had already ventured out of their
warm nests into the sunshine and sprang briskly and blithely from
branch to branch, as though they would make fun of the old vagabond. The
sky sent down soft spring showers, or brief thunder-storms, or expanded
itself in blue serenity as though it would warm the earth on its bosom.
Ivan wandered through dark ravines, where noisy rivulets streamed down
on all sides, and in the perpetual shadow the snow still lay white and
untouched.

The farther he went, the louder and merrier foamed and bubbled the tides
of spring. O Liberty!

When the fugitive was tired, he could find a shelter anywhere. He would
fling himself down where he liked, cross his hands under his head, and
look up at the sky till his eyes closed of themselves. The wounds on his
legs caused by the iron fetters began to heal; no one who met him would
have guessed who he was. But the primeval forest seemed quite deserted;
no tree bore the mark of an axe, and none had been felled. Here a black
scorched pine-tree had been blasted by the lightning; there a
half-decayed one, whose top was entangled in its neighbour's branches,
had collapsed from sheer old age. This solitude had been profaned by no
one's foot; here was real freedom.

Only now and then he encountered wild animals. Once a bear came within
gun-shot, but the old man spared his life. "You have nothing to give me
now," he thought. "Your skin is no use in summer. Come again in winter."
And he shouted at the animal in such a terrible voice, that it trotted
off with its tail drawn in.

Sometimes he heard the howling of the wolves in the distance; in the
deep silence it sounded weird and terrifying. It filled the old man with
a strange feeling, not fear, but in his innermost being something seemed
to howl and moan in sympathy with the beasts of prey. Was he not indeed
like a wolf among men? Cowering by the fires he made, he would gaze for
hours into the red glowing embers. The flames roared and strained
towards the dark sky as though they would make themselves free; the
fresh brushwood crackled and emitted clouds of blue whirling smoke;
the birch-trunk over which the sparks danced, contracted itself as
though in a spasm, till it finally flared up in a sheet of fire, and the
solitary man felt ever more painfully conscious that he too was every
one's enemy, and was only tolerated in this wilderness like those
creatures whose howling so strangely thrilled his heart. The darkness
which seemed to press from all sides on the fire looked between the grey
pine-trunks on the gloomy face of the convict, and listened to his
moody murmuring.


IV

Ivan the Runaway wandered farther through dark forests over waste silent
stretches of land and wide moors where his step left behind it little
cold pools in the spongy ground, and where the wildfowl gathered on the
mossy hillocks and chattered cheerfully in the sunshine. At last he came
across traces of human existence. It was true that from the pine-tree
which he climbed up he could perceive in the grey plain enclosed by
woods neither cottage roofs nor smoke, though it was such a clear day
that the streamlets which ran between the hillocks shone brightly and
dazzled his eyes which were accustomed to the darkness of the forest.
But yet the district seemed to be inhabited. A firm yellow road wound in
a broad semicircle round the moor. The ruts left by the cart-wheels of
the previous year crossed each other distinctly, but no new wheels had
ground the dry clods of earth into dust. Probably the road was seldom
used; at any rate the fugitive sat for hours in his tree, without
hearing in the distance the creaking of the ungreased axle of a
peasant's cart.

From the road there branched off a path which seemed to lead to a
distant village. Ivan was heartily tired of his diet of wood-game, and
began to consider whether he could venture into a village to buy bread.
In the pocket of the murdered huntsman he had found a rouble-note and
some silver coins. It was true that his hair had not grown again the
normal length, but he could tie a piece of cloth round his half-shorn
skull; and need not take it off when he entered a shop. "One buys what
one wants, and goes one's way, that is all," he said to re-assure
himself, for he felt a nervous antipathy to meeting any one, just as a
wolf fears every yelping cur as soon as he wanders by mistake into a
village.

At last he determined to go on quite slowly so as to reach the village
under cover of the approaching darkness. With this idea he turned into
the path which wound in an eccentric fashion through the moor, sometimes
diving into ravines, and sometimes emerging into clear sunshine. Here
and there stumps of trees bearing the fresh marks of an axe, and black
abandoned fire-places whose ashes had not yet been quite blown away,
showed that men had worked and rested here. The wanderer also thought he
often heard human voices, but when he held his breath to listen, he
always found it had been the deceptive cry of a bird.

The day came to an end, the golden radiance of the sun setting behind
the distant hills grew pale, and the first stars glimmered in the dusky
sky. Ivan strode valiantly forwards through the white rising mists out
of which single branches of trees projecting, beckoned to him like long
lean arms, till he reached a copse with dry mossy ground which seemed
admirably adapted to furnish him with a sleeping-place for the night. He
collected a bundle of twigs together and struck a light.

But in the act of raising his hand he stopped. What was that? Was there
not a sound from the wood like a child's crying? For a moment a cold
thrill passed through him; half-forgotten ghost-stories occurred to him,
but he was too intimately familiar with the life of the forest to be
seriously alarmed. After a short pause the crying began again.

"Hullo! Who is there? Is there any one?" Ivan shouted as loud as he
could. His voice aroused the sleeping wood; squirrels rustled among the
branches, and startled birds flapped their wings. Then everything was
again perfectly silent, nor could the sound of crying be heard any more.
Ivan again turned into the path.

"It must be a woman or a child," he thought, "and quite close too."

He peered with keen eyes through the darkness and moved noiselessly
forward, in order not to frighten the weeper. Now he heard the sound of
sobbing more distinctly; it was a child. But how had a child got here?
The moon had risen and threw an uncertain light on the path; in a ditch
by the side of it lay something white--it was the skeleton of a horse
which had been devoured by wolves. Near it was rustling some creature
which moved off at the convict's approach, first crawling and then at
full speed.

Ivan went on and asked in a lower voice, "Who is there?"

A low sob was the only answer, "Oh, I am frightened. Mother! Mother!"

The moon now showed distinctly a little clearing in the wood. At the
edge of it lay a woman's figure stretched out at full length. The
wide-open eyes stared fixedly at the sky; no breath moved the rags which
covered her breast; from under her wretched dress projected the lean
way-worn feet. Near her lay a wallet. A little living creature clung to
the motionless body and tried to raise it.

"What are you doing there?" asked the old man in a hoarse voice.

"Oh, I am so frightened, so frightened!" sobbed the child. A little
ragged girl lifted her pale face to the convict, and then, seized with
alarm, tried to hide herself again in her mother's clothing. Ivan
touched the woman's ice-cold forehead.

"What is your name?" he asked.

"Anjuta," whispered the child without letting go of the body.

"Have you been here long?"

"I do not know. Oh, I am so frightened!"

"Was the sun still high when your mother fell down?"

"Yes, Grandfather."

Ivan stepped to one side, and piled up a heap of dry twigs which he set
on fire. The merry flames licked with red tongues at the branches.

"Go and warm yourself," said the old man, speaking as abruptly as before
to the child. "Do it quickly."

"And mother?"

"Let mother rest. She is asleep."

The fire-light played on the face of the dead woman and lent it a
ghostly semblance of life. The convict sat by the fire, buried in his
thoughts. Perhaps he also would soon be somewhere in the forest or by
the road-side like this woman. The thought was not a new one to him. How
cold-bloodedly he had himself often engaged in a deadly affray with
knives and turned his back on his fallen opponent without compunction.
And yet he felt moved at the sight of this stranger woman, who lay there
in such a pitiable way like an animal which has breathed its last. "It's
a pity, a pity!" he growled to himself.

[Illustration: "At the edge of the wood lay a dead woman, with a little
living creature sobbing over her."]

Anjuta approached the fire timidly and stared straight at him. Perhaps
the rapidly increasing darkness alarmed her, for she came nearer,
without his observing it; suddenly with her little hand she seized his
finger and held it fast.

"Well, little thing, what do you want?" he growled, involuntarily laying
his free hand on her head.

"What are we to do?"

Anjuta raised her clear little eyes. For the first time a human being
looked at him, the thief and murderer, trustfully.

"It is all right, all right; don't worry!" he said half-embarrassed. And
for the first time something strange came into his eyes and rolled in
warm drops into his grey bristly beard.


V

Ivan the Runaway could not bury Anjuta's mother, for he had no spade. He
contented himself with collecting twigs, pine-branches, and stones in
order to cover the body of the poor tramp. The little girl at first
wanted to hold his hands, but at his sharp rebuke she crept into a ditch
and remained there crying bitterly, while he finished his work.

"Well, why are you crying?" he asked at last to comfort her.

"I am sad about mother."

"Your mother is dead; she won't come back."

"How can she be dead?"

"Have you never seen any one die?"

"Oh yes, Uncle Andron, whom God took to Himself."

"Well, God has taken your mother to Himself. Perhaps He wanted her."

"There was also the grey horse," said the child. "God took him too. When
will He take me?"

The old man looked long at the child, and something like pity stirred
him.

"For you it is still too early," he said gloomily.

"But what shall I do without mother?" She again held his finger with her
little hand.

"Don't be afraid. I will stay with you. No one will touch you; I have a
gun."

The old man picked up two slender sticks and tied them together with a
strip of birch-bark, so as to make a rude cross. "Now your mother's
grave is finished. Make a prayer, Anjuta; then we will go."

"I don't know how to pray; mother never taught me. I can only say, 'Give
me a piece of bread for Jesus' sake.'"

"Have you never been in church?"

"No; mother and I--we always stood before the church door when people
came out and cried, 'Good people, give us bread for Jesus' sake; we have
eaten nothing for two days.'"

"Well then, God can ask nothing more of you, poor thing," said Ivan in a
more friendly tone and stroked her. "He will be tolerant. Cross yourself
and kiss this cross. That's right. And now say, 'Lord, have mercy on her
poor soul.'"

"Lord, have mercy on her poor soul," the child repeated.

"Now let us go on. We have no time to loiter."

It was not till evening that Ivan, carrying the tired child on his arm,
reached a little village. He waited till it was dark and lights showed
in the windows. As though they scented a thief in him, the dogs raised
an ear-splitting noise. Anjuta, who had been asleep, nestling against
his cheek, started with fright, and began to cry; he told her harshly to
be quiet and approached the last cottage in the village which stood near
the wood.

"Who is knocking? Is it a Christian?" asked a woman's voice.

"Will you give me a bed for the night? I am tired with carrying her." He
pointed to the child, whose little head had again sunk on his shoulder.
The woman would hardly have admitted him alone.

"Come in, but don't take it ill that there is nothing to eat; we have
nothing ourselves."

"I have money, if there is any chance of buying anything."

"Is the child yours? How tired it is, poor little thing!"

"No, she is not mine. What should a hunter do with children? She came in
my way, that is all. Her mother died in the forest and I found her
before the wolves ate her. Perhaps some one will adopt her. She is quite
healthy and her name is Anjuta."

"Who can adopt her? We ourselves have barely enough to live upon. You
must report your finding her at the police office in the nearest town,
or go with her to the bailiff of the village."

But Ivan was not at all disposed to go either to the town or to the
village bailiff. "Since God has sent me the poor orphan, she can remain
with me," he said. "We will not come to grief, we two, in the forest.
Will you promise not to be afraid when you hear howlings and moanings
in the wood?"

"If you are with me, Grandfather, I won't be afraid. You have a gun and
can shoot all the wolves dead."

As the child chattered, the old man's sulky face assumed a brighter
expression.


VI

The forest was silent. An atmosphere of church-like stillness brooded
round every branch and leaf. It seemed as if in the azure heights of the
sky a solemn mystery was being performed, and the earth lay silent in
solemn awe. The birds were hidden in the bushes and not a squirrel could
be seen. The heat had penetrated even the shady parts of the wood; it
was cool only in the ravines where scanty rivulets trickled over the
sandy ground and conjured forth a green cloud of fine perfumed grass. A
profusion of flowers--red, yellow, white and blue--grew on the slopes.
They arranged themselves in most fantastic patterns, crowded together in
gay groups, or climbed the hills singly. Some seemed to stretch
themselves as though with curiosity on swaying stems, others hung their
heads languidly. The wild rose-bush opened its first blossoms like
thirsty red lips which could not breathe in air enough. From a thousand
altars rose incense in this majestic temple; the mysterious Celebration
continued in the heights above and the sun glowed and glittered like a
golden chalice in the hands of the invisible high-priest.

Only from one corner came the sound of suppressed laughter. It was
difficult to recognize Anjuta again. Her pale face had become
sunburnt, her eyes glowed, and her mouth smiled continually. Just now
the smile would have turned into loud laughter, had not the child feared
to awaken Grandfather. The latter had found for himself a cool spot by
the edge of the stream and was sleeping with his cap under his head,
like an old wolf, after a full meal. Anjuta had just been throwing
flowers at him. A tiny beetle had crawled out of one, and the child held
her breath as she watched its movements. The beetle balanced itself
skilfully on one of the longer hairs of Ivan's beard, then fell among
the grey stubble, worked its way laboriously out with its slender wings,
and finally settled on the old man's nose. Then the little girl could no
longer contain herself; she laughed outright and clapped her hands.

"Good-for-nothing brat!" growled Ivan, awaking. "Can't you be quiet?" He
shook off the flowers and tried to seize her.

Anjuta sprang with a joyous shriek among the reeds, rustled about among
them, and presently her voice was heard calling from the opposite bank
of the stream, "Catch me, Grandfather! Catch me!"

"That beats everything. Go and play with the squirrels! They are just
such wind-bags as you are!"

"But I want to play with you."

"Well, you will have to wait long for that," and he crept quietly nearer
to her.

"Grandfather, where are you?" she cried in an anxious tone.
"Grandfather, I am frightened."

"There, I have caught you," he exclaimed suddenly and held the
struggling child fast. "How wet you are, a regular frog!"

The child flung her puny arms round his brown sinewy neck and coaxed
him. "Grandfather, listen, Grandfather! Now you be the wolf!"

"You are always wanting something," he grumbled discontentedly.

"Please! Please! You can do it so beautifully. I will be the little
hare. Little hare with the long ears."

"Then I must eat you, stupid!" And the old man took the trouble to roll
his eyes and growl fiercely.

But it was very difficult to satisfy Anjuta. "But you don't do it
properly. Please, please come!" She stooped down and looked pleadingly
into his eyes overhung by their shaggy brows.

"Very well, little one! Here goes!"

He placed the child carefully on the ground and crept among the reeds
and bushes. The thorns scratched his face and hands, but he had
something more important to think about. He lay flat and kept a sharp
look-out. Were it not for his eyes, his grey shaggy head might frighten
one. In order to heighten the illusion, he gnashed with his teeth.
Anjuta played the part of the hare, sprang hither and thither, pulled at
the grasses, and waved her hands to and fro above her head, to represent
long ears. She pretended not to notice the old man.

"I don't see you. Grandfather, really I don't!"

Then the wolf sprang out of his hiding-place; the hare fled to the
stream, crossed over, and climbed the opposite bank. But the wicked wolf
came creeping nearer and nearer and seized the poor little animal by the
throat with his great jaws.

"Were you very frightened?" the old wolf asked good-humouredly.

"Not a little bit. Grandfather, why does the wolf eat hares?"

"He can't eat grass. He wants flesh--hares, dogs, fowls, little children
like you--it is all the same to him. He seizes them so, you see, and
tears them in pieces."

"Does it hurt them?" asked Anjuta.

"Oh, you stupid, stupid thing! Of course it hurts them. Death is never
pleasant."

Anjuta became very thoughtful. "Do you know, Grandfather," she said
after a pause, "we won't play that game any more. You must not be a
wolf. Wolves are wicked and you are good." "I--good? Ah, you...." Ivan
made a long pause; something seemed to stick in his throat. "For you
perhaps I may be good"--he cleared his throat violently--"You see,
Anjuta, when I was little like you, no one said a kind word to me. I was
thrashed nearly to a jelly, and always black and blue. Otherwise I would
have been good; why should I be wicked without a reason? Oh, you stupid
little thing, what do you know about it?"

"Take me on your arm," asked Anjuta, standing on tiptoe.

He awoke as out of a dream. "What do you want?"

"Take me on your arm, Grandfather. I am tired."

"First you jump about like a hare; then you want to be carried. No, stay
down there."

"Yes, yes, you will take me," she coaxed him. "When I ask, you never say
no."

"Look at the little rogue! Shall I break off a switch and whip you?
Well, come along then!"

He lifted her up and walked with her deeper into the solemn stillness of
the forest. The old man felt his heart grow warmer as the tired child's
eyelids gradually drooped, and she began to breathe regularly in his
arms. With a kind of pity he looked at the little open mouth and the
helpless dusty little legs as they hung down.

"And that, too, is one of God's creatures! Why does such a useless thing
come into the world?" he philosophized to himself and took the greatest
pains to tread gently and not to move his outstretched arm in order not
to wake the child.


VII

In the middle of the forest was a green meadow traversed by a path along
which Ivan was now proceeding. It ended before what looked like a pile
of earth and dry sticks projecting like those of a raven's nest in all
directions. At first sight it was hard to recognize what the object of
the structure was; it seemed too large for a mere wood-pile, and too
shapeless for a human shelter.

Close by stood a stake with a long rope attached to it, and at the end
of the rope, all day long, there ran about a young bear growling and
shaking its head. Just then it stood on its hindlegs and sniffed with
its snout in the air. Between the trees appeared a dark form, and dry
branches lying on the ground cracked under a heavy foot-tread. The
animal, out of sheer impatience, ran so rapidly round the stake that it
completely entangled itself and could not take another step. Forced to
stand still, it watched Ivan's approach with its head on one side and an
absurdly serious air.

Ivan came across the meadow with his burden on his arm. He untied the
rope; the liberated baby bear threw itself between his legs, embraced
him with its paws and signified its intention of climbing up him.

"Ah, you want bread, you hungry rascal," said Ivan. "I know you; as soon
as you are satisfied, off you go."

Anjuta awoke and rubbed her eyes with her little fist.

"That is a fine family," growled the grandfather. "Brother and sister
both grown on one tree. The right children for a vagabond. Yes, yes,
when a man has no cares, he must make himself some."

He had caught the little bear, when he killed its mother, whose skin
served Anjuta for a bed. The young animal continued to regard the skin
as something alive and related to itself; it always lay close to Anjuta,
sucked at the long tufts of hair which it held between its paws, and
growled sleepily.

The huge raven's-nest which the little girl now entered discovered
itself to be a dwelling. Ivan had burnt off the grass, fixed on the
levelled ground a rough platform of thick poles and covered it with
twigs, moss and fresh earth out of which already some green shoots, and,
to Anjuta's delight, some stunted flowers were springing. Ivan was very
proud of the hut which began to display even some traces of luxury. The
floor was covered with skins of wolves and bears; on the walls there
hung whole rows of squirrel-skins. Every fortnight these were sold to a
peasant from the village who did not trouble his head about Ivan's past.

The housekeeping also was on a satisfactory basis. Under the roof hung
dried mushrooms from long strings and in a corner stood a sack full of
potatoes. In the hollow of an old gnarled tree which threw its shade
far over the forest-clearing, some round loaves of black-bread as hard
as stones were stored up. In the wood they always had traps and snares
ready set which caught abundance of game.

When Anjuta, who had again gone to sleep, put her head out of the hut,
the water bubbled merrily in the pot from which the feet of a plucked
fowl projected. Ivan was busily engaged in slicing potatoes into the
broth.

"It smells good," said the little girl, pursing her mouth in eager
expectation.

"But you won't get any," said the old man teasingly.

"Oh yes I will. You will always give me something, even when you remain
hungry yourself."

"What a princess you have become! Yesterday you ate your fill, and now
there is no more."

"Listen, Grandfather," said the child after a few moments of reflection.
"Have you always lived in the forest?"

Ivan wrinkled his brow and was silent.

"It is jolly in the forest," continued she. "There is no one to beat
one. But mother was afraid in it. She said there were wicked and cursed
men in the forest. Grandfather, what kind of men are they?"

Ivan's face became still gloomier.

"Who has cursed them, Grandfather? Has God done it? Will they burn in
hell?"

The old man laid his hand on the child's ruffled hair.

"May God protect you from them. They are worse than wild animals. An
animal, when it is satisfied, can be merciful, but they----" He broke
off and stared into the fire.

"Well, what do they do?" the child urged him in her keen curiosity.
"Grandfather, what do they do? Are they villains?"

"Be off," cried the convict suddenly. "Get away, or I shall beat you.
What nonsense are you talking?"

He pushed the child violently to one side. Before her stood all at once
a completely altered "grandfather." In his sunken eyes there glowed a
lurid spark, his grey hairs bristled, and his face twitched
convulsively. His breast heaved with a rattling sound, and his hand was
clenched as though to strike. Anjuta started back in wild terror; even
the baby bear was alarmed and slunk into the hut with its tail between
its legs.

Ivan stood for a long while motionless, then he sat down silently by the
fire and stirred it up.

"Cursed--cursed," he murmured to himself. "Who has cursed them. God
pardons sinners, they say. Come!" he said gloomily to the little one.
"Sit down here. It is all right."

"I am frightened."

Ivan bent lower over the fire. "The past will not let itself be buried,"
he thought. "Why must I frighten an innocent creature too?" Then again
his memories stung him and he cried in a new outburst of rage, "Who
dares curse us. You hard-hearted----Yes, it is all right," he added,
trying to quiet the child who was still trembling. "You say you love
Grandfather; so come nearer."

But Anjuta stared hard at him and did not move.

"Look at the nice soup," he said to tempt her and recovered his
self-control. "We will take the fowl out by its legs. It shall have a
special privilege and lie on the grass till it is cool, else you will
burn your mouth." Anjuta approached with visible mistrust.

"Why are you afraid, you simpleton? Bring our spoons. Oh, you stupid
thing! Have I ever hurt you?"

"You looked so dreadful--quite like another man."

"Oh, that was only a joke. I wanted to show you what wicked men look
like. You always ask me to play 'wolf'; just now I played 'bad man.'"

"I am not so frightened at the wolf as at the bad man."

"Ah, child, one must sympathize with them. Do you think it is so easy to
be bad? The Lord has made it hard enough for them; they must suffer
much. It is not really of their own accord that they seize every one by
the throat. They say that God hears children's prayers. Pray then,
Anjuta: 'O God, have mercy on the wicked men.' The good need no one to
pray for them; they are safe anyhow."


VIII

Such fits of excitement grew ever rarer with Ivan. As the summer
advanced, the convict became quieter. Whenever he watched Anjuta playing
with her mischievous playfellow, or listened to the melancholy call of
the birds, or sat by the blazing fire, the furrows on his brow became
smoother and a comfortable drowsiness lulled his wild instincts to rest.
He had become quite a different man from what he was when he first
escaped. But his dreams at night often transported him back to the damp
prison-cell, or he saw himself again walking in the file of the
prisoners on the apparently endless high road, heard the familiar calls
of the warders through the cold winter air, and felt the heavy butt end
of the musket fall on his bowed back. On such occasions when he awoke,
it was a long time before the quiet breathing of Anjuta and the bear's
peaceful snoring restored him to a sense of reality. He generally spent
the remainder of such a night on his bear-skin outside the narrow hut,
enjoying the consciousness of freedom that came with the balmy coolness
of the forest and the distant murmur of the stream. The next day he was
generally in a specially good humour, played with Anjuta, and listened
to the thousand voices in which the primeval forest revealed to him its
secrets.

He never thought of the morrow; his adventurous and uncertain gipsy life
had taught him to prize to-day. So long as the sun shone, the pot boiled
merrily on the fire, and his child laughed and clapped her hands--what
more did he need? And what could the obscure future bring him, but at
the best a succession of similar days, and at the worst the dungeon and
the knout.

But in August there came a bad time. The clouds almost touched the tops
of the forest-giants, from whose bark the rain trickled down in large
cold drops; the birds were silent and the beasts crept into their lairs.
The little bear rolled himself up in his skin and growled
discontentedly. The old man and the child sat, huddling close together
in the dry hut and whispered to the accompaniment of the howling of the
wind and the pouring of the rain.

"When the black-berries are ripe, the thrushes will come from
everywhere, and I will catch you a pair," he promised the delighted
child. "But what will you do with them?"

"I will have fine games with them--but then I will let them fly;
thrushes do not like cages, do they, Grandfather?"

"Who would like a cage? Listen, Anjuta; you are a good child. Will you
come to Grandfather, if he is ever put in a cage?"

The child laughed aloud and clapped her hands. "But, Grandfather, you
are not a bird."

"There is another kind of cage which is not for birds----Ah, what do you
understand about it?"

Presently the sun shone again and it was cheerful in the forest. The
days passed monotonously but happily. Gradually the nights began to grow
cold. In the evenings the sun no longer sank in a golden mist, but
glowed with an angry red, and descended constantly more often
surrounded by thick clouds, through which it looked out like a
blood-stained eye. Ivan enlarged the hut; in the evening he lit the fire
in it, and closed the door carefully that the warmth should not be too
quickly dissipated. But in spite of all, the three--the old man, the
child and the bear--had, towards morning, to nestle close together in
order not to be frozen.

Anjuta was much alone and became tired of solitude, when Ivan spent
whole days hunting. "Mischka, do you hear Grandfather shooting?" she
would ask the bear when the dull sound of a distant shot came to their
ears.

A great change had taken place in Mischka. His fur had become thicker
and shaggier, he had grown considerably and often disappeared in the
forest in order to hunt on his own account. When he came home, gorged
and unwieldy, he showed no inclination to play, but lay down to sleep.
Once the little girl wished to rouse him from his slumber, and seized
him somewhat roughly by the ears. The creature uttered a loud roar,
reared on his hind-legs, showing his teeth, and when the unsuspecting
child stretched out her hand, laughing to her refractory playfellow, she
was suddenly struck down by a blow from one of its paws.

In the evening Ivan found his pet with a scratched and much-swollen
cheek. He chastised the snapping bear severely in spite of Anjuta's
supplications and tears, and tied it up for the night. The next morning
the rope was found broken and the bear had vanished. It was not till two
days afterwards that Mischka appeared again between the pine-trunks and
approached the hut hesitatingly; but when he saw his master standing on
the threshold, he sat down and sucked his paw in an embarrassed manner.

"Come along, you tramp!" Ivan called to him. "Has hunger driven you home
at last, you rascal!" Mischka, feeling deeply injured, turned round and
trotted away without heeding the cajoling calls of his little companion.

"One who is born a tramp, remains a tramp," said Ivan.

"Let him run! Don't cry, Anjuta; you will get a better playfellow."

The leaves of the birch turned yellow and the maples looked as if
splashed with blood. Their leaves trembled as though with cold. Light as
feathers and quite dry, they eddied long in the air before they sank to
their funeral in the colourless grass.

"How cold it is, Grandfather! Will it never be warm again?"

"Wait a little; soon there will come St. Martin's summer which will
bring us warmth. Before it is really winter, I will dig for us both a
hole deep in the ground, so that we can pass it there."

"Just like moles! But it will be pitch-dark, Grandfather."

"Well, we will light some pine-chips. Don't worry about that. All you
have to do is to grow and get strong, so as to look after me, if I am
not first----"

"What, Grandfather? If you are not first----"

But instead of answering, Ivan shook his head, and went to one side.


IX

St. Martin's summer came and went. In the forest it became so cold, that
Ivan thought of giving Anjuta into the charge of one of the villagers
for the winter. But none of them could afford to take care of her. They
were already beginning to mix the meal, which was their food during the
winter, with pieces of pine-bark and chaff. Moreover, the old man would
have sorely missed the clear, eager childish eyes, which looked so
confidingly into his, and the merry laughter which relieved the
monotony of his dark life. The forest became more and more silent in
preparation for its winter sleep; and winter came stealing on with
muffled footsteps.

"It is time, Anjuta, to dig our hole for the winter. To-morrow, with
Gods help, I will begin. There the frost cannot pinch us, when we sit
together and gossip."

"Do you know how to sing, too, Grandfather?"

"Never mind that. The songs which I sing are not for you. But I will
tell you many things, for you are still stupid, and must learn how
things go in life, so that you may get on well, and not be a burden to
others. The world, Anjuta, is like a bottomless pit. It is easy to go
down, but one never finds the way up again, and nobody helps one. The
Pope[2] told me once that there used to be good people who loved all men
alike and did good alike to all. Even for lepers they did something."

[Footnote 2: Village priest.]

"What does that mean--'lepers'?"

"Lepers?" He hesitated. "It is a pity I never thought of asking the Pope
what it meant. Every one had a horror of them. They were not allowed to
go about as they liked." He thought for a moment. "Yes, Anjuta, I
remember now. Lepers are those who sit behind iron bars. Men fasten
fetters on them and march them up the streets with soldiers on both
sides. You see, good people in their great kindness have helped the
lepers, that is the convicts. They have done no end of good to all men,
but wicked men and scoundrels who ought to have honoured and loved them,
like fathers, have tortured and crucified them."

"What does 'crucified' mean?"

"They drove nails through their hands and feet. So.... Do you see?"

"Just like you nailed the raven to the tree with nails in its wings and
feet."

"Yes. But the raven does harm, but those men were good and kind to
people like us. That is all I know about the good folk. To-morrow we
will begin our work."

But the hole was not destined to be dug. The night was bitterly cold.
The howling of the wolves sounded so wild and terrible that Anjuta awoke
suddenly out of her sleep, crying loudly, and still lay awake listening
long after the old man by her side was comfortably snoring. The wind had
risen and drove the dry leaves round the hut. Suddenly the child thought
she heard a distant growling, and soon she was sure of it; heavy
footsteps were stamping outside the hut.

"Grandfather, Grandfather, listen!" cried Anjuta, and shook him by the
arm. "Wake up! I am so frightened!"

An enormous bear, whom the huntsmen had probably roused from his winter
lair, was coming straight towards Ivan's hut. He went round the
shapeless edifice on all sides, sniffing cautiously, as though he meant
to choose it as a new dwelling. Under his heavy tread the pine-needles
crackled, and dry branches snapped. At last he stood still, rubbing his
mighty back against a tree. His every movement was distinctly audible in
the hut.

"Of course it's a bear!" exclaimed Ivan, who had held his breath to
listen. "Well, the fellow shall give us his fur for winter wear.
Meanwhile light the pine-chips, Anjuta."

The old man seized his gun, which was always loaded, and pushed open the
rude door, which was made fast with a stone. Through the mist which hung
thickly round the trees he saw a dark shape retreating slowly into the
forest. That did not suit Ivan's plans; he aimed hastily and fired. The
bear was only grazed, for he attacked the old man, and enveloped him
with his hot evil-smelling breath, hardly giving him time to reload his
gun. The old man started back; the bear rose on its hind-legs and
towered over him like an indistinct, gigantic shadow.

"Where are you going, you blockhead? Stop, I have an account to settle
with you," cried Ivan, and fired right under the beast's jaw. The shot
missed, and suddenly the convict found himself crushed under the
terrible weight of his enraged enemy. He tried to raise himself on his
elbow, but the bear understood his business, pushed his paw under his
body, and pressed him in his close embrace till all his bones cracked.

"Jesus and all the saints," gasped the old man. "Help my Anjuta." And
his eyes closed.

Then something quite unexpected happened. The beast was already
preparing to flay his victim in the most approved bear-fashion from the
skull downwards, when a bright light flared in his eyes. Master Bruin's
mind became suddenly confused. He did not pause to investigate, but rose
at once and trotted away as fast as his feet could carry him.

"Grandfather! O Grandfather!" cried the child, lamenting as she threw
herself on his prostrate body. Driven by fear for him, she had appeared
with the burning pine-torch just in time to save her benefactor.

Ivan awoke from his swoon. "Water! Water!" he gasped hoarsely. Before
his eyes there danced fiery sparks: his breast felt terribly
constricted. He eagerly drained the cup which the child reached to him;
then he rose painfully and limped, leaning on his gun, to the hut,
where, covered up warmly by Anjuta, he fell into a death-like slumber.
He awoke, feeling tired and sick. There was a buzzing in his head; one
leg was badly injured, and the bear's claw had left deep marks on his
back.

"We can't do anything to-day with the hole, Anjuta! If I remain quiet
to-day, perhaps we can to-morrow."

But the next day came, and a second, and a third, and there was no
possibility of thinking of work. Not till a week had passed could he
rise from his bed. When he came out of the hurt, he uttered a cry of
surprise. The red and yellow leaves still hung on the trees, but a thin
coverlet of snow lay over the whole face of the clearing. In the air the
snow-flakes crossed and whirled in white confusion. Winter had brought
out its corpse-cloth overnight.


X

All that remained to the convict of his brief summer happiness was
Anjuta. As he lay on his bed of soft skins his burning eyes never left
the child. The unfortunate man suffered severely. In the first shock he
had not been able to judge distinctly how seriously the bear had injured
him. The deep wound in his shoulder would not heal, although Anjuta had
learnt how to wash and bandage it daily. It was soon accompanied by a
fever. Meanwhile, time went on remorselessly; the winter regularly
settled in, and the rude hut no longer afforded sufficient shelter. One
day Ivan dragged himself on all fours into the open, and with endless
trouble began to plaster the hut outside with earth. Within, he dug a
hollow in the ground, and with the help of a pole made a hole in the
roof, which could be closed with a small board. The fire-place was then
ready.

"Listen, little girl." In his illness the old man had become especially
gentle towards the orphan. "Now you must look after me. Be my little
housekeeper. Light the fire and boil the water. Thank God we have enough
bread and wood and meal. Put a couple of handfuls into the soup with
sliced potatoes; it will be quite tasty. Later on we will catch hares.
Peasants are not allowed to eat hares, but we are foresters, and that
has nothing to do with us."

So Anjuta lit the fire, cooked the soup, brought fresh wood from the
wood-pile. When the fire had burnt out, she clambered on the roof and
closed the opening--the "chimney," as Ivan called it--so that it
remained comfortably warm in the hut.

"Is that right, Grandfather?" she laughed.

"You are my treasure, my little dove," the old man said as he lay on his
skins. "Without you it would be all over with me."

Ivan was glad that he had taken care in the summer that the little girl
should know the way to the village thoroughly well. If his sickness
lasted, she would have to go many errands for him. But he did not like
sending the little creature out when all the paths were covered with
snow.

"Anjuta," he asked by way of precaution, "how will you recognize the way
to the village?"

"By the axe-cuts on the trunks as far as the pine which was struck by
lightning."

"You are a sharp little girl."

"And then by the ravine to the birch-tree where you have made the sign
of the cross. Then following the notches to the river, and from there
one can see the village."

Ivan became easier in mind. His protégée would not be lost, but in case
of need could fetch help by herself. But he continued in a weak state.
One day, when he felt he could no longer bear doing nothing, he dragged
himself, gun in hand, as far as the edge of the clearing, only to sink
down exhausted. Shaking with fever, after some time he returned home.
Anjuta, who ran to help him, was frightened and saw that all was not
right with him. He threw off his fur coat and talked to her excitedly,
with delirious eyes. "I will not go back behind the iron bars, do you
hear? I will not. I am innocent, your honour. Why do you torment the old
man? You might sentence a younger man to be knouted, but it will be the
death of me. Have pity, kind sirs, I must look after Anjuta." His voice
sank to a hardly intelligible whisper. "You have made a bad beginning,
comrade. When the hour comes, everything must be ready. Take out the
plank and lower it. Do you see the sentry. Spring on his shoulder and
throttle him so that he does not stir ... it serves him right. Don't
sentence me, kind sirs; I have not killed Anjuta. Ask her herself."

At last he fell into a light slumber, and when he awoke he was calmer.
"Have I frightened you, my dovelet? Ah, I am very ill, Anjuta; you have
much trouble. But wait; when I am well again we will have a jolly life."

But weeks passed, and Ivan did not get up. He was quite emaciated, and
his dark eyes were sunken still more deeply in their sockets, under his
bushy white eye-brows. Fortunately the winter was mild, and there was
not much snow.

"Anjuta, have we still bread and meal?"

"There is only a hard crust left for you to-morrow, and the meal too is
nearly finished."

"I will go to-morrow to the village," said the old man. "I will send
Andryushka Lasaref for the skins which are lying ready; the sledge can
go all the way."

The next day he took a tender adieu of the child and started; but half
an hour afterwards he knocked at the door and threw himself on the bed
in a state of complete exhaustion.

"I can't do it, Anjuta, really I can't," he said as though in apology.
"There is no more marrow in my bones. If I can't stand up to-morrow, you
must go. You are not afraid?"

"No, Grandfather ... only a little of the bears."

"The bears are now asleep in their holes, you little stupid, and suck
their paws. And there are no wolves to be heard just now. There is
nothing more for them here; therefore they are gone near the villages;
otherwise we would hear them howling every night."

The old man had tears in his eyes when Anjuta got herself ready next
morning for the journey.

"Such a tiny thing, quite alone in the deep forest!" he murmured to
himself.

"Tell Lasaref to bring a sack of meal, two large loaves of bread, and
some barley, and say that Grandfather has all kinds of fine things ready
for him. But mind you don't try to come home by night, Anjuta. Stay with
Andryushka for the night, and he will bring you in the sledge in the
morning. Tell him I am ill--the bear has badly mauled Ivan the Runaway.
Do you understand?"

"Yes; but why do you cry, Grandfather?"

"It is only foolishness.... I have grown quite weak. Now go, and God
preserve you! And listen, Anjuta; whenever you feel frightened, you must
sing."

The child started and the old man, creeping out of the hut, followed her
with his eyes. She soon reached the edge of the clearing. How nimbly her
young feet moved! Under the gigantic trees she moved like a little
beetle. Now she turned and laughed at him, and his eyes, misty with
tears, could see nothing more.


XI

The forest was brilliant in white apparel. Under the wintry veil its
creative forces slumbered. Not a tree-top swayed, nor a branch stirred.
The sky was covered with grey clouds and the earth with snow, which in
the stillness gave out a light crackling sound under Anjuta's feet. She
tried once or twice to sing, but the grim silence of the primeval pines
sobered her with a sense of weird mystery. She tried to tread as lightly
as possible in order not to awake the gloomy trees on the right and left
out of their slumbers.

What might not be hidden under these snow-laden branches which almost
touched the ground? How terrible it would be if "it" suddenly crept out
without a sound. The fact that she could not define to herself what the
"it" was, made it all the more formidable.

And now she heard a low moaning at the bottom of the ravine. Perhaps it
was the brook, but if...? She did not think the thought out, but
hastened forward, stumbling and gliding. She looked attentively for the
axe-notches in the tree-trunks in order not to lose her way. She also
saw the sign of the cross on the birch half obliterated with snow.

The child sat on a snow-heap, and looked at the cross for the first time
attentively. Round about were visible what looked like footprints in the
snow. Were they caused by the wind, or----? An icy shudder ran through
her; fortunately it occurred to her that "they" had no power by day,
and only went about in the darkness. Yes, of course it was "they."

How often had her mother, whom her Grandfather had buried in the forest,
told her that the souls of unbaptized children roamed about by night.
When such a child dies, the Lord does not take it to Himself. "You do
not belong to Me," He says. Woe betide the unlucky person who meets one
of "them." It weeps and sobs pitiably, but if one takes it up, it seizes
one's throat with its teeth.

Anjuta sprang up and went quickly on. Again the enchanted silence
surrounded her, again the lofty motionless trees looked at her as though
they were astonished at the little intruder who disturbed their icy
winter sleep. Anjuta became hungry and gnawed at a dry crust of bread as
she went along; at the same time she was so absorbed in her thoughts
that she stumbled. She looked around; there before her spread a white
plain with the chimneys of the poverty-stricken little village in the
background. Behind her rose the dark stiff wall of the wood. The main
road ran close up to it and then, as though in sudden alarm, turned
sharply to one side.

Anjuta felt that for nothing in the world would she go back alone. The
wood from which she had happily emerged inspired her afterwards with
such fear, that she began to run, and sped over the snowy plain like an
arrow. A strange sight brought her to a standstill. Four riders with
long lances in their hands and guns slung across their backs rode by the
side of a sledge, in which sat a stout man. He looked very grand, with
his high turned-up fur collar and a cap with a red band round it. She
had only once seen such a fine gentleman before, when she was begging
with her mother in the town. The joyful consciousness of having the wood
happily behind her so braced her up, that she felt no embarrassment
before the stranger.

"Listen, child!" the stout gentleman said to her. "Where have you come
from?"

"From the wood, Uncle."

"How is that possible? Do people live there?"

"Only Grandfather and I."

"Do you belong to the village?"

"No. Grandfather has come from far away, and he found me in the wood,
when my mother had died."

"Wait, wait," exclaimed the man in the sledge, who seemed struck with a
new idea. "They said there," he pointed to the village, "that he had not
been seen in this neighbourhood. Of course, you don't know your
grandfather's name; how should you?"

"Yes, I know it quite well," she laughed. "It is Ivan."

"Ah, but he did not tell you what other name he had. That ought to have
occurred to him."

"Yes, but he did," said the child merrily. "And I remember it well."

"You are joking."

"He is called Ivan the Runaway. That's it. And my name is Anjuta."

"That's just the man we want," laughed the official with great
satisfaction. "Look out, you rascals"--he made a threatening gesture
towards the village--"you shelter escaped convicts. Where is your
grandfather?"

"He is in bed."

"What? Out there in the wood?"

"Yes; he is ill since the bear attacked him. He can hardly crawl round
our hut."

"Ah! then he can't run away."

"Why should he run away?" laughed Anjuta. "He is waiting for me. I am
going to the village," she added with an air of importance, "to buy
bread and meal."

"Well, listen now. Sit here by my side. Would you like to help your
grandfather? We will make him well and give him bread and money, so
that he can live without anxiety."

"Yes, but Grandfather wanted to make a hole under the earth for us both,
because it is so terribly cold in the forest."

"Very well; we will build him a strong hut."

"With a real fire-place like Lasaref has?"

"Yes, just like that."

The little girl clapped her hands in glee. "And I will always cook him
good broth. That is just what Grandfather has always told me, that one
should help the other, and then God helps all."

"Yes, certainly. We will help him too."

Anjuta clambered up on the box-seat. The peasant who held the reins gave
her a violent dig in the side and angrily hissed between his teeth,
"Stupid goose!"

"Stephan," said the stout official, "can the sledge go through the
wood?"

"No," was the sulky reply.

"Ah, but when you get something on your obstinate neck it can. Turn
round, rascal! In winter one can go everywhere."

Anjuta had become quite silent. Why was the kind gentleman so angry all
of a sudden? The sledge had already reached the wood.

"How pleased Grandfather will be!" she thought, and smiled again her
happy childish smile.


XII

Ivan the Runaway's heart sank when Anjuta had gone. "Not even can I pray
for her, sinner that I am!" he thought. "I would only bring down
misfortune on her."

Suppose a stray wolf attacked her, or she lost her way? There would be
no one to help her. His imagination continued to conjure up ever darker
and darker images. He saw her little body writhing under the claws of a
hungry wild beast, or sinking in the treacherous snow of a deep ravine;
he saw her wandering blindly in the thickets of the forest and heard her
childish voice crying, "Grandfather, Grandfather, I am frightened!"

Hour after hour passed. The hut seemed too narrow for him. He knew that
she would spend the night in the village, and yet he ventured out in the
cold, drawn by the hope that he would see her suddenly standing before
him laughing and happy with radiant eyes.

Over the white-clothed forest there brooded a foreboding silence; the
sky was overcast by dark clouds and the pine-trees towered gaunt and
forbidding. A feeling of terror slowly stole over him. Formerly he had
never known it in his solitude, but Anjuta had accustomed him to human
companionship. Was not somebody creeping near, just as he himself had
often crept when on a thievish expedition? His heart beat violently as
though it would burst; he stuffed a handful of snow in his mouth in
order to quench the burning sensations within him.

There! Were those not voices? Did Andryushka Lasaref wish to take the
skins at once, and had he brought the child with him? But there seemed
to be several people, and he heard distinctly the beat of the horses'
hoofs.

He ought to have been glad perhaps, but his heart felt painfully
contracted. What a wolf's life his was, spent in perpetual mistrust and
fear! Now he could distinguish Anjuta's merry tones ... and now
something came forward from between the trees.

"You come to fetch my soul," cried Ivan with his hair bristling.

The four Cossacks halted on the clearing before the hut.

"Good evening, Grandfather! Grandfather! here I am!"

But what was the matter? Her Grandfather rushed into the hut and
re-appeared with his gun in his hand. And he was hardly recognizable
with his threatening eyes in his distorted face.

"Come now! No jokes, Ivan the Runaway," exclaimed the kind stout
gentleman. "You know you only make matters worse. Throw away your gun,
or I will have you knouted."

"Your honour has taken the trouble to come here for the sake of my poor
soul," said the old man with a grim smile. His eye fell on Anjuta.

"You have betrayed me, you vermin!" he snarled.

The convict had awoken in him.

"Surrender yourself, Ivan," said the official in the red-bordered cap.

"Let him take me who is tired of life," laughed the old man wildly,
turning his gun-muzzle from one Cossack to another!

"Shoot him down!" cried the excited official. One of the riders raised
his musket. A shot rang out. Ivan had fired and missed. The Cossack
remained motionless and coolly fired in reply. "Hit!" he said in a low
voice and turned away.

Ivan fell sideways on the snow, which at once took a red tinge under
him. He lifted himself once more on his elbow and sank back again. Then
he stretched himself at full length with his face turned upwards.

"Anjuta, my little dove!" his pale lips whispered. But she stood as
though petrified; her old familiar expression, "I am afraid," died on
her tongue.

The Cossacks approached the convict.

"How is he?" asked the official.

"It is all over with him, your honour."

The official took off his cap piously and crossed himself; the Cossacks
followed his example.

Ivan lay quite still, gazing motionless up at the sky. Then the little
girl awoke out of her stupor, threw herself on her knees beside him, and
tried despairingly to lift him; her poor little body quivered like a
bird in the death-struggle. "Grandfather! Wake up! It is I! Listen,
Grandfather!"

But he did not answer. Then the child fell on the body, and wept as if
her heart would break.

[Illustration]

PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN FOR ROBERT SCOTT, PUBLISHER, PATERNOSTER ROW,
LONDON, BY BUTLER & TANNER, FROME.





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