In the Ravine - IV

Five days had passed. Anisim, who was preparing to go, went upstairs to say good-bye to Varvara. All the lamps were burning before the ikons, there was a smell of incense, while she sat at the window knitting a stocking of red wool.

“You have not stayed with us long,” she said. “You’ve been dull, I dare say. Oh, tut, tut. We live comfortably; we have plenty of everything. We celebrated your wedding properly, in good style; your father says it came to two thousand. In fact we live like merchants, only it’s dreary. We treat the people very badly. My heart aches, my dear; how we treat them, my goodness! Whether we exchange a horse or buy something or hire a labourer—it’s cheating in everything. Cheating and cheating. The Lenten oil in the shop is bitter, rancid, the people have pitch that is better. But surely, tell me pray, couldn’t we sell good oil?”

“Every man to his job, mamma.”

“But you know we all have to die? Oy, oy, really you ought to talk to your father...!”

“Why, you should talk to him yourself.”

“Well, well, I did put in my word, but he said just what you do: ‘Every man to his own job.’ Do you suppose in the next world they’ll consider what job you have been put to? God’s judgment is just.”

“Of course no one will consider,” said Anisim, and he heaved a sigh. “There is no God, anyway, you know, mamma, so what considering can there be?”

Varvara looked at him with surprise, burst out laughing, and clasped her hands. Perhaps because she was so genuinely surprised at his words and looked at him as though he were a queer person, he was confused.

“Perhaps there is a God, only there is no faith. When I was being married I was not myself. Just as you may take an egg from under a hen and there is a chicken chirping in it, so my conscience was beginning to chirp in me, and while I was being married I thought all the time there was a God! But when I left the church it was nothing. And indeed, how can I tell whether there is a God or not? We are not taught right from childhood, and while the babe is still at his mother’s breast he is only taught ‘every man to his own job.’ Father does not believe in God, either. You were saying that Guntorev had some sheep stolen.... I have found them; it was a peasant at Shikalovo stole them; he stole them, but father’s got the fleeces... so that’s all his faith amounts to.”

Anisim winked and wagged his head.

“The elder does not believe in God, either,” he went on. “And the clerk and the deacon, too. And as for their going to church and keeping the fasts, that is simply to prevent people talking ill of them, and in case it really may be true that there will be a Day of Judgment. Nowadays people say that the end of the world has come because people have grown weaker, do not honour their parents, and so on. All that is nonsense. My idea, mamma, is that all our trouble is because there is so little conscience in people. I see through things, mamma, and I understand. If a man has a stolen shirt I see it. A man sits in a tavern and you fancy he is drinking tea and no more, but to me the tea is neither here nor there; I see further, he has no conscience. You can go about the whole day and not meet one man with a conscience. And the whole reason is that they don’t know whether there is a God or not.... Well, good-bye, mamma, keep alive and well, don’t remember evil against me.”

Anisim bowed down at Varvara’s feet.

“I thank you for everything, mamma,” he said. “You are a great gain to our family. You are a very ladylike woman, and I am very pleased with you.”

Much moved, Anisim went out, but returned again and said:

“Samorodov has got me mixed up in something: I shall either make my fortune or come to grief. If anything happens, then you must comfort my father, mamma.”

“Oh, nonsense, don’t you worry, tut, tut, tut... God is merciful. And, Anisim, you should be affectionate to your wife, instead of giving each other sulky looks as you do; you might smile at least.”

“Yes, she is rather a queer one,” said Anisim, and he gave a sigh. “She does not understand anything, she never speaks. She is very young, let her grow up.”

A tall, sleek white stallion was already standing at the front door, harnessed to the chaise.

Old Tsybukin jumped in jauntily with a run and took the reins. Anisim kissed Varvara, Aksinya, and his brother. On the steps Lipa, too, was standing; she was standing motionless, looking away, and it seemed as though she had not come to see him off but just by chance for some unknown reason. Anisim went up to her and just touched her cheek with his lips.

“Good-bye,” he said.

And without looking at him she gave a strange smile; her face began to quiver, and everyone for some reason felt sorry for her. Anisim, too, leaped into the chaise with a bound and put his arms jauntily akimbo, for he considered himself a good-looking fellow.

When they drove up out of the ravine Anisim kept looking back towards the village. It was a warm, bright day. The cattle were being driven out for the first time, and the peasant girls and women were walking by the herd in their holiday dresses. The dun-coloured bull bellowed, glad to be free, and pawed the ground with his forefeet. On all sides, above and below, the larks were singing. Anisim looked round at the elegant white church—it had only lately been whitewashed—and he thought how he had been praying in it five days before; he looked round at the school with its green roof, at the little river in which he used once to bathe and catch fish, and there was a stir of joy in his heart, and he wished that walls might rise up from the ground and prevent him from going further, and that he might be left with nothing but the past.

At the station they went to the refreshment room and drank a glass of sherry each. His father felt in his pocket for his purse to pay.

“I will stand treat,” said Anisim. The old man, touched and delighted, slapped him on the shoulder, and winked to the waiter as much as to say, “See what a fine son I have got.”

“You ought to stay at home in the business, Anisim,” he said; “you would be worth any price to me! I would shower gold on you from head to foot, my son.”

“It can’t be done, papa.”

The sherry was sour and smelt of sealing-wax, but they had another glass.

When old Tsybukin returned home from the station, for the first moment he did not recognize his younger daughter-in-law. As soon as her husband had driven out of the yard, Lipa was transformed and suddenly brightened up. Wearing a threadbare old petticoat, with her feet bare and her sleeves tucked up to the shoulders, she was scrubbing the stairs in the entry and singing in a silvery little voice, and when she brought out a big tub of dirty water and looked up at the sun with her childlike smile it seemed as though she, too, were a lark.

An old labourer who was passing by the door shook his head and cleared his throat.

“Yes, indeed, your daughters-in-law, Grigory Petrovitch, are a blessing from God,” he said. “Not women, but treasures!”