Tales of the Wilderness
by Boris Pilniak
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BORIS ANDREYEVICH VOGAU (Boris Pilniak, pseud.)










The English reading public knows next to nothing of contemporary Russian Literature. In the great age of the Russian Realistic Novel, which begins with Turgeniev and finishes with Chekhov, the English reader is tolerably at home. But what came after the death of Chekhov is still unknown or, what is worse, misrepresented. Second and third- rate writers, like Merezhkovsky, Andreyev, and Artsybashev, have found their way into England and are still supposed to be the best Russian twentieth century fiction can offer. The names of really significant writers, like Remizov and Andrey Bely, have not even been heard of. This state of affairs makes it necessary, in introducing a contemporary Russian writer to the English public, to give at least a few indications of his place in the general picture of modern Russian Literature.

The date of Chekhov's death (1904) may be taken to mark the end of a long and glorious period of literary achievement. It is conveniently near the dividing line of two centuries, and it coincides rather exactly with the moment when Russian Literature definitely ceased to be dominated by Realism and the Novel. In the two or three years that followed the death of Chekhov Russian Literature underwent a complete and drastic transformation. The principal feature of the new literature became the decisive preponderance of Poetry over Prose and of Manner over Matter—a state of things exactly opposite to that which prevailed during what we may conveniently call the Victorian age. Poetry in contemporary Russian Literature is not only of greater intrinsic merit than prose, but almost all the prose there is has to such an extent been permeated with the methods and standards of poetry that in the more extreme cases it is almost impossible to tell whether what is printed as prose is really prose or verse.

Contemporary Russian Poetry is a vigorous organic growth. It is a self-contained movement developing along logically consistent lines. It has produced much that is of the very first order. The poetry of Theodore Sologub, of Innocent Annensky, [Footnote: The reader will notice the quotations from Annensky in the first story of this volume.] of Vyacheslav Ivanov, and of Alexander Blok, is to our best understanding of that perennial quality that will last. They have been followed by younger poets, more debatable and more debated, many of them intensely and daringly original, but all of them firmly planted in the living tradition of yesterday. They learn from their elders and teach their juniors—the true touchstone of an organic and vigorous movement. What is perhaps still more significant—the level of minor poetry is extraordinarily high, and every verse-producer is, in varying degrees, a conscious and efficient craftsman.

The case with prose is very different. The old nineteenth century realistic tradition is dead. It died, practically, very soon after Chekhov. It has produced a certain amount of good, even excellent, work within these last twenty years, but this work is disconnected, sterile of influence, and more or less belated; at the best it has the doubtful privilege of at once becoming classical and above the age. Such for instance was the case of Bunin's solitary masterpiece The Gentleman from San Francisco, and of that wonderful series of Gorky's autobiographical books, the fourth of which appeared but a few months ago. These, however, can hardly be included in the domain of Fiction, any more than his deservedly famous Reminiscences of Tolstoy. But Gorky, and that excellent though minor writer, Kuprin, are the only belated representatives of the fine nineteenth century tradition. For even Bunin is a poet and a stylist rather than a story teller: his most characteristic "stories" are works of pure atmosphere, as diffuse and as skeletonless as a picture by Claude Monet.

The Symbolists of the early twentieth century (all the great poets of the generation were Symbolists) tried also to create a prose of their own. They tried many directions but they did not succeed in creating a style or founding a tradition. The masterpiece of this Symbolist prose is Theodore Sologub's great novel The Little Demon[Footnote: English translation.] (by the way a very inadequate rendering of the Russian title). It is a great novel, probably the most perfect Russian novel since the death of Dostoyevsky. It breaks away very decidedly from Realism and all the traditions of the nineteenth century. It is symbolic, synthetic, and poetical. But it is so intensely personal and its achievements are so intimately conditioned by the author's idiosyncrasies that it was quite plainly impossible to imitate it, or even to learn from it. This is still more the case with the later works of Sologub, like the charming but baffling and disconcerting romance of Queen Ortruda.

The other Symbolists produced nothing of the same calibre, and they failed to attract the public. The bestsellers of the period after 1905 were, naturally enough, hybrid writers like Andreyev. The cheap effect of his cadenced prose, his dreary and monotonous rhetoric, his sensational way of treating "essential problems" were just what the intelligentsia wanted at the time; it is also just what nobody is likely to want again. Another writer of "problem stories" was Artsybashev. His notorious Sanin (1907) is very typical of a certain phase of Russian life. It has acquired a somewhat unaccountable popularity among the budding English intelligentsia. From the literary point of view its value is nil. Artsybashev and Andreyev were very second-rate writers; they had no knowledge of their art and their taste was deplorably bad and crude, but at least they were in a way, sincere, and gave expression to the genuine vacuum and desolation of their hearts. But around them sprung up a literature which sold as well and better than they did, but was openly meretricious and, fortunately, ephemeral. If it has done nothing else the great Revolution of 1917 has at least done one good thing in making a clean sweep of all this interrevolutionary (1905- 1917) fiction.

All this literature appealed to certain sides of the "intellectual" heart, but it could not slake the thirst for fiction. It was rather natural that the reading public turned to foreign novelists in preference to the native ones. It may be confidently said that three- quarters of what the ordinary Russian novel-reader read in the years preceding the Revolution were translated novels. The book-market was swamped with translations, Polish, German, Scandinavian, English, French and Spanish. Knut Hamsun, H. G. Wells, and Jack London were certainly more popular than any living Russian novelist, except perhaps the Russian Miss Dell, Mme. Verbitsky. In writers like Jack London and H. G. Wells the reader found what he missed in the Russian novelists—a good story thrillingly told. For no reader, be he ever so Russian, will indefinitely put up with a diet of "problems" and imitation poetry.

While all these things were going on on the surface of things and sharing between themselves the whole of the book-market, a secret undercurrent was burrowing out its bed, scarcely noticed at first but which turned out to be the main prolongation of the Russian novel. The principal characteristic of this undercurrent was the revival of realism and of that untranslatable Russian thing "byt," [Footnote: "Byt" is the life of a definite community at a definite time in its individual, as opposed to universally human, features.] but a revival under new forms and in a new spirit. The pioneers of this movement were Andrey Bely and Remizov. There was little in common between the two men, except that both were possessed with a startlingly original genius, and both directed it towards the utilization of Russian "byt" for new artistic ends.

Andrey Bely was, and is, a poet rather than a novelist. His prose from the very beginning exhibits in its extreme form the Symbolist tendency towards wiping away the difference between poetry and prose: in his later novels his prose becomes distinctly metrical, it is prose after all only because it cannot be devided into lines; it can be devided into feet very easily. But, though such prose is essentially a hybrid and illegitimate form, Bely has achieved with it things that have probably never been achieved with the aid of anything like his instruments. The first of the series of his big novels appeared in 1909: it is the Silver Dove, a story of Russian mystical sectarians and of an intellectual who gets entangled in their meshes. At its appearance it sold only five hundred copies. His next novel Petersburg (1913) had not a much greater success. The third of the series is Kotik Letaev (1917). The three novels form a series unique in its way. Those who can get over the initial difficulties and accustom themselves to the very peculiar proceedings of the author will not fail to be irresistibly fascinated by his strange genius. The first novel, the Silver Dove, is in my opinion the most powerful of the three. It combines a daring realism, which is akin to Gogol both in its exaggerations and in its broad humour, with a wonderful power of suggestion and of "atmosphere." One of its most memorable passages is the vast and elemental picture of the Wind driving over the Russian plain; a passage familiarised to satiety by numerous more or less clever imitations. Petersburg is a "political" novel. It is intended to symbolise the Nihilism, the geometrical irreality of Petersburg and Petersburg bureaucracy. The cold spirit of system of the Revolutionary Terrorists is presented as the natural and legitimate outcome of bureaucratic formalism.

A cunningly produced atmosphere of weird irreality pervades the whole book. It is in many ways a descendant of Dostoyevsky—and has in its turn again produced a numerous family of imitations, including Pilniak's most characteristic tales of the Revolution. Kotik Letaev, the last and up to the present the least imitated of Bely's novels, is the story of a child in his very first years. In it the "poetical" methods of the author reach their full development; but at the same time he achieves miracles of vividness and illusion in the realism of his dialogue and the minute, but by no means dry, analysis of the movements of his hero's subconscious Ego. In spite of the enormous difference of style, methods, and aims Bely approaches in many ways the effects and the achievements of Proust.

Remizov is very different. He is steeped in Russian popular and legendary lore. His roots are deep down in the Russian soil. He is the greatest living master of racy and idiomatic Russian. He has also written prose that elbows poetry, and that was looked upon with surprise and bewilderment until people realised that it was poetry. But his importance in the history of the Russian Novel is of another kind. It is firstly in his deliberate effort to "deliteralize" Russian prose, to give it the accent, the intonation, and the syntax of the spoken language. He has fully achieved his ends; he has created a prose which is entirely devoid of all bookishness and even on the printed page gives the illusion of being heard, not seen.

Few have been able to follow him in this path; for in the present state of linguistic chaos and decomposition few writers have the necessary knowledge of Russian, the taste and the sense of measure, to write anything like his pure and flexible Russian. In the hands of others it degenerates into slang, or into some personal jargon closely related to Double Dutch.

Remizov, however, has been more influential in another way, by his method of treating Russian life. The most notable of Remizov's "provincial" stories [Footnote: In the second edition it is called "The Story of Ivan Semenovich Stratilatov." ] The Unhushable Tambourine was written at one time with Bely's The Silver Dove, in 1909. At the time it met with even greater indifference: it was refused by the leading magazine of the literary "party" to which the author belonged, and could appear only some years later in a collection of short stories. But it at once became known and very soon began to "make school." Remizov's manner was to a certain degree a reversion to the nineteenth century, but to such aspects of that century that had before him been unnoticed. One of his chief inspirers was Leskov, a writer who is only now coming into his own. Remizov's Tambourine and his other stories of this class are realistic, they are "representations of real life," of "byt", but their Realism is very different from the traditional Russian realism. The style is dominated not by any "social" pre-occupation, but by a deliberate bringing forward of the grotesque. It verges on caricature, but is curiously and inseparably blended with a sympathy for even the lowest and vilest specimens of Mankind which is reminiscent of Dostoyevsky. It would be out of place here to give any detailed account of Remizov's many-sided genius, of his Tales of the Russian People, of his Dreams (real night-dreams), of his books written during the War and the Revolution (Mara and The Noises of the Town). In his later work he tends towards a greater simplicity, a certain "primitiveness" of outline, and a more concentrated style. Remizov's disciples, as might be expected, have been more successful in imitating the grotesqueness of his caricatures and the vivid and intense concentration of his character painting than in adopting his sympathetic and human attitude or in speaking his pure Russian.

The first of the new realists to win general recognition was A. N. Tolstoy, who speedily caught and vulgarised Remizov's knack of creating grotesque "provincial" characters. He has an easy way of writing, which is miles apart from Remizov's perfect craftsmanship, a love for mere filth, characteristic of his time and audience, and water enough to make his writings palatable to the average reader. So he early became the most popular of the literary novelists of the years before the Revolution.

A far more significant writer is Michael Prishvin. He belongs to an older generation and attracted some attention by good work in the line of descriptive journalism before he came in touch with Remizov. A man of the soil, he was capable of following Remizov's lead in making his Russian more colloquial and less bookish, without slavishly imitating him. He was unfortunately too much absorbed by his journalistic work to give much time to literature. But he wrote at least one story which deserves a high rank in even the smallest selection of Russian stories—The Beast of Krutoyarsk (1913). It is the story of a dog, and is far the best "animal" story in the whole of Russian literature. The animal stories of Rudyard Kipling and Jack London were very popular in Russia at that time, but Prishvin is curiously free from every foreign, in fact from every bookish, influence; his story smells of the damp and acid soil of his native Smolensk province, and even Remizov was to him only a guide towards the right use of words and the right way of concentrating on his subject.

Prishvin stands alone. But in the years 1913-1916 the Russian literary press was flooded with short stories modelled on the Unhushable Tambourine. The most promising of these provincialists was E. Zamyatin, whose stories [Footnote: Uyezdnoe, which may be rendered as "something provincial."] are as intense and packed with suggestive ugliness as anything in Remizov, but lack the master's unerring linguistic flair and his profound and inclusive humanness. Zamyatin's stories are most emphatically made, manufactured, there is not an ounce of spontaneity in them, and, especially in the later work where he is more or less free from reminiscences of Remizov, they produce the impression of mosaic laboriously set together. They are overloaded with pointedly suggestive metaphor and symbolically expressive detail, and in their laborious and disproportionate elaborateness they remind you of the deliberate ugliness of a painting by some German "Expressionist." [Footnote: Zamyatin was during the war a shipbuilding Engineer in the Russian service at Newcastle. He has written several stories of English life which are entirely in his later "expressionist" manner (The Islanders, Berlin, 1922)].

When the Revolution came and brought Russia that general impoverishment and reversion to savagery and primitive manners which is still the dominant feature of life in the U.S.S.R., literature was at first faced with a severe crisis. The book market was ruined. In the years 1918-1921 the publication of a book became a most difficult and hazardous undertaking. During these years the novel entirely disappeared from the market. For three years at least the Russian novel was dead. When it emerged again in 1922 it emerged very different from what it had been in 1917. As I have said, the surface "literature" of pre-Revolutionary date was swept away altogether. The new Realism of Remizov and Bely was triumphant all along the line. The works of both these writers were among the first books to be reprinted on the revival of the book-trade. And it soon became apparent that practically all the young generation belonged to their progeny. The first of these younger men to draw on himself the attention of critics and readers was Pilniak, the author of the present volume, on whom I shall dwell anon in greater detail.

In Petersburg there appeared a whole group of young novelists who formed a sort of professional and amicable confraternity and called themselves the "Serapion Brothers." They were all influenced by Remizov; they were taught (in the very precise sense of the word— they had regular classes) by Zamyatin; and explained the general principles of Art by the gifted and light-minded young "formalist" critic, Victor Shklovsky. Other writers emerged in all ends of Russia, all of them more or less obssessed by the dazzling models of Bely and Remizov.

All the writers of this new school have many features in common. They are all of them more interested in Manner than in Matter. They work at their style assiduously and fastidiously. They use an indirect method of narrating by aid of symbolic detail and suggestive metaphor. This makes their stories obscure and not easy to grasp at first reading. Their language is elaborate; it is as full as possible of unusual provincial words, or permeated with slang. It is coarse and crude and many a page of their writings would not have been tolerated by the editor of a pre-Revolution Russian magazine, not to speak of an English publisher. They choose their subjects from the Revolution and the Civil War. They are all fascinated by the "elemental" greatness of the events, and are in a way the bards of the Revolution. But their "Revolutionism" is purely aesthetical and is conspicuously empty of ideas. Most of their stories appear on the pages of official Soviet publications, but they are regarded with rather natural mistrust by the official Bolshevik critics, who draw attention to the essentially uncivic character of their art.

The exaggerated elaborateness and research of their works makes all these writers practically untranslatable; not that many of them are really worth translating. Their deliberate aestheticism—using as they do revolutionary subjects only as material for artistic effect— prevents their writings from being acceptable as reliable pictures of Russian post-Revolutionary life. And it is quite obvious that they have very few of the qualities that make good fiction in the eyes of the ordinary novel-reader.

There are marked inequalities of talent between them, as well as considerable differences of style. Pilniak is the most ambitious, he aims highest—and at his worst falls lowest. Vyacheslav Shishkov, a Siberian, is notable for his good Russian, a worthy pupil of Remizov and Prishvin. Vsevolod Ivanov, another Siberian, is perhaps the most interesting for the subjects he chooses (the Civil War in the backwoods of Siberia), but his style is, though vigorous, diffuse and hazy, and his narrative is lost in a nebula of poetically-produced "atmosphere."

Nicholas Nikitin, who is considered by some to be the most promising of all, is certainly the most typical of the school of Zamyatin; his style, overloaded with detail which swamps the outline of the story, is disfigured by the deliberate research of unfamiliar provincial idioms. Michael Zoshchenko is the only one who has, in a small way, reached perfection in his rendering of the common slang of a private soldier. But his art savours too much of a pastiche; he is really a born parodist and may some day give us a Russian Christmas Garland.

The most striking feature of all these story-tellers is their almost complete inability to tell a story. And this in spite of their great reverence for Leskov, the greatest of Russian story-tellers. But of Leskov they have only imitated the style, not his art of narrative. Miss Harrison, in her notable essay on the Aspects of the Russian Verb, [Footnote: Aspects and Aorists, by Jane Harrison, Cambridge University Press, 1919.] makes an interesting distinction between the "perfective" and "imperfective" style in fiction. The perfective is the ordinary style of an honest narrative. The "imperfective" is where nothing definitely happens but only goes on indefinitely "becoming." Russian Literature (as the Russian language, according to Miss Harrison) has a tendency towards the "imperfective." But never has this "imperfective" been so exclusively paramount as now. In all these stories of thrilling events the writers have a most cunning way of concealing the adventure under such a thick veil of detail, description, poetical effusion, idiom, and metaphor, that it can only with difficulty be discovered by the very experienced reader. To choose such adventures for subjects and then deliberately to make no use of them and concentrate all attention on style and atmosphere, is really a tour de force, the crowning glory and the reductio ad absurdum of this imperfective tendency.

These extremities, which are largely conditioned by the whole past of Russian Literature, must naturally lead to a reaction. The reading public cannot be satisfied with such a literature. Nor are the critics. A reaction against all this style is setting in, but it remains in the domain of theory and has not produced work of any importance. And it is doubtful whether it will. If even Leskov with his wonderful genius for pure narrative has failed to influence the moderns in any way except by his mannerisms of speech, the case seems indeed desperate. Those who are most thirsty for good stories properly told turn their eyes westwards, towards "Stevenson and Dumas" and E. A. T. Hoffmann. Better imitate Pierre Benois than go on in the way you are doing, says Lev Lunts, one of the Serapion Brothers, in a violent and well-founded invective against modern Russian fiction. [Footnote: In Gorky's miscellany, Beseda. N3, 1923.] But though he sees the right way out pretty clearly Lunts has not seriously tried his hand at the novel. [Footnote: As I write I hear of the death of Lev Lunts at the age of 22. His principal work is a good tragedy of pure action without "atmosphere" or psychology (in the same Beseda, N2).] A characteristic sign of the times is a novel by Sergey Bobrov, [Footnote: The Specification of Iditol. Iditol being the name of an imaginary chemical discovery.] a "precious" poet and a good critic, where he adopts the methods of the film-drama with its rapid development and complicated plot, and carefully avoids everything picturesque or striking in his style. But the common run of fiction in the Soviet magazines continues as it was, and it is to be feared that there is something intrinsically opposed to the "perfective" narrative in the constitution of the contemporary Russian novelist.



Boris Pilniak (or in more correct transliteration, Pil'nyak) is the pseudonym of Boris Andreyevich Wogau. He is not of pure Russian blood, but a descendant of German colonists; a fact which incidently proves the force of assimilation inherent in the Russian milieu and the capacity to be assimilated, so typical of Germans. For it is difficult to deny Pilniak the appellation of a typical Russian.

Pilniak is about thirty-five years of age. His short stories began to appear in periodicals before the War, and his first book appeared in 1918. It contained four stories, two of which are included in the present volume (Death and Over the Ravine). A second volume appeared in 1920 (including the Crossways, The Bielokonsky Estate, The Snow Wind, A Year of Their Lives, and A Thousand Years). These volumes attracted comparatively little attention, though considering the great scarcity of fiction in those years they were certainly notable events. But Ivan-da-Marya and The Bare Year, published in 1922, produced a regular boom, and Pilniak jumped into the limelight of all-Russian celebrity. The cause of the success of these volumes, or rather the attention attracted by them, lay in their subject- matter: Pilniak was the first novelist to approach the subject of "Soviet Byt," to attempt to utilise the everyday life and routine of Soviet officialdom, and to paint the new forms Russian life had taken since the Revolution. Since 1922 editions and reprints of Pilniak's stories have been numerous, and as he follows the rather regrettable usage of making up every new book of his unpublished stories with reprints of earlier work the bibliography of his works is rather complicated and entangled, besides being entirely uninteresting to the English reader.

The most interesting portion of Pilniak's works are no doubt his longer stories of "Soviet life" written since 1921. Unfortunately they are practically untranslatable. His proceedings, imitated from Bely and Remizov, would seem incongruous to the English reader, and the translation would be laid aside in despair or in disgust, in spite of all its burning interest of actuality. None of the stories included in this volume belong to this last manner of Pilniak's, but in order to give a certain idea of what it is like I will attempt a specimen-translation of the beginning of his story The Third Metropolis (dated May-June 1922), reproducing all his typographical mannerisms, which are in their turn reproduced rather unintelligently, from his great masters, Remizov and Bely. The story, by the way, is dedicated "To A. M. Remizov, the Master in whose Workshop I was an apprentice."




By the District Department for Popinstruct [Footnote: That is "District Department for popular instruction"—in "Russian," Uotnarobraz.] provided with every commodity.


(former Church school in garden) for public use with capacity to receive 500 persons in an 8-hour working-day.

Hours of baths:

Monday—municipal children's asylums (free)

Tuesdays, Friday, Saturday—males

Wednesday, Thursday—females

Price for washing adults— children—

DISDEPOPINSTRUCT [Footnote: That is "District Department for popular instruction"—in "Russian," Uotnarobraz.]

Times: Lent of the eighth year of the World War and of the downfall of European Civilisation (see Spengler)—and sixth Lent since the great Russian Revolution; in other words: March, Spring, breaking-up of the ice—when the Russian Empire exploded in the great revolution the way Rupert's drops explode, casting off—Estia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Monarchy, Chernov, Martov, the Dardanelles—- Russian Civilisation,—Russian blizzards—-

—and when—- —Europe— was: —nothing but one Ersatz from end to end— (Ersatz—a German word —means the adverb "instead.")

Place: there is no place of action. Russia, Europe, the world, fraternity.

Dramatis persona: there are none. Russia, Europe, the world, belief, disbelief,—civilisation, blizzards, thunderstorms, the image of the Holy Virgin. People,—men in overcoats with collars turned up, go- alones, of course;—women;—but women are my sadness,—to me who am a romanticist—

—the only thing, the most beautiful, the greatest joy.

All this does after all make itself into some sort of sense, but the process by which this is at length attained is lengthy, tedious, and full of pitfalls to the reader who is unfamiliar with some dozen modern Russian writers and is innocent of "Soviet life."

In the impossibility of giving an intelligible English version of the Bare Year and its companions, the stories contained in this volume have been selected from the early and less sensational part of Pilniak's writings and will be considerably less staggering to the average English intelligence.

* * * * * * *

There are two things an English reader is in the habit of expecting when approaching a new Russian writer: first he expects much—and complains when he does not get it; to be appreciated by an English reader the Russian writer must be a Turgenev or a Chekhov, short of that he is no use. Secondly in every Russian book he expects to find "ideas" and "a philosophy." If the eventual English reader approaches Pilniak with these standards, he will be disappointed; Pilniak is not a second Dostoyevsky, and he has singularly few "ideas." It is not that he has no ambition in the way of ideas, but they are incoherent and cheap. The sort of historical speculations he indulges in may be appreciated at their right value on reading A Thousand Years. In later books he is still more self-indulgent in this direction, and many of his "stories" are a sort of muddle-headed historical disquisitions rather than stories in any acceptable sense of the word. Andrey Bely and his famous Petersburg are responsible for this habit of Pilniak's, as well as for many others of his perversities.

Pilniak is without a doubt a writer of considerable ability, but he is essentially unoriginal and derivative. Even in his famous novels of "Soviet life," it is only the subject matter he has found out for himself—the methods of treating it are other peoples'. But this imitativeness makes Pilniak a writer of peculiar interest: he is a sort of epitome of modern Russian fiction, a living literary history, and this representative quality of his is perhaps the chief claim on our attention that can be advanced on behalf of the stories included in this book. Almost every one of them can be traced back to some Russian or foreign writer. Each of them belongs to and is eminently typical of some accepted literary genre in vogue between 1910 and 1920. The Snow and The Forest Manor belong to the ordinary psychological problem-story acted among "intellectuals"; they have for their ancestors Chekhov, Zenaide Hippius, and the Polish novelists. Always on Detachment, belongs to the progeny of A. N. Tolstoy, with the inevitable blackguardly seduction of a more or less pure girl or woman at the end. The Snow Wind and Over the Ravine are animal stories, for which, I believe, Jack London is mainly responsible. In A Year of Their Lives the same "animal" method is transfered to the treatment of primitive human life, and the shadow of Knut Hamsun is plainly discernible in the background. Death, The Heirs, and The Belokonsky Estate are first class exercises in the manner of Bunin, and only A Thousand Years and The Crossways herald in, to a certain extent, Pilniak's own manner of invention. From the point of view of "ideas" The Crossways is the most interesting in the book, for it gives expression to that which is certainly the root of all Pilniak's conception of the Revolution. It is—to use two terms which have been applied to Russia by two very different schools of thought but equally opposed to Europe—a "Scythian" or an "Eurasian" conception. To Pilniak the Revolution is essentially the "Revolt" of peasant and rural Russia against the alien network of European civilisation, the Revolt of the "crossways" against the highroad and the railroad, of the village against the town. A conception, you will perceive, which is opposed to that of Lenin and the orthodox Communists, and which explains why official Bolshevism is not over-enthusiastic about Pilniak. The Crossways is a good piece of work (it can hardly be called a story) and it just gives a glimpse of that ambitious vastness of scale on which Pilniak was soon to plan his bigger Soviet stories.

* * * * * * *

But taken in themselves and apart from his later work I think the stories in the manner of Bunin will be found the most satisfactory items in this volume. Of these Death was written before the Revolution and, but for an entirely irrelevant and very Pilniakish allusion to Lermontov and other deceased worthies, it is entirely unconnected with events and revolutions. Very "imperfective" and hardly a "story," it is nevertheless done with sober and conscientious craftsmanship, very much like Bunin and very unlike the usual idea we have of Pilniak. The only thing Pilniak was incapable of taking from his model was Bunin's wonderfully rich and full Russian, a shortcoming which is least likely to be felt in translation.

* * * * * * *

The other two Buninesque stories, The Belokonsky Estate and The Heirs, are stories (again, can the word "story" be applied to this rampantly "imperfective" style?) of the Revolution. They display the same qualities of sober measure and solid texture which are not usually associated with the name of Pilniak. These two stories ought to be read side by side, for they are correlative. In The Belokonsky Estate the representative of "the old order," Prince Constantine, is drawn to an almost heroical scale and the "new man" cuts a poor and contemptible figure by his side. In the other story the old order is represented by a studied selection of all its worst types. I do not think that the stories were meant as a deliberate contrast, they are just the outcome of the natural lack of preconceived idea which is typical of Pilniak and of his passive, receptive, plastical mind. As long as he does not go out of his way to give expression to vague and incoherent ideas, the outcome of his muddle-headed meditations on Russian History, this very shortcoming (if shortcoming it be) becomes something of a virtue, and Pilniak—an honest membrana vibrating with unbiassed indifference to every sound from the outer world.

* * * * * * *

The reader may miss the more elaborate and sensational stories of Soviet life. But I have a word of consolation for him—they are eminently unreadable, and for myself I would never have read them had it not been for the hard duties of a literary critic. In this case as in others I prefer to go direct to the fountain-source and read Bely's Petersburg and the books of Remizov, which for all the difficulties they put in the way of the reader and of the translator will at least amply repay their efforts. But Pilniak has also substantial virtues: the power to make things live; an openness to life and an acute vision. If he throws away the borrowed methods that suit him as little as a peacock's feathers may suit a crow, he will no doubt develop rather along the lines of the better stories included in this volume, than in the direction of his more ambitious novels. And I imagine that his opus magnum, if, in some distant future he ever comes to write one, will be more like the good old realism of the nineteenth century than like the intense and troubled art of his present masters; I venture to prophesy that he will finally turn out something like a Soviet (or post-Soviet) Trollope, rather than a vulgarised Andrey Bely.


May, 1924.




The tinkling of postillion-bells broke the stillness of the crisp winter night—a coachman driving from the station perhaps. They rang out near the farm, were heard descending into a hollow; then, as the horses commenced to trot, they jingled briskly into the country, their echoes at last dying away beyond the common.

Polunin and his guest, Arkhipov, were playing chess in his study. Vera Lvovna was minding the infant; she talked with Alena for a while; then went into the drawing-room, and rummaged among the books there.

Polunin's study was large, candles burnt on the desk, books were scattered about here and there; an antique firearm dimly shone above a wide, leather-covered sofa. The silent, moonlit night peered in through the blindless windows, through one of which was passed a wire. The telegraph-post stood close beside it, and its wires hummed ceaselessly in the room somewhere in a corner of the ceiling—a monotonous, barely audible sound, like a snow-storm.

The two men sat in silence, Polunin broad-shouldered and bearded, Arkhipov lean, wiry, and bald.

Alena entered bringing in curdled milk and cheese-cakes. She was a modest young woman with quiet eyes, and wore a white kerchief.

"Won't you please partake of our simple fare?" she asked shyly, inclining her head and folding her hands across her bosom.

Silent and absent-minded, the chess-players sat down to table and supped. Alena was about to join them, but just then her child began to cry, and she hurriedly left the room. The tea-urn softly simmered and seethed, emitting a low, hissing sound in unison with that of the wires. The men took up their tea and returned to their chess. Vera Lvovna returned from the drawing-room; and, taking a seat on the sofa beside her husband, sat there without stirring, with the fixed, motionless eyes of a nocturnal bird.

"Have you examined the Goya, Vera Lvovna?" Polunin asked suddenly.

"I just glanced through the History of Art; then I sat down with Natasha."

"He has the most wonderful devilry!" Polunin declared, "and, do you know, there is another painter—Bosch. He has something more than devilry in him. You should see his Temptation of St. Anthony!"

They began to discuss Goya, Bosch, and St. Anthony, and as Polunin spoke he imperceptibly led the conversation to the subject of St. Francis d'Assisi. He had just been reading the Saint's works, and was much attracted by his ascetical attitude towards the world. Then the conversation flagged.

It was late when the Arkhipovs left, and Polunin accompanied them home. The last breath of an expiring wind softly stirred the pine- branches, which swayed to and fro in a mystic shadow-dance against the constellations. Orion, slanting and impressive, listed across a boundless sky, his starry belt gleaming as he approached his midnight post. In the widespread stillness the murmur of the pines sounded like rolling surf as it beats on the rocks, and the frozen snow crunched like broken glass underfoot: the frost was cruelly sharp.

On reaching home, Polunin looked up into the overarching sky, searching the glittering expanse for his beloved Cassiopeian Constellation, and gazed intently at the sturdy splendour of the Polar Star; then he watered the horses, gave them their forage for the night, and treated them to a special whistling performance.

It struck warm in the stables, and there was a smell of horses' sweat. A lantern burned dimly on the wall; from the horses' nostrils issued grey, steamy cloudlets; Podubny, the stallion, rolled a great wondering eye round on his master, as though inquiring what he was doing. Polunin locked the stable; then stood outside in the snow for a while, examining the bolts.

In the study Alena had made herself up a bed on the sofa, sat down next it in an armchair and began tending her baby, bending over it humming a wordless lullaby. Polunin sat down by her when he came in and discussed domestic affairs; then took the child from Alena and rocked her. Pale green beams of moonlight flooded through the windows.

Polunin thought of St. Francis d'Assisi, of the Arkhipovs who had lost faith and yet were seeking the law, of Alena and their household. The house was wrapped in utter silence, and he soon fell into that sound, healthy sleep to which he was now accustomed, in contrast to his former nights of insomnia.

The faint moon drifted over the silent fields, and the pines shone tipped with silver. A new-born wind sighed, stirred, then rose gently from the enchanted caverns of the night and soared up into the sky with the swift flutter of many-plumed wings. Assuredly Kseniya Ippolytovna Enisherlova was not asleep on such a night.


The day dawned cold, white, pellucid—breathing forth thin, misty vapour, while a hoar-frost clothed the houses, trees, and hedges. The smoke from the village chimneypots rose straight and blue. Outside the windows was an overgrown garden, a snow-covered tree lay prone on the earth; further off were snow-clad fields, the valley and the forest. Sky and air were pale and transparent, and the sun was hidden behind a drift of fleecy white clouds.

Alena came in, made some remark about the house, then went out to singe the pig for Christmas.

The library-clock struck eleven; a clock in the hall answered. Then there came a sudden ring on the telephone; it sounded strange and piercing in the empty stillness.

"Is that you, Dmitri Vladimirovich? Dmitri Vladimirovich, is that you?" cried a woman's muffled voice: it sounded a great way off through the instrument.

"Yes, but who is speaking?"

"Kseniya Ippolytovna Enisherlova is speaking", the voice answered quietly; then added in a higher key: "Is it you, my ascetic and seeker? This is me, me, Kseniya."

"You, Kseniya Ippolytovna?" Polunin exclaimed joyfully.

"Yes, yes ... Oh yes!... I am tired of roaming about and being always on the brink of a precipice, so I have come to you ... across the fields, where there is snow, snow, snow and sky ... to you, the seeker.... Will you take me? Have you forgiven me that July?"

Polunin's face was grave and attentive as he bent over the telephone:

"Yes, I have forgiven," he replied.

* * * * * * *

One long past summer, Polunin and Kseniya Ippolytovna used to greet the glowing dawn together. At sundown, when the birch-trees exhaled a pungent odour and the crystal sickle of the moon was sinking in the west, they bade adieu until the morrow on the cool, dew-sprinkled terrace, and Polunin passionately kissed—as he believed—the pure, innocent lips of Kseniya Ippolytovna.

But she laughed at his ardour, and her avid lips callously drank in his consuming, protesting passion, only to desert him afterwards, abandoning him for Paris, and leaving behind her the shreds of his pure and passionate love.

That June and July had brought joy and sorrow, good and ill. Polunin was already disillusioned when he met Alena, and was living alone with his books. He met her in the spring, and quickly and simply became intimate with her, begetting a child, for he found that the instinct of fatherhood had replaced that of passion within him.

Alena entered his house at evening, without any wedding-ceremony, placed her trunk on a bench in the kitchen, and passing quickly through into the study, said quietly:

"Here I am, I have come." She looked very beautiful and modest as she stood there, wiping the corner of her mouth with her handkerchief.

Kseniya Ippolytovna arrived late when dusk was already falling and blue shadows crept over the snow. The sky had darkened, becoming shrouded in a murky blue; bullfinches chirruped in the snow under the windows. Kseniya Ippolytovna mounted the steps and rang, although Polunin had already opened the door for her.

The hall was large, bright, and cold. As she entered, the sunrays fell a moment on the windows and the light grew warm and waxy, lending to her face—as Polunin thought—a greenish-yellow tint, like the skin of a peach, and infinitely beautiful. But the rays died away immediately, leaving a blue crepuscular gloom, in which Kseniya Ippolytovna's figure grew dim, forlorn, and decrepit.

Alena curtseyed: Kseniya Ippolytovna hesitated a moment, wondering if she should give her hand; then she went up to Alena and kissed her.

"Good evening", she cried gaily, "you know I am an old friend of your husband's."

But she did not offer her hand to Polunin.

Kseniya Ippolytovna had greatly changed since that far-off summer. Her eyes, her wilful lips, her Grecian nose, and smooth brows were as beautiful as ever, but now there was something reminiscent of late August in her. Formerly she had worn bright costumes—now she wore dark; and her soft auburn hair was fastened in a simple plait.

They entered the study and sat down on the sofa. Outside the windows lay the snow, blue like the glow within. The walls and the furniture grew dim in the twilight. Polunin—grave and attentive—hovered solicitously round his guest. Alena withdrew, casting a long, steadfast look at her husband.

"I have come here straight from Paris", Kseniya explained. "It is rather queer—I was preparing to leave for Nice in the spring, and was getting my things together, when I found a nest of mice in my wardrobe. The mother-mouse ran off, leaving three little babes behind her; they were raw-skinned and could only just crawl. I spent my whole time with them, but on the third day the first died, and then the same night the other two.... I packed up for Russia the next morning, to come here, to you, where there is snow, snow.... Of course there is no snow in Paris—and it will soon be Christmas, the Russian Christmas."

She became silent, folded her hands and laid them against her cheek; for a moment she had a sorrowful, forlorn expression.

"Continue, Kseniya Ippolytovna", Polunin urged.

"I was driving by our fields and thinking how life here is as simple and monotonous as the fields themselves, and that it is possible to live here a serious life without trivialities. You know what it is to live for trivialities. I am called—and I go. I am loved—and I let myself be loved! Something in a showcase catches my eye and I buy it. I should always remain stationary were it not for those that have the will to move me....

"I was driving by our fields and thinking of the impossibility of such a life: I was thinking too that I would come to you and tell you of the mice.... Paris, Nice, Monaco, costumes, English perfumes, wine, Leonardo da Vinci, neo-classicism, lovers, what are they? With you everything is just as of old."

She rose and crossed to the window.

"The snow is blue-white here, as it is in Norway—I jilted Valpyanov there. The Norwegian people are like trolls. There is no better place than Russia! With you nothing changes. Have you forgiven me that July?"

Polunin approached and stood beside her.

"Yes, I have forgiven", he said earnestly.

"But I have not forgiven you that June!" she flashed at him; then she resumed: "The library, too, is the same as ever. Do you remember how we used to read Maupassant together in there?"

Kseniya Ippolytovna approached the library-door, opened it, and went in. Inside were book-cases behind whose glass frames stood even rows of gilded volumes; there was also a sofa, and close to it a large, round, polished table. The last yellow rays of the sun came in through the windows. Unlike that in the study, the light in here was not cold, but warm and waxy, so that again Kseniya Ippolytovna's face seemed strangely green to Polunin, her hair a yellow-red; her large, dark, deep-sunken eyes bore a stubborn look.

"God has endowed you with wonderful beauty, Kseniya, Ippolytovna," Polunin said gravely.

She gave him a keen glance; then smiled. "God has made me wonderfully tempting! By the way, you used to dream of faith; have you found it?"

"Yes, I have found it."

"Faith in what?"

"In life."

"But if there is nothing to believe in?"


"I don't know. I don't know." Kseniya Ippolytovna raised her hands to her head. "The Japanese, Naburu Kotokami, is still looking for me in Paris and Nice... I wonder if he knows about Russia.... I have not had a smoke for a whole week, not since the last little mouse died; I smoked Egyptians before .... Yes, you are right, it is impossible not to have faith."

Polunin went to her quickly, took her hands, then dropped them; his eyes were very observant, his voice quiet and serious.

"Kseniya, you must not grieve, you must not."

"Do you love me?"

"As a woman—no, as a fellow-creature—I do," he answered firmly.

She smiled, dropped her eyes, then moved to the sofa, sat down and arranged her dress, then smiled again.

"I want to be pure."

"And so you are!" Polunin sat down beside her, leaning forward, his elbows on his knees.

They were silent.

Kseniya Ippolytovna said at last: "You have grown old, Polunin!"

"Yes, I have grown old. People do, but there is nothing terrible in that when they have found what they sought for."

"Yes, when they have found it.... But what about now? Why do you say that? Is it Alena?"

"Why ask? Although I am disillusioned, Kseniya, I go on chopping firewood, heating the stove, living just to live. I read St. Francis d'Assisi, think about him, and grieve that such a life as his may not be lived again. I know he was absurd, but he had faith, And now Alena—I love her, I shall love her for ever. I wish to feel God!"

Kseniya Ippolytovna looked at him curiously:

"Do you know what the baby-mice smelt like?"

"No, why do you ask?"

"They smelt like new-born babies—like human children! You have a daughter, Natasha. That is everything."

The sun sank in an ocean of wine-coloured light, and a great red wound remained amidst the drift of cold clouds over the western horizon. The snow grew violet, and the room was filled with shadowy, purplish twilight. Alena entered and the loud humming of the telegraph wires came through the study's open door.

By nightfall battalions of fleeting clouds flecked the sky; the moon danced and quivered in their midst—a silver-horned goddess, luminous with the long-stored knowledge of the ages. The bitter snow-wind crept, wound, and whirled along in spirals, loops, and ribbons, lashing the fields, whining and wailing its age-old, dismal song over the lone desolate spaces. The land was wretched, restless, and forlorn; the sky was overcast with sombre, gaping caverns shot through with lurid lines of fire.

* * * * * * *

At seven o'clock the Arkhipovs arrived.

Kseniya Ippolytovna had known them a long time: they had been acquaintances even before Arkhipov's marriage. As he greeted her now, he kissed her hand and began speaking about foreign countries— principally Germany, which he knew and admired. They passed into the study, where they argued and conversed: they had nothing much to talk about really. Vera Lvovna was silent, as usual; and soon went to see Natasha. Polunin also was quiet, walking about the room with his hands behind his back.

Kseniya Ippolytovna jested in a wilful, merry, and coquettish fashion with Arkhipov, who answered her in a polite, serious, and punctilious manner. He was unable to carry on a light, witty conversation, and was acutely conscious of his own awkwardness. From a mere trifle, something Kseniya Ippolytovna said about fortune-telling at Christmas, there arose an old-standing dispute between the two men on Belief and Unbelief.

Arkhipov spoke with calmness and conviction, but Polunin grew angry, confused, and agitated. Arkhipov declared that Faith was unnecessary and injurious, like instinct and every other sentiment; that there was only one thing immutable—Intellect. Only that was moral which was intelligent.

Polunin retorted that the intellectual and the non-intellectual were no standard of life, for was life intelligent? he asked. He contended that without Faith there was only death; that the one thing immutable in life was the tragedy of Faith and the Spirit.

"But do you know what Thought is, Polunin?"

"Yes, indeed I do!"

"Don't smile! Do you not know that Thought kills everything? Reflect, think thrice over what you regard as sacred, and it will be as simple as a glass of lemonade."

"But death?"

"Death is an exit into nothing. I have always that in reserve—when I am heart-broken. For the present I am content to live and thrive."

When the dispute was over, Vera Lvovna said in a low voice, as calm as ever:

"The only tragic thing in life is that there is nothing tragical, while death is just death, when anyone dies physically. A little less metaphysics!"

Kseniya Ippolytovna had been listening, alert and restless.

"But all the same," she answered Vera Lvovna animatedly, "Isn't the absence of tragedy the true tragedy?"

"Yes, that alone."

"And love?"

"No, not love."

"But aren't you married?"

"I want my baby."

Kseniya Ippolytovna, who was lying on the sofa, rose up on her knees, and stretching out her arms cried:

"Ah, a baby! Is that not instinct?"

"That is a law!"

The women began to argue. Then the dispute died down. Arkhipov proposed a game of chance. They uncovered a green table, set lighted candles at its corners and commenced to play leisurely and silently as in winter. Arkhipov sat erect, resting his elbows at right angles on the table.

The wind whistled outside, the blizzard increased in violence, and from some far distance came the dismal, melancholy creaking and grinding of iron. Alena came in, and sat quietly beside her husband, her hands folded in her lap. They were killing time.

"The last time, I sat down to play a game of chance amidst the fjords in a little valley hotel; a dreadful storm raged the whole while," Kseniya Ippolytovna remarked pensively. "Yes, there are big and little tragedies in life!"

The wind shrieked mournfully; snow lashed at the windows. Kseniya stayed on until a late hour, and Alena invited her to remain overnight; but she refused and left.

Polunin accompanied her. The snow-wind blew violently, whistling and cutting at them viciously. The moon seemed to be leaping among the clouds; around them the green, snowy twilight hung like a thick curtain. The horses jogged along slowly. Darkness lay over the land.

Polunin returned alone over a tractless road-way; the gale blew in his face; the snow blinded him. He stabled his horses; then found Alena waiting up for him in the kitchen, her expression was composed but sad. Polunin took her in his arms and kissed her.

"Do not be anxious or afraid; I love only you, no one else. I know why you are unhappy."

Alena looked up at him in loving gratitude, and shyly smiled.

"You do not understand that it is possible to love one only. Other men are not able to do that," Polunin told her tenderly.

The hurricane raged over the house, but within reigned peace. Polunin went into his study and sat down at his desk; Natasha began to cry; he rose, took a candle, and brought her to Alena, who nursed her. The infant looked so small, fragile, and red that Polunin's heart overflowed with tenderness towards her. One solitary, flickering candle illumined the room.

There was a call on the telephone at daybreak. Polunin was already up. The day slowly broke in shades of blue; there was a murky, bluish light inside the rooms and outside the windows, the panes of which were coated with snow. The storm had subsided.

"Have I aroused you? Were you still in bed?" called Kseniya.

"No, I was already up."

"On the watch?"


"I have only just arrived home. The storm whirled madly round us in the fields, and the roads were invisible, frozen under snow ... I drove on thinking, and thinking—of the snow, you, myself, Arkhipov, Paris ... oh, Paris...! You are not angry with me for ringing you up, are you, my ascetic?... I was thinking of our conversation."

"What were you thinking?"

"This.... We were speaking together, you see.... Forgive me, but you could not speak like that to Alena. She would not understand ... how could she?"

"One need not speak a word, yet understand everything. There is something that unites—without the aid of speech—not only Alena and me, but the world and me. That is a law of God."

"So it is," murmured Kseniya. "Forgive me ... poor old Alena."

"I love her, and she has given me a daughter...."

"Yes, that is true. And we ... we love, but are childless... We rise in the morning feeling dull and depressed from our revels of overnight, while you were wisely sleeping." Kseniya Ippolytovna's voice rose higher. "'We are the heisha-girls of lantern-light,' you remember Annensky? At night we sit in restaurants, drinking wine and listening to garish music. We love—but are childless.... And you? You live a sober, righteous and sensible life, seeking the truth.... Isn't that so?' Truth!" Her cry was malignant and full of derision.

"That is unjust, Kseniya," answered Polunin in a low voice, hanging his head.

"No, wait," continued the mocking voice at the other end of the line; "here is something more from Annensky: 'We are the heisha-girls of lantern-light!'... 'And what seemed to them music brought them torment'; and again: 'But Cypris has nothing more sacred than the words I love, unuttered by us' ..."

"That is unjust, Kseniya."

"Unjust!" She laughed stridently; then suddenly was silent. She began to speak in a sad, scarcely audible whisper: "But Cypris has nothing more sacred than the words I love, unuttered by us.... I love ... love.... Oh, darling, at that time, in that June, I looked upon you as a mere lad. But now I seem small and little myself, and you a big man, who defends me. How miserable I was alone in the fields last night! But that is expiation.... You are the only one who has loved me devotedly. Thank you, but I have no faith now."

The dawn was grey, lingering, cold; the East grew red.


Kseniya Ippolytovna's ancestral home had reared its columns for fully a century. It was of classic architecture, with pediment, balconied hall, echoing corridors, and furniture that seemed never to have been moved from the place it had occupied in her forefathers' time.

The old mansion greeted her—the last descendant of the ancient name— with gloomy indifference; with cold, sombre apartments that were terrible by night, and thickly covered with the accumulated dust of many years. An ancient butler remained who recalled the former times and masters, the former baronial pomp and splendour. The housemaid, who spoke no Russian, was brought by Kseniya.

Kseniya Ippolytovna established herself in her mother's rooms. She told the one ancient retainer that the household should be conducted as in her parents' day, with all the old rules and regulations. He thereupon informed her that it was customary in the times of the old masters for relatives and friends to gather together on Christmas Eve, while for the New Year all the gentry of the district considered it their duty to come, even those who were uninvited. Therefore it was necessary for her to order in the provisions at once.

The old butler called Kseniya Ippolytovna at eight; then served her with coffee. After she had taken it, he said austerely:

"You will have to go round the house and arrange things, Barina; then go into the study to read books and work out the expenses and write out recipes for your house-party. The old gentry always did that."

She carried out all her instructions, adhering rigorously to former rules. She was wonderfully quiet, submissive, and sad. She read thick, simply-written books—those in which the old script for sh is confused with that for t. Now and then, however, she rang up Polunin behind the old man's back, talking to him long and fretfully, with mingled love, grief, and hatred.

In the holidays they drove about together in droskies, and told fortunes: Kseniya Ippolytovna was presented with a waxen cradle. They drove to town with some mummers, and attended an amateur performance in a club. Polunin dressed up as a wood-spirit, Kseniya as a wood- spirit's daughter—out of a birch-grove. Then they visited the neighbouring landowners.

The Christmas holidays were bright and frosty, with a red morning glow from the east, the daylight waxy in the sun, and with long blue, crepuscular evenings.


The old butler made a great ado in the house at the approach of the New Year. In preparation for a great ball, he cleared the inlaid floors, spread carpets, filled the lamps; placed new candles here and there; took the silver and the dinner-services out of their chests, and procured all the requisites for fortune-telling. By New Year's Eve the house was in order, the stately rooms glittering with lights, and uniformed village-lads stood by the doors.

Kseniya Ippolytovna awoke late on that day and did not get up, lying without stirring in bed until dinner time, her hands behind her head. It was a clear, bright day and the sun's golden rays streamed in through the windows, and were reflected on the polished floor, casting wavy shadows over the dark heavy tapestry on the walls. Outside was the cold blue glare of the snow, which was marked with the imprints of birds' feet, and a vast stretch of clear turquoise sky.

The bedroom was large and gloomy; the polished floor was covered with rugs; a canopied double bedstead stood against the further wall; a large wardrobe was placed in a corner.

Kseniya Ippolytovna looked haggard and unhappy. She took a bath before dinner; then had her meal—alone, in solitary state, drowsing lingeringly over it with a book.

Crows, the birds of destruction, were cawing and gossiping outside in the park. At dusk the fragile new moon rose for a brief while. The frosty night was crisp and sparkling. The stars shone diamond-bright in the vast, all-embracing vault of blue; the snow was a soft, velvety green.

Polunin arrived early. Kseniya Ippolytovna greeted him in the drawing-room. A bright fire burnt on the hearth; beside it were two deep armchairs. No lamps were alight, but the fire-flames cast warm, orange reflections; the round-topped windows seemed silvery in the hoar-frost.

Kseniya Ippolytovna wore a dark evening dress and had plaited her hair; she shook hands with Polunin.

"I am feeling sad to-day, Polunin," she said in a melancholy voice. They sat down in the armchairs.

"I expected you at five. It is now six. But you are always churlish and inconsiderate towards women. You haven't once wanted to be alone with me—or guessed that I desired it!" She spoke calmly, rather coldly, gazing obstinately into the fire, her cheeks cupped between her narrow palms. "You are so very silent, a perfect diplomat.... What is it like in the fields to-day? Cold? Warm? Tea will be served in a moment."

There was a pause.

At last Polunin broke the silence.

"Yes, it was bitterly cold, but fine." After a further pause he added: "When we last talked together you did not say all that was in your mind. Say it now."

Kseniya Ippolytovna laughed:

"I have already said everything! Isn't it cold? I have not been out to-day. I have been thinking about Paris and of that ... that June.... Tea should be ready by this time!"

She rose and rung the bell, and the old butler came in.

"Will tea be long?"

"I will bring it now, Barina."

He went out and returned with a tray on which were two glasses of tea, a decanter of rum, some pastries, figs, and honey, and laid them on the little table beside the armchairs.

"Will you have the lamps lighted, Barina?" he inquired, respectfully.

"No. You may go. Close the door."

The old butler looked at them knowingly; then withdrew. Kseniya turned at once to Polunin.

"I have told you everything. How is it you have not understood? Drink up your tea."

"Tell me again," he pleaded.

"Take your tea first; pour out the rum. I repeat I have already told you all. You remember about the mice? Did you not understand that?" Kseniya Ippolytovna sat erect in her chair; she spoke coldly, in the same distant tone in which she had addressed the butler.

Polunin shook his head: "No, I haven't understood."

"Dear me, dear me!" she mocked, "and you used to be so quick-witted, my ascetic. Still, health and happiness do not always sharpen the wits. You are healthy and happy, aren't you?"

"You are being unjust again," Polunin protested. "You know very well that I love you."

Kseniya Ippolytovna gave a short laugh: "Oh, come, come! None of that!" She drank her glass of tea feverishly, threw herself back in the chair, and was silent.

Polunin also took his, warming himself after his cold drive.

She spoke again after a while in a quiet dreamy tone: "In this stove, flames will suddenly flare up, then die away, and it will become cold. You and I have always had broken conversations. Perhaps the Arkhipovs are right—when it seems expedient, kill! When it seems expedient, breed! That is wise, prudent, honest...." Suddenly she sat erect, pouring out quick, passionate, uneven words:

"Do you love me? Do you desire me ... as a woman?... to kiss, to caress?... You understand? No, be silent! I am purged.... I come to you as you came to me that June.... You didn't understand about the mice?... Or perhaps you did.

"Have you noticed, have you ever reflected on that which does not change in man's life, but for ever remains the same? No, no, wait!... There have been hundreds of religions, ethics, aesthetics, sciences, philosophical systems: they have all changed and are still changing— only one law remains unaltered, that all living things—whether men, mice, or rye—are born, breed, and die.

"I was packing up for Nice, where a lover expected me, when suddenly I felt an overwhelming desire for a babe, a dear, sweet, little babe of my own, and I remembered you .... Then I travelled here, to Russia so as to bear it in reverence.... I am able to do so now!..."

Polunin rose and stood close to Kseniya Ippolytovna: his expression was serious and alarmed.

"Don't beat me," she murmured.

"You are innocent, Kseniya," he replied.

"Oh, there you go again!" she cried impatiently. "Always sin and innocence! I am a stupid woman, full of beliefs and superstitions— nothing more—like all women. I want to conceive here, to breed and bear a child here. Do you wish to be the father?"

She stood up, looking intently into Polunin's eyes.

"What are you saying, Kseniya?" he asked in a low, grave, pained tone.

"I have told you what I want. Give me a child and then go—anywhere— back to your Alena! I have not forgotten that June and July."

"I cannot," Polunin replied firmly; "I love Alena."

"I do not want love," she persisted; "I have no need of it. Indeed I have not, for I do not even love you!" She spoke in a low, faint voice, and passed her hand over her face.

"I must go," the man said at last.

She looked at him sharply. "Where to?"

"How do you mean 'where to'? I must go away altogether!"

"Ah, those tragedies, duties, and sins again!" she cried, her eyes burning into his with hatred and contempt. "Isn't it all perfectly simple? Didn't you make a contract with me?"

"I have never made one without love. And I love only Alena. I must go."

"Oh, what cruel, ascetical egoism!" she cried violently. Then suddenly all her rage died down, and she sat quietly in the chair, covering her face with her hands.

Polunin stood by, his shoulders bowed, his arms hanging limply. His face betrayed grief and anxiety.

Kseniya looked up at him with a wan smile: "It is all right—there is no need to go... It was only my nonsense.... I was merely venting my anger.... Don't mind me .... I am tired and harassed. Of course I have not been purged. I know that is impossible... We are the 'heisha-girls of lantern-light'.... You remember Annensky? ... Give me your hand."

Polunin stretched out his large hand, took her yielding one in his and pressed its delicate fingers.

"You have forgiven me?" she murmured.

He looked at her helplessly, then muttered: "I cannot either forgive or not forgive. But ... I cannot!"

"Never mind; we shall forget. We shall be cheerful and happy. You remember: 'Where beauty shines amidst mire and baseness there is only torment'.... You need not mind, it is all over!"

She uttered the last few words with a cry, raised herself erect, and laughed aloud with forced gaiety.

"We shall tell fortunes, jest, drink, be merry—like our grandfathers ... you remember! ...Had not our grandmothers their coachmen friends?"

She rang the bell and the butler came in.

"Bring in more tea. Light the fire and the lamps."

The fire burnt brightly and illuminated the leather-covered chairs. The portrait frames on the walls shone golden through the darkness. Polunin paced up and down the room, his hands behind his back; his footsteps were muffled in the thick carpet.

Sleigh bells began to ring outside.

It was just ten o'clock as the guests assembled from the town and the neighbouring estates. They were received in the drawing-room.

Taper, the priest's son, commenced playing a polka, and the ladies went into the ballroom; the old butler and two footmen brought wax candles and basins of water, and the old ladies began to tell fortunes. A troupe of mummers tumbled in, a bear performed tricks, a Little Russian dulcimer-player sang songs.

The mummers brought in with them the smell of frost, furs, and napthaline. One of them emitted a cock's crow, and they danced a Russian dance. It was all merry and bright, a tumultuous, boisterous revel, as in the old Russian aristocracy days. There was a smell of burning wax, candle-grease, and burning paper.

Kseniya Ippolytovna was the soul of gaiety; she laughed and jested cheerfully as she waltzed with a Lyceum student, a General's son. She had re-dressed her hair gorgeously, and wore a pearl necklace round her throat. The old men sat round card-tables in the lounge, talking on local topics.

At half past eleven a footman opened the door leading into the dining-room and solemnly announced that supper was served. They supped and toasted, ate and drank amid the clatter of knives, forks, dishes, and spoons. Kseniya made Arkhipov, Polunin, a General and a Magistrate sit beside her.

At midnight, just as they were expecting the clock to chime, Kseniya Ippolytovna rose to propose a toast; in her right hand was a glass; her left was flung back behind her plaited hair; she held her head high. All the guests at once rose to their feet.

"I am a woman," she cried aloud. "I drink to ourselves, to women, to the gentle, to the homely, to happiness and purity! To motherhood! I drink to the sacred—" she broke off abruptly, sat down and hung her head.

Somebody cried: "Hurrah!" To someone else it seemed that Kseniya was weeping. The clock began to chime, the guests shouted "Hurrah!" clinked glasses, and drank.

Then they sang, while some rose and carried round glasses to those of the guests who were still sober and those who were only partially intoxicated. They bowed. They sang The Goblets, and the basses thundered:

"Drink to the dregs! Drink to the dregs!" Kseniya Ippolytovna offered her first glass to Polunin. She stood in front of him with a tray, curtseyed without lifting her eyes and sang. Polunin rose, colouring with embarrassment:

"I never drink wine," he protested.

But the basses thundered: "Drink to the dregs! Drink to the dregs!"

His face darkened, he raised a silencing arm, and firmly repeated:

"I never drink wine, and I do not intend to."

Kseniya gazed into the depths of his eyes and said softly:

"I want you to, I beg you.... Do you hear?"

"I will not," Polunin whispered back.

Then she cried out:

"He doesn't want to! We mustn't make him against his will!" She turned away, offered her glass to the Magistrate, and after him to the Lyceum student; then excused herself and withdrew, quietly returning later looking sad and as if she had suddenly aged.

They lingered a long while over supper; then went into the ball-room to dance, and sing, and play old fashioned games. The men went to the buffets to drink, the older ones then sat in the drawing-room playing whist, and talked.

It was nearly five o'clock when the guests departed. Only the Arkhipovs and Polunin remained. Kseniya Ippolytovna ordered coffee, and all four sat down at a small table feeling worn out. The house was now wrapt in silence. The dawn had just broken.

Kseniya was tired to death, but endeavoured to appear fresh and cheerful. She passed the coffee round, and then fetched a bottle of liqueur. They sat almost in silence; what talk they exchanged was desultory.

"One more year dropped into Eternity," Arkhipov said, sombrely.

"Yes, a year nearer to death, a year further from birth," rejoined Polunin.

Kseniya Ippolytovna was seated opposite him. Her eyes were veiled. She rose now to her feet, leaned over the table and spoke to him in slow, measured accents vibrating with malice:

"Well, pious one! Everything here is mine. I asked you to-day to give me a baby, because I am merely a woman and so desire motherhood.... I asked you to take wine... You refused. The nearer to death the further from birth, you say? Well then, begone!"

She broke into tears, sobbing loudly and plaintively, covering her face with her hands; then leant against the wall, still sobbing. The Arkhipovs ran to her; Polunin stood at the table dumbfounded, then left the room.

"I didn't ask him for passion or caresses. ... I have no husband!" Kseniya cried, sobbing and shrieking like a hysterical girl. They calmed her after a time, and she spoke to them in snatches between her sobs, which were less violent for a while. Then she broke out weeping afresh, and sank into an armchair.

The dawn had now brightened; the room was filled with a faint, flickering light. Misty, vaporous, tormenting shadows danced and twisted oddly in the shifting glimmer: in the tenebrous half-light the occupants looked grey, weary, and haggard, their faces strangely distorted by the alternate rise and fall of the shadows. Arkhipov's bald head with its tightly stretched skin resembled a greatly elongated skull.

"Listen to me, you Arkhipovs," Kseniya cried brokenly. "Supposing a distracted woman who desired to be pure were to come and ask you for a baby—would you give her the same answer as Polunin? He said it was impossible, that it was sin, that he loved someone else. Would you answer like that, Arkhipov, knowing it was the woman's last—her only—chance of salvation—her only love?" She looked eagerly from one to the other.

"No, certainly not—I should answer in a different way," Arkhipov replied quietly.

"And you, Vera Lvovna, a wife ... do you hear? I speak in front of you?"

Vera Lvovna nodded, laid her hand gently on Kseniya's forehead, and answered softly and tenderly:

"I understand you perfectly."

Again Kseniya wept.

* * * * * * *

The dawn trod gently down the lanes of darkness. The light grew clearer and the candles became dim and useless. The outlines of the furniture crept out of the net of shadows. Through the blue mist outside the snow, valley, forest, and fields were faintly visible. From the right of the horizon dawn's red light flushed the heavens with a cold purple.

Polunin drove along by the fields, trotting smoothly behind his stallion. The earth was blue and cold and ghostly, a land carved out of dreams, seemingly unsubstantial and unreal. A harsh, bitter wind blew from the north, stirring the telegraph-wires by the roadside to a loud, humming refrain. A silence as of death reigned over the land, yet life thrilled through it; and now and then piping goldfinches appeared from their winter nests in the moist green ditches, and flew ahead of Polunin; then suddenly turned aside and perched lightly on the wayside brambles.

Night still lingered amid the calm splendour of the vast, primeval forest. As he drove through the shadowed glades the huge trees gently swayed their giant boughs, softly brushing aside the shroud of encompassing darkness.

A golden eagle darted from its mist-wreathed eyrie and flew over the fields; then soared upwards in ever-widening circles towards the east—where, like a pale rose ribbon stretched across the sky, the light from the rising sun shed a delicate opalescent glow on the snow, which it transformed to an exquisite lilac, and the shadows, to which it lent a wonderful, mysterious, quivering blue tint.

Polunin sat in his seat, huddled together, brooding morosely, deriving a grim satisfaction from the fact that—all the same—he had not broken the law. Henceforth, he never could break it; the thought of Kseniya Ippolytovna brought pain, but he would not condemn her.

At home, Alena was already up and about; he embraced her fondly, clasped her in his arms, kissed her forehead; then he took up the infant and gazed lingeringly, with infinite tenderness, upon her innocent little face.

The day was glorious; the golden sunlight streamed in through the windows in a shining cataract, betokening the advent of spring, and made pools of molten gold upon the floor. But the snow still lay in all its virgin whiteness over the earth.



To the north, south, east, and west—in all directions for hundreds of miles—stretched forests and bogs enveloped in a wide-spread veil of lichen. Brown-trunked cedars and pines towered on high. Beneath there was a thick, impenetrable jungle of firs, alders, wild-berries, junipers, and low-hanging birches. Pungent, deep-sunken, lichen- covered springs of reddish water were hidden amidst undergrowth in little glades, couched in layers of turf bordered by red bilberries and huckleberries.

With September came the frosts—fifty degrees below zero. The snow lay everywhere—crisp and dazzling. There was daylight for three or four hours only; the remainder of the time it was night. The sky was lowering, and brooded darkly over the earth. There was a tense hush and stillness, only broken in September by the lowing of mating elks. In December came the mournful, sinister howling of the wolves; for the rest of the time—a deep, dreadful, overpowering silence! A silence that can be found only in the wastelands of the world.

A village stood on the hill by the river.

The bare slope descended to the water's edge, a grey-brown granite, and white slatey clay, steep, beaten by wind and rain. Clumsy discoloured boats were anchored to the bank. The river was broad, dark, and cold, its surface broken by sombre, choppy, bluish waves. Here and there the grey silhouettes of huts were visible; their high, projecting, boarded roofs were covered by greenish lichen. The windows were shuttered. Nets dried close by. It was the abode of hunters who went long excursions into the forests in winter, to fight the wild beasts.


In the spring the rivers—now broad, free and mighty—overflowed their banks. Heavy waves broke up the face of the waters, which sent forth a deep, hoarse, subdued murmur, as restless and disquieting as the season itself. The snow thawed. The pine-trees showed resinous lights, and exhaled a strong, pungent odour.

In the day-time the sky was a broad expanse of blue; at dusk it had a soft murky hue and a melancholy attraction. In the heart of the woods, now that winter was over, the first deed of the beasts was being accomplished—birth. Eider-ducks, swans, and geese were crying noisily on the river.

At dusk the sky became greenish and murky, merging into a vast tent of deepest blue studded with a myriad of shining golden stars. Then the eider-ducks and swans grew silent and went to roost for the night, and the soft warm air was thrilled by the whines of bear-cubs and the cries of land-rails. It was then that the maidens assembled on the slope to sing of Lada and to dance their ancient dances, while strapping youths came forth from their winter dwellings in the woods and listened.

The slope down to the river was steep; below was the rustling sound of water among the reeds. Everything was wrapt in stillness, yet everywhere the throb and flow of life could be heard. The maidens sat huddled together on the top of the slope, where the granite and slate were covered with scanty moss and yellow grass.

They were dressed in gaily-coloured dresses: all of them strong and robust; they sang their love-songs—old and sad and free—and gazed into the gathering opalescent mists. Their songs seemed to overflow from their hearts, and were sung to the youths who stood around them like sombre, restive shadows, ogling and lustful, like the beasts in their forest-haunts.

This festive coupling-time had its law.

The youths came here to choose their wives; they quarrelled and fought, while the maidens remained listless, yielding to them in all. The young men ogled and fought and he who triumphed first chose his wife. Then he and she together retired from the festival.


Marina was twenty when she proceeded to the river-bank.

Her tall, somewhat heavy body was wonderfully moulded, with strong muscles and snowy skin. Her chest, back, hips, and limbs were sharply outlined; she was strong, supple, and well developed. Her round, broad breast rose high; her hair, eye-brows and eye-lashes were thick and dark. The pupils of her eyes were deep and liquid; her cheeks showed a flush of red. Her lips were soft—like a beast's—large, sensuous and rosy. She walked slowly, moving her long straight legs evenly, and slightly swaying from her hips....

She joined the maidens on the river slope.

They were singing their mysterious, alluring and illusive songs.

Marina mingled among the crowd of maidens, lay down upon her back, closed her dreamy eyes, and joined in the festive chorus. The maidens' souls became absorbed in the singing, and their song spread far and wide through all the shadowy recesses of the woods, like shining rays of sunlight. Their eyes closed in langour, their full- blooded bodies ached with a delicious sensation. Their hearts seemed to grow benumbed, the numbness spreading through their blood to their limbs; it deprived them of strength, and their thoughts became chaotic.

Marina stretched her limbs sensuously; then became absorbed in the singing, and she also sang. She felt strangely inert; only quivering at the sound of the lusty, excited voices of the youths.

Afterwards she lay on a couch in her suffocatingly close room; her hands were clasped behind her head; her bosom swelled. She stretched, opened her dark pensive eyes wide, compressed her lips, then sank again into the drowsy langour, lying thus for many hours.

She was twenty, and had grown up free and solitary—with the hunters, the woods, and the steep and the river—from her birth.


Demid lived on his own plot of ground, which, like the village, stood on a hill above the river. But here the hill was higher and steeper, sweeping the edge of the horizon. The wood was nearer, and its grey- trunked cedars and pines rose from their beds of golden moss to shake their crests to the stars and stretch their dark-green forest hands right up to the house. The view was wide and sweeping from here: the dark, turbulent river, the marsh beyond, the deep-blue billowing woods fringing the horizon, the heavy lowering sky—all were clearly visible.

The house, made of huge pines, with timbered walls, plain white- washed ceilings and floors, was bestrewn with pelts of bears, elks, wolves, foxes, and ermines. Gunpowder and grape-shot lay on the tables. In the corners was a medley of lassoes, snares, and wolftraps. Some rifles hung round the walls. There was a strong pungent odour, as though all the perfumes of the woods were collected here. The house contained two rooms and a kitchen.

In the centre of one of the rooms stood a large, rough-hewn table; round it were some low wooden stools covered with bear-skin. This was Demid's own room; in the other was the young bear, Makar.

Demid lay motionless for a long time on his bear-skin bed, listening to the vibrations of his great body—how it lived and throbbed, how the rich blood coursed through its veins. Makar, the bear, approached, laid his heavy paws on his chest, and amicably sniffed at his body. Demid stroked the beast on its ear, and it seemed as if the man and animal understood each other. Outside the window loomed the wood.

Demid was rugged and broad-shouldered, a large, quiet, dark-eyed, good man. He smelt of the woods, and was strong and healthy. Like all the hunters, he dressed in furs and a rough, home-woven fabric streaked with red. He wore high, heavy boots made of reindeer hide, and his coarse, broad hands were covered with broken chilblains.

Makar was young, and, like all young things, he was foolish. He liked to roll about, and was often destructive—he would gnaw the nets and skins, break the traps, and lick up the gunpowder. Then Demid punished him, whereupon Makar would turn on his heel, make foolish grimaces, and whine plaintively.


Demid went to the maidens on the slope and took Marina to his plot of land. She became his wife.


The dark-green, wind-swept grass grew sweet and succulent in summer. The sun seemed to shine from out a deep blue ocean of light. The nights were silvery, the sky seemed dissolved into a pale, pellucid mist; sunset and dawn co-mingled, and a white wavering haze crept over the earth. Here life was strong and swift, for it knew that its days were brief.

Marina was installed in Makar's room, and he was transferred to Demid's.

Makar greeted Marina with an inhospitable snarl when he saw her for the first time; then, showing his teeth, he struck her with his paw. Demid beat him for this behaviour, and he quieted down. Then Marina made friends with him.

Demid went into the woods in the daytime, and Marina was left alone.

She decorated her room in her own fashion, with a crude, somewhat exaggerated, yet graceful, taste. She hung round in symmetrical order the skins and cloth hangings, brightly embroidered with red and blue cocks and reindeers. She placed an image of the God-Mother in the corner; she washed the floor; and her multi-coloured room—smelling as before of the woods—began to resemble a forest-chapel, where the forest folk pray to their gods.

In the pale-greenish twilight of the illimitable night, when only horn-owls cried in the woods and bear-cubs snarled by the river, Demid went in to Marina. She could not think—her mind moved slowly and awkwardly like a great lumbering animal—she could only feel, and in those warm, voluptuous, star-drenched nights she yielded herself to Demid, desiring to become one with him, his strength, and his passion.

The nights were pale, tremulous, and mysterious. There was a deep, heavy, nocturnal stillness. White spirals of mist drifted along the ground. Night-owls and wood spirits hooted. In the morning was a red blaze of glory as the great orb of day rose from the east into the azure vault of heaven.

The days flew by and summer passed.


It snowed in September.

It had been noticeable, even in August, how the days drew in and darkened, how the nights lengthened and deepened. The wood all at once grew still and dumb; it seemed as though it were deserted. The air grew cold, and the river became locked in ice. The twilight was slow and lingering, its deepening shadows turning the snow and ice on the river to a keen, frosty blue.

Through the nights rang the loud, strange, fierce bellowing of the elks as they mated; the walls shook, and the hills re-echoed with their terrible roar.

Marina was with child in the autumn.

One night she woke before dawn. The room was stifling from the heat of the stove, and she could smell the bear. There was a faint glimmer of dawn, and the dark walls showed the window frames in a wan blue outline. Somewhere close by an old elk was bellowing: you could tell it was old by the hoarse, hissing notes of its hollow cries.

Marina sat up in bed. Her head swam, and she felt nauseated. The bear lay beside her; he was already awake and was watching her. His eyes shone with quiet, greenish lights; from outside, the thin crepuscular light crept into the room through little crevices.

Again Marina felt the nausea, and her head swam; the lights in Makar's eyes were re-enkindled in Marina's soul into a great, overwhelming joy that made her body quiver with emotion . . . Her heart beat like a snared bird—all was wavering and misty, like a summer morn.

She rose from her bed of bear-skin furs, and naked, with swift, awkward, uncertain steps, went in to Demid. He was still asleep—she put her burning arms about him and drew his head to her deep bosom, whispering to him softly:

"A child ... it is the child...."

Little by little, the night lifted and in through the windows came the daylight. The elk ceased his bellowing The room filled with glancing morning shadows. Makar approached, sniffed, and laid his paws on the bed. Demid seized his collar with his free hand and patting him fondly said:

"That is right, Makar Ivanych—you know, don't you?" Then turning to Marina, he added: "What do you think, Marinka? Doesn't he know? Doesn't the old bear know, Marinka?"

Makar licked Demid's hand, and laid his head knowingly on his forepaws. The night had gone; rays of lilac-coloured light illumined the snow and entered the house. Round, red, and distant rose the sun. Below the hill lay the blue, ice-bound river, and away beyond it stretched the ribbed outline of the vast, marshy Siberian forest. Demid did not enter it that day, nor on many of the following days.


The winter descended.

The snow lay in deep layers, blue by day and night, lilac in the brief intervals of sunrise and sunset. The pale, powerless sun seemed far away and strange during the three short hours that it showed over the horizon. The rest of the time it was night. The northern lights flashed like quivering arrows across the sky, in their sublime and awful majesty. The frost lay like a veil over the earth, enveloping all in a dazzling whiteness in which was imprisoned every shade of colour under the sun. Crimsons, purples, softest yellows, tenderest greens, and exquisite blues and pinks flashed and quivered fiercely under the morning rays, shimmering in the brilliance. Over all hung the hush of the trackless desert, the stillness that betokened death!

Marina's eyes had changed—they were no longer dark, limpid, full of intoxication; they were wonderfully bright and clear. Her hips had widened, her body had increased, adding a new grace to her stature. She seldom went out, sitting for the most part in her room, which resembled a forest-chapel where men prayed to the gods. In the daytime she did her simple houskeeping—chopped wood, heated the stove, cooked meat and fish, helped Demid to skin the beasts he had slain, and to weed their plot of land. During the long evenings she spun and wove clothes for the coming babe. As she sewed she thought of the child, and sung and smiled softly.

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