Taras Bulba and Other Tales
St. John's Eve
A Story Told By The Sacristan Of The Dikanka Church
Thoma Grigroovitch had one very strange eccentricity: to the day of his death he never
liked to tell the same thing twice. There were times when, if you asked him to relate a
thing afresh, he would interpolate new matter, or alter it so that it was impossible to
recognise it. Once upon a time, one of those gentlemen who, like the usurers at our yearly
fairs, clutch and beg and steal every sort of frippery, and issue mean little volumes, no
thicker than an A B C book, every month, or even every week, wormed this same story
out of Thoma Grigorovitch, and the latter completely forgot about it. But that same young
gentleman, in the pea-green caftan, came from Poltava, bringing with him a little book,
and, opening it in the middle, showed it to us. Thoma Grigorovitch was on the point of
setting his spectacles astride of his nose, but recollected that he had forgotten to wind
thread about them and stick them together with wax, so he passed it over to me. As I
understand nothing about reading and writing, and do not wear spectacles, I undertook to
read it. I had not turned two leaves when all at once he caught me by the hand and
"Stop! tell me first what you are reading."
I confess that I was a trifle stunned by such a question.
"What! what am I reading, Thoma Grigorovitch? Why, your own words."
"Who told you that they were my words?"
"Why, what more would you have? Here it is printed: 'Related by such and such a
"Spit on the head of the man who printed that! he lies, the dog of a Moscow pedlar! Did I
say that? ''Twas just the same as though one hadn't his wits about him!' Listen. I'll tell the
tale to you on the spot."
We moved up to the table, and he began.
My grandfather (the kingdom of heaven be his! may he eat only wheaten rolls and poppy-
seed cakes with honey in the other world!) could tell a story wonderfully well. When he
used to begin a tale you could not stir from the spot all day, but kept on listening. He was
not like the story-teller of the present day, when he begins to lie, with a tongue as though
he had had nothing to eat for three days, so that you snatch your cap and flee from the
house. I remember my old mother was alive then, and in the long winter evenings when
the frost was crackling out of doors, and had sealed up hermetically the narrow panes of