The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories
A GLOOMY winter morning.
On the smooth and glittering surface of the river Bystryanka, sprinkled here and there
with snow, stand two peasants, scrubby little Seryozhka and the church beadle, Matvey.
Seryozhka, a short-legged, ragged, mangy-looking fellow of thirty, stares angrily at the
ice. Tufts of wool hang from his shaggy sheepskin like a mangy dog. In his hands he
holds a compass made of two pointed sticks. Matvey, a fine-looking old man in a new
sheepskin and high felt boots, looks with mild blue eyes upwards where on the high
sloping bank a village nestles picturesquely. In his hands there is a heavy crowbar.
"Well, are we going to stand like this till evening with our arms folded?" says Seryozhka,
breaking the silence and turning his angry eyes on Matvey. "Have you come here to stand
about, old fool, or to work?"
"Well, you . . . er . . . show me . . ." Matvey mutters, blinking mildly.
"Show you. . . . It's always me: me to show you, and me to do it. They have no sense of
their own! Mark it out with the compasses, that's what's wanted! You can't break the ice
without marking it out. Mark it! Take the compass."
Matvey takes the compasses from Seryozhka's hands, and, shuffling heavily on the same
spot and jerking with his elbows in all directions, he begins awkwardly trying to describe
a circle on the ice. Seryozhka screws up his eyes contemptuously and obviously enjoys
his awkwardness and incompetence.
"Eh-eh-eh!" he mutters angrily. "Even that you can't do! The fact is you are a stupid
peasant, a wooden-head! You ought to be grazing geese and not making a Jordan! Give
the compasses here! Give them here, I say!"
Seryozhka snatches the compasses out of the hands of the perspiring Matvey, and in an
instant, jauntily twirling round on one heel, he describes a circle on the ice. The outline of
the new Jordan is ready now, all that is left to do is to break the ice. . .
But before proceeding to the work Seryozhka spends a long time in airs and graces,
whims and reproaches. . .
"I am not obliged to work for you! You are employed in the church, you do it!"
He obviously enjoys the peculiar position in which he has been placed by the fate that has
bestowed on him the rare talent of surprising the whole parish once a year by his art. Poor
mild Matvey has to listen to many venomous and contemptuous words from him.
Seryozhka sets to work with vexation, with anger. He is lazy. He has hardly described the