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The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories

Children
PAPA and mamma and Aunt Nadya are not at home. They have gone to a christening
party at the house of that old officer who rides on a little grey horse. While waiting for
them to come home, Grisha, Anya, Alyosha, Sonya, and the cook's son, Andrey, are
sitting at the table in the dining-room, playing at loto. To tell the truth, it is bedtime, but
how can one go to sleep without hearing from mamma what the baby was like at the
christening, and what they had for supper? The table, lighted by a hanging lamp, is dotted
with numbers, nutshells, scraps of paper, and little bits of glass. Two cards lie in front of
each player, and a heap of bits of glass for covering the numbers. In the middle of the
table is a white saucer with five kopecks in it. Beside the saucer, a half-eaten apple, a pair
of scissors, and a plate on which they have been told to put their nutshells. The children
are playing for money. The stake is a kopeck. The rule is: if anyone cheats, he is turned
out at once. There is no one in the dining-room but the players, and nurse, Agafya
Ivanovna, is in the kitchen, showing the cook how to cut a pattern, while their elder
brother, Vasya, a schoolboy in the fifth class, is lying on the sofa in the drawing-room,
feeling bored.
They are playing with zest. The greatest excitement is expressed on the face of Grisha.
He is a small boy of nine, with a head cropped so that the bare skin shows through,
chubby cheeks, and thick lips like a negro's. He is already in the preparatory class, and so
is regarded as grown up, and the cleverest. He is playing entirely for the sake of the
money. If there had been no kopecks in the saucer, he would have been asleep long ago.
His brown eyes stray uneasily and jealously over the other players' cards. The fear that he
may not win, envy, and the financial combinations of which his cropped head is full, will
not let him sit still and concentrate his mind. He fidgets as though he were sitting on
thorns. When he wins, he snatches up the money greedily, and instantly puts it in his
pocket. His sister, Anya, a girl of eight, with a sharp chin and clever shining eyes, is also
afraid that someone else may win. She flushes and turns pale, and watches the players
keenly. The kopecks do not interest her. Success in the game is for her a question of
vanity. The other sister, Sonya, a child of six with a curly head, and a complexion such as
is seen only in very healthy children, expensive dolls, and the faces on bonbon boxes, is
playing loto for the process of the game itself. There is bliss all over her face. Whoever
wins, she laughs and claps her hands. Alyosha, a chubby, spherical little figure, gasps,
breathes hard through his nose, and stares open-eyed at the cards. He is moved neither by
covetousness nor vanity. So long as he is not driven out of the room, or sent to bed, he is
thankful. He looks phlegmatic, but at heart he is rather a little beast. He is not there so
much for the sake of the loto, as for the sake of the misunderstandings which are
inevitable in the game. He is greatly delighted if one hits another, or calls him names. He
ought to have run off somewhere long ago, but he won't leave the table for a minute, for
fear they should steal his counters or his kopecks. As he can only count the units and
numbers which end in nought, Anya covers his numbers for him. The fifth player, the
cook's son, Andrey, a dark-skinned and sickly looking boy in a cotton shirt, with a copper
cross on his breast, stands motionless, looking dreamily at the numbers. He takes no
interest in winning, or in the success of the others, because he is entirely engrossed by the
 
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