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The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories

Vanka
VANKA ZHUKOV, a boy of nine, who had been for three months apprenticed to
Alyahin the shoemaker, was sitting up on Christmas Eve. Waiting till his master and
mistress and their workmen had gone to the midnight service, he took out of his master's
cupboard a bottle of ink and a pen with a rusty nib, and, spreading out a crumpled sheet
of paper in front of him, began writing. Before forming the first letter he several times
looked round fearfully at the door and the windows, stole a glance at the dark ikon, on
both sides of which stretched shelves full of lasts, and heaved a broken sigh. The paper
lay on the bench while he knelt before it.
"Dear grandfather, Konstantin Makaritch," he wrote, "I am writing you a letter. I wish
you a happy Christmas, and all blessings from God Almighty. I have neither father nor
mother, you are the only one left me."
Vanka raised his eyes to the dark ikon on which the light of his candle was reflected, and
vividly recalled his grandfather, Konstantin Makaritch, who was night watchman to a
family called Zhivarev. He was a thin but extraordinarily nimble and lively little old man
of sixty-five, with an everlastingly laughing face and drunken eyes. By day he slept in the
servants' kitchen, or made jokes with the cooks; at night, wrapped in an ample sheepskin,
he walked round the grounds and tapped with his little mallet. Old Kashtanka and Eel, so-
called on account of his dark colour and his long body like a weasel's, followed him with
hanging heads. This Eel was exceptionally polite and affectionate, and looked with equal
kindness on strangers and his own masters, but had not a very good reputation. Under his
politeness and meekness was hidden the most Jesuitical cunning. No one knew better
how to creep up on occasion and snap at one's legs, to slip into the store-room, or steal a
hen from a peasant. His hind legs had been nearly pulled off more than once, twice he
had been hanged, every week he was thrashed till he was half dead, but he always
revived.
At this moment grandfather was, no doubt, standing at the gate, screwing up his eyes at
the red windows of the church, stamping with his high felt boots, and joking with the
servants. His little mallet was hanging on his belt. He was clasping his hands, shrugging
with the cold, and, with an aged chuckle, pinching first the housemaid, then the cook.
"How about a pinch of snuff?" he was saying, offering the women his snuff-box.
The women would take a sniff and sneeze. Grandfather would be indescribably delighted,
go off into a merry chuckle, and cry:
"Tear it off, it has frozen on!"
They give the dogs a sniff of snuff too. Kashtanka sneezes, wriggles her head, and walks
away offended. Eel does not sneeze, from politeness, but wags his tail. And the weather
is glorious. The air is still, fresh, and transparent. The night is dark, but one can see the
 
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