The Cook's Wedding and Other Stories
NIGHT. Varka, the little nurse, a girl of thirteen, is rocking the cradle in which the baby
is lying, and humming hardly audibly:
"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee,
While I sing a song for thee."
A little green lamp is burning before the ikon; there is a string stretched from one end of
the room to the other, on which baby-clothes and a pair of big black trousers are hanging.
There is a big patch of green on the ceiling from the ikon lamp, and the baby-clothes and
the trousers throw long shadows on the stove, on the cradle, and on Varka. . . . When the
lamp begins to flicker, the green patch and the shadows come to life, and are set in
motion, as though by the wind. It is stuffy. There is a smell of cabbage soup, and of the
inside of a boot-shop.
The baby's crying. For a long while he has been hoarse and exhausted with crying; but he
still goes on screaming, and there is no knowing when he will stop. And Varka is sleepy.
Her eyes are glued together, her head droops, her neck aches. She cannot move her
eyelids or her lips, and she feels as though her face is dried and wooden, as though her
head has become as small as the head of a pin.
"Hush-a-bye, my baby wee," she hums, "while I cook the groats for thee. . . ."
A cricket is churring in the stove. Through the door in the next room the master and the
apprentice Afanasy are snoring. . . . The cradle creaks plaintively, Varka murmurs--and it
all blends into that soothing music of the night to which it is so sweet to listen, when one
is lying in bed. Now that music is merely irritating and oppressive, because it goads her
to sleep, and she must not sleep; if Varka--God forbid!--should fall asleep, her master and
mistress would beat her.
The lamp flickers. The patch of green and the shadows are set in motion, forcing
themselves on Varka's fixed, half-open eyes, and in her half slumbering brain are
fashioned into misty visions. She sees dark clouds chasing one another over the sky, and
screaming like the baby. But then the wind blows, the clouds are gone, and Varka sees a
broad high road covered with liquid mud; along the high road stretch files of wagons,
while people with wallets on their backs are trudging along and shadows flit backwards
and forwards; on both sides she can see forests through the cold harsh mist. All at once
the people with their wallets and their shadows fall on the ground in the liquid mud.
"What is that for?" Varka asks. "To sleep, to sleep!" they answer her. And they fall sound
asleep, and sleep sweetly, while crows and magpies sit on the telegraph wires, scream
like the baby, and try to wake them.