The Witch and other stories
NIKOLAY TCHIKILDYEEV, a waiter in the Moscow hotel, Slavyansky Bazaar, was
taken ill. His legs went numb and his gait was affected, so that on one occasion, as he
was going along the corridor, he tumbled and fell down with a tray full of ham and peas.
He had to leave his job. All his own savings and his wife's were spent on doctors and
medicines; they had nothing left to live upon. He felt dull with no work to do, and he
made up his mind he must go home to the village. It is better to be ill at home, and living
there is cheaper; and it is a true saying that the walls of home are a help.
He reached Zhukovo towards evening. In his memories of childhood he had pictured his
home as bright, snug, comfortable. Now, going into the hut, he was positively frightened;
it was so dark, so crowded, so unclean. His wife Olga and his daughter Sasha, who had
come with him, kept looking in bewilderment at the big untidy stove, which filled up
almost half the hut and was black with soot and flies. What lots of flies! The stove was on
one side, the beams lay slanting on the walls, and it looked as though the hut were just
going to fall to pieces. In the corner, facing the door, under the holy images, bottle labels
and newspaper cuttings were stuck on the walls instead of pictures. The poverty, the
poverty! Of the grown-up people there were none at home; all were at work at the
harvest. On the stove was sitting a white-headed girl of eight, unwashed and apathetic;
she did not even glance at them as they came in. On the floor a white cat was rubbing
itself against the oven fork.
"Puss, puss!" Sasha called to her. "Puss!"
"She can't hear," said the little girl; "she has gone deaf."
"How is that?"
"Oh, she was beaten."
Nikolay and Olga realized from the firs t glance what life was like here, but said nothing
to one another; in silence they put down their bundles, and went out into the village
street. Their hut was the third from the end, and seemed the very poorest and oldest-
looking; the second was not much better; but the last one had an iron roof, and curtains in
the windows. That hut stood apart, not enclosed; it was a tavern. The huts were in a single
row, and the whole of the little village -- quiet and dreamy, with willows, elders, and
mountain-ash trees peeping out from the yards -- had an attractive look.
Beyond the peasants homesteads there was a slope down to the river, so steep and
precipitous that huge stones jutted out bare here and there through the clay. Down the
slope, among the stones and holes dug by the potters, ran winding paths; bits of broken
pottery, some brown, some red, lay piled up in heaps, and below there stretched a broad,