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The Witch and other stories

Peasant Wives
IN the village of Reybuzh, just facing the church, stands a two-storeyed house with a
stone foundation and an iron roof. In the lower storey the owner himself, Filip Ivanov
Kashin, nicknamed Dyudya, lives with his family, and on the upper floor, where it is apt
to be very hot in summer and very cold in winter, they put up government officials,
merchants, or landowners, who chance to be travelling that way. Dyudya rents some bits
of land, keeps a tavern on the highroad, does a trade in tar, honey, cattle, and jackdaws,
and has already something like eight thousand roubles put by in the bank in the town.
His elder son, Fyodor, is head engineer in the factory, and, as the peasants say of him, he
has risen so high in the world that he is quite out of reach now. Fyodor's wife, Sofya, a
plain, ailing woman, lives at home at her father-in-law's. She is for ever crying, and every
Sunday she goes over to the hospital for medicine. Dyudya's second son, the hunchback
Alyoshka, is living at home at his father's. He has only lately been married to Varvara,
whom they singled out for him from a poor family. She is a handsome young woman,
smart and buxom. When officials or merchants put up at the house, they always insist on
having Varvara to bring in the samovar and make their beds.
One June evening when the sun was setting and the air was full of the smell of hay, of
steaming dung-heaps and new milk, a plain-looking cart drove into Dyudya's yard with
three people in it: a man of about thirty in a canvas suit, beside him a little boy of seven
or eight in a long black coat with big bone buttons, and on the driver's seat a young
fellow in a red shirt.
The young fellow took out the horses and led them out into the street to walk them up and
down a bit, while the traveller washed, said a prayer, turning towards the church, then
spread a rug near the cart and sat down with the boy to supper. He ate without haste,
sedately, and Dyudya, who had seen a good many travellers in his time, knew him from
his manners for a businesslike man, serious and aware of his own value.
Dyudya was sitting on the step in his waistcoat without a cap on, waiting for the visitor to
speak first. He was used to hearing all kinds of stories from the travellers in the evening,
and he liked listening to them before going to bed. His old wife, Afanasyevna, and his
daughter-in-law Sofya, were milking in the cowshed. The other daughter-in-law, Varvara,
was sitting at the open window of the upper storey, eating sunflower seeds.
"The little chap will be your son, I'm thinking?" Dyudya asked the traveller.
"No; adopted. An orphan. I took him for my soul's salvation."
They got into conversation. The stranger seemed to be a man fond of talking and ready of
speech, and Dyudya learned from him that he was from the town, was of the tradesman
class, and had a house of his own, that his name was Matvey Savitch, that he was on his
way now to look at some gardens that he was renting from some German colonists, and