The Witch and other stories
At Christmas Time
"WHAT shall I write?" said Yegor, and he dipped his pen in the ink.
Vasilisa had not seen her daughter for four years. Her daughter Yefimya had gone after
her wedding to Petersburg, had sent them two letters, and since then seemed to vanish out
of their lives; there had been no sight nor sound of her. And whether the old woman were
milking her cow at dawn, or heating her stove, or dozing at night, she was always
thinking of one and the same thing -- what was happening to Yefimya, whether she were
alive out yonder. She ought to have sent a letter, but the old father could not write, and
there was no one to write.
But now Christmas had come, and Vasilisa could not bear it any longer, and went to the
tavern to Yegor, the brother of the innkeeper's wife, who had sat in the tavern doing
nothing ever since he came back from the army; people said that he could write letters
very well if he were properly paid. Vasilisa talked to the cook at the tavern, then to the
mistress of the house, then to Yegor himself. They agreed upon fifteen kopecks.
And now -- it happened on the second day of the holidays, in the tavern kitchen -- Yegor
was sitting at the table, holding the pen in his hand. Vasilisa was standing before him,
pondering with an expression of anxiety and woe on her face. Pyotr, her husband, a very
thin old man with a brownish bald patch, had come with her; he stood looking straight
before him like a blind man. On the stove a piece of pork was being braised in a
saucepan; it was spurting and hissing, and seemed to be actually saying: "Flu-flu-flu." It
"What am I to write?" Yegor asked again.
"What?" asked Vasilisa, looking at him angrily and suspiciously. "Don't worry me! You
are not writing for nothing; no fear, you'll be paid for it. Come, write: 'To our dear son-in-
law, Andrey Hrisanfitch, and to our only beloved daughter, Yefimya Petrovna, with our
love we send a low bow and our parental blessing abiding for ever.' "
"Written; fire away."
" 'And we wish them a happy Christmas; we are alive and well, and I wish you the same,
please the Lord . . . the Heavenly King.' "
Vasilisa pondered and exchanged glances with the old man.
" 'And I wish you the same, please the Lord the Heavenly King,' " she repeated,
beginning to cry.