The Witch and other stories
In The Ravine
THE village of Ukleevo lay in a ravine so that only the belfry and the chimneys of the
printed cottons factories could be seen from the high road and the railway-station. When
visitors asked what village this was, they were told:
"That's the village where the deacon ate all the caviare at the funeral."
It had happened at the dinner at the funeral of Kostukov that the old deacon saw among
the savouries some large-grained caviare and began eating it greedily; people nudged
him, tugged at his arm, but he seemed petrified with enjoyment: felt nothing, and only
went on eating. He ate up all the caviare, and there were four pounds in the jar. And years
had passed since then, the deacon had long been dead, but the caviare was still
remembered. Whether life was so poor here or people had not been clever enough to
notice anything but that unimportant incident that had occurred ten years before, anyway
the people had nothing else to tell about the village Ukleevo.
The village was never free from fever, and there was boggy mud there even in the
summer, especially under the fences over which hung old willow-trees that gave deep
shade. Here there was always a smell from the factory refuse and the acetic acid which
was used in the finishing of the cotton print.
The three cotton factories and the tanyard were not in the village itself, but a little way
off. They were small factories, and not more than four hundred workmen were employed
in all of them. The tanyard often made the water in the little river stink; the refuse
contaminated the meadows, the peasants' cattle suffered from Siberian plague, and orders
were given that the factory should be closed. It was considered to be closed, but went on
working in secret with the connivance of the local police officer and the district doctor,
who was paid ten roubles a month by the owner. In the whole village there were only two
decent houses built of brick with iron roofs; one of them was the local court, in the other,
a two-storied house just opposite the church, there lived a shopkeeper from Epifan called
Grigory Petrovitch Tsybukin.
Grigory kept a grocer's shop, but that was only for appearance' sake: in reality he sold
vodka, cattle, hides, grain, and pigs; he traded in anything that came to hand, and when,
for instance, magpies were wanted abroad for ladies' hats, he made some thirty kopecks
on every pair of birds; he bought timber for felling, lent money at interest, and altogether
was a sharp old man, full of resources.
He had two sons. The elder, Anisim, was in the police in the detective department and
was rarely at home. The younger, Stepan, had gone in for trade and helped his father: but
no great help was expected from him as he was weak in health and deaf; his wife
Aksinya, a handsome woman with a good figure, who wore a hat and carried a parasol on