The Schoolmaster and Other Stories HTML version

The Marshal's Widow
ON the first of February every year, St. Trifon's day, there is an extraordinary commotion
on the estate of Madame Zavzyatov, the widow of Trifon Lvovitch, the late marshal of
the district. On that day, the nameday of the deceased marshal, the widow Lyubov
Petrovna has a requiem service celebrated in his memory, and after the requiem a
thanksgiving to the Lord. The whole district assembles for the service. There you will see
Hrumov the present marshal, Marfutkin, the president of the Zemstvo, Potrashkov, the
permanent member of the Rural Board, the two justices of the peace of the district, the
police captain, Krinolinov, two police-superintendents, the district doctor, Dvornyagin,
smelling of iodoform, all the landowners, great and small, and so on. There are about
fifty people assembled in all.
Precisely at twelve o'clock, the visitors, with long faces, make their way from all the
rooms to the big hall. There are carpets on the floor and their steps are noiseless, but the
solemnity of the occasion makes them instinctively walk on tip-toe, holding out their
hands to balance themselves. In the hall everything is already prepared. Father Yevmeny,
a little old man in a high faded cap, puts on his black vestments. Konkordiev, the deacon,
already in his vestments, and as red as a crab, is noiselessly turning over the leaves of his
missal and putting slips of paper in it. At the door leading to the vestibule, Luka, the
sacristan, puffing out his cheeks and making round eyes, blows up the censer. The hall is
gradually filled with bluish transparent smoke and the smell of incense.
Gelikonsky, the elementary schoolmaster, a young man with big pimples on his
frightened face, wearing a new greatcoat like a sack, carries round wax candles on a
silver-plated tray. The hostess, Lyubov Petrovna, stands in the front by a little table with
a dish of funeral rice on it, and holds her handkerchief in readiness to her face. There is a
profound stillness, broken from time to time by sighs. Everybody has a long, solemn face.
. . .
The requiem service begins. The blue smoke curls up from the censer and plays in the
slanting sunbeams, the lighted candles faintly splutter. The singing, at first harsh and
deafening, soon becomes quiet and musical as the choir gradually adapt themselves to the
acoustic conditions of the rooms. . . . The tunes are all mournful and sad. . . . The guests
are gradually brought to a melancholy mood and grow pensive. Thoughts of the brevity
of human life, of mutability, of worldly vanity stray through their brains. . . . They recall
the deceased Zavzyatov, a thick-set, red-cheeked man who used to drink off a bottle of
champagne at one gulp and smash looking-glasses with his forehead. And when they sing
"With Thy Saints, O Lord," and the sobs of their hostess are audible, the guests shift
uneasily from one foot to the other. The more emotional begin to feel a tickling in their
throat and about their eyelids. Marfutkin, the president of the Zemstvo, to stifle the
unpleasant feeling, bends down to the police captain's ear and whispers: