Leo Tolstoy Archive

The Power of Darkness
Act 4

Written: 1886
Source: Original Text from Gutenberg.org
Transcription/Markup: Andy Carloff
Online Source: RevoltLib.com; 2021

Leo Tolstoy

Autumn. Evening. The moon is shining. The stage represents the interior of courtyard. The scenery at the back shows, in the middle, the back porch of the hut. To the right the winter half of the hut and the gate; to the left the summer half and the cellar. To the right of the stage is a shed. The sound of tipsy voices and shouts are heard from the hut.[5] Second Neighbor Woman comes out of the hut and beckons to First Neighbor Woman.

SECOND NEIGHBOR. How's it Akoulína has not shown herself?

FIRST NEIGHBOR. Why hasn't she shown herself? She'd have been glad to; but she's too ill, you know. The suitor's relatives have come, and want to see the girl; and she, my dear, she's lying in the cold hut and can't come out, poor thing!

SECOND NEIGHBOR. But how's that?

FIRST NEIGHBOR. They say she's been bewitched by an evil eye! She's got pains in the stomach!

SECOND NEIGHBOR. You don't say so?

FIRST NEIGHBOR. What else could it be? [Whispers].

SECOND NEIGHBOR. Dear me! There's a go! But his relatives will surely find it out?

FIRST NEIGHBOR. They find it out! They're all drunk! Besides, they are chiefly after her dowry. Just think what they give with the girl! Two furs, my dear, six dresses, a French shawl, and I don't know how many pieces of linen, and money as well,—two hundred rubles, it's said!

SECOND NEIGHBOR. That's all very well, but even money can't give much pleasure in the face of such a disgrace.

FIRST NEIGHBOR. Hush!… There's his father, I think.

They cease talking, and go into the hut.

The Suitor's Father comes out of the hut hiccoughing.

THE FATHER. Oh, I'm all in a sweat. It's awfully hot! Will just cool myself a bit. [Stands puffing] The Lord only knows what—something is not right. I can't feel happy.—Well, it's the old woman's affair.

Enter Matryóna from hut.

MATRYÓNA. And I was just thinking, where's the father? Where's the father? And here you are, dear friend.… Well, dear friend, the Lord be thanked! Everything is as honorable as can be! When one's arranging a match one should not boast. And I have never learned to boast. But as you've come about the right business, so with the Lord's help, you'll be grateful to me all your life! She's a wonderful girl! There's no other like her in all the district!

THE FATHER. That's true enough, but how about the money?

MATRYÓNA. Don't you trouble about the money! All she had from her father goes with her. And it's more than one gets easily, as things are nowadays. Three times fifty rubles!

THE FATHER. We don't complain, but it's for our own child. Naturally we want to get the best we can.

MATRYÓNA. I'll tell you straight, friend: if it hadn't been for me, you'd never have found anything like her! They've had an offer from the Karmílins, but I stood out against it. And as for the money, I'll tell you truly: when her father, God be merciful to his soul, was dying, he gave orders that the widow should take Nikíta into the homestead—of course I know all about it from my son,—and the money was to go to Akoulína. Why, another one might have thought of his own interests, but Nikíta gives everything clean! It's no trifle. Fancy what a sum it is!

THE FATHER. People are saying, that more money was left her? The lad's sharp too!

MATRYÓNA. Oh, dear soul alive! A slice in another's hand always looks big; all she had will be handed over. I tell you, throw doubts to the wind and make all sure! What a girl she is! as fresh as a daisy!

THE FATHER. That's so. But my old woman and I were only wondering about the girl; why has she not come out? We've been thinking, suppose she's sickly?

MATRYÓNA. Oh, ah.… Who? She? Sickly? Why, there's none to compare with her in the district. The girl's as sound as a bell; you can't pinch her. But you saw her the other day! And as for work, she's wonderful! She's a bit deaf, that's true, but there are spots on the sun, you know. And her not coming out, you see, it's from an evil eye! A spell's been cast on her! And I know the bitch who's done the business! They know of the betrothal and they bewitched her. But I know a counter-spell. The girl will get up to-morrow. Don't you worry about the girl!

THE FATHER. Well, of course, the thing's settled.

MATRYÓNA. Yes, of course! Don't you turn back. And don't forget me, I've had a lot of trouble. Don't forget …

A woman's voice from the hut.

VOICE. If we are to go, let's go. Come along, Iván!

THE FATHER. I'm coming. [Exeunt. Guests crowd together in the passage and prepare to go away].

NAAN [runs out of the hut and calls to Anísya] Mother!

ANÍSYA [from inside] What d'you want?

NAAN. Mother, come here, or they'll hear.

Anísya enters and they go together to the shed.

ANÍSYA. Well? What is it? Where's Akoulína?

NAAN. She's gone into the barn. It's awful what's she's doing there! I'm blest! “I can't bear it,” she says. “I'll scream,” she says, “I'll scream out loud.” Blest if she didn't.

ANÍSYA. She'll have to wait. We'll see our visitors off first.

NAAN. Oh mother! She's so bad! And she's angry too. “What's the good of their drinking my health?” she says. “I shan't marry,” she says. “I shall die,” she says. Mother, supposing she does die! It's awful. I'm so frightened!

ANÍSYA. No fear, she'll not die. But don't you go near her. Come along. [Exit Anísya and Naan].

MÍTRITCH [comes in at the gate and begins collecting the scattered hay] Oh Lord! Merciful Nicholas! What a lot of liquor they've been and swilled, and the smell they've made! It smells even out here! But no, I don't want any, drat it! See how they've scattered the hay about. They don't eat it, but only trample it under foot. A truss gone before you know it. Oh, that smell, it seems to be just under my nose! Drat it! [Yawns] It's time to go to sleep! But I don't care to go into the hut. It seems to float just round my nose! It has a strong scent, the damned stuff! [The guests are heard driving off] They're off at last. Oh Lord! Merciful Nicholas! There they go, binding themselves and gulling one another. And it's all gammon!

Enter Nikíta.

NIKÍTA. Mítritch, you get off to sleep and I'll put this straight.

MÍTRITCH. All right, you throw it to the sheep. Well, have you seen 'em all off?

NIKÍTA. Yes, they're off! But things are not right! I don't know what to do!

MÍTRITCH. It's a fine mess. But there's the Foundlings'[6] for that sort of thing. Whoever likes may drop one there; they'll take 'em all. Give 'em as many as you like, they ask no questions, and even pay—if the mother goes in as a wet-nurse. It's easy enough nowadays.

NIKÍTA. But mind, Mítritch, don't go blabbing.

MÍTRITCH. It's no concern of mine. Cover the tracks as you think best. Dear me, how you smell of liquor! I'll go in. Oh Lord! [Exit, yawning].

Nikíta is long silent. Sits down on a sledge.

NIKÍTA. Here's a go!

Enter Anísya.

ANÍSYA. Where are you?


ANÍSYA. What are you doing there? There's no time to be lost! We must take it out directly!

NIKÍTA. What are we to do?

ANÍSYA. I'll tell you what you are to do. And you'll have to do it!

NIKÍTA. You'd better take it to the Foundlings'—if anything.

ANÍSYA. Then you'd better take it there yourself if you like! You've a hankering for smut, but you're weak when it comes to settling up, I see!

NIKÍTA. What's to be done?

ANÍSYA. Go down into the cellar, I tell you, and dig a hole!

NIKÍTA. Couldn't you manage, somehow, some other way?

ANÍSYA [imitating him] “Some other way?” Seems we can't “some other way!” You should have thought about it a year ago. Do what you're told to!

NIKÍTA. Oh dear, what a go!

Enter Naan.

NAAN. Mother! Grandmother's calling! I think sister's got a baby! I'm blest if it didn't scream!

ANÍSYA. What are you babbling about? Plague take you! It's kittens whining there. Go into the hut and sleep, or I'll give it you!

NAAN. Mammy dear, truly, I swear …

ANÍSYA [raising her arm as if to strike] I'll give it you! You be off and don't let me catch sight of you! [Naan runs into hut. To Nikíta] Do as you're told, or else mind! [Exit].

NIKÍTA [alone. After a long silence] Here's a go! Oh these women! What a fix! Says you should have thought of it a year ago. When's one to think beforehand? When's one to think? Why, last year this Anísya dangled after me. What was I to do? Am I a monk? The master died; and I covered my sin as was proper, so I was not to blame there. Aren't there lots of such cases? And then those powders. Did I put her up to that? Why, had I known what the bitch was up to, I'd have killed her! I'm sure I should have killed her! She's made me her partner in these horrors—that jade! And she became loathsome to me from that day! She became loathsome, loathsome to me as soon as mother told me about it. I can't bear the sight of her! Well then, how could I live with her? And then it begun.… That wench began hanging round. Well, what was I to do! If I had not done it, someone else would. And this is what comes of it! Still I'm not to blame in this either. Oh, what a go! [Sits thinking] They are bold, these women! What a plan to think of! But I won't have a hand in it!

Enter Matryóna with a lantern and spade, panting.

MATRYÓNA. Why are you sitting there like a hen on a perch? What did your wife tell you to do? You just get things ready!

NIKÍTA. What do you mean to do?

MATRYÓNA. We know what to do. You do your share!

NIKÍTA. You'll be getting me into a mess!

MATRYÓNA. What? You're not thinking of backing out, are you? Now it's come to this, and you back out!

NIKÍTA. Think what a thing it would be! It's a living soul.

MATRYÓNA. A living soul indeed! Why, it's more dead than alive. And what's one to do with it? Go and take it to the Foundlings'—it will die just the same, and the rumor will get about, and people will talk, and the girl be left on our hands.

NIKÍTA. And supposing it's found out?

MATRYÓNA. Not manage to do it in one's own house? We'll manage it so that no one will have an inkling. Only do as I tell you. We women can't do it without a man. There, take the spade, and get it done there,—I'll hold the light.

NIKÍTA. What am I to get done?

MATRYÓNA [in a low voice] Dig a hole; then we'll bring it out and get it out of the way in a trice! There, she's calling again. Now then, get in, and I'll go.

NIKÍTA. Is it dead then?

MATRYÓNA. Of course it is. Only you must be quick, or else people will notice! They'll see or they'll hear! The rascals must needs know everything. And the policeman went by this evening. Well then, you see [gives him the spade], you get down into the cellar and dig a hole right in the corner; the earth is soft there, and you'll smooth it over. Mother earth will not blab to any one; she'll keep it close. Go then; go, dear.

NIKÍTA. You'll get me into a mess, bother you! I'll go away! You do it alone as best you can!

ANÍSYA [through the doorway] Well? Has he dug it?

MATRYÓNA. Why have you come away? What have you done with it?

ANÍSYA. I've covered it with rags. No one can hear it. Well, has he dug it?

MATRYÓNA. He doesn't want to!

ANÍSYA [springs out enraged] Doesn't want to! How will he like feeding vermin in prison! I'll go straight away and tell everything to the police! It's all the same if one must perish. I'll go straight and tell!

NIKÍTA [taken aback] What will you tell?

ANÍSYA. What? Everything! Who took the money? You! [Nikíta is silent] And who gave the poison? I did! But you knew! You knew! You knew! We were in agreement!

MATRYÓNA. That's enough now. Nikíta dear, why are you obstinate? What's to be done now? One must take some trouble. Go, honey.

ANÍSYA. See the fine gentleman! He doesn't like it! You've put upon me long enough! You've trampled me under foot! Now it's my turn! Go, I tell you, or else I'll do what I said.… There, take the spade; there, now go!

NIKÍTA. Drat you! Can't you leave a fellow alone! [Takes the spade, but shrinks] If I don't choose to, I'll not go!

ANÍSYA. Not go? [Begins to shout] Neighbors! Heh! heh!

MATRYÓNA [closes her mouth] What are you about? You're mad! He'll go.… Go, sonnie; go, my own.

ANÍSYA. I'll cry murder!

NIKÍTA. Now stop! Oh what people! You'd better be quick.… As well be hung for a sheep as a lamb! [Ges towards the cellar].

MATRYÓNA. Yes, that's just it, honey. If you know how to amuse yourself, you must know how to hide the consequences.

ANÍSYA [still excited] He's trampled on me … he and his slut! But it's enough! I'm not going to be the only one! Let him also be a murderer! Then he'll know how it feels!

MATRYÓNA. There, there! How she flares up! Don't you be cross, lass, but do things quietly little by little, as it's best. You go to the girl, and he'll do the work. [Follows Nikíta to the cellar with a lantern. He descends into the cellar].

ANÍSYA. And I'll make him strangle his dirty brat! [Still excited] I've worried myself to death all alone, with Peter's bones weighing on my mind! Let him feel it too! I'll not spare myself; I've said I'll not spare myself!

NIKÍTA [from the cellar] Show a light!

MATRYÓNA [holds up the lantern to him. To Anísya] He's digging. Go and bring it.

ANÍSYA. You stay with him, or he'll go away, the wretch! And I'll go and bring it.

MATRYÓNA. Mind, don't forget to baptize it, or I will if you like. Have you a cross?

ANÍSYA. I'll find one. I know how to do it. [Exit].

See at end of Act, Variation, which may be used instead of the following.

MATRYÓNA. How the woman bristled up! But one must allow she's been put upon. Well, but with the Lord's help, when we've covered this business, there'll be an end of it. We'll shove the girl off without any trouble. My son will live in comfort. The house, thank God, is as full as an egg. They'll not forget me either. Where would they have been without Matryóna? They'd not have known how to contrive things. [Peering into the cellar] Is it ready, sonnie?

NIKÍTA [puts out his head] What are you about there? Bring it quick! What are you dawdling for? If it is to be done, let it be done.

MATRYÓNA [goes towards door of the hut and meets Anísya. Anísya comes out with a baby wrapped in rags] Well, have you baptized it?

ANÍSYA. Why, of course! It was all I could do to take it away—she wouldn't give it up! [Comes forward and hands it to Nikíta].

NIKÍTA [does not take it] You bring it yourself!

ANÍSYA. Take it, I tell you! [Throws the baby to him].

NIKÍTA [catches it] It's alive! Gracious me, it's moving! It's alive! What am I to …

ANÍSYA [snatches the baby from him and throws it into the cellar] Be quick and smother it, and then it won't be alive! [Pushes Nikíta down] It's your doing, and you must finish it.

MATRYÓNA [sits on the doorstep of the hut] He's tender-hearted. It's hard on him, poor dear. Well, what of that? Isn't it also his sin?

Anísya stands by the cellar.

MATRYÓNA [sits looking at her and discourses] Oh, oh, oh! How frightened he was: well, but what of that? If it is hard, it's the only thing to be done. Where was one to put it? And just think, how often it happens that people pray to God to have children! But no, God gives them none; or they are all still-born. Look at our priest's wife now.… And here, where it's not wanted, here it lives. [Looks towards the cellar] I suppose he's finished. [To Anísya] Well?

ANÍSYA [looking into the cellar] He's put a board on it and is sitting on it. It must be finished!

MATRYÓNA. Oh, oh! One would be glad not to sin, but what's one to do?

Reenter Nikíta from cellar, trembling all over.

NIKÍTA. It's still alive! I can't! It's alive!

ANÍSYA. If it's alive, where are you off to? [Tries to stop him].

NIKÍTA [rushes at her] Go away! I'll kill you! [Catches hold of her arms; she escapes, he runs after her with the spade. Matryóna runs towards him and stops him. Anísya runs into the porch. Matryóna tries to wrench the spade from him. To his mother] I'll kill you! I'll kill you! Go away! [Matryóna runs to Anísya in the porch. Nikíta stops] I'll kill you! I'll kill you all!

MATRYÓNA. That's because he's so frightened! Never mind, it will pass!

NIKÍTA. What have they made me do? What have they made me do? How it whimpered.… How it crunched under me! What have they done with me?… And it's really alive, still alive! [Listens in silence] It's whimpering … There, it's whimpering. [Runs to the cellar].

MATRYÓNA [to Anísya] He's going; it seems he means to bury it. Nikíta, you'd better take the lantern!

NIKÍTA [does not heed her, but listens by the cellar door] I can hear nothing! I suppose it was fancy! [Moves away, then stops] How the little bones crunched under me. Krr … kr … What have they made me do? [Listens again] Again whimpering! It's really whimpering! What can it be? Mother! Mother, I say! [Ges up to her].

MATRYÓNA. What is it, sonnie?

NIKÍTA. Mother, my own mother, I can't do any more! Can't do any more! My own mother, have some pity on me!

MATRYÓNA. Oh dear, how frightened you are, my darling! Come, come, drink a drop to give you courage!

NIKÍTA. Mother, mother! It seems my time has come! What have you done with me? How the little bones crunched, and how it whimpered! My own mother! What have you done with me? [Steps aside and sits down on the sledge].

MATRYÓNA. Come, my own, have a drink! It certainly does seem uncanny at nighttime. But wait a bit. When the day breaks, you know, and one day and another passes, you'll forget even to think of it. Wait a bit; when the girl's married we'll even forget to think of it. But you go and have a drink; have a drink! I'll go and put things straight in the cellar myself.

NIKÍTA [rouses himself] Is there any drink left? Perhaps I can drink it off! [Exit].

Anísya, who has stood all the time by the door, silently makes way for him.

MATRYÓNA. Go, go, honey, and I'll set to work! I'll go down myself and dig! Where has he thrown the spade to? [Finds the spade, and goes down into the cellar] Anísya, come here! Hold the light, will you?

ANÍSYA. And what of him?

MATRYÓNA. He's so frightened! You've been too hard with him. Leave him alone, he'll come to his senses. God help him! I'll set to work myself. Put the lantern down here. I can see.

Matryóna disappears into the cellar.

ANÍSYA [looking towards the door by which Nikíta entered the hut] Well, have you had enough spree? You've been puffing yourself up, but now you'll know how it feels! You'll lose some of your bluster!

NIKÍTA [rushes out of the hut towards the cellar] Mother! mother, I say!

MATRYÓNA [puts out her head] What is it, sonnie?

NIKÍTA [listening] Don't bury it, it's alive! Don't you hear? Alive! There—it's whimpering! There … quite plain!

MATRYÓNA. How can it whimper? Why, you've flattened it into a pancake! The whole head is smashed to bits!

NIKÍTA. What is it then? [Stops his ears] It's still whimpering! I am lost! Lost! What have they done with me?… Where shall I go? [Sits down on the step].




Instead of the end of Act IV. (from the words, “ANÍSYA. I'll find one. I know how to do it. [Exit]”) the following variation may be read, and is the one usually acted.


Scene 2.

The interior of the hut as in Act I.

Naan lies on the bench, and is covered with a coat. Mítritch is sitting on the oven smoking.

MÍTRITCH. Dear me! How they've made the place smell! Drat 'em! They've been spilling the fine stuff. Even tobacco don't get rid of the smell! It keeps tickling one's nose so. Oh Lord! But it's bedtime, I guess. [Approaches the lamp to put it out].

NAAN [jumps up, and remains sitting up] Daddy dear,[7] don't put it out!

MÍTRITCH. Not put it out? Why?

NAAN. Didn't you hear them making a row in the yard? [Listens] D'you hear, there in the barn again now?

MÍTRITCH. What's that to you? I guess no one's asked you to mind! Lie down and sleep! And I'll turn down the light. [Turns down lamp].

NAAN. Daddy darling! Don't put it right out; leave a little bit if only as big as a mouse's eye, else it's so frightening!

MÍTRITCH [laughs] All right, all right. [Sits down by her] What's there to be afraid of?

NAAN. How can one help being frightened, daddy! Sister did go on so! She was beating her head against the box! [Whispers] You know, I know … a little baby is going to be born.… It's already born, I think.…

MÍTRITCH. Eh, what a little busybody it is! May the frogs kick her! Must needs know everything. Lie down and sleep! [Naan lies down] That's right! [Tucks her up] That's right! There now, if you know too much you'll grow old too soon.

NAAN. And you are going to lie on the oven?

MÍTRITCH. Well, of course! What a little silly you are, now I come to look at you! Must needs know everything. [Tucks her up again, then stands up to go] There now, lie still and sleep! [Ges up to the oven].

NAAN. It gave just one cry, and now there's nothing to be heard.

MÍTRITCH. Oh Lord! Gracious Nicholas! What is it you can't hear?

NAAN. The baby.

MÍTRITCH. There is none, that's why you can't hear it.

NAAN. But I heard it! Blest if I didn't hear it! Such a thin voice!

MÍTRITCH. Heard indeed! Much you heard! Well, if you know,—why then it was just such a little girl as you that the bogey popped into his bag and made off with.

NAAN. What bogey?

MÍTRITCH. Why, just his very self! [Climbs up on to the oven] The oven is beautifully warm to-night. Quite a treat! Oh Lord! Gracious Nicholas!

NAAN. Daddy! are you going to sleep?

MÍTRITCH. What else? Do you think I'm going to sing songs?


NAAN. Daddy! Daddy, I say! They are digging! they're digging—don't you hear? Blest if they're not, they're digging!

MÍTRITCH. What are you dreaming about? Digging! Digging in the night! Who's digging? The cow's rubbing herself, that's all. Digging indeed! Go to sleep I tell you, else I'll just put out the light!

NAAN. Daddy darling, don't put it out! I won't … truly, truly, I won't. It's so frightful!

MÍTRITCH. Frightful? Don't be afraid and then it won't be frightful. Look at her, she's afraid, and then says it's frightful. How can it help being frightful if you are afraid? Eh, what a stupid little girl!

Silence. The cricket chirps.

NAAN [whispers] Daddy! I say, daddy! Are you asleep?

MÍTRITCH. Now then, what d'you want?

NAAN. What's the bogey like?

MÍTRITCH. Why, like this! When he finds such a one as you, who won't sleep, he comes with a sack and pops the girl into it, then in he gets himself, head and all, lifts her dress, and gives her a fine whipping!

NAAN. What with?

MÍTRITCH. He takes a birch-broom with him.

NAAN. But he can't see there—inside the sack!

MÍTRITCH. He'll see, no fear!

NAAN. But I'll bite him.

MÍTRITCH. No, friend, him you can't bite!

NAAN. Daddy, there's some one coming! Who is it? Oh gracious goodness! Who can it be?

MÍTRITCH. Well, if some one's coming, let them come! What's the matter with you? I suppose it's your mother!

Enter Anísya.

ANÍSYA. Naan! [Naan pretends to be asleep] Mítritch!


ANÍSYA. What's the lamp burning for? We are going to sleep in the summer-hut.

MÍTRITCH. Why, you see I've only just got straight. I'll put the light out all right.

ANÍSYA [rummages in her box and grumbles] When a thing's wanted one never can find it!

MÍTRITCH. Why, what is it you are looking for?

ANÍSYA. I'm looking for a cross. Suppose it were to die unbaptized! It would be a sin, you know!

MÍTRITCH. Of course it would! Everything in due order.… Have you found it?

ANÍSYA. Yes, I've found it. [Exit].

MÍTRITCH. That's right, else I'd have lent her mine. Oh Lord!

NAAN [jumps up trembling] Oh, oh, daddy! Don't go to sleep; for goodness' sake, don't! It's so frightful!

MÍTRITCH. What's frightful?

NAAN. It will die—the little baby will! At Aunt Irene's the old woman also baptized the baby, and it died!

MÍTRITCH. If it dies, they'll bury it!

NAAN. But maybe it wouldn't have died, only old Granny Matryóna's there! Didn't I hear what granny was saying? I heard her! Blest if I didn't!

MÍTRITCH. What did you hear? Go to sleep, I tell you. Cover yourself up, head and all, and let's have an end of it!

NAAN. If it lived, I'd nurse it!

MÍTRITCH [roars] Oh Lord!

NAAN. Where will they put it?

MÍTRITCH. In the right place! It's no business of yours! Go to sleep I tell you, else mother will come; she'll give it you! [Silence].

NAAN. Daddy! Eh, daddy! That girl, you know, you were telling about—they didn't kill her?

MÍTRITCH. That girl? Oh yes. That girl turned out all right!

NAAN. How was it? You were saying you found her?

MÍTRITCH. Well, we just found her!

NAAN. But where did you find her? Do tell!

MÍTRITCH. Why, in their own house; that's where! We came to a village, the soldiers began hunting about in the house, when suddenly there's that same little girl lying on the floor, flat on her stomach. We were going to give her a knock on the head, but all at once I felt that sorry, that I took her up in my arms; but no, she wouldn't let me! Made herself so heavy, quite a hundredweight, and caught hold where she could with her hands, so that one couldn't get them off! Well, so I began stroking her head. It was so bristly,—just like a hedgehog! So I stroked and stroked, and she quieted down at last. I soaked a bit of rusk and gave it her. She understood that, and began nibbling. What were we to do with her? We took her; took her, and began feeding and feeding her, and she got so used to us that we took her with us on the march, and so she went about with us. Ah, she was a fine girl!

NAAN. Yes, and not baptized?

MÍTRITCH. Who can tell! They used to say, not altogether. 'Cos why, those people weren't our own.

NAAN. Germans?

MÍTRITCH. What an idea! Germans! Not Germans, but Asiatics. They are just the same as Jews, but still not Jews. Polish, yet Asiatics. Curls … or, Curdlys is their name.… I've forgotten what it is![8] We called the girl Sáshka. She was a fine girl, Sáshka was! There now, I've forgotten everything I used to know! But that girl—the deuce take her—seems to be before my eyes now! Out of all my time of service, I remember how they flogged me, and I remember that girl. That's all I remember! She'd hang round one's neck, and one 'ud carry her so. That was a girl,—if you wanted a better you'd not find one! We gave her away afterwards. The captain's wife took her to bring up as her daughter. So—she was all right! How sorry the soldiers were to let her go!

NAAN. There now, daddy, and I remember when father was dying,—you were not living with us then. Well, he called Nikíta and says, “Forgive me, Nikíta!” he says, and begins to cry. [Sighs] That also felt very sad!

MÍTRITCH. Yes; there now, so it is …

NAAN. Daddy! Daddy, I say! There they are again, making a noise in the cellar! Oh gracious heavens! Oh dear! Oh dear! Oh, daddy! They'll do something to it! They'll make away with it, and it's so little! Oh, oh! [Covers up her head and cries].

MÍTRITCH [listening] Really they're up to some villainy, blow them to shivers! Oh, these women are vile creatures! One can't say much for men either; but women!… They are like wild beasts, and stick at nothing!

NAAN [rising] Daddy; I say, daddy!

MÍTRITCH. Well, what now?

NAAN. The other day a traveler stayed the night; he said that when an infant died its soul goes up straight to heaven. Is that true?

MÍTRITCH. Who can tell. I suppose so. Well?

NAAN. Oh, it would be best if I died too. [Whimpers].

MÍTRITCH. Then you'd be off the list!

NAAN. Up to ten one's an infant, and maybe one's soul would go to God. Else one's sure to go to the bad!

MÍTRITCH. And how to the bad? How should the likes of you not go to the bad? Who teaches you? What do you see? What do you hear? Only vileness! I, though I've not been taught much, still know a thing or two. I'm not quite like a peasant woman. A peasant woman, what is she? Just mud! There are many millions of the likes of you in Russia, and all as blind as moles—knowing nothing! All sorts of spells: how to stop the cattle-plague with a plow, and how to cure children by putting them under the perches in the hen-house! That's what they know!

NAAN. Yes, mother also did that!

MÍTRITCH. Yes,—there it is,—just so! So many millions of girls and women, and all like beasts in a forest! As she grows up, so she dies! Never sees anything; never hears anything. A peasant,—he may learn something at the pub, or maybe in prison, or in the army,—as I did. But a woman? Let alone about God, she doesn't even know rightly what Friday it is! Friday! Friday! But ask her what's Friday? She don't know! They're like blind puppies, creeping about and poking their noses into the dung-heap.… All they know are their silly songs. Ho, ho, ho, ho! But what they mean by ho-ho, they don't know themselves!

NAAN. But I, daddy, I do know half the Lord's Prayer!

MÍTRITCH. A lot you know! But what can one expect of you? Who teaches you? Only a tipsy peasant—with the strap perhaps! That's all the teaching you get! I don't know who'll have to answer for you. For a recruit, the drill-sergeant or the corporal has to answer; but for the likes of you there's no one responsible! Just as the cattle that have no herdsman are the most mischievous, so with you women—you are the stupidest class! The most foolish class is yours!

NAAN. Then what's one to do?

MÍTRITCH. That's what one has to do.… You just cover up your head and sleep! Oh Lord!

Silence. The cricket chirps.

NAAN [jumps up] Daddy! Some one's screaming awfully! Blest if some one isn't screaming! Daddy darling, it's coming here!

MÍTRITCH. Cover up your head, I tell you!

Enter Nikíta, followed by Matryóna.

NIKÍTA. What have they done with me? What have they done with me?

MATRYÓNA. Have a drop, honey; have a drop of drink! What's the matter? [Fetches the spirits and sets the bottle before him].

NIKÍTA. Give it here! Perhaps the drink will help me!

MATRYÓNA. Mind! They're not asleep! Here you are, have a drop!

NIKÍTA. What does it all mean? Why did you plan it? You might have taken it somewhere!

MATRYÓNA [whispers] Sit still a bit and drink a little more, or have a smoke. It will ease your thoughts!

NIKÍTA. My own mother! My turn seems to have come! How it began to whimper, and how the little bones crunched … krr … I'm not a man now!

MATRYÓNA. Eh, now, what's the use of talking so silly! Of course it does seem fearsome at night, but wait till the daylight comes, and a day or two passes, and you'll forget to think of it! [Ges up to Nikíta and puts her hand on his shoulder].

NIKÍTA. Go away from me! What have you done with me?

MATRYÓNA. Come, come, sonnie! Now really, what's the matter with you? [Takes his hand].

NIKÍTA. Go away from me! I'll kill you! It's all one to me now! I'll kill you!

MATRYÓNA. Oh, oh, how frightened he's got! You should go and have a sleep now!

NIKÍTA. I have nowhere to go; I'm lost!

MATRYÓNA [shaking her head] Oh, oh, I'd better go and tidy things up. He'll sit and rest a bit, and it will pass! [Exit].

Nikíta sits with his face in his hands. Mítritch and Naan seem stunned.

NIKÍTA. It's whining! It's whining! It is really—there, there, quite plain! She'll bury it, really she will! [Runs to the door] Mother, don't bury it, it's alive.…

Enter Matryóna.

MATRYÓNA [whispers] Now then, what is it? Heaven help you! Why won't you get to rest? How can it be alive? All its bones are crushed!

NIKÍTA. Give me more drink! [Drinks].

MATRYÓNA. Now go, sonnie. You'll fall asleep now all right.

NIKÍTA [stands listening] Still alive … there … it's whining! Don't you hear?… There!

MATRYÓNA [whispers] No! I tell you!

NIKÍTA. Mother! My own mother! I've ruined my life! What have you done with me? Where am I to go? [Runs out of the hut; Matryóna follows him].

NAAN. Daddy dear, darling, they've smothered it!

MÍTRITCH [angrily] Go to sleep, I tell you! Oh dear, may the frogs kick you! I'll give it to you with the broom! Go to sleep, I tell you!

NAAN. Daddy, my treasure! Something is catching hold of my shoulders, something is catching hold with its paws! Daddy dear … really, really … I must go! Daddy, darling! let me get up on the oven with you! Let me, for Heaven's sake! Catching hold … catching hold! Oh! [Runs to the stove].

MÍTRITCH. See how they've frightened the girl.… What vile creatures they are! May the frogs kick them! Well then, climb up.

NAAN [climbs on oven] But don't you go away!

MÍTRITCH. Where should I go to? Climb up, climb up! Oh Lord! Gracious Nicholas! Holy Mother!… How they have frighted the girl. [Covers her up] There's a little fool—really a little fool! How they've frighted her; really, they are vile creatures! The deuce take 'em!