A Bad Business

“Who goes there?”

No answer. The watchman sees nothing, but through the roar of the wind and the trees distinctly hears someone walking along the avenue ahead of him. A March night, cloudy and foggy, envelopes the earth, and it seems to the watchman that the earth, the sky, and he himself with his thoughts are all merged together into something vast and impenetrably black. He can only grope his way.

“Who goes there?” the watchman repeats, and he begins to fancy that he hears whispering and smothered laughter. “Who’s there?”

“It’s I, friend…” answers an old man’s voice.

“But who are you?”

“I…a traveller.”

“What sort of traveller?” the watchman cries angrily, trying to disguise his terror by shouting. “What the devil do you want here? You go prowling about the graveyard at night, you ruffian!”

“You don’t say it’s a graveyard here?”

“Why, what else? Of course it’s the graveyard! Don’t you see it is?”

“O-o-oh…Queen of Heaven!” there is a sound of an old man sighing. “I see nothing, my good soul, nothing. Oh the darkness, the darkness! You can’t see your hand before your face, it is dark, friend. O-o-oh.…”

“But who are you?”

“I am a pilgrim, friend, a wandering man.”

“The devils, the nightbirds.…Nice sort of pilgrims! They are drunkards…” mutters the watchman, reassured by the tone and sighs of the stranger. “One’s tempted to sin by you. They drink the day away and prowl about at night. But I fancy I heard you were not alone; it sounded like two or three of you.”

“I am alone, friend, alone. Quite alone.…O-o-oh our sins.…”

The watchman stumbles up against the man and stops.

“How did you get here?” he asks.

“I have lost my way, good man. I was walking to the Mitrievsky Mill and I lost my way.”

“Whew! Is this the road to Mitrievsky Mill? You sheepshead! For the Mitrievsky Mill you must keep much more to the left, straight out of the town along the high road. You have been drinking and have gone a couple of miles out of your way. You must have had a drop in the town.”

“I did, friend…Truly I did; I won’t hide my sins. But how am I to go now?”

“Go straight on and on along this avenue till you can go no farther, and then turn at once to the left and go till you have crossed the whole graveyard right to the gate. There will be a gate there.…Open it and go with God’s blessing. Mind you don’t fall into the ditch. And when you are out of the graveyard you go all the way by the fields till you come out on the main road.”

“God give you health, friend. May the Queen of Heaven save you and have mercy on you. You might take me along, good man! Be merciful! Lead me to the gate.”

“As though I had the time to waste! Go by yourself!”

  By PanEris using Melati.

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