The Cossack

Maxim Tortchakov, a farmer in southern Russia, was driving home from church with his young wife and bringing back an Easter cake which had just been blessed. The sun had not yet risen, but the east was all tinged with red and gold and had dissipated the haze which usually, in the early morning, screens the blue of the sky from the eyes. It was quiet.…The birds were hardly yet awake.…The corncrake uttered its clear note, and far away above a little tumulus, a sleepy kite floated, heavily flapping its wings, and no other living creature could be seen all over the steppe.

Tortchakov drove on and thought that there was no better nor happier holiday than the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection. He had only lately been married, and was now keeping his first Easter with his wife. Whatever he looked at, whatever he thought about, it all seemed to him bright, joyous, and happy. He thought about his farming, and thought that it was all going well, that the furnishing of his house was all the heart could desire—there was enough of everything and all of it good; he looked at his wife, and she seemed to him lovely, kind, and gentle. He was delighted by the glow in the east, and the young grass, and his squeaking chaise, and the kite.…And when on the way, he ran into a tavern to light his cigarette and drank a glass, he felt happier still.

“It is said, ‘Great is the day,’ he chattered. “Yes, it is great! Wait a bit, Lizaveta, the sun will begin to dance. It dances every Easter. So it rejoices too!”

“It is not alive,” said his wife.

“But there are people on it!” exclaimed Tortchakov, “there are really! Ivan Stepanitch told me that there are people on all the planets— on the sun, and on the moon! Truly…but maybe the learned men tell lies—the devil only knows! Stay, surely that’s not a horse? Yes, it is!”

At the Crooked Ravine, which was just half-way on the journey home, Tortchakov and his wife saw a saddled horse standing motionless, and sniffing last year’s dry grass. On a hillock beside the roadside a red-haired Cossack was sitting doubled up, looking at his feet.

“Christ is risen!” Maxim shouted to him. “Wo-o-o!”

“Truly He is risen,” answered the Cossack, without raising his head.

“Where are you going?”

“Home on leave.”

“Why are you sitting here, then?”

“Why…I have fallen ill…I haven’t the strength to go on.”

“What is wrong?”

“I ache all over.”

“H’m. What a misfortune! People are keeping holiday, and you fall sick! But you should ride on to a village or an inn, what’s the use of sitting here!”

The Cossack raised his head, and with big, exhausted eyes, scanned Maxim, his wife and the horse.

“Have you come from church?” he asked.


  By PanEris using Melati.

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