In the village church of Verhny Zaprudy mass was just over. The people had begun moving and were trooping out of church. The only one who did not move was Andrey Andreyitch, a shopkeeper and old inhabitant of Verhny Zaprudy, He stood waiting, with his elbows on the railing of the right choir. His fat and shaven face, covered with indentations left by pimples, expressed on this occasion two contradictory feelings: resignation in the face of inevitable destiny, and stupid, un bounded disdain for the smocks and striped kerchiefs passing by him. As it was Sunday, he was dressed like a dandy. He wore a long cloth overcoat with yellow bone buttons, blue trousers not thrust into his boots, and sturdy goloshesthe huge clumsy goloshes only seen on the feet of practical and prudent persons of firm religious convictions.
His torpid eyes, sunk in fat, were fixed upon the ikon stand. He saw the long familiar figures of the saints, the verger Matvey puffing out his cheeks and blowing out the candles, the darkened candle stands, the threadbare carpet, the sacristan Lopuhov running impulsively from the altar and carrying the holy bread to the churchwarden. All these things he had seen for years, and seen over and over again like the five fingers of his hand. There was only one thing, however, that was somewhat strange and unusual. Father Grigory, still in his vestments, was standing at the north door, twitching his thick eyebrows angrily.
Who is it he is winking at? God bless him! thought the shopkeeper. And he is beckoning with his finger! And he stamped his foot! What next! Whats the matter, Holy Queen and Mother! Whom does he mean it for?
Andrey Andreyitch looked round and saw the church completely deserted. There were some ten people standing at the door, but they had their backs to the altar.
Do come when you are called! Why do you stand like a graven image? he heard Father Grigorys angry voice. I am calling you.
The shopkeeper looked at Father Grigorys red and wrathful face, and only then realized that the twitching eyebrows and beckoning finger might refer to him. He started, left the railing, and hesitatingly walked towards the altar, tramping with his heavy goloshes.
Andrey Andreyitch, was it you asked for prayers for the rest of Mariyas soul? asked the priest, his eyes angrily transfixing the shopkeepers fat, perspiring face.
Then it was you wrote this? You? And Father Grigory angrily thrust before his eyes the little note.
And on this little note, handed in by Andrey Andreyitch before mass, was written in big, as it were staggering, letters:
For the rest of the soul of the servant of God, the harlot Mariya.
Yes, certainly I wrote it, answered the shopkeeper.
How dared you write it? whispered the priest, and in his husky whisper there was a note of wrath and alarm.
The shopkeeper looked at him in blank amazement; he was perplexed, and he, too, was alarmed. Father Grigory had never in his life spoken in such a tone to a leading resident of Verhny Zaprudy. Both were silent for a minute, staring into each others face. The shopkeepers amazement was so great that his fat face spread in all directions like split dough.
How dared you? repeated the priest.
Wha what? asked Andrey Andreyitch in bewilderment.
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