A Dead Body
A still August night. A mist is rising slowly from the fields and casting an opaque veil over everything within eyesight. Lighted up by the moon, the mist gives the impression at one moment of a calm, boundless sea, at the next of an immense white wall. The air is damp and chilly. Morning is still far off. A step from the bye-road which runs along the edge of the forest a little fire is gleaming. A dead body, covered from head to foot with new white linen, is lying under a young oak-tree. A wooden ikon is lying on its breast. Beside the corpse almost on the road sits the watchtwo peasants performing one of the most disagreeable and uninviting of peasants duties. One, a tall young fellow with a scarcely perceptible moustache and thick black eyebrows, in a tattered sheepskin and bark shoes, is sitting on the wet grass, his feet stuck out straight in front of him, and is trying to while away the time with work. He bends his long neck, and breathing loudly through his nose, makes a spoon out of a big crooked bit of wood; the othera little scraggy, pock-marked peasant with an aged face, a scanty moustache, and a little goats beardsits with his hands dangling loose on his knees, and without moving gazes listlessly at the light. A small camp-fire is lazily burning down between them, throwing a red glow on their faces. There is perfect stillness. The only sounds are the scrape of the knife on the wood and the crackling of damp sticks in the fire.
Dont you go to sleep, Syoma says the young man.
I I am not asleep stammers the goat-beard.
Thats all right. It would be dreadful to sit here alone, one would be frightened. You might tell me something, Syoma.
I I cant.
You are a queer fellow, Syomushka! Other people will laugh and tell a story and sing a song, but youthere is no making you out. You sit like a scarecrow in the garden and roll your eyes at the fire. You cant say anything properly when you speak you seem frightened. I dare say you are fifty, but you have less sense than a child. Arent you sorry that you are a simpleton?
I am sorry, the goat-beard answers gloomily.
And we are sorry to see your foolishness, you may be sure. You are a good-natured, sober peasant, and the only trouble is that you have no sense in your head. You should have picked up some sense for yourself if the Lord has afflicted you and given you no understanding. You must make an effort, Syoma. You should listen hard when anything goods being said, note it well, and keep thinking and thinking. If there is any word you dont understand, you should make an effort and think over in your head in what meaning the word is used. Do you see? Make an effort! If you dont gain some sense for yourself youll be a simpleton and of no account at all to your dying day.
All at once a long drawn-out, moaning sound is heard in the forest. Something rustles in the leaves as though torn from the very top of the tree and falls to the ground. All this is faintly repeated by the echo. The young man shudders and looks enquiringly at his companion.
Its an owl at the little birds, says Syoma, gloomily.
Why, Syoma, its time for the birds to fly to the warm countries!
To be sure, it is time.
It is chilly at dawn now. It is co-old. The crane is a chilly creature, it is tender. Such cold is death to it. I am not a crane, but I am frozen. Put some more wood on!
Syoma gets up and disappears in the dark undergrowth. While he is busy among the bushes, breaking dry twigs, his companion puts his hand over his eyes and starts at every sound. Syoma brings an armful
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