The sun was sinking towards the west,
and his long, hot rays were burning my neck and cheeks
beyond endurance, while thick clouds of dust were
rising from the road and filling the whole air.
Not the slightest wind was there to carry it away.
I could not think what to do. Neither the dust-blackened
face of Woloda dozing in a corner, nor the motion of
Philip’s back, nor the long shadow of our britchka
as it came bowling along behind us brought me any
relief. I concentrated my whole attention upon
the distance-posts ahead and the clouds which, hitherto
dispersed over the sky, were now assuming a menacing
blackness, and beginning to form themselves into a
single solid mass.
From time to time distant thunder
could be heard a circumstance which greatly
increased my impatience to arrive at the inn where
we were to spend the night. A thunderstorm always
communicated to me an inexpressibly oppressive feeling
of fear and gloom.
Yet we were still ten versts from
the next village, and in the meanwhile the large purple
cloudbank arisen from no one knows where was
advancing steadily towards us. The sun, not yet
obscured, was picking out its fuscous shape with dazzling
light, and marking its front with grey stripes running
right down to the horizon. At intervals, vivid
lightning could be seen in the distance, followed by
low rumbles which increased steadily in volume until
they merged into a prolonged roll which seemed to
embrace the entire heavens. At length, Vassili
got up and covered over the britchka, the coachman
wrapped himself up in his cloak and lifted his cap
to make the sign of the cross at each successive thunderclap,
and the horses pricked up their ears and snorted as
though to drink in the fresh air which the flying clouds
were outdistancing. The britchka began to roll
more swiftly along the dusty road, and I felt uneasy,
and as though the blood were coursing more quickly
through my veins. Soon the clouds had veiled the
face of the sun, and though he threw a last gleam
of light to the dark and terrifying horizon, he had
no choice but to disappear behind them.
Suddenly everything around us seemed
changed, and assumed a gloomy aspect. A wood
of aspen trees which we were passing seemed to be all
in a tremble, with its leaves showing white against
the dark lilac background of the clouds, murmuring
together in an agitated manner. The tops of the
larger trees began to bend to and fro, and dried leaves
and grass to whirl about in eddies over the road.
Swallows and white-breasted swifts came darting around
the britchka and even passing in front of the forelegs
of the horses. While rooks, despite their outstretched
wings, were laid, as it were, on their keels by the
wind. Finally, the leather apron which covered
us began to flutter about and to beat against the
sides of the conveyance.
The lightning flashed right into the
britchka as, cleaving the obscurity for a second,
it lit up the grey cloth and silk galloon of the lining
and Woloda’s figure pressed back into a corner.
Next came a terrible sound which,
rising higher and higher, and spreading further and
further, increased until it reached its climax in
a deafening thunderclap which made us tremble and hold
our breaths. “The wrath of God” what
poetry there is in that simple popular conception!
The pace of the vehicle was continually
increasing, and from Philip’s and Vassili’s
backs (the former was tugging furiously at the reins)
I could see that they too were alarmed.
Bowling rapidly down an incline, the
britchka cannoned violently against a wooden bridge
at the bottom. I dared not stir and expected destruction
Crack! A trace had given way,
and, in spite of the ceaseless, deafening thunderclaps,
we had to pull up on the bridge.
Leaning my head despairingly against
the side of the britchka, I followed with a beating
heart the movements of Philip’s great black
fingers as he tied up the broken trace and, with hands
and the butt-end of the whip, pushed the harness vigorously
back into its place.
My sense of terror was increasing
with the violence of the thunder. Indeed, at
the moment of supreme silence which generally precedes
the greatest intensity of a storm, it mounted to such
a height that I felt as though another quarter of
an hour of this emotion would kill me.
Just then there appeared from beneath
the bridge a human being who, clad in a torn, filthy
smock, and supported on a pair of thin shanks bare
of muscles, thrust an idiotic face, a tremulous, bare,
shaven head, and a pair of red, shining stumps in
place of hands into the britchka.
“M-my lord! A copeck for for
God’s sake!” groaned a feeble voice as
at each word the wretched being made the sign of the
cross and bowed himself to the ground.
I cannot describe the chill feeling
of horror which penetrated my heart at that moment.
A shudder crept through all my hair, and my eyes stared
in vacant terror at the outcast.
Vassili, who was charged with the
apportioning of alms during the journey, was busy
helping Philip, and only when everything had been put
straight and Philip had resumed the reins again had
he time to look for his purse. Hardly had the
britchka begun to move when a blinding flash filled
the welkin with a blaze of light which brought the
horses to their haunches. Then, the flash was
followed by such an ear-splitting roar that the very
vault of heaven seemed to be descending upon our heads.
The wind blew harder than ever, and Vassili’s
cloak, the manes and tails of the horses, and the
carriage-apron were all slanted in one direction as
they waved furiously in the violent blast.
Presently, upon the britchka’s
top there fell some large drops of rain “one,
two, three:” then suddenly, and as though
a roll of drums were being beaten over our heads,
the whole countryside resounded with the clatter of
From Vassili’s movements, I
could see that he had now got his purse open, and
that the poor outcast was still bowing and making the
sign of the cross as he ran beside the wheels of the
vehicle, at the imminent risk of being run over, and
reiterated from time to time his plea, “For-for
God’s sake!” At last a copeck rolled upon
the ground, and the miserable creature his
mutilated arms, with their sleeves wet through and
through, held out before him stopped perplexed
in the roadway and vanished from my sight.
The heavy rain, driven before the
tempestuous wind, poured down in pailfuls and, dripping
from Vassili’s thick cloak, formed a series of
pools on the apron. The dust became changed to
a paste which clung to the wheels, and the ruts became
transformed into muddy rivulets.
At last, however, the lightning grew
paler and more diffuse, and the thunderclaps lost
some of their terror amid the monotonous rattling
of the downpour. Then the rain also abated, and
the clouds began to disperse. In the region of
the sun, a lightness appeared, and between the white-grey
clouds could be caught glimpses of an azure sky.
Finally, a dazzling ray shot across
the pools on the road, shot through the threads of
rain now falling thin and straight, as from
a sieve , and fell upon the fresh leaves
and blades of grass. The great cloud was still
louring black and threatening on the far horizon, but
I no longer felt afraid of it I felt only
an inexpressibly pleasant hopefulness in proportion,
as trust in life replaced the late burden of fear.
Indeed, my heart was smiling like that of refreshed,
revivified Nature herself.
Vassili took off his cloak and wrung
the water from it. Woloda flung back the apron,
and I stood up in the britchka to drink in the new,
fresh, balm-laden air. In front of us was the
carriage, rolling along and looking as wet and resplendent
in the sunlight as though it had just been polished.
On one side of the road boundless oatfields, intersected
in places by small ravines which now showed bright
with their moist earth and greenery, stretched to
the far horizon like a checkered carpet, while on
the other side of us an aspen wood, intermingled with
hazel bushes, and parquetted with wild thyme in joyous
profusion, no longer rustled and trembled, but slowly
dropped rich, sparkling diamonds from its newly-bathed
branches on to the withered leaves of last year.
From above us, from every side, came
the happy songs of little birds calling to one another
among the dripping brushwood, while clear from the
inmost depths of the wood sounded the voice of the
cuckoo. So delicious was the wondrous scent of
the wood, the scent which follows a thunderstorm in
spring, the scent of birch-trees, violets, mushrooms,
and thyme, that I could no longer remain in the britchka.
Jumping out, I ran to some bushes, and, regardless
of the showers of drops discharged upon me, tore off
a few sprigs of thyme, and buried my face in them to
smell their glorious scent.
Then, despite the mud which had got
into my boots, as also the fact that my stockings
were soaked, I went skipping through the puddles to
the window of the carriage.
I shouted as I handed them some of the thyme, “Just
look how delicious this is!”
The girls smelt it and cried, “A-ah!”
but Mimi shrieked to me to go away, for fear I should
be run over by the wheels.
“Oh, but smell how delicious it is!” I