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Nilushka
by [?]

The timber-built town of Buev, a town which has several times been burnt to the ground, lies huddled upon a hillock above the river Obericha. Its houses, with their many-coloured shutters, stand so crowded together as to form around the churches and gloomy law courts a perfect maze–the streets which intersect the dark masses of houses meandering aimlessly hither and thither, and throwing off alleyways as narrow as sleeves, and feeling their way along plot-fences and warehouse walls, until, viewed from the hillock above, the town looks as though someone has stirred it up with a stick and dispersed and confused everything that it contains. Only from the point where Great Zhitnaia Street takes its rise from the river do the stone mansions of the local merchants (for the most part German colonists) cut a grim, direct line through the packed clusters of buildings constructed of wood, and skirt the green islands of gardens, and thrust aside the churches; whereafter, continuing its way through Council Square (still running inexorably straight), the thoroughfare stretches to, and traverses, a barren plain of scrub, and so reaches the pine plantation belonging to the Monastery of St. Michael the Archangel where the latter is lurking behind a screen of old red spruces of which the denseness seems to prop the very heavens, and which on clear, sunny days can be seen rising to mark the spot whence the monastery’s crosses, like the gilded birds of the forest of eternal silence, scintillate a constant welcome.

At a distance of some ten houses before Zhitnaia Street debouches upon the plain which I have mentioned there begin to diverge from the street and to trend towards a ravine, and eventually to lose themselves in the latter’s recesses, the small, squat shanties with one or two windows apiece which constitute the suburb of Tolmachikha. This suburb, it may be said, had as its original founders the menials of a landowner named Tolmachev–a landowner who, after emancipating his serfs some thirteen years before all serfs were legally emancipated, [In the year 1861] was, for his action, visited with such bitter revilement that, in dire offence at the same, he ended by becoming an inmate of the monastery, and there spending ten years under the vow of silence, until death overtook him amid a peaceful obscurity born of the fact that the authorities had forbidden his exhibition to pilgrims or strangers.

It is in the very cots originally apportioned to Tolmachev’s menials, at the time, fifty years ago, when those menials were converted into citizens, that the present inhabitants of the suburb dwell. And never have they been burnt out of those homes, although the same period has seen all Buev save Zhitnaia Street consumed, and everywhere that one may delve within the township one will be sure to come across undestroyed hearthstones.

The suburb, as I have said, stands at the hither end and on the sloping side of one of the arms of a deep, wooded ravine, with its windows facing towards the ravine’s yawning mouth, and affording a view direct to the Mokrie (certain marshes beyond the Obericha) and the swampy forest of firs into which the dim red sun declines. Further on, the ravine trends across the plain,then bends round towards the western side of the town, cats away the clayey soil with an appetite which each spring increases, and which, carrying the soil down to the river, is gradually clogging the river’s flow, diverting the muddy water towards the marshes, and converting those marshes into a lagoon outright. The fissure in question is named ” The Great Ravine,” and has its steep flanks so overgrown with chestnuts and laburnums that even in summertime its recesses are cool and moist, and so serve as a convenient trysting place for the poorer lovers of the suburb and the town, and witness their tea drinkings and frequently fatal quarrels, as well as being used by the more well-to-do for a dumping ground for rubbish of the nature of deceased dogs, cats, and horses.