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The Old Woman
by [?]

Translated From The Russian
By Isabel Hapgood

I was walking across a spacious field, alone.

And suddenly I thought I heard light, cautious footsteps behind my back…. Some one was following me.

I glanced round and beheld a tiny, bent old woman, all enveloped in grey rags. The old woman’s face was visible from beneath them: a yellow, wrinkled, sharp-nosed, toothless face.

I stepped up to her…. She halted.

“Who art thou? What dost thou want? Art thou a beggar? Dost thou expect alms?”

The old woman made no answer. I bent down to her and perceived that both her eyes were veiled with a semi-transparent, whitish membrane or film, such as some birds have; therewith they protect their eyes from too brilliant a light.

But in the old woman’s case that film did not move and reveal the pupils … from which I inferred that she was blind.

“Dost thou want alms?” I repeated my question.–“Why art thou following me?”–But, as before, the old woman did not answer, and merely shrank back almost imperceptibly.

I turned from her and went my way.

And lo! again I hear behind me those same light, measured footsteps which seem to be creeping stealthily up.

“There’s that woman again!” I said to myself.–“Why has she attached herself to me?”–But at this point I mentally added: “Probably, owing to her blindness, she has lost her way, and now she is guiding herself by the sound of my steps, in order to come out, in company with me, at some inhabited place. Yes, yes; that is it.”

But a strange uneasiness gradually gained possession of my thoughts: it began to seem to me as though that old woman were not only following me, but were guiding me,–that she was thrusting me now to the right, now to the left, and that I was involuntarily obeying her.

Still I continue to walk on … but now, in front of me, directly in my road, something looms up black and expands … some sort of pit…. “The grave!” flashes through my mind.–“That is where she is driving me!”

I wheel abruptly round. Again the old woman is before me … but she sees! She gazes at me with large, evil eyes which bode me ill … the eyes of a bird of prey…. I bend down to her face, to her eyes…. Again there is the same film, the same blind, dull visage as before….

“Akh!” I think … “this old woman is my Fate–that Fate which no man can escape!

“I cannot get away! I cannot get away!–What madness…. I must make an effort.” And I dart to one side, in a different direction.

I advance briskly…. But the light footsteps, as before, rustle behind me, close, close behind me…. And in front of me again the pit yawns.

Again I turn in another direction…. And again there is the same rustling behind me, the same menacing spot in front of me.

And no matter in what direction I dart, like a hare pursued … it is always the same, the same!

“Stay!” I think.–“I will cheat her! I will not go anywhere at all!”–and I instantaneously sit down on the ground.

The old woman stands behind me, two paces distant.–I do not hear her, but I feel that she is there.

And suddenly I behold that spot which had loomed black in the distance, gliding on, creeping up to me itself!

O God! I glance behind me…. The old woman is looking straight at me, and her toothless mouth is distorted in a grin….

“Thou canst not escape!”

February, 1878.