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The Village
by [?]

Translated From The Russian
By Isabel Hapgood

The last day of July; for a thousand versts round about lies Russia, the fatherland.

The whole sky is suffused with an even azure; there is only one little cloud in it, which is half floating, half melting. There is no wind, it is warm … the air is like new milk!

Larks are carolling; large-cropped pigeons are cooing; the swallows dart past in silence; the horses neigh and munch, the dogs do not bark, but stand peaceably wagging their tails.

And there is an odour of smoke abroad, and of grass,–and a tiny whiff of tan,–and another of leather.–The hemp-patches, also, are in their glory, and emit their heavy but agreeable fragrance.

A deep but not long ravine. Along its sides, in several rows, grow bulky-headed willows, stripped bare at the bottom. Through the ravine runs a brook; on its bottom tiny pebbles seem to tremble athwart its pellucid ripples.–Far away, at the spot where the rims of earth and sky come together, is the bluish streak of a large river.

Along the ravine, on one side are neat little storehouses, and buildings with tightly-closed doors; on the other side are five or six pine-log cottages with board roofs. Over each roof rises a tall pole with a starling house; over each tiny porch is an openwork iron horse’s head with a stiff mane.[69] The uneven window-panes sparkle with the hues of the rainbow. Jugs holding bouquets are painted on the shutters. In front of each cottage stands sedately a precise little bench; on the earthen banks around the foundations of the house cats lie curled in balls, with their transparent ears pricked up on the alert; behind the lofty thresholds the anterooms look dark and cool.

[69] The favourite decoration in rustic architecture.

I am lying on the very brink of the ravine, on an outspread horse-cloth; round about are whole heaps of new-mown hay, which is fragrant to the point of inducing faintness. The sagacious householders have spread out the hay in front of their cottages: let it dry a little more in the hot sun, and then away with it to the barn! It will be a glorious place for a nap!

The curly heads of children project from each haycock; crested hens are searching in the hay for gnats and small beetles; a white-toothed puppy is sprawling among the tangled blades of grass.

Ruddy-curled youths in clean, low-girt shirts, and heavy boots with borders, are bandying lively remarks as they stand with their breasts resting on the unhitched carts, and display their teeth in a grin.

From a window a round-faced lass peeps out; she laughs, partly at their words, and partly at the pranks of the children in the heaped-up hay.

Another lass with her sturdy arms is drawing a huge, dripping bucket from the well…. The bucket trembles and rocks on the rope, scattering long, fiery drops.

In front of me stands an aged housewife in a new-checked petticoat of homespun and new peasant-shoes.

Large inflated beads in three rows encircle her thin, swarthy neck; her grey hair is bound about with a yellow kerchief with red dots; it droops low over her dimmed eyes.

But her aged eyes smile in cordial wise; her whole wrinkled face smiles. The old woman must be in her seventh decade … and even now it can be seen that she was a beauty in her day!

With the sunburned fingers of her right hand widely spread apart, she holds a pot of cool, unskimmed milk, straight from the cellar; the sides of the pot are covered with dewdrops, like small pearl beads. On the palm of her left hand the old woman offers me a big slice of bread still warm from the oven. As much as to say: “Eat, and may health be thine, thou passing guest!”

A cock suddenly crows and busily flaps his wings; an imprisoned calf lows without haste, in reply.

“Hey, what fine oats!” the voice of my coachman makes itself heard….

O Russian contentment, repose, plenty! O free village! O tranquillity and abundance!

And I thought to myself: “What care we for the cross on the dome of Saint Sophia in Constantinople, and all the other things for which we strive, we people of the town?”

February, 1878.