Two miles from the village of Obrutchanovo a huge bridge was being built. From the village, which stood up high on the steep river-bank, its trellis-like skeleton could be seen, and in foggy weather and on still winter days, when its delicate iron girders and all the scaffolding around was covered with hoar frost, it presented a picturesque and even fantastic spectacle. Kutcherov, the engineer who was building the bridge, a stout, broad-shouldered, bearded man in a soft crumpled cap drove through the village in his racing droshky or his open carriage. Now and then on holidays navvies working on the bridge would come to the village; they begged for alms, laughed at the women, and sometimes carried off something. But that was rare; as a rule the days passed quietly and peacefully as though no bridge-building were going on, and only in the evening, when camp fires gleamed near the bridge, the wind faintly wafted the songs of the navvies. And by day there was sometimes the mournful clang of metal, don-don-don.
It happened that the engineer’s wife came to see him. She was pleased with the river-banks and the gorgeous view over the green valley with trees, churches, flocks, and she began begging her husband to buy a small piece of ground and to build them a cottage on it. Her husband agreed. They bought sixty acres of land, and on the high bank in a field, where in earlier days the cows of Obrutchanovo used to wander, they built a pretty house of two storeys with a terrace and a verandah, with a tower and a flagstaff on which a flag fluttered on Sundays — they built it in about three months, and then all the winter they were planting big trees, and when spring came and everything began to be green there were already avenues to the new house, a gardener and two labourers in white aprons were digging near it, there was a little fountain, and a globe of looking-glass flashed so brilliantly that it was painful to look at. The house had already been named the New Villa.
On a bright, warm morning at the end of May two horses were brought to Obrutchanovo to the village blacksmith, Rodion Petrov. They came from the New Villa. The horses were sleek, graceful beasts, as white as snow, and strikingly alike.
“Perfect swans!” said Rodion, gazing at them with reverent admiration.
His wife Stepanida, his children and grandchildren came out into the street to look at them. By degrees a crowd collected. The Lytchkovs, father and son, both men with swollen faces and entirely beardless, came up bareheaded. Kozov, a tall, thin old man with a long, narrow beard, came up leaning on a stick with a crook handle: he kept winking with his crafty eyes and smiling ironically as though he knew something.
“It’s only that they are white; what is there in them?” he said. “Put mine on oats, and they will be just as sleek. They ought to be in a plough and with a whip, too. . . .”
The coachman simply looked at him with disdain, but did not utter a word. And afterwards, while they were blowing up the fire at the forge, the coachman talked while he smoked cigarettes. The peasants learned from him various details: his employers were wealthy people; his mistress, Elena Ivanovna, had till her marriage lived in Moscow in a poor way as a governess; she was kind-hearted, compassionate, and fond of helping the poor. On the new estate, he told them, they were not going to plough or to sow, but simply to live for their pleasure, live only to breathe the fresh air. When he had finished and led the horses back a crowd of boys followed him, the dogs barked, and Kozov, looking after him, winked sarcastically.
“Landowners, too-oo!” he said. “They have built a house and set up horses, but I bet they are nobodies — landowners, too-oo.”
Kozov for some reason took a dislike from the first to the new house, to the white horses, and to the handsome, well-fed coachman. Kozov was a solitary man, a widower; he had a dreary life (he was prevented from working by a disease which he sometimes called a rupture and sometimes worms) he was maintained by his son, who worked at a confectioner’s in Harkov and sent him money; and from early morning till evening he sauntered at leisure about the river or about the village; if he saw, for instance, a peasant carting a log, or fishing, he would say: “That log’s dry wood — it is rotten,” or, “They won’t bite in weather like this.” In times of drought he would declare that there would not be a drop of rain till the frost came; and when the rains came he would say that everything would rot in the fields, that everything was ruined. And as he said these things he would wink as though he knew something.
At the New Villa they burned Bengal lights and sent up fireworks in the evenings, and a sailing-boat with red lanterns floated by Obrutchanovo. One morning the engineer’s wife, Elena Ivanovna, and her little daughter drove to the village in a carriage with yellow wheels and a pair of dark bay ponies; both mother and daughter were wearing broad-brimmed straw hats, bent down over their ears.
This was exactly at the time when they were carting manure, and the blacksmith Rodion, a tall, gaunt old man, bareheaded and barefooted, was standing near his dirty and repulsive-looking cart and, flustered, looked at the ponies, and it was evident by his face that he had never seen such little horses before.
“The Kutcherov lady has come!” was whispered around. “Look, the Kutcherov lady has come!”
Elena Ivanovna looked at the huts as though she were selecting one, and then stopped at the very poorest, at the windows of which there were so many children’s heads — flaxen, red, and dark. Stepanida, Rodion’s wife, a stout woman, came running out of the hut; her kerchief slipped off her grey head; she looked at the carriage facing the sun, and her face smiled and wrinkled up as though she were blind.
“This is for your children,” said Elena Ivanovna, and she gave her three roubles.
Stepanida suddenly burst into tears and bowed down to the ground. Rodion, too, flopped to the ground, displaying his brownish bald head, and as he did so he almost caught his wife in the ribs with the fork. Elena Ivanovna was overcome with confusion and drove back.
The Lytchkovs, father and son, caught in their meadows two cart-horses, a pony, and a broad-faced Aalhaus bull-calf, and with the help of red-headed Volodka, son of the blacksmith Rodion, drove them to the village. They called the village elder, collected witnesses, and went to look at the damage.
“All right, let ’em!” said Kozov, winking, “le-et em! Let them get out of it if they can, the engineers! Do you think there is no such thing as law? All right! Send for the police inspector, draw up a statement! . . .”
“Draw up a statement,” repeated Volodka.
“I don’t want to let this pass!” shouted the younger Lytchkov. He shouted louder and louder, and his beardless face seemed to be more and more swollen. “They’ve set up a nice fashion! Leave them free, and they will ruin all the meadows! You’ve no sort of right to ill-treat people! We are not serfs now!”
“We are not serfs now!” repeated Volodka.
“We got on all right without a bridge,” said the elder Lytchkov gloomily; “we did not ask for it. What do we want a bridge for? We don’t want it!”
“Brothers, good Christians, we cannot leave it like this!”
“All right, let ’em!” said Kozov, winking. “Let them get out of it if they can! Landowners, indeed!”
They went back to the village, and as they walked the younger Lytchkov beat himself on the breast with his fist and shouted all the way, and Volodka shouted, too, repeating his words. And meanwhile quite a crowd had gathered in the village round the thoroughbred bull-calf and the horses. The bullcalf was embarrassed and looked up from under his brows, but suddenly lowered his muzzle to the ground and took to his heels, kicking up his hind legs; Kozov was frightened and waved his stick at him, and they all burst out laughing. Then they locked up the beasts and waited.
In the evening the engineer sent five roubles for the damage, and the two horses, the pony and the bull-calf, without being fed or given water, returned home, their heads hanging with a guilty air as though they were convicted criminals.
On getting the five roubles the Lytchkovs, father and son, the village elder and Volodka, punted over the river in a boat and went to a hamlet on the other side where there was a tavern, and there had a long carousal. Their singing and the shouting of the younger Lytchkov could be heard from the village. Their women were uneasy and did not sleep all night. Rodion did not sleep either.
“It’s a bad business,” he said, sighing and turning from side to side. “The gentleman will be angry, and then there will be trouble. . . . They have insulted the gentleman. . . . Oh, they’ve insulted him. It’s a bad business. . .”
It happened that the peasants, Rodion amongst them, went into their forest to divide the clearings for mowing, and as they were returning home they were met by the engineer. He was wearing a red cotton shirt and high boots; a setter dog with its long tongue hanging out, followed behind him.
“Good-day, brothers,” he said.
The peasants stopped and took off their hats.
“I have long wanted to have a talk with you, friends,” he went on. “This is what it is. Ever since the early spring your cattle have been in my copse and garden every day. Everything is trampled down; the pigs have rooted up the meadow, are ruining everything in the kitchen garden, and all the undergrowth in the copse is destroyed. There is no getting on with your herdsmen; one asks them civilly, and they are rude. Damage is done on my estate every day and I do nothing — I don’t fine you or make a complaint; meanwhile you impounded my horses and my bull calf and exacted five roubles. Was that right? Is that neighbourly?” he went on, and his face was so soft and persuasive, and his expression was not forbidding. “Is that the way decent people behave? A week ago one of your people cut down two oak saplings in my copse. You have dug up the road to Eresnevo, and now I have to go two miles round. Why do you injure me at every step? What harm have I done you? For God’s sake, tell me! My wife and I do our utmost to live with you in peace and harmony; we help the peasants as we can. My wife is a kind, warm-hearted woman; she never refuses you help. That is her dream — to be of use to you and your children. You reward us with evil for our good. You are unjust, my friends. Think of that. I ask you earnestly to think it over. We treat you humanely; repay us in the same coin.”
He turned and went away. The peasants stood a little longer, put on their caps and walked away. Rodion, who always understood everything that was said to him in some peculiar way of his own, heaved a sigh and said:
“We must pay. ‘Repay in coin, my friends’ . . . he said.”
They walked to the village in silence. On reaching home Rodion said his prayer, took off his boots, and sat down on the bench beside his wife. Stepanida and he always sat side by side when they were at home, and always walked side by side in the street; they ate and they drank and they slept always together, and the older they grew the more they loved one another. It was hot and crowded in their hut, and there were children everywhere — on the floors, in the windows, on the stove. . . . In spite of her advanced years Stepanida was still bearing children, and now, looking at the crowd of children, it was hard to distinguish which were Rodion’s and which were Volodka’s. Volodka’s wife, Lukerya, a plain young woman with prominent eyes and a nose like the beak of a bird, was kneading dough in a tub; Volodka was sitting on the stove with his legs hanging.
“On the road near Nikita’s buckwheat . . . the engineer with his dog . . .” Rodion began, after a rest, scratching his ribs and his elbow. “ ‘You must pay,’ says he . . . ‘coin,’ says he. . . . Coin or no coin, we shall have to collect ten kopecks from every hut. We’ve offended the gentleman very much. I am sorry for him. . . .”
“We’ve lived without a bridge,” said Volodka, not looking at anyone, “and we don’t want one.”
“What next; the bridge is a government business.”
“We don’t want it.”
“Your opinion is not asked. What is it to you?”
“ ‘Your opinion is not asked,’ “ Volodka mimicked hi m. “We don’t want to drive anywhere; what do we want with a bridge? If we have to, we can cross by the boat.”
Someone from the yard outside knocked at the window so violently that it seemed to shake the whole hut.
“Is Volodka at home?” he heard the voice of the younger Lytchkov. “Volodka, come out, come along.”
Volodka jumped down off the stove and began looking for his cap.
“Don’t go, Volodka,” said Rodion diffidently. “Don’t go with them, son. You are foolish, like a little child; they will teach you no good; don’t go!”
“Don’t go, son,” said Stepanida, and she blinked as though about to shed tears. “I bet they are calling you to the tavern.”
“ ‘To the tavern,’ “ Volodka mimicked.
“You’ll come back drunk again, you currish Herod,” said Lukerya, looking at him angrily. “Go along, go along, and may you burn up with vodka, you tailless Satan!”
“You hold your tongue,” shouted Volodka.
“They’ve married me to a fool, they’ve ruined me, a luckless orphan, you red-headed drunkard . . .” wailed Lukerya, wiping her face with a hand covered with dough. “I wish I had never set eyes on you.”
Volodka gave her a blow on the ear and went off.
Elena Ivanovna and her little daughter visited the village on foot. They were out for a walk. It was a Sunday, and the peasant women and girls were walking up and down the street in their brightly-coloured dresses. Rodion and Stepanida, sitting side by side at their door, bowed and smiled to Elena Ivanovna and her little daughter as to acquaintances. From the windows more than a dozen children stared at them; their faces expressed amazement and curiosity, and they could be heard whispering:
“The Kutcherov lady has come! The Kutcherov lady!”
“Good-morning,” said Elena Ivanovna, and she stopped; she paused, and then asked: “Well, how are you getting on?”
“We get along all right, thank God,” answered Rodion, speaking rapidly. “To be sure we get along.”
“The life we lead!” smiled Stepanida. “You can see our poverty yourself, dear lady! The family is fourteen souls in all, and only two bread-winners. We are supposed to be blacksmiths, but when they bring us a horse to shoe we have no coal, nothing to buy it with. We are worried to death, lady,” she went on, and laughed. “Oh, oh, we are worried to death.”
Elena Ivanovna sat down at the entrance and, putting her arm round her little girl, pondered something, and judging from the little girl’s expression, melancholy thoughts were straying through her mind, too; as she brooded she played with the sumptuous lace on the parasol she had taken out of her mother’s hands.
“Poverty,” said Rodion, “a great deal of anxiety — you see no end to it. Here, God sends no rain . . . our life is not easy, there is no denying it.”
“You have a hard time in this life,” said Elena Ivanovna, “but in the other world you will be happy.”
Rodion did not understand her, and simply coughed into his clenched hand by way of reply. Stepanida said:
“Dear lady, the rich men will be all right in the next world, too. The rich put up candles, pay for services; the rich give to beggars, but what can the poor man do? He has no time to make the sign of the cross. He is the beggar of beggars himself; how can he think of his soul? And many sins come from poverty; from trouble we snarl at one another like dogs, we haven’t a good word to say to one another, and all sorts of things happen, dear lady — God forbid! It seems we have no luck in this world nor the next. All the luck has fallen to the rich.”
She spoke gaily; she was evidently used to talking of her hard life. And Rodion smiled, too; he was pleased that his old woman was so clever, so ready of speech.
“It is only on the surface that the rich seem to be happy,” said Elena Ivanovna. “Every man has his sorrow. Here my husband and I do not live poorly, we have means, but are we happy? I am young, but I have had four children; my children are always being ill. I am ill, too, and constantly being doctored.”
“And what is your illness?” asked Rodion.
“A woman’s complaint. I get no sleep; a continual headache gives me no peace. Here I am sitting and talking, but my head is bad, I am weak all over, and I should prefer the hardest labour to such a condition. My soul, too, is troubled; I am in continual fear for my children, my husband. Every family has its own trouble of some sort; we have ours. I am not of noble birth. My grandfather was a simple peasant, my father was a tradesman in Moscow; he was a plain, uneducated man, too, while my husband’s parents were wealthy and distinguished. They did not want him to marry me, but he disobeyed them, quarrelled with them, and they have not forgiven us to this day. That worries my husband; it troubles him and keeps him in constant agitation; he loves his mother, loves her dearly. So I am uneasy, too, my soul is in pain.”
Peasants, men and women, were by now standing round Rodion’s hut and listening. Kozov came up, too, and stood twitching his long, narrow beard. The Lytchkovs, father and son, drew near.
“And say what you like, one cannot be happy and satisfied if one does not feel in one’s proper place.” Elena Ivanovna went on. “Each of you has his strip of land, each of you works and knows what he is working for; my husband builds bridges — in short, everyone has his place, while I, I simply walk about. I have not my bit to work. I don’t work, and feel as though I were an outsider. I am saying all this that you may not judge from outward appearances; if a man is expensively dressed and has means it does not prove that he is satisfied with his life.”
She got up to go away and took her daughter by the hand.
“I like your place here very much,” she said, and smiled, and from that faint, diffident smile one could tell how unwell she really was, how young and how pretty; she had a pale, thinnish face with dark eyebrows and fair hair. And the little girl was just such another as her mother: thin, fair, and slender. There was a fragrance of scent about them.
“I like the river and the forest and the village,” Elena Ivanovna went on; “I could live here all my life, and I feel as though here I should get strong and find my place. I want to help you — I want to dreadfully — to be of use, to be a real friend to you. I know your need, and what I don’t know I feel, my heart guesses. I am sick, feeble, and for me perhaps it is not possible to change my life as I would. But I have children. I will try to bring them up that they may be of use to you, may love you. I shall impress upon them continually that their life does not belong to them, but to you. Only I beg you earnestly, I beseech you, trust us, live in friendship with us. My husband is a kind, good man. Don’t worry him, don’t irritate him. He is sensitive to every trifle, and yesterday, for instance, your cattle were in our vegetable garden, and one of your people broke down the fence to the bee-hives, and such an attitude to us drives my husband to despair. I beg you,” she went on in an imploring voice, and she clasped her hands on her bosom — “I beg you to treat us as good neighbours; let us live in peace! There is a saying, you know, that even a bad peace is better than a good quarrel, and, ‘Don’t buy property, but buy neighbours.’ I repeat my husband is a kind man and good; if all goes well we promise to do everything in our power for you; we will mend the roads, we will build a school for your children. I promise you.”
“Of course we thank you humbly, lady,” said Lytchkov the father, looking at the ground; “you are educated people; it is for you to know best. Only, you see, Voronov, a rich peasant at Eresnevo, promised to build a school; he, too, said, ‘I will do this for you,’ ‘I will do that for you,’ and he only put up the framework and refused to go on. And then they made the peasants put the roof on and finish it; it cost them a thousand roubles. Voronov did not care; he only stroked his beard, but the peasants felt it a bit hard.”
“That was a crow, but now there’s a rook, too,” said Kozov, and he winked.
There was the sound of laughter.
“We don’t want a school,” said Volodka sullenly. “Our children go to Petrovskoe, and they can go on going there; we don’t want it.”
Elena Ivanovna seemed suddenly intimidated; her face looked paler and thinner, she shrank into herself as though she had been touched with something coarse, and walked away without uttering another word. And she walked more and more quickly, without looking round.
“Lady,” said Rodion, walking after her, “lady, wait a bit; hear what I would say to you.”
He followed her without his cap, and spoke softly as though begging.
“Lady, wait and hear what I will say to you.”
They had walked out of the village, and Elena Ivanovna stopped beside a cart in the shade of an old mountain ash.
“Don’t be offended, lady,” said Rodion. “What does it mean? Have patience. Have patience for a couple of years. You will live here, you will have patience, and it will all come round. Our folks are good and peaceable; there’s no harm in them; it’s God’s truth I’m telling you. Don’t mind Kozov and the Lytchkovs, and don’t mind Volodka. He’s a fool; he listens to the first that speaks. The others are quiet folks; they are silent. Some would be glad, you know, to say a word from the heart and to stand up for themselves, but cannot. They have a heart and a conscience, but no tongue. Don’t be offended . . . have patience. . . . What does it matter?”
Elena Ivanovna looked at the broad, tranquil river, pondering, and tears flowed down her cheeks. And Rodion was troubled by those tears; he almost cried himself.
“Never mind . . .” he muttered. “Have patience for a couple of years. You can have the school, you can have the roads, only not all at once. If you went, let us say, to sow corn on that mound you would first have to weed it out, to pick out all the stones, and then to plough, and work and work . . . and with the people, you see, it is the same . . . you must work and work until you overcome them.”
The crowd had moved away from Rodion’s hut, and was coming along the street towards the mountain ash. They began singing songs and playing the concertina, and they kept coming closer and closer. . . .
“Mamma, let us go away from here,” said the little girl, huddling up to her mother, pale and shaking all over; “let us go away, mamma!
“To Moscow. . . . Let us go, mamma.”
The child began crying.
Rodion was utterly overcome; his face broke into profuse perspiration; he took out of his pocket a little crooked cucumber, like a half-moon, covered with crumbs of rye bread, and began thrusting it into the little girl’s hands.
“Come, come,” he muttered, scowling severely; “take the little cucumber, eat it up. . . . You mustn’t cry. Mamma will whip you. . . . She’ll tell your father of you when you get home. Come, come. . . .”
They walked on, and he still followed behind them, wanting to say something friendly and persuasive to them. And seeing that they were both absorbed in their own thoughts and their own griefs, and not noticing him, he stopped and, shading his eyes from the sun, looked after them for a long time till they disappeared into their copse.
The engineer seemed to grow irritable and petty, and in every trivial incident saw an act of robbery or outrage. His gate was kept bolted even by day, and at night two watchmen walked up and down the garden beating a board; and they gave up employing anyone from Obrutchanovo as a labourer. As ill-luck would have it someone (either a peasant or one of the workmen) took the new wheels off the cart and replaced them by old ones, then soon afterwards two bridles and a pair of pincers were carried off, and murmurs arose even in the village. People began to say that a search should be made at the Lytchkovs’ and at Volodka’s, and then the bridles and the pincers were found under the hedge in the engineer’s garden; someone had thrown them down there.
It happened that the peasants were coming in a crowd out of the forest, and again they met the engineer on the road. He stopped, and without wishing them good-day he began, looking angrily first at one, then at another:
“I have begged you not to gather mushrooms in the park and near the yard, but to leave them for my wife and children, but your girls come before daybreak and there is not a mushroom left. . . .Whether one asks you or not it makes no difference. Entreaties, and friendliness, and persuasion I see are all useless.”
He fixed his indignant eyes on Rodion and went on:
“My wife and I behaved to you as human beings, as to our equals, and you? But what’s the use of talking! It will end by our looking down upon you. There is nothing left!”
And making an effort to restrain his anger, not to say too much, he turned and went on.
On getting home Rodion said his prayer, took off his boots, and sat down beside his wife.
“Yes . . .” he began with a sigh. “We were walking along just now, and Mr. Kutcherov met us. . . . Yes. . . . He saw the girls at daybreak. . . ‘Why don’t they bring mushrooms,’ . . . he said ‘to my wife and children?’ he said. . . . And then he looked at me and he said: ‘I and my wife will look after you,’ he said. I wanted to fall down at his feet, but I hadn’t the courage. . . . God give him health. . . God bless him! . . .”
Stephania crossed herself and sighed.
“They are kind, simple-hearted people,” Rodion went on. “ ‘We shall look after you.’ . . . He promised me that before everyone. In our old age . . . it wouldn’t be a bad thing. . . . I should always pray for them. . . . Holy Mother, bless them. . . .”
The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, the fourteenth of September, was the festival of the village church. The Lytchkovs, father and son, went across the river early in the morning and returned to dinner drunk; they spent a long time going about the village, alternately singing and swearing; then they had a fight and went to the New Villa to complain. First Lytchkov the father went into the yard with a long ashen stick in his hands. He stopped irresolutely and took off his hat. Just at that moment the engineer and his family were sitting on the verandah, drinking tea.
“What do you want?” shouted the engineer.
“Your honour . . .” Lytchkov began, and burst into tears. “Show the Divine mercy, protect me . . . my son makes my life a misery . . . your honour. . .”
Lytchkov the son walked up, too; he, too, was bareheaded and had a stick in his hand; he stopped and fixed his drunken senseless eyes on the verandah.
“It is not my business to settle your affairs,” said the engineer. “Go to the rural captain or the police officer.”
“I have been everywhere. . . . I have lodged a petition . . .” said Lytchkov the father, and he sobbed. “Where can I go now? He can kill me now, it seems. He can do anything. Is that the way to treat a father? A father?”
He raised his stick and hit his son on the head; the son raised his stick and struck his father just on his bald patch such a blow that the stick bounced back. The father did not even flinch, but hit his son again and again on the head. And so they stood and kept hitting one another on the head, and it looked not so much like a fight as some sort of a game. And peasants, men and women, stood in a crowd at the gate and looked into the garden, and the faces of all were grave. They were the peasants who had come to greet them for the holiday, but seeing the Lytchkovs, they were ashamed and did not go in.
The next morning Elena Ivanovna went with the children to Moscow. And there was a rumour that the engineer was selling his house. . . .
The peasants had long ago grown used to the sight of the bridge, and it was difficult to imagine the river at that place without a bridge. The heap of rubble left from the building of it had long been overgrown with grass, the navvies were forgotten, and instead of the strains of the “Dubinushka” that they used to sing, the peasants heard almost every hour the sounds of a passing train.
The New Villa has long ago been sold; now it belongs to a government clerk who comes here from the town for the holidays with his family, drinks tea on the terrace, and then goes back to the town again. He wears a cockade on his cap; he talks and clears his throat as though he were a very important official, though he is only of the rank of a collegiate secretary, and when the peasants bow he makes no response.
In Obrutchanovo everyone has grown older; Kozov is dead. In Rodion’s hut there are even more children. Volodka has grown a long red beard. They are still as poor as ever.
In the early spring the Obrutchanovo peasants were sawing wood near the station. And after work they were going home; they walked without haste one after the other. Broad saws curved over their shoulders; the sun was reflected in them. The nightingales were singing in the bushes on the bank, larks were trilling in the heavens. It was quiet at the New Villa; there was not a soul there, and only golden pigeons — golden because the sunlight was streaming upon them — were flying over the house. All of them — Rodion, the two Lytchkovs, and Volodka — thought of the white horses, the little ponies, the fireworks, the boat with the lanterns; they remembered how the engineer’s wife, so beautiful and so grandly dressed, had come into the village and talked to them in such a friendly way. And it seemed as though all that had never been; it was like a dream or a fairy-tale.
They trudged along, tired out, and mused as they went. . . . In their village, they mused, the people were good, quiet, sensible, fearing God, and Elena Ivanovna, too, was quiet, kind, and gentle; it made one sad to look at her, but why had they not got on together? Why had they parted like enemies? How was it that some mist had shrouded from their eyes what mattered most, and had let them see nothing but damage done by cattle, bridles, pincers, and all those trivial things which now, as they remembered them, seemed so nonsensical? How was it that with the new owner they lived in peace, and yet had been on bad terms with the engineer?
And not knowing what answer to make to these questions they were all silent except Volodka, who muttered something.
“What is it?” Rodion asked.
“We lived without a bridge . . .” said Volodka gloomily. “We lived without a bridge, and did not ask for one . . . and we don’t want it. . . .”
No one answered him and they walked on in silence with drooping heads.