The Witch (Olyessia) by Alexander Kuprin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Witch (Olyessia) – Contents

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Once when I came to the chicken-legged hut, as my habit was, just before dark, I was immediately struck by the anxiety of its occupants. The old woman sat with her feet on the bed, hunched up, and swayed to and fro with her head in her hands, murmuring something I could not catch. She paid no attention to my greeting. Olyessia welcomed me kindly as always, but our conversation made no headway. She listened to me absently and answered me inconsequently. On her beautiful face lay the shadow of some unceasing secret trouble.

‘Something bad has happened to you, Olyessia, I can see,’ I said cautiously, touching her hand which lay on the bench.

Olyessia quickly turned her face to the window, as though she were examining something. She tried to look calm, but her eyebrows drew together and trembled, and her teeth violently bit her under lip.

‘No, … what could have happened to us?’ she said with a dull voice. ‘Everything is just as it was.’

‘Olyessia, why don’t you tell me the truth? It’s wrong of you…. I thought that we had become real friends.’

‘It’s nothing, really…. Nothing…. Our troubles … trifles.’

‘No, Olyessia, they don’t seem to be trifles. You’re not like yourself.’

‘That’s only your fancy.’

‘Be frank with me, Olyessia. I don’t know whether I can help, but I can give you some advice perhaps…. And, anyhow, you’ll feel better when you’ve shared your trouble.’

‘But it’s really not worth talking about,’ Olyessia replied impatiently. ‘You can’t possibly help us at all, now.’

Suddenly, with unexpected passion, the old woman broke into the conversation.

‘Why are you so stubborn, you little fool? Some one talks business to you, and you hold up your nose. As if nobody in the world was cleverer than you! If you please, sir, I’ll tell you the whole story,’ she said, turning towards me, ‘beginning with the beginning.’

The trouble appeared much more considerable than I could have supposed from Olyessia’s proud words. The evening before, the local policeman had come to the chicken-legged hut.

‘First he sat down, nice and politely, and asked for vodka,’ Manuilikha said, ‘and then he began and went on and on. “Clear out of the hut in twenty-four hours with all your belongings. If I come next time,” he says, “and find you here, then I tell you, you’ll go to jail. I’ll send you away with a couple of soldiers to your native place, curse you.” But you know, sir, my native place is hundreds of miles away, the town of Amchensk…. I haven’t a soul there now who knows me. Our passports have been out of date for years, and besides they aren’t in order. Ah, my God, what misfortune!’

‘Then why did he let you live here before, and only just now made up his mind?’

‘How can I tell?… He shouted out something or other, but I confess I couldn’t understand it. You see how it is: this hole we live in isn’t ours. It belongs to the landlord. Olyessia and I used to live in the village before, but the——’

‘Yes, yes, I know, granny. I’ve heard about that. The peasants got angry with you——’

‘That’s it, exactly. So I begged this hut from the old landlord, Mr. Abrossimov. Now, they say a new landlord has bought the forest, and it seems he wants to drain some marshes. But what can I do?’

‘Perhaps it’s all a lie, granny,’ I said. ‘And the sergeant only wants to get a pound out of you.’

‘But I offered it to him, I offered it, sir. He wouldn’t take it. It’s a strange business…. I offered him three pounds, but he wouldn’t take it…. It was awful. He swore at me so badly that I didn’t know where I was. All the while he went on saying: “Be off with you, be off!” What can we do now? We’re alone in the world. Good sir, you might manage to help us in some way. You could speak to him; his belly’s never satisfied. I’m sure I’d be grateful to you eternally.’

‘Granny!’ said Olyessia, in a slow reproachful voice.

‘What do you mean, “Granny!”’ The old woman was annoyed. ‘Twenty-five years I’ve been a granny to you. And what’s your opinion; it’s better to carry a beggar’s pack? No, don’t listen to her, sir! Of your charity, do something for us if you can.’

I gave her vague promises to take some steps, though, to tell the truth I could see but little hope. If our sergeant wouldn’t take money, then the affair must be very serious. That evening Olyessia parted from me coldly, and, quite against her usual habit, did not walk with me. I could see that the proud girl was angry with me for interfering, and rather ashamed of her grandmother’s whimpering.

< < < . VI .
. VIII . > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Kuprin – The Witch (Olyessia) – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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