Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/Masha
When I lived, many years ago, in Petersburg, every time I chanced to hire a sledge, I used to get into conversation with the driver.
I was particularly fond of talking to the night drivers, poor peasants from the country round, who come to the capital with their little ochre-painted sledges and wretched nags, in the hope of earning food for themselves and rent for their masters.
So one day I engaged such a sledge-driver. . . . He was a lad of twenty, tall and well-made, a splendid fellow with blue eyes and ruddy cheeks; his fair hair curled in little ringlets under the shabby little patched cap that was pulled over his eyes. And how had that little torn smock ever been drawn over those gigantic shoulders!
But the handsome, beardless face of the sledge-driver looked mournful and downcast. I began to talk to him. There was a sorrowful note in his voice too.
'What is it, brother?' I asked him; 'why aren't you cheerful? Have you some trouble?'
The lad did not answer me for a minute. 'Yes, sir, I have,' he said at last. 'And such a trouble, there could not be a worse. My wife is dead.'
'You loved her . . . your wife?'
The lad did not turn to me; he only bent his head a little.
'I loved her, sir. It's eight months since then . . . but I can't forget it. My heart is gnawing at me . . . so it is ! And why had she to die ? A young thing! strong! . . . In one day cholera snatched her away.'
'And was she good to you?'
'Ah, sir!' the poor fellow sighed heavily, 'and how happy we were together! She died without me! The first I heard here, they'd buried her already, you know; I hurried off at once to the village, home—I got there—it was past midnight. I went into my hut, stood still in the middle of the room, and softly I whispered, "Masha! eh, Masha!" Nothing but the cricket chirping. I fell a-crying then, sat on the hut floor, and beat on the earth with my fists! "Greedy earth!" says I . . . "You have swallowed her up . . . swallow me too!—Ah, Masha!"
'Masha!' he added suddenly in a sinking voice. And without letting go of the cord reins, he wiped the tears out of his eyes with his sleeve, shook it, shrugged his shoulders, and uttered not another word.
As I got out of the sledge, I gave him a few coppers over his fare. He bowed low to me, grasping his cap in both hands, and drove off at a walking pace over the level snow of the deserted street, full of the grey fog of a January frost.