Masha by Ivan Turgenev
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
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
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.