The Cathedral Clergy
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: Slavica Publishers
Title Page, Copyright Page
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Who was Nikoláy Leskóv? A contemporary of Turgenev, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy, Leskov was a master of the short story during the heyday of the Russian Realist novel. Unlike his aristocratic, university-educated peers, Leskov, a high-school dropout, traveled the length and breadth of...
Pronunciation Guide to Personal Names
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The men whose lives form the subject of this tale dwell in the priests’ quarter near the Old Town cathedral. They are Archpriest Savely Tuberozov, Father Zacharias Benefaktov, and Deacon Achilles Desnitsyn.1 The early youth of these men as well as the time of their childhood do not...
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All these old-fashioned heroes lived in Old Town’s priest quarter, by the quiet, navigable Túritsa River. Each of them—Zacharias as well as Tuberozov and even Deacon Achilles—had his own little house right on the riverbank, directly across from the ancient cathedral with five tall...
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“What, then,” the agitated Achilles said through his tears, “what, naturally, was the right thing for me to do back then? I should’ve fallen at the feet of the father archpriest and told him, ‘Father Archpriest, I didn’t say all that out of meanness or spite, but only just to prove to Father...
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A summer evening in Old Town. The sun had gone down long ago. The part of town situated on the high riverbank, with the cathedral’s pointed cupolas towering overhead, was illuminated by pale glimmerings of moonlight, while the quiet section on the other side of the river lay...
Chapter 5. Archpriest Tuberozov's Clothbound Book
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Tuberozov began looking through his church calendar at the very first inserted sheet, on which he had written: “Upon my ordination on February the fourth, 1831, performed by the Right Reverend Gavriil,17 I received this book from him as a gift for my successful completion of...
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The dawn quickly grew brighter, and while the sun was bathing in the mist beyond the hazy pine forest, the golden shafts of its rays were already shooting out along the horizon. The light mist above the river took alarm and began to creep up the rocky bank; it swirled under the bridge and clung to the wet, black piles. A bluish vegetable patch appeared beneath...
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On the left bank, where the town’s slow-moving governor still stood, his coachman, Mosquito, spread out the rug he had brought, set the bench firmly upon it, tilted it to the left and the right, and, satisfied that it was steady, proclaimed...
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The clamor and commotion raised by the swimmers over this incident roused the archpriest, who had just dozed off at his window; the old man awoke with a start, sprang to his feet, and, looking out across the river, could comprehend absolutely nothing when a dashing tilbury drawn by a gray thoroughbred came to a halt beneath his window. In the...
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The deserted streets of our provincial towns wear an oppressive, tedious, and wearisome look at any hour; but their lifelessness is especially deadly at noon on a hot summer day. Thick gray dust furrowed here and there with the tracks of passing wheels; drooping, withered grass lining the imaginary sidewalks of the unpaved streets; rickety, rotting gray...
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“My troubles, Valeryan Nikolaevich, began the moment I was born,”
Prepotensky said, “and these troubles stem mainly from the fact that it
was my mother who gave birth to me!”
“Cheer up, my dear friend: all people’s mothers gave birth to them,” Daryanov replied, mopping his brow. “Only Macduff was ripped from...
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“After getting this information from Danilka,” Varnava continued, “I
turned right around and went back to Mrs. Bizyukina’s to let her know
about it, and when I got home an hour later, I didn’t find a single bone
“‘Where are they?’ I shouted. ‘Where?’ And that lady, my mother, replied...
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“I’ll begin by explaining how and why I happened to be in church today. Early this morning Alexandra Ivanovna Serbolova paid us a visit. You, of course, know her as well as I do: she’s a believer, and her convictions about many things are very backward, but she helps my mother in various ways and for that reason I make a great effort to force myself not to...
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“Ha, ha, ha! What a lovely thing to do!” Lady Serbolova suddenly remarked.
She had been standing behind a thick cherry bush until that
moment, unnoticed by either of the men.
Prepotensky clutched at his unbuttoned shirt, half rose, and, pulling up his brick-soiled trousers with the other hand, he said...
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Mrs. Prepotenskaya, the wafer baker, was a little old lady with a tiny face, kindly eyes that expressed eternal amazement, and eyebrows shaped like apostrophes. She apologized to Daryanov for not having heard his prolonged knocking and then immediately leaned toward him across the table and asked in a whisper...
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The ruse was a success. Varnava had a pretext for appearing, and, moreover, for appearing in a dignified manner. He entered the room as if he were the victim of hostile forces and took a seat at the narrow end of the table, opposite Daryanov. Lady Serbolova sat between those two, on the third side, while the fourth side of the table remained unoccupied. As a...
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After leaving the room, Prepotensky darted into a small shed, flung off his outer garments, and crawled into the haymow; with some difficulty he forced two of the ceiling boards apart and lowered himself through the fairly narrow opening into a small storeroom that was locked from the outside. The storeroom contained all sorts of household items. There...
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As soon as the poor teacher caught sight of Achilles, his legs failed him and came to a halt. But a moment later they sprang forward like tightly coiled springs, and in three powerful leaps they carried Varnava across a distance that someone in a calm frame of mind could not have covered in ten. That almost saved Varnava: he now stood right under the window of...
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The day following the night that concluded the Feast of Mefody Pesnoshsky promised to be calm and serene. One might even have expected calm in all things, in the elements of nature as well as in the hearts of the Old Town residents with whom we became acquainted in the first part of our chronicle. That, indeed, was the archpriest’s conviction. The...
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Several days went by. Tuberozov became convinced that his fears about Deacon Achilles’ impetuous behavior leading to legal difficulties were completely unfounded. Everything went as smoothly as before; people added variety to their monotonous provincial lives by quarreling in order to make up and making up in order to quarrel again. Nothing...
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“It all happened a year after she bought me from my previous owner. I spent that year in a state of terrible grief because I was cut off, you see, from my family and kinfolk. Naturally I never let on that I was pining for them lest someone report it to the lady of the manor or she herself...
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“Ladies and gentlemen, it was shortly after the peace negotiations with
the French that I spoke with His Majesty the Emperor, may his soul rest
“You spoke with His Majesty?” several voices immediately interrupted the storyteller...
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Nikolay Afanasievich turned in his chair to look at all his listeners and
“You see? I told you the story was very ordinary and not the least bit interesting. And hence, dear sister,” he added, rising, “let us be on our way!”...
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Now, like it or not, we must bow to unavoidable circumstances in the course of our chronicle, leave Old Town’s archpriest and the marshal of the nobility for the moment, and become acquainted with a completely different social circle. We must enter the home of Bizyukin, the tax officer, where the long-awaited visitors from Petersburg have just arrived...
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On close scrutiny Prince Bornovolokov and Termosesov were much more
intriguing than they had seemed to Tuberozov at a cursory glance.
The government inspector was the spitting image of a slumbering ruff: small, shaggy, with oversized gills and eyes completely glazed with some kind of dull moisture. He seemed unfit for anything and incapable...
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Their hostess remained seated and did not budge. At that moment she had just realized how inappropriate the potted plant on the windowsill must seem to her guests and, in great consternation, she was trying to think of a clever way to pitch it out the open window. She was so preoccupied with this thought that she did not even hear the first question one...
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For a long time the enamored Mrs. Bizyukina had heard through the closed study door a quiet, ducklike lapping interspersed with violent splashing and guttural trills; all that had stopped now, but Termosesov still did not come out. Hadn’t he talked to that taciturn, tousled prince of his enough by now, or was he asleep?… Well, no wonder: he must be...
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The inspector was not asleep yet when his happy secretary returned.
Clad in a white wool homespun jacket, His Excellency, Termosesov’s traveling companion, was lying on the bed that had been made up for him, his legs covered with a light afghan, and was dozing or daydreaming with his eyes closed...
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While the above scene between Mrs. Bizyukina’s newly arrived guests was taking place, Darya Nikolaevna assembled all her servants and launched an intensive operation to restore her living quarters. Overjoyed at learning that she did not have to lead a Spartan existence, she even decided to give a small reception where she could demonstrate to her...
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“Well, well, well! What’s this expulsion all about?” he inquired of Mrs.
Bizyukina, rubbing his sleepy eyes.
“It’s nothing, just a certain … stupid person who used to visit us,” she replied, releasing Prepotensky.
“So how come you’re kicking him out now? What did he do that was...
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As twilight descended upon the town, the evening rays illuminated a dashing troika on the street leading from the tax collector’s house to the police chief’s house, a troika completely different from the one that had brought the Plodomasov dwarves there that morning. In the middle, dipping and rising like a wild pacer from the steppes, walked Mrs. Bizyukina...
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Before Termosesov and his party arrived at the police chief’s reception, Tuberozov spent more than an hour in private conversation with Tuganov, the marshal of the nobility. The old archpriest complained to the important guest about the same things he had complained about in his...
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Termosesov, Varnava, and the tax collector’s wife arrived at the reception after Tuganov and Tuberozov had already crossed the drawing room and were sitting in the small parlor. The other guests had made themselves at home in the drawing room, where they were talking, playing the piano, and attempting to sing something. That is precisely...
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When the new guests entered, Plodomasov, the district marshal, was
telling Tuberozov about the recent reforms concerning the clergy,1 and
after Termosesov and Varnava had taken seats, the conversation
The district marshal was a champion of reform, as was Tuganov, but the latter added that when he had seen the bishop the previous day, His...
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The teacher leapt from his seat and ran over to Tuganov, who was talking
“Pardon me for interrupting … but all the same I … I stand for freedom.”
“So do I,” replied Tuganov, turning back to the archpriest...
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For Prepotensky things were going, as they say, from bad to worse. Even tolerant ladies of the type who valued only the process of conversation and did not care what a man said as long as they heard the sound of a voice—even they shunned him. In contrast, Termosesov’s star was rising and he was attracting general attention. Varnava scarcely had time to...
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No sooner had they parted from the postmaster’s wife than Termosesov
announced that everyone absolutely must stop by Mrs. Bizyukina’s
house for a minute.
“Do we have your permission?” he asked, turning slightly toward his hostess...
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The archpriest returned home extremely agitated and upset. Owing to the festivities, he had stayed at the police chief’s house quite a long time and for that reason his stay-at-home wife, Natalya Nikolaevna, contrary to her usual custom, had gone to bed without waiting up for him, but she had left the door open between her bedroom and the sitting room, where...
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Tuberozov was firmly resolved to do something that he had been contemplating for a long time, that he had once tried to accomplish long ago, and that he had never mentioned to anyone. And indeed, whom could he consult? Whom could he tell of his intentions? The meek Zacharias, who “existed as if he did not exist”? The daring Achilles, who lived...
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The pedantic document, written on unofficial paper and filled with the annoying, slippery expressions in which bureaucratic language abounds, half invited, half summoned Head Clergyman Tuberozov to appear “confidentially” before an official named Bornovolokov “for the giving of explanations relative to important subjects as well as to the corrupting and...
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Things were going very badly in the Bizyukin household that morning: the tax collector’s wife had noticed that the expensive diamond necklace she had worn the night before was missing and could find it nowhere. All the servants were scurrying about; so were their masters. They...
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Termosesov went to the post office first and mailed his letter there, and then he immediately went to see the postmaster’s wife. They met like old friends; he kissed her hand and she planted a big noisy kiss on top of his head and thanked him for the honor of his visit...
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Ishmael Petrovich returned to the ladies in extreme agitation and found them even more agitated. Upon his arrival, both girls jumped up and ran out of the room in order to hide the tears shed because of their mother’s scolding, but the postmaster’s wife, sacrificing herself, remained...
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This second hook was cast with even better aim than the first, and toward evening, when Termosesov was sitting with Bornovolokov and Bizyukin over coffee, a mailman arrived to request that Ishmael Petrovich go see the postmaster’s wife at once...
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The relentless blackguard burst out laughing.
“My, what panic!” he said. “I only locked the door so that I could relax and enjoy your company in peace, and now you’ve gone and ripped up your whole composition.”...
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Standing behind Bornovolokov’s chair, his secretary looked over his shoulder at the paper and continued to dictate: “‘That vile Termosesov, by some incomprehensible and ingenious means, has gotten hold of my personal letter to you, in which I, through carelessness, wrote that which...
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Mrs. Bizyukina’s missing diamonds, the lampopó, his defeat of Achilles and Prepotensky, his escapades with Darya Nikolaevna and the postmaster’s wife, and finally the checkmate dealt to Bornovolokov—all this in less than twenty-four hours had left Termosesov himself slightly dazed. He felt an overpowering need for a good night’s sleep and...
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The sensational reports of Deacon Achilles’ misfortunes and the news that the archpriest himself had been dragged into the trivial matter caught up with Father Savely in a distant parish that was at least a twoday drive from town...
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Tuberozov was no coward, but he was a high-strung man, and when the air is highly charged with electricity, such people are seized by an instinctive, uncontrollable agitation. He felt this sort of agitation now as he looked around and tried to determine the safest place to meet and...
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The storm blew over as swiftly as it had come: in place of the black cloud a pink streak stood out against the clear blue sky, while sparrows now sat on the wet bag of oats lying on the driver’s seat of the wagon, cheerfully chirping and boldly plucking wet grains through the holes in...
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Tuberozov’s wagon drove right up to his door.
“Dear Lord, how I suffered worrying about you, Father Savely!” cried Natalya Nikolaevna as she rushed to meet her husband. “There was such thunder, and you, my sweetheart, were all alone.”...
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That night Savely’s household was reminiscent of the night when we saw the old man poring over his diary: now, too, he was alone in the sitting room, pacing back and forth in the same manner, and he periodically sat down, thought, and wrote in the same way, but this time he did not have...
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That was the outline of the sermon that Savely wished to deliver and in fact did deliver the next day before all the officials he had assembled in church, a sermon that ended not only his preaching but also his entire career of service to the church...
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Tuberozov’s sermon was already fading from memory in Old Town. But toward evening of the third day a singular pair of visitors arrived in town in the mail wagon: a tall, skinny police officer and a fat official from the bishop’s office who resembled a human pancake with a button...
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“My mortal life is over, and now begins the life of a saint,” Tuberozov said in the final moment before setting off to account for his actions. Immediately after that, the swift troika bearing him away sped up the hill and vanished from view...
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Nikolay Afanasievich’s suspicion that nothing would come of the letter the deacon had galloped off with proved correct. Achilles was gone a whole week and when he returned home crestfallen on a dejected horse, he said that nothing had come of the letter and that, in fact, nothing...
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Termosesov’s poem thoroughly succeeded in driving all thoughts of Savely from the minds of Old Town’s intelligentsia. Termosesov’s final dirty trick and the humiliating position the haughty postmaster’s wife and her daughters found themselves in thanks to him swept the old...
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The name-day celebration at the home of the postmaster’s wife began, according to local custom, with morning refreshments. As the hostess greeted her guests, she rejoiced to see that not one of them had a serious thought in his head, that all concern for the banished old man had gone...
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The postmaster’s wife and her family greeted their important guest from
Missus Mordokonaki, tall, fair-skinned, and majestic, delighted the gathering and made everything look drab and pitiful by comparison. Even Danka Bizyukina became flustered in her presence. Their hostess...
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“I happened to pull this stunt,” the deacon began, “because just before Easter Seryoga, the sacristan, and I, we hitched our horses together and went to the provincial capital. Seryoga was going there to pick up his kids for the holidays, while I went along just for the heck of it—it beats...
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The festivities then entered a new phase.
As soon as everyone was seated at the table, Captain Poverdovnya immediately stood up again and, turning to the philanthropist from St. Petersburg, he recited the following lines...
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“When I was transferred out of the Caucasus,” the major began, “we had a colonel who was the most fun-loving commander and a real stickler for discipline. He’d been awarded a gold saber for bravery. We were in the middle of the Hungarian Campaign of 1848.10 Volunteers had to be sent out one night, but there was a party going on and everybody was drunk...
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The postmaster’s wife, impatiently pacing up and down her room in her dressing gown, was mentally trying to track down the primary culprit responsible for the horrible event that had just occurred. Who had started that farce?...
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Armed with a big kitchen knife, the mentally unstable lady, pushing up the right sleeve of her dressing gown, headed straight for the office door and put her ear to the crack once again. There was no doubt whatsoever that the ill-fated pair were enjoying a peaceful slumber; she could hear...
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Missus Mordokonaki likewise returned to her estate at about the same
time that the injured Varnava Prepotensky dragged himself home.
The swift ride over the smooth, hard road had the pleasant, refreshing effect on the lady from St. Petersburg that one needs after spending a long time amidst noise and chatter in which one is obliged to take part...
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On the very day when the residents of Old Town were making merry in this manner, a scene of a different kind was unfolding far away in the banished archpriest’s dingy little room. There Natalya Nikolaevna was dying...
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Nikolay Afanasievich, the dwarf, was not the only mourner struck by Tuberozov’s frighteningly calm face and trembling head as he walked slowly through the deep slush in the unpaved streets behind the coffin of his deceased wife, Natalya Nikolaevna. The great and silent grief of a man of profound feeling unquestionably contains an irresistible force...
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Nikolay Afanasievich had a great deal of trouble fulfilling his mission, but he went about it assiduously and persistently. The little emissary from the large community did not wax hot and cold; instead, he would latch on like a tick to anyone he needed in order to succeed and would...
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They said little during the journey, and then only when Nikolay Afanasievich attempted to start a conversation. He was trying to distract and entertain the archpriest, who sat in silence with his hands, in old suede gloves, folded in his lap. The dwarf introduced one topic after another, but Tuberozov remained silent or made the briefest of replies. He...
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Upon entering his house, where for quite some time the master and sole occupant had been Deacon Achilles, the archpriest kissed the impetuous giant on the part in his curly, ungreased hair and, walking through all the little rooms with him, made the sign of the cross over Natalya Nikolaevna’s empty, ownerless bed and said...
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Achilles’ dark and terrifying premonitions did not deceive him: old Tuberozov, battered and weakened by recent events, was not long for this world. He had caught cold while counting the bows he had ordered the deacon to make in the middle of the night and had fallen ill—not...
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Savely’s death had a horrifying effect on Achilles. He sobbed and wept not like a man, but like a high-strung woman bewailing a loss she felt she could not bear. But Archpriest Tuberozov’s death was a major event for the whole town as well: there was not a single household that did not...
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The deacon had not slept a wink ever since Savely’s death, and three sleepless nights along with the intense concentration he had continually focused on the deceased had made Achilles, despite his nerves of steel, extremely jittery...
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All of Old Town escorted Tuberozov’s body to the church. The mass and burial service put everyone in a terrible mood, thanks to Achilles; no matter what he started to say, the deacon would choke up, stop, and burst into tears. His sobbing, which carried throughout the crowded...
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After Tuberozov’s funeral Achilles had two things to accomplish: first, to submit to having “another gird him,” and second, being, in Savely’s words, “the living antithesis of death,” to die. He immediately and hurriedly set about hastening the advent of both. After excusing himself...
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The day after he arrived, the new archpriest celebrated mass and delivered a sermon in which he lavished praise upon his predecessor and spoke of the necessity and duty of remembering him in their prayers and revering his accomplishments...
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The October night was cold and gloomy; clouds scudded across the sky, and the wind rattled the bare branches of the brittle willows growing along the road. Achilles walked and walked without stopping, and by the time the gray autumn dawn began to appear on the horizon, he was...
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The deacon went around to all the well-known monumentmakers in town and decided upon the very poorest, one Popygin, a Russian millstone cutter. Two of the German monumentmakers had angered the deacon because they kept wanting to know if the size of a pyramid as big as the one he wished to order would be “in proportion” to the plot, figuring...
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As spring approached, Old Town came to life: the river became blue and
swollen as it prepared to shed its ice, wharves piled with sacks of grain
sprang up along both banks, and wide wooden barges were overhauled.
Crowds of ragged peasants in bast shoes and white felt caps, having left the villages where they had starved all winter, poured into town every day. They clamored for work as barge haulers, who earned barely...
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The following night, sometime between ten and eleven o’clock, the deacon quietly left the house and slowly made his way to the cemetery without a word to anyone. He was carrying a long pole and a noose made of thick rope...
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Achilles quickly crouched down, thus positioning himself beneath the devil who had landed on him, grabbed his paws, and yanked on them so hard that the devil’s chin struck the top of the deacon’s head with a resounding crack and stayed there, stuck fast. Not expecting this turn of...
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While the agitated throng was teeming around the building that harbored the extraordinary phenomenon, there was just as much commotion going on inside the building itself. The police chief, Captain Porokhontsev, dashed into the office in cotton pajama bottoms and a flannel...
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A crucial moment had arrived: it called for a hero, and one appeared. The coats that covered Achilles, whom everyone had forgotten about, began to move and slid to the floor, and the deacon himself, barefoot and wearing a short, tight soldier’s undershirt, soon made short work of...
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The authorities did indeed “get up their courage,” crawl out of hiding,
and proceed to restore order.
They put a dry prisoner’s overcoat on Danilka, who was soaking wet and barely breathing, and began to interrogate him in earnest. He confessed that, rejected by everyone and driven away from everyone because...
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Achilles knew nothing of this: he lay on a hospital bed burning calmly and serenely in the fire of his illness. After admitting the deacon to the hospital, the doctor had announced that he had a virulent form of typhus marked by the immediate onset of unconsciousness and fever, and that...
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Our chronicle of Old Town is drawing to a close, and its final period
must be a nail driven into the lid of Zacharias’s coffin.
The gentle old man did not survive Savely and Achilles very long. He lived only until the great spring holiday, Easter Sunday, and quietly fell...
Page Count: 393
Publication Year: 2010