Based on an Easter story “The Student” by famous Russian writer Anton Chekhov
At first the weather was excellent, very quiet… The blackbirds were clamoring, and some live thing in the nearby swamps was droning pitifully, as if blowing into an empty bottle…
A lone woodcock sauntered out, and the shot that was aimed at him rang out resonantly and buoyantly in the spring air. However, the moment it grew dark in the woods, an unwelcome bitter-cold wind blew in from the East, causing everything to fall silent. Icy needles swept across the meadows, and the next moment it was deserted, dismal and bleak in the woods. There was a scent of winter in the air…
Ivan Velikopolsky, a Church Academy student, the vicar’s son, was returning home making his way across the water-meadow. His fingers were frozen, and his face stinging from the lashing wind. It seemed to him as if this unexpected cold snap had uprooted the general run of things, that nature itself was terrified, and this was the reason for the swiftly descended twilight. Everything around was deserted and particularly dismal. Only the widows’ vegetable plots near the river boasted a light; everything else, and in the direction of the village, too, was cast into a dense and cold shroud of darkness.
The vegetable gardens were dubbed ‘widows’ because they were worked by two widows – mother and daughter. Their fire burned heartily, crackling hospitably, illuminating the ploughed land all around. The widow Vasilisa, a tall, fleshy old woman dressed in a man’s sheepskin, stood near the fire and gazed at it, plunged deep in thought. Her daughter Lukeria, small, pock-marked and cloddish, sat on the ground washing the pot and spoons. They had obviously just supped. Male voices could be heard from the river, where the menfolk were watering the horses.
The Student approached the fire and said:
“Hello! So winter is back!”
“Oh Lord! I didn’t recognize you! You’ll be rich, that’s for sure!” Vasilisa replied.
They spoke for a while. Vasilisa, a woman of experience, who’d used to be nanny in genteel households, expressed herself with delicacy, a gentle matronly smile never leaving her face. On the other hand, her daughter Lukeria, a rustic village woman, beaten and bullied by her husband, screwed her eyes up at the student, and kept mulishly silent, her expression as that of one deaf and dumb.
Stretching his hands towards the fire, the student said:
“Apostle Peter sat warming himself by the fire on a bitter cold night, same as we are! It means it was a really cold night then, too. Oh, what a terrible night that was! Extremely dreary, and so long! I suppose you have already been to church to hear the Gospel read?”
“I have,” Vasilisa said in reply.
“If you recall, during the Lord’s Supper Peter said to Jesus: “I am ready to go with Thee, both into prison, and to death.”
And the Lord replied to him:
“I tell the, Peter, the cock shall now crow this day, before that thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest Me.”
After the Supper Jesus, sick at heart, was praying in the Garden, while poor Peter grew weary of spirit and body, his eyelids heavy with slumber. So, he slept. And afterwards, you heard that very night Judas kissed Jesus and betrayed Him to his tormentors. He was tied up, beaten, and taken to the Archpriest. Peter, torn asunder with grief and anxiety, still sleepy, yet sensing that something terrible was about to happen on Earth, followed suit. He loved Jesus to distraction, and now could look on from afar as He was beaten…”
Lukeriya cast aside the spoons and fixed her wooden stare on the student.
The student continued…
“They came to the Archpriest. Jesus was questioned, while the workers made a fire in the middle of the yard, for it was very cold. Peter also stood among, warming himself by the fire, just as I am now… One woman saw him and said: “This one was also with Jesus,” meaning that he should also be taken in for questioning. All the men around the fire must have looked suspiciously and coldly at him, for he was confused, and said: “I know him not.” Some time later, once again, someone recognized him for one of Jesus’ pupils, saying: “You are one of them.” But Peter denied it again. And for the third time someone addressed him: “Was it not you I saw in the garden with him today?” For the third time, Peter renounced Him. After that third time, the cockerel crowed, and Peter, glancing at Jesus from a distance, recalled the words He had said to him at the Supper…
Recalling them, he came to, and went from the yard, and wept bitterly. It is said in the Gospel: “And Peter went out, and wept bitterly.”
I can just picture it: the darkness of the garden, and in the silence – stifled sobs barely heard…”
The student sighed and fell into a reverie. Continuing to smile, Vasilisa suddenly gave a sob. Large, copious tears came running down her cheeks, and she shielded her face from the fire, as if ashamed of her tears. While Lukeria, never moving her glance from the student, grew flushed, her expression intense and miserable, as in the case of one enduring great pain.
The workers were returning from the river, and one of them, mounted on a horse, was quite close, the light from the fire casting shadows across him. The student wished the widows a good night and continued on his way. The darkness engulfed him once again, chilling his hands to the bone. A merciless wind was blowing, winter really was returning, defying the mere fact that the day after tomorrow was Easter.
Now the student was thinking of Vasilisa: if she had begun crying, then everything that happened to Apostle Peter that dreadful night had some strange connection to her…
He looked back over his shoulder… The lone light flickered steadily in the darkness, and there were no people to be seen around it. The student again wondered: if Vasilisa had wept, and her daughter had been embarrassed, then it was obvious the story of 19 centuries ago, which he had narrated, had some connection to the present for them. It had something to do with both women, possibly – this deserted village, himself, and all people, too. If the old woman had cried, it wasn’t just because he had a way with words, and could tell a story well; but it was because she could relate to Apostle Peter’s sentiments, and she was vitally interested in what feelings were raging in his breast.
And a sense of great joy flooded his own heart, and the student even stopped briefly, to catch his breath. He was thinking:
“The past is connected with the present with indelible ties, like a chain of events, one ensuing from another.”
It seemed to him he had just seen both ends of this chain: he touched one end – and the opposite end had trembled in response!
When he was crossing the river by ferry, and later walking up the hill, glancing down at his native village and to the west, where the cold scarlet sunset was claiming the sky, his thought was that truth and beauty, that directed the course of human life there, in the Gethsemane garden, and in the Archpriest’s yard, continued uninterrupted to this day, and, quite obviously, were at all times the dominant theme in mankind’s life in general, and life on earth as a whole. And a sense of youth, health and vigor – he was only 22 – coupled with a sweet and tangy anticipation of happiness, a mysterious, unknown happiness – flooded his whole being. Life took on a wonderful, remarkable and profoundly sublime meaning.”