between eight and nine o'clock in the morning.
a dark leaden-coloured mass is creeping over the sky towards the sun. red zigzags of lightning gleam here and there across it. there is a sound of far-away rumbling. a warm wind frolics over the grass, bends the trees, and stirs up the dust. in a minute there will be a spurt of may rain and a real storm will begin.
fyokla, a little beggar-girl of six, is running through the village, looking for terenty the cobbler. the white-haired, barefoot child is pale. her eyes are wide-open, her lips are trembling.
"uncle, where is terenty? " she asks every one she meets. no one answers. they are all preoccupied with the approaching storm and take refuge in their huts. at last she meets silanty silitch, the sacristan, terenty's bosom friend. he is coming along, staggering from the wind.
"uncle, where is terenty? "
"at the kitchen-gardens," answers silanty.
the beggar-girl runs behind the huts to the kitchen-gardens and there finds terenty; the tall old man with a thin, pock-marked face, very long legs, and bare feet, dressed in a woman's tattered jacket, is standing near the vegetable plots, looking with drowsy, drunken eyes at the dark storm-cloud. on his long crane-like legs he sways in the wind like a starling-cote.
"uncle terenty! " the white-headed beggar-girl addresses him. "uncle, darling! "
terenty bends down to fyokla, and his grim, drunken face is overspread with a smile, such as come into people's faces when they look at something little, foolish, and absurd, but warmly loved.
"ah! servant of god, fyokia," he says, lisping tenderly, "where have you come from? "
"uncle terenty," says fyokia, with a sob, tugging at the lapel of the cobbler's coat. "brother danilka has had an accident! come along! "
"what sort of accident? ough, what thunder! holy, holy, holy. . what sort of accident? "
"in the count's copse danilka stuck his hand into a hole in a tree, and he can't get it out. come along, uncle, do be kind and pull his hand out! "
"how was it he put his hand in? what for? "
"he wanted to get a cuckoo's egg out of the hole for me."
"the day has hardly begun and already you are in trouble. . " terenty shook his head and spat deliberately. "well, what am i to do with you now? i must come . . i must, may the wolf gobble you up, you naughty children! come, little orphan! "
terenty comes out of the kitchen-garden and, lifting high his long legs, begins striding down the village street. he walks quickly without stopping or looking from side to side, as though he were shoved from behind or afraid of pursuit. fyokla can hardly keep up with him.
they come out of the village and turn along the dusty road towards the count's copse that lies dark blue in the distance. it is about a mile and a half away. the clouds have by now covered the sun, and soon afterwards there is not a speck of blue left in the sky. it grows dark.
"holy, holy, holy . ." whispers fyokla, hurrying after terenty. the first rain-drops, big and heavy, lie, dark dots on the dusty road. a big drop falls on fyokla's cheek and glides like a tear down her chin.
"the rain has begun," mutters the cobbler, kicking up the dust with his bare, bony feet. "that's fine, fyokla, old girl. the grass and the trees are fed by the rain, as we are by bread. and as for the thunder, don't you be frightened, little orphan. why should it kill a little thing like you? "
as soon as the rain begins, the wind drops. the only sound is the patter of rain dropping like fine shot on the young rye and the parched road.
"we shall get soaked, fyolka," mutters terenty. "there won't be a dry spot left on us. . ho-ho, my girl! it's run down my neck! but don't be frightened, silly. . the grass will be dry again, the earth will be dry again, and we shall be dry again. there is the same sun for us all."
a flash of lightning, some fourteen feet long, gleams above their heads. there is a loud peal of thunder, and it seems to fyokla that something big, heavy, and round is rolling over the sky and tearing it open, exactly over her head.
"holy, holy, holy . ." says terenty, crossing himself. "don't be afraid, little orphan! it is not from spite that it thunders."
terenty's and fyokla's feet are covered with lumps of heavy, wet clay. it is slippery and difficult to walk, but terenty strides on more and more rapidly. the weak little beggar-girl is breathless and ready to drop.
but at last they go into the count's copse. the washed trees, stirred by a gust of wind, drop a perfect waterfall upon them. terenty stumbles over stumps and begins to slacken his pace.
"whereabouts is danilka? " he asks. "lead me to him."