Where would he be a year hence? Would he again climb to this height, beneath the brass bell to awaken the slumbering night with its metallic peal, or would he be lying in a dark comer of the graveyard, under a cross? God knows!… He was prepared; in the meantime God granted him the happiness of greeting the holiday once more.
“Glory be to God!” His lips whispered the customary formula as his eyes looked up to the heaven bright with a million twinkling stars and made the sign of the cross.
“Mikheyich, ay, Mikheyich!” called out to him the tremulous voice of an old man. The aged sexton gazed up at the belfry, shading his unsteady, tear-dimmed eyes with his hand, trying to see Mikheyich.
“What do you want? Here I am,” replied the bell-ringer, looking down from the belfry. “Can’t you see me?”
“No, I can’t. It must be time to ring. What do you say?”
Both looked at the stars. Myriads of God’s lights twinkled on high. The fiery Wagoner was above them. Mikheyich meditated.
“No, not yet a while. … I know when. …”
Need a watch
Indeed he knew. He did not need a watch. God’s stars would tell him when. … Heaven and earth, the white cloud gently floating in the sky, the dark forest with its indistinct murmur and the rippling of the stream enveloped by the darkness all that was familiar to him, part of him. Not in vain had he spent his life here.
The distant past arose before him. He recalled how for the first time-he had mounted to this belfry with his father. Lord! how long ago that was, and yet how recent it seemed!… He saw himself a blond lad; his eyes sparkled; the wind not the wind that raises the dust in the streets, but a strange one, that flaps its noiseless wings, tousled his hair…. Way down below, tiny beings walked about, and the village huts looked small; the forest had receded, and the oval clearing on which the village stood seemed enormous, so endless…
“And there it is, all of it!” smiled the gray-haired old man, gazing at the little clearing. … That was the way of life. As a young man one can not see the end of it. And now, there it was, as if in the palm of one’s hand, from the beginning to the grave over there which he had fancied for himself in the comer of the cemetery. … Well, glory be to God! it was time to rest. The burden of life he had borne honor- ably, and the damp earth seemed like his mother. … Soon, very noon!…