But the hour had come. Mikheyich looked once more at the stars, took off his cap, made the sign of the cross, and grasped the bell-ropes. In a moment, the night air echoed with the resounding stroke. Another, a third, a fourth… one after the other, filling the quiescent, holy eve, there poured forth powerful, drawn-out, singing sounds.
The bell stopped. The church service had begun. Mikheyich had formerly been in the habit of going down to stand in the corner by the door in order to pray and hear the singing. This time he remained in the belfry. It was too much to walk the stairs, and, moreover, he felt rather tired. He sat down on the bench and, as he listened to the melting sounds of brass, fell to musing. About what? He would have been unable to say. … The tower was dimly lit by the feeble light of his lantern. The still vibrating bells were invisible in the darkness; from time to time a faint murmur of singing in the church below reached him, and the night wind stirred the ropes attached to the iron tongues of the bells.
The old man let his head droop upon his breast, while his mind was confused with fancies. “Now they are singing a hymn,” he thought, and imagined himself in church, where he heard the children’s voices in the choir, and saw Father Naum, long since dead, leading the congregation in prayer; hundreds of peasants’ heads rose and fell, like ripened stalks of grain before the wind. … The peasants made the sign of the cross. …
All of these are familiar, although they are all dead. … There he beheld his father’s severe face; there was his brother fervently praying. And he also stood there, abloom with health and strength, filled with unconscious hope of happiness…. And where was that happiness?… For a moment, the old man’s thoughts flared up, illuminating various episodes in his past life.
He saw hard work, sorrow, care… where was this happiness? A hard lot will trace furrows even in a young face, will bend a powerful back and teach him to sigh as it had taught his older brother.
There on the left, among the village women, with her head humbly bowed, stood his sweetheart. A good woman, may she inherit the kingdom of Heaven! How much she had suffered, poor woman. … Constant poverty and work, and the inevitable sorrows of a woman’s life will wither her beauty; her eyes will lose their luster, and instead of the customary serenity, dull fear of unexpected calamities will settle perpetually on her face. … Well, then, where was her happiness? …One son was left to them, their one hope and joy; but he was too weak to withstand temptation.