“WHAT shall I write?” asked Yegor, dipping his pen in the ink.
Vasilissa had not seen her daughter for four years. Efimia had gone away to St. Petersburg with her husband after her wedding, had written two letters, and then had vanished as if the earth had engulfed her, not a word nor a sound had come from her since. So now, whether the aged mother was milking the cow at daybreak, or lighting the stove, or dozing at night, the tenor of her thoughts was always the same: “How is Efimia? Is she alive and well?” She wanted to send her a letter, but the old father could not write, and there was no one whom they could ask to write it for them.
But now Christmas had come, and Vasilissa could endure the silence no longer. She went to the tavern to see Yegor, the innkeeper’s wife’s brother, who had done nothing but sit idly at home in the tavern since he had come back from military service, but of whom people said that he wrote the most beautiful letters, if only one paid him enough. Vasilissa talked with the cook at the tavern, and with the innkeeper’s wife, and finally with Yegor himself, and at last they agreed on a price of fifteen copecks.
So now, on the second day of the Christmas festival, Yegor was sitting at a table in the inn kitchen with a pen in his hand. Vasilissa was standing in front of him, plunged in thought, with a look of care and sorrow on her face. Her husband, Peter, a tall, gaunt old man with a bald, brown head, had accompanied her. He was staring steadily in front of him like a blind man; a pan of pork that was frying on the stove was sizzling and puffing, and seeming to say: “Hush, hush, hush!” The kitchen was hot and close.
“What shall I write?” Yegor asked again.
“What’s that?” asked Vasilissa, looking at him angrily and suspiciously. “Don’t hurry me! You are writing this letter for money, not for love! Now then, begin. To our esteemed son-in-law, Andrei Khrisanfltch, and our only and beloved daughter Efimia, we send greetings and love, and the everlasting blessing of their parents.”
“All right, fire away!”
“We wish them a happy Christmas. We are alive and well, and we wish the same for you in the name of God, our Father in heaven–our Father in heaven–”
Vasilissa stopped to think, and exchanged glances with the old man.
“We wish the same for you in the name of God, our Father in Heaven–” she repeated and burst into tears.
That was all she could say. . . . (read on)