Monday, June 13, 2016

The Butcher's Wife - by T.R.Hart



The Butcher's Wife - by T.R.Hart



Main Characters:


Ilya (Elijah) - a Russian soldier returning to   from the war.
Ivan (John) Podgorny - The Butcher
Antonina Podgorny- The Butcher's Wife (Nina)
Aleksey Kozlov - drunken father of Nina.
Olga - the Cook
Masha (Maria) - the Housekeeper
Babushka - "Grandmother"                     




Russia: November 1905
   A light snow began to fall as the sun began its descent beyond the row of pine trees which lined the road ahead. The young soldier was returning from war. His hope of finding an Inn for the night waned with the sunset, and his thoughts turned to finding firewood and shelter for himself and his horse. 'Don't worry Misha my friend; he whispered into the horse's ear 'I will take care of you, as you have saved my life more than once.' He felt Misha's breath warming his hands as he gave him some of the grain that he had been given on his departure from his cavalry regiment for the return home. 'I need to look for some wood Misha. I will be back soon.'

   Ilya picked some dry pine branches and started a small fire. He warmed himself briefly before taking a small improvised torch to gather more branches. It was not long before he had found plenty of wood to feed his growing fire. A downed tree supplied large branches that would sustain him throughout the night. He huddled close to the flames and opened his greatcoat to warm himself. Soon hunger gnawed at his stomach adding to his melancholy.

   Then Ilya spied a rabbit nearby the fire. He raised his rifle slowly. The rabbit sniffed the air and turned its ears as if it had heard the click of the rifle's hammer being pulled back. 'Please forgive me little one,' he thought as he took aim.  A sudden "Crack!" filled the night sky, and then quiet. The 
deed had been done.

   'Who's out there?' came a shout from behind a cluster of fir trees. It was the voice of an old woman. She repeated 'who's out there?' The young man detected fear in the woman's voice. 'I am a soldier returning from the War!' he assured her, 'I mean you no harm.' 'Stay where you are. I'll come to you,' she replied. Ilya petted Misha and held the rabbit in his other hand. Within seconds he was presented by the comical sight of an old woman, a Babuska, holding an old rusty musket tightly in her gnarled hands.

   She wore a red kerchief on her head. Her white hair was pulled tightly back into a bun giving her round red face the appearance of a ripe apple. Ilya could not repress his laughter at the sight of her. 'Please Babuska,' the Russian word for "Grandmother", 'please join me for a humble meal.' She put down the musket, laughed, and said: 'I live close by. Bring the rabbit, boy...it's too cold to be outside tonight!

    The two talked and laughed as they made their way to Babushka's tiny cottage. Misha was put into a small stable shared by a cow, a few chickens, and a pregnant cat. Ilya was overjoyed at the change in his fortune. He shook his greatcoat free of the accumulated snow and prepared the rabbit for the fire. Babushka brought a large bowl of potato and cabbage soup and two hard-boiled eggs served with a loaf of black bread baked that afternoon. Ilya controlled his desire to devour the meal as his hunger was so great that he feared he would sicken himself. The Rabbit was large enough for the both of them. The old woman said that she rarely had meat to eat, but her home was well stocked with fruits and vegetables which she had cooked and placed in jars in preparation for the long, cold Russian winter.

  'Where is your home boy?' asked the Babushka. "Velsk", he replied, 'Do you know the town Grandmother?'  She uttered a slight laugh while putting another ladleful of soup into his empty bowl. 'Yes, yes, I know it very well boy,' she replied. 'I will never forget Velsk nor what happened there so many years ago.' Ilya thought to himself:' It is such a small town...nothing ever happens in Velsk.' The Babushka gazed at the fire as if it were a portal to another time. 'What happened in Velsk?' he asked. 'There are things that go on in this world that cannot be explained...there are devils, demons and restless spirits in search of redemption and retribution.' Ilya smiled and said, 'Surely you don't believe these things Grandmother, we live in a modern world free of superstition.' The Babuska stared into the flames and replied, 'What I will tell you I have witnessed it with my own eyes. You can believe what I say or you can think me an old fool, but there were many now dead who witnessed the same thing. You will hear my story, Boy?' 'Yes, yes, go on Grandmother, I want to hear it,' he replied wiping his mouth.

Here begins Babuska's narrative:

   There was a Butcher's wife in Velsk who was accused of murdering her husband. Antonina Podgorny was the young wife of Ivan Podgorny, the town butcher. She was the eldest daughter of Aleksey Kozlov, a local dairy farmer in Velsk. Having been widowed some years ago, Kozlov was left with several young children. He had a reputation for laziness and drinking and though his children labored on the farm, his mismanagement of affairs and misuse of any small profit was wasted on drink. Seldom did he arise from his bed before noon as his nights were spent visiting the local tavern in search of an easy opportunity, or the generosity of those whose well intended donations were squandered on bottles of vodka well hidden by Aleksey in his ragged coat. It was on one of these nights that the fateful meeting occurred.

   As was his usual custom, Aleksey Kozlov was drunk and in need of  money. He bemoaned his circumstances, a pitiful widower deprived of a connubial companion, as his wife had died, some say she from exhaustion and exasperated at her husband's lack of industry. 'Oh', he wailed, 'As God has given me many children he has thought it prudent to take their mother from us...and with so many daughters, what man would consider marriage without a proper dowry? Is it a sin to be a poor man's daughter?' A voice was heard from one of the darkened corners: 'There is a good man in this world that would relieve you from your burden Aleksey Koslov...and in doing so, save himself from a lonely existence.' Kozlov, a clever fox that he was, struck a match and lit a candle on the table which illuminated the pitiful image of a large bearded man with a heavy face and deep set grey eyes. The man's hands resembled large hams, the result of many years of hard work. It was Ivan Podgorny, the town's only butcher.

   Ivan had seen Antonia Kozlov, known as "Nina", at the marketplace. He would buy animals for slaughter, or sold his services to butcher for the merchants, who would then sell varieties of cooked meat at their food stands. He noticed the industrious young woman selling milk and butter twice each week at the market. She was a young girl not quite nineteen, polite and well proportioned, with golden brown hair and a pleasant round face with a radiant smile and deep blue eyes that stirred something within Ivan that he had never felt before. It was the desire to love and to be loved. Ivan realized the opportunity had come before him in the guise of a worthless fool seeking personal gain for his daughter's hand in marriage. He thought to himself: 'It is this fox whom I will outfox!'

   It was well known that the children of Aleksey Kozlov were impoverished and suffered greatly from malnutrition. Their meals consisted of black bread, cheese, and potato soup with cabbage. Most of the milk and eggs were sold to keep a roof over their heads. Often the money was appropriated by their lecherous father who spent it on cheap liquor. 'You are a good man, Aleksey Kozlov, but poor' said Ivan Podgorny. 'I am a wealthy man but poor in spirit as I have no wife. Perhaps we two good men can help one another to find wealth and happiness?' Thinking that he had come upon a simpleton, Kozlov made a proposition. 'Ah, Mr. Podgorny, I wish that I could find a suitable husband for my Ninotchka, but she is like a mother to my poor children. I am unable to work as I have a condition that prohibits me from the physical labor that farming demands. My sons are too young and have not the strength as they have but little meat to eat.' Ivan played along with the Fox and said: 'For a suitable wife I would have plenty of meat for her family and for my dear father the medicine to help ease his suffering." Aleksey Kozlov and Ivan drank to each other's health. There would be a wedding between Antonina Kozlov and Ivan Podgorny. The banns of matrimony were read in the church on the following Sunday.

   The wedding was an elaborate affair. No expense was too great for Ivan Podgorny's wedding. The wine flowed like water and the abundance of food was so great that the children unaccustomed to consuming such a large quantity became sick. Nina's performance of a happy bride was greater than any actress who ever appeared on stage. Who was this man that she was marrying? Would she learn to love this man well past his youth whom she found physically repulsive? Her Father's thoughts were much simpler. He was to drink that day until he passed out. As it turned out, his bargain would soon cost him his life.

   Nina came to live at the home of her husband after the pretense of a brief honeymoon, which was in reality, a business trip. There were two servants: a housekeeper named Masha, and Olga, the cook. They were women of the lowest class and of questionable character. Both of them had treated her with deference but noticed it had turned to contempt when her husband paraded his young wife in all his newly bought finery to the town. She did not feel that he loved her. She was a mere possession of Ivan's no different from the thoroughbred horse that pulled their carriage. Her life had become a terrifying ordeal as she had begun to realize the sort of man whom she married. His kindness waned and his miserliness grew with every day that passed.

   Aleksey Kozlov had not prospered from his bargain. As was his way he begged Ivan for more money to squander on his wasteful ways. Irritated by this persistent annoyance and threat to his personal fortune, Ivan would buy bottles of liquor from dubious sources. The result was to be the death of Aleksey Kozlov . Nina's exhortations to resist the demands of her father were ignored by her husband. Knowing well that drinking would hasten his demise; he encouraged Kozlov to drink with him. One night, following a drunken episode, Aleksey staggered out of the house into the cold December weather. He was found frozen lying in the road leading to his home the next day, the empty bottle in his grasp.

   Nina's brothers and sisters fared no better. Ivan had given them meat that was not fit for the dogs he had kept to guard his house. If a man could thrive on fat and gristle then they would have eaten like royalty. His generosity toward his brothers and sisters-in-law was conspicuously absent. He had treated them with contempt, finding them employment as servants far from their sister's company. One brother had found himself so severely mistreated that he ran away to join the army. The others fared much worse... Nina's little sister had suffered from her cruel mistress' neglect, soon fell ill and died within a week. Nina was left alone in the world.

   The young bride's  sorrow turned to hatred for the man who promised to love her. His mere presence filled her with quiet rage. She had often thought to herself that she would either take her own life, or his, or both, to end this purgatory which she endured. She had hoped for a loving marriage to a boy she had known before the war with the Japanese. The War had been a disaster for the Russian people. The Russian fleet was virtually annihilated and along with it, the boy she had hoped to marry. Young women had difficulty  finding suitable husbands to marry in those awful  times. War had always placed more hardships on the peasantry already burdened with hunger and debt despite all their labors. Ivan sought out desperate women to spend his nights with and he began to drink excessively . A pattern of drunkenness, arguments, and abuse developed between the unhappy couple. The business which had been so successful started to fail. Nina was forced to sell her expensive clothes for a pittance in order to survive. She would cry herself to sleep each night, bolting the bedroom door, and hiding beneath the covers as Ivan would stumble into the house, bang on the door and scream until he fell into a drunken slumber. It was on a cold December night that the incident occurred in Ivan Podgorny's home that would change Nina's life forever.

   It was during the twelve days between Christmas and the Epiphany when our Lord Jesus Christ was visited by the Three Kings that Ivan was in his inebriated state. Whether it was to celebrate the prosperity of his business due to the holidays, or to forget his troubles at home one can only guess, but it was a  fact that he was murdered in his own kitchen that night and the Constable was confronted by a bloody Nina screaming hysterically holding a meat cleaver in her hand.
   Nina Podgorny was arrested that night and taken to the jail amidst an entire village of curious onlookers. The poor girl was placed in a stinking cell filled with low-born women of ill repute who mocked her and asked her why she "did it". She kept to herself and suffered in silence while she waited for a trial that she knew would end in her conviction. Nina quietly protested her innocence and did  not fear death, but on the contrary, she welcomed it. 'Perhaps,' she thought, 'it would be better to be hanged and bear the pain for a short time than to have spent a lifetime married to an evil man for many years.'

   The gossip among the villagers was at a fevered pitch between those who believed that Nina Podgorny planned her husband's murder, and of those who believed that Ivan had driven his wife to do it. Drunken wastrels who abused their wives began to fear for their lives. It seemed that the drinking and abusing seemed to ebb lest they suffer the same fate at the hands from their spouses while they slept. Then, there were those who believed that Nina had a young lover who conspired with her to kill Ivan Podgorny. It did not matter what side you were on. The truth was that no one in the town liked Ivan. There were few who lamented his demise.

   It would be in the middle of March sometimes called the "Ides of March" that the trial would begin for the murder of Ivan Podgorny. A magistrate was summoned to Yeslk to preside over the trial, the town being too small to have a permanent government official to conduct judicial "businesses." Disputes were usually handled by the town's Holy Fathers conducting the morality dictated by our almighty Lord,... but, murders were a different matter altogether. So, as I have said, ' a magistrate was to come to Yelsk.'

   I do not recall the name of the magistrate. It was too many years ago, but no one could ever forget his appearance. Although he was of middle height, he was a very fat man with a red face and a nose of the size and appearance of a small red fruit. In fact when he talked it almost looked like he was eating a red plum! His eyes were small like a pig (the Inn Keeper remarked that he ate like one too!) and dull looking pale blue eyes revealing his lack of intelligence. I am afraid that our first impressions of the magistrate were not favorable. As my story reveals, it would only get worse.
The narrative paused here as it was late into the night and sleep was beginning to overtake both Ilya, and the Babuska.


The Trial of Nina Podgorny for the murder of her husband Ivan Podgorny:

   A heavy snow fell as the Babuska and Ilya slept. The fire was beginning to burn out when the young man rose and put a log into the flames. "Grandmother" he said, ' I will bring in more wood for you as the snow has fallen too deep throughout the night for you to walk.' The Babuska smiled as she rolled out of bed, freshened up and began to form dough into loaves of bread ready for the oven. 'Cow needs milking Boy...if you know how' she clucked, 'and, the eggs to be gathered.' Ilya assured the woman that he was  raised on a farm and knew how to milk a cow and to take care of the hens". He made his way to the stable, patted his horse on the head and asked:    ' Misha, my brother, did you have a good night?' He threw some oats into the trough and began to milk the cow while Misha fed. The young man finished all of the Babuska's chores and was rewarded with a hearty breakfast of eggs, salted ham, and delicious black bread fresh from the oven.

   'Grandmother, tell me more about the trial of Nina Podgorny ,' he begged. 'Where did I leave off?' she asked. 'You were telling me about the Magistrate, and how things would get worse Grandmother.'  The Babuska let out a hearty laugh revealing the gaps in her teeth and clapped her hands together. 'The Turnip,' she said of the Magistrate, 'we all thought that he was as smart as a turnip... he probably bought his appointment.' She kept one eye on loaves in the fireplace and  said: "Now, I will get back to my story.."

   As the Babushka stated before, the trial began on the 15th of March. The snow was still high but the Sun became stronger with every lengthening day. Navigating the streets was still difficult due to the melting, the mud and the manure. The town's meeting house became an improvised  courtroom. Efforts were made by the local artisans to give the meeting room the appearance of a real courtroom. The Judge's bench was built so high that the "Turnip" had difficulty climbing the stairs. The witness stand stood just below and to the right of "his honor". The blacksmith was given the honor of constructing the accused's keep within the center of the room. Mrs. Podgorny was to be put into the wrought iron cubicle standing 2 meters in height (which towered over the defendant's head), and a padlock was fitted through the hasp and staple to prevent escape, or perhaps, rescue by the supposed lover of Mrs. Podgorny. With all of the excitement that went on that day, they neglected to  provide a chair for Nina to sit upon.

   The Magistrate entered the courtroom a half hour later than the witnesses, defendant, and bailiff, looking well-fed, with a bright red nose as an indication that he had partaken of strong spirits that very morning (according to all who in attendance). I mentioned his difficulty in climbing the stairs leading to the bench. After what seemed an eternity, the charges were read by the bailiff and the trial began with the testimony of the first witness, the town's constable:

   The Constable was led to the witness stand, swore to tell the truth, and sat facing the prosecutor; a tall thin man with a balding head, and a commanding deep voice that demanded attention when he spoke. 'Constable, can you describe to the court the events that took place the night Ivan Podgorny was murdered?' The Constable scratched his bearded chin, looked skyward and closed his eyes as he recollected the night in question. He began his testimony: ' I was performing my duties that night when I came upon the victim in a drunken state, not unusual, and as usual, he was cursing his decision to marry ... I escorted him to the front door and began to resume my night watch. Several minutes later I heard Mr. Podgorny hollering extremely loud and then the crash of the door at the rear of the house...I heard a woman shriek...and, when I entered, I came upon a hysterical Mrs. Podgorny standing over the body of her husband with a meat cleaver in her hand.' His elaboration of the scene began to irritate the prosecutor who then interrupted his testimony with a "Thank You" and a "That is all..."

   The next witness was a villager who had befriended Masha, the Podgorny's housekeeper. Masha had complained to her that Ivan Podgorny was a miserly employer who exacted more labor from his servants than the meager compensation that they received. Her testimony began to ramble on about Olga, the cook's suspicions "that the pretty young wife had a lover, and that they conspired to kill Ivan and take his money."  'Madam,' inquired the prosecutor now more irritable than ever, 'can you substantiate these claims for a motive to murder?' The silly woman didn't understand the words "substantiate" nor "motive" and stared at him with a stupid look. She replied angrily, 'No! I can't prove it, but God knows she killed 'im!'

   The third witness was hardly recognizable in the courtroom until one keen observer declared that the clean shaven man with slicked back grizzled hair was indeed "Old Yakmanov", the town drunk. He worked around the town doing odd jobs, but his time was mostly spent in search of a patron who would keep him in an inebriated state. He looked ridiculous outfitted in a  borrowed oversized suit. He alone lamented the loss of his benefactor, Ivan Podgorny.  The rewards for being a listening ear had become particularly advantageous for Yakmanov. His portrayal of  Ivan as generous and benevolent had caused considerable consternation from the crowd of curious spectators who actually knew the man.

   Masha, the housekeeper was questioned by the prosecutor. She was asked to recall the events of the day of the murder and stated: ' It was like any other day...I clean the house...Mr. Podgorny is away at his business!' When asked about the whereabouts of Mrs. Podgorny that day, Masha became visibly nervous and snapped back: " I am not her keeper ... I keep her house and mind my own business!" Masha had stepped down from the  witness stand before the prosecutor could excuse her. It was the next witness' testimony which would be the most damning.

   Olga was the Podgorny's cook. She was a tough, vile woman (some said she had a face like a monkey) who came to work for the Podgornys following the death of her husband. Some believed that he willed himself to death in order to escape her shrewish behavior. His death had left her in desperate finances. Masha and Nina were mouse-like in the presence of Ivan Podgorny's outbursts, but Olga would have none of it. As Ivan's life became more dissolute, he began to rely more on the advice of his strong willed cook than on his own wife's counsel. Olga ran the household with an iron hand causing her mistress to avoid an encounter with the woman. The kitchen became Olga's lair. Much of the information concerning the unhappy marital state of the Podgorny's had originated with Olga. There were few unwilling listeners to the latest gossip emanating from Olga's mouth, which included the story of the alleged young lover of Nina. Under oath she had stated: 'Things started to disappear around the house...I told my master about the thefts and that I suspected a young man had come to visit the Mistress...well, he flew into a rage!.., but... I managed to calm him down you see...'

   A parade of witnesses gave testimony in regards to the deceased which was usually defamatory, while that of the defendant was either sympathetic or spurious. The sole witness who testified in favor of Nina Podgorny was the Baker's servant girl who spent much time with the defendant at the market before her marriage to the butcher. She depicted Nina as a "good and kindly woman, gentle, and incapable of any treachery."

   The defendant was interrogated by the prosecution. She denied killing her husband and recalled the night of the murder. " I was reading in my bed when I heard yelling and screams from downstairs... I hurried down the stairs to the kitchen where I found my husband lying on the floor in a pool of blood...I was frantic and pulled a meat cleaver from his head..I screamed for help and that is when I was confronted by the Constable who entered through the back door which was left open and blown by the wind." Realizing that her pleas and protestations were falling on deaf ears, Nina Podgorny sighed, lowered her head, and once again resigned herself to her fate.

   The Magistrate, or "the Turnip" as we called him, breathed deeply, gave a bored look, and pronounced sentence on the poor wretched woman: 'The court finds the defendant Nina Podgorny guilty of the murder of her husband Ivan Podgorny, for which she will suffer the penalty of death by hanging' He adjourned the court while checking his pocket watch as the dinner hour was rapidly approaching.

   Babushka enjoyed the company of the young soldier, so, in order to extend his visit, she said: 'I am an old woman and tire easily... I will rest now and finish my story after our supper.'

The Butcher's Corpse Appears

   Strong winds blew throughout the day compelling Ilya to clear mounting snowdrifts that began to deposit in front of the door and windows of the cottage. Several times he went out into the biting wind while the Babushka rested. She rose from her bed to find the young soldier huddled close to the fire sipping a steaming cup of tea. "I will reward you boy, for your labors with a hot, hearty meal", she said wiping the icy remnants off of his greatcoat. "Thank you Grandmother", he responded, "but...please do not forget your promise to finish your story."

   They sat down to a leisurely meal while Ilya recounted news of the outside world, the war, and his hope for a new Russia. There was a childlike excitement in his voice as he spoke of the wonderful new discoveries in Science and Technology. The Babuska listened attentively with a broad smile that wrinkled her appled cheeks. Soon the sun began to set requiring the need to illuminate the room. She lit the lamp and raised the wick so that the room brightened and cast long shadows of the two on the wall. Outside the wind howled and wailed. 'It was about this time of the day,' she said in a loud whisper, 'that an icy wind began to blow outside the courthouse on the day  Nina Podgorny was sentenced to hang. Those peering through the windows of the crowded room were forced to return home by the  violent gales blowing them about in the streets.' She turned her face toward the fire, paused for a moment and said: ' all that happened next was unbelievable...but true!'

   The Babushka resumed her narrative telling the young soldier that all the villagers in the courtroom waited impatiently for a lull in the storm in order to make their escape home. Suddenly, they were all startled by a pounding at the door. It became so loud that the Magistrate, already in a foul mood as his dinner was being delayed, shouted ' What fool is making such a racket?...Open the door and bring him to me!' The bailiff jumped to attention and made his way toward the back of the room pushing through the occupants with one hand and unlocking it with the other. His patience was tested to the limit as the pounding continued. He shouted 'How dare you act like a madman!' The door burst open knocking him to the ground. A blast of air blew out the lamps leaving the villagers fumbling about in the dark. Someone scurried about relighting the lamps. It was then that a horrifying specter was revealed by the  illumination..."It", the corpse of Ivan Podgorny!'

   Those persons in close proximity recoiled at the terrifying sight in their midst. The powerful frame of the deceased seemed to lurch forward as it made its way toward the front of the room. The malignant expression on its face was made more horrible to behold by eyeless sockets and a gaping wound extending from the forehead to the crown of the head. The stench of filth and decomposition filled the air. Panicked onlookers rushed towards the door only to hear it slam shut as if it had been ordered to do so. The bailiff, having regained his senses, thrust the key into the lock but was unable to open it.

   The courtroom was silent except for the sound of footsteps as "It" walked heavily on the wooden floor towards the witness stand and bench. The Magistrate, or "the turnip" forgot his hunger pangs as the onset of fear caused him to seek refuge beneath his honor's bench. "It" paused, looked around the room and spoke in a voice, as from within a vault, proclaimed from the open but immobile mouth: " I seek justice for my murder..the murder of Ivan Podgorny!"

   The corpse slowly turned toward the accusers. The putrefied face terrified the Constable whose bravado had changed from pride to cowardice  as he attempted to escape as the Magistrate had done. He attempted to slink away unnoticed into the throng of spectators but was stopped by the iron grasp of a slimy greenish black hand on the shoulder of his greatcoat. 'How long did it take for you to investigate the scene of my murder?...and the back door of the kitchen was open?' demanded the corpse of Ivan Podgorny. 'Y-Y-Yes...it was open!'  The face of the specter contorted with pain as it screamed '..and did you not escort me to my front door?'  The Constable could not speak as he was frozen with fear. 'My wife was found with meat cleaver in hand, pulled from my split skull, straddling my dead body with the back door open to the wind and cold!..You never sought the real murderer! Your time was spent shooting stray dogs and selling their meat to me, you miserable wretch!'  "It" picked the Constable up above its head and flung him hurtling against the wall creating a loud thud.

   Masha the housekeeper and Olga, the cook, who had given the most damaging testimony during the trial were huddled together in anticipation of the wrath of the murdered man. A malodorous smell rose with each step the corpse took as it moved closer to the women. 'You coveted my possessions...you stole from me, and bore false witness against my wife!..It was you alone Olga who was entrusted the key to the back entry!' As the words came spewing forth, a vile mucus emanated from the mouth. A pool of filth landed on Masha's dress. She was overcome by the odor and began to vomit violently, convulsed  and then fainted on the floor. Olga, unlike her meek accomplice, showed no fear of her former Master, and started to taunt the deceased. 'You... you were a beast, not a man...you connived, you cheated and stole...you treated us like the animals you slaughtered...yes, we stole from you, and your cheating young wife.' The corpse of Ivan Podgorny reached for Olga but, she was quick and lashed out once again: 'Yes it was I who split your miserable skull and I would do it again if I had the chance!' Seeking their opportunity to avoid further remonstrations from "It". The Constable and Bailiff seized Olga and led her away. Someone rushed over to Masha, who was lying still on the floor and shouted: 'She's dead!'

   The horror abated as the corpse of Ivan Podgorny turned toward the small figure enclosed in the cage. The expression on its face was now one of sadness and remorse. 'Nina Podgorny, in life you were my spouse...I showed you cruelty instead of  kindness...I, a manifestation of my own evil ways, abused you and now  beg your forgiveness.' Nina responded with a nod of the head as affirmation. Ivan Podgorny had come to seek absolution as well as retribution. His soul had sought redemption from the purgatory earned from an  avaricious life. Nina bade him farewell as the corpse made its return to his grave. The corpse sighed as it shuffled  towards the door. It opened as if summoned to do so and Ivan Podgorny's corpse disappeared into the  darkness never to be seen from again.

   'Well boy,' said the Babuska, 'Olga never stopped laughing. She was sent to the mental asylum near Yeslk where she died.'  Ilya begged her to tell him about Nina's fate. 'Well,' she said, 'Nina was acquitted,. and, the young lover... was her brother who had deserted the army in order to rescue his sister...It was said that she sold everything and left for America...that is all I know.'

   The rays of the sun melted enough of the snow so that Ilya could make his way back home. He bade the Babuska goodbye with the promise of visiting her again someday. Just outside of the town of Yelsk he passed a cemetery overgrown from neglect.  There he saw an empty vault with the lid broken on the ground beside it. The name engraved upon it was "Ivan Podgorny". 

The End
                          
  



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