The Fire

By Leo Tolstoy

During harvest-time the men and women went out to work. In the village were left only the old and the very young. In one hut there remained a grandmother with her three grandchildren.

The grandmother made a fire in the oven, and lay down to rest herself. Flies kept alighting on her and biting her. She covered her head with a towel and fell asleep. One of the grandchildren, Másha (she was three years old), opened the oven, scraped some coals into a potsherd, and went into the vestibule. In the vestibule lay sheaves: the women were getting them bound.

Másha brought the coals, put them under the sheaves, and began to blow. When the straw caught fire, she was glad; she went into the hut and took her brother Kiryúsha by the arm (he was a year and a half old, and had just learned to walk), and brought him out, and said to him:

“See, Kiryúsha, what a fire I have kindled.”

The sheaves were already burning and crackling. When the vestibule was filled with smoke, Másha became frightened and ran back into the house. Kiryúsha fell over the threshold, hurt his nose, and began to cry; Másha pulled him into the house, and both hid under a bench.

The grandmother heard nothing, and did not wake. The elder boy, Ványa (he was eight years old), was in the street. When he saw the smoke rolling out of the vestibule, he ran to the door, made his way through the smoke into the house, and began to waken his grandmother; but she was dazed from her sleep, and, forgetting the children, rushed out and ran to the farmyards to call the people.

In the meantime Másha was sitting under the bench and keeping quiet; but the little boy cried, because he had hurt his nose badly. Ványa heard his cry, looked under the bench, and called out to Másha:

“Run, you will burn!”

Másha ran to the vestibule, but could not pass for the smoke and fire. She turned back. Then Ványa raised a window and told her to climb through it. When she got through, Ványa picked up his brother and dragged him along. But the child was heavy and did not let his brother take him. He cried and pushed Ványa. Ványa fell down twice, and when he dragged him up to the window, the door of the hut was already burning. Ványa thrust the child’s head through the window and wanted to push him through; but the child took hold of him with both his hands (he was very much frightened) and would not let them take him out. Then Ványa cried to Másha:

“Pull him by the head!” while he himself pushed him behind.

And thus they pulled him through the window and into the street.

From The Complete Works of Count Tolstóy, by Count Lev N. Tolstóy
Boston: Dana Estes & Company, 1904.

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Short stories

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EuropeRussia

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