“They have left off ringing ever so long! It’s dreadful; you won’t be there before the service is over! Get up!”
“Two horses are racing, racing . . .” said Anna Akimovna, and she woke up; before her, candle in hand, stood her maid, red-haired Masha. “Well, what is it?”
“Service is over already,” said Masha with despair. “I have called you three times! Sleep till evening for me, but you told me yourself to call you!”
Anna Akimovna raised herself on her elbow and glanced towards the window. It was still quite dark outside, and only the lower edge of the window-frame was white with snow. She could hear a low, mellow chime of bells; it was not the parish church, but somewhere further away. The watch on the little table showed three minutes past six.
“Very well, Masha. . . . In three minutes . . .” said Anna Akimovna in an imploring voice, and she snuggled under the bed-clothes.
She imagined the snow at the front door, the sledge, the dark sky, the crowd in the church, and the smell of juniper, and she felt dread at the thought; but all the same, she made up her mind that she would get up at once and go to early service. And while she was warm in bed and struggling with sleep—which seems, as though to spite one, particularly sweet when one ought to get up—and while she had visions of an immense garden on a mountain and then Gushtchin’s Buildings, she was worried all the time by the thought that she ought to get up that very minute and go to church.
But when she got up it was quite light, and it turned out to be half-past nine. There had been a heavy fall of snow in the night; the trees were clothed in white, and the air was particularly light, transparent, and tender, so that when Anna Akimovna looked out of the window her first impulse was to draw a deep, deep breath. And when she had washed, a relic of far-away childish feelings—joy that today was Christmas—suddenly stirred within her; after that she felt light-hearted, free and pure in soul, as though her soul, too, had been washed or plunged in the white snow. Masha came in, dressed up and tightly laced, and wished her a happy Christmas; then she spent a long time combing her mistress’s hair and helping her to dress. The fragrance and feeling of the new, gorgeous, splendid dress, its faint rustle, and the smell of fresh scent, excited Anna Akimoyna.
“Well, it’s Christmas,” she said gaily to Masha. “Now we will try our fortunes.”
“Last year, I was to marry an old man. It turned up three times the same.”
“Well, God is merciful.”
“Well, Anna Akimovna, what I think is, rather than neither one thing nor the other, I’d marry an old man,” said Masha mournfully, and she heaved a sigh. “I am turned twenty; it’s no joke.”
Every one in the house knew that red-haired Masha was in love with Mishenka, the footman, and this genuine, passionate, hopeless love had already lasted three years.