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The Flower of Stone

2006-07-13 23:42

  It wasn't only Mramor that was famous for stone carving, folks say there were craftsmen in our villages too. Only ours mostly worked with malachite, because there was plenty of it, and the very finest kind. The things they made, you'd just stare and wonder how they did it.

  There was a master craftsman in those days called Prokopich. He was the best there was in carving, none other could come near him. But he was getting old, so the Master told the bailiff to give Prokopich and apprentice.

  “Let some lad learn his craft, all of it, to the last secret.”

  But Prokopich - maybe he just didn't want to give away the secrets of his craft, or maybe it was something else, but he didn't teach any of them much. All they got from him was bumps and bangs. He'd buffet a lad till his whole head was bruised and pull his ears nearly off, and then tell the bailiff: “He's no good. His eye's not straight and his hand's like a foot. He'll never learn.”

  The bailiff must have been told to humour Prokopich.

  “If he's no good, he's no good . . . . We'll find ye another.” So the next lad would be sent.

  The boys all heard about Prokopich's teaching. They'd roar and howl at the very thought of going to him. And fathers and mothers too, they were loth to send their boys to be knocked about, and tried to keep them out of the way if they could. Besides, it wasn't a healthy trade, carving malachite. The dust was real poison. Folks kept away from it.

  But the bailiff had his orders from the Master so he went on sending lads to Prokopich to learn his craft. And Prokopich would torment them a while as his way was, and then send them back. “No good.”

  At last the bailiff lost his patience. “How long will ye keep this up? No good, no good - when'll ye say 'good'? Make something of this one.”

  But Prokopich was stubborn. “All the same to me…… I can teach him ten years if ye like, but naught will come of it.”

  “What lad do ye want, then?”

  “You needn't send any, for me. I'm not pining for 'em.”

  So it went on. The bailiff and Prokopich tried plenty of lads, but it always ended the same - with bruises on their heads and only one idea inside, to get away. Some spoiled things on purpose so Prokopich would turn them off.

  Then it came to Danilo Nedokormysh's turn. An orphan, he was. Twelve, maybe, or a bit more. A tall, spindly lad with long legs, thin as a rail - you'd wonder how he kept body and soul together. But he'd a comely face, with blue eyes and curly hair. First he was made a page at the Big House, to pick up handkerchiefs and snuff-boxes and the like, and run errands. But he didn't seem made for it. Other lads are quick and smart. As soon as you look at them they're standing up straight - yessir, yes ma'am, what can I do? But that Danilo, he'd be off in some corner staring at a picture or decoration, just standing there staring. They'd call him and he wouldn't even hear. He was flogged at first, of course, then they gave him up as a bad job.

  “Head in the clouds. Moves like a snail. Never make a good lackey of him.”

  He wasn't sent to the mines, though. He'd never have lasted a week on that work. So he put to help the herdsman. But he was no good at that either. He seemed to be trying his best, but everything went wrong with him. Half the time he was in a sort of daze. He'd stand staring at some bit of grass while the cows wandered off. The herdsman was a kindly old fellow and sorry for the orphan, but all the same he had to rate him.

  “What's going to come o' ye, Danilo? Ye will ruin all for yourself, and my old back will get the whip too. What good are ye? What are ye thinking about?”

  “I don't know myself, Grandad . . . . . Just - naught special. I was watching, like . . . . There was a bug crawling on a leaf. It wasn't quite blue and it wasn't quite grey, and there was just a mite o yellow under the wings; and the leaf was a long wide one. . . . The edge was jagged, curling a bit, like a fringe, and darker, but in the middle it was real bright green, as if it had just been painted. And there was the bug crawling about on it.”

  “Well now, aren't ye a fool, Danilo! Are ye here to watch bugs on leaves? Let it crawl where it wants, ye are to herd cows. Get all that nonsense out o' your head before I tell the bailiff!”

  There was one thing Danilo could do, though. He learned to play the horn better than the old man himself. Real tunes, it was. When the cows came home in the evenings, the women and maids would ask him: “Play us a song, Danilushko.”

  He'd start playing, but it wasn't like any song they'd ever heard. It would be like the forest rustling and the brook babbling and birds singing all at once, real nice it sounded. Because of those tunes all the woman started making much of Danilushko, some would mend his clothes, others would cut him new foot-rags of homespun, or make him a new shirt. And food, they all vied in treating him to the best and finest. The old herdsman, he was real pleased with Danilo's tunes too. But not always. For once Danilo began playing it was just as if he'd no cows to mind at all. And that was what brought misfortune on them.

  Danilushko got lost in his tunes one day when the old man had dozed off a bit, and some of the cows strayed away. when it was time to get them together and drive them to the common, there was this one gone and that one gone. They sought and sought, but what chance was there to find them? It was right by Yelnichnaya, that's close to the woods, they're thick and dark, with plenty of wolves about. They found one cow and that was all. So they took the herd home, and told about the missing cows. Of course, men went out on horseback and on foot to search, but they never found a single one of them.

  You know the way it was in those days. For every fault, bare your back. And to make it worse, one of the lost cows belonged to the bailiff. No hope of getting off lightly this time. First they had the old man to the whipping post. Then came Danilo's turn, and he was so thin and spindly, the flogger looked at him and said: “That one will faint wi' the first stroke - if it doesn't let his soul out at once.”

  All the same he gave his whip a good swing, but Danilushko didn't make a sound. A second blow, and a third - and not a cry from the lad. Then the flogger got savage and started laying on as hard as he could.

  “I'll make you yell, you stubborn cur! Yell you shall! You shall!”

  Danilushko was shaking all over, tears rolled down his face but not a sound did he make. Bit his lips and kept it in. he was flogged till he fainted, but never a cry out of him. The bailiff - he was there, of course - was real amazed.

  “There's one that can stand knocking about! I know now where I'll spend him, if he's still alive.”

  Well, he did get better, Granny Vikhorikha put him on his feet again. That's an old woman they tell of. She was famous round about for her simples. She knew the powers of herbs, what to use for toothache, or sprains, or the rheumatics - all of it. She'd go out and seek the herbs herself, each one at the time when it had its full strength. And then she'd brew her leaves and roots, or make salves of them.

  It was heaven for Danilushko, living with that old woman. She was kind, you see, and liked to chat; and all her hut was hung with her dried grasses and flowers and roots. Danilushko would look at this one and that and ask her - what's it called? Where does it grow? What's the flower like? And the old woman told him about them.

  One day Danilushko asked her: “D'ye know all the flowers round our way, Granny?”

  “Well, I won't boast,” she said, “but I can say I know those that flower for men to see.”

  “But are there any that flower in secret?”

  “Aye, that there are,” said old Vikhorikha. “Ye know the fern? They say it flowers on St. John's Day. It's a magic flower, that is. It'll show where there's hidden treasure. But it's evil for a man. Then there's a flower that breaks rock - it's like a will-o'-the-wisp. Catch it and it'll open all locks for ye. It's a robber's flower. And then there's the Flower of Stone. It grows in the malachite mountain, folks say. It has great power on the Snake Festival. But unhappy the man that sees it.”

  “Why's he unhappy, Granny?”

  “That, my child, I can't tell ye because I don't know myself. It's the way it was told me.”

  Maybe Danilushko would have gone on living with Vikoriha, but the bailiff's lickspittles saw the lad was getting on his feet and hurried off to tell of it. So the bailiff to sent for Danilushko.

  “Off you go to Prokopich,” he said, “learn to carve malachite. Just the job for you.”

  Naught to be done, so Danilushko went, though it seemed like a puff of wind would blow him over.

  Prokopich took one look at him. “Picked a fine 'un this time. There's strong, lusty lads can't learn my craft, what'll I do with a lad as can hardly stand on his feet?”

  So Prokopich went to the bailiff. “He's no good. Might kill him by accident, like - and then have to answer for it.”

  But the bailiff - not a word would he listen to.

  “He's given ye to teach - teach him and less talk about it. He's tough, that lad is, for all his sickly looks.”

  “Well, be it as ye will,” said Prokopich. “I've said my say. I'll teach him, but I hope I won't be blamed.”

  “None to blame ye, the lad's alone in the world, so as ye like with him.”

  So Prokopich went back home again, and there was Danilushko at the work-bench, staring at a slab of malachite. There was a mark on the slab where the border was to be carved. Danilushko was looking as it, shaking his head. Prokopich wondered what the new lad could be about. So he asked in his usual gruff way: “What is that ye are doing? Who told ye to meddle wi' the work? What are staring at?”

  “Seems to me, Grandad,” said Danilushko, “ye oughtn't to carve the border that side. Look, here's how the pattern goes, ye will cut right through it.”

  Well, of course, Prokopich started to shout at him.

  “What's that? Who d'ye think you are? A master craftsman? Seen naught, know naught and airing your ideas! What do you understand about it?”

  “I know this spoiled, that I do know,” said Danilushko.

  “Who's spoiled it? Eh? You say that to me - you, ye snot-nose, to me, the best craftsman? I'll give ye spoiled - ye will be under the sod!”

  He went on shouting and bawling, but he didn't even touch Danilushko. You see, he's puzzled a good bit over that slab himself, over which side he'd carve the border. And Danilushko had hit the nail right on the head. So Prokopich shouted till he got tired and then he said kindly enough: “Well, Master Craftsman, show me how you think it ought to be done.”

  Danilushko started pointing out this and that.

  “Look, the pattern could go this way. Or better, make the slab narrower, carve the border where there's no pattern and just leave the natural pattern on top.”

  Prokopich growled: “H'm - aye. . . . Ye are full o' knowledge. Mind ye don't spill it.” But to himself he thought: the lad's right. Something ought to come of this one. But how can I teach him? One thump and he'll turn up his toes.

  He thought this way and that, and then he asked Danilushko: “Whose son are ye, Clever?”

  Danilushko told him all about himself. And orphan, couldn't remember his mother and as for his father, didn't even know who he was. Always been called Danilo Nedokormysh, but what his real surname was he'd never heard. He told Prokopich how he'd been at the Big House and why he'd been sent away, how he'd spent the summer herding and how he'd been flogged. The old man felt quite sorry for him.

  “I can see ye have not had a good time of it, lad, and now on top of it all ye have been sent here to me. Our craft's no easy one.” Then he made a show of anger again and growled. “That's enough, now, that'll do! Chatterbox, that's what ye are. If tongues were hands they'd all be grand workers. Chit and chat day and night! An apprentice - huh! We'll see tomorrow what you're made of. Get your supper, it's time to sleep.”

  Prokopich lives alone. His wife had died long before, and one of the neighbours, old Mitrofanovna, came in to look after things. In the morning she'd cook something and clean up, and in the evening Prokopich managed all he wanted for himself.

  They had supper, then Prokopich said: “Lie down here on the bench.”

  Danilushko took off his shoes, put his knapsack under his head, covered himself with his homespun coat, shivered a bit - it was chilly in the hut in autumn - but soon fell asleep. Prokopich lay down too, but he couldn't get to sleep, all the talk about the malachite pattern kept going round and round in his head. He tossed and grunted a bit, then he got up lighted the candle, went to the bench and started measuring the slab this way and that. Tried one band of carving, then another, made the border wider, made it narrower, then he turned it all round the other way. But no matter what he tried, it always came out that the lad's way was the best.

  “So that's the sort he is, this Nedokormysh!” Prokopich marveled. “Green as grass, and teaches an old craftsman. What an eye! Oh, what an eye!”

  He went softly into the lumber room, got a pillow and a big sheepskin coat, put the pillow under Danilushko's head and covered him with the skin. “Sleep well, Sharp Eyes,” he said.

  The lad didn't waken, he just turned over on the other side and stretched out under the sheepskin - nice and warm he felt - and breathed sort of heavy, like a cat purring. Now, Prokopich had never had any children of his own, and Danilushko just caught at his heart. He stood looking down at the lad, while Danilushko slept on, breathing heavily with just a bit of a whistle in it. And Prokopich kept wondering how he could make the lad stronger and sturdier, so he wouldn't look as if a puff of wind would knock him of his feet.

  “A sickly boy like that to learn my trade! The dust - it's poison, it'll get on his chest before we know it. He ought to rest and put some flesh on him first, then I'll teach him the work. There's a craftsman in him.”

  The next morning he told Danilushko: “You start off by doing odd jobs round the house. That's the way I have it. Understand? First, go and gather cranberries, the frost's just touched them, they ought to be right for buns. But see ye don't wander off too far. Just get as many as ye find. Take crust o' bread with ye - something to bite on it the woods. And go to Mitrofanovna, tell her to fly a couple of eggs and give ye a pitcher of milk. Understand all that?”

  The next day he told the lad: “Go and catch me a goldfinch wi” a good loud voice, and a linnet, a lively one. See ye are back by nightfall. Understand?

  Danilushko caught both and brought them home.

  “Aye, they're good ones,” said the old man. “Go catch some more.”

  So it went on. Every day Prokopich gave Danilo some job, but it was all play. As soon as the snow came he sent the lad off with the neighbour to help bring wood. Well, what sort of work was that! Going, he just sat on the sledge and drove the horse, coming back the followed the load on foot. Stretched his legs a bit, ate his dinner and slept like a log. Prokopich got him a warm coat and cap, gloves and felt boots. The old man wasn't so badly off, you see. He was a serf, but he paid quit-rent and managed to earn a bit for himself. And soon he was real fond of Danilushko. The boy got to be like a son to him. So he didn't grudge him aught, and kept him out of the workshop for the time being.

  Living so well, Danilushko began to pick up, and he got real fond of Prokopich too. Who wouldn't? He could see Prokopich was kind to him, and it was the first time in his life he'd ever been so well off. Winter passed, and Danilushko could run wild all he liked. One day he'd be on the pond, the next in the woods. And he'd keep looking and looking at Prokopich's work. As soon as he came home they'd be talking. Danilushko would tell Prokopich things and ask him - what's this, and why's this? So Prokopich would explain, and show him too. Danilushko took it all in. sometimes he'd try for himself - “Here, let me do it.” Then Prokopich would watch him work and help him when he needed it and show him how to do it all better.

  In the end the bailiff noticed Danilushko by the pond. He asked one of his lickspittles: “What lad's that? He's always here. I've seen him plenty of times. Fishing on a weekday, a big lad like that! Ought to be at work. Someone's keeping him back.”

  Of course they soon found out, the bailiff's spies, and when they told him he couldn't believe it.

  “Bring him to me,” he said, “I'll look into this.”

  So Danilushko was brought to the bailiff.

  “Whose lad are you?” he asked. And Danilushko said: “I'm an apprentice, I'm learning to carve malachite.”

  The bailiff took him by the ear. “So that's how ye do your learning, your rascal!” And by the ear he led Danilushko to Prokopich.

  The old man saw there was trouble brewing and thought how to shield the lad.

  “I sent him myself to catch a perch. I felt a real hankering for fresh perch. I've a bad stomach, I can't eat other food. So I told the lad to catch me some.”

  The bailiff didn't believe the story. And he could see Danilushko looked quite different, he'd put on weight, he'd a good shirt and trousers and even top-boots. So the bailiff thought he'd find out how much Danilushko knew.

  “Now then,” he said, “show me what your master's taught ye.”

  Danilushko put on an apron, went to the bench and started telling this and showing that. And whatever the bailiff asked him, he knew it all. How to rough out the shape of the stone, and file it off, and polish it, the different mortars and when to use them, how to grind, how to inlay on copper and on wood - he had it all pat.

  The bailiff tested him with one thing after another, and then he asked Prokopich: “Seems like you're suited wi' this one?”

  “I don't complain, but ye let him idle about. He's sent here to learn your craft, and spends his time fishing in the pond! Take heed! I'll get a taste of it too.”

  He stormed and threatened a bit, and then he went. But Prokopich turned to the lad in amaze. “When did you learn it all, Danilushko? I've not taught ye anything at all yet.”

  “You showed me things and told me things,” said Danilushko, “and I saw the way you do it.”

  Prokopich, he was so pleased the tears came to his eyes.

  “Danilushko, son,” he said, “whatever I know, I'll learn ye it all. I'll keep naught back.”

  But of course that was the end of Danilushko's easy, free life. The next day the bailiff sent him some work, ad from then on he had his task to get done. Simple things at first, of course - brooches and boxes. Then it was candlesticks with decorations on them, till it came to the real fine work. Petals and leaves, flowers and patterns. It's a tedious craft, that with malachite. A thing may look naught, but the hours it takes to do! Well, Danilushko grew up on it.

  When he made a snake bracelet from one piece of malachite, the bailiff said he was a real craftsman. He wrote of it to the Master. “We've a new craftsman in malachite carving, Danilo Nedokormysh. He works well, but he's young and he's slow. Shall I give him task-work or put him on quit-rent like Prokopich?”

  Danilushko didn't really work slowly at all, it was amazing how quick and skilful he was. But Prokopich taught him to be clever. The bailiff would give Danilushko five days for some task, and Prokopich would say: “He can't do it. He needs a fortnight for work like that. The lad's only learning yet. If we hasten him he'll only spoil the stone.”

  Well, the bailiff would argue a bit, but he'd add on a few days. So Danilushko could take his time. He even learned to read and write a bit without the bailiff knowing. He didn't get much, of course, but still it was something. It was Prokopich put that idea in his head too. Sometimes the old man would do part of Danilushko's task himself, but the lad would never allow that if he saw it.

  “Grandad - stop! For shame - am I to let ye sit at the bench and do my work for me? Why, your beard's green from malachite, your health's gone, and look at me!”

  In those years, you see, Danilushko had grown into a real proper-looking lad. They still called him “Nedokormysh” out of old habit, but he was as big as this. Tall, rosy, curly-headed and gay - a lad to draw any girl's eye. Prokopich had even started talking about a wife for him, but Danilushko just shook his head.

  “Time enough for that, they won't run away. first I'll be a real craftsman, then we'll think about it.”

  The bailiff got an answer back from the Master. “Have that apprentice of Prokopich's make a goblet for my house,” he wrote. “Then we'll see weather to let him off on quit-rent or give him task-work. Only mind, see Prokopich doesn't help Danilo. If you let aught slip you'll answer for it.”

  The bailiff read that letter and sent for Danilushko.

  “You'll work here, under my eye,” he said. “You'll get a bench and tools, and stone will be brought, all ye want.”

  When Prokopich heard it he was real cast down. What was this? What was the reason? He went to the bailiff, but of course the bailiff wasn't telling him anything, only shouted: “Mind your own business!”

  So Danilushko had to go and work in a strange place. Before he left Prokopich warned him: “Mind, see ye don't work over quick, Danilushko! Don't let 'em see what ye can do.”

  At first Danilushko was careful, he'd keep trying this and that and measuring here and there, but it was dull and tedious. Whether he did much or little, he had to sit there from morning to night. He got so tired of it, he couldn't stand it any more and started working the way he really could work. The goblet seemed to grow like a live thing and soon it was made. The bailiff took it as a matter of course and told Danilushko: “Make another like it.”

  Danilushko made a second and then a third. And when that was finished, the bailiff said: “That's the end o' your tricks. I've caught you and Prokopich both. The Master gave you this much time for one goblet, the way I told him when I wrote, and ye have made three. Now I know what ye can do. You don't fool me any more, and as for that old fox, I'll teach him to cover ye up. So it'll be a lesson to others!”

  He wrote all that to the Master and sent the three goblets. But the Master - maybe he got a clever idea for once, or maybe he was angered with the bailiff for something, anyway, he did it all just the opposite. He put Danilushko on quit-rent, but so small it was naught to speak of, and forbade the bailiff to take the lad away from Prokopich; maybe if they worked together they'd be more like to think up something new. He sent a drawing with the letter, it was another goblet with all kinds of designs and adornments. There was a carved edge, and more carving round the middle, and leaves all over the foot. Real fancy, it was. And the Master wrote: “Let him take five years, but make it exactly like this.”

  So the bailiff had to eat his words. He told Danilushko what the Master had said, sent him back to Prokopich, and gave him the drawing.

  Danilushko and Prokopich were real glad, of course, and the work seemed to go of itself. Danilushko soon started on the new goblet. It was difficult work, one wrong stroke would mean the whole thing spoilt, he'd have to start right from the beginning again. But Danilushko had a true eye, a sure hand and plenty of strength, so the job went well. Only one thing bothered him, there was plenty of difficulty but there was no beauty. He said as much to Prokopich, but the old man just scratched his head.

  “What's that to you? They've drawn it that way, so it's how they want it. Plenty of things I've carved and polished, but what was the good of 'em, I couldn't tell ye.”

  Danilushko tried to talk to the bailiff, as though that were any use! The man stamped and brandished his fists. “Have ye gone clean daft? That drawing cost a mint o' money. It was mebbe done by the best artist in the city, and you think you know better!”

  But then seemingly he called to mind what the Master had written, that the two of them might find something new, so he said: “Here's what you can do. Make that goblet from the design the Master sent, and then if you want to make another your own way, do as ye like about it. I won't stop ye. We've plenty of stone.”

  Well, Danilushko fell into deep thought. We all know, it's easy enough to see what's wrong with others' work, but try thinking up something yourself! Many a sleepless night it costs, Danilushko would sit working on the goblet he'd been given the drawing for, but his mind was far away, turning over flowers and leaves, picturing which would be best for patterns in malachite. He went about thinking all the time, real moping he got. Prokopich noticed it.

  “Are ye sick, Danilushko lad? Go easy wi' that goblet. What's your hurry? Go out for a bit of a walk, ye do naught but sit over that work all day.”

  “Aye, I will,” said Danilushko. “I might go into the woods a bit. Maybe I'll see what I want there.”

  After that he started going into the woods nearly every day. It was just at haymaking time, with wild flowers and berries everywhere. Danilushko would stop a bit in the meadows, or go to a glade and stand there looking all round. Then back he'd go to the meadow and stare at the grass and flowers, sort of searching. There were a lot of folks about at that time, and they'd ask him if he'd lost something. He'd smile sort of sadly and say: “It's not what I've lost, it's what I can't find.”

  They began to say the lad wasn't all there.

  Then he'd come home and go straight to the bench, and sit at it till morning; and when the sun rose he'd go back to the woods and meadows. He started bringing home flowers and leaves, mostly poisonous ones, wild garlic and hemlock, thornapple and marsh tea and all sorts of other marsh plants. His face got thin and his eyes were sort of wild, and his hand lost its sure cunning. Prokopich got real concerned, but Danilushko told him: “That goblet gives me real concerned, but Danilushko told him: ”That goblet gives me no peace. I want to bring forth all the power of beauty in the stone.“

  Prokopich tried to talk him out of it.

  “Why fret yourself over that? You're fed and warm, what more d'ye need? Let the gentry play wi' their whims and fancies. So long as they let us alone. If they get some idea of a design, we'll make it, but why should we rack our brains for them? Picking up an extra load, that's all it is.”

  But Danilushko stuck to it.

  “It's not for the Master I'm racking my brains,” he said. “I just can't get it out of my head. I can see the stone we've got here, look at it, and what do we do wi' it? Grind it and carve it and polish it, and all the wrong way. And now I'm taken wi' the wish to work it so I can see its full flower of beauty, and let others see it, too.”

  Times Danilushko would sit down again with that goblet the Master ordered. He'd work on it and laugh at it all the time.

  “A stone ribbon the moths ha' been at, and a border the rats ha' nibbled.”

  Then all of sudden he pushed that work to one side and started on something else. He stood there by the bench without even stopping to rest. “I'll make my own goblet with the form of a thornapple,” he said to Prokopich.

  The old man tried to stop him. Danilushko didn't want to hear a word at first, and work on my own after. Only don't you try to put me off then . . . . For I can't get it out of my head.“

  “Well and good,” said Prokopich, “I won't bother ye.” But to himself he said: The lad will get tired of it, he'll forget. He needs a wife, that's what's wrong with him. Nothing like a family to drive the vapours out of his head.

  So Danilushko set to work on the goblet. There was plenty in it to keep him busy, enough for a year and more. He worked hard and never spoke of the thornapple; Prokopich began talking of a wife.

  “There's Katya Letemina, what's wrong with her? A real good maid, she is. Not a thing ye can say against her.”

  Now, there was a bit of cunning in Prokopich's talk. He'd seen Danilushko looking Katya's way a long time, and she didn't seem averse. So Prokopich led the talk to her, as though by accident. But Danilushko was as stubborn as a mule.

  “That can wait,” he said. “First I'll get the goblet done. I'm sick of it. I'd as soon smash the hammer down on it, and you start telling me to web. I've talked to Katya, she'll wait for me.”

  Well, Danilushko finished that goblet, the one made like the Master's drawing. He didn't tell the bailiff, of course, but he thought to have a bit of a merrymaking at home. Katya, his sweetheart, came with her parents, and a few more, mostly malachite carvers. Katya was amazed at the goblet.

  “How could ye carve a pattern like that,” she said, “and never break the stone! And all so smooth and polished!”

  The craftsmen too had their word of praise.

  “Line for line with the drawing. Not a fault anywhere. And clean work. Couldn't be done better, and ye did it quickly too. If ye go on this way, we'll have a job to keep up wi' ye.”

  Danilushko listened and listened, and then he burst out: “That's just what's wrong, naught to find fault with. Clean and smooth, the pattern plain, all just like the drawing, but where's the beauty in it? Here's a flower, just a common weed, but when ye look at it, it brings joy to your heart. But the goblet - who'll rejoice to look at that? What good is it? Folks will look at it and they'll marvel like Katya here, they'll say - what an eye, what a hand that man had that made it, and where did he get the patience to do all that finicking work and never break the stone?”

  “And if he did chip it,” laughed the craftsman, “he stuck the bit back and polished it so ye will never find the place.”

  “Aye, that's it…… But where's the beauty of the stone itself - tell me that? A vein runs down here, and you bore a hole in it and cut a flower. What's the good of it there? Just spoiling the stone. And look what stone it is! The very best - the best, d'ye understand me?”

  He got all hot about it. He'd drunk a glass or two, you see.

  The craftsmen started telling Danilushko the same thing Prokopich always said.

  “Stone's stone. What'll you do with it? Our job's to grind and cut, that's all.”

  But there was an old man sitting there. He'd taught Prokopich and the others too. They all called him Grandad. He was ancient and shaky, but he understood what the talk was about, and he said to Danilushko: “Ye'd best keep off them kind o' thoughts, son. Put 'em from your head. Or mebbe the Mistress will take ye for a mountain craftsman.”

  “What are those, Grandad?”

  “They're skilful craftsmen who live in the mountain, and no man ever sees them. Whatever the Mistress wants, they make it for her. I saw a bit of their work once. Eh, that was real work, that was! You will never see the like here.”

  They all pricked up their ears at that, and wanted to know what he'd seen.

  “It was a serpent,” he said, “like ye make for bracelets.”

  “Aye, well, what was it like?”

  “Naught like the ones here, I tell ye. Any craftsman who saw it would know at once it wasn't our work. Our serpents, no matter how good they are, they're but stone, but this was like a if it was living. A black line down the back, and eyes - ye'd think it was just going to up and bite ye. They can make anything! They've seen the Flower o' Stone, they've got the understanding of beauty.”

  Now, when Danilushko heard that flower spoken of again, he started asking the old man what it was and all about it. And Grandad answered him honestly.

  “I couldn't tell ye, my son. I've heard tell of such a flower. But it's not for our eyes. If a man sees it life loses all its sweetness for him.”

  Danilushko only said: “I'd like to look at it.”

  Then Katya, his sweetheart, she got all upset.

  “What are you saying, Danilushko! Have you got tired already of life's sweetness?” And she burst into tears. Prokopich and others tried to smooth it over, and laughed at the old man.

  “You must be getting weak in the head, Grandad. It's all nonsense. Why d'ye muddle the lad's head with your fancies?”

  Then the old man got angry and struck the table with his fist.

  “That flower exists! It's truth what the lad says - we don't understand the stone. And that flower holds the heart of all beauty.”

  The other men laughed at him.

  “Ye have taken a drop too much, Grandad!”

  But the old man stuck to it. “There is a Flower of Stone!”

  The guests went their ways, but that talk about the Flower of Stone stayed with Danilushko. Again he began wandering in the woods and stood staring at his thornapple, but not a word about the wedding. Prokopich began to urge him.

  “Why d'ye put the maid to shame? How many more years is she to wait unwed? Soon she'll be the laughing-stock o' the village. Don't ye know the gossips' tongues?”

  But it was the same old story with Danilushko. “Bide a bit, let me finish thinking and find the right kind of stone.”

  He started hanging about the copper mine, the Gumeshky one. Times he'd go down, and times he'd hunt among the stone when it was carried up.

  One day he'd picked up a bit of stone and was turning it over and over in his hands, thinking - no, that's not it, when suddenly he heard someone say: “Seek in another place, on Serpent Hill.”

  Danilushko looked about him, but saw nobody. Who could have spoken? Was someone playing a trick?…… But there was nowhere to hide. He looked round again, then turned to go home. And from behind him the voice came again.

  “You heard me, Danilo the Craftsman? On Serpent Hill, I tell ye.”

  He looked round again, and there stood a woman, faint and shadowy as though made of blue mist. And then she was gone.

  What could that be? He thought. Could it be her? Mebbe I should go to Serpent Hill?

  That was a place Danilushko knew well, for it wasn't far from Gumeshky. It's been gone a long time now, all dug away. but in the old times they used to get the stone from right on top of it.

  The next day Danilushko knew well, for it wasn't far from Gumeshky. It's been gone a long time now, all dug away. but in the old times they used to get the stone from right on top of it.

  The next day Danilushko went there. It was a low hill, but steep. And on one side it fell sheer as though it had been sliced off. You couldn't ask for a better scanning cut. The layers were opened up, look all you want.

  Danilushko went up to that cut, and there lay a hunk of malachite that had tumbled down. A big piece, too heavy a carry, and shaped and patterned like a bush. Danilushko looked it over and over. It was just what he wanted - darker at the bottom, with veins running the right way - everything he could hope for. Well, of course, Danilushko was real happy, he ran off to get a horse and brought the stone home.

  “Look at this,” he said to Prokopich. “Just as if it was made for me. Now I'll soon get it done. And then I will wed. it's right, Katya's been waiting a long time. Aye, and I haven't found it easy either. It's only this job that's keeping me. The sooner it's done, the better!”

  Danilushko set to work on the stone and day and night were one to him. Prokopich said naught. Maybe, he thought, the lad will quiet down when he's got it done . . . The work went fast. Danilushko trimmed away the stone at the bottom and you could see at once it was real thornapple bush. The broad leaves in bunches, the jagged edges, the veins - all real as life. Even Prokopich said it was so like you wanted to touch it. But when he got to the top part, the trouble began, but somehow it wasn't right. It had gone dead and the beauty was lost. Danilushko couldn't sleep, he sat there over his goblet thinking how he could make it right, make it better. Prokopich the other craftsmen who came to look at it were amazed - what more did the lad want? He'd made a goblet like nobody did ever made before, and still he wasn't pleased. He must be sick, he should see a leech. Katya heard all this talk and began to weep. That bought Danilushko to his senses.

  “Very well,” he said, “that's enough. It seems I can go no higher, I can't grasp the power of beauty in the stone.” And he himself started to hurry on the wedding all he could. That's easy when the maid's had everything ready and waiting long ago. So they fixed the day. Danilushko got his good spirits back again. He told the bailiff about that goblet. The bailiff came and took a look - eh, what a piece of work! He wanted to send it away to the Master at once, but Danilushko wouldn't agree.

  “Bide a while, there's a bit more to do.”

  It was autumn, for the wedding day was close to the Serpent Feast. Somebody spoke of it - soon all the Serpents will be gathering. Danilushko heard that, and it was like an omen. He remembered the talk about the Flower of Stone. And something seemed to be pulling at him. Maybe I'll go up Serpent Hill one last time, he thought, maybe I'll learn something there. And he remembered that piece of stone. Just as if it had been put there for him. And the voice by the mine - it had told him to go to Serpent Hill.

  So Danilushko went. There was already a bit of frost and a sprinkling of snow on the ground. Danilushko went to that cut where he's found the stone, and there he was a big hollow, as though someone had been quarrying. He didn't stop to think who it could be, he went in. I'll bide here a bit, he thought, and shelter from the wind. It's warmer. . . . He looked round, and there by one wall was a grey boulder like a chair. Danilushko sat down on it and stared at the ground, and all the time he couldn't get that Flower of Stone out of his head. If only I could just glimpse it, he thought. All of a sudden he felt quite warm, as though it were summer again. He lifted up his head and there just opposite, sitting by the other wall, he saw the Mistress of the Copper Mountain. Danilushko knew who it was at once, because of her beauty and her robe of malachite. But he thought: Maybe I'm just fancying it, there's naught there really. So he sat quiet, staring at the place where the Mistress sat just as if he saw nothing at all. And she sat there quiet too, sort of thoughtful. At last she spoke.

  “Well, Danilo the Craftsman, so naught came of your thornapple?”

  “No, naught came of it,” he said.

  “Don't lose heart,” she said, “try again. You shall have the stone ye want.”

  “Nay,” he said, “I can do no more. I'm all worn out wi' it. Show me the Flower of Stone.”

  “That's easy enough,” she said, “but afterwards you'll be sorry.”

  “Ye won't let me leave the mountain?”

  “Why not? The way's open. But they always come back to me.”

  “Show me! Of your charity!”

  But still she tried to dissuade him.

  “Maybe ye will try once more with your own powers.” She reminded him about Prokopich too. “He's cared for you, now you must care for him.” Then she spoke of his sweetheart. “The maid's given ye all her heart, but you have got yours set on other things.”

  “I know all that!” cried Danilushko. “But unless I see the Flower life's worth naught to me. Show me!”

  “If that's the way, Danilo the Craftsman,” she said, “then come to my garden.”

  As she said it she rose. There was a sort of rustle like a landslide, and when Danilushko looked round, he saw no walls at all. All round him were tall, tall trees, but no like the ones in our woods, they were made of stone. Some were marble, some were serpentine - every kind. But they were living trees, with little twigs and leaves. When the wind swayed them there was a sound like when you throw down a handful of pebbles. And underfoot the grass was of stone too, of lapis Lazuli and red stone - all sorts. There was no sun, but the light was like it is just before sunset. In between the trees were golden serpents swaying and twisting as though in some dance. It was from them the light came.

  Then the Maid led Danilushko to a big glade. The earth there was like ordinary clay, with bushes velvety black. Great green bells of malachite swung from the bushes, and each was a star of golden antimony. Glowing fiery bees hung over the flowers and the stars tinkled softly as though they were singing.

  “Well, Danilo the Craftsman, have you looked your fill?” asked the Mistress.

  “Stone to make these,” said Danilushko, “is not to be found.”

  “Had you thought o' them yourself, I'd have given ye the stone, but now I cannot,” she said and waved her hand. There was the same rustle again, and Danilushko found himself sitting on the boulder in the hollow. The wind was howling round him the way it does it autumn.

  Danilushko went back home. Now that day the folks had come to his sweetheart's home to make merry. At first Danilushko pretended to be mighty gay, he sang songs and danced, but then he seemed to sink down under a cloud. Katya got quite frightened.

  “What's the matter, Danilushko? You look like it was a funeral.”

  “My head's aching,” he said, “and it's all red and green and black before my eyes. I can't even see the light.”

  Well, with that the party broke up. Now, it was the custom that the bride and her friends should see the bridegroom home. But how far would that be when he lived only two or three houses away? So Katya thought of something better.

  “Let's go a long way round. We'll go to the end of our street, and then back by Elanskaya.” And she thought to herself - maybe the fresh air and wind will do Danilushko good.

  The girls were glad enough to spin out the merrymaking a bit longer. “Of course,” they cried, “we must see him home properly. And he lives so close we wouldn't have time for a farewell song, even.”

  It was a quiet night with a little snow falling. Just the time for walking. So off they went. The two sweethearts walked in front, and Katya's friends and the young fellows who'd been at the party a bit behind. The maids started singing a farewell song. It was sort of melancholy, more fit for a funeral. Katya saw this wasn't the thing at all. There's Danilushko feeling low as it is, she thought, and they start that wailing.

  She tried to turn his mind to something cheerful. He'd talk a bit, and then get gloomy again. Katya's friends finished their farewell songs and started having fun again, running after each other and laughing, but Danilushko went along all glum, his head hanging. However hard she tried, Katya couldn't cheer him up. And so it went on till they got to his home. The maids and the young fellows parted, some here, some there, and Danilushko took his sweetheart to her door without any more rites or ceremonies, and then went back home himself.

  Prokopich had been asleep a long time. Danilushko very quietly lighted the lamp, dragged his goblets out into the middle of the room and stood looking at them. Just then Prokopich's cough started to rack him. He coughed till he was nigh choked. He was getting an old man, you see, and he was frail and ill. That cough of his was like a knife right in Danilushko's heart. He minded all their years together. He felt real sorry for the old man. Well, and Prokopich, when he'd got over his coughing spell, he asked Danilushko: “What are ye doing wi' the goblets?”

  “Just talking a look. Isn't it time to give them to the Bailiff?”

  “Ye could ha' done that long ago. They're just standing there for no good. Ye won't make them any better, however ye try.”

  They talked a bit, then Prokopich fell asleep again. Danilushko went to bed too, but sleep wouldn't come. He tossed and he turned, then he got up, lighted the lamp, looked at the goblets again and went over to Prokopich. He stood there by the old man and he sighed……

  Then he took a sledge hammer and brought it down on the thornapple so it smashed to splinters. But that other goblet, the one the Master'd sent the drawing for, he didn't touch. Just spat in the middle of it. Then he dashed out of the house. And disappeared.

  Some said he'd taken leave of his senses and died somewhere in the woods, but others said the Mistress had taken him to her mountain workshops for ever.

  However, it turned out quite different.

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