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The evening service was being celebrated at Progonnaya Station. Before the great ikon, painted in glaring colours on a background of gold, stood the crowd of railway servants with their wives and children, and also of the timbermen and sawyers who worked close to the railway line. All stood in silence, fascinated by the glare of the lights and the howling of the snowstorm which was aimlessly disporting itself outside, regardless of the fact that it was the Eve of the Annunciation. The old priest from Vedenyapino conducted the service; the sacristan and Matvey Terehov were singing.
Matvey’s face was beaming with delight; he sang stretching out his neck as though he wanted to soar upwards. He sang tenor and chanted the ‘Praises’ too in a tenor voice with honied sweetness and persuasiveness. When he sang ‘Archangel Voices’ he waved his arms like a conductor, and trying to second the sacristan’s hollow bass with his tenor, achieved something extremely complex, and from his face it could be seen that he was experiencing great pleasure.
At last the service was over, and they all quietly dispersed, and it was dark and empty again, and there followed that hush which is only known in stations that stand solitary in the open country or in the forest when the wind howls and nothing else is heard and when all the emptiness around, all the dreariness of life slowly ebbing away is felt.
Matvey lived not far from the station at his cousin’s tavern. But he did not want to go home. He sat down at the refreshment bar and began talking to the waiter in a low voice.