"The Old Cook"
Konstantin Georgiyevich Paustovsky
“The Old Cook”
In one winter’s evening of 1786 in outskirts of Vienna, in a little wood house the blind old man was dying – the former cook of countess Toon.
In general, it was even not a house, but ramshackleguard-house, which was standing in a depth of the garden.
The garden was heaped up of rotten branches, knocking down.
In every step brunches crunched, and then the chained dog began to grumble in his booth.
He also was dying as well as his owner, from old age, and already couldn’t bark.
Several years ago a cook became blind from the heat of stoves.
The manager of countess settled him still that moment in a guard-house and gave him from time to time several florins.
With a cook was living his daughter Maria, the girl around eighteen years old.
The whole attire of guard-house consisted from a bed, lame benches, rude table,
faience crockery, covering by splits, and, at last, a clavecin.
The clavecin was so old, that his strings was singing long and silent in a replay on all sounds arising around.
A cook, laughing, called a clavecin as a “watchmen» of his house.
Nobody could come into the house without that a clavecin didn’t met him by trembling, senile boom.
When Maria washed the dying and put on him a cold clear shirt, he said:
- I always didn’t like priests and monks. I can’t call the confessor, but anyway I need before the death to clean up my conscience.
- What to do? - asked Maria frightened.
- Go on a street, - said the old man, - and ask to the first comer to come into our house for confess the dying. Nobody will refuse to you.
- Our street is so desert… - whispered Maria, threw over the kerchief and came out.
She ran through the garden, hardly opened rusty gate and stopped. The street was empty. The wind was keeping leaves along it, and from the dark sky was falling cold rain drops.
Maria was waiting a long time and was listening. At last it seemed to her, that along the fence a man is going and singing. She made several steps towards him, faced with him and cried out.
- Who is here?
Maria grabbed him on his hand and with trembling voice passed the father's request.
- Good, - said a man calmly. - Although I'm not a priest, but it's not mind. Let's go.
They entered in a house. By light of a candle Maria saw a thin small person. He threw off the wet raincoat on a bank. He was weared with gracefully and simplicity – the fire of candle was gleaming on his black men's sleeve, crystal buttons and lacy jabot.
He was still very young, this stranger. Quite as well as a boy he shook by head, repaired the powdered wig, quickly moved up the stool to the bed, sat down and, bending, fixedly and gaily looked at the face of dying.
- Speak! – he said. - Perhaps, by power, that was given me not form the God, but from the art, to which I’m serving, I’ll facilitate Yours last minutes and will take off the heaviness from Your soul.
- I worked all my life, until became blind, - whispered old man. - And who is working, that haven’t time to sin. When my wife became ill from the consumption – her name was Marta – and the doctor prescribed for her various expensive treatments and ordered to feed her by creams and vine berries, and give to drink the hot red vine, I stole from the service of countess Tun a little cold plate, broke it to the pieces and sold. And it’s hard to remember now about that and to hid from a daughter: I taught her not touch any mote from the someone’s else table.
- And someone from servants of countess suffered from that ? – asked the stranger.
- On my oath!, sir, nobody, - replied old man and started to cry. - If I knew, that gold wont help to my Marta, really could I steal ?!
- What is Your name? - asked a stranger.
- Johann Meyer , sir.
- So, Johann Meyer, - said a stranger and put the palm on a blind eyes of old man, - You're innocent in front off people. That what You did, isn't a sin and not a theft, and contrary, can be set off against to You as a feat of love.
- Amen ! - whispered an old man.
- Amen! - repeated a stranger. - And now tell me Your last request.
- I want, that somebody would cared about Maria.
- I'll do that. And what else do You want ?
Then the dying unexpectedly smiled and loudly said:
- I would like one more time to see Marta such as I met her in her youngth. To see the sun and this old garden, when it will bloom in Spring. But it’s impossible, sir.
Don’t be angry on me for a fool words. The illness, perhaps, finely confused me.
- Good, - said a stranger. - Good, - repeated he, came to a clavecin and sat down in front of it on a stool. - Good ! - said he loudly in a third time, and suddenly quick ring crumbled all over the guard-house, as if somebody dropped on a floor hundreds of crystal balls.
- Listen, - said a stranger. - Listen and look!
He started to play. Afterward Maria remembered the face of stranger , when the first key sound under his hand. Unusual pallor covered his forehead, and in darkened eyes the tongue of candle was swinging.
A clavecin was singing in a full voice for the first time for a many years. It fill out by its sounds not only a guard-house, but the whole garden. The old dog climbed out from his booth, was sitting, bended the heard on one side, and, pricking up one‘s ears, quiet waved by tail. The wet snow has began, but a dog only was shaking by ears.
- I see, sir! - said an old man and lifted on a bed. - I see the day, when I met Marta and she from the embarrassment broke the jug with milk. It was in a Winter, in mountains. The sky was standing transparent, as a blue glass, and Marta was laughing. Was laughing, - repeated he, listening to a murmur of strings.
A stranger was playing, looking into the dark window.
- And now, - he asked, - do You see anything?
An old man was silent, listening.
- Is it possible You don't see, - quickly said a stranger, not ceasing to play, - that the night from a black became dark blue, and after that light blue, and the warm light already is falling from somewhere above, and on an old branches Your trees the white flowers is opening. To my mind, it's a flowers of apple-tree, although from here, from a room, they're like a big tulips. Do you see: the first ray fell on a stone fence, warmed it, and the steam is arising from it. It must be the moss is drying up, filled by snow. And the sky being done still higher, more blue, more excellent, and flocks of birds already is flying to the North over our old Vienna.
- I see all this! - cried an old man.
The pedal creaked silent, and a clavecin started to sing triumph, as well as it was singing not it, but hundreds of exulting voices.
- No, sir - Maria said t o a stranger, - these flowers doesn't like a tulips. It's an apple-trees opened for one night.
- Yes, - replied a stranger, - it's apple-trees, but they have very big petals.
- Open the window, Maria, - asked an old man.
Maria opened a window. The cold air rushed into the room. A stranger played very silent and slowly.
An old man fell on a pillows, greedly breathed and rummaged by hands on a blanket. Maria dashed to him. A stranger stopped to play. He sat near clavecin not moving, like enchanted by his own music.
Maria once cried. A stranger stood up and came to a bed. An old man said, panting.
- I saw all that so clear, as many years ago. But I would not to die and not to know… the name. A name !
- My name is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , - replied a stranger.
Maria stepped back from a bed and low, almost touching by knee a floor, inclined in front of a great musician.
When she straightened , an old man was already dead. The sunrise kindled behind windows, and in its light a garden was standing, strewn with flowers of wet snow.