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DURING all the years I have been living in this world I have only three times been terrified.
The first real terror, which made my hair stand on end and made shivers run all over me, was caused by a trivial but strange phenomenon. It happened that, having nothing to do one July evening, I drove to the station for the newspapers. It was a still, warm, almost sultry evening, like all those monotonous evenings in July which, when once they have set in, go on for a week, a fortnight, or sometimes longer, in regular unbroken succession, and are suddenly cut short by a violent thunderstorm and a lavish downpour of rain that refreshes everything for a long time.
The sun had set some time before, and an unbroken gray dusk lay all over the land. The mawkishly sweet scents of the grass and flowers were heavy in the motionless, stagnant air.
I was driving in a rough trolley. Behind my back the gardener's son Pashka, a boy of eight years old, whom I had taken with me to look after the horse in case of necessity, was gently snoring, with his head on a sack of oats. Our way lay along a narrow by-road, straight as a ruler, which lay hid like a great snake in the tall thick rye. There was a pale light from the afterglow of sunset; a streak of light cut its way through a narrow, uncouth-looking cloud, which seemed sometimes like a boat and sometimes like a man wrapped in a quilt....
I had driven a mile and a half, or two miles, when against the pale background of the evening glow there came into sight one after another some graceful tall poplars; a river glimmered beyond them, and a gorgeous picture suddenly, as though by magic, lay stretched before me. I had to stop the horse, for our straight road broke off abruptly and ran down a steep incline overgrown with bushes. We were standing on the hillside and beneath us at the bottom lay a huge hole full of twilight, of fantastic shapes, and of space. At the bottom of this hole, in a wide plain guarded by the poplars and caressed by the gleaming river, nestled a village. It was now sleeping.... Its huts, its church with the belfry, its trees, stood out against the gray twilight and were reflected darkly in the smooth surface of the river.
I waked Pashka for fear he should fall out and began cautiously going down.
"Have we got to Lukovo?" asked Pashka, lifting his head lazily.
"Yes. Hold the reins!..."
I led the horse down the hill and looked at the village. At the first glance one strange circumstance caught my attention: at the very top of the belfry, in the tiny window between the cupola and the bells, a light was twinkling. This light was like that of a smoldering lamp, at one moment dying down, at another flickering up. What could it come from?
Its source was beyond my comprehension. It could not be burning at the window, for there were neither ikons nor lamps in the top turret of the belfry; there was nothing there, as I knew, but beams, dust, and spiders' webs. It was hard to climb up into that turret, for the passage to it from the belfry was closely blocked up.