A sportsman, a hunter, loses his way and finds the camp fire of five young peasant boys taking care of a few horses in a meadow. This is mostly a retranscription of the stories exchanged by the boys around the fire. It could connect nicely with Where the Wheat Grows Tall.
'Come then, so you've seen the domovoy?'
'No, I didn't see him, and no one can ever see him,' answered Ilyusha, in a weak hoarse voice, the sound of which was wonderfully in keeping with the expression of his face; 'I heard him... Yes, and not I alone.'
'Where does he live — in your place?' asked Pavlusha.
"In the old paper-mill. (...) there were ten of us boys there altogether — the whole shift, that is — it happened that we spent the night at the paper-mill; (...) We were all lying down together, and Avdushka had just begun to say, "I say, boys, suppose the domovoy were to come?" And before he'd finished saying so, some one suddently began walking upstairs overhead, where the wheel is.
We listened: he walked; the boards seemed to be bending under him, they creaked so; then he crossed over, above our heads; all of a sudden the water began to drip and drip over the wheel; the wheel tattled and rattled and again began to turn, through the sluices of the conduit above had been let down. We wondered who could have lifted them up so that the water could run; any way, the wheel turned and turned a little, and then stopped.
Then he went to the door overhead and began coming down-stairs, and came down like this, not hurrying himself; the stairs seemed to groan under him too... Well, he came right down to our door, and waited and waited... and all of a sudden the door simply flew open. We were in a fright; we looked — there was nothing... Suddenly what if the net on one of the vats didn't begin moving; it got up, and went rising and ducking and moving in the air as though some one were stirring with it, and then it was in its place again.
Then, at another vat, a hook came off its nail, and then was on its nail again; and then it seemed as if some one came to the door, and suddenly coughed and choked like a sheep, but so loudly!... We all fell down in a heap and huddled against one another... Just weren't we in a fright that night!"
Ivan Turgenev states that the meeting round the campfire happens in the night following a glorious July day. In Japan, ghost stories are exchanged on stifling summer nights, the scarier, the chiller. The Russian climate is drier, the boys simply test each others credulity or nerves.
The next story is told by Kostya, it's about Gavrila, a carpenter in the big village:
I'll tell you why he is sorrowful; he went one day, daddy said, he went, brothers, into the forest nutting. So he went nutting into the forest and lost his way; he went on — God only can tell where he got to. So he went on and on, brothers — but 'twas no good! — he could not find the way; and so night came on out of doors. So he sat down under a tree. "I'll wait till morning," thought he. He sat down and began to drop asleep. So as he was falling asleep, suddenly he heard some one call him. He looked up; there was no one.
He fell asleep again; again he was called. He looked and looked again; and in front of him there sat a russalka on a branch, swinging herself and calling him to her, and simply dying with laughing; she laughed so... And the moon was shining bright, so bright, the moon shone so clear — everything could be seen plain, brothers. So she called him, and she herself was as bright and as white sitting on the branch as some dace or a roach, or like some little carp so white and silvery...
Gavrila the carpenter almost fainted, brothers, but she laughed without stopping, and kept beckoning him to her like this. Then Gavrila was just getting up; he was just going to yield to the russalka, brothers, but — the Lord put into his heart, doubtless — he crossed himself like this... And it was so hard for him to make that cross, brothers; he said, "My hand was simply like a stone; it would not move." ... Ugh! the horrid witch...
So when he made the cross, brothers, the russalka, she left off laughing, and all at once how she did cry... She cried, brothers, and wiped her eyes with her hair, and her hair was green as any hemp. So Gavrila looked and looked at her, and at last he fell to questioning her. "Why are you weeping, wild thing of the woods?"
And the russalka began to speak to him like this: "If you had not crossed yourself, man" she says, "you should have lived with me in gladness of heart to the end of your days; and I weep, I am grieved at heart because you crossed yourself; but I will not grieve alone; you too shall grieve at heart to the end of your days." Then she vanished, brothers, and at once it was plain to Gavrila how to get out of the forest... Only since then he goes always sorrowful, as you see.
I wish I had, as a referee, enough mastery to describe such a laying of a curse, in simple, non-technical, terms and sentences.
'It's a strange thing. Why should he be sorrowful? ... But I suppose she liked him, since she called him.'
'Ay, she liked him!' put in Ilyusha. 'Yes, indeed! she wanted to tickle him to death, that's what she wanted. That's what they do, those russalkas.'
'There ought to be russalkas here too, I suppose,' observed Fedya.
'No,' answered Kostya, 'this is a holy open place. There's one thing, though: the river's near.'
Ah, the danger of water, flowing or not.
The sketch mentions two water-spirit stories. Akulina is said to be mad since a water-spirit bewitched her, while the young Vasya is said to have been drowned by another of those spirits.
Let them conclude with a wood-spirit instead:
(A heron again uttered a cry above the river.) 'Ugh, there it is!' Kostya cried involuntarily; 'it is just like a wood-spirit shrieking.'
'The wood-spirit does not shriek; it is dumb,' put in Ilyusha; 'it only claps its hands and rattles.'
And have you seen it then, the wood-spirit?' Fedya aksed him ironically.
'No, I have not seen it, and God preserve me from seeing it; but others have seen it. Why, one day it misled a peasant in our parts, and led him through the woods and all in a circle in one field... He scarcely got home till daylight.'
'Well, and did he see it?'
'Yes. He says it was a big, big creature, dark, wrapped up, just like a tree; you could not make it out well; it seemed to hide away from the moon, and kept staring and staring with its great eyes, and winking and winking with them...'
'Ugh!' exclaimed Fedya with a slight shiver, and a shrug of the shoulders; 'pfoo.'
'And how does such an unclean brood come to exist in the world?' said Pavel; 'it's a wonder.'
'Don't speak ill of it; take care, it will hear you,' said Ilyusha.