Night. Nursemaid Varka, aged thirteen, rocks the cradle where baby lies, and murmurs, almost inaudibly:
“Bayu, bayushki, bayu!”
“Nurse will sing a song to you.”
In front of the ikon burns a green lamp; across the room from wall to wall stretches a cord on which hang baby clothes and a great pair of black trousers. On the ceiling above the lamp shines a great green spot, and the baby clothes and trousers cast long shadows on the stove, on the cradle, on Varka. When the lamp flickers, the spot and shadows move as if from a draught. It is stifling. There is a smell of soup and boots.
The child cries. It has long been hoarse and weak from crying, but still it cries, and who can say when it will be comforted? And Varka wants to sleep. Her eyelids droop, her head hangs, her neck pains her. She can hardly move her eyelids or her lips, and it seems to her that her face is sapless and petrified, and that her head has shriveled up to the size of a pinhead.
“Bayu, bayushki, bayu!” she murmurs, “Nurse is making pap for you.”
In the stove chirrups a cricket. In the next room behind that door snore Varka’s master and the journeyman Athanasius. The cradle creaks plaintively, Varka murmurs—and the two sounds mingle soothingly in a lullaby sweet to the ears of those who lie in bed. But now the music is only irritating and oppressive, for it inclines to sleep, and sleep is impossible. If Varka, which God forbid, were to go to sleep, her master and mistress would beat her.