In the afternoon about dusk -- the early dusk of a Russian winter -- the school came together
again, and all the classes united, usually for the lesson in history, either sacred history or the
history of Russia. The evening lessons, and especially this first one, were distinguished from
those in the morning, says Count Tolstoy, by a particular note of serenity and poetry. He gives us
a picture of this evening class, which I shall paraphrase and abbreviate:
Come to the school in the twilight; there is no light in the windows; all is peaceful. The snow on
the stairs, a faint murmur, a slight movement behind the door, a boy running upstairs two steps at
a time: these are the only indications that the school is in session. Enter the class-room. It is
almost dark behind the frosty panes. The older boys and the best scholars are pushed forward by
their comrades close to the teacher, and lifting their little heads, hold their eyes fixed upon his
lips. One little girl, perched on a high table, with a preoccupied expression of face, looks as if
she were swallowing each word. Somewhat farther back are seated the less diligent pupils, and
behind them the smallest boys of all. These little fellows listen, attentive and even with knit
brows, in the same attitude as the big boys, but notwithstanding their attention, we know that
they will not be able to recite anything, although a good deal will stick in their memories. Some
are leaning on the shoulders of their neighbours, some are standing behind tables. Occasionally
one of them, making his way behind another, amuses himself by drawing figures on his back
with his finger.
They listen to a new story as if petrified. When it is repeated they cannot refrain from showing
their knowledge by prompting the master. But an old familiar tale they insist on having recited
accurately word for word, and they permit no interruption. If they notice an omission, they finish
the story themselves.
It seems as if all were dead; nothing moves. Are they not asleep? You advance in the shadow,
and examine the face of one of the smaller boys. He is sitting, devouring the teacher with his
eyes, and his intense attention makes him frown. For the tenth time he pushes from his shoulder
the arm of a boy who is leaning on him. You tickle his neck, he does not even smile, he shakes
his head as if to drive away a fly. He is entirely absorbed in the mysterious story of how the veil
of the temple was rent in twain and the sky darkened. It is at once painful and sweet to him.
Now the teacher has finished. All jump up and crowd round him, trying, each one louder than his
neighbour, to repeat what they have remembered. The master attempts to stop them by assuring
them that he knows that they have remembered it all. It is of no use. They go to the other master,
or if he is not there, to a schoolfellow, or a stranger, or even to the caretaker, begging him to
listen to them. It is a rare thing for one of them to repeat it alone. They gather in groups, each
one seeking his equals in intelligence, and thus they recite, encouraging, questioning and
correcting each other. At last they have exhausted the subject and gradually become calm.
Candles are brought in, and they take up the next lesson.
Throughout the evening there is less noise and disturbance than in the morning, and more
obedience and docility. We note a special dislike at this time for mathematics and analysis and a
passion for singing, reading and especially story-telling. By eight o'clock their eyes begin to
grow dim, they yawn frequently, the candles burn less brightly and have to be often snuffed. The
older boys still hold out, but the younger boys and the stupider ones begin to drop off asleep with
their elbows on the table, to the vague accompaniment of the master's voice.