Part 4 out of 4
eldest son was twining strings for his lapti (peasant's shoes
made of strips of bark from the linden-tree). The other son was
sitting by the table reading a book. The room presented a
pleasant appearance, everything being in order and the inmates
apparently gay and happy--the only dark shadow being that cast
over the household by Ivan's trouble with his neighbor.
Ivan came in very cross, and, angrily throwing aside a cat which
lay sleeping on the bench, cursed the women for having misplaced
a pail. He looked very sad and serious, and, seating himself in
a corner of the room, proceeded to repair the horse-collar. He
could not forget Gavryl, however--the threatening words he had
used in the court-room and those which Ivan had just heard.
Presently Taraska came in, and after having his supper, put on
his sheepskin coat, and, taking some bread with him, returned to
watch over his horses for the night. His eldest brother wished
to accompany him, but Ivan himself arose and went with him as far
as the porch. The night was dark and cloudy and a strong wind
was blowing, which produced a peculiar whistling sound that was
most unpleasant to the ear. Ivan helped his son to mount his
horse, which, followed by a colt, started off on a gallop.
Ivan stood for a few moments looking around him and listening to
the clatter of the horse's hoofs as Taraska rode down the village
street. He heard him meet other boys on horseback, who rode quite
as well as Taraska, and soon all were lost in the darkness.
Ivan remained standing by the gate in a gloomy mood, as he was
unable to banish from his mind the harassing thoughts of Gavryl,
which the latter's menacing words had inspired: "Something will
burn with greater fierceness in Ivan's household before long."
"He is so desperate," thought Ivan, "that he may set fire to my
house regardless of the danger to his own. At present everything
is dry, and as the wind is so high he may sneak from the back of
his own building, start a fire, and get away unseen by any of us.
He may burn and steal without being found out, and thus go
unpunished. I wish I could catch him."
This thought so worried Ivan that he decided not to return to his
house, but went out and stood on the street-corner.
"I guess," thought Ivan to himself, "I will take a walk around
the premises and examine everything carefully, for who knows what
he may be tempted to do?"
Ivan moved very cautiously round to the back of his buildings,
not making the slightest noise, and scarcely daring to breathe.
Just as he reached a corner of the house he looked toward the
fence, and it seemed to him that he saw something moving, and
that it was slowly creeping toward the corner of the house
opposite to where he was standing. He stepped back quickly and
hid himself in the shadow of the building. Ivan stood and
listened, but all was quiet. Not a sound could be heard but the
moaning of the wind through the branches of the trees, and the
rustling of the leaves as it caught them up and whirled them in
all directions. So dense was the darkness that it was at first
impossible for Ivan to see more than a few feet beyond where he
After a time, however, his sight becoming accustomed to the
gloom, he was enabled to see for a considerable distance. The
plow and his other farming implements stood just where he had
placed them. He could see also the opposite corner of the house.
He looked in every direction, but no one was in sight, and he
thought to himself that his imagination must have played him some
trick, leading him to believe that some one was moving when there
really was no one there.
Still, Ivan was not satisfied, and decided to make a further
examination of the premises. As on the previous occasion, he
moved so very cautiously that he could not hear even the sound of
his own footsteps. He had taken the precaution to remove his
shoes, that he might step the more noiselessly. When he reached
the corner of the barn it again seemed to him that he saw
something moving, this time near the plow; but it quickly
disappeared. By this time Ivan's heart was beating very fast,
and he was standing in a listening attitude when a sudden flash
of light illumined the spot, and he could distinctly see the
figure of a man seated on his haunches with his back turned
toward him, and in the act of lighting a bunch of straw which he
held in his hand! Ivan's heart began to beat yet faster, and he
became terribly excited, walking up and down with rapid strides,
but without making a noise.
Ivan said: "Well, now, he cannot get away, for he will be caught
in the very act."
Ivan had taken a few more steps when suddenly a bright light
flamed up, but not in the same spot in which he had seen the
figure of the man sitting. Gavryl had lighted the straw, and
running to the barn held it under the edge of the roof, which
began to burn fiercely; and by the light of the fire he could
distinctly see his neighbor standing.
As an eagle springs at a skylark, so sprang Ivan at Gavryl,
saying: "I will tear you into pieces! You shall not get away
from me this time!"
But "Gavryl the Lame," hearing footsteps, wrenched himself free
from Ivan's grasp and ran like a hare past the buildings.
Ivan, now terribly excited, shouted, "You shall not escape me!"
and started in pursuit; but just as he reached him and was about
to grasp the collar of his coat, Gavryl succeeded in jumping to
one side, and Ivan's coat became entangled in something and he
was thrown violently to the ground. Jumping quickly to his feet
he shouted, "Karaool! derji!"(watch! catch!)
While Ivan was regaining his feet Gavryl succeeded in reaching
his house, but Ivan followed so quickly that he caught up with
him before he could enter. Just as he was about to grasp him he
was struck on the head with some hard substance. He had been hit
on the temple as with a stone. The blow was struck by Gavryl,
who had picked up an oaken stave, and with it gave Ivan a
terrible blow on the head.
Ivan was stunned, and bright sparks danced before his eyes, while
he swayed from side to side like a drunken man, until finally all
became dark and he sank to the ground unconscious.
When he recovered his senses, Gavryl was nowhere to be seen, but
all around him was as light as day. Strange sounds proceeded
from the direction of his house, and turning his face that way he
saw that his barns were on fire. The rear parts of both were
already destroyed, and the flames were leaping toward the front.
Fire, smoke, and bits of burning straw were being rapidly whirled
by the high wind over to where his house stood, and he expected
every moment to see it burst into flames.
"What is this, brother?" Ivan cried out, as he beat his thighs
with his hands. "I should have stopped to snatch the bunch of
burning straw, and, throwing it on the ground, should have
extinguished it with my feet!"
Ivan tried to cry out and arouse his people, but his lips refused
to utter a word. He next tried to run, but he could not move his
feet, and his legs seemed to twist themselves around each other.
After several attempts he succeeded in taking one or two steps,
when he again began to stagger and gasp for breath. It was some
moments before he made another attempt to move, but after
considerable exertion he finally reached the barn, the rear of
which was by this time entirely consumed; and the corner of his
house had already caught fire. Dense volumes of smoke began to
pour out of the room, which made it difficult to approach.
A crowd of peasants had by this time gathered, but they found it
impossible to save their homes, so they carried everything which
they could to a place of safety. The cattle they drove into
neighboring pastures and left some one to care for them.
The wind carried the sparks from Ivan's house to Gavryl's, and
it, too, took fire and was consumed. The wind continued to
increase with great fury, and the flames spread to both sides of
the street, until in a very short time more than half the village
The members of Ivan's household had great difficulty in getting
out of the burning building, but the neighbors rescued the old
man and carried him to a place of safety, while the women escaped
in only their night-clothes. Everything was burned, including
the cattle and all the farm implements. The women lost their
trunks, which were filled with quantities of clothing, the
accumulation of years. The storehouse and all the provisions
perished in the flames, not even the chickens being saved.
Gavryl, however, more fortunate than Ivan, saved his cattle and a
few other things.
The village was burning all night.
Ivan stood near his home, gazing sadly at the burning building,
and he kept constantly repeating to himself: "I should have taken
away the bunch of burning straw, and have stamped out the fire
with my feet."
But when he saw his home fall in a smouldering heap, in spite of
the terrible heat he sprang into the midst of it and carried out
a charred log. The women seeing him, and fearing that he would
lose his life, called to him to come back, but he would not pay
any attention to them and went a second time to get a log. Still
weak from the terrible blow which Gavryl had given him, he was
overcome by the heat, and fell into the midst of the burning
mass. Fortunately, his eldest son saw him fall, and rushing into
the fire succeeded in getting hold of him and carrying him out of
it. Ivan's hair, beard, and clothing were burned entirely off.
His hands were also frightfully injured, but he seemed
indifferent to pain.
"Grief drove him crazy," the people said.
The fire was growing less, but Ivan still stood where he could
see it, and kept repeating to himself, "I should have taken,"
The morning after the fire the starosta (village elder) sent his
son to Ivan to tell him that the old man, his father, was dying,
and wanted to see him to bid him good-bye.
In his grief Ivan had forgotten all about his father, and could
not understand what was being said to him. In a dazed way he
asked: "What father? Whom does he want?"
The elder's son again repeated his father's message to Ivan.
"Your aged parent is at our house dying, and he wants to see you
and bid you good-bye. Won't you go now, uncle Ivan?" the boy
Finally Ivan understood, and followed the elder's son.
When Ivan's father was carried from the oven, he was slightly
injured by a big bunch of burning straw falling on him just as he
reached the street. To insure his safety he was removed to the
elder's house, which stood a considerable distance from his late
home, and where it was not likely that the fire would reach it.
When Ivan arrived at the elder's home he found only the latter's
wife and children, who were all seated on the brick oven. The
old man was lying on a bench holding a lighted candle in his hand
(a Russian custom when a person is dying). Hearing a noise, he
turned his face toward the door, and when he saw it was his son
he tried to move. He motioned for Ivan to come nearer, and when
he did so he whispered in a trembling voice: "Well, Ivanushka,
did I not tell you before what would be the result of this sad
affair? Who set the village on fire?"
"He, he, batiushka [little father]; he did it. I caught him. He
placed the bunch of burning straw to the barn in my presence.
Instead of running after him, I should have snatched the bunch of
burning straw and throwing it on the ground have stamped it out
with my feet; and then there would have been no fire."
"Ivan," said the old man, "death is fast approaching me, and
remember that you also will have to die. Who did this dreadful
thing? Whose is the sin?"
Ivan gazed at the noble face of his dying father and was silent.
His heart was too full for utterance.
"In the presence of God," the old man continued, "whose is the
It was only now that the truth began to dawn upon Ivan's mind,
and that he realized how foolish he had acted. He sobbed
bitterly, and fell on his knees before his father, and, crying
like a child, said:
"My dear father, forgive me, for Christ's sake, for I am guilty
before God and before you!"
The old man transferred the lighted candle from his right hand to
the left, and, raising the former to his forehead, tried to make
the sign of the cross, but owing to weakness was unable to do so.
"Glory to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee!" he exclaimed; and
turning his dim eyes toward his son, he said: "See here,
Ivanushka! Ivanushka, my dear son!"
"What, my dear father?" Ivan asked.
"What are you going to do," replied the old man, "now that you
have no home?"
Ivan cried and said: "I do not know how we shall live now."
The old man closed his eyes and made a movement with his lips, as
if gathering his feeble strength for a final effort. Slowly
opening his eyes, he whispered:
"Should you live according to God's commands you will be happy
and prosperous again."
The old man was now silent for awhile and then, smiling sadly, he
"See here, Ivanushka, keep silent concerning this trouble, and do
not tell who set the village on fire. Forgive one sin of your
neighbor's, and God will forgive two of yours."
Grasping the candle with both hands, Ivan's father heaved a deep
sigh, and, stretching himself out on his back, yielded up the
* * * * * * *
Ivan for once accepted his father's advice. He did not betray
Gavryl, and no one ever learned the origin of the fire.
Ivan's heart became more kindly disposed toward his old enemy,
feeling that much of the fault in connection with this sad affair
rested with himself.
Gavryl was greatly surprised that Ivan did not denounce him
before all the villagers, and at first he stood in much fear of
him, but he soon afterward overcame this feeling.
The two peasants ceased to quarrel, and their families followed
their example. While they were building new houses, both
families lived beneath the same roof, and when they moved into
their respective homes, Ivan and Gavryl lived on as good terms as
their fathers had done before them.
Ivan remembered his dying father's command, and took deeply to
heart the evident warning of God that A FIRE SHOULD BE
EXTINGUISHED IN THE BEGINNING. If any one wronged him he did not
seek revenge, but instead made every effort to settle the matter
peaceably. If any one spoke to him unkindly, he did not answer
in the same way, but replied softly, and tried to persuade the
person not to speak evil. He taught the women and children of
his household to do the same.
Ivan Scherbakoff was now a reformed man.
He lived well and peacefully, and again became prosperous.
Let us, therefore, have peace, live in brotherly love and
kindness, and we will be happy.
The Lot of a Wicked Court Servant.
Polikey was a court man--one of the staff of servants belonging
to the court household of a boyarinia (lady of the nobility).
He held a very insignificant position on the estate, and lived in
a rather poor, small house with his wife and children.
The house was built by the deceased nobleman whose widow he still
continued to serve, and may be described as follows: The four
walls surrounding the one izba (room) were built of stone, and
the interior was ten yards square. A Russian stove stood in the
centre, around which was a free passage. Each corner was fenced
off as a separate inclosure to the extent of several feet, and
the one nearest to the door (the smallest of all) was known as
"Polikey's corner." Elsewhere in the room stood the bed (with
quilt, sheet, and cotton pillows), the cradle (with a baby lying
therein), and the three-legged table, on which the meals were
prepared and the family washing was done. At the latter also
Polikey was at work on the preparation of some materials for use
in his profession--that of an amateur veterinary surgeon. A
calf, some hens, the family clothes and household utensils,
together with seven persons, filled the little home to the utmost
of its capacity. It would indeed have been almost impossible for
them to move around had it not been for the convenience of the
stove, on which some of them slept at night, and which served as
a table in the day-time.
It seemed hard to realize how so many persons managed to live in
such close quarters.
Polikey's wife, Akulina, did the washing, spun and wove, bleached
her linen, cooked and baked, and found time also to quarrel and
gossip with her neighbors.
The monthly allowance of food which they received from the
noblewoman's house was amply sufficient for the whole family, and
there was always enough meal left to make mash for the cow.
Their fuel they got free, and likewise the food for the cattle.
In addition they were given a small piece of land on which to
raise vegetables. They had a cow, a calf, and a number of
chickens to care for.
Polikey was employed in the stables to take care of two
stallions, and, when necessary, to bleed the horses and cattle
and clean their hoofs.
In his treatment of the animals he used syringes, plasters, and
various other remedies and appliances of his own invention. For
these services he received whatever provisions were required by
his family, and a certain sum of money--all of which would have
been sufficient to enable them to live comfortably and even
happily, if their hearts had not been filled with the shadow of a
This shadow darkened the lives of the entire family.
Polikey, while young, was employed in a horse-breeding
establishment in a neighboring village. The head stableman was a
notorious horse-thief, known far and wide as a great rogue, who,
for his many misdeeds, was finally exiled to Siberia. Under his
instruction Polikey underwent a course of training, and, being
but a boy, was easily induced to perform many evil deeds. He
became so expert in the various kinds of wickedness practiced by
his teacher that, though he many times would gladly have
abandoned his evil ways, he could not, owing to the great hold
these early-formed habits had upon him. His father and mother
died when he was but a child, and he had no one to point out to
him the paths of virtue.
In addition to his other numerous shortcomings, Polikey was fond
of strong drink. He also had a habit of appropriating other
people's property, when the opportunity offered of his doing so
without being seen. Collar-straps, padlocks, perch-bolts, and
things even of greater value belonging to others found their way
with remarkable rapidity and in great quantities to Polikey's
home. He did not, however, keep such things for his own use, but
sold them whenever he could find a purchaser. His payment
consisted chiefly of whiskey, though sometimes he received cash.
This sort of employment, as his neighbors said, was both light
and profitable; it required neither education nor labor. It had
one drawback, however, which was calculated to reconcile his
victims to their losses: Though he could for a time have all his
needs supplied without expending either labor or money, there was
always the possibility of his methods being discovered; and this
result was sure to be followed by a long term of imprisonment.
This impending danger made life a burden for Polikey and his
Such a setback indeed very nearly happened to Polikey early in
his career. He married while still young, and God gave him much
happiness. His wife, who was a shepherd's daughter, was a
strong, intelligent, hard-working woman. She bore him many
children, each of whom was said to be better than the preceding
Polikey still continued to steal, but once was caught with some
small articles belonging to others in his possession. Among them
was a pair of leather reins, the property of another peasant, who
beat him severely and reported him to his mistress.
From that time on Polikey was an object of suspicion, and he was
twice again detected in similar escapades. By this time the
people began to abuse him, and the clerk of the court threatened
to recruit him into the army as a soldier (which is regarded by
the peasants as a great punishment and disgrace). His noble
mistress severely reprimanded him; his wife wept from grief for
his downfall, and everything went from bad to worse.
Polikey, notwithstanding his weakness, was a good-natured sort of
man, but his love of strong drink had so overcome every moral
instinct that at times he was scarcely responsible for his
actions. This habit he vainly endeavored to overcome. It often
happened that when he returned home intoxicated, his wife, losing
all patience, roundly cursed him and cruelly beat him. At times
he would cry like a child, and bemoan his fate, saying:
"Unfortunate man that I am, what shall I do? LET MY EYES BURST
INTO PIECES if I do not forever give up the vile habit! I will
not again touch vodki."
In spite of all his promises of reform, but a short period
(perhaps a month) would elapse when Polikey would again
mysteriously disappear from his home and be lost for several days
on a spree.
"From what source does he get the money he spends so freely?" the
neighbors inquired of each other, as they sadly shook their
One of his most unfortunate exploits in the matter of stealing
was in connection with a clock which belonged to the estate of
his mistress. The clock stood in the private office of the
noblewoman, and was so old as to have outlived its usefulness,
and was simply kept as an heirloom. It so happened that Polikey
went into the office one day when no one was present but himself,
and, seeing the old clock, it seemed to possess a peculiar
fascination for him, and he speedily transferred it to his
person. He carried it to a town not far from the village, where
he very readily found a purchaser.
As if purposely to secure his punishment, it happened that the
storekeeper to whom he sold it proved to be a relative of one of
the court servants, and who, when he visited his friend on the
next holiday, related all about his purchase of the clock.
An investigation was immediately instituted, and all the details
of Polikey's transaction were brought to light and reported to
his noble mistress. He was called into her presence, and, when
confronted with the story of the theft, broke down and confessed
all. He fell on his knees before the noblewoman and plead with
her for mercy. The kind-hearted lady lectured him about God, the
salvation of his soul, and his future life. She talked to him
also about the misery and disgrace he brought upon his family,
and altogether so worked upon his feelings that he cried like a
child. In conclusion his kind mistress said: "I will forgive you
this time on the condition that you promise faithfully to reform,
and never again to take what does not belong to you."
Polikey, still weeping, replied: "I will never steal again in all
my life, and if I break my promise may the earth open and swallow
me up, and let my body be burned with red-hot irons!"
Polikey returned to his home, and throwing himself on the oven
spent the entire day weeping and repeating the promise made to
From that time on he was not again caught stealing, but his life
became extremely sad, for he was regarded with suspicion by every
one and pointed to as a thief.
When the time came round for securing recruits for the army, all
the peasants singled out Polikey as the first to be taken. The
superintendent was especially anxious to get rid of him, and went
to his mistress to induce her to have him sent away. The
kind-hearted and merciful woman, remembering the peasant's
repentance, refused to grant the superintendent's request, and
told him he must take some other man in his stead.
One evening Polikey was sitting on his bed beside the table,
preparing some medicine for the cattle, when suddenly the door
was thrown wide open, and Aksiutka, a young girl from the court,
rushed in. Almost out of breath, she said: "My mistress has
ordered you, Polikey Illitch [son of Ilia], to come up to the
court at once!"
The girl was standing and still breathing heavily from her late
exertion as she continued: "Egor Mikhailovitch, the
superintendent, has been to see our lady about having you drafted
into the army, and, Polikey Illitch, your name was mentioned
among others. Our lady has sent me to tell you to come up to the
As soon as Aksiutka had delivered her message she left the room
in the same abrupt manner in which she had entered.
Akulina, without saying a word, got up and brought her husband's
boots to him. They were poor, worn-out things which some soldier
had given him, and his wife did not glance at him as she handed
them to him.
"Are you going to change your shirt, Illitch?" she asked, at
"No," replied Polikey.
Akulina did not once look at him all the time he was putting on
his boots and preparing to go to the court. Perhaps, after all,
it was better that she did not do so. His face was very pale and
his lips trembled. He slowly combed his hair and was about to
depart without saying a word, when his wife stopped him to
arrange the ribbon on his shirt, and, after toying a little with
his coat, she put his hat on for him and he left the little home.
Polikey's next-door neighbors were a joiner and his wife. A thin
partition only separated the two families, and each could hear
what the other said and did. Soon after Polikey's departure a
woman was heard to say: "Well, Polikey Illitch, so your mistress
has sent for you!"
The voice was that of the joiner's wife on the other side of the
partition. Akulina and the woman had quarrelled that morning
about some trifling thing done by one of Polikey's children, and
it afforded her the greatest pleasure to learn that her neighbor
had been summoned into the presence of his noble mistress. She
looked upon such a circumstance as a bad omen. She continued
talking to herself and said: "Perhaps she wants to send him to
the town to make some purchases for her household. I did not
suppose she would select such a faithful man as you are to
perform such a service for her. If it should prove that she DOES
want to send you to the next town, just buy me a quarter-pound of
tea. Will you, Polikey Illitch?"
Poor Akulina, on hearing the joiner's wife talking so unkindly of
her husband, could hardly suppress the tears, and, the tirade
continuing, she at last became angry, and wished she could in
some way punish her.
Forgetting her neighbor's unkindness, her thoughts soon turned in
another direction, and glancing at her sleeping children she said
to herself that they might soon be orphans and she herself a
soldier's widow. This thought greatly distressed her, and
burying her face in her hands she seated herself on the bed,
where several of her progeny were fast asleep. Presently a
little voice interrupted her meditations by crying out, "Mamushka
[little mother], you are crushing me," and the child pulled her
nightdress from under her mother's arms.
Akulina, with her head still resting on her hands, said: "Perhaps
it would be better if we all should die. I only seem to have
brought you into the world to suffer sorrow and misery."
Unable longer to control her grief, she burst into violent
weeping, which served to increase the amusement of the joiner's
wife, who had not forgotten the morning's squabble, and she
laughed loudly at her neighbor's woe.
About half an hour had passed when the youngest child began to
cry and Akulina arose to feed it. She had by this time ceased to
weep, and after feeding the infant she again fell into her old
position, with her face buried in her hands. She was very pale,
but this only increased her beauty. After a time she raised her
head, and staring at the burning candle she began to question
herself as to why she had married, and as to the reason that the
Czar required so many soldiers.
Presently she heard steps outside, and knew that her husband was
returning. She hurriedly wiped away the last traces of her tears
as she arose to let him pass into the centre of the room.
Polikey made his appearance with a look of triumph on his face,
threw his hat on the bed, and hastily removed his coat; but not a
word did he utter.
Akulina, unable to restrain her impatience, asked, "Well, what
did she want with you?"
"Pshaw!" he replied, "it is very well known that Polikushka is
considered the worst man in the village; but when it comes to
business of importance, who is selected then? Why, Polikushka,
"What kind of business?" Akulina timidly inquired.
But Polikey was in no hurry to answer her question. He lighted
his pipe with a very imposing air, and spit several times on the
floor before he replied.
Still retaining his pompous manner, he said, "She has ordered me
to go to a certain merchant in the town and collect a
considerable sum of money."
"You to collect money?" questioned Akulina.
Polikey only shook his head and smiled significantly, saying:
"'You,' the mistress said to me, 'are a man resting under a grave
suspicion--a man who is considered unsafe to trust in any
capacity; but I have faith in you, and will intrust you with this
important business of mine in preference to any one else.'"
Polikey related all this in a loud voice, so that his neighbor
might hear what he had to say.
"'You promised me to reform,' my noble mistress said to me, 'and
I will be the first to show you how much faith I have in your
promise. I want you to ride into town, and, going to the
principal merchant there, collect a sum of money from him and
bring it to me.' I said to my mistress: 'Everything you order
shall be done. I will only too gladly obey your slightest wish.'
Then my mistress said: 'Do you understand, Polikey, that your
future lot depends upon the faithful performance of this duty I
impose upon you?' I replied: 'Yes, I understand everything, and
feel that I will suceed in performing acceptably any task which
you may impose upon me. I have been accused of every kind of
evil deed that it is possible to charge a man with, but I have
never done anything seriously wrong against you, your honor.' In
this way I talked to our mistress until I succeeded in convincing
her that my repentance was sincere, and she became greatly
softened toward me, saying, 'If you are successful I will give
you the first place at the court.'"
"And how much money are you to collect?" inquired Akulina.
"Fifteen hundred rubles," carelessly answered Polikey.
Akulina sadly shook her head as she asked, "When are you to
"She ordered me to leave here to-morrow," Polikey replied. 'Take
any horse you please,' she said. 'Come to the office, and I will
see you there and wish you God-speed on your journey.'"
"Glory to Thee, O Lord!" said Akulina, as she arose and made the
sign of the cross. "God, I am sure, will bless you, Illitch,"
she added, in a whisper, so that the people on the other side of
the partition could not hear what she said, all the while holding
on to his sleeve. "Illitch," she cried at last, excitedly, "for
God's sake promise me that you will not touch a drop of vodki.
Take an oath before God, and kiss the cross, so that I may be
sure that you will not break your promise!"
Polikey replied in most contemptuous tones: "Do you think I will
dare to touch vodki when I shall have such a large sum of money
in my care?"
"Akulina, have a clean shirt ready for the morning," were his
parting words for the night.
So Polikey and his wife went to sleep in a happy frame of mind
and full of bright dreams for the future.
Very early the next morning, almost before the stars had hidden
themselves from view, there was seen standing before Polikey's
home a low wagon, the same in which the superintendent himself
used to ride; and harnessed to it was a large-boned, dark-brown
mare, called for some unknown reason by the name of Baraban
(drum). Aniutka, Polikey's eldest daughter, in spite of the
heavy rain and the cold wind which was blowing, stood outside
barefooted and held (not without some fear) the reins in ore
hand, while with the other she endeavored to keep her green and
yellow overcoat wound around her body, and also to hold Polikey's
In the house there were the greatest noise and confusion. The
morning was still so dark that the little daylight there was
failed to penetrate through the broken panes of glass, the window
being stuffed in many places with rags and paper to exclude the
Akulina ceased from her cooking for a while and helped to get
Polikey ready for the journey. Most of the children were still in
bed, very likely as a protection against the cold, for Akulina
had taken away the big overcoat which usually covered them and
had substituted a shawl of her own. Polikey's shirt was all
ready, nice and clean, but his shoes badly needed repairing, and
this fact caused his devoted wife much anxiety. She took from
her own feet the thick woollen stockings she was wearing, and
gave them to Polikey. She then began to repair his shoes,
patching up the holes so as to protect his feet from dampness.
While this was going on he was sitting on the side of the bed
with his feet dangling over the edge, and trying to turn the sash
which confined his coat at the waist. He was anxious to look as
clean as possible, and he declared his sash looked like a dirty
One of his daughters, enveloped in a sheepskin coat, was sent to
a neighbor's house to borrow a hat.
Within Polikey's home the greatest confusion reigned, for the
court servants were constantly arriving with innumerable small
orders which they wished Polikey to execute for them in town.
One wanted needles, another tea, another tobacco, and last came
the joiner's wife, who by this time had prepared her samovar,
and, anxious to make up the quarrel of the previous day, brought
the traveller a cup of tea.
Neighbor Nikita refused the loan of the hat, so the old one had
to be patched up for the occasion. This occupied some time, as
there were many holes in it.
Finally Polikey was all ready, and jumping on the wagon started
on his journey, after first making the sign of the cross.
At the last moment his little boy, Mishka, ran to the door,
begging to be given a short ride; and then his little daughter,
Mashka, appeared on the scene and pleaded that she, too, might
have a ride, declaring that she would be quite warm enough
Polikey stopped the horse on hearing the children, and Akulina
placed them in the wagon, together with two others belonging to a
neighbor--all anxious to have a short ride.
As Akulina helped the little ones into the wagon she took
occasion to remind Polikey of the solemn promise he had made her
not to touch a drop of vodki during the journey.
Polikey drove the children as far as the blacksmith's place,
where he let them out of the wagon, telling them they must return
home. He then arranged his clothing, and, setting his hat firmly
on his head, started his horse on a trot.
The two children, Mishka and Mashka, both barefooted, started
running at such a rapid pace that a strange dog from another
village, seeing them flying over the road, dropped his tail
between his legs and ran home squealing.
The weather was very cold, a sharp cutting wind blowing
continuously; but this did not disturb Polikey, whose mind was
engrossed with pleasant thoughts. As he rode through the wintry
blasts he kept repeating to himself: "So I am the man they wanted
to send to Siberia, and whom they threatened to enroll as a
soldier--the same man whom every one abused, and said he was
lazy, and who was pointed out as a thief and given the meanest
work on the estate to do! Now I am going to receive a large sum
of money, for which my mistress is sending me because she trusts
me. I am also riding in the same wagon that the superintendent
himself uses when he is riding as a representative of the court.
I have the same harness, leather horse-collar, reins, and all the
Polikey, filled with pride at thought of the mission with which
he had been intrusted, drew himself up with an air of pride, and,
fixing his old hat more firmly on his head, buttoned his coat
tightly about him and urged his horse to greater speed.
"Just to think," he continued; "I shall have in my possession
three thousand half-rubles [the peasant manner of speaking of
money so as to make it appear a larger sum than it really is],
and will carry them in my bosom. If I wished to I might run away
to Odessa instead of taking the money to my mistress. But no; I
will not do that. I will surely carry the money straight to the
one who has been kind enough to trust me."
When Polikey reached the first kabak (tavern) he found that from
long habit the mare was naturally turning her head toward it; but
he would not allow her to stop, though money had been given him
to purchase both food and drink. Striking the animal a sharp
blow with the whip, he passed by the tavern. The performance was
repeated when he reached the next kabak, which looked very
inviting; but he resolutely set his face against entering, and
About noon he arrived at his destination, and getting down from
the wagon approached the gate of the merchant's house where the
servants of the court always stopped. Opening it he led the mare
through, and (after unharnessing her) fed her. This done, he
next entered the house and had dinner with the merchant's
workingman, and to them he related what an important mission he
had been sent on, making himself very amusing by the pompous air
which he assumed. Dinner over, he carried a letter to the
merchant which the noblewoman had given him to deliver.
The merchant, knowing thoroughly the reputation which Polikey
bore, felt doubtful of trusting him with so much money, and
somewhat anxiously inquired if he really had received orders to
carry so many rubles.
Polikey tried to appear offended at this question, but did not
succeed, and he only smiled.
The merchant, after reading the letter a second time and being
convinced that all was right, gave Polikey the money, which he
put in his bosom for safe-keeping.
On his way to the house he did not once stop at any of the shops
he passed. The clothing establishments possessed no attractions
for him, and after he had safely passed them all he stood for a
moment, feeling very pleased that he had been able to withstand
temptation, and then went on his way.
"I have money enough to buy up everything," he said; "but I will
not do so."
The numerous commissions which he had received compelled him to
go to the bazaar. There he bought only what had been ordered,
but he could not resist the temptation to ask the price of a very
handsome sheep-skin coat which attracted his attention. The
merchant to whom he spoke looked at Polikey and smiled, not
believing that he had sufficient money to purchase such an
expensive coat. But Polikey, pointing to his breast, said that
he could buy out the whole shop if he wished to. He thereupon
ordered the shop-keeper to take his measure. He tried the coat
on and looked himself over carefully, testing the quality and
blowing upon the hair to see that none of it came out. Finally,
heaving a deep sigh, he took it off.
"The price is too high," he said. "If you could let me have it
for fifteen rubles--"
But the merchant cut him short by snatching the coat from him and
throwing it angrily to one side.
Polikey left the bazaar and returned to the merchant's house in
After supper he went out and fed the mare, and prepared
everything for the night. Returning to the house he got up on
the stove to rest, and while there he took out the envelope which
contained the money and looked long and earnestly at it. He
could not read, but asked one of those present to tell him what
the writing on the envelope meant. It was simply the address and
the announcement that it contained fifteen hundred rubles.
The envelope was made of common paper and was sealed with
dark-brown sealing wax. There was one large seal in the centre
and four smaller ones at the corners. Polikey continued to
examine it carefully, even inserting his finger till he touched
the crisp notes. He appeared to take a childish delight in
having so much money in his possession.
Having finished his examination, he put the envelope inside the
lining of his old battered hat, and placing both under his head
he went to sleep; but during the night he frequently awoke and
always felt to know if the money was safe. Each time that he
found that it was safe he rejoiced at the thought that he,
Polikey, abused and regarded by every one as a thief, was
intrusted with the care of such a large sum of money, and also
that he was about to return with it quite as safely as the
superintendent himself could have done.
Before dawn the next morning Polikey was up, and after harnessing
the mare and looking in his hat to see that the money was all
right, he started on his return journey.
Many times on the way Polikey took off his hat to see that the
money was safe. Once he said to himself, "I think that perhaps
it would be better if I should put it in my bosom." This would
necessitate the untying of his sash, so he decided to keep it
still in his hat, or until he should have made half the journey,
when he would be compelled to stop to feed his horse and to rest.
He said to himself: "The lining is not sewn in very strongly and
the envelope might fall out, so I think I had better not take off
my hat until I reach home."
The money was safe--at least, so it seemed to him--and he began
to think how grateful his mistress would be to him, and in his
excited imagination he saw the five rubles he was so sure of
Once more he examined the hat to see that the money was safe, and
finding everything all right he put on his hat and pulled it well
down over his ears, smiling all the while at his own thoughts.
Akulina had carefully sewed all the holes in the hat, but it
burst out in other places owing to Polikey's removing it so
In the darkness he did not notice the new rents, and tried to
push the envelope further under the lining, and in doing so
pushed one corner of it through the plush.
The sun was getting high in the heavens, and Polikey having slept
but little the previous night and feeling its warm rays fell fast
asleep, after first pressing his hat more firmly on his head. By
this action he forced the envelope still further through the
plush, and as he rode along his head bobbed up and down.
Polikey did not awake till he arrived near his own house, and his
first act was to put his hand to his head to learn if his hat was
all right. Finding that it was in its place, he did not think it
necessary to examine it and see that the money was safe.
Touching the mare gently with the whip she started into a trot,
and as he rode along he arranged in his own mind how much he was
to receive. With the air of a man already holding a high
position at the court, he looked around him with an expression of
lofty scorn on his face.
As he neared his house he could see before him the one room which
constituted their humble home, and the joiner's wife next door
carry- ing her rolls of linen. He saw also the office of the
court and his mistress's house, where he hoped he would be able
presently to prove that he was an honest, trustworthy man.
He reasoned with himself that any person can be abused by lying
tongues, but when his mistress would see him she would say: "Well
done, Polikey; you have shown that you can be honest. Here are
three--it may be five--perhaps ten--rubles for you;" and also she
would order tea for him, and might treat him to vodki--who knows?
The latter thought gave him great pleasure, as he was feeling
Speaking aloud he said: "What a happy holy-day we can have with
ten rubles! Having so much money, I could pay Nikita the four
rubles fifty kopecks which I owe him, and yet have some left to
buy shoes for the children."
When near the house Polikey began to arrange his clothes,
smoothing down his fur collar, re-tying his sash, and stroking
his hair. To do the latter he had to take off his hat, and when
doing so felt in the lining for the envelope. Quicker and
quicker he ran his hand around the lining, and not finding the
money used both hands, first one and then the other. But the
envelope was not to be found.
Polikey was by this time greatly distressed, and his face was
white with fear as he passed his hand through the crown of his
old hat. Polikey stopped the mare and began a diligent search
through the wagon and its contents. Not finding the precious
envelope, he felt in all his pockets--BUT THE MONEY COULD NOT BE
Wildly clutching at his hair, he exclaimed: "Batiushka! What
will I do now? What will become of me?" At the same time he
realized that he was near his neighbors' house and could be seen
by them; so he turned the mare around, and, pulling his hat down
securely upon his head, he rode quickly back in search of his
The whole day passed without any one in the village of Pokrovski
having seen anything of Polikey. During the afternoon his
mistress inquired many times as to his whereabouts, and sent
Aksiutka frequently to Akulina, who each time sent back word that
Polikey had not yet returned, saying also that perhaps the
merchant had kept him, or that something had happened to the
His poor wife felt a heavy load upon her heart, and was scarcely
able to do her housework and put everything in order for the next
day (which was to be a holy-day). The children also anxiously
awaited their father's appearance, and, though for different
reasons, could hardly restrain their impatience. The noblewoman
and Akulina were concerned only in regard to Polikey himself,
while the children were interested most in what he would bring
them from the town.
The only news received by the villagers during the day concerning
Polikey was to the effect that neighboring peasants had seen him
running up and down the road and asking every one he met if he or
she had found an envelope.
One of them had seen him also walking by the side of his
tired-out horse. "I thought," said he, "that the man was drunk,
and had not fed his horse for two days--the animal looked so
Unable to sleep, and with her heart palpitating at every sound,
Akulina lay awake all night vainly awaiting Polikey's return.
When the cock crowed the third time she was obliged to get up to
attend to the fire. Day was just dawning and the church-bells
had begun to ring. Soon all the children were also up, but there
was still no tidings of the missing husband and father.
In the morning the chill blasts of winter entered their humble
home, and on looking out they saw that the houses, fields, and
roads were thickly covered with snow. The day was clear and
cold, as if befitting the holy-day they were about to celebrate.
They were able to see a long distance from the house, but no one
was in sight.
Akulina was busy baking cakes, and had it not been for the joyous
shouts of the children she would not have known that Polikey was
coming up the road, for a few minutes later he came in with a
bundle in his hand and walked quietly to his corner. Akulina
noticed that he was very pale and that his face bore an
expression of suffering--as if he would like to have cried but
could not do so. But she did not stop to study it, but excitedly
inquired: "What! Illitch, is everything all right with you?"
He slowly muttered something, but his wife could not understand
what he said.
"What!" she cried out, "have you been to see our mistress?"
Polikey still sat on the bed in his corner, glaring wildly about
him, and smiling bitterly. He did not reply for a long time, and
Akulina again cried:
"Eh? Illitch! Why don't you answer me? Why don't you speak?"
Finally he said: "Akulina, I delivered the money to our mistress;
and oh, how she thanked me!" Then he suddenly looked about him,
with an anxious, startled air, and with a sad smile on his lips.
Two things in the room seemed to engross the most of his
attention: the baby in the cradle, and the rope which was
attached to the ladder. Approaching the cradle, he began with
his thin fingers quickly to untie the knot in the rope by which
the two were connected. After untying it he stood for a few
moments looking silently at the baby.
Akulina did not notice this proceeding, and with her cakes on the
board went to place them in a corner.
Polikey quickly hid the rope beneath his coat, and again seated
himself on the bed.
"What is it that troubles you, Illitch?" inquired Akulina. "You
are not yourself."
"I have not slept," he answered.
Suddenly a dark shadow crossed the window, and a minute later the
girl Aksiutka quickly entered the room, exclaiming:
"The boyarinia commands you, Polikey Illitch, to come to her this
Polikey looked first at Akulina and then at the girl.
"This moment!" he cried. "What more is wanted?"
He spoke the last sentence so softly that Akulina became quieted
in her mind, thinking that perhaps their mistress intended to
reward her husband.
"Say that I will come immediately," he said.
But Polikey failed to follow the girl, and went instead to
From the porch of his house there was a ladder reaching to the
attic. Arriving at the foot of the ladder Polikey looked around
him, and seeing no one about, he quickly ascended to the
* * * * * * *
Meanwhile the girl had reached her mistress's house.
"What does it mean that Polikey does not come?" said the
noblewoman impatiently. "Where can he be? Why does he not come
Aksiutka flew again to his house and demanded to see Polikey.
"He went a long time ago," answered Akulina, and looking around
with an expression of fear on her face, she added, "He may have
fallen asleep somewhere on the way."
About this time the joiner's wife, with hair unkempt and clothes
bedraggled, went up to the loft to gather the linen which she had
previously put there to dry. Suddenly a cry of horror was
heard, and the woman, with her eyes closed, and crazed by fear,
ran down the ladder like a cat.
"Illitch," she cried, "has hanged himself!"
Poor Akulina ran up the ladder before any of the people, who had
gathered from the surrounding houses, could prevent her. With a
loud shriek she fell back as if dead, and would surely have been
killed had not one of the spectators succeeded in catching her in
Before dark the same day a peasant of the village, while
returning from the town, found the envelope containing Polikey's
money on the roadside, and soon after delivered it to the
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a
tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, That ye resist not
evil."--ST. MATTHEW V. 38, 39.
It was in the time of serfdom--many years before Alexander II.'s
liberation of the sixty million serfs in 1862. In those days the
people were ruled by different kinds of lords. There were not a
few who, remembering God, treated their slaves in a humane
manner, and not as beasts of burden, while there were others who
were seldom known to perform a kind or generous action; but the
most barbarous and tyrannical of all were those former serfs who
arose from the dirt and became princes.
It was this latter class who made life literally a burden to
those who were unfortunate enough to come under their rule. Many
of them had arisen from the ranks of the peasantry to become
superintendents of noblemen's estates.
The peasants were obliged to work for their master a certain
number of days each week. There was plenty of land and water and
the soil was rich and fertile, while the meadows and forests were
sufficient to supply the needs of both the peasants and their
There was a certain nobleman who had chosen a superintendent from
the peasantry on one of his other estates. No sooner had the
power to govern been vested in this newly-made official than he
began to practice the most outrageous cruelties upon the poor
serfs who had been placed under his control. Although this man
had a wife and two married daughters, and was making so much
money that he could have lived happily without transgressing in
any way against either God or man, yet he was filled with envy
and jealousy and deeply sunk in sin.
Michael Simeonovitch began his persecutions by compelling the
peasants to perform more days of service on the estate every week
than the laws obliged them to work. He established a brick-yard,
in which he forced the men and women to do excessive labor,
selling the bricks for his own profit.
On one occasion the overworked serfs sent a delegation to Moscow
to complain of their treatment to their lord, but they obtained
no satisfaction. When the poor peasants returned disconsolate
from the nobleman their superintendent determined to have revenge
for their boldness in going above him for redress, and their life
and that of their fellow-victims became worse than before.
It happened that among the serfs there were some very treacherous
people who would falsely accuse their fellows of wrong-doing and
sow seeds of discord among the peasantry, whereupon Michael would
become greatly enraged, while his poor subjects began to live in
fear of their lives. When the superintendent passed through the
village the people would run and hide themselves as from a wild
beast. Seeing thus the terror which he had struck to the hearts
of the moujiks, Michael's treatment of them became still more
vindictive, so that from over-work and ill-usage the lot of the
poor serfs was indeed a hard one.
There was a time when it was possible for the peasants, when
driven to despair, to devise means whereby they could rid
themselves of an inhuman monster such as Simeonovitch, and so
these unfortunate people began to consider whether something
could not be done to relieve THEM of their intolerable yoke.
They would hold little meetings in secret places to bewail their
misery and to confer with one another as to which would be the
best way to act. Now and then the boldest of the gathering
would rise and address his companions in this strain: "How much
longer can we tolerate such a villain to rule over us? Let us
make an end of it at once, for it were better for us to perish
than to suffer. It is surely not a sin to kill such a devil in
It happened once, before the Easter holidays, that one of these
meetings was held in the woods, where Michael had sent the serfs
to make a clearance for their master. At noon they assembled to
eat their dinner and to hold a consultation. "Why can't we leave
now?" said one. "Very soon we shall be reduced to nothing.
Already we are almost worked to death--there being no rest, night
or day, either for us or our poor women. If anything should be
done in a way not exactly to please him he will find fault and
perhaps flog some of us to death--as was the case with poor
Simeon, whom he killed not long ago. Only recently Anisim was
tortured in irons till he died. We certainly cannot stand this
much longer." "Yes," said another, "what is the use of waiting?
Let us act at once. Michael will be here this evening, and will
be certain to abuse us shamefully. Let us, then, thrust him from
his horse and with one blow of an axe give him what he deserves,
and thus end our misery. We can then dig a big hole and bury him
like a dog, and no one will know what became of him. Now let us
come to an agreement--to stand together as one man and not to
betray one another."
The last speaker was Vasili Minayeff, who, if possible, had more
cause to complain of Michael's cruelty than any of his
fellow-serfs. The superintendent was in the habit of flogging
him severely every week, and he took also Vasili's wife to serve
him as cook.
Accordingly, during the evening that followed this meeting in the
woods Michael arrived on the scene on horseback. He began at
once to find fault with the manner in which the work had been
done, and to complain because some lime-trees had been cut down.
"I told you not to cut down any lime-trees!" shouted the enraged
superintendent. "Who did this thing? Tell me at once, or I
shall flog every one of you!"
On investigation, a peasant named Sidor was pointed out as the
guilty one, and his face was roundly slapped. Michael also
severely punished Vasili, because he had not done sufficient
work, after which the master rode safely home.
In the evening the serfs again assembled, and poor Vasili said:
"Oh, what kind of people ARE we, anyway? We are only sparrows,
and not men at all! We agree to stand by each other, but as soon
as the time for action comes we all run and hide. Once a lot of
sparrows conspired against a hawk, but no sooner did the bird of
prey appear than they sneaked off in the grass. Selecting one of
the choicest sparrows, the hawk took it away to eat, after which
the others came out crying, 'Twee-twee!' and found that one was
missing. 'Who is killed?' they asked. 'Vanka! Well, he
deserved it.' You, my friends, are acting in just the same
manner. When Michael attacked Sidor you should have stood by
your promise. Why didn't you arise, and with one stroke put an
end to him and to our misery?"
The effect of this speech was to make the peasants more firm in
their determination to kill their superintendent. The latter had
already given orders that they should be ready to plough during
the Easter holidays, and to sow the field with oats, whereupon
the serfs became stricken with grief, and gathered in Vasili's
house to hold another indignation meeting. "If he has really
forgotten God," they said, "and shall continue to commit such
crimes against us, it is truly necessary that we should kill him.
If not, let us perish, for it can make no difference to us now."
This despairing programme, however, met with considerable
opposition from a peaceably-inclined man named Peter Mikhayeff.
"Brethren," said he, "you are contemplating a grievous sin. The
taking of human life is a very serious matter. Of course it is
easy to end the mortal existence of a man, but what will become
of the souls of those who commit the deed? If Michael continues
to act toward us unjustly God will surely punish him. But, my
friends, we must have patience."
This pacific utterance only served to intensify the anger of
Vasili. Said he: "Peter is forever repeating the same old story,
'It is a sin to kill any one.' Certainly it is sinful to murder;
but we should consider the kind of man we are dealing with. We
all know it is wrong to kill a good man, but even God would take
away the life of such a dog as he is. It is our duty, if we have
any love for mankind, to shoot a dog that is mad. It is a sin to
let him live. If, therefore, we are to suffer at all, let it be
in the interests of the people--and they will thank us for it.
If we remain quiet any longer a flogging will be our only reward.
You are talking nonsense, Mikhayeff. Why don't you think of the
sin we shall be committing if we work during the Easter
holidays--for you will refuse to work then yourself?"
"Well, then," replied Peter, "if they shall send me to plough, I
will go. But I shall not be going of my own free will, and God
will know whose sin it is, and shall punish the offender
accordingly. Yet we must not forget him. Brethren, I am not
giving you my own views only. The law of God is not to return
evil for evil; indeed, if you try in this way to stamp out
wickedness it will come upon you all the stronger. It is not
difficult for you to kill the man, but his blood will surely
stain your own soul. You may think you have killed a bad
man--that you have gotten rid of evil--but you will soon find out
that the seeds of still greater wickedness have been planted
within you. If you yield to misfortune it will surely come to
As Peter was not without sympathizers among the peasants, the
poor serfs were consequently divided into two groups: the
followers of Vasili and those who held the views of Mikhayeff.
On Easter Sunday no work was done. Toward the evening an elder
came to the peasants from the nobleman's court and said: "Our
superintendent, Michael Simeonovitch, orders you to go to-morrow
to plough the field for the oats." Thus the official went through
the village and directed the men to prepare for work the next
day--some by the river and others by the roadway. The poor
people were almost overcome with grief, many of them shedding
tears, but none dared to disobey the orders of their master.
On the morning of Easter Monday, while the church bells were
calling the inhabitants to religious services, and while every
one else was about to enjoy a holiday, the unfortunate serfs
started for the field to plough. Michael arose rather late and
took a walk about the farm. The domestic servants were through
with their work and had dressed themselves for the day, while
Michael's wife and their widowed daughter (who was visiting them,
as was her custom on holidays) had been to church and returned.
A steaming samovar awaited them, and they began to drink tea
with Michael, who, after lighting his pipe, called the elder to
"Well," said the superintendent, "have you ordered the moujiks to
"Yes, sir, I did," was the reply.
"Have they all gone to the field?"
"Yes, sir; all of them. I directed them myself where to begin."
"That is all very well. You gave the orders, but are they
ploughing? Go at once and see, and you may tell them that I
shall be there after dinner. I shall expect to find one and a
half acres done for every two ploughs, and the work must be well
done; otherwise they shall be severely punished, notwithstanding
"I hear, sir, and obey."
The elder started to go, but Michael called him back. After
hesitating for some time, as if he felt very uneasy, he said:
"By the way, listen to what those scoundrels say about me.
Doubtless some of them will curse me, and I want you to report
the exact words. I know what villains they are. They don't find
work at all pleasant. They would rather lie down all day and do
nothing. They would like to eat and drink and make merry on
holidays, but they forget that if the ploughing is not done it
will soon be too late. So you go and listen to what is said, and
tell it to me in detail. Go at once."
"I hear, sir, and obey."
Turning his back and mounting his horse, the elder was soon at
the field where the serfs were hard at work.
It happened that Michael's wife, a very good-hearted woman,
overheard the conversation which her husband had just been
holding with the elder. Approaching him, she said:
"My good friend, Mishinka [diminutive of Michael], I beg of you
to consider the importance and solemnity of this holy-day. Do
not sin, for Christ's sake. Let the poor moujiks go home."
Michael laughed, but made no reply to his wife's humane request.
Finally he said to her:
"You've not been whipped for a very long time, and now you have
become bold enough to interfere in affairs that are not your
"Mishinka," she persisted, "I have had a frightful dream
concerning you. You had better let the moujiks go."
"Yes," said he; "I perceive that you have gained so much flesh of
late that you think you would not feel the whip. Lookout!"
Rudely thrusting his hot pipe against her cheek, Michael chased
his wife from the room, after which he ordered his dinner. After
eating a hearty meal consisting of cabbage-soup, roast pig,
meat-cake, pastry with milk, jelly, sweet cakes, and vodki, he
called his woman cook to him and ordered her to be seated and
sing songs, Simeonovitch accompanying her on the guitar.
While the superintendent was thus enjoying himself to the fullest
satisfaction in the musical society of his cook the elder
returned, and, making a low bow to his superior, proceeded to
give the desired information concerning the serfs.
"Well," asked Michael, "did they plough?"
"Yes," replied the elder; "they have accomplished about half the
"Is there no fault to be found?"
"Not that I could discover. The work seems to be well done.
They are evidently afraid of you."
"How is the soil?"
"Very good. It appears to be quite soft."
"Well," said Simeonovitch, after a pause, "what did they say
about me? Cursed me, I suppose?"
As the elder hesitated somewhat, Michael commanded him to speak
and tell him the whole truth. "Tell me all," said he; "I want to
know their exact words. If you tell me the truth I shall reward
you; but if you conceal anything from me you will be punished.
See here, Catherine, pour out a glass of vodki to give him
After drinking to the health of his superior, the elder said to
himself: "It is not my fault if they do not praise him. I shall
tell him the truth." Then turning suddenly to the superintendent
"They complain, Michael Simeonovitch! They complain bitterly."
"But what did they say?" demanded Michael. "Tell me!"
"Well, one thing they said was, 'He does not believe in God.'"
Michael laughed. "Who said that?" he asked.
"It seemed to be their unanimous opinion. 'He has been overcome
by the Evil One,' they said."
"Very good," laughed the superintendent; "but tell me what each
of them said. What did Vasili say?"
The elder did not wish to betray his people, but he had a certain
grudge against Vasili, and he said:
"He cursed you more than did any of the others."
"But what did he say?"
"It is awful to repeat it, sir. Vasili said, 'He shall die like
a dog, having no chance to repent!'"
"Oh, the villain!" exclaimed Michael. "He would kill me if he
were not afraid. All right, Vasili; we shall have an accounting
with you. And Tishka--he called me a dog, I suppose?"
"Well," said the elder, "they all spoke of you in anything but
complimentary terms; but it is mean in me to repeat what they
"Mean or not you must tell me, I say!"
"Some of them declared that your back should be
Simeonovitch appeared to enjoy this immensely, for he laughed
outright. "We shall see whose back will be the first to be
broken," said he. "Was that Tishka's opinion? While I did not
suppose they would say anything good about me, I did not expect
such curses and threats. And Peter Mikhayeff--was that fool
cursing me too?"
"No; he did not curse you at all. He appeared to be the only
silent one among them. Mikhayeff is a very wise moujik, and he
surprises me very much. At his actions all the other peasants
"What did he do?"
"He did something remarkable. He was diligently ploughing, and
as I approached him I heard some one singing very sweetly.
Looking between the ploughshares, I observed a bright object
"Well, what was it? Hurry up!"
"It was a small, five-kopeck wax candle, burning brightly, and
the wind was unable to blow it out. Peter, wearing a new shirt,
sang beautiful hymns as he ploughed, and no matter how he handled
the implement the candle continued to burn. In my presence he
fixed the plough, shaking it violently, but the bright little
object between the colters remained undisturbed."
"And what did Mikhayeff say?"
"He said nothing--except when, on seeing me, he gave me the
holy-day salutation, after which he went on his way singing and
ploughing as before. I did not say anything to him, but, on
approaching the other moujiks, I found that they were laughing
and making sport of their silent companion. 'It is a great sin
to plough on Easter Monday,' they said. 'You could not get
absolution from your sin if you were to pray all your life.'"
"And did Mikhayeff make no reply?"
"He stood long enough to say: 'There should be peace on earth and
good-will to men,' after which he resumed his ploughing and
singing, the candle burning even more brightly than
Simeonovitch had now ceased to ridicule, and, putting aside his
guitar, his head dropped on his breast and he became lost in
thought. Presently he ordered the elder and cook to depart,
after which Michael went behind a screen and threw himself upon
the bed. He was sighing and moaning, as if in great distress,
when his wife came in and spoke kindly to him. He refused to
listen to her, exclaiming:
"He has conquered me, and my end is near!"
"Mishinka," said the woman, "arise and go to the moujiks in the
field. Let them go home, and everything will be all right.
Heretofore you have run far greater risks without any fear, but
now you appear to be very much alarmed."
"He has conquered me!" he repeated. "I am lost!"
"What do you mean?" demanded his wife, angrily. "If you will go
and do as I tell you there will be no danger. Come, Mishinka,"
she added, tenderly; "I shall have the saddle-horse brought for
you at once."
When the horse arrived the woman persuaded her husband to mount
the animal, and to fulfil her request concerning the serfs. When
he reached the village a woman opened the gate for him to enter,
and as he did so the inhabitants, seeing the brutal
superintendent whom everybody feared, ran to hide themselves in
their houses, gardens, and other secluded places.
At length Michael reached the other gate, which he found closed
also, and, being unable to open it himself while seated on his
horse, he called loudly for assistance. As no one responded to
his shouts he dismounted and opened the gate, but as he was about
to remount, and had one foot in the stirrup, the horse became
frightened at some pigs and sprang suddenly to one side. The
superintendent fell across the fence and a very sharp picket
pierced his stomach, when Michael fell unconscious to the ground.
Toward the evening, when the serfs arrived at the village gate,
their horses refused to enter. On looking around, the peasants
discovered the dead body of their superintendent lying face
downward in a pool of blood, where he had fallen from the fence.
Peter Mikhayeff alone had sufficient courage to dismount and
approach the prostrate form, his companions riding around the
village and entering by way of the back yards. Peter closed the
dead man's eyes, after which he put the body in a wagon and took
When the nobleman learned of the fatal accident which had
befallen his superintendent, and of the brutal treatment which he
had meted out to those under him, he freed the serfs, exacting a
small rent for the use of his land and the other agricultural
And thus the peasants clearly understood that the power of God is
manifested not in evil, but in goodness.