Welcome to Bookwise, a full-featured digital book reader.

Tap left edge for menu.

Tap page to scroll.

Sign in for the best reading experience.

Sign in   Maybe later

Previous note
Hide notes
Next note

Add comment
Share
Quote copied to clipboard
Delete

Bookwise is better with an account.

Please Sign in for the best reading experience.

Polikoúshka
Or, In the Days of Serfdom

Leo Tolstoy's signature

Leo Tolstoy

1863

This is the Bookwise complete ebook of Polikoúshka by Leo Tolstoy, available to read online as an alternative to epub, mobi, kindle, pdf or text only versions. For information about the status of this work, see Copyright Notice.



I

“Just as you please to order, madam! Only it would be a pity if it’s the Doútlofs. They’re all good fellows, and one of them must go if we don’t send at least one of the domestic serfs,” said the steward. “As it is, everyone is hinting at them.⁠ ⁠… But it’s just as you please, madam!”

And he placed his right hand over his left in front of him, inclined his head towards the other shoulder, drew in⁠—almost with a smack⁠—his thin lips, rolled up his eyes, and said no more, evidently intending to keep silent for a long time, and to listen without reply to all the absurdities his mistress was sure to utter.

The steward⁠—clean-shaven, and dressed in a long coat of a peculiar steward-like cut⁠—who had come to report to his proprietress that autumn evening, was by origin a domestic serf.

The report, from the lady’s point of view, meant listening to a statement of the business done on her estate, and giving instructions for further business. From Egór Miháylovitch’s (the steward’s) point of view, “reporting” was a ceremony of standing straight on both feet, with turned-out toes, in a corner facing the sofa, and listening to all sorts of chatter unconnected with business, and by different ways and means getting the mistress into a state of mind in which she would quickly and impatiently say, “All right, all right!” to all that Egór Miháylovitch proposed.

Recruiting was the business under consideration. The Pokróvsk estate had to supply three recruits. Two of them seemed to have been marked out by Fate itself, by a coincidence of family, moral, and economic circumstances. As far as they were concerned, there could be no hesitation or dispute either on the part of the proprietress, the Commune, or of public opinion. But who the third was to be, was a debatable point. The steward was anxious to defend the Doútlofs (in which family there were three men of an age to be recruited), and to send Polikoúshka, a married domestic serf with a very bad reputation, who had been caught more than once stealing sacks, reins, and hay; but the proprietress, who often petted Polikoúshka’s ragged children, and improved his morals by exhortations from the Bible, did not wish to send him. Neither did she wish to injure the Doútlofs, whom she did not know and had never even seen. But somehow she did not seem able to grasp the fact, and the steward could not make up his mind to tell her straight out, that if Polikoúshka did not go, one of the Doútlofs would have to.

“But I don’t wish the Doútlofs any ill!” she said feelingly.

“If you don’t, then pay three hundred roubles for a substitute,” should have been the steward’s reply; but that would have been bad policy.

So Egór Miháylovitch took up a comfortable position, and even leaned imperceptibly against the lintel of the door, while keeping a servile expression on his face and watching the movements of the lady’s lips and the flutter of the frills on her cap, and their shadow on the wall beneath a picture. But he did not consider it at all necessary to attend to the meaning of her words. The lady spoke long, and said much. A desire to yawn gave him cramp behind his ears, but he adroitly turned the spasm into a cough, and, holding his hand to his mouth, gave a croak. A little while ago I saw Lord Palmerston sitting with his hat over his face while a member of the Opposition was storming at the Ministry, and then suddenly rise, and in a three hours’ speech answer his opponent point by point. I saw it and was not surprised, because I had seen the same kind of thing hundreds of times going on between Egór Miháylovitch and his mistress. At last⁠—perhaps he was afraid of falling asleep, or thought she was letting herself go too far⁠—changing the weight of his body from his left to his right foot, he began, as he always did, with an unctuous preface:

“Just as you please to order, madam.⁠ ⁠… Only, the meeting of the Commune is at present being held in front of my office window, and we must come to some conclusion. The order says that the recruits are to be in town before the Feast of Pokróf.205 From among the peasants the Doútlofs are being suggested, and there is no one else to suggest. And the Mír does not trouble about your interests. What does it care if it ruins the Doútlofs? Don’t I know what a fight they’ve been having? Ever since I first had the stewardship they have been living in want. The old man’s youngest nephew has scarcely had time to grow up to be a help, and now they’re to be ruined again! And I, as you well know, am as careful of your property as of my own.⁠ ⁠… It’s a pity, madam, whatever you’re pleased to think!⁠ ⁠… After all, they’re neither kith nor kin to me, and I’ve received nothing from them.⁠ ⁠…”

“Why, Egór, as if I ever thought of such a thing!” interrupted the lady, and at once suspected him of having been bribed by the Doútlofs.

“… Only theirs is the best homestead in the whole of Pokróvsk. They’re God-fearing, hardworking peasants. The old man has been thirty years churchwarden; he doesn’t drink nor use bad language; he goes to church” (the steward well knew with what to bait the hook). “… But the principal thing that I would like to report to you is that he has only two sons; the others are nephews adopted out of charity, and so they ought to cast lots only with the two-men families. Many families have split up because of their improvidence, and their own sons have separated from them, and so they are safe now⁠—while these will have to suffer just because of their charitableness.”

Here the lady could not follow at all. She did not understand what he meant by a “two-men family” nor “charitableness.” She only heard sounds and observed the nankeen buttons on the steward’s coat. The top one, which he probably did not button up so often, was fixed on tightly; the middle one was hanging by a thread, and ought long ago to have been sewn on. But it is a well-known fact that in a conversation, especially a business conversation, it is not at all necessary to understand what is being said to you, but only to remember what you yourself want to say. The lady acted accordingly.

“How is it you won’t understand, Egór Miháylovitch?” she said. “I have not the least desire that a Doútlof should go as a soldier. One would think that, knowing me as you do, you might credit me with the wish to do everything in my power to help my serfs, and that I don’t desire their misfortune, and that I would sacrifice all I possess to escape from this sad necessity and to send neither Doútlof nor Polikoúshka.” (I don’t know whether it occurred to the steward that to escape the sad necessity there was no need to sacrifice everything⁠—that, in fact, three hundred roubles would be sufficient; but this thought might easily have occurred to him.)

“I will only say this: that I will not give up Polikoúshka on any account. When, after that affair with the clock, he confessed to me of his own accord, and cried, and gave his word to amend, I talked to him for a long time, and saw that he was touched and sincerely penitent.” (“There! She’s off now!” thought Egór Miháylovitch, and began examining the marmalade she had in a glass of water: was it orange or lemon? “Slightly bitter, I expect,” thought he.) “That is seven months ago now, and he has not once been drunk, and has behaved splendidly. His wife tells me he is a different man. How can you wish me to punish him now that he has reformed? Besides, it would be inhuman to make a soldier of a man who has five children, and he the only man in the family.⁠ ⁠… No, you’d better not say any more about it, Egór!”

And the lady took a sip out of the glass. Egór Miháylovitch watched the motion of her throat as the liquid passed down it, and then replied shortly and dryly:

“Then Doútlof’s decided on.”

The lady clasped her hands together.

“How is it you don’t understand? Do I wish Doútlof ill? Have I anything against him? God is my witness, I am prepared to do anything for them.⁠ ⁠…” (She glanced at a picture in the corner, but recollected that it was not an icon.) “Well, never mind⁠ ⁠… that’s not to the point,” she thought. And again, strange to say, the idea of the three hundred roubles did not occur to her.⁠ ⁠… “Well, what can I do? What do I know about it? It’s impossible for me to know. Well, then, I rely on you⁠—you know my wishes.⁠ ⁠… Act so as to satisfy everybody and according to the law.⁠ ⁠… What’s to be done? They are not the only ones: everybody has times of trouble. Only, Polikoúshka can’t be sent. You must understand that it would be dreadful of me to do such a thing.⁠ ⁠…”

She was roused, and would have continued speaking for a long time had not one of her maidservants entered the room at that moment.

“What is it, Dounyásha?”

“A peasant has come to ask Egór Miháylovitch if the Meeting is to wait for him,” said Dounyásha, and glanced angrily at Egór Miháylovitch. (“Oh, that steward!” she thought; “he’s upset the mistress. Now she’ll not let one get a wink of sleep till two in the morning!”)

“Well then Egór, go and do the best you can.”

“Yes, madam.” He did not say anything more about Doútlof. “And who is to go to the fruit merchant to fetch the money?”

“Has not Peter returned from town?”

“No, madam.”

“Could not Nicholas go?”

“Father is down with backache,” remarked Dounyásha.

“Should I go myself tomorrow, madam?” asked the steward.

“No, Egór; you are wanted here.” The lady pondered. “How much is it?”

“Four hundred and sixty-two silver roubles.”

“Send Polikoúshka,” said the lady, with a determined glance at Egór Miháylovitch’s face.

Egór Miháylovitch stretched his lips into the semblance of a smile, but without unclosing his teeth, and the expression of his face did not change.

“Yes, madam.”

“Send him to me.”

“Yes, madam;” and Egór Miháylovitch went to his office.


II

Polikéy (or Polikoúshka, as he was usually contemptuously called), as a man of little importance, of tarnished reputation, and not a native of the village, had no influence either with the housekeeper, the butler, the steward, or the lady’s-maid. His cubicle was the very worst, though his family consisted of seven persons. The late proprietor had had these cubicles built in the following manner:

In the middle of a brick building, about twenty-three feet square, was placed a large brick baking-oven, partly surrounded by a passage, and the four corners of the building were separated from the “collidor” (as the domestic serfs called it) by wooden stable-partitions. So there was not much room in these cubicles, especially in Polikéy’s, which was nearest to the door. The family bed, with a quilt and pillowcases made of print, the baby’s cradle, and the three-legged table (on which the cooking and washing were done and all sorts of domestic articles placed, and at which Polikéy⁠—who was a farrier⁠—worked), tubs, clothing, some chickens, a calf, and the seven members of the family, filled the whole cubicle, and could not have moved in it had it not been for their quarter of the brick oven (on which both people and things could lie) and for the possibility of going outside into the porch. That was, perhaps, not easy, for it is rather cold in October, and the seven of them only possessed one sheepskin cloak between them; but, on the other hand, the children could keep warm by running about, and the grownups by working, and both the one and the other by climbing onto the top of the oven, where the temperature rose to 120 degrees. It may seem dreadful to live in such conditions, but they did not mind⁠—it was quite possible to live. Akoulína washed and sewed her husband’s and her children’s clothes, spun, wove and bleached her linen, cooked and baked in the common oven, and quarrelled and gossiped with her neighbours. The monthly allowance of meal sufficed not only for the children, but to add to the cow’s food. The firewood was free, and so was food for the cattle, and a little hay from the stables sometimes came their way. They had a strip of kitchen garden. Their cow had calved, and they had their own fowls. Polikéy was employed in the stables to look after two stallions; he bled horses and cattle, cleaned their hoofs, operated on them for lampers, dispensed ointments of his own invention, and for this was paid in money and in kind. Also some of the proprietress’s oats used to remain over, for two measures of which a peasant in the village gave twenty pounds of mutton regularly every month. Life would have been quite tolerable, wad there been no worry. But the family had a great grief. Polikéy in his youth had lived at a stud-farm in another village. The stud-groom into whose hands he happened to fall was the greatest thief in the neighbourhood, and got exiled to Siberia. Under this man Polikéy served his apprenticeship, and in his youth got so used to those tricks that in later life, though he would willingly have left them off, he could not get out of the habit. He was a young man, and weak; he had neither father nor mother nor anyone else to teach him. Polikéy liked drink, and did not like to see anything lying about. Whether it was a strap, a piece of harness, a padlock, a bolt, or a thing of greater value, Polikéy found some use for everything. There were people everywhere who accepted these things, and paid for them in drink or in money. Such earnings, so people say, are the easiest to get: no apprenticeship required, no labour nor anything, and he who has once tried that kind of work does not desire any other. It has only one drawback: although you get things cheap and easily, and live pleasantly, yet all of a sudden⁠—through somebody’s malice⁠—things go all wrong, the trade fails, everything has to be accounted for at once, and you rue the day you were born.

And so it happened to Polikéy.

Polikéy married, and God gave him joy. His wife, the daughter of a herdsman, turned out to be a healthy, intelligent, hardworking woman, who bore him one fine baby after another. And though Polikéy did not give up his trade, all went well till one fine day his luck forsook him and he was caught. And it was all about a trifle: he stole some reins from a peasant. He was found out, beaten, the proprietress was told of it; and he was watched. He was caught a second and a third time. People began to taunt him, the steward threatened to make him go as a soldier, the proprietress gave him a scolding, and his wife wept and was brokenhearted. Everything went wrong. He was a kindhearted man; not wicked, but only weak; liking drink, and so in the habit of it that he could not leave it off. Sometimes his wife would row at him and even beat him when he came home drunk, and he would cry, saying: “Unfortunate man that I am, what shall I do? Blast my eyes, I’ll leave it off! Never again!” A month goes by, and he leaves home, gets drunk, and is not seen again for a couple of days. And his neighbours say: “He must get the money somewhere to go on the spree with!”

His latest trouble had been about the office clock. There was an old clock there that had not been in working order for a long time. He happened to go in at the open door all alone, and the clock tempted him. He took it and got rid of it in the town. As ill-luck would have it, the shopman to whom he sold the clock was related to one of the domestic serfs; and coming to see her one holiday, spoke about the clock. They⁠—especially the steward, who disliked Polikéy⁠—began making inquiries, just as if it was anybody else’s concern! It was all found out and reported to the proprietress, and she sent for him. He at once fell at her feet and pathetically confessed everything, just as his wife had told him to do. He carried out his instructions very well. The proprietress began admonishing him; she talked and talked, and maundered on about God and virtue and a future life, and about wife and children, and at last drove him to tears. She said:

“I forgive you; only you must promise never to do it again!”

“Never in all my life. May I go to perdition! May my bowels gush out!” said Polikéy, and wept touchingly.

Polikéy went home, and for the rest of the day lay on the oven, blubbering like a calf. Since then nothing more had ever been traced to him. Only his life was no longer pleasant; he was looked upon as a thief, and when the time for conscripting drew near, everybody hinted at him.

Polikéy was a farrier, as already mentioned. How he became one nobody knew, he himself least of all. At the stud-farm, when he worked under the head-groom who got exiled, his only duties were to clean the stables, sometimes to groom the horses, and to carry water. So he could not have learned his trade there. Then he became a weaver; after that he worked in a garden, weeding the paths; then he was condemned to break bricks for some offence; then he went into service with a merchant, paying a yearly fine to his proprietress for permission to do so. So evidently he could not have had any experience as a veterinary; yet somehow during his last stay at home, his reputation as a wonderfully and even a rather supernaturally clever farrier began gradually to spread. He bled a horse once or twice; then threw one down and prodded about in its thigh, and then demanded that it should be placed in a stall, where he began cutting its frog till it bled. Though the horse struggled, and even squealed, he said this meant “letting out the sub-hoof blood”! Then he explained to a peasant that it was absolutely necessary to let the blood from both veins, “for greater lightness,” and began hammering in the blunt lancet with a mallet; then he bandaged the innkeeper’s horse under its belly with the selvedge torn from his wife’s shawl, and at last he began to sprinkle all sorts of sores with vitriol, to drench them with something out of a bottle, and sometimes to give internally whatever came into his head. And the more horses he tormented and killed, the more he was believed in, and the more of them were brought to him.

I feel that for us educated people it would hardly be proper to laugh at Polikéy. The methods he employed are the same that have influenced our fathers, that influence us, and will influence our children. The peasant lying prone on the head of his one mare (which not only constitutes the whole of his wealth, but is almost one of his family) and gazing with faith and horror at Polikéy’s frowning look of importance and thin arms with upturned sleeves, as, with the healing rag or a bottle of vitriol between his teeth, the latter presses the sore place and boldly cuts into the living flesh (with the secret thought, “The one-eyed brute will never get over it!”) and at the same time pretending to know where there is blood and where matter, which is a tendon and which a vein⁠—that peasant cannot conceive that Polikéy has lifted his hand to cut, without due knowledge. He himself could not have done it. And once the thing is done, he will not reproach himself with having given permission to cut unnecessarily. I don’t know about you, but I have experienced just the same with the doctor, who in obedience to my request was tormenting those dear to me. The lancet, the whitish bottle of sublimate, and the words, “the staggers⁠—glanders⁠—to let blood or matter,” etc., do they not come to the same thing as “nerves, rheumatism, organism,” etc.? Wage du zu irren und zu träume206 does not refer to poets so much as to doctors and veterinary surgeons.


III

On the evening when the village Meeting, in the cold darkness of an October night, was choosing the recruits and vociferating in front of the office, Polikéy sat on the edge of his bed, rubbing down some horse medicine upon the table with a bottle; but what it was, he himself did not know. He had there sublimate of mercury, sulphur, Glauber’s salts, and some kind of herb which he had gathered, having once imagined it to be good for broken wind, and now considered not useless in other disorders. The children had already gone to bed⁠—two on the oven, two on the bed, and one in the cradle beside which Akoulína sat spinning. The remainder of a candle⁠—one of the proprietress’s candles which had not been put away carefully enough⁠—was burning in a wooden candlestick on the windowsill, and Akoulína every now and then got up to snuff it with her fingers, so that her husband should not have to break off his important occupation. There existed independent thinkers who regarded Polikéy as a worthless farrier and a worthless man. Others, the majority, considered him a bad man, but a great master of his art; but Akoulína, though she often scolded and even beat her husband, thought him the first among farriers and the first among men. Polikéy sprinkled some kind of specific onto the palm of his hand (he never used a balance, and spoke ironically about the Germans who use balances: “This is not a pharmacy,” he used to say). Polikéy weighed the specific in his hand and tossed it up, but there did not seem enough of it, and he poured in ten times as much. “I’ll put in the lot,” he said to himself. “It will pick ’em up better.”

Akoulína quickly turned round at the sound of the autocrat’s voice, expecting some order; but, seeing that the business did not concern her, shrugged her shoulders.

“What knowledge!⁠ ⁠… Where does he get it?” she thought, and went on spinning. The paper which had held the specific fell to the floor. Akoulína did not let this pass unnoticed.

“Annie,” she cried, “look! Father has dropped something. Pick it up!”

Annie put out her thin little bare legs from under the cloak with which she was covered, slid down under the table like a kitten, and got the paper.

“Here, daddy,” she said, and with her little chilled feet darted back into bed.

“Don’t puth!” squeaked her lisping younger sister sleepily.

“I’ll give it you!” muttered Akoulína; and both heads disappeared again under the cloak.

“He’ll give me three roubles,” said Polikéy, corking up the bottle. “I’ll cure the horse. It’s even too cheap,” he added, “brain-splitting work!⁠ ⁠… Akoulína, go and ask Nikíta for a little ’baccy. I’ll return it tomorrow;” and Polikéy took out of his trouser-pocket a limewood pipe-stem which had once been painted, with a mouthpiece of sealing-wax, and began fixing it onto the bowl.

Akoulína left her spindle and went out, managing to steer clear of everything⁠—though this was not easy. Polikéy opened the cupboard and put away the medicine, then tilted a vodka bottle into his mouth, but it was empty, and he made a grimace; but when his wife brought the tobacco he sat down on the edge of the bed after filling and lighting his pipe, and his face shone with the content and pride of a man who has completed his day’s task. Whether he was thinking how on the morrow he would catch hold of a horse’s tongue and pour his wonderful mixture down its throat, or considering the fact that a useful person never gets a refusal⁠—“There, now! Hadn’t Nikíta sent him some tobacco?”⁠—anyhow, he felt happy.

Suddenly the door, hanging on one hinge, was thrown open, and a maidservant from up there⁠—not the second maid, but the third, the little one that was kept to run errands⁠—entered the cubicle. (Up there, as everyone knows, means the proprietor’s house, even if it is situated lower down.) Aksyúta⁠—that was the girl’s name⁠—always flew like a bullet, and did it without bending her arms, which, keeping time with the speed of her flight, swung like pendulums, not by her sides, but in front of her. Her cheeks were always redder than her pink dress, and her tongue moved as rapidly as her legs. She flew into the room, and for some reason catching hold of the stove, began to sway to and fro; then, as if reluctant on any account to bring out more than two or three words at a time, she all of a sudden breathlessly addressed Akoulína as follows:

“The mistress⁠ ⁠… has given orders⁠ ⁠… that Polikoúshka should come this minute⁠ ⁠… orders to come up.⁠ ⁠…”

She stopped, breathing heavily.

“Egór Miháylovitch has been with the mistress⁠ ⁠… they talked about rickruits⁠ ⁠… they mentioned Polikoúshka⁠ ⁠… Avdótya Nikoláyevna⁠ ⁠… has ordered you to come this minute⁠ ⁠… Avdótya Nikoláyevna has ordered⁠ ⁠…” again a sigh, “to come this minute.⁠ ⁠…”

For half a minute Aksyúta looked round at Polikéy and at Akoulína and the children⁠—who had put out their heads from under their bedclothes⁠—picked up a nutshell that lay on the stove, and threw it at little Annie. Then she repeated:

“To come this minute!⁠ ⁠…” and rushed out of the room like a whirlwind, the pendulums swinging as usual at right angles to the line of her flight.

Akoulína again rose, and got her husband’s boots⁠—abominable soldier’s boots, with holes in them⁠—and got down his coat and passed it to him without speaking.

“Won’t you change your shirt, Polikéy?”

“No,” he answered.

Akoulína never once looked at his face while he put on his boots and coat, and she did well not to look. Polikéy’s face was pale, his nether jaw trembled, and in his eyes there was that tearful, submissive and deeply mournful look one only sees in the eyes of kindly, weak, and guilty people.

He combed his hair, and was going out; but his wife stopped him, hid the string of his shirt that hung down from under his coat, and put his cap on for him.

“What’s that, Polikoúshka? Has the mistress sent for you?” came the voice of the carpenter’s wife from behind the partition.

Only that morning the carpenter’s wife had had high words with Akoulína about her pot of potash207 that Polikéy’s children had upset, and at first she was pleased to hear Polikéy being summoned to the mistress: most likely for no good. She was a cute, diplomatic lady, with a biting tongue. Nobody knew better than she how to pay anyone out with a word: so she imagined.

“I expect you’ll be sent to town to do the shopping,” she continued. “I suppose a safe person must be chosen to do that job, so you’ll be sent! Please buy a quarter of a pound of tea for me there, Polikéy.”

Akoulína forced back her tears, and an angry expression distorted her lips. She felt as if she could have clutched “that vixen the joiner’s wife, by her mangy hair.” But when she looked at her children, and thought that they would be left fatherless and she herself a soldier’s wife and as good as widowed, she forgot the sharp-tongued joiner’s wife, hid her face in her hands, sat down on the bed, and let her head sink in the pillows.

“Mammy, you cluth me!” lisped her little girl, pulling the cloak with which she was covered from under her mother’s elbow.

“If you’d only die, all of you! I’ve brought you into the world for nothing but sorrow!” exclaimed Akoulína, and sobbed aloud, to the joy of the joiner’s wife, who had not yet forgotten the potash.


IV

Half an hour passed. The baby began to cry. Akoulína rose and gave it the breast. Weeping no longer, but resting her thin, though still handsome, face on her hand, and fixing her eyes on the last flickerings of the candle, she sat thinking why she had married, wondering why so many soldiers were needed, and also how she could pay out the joiner’s wife.

She heard her husband’s footsteps; and, wiping her tears, got up to let him pass. Polikéy entered like a conqueror, threw his cap on the bed, puffed, and unfastened his belt.

“Well, what did she want?”

“H’m! Of course! Polikoúshka is the least among men⁠ ⁠… but when there’s business to be done, who’s wanted? Why, Polikoúshka.⁠ ⁠…”

“What business?”

Polikéy did not hasten to reply. He lit his pipe and spat.

“To go and get money from a tradesman.”

“To fetch money?” Akoulína asked.

Polikéy chuckled and wagged his head.

“Ah! Ain’t she clever at words?⁠ ⁠… ‘You have been regarded,’ she says, ‘as an untrustworthy man; but I trust you more than another’ ” (Polikéy spoke in a loud voice that the neighbours might hear). “ ‘You promised me you’d reform; here,’ she says, ‘is the first proof that I believe you. Go,’ she says, ‘to the customer, fetch the money he owes, and bring it back to me.’ And I say: ‘We all are your serfs, ma’am,’ I say, ‘and I must serve you as we serve the Lord; therefore I feel myself that I can do anything for Your Honour, and cannot refuse any kind of job; whatever you order I will fulfil, because I am your slave.’ ” (He again smiled that peculiar weak, kindly, guilty smile.) “ ‘Well, then,’ she says, ‘you will do it faithfully?⁠ ⁠… You understand,’ she says, ‘that your fate depends on it?’⁠—‘How could I help understanding that I can do something? If they have told tales about me⁠—well, anyone can tell tales about anybody⁠ ⁠… but I never in any way, I believe, have even had a thought against Your Honour⁠ ⁠…’ In a word, I buttered her up till my lady was quite softened.⁠ ⁠… ‘I shall think highly of you,’ she says.” (He kept silent a minute, then the smile again appeared on his face.) “I know very well how to talk to the likes of them! Formerly, when I used to pay for the right to work on my own, one of them would come down hard on me; but only let me say a word or two⁠ ⁠… I’d butter him up till he’d be as smooth as silk!”

“Is it much?”

“Three half-thousands of roubles,” carelessly replied Polikéy.

She shook her head.

“When are you to go?”

“ ‘Tomorrow,’ she says. ‘Take any horse you like,’ she says, ‘call at the office, and then start, in Heaven’s name!’ ”

“Glory to the Lord!” said Akoulína, rising and crossing herself.

“May God help you, Polikéy,” she added in a whisper, so that she should not be heard behind the partition, holding him by his shirtsleeve. “Polikéy, listen to me! I beseech you in the name of Christ our God: when you start, kiss the cross and promise that not a drop shall pass your lips.”

“A likely thing!” he ejaculated; “drink when carrying all that money!⁠ ⁠… Ah! how somebody was playing the piano up there! Fine!⁠ ⁠…” he said, after a pause, and smiled. “I suppose it’s the young lady. I was standing like this, in front of the mistress, beside the whatnot, and the young lady was careering away behind the door. She rattled, rattled on, fitting it together so pat! Oh my! Wouldn’t I like to play a tune! I’d soon master it, I would. I’m awfully good at that sort of thing.⁠ ⁠… Get me a clean shirt, do, tomorrow!”

And they went to bed happy.


V

Meanwhile the Meeting had been vociferating in front of the office. The business before them was not a trifling one. Almost all the peasants were present. While the steward was with the proprietress they put on their caps, more voices joined in, and they talked more loudly. The hum of the deep voices, at rare intervals interrupted by breathless hoarse and shrill tones, filled the air, and entering through the windows of the proprietress’s house sounded like the noise of the distant sea, making her feel a nervous agitation resembling that produced by a heavy thunderstorm⁠—a sensation between fear and discomfort. She felt as if the voices might at any moment grow yet louder and faster, and then something would happen.

“As if it could not all be done quietly, peaceably, without disputing and shouting,” she thought, “according to the Christian law of brotherly love and meekness!”

Many voices were speaking at once, but Theodore Resoún, a carpenter, shouted loudest. There were two grown-up young men in his family, and he was attacking the Doútlofs. Old Doútlof was defending himself: he had stepped forward out of the crowd behind which he had at first stood. Now spreading out his arms, now clutching at his little beard, he sputtered and snuffled in such a manner that it would have been hard for himself to understand what he was saying. His sons and nephews⁠—splendid fellows, all of them⁠—stood pressing behind him, and the old man resembled the mother-hen in the game of hawk-and-chickens. The hawk was Resoún; and not only Resoún, but all the men who had two grown lads in their family, were attacking Doútlof. The point was, that Doútlof’s brother had been recruited thirty years before, and that Doútlof wished to be excused therefore from taking his turn with the families in which there were three grown-up young men, and wanted his brother’s service in the army to be counted to the advantage of his family, so that it should be given the same chance as those in which there were only two young men; and that these should all draw lots equally, and the third recruit be chosen from among all of them. Besides Doútlof’s family, there were four others in which there were three young men, but one was the village elder’s family, and the proprietress had exempted him. From the second, a recruit had been taken the year before, and from the remaining families two recruits were now being taken. One of them had not even come to this Meeting, only his wife stood sorrowfully behind all the others, vaguely expecting that the wheel of fortune might somehow turn her way. The red-haired Román, the father of the other recruit, in a tattered coat⁠—though he was not poor⁠—hung his head and silently leant against the porch railing, only now and then attentively looking up at anybody who raised his voice, and then hanging his head again. Misery seemed to breathe from his whole figure. Old Simeon Doútlof was a man to whose keeping anyone who knew him would have trusted hundreds and thousands of roubles. He was a steady, God-fearing, well-to-do man, and was churchwarden. Therefore the predicament in which he found himself was all the more startling.

Resoún the carpenter was a tall, dark man, a riotous drunkard, very smart in a dispute and in arguing with workmen, tradespeople, peasants, and gentlefolk at meetings and fairs. He was quiet now and sarcastic, and from his superior height he was crushing down the spluttering churchwarden with the whole strength of his ringing voice and oratorical talent. The churchwarden was exasperated out of his usual sober groove. Besides these, the youngish, round-faced, square-headed, curly-bearded, thickset Garáska Kopýlof, one of the talkers of the younger generation, was taking part in the dispute. He came next to Resoún in importance. He had already gained some weight at the Meetings, having distinguished himself by his trenchant speeches. Then there was Theodore Mélnitchny, a tall, thin, yellow-faced, round-shouldered man, still young, with a thin beard and small eyes, always embittered and gloomy, seeing the dark side of everything, and often puzzling the Meeting by his unexpected and abrupt questions and remarks. Both these speakers sided with Resoún. Besides these, now and then two chatterers joined in: one with a most good-humoured face and flowing brown beard, called Hrapkóf, who kept repeating the words, “Oh, my dearest friend!” the other, Zhidkóf, a little fellow with a bird-like face, who also kept remarking at every opportunity, “That’s how it is, brothers mine!” addressing himself to everybody and speaking fluently, but without rhyme or reason. They both sided first with one and then with the other party, but no one listened to them. There were others like them, but these two, who kept moving through the crowd and shouting louder than anybody and frightening the proprietress, were listened to less than anyone else, and, intoxicated by the noise and shouting, gave themselves up entirely to the pleasure of wagging their tongues.

There were many other characters among the members of the Commune, stern, respectable, indifferent, dismal, or downtrodden; and there were women standing behind the men, but, God willing, I’ll speak of them some other time. The greater part of the crowd, however, consisted of peasants who stood as if they were in church, whispering behind each other’s backs about home affairs, about how best to mark the trees in the forest, or silently hoping that the jabbering would soon cease. There were also rich peasants, whose well-being the Meeting could not add to nor diminish. Such was Ermíl, with his broad, shiny face, whom the peasants called the “full-bellied,” because he was rich. Such too was Stárostin, whose face seemed to say, “You may talk away, but no one will touch me! I have four sons, but not one of them will have to go.” Now and then these two were attacked by some independent thinker such as Kopýlof or Resoún, but they replied quietly and firmly, and with a sense of their own immunity. If Doútlof was like the mother-hen in the game of hawk-and-chickens, his lads did not much resemble the chicks. They did not flutter about and squeak, but stood quietly behind him. His eldest son, Ignát, was already thirty; the second, too, was already a married man, and, moreover, not fit for service; the third was his nephew Elijah, who had just got married⁠—a fair, rosy young man in a smart sheepskin coat (he was post-horse driver). He stood looking at the crowd, sometimes scratching his head under his hat, as if the whole matter was no concern of his, though it was just him that the hawks wished to swoop down on.

“Why, my grandfather was a soldier,” said one, “and so I might in just the same way refuse to draw lots!⁠ ⁠… There’s no such law, friend. Last recruiting, Mihéyevitch was enlisted, and his uncle had then not even returned from service.”

“Neither your father nor any uncle of yours has served the Tsar,” Doútlof was saying at the same time. “Why, you have not even served the proprietress or the Commune, but spend all your time in the pub. Your sons have separated from you because it’s impossible to live with you, so you go suggesting other people’s sons for recruits! And I have done police duty for ten years and been churchwarden. Twice I have suffered from fires, and no one helped me over it; and now, because things go on peaceably and honourably in my homestead, am I to be ruined?⁠ ⁠… Give me my brother back, then! I dare say he has died in service.⁠ ⁠… Judge righteously, according to God’s will, Christian Commune, and don’t listen to a drunkard’s drivel.”

And at the same time Gerásim was saying to Doútlof:

“You are using your brother as an excuse, but he was not enlisted by the Commune. He was sent by the proprietor because of his evil ways, so he is no excuse for you.”

Gerásim had not finished when the long, yellow-faced Theodore Mélnitchny stepped forward and began dismally:

“Yes, that’s the way! The proprietors send whom they list, and then the Commune has got to get the muddle straight. The Commune has chosen your lad, and if you don’t like it, go and ask the lady. Perhaps she will order me, the one man of the family, to leave my children and go!⁠ ⁠… There’s law for you!” he said bitterly, and, waving his hand, he returned to his former place.

The red-haired Román, whose son had been chosen as a recruit, raised his head and muttered: “That’s it, that’s it!” and even sat down on the step in vexation.

But these were not the only ones who were speaking all at once. Besides those behind, who were talking about their own affairs, the chatterers did not neglect their part.

“And so it is, faithful Commune,” said the little Zhidkóf, repeating Doútlof’s words. “One must judge in a Christian manner.⁠ ⁠… In a Christian way, I mean, brothers, we must judge.”

“One must judge according to one’s conscience, my dear friend,” spoke the good-humoured Hrapkóf, repeating Kopýlof’s words, and pulling Doútlof by his sheepskin.

“That was the proprietor’s will, and not the decision of the Commune.”

“That’s right! That’s what it is,” said others.

“What drunkard is drivelling?” Resoún retorted to Doútlof. “Did you stand me any drinks? Or is your son, whom they pick up by the roadside, going to reproach me with drink?⁠ ⁠… Friends, we must decide! If you want to spare Doútlof, choose not only out of families with two men, but even the one man of a family, and he will have the laugh of us!”

“Doútlof’s will have to go! What’s the good of talking?”

“It’s evident the three-men families must be the first to draw lots,” began different voices.

“We must first see what the proprietress will say. Egór Miháylovitch was saying that they wanted to send a domestic serf,” put in a voice.

This remark stopped the dispute for a while, but soon it flared up anew, and again came down to personalities.

Ignát, whom Resoún had accused of being picked up drunk by the roadside, began to make out that Resoún had stolen a saw from some passing carpenter, and that, when drunk, he had nearly beaten his wife to death.

Resoún replied that he beat his wife, drunk or sober, and still it was not enough; and this set everybody laughing. But about the saw he became suddenly indignant, stepped closer to Ignát and asked:

“Who stole?⁠ ⁠…”

“You did,” replied the sturdy Ignát, drawing still closer.

“Who stole?⁠ ⁠… Was it not yourself?” shouted Resoún.

“No, it was you,” said Ignát.

From the saw they went on to a stolen horse, a bag of oats, some strip of kitchen-garden, a dead body; and the two peasants said such terrible things to one another, that if a one-hundredth part of them had been true they would at the very least have legally deserved exile to Siberia.

In the meantime old Doútlof had chosen another way of defending himself. He did not like his son’s shouting, and tried to stop him, saying: “It’s a sin.⁠ ⁠… Leave off, I tell you!”

At the same time he argued that not only those who had three young men at home were three-men families, but also those whose sons had separated from them.

Stárostin smiled slightly, cleared his throat, and, stroking his beard with the air of a rich man, answered that it all depended on the proprietress, and that evidently his sons had deserved well, since the order was for them to be exempt.

Gerásim answered Doútlof’s arguments with respect to the families that had broken up, by the remark that they ought not to have been allowed to break up, as was the rule during the lifetime of the late proprietor; that it was no use crying over spilt milk; and that, after all, one could not enlist the only man left in a household.

“Did they break up their households for fun? Why should they now be completely ruined?” came the voices of the men whose families had separated; and the chatterers joined in, too.

“You’d better buy a substitute, if you’re not satisfied. You can afford it!” said Resoún to Doútlof.

Doútlof wrapped his coat round him with a despairing gesture, and stepped back behind the others.

“I suppose you’ve counted my money?” he muttered angrily. “We shall see what Egór Miháylovitch will say, when he comes from the proprietress.”


VI

At that very moment Egór Miháylovitch came out of the house. One cap after another was lifted, and as the steward approached, all the heads⁠—white, grey, red, brown, fair, or bald in front or on top⁠—were uncovered, and the voices were gradually silenced, till at last all was quiet.

Egór Miháylovitch stepped onto the porch, evidently intending to speak. In his long coat, his hands stuffed awkwardly into the pockets, his cap pulled over his forehead, he stood firmly, his feet apart, on this elevated place, lording it over all these heads⁠—mostly old, bearded and handsome⁠—that were turned towards him. He was now a different man from what he had been when he stood before his mistress. He was majestic.

“This is the mistress’s decision, lads! It is not her wish to give up any of the domestic serfs; but from among you, those whom you yourselves decide on, they shall go. Three are wanted this time. By rights only two and a half are wanted, but the half will be taken into account next time. It comes to the same thing: if it were not today, it would have to be tomorrow.”

“Of course, that’s quite right!” some voices said.

“In my opinion,” continued Egór Miháylovitch, “Harúshkin and Váska Mitúhin must go; that is evidently God’s will.”

“Yes, that’s quite right!” said the voices.

“… The third will have to be one of the Doútlofs, or one out of a two-men family.⁠ ⁠… What do you say?”

“Doútlof!” cried the voices. “There are three of them of the right age!”

And again, slowly, slowly, the shouting increased, and somehow the question of the strip of kitchen-garden and some kind of sacks stolen from the mistress’s yard came up again. Egór Miháylovitch had been managing the estate for the last twenty years, and he was a clever and experienced man. He stood and listened for about a quarter of an hour, then he ordered everybody to be quiet and the three younger Doútlofs to draw lots, to see which of the three was to go.

They prepared the lots, which were shaken up in a hat, and Hrapkóf took one out. It was Elijah’s. All became silent.

“Is it mine? Let me see!” said Elijah in a faltering voice.

All remained silent. Egór Miháylovitch gave orders that everybody should bring the recruiting money⁠—a tax of seven kopecks from every household⁠—next day, and saying that all was finished, dismissed the Meeting. The crowd moved away, the men covered their heads, and as they turned the corner their voices and the sound of their footsteps mingled into a hum. The steward stood on the porch, watching the departing crowd, and when the young Doútlofs had passed him, he beckoned the old man, who had stopped of his own accord, and they went into the office.

“I am sorry for you, old man,” said Egór Miháylovitch, sitting down in an armchair in front of the table. “Your turn has come. Won’t you buy a recruit to take your nephew’s place?”

The old man, without speaking, gave Egór Miháylovitch a significant look.

“He can’t escape,” said Egór Miháylovitch, in answer to that look.

“We’d be glad enough to buy a substitute, but have not the means, Egór Miháylovitch. Two horses went to the knacker’s this summer, and then there was my nephew’s wedding.⁠ ⁠… Evidently it’s our fate⁠ ⁠… for living honestly. It’s very well for him to talk!” (He was thinking of Resoún.)

Egór Miháylovitch rubbed his face with his hand and yawned. He was evidently tired of the subject; besides, he was ready for his tea.

“Eh, old fellow! Don’t you be mean!” said he. “Have a hunt in the cellar; I dare say you’ll turn up some four hundred old rouble notes, and I’ll get you a substitute⁠—a regular wonder!⁠ ⁠… The other day a fellow came offering himself.”

“In the government?” asked Doútlof, meaning the town.

“Well, will you buy him?”

“I’d be glad enough, God’s my witness!⁠ ⁠… but⁠ ⁠…”

Egór Miháylovitch sternly interrupted him.

“Well, then, listen to me, old man! See that Elijah does himself no injury, and as soon as I send word⁠—whenever that may be⁠—he is to be taken to town at once. You will take him, and you will be answerable for him; but if⁠—which God forbid!⁠—anything should happen to him, I’ll send your eldest son instead! Do you hear?”

“But could not one be sent from a two-man family?⁠ ⁠… Egór Miháylovitch, this is an affront!” he said. Then, after a pause, he went on, almost with tears:

“It seems that my brother died a soldier, and now they are taking my boy! How have I deserved such a blow?” and he was ready to fall on his knees.

“Well, well, go away!” said Egór Miháylovitch. “Nothing can be done. It’s the law. Keep an eye on Elijah: you’ll have to answer for him!”

Doútlof went home, thoughtfully tapping the ruts with his stick as he walked.


VII

Early next morning a big-boned bay gelding⁠—for some reason called Drum⁠—harnessed to a small cart (the steward himself used to drive in that cart), stood at the porch of the serfs’ quarters. Annie, Polikéy’s eldest daughter, barefooted in spite of the falling sleet and the cold wind, and evidently frightened, stood holding the reins at arm’s length, and with her other hand held a faded, yellowy-green jacket that was thrown over her head. This jacket served the family as blanket, cloak, hood, carpet, overcoat for Polikéy, and many other things besides. Polikéy’s cubicle was all in a bustle. The dim light of a rainy morning was just peeping in at the window, which was broken here and there, and mended with paper. Akoulína went away from her cooking by the oven, and left her children⁠—the youngest of whom were still in bed⁠—shivering because the jacket that served them as a blanket had been taken away and only replaced by the shawl off their mother’s head.

Akoulína was busy getting her husband ready for his journey. His shirt was clean, but his boots, which were gaping open, gave her much trouble. She had taken off her thick worsted stockings (her only pair) and given them to her husband, and had managed to cut out a pair of soles from a saddlecloth (that had been carelessly left about in the stable and brought home by Polikéy two days before) in such a way that they should stop the holes in his boots and keep his feet dry.

Polikéy sat, feet and all on the bed, untwisting his girdle so that it should not look like a dirty rope. The lisping, cross little girl, wrapped in the sheepskin (which though it covered her head was trailing round her feet) had been despatched to ask Nikíta to lend them a cap. The bustle was increased by the other serfs, who came to ask Polikéy to get different things for them in town. One wanted needles; another, tea; a third, some tobacco; and another, some oil to burn before his icon. The joiner’s wife⁠—who to conciliate Polikéy had already had time to boil her samovar, and bring him a mug full of liquid which she called tea⁠—wanted some sugar.

Though Nikíta refused to lend a cap, and they had to mend their own⁠—i.e., to push in the bits of wadding that hung out of the rents and to sew them up with the surgical needle; though at first the boots with the saddlecloth soles would not go onto his feet; though Annie, chilled through, nearly let Drum get away, and Mary, in the long sheepskin, had to take her place, and then Mary had to take off the sheepskin, and Akoulína had to hold the horse herself⁠—it all ended by Polikéy successfully getting all the warm family garments onto himself, leaving only the jacket and a pair of slippers behind. When ready, he got into the little cart. He wrapped the sheepskin coat round him, shook up the bag of hay at the bottom of the cart, again wrapped himself round, took the reins, wrapped the coat still closer round him in the way that very respectable men do, and started.

His little boy Mike, running out into the porch, begged to have a ride; the lisping Mary also begged that she might “have a lide,” and was “not cold even without the theepthkin;” so Polikéy stopped Drum and smiled his weak smile, while Akoulína put the children into the cart and, bending towards him, asked him in a whisper to remember his oath, and not to drink on the way.

Polikéy took the children through the village as far as the smithy, put them down, wrapped himself up and put his cap straight again, and drove off at a slow, sedate trot, his cheeks shaking at every jolt and his feet knocking against the sides of the cart. Mary and Mike, with their bare feet, rushed down the slippery hill to the house at such a rate, and yelling so, that a stray dog from the village looked up at them and scurried home with its tail between its legs, which made Polikéy’s heirs yell ten times louder.

It was abominable weather: the wind was cutting, and something between rain and snow, and now and then fine hail, beat on Polikéy’s face and on his bare hands which held the reins⁠—and over which he kept drawing the sleeves of his coat⁠—and on the leather of the horse-collar, and on the old head of Drum, who set back his ears and half closed his eyes.

Then suddenly the rain stopped, and it brightened up for a moment. The bluish snow-clouds stood out clear, and the sun seemed to come out, but uncertainly and cheerlessly, like Polikéy’s own smile. Nevertheless, Polikéy was deep in pleasant thoughts. He whom they threatened to exile and enlist, whom only those who were too lazy did not scold and beat, who was always shoved into the worst places, he was now driving to fetch a sum of money, and a large sum, and his mistress trusted him, and he was driving in the steward’s cart behind Drum⁠—with whom the lady herself had driven out⁠—just as if he were some innkeeper, with leather collar-strap and reins instead of ropes. And Polikéy settled himself straighter, pushed in the bits of wadding hanging out of his cap, and again wrapped his coat closer.

However, if Polikéy imagined that he looked like a wealthy peasant proprietor, he deluded himself. It is true that everyone knows that tradesmen worth ten thousand roubles drive in carts with leather harness; only this was not quite the thing. A bearded man in a blue or black coat drives past, sitting alone inside a cart, driving a well-fed horse, and you just glance to see if the horse is sleek and he himself well fed, and at the way he sits, at the horse’s harness, and the tyres of the cartwheels and at his girdle, and you know at once whether the man has a turnover of a hundred or a thousand roubles. Every experienced person looking closer at Polikéy, at his hands, his face, his newly-grown beard, his girdle, at the hay carelessly thrown into the cart, at the bony Drum, at the worn tyres, would know at once that it was only a serf driving past, and not a merchant, or a cattle-dealer, or even a peasant proprietor, and that he was not worth a thousand, or a hundred, or even ten, roubles.

But Polikéy did not think so: he deceived himself, and deceived himself agreeably. Three half-thousand roubles he is going to carry home in the bosom of his coat. If he likes, he may turn Drum’s head towards Odessa, instead of towards home, and drive off where Fate will take him. But he will not do such a thing; he will bring the lady her money all in order, and will talk about having had larger sums than that on him.

When they came to a public-house Drum began to pull against the left rein, turning towards it and stopping; but Polikéy, though he had the money given him to do the shopping with, cracked the whip above Drum’s head and drove on. The same thing happened at the next public-house, and about noon he got out of the cart, and, opening the gate of the tradesman’s house where all his proprietress’s people put up, led the horse and cart into the yard. There he gave the horse some hay, dined with the tradesman’s men, not forgetting to say what important business he had come on, and then went out, with the fruitseller’s bill in the crown of his cap.

The fruitseller (who knew and evidently mistrusted Polikéy), having read the letter, questioned him as to whether he had really been sent for the money. Polikéy tried to seem offended, but could not manage it, and only smiled his peculiar smile. The fruitseller read the letter over once more, and handed him the money.

Having received the money, Polikéy put it into his bosom and went back to the lodgings. Neither the beershop nor the public-house nor anything tempted him. He felt a pleasant agitation through the whole of his being, and stopped more than once in front of shops exhibiting tempting wares: boots, coats, caps, prints, and foodstuffs, and went on with the pleasant thought: “I could buy it all, but there, now, I won’t do it!”

He went to the market for the things he was asked to buy, collected them all, and started bargaining for a tanned sheepskin coat, for which they were asking twenty-five roubles. For some reason the dealer, after looking at Polikéy, seemed to doubt that he could buy it. But Polikéy pointed to his breast, saying that if he liked he could buy the whole shop, and asked to have the coat tried on; felt it, patted it, blew into the wool till he became permeated with the smell of it, and then took it off with a sigh.

“The price does not suit me. If you’ll let it go for fifteen roubles, now!” he said.

The dealer angrily threw the coat across the table, and Polikéy went out and cheerfully returned to his lodgings.

After supper, having watered Drum and given him some oats, he climbed up on the oven, took out the envelope with the money and examined it for a long time, and then asked a porter, who knew how to read, to read him the address and the words: “With an enclosure of one thousand six hundred and seventeen Assignation Roubles.” The envelope was made of common paper, and sealed with brown sealing-wax, with an anchor stamped on it. There was one large seal in the middle, four at the corners, and there was a drop of sealing-wax near the edge. Polikéy examined all this, and learnt it by heart. He even felt the sharp corners of the paper money. It gave him a kind of childish pleasure to know that he had so much money in his hands. He inserted the money into a hole in the lining of his cap, and lay down with his head on it; but even in the night he kept waking and feeling the envelope. And each time he found it in its place he experienced the pleasant feeling that here was he, the disgraced, the downtrodden Polikéy, carrying such a sum and delivering it up so accurately, as even the steward would not have done.


VIII

About midnight the tradesman’s men and Polikéy were wakened by a knocking at the gate and the shouting of peasants. It was the party of recruits from Pokróvsk. There were about ten of them: Harúshkin, Mitúshkin, and Elijah (Doútlof’s nephew), two reserve recruits, the village Elder, old Doútlof, and the men who had driven them. A night-light was burning in the room, and the cook was sleeping on a bench under the icons. She jumped up and began lighting a candle. Polikéy awoke also, and, leaning over from the top of the oven, looked at the peasants as they came in. They came in crossing themselves, and sat down on the benches round the room. They all seemed perfectly calm, so that one could not tell which of them were being enlisted and who had them in charge. They were saying “How d’you do?” talking loudly, and asking for food. It is true that some were silent and sad; but, on the other hand, others were unusually merry, evidently drunk. Among these was Elijah, who had never had too much to drink before.

“Well, lads, shall we go to sleep, or have some supper?” asked the Elder.

“Supper!” said Elijah, throwing open his coat, and settling himself on a bench. “Send for vodka.”

“Enough of your vodka!” answered the Elder shortly, and turning to the others he said:

“You just cut yourselves a bit of bread, lads! Why wake people up?”

“Give me vodka!” Elijah repeated, without looking at anybody. “I tell you, give me some!” Then, noticing Polikéy: “Polikéy! Hi, Polikéy! You here, dear friend? Why, I am going for a soldier.⁠ ⁠… Have taken final leave of mother, of my missus.⁠ ⁠… How she howled! They’ve bundled me off for a soldier.⁠ ⁠… Stand me some vodka!”

“I’ve no money,” answered Polikéy, and to comfort him, added: “Who knows? By God’s help you may be rejected!⁠ ⁠…”

“No, friend. I’m as sound as a young birch. I’ve never had an illness. There’s no rejecting for me! What better soldier can the Tsar want?”

Polikéy began telling him how a peasant gave the doctor a five-rouble note and got rejected.

Elijah drew nearer the oven, and started talking.

“No, Polikéy, it’s all up now! I don’t wish to stay myself. Uncle has done for me. As if we could not have bought a substitute!⁠ ⁠… No, he pities his son, and grudges the money, so they send me. No! I don’t want to stay myself.” He spoke gently, confidingly, under the influence of quiet sorrow. “One thing only⁠—I am sorry for mother, dear heart!⁠ ⁠… How she grieved! And the missus, too!⁠ ⁠… They’ve ruined the woman just for nothing; now she’ll perish⁠—in a word, she’ll be a soldier’s wife! Better not have married. Why did they marry me?⁠ ⁠… They’ll come here tomorrow.”

“But why have they brought you so soon?” asked Polikéy; “nothing was heard about it, and then, all of a sudden⁠ ⁠…”

“Why, they’re afraid I shall do myself some injury,” answered Elijah, smiling. “No fear! I’ll do nothing of the kind. I shall not be lost even as a soldier; only I’m sorry for mother.⁠ ⁠… Why did they marry me?” he said gently and sadly.

The door opened and banged loudly as old Doútlof came in, shaking the wet off his cap, and, as usual, in bark shoes so big that they looked like boats.

“Athanasius,” he said to the porter, when he had crossed himself, “isn’t there a lantern, to get some oats by?”

Doútlof, without looking at Elijah, began slowly lighting a bit of candle. His gloves and whip were stuck into the girdle tied neatly round his coat, and his toil-worn face appeared as ordinary, simple, quiet, and full of business cares as if he had just arrived with a train of loaded carts.

Elijah became silent when he saw his uncle, and looked dismally down at the bench again. Then, addressing the Elder, he muttered:

“Vodka, Ermíl! I want some drink!” His voice sounded vindictive and dejected.

“Drink, at this time?” answered the Elder, who was eating something out of a bowl. “Don’t you see the others have had a bite and gone to lie down? Why do you kick up a row?”

The word “row” evidently suggested to Elijah the idea of violence.

“Elder, I’ll do some mischief if you don’t give me vodka!”

“Couldn’t you bring him to reason?” the Elder said, turning to Doútlof, who had lit the lantern and stopped, apparently to see what would happen, and was looking pityingly at his nephew out of the corners of his eyes, as if surprised at his childishness.

Elijah, taken aback, again muttered:

“Vodka! Give⁠ ⁠… do mischief!”

“Leave off, Elijah!” said the Elder gently. “Really, now, leave off! You’d better!”

But before the words were out, Elijah had jumped up and hit a windowpane with his fist, and shouting at the top of his voice: “You won’t hear me! So there you are!” rushed to the other window to break that also.

Polikéy, in the twinkling of an eye, rolled twice over and hid in the farthest corner of the top of the oven, so quickly that he scared all the cockroaches there. The Elder threw down his spoon and rushed toward Elijah. Doútlof untied his girdle, and shaking his head and making a clicking noise with his tongue, approached Elijah, who was already struggling with the Elder and the porter, who were keeping him away from the window. They had caught his arms and seemed to be holding him fast; but as soon as he saw his uncle and the girdle, his strength increased tenfold and he tore himself away, and with rolling eyes and clenched fists stepped up to Doútlof.

“I’ll kill you! Keep away, barbarian!⁠ ⁠… You have ruined me, you and your brigands of sons, you’ve ruined me!⁠ ⁠… Why did they marry me?⁠ ⁠… Keep away! I’ll kill you!⁠ ⁠…”

Elijah was terrible. His face was purple, his eyes rolled, the whole of his young, healthy body trembled as in a fever. He seemed to wish and to be able to kill all the three men who were facing him.

“You’re drinking your brother’s blood, you bloodsucker!”

Something flashed across Doútlof’s ever-placid face. He took a step forward.

“You won’t take it peaceably!” said he suddenly. The wonder was, where he got the energy; for with a quick motion he caught hold of his nephew, fell to the ground with him, and, with the aid of the Elder, began binding his hands with the girdle. They struggled for about five minutes. At last, with the help of the peasants, Doútlof rose, pulling his coat out of Elijah’s clutch. Then he raised Elijah, whose hands were bound behind his back, and made him sit down in a corner on a bench.

“I told you it would be the worse for you,” he said, still out of breath with the struggle, and pulling straight the narrow girdle tied over his shirt.

“What’s the use of sinning? We shall all have to die!⁠ ⁠… Fold a coat for a pillow,” he said, turning to the porter, “or the blood will get to his head.” And he tied the cord round his waist over his sheepskin, and taking up the lantern, went to see after the horses.

Elijah, pale, dishevelled, his shirt pulled out of place, was gazing round the room as if he were trying to remember where he was. The porter picked up the broken bits of glass, and stuck a coat into the hole in the window to keep out the draught. The Elder again sat down to his bowl.

“Ah, Elijah, Elijah! I’m sorry for you, really! What’s to be done? There’s Harúshkin⁠ ⁠… he, too, is married. Seems it can’t be helped!”

“It’s all on account of that fiend, my uncle, that I’m being ruined!” Elijah repeated, dryly and bitterly. “He is chary of his own!⁠ ⁠… Mother says the steward told him to buy a substitute. He won’t; he says he can’t afford it. As if what my brother and I have brought into his house were a trifle!⁠ ⁠… He is a fiend!”

Doútlof returned, said his prayers in front of the icons, took off his outdoor things, and sat down beside the Elder. The cook brought more kvass and another spoon. Elijah was quiet, and closing his eyes lay down on the folded coat. The Elder, shaking his head silently, pointed to him. Doútlof waved his hand.

“As if one was not sorry!⁠ ⁠… My own brother’s son!⁠ ⁠… One is not only sorry, but it seems they also make me out a villain towards him.⁠ ⁠… Whether it’s his wife⁠ ⁠… she’s a cunning little woman though she’s so young⁠ ⁠… that has put it into his head that we could afford to buy a substitute!⁠ ⁠… Anyhow, he’s reproaching me. But one does pity the lad!⁠ ⁠…”

“Ah! he’s a fine lad,” said the Elder.

“But I’m at the end of my tether with him! Tomorrow I shall let Ignát come, and his wife wanted to come too.”

“All right⁠—let them come,” said the Elder, rising and climbing onto the oven. “What is money? Money is dross!”

“If one had the money, who would grudge it?” muttered one of the tradesman’s men, lifting his head.

“Ah, money, money! It’s the cause of much sin,” replied Doútlof. “Nothing in the world is the cause of so much sin, and the Scriptures say so too.”

“Everything is said there,” the porter agreed. “There was a man told me how a merchant had stored up a heap of money and did not wish to leave any behind; he loved it so that he took it with him to the grave. As he was dying he asked to have a small pillow buried with him. No one suspected anything, and so it was done. Then the sons began to search for the money. Nothing was to be found. At last one of the sons guessed that probably the notes were all in the pillow. It went as far as the Tsar, and he allowed the grave to be opened. And what do you think? There was nothing in the pillow, but the coffin was full of creeping things, and so it was buried again.⁠ ⁠… You see what money does!”

“It’s a fact, it causes much sin,” said Doútlof, and he got up and began to say his prayers.

When he had finished, he looked at his nephew. The lad was asleep. Doútlof came up to him, loosened the girdle, and then lay down. One of the other peasants went out to sleep with the horses.


IX

As soon as all was quiet, Polikéy climbed down softly, like a guilty man, and began to get ready. Somehow he felt uneasy at the thought of spending the night there among the recruits. The cocks were already crowing more frequently, answering one another. Drum had eaten all his oats, and was straining towards the drinking-trough. Polikéy harnessed him and led him out, past the peasant carts. His cap, with its contents, was safe, and the wheels of his cart were soon rattling along the frozen Pokróvsk road.

Polikéy felt easier only when he had left the town behind. Up to then he kept imagining that at any moment he might hear himself being pursued, that he would be stopped, and that in place of Elijah’s arms his own would be bound behind his back, and he would be taken to the recruiting station next morning. It might have been the frost, or it might have been fear; but something made cold shivers run down his back, and again and again he kept touching up Drum with the whip. The first person he met was a priest in a tall fur cap, accompanied by a workman blind in one eye. Taking this for an evil omen, Polikéy grew still more alarmed; but outside the town this fear gradually passed. Drum went on at a walking pace; the road in front became more visible.

Polikéy took off his cap and felt the notes. “Shall I hide it in my bosom?” he thought. “No; I should have to undo my girdle.⁠ ⁠… Wait a bit! When I get to the foot of the incline, I’ll get down and arrange myself again.⁠ ⁠… The cap is sewn up tight at the top, and it can’t fall through the lining. After all, I’d better not take the cap off till I get home.”

When he had reached the foot of the incline, Drum of his own accord trotted up the next hill, and Polikéy, who was as anxious as Drum to get home, did not check him. All was well⁠—at any rate, so Polikéy imagined; and he gave himself up to dreams of his mistress’s gratitude, of the five roubles which she would give him, and of the joy of his family. He took off his cap, felt for the envelope, and, smiling, put the cap tighter on his head. The velveteen crown of the cap was very rotten, and just because Akoulína had carefully sewn up the rents in one place, it burst open in another; and the very movement by which Polikéy in the dark had thought to push the envelope with the money deeper under the wadding, tore the cap farther, and pushed out a corner of the envelope through the velveteen crown.

The dawn was appearing, and Polikéy, who had not slept all night, began to drowse. Pulling his cap lower down, and thereby pushing the envelope still farther out, Polikéy let his head droop forward towards the front of the cart. He awoke near home, and was about to catch hold of his cap; but, feeling that it sat firmly on his head, he did not take it off, convinced that the envelope was inside. He gave Drum a touch, arranged the hay in the cart again, put on the appearance of a well-to-do peasant, and, proudly looking about him, rattled homewards.

There was the kitchen; there the domestic serfs’ quarters. There was the joiner’s wife carrying some linen cloth; there was the office, and there the house of the proprietress, where in a few moments Polikéy would be proving himself to be a trustworthy and honest man. “One can say anything about anybody,” he would say; and the lady would reply, “Well, thank you, Polikéy! Here are three (or perhaps five, perhaps even ten) roubles,” and she would order tea for him, or even vodka. “It would not be amiss, after being out in the cold. With ten roubles we would have a treat on the holiday, and buy boots, and return Nikíta his four and a half roubles (it can’t be helped!⁠ ⁠… He has begun bothering).⁠ ⁠…”

When he was some hundred steps from his home, Polikéy wrapped his coat round him, pulled his girdle straight, took off his cap, smoothed his hair, and without haste thrust his hand inside the lining. The hand began to move faster and faster inside the lining, then the other hand went in too, while his face grew paler and paler. One of the hands went right through the cap.

Polikéy fell on his knees, stopped the horse, and began searching in the cart among the hay and the things he had bought, feeling inside his coat and in his trouser pockets. The money was nowhere to be found.

“Dear me! What does it mean?⁠ ⁠… What is going to happen?⁠ ⁠…” He began howling, clutching at his hair. But recollecting that he might be seen, he turned the horse back, pulled the cap on, and drove the dissatisfied Drum back along the road.

“I can’t bear going out with Polikéy,” Drum must have thought. “Once in all his life he has fed and watered me at the right time, and then only in order to deceive me so unpleasantly! How hard I tried to run home! I am tired, and hardly have we got within smell of our own hay before he starts driving me back!”

“Now then, you devil’s jade!” shouted Polikéy through his tears, standing up in the cart, pulling at Drum’s mouth and beating him with the whip.


X

All that day no one in Pokróvsk saw Polikéy. The mistress asked for him several times after dinner, and Aksyúta came flying to Akoulína; but Akoulína said he had not yet returned, and that evidently the customer had detained him, or something had happened to the horse. “If only it has not gone lame!” she said. “Last time, when Maxím went, he was on the road a whole day⁠—had to walk back all the way.”

And Aksyúta turned her pendulums in the opposite direction, while Akoulína, trying to calm her own fears, invented reasons to account for her husband’s absence; but in vain. Her heart was heavy, and she could not work with a will at any of the preparations for the morrow’s holiday. She was suffering all the more because the joiner’s wife assured her that she herself had seen “a man just like Polikoúshka drive up to the avenue, and then turn back again.”

The children were also anxiously expecting “Daddy,” but for another reason. Annie and Mary, being left without the sheepskin and the coat which made it possible to take turns out of doors, could only run out in their indoor dresses, quickly and in a small circle round the house. This was not a little inconvenient for all the dwellers in the serfs’ quarters who wanted to go in or out. Once Mary ran against the legs of the joiner’s wife, who was carrying water, and though she began to howl in anticipation as soon as she knocked against the woman’s knees, she got her hair pulled all the same, and cried still louder. When she did not knock against anyone, she flew in at the door, and, straightway climbing on a tub, got onto the top of the oven. Only the mistress and Akoulína were really anxious about Polikéy; the children were concerned only about what he had on.

Egór Miháylovitch, in answer to the mistress’s questions, “Has Polikoúshka not yet returned?” and “Where can he be?” answered: “I can’t say,” and seemed pleased that his expectations were being fulfilled. “He ought to have been back by dinnertime,” said he significantly.

All that day no one heard anything of Polikéy; only later on it was known that some neighbouring peasants had seen him running about on the road, bareheaded, and asking everybody whether they had seen a letter. Another man had seen him asleep by the roadside, beside a horse and cart tied up. “I thought he was tipsy,” the man said; “and the horse looked as if it had not been fed for two days, its sides were so fallen in.”

Akoulína did not sleep all night, and kept listening; but Polikéy did not return that night. Had she been alone, and had she kept a cook and a maid, she would have felt still more unhappy; but as soon as the cocks crowed and the joiner’s wife got up, Akoulína was obliged to rise and light the fire. It was a holiday. The bread had to come out of the oven before daybreak, kvass had to be made, cakes baked, the cow milked, dresses and shirts ironed, the children washed, and the neighbour not allowed to take up the whole of the oven. So Akoulína, still listening, set to work.

It had grown light, and the church bells were ringing. The children were up, and Polikéy had still not returned. A little snow had fallen the day before, and lay in patches on the fields, on the road, and on the roofs; and now, as if in honour of the feast, the day was fair, sunny and frosty, so that one could see far and hear far.

But Akoulína, standing by the brick oven, her head thrust into the opening in front, was so busy with her cakes that she did not hear Polikéy drive up, and knew only from the children’s shouting that her husband had returned.

Annie, as the eldest, had greased her hair and dressed herself without help. She wore a new but crumpled print dress⁠—a present from the proprietress. It stuck out as stiff as if it were made of bark, and was a thorn in the neighbours’ eyes; her hair was shining; she had smeared half an inch of tallow candle onto it. Her shoes, though not new, were respectable. Mary was still wrapped in the old jacket, and was covered with mud; and Annie would not let her come near for fear of getting dirtied. Mary was outside. She saw her father drive up, bringing a sack.

“Daddy has come!” she shrieked, and rushed headlong in at the door, past Annie, dirtying her. Annie, no longer fearing the dirt, went for her at once and hit her. Akoulína could not leave her work, and only shouted at the children: “Now, then⁠ ⁠… I’ll whip you all!” and glowered round at the door.

Polikéy came in with the bag, and at once passed through to his own cubicle.

It seemed to Akoulína that he was pale, and his face looked as if he were either smiling or crying, but she had no time to find out which it was.

“Well, Polikéy, is it all right?” she called to him from the oven.

Polikéy muttered something that she did not understand.

“Eh?” she cried. “Have you been to the mistress?”

Polikéy was sitting on the bed in their cubicle, looking wildly round him, and smiling his guilty, deeply sorrowful smile. He did not answer for a long time.

“Eh, Polikéy? Why so long?” came Akoulína’s voice.

“Yes, Akoulína, I have handed the lady her money. How she thanked me!” he said suddenly, and began looking round and smiling still more uneasily. Two things attracted his feverishly staring eyes: the baby, and a rope attached to the cradle.

He came up to where the cradle hung, and began hastily undoing the knot of the rope with his thin fingers. Then his eyes fixed themselves on the baby; but when Akoulína entered, carrying a board full of cakes, Polikéy quickly hid the rope in his bosom and sat down on the bed.

“What is it, Polikéy? You seem not yourself,” said Akoulína.

“Haven’t slept,” he answered.

Suddenly something flitted past the window, and in a moment Aksyúta, the maid from “up there,” darted in like an arrow.

“The mistress orders Polikéy to come this minute,” she said⁠—“this minute, Avdótya Nikoláyevna’s orders are⁠ ⁠… this minute!”

Polikéy looked at Akoulína, then at the girl.

“I’m coming. What can she want?” he said, so simply that Akoulína grew quieter. “Perhaps she wants to reward me. Tell her I’m coming.”

He rose and went out. Akoulína took the washing-trough, put it on a bench, filled it with water from the pails which stood by the door and from the boiler in the oven, rolled up her sleeves, and felt the water.

“Come, Mary, I’ll wash you.”

The cross, lisping little girl began howling.

“Come, you slattern! I’ll give you a clean smock. Now then, don’t make a fuss! Come along.⁠ ⁠… I’ve still your brother to wash.”

Meanwhile Polikéy had not followed the maid from “up there,” but had gone to a very different place. In the passage, by the wall, was a stepladder leading to the garret. Polikéy, when he came out, looked round, and not seeing anyone climbed that ladder almost at a run, nimbly and hurriedly.

“What can it mean that Polikéy does not come?” asked the mistress impatiently of Dounyásha, who was dressing her hair. “Where is Polikéy? Why has he not come?”

Aksyúta again flew to the serfs’ quarters, and again rushed into the passage, calling Polikéy to her mistress.

“Why, he went long ago,” answered Akoulína, who, having washed Mary, had just put her baby-boy into the washing-trough, and was moistening his thin short hair, regardless of his cries. The boy screamed, puckered his face, and tried to catch hold of something with his helpless little hands. Akoulína supported his plump, dimpled little back with one large hand, while washing him with the other.

“See if he has not fallen asleep somewhere,” said she, looking round anxiously.

Just then the joiner’s wife, with her hair undone and her dress unfastened, and holding up her skirts, went up into the garret to get some things she had hung up to dry there. Suddenly a cry of horror filled the garret, and the joiner’s wife, with her eyes closed, came down the steps on all fours, backwards, sliding rather than running, like a madwoman.

“Polikéy!⁠ ⁠…” she screamed.

Akoulína let go the baby.

“Strangled!” bellowed the joiner’s wife.

Akoulína, paying no heed to the baby, who rolled over like a ball and fell backwards, with his little legs in the air and his head under water, rushed out into the passage.

“On a rafter⁠ ⁠… hanging!” the joiner’s wife ejaculated, but stopped when she saw Akoulína.

Akoulína darted up the steps, and before anyone could stop her she was at the top; but from there with a terrible cry she fell back like a corpse; and would have been killed if the people who had come running from every cubicle had not been in time to catch her.


XI

For several minutes no explanation could be arrived at amidst the general tumult. A crowd of people had collected, everyone was shouting and talking, children and old women were crying. Akoulína lay unconscious.

At last the men⁠—the joiner and the steward⁠—who had run to the place, went up the ladder, and the joiner’s wife began telling for the twentieth time how she, “nothing doubting, went to fetch a dress, and just looked⁠—this wise⁠—and see⁠ ⁠… a man⁠ ⁠… and I look, and a cap is lying inside-out, close by. I look⁠ ⁠… the legs are swinging.⁠ ⁠… I went cold all over! Is it pleasant?⁠ ⁠… To think of a man hanging himself, and that I should be the one to see him!⁠ ⁠… How I came clattering down I myself don’t remember⁠ ⁠… it’s a miracle how God saved me! Really, the Lord has had mercy on me!⁠ ⁠… Is it a trifle?⁠ ⁠… such steepness and from such a height.⁠ ⁠… Why, I might have been killed!”

The men who had gone up had the same tale to tell. Polikéy, in his shirt and trousers, was hanging from a rafter by the rope which he had unfastened from the cradle. His cap, turned inside out, lay beside him, his coat and sheepskin were neatly folded, and lay close by. His feet touched the ground, but he no longer showed signs of life.

Akoulína regained consciousness, and again rushed to the ladder, but was held back.

“Mamma, Syómka’s tsoking!” the lisping little girl suddenly cried from their cubicle. Akoulína tore herself away, and ran to her room. The baby did not stir, and his little legs were not moving. Akoulína snatched him out, but he did not breathe or move. She threw him down on the bed, and, with arms akimbo, burst into such loud, ringing, terrible laughter that Mary, who at first had started laughing herself, covered her ears with her hands, and ran out into the passage crying. The crowd thronged into the cubicle, wailing and weeping. They carried out the little body and began rubbing it, but in vain. Akoulína tossed about on the bed, and laughed⁠—laughed so that all who heard her were frightened. Only now, seeing this motley crowd of men and women, old people and children, did one fully realize what a number, and what sort, of people lived in the serfs’ quarters. Everybody fussed and spoke; many wept, but nobody did anything. The joiner’s wife still found people who had not heard her tale about the way her tender feelings were shocked by the unexpected sight, and how God had saved her from falling down the ladder. An old man who had been a footman, with a woman’s jacket thrown over his shoulders, was relating how in the days of the old proprietor a woman drowned herself in the pond. The steward sent messengers to the priest and to the policeman, and appointed men to keep guard. Aksyúta, the maid from “up there,” kept gazing with staring eyes at the opening that led to the garret, and though she could not see anything, was unable to tear herself away and go back to her mistress. Agatha Miháylovna, who had been lady’s-maid to the former proprietress, was weeping and asking for some tea to soothe her nerves. Anna, the midwife, was laying out the little body on the table, with her practised, plump, oily hands. Other women stood in front of Akoulína, silently looking at her. The children, huddled together in a corner, kept glancing at their mother and bursting into howls; and then, growing silent for a moment, glanced again, and huddled still closer. Boys and men thronged round the porch, looking in at the door and the windows with frightened faces; and, unable to see or understand anything, asking one another what it was all about. One said the joiner had chopped off his wife’s foot with an axe. Another said that the laundress had borne triplets; a third, that the cook’s cat had gone mad and bitten the people. But the truth gradually spread, and at last it reached the proprietress. And apparently no one understood how to prepare her! That rough Egór blurted the facts straight out to her, and so upset the lady’s nerves that it was a long time before she could recover.

The crowd had already begun to quiet down; the joiner’s wife set the samovar to boil and made tea; and the outsiders⁠—not being invited⁠—thought it impolite to stay any longer. The boys began fighting outside the porch. Everybody now knew what had happened; and, crossing themselves, they began dispersing, when suddenly a cry was raised:

“The mistress! The mistress!”

And everybody crowded and pressed together to make way for her; but at the same time everybody wanted to see what she would do. The lady, pale and with tear-stained face, entered the passage, crossed the threshold, and went into Akoulína’s cubicle. A dozen heads close together gazed in at the door. One pregnant woman was pushed so that she gave a squeak, but made use of that very circumstance to appropriate to herself a front place.

And how could one help wishing to see the lady in Akoulína’s cubicle? It was just like the coloured lights at the end of a performance. It must be an important occasion, since they burnt the coloured fires; and so it must be an important occasion when the lady in her silk and lace entered Akoulína’s cubicle.

The lady came up and took Akoulína’s hand, but Akoulína snatched it away. The old domestic serfs shook their heads reprovingly.

“Akoulína!” said the lady. “You have your children⁠—have pity on yourself!”

Akoulína burst out laughing and got up.

“My children are all silver, all silver! I don’t keep any paper money,” she muttered very quickly. “I told Polikéy, ‘Take no notes,’ and there, now, they’ve buttered him, buttered him up with tar⁠—tar and soap, madam! Whatever rash you may have, it will pass at once⁠ ⁠…” and she laughed still louder.

The mistress turned round, and gave orders that the doctor’s assistant should come with mustard poultices. “Bring some cold water,” she said, and began looking for water herself; but, seeing the dead baby, with Anna the midwife beside it, the lady turned away, and everybody saw how she hid her face in her handkerchief and began to cry; while Anna (it was a pity the lady could not see her⁠—she would have appreciated it, and it was all done for her sake) covered the baby with a piece of linen cloth, put his arms right with her plump, deft hands, shook her head, pouted, drooped her eyelids, and sighed with so much feeling that everybody could see how excellent a heart she had. But the lady did not see it; she could not see anything. She burst out sobbing, and went into hysterics.

Holding her up under the arms, they led her out into the passage and took her home. “That’s all the good she’s done!” thought many, and again began to disperse.

Akoulína went on laughing and talking nonsense. She was taken into another room and bled, and plastered over with mustard poultices, and ice was put on her head; but she did not come to her senses, and did not cry, but laughed, and kept doing and saying such things that the kind people who attended on her could not help laughing too.


XII

The holiday was not a merry one at Pokróvsk. Though the day was beautiful, the people did not go out to amuse themselves, no girls sang in the street, the factory hands who had come home from town for the day did not play on their concertinas and balalaikas, and had no games with the girls. Everybody sat about in corners, and if they spoke, did so in a low voice, as if something evil were there and could hear them.

It was not quite so bad in the daytime, but when the twilight fell and the dogs began to howl, and when, to make matters worse, a wind arose and whistled down the chimneys, such fear seized all the inhabitants of the place that those who had tapers lit them in front of their icons. He who happened to be alone in his cubicle went to ask the neighbours’ permission to stay the night with them, to be less lonely; and he whose business should have taken him into one of the outhouses did not go, but pitilessly left the cattle without fodder that night. And the holy water, of which everyone kept some in a little bottle to charm away anything evil, was all used up during the evening.

That night many even heard something walking about with heavy steps up in the garret, and the blacksmith saw a dragon fly straight towards it. The children and the madwoman had been removed from Polikéy’s cubicle. Only the little dead body lay there, and two old women sat and watched, while a third, a pilgrim, was reading psalms, actuated by her own zeal, not for the sake of the baby, but in a vague way because of all the misfortunes that had happened. The mistress had willed it so.

The pilgrim and the other two women themselves heard how, as soon as they finished reading a portion of the Psalter, the rafters above would tremble, and somebody would move. Then they would read, “May God arise,” and all would be quiet again.

The joiner’s wife invited a friend; and, not sleeping all night, with her aid drank up all the tea she had procured for the whole week. They, too, heard how the beams cracked above, and something like sacks tumbled down. The presence of the peasant watchmen kept up the courage of the domestic serfs somewhat, or the latter would have died of fear that night. The peasants lay on some hay in the passage, and afterwards declared that they also had heard wonderful things up in the garret, though at the time they were conversing very peacefully among themselves about the recruiting, chewing crusts of bread, scratching themselves, and so filling the passage with the peculiar smell characteristic of peasants that the joiner’s wife, happening to pass by, spat and called them “peasant-brood.”

However that might have been, the suicide was still dangling in the garret, and it was as if that night the evil spirit himself had overshadowed the serfs’ quarters with his huge wing, showing his power, and coming closer to these people than he had ever done before. At any rate, they all felt so. I do not know if they were right, and I even think they were quite mistaken. I think that if some bold fellow had taken a candle or a lantern that terrible evening, and, crossing himself, or even not crossing himself, had gone up to the garret⁠—slowly dispelling with the light of the candle the horror of the night before him, lighting up the rafters, the cobweb-covered chimney, the tippets left behind by the joiner’s wife⁠—till he came to Polikéy, and if, conquering his fears, he had raised the lantern to the level of the head, he would have beheld the familiar, spare figure: the feet standing on the ground (the rope had stretched), the body leaning lifelessly to one side, no cross visible under the open shirt, the head drooping on the breast; the kind face, with open, sightless eyes and the meek, guilty smile; and a severe calmness and silence over all. Really, the joiner’s wife, crouching in a corner of her bed with dishevelled hair and frightened eyes, and telling how she heard sacks falling, is far more terrible and frightful than Polikéy, though his cross is off and lies on a rafter.

“Up there”⁠—i.e., in the house of the proprietress⁠—reigned the same horror as in the serfs’ quarters. Her bedroom smelt of eau de cologne and medicine. Dounyásha was melting yellow wax and making an ointment. What the ointment was for I don’t know; but it was always made when the lady was ill. And now she was so upset that she was quite unwell. An aunt had come to help Dounyásha keep her courage up, so there were four of them, including the little girl, sitting in the maid’s room, and talking in a low voice.

“Who will go to get some oil?” asked Dounyásha.

“Nothing will induce me to go, Avdótya Nikoláyevna!” the second maid said decidedly.

“Nonsense! You and Aksyúta go together.”

“I’ll run across alone. I’m not afraid of anything!” said Aksyúta, and at once became frightened.

“Well, then, go, dear; ask Granny Anna to give you some in a tumbler, and bring it here; don’t spill any,” said Dounyásha.

Aksyúta lifted her dress with one hand, and, being thereby prevented from swinging both arms, swung one of them twice as quickly across the line of her progression, and darted away. She was afraid, and felt that if she should see or hear anything, even her own living mother, she would perish with fright. She flew, with her eyes shut, along the familiar pathway.


XIII

“Is the mistress asleep or not?” suddenly asked a deep peasant voice close to Aksyúta.

She opened her eyes, which she had kept shut, and saw a figure that appeared taller than the serfs’ house. She screeched, and flew back so fast that her skirts floated behind her. With one bound she was in the porch, with another in the maids’ room⁠—where she threw herself, wildly yelling, on her bed.

Dounyásha, her aunt, and the other maid were paralyzed with fear, and before they had time to recover they heard heavy, slow, and uncertain steps in the passage and by their door.

Dounyásha rushed to her mistress, spilling the melted wax. The second maid hid among the petticoats that hung on the wall; the aunt, a more determined character, was going to keep the door to the passage closed, but it opened, and a peasant came into the room.

It was Doútlof, with his boat-like shoes. Paying no heed to the maids’ fears, he looked round for an icon, and, not seeing the tiny saint’s picture in the left-hand corner of the room, he crossed himself in front of a cupboard in which teacups were kept, laid his cap on the windowsill, and, thrusting his arm so deep into the bosom of his coat that it looked as if he were going to scratch under his other arm, he pulled out a letter with five brown seals, stamped with an anchor.

Dounyásha’s aunt held her hands to her heart, and with difficulty brought out the words:

“Well, you have given me a fright! I can’t bring out a wo⁠ ⁠… ord! I quite thought my last moment had come!”

“Is that the way to behave?” said the second maid, appearing from under the petticoats.

“The mistress herself is upset,” said Dounyásha, coming out of her mistress’s door. “What do you mean, shoving yourself in through the maids’ entrance, without leave?⁠ ⁠… Just like a peasant!”

Doútlof, without apologizing, again said that he wanted to see the lady.

“She is not well,” said Dounyásha.

At this moment Aksyúta burst into such improperly loud laughter that she was obliged to hide her face in the pillow on the bed, whence, in spite of Dounyásha’s and the aunt’s threats, for a long time she could not lift it without going off again, as if something were bursting inside her pink print bosom and rosy cheeks. To her it seemed so funny that everybody should have taken fright, that she again hid her head in the pillows, and, as if in convulsions, scraped the floor with her shoe, and jerked her whole body.

Doútlof stopped and looked at her attentively, as if to ascertain what was happening to her, but turned away again without having made out what it was all about, and continued:

“You see, it’s just this⁠—it’s a most important matter,” he said. “You just go and say that a peasant has found a letter with money.”

“What money?”

Dounyásha, before going to give the information, read the address and questioned Doútlof about when and how he had found this money which Polikéy ought to have brought back from town. Having heard all the particulars, and pushed the little errand-girl⁠—who was still convulsed with laughter⁠—out into the hall, Dounyásha went to her mistress; but, to Doútlof’s surprise, the mistress would not see him, and did not say anything intelligible to Dounyásha.

“I know nothing, and don’t wish to know anything!” the lady had said. “What peasant? What money?⁠ ⁠… I can’t and won’t see anyone! He must leave me in peace.”

“What am I to do?” said Doútlof, turning the envelope over; “it’s not a small sum. What is written on it?” he asked Dounyásha, who again read the address to him.

Doútlof seemed in doubt. He was still hoping that perhaps the money was not the mistress’s, and that the address had not been read out correctly to him. But Dounyásha confirmed it, and he put the envelope back into his bosom with a sigh, and was about to go.

“I suppose I shall have to hand it over to the police,” he said.

“Wait a bit! I’ll try again,” said Dounyásha, stopping him, after having attentively followed the disappearance of the envelope into the bosom of the peasant’s coat. “Let me have the letter.”

Doútlof took it out again, but did not at once put it into Dounyásha’s outstretched hand.

“Say that Doútlof found it⁠—Semyón.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, let’s have it!”

“I was thinking it was just nothing⁠—only a letter; but a soldier read out to me that there was money inside.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, then, let’s have it.”

“I dared not even go home first to⁠ ⁠…” Doútlof continued, still not parting with the precious envelope. “Inform the lady of it.”

Dounyásha took it from him and went again to her mistress.

“O my God! Dounyásha, don’t speak to me of that money!” said the lady in a reproachful tone. “Only to remember that little infant.⁠ ⁠…”

“The peasant does not know to whom you desire it to be given, madam,” Dounyásha again said.

The lady opened the envelope, shuddering at the sight of the money, and became thoughtful.

“Dreadful money! How much evil it causes!” she said.

“It is Doútlof, madam. Will you give orders for him to go, or will you please come out and see him⁠—and is it all there⁠—the money?” asked Dounyásha.

“I don’t want this money. It is horrible money!⁠ ⁠… What it has done!⁠ ⁠… Tell him he may take it if he likes,” said the lady suddenly, groping for Dounyásha’s hand. “Yes, yes, yes!” she repeated to the astonished Dounyásha; “let him take it altogether, and do what he likes with it.”

“Fifteen hundred roubles,” remarked Dounyásha, smiling as if at a child.

“Let him take it all!” the lady repeated impatiently. “Why, don’t you understand me? It is unlucky money.⁠ ⁠… Never talk to me about it! Let the peasant who found it take it. Go!⁠ ⁠… Well, go along!”

Dounyásha went out into the maids’ room.

“All there?” asked Doútlof.

“Why, you’d better count it yourself,” said Dounyásha, handing him the envelope. “The orders are to give it to you.”

Doútlof put his cap under his arm, and, stooping down, began to count.

“Have you got a counting-frame?”208

Doútlof had an idea that the lady was stupid and could not count, and that that was why she ordered him to do it.

“You can count it at home⁠—it’s yours⁠ ⁠… the money!” Dounyásha said crossly. “ ‘I don’t want to see it,’ she says; ‘give it to him who brought it.’ ”

Doútlof, without unbending, stared at Dounyásha.

Dounyásha’s aunt clasped her hands together.

“O holy Mother! What happiness the Lord has sent him! O holy Mother!”

The second maid did not believe it.

“You don’t mean it, Avdótya Nikoláyevna; you’re joking!”

“Joking, indeed! She’s ordered me to give it to the peasant.⁠ ⁠… Come, take your money and go!” said Dounyásha, without hiding her vexation. “Sorrow to one, joy to another!”

“It’s not a joke⁠ ⁠… fifteen hundred roubles!” said the aunt.

“It’s even more,” stated Dounyásha. “Well! You’ll have to offer a ten-kopeck candle to Saint Nicholas,” she added, with a sneer. “What! Can’t you come to your senses? If at least it had come to a poor man!⁠ ⁠… He has got plenty of his own.”

Doútlof at last grasped that it was not a joke, and began gathering together the notes he had spread out to count, and putting them back into the envelope. But his hands trembled, and he kept glancing at the maids to convince himself that it was not a joke.

“See! He can’t come to his senses, he’s so glad,” said Dounyásha, implying that she despised both the peasant and the money. “Come, I’ll put it in for you.”

She was going to take it, but Doútlof would not let her. He crumpled the notes together, pushed them in farther, and took his cap.

“Glad?”

“I hardly know what to say! It’s just⁠ ⁠…”

He did not finish, but waved his hand, smiled, and went out, almost crying.

The mistress rang.

“Well, have you given it?”

“I have.”

“Well, was he very glad?”

“He was just like a madman.”

“Ah! call him. I want to ask him how he found it. Call him in here; I can’t come out.”

Dounyásha ran out and found the peasant in the passage. He was still bareheaded, and had drawn out his purse, and was stooping untying its strings, while he held the money between his teeth. Perhaps he imagined that as long as the money was not in his purse it was not his. When Dounyásha called him he grew frightened.

“What is it, Avdótya⁠ ⁠… Avdótya Nikoláyevna? Does she wish to take it back? Couldn’t you say a word for me?⁠ ⁠… Now, really, and I’d bring you some nice honey.”

“Indeed! Much you ever brought!”

The door opened again, and the peasant was brought in to the lady. He did not feel very cheerful. “Oh dear, she’ll want it back!” he thought on his way through the rooms, for some reason lifting his feet as if he were walking through tall grass, and trying not to stamp with his bark shoes. He could make nothing of his surroundings. Passing by a mirror, he saw some kind of flowers and a peasant with bark shoes, lifting his legs high, a painted gentleman with an eyeglass, some kind of green tub, and something white.⁠ ⁠… There, now! The something white began to speak. It was the lady. He did not understand anything, but only stared. He did not know where he was, and saw everything as in a mist.

“Is that you, Doútlof?”

“Yes, lady.⁠ ⁠… Just as it was, so I left it⁠ ⁠… never touched⁠ ⁠…” he said. “I was not glad⁠ ⁠… as before God! How I’ve tired out my horse!⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, it’s your luck!” she remarked contemptuously, though with a kindly smile. “Take it⁠—take it for yourself.”

He only stared.

“I am glad you got it. God grant that it may be of use.⁠ ⁠… Well, are you glad?”

“How could I help being glad? I’m so glad, lady⁠—so glad! I will always pray for you!⁠ ⁠… So glad, that⁠ ⁠… Thank Heaven that our mistress is alive! That’s all I’ve done.”

“How did you find it?”

“Well, I mean, we are always able to do our best for our lady, quite honourably, and not anyhow.⁠ ⁠…”

“He is getting quite muddled, madam,” said Dounyásha.

“I had been taking my nephew, the recruit, and as I was coming back along the road I found it. Polikéy must have dropped it.”

“Well, then, go⁠—go, friend! I am glad!”

“So glad, lady⁠ ⁠…” said the peasant. Then he remembered that he had not thanked her properly, and did not know how to behave. The lady and Dounyásha smiled, and then he again began stepping as if he were walking in very high grass, and could hardly refrain from running, so fearful was he that he might be stopped and the money taken from him.


XIV

When he had got out into the fresh air, Doútlof stepped aside from the road under the lime-trees, and even undid his girdle to get at his purse more easily, and began putting away the money. His lips were moving, stretching and drawing together again⁠—though he uttered no sound. Having put away his money and fastened his girdle, he crossed himself, and went staggering along the road as though he were drunk, so full was he of the thoughts that came rushing into his mind.

Suddenly he saw the figure of a man coming towards him. He shouted. It was Efím, with a cudgel in his hand, guarding the serfs’ house.

“Ah, Daddy Semyón!” said Efím joyfully, drawing nearer (Efím felt it uncanny to be alone). “Have you got the recruits off, daddy?”

“We have. What are you after?”

“Why, I’ve been put here to guard Polikéy that’s hanged.”

“And where is he?”

“Up there, hanging in the garret, so they say,” answered Efím, pointing through the darkness to the roof of the serfs’ house.

Doútlof looked in the direction in which the cudgel pointed, and, though he could see nothing, he puckered his face, screwed up his eyes, and shook his head.

“The police-officer has come,” said Efím. “He’ll be taken down at once. Isn’t it horrible in the night, daddy? Nothing would make me go up at night, even if they ordered me to. If Egór Miháylovitch were to kill me outright I’d not go.⁠ ⁠…”

“The sin⁠ ⁠… oh, the sin of it!” Doútlof kept repeating, evidently for form’s sake, and not even thinking what he was saying. He was about to continue his way, but the voice of Egór Miháylovitch stopped him.

“Hi! watchman! Come here!” shouted Egór Miháylovitch from the porch of the office.

Efím answered.

“And what other peasant was standing with you just now?”

“Doútlof.”

“Ah! and you too, Semyón! Come along!”

Having drawn near, Doútlof, by the light of a lantern which the coachman was carrying, recognized Egór Miháylovitch and a short man with a cockade on his cap, dressed in a long uniform overcoat. This was the police-officer.

“Here, this old man will also come with us,” said Egór Miháylovitch on seeing him. The old man felt a bit uncomfortable, but it could not be helped.

“And you, Efím⁠—you’re a young lad! Run up into the garret where he’s hanged himself, and put the ladder straight for his Honour to mount.”

Efím, whom nothing could have induced to approach the serfs’ house, now ran towards it, clattering with his bark shoes as if they were clogs.

The police-officer struck a light and lit a pipe. He lived about a mile and a half off, and having been cruelly reprimanded for drunkenness by his superior, was in a zealous mood. Having arrived at ten o’clock in the evening, he wished to examine the body at once. Egór Miháylovitch asked Doútlof how he came to be there. On the way, Doútlof told the steward about the money he had found, and what the lady had done, and said he had come to ask Egór Miháylovitch’s permission.⁠ ⁠… To Doútlof’s horror, the steward demanded the envelope from him, and examined it. The police-officer even took the envelope in his hand, and asked curtly and dryly for the particulars.

“Oh dear, the money is lost!” thought Doútlof, and began justifying himself.

But the police-officer handed the money back to him.

“What a piece of luck for the clodhopper!” he said.

“It comes handy,” said Egór Miháylovitch. “He’s just been taking his nephew to be conscripted, and now he’ll buy him out.”

“Ah!” said the policeman, and went on in front.

“Will you buy him off⁠—Elijah, I mean?” asked Egór Miháylovitch.

“How am I to buy him off? Will there be money enough? And perhaps it’s not the right time.⁠ ⁠…”

“Well, you know best,” said the steward, and they both followed the police-officer. They approached the serfs’ house, where the smelly watchmen stood waiting with a lantern in the passage. Doútlof followed them. The watchmen looked guilty: perhaps because of the smell they were spreading; for they had done nothing wrong. All were silent.

“Where?” asked the police-officer.

“Here,” said Egór Miháylovitch in a whisper. “Efím,” he added, “you’re a young lad⁠ ⁠… go on in front with the lantern.”

Efím had already put a plank straight on the top of the stepladder, and seemed to have lost all fear. Taking two or three steps at a time, he was climbing up with a cheerful look, only turning round to light the way for the police-officer. The officer was followed by Egór Miháylovitch. When they had disappeared above, Doútlof, with one foot on the bottom step, sighed and stopped. Two or three minutes passed. The footsteps in the garret were no longer heard; evidently they had reached the body.

“Daddy, they want you,” Efím called through the opening.

Doútlof began going up. The light of the lantern showed only the upper part of the bodies of the police-officer and of Egór Miháylovitch beyond the rafters. Beyond them again someone else was standing, with his back turned towards them.

This was Polikéy.

Doútlof climbed over a rafter and stopped, crossing himself.

“Turn him round, lads!” said the police-officer.

No one stirred.

“Efím, you’re a young lad!⁠ ⁠…” said Egór Miháylovitch.

The young lad stepped across a rafter, turned Polikéy round, and stood beside him, looking with a most cheerful face now at Polikéy, now at the official, as a showman exhibiting an Albino or Julia Pastrána looks at the audience, ready to do anything they may wish.

“Turn him round again.”

Polikéy was turned round, his arms slightly swinging, and his feet dragging on the ground.

“Catch hold, and take him down.”

“Shall we chop the rope through, your Honour?” asked Egór Miháylovitch. “Hand us a chopper, lads!”

The watchmen and Doútlof had to be told twice before they would set to; but the young lad handled Polikéy as he would have handled a sheep’s carcass. At last the rope was chopped through, and the body taken down and covered up. The police-officer remarked that the doctor would come next day; and dismissed the people.


XV

Doútlof went homeward, still moving his lips. At first he had an uncanny feeling, but it passed as he drew nearer home, and joy gradually penetrated his heart. In the village he heard songs and drunken voices. Doútlof never drank, and this time too he went straight home.

It was late when he entered his hut. His old woman was asleep. His eldest son and his grandchildren were sleeping on the top of the brick oven, and the younger one in a little room outside. Elijah’s wife alone was awake, and sat on the bench, bareheaded, in a dirty, everyday smock, wailing. She did not go out to meet her uncle, but, when he entered, sobbed louder, lamenting her fate. According to the old woman, she “lamented” very fluently and well, taking into consideration the fact that at her age she could not have had much practice.

The old woman rose and got her husband’s supper ready. Doútlof turned Elijah’s wife away from the table, saying: “That’s enough⁠—that’s enough!”

Aksínya went away, and, lying down on a bench, continued to lament. The old woman put the supper on the table, and afterwards silently cleared it away again. The old man did not speak either. When he had said grace, he hiccuped, washed his hands, took the counting-frame from a nail in the wall, and went into the little room outside. There he and his old woman spoke in whispers for a little while; and then, after she had gone away, he began counting on the frame, making the beads click. At last he banged the lid of the chest standing there, and went down into the cellar under the room. For a long time he went on bustling about between the room and the cellar.

When he re-entered, it was dark in the hut. The wooden splint that served for a candle had gone out. His old woman, quiet and silent in the daytime, had rolled herself up on the sleeping-bunk, and filled the hut with her snoring. Elijah’s noisy wife was also asleep, breathing quietly. She lay on the bench, dressed just as she had been, and with nothing under her head to serve as a pillow. Doútlof began to pray, then looked at Elijah’s wife, shook his head, put out the light, hiccuped again, and climbed up onto the oven, where he lay down beside his little grandson. He threw his plaited bark shoes down from the oven in the dark and lay on his back, looking up at the rafter⁠—hardly discernible above the oven-top just over his head⁠—and listening to the sounds of the cockroaches crawling along the walls, of sighs, snoring, rubbing of foot against foot, and the noise made by the cattle outside. It was a long time before he could sleep. The moon rose. It grew lighter in the hut. He could see Aksínya in her corner, and something he could not make out: was it a coat his son had forgotten, or a tub the women had put there, or someone standing?

Perhaps he was drowsing, perhaps not; anyhow, he began to peer into the darkness. Evidently that evil spirit which had led Polikéy to commit his awful deed, and whose nearness was felt that night by all the domestic serfs, had stretched out his wing and reached across the village to the house in which lay the money that he had used to ruin Polikéy. At least, Doútlof felt his presence, and was ill at ease. He could neither sleep nor get up. After noticing the something he could not make out, he remembered Elijah, with his hands bound, and Akshaya’s face and her rhythmical lamentations; and he recalled Polikéy, with his swinging hands.

Suddenly it seemed to the old man that someone passed by the window. “Who was that? Could it be the village Elder coming so early to call a Meeting?” thought he. “How did he open the door?” thought the old man, hearing a step in the passage. “Had the old woman forgotten to draw the bolt when she went out into the passage?” The dog began to howl in the yard, and he came stepping along the passage⁠—so the old man related afterwards⁠—as if he were trying to find the door, then passed on, and began groping along the wall, stumbled over a tub and made it clatter, and again began groping, as if feeling for the latch. Now he pulled the handle and entered, in the shape of a man. Doútlof knew it was he. He wished to cross himself, but could not. He approached the table, which was covered with a cloth, and, pulling off the cloth, threw it on the floor, and began climbing onto the oven. The old man knew that he had taken the shape of Polikéy. He was showing his teeth, and his hands were swinging about. He climbed up, tumbled onto the old man’s chest, and began to strangle him.

“The money’s mine!” muttered Polikéy.

“Let go! Never again!” Semyón tried to say, but could not.

Polikéy was pressing down on him with the weight of a mountain. Doútlof knew that if he said a prayer he would leave him alone, and knew which prayer he ought to say, but could not get it out.

His grandson, sleeping beside him, uttered a shrill scream, and began to cry. His grandfather had pressed him against the wall. The child’s cry loosened the old man’s lips.

“May the Lord arise!⁠ ⁠…” he said.

He pressed less hard.

“… and burst asunder⁠ ⁠…” spluttered Doútlof. He got off the oven. Doútlof heard him strike the floor with both feet. Doútlof went on repeating in turn all the prayers he knew. He went towards the door, passed the table, and banged the door so that the whole hut shook. However, everybody but the grandfather and grandson continued to sleep. The grandfather, trembling all over, muttered prayers, while the grandson was crying himself to sleep and clinging to his grandfather. All became quiet once more. The old man lay still. A cock crowed behind the wall close to Doútlof’s ear. He heard the hens stirring, and a cockerel unsuccessfully trying to crow in answer to the old cock. Something moved over the old man’s legs. It was the cat; she jumped from the oven onto the floor with her soft paws, and stood mewing by the door. The old man rose and opened the window. It was dark and muddy in the street. Crossing himself, he went out barefoot into the yard to the horses. One could see that he had been there too. The mare standing under the shed beside a tub of chaff had got her foot into the cord of her halter, had spilt the chaff, and now, holding up her foot, turned her head and waited for her master. Her foal had tumbled behind a heap of manure. The old man raised it to its feet, disentangled the mare’s foot and fed her, and went back to the hut. The old woman got up and lit the splint.

“Wake the lads! I’m going to town!” And, taking a wax taper from the icon, Doútlof lit it and went down with it into the cellar. Not only in his hut, but in all the neighbouring houses the lights were burning when he came up again. The young fellows were up and preparing to start. The women were coming and going with pails of milk. Ignát was harnessing the horse to one cart, and the second son was greasing the wheels of another. The young wife was no longer sobbing. She had made herself neat, and had bound a shawl over her head, and now sat waiting till it would be time to go to town to say goodbye to her husband.

The old man appeared particularly stern. He did not say a word to anyone, put on his best coat, tied his girdle round him, and with all Polikéy’s money in the bosom of his coat, went to Egór Miháylovitch.

“Mind you don’t dawdle,” he called to his son, who was turning the wheels on the raised and newly greased axle. “I’ll be back in a minute; see that everything is ready.”

The steward had only just got up, and was drinking tea. He, too, was preparing to go to town, to hand over the recruits.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Egór Miháylovitch, I want to buy the lad off. Do be so good! You said t’other day that you knew one in the town that was willing⁠ ⁠… Explain it to me, how to do it; we are ignorant people.”

“Why, have you reconsidered it?”

“I have, Egór Miháylovitch. I’m so sorry⁠ ⁠… a brother’s child, after all, whatever he may be.⁠ ⁠… I’m sorry for him!⁠ ⁠… It’s the cause of much sin, money is. Do be so good and explain it to me!” he said, bowing low.

Egór Miháylovitch, as was his wont on such occasions, stood for a long time thoughtfully smacking his lips; and, having considered the matter, wrote two notes, and explained what was to be done in town, and how to do it.

When Doútlof got home, the young wife had already set off with Ignát. The fat grey mare stood ready harnessed in the gateway. Doútlof broke a twig out of the hedge, and, lapping his coat over, got into the cart and whipped up the horse. He made the mare run so fast that her fat sides gradually shrank, and Doútlof did not look at her, so as not to awaken any feeling of pity in himself. He was tormented by the thought that he might come too late for the recruiting, that Elijah would go as a soldier, and the devil’s money would remain on his hands.

I will not describe all Doútlof’s proceedings that morning. I will only say that he was specially lucky. The man to whom Egór Miháylovitch had given him a note had a volunteer quite ready, who had already spent twenty-three roubles, and had already been passed by the Court. His master wanted four hundred roubles for him, and a buyer in the town had for the last three weeks been offering him three hundred. Doútlof settled the matter in a couple of words.

“Will you take three and a quarter hundred?” he said, holding out his hand, but with a look that showed that he was prepared to give more. The master held back his hand, and went on asking four hundred.

“You won’t take a quarter?” Doútlof said, catching hold with his left hand of the man’s right, and preparing to smack it with his own right hand. “You won’t take it? Well, Heaven help you!” he said suddenly, smacking the master’s hand with the full swing of his other arm, and turning away with his whole body.

“Evidently it must come to that⁠ ⁠… take three and a half hundred! Get the receipt ready, and bring the fellow along. And now, here are two ten-rouble notes on account. Is it enough?”

And Doútlof unfastened his girdle and got out the money.

The master, though he did not draw away his hand, yet did not seem quite to agree, and, not accepting the deposit money, went on stipulating that Doútlof should wet the bargain and stand treat to the volunteer.

“Don’t you commit a sin,” Doútlof kept repeating, as he held out the money. “We shall all have to die some day,” he went on, in such a gentle, persuasive and assured tone that the master said:

“Well, all right!”

Doútlof smacked his hand again, and began praying for God’s blessing. They woke up the volunteer, who was still sleeping after yesterday’s carouse, thought fit to examine him, and went with him to the offices of the Administration.

The volunteer was merry. He demanded rum to get screwed on, for which Doútlof gave him some money, and only when they came into the vestibule did he become abashed. For a long time they stood in the anteroom, the old master in his full blue cloak, and the volunteer in a short fur coat, his eyebrows raised and his eyes staring. For a long time they whispered, asked to be allowed to go somewhere or other, looked for somebody or other, and for some reason took off their caps and bowed to every scrivener they met, and meditatively listened to the decisions read out by a scrivener whom the master knew. All hope of getting the business done that day began to vanish, and the volunteer was growing more cheerful and unconstrained again, when Doútlof saw Egór Miháylovitch, seized on him at once, and began to beg and bow to him.

Egór Miháylovitch helped him so efficiently that by about three o’clock, to his great dissatisfaction and surprise, the volunteer was taken into the hall and placed for examination, and amid general merriment (in which for some reason everybody joined, from the watchmen to the President), he was undressed, dressed again, shaved, and let out at the door; and five minutes later Doútlof counted out the money, received the receipt, and, having taken leave of the volunteer and his master, went to the lodging-house where the Pokróvsk recruits were staying.

Elijah and his young wife were sitting in a corner of the kitchen; and as soon as the old man came in they stopped talking, and looked at him with a resigned expression, but not with goodwill. As was his wont, the old man said a prayer; and he then unfastened his girdle, got out a paper, and called into the room his eldest son Ignát and Elijah’s mother, who was in the yard.

“Don’t go sinning, Elijah,” he said, coming up to his nephew. “The other day you said a word to me.⁠ ⁠… Don’t I care about you? I remember how my brother left you to me. If it were in my power, would I have let you go? God has sent me luck, and I am not grudging it you.⁠ ⁠… Here it is, the paper”; and he put the receipt on the table, and carefully smoothed it out with his stiff, crooked fingers.

All the Pokróvsk peasants, the innkeeper’s men, and even some outsiders, came in from the yard. All guessed what was happening, and no one interrupted the old man’s solemn speech.

“Here it is, the paper! I’ve given four hundred roubles for it. Don’t reproach your uncle.”

Elijah rose, but remained silent, not knowing what to say. His lips quivered with emotion. His old mother came up, and was about to throw herself, sobbing, on his neck; but the old man motioned her away slowly and authoritatively, and continued to speak.

“You said a word to me yesterday,” the old man again repeated. “You stabbed me to the heart with that word, as with a knife! Your dying father left you to me, and you have been as my own son to me, and if I have offended you in any way⁠—well, we all live in sin! Is it not so, Orthodox Christians?” he said, turning to the peasants who stood round. “Here is your own mother and your young missis⁠ ⁠… and here is the receipt.⁠ ⁠… Never mind the money, and forgive me, for Christ’s sake!”

And, turning up the skirts of his coat, he slowly sank on his knees and bowed down before Elijah and his wife. The young people tried in vain to stop him, but not till his forehead had touched the ground did he get up. Then, after giving his skirts a shake, he sat down.

Elijah’s mother and wife sobbed with joy, and words of approbation were heard among the crowd. “That’s according to truth, that’s the godly way,” said one. “What’s money? You can’t buy a fellow for money,” said another. “What joy!” said a third; “in a word, he’s a just man!” Only the recruits said nothing, and went softly out into the yard.

Two hours later Doútlof’s two carts were passing out of the suburb of the town. In the first, to which was harnessed the grey mare, her sides fallen in and her neck moist with sweat, sat the old man and Ignát. Behind them jerked a couple of bundles, containing a small caldron and a string of ring-shaped cakes. In the second cart, in which nobody held the reins, the young wife and her mother-in-law, with shawls over their heads, were sitting, dignified and happy. The former held a bottle of vodka under her apron. Elijah, very red in the face, sat all in a heap with his back to the horse, jolting on the front of the cart, biting into a cake and talking incessantly. The voices, the rumbling of the cartwheels on the stony road, and the snorting of the horses blent into one merry sound. The horses, swishing their tails, increased their speed more and more, feeling themselves on the homeward road. The passersby involuntarily turned round to look at the happy family party.

At the very outskirts of the town, the Doútlofs began to overtake a party of recruits. A group of them were standing in a circle outside a public-house. One of the recruits, with that unnatural expression on his face which comes of having the front of the head shaved, his grey cap pushed back, was vigorously strumming on a balalaika; another, bareheaded and with a bottle of vodka in his hand, was dancing inside the circle. Ignát got down to tighten the traces. All the Doútlofs looked with curiosity, approval, and merriment at the dancer. The recruit seemed not to see anyone, but felt that the numbers of the admiring public had increased, and this added to his strength and agility. He danced briskly. His brows were frowning, his ruddy face was set, and his lips were fixed in a grin that had long since lost all meaning. It seemed as if all the strength of his soul was concentrated on placing one foot as quickly as possible after the other, now on the heel, now on the toe. Sometimes he stopped suddenly and winked to the player, who began playing still more briskly, strumming on all the strings, and even knocking the case with his knuckles. The recruit would stop, but even when he stood motionless he still seemed to be dancing. Then he began slowly jerking his shoulders, and suddenly twirling round leaped in the air, and descending crouched down, throwing out first one leg and then the other. The little boys laughed, the women shook their heads, the men smiled approvingly. An old sergeant stood quietly by, with a look that seemed to say: “You think it wonderful, but we have long been familiar with it.” The balalaika-player appeared tired; he looked lazily round, struck a false chord, and suddenly knocked on the case with his knuckles, and the dance came to an end.

“Eh, Alyósha,” he said to the dancer, pointing at Doútlof, “there’s your godfather!”

“Where? You, my dearest friend!” shouted Alyósha, the very recruit whom Doútlof had bought; and staggering forward on his weary legs and holding the bottle of vodka above his head, he moved towards the cart.

“Míshka, a glass!” he cried to the player. “Master⁠ ⁠… you’re my dearest friend. What a pleasure, really!” he shouted, drooping his tipsy head over the cart, and he began to treat the men and women to vodka. The men drank, but the women refused.

“My own friends, what could I present you with?” exclaimed Alyósha, embracing the old woman.

A woman selling eatables was standing among the crowd. Alyósha noticed her, seized her tray, and poured its contents into the cart.

“I’ll pay, no fear, you devil!” he howled tearfully, pulling a purse from his pocket and throwing it to Míshka. He stood leaning with his elbows on the cart, and looking with moist eyes at those who sat inside.

“Which is the mother⁠ ⁠… you?” he asked. “I’ll make an offering to you too.”

He stood thinking for a moment, then he put his hand in his pocket and drew out a new folded handkerchief, hurriedly took off a towel which was tied round his waist under his coat, and also a red scarf he was wearing round his neck; and, crumpling them all together, shoved them into the old woman’s lap.

“There! I’m sacrificing them to you,” he said in a voice that was growing softer and softer.

“What for?⁠ ⁠… Thank you, sonny! Just see what a simple lad it is!” said the old woman, addressing Doútlof, who had come up to their cart.

Alyósha was quite quiet, quite stupefied, and looked as if he were falling asleep. He drooped his head lower and lower.

“It’s for you I am going, for you I am perishing⁠ ⁠…” he muttered; “that’s why I am giving you presents.”

“I dare say he, too, has a mother,” said someone in the crowd. “What a simple fellow! It’s awful!”

Alyósha lifted his head. “I have a mother,” said he; “I have a father. All have given me up.⁠ ⁠… Listen to me, you old one,” he went on, taking the old woman’s hand. “I have offered you gifts.⁠ ⁠… Listen to me for Christ’s sake! Go to the village of Vódnoye, ask for the old woman Níkonovna⁠—the same is my own mother, see? Say to this same old woman, this Níkonovna, the third hut from the end, by a new well⁠ ⁠… Tell her that Alyósha⁠—your son, you see.⁠ ⁠… Eh! you musician! strike up!” he shouted.

And, muttering something, he immediately began dancing again, and hurled the bottle with the remaining vodka to the ground.

Ignát got into the cart, and was about to start.

“Goodbye! May God give you⁠ ⁠…” said the old woman, wrapping her cloak closer round her.

Alyósha suddenly stopped.

“Drive to the devil!” he shouted, clenching his fists. “May your mother!⁠ ⁠…”

“O Lord!” said Elijah’s mother, crossing herself.

Ignát touched the reins, and the carts rattled on again. Alyósha the recruit stood in the middle of the road with clenched fists and with a look of rage on his face, and abused the peasants with all his might.

“What are you stopping for? Go on, devil! cannibal!” he cried. “You’ll not escape my hand!⁠ ⁠… Devil’s clodhoppers!”

At these words his voice broke off, and he fell full length to the ground, just where he stood.

Soon the Doútlofs had driven out into the fields, and, looking round, could no longer see the crowd of recruits. Having gone some four miles at a walking pace, Ignát got off his father’s cart, where the old man lay asleep, and walked beside Elijah.

Together they emptied the bottle they had brought from town. After a while Elijah began a song, the women joined in, and Ignát shouted merrily in tune with the song. A mail-cart drove gaily towards them and passed by at full speed. The driver called lustily to his horses as he came by the merry carts; and the postman turned round and winked at the red-faced men and women who sat jolting inside.

1863.


Footnotes

Footnotes

205

Intercession of the Virgin.

Return

206

“Dare to err and dream.”

Return

207

Made by scalding wood-ash taken from the stove, and used for washing clothes.

Return

208

The abacus, with wires and beads to count on, is still much used in Russia.

Return

#haveread
Login to use this functionality
Link copied to clipboard
Library
Contents
Notes
Settings
Read

Title

Author

#reading #haveread
Login to use this functionality
Link copied to clipboard

This website © 2022 Bookwise.io [v0.93]

Notes & Highlights

Highlight some text to create a note.

Clear Notes & Highlights

Are you sure? Yes / No

Reading History

Your reading sessions will be listed here.

Clear Reading History

Are you sure? Yes / No


Settings

“Read more, beautifully”

Typography

Default size
Smaller font
Bigger font

Colour scheme

Dark
Light
Nightvision

Tap zones

Diagonal
Top & bottom
Left & right
None