Father Sergius, by Leo Tolstoy

VI

Pashenka had already long ceased to be Pashenka and had become old, withered, wrinkled Praskovya Mikhaylovna, mother-inlaw of that failure, the drunken official Mavrikyev. She was living in the country town where he had had his last appointment, and there she was supporting the family: her daughter, her ailing neurasthenic son-inlaw, and her five grandchildren. She did this by giving music lessons to tradesmen’s daughters, giving four and sometimes five lessons a day of an hour each, and earning in this way some sixty rubles (6 pounds) a month. So they lived for the present, in expectation of another appointment. She had sent letters to all her relations and acquaintances asking them to obtain a post for her son-inlaw, and among the rest she had written to Sergius, but that letter had not reached him.

It was a Saturday, and Praskovya Mikhaylovna was herself mixing dough for currant bread such as the serf-cook on her father’s estate used to make so well. She wished to give her grandchildren a treat on the Sunday.

Masha, her daughter, was nursing her youngest child, the eldest boy and girl were at school, and her son-inlaw was asleep, not having slept during the night. Praskovya Mikhaylovna had remained awake too for a great part of the night, trying to soften her daughter’s anger against her husband.

She saw that it was impossible for her son-inlaw, a weak creature, to be other than he was, and realized that his wife’s reproaches could do no good — so she used all her efforts to soften those reproaches and to avoid recrimination and anger. Unkindly relations between people caused her actual physical suffering. It was so clear to her that bitter feelings do not make anything better, but only make everything worse. She did not in fact think about this: she simply suffered at the sight of anger as she would from a bad smell, a harsh noise, or from blows on her body.

She had — with a feeling of self-satisfaction — just taught Lukerya how to mix the dough, when her six-year-old grandson Misha, wearing an apron and with darned stockings on his crooked little legs, ran into the kitchen with a frightened face.

‘Grandma, a dreadful old man wants to see you.’

Lukerya looked out at the door.

‘There is a pilgrim of some kind, a man . . . ’

Praskovya Mikhaylovna rubbed her thin elbows against one another, wiped her hands on her apron and went upstairs to get a five-kopek piece [about a penny] out of her purse for him, but remembering that she had nothing less than a ten-kopek piece she decided to give him some bread instead. She returned to the cupboard, but suddenly blushed at the thought of having grudged the ten-kopek piece, and telling Lukerya to cut a slice of bread, went upstairs again to fetch it. ‘It serves you right,’ she said to herself. ‘You must now give twice over.’

She gave both the bread and the money to the pilgrim, and when doing so — far from being proud of her generosity — she excused herself for giving so little. The man had such an imposing appearance.

Though he had tramped two hundred versts as a beggar, though he was tattered and had grown thin and weatherbeaten, though he had cropped his long hair and was wearing a peasant’s cap and boots, and though he bowed very humbly, Sergius still had the impressive appearance that made him so attractive. But Praskovya Mikhaylovna did not recognize him. She could hardly do so, not having seen him for almost twenty years.

‘Don’t think ill of me, Father. Perhaps you want something to eat?’

He took the bread and the money, and Praskovya Mikhaylovna was surprised that he did not go, but stood looking at her.

‘Pashenka, I have come to you! Take me in . . . ’

His beautiful black eyes, shining with the tears that started in them, were fixed on her with imploring insistence. And under his greyish moustache his lips quivered piteously.

Praskovya Mikhaylovna pressed her hands to her withered breast, opened her mouth, and stood petrified, staring at the pilgrim with dilated eyes.

‘It can’t be! Stepa! Sergey! Father Sergius!’

‘Yes, it is I,’ said Sergius in a low voice. ‘Only not Sergius, or Father Sergius, but a great sinner, Stepan Kasatsky — a great and lost sinner. Take me in and help me!’

‘It’s impossible! How have you so humbled yourself? But come in.’

She reached out her hand, but he did not take it and only followed her in.

But where was she to take him? The lodging was a small one. Formerly she had had a tiny room, almost a closet, for herself, but later she had given it up to her daughter, and Masha was now sitting there rocking the baby.

‘Sit here for the present,’ she said to Sergius, pointing to a bench in the kitchen.

He sat down at once, and with an evidently accustomed movement slipped the straps of his wallet first off one shoulder and then off the other.

‘My God, my God! How you have humbled yourself, Father! Such great fame, and now like this . . . ’

Sergius did not reply, but only smiled meekly, placing his wallet under the bench on which he sat.

‘Masha, do you know who this is?’ — And in a whisper Praskovya Mikhaylovna told her daughter who he was, and together they then carried the bed and the cradle out of the tiny room and cleared it for Sergius.

Praskovya Mikhaylovna led him into it.

‘Here you can rest. Don’t take offence . . . but I must go out.’

‘Where to?’

‘I have to go to a lesson. I am ashamed to tell you, but I teach music!’

‘Music? But that is good. Only just one thing, Praskovya Mikhaylovna, I have come to you with a definite object. When can I have a talk with you?’

‘I shall be very glad. Will this evening do?’

‘Yes. But one thing more. Don’t speak about me, or say who I am. I have revealed myself only to you. No one knows where I have gone to. It must be so.’

‘Oh, but I have told my daughter.’

‘Well, ask her not to mention it.’

And Sergius took off his boots, lay down, and at once fell asleep after a sleepless night and a walk of nearly thirty miles.

When Praskovya Mikhaylovna returned, Sergius was sitting in the little room waiting for her. He did not come out for dinner, but had some soup and gruel which Lukerya brought him.

‘How is it that you have come back earlier than you said?’ asked Sergius. ‘Can I speak to you now?’

‘How is it that I have the happiness to receive such a guest? I have missed one of my lessons. That can wait . . . I had always been planning to go to see you. I wrote to you, and now this good fortune has come.’

‘Pashenka, please listen to what I am going to tell you as to a confession made to God at my last hour. Pashenka, I am not a holy man, I am not even as good as a simple ordinary man; I am a loathsome, vile, and proud sinner who has gone astray, and who, if not worse than everyone else, is at least worse than most very bad people.’

Pashenka looked at him at first with staring eyes. But she believed what he said, and when she had quite grasped it she touched his hand, smiling pityingly, and said:

‘Perhaps you exaggerate, Stiva?’

‘No, Pashenka. I am an adulterer, a murderer, a blasphemer, and a deceiver.’

‘My God! How is that?’ exclaimed Praskovya Mikhaylovna.

‘But I must go on living. And I, who thought I knew everything, who taught others how to live — I know nothing and ask you to teach me.’

‘What are you saying, Stiva? You are laughing at me. Why do you always make fun of me?’

‘Well, if you think I am jesting you must have it as you please. But tell me all the same how you live, and how you have lived your life.’

‘I? I have lived a very nasty, horrible life, and now God is punishing me as I deserve. I live so wretchedly, so wretchedly . . . ’

‘How was it with your marriage? How did you live with your husband?’

‘It was all bad. I married because I fell in love in the nastiest way. Papa did not approve. But I would not listen to anything and just got married. Then instead of helping my husband I tormented him by my jealousy, which I could not restrain.’

‘I heard that he drank . . . ’

‘Yes, but I did not give him any peace. I always reproached him, though you know it is a disease! He could not refrain from it. I now remember how I tried to prevent his having it, and the frightful scenes we had!’

And she looked at Kasatsky with beautiful eyes, suffering from the remembrance.

Kasatsky remembered how he had been told that Pashenka’s husband used to beat her, and now, looking at her thin withered neck with prominent veins behind her ears, and her scanty coil of hair, half grey half auburn, he seemed to see just how it had occurred.

‘Then I was left with two children and no means at all.’

‘But you had an estate!’

‘Oh, we sold that while Vasya was still alive, and the money was all spent. We had to live, and like all our young ladies I did not know how to earn anything. I was particularly useless and helpless. So we spent all we had. I taught the children and improved my own education a little. And then Mitya fell ill when he was already in the fourth form, and God took him. Masha fell in love with Vanya, my son-inlaw. And — well, he is well-meaning but unfortunate. He is ill.’

‘Mamma!’ — her daughter’s voice interrupted her — ‘Take Mitya! I can’t be in two places at once.’

Praskovya Mikhaylovna shuddered, but rose and went out of the room, stepping quickly in her patched shoes. She soon came back with a boy of two in her arms, who threw himself backwards and grabbed at her shawl with his little hands.

‘Where was I? Oh yes, he had a good appointment here, and his chief was a kind man too. But Vanya could not go on, and had to give up his position.’

‘What is the matter with him?’

‘Neurasthenia — it is a dreadful complaint. We consulted a doctor, who told us he ought to go away, but we had no means. . . . I always hope it will pass of itself. He has no particular pain, but . . . ’

‘Lukerya!’ cried an angry and feeble voice. ‘She is always sent away when I want her. Mamma . . . ’

‘I’m coming!’ Praskovya Mikhaylovna again interrupted herself. ‘He has not had his dinner yet. He can’t eat with us.’

She went out and arranged something, and came back wiping her thin dark hands.

‘So that is how I live. I always complain and am always dissatisfied, but thank God the grandchildren are all nice and healthy, and we can still live. But why talk about me?’

‘But what do you live on?’

‘Well, I earn a little. How I used to dislike music, but how useful it is to me now!’ Her small hand lay on the chest of drawers beside which she was sitting, and she drummed an exercise with her thin fingers.

‘How much do you get for a lesson?’

‘Sometimes a ruble, sometimes fifty kopeks, or sometimes thirty. They are all so kind to me.’

‘And do your pupils get on well?’ asked Kasatsky with a slight smile.

Praskovya Mikhaylovna did not at first believe that he was asking seriously, and looked inquiringly into his eyes.

‘Some of them do. One of them is a splendid girl — the butcher’s daughter — such a good kind girl! If I were a clever woman I ought, of course, with the connexions Papa had, to be able to get an appointment for my son-inlaw. But as it is I have not been able to do anything, and have brought them all to this — as you see.’

‘Yes, yes,’ said Kasatsky, lowering his head. ‘And how is it, Pashenka — do you take part in Church life?’

‘Oh, don’t speak of it. I am so bad that way, and have neglected it so! I keep the fasts with the children and sometimes go to church, and then again sometimes I don’t go for months. I only send the children.’

‘But why don’t you go yourself?’

‘To tell the truth’ (she blushed) ‘I am ashamed, for my daughter’s sake and the children’s, to go there in tattered clothes, and I haven’t anything else. Besides, I am just lazy.’

‘And do you pray at home?’

‘I do. But what sort of prayer is it? Only mechanical. I know it should not be like that, but I lack real religious feeling. The only thing is that I know how bad I am . . . ’

‘Yes, yes, that’s right!’ said Kasatsky, as if approvingly.

‘I’m coming! I’m coming!’ she replied to a call from her son-inlaw, and tidying her scanty plait she left the room.

But this time it was long before she returned. When she came back, Kasatsky was sitting in the same position, his elbows resting on his knees and his head bowed. But his wallet was strapped on his back.

When she came in, carrying a small tin lamp without a shade, he raised his fine weary eyes and sighed very deeply.

‘I did not tell them who you are,’ she began timidly. ‘I only said that you are a pilgrim, a nobleman, and that I used to know you. Come into the dining-room for tea.’

‘No . . . ’

‘Well then, I’ll bring some to you here.’

‘No, I don’t want anything. God bless you, Pashenka! I am going now. If you pity me, don’t tell anyone that you have seen me. For the love of God don’t tell anyone. Thank you. I would bow to your feet but I know it would make you feel awkward. Thank you, and forgive me for Christ’s sake!’

‘Give me your blessing.’

‘God bless you! Forgive me for Christ’s sake!’

He rose, but she would not let him go until she had given him bread and butter and rusks. He took it all and went away.

It was dark, and before he had passed the second house he was lost to sight. She only knew he was there because the dog at the priest’s house was barking.

‘So that is what my dream meant! Pashenka is what I ought to have been but failed to be. I lived for men on the pretext of living for God, while she lived for God imagining that she lives for men. Yes, one good deed — a cup of water given without thought of reward — is worth more than any benefit I imagined I was bestowing on people. But after all was there not some share of sincere desire to serve God?’ he asked himself, and the answer was: ‘Yes, there was, but it was all soiled and overgrown by desire for human praise. Yes, there is no God for the man who lives, as I did, for human praise. I will now seek Him!’

And he walked from village to village as he had done on his way to Pashenka, meeting and parting from other pilgrims, men and women, and asking for bread and a night’s rest in Christ’s name. Occasionally some angry housewife scolded him, or a drunken peasant reviled him, but for the most part he was given food and drink and even something to take with him. His noble bearing disposed some people in his favour, while others on the contrary seemed pleased at the sight of a gentleman who had come to beggary.

But his gentleness prevailed with everyone.

Often, finding a copy of the Gospels in a hut he would read it aloud, and when they heard him the people were always touched and surprised, as at something new yet familiar.

When he succeeded in helping people, either by advice, or by his knowledge of reading and writing, or by settling some quarrel, he did not wait to see their gratitude but went away directly afterwards. And little by little God began to reveal Himself within him.

Once he was walking along with two old women and a soldier. They were stopped by a party consisting of a lady and gentleman in a gig and another lady and gentleman on horseback. The husband was on horseback with his daughter, while in the gig his wife was driving with a Frenchman, evidently a traveller.

The party stopped to let the Frenchman see the pilgrims who, in accord with a popular Russian superstition, tramped about from place to place instead of working.

They spoke French, thinking that the others would not understand them.

‘Demandez-leur,’ said the Frenchman, ‘s’ils sont bien sur de ce que leur pelerinage est agreable a Dieu.’

The question was asked, and one old woman replied:

‘As God takes it. Our feet have reached the holy places, but our hearts may not have done so.’

They asked the soldier. He said that he was alone in the world and had nowhere else to go.

They asked Kasatsky who he was.

‘A servant of God.’

‘Qu’est-ce qu’il dit? Il ne repond pas.’

‘Il dit qu’il est un serviteur de Dieu. Cela doit etre un fils de preetre. Il a de la race. Avez-vous de la petite monnaie?’

The Frenchman found some small change and gave twenty kopeks to each of the pilgrims.

‘Mais dites-leur que ce n’est pas pour les cierges que je leur donne, mais pour qu’ils se regalent de the. Chay, chay pour vous, mon vieux!’ he said with a smile. And he patted Kasatsky on the shoulder with his gloved hand.

‘May Christ bless you,’ replied Kasatsky without replacing his cap and bowing his bald head.

He rejoiced particularly at this meeting, because he had disregarded the opinion of men and had done the simplest, easiest thing — humbly accepted twenty kopeks and given them to his comrade, a blind beggar. The less importance he attached to the opinion of men the more did he feel the presence of God within him.

For eight months Kasatsky tramped on in this manner, and in the ninth month he was arrested for not having a passport. This happened at a night-refuge in a provincial town where he had passed the night with some pilgrims. He was taken to the police-station, and when asked who he was and where was his passport, he replied that he had no passport and that he was a servant of God. He was classed as a tramp, sentenced, and sent to live in Siberia.

In Siberia he has settled down as the hired man of a well-to-do peasant, in which capacity he works in the kitchen-garden, teaches children, and attends to the sick.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/t/tolstoy/leo/t65fs/chapter6.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 20:04