FEDOR MIHAILOVICH SMOKOVNIKOV, the president of the local Income Tax Department, a man of unswerving honesty — and proud of it, too — a gloomy Liberal, a free-thinker, and an enemy to every manifestation of religious feeling, which he thought a relic of superstition, came home from his office feeling very much annoyed. The Governor of the province had sent him an extraordinarily stupid minute, almost assuming that his dealings had been dishonest.
Fedor Mihailovich felt embittered, and wrote at once a sharp answer. On his return home everything seemed to go contrary to his wishes.
It was five minutes to five, and he expected the dinner to be served at once, but he was told it was not ready. He banged the door and went to his study. Somebody knocked at the door. “Who the devil is that?” he thought; and shouted — “Who is there?”
The door opened and a boy of fifteen came in, the son of Fedor Mihailovich, a pupil of the fifth class of the local school.
“What do you want?”
“It is the first of the month to-day, father.”
“Well! You want your money?”
It had been arranged that the father should pay his son a monthly allowance of three roubles as pocket money. Fedor Mihailovich frowned, took out of his pocket-book a coupon of two roubles fifty kopeks which he found among the bank-notes, and added to it fifty kopeks in silver out of the loose change in his purse. The boy kept silent, and did not take the money his father proffered him.
“Father, please give me some more in advance.”
“I would not ask for it, but I have borrowed a small sum from a friend, and promised upon my word of honour to pay it off. My honour is dear to me, and that is why I want another three roubles. I don’t like asking you; but, please, father, give me another three roubles.”
“I have told you —”
“I know, father, but just for once.”
“You have an allowance of three roubles and you ought to be content. I had not fifty kopeks when I was your age.”
“Now, all my comrades have much more. Petrov and Ivanitsky have fifty roubles a month.”
“And I tell you that if you behave like them you will be a scoundrel. Mind that.”
“What is there to mind? You never understand my position. I shall be disgraced if I don’t pay my debt. It is all very well for you to speak as you do.”
“Be off, you silly boy! Be off!”
Fedor Mihailovich jumped from his seat and pounced upon his son. “Be off, I say!” he shouted. “You deserve a good thrashing, all you boys!”
His son was at once frightened and embittered. The bitterness was even greater than the fright. With his head bent down he hastily turned to the door. Fedor Mihailovich did not intend to strike him, but he was glad to vent his wrath, and went on shouting and abusing the boy till he had closed the door.
When the maid came in to announce that dinner was ready, Fedor Mihailovich rose.
“At last!” he said. “I don’t feel hungry any longer.”
He went to the dining-room with a sullen face. At table his wife made some remark, but he gave her such a short and angry answer that she abstained from further speech. The son also did not lift his eyes from his plate, and was silent all the time. The trio finished their dinner in silence, rose from the table and separated, without a word.
After dinner the boy went to his room, took the coupon and the change out of his pocket, and threw the money on the table. After that he took off his uniform and put on a jacket.
He sat down to work, and began to study Latin grammar out of a dog’s-eared book. After a while he rose, closed and bolted the door, shifted the money into a drawer, took out some cigarette papers, rolled one up, stuffed it with cotton wool, and began to smoke.
He spent nearly two hours over his grammar and writing books without understanding a word of what he saw before him; then he rose and began to stamp up and down the room, trying to recollect all that his father had said to him. All the abuse showered upon him, and worst of all his father’s angry face, were as fresh in his memory as if he saw and heard them all over again. “Silly boy! You ought to get a good thrashing!” And the more he thought of it the angrier he grew. He remembered also how his father said: “I see what a scoundrel you will turn out. I know you will. You are sure to become a cheat, if you go on like that.” He had certainly forgotten how he felt when he was young! “What crime have I committed, I wonder? I wanted to go to the theatre, and having no money borrowed some from Petia Grouchetsky. Was that so very wicked of me? Another father would have been sorry for me; would have asked how it all happened; whereas he just called me names. He never thinks of anything but himself. When it is he who has not got something he wants — that is a different matter! Then all the house is upset by his shouts. And I— I am a scoundrel, a cheat, he says. No, I don’t love him, although he is my father. It may be wrong, but I hate him.”
There was a knock at the door. The servant brought a letter — a message from his friend. “They want an answer,” said the servant.
The letter ran as follows: “I ask you now for the third time to pay me back the six roubles you have borrowed; you are trying to avoid me. That is not the way an honest man ought to behave. Will you please send the amount by my messenger? I am myself in a frightful fix. Can you not get the money somewhere? — Yours, according to whether you send the money or not, with scorn, or love, Grouchetsky.”
“There we have it! Such a pig! Could he not wait a while? I will have another try.”
Mitia went to his mother. This was his last hope. His mother was very kind, and hardly ever refused him anything. She would probably have helped him this time also out of his trouble, but she was in great anxiety: her younger child, Petia, a boy of two, had fallen ill. She got angry with Mitia for rushing so noisily into the nursery, and refused him almost without listening to what he had to say. Mitia muttered something to himself and turned to go. The mother felt sorry for him. “Wait, Mitia,” she said; “I have not got the money you want now, but I will get it for you to-morrow.”
But Mitia was still raging against his father.
“What is the use of having it to-morrow, when I want it to-day? I am going to see a friend. That is all I have got to say.”
He went out, banging the door. . . .
“Nothing else is left to me. He will tell me how to pawn my watch,” he thought, touching his watch in his pocket.
Mitia went to his room, took the coupon and the watch from the drawer, put on his coat, and went to Mahin.
MAHIN was his schoolfellow, his senior, a grown-up young man with a moustache. He gambled, had a large feminine acquaintance, and always had ready cash. He lived with his aunt. Mitia quite realised that Mahin was not a respectable fellow, but when he was in his company he could not help doing what he wished. Mahin was in when Mitia called, and was just preparing to go to the theatre. His untidy room smelt of scented soap and eau-de-Cologne.
“That’s awful, old chap,” said Mahin, when Mitia telling him about his troubles, showed the coupon and the fifty kopeks, and added that he wanted nine roubles more. “We might, of course, go and pawn your watch. But we might do something far better.” And Mahin winked an eye.
“Something quite simple.” Mahin took the coupon in his hand. “Put ONE before the 2.50 and it will be 12.50.”
“But do such coupons exist?”
“Why, certainly; the thousand roubles notes have coupons of 12.50. I have cashed one in the same way.”
“You don’t say so?”
“Well, yes or no?” asked Mahin, taking the pen and smoothing the coupon with the fingers of his left hand.
“But it is wrong.”
“Nonsense, indeed,” thought Mitia, and again his father’s hard words came back to his memory. “Scoundrel! As you called me that, I might as well be it.” He looked into Mahin’s face. Mahin looked at him, smiling with perfect ease.
“Well?” he said.
“All right. I don’t mind.”
Mahin carefully wrote the unit in front of 2.50.
“Now let us go to the shop across the road; they sell photographers’ materials there. I just happen to want a frame — for this young person here.” He took out of his pocket a photograph of a young lady with large eyes, luxuriant hair, and an uncommonly well-developed bust.
“Is she not sweet? Eh?”
“Yes, yes . . . of course . . . ”
“Well, you see. — But let us go.”
Mahin took his coat, and they left the house.
THE two boys, having rung the door-bell, entered the empty shop, which had shelves along the walls and photographic appliances on them, together with show-cases on the counters. A plain woman, with a kind face, came through the inner door and asked from behind the counter what they required.
“A nice frame, if you please, madam.”
“At what price?” asked the woman; she wore mittens on her swollen fingers with which she rapidly handled picture-frames of different shapes.
“These are fifty kopeks each; and these are a little more expensive. There is rather a pretty one, of quite a new style; one rouble and twenty kopeks.”
“All right, I will have this. But could not you make it cheaper? Let us say one rouble.”
“We don’t bargain in our shop,” said the shopkeeper with a dignified air.
“Well, I will take it,” said Mahin, and put the coupon on the counter. “Wrap up the frame and give me change. But please be quick. We must be off to the theatre, and it is getting late.”
“You have plenty of time,” said the shopkeeper, examining the coupon very closely because of her shortsightedness.
“It will look lovely in that frame, don’t you think so?” said Mahin, turning to Mitia.
“Have you no small change?” asked the shop-woman.
“I am sorry, I have not. My father gave me that, so I have to cash it.”
“But surely you have one rouble twenty?”
“I have only fifty kopeks in cash. But what are you afraid of? You don’t think, I suppose, that we want to cheat you and give you bad money?”
“Oh, no; I don’t mean anything of the sort.”
“You had better give it to me back. We will cash it somewhere else.”
“How much have I to pay you back? Eleven and something.”
She made a calculation on the counter, opened the desk, took out a ten-roubles note, looked for change and added to the sum six twenty-kopeks coins and two five-kopek pieces.
“Please make a parcel of the frame,” said Mahin, taking the money in a leisurely fashion.
“Yes, sir.” She made a parcel and tied it with a string.
Mitia only breathed freely when the door bell rang behind them, and they were again in the street.
“There are ten roubles for you, and let me have the rest. I will give it back to you.”
Mahin went off to the theatre, and Mitia called on Grouchetsky to repay the money he had borrowed from him.
AN hour after the boys were gone Eugene Mihailovich, the owner of the shop, came home, and began to count his receipts.
“Oh, you clumsy fool! Idiot that you are!” he shouted, addressing his wife, after having seen the coupon and noticed the forgery.
“But I have often seen you, Eugene, accepting coupons in payment, and precisely twelve rouble ones,” retorted his wife, very humiliated, grieved, and all but bursting into tears. “I really don’t know how they contrived to cheat me,” she went on. “They were pupils of the school, in uniform. One of them was quite a handsome boy, and looked so comme il faut.”
“A comme il faut fool, that is what you are!” The husband went on scolding her, while he counted the cash. . . . When I accept coupons, I see what is written on them. And you probably looked only at the boys’ pretty faces. “You had better behave yourself in your old age.”
His wife could not stand this, and got into a fury.
“That is just like you men! Blaming everybody around you. But when it is you who lose fifty-four roubles at cards — that is of no consequence in your eyes.”
“That is a different matter
“I don’t want to talk to you,” said his wife, and went to her room. There she began to remind herself that her family was opposed to her marriage, thinking her present husband far below her in social rank, and that it was she who insisted on marrying him. Then she went on thinking of the child she had lost, and how indifferent her husband had been to their loss. She hated him so intensely at that moment that she wished for his death. Her wish frightened her, however, and she hurriedly began to dress and left the house. When her husband came from the shop to the inner rooms of their flat she was gone. Without waiting for him she had dressed and gone off to friends — a teacher of French in the school, a Russified Pole, and his wife — who had invited her and her husband to a party in their house that evening.
THE guests at the party had tea and cakes offered to them, and sat down after that to play whist at a number of card-tables.
The partners of Eugene Mihailovich’s wife were the host himself, an officer, and an old and very stupid lady in a wig, a widow who owned a music-shop; she loved playing cards and played remarkably well. But it was Eugene Mihailovich’s wife who was the winner all the time. The best cards were continually in her hands. At her side she had a plate with grapes and a pear and was in the best of spirits.
“And Eugene Mihailovich? Why is he so late?” asked the hostess, who played at another table.
“Probably busy settling accounts,” said Eugene Mihailovich’s wife. “He has to pay off the tradesmen, to get in firewood.” The quarrel she had with her husband revived in her memory; she frowned, and her hands, from which she had not taken off the mittens, shook with fury against him.
“Oh, there he is. — We have just been speaking of you,” said the hostess to Eugene Mihailovich, who came in at that very moment. “Why are you so late?”
“I was busy,” answered Eugene Mihailovich, in a gay voice, rubbing his hands. And to his wife’s surprise he came to her side and said — “You know, I managed to get rid of the coupon.”
“No! You don’t say so!”
“Yes, I used it to pay for a cartload of firewood I bought from a peasant.”
And Eugene Mihailovich related with great indignation to the company present — his wife adding more details to his narrative — how his wife had been cheated by two unscrupulous schoolboys.
“Well, and now let us sit down to work,” he said, taking his place at one of the whist-tables when his turn came, and beginning to shuffle the cards.
EUGENE MIHAILOVICH had actually used the coupon to buy firewood from the peasant Ivan Mironov, who had thought of setting up in business on the seventeen roubles he possessed. He hoped in this way to earn another eight roubles, and with the twenty-five roubles thus amassed he intended to buy a good strong horse, which he would want in the spring for work in the fields and for driving on the roads, as his old horse was almost played out.
Ivan Mironov’s commercial method consisted in buying from the stores a cord of wood and dividing it into five cartloads, and then driving about the town, selling each of these at the price the stores charged for a quarter of a cord. That unfortunate day Ivan Mironov drove out very early with half a cartload, which he soon sold. He loaded up again with another cartload which he hoped to sell, but he looked in vain for a customer; no one would buy it. It was his bad luck all that day to come across experienced towns-people, who knew all the tricks of the peasants in selling firewood, and would not believe that he had actually brought the wood from the country as he assured them. He got hungry, and felt cold in his ragged woollen coat. It was nearly below zero when evening came on; his horse which he had treated without mercy, hoping soon to sell it to the knacker’s yard, refused to move a step. So Ivan Mironov was quite ready to sell his firewood at a loss when he met Eugene Mihailovich, who was on his way home from the tobacconist.
“Buy my cartload of firewood, sir. I will give it to you cheap. My poor horse is tired, and can’t go any farther.”
“Where do you come from?”
“From the country, sir. This firewood is from our place. Good dry wood, I can assure you.”
“Good wood indeed! I know your tricks. Well, what is your price?”
Ivan Mironov began by asking a high price, but reduced it once, and finished by selling the cartload for just what it had cost him.
“I’m giving it to you cheap, just to please you, sir. — Besides, I am glad it is not a long way to your house,” he added.
Eugene Mihailovich did not bargain very much. He did not mind paying a little more, because he was delighted to think he could make use of the coupon and get rid of it. With great difficulty Ivan Mironov managed at last, by pulling the shafts himself, to drag his cart into the courtyard, where he was obliged to unload the firewood unaided and pile it up in the shed. The yard-porter was out. Ivan Mironov hesitated at first to accept the coupon, but Eugene Mihailovich insisted, and as he looked a very important person the peasant at last agreed.
He went by the backstairs to the servants’ room, crossed himself before the ikon, wiped his beard which was covered with icicles, turned up the skirts of his coat, took out of his pocket a leather purse, and out of the purse eight roubles and fifty kopeks, and handed the change to Eugene Mihailovich. Carefully folding the coupon, he put it in the purse. Then, according to custom, he thanked the gentleman for his kindness, and, using the whip-handle instead of the lash, he belaboured the half-frozen horse that he had doomed to an early death, and betook himself to a public-house.
Arriving there, Ivan Mironov called for vodka and tea for which he paid eight kopeks. Comfortable and warm after the tea, he chatted in the very best of spirits with a yard-porter who was sitting at his table. Soon he grew communicative and told his companion all about the conditions of his life. He told him he came from the village Vassilievsky, twelve miles from town, and also that he had his allotment of land given to him by his family, as he wanted to live apart from his father and his brothers; that he had a wife and two children; the elder boy went to school, and did not yet help him in his work. He also said he lived in lodgings and intended going to the horse-fair the next day to look for a good horse, and, may be, to buy one. He went on to state that he had now nearly twenty-five roubles — only one rouble short — and that half of it was a coupon. He took the coupon out of his purse to show to his new friend. The yard-porter was an illiterate man, but he said he had had such coupons given him by lodgers to change; that they were good; but that one might also chance on forged ones; so he advised the peasant, for the sake of security, to change it at once at the counter. Ivan Mironov gave the coupon to the waiter and asked for change. The waiter, however, did not bring the change, but came back with the manager, a bald-headed man with a shining face, who was holding the coupon in his fat hand.
“Your money is no good,” he said, showing the coupon, but apparently determined not to give it back.
“The coupon must be all right. I got it from a gentleman.”
“It is bad, I tell you. The coupon is forged.”
“Forged? Give it back to me.”
“I will not. You fellows have got to be punished for such tricks. Of course, you did it yourself — you and some of your rascally friends.”
“Give me the money. What right have you —”
“Sidor! Call a policeman,” said the barman to the waiter. Ivan Mironov was rather drunk, and in that condition was hard to manage. He seized the manager by the collar and began to shout.
“Give me back my money, I say. I will go to the gentleman who gave it to me. I know where he lives.”
The manager had to struggle with all his force to get loose from Ivan Mironov, and his shirt was torn — “Oh, that’s the way you behave! Get hold of him.”
The waiter took hold of Ivan Mironov; at that moment the policeman arrived. Looking very important, he inquired what had happened, and unhesitatingly gave his orders:
“Take him to the police-station.”
As to the coupon, the policeman put it in his pocket; Ivan Mironov, together with his horse, was brought to the nearest station.
IVAN MIRONOV had to spend the night in the police-station, in the company of drunkards and thieves. It was noon of the next day when he was summoned to the police officer; put through a close examination, and sent in the care of a policeman to Eugene Mihailovich’s shop. Ivan Mironov remembered the street and the house.
The policeman asked for the shopkeeper, showed him the coupon and confronted him with Ivan Mironov, who declared that he had received the coupon in that very place. Eugene Mihailovich at once assumed a very severe and astonished air.
“You are mad, my good fellow,” he said. “I have never seen this man before in my life,” he added, addressing the policeman.
“It is a sin, sir,” said Ivan Mironov. “Think of the hour when you will die.”
“Why, you must be dreaming! You have sold your firewood to some one else,” said Eugene Mihailovich. “But wait a minute. I will go and ask my wife whether she bought any firewood yesterday.” Eugene Mihailovich left them and immediately called the yard-porter Vassily, a strong, handsome, quick, cheerful, well-dressed man.
He told Vassily that if any one should inquire where the last supply of firewood was bought, he was to say they’d got it from the stores, and not from a peasant in the street.
“A peasant has come,” he said to Vassily, “who has declared to the police that I gave him a forged coupon. He is a fool and talks nonsense, but you, are a clever man. Mind you say that we always get the firewood from the stores. And, by the way, I’ve been thinking some time of giving you money to buy a new jacket,” added Eugene Mihailovich, and gave the man five roubles. Vassily looking with pleasure first at the five rouble note, then at Eugene Mihailovich’s face, shook his head and smiled.
“I know, those peasant folks have no brains. Ignorance, of course. Don’t you be uneasy. I know what I have to say.”
Ivan Mironov, with tears in his eyes, implored Eugene Mihailovich over and over again to acknowledge the coupon he had given him, and the yard-porter to believe what he said, but it proved quite useless; they both insisted that they had never bought firewood from a peasant in the street. The policeman brought Ivan Mironov back to the police-station, and he was charged with forging the coupon. Only after taking the advice of a drunken office clerk in the same cell with him, and bribing the police officer with five roubles, did Ivan Mironov get out of jail, without the coupon, and with only seven roubles left out of the twenty-five he had the day before.
Of these seven roubles he spent three in the public-house and came home to his wife dead drunk, with a bruised and swollen face.
His wife was expecting a child, and felt very ill. She began to scold her husband; he pushed her away, and she struck him. Without answering a word he lay down on the plank and began to weep bitterly.
Not till the next day did he tell his wife what had actually happened. She believed him at once, and thoroughly cursed the dastardly rich man who had cheated Ivan. He was sobered now, and remembering the advice a workman had given him, with whom he had many a drink the day before, decided to go to a lawyer and tell him of the wrong the owner of the photograph shop had done him.
THE lawyer consented to take proceedings on behalf of Ivan Mironov, not so much for the sake of the fee, as because he believed the peasant, and was revolted by the wrong done to him.
Both parties appeared in the court when the case was tried, and the yard-porter Vassily was summoned as witness. They repeated in the court all they had said before to the police officials. Ivan Mironov again called to his aid the name of the Divinity, and reminded the shopkeeper of the hour of death. Eugene Mihailovich, although quite aware of his wickedness, and the risks he was running, despite the rebukes of his conscience, could not now change his testimony, and went on calmly to deny all the allegations made against him.
The yard-porter Vassily had received another ten roubles from his master, and, quite unperturbed, asserted with a smile that he did not know anything about Ivan Mironov. And when he was called upon to take the oath, he overcame his inner qualms, and repeated with assumed ease the terms of the oath, read to him by the old priest appointed to the court. By the holy Cross and the Gospel, he swore that he spoke the whole truth.
The case was decided against Ivan Mironov, who was sentenced to pay five roubles for expenses. This sum Eugene Mihailovich generously paid for him. Before dismissing Ivan Mironov, the judge severely admonished him, saying he ought to take care in the future not to accuse respectable people, and that he also ought to be thankful that he was not forced to pay the costs, and that he had escaped a prosecution for slander, for which he would have been condemned to three months’ imprisonment.
“I offer my humble thanks,” said Ivan Mironov; and, shaking his head, left the court with a heavy sigh.
The whole thing seemed to have ended well for Eugene Mihailovich and the yard-porter Vassily. But only in appearance. Something had happened which was not noticed by any one, but which was much more important than all that had been exposed to view.
Vassily had left his village and settled in town over two years ago. As time went on he sent less and less money to his father, and he did not ask his wife, who remained at home, to join him. He was in no need of her; he could in town have as many wives as he wished, and much better ones too than that clumsy, village-bred woman. Vassily, with each recurring year, became more and more familiar with the ways of the town people, forgetting the conventions of a country life. There everything was so vulgar, so grey, so poor and untidy. Here, in town, all seemed on the contrary so refined, nice, clean, and rich; so orderly too. And he became more and more convinced that people in the country live just like wild beasts, having no idea of what life is, and that only life in town is real. He read books written by clever writers, and went to the performances in the Peoples’ Palace. In the country, people would not see such wonders even in dreams. In the country old men say: “Obey the law, and live with your wife; work; don’t eat too much; don’t care for finery,” while here, in town, all the clever and learned people — those, of course, who know what in reality the law is — only pursue their own pleasures. And they are the better for it.
Previous to the incident of the forged coupon, Vassily could not actually believe that rich people lived without any moral law. But after that, still more after having perjured himself, and not being the worse for it in spite of his fears — on the contrary, he had gained ten roubles out of it — Vassily became firmly convinced that no moral laws whatever exist, and that the only thing to do is to pursue one’s own interests and pleasures. This he now made his rule in life. He accordingly got as much profit as he could out of purchasing goods for lodgers. But this did not pay all his expenses. Then he took to stealing, whenever chance offered — money and all sorts of valuables. One day he stole a purse full of money from Eugene Mihailovich, but was found out. Eugene Mihailovich did not hand him over to the police, but dismissed him on the spot.
Vassily had no wish whatever to return home to his village, and remained in Moscow with his sweetheart, looking out for a new job. He got one as yard-porter at a grocer’s, but with only small wages. The next day after he had entered that service he was caught stealing bags. The grocer did not call in the police, but gave him a good thrashing and turned him out. After that he could not find work. The money he had left was soon gone; he had to sell all his clothes and went about nearly in rags. His sweetheart left him. But notwithstanding, he kept up his high spirits, and when the spring came he started to walk home.
PETER NIKOLAEVICH SVENTIZKY, a short man in black spectacles (he had weak eyes, and was threatened with complete blindness), got up, as was his custom, at dawn of day, had a cup of tea, and putting on his short fur coat trimmed with astrachan, went to look after the work on his estate.
Peter Nikolaevich had been an official in the Customs, and had gained eighteen thousand roubles during his service. About twelve years ago he quitted the service — not quite of his own accord: as a matter of fact he had been compelled to leave — and bought an estate from a young landowner who had dissipated his fortune. Peter Nikolaevich had married at an earlier period, while still an official in the Customs. His wife, who belonged to an old noble family, was an orphan, and was left without money. She was a tall, stoutish, good-looking woman. They had no children. Peter Nikolaevich had considerable practical talents and a strong will. He was the son of a Polish gentleman, and knew nothing about agriculture and land management; but when he acquired an estate of his own, he managed it so well that after fifteen years the waste piece of land, consisting of three hundred acres, became a model estate. All the buildings, from the dwelling-house to the corn stores and the shed for the fire engine were solidly built, had iron roofs, and were painted at the right time. In the tool house carts, ploughs, harrows, stood in perfect order, the harness was well cleaned and oiled. The horses were not very big, but all home-bred, grey, well fed, strong and devoid of blemish.
The threshing machine worked in a roofed barn, the forage was kept in a separate shed, and a paved drain was made from the stables. The cows were home-bred, not very large, but giving plenty of milk; fowls were also kept in the poultry yard, and the hens were of a special kind, laying a great quantity of eggs. In the orchard the fruit trees were well whitewashed and propped on poles to enable them to grow straight. Everything was looked after — solid, clean, and in perfect order. Peter Nikolaevich rejoiced in the perfect condition of his estate, and was proud to have achieved it — not by oppressing the peasants, but, on the contrary, by the extreme fairness of his dealings with them.
Among the nobles of his province he belonged to the advanced party, and was more inclined to liberal than conservative views, always taking the side of the peasants against those who were still in favour of serfdom. “Treat them well, and they will be fair to you,” he used to say. Of course, he did not overlook any carelessness on the part of those who worked on his estate, and he urged them on to work if they were lazy; but then he gave them good lodging, with plenty of good food, paid their wages without any delay, and gave them drinks on days of festival.
Walking cautiously on the melting snow — for the time of the year was February — Peter Nikolaevich passed the stables, and made his way to the cottage where his workmen were lodged. It was still dark, the darker because of the dense fog; but the windows of the cottage were lighted. The men had already got up. His intention was to urge them to begin work. He had arranged that they should drive out to the forest and bring back the last supply of firewood he needed before spring.
“What is that?” he thought, seeing the door of the stable wide open. “Hallo, who is there?”
No answer. Peter Nikolaevich stepped into the stable. It was dark; the ground was soft under his feet, and the air smelt of dung; on the right side of the door were two loose boxes for a pair of grey horses. Peter Nikolaevich stretched out his hand in their direction — one box was empty. He put out his foot — the horse might have been lying down. But his foot did not touch anything solid. “Where could they have taken the horse?” he thought. They certainly had not harnessed it; all the sledges stood still outside. Peter Nikolaevich went out of the stable.
“Stepan, come here!” he called.
Stepan was the head of the workmen’s gang. He was just stepping out of the cottage.
“Here I am!” he said, in a cheerful voice. “Oh, is that you, Peter Nikolaevich? Our men are coming.”
“Why is the stable door open?
“Is it? I don’t know anything about it. I say, Proshka, bring the lantern!”
Proshka came with the lantern. They all went to the stable, and Stepan knew at once what had happened.
“Thieves have been here, Peter Nikolaevich,” he said. “The lock is broken.”
“No; you don’t say so!”
“Yes, the brigands! I don’t see ‘Mashka.’ ‘Hawk’ is here. But ‘Beauty’ is not. Nor yet ‘Dapple-grey.’”
Three horses had been stolen!
Peter Nikolaevich did not utter a word at first. He only frowned and took deep breaths.
“Oh,” he said after a while. “If only I could lay hands on them! Who was on guard?”
“Peter. He evidently fell asleep.”
Peter Nikolaevich called in the police, and making an appeal to all the authorities, sent his men to track the thieves. But the horses were not to be found.
“Wicked people,” said Peter Nikolaevich. “How could they! I was always so kind to them. Now, wait! Brigands! Brigands the whole lot of them. I will no longer be kind.”
IN the meanwhile the horses, the grey ones, had all been disposed of; Mashka was sold to the gipsies for eighteen roubles; Dapple-grey was exchanged for another horse, and passed over to another peasant who lived forty miles away from the estate; and Beauty died on the way. The man who conducted the whole affair was — Ivan Mironov. He had been employed on the estate, and knew all the whereabouts of Peter Nikolaevich. He wanted to get back the money he had lost, and stole the horses for that reason.
After his misfortune with the forged coupon, Ivan Mironov took to drink; and all he possessed would have gone on drink if it had not been for his wife, who locked up his clothes, the horses’ collars, and all the rest of what he would otherwise have squandered in public-houses. In his drunken state Ivan Mironov was continually thinking, not only of the man who had wronged him, but of all the rich people who live on robbing the poor. One day he had a drink with some peasants from the suburbs of Podolsk, and was walking home together with them. On the way the peasants, who were completely drunk, told him they had stolen a horse from a peasant’s cottage. Ivan Mironov got angry, and began to abuse the horse-thieves.
“What a shame!” he said. “A horse is like a brother to the peasant. And you robbed him of it? It is a great sin, I tell you. If you go in for stealing horses, steal them from the landowners. They are worse than dogs, and deserve anything.”
The talk went on, and the peasants from Podolsk told him that it required a great deal of cunning to steal a horse on an estate.
“You must know all the ins and outs of the place, and must have somebody on the spot to help you.”
Then it occurred to Ivan Mironov that he knew a landowner — Sventizky; he had worked on his estate, and Sventizky, when paying him off, had deducted one rouble and a half for a broken tool. He remembered well the grey horses which he used to drive at Sventizky’s.
Ivan Mironov called on Peter Nikolaevich pretending to ask for employment, but really in order to get the information he wanted. He took precautions to make sure that the watchman was absent, and that the horses were standing in their boxes in the stable. He brought the thieves to the place, and helped them to carry off the three horses.
They divided their gains, and Ivan Mironov returned to his wife with five roubles in his pocket. He had nothing to do at home, having no horse to work in the field, and therefore continued to steal horses in company with professional horse-thieves and gipsies.
PETER NIKOLAEVICH SVENTIZKY did his best to discover who had stolen his horses. He knew somebody on the estate must have helped the thieves, and began to suspect all his staff. He inquired who had slept out that night, and the gang of the working men told him Proshka had not been in the whole night. Proshka, or Prokofy Nikolaevich, was a young fellow who had just finished his military service, handsome, and skilful in all he did; Peter Nikolaevich employed him at times as coachman. The district constable was a friend of Peter Nikolaevich, as were the provincial head of the police, the marshal of the nobility, and also the rural councillor and the examining magistrate. They all came to his house on his saint’s day, drinking the cherry brandy he offered them with pleasure, and eating the nice preserved mushrooms of all kinds to accompany the liqueurs. They all sympathised with him in his trouble and tried to help him.
“You always used to take the side of the peasants,” said the district constable, “and there you are! I was right in saying they are worse than wild beasts. Flogging is the only way to keep them in order. Well, you say it is all Proshka’s doings. Is it not he who was your coachman sometimes?”
“Yes, that is he.”
“Will you kindly call him?”
Proshka was summoned before the constable, who began to examine him.
“Where were you that night?”
Proshka pushed back his hair, and his eyes sparkled.
“How so? All the men say you were not in.”
“Just as you please, your honour.”
“My pleasure has nothing to do with the matter. Tell me where you were that night.”
“Very well. Policeman, bring him to the police-station.”
The reason why Proshka did not say where he had been that night was that he had spent it with his sweetheart, Parasha, and had promised not to give her away. He kept his word. No proofs were discovered against him, and he was soon discharged. But Peter Nikolaevich was convinced that Prokofy had been at the bottom of the whole affair, and began to hate him. One day Proshka bought as usual at the merchant’s two measures of oats. One and a half he gave to the horses, and half a measure he gave back to the merchant; the money for it he spent in drink. Peter Nikolaevich found it out, and charged Prokofy with cheating. The judge sentenced the man to three months’ imprisonment.
Prokofy had a rather proud nature, and thought himself superior to others. Prison was a great humiliation for him. He came out of it very depressed; there was nothing more to be proud of in life. And more than that, he felt extremely bitter, not only against Peter Nikolaevich, but against the whole world.
On the whole, as all the people around him noticed, Prokofy became another man after his imprisonment, both careless and lazy; he took to drink, and he was soon caught stealing clothes at some woman’s house, and found himself again in prison.
All that Peter Nikolaevich discovered about his grey horses was the hide of one of them, Beauty, which had been found somewhere on the estate. The fact that the thieves had got off scot-free irritated Peter Nikolaevich still more. He was unable now to speak of the peasants or to look at them without anger. And whenever he could he tried to oppress them.
AFTER having got rid of the coupon, Eugene Mihailovich forgot all about it; but his wife, Maria Vassilievna, could not forgive herself for having been taken in, nor yet her husband for his cruel words. And most of all she was furious against the two boys who had so skilfully cheated her. From the day she had accepted the forged coupon as payment, she looked closely at all the schoolboys who came in her way in the streets. One day she met Mahin, but did not recognise him, for on seeing her he made a face which quite changed his features. But when, a fortnight after the incident with the coupon, she met Mitia Smokovnikov face to face, she knew him at once.
She let him pass her, then turned back and followed him, and arriving at his house she made inquiries as to whose son he was. The next day she went to the school and met the divinity instructor, the priest Michael Vedensky, in the hall. He asked her what she wanted. She answered that she wished to see the head of the school. “He is not quite well,” said the priest. “Can I be of any use to you, or give him your message?”
Maria Vassilievna thought that she might as well tell the priest what was the matter. Michael Vedensky was a widower, and a very ambitious man. A year ago he had met Mitia Smokovnikov’s father in society, and had had a discussion with him on religion. Smokovnikov had beaten him decisively on all points; indeed, he had made him appear quite ridiculous. Since that time the priest had decided to pay special attention to Smokovnikov’s son; and, finding him as indifferent to religious matters as his father was, he began to persecute him, and even brought about his failure in examinations.
When Maria Vassilievna told him what young Smokovnikov had done to her, Vedensky could not help feeling an inner satisfaction. He saw in the boy’s conduct a proof of the utter wickedness of those who are not guided by the rules of the Church. He decided to take advantage of this great opportunity of warning unbelievers of the perils that threatened them. At all events, he wanted to persuade himself that this was the only motive that guided him in the course he had resolved to take. But at the bottom of his heart he was only anxious to get his revenge on the proud atheist.
“Yes, it is very sad indeed,” said Father Michael, toying with the cross he was wearing over his priestly robes, and passing his hands over its polished sides. “I am very glad you have given me your confidence. As a servant of the Church I shall admonish the young man — of course with the utmost kindness. I shall certainly do it in the way that befits my holy office,” said Father Michael to himself, really thinking that he had forgotten the ill-feeling the boy’s father had towards him. He firmly believed the boy’s soul to be the only object of his pious care.
The next day, during the divinity lesson which Father Michael was giving to Mitia Smokovnikov’s class, he narrated the incident of the forged coupon, adding that the culprit had been one of the pupils of the school. “It was a very wicked thing to do,” he said; “but to deny the crime is still worse. If it is true that the sin has been committed by one of you, let the guilty one confess.” In saying this, Father Michael looked sharply at Mitia Smokovnikov. All the boys, following his glance, turned also to Mitia, who blushed, and felt extremely ill at ease, with large beads of perspiration on his face. Finally, he burst into tears, and ran out of the classroom. His mother, noticing his trouble, found out the truth, ran at once to the photographer’s shop, paid over the twelve roubles and fifty kopeks to Maria Vassilievna, and made her promise to deny the boy’s guilt. She further implored Mitia to hide the truth from everybody, and in any case to withhold it from his father.
Accordingly, when Fedor Mihailovich had heard of the incident in the divinity class, and his son, questioned by him, had denied all accusations, he called at once on the head of the school, told him what had happened, expressed his indignation at Father Michael’s conduct, and said he would not let matters remain as they were.
Father Michael was sent for, and immediately fell into a hot dispute with Smokovnikov.
“A stupid woman first falsely accused my son, then retracts her accusation, and you of course could not hit on anything more sensible to do than to slander an honest and truthful boy!”
“I did not slander him, and I must beg you not to address me in such a way. You forget what is due to my cloth.”
“Your cloth is of no consequence to me.”
“Your perversity in matters of religion is known to everybody in the town!” replied Father Michael; and he was so transported with anger that his long thin head quivered.
“Gentlemen! Father Michael!” exclaimed the director of the school, trying to appease their wrath. But they did not listen to him.
“It is my duty as a priest to look after the religious and moral education of our pupils.”
“Oh, cease your pretence to be religious! Oh, stop all this humbug of religion! As if I did not know that you believe neither in God nor Devil.”
“I consider it beneath my dignity to talk to a man like you,” said Father Michael, very much hurt by Smokovnikov’s last words, the more so because he knew they were true.
Michael Vedensky carried on his studies in the academy for priests, and that is why, for a long time past, he ceased to believe in what he confessed to be his creed and in what he preached from the pulpit; he only knew that men ought to force themselves to believe in what he tried to make himself believe.
Smokovnikov was not shocked by Father Michael’s conduct; he only thought it illustrative of the influence the Church was beginning to exercise on society, and he told all his friends how his son had been insulted by the priest.
Seeing not only young minds, but also the elder generation, contaminated by atheistic tendencies, Father Michael became more and more convinced of the necessity of fighting those tendencies. The more he condemned the unbelief of Smokovnikov, and those like him, the more confident he grew in the firmness of his own faith, and the less he felt the need of making sure of it, or of bringing his life into harmony with it. His faith, acknowledged as such by all the world around him, became Father Michael’s very best weapon with which to fight those who denied it.
The thoughts aroused in him by his conflict with Smokovnikov, together with the annoyance of being blamed by his chiefs in the school, made him carry out the purpose he had entertained ever since his wife’s death — of taking monastic orders, and of following the course carried out by some of his fellow-pupils in the academy. One of them was already a bishop, another an archimandrite and on the way to become a bishop.
At the end of the term Michael Vedensky gave up his post in the school, took orders under the name of Missael, and very soon got a post as rector in a seminary in a town on the river Volga.
MEANWHILE the yard-porter Vassily was marching on the open road down to the south.
He walked in daytime, and when night came some policeman would get him shelter in a peasant’s cottage. He was given bread everywhere, and sometimes he was asked to sit down to the evening meal. In a village in the Orel district, where he had stayed for the night, he heard that a merchant who had hired the landowner’s orchard for the season, was looking out for strong and able men to serve as watchmen for the fruit-crops. Vassily was tired of tramping, and as he had also no desire whatever to go back to his native village, he went to the man who owned the orchard, and got engaged as watchman for five roubles a month.
Vassily found it very agreeable to live in his orchard shed, and all the more so when the apples and pears began to grow ripe, and when the men from the barn supplied him every day with large bundles of fresh straw from the threshing machine. He used to lie the whole day long on the fragrant straw, with fresh, delicately smelling apples in heaps at his side, looking out in every direction to prevent the village boys from stealing fruit; and he used to whistle and sing meanwhile, to amuse himself. He knew no end of songs, and had a fine voice. When peasant women and young girls came to ask for apples, and to have a chat with him, Vassily gave them larger or smaller apples according as he liked their looks, and received eggs or money in return. The rest of the time he had nothing to do, but to lie on his back and get up for his meals in the kitchen. He had only one shirt left, one of pink cotton, and that was in holes. But he was strongly built and enjoyed excellent health. When the kettle with black gruel was taken from the stove and served to the working men, Vassily used to eat enough for three, and filled the old watchman on the estate with unceasing wonder. At nights Vassily never slept. He whistled or shouted from time to time to keep off thieves, and his piercing, cat-like eyes saw clearly in the darkness.
One night a company of young lads from the village made their way stealthily to the orchard to shake down apples from the trees. Vassily, coming noiselessly from behind, attacked them; they tried to escape, but he took one of them prisoner to his master.
Vassily’s first shed stood at the farthest end of the orchard, but after the pears had been picked he had to remove to another shed only forty paces away from the house of his master. He liked this new place very much. The whole day long he could see the young ladies and gentlemen enjoying themselves; going out for drives in the evenings and quite late at nights, playing the piano or the violin, and singing and dancing. He saw the ladies sitting with the young students on the window sills, engaged in animated conversation, and then going in pairs to walk the dark avenue of lime trees, lit up only by streaks of moonlight. He saw the servants running about with food and drink, he saw the cooks, the stewards, the laundresses, the gardeners, the coachmen, hard at work to supply their masters with food and drink and constant amusement. Sometimes the young people from the master’s house came to the shed, and Vassily offered them the choicest apples, juicy and red. The young ladies used to take large bites out of the apples on the spot, praising their taste, and spoke French to one another — Vassily quite understood it was all about him — and asked Vassily to sing for them.
Vassily felt the greatest admiration for his master’s mode of living, which reminded him of what he had seen in Moscow; and he became more and more convinced that the only thing that mattered in life was money. He thought and thought how to get hold of a large sum of money. He remembered his former ways of making small profits whenever he could, and came to the conclusion that that was altogether wrong. Occasional stealing is of no use, he thought. He must arrange a well-prepared plan, and after getting all the information he wanted, carry out his purpose so as to avoid detection.
After the feast of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the last crop of autumn apples was gathered; the master was content with the results, paid off Vassily, and gave him an extra sum as reward for his faithful service.
Vassily put on his new jacket, and a new hat — both were presents from his master’s son — but did not make his way homewards. He hated the very thought of the vulgar peasants’ life. He went back to Moscow in company of some drunken soldiers, who had been watchmen in the orchard together with him. On his arrival there he at once resolved, under cover of night, to break into the shop where he had been employed, and beaten, and then turned out by the proprietor without being paid. He knew the place well, and knew where the money was locked up. So he bade the soldiers, who helped him, keep watch outside, and forcing the courtyard door entered the shop and took all the money he could lay his hands on. All this was done very cleverly, and no trace was left of the burglary. The money Vassily had found in the shop amounted to 370 roubles. He gave a hundred roubles to his assistants, and with the rest left for another town where he gave way to dissipation in company of friends of both sexes. The police traced his movements, and when at last he was arrested and put into prison he had hardly anything left out of the money which he had stolen.
IVAN MIRONOV had become a very clever, fearless and successful horse-thief. Afimia, his wife, who at first used to abuse him for his evil ways, as she called it, was now quite content and felt proud of her husband, who possessed a new sheepskin coat, while she also had a warm jacket and a new fur cloak.
In the village and throughout the whole district every one knew quite well that Ivan Mironov was at the bottom of all the horse-stealing; but nobody would give him away, being afraid of the consequences. Whenever suspicion fell on him, he managed to clear his character. Once during the night he stole horses from the pasture ground in the village Kolotovka. He generally preferred to steal horses from landowners or tradespeople. But this was a harder job, and when he had no chance of success he did not mind robbing peasants too. In Kolotovka he drove off the horses without making sure whose they were. He did not go himself to the spot, but sent a young and clever fellow, Gerassim, to do the stealing for him. The peasants only got to know of the theft at dawn; they rushed in all directions to hunt for the robbers. The horses, meanwhile, were hidden in a ravine in the forest lands belonging to the state.
Ivan Mironov intended to leave them there till the following night, and then to transport them with the utmost haste a hundred miles away to a man he knew. He visited Gerassim in the forest, to see how he was getting on, brought him a pie and some vodka, and was returning home by a side track in the forest where he hoped to meet nobody. But by ill-luck, he chanced on the keeper of the forest, a retired soldier.
“I say! Have you been looking for mushrooms?” asked the soldier.
“There were none to be found,” answered Ivan Mironov, showing the basket of lime bark he had taken with him in case he might want it.
“Yes, mushrooms are scarce this summer,” said the soldier. He stood still for a moment, pondered, and then went his way. He clearly saw that something was wrong. Ivan Mironov had no business whatever to take early morning walks in that forest. The soldier went back after a while and looked round. Suddenly he heard the snorting of horses in the ravine. He made his way cautiously to the place whence the sounds came. The grass in the ravine was trodden down, and the marks of horses’ hoofs were clearly to be seen. A little further he saw Gerassim, who was sitting and eating his meal, and the horses tied to a tree.
The soldier ran to the village and brought back the bailiff, a police officer, and two witnesses. They surrounded on three sides the spot where Gerassim was sitting and seized the man. He did not deny anything; but, being drunk, told them at once how Ivan Mironov had given him plenty of drink, and induced him to steal the horses; he also said that Ivan Mironov had promised to come that night in order to take the horses away. The peasants left the horses and Gerassim in the ravine, and hiding behind the trees prepared to lie in ambush for Ivan Mironov. When it grew dark, they heard a whistle. Gerassim answered it with a similar sound. The moment Ivan Mironov descended the slope, the peasants surrounded him and brought him back to the village. The next morning a crowd assembled in front of the bailiff’s cottage. Ivan Mironov was brought out and subjected to a close examination. Stepan Pelageushkine, a tall, stooping man with long arms, an aquiline nose, and a gloomy face was the first to put questions to him. Stepan had terminated his military service, and was of a solitary turn of mind. When he had separated from his father, and started his own home, he had his first experience of losing a horse. After that he worked for two years in the mines, and made money enough to buy two horses. These two had been stolen by Ivan Mironov.
“Tell me where my horses are!” shouted Stepan, pale with fury, alternately looking at the ground and at Ivan Mironov’s face.
Ivan Mironov denied his guilt. Then Stepan aimed so violent a blow at his face that he smashed his nose and the blood spurted out.
“Tell the truth, I say, or I’ll kill you!”
Ivan Mironov kept silent, trying to avoid the blows by stooping. Stepan hit him twice more with his long arm. Ivan Mironov remained silent, turning his head backwards and forwards.
“Beat him, all of you!” cried the bailiff, and the whole crowd rushed upon Ivan Mironov. He fell without a word to the ground, and then shouted — “Devils, wild beasts, kill me if that’s what you want! I am not afraid of you!”
Stepan seized a stone out of those that had been collected for the purpose, and with a heavy blow smashed Ivan Mironov’s head.
IVAN MIRONOV’S murderers were brought to trial, Stepan Pelageushkine among them. He had a heavier charge to answer than the others, all the witnesses having stated that it was he who had smashed Ivan Mironov’s head with a stone. Stepan concealed nothing when in court. He contented himself with explaining that, having been robbed of his two last horses, he had informed the police. Now it was comparatively easy at that time to trace the horses with the help of professional thieves among the gipsies. But the police officer would not even permit him, and no search had been ordered.
“Nothing else could be done with such a man. He has ruined us all.”
“But why did not the others attack him. It was you alone who broke his head open.”
“That is false. We all fell upon him. The village agreed to kill him. I only gave the final stroke. What is the use of inflicting unnecessary sufferings on a man?”
The judges were astonished at Stepan’s wonderful coolness in narrating the story of his crime — how the peasants fell upon Ivan Mironov, and how he had given the final stroke. Stepan actually did not see anything particularly revolting in this murder. During his military service he had been ordered on one occasion to shoot a soldier, and, now with regard to Ivan Mironov, he saw nothing loathsome in it. “A man shot is a dead man — that’s all. It was him to-day, it might be me to-morrow,” he thought. Stepan was only sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, which was a mild punishment for what he had done. His peasant’s dress was taken away from him and put in the prison stores, and he had a prison suit and felt boots given to him instead. Stepan had never had much respect for the authorities, but now he became quite convinced that all the chiefs, all the fine folk, all except the Czar — who alone had pity on the peasants and was just — all were robbers who suck blood out of the people. All he heard from the deported convicts, and those sentenced to hard labour, with whom he had made friends in prisons, confirmed him in his views. One man had been sentenced to hard labour for having convicted his superiors of a theft; another for having struck an official who had unjustly confiscated the property of a peasant; a third because he forged bank notes. The well-to-do-people, the merchants, might do whatever they chose and come to no harm; but a poor peasant, for a trumpery reason or for none at all, was sent to prison to become food for vermin.
He had visits from his wife while in prison. Her life without him was miserable enough, when, to make it worse, her cottage was destroyed by fire. She was completely ruined, and had to take to begging with her children. His wife’s misery embittered Stepan still more. He got on very badly with all the people in the prison; was rude to every one; and one day he nearly killed the cook with an axe, and therefore got an additional year in prison. In the course of that year he received the news that his wife was dead, and that he had no longer a home.
When Stepan had finished his time in prison, he was taken to the prison stores, and his own dress was taken down from the shelf and handed to him.
“Where am I to go now?” he asked the prison officer, putting on his old dress.
“I have no home. I shall have to go on the road. Robbery will not be a pleasant occupation.”
“In that case you will soon be back here.”
“I am not so sure of that.”
And Stepan left the prison. Nevertheless he took the road to his own place. He had nowhere else to turn.
On his way he stopped for a night’s rest in an inn that had a public bar attached to it. The inn was kept by a fat man from the town, Vladimir, and he knew Stepan. He knew that Stepan had been put into prison through ill luck, and did not mind giving him shelter for the night. He was a rich man, and had persuaded his neighbour’s wife to leave her husband and come to live with him. She lived in his house as his wife, and helped him in his business as well.
Stepan knew all about the innkeeper’s affairs — how he had wronged the peasant, and how the woman who was living with him had left her husband. He saw her now sitting at the table in a rich dress, and looking very hot as she drank her tea. With great condescension she asked Stepan to have tea with her. No other travellers were stopping in the inn that night. Stepan was given a place in the kitchen where he might sleep. Matrena — that was the woman’s name — cleared the table and went to her room. Stepan went to lie down on the large stove in the kitchen, but he could not sleep, and the wood splinters put on the stove to dry were crackling under him, as he tossed from side to side. He could not help thinking of his host’s fat paunch protruding under the belt of his shirt, which had lost its colour from having been washed ever so many times. Would not it be a good thing to make a good clean incision in that paunch. And that woman, too, he thought.
One moment he would say to himself, “I had better go from here to-morrow, bother them all!” But then again Ivan Mironov came back to his mind, and he went on thinking of the innkeeper’s paunch and Matrena’s white throat bathed in perspiration. “Kill I must, and it must be both!”
He heard the cock crow for the second time.
“I must do it at once, or dawn will be here.” He had seen in the evening before he went to bed a knife and an axe. He crawled down from the stove, took the knife and axe, and went out of the kitchen door. At that very moment he heard the lock of the entrance door open. The innkeeper was going out of the house to the courtyard. It all turned out contrary to what Stepan desired. He had no opportunity of using the knife; he just swung the axe and split the innkeeper’s head in two. The man tumbled down on the threshold of the door, then on the ground.
Stepan stepped into the bedroom. Matrena jumped out of bed, and remained standing by its side. With the same axe Stepan killed her also.
Then he lighted the candle, took the money out of the desk, and left the house.
IN a small district town, some distance away from the other buildings, an old man, a former official, who had taken to drink, lived in his own house with his two daughters and his son-in-law. The married daughter was also addicted to drink and led a bad life, and it was the elder daughter, the widow Maria Semenovna, a wrinkled woman of fifty, who supported the whole family. She had a pension of two hundred and fifty roubles a year, and the family lived on this. Maria Semenovna did all the work in the house, looked after the drunken old father, who was very weak, attended to her sister’s child, and managed all the cooking and the washing of the family. And, as is always the case, whatever there was to do, she was expected to do it, and was, moreover, continually scolded by all the three people in the house; her brother-in-law used even to beat her when he was drunk. She bore it all patiently, and as is also always the case, the more work she had to face, the quicker she managed to get through it. She helped the poor, sacrificing her own wants; she gave them her clothes, and was a ministering angel to the sick.
Once the lame, crippled village tailor was working in Maria Semenovna’s house. He had to mend her old father’s coat, and to mend and repair Maria Semenovna’s fur-jacket for her to wear in winter when she went to market.
The lame tailor was a clever man, and a keen observer: he had seen many different people owing to his profession, and was fond of reflection, condemned as he was to a sedentary life.
Having worked a week at Maria Semenovna’s, he wondered greatly about her life. One day she came to the kitchen, where he was sitting with his work, to wash a towel, and began to ask him how he was getting on. He told her of the wrong he had suffered from his brother, and how he now lived on his own allotment of land, separated from that of his brother.
“I thought I should have been better off that way,” he said. “But I am now just as poor as before.”
“It is much better never to change, but to take life as it comes,” said Maria Semenovna. “Take life as it comes,” she repeated.
“Why, I wonder at you, Maria Semenovna,” said the lame tailor. “You alone do the work, and you are so good to everybody. But they don’t repay you in kind, I see.”
Maria Semenovna did not utter a word in answer.
“I dare say you have found out in books that we are rewarded in heaven for the good we do here.”
“We don’t know that. But we must try to do the best we can.”
“Is it said so in books?”
“In books as well,” she said, and read to him the Sermon on the Mount. The tailor was much impressed. When he had been paid for his job and gone home, he did not cease to think about Maria Semenovna, both what she had said and what she had read to him.
PETER NIKOLAEVICH SVENTIZKY’S views of the peasantry had now changed for the worse, and the peasants had an equally bad opinion of him. In the course of a single year they felled twenty-seven oaks in his forest, and burnt a barn which had not been insured. Peter Nikolaevich came to the conclusion that there was no getting on with the people around him.
At that very time the landowner, Liventsov, was trying to find a manager for his estate, and the Marshal of the Nobility recommended Peter Nikolaevich as the ablest man in the district in the management of land. The estate owned by Liventsov was an extremely large one, but there was no revenue to be got out of it, as the peasants appropriated all its wealth to their own profit. Peter Nikolaevich undertook to bring everything into order; rented out his own land to somebody else; and settled with his wife on the Liventsov estate, in a distant province on the river Volga.
Peter Nikolaevich was always fond of order, and wanted things to be regulated by law; and now he felt less able of allowing those raw and rude peasants to take possession, quite illegally too, of property that did not belong to them. He was glad of the opportunity of giving them a good lesson, and set seriously to work at once. One peasant was sent to prison for stealing wood; to another he gave a thrashing for not having made way for him on the road with his cart, and for not having lifted his cap to salute him. As to the pasture ground which was a subject of dispute, and was considered by the peasants as their property, Peter Nikolaevich informed the peasants that any of their cattle grazing on it would be driven away by him.
The spring came and the peasants, just as they had done in previous years, drove their cattle on to the meadows belonging to the landowner. Peter Nikolaevich called some of the men working on the estate and ordered them to drive the cattle into his yard. The peasants were working in the fields, and, disregarding the screaming of the women, Peter Nikolaevich’s men succeeded in driving in the cattle. When they came home the peasants went in a crowd to the cattle-yard on the estate, and asked for their cattle. Peter Nikolaevich came out to talk to them with a gun slung on his shoulder; he had just returned from a ride of inspection. He told them that he would not let them have their cattle unless they paid a fine of fifty kopeks for each of the horned cattle, and twenty kopeks for each sheep. The peasants loudly declared that the pasture ground was their property, because their fathers and grandfathers had used it, and protested that he had no right whatever to lay hand on their cattle.
“Give back our cattle, or you will regret it,” said an old man coming up to Peter Nikolaevich.
“How shall I regret it?” cried Peter Nikolaevich, turning pale, and coming close to the old man.
“Give them back, you villain, and don’t provoke us.”
“What?” cried Peter Nikolaevich, and slapped the old man in the face.
“You dare to strike me? Come along, you fellows, let us take back our cattle by force.”
The crowd drew close to him. Peter Nikolaevich tried to push his way, through them, but the peasants resisted him. Again he tried force.
His gun, accidentally discharged in the melee, killed one of the peasants. Instantly the fight began. Peter Nikolaevich was trodden down, and five minutes later his mutilated body was dragged into the ravine.
The murderers were tried by martial law, and two of them sentenced to the gallows.
IN the village where the lame tailor lived, in the Zemliansk district of the Voronesh province, five rich peasants hired from the landowner a hundred and five acres of rich arable land, black as tar, and let it out on lease to the rest of the peasants at fifteen to eighteen roubles an acre. Not one acre was given under twelve roubles. They got a very profitable return, and the five acres which were left to each of their company practically cost them nothing. One of the five peasants died, and the lame tailor received an offer to take his place.
When they began to divide the land, the tailor gave up drinking vodka, and, being consulted as to how much land was to be divided, and to whom it should be given, he proposed to give allotments to all on equal terms, not taking from the tenants more than was due for each piece of land out of the sum paid to the landowner.
“We are no heathens, I should think,” he said. “It is all very well for the masters to be unfair, but we are true Christians. We must do as God bids. Such is the law of Christ.”
“Where have you got that law from?
“It is in the Book, in the Gospels; just come to me on Sunday, I will read you a few passages, and we will have a talk afterwards.”
They did not all come to him on Sunday, but three came, and he began reading to them.
He read five chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel, and they talked. One man only, Ivan Chouev, accepted the lesson and carried it out completely, following the rule of Christ in everything from that day. His family did the same. Out of the arable land he took only what was his due, and refused to take more.
The lame tailor and Ivan had people calling on them, and some of these people began to grasp the meaning of the Gospels, and in consequence gave up smoking, drinking, swearing, and using bad language and tried to help one another. They also ceased to go to church, and took their ikons to the village priest, saying they did not want them any more. The priest was frightened, and reported what had occurred to the bishop. The bishop was at a loss what to do. At last he resolved to send the archimandrite Missael to the village, the one who had formerly been Mitia Smokovnikov’s teacher of religion.
ASKING Father Missael on his arrival to take a seat, the bishop told him what had happened in his diocese.
“It all comes from weakness of spirit and from ignorance. You are a learned man, and I rely on you. Go to the village, call the parishioners together, and convince them of their error.”
“If your Grace bids me go, and you give me your blessing, I will do my best,” said Father Missael. He was very pleased with the task entrusted to him. Every opportunity he could find to demonstrate the firmness of his faith was a boon to him. In trying to convince others he was chiefly intent on persuading himself that he was really a firm believer.
“Do your best. I am greatly distressed about my flock,” said the bishop, leisurely taking a cup with his white plump hands from the servant who brought in the tea.
“Why is there only one kind of jam? Bring another,” he said to the servant. “I am greatly distressed,” he went on, turning to Father Missael.
Missael earnestly desired to prove his zeal; but, being a man of small means, he asked to be paid for the expenses of his journey; and being afraid of the rough people who might be ill-dis-posed towards him, he also asked the bishop to get him an order from the governor of the province, so that the local police might help him in case of need. The bishop complied with his wishes, and Missael got his things ready with the help of his servant and his cook. They furnished him with a case full of wine, and a basket with the victuals he might need in going to such a lonely place. Fully provided with all he wanted, he started for the village to which he was commissioned. He was pleasantly conscious of the importance of his mission. All his doubts as to his own faith passed away, and he was now fully convinced of its reality.
His thoughts, far from being concerned with the real foundation of his creed — this was accepted as an axiom — were occupied with the arguments used against the forms of worship.
THE village priest and his wife received Father Missael with great honours, and the next day after he had arrived the parishioners were invited to assemble in the church. Missael in a new silk cassock, with a large cross on his chest, and his long hair carefully combed, ascended the pulpit; the priest stood at his side, the deacons and the choir at a little distance behind him, and the side entrances were guarded by the police. The dissenters also came in their dirty sheepskin coats.
After the service Missael delivered a sermon, admonishing the dissenters to return to the bosom of their mother, the Church, threatening them with the torments of hell, and promising full forgiveness to those who would repent.
The dissenters kept silent at first. Then, being asked questions, they gave answers. To the question why they dissented, they said that their chief reason was the fact that the Church worshipped gods made of wood, which, far from being ordained, were condemned by the Scriptures.
When asked by Missael whether they actually considered the holy ikons to be mere planks of wood, Chouev answered — “Just look at the back of any ikon you choose and you will see what they are made of.”
When asked why they turned against the priests, their answer was that the Scripture says: “As you have received it without fee, so you must give it to the others; whereas the priests require payment for the grace they bestow by the sacraments.” To all attempts which Missael made to oppose them by arguments founded on Holy Writ, the tailor and Ivan Chouev gave calm but very firm answers, contradicting his assertions by appeal to the Scriptures, which they knew uncommonly well.
Missael got angry and threatened them with persecution by the authorities. Their answer was: It is said, I have been persecuted and so will you be.
The discussion came to nothing, and all would have ended well if Missael had not preached the next day at mass, denouncing the wicked seducers of the faithful and saying that they deserved the worst punishment. Coming out of the church, the crowd of peasants began to consult whether it would not be well to give the infidels a good lesson for disturbing the minds of the community. The same day, just when Missael was enjoying some salmon and gangfish, dining at the village priest’s in company with the inspector, a violent brawl arose in the village. The peasants came in a crowd to Chouev’s cottage, and waited for the dissenters to come out in order to give them a thrashing.
The dissenters assembled in the cottage numbered about twenty men and women. Missael’s sermon and the attitude of the orthodox peasants, together with their threats, aroused in the mind of the dissenters angry feelings, to which they had before been strangers. It was near evening, the women had to go and milk the cows, and the peasants were still standing and waiting at the door.
A boy who stepped out of the door was beaten and driven back into the house. The people within began consulting what was to be done, and could come to no agreement. The tailor said, “We must bear whatever is done to us, and not resist.” Chouev replied that if they decided on that course they would, all of them, be beaten to death. In consequence, he seized a poker and went out of the house. “Come!” he shouted, “let us follow the law of Moses!” And, falling upon the peasants, he knocked out one man’s eye, and in the meanwhile all those who had been in his house contrived to get out and make their way home.
Chouev was thrown into prison and charged with sedition and blasphemy.
Two years previous to those events a strong and handsome young girl of an eastern type, Katia Turchaninova, came from the Don military settlements to St. Petersburg to study in the university college for women. In that town she met a student, Turin, the son of a district governor in the Simbirsk province, and fell in love with him. But her love was not of the ordinary type, and she had no desire to become his wife and the mother of his children. He was a dear comrade to her, and their chief bond of union was a feeling of revolt they had in common, as well as the hatred they bore, not only to the existing forms of government, but to all those who represented that government. They had also in common the sense that they both excelled their enemies in culture, in brains, as well as in morals. Katia Turchaninova was a gifted girl, possessed of a good memory, by means of which she easily mastered the lectures she attended. She was successful in her examinations, and, apart from that, read all the newest books. She was certain that her vocation was not to bear and rear children, and even looked on such a task with disgust and contempt. She thought herself chosen by destiny to destroy the present government, which was fettering the best abilities of the nation, and to reveal to the people a higher standard of life, inculcated by the latest writers of other countries. She was handsome, a little inclined to stoutness: she had a good complexion, shining black eyes, abundant black hair. She inspired the men she knew with feelings she neither wished nor had time to share, busy as she was with propaganda work, which consisted chiefly in mere talking. She was not displeased, however, to inspire these feelings; and, without dressing too smartly, did not neglect her appearance. She liked to be admired, as it gave her opportunities of showing how little she prized what was valued so highly by other women.
In her views concerning the method of fighting the government she went further than the majority of her comrades, and than her friend Turin; all means, she taught, were justified in such a struggle, not excluding murder. And yet, with all her revolutionary ideas, Katia Turchaninova was in her soul a very kind girl, ready to sacrifice herself for the welfare and the happiness of other people, and sincerely pleased when she could do a kindness to anybody, a child, an old person, or an animal.
She went in the summer to stay with a friend, a schoolmistress in a small town on the river Volga. Turin lived near that town, on his father’s estate. He often came to see the two girls; they gave each other books to read, and had long discussions, expressing their common indignation with the state of affairs in the country. The district doctor, a friend of theirs, used also to join them on many occasions.
The estate of the Turins was situated in the neighbourhood of the Liventsov estate, the one that was entrusted to the management of Peter Nikolaevich Sventizky. Soon after Peter Nikolaevich had settled there, and begun to enforce order, young Turin, having observed an independent tendency in the peasants on the Liventsov estate, as well as their determination to uphold their rights, became interested in them. He came often to the village to talk with the men, and developed his socialistic theories, insisting particularly on the nationalisation of the land.
After Peter Nikolaevich had been murdered, and the murderers sent to trial, the revolutionary group of the small town boiled over with indignation, and did not shrink from openly expressing it. The fact of Turin’s visits to the village and his propaganda work among the students, became known to the authorities during the trial. A search was made in his house; and, as the police found a few revolutionary leaflets among his effects, he was arrested and transferred to prison in St. Petersburg.
Katia Turchaninova followed him to the metropolis, and went to visit him in prison. She was not admitted on the day she came, and was told to come on the day fixed by regulations for visits to the prisoners. When that day arrived, and she was finally allowed to see him, she had to talk to him through two gratings separating the prisoner from his visitor. This visit increased her indignation against the authorities. And her feelings become all the more revolutionary after a visit she paid to the office of a gendarme officer who had to deal with the Turin case. The officer, a handsome man, seemed obviously disposed to grant her exceptional favours in visiting the prisoner, if she would allow him to make love to her. Disgusted with him, she appealed to the chief of police. He pretended — just as the officer did when talking officially to her — to be powerless himself, and to depend entirely on orders coming from the minister of state. She sent a petition to the minister asking for an interview, which was refused.
Then she resolved to do a desperate thing and bought a revolver.
THE minister was receiving petitioners at the usual hour appointed for the reception. He had talked successively to three of them, and now a pretty young woman with black eyes, who was holding a petition in her left hand, approached. The minister’s eyes gleamed when he saw how attractive the petitioner was, but recollecting his high position he put on a serious face.
“What do you want?” he asked, coming down to where she stood. Without answering his question the young woman quickly drew a revolver from under her cloak and aiming it at the minister’s chest fired — but missed him.
The minister rushed at her, trying to seize her hand, but she escaped, and taking a step back, fired a second time. The minister ran out of the room. The woman was immediately seized. She was trembling violently, and could not utter a single word; after a while she suddenly burst into a hysterical laugh. The minister was not even wounded.
That woman was Katia Turchaninova. She was put into the prison of preliminary detention. The minister received congratulations and marks of sympathy from the highest quarters, and even from the emperor himself, who appointed a commission to investigate the plot that had led to the attempted assassination. As a matter of fact there was no plot whatever, but the police officials and the detectives set to work with the utmost zeal to discover all the threads of the non-existing conspiracy. They did everything to deserve the fees they were paid; they got up in the small hours of the morning, searched one house after another, took copies of papers and of books they found, read diaries, personal letters, made extracts from them on the very best notepaper and in beautiful handwriting, interrogated Katia Turchaninova ever so many times, and confronted her with all those whom they suspected of conspiracy, in order to extort from her the names of her accomplices.
The minister, a good-natured man at heart, was sincerely sorry for the pretty girl. But he said to himself that he was bound to consider his high state duties imposed upon him, even though they did not imply much work and trouble. So, when his former colleague, a chamberlain and a friend of the Turins, met him at a court ball and tried to rouse his pity for Turin and the girl Turchaninova, he shrugged his shoulders, stretching the red ribbon on his white waistcoat, and said: “Je ne demanderais pas mieux que de relacher cette pauvre fillette, mais vous savez le devoir.” And in the meantime Katia Turchaninova was kept in prison. She was at times in a quiet mood, communicated with her fellow-prisoners by knocking on the walls, and read the books that were sent to her. But then came days when she had fits of desperate fury, knocking with her fists against the wall, screaming and laughing like a mad-woman.
ONE day Maria Semenovna came home from the treasurer’s office, where she had received her pension. On her way she met a schoolmaster, a friend of hers.
“Good day, Maria Semenovna! Have you received your money?” the schoolmaster asked, in a loud voice from the other side of the street.
“I have,” answered Maria Semenovna. “But it was not much; just enough to fill the holes.”
“Oh, there must be some tidy pickings out of such a lot of money,” said the schoolmaster, and passed on, after having said good-bye.
“Good-bye,” said Maria Semenovna. While she was looking at her friend, she met a tall man face to face, who had very long arms and a stern look in his eyes. Coming to her house, she was very startled on again seeing the same man with the long arms, who had evidently followed her. He remained standing another moment after she had gone in, then turned and walked away.
Maria Semenovna felt somewhat frightened at first. But when she had entered the house, and had given her father and her nephew Fedia the presents she had brought for them, and she had patted the dog Treasure, who whined with joy, she forgot her fears. She gave the money to her father and began to work, as there was always plenty for her to do.
The man she met face to face was Stepan.
After he had killed the innkeeper, he did not return to town. Strange to say, he was not sorry to have committed that murder. His mind went back to the murdered man over and over again during the following day; and he liked the recollection of having done the thing so skilfully, so cleverly, that nobody-would ever discover it, and he would not therefore be prevented from murdering other people in the same way. Sitting in the public-house and having his tea, he looked at the people around him with the same thought how he should murder them. In the evening he called at a carter’s, a man from his village, to spend the night at his house. The carter was not in. He said he would wait for him, and in the meanwhile began talking to the carter’s wife. But when she moved to the stove, with her back turned to him, the idea entered his mind to kill her. He marvelled at himself at first, and shook his head; but the next moment he seized the knife he had hidden in his boot, knocked the woman down on the floor, and cut her throat. When the children began to scream, he killed them also and went away. He did not look out for another place to spend the night, but at once left the town. In a village some distance away he went to the inn and slept there. The next day he returned to the district town, and there he overheard in the street Maria Semenovna’s talk with the schoolmaster. Her look frightened him, but yet he made up his mind to creep into her house, and rob her of the money she had received. When the night came he broke the lock and entered the house. The first person who heard his steps was the younger daughter, the married one. She screamed. Stepan stabbed her immediately with his knife. Her husband woke up and fell upon Stepan, seized him by his throat, and struggled with him desperately. But Stepan was the stronger man and overpowered him. After murdering him, Stepan, excited by the long fight, stepped into the next room behind a partition. That was Maria Semenovna’s bedroom. She rose in her bed, looked at Stepan with her mild frightened eyes, and crossed herself.
Once more her look scared Stepan. He dropped his eyes.
“Where is your money?” he asked, without raising his face.
She did not answer.
“Where is the money?” asked Stepan again, showing her his knife.
“How can you . . . ” she said.
“You will see how.”
Stepan came close to her, in order to seize her hands and prevent her struggling with him, but she did not even try to lift her arms or offer any resistance; she pressed her hands to her chest, and sighed heavily.
“Oh, what a great sin!” she cried. “How can you! Have mercy on yourself. To destroy somebody’s soul . . . and worse, your own! . . . ”
Stepan could not stand her voice any longer, and drew his knife sharply across her throat. “Stop that talk!” he said. She fell back with a hoarse cry, and the pillow was stained with blood. He turned away, and went round the rooms in order to collect all he thought worth taking. Having made a bundle of the most valuable things, he lighted a cigarette, sat down for a while, brushed his clothes, and left the house. He thought this murder would not matter to him more than those he had committed before; but before he got a night’s lodging, he felt suddenly so exhausted that he could not walk any farther. He stepped down into the gutter and remained lying there the rest of the night, and the next day and the next night.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14