God Sees The Truth But Does Not Tell At Once

: Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori

In the city of Vladimir there lived a young merchant, Aksenov by name.

He had two shops and a house.

Aksenov was a light-complexioned, curly-headed, fine-looking man and a

very jolly fellow and good singer. In his youth Aksenov had drunk much,

and when he was drunk he used to become riotous, but when he married he

gave up drinking, and that now happened very rarely with him.

One day in the s
mmer Aksenov went to the Nizhni-Novgorod fair. As he

bade his family good-bye, his wife said to him:

"Ivan Dmitrievich, do not start to-day! I have had a bad dream about


Aksenov laughed, and said:

"Are you afraid that I might go on a spree at the fair?"

His wife said:

"I do not know what I am afraid of, but I had a bad dream: I dreamed

that you came to town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your

head was all gray."

Aksenov laughed.

"That means that I shall make some profit. If I strike a good bargain,

you will see me bring you some costly presents."

And he bade his family farewell, and started.

In the middle of his journey he met a merchant whom he knew, and they

stopped together in a hostelry for the night. They drank their tea

together, and lay down to sleep in two adjoining rooms. Aksenov did not

like to sleep long; he awoke in the middle of the night and, as it was

easier to travel when it was cool, wakened his driver and told him to

hitch the horses. Then he went to the "black" hut, paid his bill, and

went away.

When he had gone about forty versts, he again stopped to feed the horses

and to rest in the vestibule of a hostelry. At dinner-time he came out

on the porch, and ordered the samovar to be prepared for him. He took

out his guitar and began to play. Suddenly a troyka with bells drove up

to the hostelry, and from the cart leaped an officer with two soldiers,

and he went up to Aksenov, and asked him who he was and where he came


Aksenov told him everything as it was, and said:

"Would you not like to drink tea with me?"

But the officer kept asking him questions:

"Where did you stay last night? Were you alone, or with a merchant? Did

you see the merchant in the morning? Why did you leave so early in the


Aksenov wondered why they asked him about all that; he told them

everything as it was, and said:

"Why do you ask me this? I am not a thief, nor a robber. I am travelling

on business of my own, and you have nothing to ask me about."

Then the officer called the soldiers, and said:

"I am the chief of the rural police, and I ask you this, because the

merchant with whom you passed last night has been found with his throat

cut. Show me your things, and you look through them!"

They entered the house, took his valise and bag, and opened them and

began to look through them. Suddenly the chief took a knife out of the

bag, and cried out:

"Whose knife is this?"

Aksenov looked, and saw that they had taken out a blood-stained knife

from his bag, and he was frightened "How did the blood get on the


Aksenov wanted to answer, but could not pronounce a word.

"I--I do not know--I--the knife--is not mine!"

Then the chief said:

"In the morning the merchant was found in his bed with his throat cut.

No one but you could have done it. The house was locked from within, and

there was no one in the house but you. Here is the bloody knife in your

bag, and your face shows your guilt. Tell me, how did you kill him, and

how much money did you rob him of?"

Aksenov swore that he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant

after drinking tea with him; that he had with him his own eight

thousand; that the knife was not his. But his voice faltered, his face

was pale, and he trembled from fear, as though he were guilty.

The chief called in the soldiers, told them to bind him and to take him

to the cart. When he was rolled into the cart with his legs tied, he

made the sign of the cross and began to cry. They took away his money

and things, and sent him to jail to the nearest town. They sent to

Vladimir to find out what kind of a man Aksenov was, and all the

merchants and inhabitants of Vladimir testified to the fact that Aksenov

had drunk and caroused when he was young, but that he was a good man.

Then they began to try him. He was tried for having killed the Ryazan

merchant and having robbed him of twenty thousand roubles.

The wife was grieving for her husband and did not know what to think.

Her children were still young, and one was still at the breast. She took

them all and went with them to the town where her husband was kept in

prison. At first she was not admitted, but later she implored the

authorities, and she was taken to her husband. When she saw him in

prison garb and in chains, together with murderers, she fell to the

ground and could not come to for a long time. Then she placed her

children about her, sat down beside him, and began to tell him about

house matters, and to ask him about everything which had happened. He

told her everything. She said:

"What shall I do?"

He said:

"We must petition the Tsar. An innocent man cannot be allowed to


His wife said that she had already petitioned the Tsar, but that the

petition had not reached him. Aksenov said nothing, and only lowered his

head. Then his wife said:

"You remember the dream I had about your getting gray. Indeed, you have

grown gray from sorrow. If you had only not started then!"

And she looked over his hair, and said:

"Ivan, my darling, tell your wife the truth: did you not do it?"

Aksenov said, "And you, too, suspect me!" and covered his face with his

hands, and began to weep.

Then a soldier came, and told his wife that she must leave with her

children. And Aksenov for the last time bade his family farewell.

When his wife had left, Aksenov thought about what they had been talking

of. When he recalled that his wife had also suspected him and had asked

him whether he had killed the merchant, he said to himself: "Evidently

none but God can know the truth, and He alone must be asked, and from

Him alone can I expect mercy." And from that time on Aksenov no longer

handed in petitions and stopped hoping, but only prayed to God.

Aksenov was sentenced to be beaten with the knout, and to be sent to

hard labour. And it was done.

He was beaten with the knout, and later, when the knout sores healed

over, he was driven with other convicts to Siberia.

In Siberia, Aksenov passed twenty-six years at hard labour. His hair

turned white like snow, and his beard grew long, narrow, and gray. All

his mirth went away. He stooped, began to walk softly, spoke little,

never laughed, and frequently prayed to God.

In the prison Aksenov learned to make boots, and with the money which he

earned he bought himself the "Legends of the Holy Martyrs," and read

them while it was light in the prison; on holidays he went to the prison

church and read the Epistles, and sang in the choir,--his voice was

still good. The authorities were fond of Aksenov for his gentleness, and

his prison comrades respected him and called him "grandfather" and

"God's man." When there were any requests to be made of the authorities,

his comrades always sent him to speak for them, and when the convicts

had any disputes between themselves, they came to Aksenov to settle


No one wrote Aksenov letters from his home, and he did not know whether

his wife and children were alive, or not.

Once they brought some new prisoners to the prison. In the evening the

old prisoners gathered around the new men, and asked them from what town

they came, or from what village, and for what acts they had been sent

up. Aksenov, too, sat down on the bed-boards near the new prisoners and,

lowering his head, listened to what they were saying. One of the new

prisoners was a tall, sound-looking old man of about sixty years of age,

with a gray, clipped beard. He was telling them what he had been sent up


"Yes, brothers, I have come here for no crime at all. I had unhitched a

driver's horse from the sleigh. I was caught. They said, 'You stole it.'

And I said, 'I only wanted to get home quickly, for I let the horse go.

Besides, the driver is a friend of mine. I am telling you the

truth.'--'No,' they said, 'you have stolen it.' But they did not know

what I had been stealing, or where I had been stealing. There were

crimes for which I ought to have been sent up long ago, but they could

not convict me, and now I am here contrary to the law. 'You are

lying,--you have been in Siberia, but you did not make a long visit


"Where do you come from?" asked one of the prisoners.

"I am from the city of Vladimir, a burgher of that place. My name is

Makar, and by my father Semenovich."

Aksenov raised his head, and asked:

"Semenovich, have you not heard in Vladimir about the family of Merchant

Aksenov? Are they alive?"

"Yes, I have heard about them! They are rich merchants, even though

their father is in Siberia. He is as much a sinner as I, I think. And

you, grandfather, what are you here for?"

Aksenov did not like to talk of his misfortune. He sighed, and said:

"For my sins have I passed twenty-six years at hard labour."

Makar Semenovich said:

"For what sins?"

Aksenov said, "No doubt, I deserved it," and did not wish to tell him

any more; but the other prison people told the new man how Aksenov had

come to be in Siberia. They told him how on the road some one had killed

a merchant and had put the knife into his bag, and he thus was sentenced

though he was innocent.

When Makar Semenovich heard that, he looked at Aksenov, clapped his

knees with his hands, and said:

"What a marvel! What a marvel! But you have grown old, grandfather!"

He was asked what he was marvelling at, and where he had seen Aksenov,

but Makar Semenovich made no reply, and only said:

"It is wonderful, boys, where we were fated to meet!"

And these words made Aksenov think that this man might know something

about who had killed the merchant. He said:

"Semenovich, have you heard before this about that matter, or have we

met before?"

"Of course I have heard. The earth is full of rumours. That happened a

long time ago: I have forgotten what I heard," said Makar Semenovich.

"Maybe you have heard who killed the merchant?" asked Aksenov.

Makar Semenovich laughed and said:

"I suppose he was killed by the man in whose bag the knife was found.

Even if somebody stuck that knife into that bag, he was not caught, so

he is no thief. And how could the knife have been put in? Was not the

bag under your head? You would have heard him."

The moment Aksenov heard these words, he thought that that was the man

who had killed the merchant. He got up and walked away. All that night

Aksenov could not fall asleep. He felt sad, and had visions: now he saw

his wife such as she had been when she bade him farewell for the last

time, as he went to the fair. He saw her, as though she was alive, and

he saw her face and eyes, and heard her speak to him and laugh. Then he

saw his children such as they had been then,--just as little,--one of

them in a fur coat, the other at the breast. And he thought of himself,

such as he had been then,--gay and young; he recalled how he had been

sitting on the porch of the hostelry, where he was arrested, and had

been playing the guitar, and how light his heart had been then. And he

recalled the pillory, where he had been whipped, and the executioner,

and the people all around, and the chains, and the prisoners, and his

prison life of the last twenty-six years, and his old age. And such

gloom came over him that he felt like laying hands on himself.

"And all that on account of that evil-doer!" thought Aksenov.

And such a rage fell upon him against Makar Semenovich, that he wanted

to have his revenge upon him, even if he himself were to be ruined by

it. He said his prayers all night long, but could not calm himself. In

the daytime he did not walk over to Makar Semenovich, and did not look

at him.

Thus two weeks passed. At night Aksenov could not sleep, and he felt so

sad that he did not know what to do with himself.

Once, in the night, he walked all over the prison, and saw dirt falling

from underneath one bedplace. He stopped to see what it was. Suddenly

Makar Semenovich jumped up from under the bed and looked at Aksenov with

a frightened face. Aksenov wanted to pass on, so as not to see him; but

Makar took him by his arm, and told him that he had dug a passage way

under the wall, and that he each day carried the dirt away in his

boot-legs and poured it out in the open, whenever they took the convicts

out to work. He said:

"Keep quiet, old man,--I will take you out, too. And if you tell, they

will whip me, and I will not forgive you,--I will kill you."

When Aksenov saw the one who had done him evil, he trembled in his rage,

and pulled away his arm, and said:

"I have no reason to get away from here, and there is no sense in

killing me,--you killed me long ago. And whether I will tell on you or

not depends on what God will put into my soul."

On the following day, when the convicts were taken out to work, the

soldiers noticed that Makar Semenovich was pouring out the dirt, and so

they began to search in the prison, and found the hole. The chief came

to the prison and began to ask all who had dug the hole. Everybody

denied it. Those who knew had not seen Makar Semenovich, because they

knew that for this act he would be whipped half-dead. Then the chief

turned to Aksenov. He knew that Aksenov was a just man, and said:

"Old man, you are a truthful man, tell me before God who has done that."

Makar Semenovich stood as though nothing had happened and looked at the

chief, and did not glance at Aksenov. Aksenov's arms and lips trembled,

and he could not utter a word for long time. He thought: "If I protect

him, why should I forgive him, since he has ruined me? Let him suffer

for my torments! And if I tell on him, they will indeed whip him to

death. And suppose that I have a wrong suspicion against him. Will that

make it easier for me?"

The chief said once more:

"Well, old man, speak, tell the truth! Who has been digging it?"

Aksenov looked at Makar Semenovich, and said:

"I cannot tell, your Honour. God orders me not to tell. And I will not

tell. Do with me as you please,--you have the power."

No matter how much the chief tried, Aksenov would not say anything more.

And so they did not find out who had done the digging.

On the following night, as Aksenov lay down on the bed-boards and was

just falling asleep, he heard somebody come up to him and sit down at

his feet. He looked in the darkness and recognized Makar. Aksenov said:

"What more do you want of me? What are you doing here?"

Makar Semenovich was silent. Aksenov raised himself, and said:

"What do you want? Go away, or I will call the soldier."

Makar bent down close to Aksenov, and said to him in a whisper:

Photogravure from Painting by A. Kivshenko]

"Ivan Dmitrievich, forgive me!"

Aksenov said:

"For what shall I forgive you?"

"It was I who killed the merchant and put the knife into your bag. I

wanted to kill you, too, but they made a noise in the yard, so I put the

knife into your bag and climbed through the window."

Aksenov was silent and did not know what to say. Makar Semenovich

slipped down from the bed, made a low obeisance, and said:

"Ivan Dmitrievich, forgive me, forgive me for God's sake! I will declare

that it was I who killed the merchant,--you will be forgiven. You will

return home."

Aksenov said:

"It is easy for you to speak so, but see how I have suffered! Where

shall I go now? My wife has died, my children have forgotten me. I have

no place to go to--"

Makar Semenovich did not get up from the floor. He struck his head

against the earth, and said:

"Ivan Dmitrievich, forgive me! When they whipped me with the knout I

felt better than now that I am looking at you. You pitied me, and did

not tell on me. Forgive me, for Christ's sake! Forgive me, the accursed

evil-doer!" And he burst out into tears.

When Aksenov heard Makar Semenovich crying, he began to weep himself,

and said:

"God will forgive you. Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you!"

And suddenly a load fell off from his soul. And he no longer pined for

his home, and did not wish to leave the prison, but only thought of his

last hour.

Makar Semenovich did not listen to Aksenov, but declared his guilt. When

the decision came for Aksenov to leave,--he was dead.