: THE DECEMBRISTS
: Fables For Children, Stories For Children, Natural Science Stori
(Variant of the First Chapter)
The litigation "about the seizure in the Government of Penza, County of
Krasnoslobodsk, by the landed proprietor and ex-lieutenant of the
Guards, Ivan Apykhtin, of four thousand desyatinas of land from the
neighbouring Crown peasants of the village of Izlegoshcha," was through
the solicitude of the peasants' representative, Ivan Mironov, decided in
the court of the first ins
ance--the County Court--in favour of the
peasants, and the enormous parcel of land, partly in forest, and partly
in ploughings which had been broken by Apykhtin's serfs, in the year
1815 returned into the possession of the peasants, and they in the year
1816 sowed in this land and harvested.
The winning of this irregular case by the peasants surprised all the
neighbours and even the peasants themselves. This success of theirs
could be explained only on the supposition that Ivan Petrovich Apykhtin,
a very meek, peaceful man, who was opposed to litigations and was
convinced of the righteousness of this matter, had taken no measures
against the action of the peasants. On the other hand, Ivan Mironov, the
peasants' representative, a dry, hook-nosed, literate peasant, who had
been a township elder and had acted in the capacity of collector of
taxes, had collected fifty kopeks from each peasant, which money he
cleverly applied in the distribution of presents, and had very shrewdly
conducted the whole affair.
Immediately after the decision handed down by the County Court,
Apykhtin, seeing the danger, gave a power of attorney to the shrewd
manumitted serf, Ilya Mitrofanov, who appealed to the higher court
against the decision of the County Court. Ilya Mitrofanov managed the
affair so shrewdly that, in spite of all the cunning of the peasants'
representative, Ivan Mironov, in spite of the considerable presents
distributed by him to the members of the higher court, the case was
retried in the Government Court in favour of the proprietor, and the
land was to go back to him from the peasants, of which fact their
representative was duly informed.
The representative, Ivan Mironov, told the peasants at the meeting of
the Commune that the gentleman in the Government capital had pulled the
proprietor's leg and had "mixed up" the whole business, so that they
wanted to take the land back again, but that the proprietor would not be
successful, because he had a petition all written up to be sent to the
Senate, and that then the land would be for ever confirmed to the
peasants; all they had to do was to collect a rouble from each soul. The
peasants decided to collect the money and again to entrust the whole
matter to Ivan Mironov. When Mironov had all the money in his hands, he
went to St. Petersburg.
When, in the year 1817, during Passion-week,--it fell late that
year,--the time came to plough the ground, the Izlegoshcha peasants
began to discuss at a meeting whether they ought to plough the land
under litigation during that year, or not; and, although Apykhtin's
clerk had come to see them during Lent with the order that they should
not plough the land and should come to some agreement with him in regard
to the rye already planted in what had been the doubtful, and now was
Apykhtin's land, the peasants, for the very reason that the winter crop
had been sowed on the debatable land, and because Apykhtin, in his
desire to avoid being unfair to them, wished to arbitrate the matter
with them, decided to plough the land under litigation and to take
possession of it before touching any other fields.
On the very day when the peasants went out to plough, which was Maundy
Thursday, Ivan Petrovich Apykhtin, who had been preparing himself for
communion during the Passion-week, went to communion, and early in the
morning drove to the church in the village of Izlegoshcha, of which he
was a parishioner, and there he, without knowing anything about the
matter, amicably chatted with the church elder. Ivan Petrovich had been
to confession the night before, and had attended vigils at home; in the
morning he had himself read the Rules, and at eight o'clock had left the
house. They waited for him with the mass. As he stood at the altar,
where he usually stood, Ivan Petrovich rather reflected than prayed,
which made him dissatisfied with himself.
Like many people of that time, and, so far as that goes, of all times,
he was not quite clear in matters of religion. He was past fifty years
of age; he never omitted carrying out any rite, attended church, and
went to communion once a year; in talking to his only daughter, he
instructed her in the articles of faith; but, if he had been asked
whether he really believed, he would not have known what to reply.
On that day more than on any other, he felt meek of spirit, and,
standing at the altar, he, instead of praying, thought of how strangely
everything was constructed in the world: there he was, almost an old
man, taking the communion for perhaps the fortieth time in his life, and
he knew that everybody, all his home folk and all the people in the
church, looked at him as a model and took him for an example, and he
felt himself obliged to act as an example in matters of religion,
whereas he himself did not know anything, and soon, very soon, he would
die, and even if he were killed he could not tell whether that in which
he was showing an example to others was true. And it also seemed strange
to him how every one considered--that he saw--old people to be firm and
to know what was necessary and what not (thus he always thought about
old men), and there he was old and positively failed to know, and was
just as frivolous as he had been twenty years before; the only
difference was that formerly he did not conceal it, while now he did.
Just as in his childhood it had occurred to him during the service that
he might crow like a cock, even so now all kinds of foolish things
passed through his mind, and he, the old man, reverentially bent his
head, touching the flagstones of the church with the old knuckles of his
hands, and Father Vasili was evidently timid in celebrating mass in his
presence, and incited to zeal by his zeal.
"If they only knew what foolish things are running through my head! But
that is a sin, a sin; I must pray," he said to himself, when the service
commenced; and, trying to catch the meaning of the responses, he began
to pray. Indeed, he soon transferred himself in feeling to the prayer
and thought of his sins and of everything which he regretted.
A respectable-looking old man, bald-headed, with thick gray hair,
dressed in a fur coat with a new white patch on one-half of his back,
stepping evenly with his out-toeing bast shoes, went up to the altar,
bowed low to him, tossed his hair, and went beyond the altar to place
some tapers. This was the church elder, Ivan Fedotov, one of the best
peasants of the village of Izlegoshcha. Ivan Petrovich knew him. The
sight of this stern, firm face led Ivan Petrovich to a new train of
thoughts. He was one of those peasants who wanted to take the land away
from him, and one of the best and richest married farmers, who needed
the land, who could manage it, and had the means to work it. His stern
aspect, ceremonious bow, and measured gait, and the exactness of his
wearing-apparel,--the leg-rags fitted his legs like stockings and the
laces crossed each other symmetrically on either leg,--all his
appearance seemed to express rebuke and enmity on account of the land.
"I have asked forgiveness of my wife, of Manya" (his daughter), "of the
nurse, of my valet, Volodya, but it is his forgiveness that I ought to
ask for, and I ought to forgive him," thought Ivan Petrovich, and he
decided that after matins he would ask Ivan Fedotov to forgive him.
And so he did.
* * * * *
There were but few people in church. The country people were in the
habit of going to communion in the first and in the fourth week. Now
there were only forty men and women present, who had not had time to go
to communion before, a few old peasant women, the church servants, and
the manorial people of the Apykhtins and his rich neighbours, the
Chernyshevs. There was also there an old woman, a relative of the
Chernyshevs, who was living with them, and a deacon's widow, whose son
the Chernyshevs, in the goodness of their hearts, had educated and made
a man of, and who now was serving as an official in the Senate. Between
the matins and the mass there were even fewer people left in the church.
There were left two beggar women, who were sitting in the corner and
conversing with each other and looking at Ivan Petrovich with the
evident desire to congratulate him and talk with him, and two
lackeys,--one his own, in livery, and the other, Chernyshev's, who had
come with the old woman. These two were also whispering in an animated
manner to each other, just as Ivan Petrovich came out from the
altar-place; when they saw him, they grew silent. There was also a
woman in a tall head-gear with a pearl face-ornament and in a white fur
coat, with which she covered up a sick child, who was crying, and whom
she was attempting to quiet; and another, a stooping old woman, also in
a head-gear, but with a woollen face-ornament and a white kerchief,
which was tied in the fashion of old women, and in a gray gathered coat
with an iris-design on the back, who, kneeling in the middle of the
church, and turning to an old image between two latticed windows, over
which hung a new scarf with red edges, was praying so fervently,
solemnly, and impassionately that one could not fail directing one's
attention to her.
Before reaching the elder, who, standing at the little safe, was
kneading over the remnants of some tapers into one piece of wax, Ivan
Petrovich stopped to take a look at the praying woman. The old woman was
praying well. She knelt as straight as it was possible to kneel in front
of the image; all the members of her body were mathematically
symmetrical; her feet behind her pressed with the tips of her bast shoes
at the same angle against the stone floor; her body was bent back, to
the extent to which her stooping shoulders permitted her to do so; her
hands were quite regularly placed below her abdomen; her head was thrown
back, and her face, with an expression of bashful commiseration,
wrinkled, and with a dim glance, was turned straight toward the image
with the scarf. Having remained in an immobile position for a minute or
less,--evidently a definite space of time,--she heaved a deep sigh and,
taking her right hand away, swung it above her head-gear, touched the
crown of her head with folded fingers, and made ample crosses by
carrying her hand down again to her abdomen and to her shoulders; then
she swayed back and dropped her head on her hands, which were placed
evenly on the floor, and again raised herself, and repeated the same.
"Now she is praying," Ivan Petrovich thought, as he looked at her. "She
does it differently from us sinners: this is faith, though I know that
she is praying to her own image, or to her scarf, or to her adornment on
the image, just like the rest of them. All right. What of it?" he said
to himself, "every person has his own faith: she prays to her image, and
I consider it necessary to beg the peasant's forgiveness."
And he walked over to the elder, instinctively scrutinizing the church
in order to see who was going to see his deed, which both pleased and
shamed him. It was disagreeable to him, because the old beggar women
would see it, and more disagreeable still, because Mishka, his lackey,
would see it. In the presence of Mishka,--he knew how wide-awake and
shrewd he was,--he felt that he should not have the strength to walk up
to Ivan Fedotov. He beckoned to Mishka to come up to him.
"What is it you wish?"
"Go, my dear, and bring me the rug from the carriage, for it is too damp
here for my feet."
When Mishka went away, Ivan Petrovich at once went up to Ivan Fedotov.
Ivan Fedotov was disconcerted, like a guilty person, at the approach of
the gentleman. Timidity and hasty motions formed a queer contradiction
to his austere face and curly steel-gray hair and beard.
"Do you wish a dime taper?" he said, raising the desk, and now and then
casting his large, beautiful eyes upon the master.
"No, I do not want a taper, Ivan. I ask you to forgive me for Christ's
sake, if I have in any way offended you. Forgive me, for Christ's sake,"
Ivan Petrovich repeated, with a low bow.
Ivan Fedotov completely lost his composure and began to move restlessly,
but when he comprehended it all, he smiled a gentle smile:
"God forgives," he said. "It seems to me, I have received no offence
from you. God will forgive you,--I have not been offended by you," he
hastened to repeat.
"God will forgive you, Ivan Petrovich. So you want two dime tapers?"
"He is an angel, truly, an angel. He begs even a base peasant to forgive
him. O Lord, true angels," muttered the deacon's widow, in an old black
capote and black kerchief. "Truly, we ought to understand that."
"Ah, Paramonovna!" Ivan Petrovich turned to her. "Are you getting ready
for communion, too? You, too, must forgive me, for Christ's sake."
"God will forgive you, sir, angel, merciful benefactor! Let me kiss your
"That will do, that will do, you know I do not like that," said Ivan
Petrovich, smiling, and going away from the altar.
* * * * *
The mass, as always, did not take long to celebrate in the parish of
Izlegoshcha, the more so since there were few communicants. Just as,
after the Lord's Prayer, the regal doors were closed, Ivan Petrovich
looked through the north door, to call Mishka to take off his fur coat.
When the priest saw that motion, he angrily beckoned to the deacon, and
the deacon almost ran out to call in the lackey. Ivan Petrovich was in a
pretty good humour, but this subserviency and expression of respect from
the priest who was celebrating mass again soured him entirely; his thin,
bent, shaven lips were bent still more and his kindly eyes were lighted
up by sarcasm.
"He acts as though I were his general," he thought, and immediately he
thought of the words of the German tutor, whom he had once taken to the
altar to attend a Russian divine service, and who had made him laugh
and had angered his wife, when he said, "Der Pop war ganz boese, dass
ich ihm Alles nachgesehen hatte." He also recalled the answer of the
young Turk that there was no God, because he had eaten up the last piece
of him. "And here I am going to communion," he thought, and, frowning,
he made a low obeisance.
He took off his bear-fur coat, and in his blue dress coat with bright
buttons and in his tall white neckerchief and waistcoat, and tightly
fitting trousers, and heelless, sharp-toed boots, went with his soft,
modest, and light gait to make his obeisances to the large images. Here
he again met that same obsequiousness from the other communicants, who
gave up their places to him.
"They act as though they said, 'Apres vous, s'il en reste,'" he
thought, awkwardly making side obeisances; this awkwardness was due to
the fact that he was trying to find that mean in which there would be
neither disrespect, nor hypocrisy. Finally the doors were opened. He
said the prayer after the priest, repeating the words, "As a robber;"
his neckerchief was covered with the chalice cloth, and he received his
communion and the lukewarm water in the ancient dipper, having put new
silver twenty-kopek pieces on ancient plates; after hearing the last
prayers, he kissed the cross and, putting on his fur coat left the
church, receiving congratulations and experiencing the pleasant
sensation of having everything over. As he left the church, he again
fell in with Ivan Fedotov.
"Thank you, thank you!" he replied to his congratulations. "Well, are
you going to plough soon?"
"The boys have gone out, the boys have," replied Ivan Fedotov, more
timidly even than before. He supposed that Ivan Petrovich knew whither
the Izlegoshcha peasants had gone out to plough. "It is damp, though.
Damp it is. It is early yet, early it is."
Ivan Petrovich went up to his parents' monument, bowed to it, and went
back to be helped into his six-in-hand with an outrider.
"Well, thank God," he said to himself, swaying on the soft, round
springs and looking at the vernal sky with the scattering clouds, at the
bared earth and the white spots of unmelted snow, and at the tightly
braided tail of a side horse, and inhaling the fresh spring air, which
was particularly pleasant after the air in the church.
"Thank God that I have been through the communion, and thank God that I
now may take a pinch of snuff." And he took out his snuff-box and for a
long time held the pinch between his fingers, smiling and, without
letting the pinch out of the hand, raising his cap in response to the
low bows of the people on the way, especially of the women, who were
washing the tables and chairs in front of their houses, just as the
carriage at a fast trot of the large horses of the six-in-hand plashed
and clattered through the mud of the street of the village of
Ivan Petrovich held the pinch of snuff, anticipating the pleasure of
snuffing, not only down the whole village, but even until they got out
of a bad place at the foot of a hill, toward which the coachman
descended not without anxiety: he held up the reins, seated himself more
firmly, and shouted to the outrider to go over the ice. When they went
around the bridge, over the bed of the river, and scrambled out of the
breaking ice and mud, Ivan Petrovich, looking at two plovers that rose
from the hollow, took the snuff and, feeling chilly, put on his glove,
wrapped himself in his fur coat, plunged his chin into the high
neckerchief, and said to himself, almost aloud, "Glorious!" which he was
in the habit of saying secretly to himself whenever he felt well.
In the night snow had fallen, and when Ivan Petrovich had driven to
church the snow had not yet disappeared, but was soft; now, though there
was no sun, it was all melted from the moisture, and on the highway, on
which he had to travel for three versts before turning into Chirakovo,
the snow was white only in last year's grass, which grew in parallel
lines along the ruts; but on the black road the horses splashed through
the viscous mud. The good, well-fed, large horses of his own stud had no
difficulty in pulling the carriage, and it just rolled over the grass,
where it left black marks, and over the mud, without being at all
detained. Ivan Petrovich was having pleasant reveries; he was thinking
of his home, his wife, and his daughter.
"Manya will meet me at the porch, and with delight. She will see such
holiness in me! She is a strange, sweet girl, but she takes everything
too much to heart. The role of importance and of knowing everything that
is going on in this world, which I must play before her, is getting to
be too serious and ridiculous. If she knew that I am afraid of her!" he
thought. "Well, Kato," (his wife) "will no doubt be in good humour
to-day, she will purposely be in good humour, and we shall have a fine
day. It will not be as it was last week on account of the Proshkin
women. What a remarkable creature! How afraid of her I am! What is to be
done? She does not like it herself." And he recalled a famous anecdote
about a calf. A proprietor, having quarrelled with his wife, was sitting
at a window, when he saw a frisky calf: "I should like to get you
married!" he said. And Ivan Petrovich smiled again, according to his
custom solving every difficulty and every perplexity by a joke, which
generally was directed against himself.
At the third verst, near a chapel, the outrider bore to the left, into a
cross-road, and the coachman shouted to him for having turned in so
abruptly that the centre horses were struck by the shaft; and the
carriage almost glided all the way down-hill. Before reaching the house,
the outrider looked back at the coachman and pointed to something; the
coachman looked back at the lackey, and indicated something to him. And
all of them looked in the same direction.
"What are you looking at?" asked Ivan Petrovich.
"Geese," said Mishka.
Though he strained his vision, he could not see them.
"There they are. There is the forest, and there is the cloud, so be
pleased to look between the two."
Ivan Petrovich could not see anything.
"It is time for them. Why, it is less than a week to Annunciation."
"Well, go on!"
Near a puddle, Mishka jumped down from the footboard and tested the
road, again climbed up, and the carriage safely drove on the pond dam in
the garden, ascended the avenue, drove past the cellar and the laundry,
from which water was falling, and nimbly rolled up and stopped at the
porch. The Chernyshev calash had just left the yard. From the house at
once ran the servants: gloomy old Danilych with the side whiskers,
Nikolay, Mishka's brother, and the boy Pavlushka; and after them came a
girl with large black eyes and red arms, which were bared above the
elbow, and with just such a bared neck.
"Marya Ivanovna, Marya Ivanovna! Where are you going? Your mother will
be worried. You will have time," was heard the voice of fat Katerina
But the girl paid no attention to her; just as her father had expected
her to do, she took hold of his arm and looked at him with a strange
"Well, papa, have you been to communion?" she asked, as though in dread.
"Yes. You look as though you were afraid that I am such a sinner that I
could not receive the communion."
The girl was apparently offended by her father's jest at such a solemn
moment. She heaved a sigh and, following him, held his hand, which she
"Who is here?"
"Young Chernyshev. He is in the drawing-room."
"Is mamma up? How is she?"
"Mamma feels better to-day. She is sitting down-stairs."
In the passage room Ivan Petrovich was met by nurse Evprakseya, clerk
Andrey Ivanovich, and a surveyor, who was living at the house, in order
to lay out some land. All of them congratulated Ivan Petrovich. In the
drawing-room sat Luiza Karlovna Trugoni, for ten years a friend of the
house, an emigrant governess, and a young man of sixteen years,
Chernyshev, with his French tutor.