Who Can Be Happy And Free In Russia?
Nicholas Nekrassov

Part 3 out of 7

The gallant Boyárin.[32] ...

"No whim was denied us. 410
To whom I desire
I show mercy and favour;
And whom I dislike
I strike dead on the spot.
The law is my wish,
And my fist is my hangman!
My blow makes the sparks crowd,
My blow smashes jaw-bones,
My blow scatters teeth!"...

Like a string that is broken, 420
The voice of the nobleman
Suddenly ceases;
He lowers his eyes
To the ground, darkly frowning ...
And then, in a low voice,
He says:

"You yourselves know
That strictness is needful;
But I, with love, punished.
The chain has been broken, 430
The links burst asunder;
And though we do not beat
The peasant, no longer
We look now upon him
With fatherly feelings.
Yes, I was severe too
At times, but more often
I turned hearts towards me
With patience and mildness.

"Upon Easter Sunday 440
I kissed all the peasants
Within my domain.
A great table, loaded
With 'Paska' and 'Koólich'[33]
And eggs of all colours,
Was spread in the manor.
My wife, my old mother,
My sons, too, and even
My daughters did not scorn
To kiss[34] the last peasant: 450
'Now Christ has arisen!'
'Indeed He has risen!'
The peasants broke fast then,
Drank vodka and wine.
Before each great holiday,
In my best staterooms
The All-Night Thanksgiving
Was held by the pope.
My serfs were invited
With every inducement: 460
'Pray hard now, my children,
Make use of the chance,
Though you crack all your foreheads!'[35]
The nose suffered somewhat,
But still at the finish
We brought all the women-folk
Out of a village
To scrub down the floors.
You see 'twas a cleansing
Of souls, and a strengthening 470
Of spiritual union;
Now, isn't that so?"

"That's so," say the peasants,
But each to himself thinks,
"They needed persuading
With sticks though, I warrant,
To get them to pray
In your Lordship's fine manor!"

"I'll say, without boasting,
They loved me--my peasants. 480
In my large Surminsky
Estate, where the peasants
Were mostly odd-jobbers,
Or very small tradesmen,
It happened that they
Would get weary of staying
At home, and would ask
My permission to travel,
To visit strange parts
At the coming of spring. 490
They'd often be absent
Through summer and autumn.
My wife and the children
Would argue while guessing
The gifts that the peasants
Would bring on returning.
And really, besides
Lawful dues of the 'Barin'
In cloth, eggs, and live stock,
The peasants would gladly 500
Bring gifts to the family:
Jam, say, from Kiev,
From Astrakhan fish,
And the richer among them
Some silk for the lady.
You see!--as he kisses
Her hand he presents her
A neat little packet!
And then for the children
Are sweetmeats and toys; 510
For me, the old toper,
Is wine from St. Petersburg--
Mark you, the rascal
Won't go to the Russian
For that! He knows better--
He runs to the Frenchman!
And when we have finished
Admiring the presents
I go for a stroll
And a chat with the peasants; 520
They talk with me freely.
My wife fills their glasses,
My little ones gather
Around us and listen,
While sucking their sweets,
To the tales of the peasants:
Of difficult trading,
Of places far distant,
Of Petersburg, Astrakhan,
Kazan, and Kiev.... 530
On such terms it was
That I lived with my peasants.
Now, wasn't that nice?"

"Yes," answer the peasants;
"Yes, well might one envy
The noble Pomyéshchick!
His life was so sweet
There was no need to leave it."

"And now it is past....
It has vanished for ever! 540
Hark! There's the bell tolling!"

They listen in silence:
In truth, through the stillness
Which settles around them,
The slow, solemn sound
On the breeze of the morning
Is borne from Kusminsky....

"Sweet peace to the peasant!
God greet him in Heaven!"

The peasants say softly, 550
And cross themselves thrice;
And the mournful Pomyéshchick
Uncovers his head,
As he piously crosses
Himself, and he answers:
"'Tis not for the peasant
The knell is now tolling,
It tolls the lost life
Of the stricken Pomyéshchick.
Farewell to the past, 560
And farewell to thee, Russia,
The Russia who cradled
The happy Pomyéshchick,
Thy place has been stolen
And filled by another!...
Heh, Proshka!" (The brandy
Is given, and quickly
He empties the glass.)
"Oh, it isn't consoling
To witness the change 570
In thy face, oh, my Motherland!
Truly one fancies
The whole race of nobles
Has suddenly vanished!
Wherever one goes, now,
One falls over peasants
Who lie about, tipsy,
One meets not a creature
But excise official,
Or stupid 'Posrédnik,'[36] 580
Or Poles who've been banished.
One sees the troops passing,
And then one can guess
That a village has somewhere
Revolted, 'in thankful
And dutiful spirit....'
In old days, these roads
Were made gay by the passing
Of carriage, 'dormeuse,'
And of six-in-hand coaches, 590
And pretty, light troikas;
And in them were sitting
The family troop
Of the jolly Pomyéshchick:
The stout, buxom mother,
The fine, roguish sons,
And the pretty young daughters;
One heard with enjoyment
The chiming of large bells,
The tinkling of small bells, 600
Which hung from the harness.
And now?... What distraction
Has life? And what joy
Does it bring the Pomyéshchick?
At each step, you meet
Something new to revolt you;
And when in the air
You can smell a rank graveyard,
You know you are passing
A nobleman's manor! 610
My Lord!... They have pillaged
The beautiful dwelling!
They've pulled it all down,
Brick by brick, and have fashioned
The bricks into hideously
Accurate columns!
The broad shady park
Of the outraged Pomyéshchick,
The fruit of a hundred years'
Careful attention, 620
Is falling away
'Neath the axe of a peasant!
The peasant works gladly,
And greedily reckons
The number of logs
Which his labour will bring him.
His dark soul is closed
To refinement of feeling,
And what would it matter
To him, if you told him 630
That this stately oak
Which his hatchet is felling
My grandfather's hand
Had once planted and tended;
That under this ash-tree
My dear little children,
My Vera and Gánushka,
Echoed my voice
As they played by my side;
That under this linden 640
My young wife confessed me
That little Gavrióushka,
Our best-beloved first-born,
Lay under her heart,
As she nestled against me
And bashfully hid
Her sweet face in my bosom
As red as a cherry....
It is to his profit
To ravish the park, 650
And his mission delights him.
It makes one ashamed now
To pass through a village;
The peasant sits still
And he dreams not of bowing.
One feels in one's breast
Not the pride of a noble
But wrath and resentment.
The axe of the robber
Resounds in the forest, 660
It maddens your heart,
But you cannot prevent it,
For who can you summon
To rescue your forest?
The fields are half-laboured,
The seeds are half-wasted,
No trace left of order....
O Mother, my country,
We do not complain
For ourselves--of our sorrows, 670
Our hearts bleed for thee:
Like a widow thou standest
In helpless affliction
With tresses dishevelled
And grief-stricken face....
They have blighted the forest,
The noisy low taverns
Have risen and flourished.
They've picked the most worthless
And loose of the people, 680
And given them power
In the posts of the Zemstvos;
They've seized on the peasant
And taught him his letters--
Much good may it do him!
Your brow they have branded,
As felons are branded,
As cattle are branded,
With these words they've stamped it:
'To take away with you 690
Or drink on the premises.'
Was it worth while, pray,
To weary the peasant
With learning his letters
In order to read them?
The land that we keep
Is our mother no longer,
Our stepmother rather.
And then to improve things,
These pert good-for-nothings, 700
These impudent writers
Must needs shout in chorus:
'But whose fault, then, is it,
That you thus exhausted
And wasted your country?'
But I say--you duffers!
Who _could_ foresee this?
They babble, 'Enough
Of your lordly pretensions!
It's time that you learnt something, 710
Lazy Pomyéshchicks!
Get up, now, and work!'

"Work! To whom, in God's name,
Do you think you are speaking?
I am not a peasant
In 'laputs,' good madman!
I am--by God's mercy--
A Noble of Russia.
You take us for Germans!
We nobles have tender 720
And delicate feelings,
Our pride is inborn,
And in Russia our classes
Are not taught to work.
Why, the meanest official
Will not raise a finger
To clear his own table,
Or light his own stove!
I can say, without boasting,
That though I have lived 730
Forty years in the country,
And scarcely have left it,
I could not distinguish
Between rye and barley.
And they sing of 'work' to me!

"If we Pomyéshchicks
Have really mistaken
Our duty and calling,
If really our mission
Is not, as in old days, 740
To keep up the hunting,
To revel in luxury,
Live on forced labour,
Why did they not tell us
Before? Could I learn it?
For what do I see?
I've worn the Tsar's livery,
'Sullied the Heavens,'
And 'squandered the treasury
Gained by the people,' 750
And fully imagined
To do so for ever,
And now ... God in Heaven!"...
The Barin is sobbing!...

The kind-hearted peasants
Can hardly help crying
Themselves, and they think:
"Yes, the chain has been broken,
The strong links have snapped,
And the one end recoiling 760
Has struck the Pomyéshchick,
The other--the peasant."




The day of St. Peter--
And very hot weather;
The mowers are all
At their work in the meadows.
The peasants are passing
A tumble-down village,
Called "Ignorant-Duffers,"
Of Volost "Old-Dustmen,"
Of Government "Know-Nothing.'
They are approaching 10
The banks of the Volga.
They come to the river,
The sea-gulls are wheeling
And flashing above it;
The sea-hens are walking
About on the sand-banks;
And in the bare hayfields,
Which look just as naked
As any youth's cheek
After yesterday's shaving, 20
The Princes Volkonsky[37]
Are haughtily standing,
And round them their children,
Who (unlike all others)
Are born at an earlier
Date than their sires.

"The fields are enormous,"
Remarks old Pakhóm,
"Why, the folk must be giants."
The two brothers Goóbin 30
Are smiling at something:
For some time they've noticed
A very tall peasant
Who stands with a pitcher
On top of a haystack;
He drinks, and a woman
Below, with a hay-fork,
Is looking at him
With her head leaning back.
The peasants walk on 40
Till they come to the haystack;
The man is still drinking;
They pass it quite slowly,
Go fifty steps farther,
Then all turn together
And look at the haystack.
Not much has been altered:
The peasant is standing
With body bent back
As before,--but the pitcher 50
Has turned bottom upwards....

The strangers go farther.
The camps are thrown out
On the banks of the river;
And there the old people
And children are gathered,
And horses are waiting
With big empty waggons;
And then, in the fields
Behind those that are finished, 60
The distance is filled
By the army of workers,
The white shirts of women,
The men's brightly coloured,
And voices and laughter,
With all intermingled
The hum of the scythes....

"God help you, good fellows!"
"Our thanks to you, brothers!"

The peasants stand noting 70
The long line of mowers,
The poise of the scythes
And their sweep through the sunshine.
The rhythmical swell
Of melodious murmur.

The timid grass stands
For a moment, and trembles,
Then falls with a sigh....

On the banks of the Volga
The grass has grown high 80
And the mowers work gladly.
The peasants soon feel
That they cannot resist it.
"It's long since we've stretched ourselves,
Come, let us help you!"
And now seven women
Have yielded their places.
The spirit of work
Is devouring our peasants;
Like teeth in a ravenous 90
Mouth they are working--
The muscular arms,
And the long grass is falling
To songs that are strange
To this part of the country,
To songs that are taught
By the blizzards and snow-storms,
The wild savage winds
Of the peasants' own homelands:
"Bleak," "Burnt-Out," and "Hungry," 100
"Patched," "Bare-Foot," and "Shabby,"
And "Harvestless," too....
And when the strong craving
For work is appeased
They sit down by a haystack.

"From whence have you come?"
A grey-headed old peasant
(The one whom the women
Call Vlásuchka) asks them,
"And where are you going?" 110

"We are--" say the peasants,
Then suddenly stop,
There's some music approaching!

"Oh, that's the Pomyéshchick
Returning from boating!"
Says Vlásuchka, running
To busy the mowers:
"Wake up! Look alive there!
And mind--above all things,
Don't heat the Pomyéshchick 120
And don't make him angry!
And if he abuse you,
Bow low and say nothing,
And if he should praise you,
Start lustily cheering.
You women, stop cackling!
And get to your forks!"
A big burly peasant
With beard long and bushy
Bestirs himself also 130
To busy them all,
Then puts on his "kaftan," [38]
And runs away quickly
To meet the Pomyéshchick.

And now to the bank-side
Three boats are approaching.
In one sit the servants
And band of musicians,
Most busily playing;
The second one groans 140
'Neath a mountainous wet-nurse,
Who dandles a baby,
A withered old dry-nurse,
A motionless body
Of ancient retainers.
And then in the third
There are sitting the gentry:
Two beautiful ladies
(One slender and fair-haired,
One heavy and black-browed) 150
And two moustached Barins
And three little Barins,
And last--the Pomyéshchick,
A very old man
Wearing long white moustaches
(He seems to be all white);
His cap, broad and high-crowned,
Is white, with a peak,
In the front, of red satin.
His body is lean 160
As a hare's in the winter,
His nose like a hawk's beak,
His eyes--well, they differ:
The one sharp and shining,
The other--the left eye--
Is sightless and blank,
Like a dull leaden farthing.
Some woolly white poodles
With tufts on their ankles
Are in the boat too. 170

The old man alighting
Has mounted the bank,
Where for long he reposes
Upon a red carpet
Spread out by the servants.
And then he arises
To visit the mowers,
To pass through the fields
On a tour of inspection.
He leans on the arm-- 180
Now of one of the Barins,
And now upon those
Of the beautiful ladies.
And so with his suite--
With the three little Barins,
The wet-nurse, the dry-nurse,
The ancient retainers,
The woolly white poodles,--
Along through the hayfields
Proceeds the Pomyéshchick. 190

The peasants on all sides
Bow down to the ground;
And the big, burly peasant
(The Elder he is
As the peasants have noticed)
Is cringing and bending
Before the Pomyéshchick,
Just like the Big Devil
Before the high altar:
"Just so! Yes, Your Highness, 200
It's done, at your bidding!"
I think he will soon fall
Before the Pomyéshchick
And roll in the dust....

So moves the procession,
Until it stops short
In the front of a haystack
Of wonderful size,
Only this day erected.
The old man is poking 210
His forefinger in it,
He thinks it is damp,
And he blazes with fury:
"Is this how you rot
The best goods of your master?
I'll rot you with barschin,[39]
I'll make you repent it!
Undo it--at once!"

The Elder is writhing
In great agitation: 220
"I was not quite careful
Enough, and it _is_ damp.
It's my fault, Your Highness!"
He summons the peasants,
Who run with their pitchforks
To punish the monster.
And soon they have spread it
In small heaps around,
At the feet of the master;
His wrath is appeased. 230

(In the meantime the strangers
Examine the hay--It's
like tinder--so dry!)

A lackey comes flying
Along, with a napkin;
He's lame--the poor man!
"Please, the luncheon is served."
And then the procession,
The three little Barins,
The wet-nurse, the dry-nurse, 240
The ancient retainers,
The woolly white poodles,
Moves onward to lunch.

The peasants stand watching;
From one of the boats
Comes an outburst of music
To greet the Pomyéshchick.

The table is shining
All dazzlingly white
On the bank of the river. 250
The strangers, astonished,
Draw near to old Vlásuchka;
"Pray, little Uncle,"
They say, "what's the meaning
Of all these strange doings?
And who is that curious
Old man?"

"Our Pomyéshchick,
The great Prince Yutiátin."

"But why is he fussing 260
About in that manner?
For things are all changed now,
And he seems to think
They are still as of old.
The hay is quite dry,
Yet he told you to dry it!"

"But funnier still
That the hay and the hayfields
Are not his at all."

"Then whose are they?" 270
"The Commune's."

"Then why is he poking
His nose into matters
Which do not concern him?
For are you not free?"

"Why, yes, by God's mercy
The order is changed now
For us as for others;
But ours is a special case."

"Tell us about it." 280
The old man lay down
At the foot of the haystack
And answered them--nothing.

The peasants producing
The magic white napkin
Sit down and say softly,
"O napkin enchanted,
Give food to the peasants!"
The napkin unfolds,
And two hands, which come floating
From no one sees where, 291
Place a bucket of vodka,
A large pile of bread
On the magic white napkin,
And dwindle away....

The peasants, still wishing
To question old Vlásuchka,
Wisely present him
A cupful of vodka:
"Now come, little Uncle, 300
Be gracious to strangers,
And tell us your story."

"There's nothing to tell you.
You haven't told me yet
Who _you_ are and whence
You have journeyed to these parts,
And whither you go."

"We will not be surly
Like you. We will tell you.
We've come a great distance, 310
And seek to discover
A thing of importance.
A trouble torments us,
It draws us away
From our work, from our homes,
From the love of our food...."
The peasants then tell him
About their chance meeting,
Their argument, quarrel,
Their vow, and decision; 320
Of how they had sought
In the Government "Tight-Squeeze"
And Government "Shot-Strewn"
The man who, in Russia,
Is happy and free....

Old Vlásuchka listens,
Observing them keenly.
"I see," he remarks,
When the story is finished,
"I see you are very 330
Peculiar people.
We're said to be strange here,
But you are still stranger."

"Well, drink some more vodka
And tell us your tale."

And when by the vodka
His tongue becomes loosened,
Old Vlásuchka tells them
The following story.



"The great prince, Yutiátin,
The ancient Pomyéshchick,
Is very eccentric.
His wealth is untold,
And his titles exalted,
His family ranks
With the first in the Empire.
The whole of his life
He has spent in amusement,
Has known no control 10
Save his own will and pleasure.
When we were set free
He refused to believe it:
'They lie! the low scoundrels!'
There came the posrédnik
And Chief of Police,
But he would not admit them,
He ordered them out
And went on as before,
And only became 20
Full of hate and suspicion:
'Bow low, or I'll flog you
To death, without mercy!'
The Governor himself came
To try to explain things,
And long they disputed
And argued together;
The furious voice
Of the prince was heard raging
All over the house, 30
And he got so excited
That on the same evening
A stroke fell upon him:
His left side went dead,
Black as earth, so they tell us,
And all over nothing!
It wasn't his pocket
That pinched, but his pride
That was touched and enraged him.
He lost but a mite 40
And would never have missed it."

"Ah, that's what it means, friends,
To be a Pomyéshchick,
The habit gets into
The blood," says Mitródor,
"And not the Pomyéshchick's
Alone, for the habit
Is strong in the peasant
As well," old Pakhóm said.
"I once on suspicion 50
Was put into prison,
And met there a peasant
Called Sédor, a strange man,
Arrested for horse-stealing,
If I remember;
And he from the prison
Would send to the Barin
His taxes. (The prisoner's
Income is scanty,
He gets what he begs 60
Or a trifle for working.)
The others all laughed at him;
'Why should you send them
And you off for life
To hard labour?' they asked him.
But he only said,
'All the same ... it is better.'"

"Well, now, little Uncle,
Go on with the story."

"A mite is a small thing, 70
Except when it happens
To be in the eye!
The Pomyéshchick lay senseless,
And many were sure
That he'd never recover.
His children were sent for,
Those black-moustached footguards
(You saw them just now
With their wives, the fine ladies),
The eldest of them 80
Was to settle all matters
Concerning his father.
He called the posrédnik
To draw up the papers
And sign the agreement,
When suddenly--there
Stands the old man before them!
He springs on them straight
Like a wounded old tiger,
He bellows like thunder. 90
It was but a short time
Ago, and it happened
That I was then Elder,
And chanced to have entered
The house on some errand,
And I heard myself
How he cursed the Pomyéshchicks;
The words that he spoke
I have never forgotten:
'The Jews are reproached 100
For betraying their Master;
But what are _you_ doing?
The rights of the nobles
By centuries sanctioned
You fling to the beggars!'
He said to his sons,
'Oh, you dastardly cowards!
My children no longer!
It is for small reptiles--
The pope's crawling breed-- 110
To take bribes from vile traitors,
To purchase base peasants,
And they may be pardoned!
But you!--you have sprung
From the house of Yutiátin,
The Princes Yu-tiá-tin
You are! Go!... Go, leave me!
You pitiful puppies!'
The heirs were alarmed;
How to tide matters over 120
Until he should die?
For they are not small items,
The forests and lands
That belong to our father;
His money-bags are not
So light as to make it
A question of nothing
Whose shoulders shall bear them;
We know that our father
Has three 'private' daughters 130
In Petersburg living,
To Generals married,
So how do we know
That they may not inherit
His wealth?... The Pomyéshchick
Once more is prostrated,
His death is a question
Of time, and to make it
Run smoothly till then
An agreement was come to, 140
A plan to deceive him:
So one of the ladies
(The fair one, I fancy,
She used at that time
To attend the old master
And rub his left side
With a brush), well, she told him
That orders had come
From the Government lately
That peasants set free 150
Should return to their bondage.
And he quite believed it.
(You see, since his illness
The Prince had become
Like a child.) When he heard it
He cried with delight;
And the household was summoned
To prayer round the icons;[40]
And Thanksgiving Service
Was held by his orders 160
In every small village,
And bells were set ringing.
And little by little
His strength returned partly.
And then as before
It was hunting and music,
The servants were caned
And the peasants were punished.
The heirs had, of course,
Set things right with the servants, 170
A good understanding
They came to, and one man
(You saw him go running
Just now with the napkin)
Did not need persuading---
He so loved his Barin.
His name is Ipát,
And when we were made free
He refused to believe it;
'The great Prince Yutiátin 180
Be left without peasants!
What pranks are you playing?'
At last, when the 'Order
Of Freedom' was shown him,
Ipát said, 'Well, well,
Get you gone to your pleasures,
But I am the slave
Of the Princes Yutiátin!'
He cannot get over
The old Prince's kindness 190
To him, and he's told us
Some curious stories
Of things that had happened
To him in his childhood,
His youth and old age.
(You see, I had often
To go to the Prince
On some matter or other
Concerning the peasants,
And waited and waited 200
For hours in the kitchens,
And so I have heard them
A hundred times over.)
'When I was a young man
Our gracious young Prince
Spent his holidays sometimes
At home, and would dip me
(His meanest slave, mind you)
Right under the ice
In the depths of the Winter. 210
He did it in such
A remarkable way, too!
He first made two holes
In the ice of the river,
In one he would lower
Me down in a net--
Pull me up through the other!'
And when I began
To grow old, it would happen
That sometimes I drove 220
With the Prince in the Winter;
The snow would block up
Half the road, and we used
To drive five-in-a-file.
Then the fancy would strike him
(How whimsical, mark you!)
To set me astride
On the horse which was leading,
Me--last of his slaves!
Well, he dearly loved music, 230
And so he would throw me
A fiddle: 'Here! play now,
Ipát.' Then the driver
Would shout to the horses,
And urge them to gallop.
The snow would half-blind me,
My hands with the music
Were occupied both;
So what with the jolting,
The snow, and the fiddle, 240
Ipát, like a silly
Old noodle, would tumble.
Of course, if he landed
Right under the horses
The sledge must go over
His ribs,--who could help it?
But that was a trifle;
The cold was the worst thing,
It bites you, and you
Can do nothing against it! 250
The snow lay all round
On the vast empty desert,
I lay looking up
At the stars and confessing
My sins. But--my friends,
This is true as the Gospel--
I heard before long
How the sledge-bells came ringing,
Drew nearer and nearer:
The Prince had remembered, 260
And come back to fetch me!'

"(The tears began falling
And rolled down his face
At this part of the story.
Whenever he told it
He always would cry
Upon coming to this!)
'He covered me up
With some rugs, and he warmed me,
He lifted me up, 270
And he placed me beside him,
Me--last of his slaves--
Beside his Princely Person!
And so we came home.'"

They're amused at the story.

Old Vlásuchka, when
He has emptied his fourth cup,
Continues: "The heirs came
And called us together--
The peasants and servants; 280
They said, 'We're distressed
On account of our father.
These changes will kill him,
He cannot sustain them.
So humour his weakness:
Keep silent, and act still
As if all this trouble
Had never existed;
Give way to him, bow to him
Just as in old days. 290
For each stroke of barschin,
For all needless labour,
For every rough word
We will richly reward you.
He cannot live long now,
The doctors have told us
That two or three months
Is the most we may hope for.
Act kindly towards us,
And do as we ask you, 300
And we as the price
Of your silence will give you
The hayfields which lie
On the banks of the Volga.
Think well of our offer,
And let the posrédnik
Be sent for to witness
And settle the matter.'

"Then gathered the commune
To argue and clamour; 310
The thought of the hayfields
(In which we are sitting),
With promises boundless
And plenty of vodka,
Decided the question:
The commune would wait
For the death of the Barin.

"Then came the posrédnik,
And laughing, he said:
'It's a capital notion! 320
The hayfields are fine, too,
You lose nothing by it;
You just play the fool
And the Lord will forgive you.
You know, it's forbidden
To no one in Russia
To bow and be silent.'

"But I was against it:
I said to the peasants,
'For you it is easy, 330
But how about me?
Whatever may happen
The Elder must come
To accounts with the Barin,
And how can I answer
His babyish questions?
And how can I do
His nonsensical bidding?'

"'Just take off your hat
And bow low, and say nothing, 340
And then you walk out
And the thing's at an end.
The old man is ill,
He is weak and forgetful,
And nothing will stay
In his head for an instant.'

"Perhaps they were right;
To deceive an old madman
Is not very hard.
But for my part, I don't want 350
To play at buffoon.
For how many years
Have I stood on the threshold
And bowed to the Barin?
Enough for my pleasure!
I said, 'If the commune
Is pleased to be ruled
By a crazy Pomyéshchick
To ease his last moments
I don't disagree, 360
I have nothing against it;
But then, set me free
From my duties as Elder.'

"The whole matter nearly
Fell through at that moment,
But then Klímka Lávin said,
'Let _me_ be Elder,
I'll please you on both sides,
The master and you.
The Lord will soon take him, 370
And then the fine hayfields
Will come to the commune.
I swear I'll establish
Such order amongst you
You'll die of the fun!'

"The commune took long
To consider this offer:
A desperate fellow
Is Klímka the peasant,
A drunkard, a rover, 380
And not very honest,
No lover of work,
And acquainted with gipsies;
A vagabond, knowing
A lot about horses.
A scoffer at those
Who work hard, he will tell you:
'At work you will never
Get rich, my fine fellow;
You'll never get rich,-- 390
But you're sure to get crippled!'
But he, all the same,
Is well up in his letters;
Has been to St. Petersburg.
Yes, and to Moscow,
And once to Siberia, too,
With the merchants.
A pity it was
That he ever returned!
He's clever enough, 400
But he can't keep a farthing;
He's sharp--but he's always
In some kind of trouble.
He's picked some fine words up
From out of his travels:
'Our Fatherland dear,'
And 'The soul of great Russia,'
And 'Moscow, the mighty,
Illustrious city!'
'And I,' he will shout, 410
'Am a plain Russian peasant!'
And striking his forehead
He'll swallow the vodka.
A bottle at once
He'll consume, like a mouthful.
He'll fall at your feet
For a bottle of vodka.
But if he has money
He'll share with you, freely;
The first man he meets 420
May partake of his drink.
He's clever at shouting
And cheating and fooling,
At showing the best side
Of goods which are rotten,
At boasting and lying;
And when he is caught
He'll slip out through a cranny,
And throw you a jest,
Or his favourite saying: 430
'A crack in the jaw
Will your honesty bring you!'

"Well, after much thinking
The commune decided
That I must remain
The responsible Elder;
But Klímka might act
In my stead to the Barin
As though he were Elder.
Why, then, let him do it! 440
The right kind of Elder
He is for his Barin,
They make a fine pair!
Like putty his conscience;
Like Meenin's[41] his beard,
So that looking upon him
You'd think a sedater,
More dutiful peasant
Could never be found.
The heirs made his kaftan, 450
And he put it on,
And from Klímka the 'scapegrace'
He suddenly changed
Into Klím, Son-of-Jacob,[42]
Most worthy of Elders.
So that's how it is;--
And to our great misfortune
The Barin is ordered
A carriage-drive daily.
Each day through the village 460
He drives in a carriage
That's built upon springs.
Then up you jump, quickly,
And whip off your hat,
And, God knows for what reason,
He'll jump down your throat,
He'll upbraid and abuse you;
But you must keep silent.
He watches a peasant
At work in the fields, 470
And he swears we are lazy
And lie-abed sluggards
(Though never worked peasant
With half such a will
In the time of the Barin).
He has not a notion
That they are not _his_ fields,
But ours. When we gather
We laugh, for each peasant
Has something to tell 480
Of the crazy Pomyéshchick;
His ears burn, I warrant,
When we come together!
And Klím, Son-of-Jacob,
Will run, with the manner
Of bearing the commune
Some news of importance
(The pig has got proud
Since he's taken to scratching
His sides on the steps 490
Of the nobleman's manor).
He runs and he shouts:
'A command to the commune!
I told the Pomyèshchick
That Widow Teréntevna's
Cottage had fallen.
And that she is begging
Her bread. He commands you
To marry the widow
To Gabriel Jóckoff; 500
To rebuild the cottage,
And let them reside there
And multiply freely.'

"The bride will be seventy,
Seven the bridegroom!
Well, who could help laughing?
Another command:
'The dull-witted cows,
Driven out before sunrise,
Awoke the Pomyéshchick 510
By foolishly mooing
While passing his courtyard.
The cow-herd is ordered
To see that the cows
Do not moo in that manner!'"

The peasants laugh loudly.

"But why do you laugh so?
We all have our fancies.
Yakútsk was once governed,
I heard, by a General; 520
He had a liking
For sticking live cows
Upon spikes round the city,
And every free spot
Was adorned in that manner,
As Petersburg is,
So they say, with its statues,
Before it had entered
The heads of the people
That he was a madman. 530

"Another strict order
Was sent to the commune:
'The dog which belongs
To Sofrónoff the watchman
Does not behave nicely,
It barked at the Barin.
Be therefore Sofrónoff
Dismissed. Let Evrémka
Be watchman to guard
The estate of the Barin.' 540
(Another loud laugh,
For Evremka, the 'simple,'
Is known as the deaf-mute
And fool of the village).
But Klímka's delighted:
At last he's found something
That suits him exactly.
He bustles about
And in everything meddles,
And even drinks less. 550
There's a sharp little woman
Whose name is Orévna,
And she is Klím's gossip,
And finely she helps him
To fool the old Barin.
And as to the women,
They're living in clover:
They run to the manor
With linen and mushrooms
And strawberries, knowing 560
The ladies will buy them
And pay what they ask them
And feed them besides.
We laughed and made game
Till we fell into danger
And nearly were lost:
There was one man among us,
Petrov, an ungracious
And bitter-tongued peasant;
He never forgave us 570
Because we'd consented
To humour the Barin.
'The Tsar,' he would say,
'Has had mercy upon you,
And now, you, yourselves
Lift the load to your backs.
To Hell with the hayfields!
We want no more masters!'
We only could stop him
By giving him vodka 580
(His weakness was vodka).
The devil must needs
Fling him straight at the Barin.
One morning Petrov
Had set out to the forest
To pilfer some logs
(For the night would not serve him,
It seems, for his thieving,
He must go and do it
In broadest white daylight), 590
And there comes the carriage,
On springs, with the Barin!

"'From whence, little peasant,
That beautiful tree-trunk?
From whence has it come?'
He knew, the old fellow,
From whence it had come.
Petrov stood there silent,
And what could he answer?
He'd taken the tree 600
From the Barin's own forest.

"The Barin already
Is bursting with anger;
He nags and reproaches,
He can't stop recalling
The rights of the nobles.
The rank of his Fathers,
He winds them all into
Petrov, like a corkscrew.

"The peasants are patient, 610
But even their patience
Must come to an end.
Petrov was out early,
Had eaten no breakfast,
Felt dizzy already,
And now with the words
Of the Barin all buzzing
Like flies in his ears--
Why, he couldn't keep steady,
He laughed in his face! 620

"'Have done, you old scarecrow!'
He said to the Barin.
'You crazy old clown!'
His jaw once unmuzzled
He let enough words out
To stuff the Pomyéshchick
With Fathers and Grandfathers
Into the bargain.
The oaths of the lords
Are like stings of mosquitoes, 630
But those of the peasant
Like blows of the pick-axe.
The Barin's dumbfounded!
He'd safely encounter
A rain of small shot,
But he cannot face stones.
The ladies are with him,
They, too, are bewildered,
They run to the peasant
And try to restrain him. 640

"He bellows, 'I'll kill you!
For what are you swollen
With pride, you old dotard,
You scum of the pig-sty?
Have done with your jabber!
You've lost your strong grip
On the soul of the peasant,
The last one you are.
By the will of the peasant
Because he is foolish 650
They treat you as master
To-day. But to-morrow
The ball will be ended;
A good kick behind
We will give the Pomyéshchick,
And tail between legs
Send him back to his dwelling
To leave us in peace!'

"The Barin is gasping,
'You rebel ... you rebel!' 660
He trembles all over,
Half-dead he has fallen,
And lies on the earth!

"The end! think the others,
The black-moustached footguards,
The beautiful ladies;
But they are mistaken;
It isn't the end.

"An order: to summon
The village together 670
To witness the punishment
Dealt to the rebel
Before the Pomyéshchick....
The heirs and the ladies
Come running in terror
To Klím, to Petrov,
And to me: 'Only save us!'
Their faces are pale,
'If the trick is discovered
We're lost!' 680
It is Klím's place
To deal with the matter:
He drinks with Petrov
All day long, till the evening,
Embracing him fondly.
Together till midnight
They pace round the village,
At midnight start drinking
Again till the morning.
Petrov is as tipsy 690
As ever man was,
And like that he is brought
To the Barin's large courtyard,
And all is perfection!
The Barin can't move
From the balcony, thanks
To his yesterday's shaking.
And Klím is well pleased.

"He leads Petrov into
The stable and sets him 700
In front of a gallon
Of vodka, and tells him:
'Now, drink and start crying,
''Oh, oh, little Fathers!
Oh, oh, little. Mothers!
Have mercy! Have mercy!'''

"Petrov does his bidding;
He howls, and the Barin,
Perched up on the balcony,
Listens in rapture. 710
He drinks in the sound
Like the loveliest music.
And who could help laughing
To hear him exclaiming,
'Don't spare him, the villain!
The im-pu-dent rascal!
Just teach him a lesson!'
Petrov yells aloud
Till the vodka is finished.
Of course in the end 720
He is perfectly helpless,
And four peasants carry him
Out of the stable.
His state is so sorry
That even the Barin
Has pity upon him,
And says to him sweetly,
'Your own fault it is,
Little peasant, you know!'"

"You see what a kind heart 730
He has, the Pomyéshchick,"
Says Prov, and old Vlásuchka
Answers him quietly,
"A saying there is:
'Praise the grass--in the haystack,
The lord--in his coffin.'

"Twere well if God took him.
Petrov is no longer
Alive. That same evening
He started up, raving, 740
At midnight the pope came,
And just as the day dawned
He died. He was buried,
A cross set above him,
And God alone knows
What he died of. It's certain
That we never touched him,
Nay, not with a finger,
Much less with a stick.
Yet sometimes the thought comes:
Perhaps if that accident 751
Never had happened
Petrov would be living.
You see, friends, the peasant
Was proud more than others,
He carried his head high,
And never had bent it,
And now of a sudden--
Lie down for the Barin!
Fall flat for his pleasure! 760
The thing went off well,
But Petrov had not wished it.
I think he was frightened
To anger the commune
By not giving in,
And the commune is foolish,
It soon will destroy you....
The ladies were ready
To kiss the old peasant,
They brought fifty roubles 770
For him, and some dainties.
'Twas Klímka, the scamp,
The unscrupulous sinner,
Who worked his undoing....

"A servant is coming
To us from the Barin,
They've finished their lunch.
Perhaps they have sent him
To summon the Elder.
I'll go and look on 780
At the comedy there."



With him go the strangers,
And some of the women
And men follow after,
For mid-day has sounded,
Their rest-time it is,
So they gather together
To stare at the gentry,
To whisper and wonder.
They stand in a row
At a dutiful distance 10
Away from the Prince....

At a long snowy table
Quite covered with bottles
And all kinds of dishes
Are sitting the gentry,
The old Prince presiding
In dignified state
At the head of the table;
All white, dressed in white,
With his face shrunk awry, 20
His dissimilar eyes;
In his button-hole fastened
A little white cross
(It's the cross of St. George,
Some one says in a whisper);
And standing behind him,
Ipát, the domestic,
The faithful old servant,
In white tie and shirt-front
Is brushing the flies off. 30
Beside the Pomyéshchick
On each hand are sitting
The beautiful ladies:
The one with black tresses,
Her lips red as beetroots,
Each eye like an apple;
The other, the fair-haired,
With yellow locks streaming.
(Oh, you yellow locks,
Like spun gold do you glisten 40
And glow, in the sunshine!)
Then perched on three high chairs
The three little Barins,
Each wearing his napkin
Tucked under his chin,
With the old nurse beside them,
And further the body
Of ancient retainers;
And facing the Prince
At the foot of the table, 50
The black-moustached footguards
Are sitting together.
Behind each chair standing
A young girl is serving,
And women are waving
The flies off with branches.
The woolly white poodles
Are under the table,
The three little Barins
Are teasing them slyly. 60

Before the Pomyéshchick,
Bare-headed and humble,
The Elder is standing.
"Now tell me, how soon
Will the mowing be finished?"
The Barin says, talking
And eating at once.

"It soon will be finished.
Three days of the week
Do we work for your Highness; 70
A man with a horse,
And a youth or a woman,
And half an old woman
From every allotment.
To-day for this week
Is the Barin's term finished."

"Tut-tut!" says the Barin,
Like one who has noticed
Some crafty intent
On the part of another. 80
"'The Barin's term,' say you?
Now, what do you mean, pray?"
The eye which is bright
He has fixed on the peasant.

The Elder is hanging
His head in confusion.
"Of course it must be
As your Highness may order.
In two or three days,
If the weather be gracious, 90
The hay of your Highness
Can surely be gathered.
That's so,--is it not?"

(He turns his broad face round
And looks at the peasants.)
And then the sharp woman,
Klím's gossip, Orévna,
Makes answer for them:
"Yes, Klím, Son-of-Jacob,
The hay of the Barin 100
Is surely more precious
Than ours. We must tend it
As long as the weather lasts;
Ours may come later."

"A woman she is,
But more clever than you,"
The Pomyéshchick says smiling,
And then of a sudden
Is shaken with laughter:
"Ha, ha! Oh, you blockhead! 110
Ha? ha! fool! fool! fool!
It's the 'Barin's term,' say you?
Ha, ha! fool, ha, ha!
The Barin's term, slave,
Is the whole of your life-time;
And you have forgotten
That I, by God's mercy,
By Tsar's ancient charter,
By birth and by merit,
Am your supreme master!" 120

The strangers remark here
That Vlásuchka gently
Slips down to the grass.

"What's that for?" they ask him.
"We may as well rest now;
He's off. You can't stop him.
For since it was rumoured
That we should be given
Our freedom, the Barin
Takes care to remind us 130
That till the last hour
Of the world will the peasant
Be clenched in the grip
Of the nobles." And really
An hour slips away
And the Prince is still speaking;
His tongue will not always
Obey him, he splutters
And hisses, falls over
His words, and his right eye 140
So shares his disquiet
That it trembles and twitches.
The left eye expands,
Grows as round as an owl's eye,
Revolves like a wheel.
The rights of his Fathers
Through ages respected,
His services, merits,
His name and possessions,
The Barin rehearses. 150

God's curse, the Tsar's anger,
He hurls at the heads
Of obstreperous peasants.
And strictly gives order
To sweep from the commune
All senseless ideas,
Bids the peasants remember
That they are his slaves
And must honour their master.

"Our Fathers," cried Klím, 160
And his voice sounded strangely,
It rose to a squeak
As if all things within him
Leapt up with a passionate
Joy of a sudden
At thought of the mighty
And noble Pomyéshchicks,
"And whom should we serve
Save the Master we cherish?
And whom should we honour? 170
In whom should we hope?
We feed but on sorrows,
We bathe but in tear-drops,
How can we rebel?

"Our tumble-down hovels,
Our weak little bodies,
Ourselves, we are yours,
We belong to our Master.
The seeds which we sow
In the earth, and the harvest, 180
The hair on our heads--
All belongs to the Master.
Our ancestors fallen
To dust in their coffins,
Our feeble old parents
Who nod on the oven,
Our little ones lying
Asleep in their cradles
Are yours--are our Master's,
And we in our homes 190
Use our wills but as freely
As fish in a net."

The words of the Elder
Have pleased the Pomyéshchick,
The right eye is gazing
Benignantly at him,
The left has grown smaller
And peaceful again
Like the moon in the heavens.
He pours out a goblet 200
Of red foreign wine:
"Drink," he says to the peasant.
The rich wine is burning
Like blood in the sunshine;
Klím drinks without protest.
Again he is speaking:

"Our Fathers," he says,
"By your mercy we live now
As though in the bosom
Of Christ. Let the peasant 210
But try to exist
Without grace from the Barin!"
(He sips at the goblet.)
"The whole world would perish
If not for the Barin's
Deep wisdom and learning.
If not for the peasant's
Most humble submission.
By birth, and God's holy
Decree you are bidden 220
To govern the stupid
And ignorant peasant;
By God's holy will
Is the peasant commanded
To honour and cherish
And work for his lord!"

And here the old servant,
Ipát, who is standing
Behind the Pomyéshchick
And waving his branches, 230
Begins to sob loudly,
The tears streaming down
O'er his withered old face:
"Let us pray that the Barin
For many long years
May be spared to his servants!"
The simpleton blubbers,
The loving old servant,
And raising his hand,
Weak and trembling, he crosses 240
Himself without ceasing.
The black-moustached footguards
Look sourly upon him
With secret displeasure.
But how can they help it?
So off come their hats
And they cross themselves also.
And then the old Prince
And the wrinkled old dry-nurse
Both sign themselves thrice, 250
And the Elder does likewise.
He winks to the woman,
His sharp little gossip,
And straightway the women,
Who nearer and nearer
Have drawn to the table,
Begin most devoutly
To cross themselves too.
And one begins sobbing
In just such a manner 260
As had the old servant.
("That's right, now, start whining,
Old Widow Terentevna,
Sill-y old noodle!"
Says Vlásuchka, crossly.)

The red sun peeps slyly
At them from a cloud,
And the slow, dreamy music
Is heard from the river....

The ancient Pomyéshchick 270
Is moved, and the right eye
Is blinded with tears,
Till the golden-haired lady
Removes them and dries it;
She kisses the other eye
Heartily too.

"You see!" then remarks
The old man to his children,
The two stalwart sons
And the pretty young ladies; 280
"I wish that those villains,
Those Petersburg liars
Who say we are tyrants,
Could only be here now
To see and hear this!"

But then something happened
Which checked of a sudden
The speech of the Barin:
A peasant who couldn't
Control his amusement 290
Gave vent to his laughter.

The Barin starts wildly,
He clutches the table,
He fixes his face
In the sinner's direction;
The right eye is fierce,
Like a lynx he is watching
To dart on his prey,
And the left eye is whirling.
"Go, find him!" he hisses, 300
"Go, fetch him! the scoundrel!"

The Elder dives straight
In the midst of the people;
He asks himself wildly,
"Now, what's to be done?"
He makes for the edge
Of the crowd, where are sitting
The journeying strangers;
His voice is like honey:
"Come one of you forward; 310
You see, you are strangers,
He wouldn't touch _you_."

But they are not anxious
To face the Pomyéshchick,
Although they would gladly
Have helped the poor peasants.
He's mad, the old Barin,
So what's to prevent him
From beating them too?

"Well, you go, Román," 320
Say the two brothers Góobin,
"_You_ love the Pomyéshchicks."

"I'd rather you went, though!"
And each is quite willing
To offer the other.
Then Klím looses patience;
"Now, Vlásuchka, help us!
Do something to save us!
I'm sick of the thing!"

"Yes! Nicely you lied there!" 330

"Oho!" says Klím sharply,
"What lies did I tell?
And shan't we be choked
In the grip of the Barins
Until our last day
When we lie in our coffins?
When we get to Hell, too,
Won't they be there waiting
To set us to work?"

"What kind of a job 340
Would they find for us there, Klím?"

"To stir up the fire
While they boil in the pots!"
The others laugh loudly.
The sons of the Barin
Come hurrying to them;
"How foolish you are, Klím!
Our father has sent us,
He's terribly angry
That you are so long, 350
And don't bring the offender."

"We can't bring him, Barin;
A stranger he is,
From St. Petersburg province,
A very rich peasant;
The devil has sent him
To us, for our sins!
He can't understand us,
And things here amuse him;
He couldn't help laughing." 360

"Well, let him alone, then.
Cast lots for a culprit,
We'll pay him. Look here!"
He offers five roubles.
Oh, no. It won't tempt them.

"Well, run to the Barin,
And say that the fellow
Has hidden himself."

"But what when to-morrow comes?
Have you forgotten 370
Petrov, how we punished
The innocent peasant?"

"Then what's to be done?"

"Give me the five roubles!
You trust me, I'll save you!"
Exclaims the sharp woman,
The Elder's sly gossip.
She runs from the peasants
Lamenting and groaning,
And flings herself straight 380
At the feet of the Barin:

"O red little sun!
O my Father, don't kill me!
I have but one child,
Oh, have pity upon him!
My poor boy is daft,
Without wits the Lord made him,
And sent him so into
The world. He is crazy.
Why, straight from the bath 390


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