Who Can Be Happy And Free In Russia?
by
Nicholas Nekrassov

Part 4 out of 7



He at once begins scratching;
His drink he will try
To pour into his laputs
Instead of the jug.
And of work he knows nothing;
He laughs, and that's all
He can do--so God made him!
Our poor little home,
'Tis small comfort he brings it;
Our hut is in ruins, 400
Not seldom it happens
We've nothing to eat,
And that sets him laughing--
The poor crazy loon!
You may give him a farthing,
A crack on the skull,
And at one and the other
He'll laugh--so God made him!
And what can one say?
From a fool even sorrow 410
Comes pouring in laughter."

The knowing young woman!
She lies at the feet
Of the Barin, and trembles,
She squeals like a silly
Young girl when you pinch her,
She kisses his feet.

"Well ... go. God be with you!"
The Barin says kindly,
"I need not be angry 420
At idiot laughter,
I'll laugh at him too!"

"How good you are, Father,"
The black-eyed young lady
Says sweetly, and strokes
The white head of the Barin.
The black-moustached footguards
At this put their word in:

"A fool cannot follow
The words of his masters, 430
Especially those
Like the words of our father,
So noble and clever."

And Klím--shameless rascal!--
Is wiping his eyes
On the end of his coat-tails,
Is sniffing and whining;
"Our Fathers! Our Fathers!
The sons of our Father!
They know how to punish, 440
But better they know
How to pardon and pity!"

The old man is cheerful
Again, and is asking
For light frothing wine,
And the corks begin popping
And shoot in the air
To fall down on the women,
Who fly from them, shrieking.
The Barin is laughing, 450
The ladies then laugh,
And at them laugh their husbands,
And next the old servant,
Ipát, begins laughing,
The wet-nurse, the dry-nurse,
And then the whole party
Laugh loudly together;
The feast will be merry!
His daughters-in-law
At the old Prince's order 460
Are pouring out vodka
To give to the peasants,
Hand cakes to the youths,
To the girls some sweet syrup;
The women drink also
A small glass of vodka.
The old Prince is drinking
And toasting the peasants;
And slyly he pinches
The beautiful ladies. 470
"That's right! That will do him
More good than his physic,"
Says Vlásuchka, watching.
"He drinks by the glassful,
Since long he's lost measure
In revel, or wrath...."

The music comes floating
To them from the Volga,
The girls now already
Are dancing and singing, 480
The old Prince is watching them,
Snapping his fingers.
He wants to be nearer
The girls, and he rises.
His legs will not bear him,
His two sons support him;
And standing between them
He chuckles and whistles,
And stamps with his feet
To the time of the music; 490
The left eye begins
On its own account working,
It turns like a wheel.

"But why aren't you dancing?"
He says to his sons,
And the two pretty ladies.
"Dance! Dance!" They can't help themselves,
There they are dancing!
He laughs at them gaily,
He wishes to show them 500
How things went in _his_ time;
He's shaking and swaying
Like one on the deck
Of a ship in rough weather.

"Sing, Luiba!" he orders.
The golden-haired lady
Does not want to sing,
But the old man will have it.
The lady is singing
A song low and tender, 510
It sounds like the breeze
On a soft summer evening
In velvety grasses
Astray, like spring raindrops
That kiss the young leaves,
And it soothes the Pomyéshchick.
The feeble old man:
He is falling asleep now....
And gently they carry him
Down to the water, 520
And into the boat,
And he lies there, still sleeping.
Above him stands, holding
A big green umbrella,
The faithful old servant,
His other hand guarding
The sleeping Pomyéshchick
From gnats and mosquitoes.
The oarsmen are silent,
The faint-sounding music 530
Can hardly be heard
As the boat moving gently
Glides on through the water....

The peasants stand watching:
The bright yellow hair
Of the beautiful lady
Streams out in the breeze
Like a long golden banner....

"I managed him finely,
The noble Pomyéshchick," 540
Said Klím to the peasants.
"Be God with you, Barin!
Go bragging and scolding,
Don't think for a moment
That we are now free
And your servants no longer,
But die as you lived,
The almighty Pomyéshchick,
To sound of our music,
To songs of your slaves; 550
But only die quickly,
And leave the poor peasants
In peace. And now, brothers,
Come, praise me and thank me!
I've gladdened the commune.
I shook in my shoes there
Before the Pomyéshchick,
For fear I should trip
Or my tongue should betray me;
And worse--I could hardly 560
Speak plain for my laughter!
That eye! How it spins!
And you look at it, thinking:
'But whither, my friend,
Do you hurry so quickly?
On some hasty errand
Of yours, or another's?
Perhaps with a pass
From the Tsar--Little Father,
You carry a message 570
From him.' I was standing
And bursting with laughter!
Well, I am a drunken
And frivolous peasant,
The rats in my corn-loft
Are starving from hunger,
My hut is quite bare,
Yet I call God to witness
That I would not take
Such an office upon me 580
For ten hundred roubles
Unless I were certain
That he was the last,
That I bore with his bluster
To serve my own ends,
Of my own will and pleasure."

Old Vlásuchka sadly
And thoughtfully answers,
"How long, though, how long, though,
Have we--not we only 590
But all Russian peasants--
Endured the Pomyéshchicks?
And not for our pleasure,
For money or fun,
Not for two or three months,
But for life. What has changed, though?
Of what are we bragging?
For still we are peasants."

The peasants, half-tipsy,
Congratulate Klímka. 600
"Hurrah! Let us toss him!"
And now they are placing
Old Widow Teréntevna
Next to her bridegroom,
The little child Jóckoff,
Saluting them gaily.
They're eating and drinking
What's left on the table.
Then romping and jesting
They stay till the evening, 610
And only at nightfall
Return to the village.
And here they are met
By some sobering tidings:
The old Prince is dead.
From the boat he was taken,
They thought him asleep,
But they found he was lifeless.
The second stroke--while
He was sleeping--had fallen! 620

The peasants are sobered,
They look at each other,
And silently cross themselves.
Then they breathe deeply;
And never before
Did the poor squalid village
Called "Ignorant-Duffers,"
Of Volost "Old-Dustmen,"
Draw such an intense
And unanimous breath.... 630
Their pleasure, however,
Was not very lasting,
Because with the death
Of the ancient Pomyéshchick,
The sweet-sounding words
Of his heirs and their bounties
Ceased also. Not even
A pick-me-up after
The yesterday's feast
Did they offer the peasants. 640
And as to the hayfields--
Till now is the law-suit
Proceeding between them,
The heirs and the peasants.
Old Vlásuchka was
By the peasants appointed
To plead in their name,
And he lives now in Moscow.
He went to St. Petersburg too,
But I don't think 650
That much can be done
For the cause of the peasants.





PART III.

THE PEASANT WOMAN


PROLOGUE

"Not only to men
Must we go with our question,
We'll ask of the women,"
The peasants decided.
They asked in the village
"Split-up," but the people
Replied to them shortly,
"Not here will you find one.
But go to the village
'Stripped-Naked'--a woman 10
Lives there who is happy.
She's hardly a woman,
She's more like a cow,
For a woman so healthy,
So smooth and so clever,
Could hardly be found.
You must seek in the village
Matróna Korchágin--
The people there call her
'The Governor's Lady.'" 20
The peasants considered
And went....

Now already
The corn-stalks are rising
Like tall graceful columns,
With gilded heads nodding,
And whispering softly
In gentle low voices.
Oh, beautiful summer!
No time is so gorgeous, 30
So regal, so rich.

You full yellow cornfields,
To look at you now
One would never imagine
How sorely God's people
Had toiled to array you
Before you arose,
In the sight of the peasant,
And stood before him,
Like a glorious army 40
n front of a Tsar!
'Tis not by warm dew-drops
That you have been moistened,
The sweat of the peasant
Has fallen upon you.

The peasants are gladdened
At sight of the oats
And the rye and the barley,
But not by the wheat,
For it feeds but the chosen: 50
"We love you not, wheat!
But the rye and the barley
We love--they are kind,
They feed all men alike."

The flax, too, is growing
So sweetly and bravely:
"Ai! you little mite!
You are caught and entangled!"
A poor little lark
In the flax has been captured; 60
It struggles for freedom.
Pakhóm picks it up,
He kisses it tenderly:
"Fly, little birdie!" ...
The lark flies away
To the blue heights of Heaven;
The kind-hearted peasants
Gaze lovingly upwards
To see it rejoice
In the freedom above.... 70
The peas have come on, too;
Like locusts, the peasants
Attack them and eat them.
They're like a plump maiden--
The peas--for whoever
Goes by must needs pinch them.
Now peas are being carried
In old hands, in young hands,
They're spreading abroad
Over seventy high-roads. 80
The vegetables--how
They're flourishing also!
Each toddler is clasping
A radish or carrot,
And many are cracking
The seeds of the sunflower.
The beetroots are dotted
Like little red slippers
All over the earth.

Our peasants are walking, 90
Now faster--now slower.
At last they have reached it--
The village 'Stripped-Naked,'
It's not much to look at:
Each hut is propped up
Like a beggar on crutches;
The thatch from the roofs
Has made food for the cattle;
The huts are like feeble
Old skeletons standing, 100
Like desolate rooks' nests
When young birds forsake them.
When wild Autumn winds
Have dismantled the birch-trees.
The people are all
In the fields; they are working.
Behind the poor village
A manor is standing;
It's built on the slope
Of a hill, and the peasants 110
Are making towards it
To look at it close.

The house is gigantic,
The courtyard is huge,
There's a pond in it too;
A watch-tower arises
From over the house,
With a gallery round it,
A flagstaff upon it.

They meet with a lackey 120
Near one of the gates:
He seems to be wearing
A strange kind of mantle;
"Well, what are you up to?"
He says to the friends,
"The Pomyéshchick's abroad now,
The manager's dying."
He shows them his back,
And they all begin laughing:
A tiger is clutching 130
The edge of his shoulders!
"Heh! here's a fine joke!"
They are hotly discussing
What kind of a mantle
The lackey is wearing,
Till clever Pakhóm
Has got hold of the riddle.
"The cunning old rascal,
He's stolen a carpet,
And cut in the middle 140
A hole for his head!"

Like weak, straddling beetles
Shut up to be frozen
In cold empty huts
By the pitiless peasants.
The servants are crawling
All over the courtyard.
Their master long since
Has forgotten about them,
And left them to live 150
As they can. They are hungry,
All old and decrepit,
And dressed in all manners,
They look like a crowd
In a gipsy encampment.
And some are now dragging
A net through the pond:
"God come to your help!
Have you caught something, brothers?"
"One carp--nothing more; 160
There used once to be many,
But now we have come
To the end of the feast!"

"Do try to get five!"
Says a pale, pregnant woman,
Who's fervently blowing
A fire near the pond.

"And what are those pretty
Carved poles you are burning?
They're balcony railings, 170
I think, are they not?"

"Yes, balcony railings."

"See here. They're like tinder;
Don't blow on them, Mother!
I bet they'll burn faster
Than you find the victuals
To cook in the pot!"

"I'm waiting and waiting,
And Mítyenka sickens
Because of the musty 180
Old bread that I give him.
But what can I do?
This life--it is bitter!"
She fondles the head
Of a half-naked baby
Who sits by her side
In a little brass basin,
A button-nosed mite.

"The boy will take cold there,
The basin will chill him," 190
Says Prov; and he wishes
To lift the child up,
But it screams at him, angry.
"No, no! Don't you touch him,"
The mother says quickly,
"Why, can you not see
That's his carriage he's driving?
Drive on, little carriage!
Gee-up, little horses!
You see how he drives!" 200

The peasants each moment
Observe some new marvel;
And soon they have noticed
A strange kind of labour
Proceeding around them:
One man, it appears,
To the door has got fastened;
He's toiling away
To unscrew the brass handles,
His hands are so weak 210
He can scarcely control them.
Another is hugging
Some tiles: "See, Yegórshka,
I've dug quite a heap out!"
Some children are shaking
An apple-tree yonder:
"You see, little Uncles,
There aren't many left,
Though the tree was quite heavy."
"But why do you want them? 220
They're quite hard and green."
"We're thankful to get them!"

The peasants examine
The park for a long time;
Such wonders are seen here,
Such cunning inventions:
In one place a mountain
Is raised; in another
A ravine yawns deep!
A lake has been made too; 230
Perhaps at one time
There were swans on the water?
The summer-house has some
Inscriptions upon it,
Demyán begins spelling
Them out very slowly.
A grey-haired domestic
Is watching the peasants;
He sees they have very
Inquisitive natures, 240
And presently slowly
Goes hobbling towards them,
And holding a book.
He says, "Will you buy it?"
Demyán is a peasant
Acquainted with letters,
He tries for some time
But he can't read a word.

"Just sit down yourself
On that seat near the linden, 250
And read the book leisurely
Like a Pomyéshchick!"

"You think you are clever,"
The grey-headed servant
Retorts with resentment,
"Yet books which are learned
Are wasted upon you.
You read but the labels
On public-house windows,
And that which is written 260
On every odd corner:
'Most strictly forbidden.'"

The pathways are filthy,
The graceful stone ladies
Bereft of their noses.
"The fruit and the berries,
The geese and the swans
Which were once on the water,
The thieving old rascals
Have stuffed in their maws. 270
Like church without pastor,
Like fields without peasants,
Are all these fine gardens
Without a Pomyéshchick,"
The peasants remark.
For long the Pomyéshchick
Has gathered his treasures,
When all of a sudden....
(The six peasants laugh,
But the seventh is silent, 280
He hangs down his head.)

A song bursts upon them!
A voice is resounding
Like blasts of a trumpet.
The heads of the peasants
Are eagerly lifted,
They gaze at the tower.
On the balcony round it
A man is now standing;
He wears a pope's cassock; 290
He sings ... on the balmy
Soft air of the evening,
The bass, like a huge
Silver bell, is vibrating,
And throbbing it enters
The hearts of the peasants.
The words are not Russian,
But some foreign language,
But, like Russian songs,
It is full of great sorrow, 300
Of passionate grief,
Unending, unfathomed;
It wails and laments,
It is bitterly sobbing....

"Pray tell us, good woman,
What man is that singing?"
Román asks the woman
Now feeding her baby
With steaming ukhá.[43]

"A singer, my brothers, 310
A born Little Russian,
The Barin once brought him
Away from his home,
With a promise to send him
To Italy later.
But long the Pomyéshchick
Has been in strange parts
And forgotten his promise;
And now the poor fellow
Would be but too glad 320
To get back to his village.
There's nothing to do here,
He hasn't a farthing,
There's nothing before him
And nothing behind him
Excepting his voice.
You have not really heard it;
You will if you stay here
Till sunrise to-morrow:
Some three versts away 330
There is living a deacon,
And he has a voice too.
They greet one another:
Each morning at sunrise
Will our little singer
Climb up to the watch-tower,
And call to the other,
'Good-morrow to Father
Ipát, and how fares he?'
(The windows all shake 340
At the sound.)
From the distance
The deacon will answer,
'Good-morrow, good-morrow,
To our little sweet-throat!
I go to drink vodka,
I'm going ... I'm going....'
The voice on the air
Will hang quivering around us
For more than an hour, 350
Like the neigh of a stallion."

The cattle are now
Coming home, and the evening
Is filled with the fragrance
Of milk; and the woman,
The mother of Mítyenka,
Sighs; she is thinking,
"If only one cow
Would turn into the courtyard!"
But hark! In the distance 360
Some voices in chorus!
"Good-bye, you poor mourners,
May God send you comfort!
The people are coming,
We're going to meet them."

The peasants are filled
With relief; because after
The whining old servants
The people who meet them
Returning from work 370
In the fields seem such healthy
And beautiful people.
The men and the women
And pretty young girls
Are all singing together.

"Good health to you! Which is
Among you the woman
Matróna Korchágin?"
The peasants demand.

"And what do you want 380
With Matróna Korchágin?"

The woman Matróna
Is tall, finely moulded,
Majestic in bearing,
And strikingly handsome.
Of thirty-eight years
She appears, and her black hair
Is mingled with grey.
Her complexion is swarthy,
Her eyes large and dark 390
And severe, with rich lashes.
A white shirt, and short
Sarafán[44] she is wearing,
She walks with a hay-fork
Slung over her shoulder.

"Well, what do you want
With Matróna Korchágin?"
The peasants are silent;
They wait till the others
Have gone in advance, 400
And then, bowing, they answer:

"We come from afar,
And a trouble torments us,
A trouble so great
That for it we've forsaken
Our homes and our work,
And our appetites fail.
We're orthodox peasants,
From District 'Most Wretched,'
From 'Destitute Parish,' 410
From neighbouring hamlets--
'Patched,' 'Barefoot,' and 'Shabby,'
'Bleak,' 'Burnt-Out,' and 'Hungry,'
And 'Harvestless,' too.
We met in the roadway
And argued about
Who is happy in Russia.
Luká said, 'The pope,'
And Demyán, 'The Pomyéshchick,'
And Prov said, 'The Tsar,' 420
And Román, 'The official.'
'The round-bellied merchant,'
Said both brothers Goóbin,
Mitródor and Ívan.
Pakhóm said, 'His Highness,
The Tsar's Chief Adviser.'
Like bulls are the peasants:
Once folly is in them
You cannot dislodge it
Although you should beat them 430
With stout wooden cudgels,
They stick to their folly
And nothing will move them.
We argued and quarrelled,
While quarrelling fought,
And while fighting decided
That never again
Would we turn our steps homewards
To kiss wives and children,
To see the old people, 440
Until we have found
The reply to our question,
Of who can in Russia
Be happy and free?
We've questioned the pope,
We've asked the Pomyéshchick,
And now we ask you.
We'll seek the official,
The Minister, merchant,
We even will go 450
To the Tsar--Little Father,
Though whether he'll see us
We cannot be sure.
But rumour has told us
That _you're_ free and happy.
Then say, in God's name,
If the rumour be true."

Matróna Korchágin
Does not seem astonished,
But only a sad look 460
Creeps into her eyes,
And her face becomes thoughtful.

"Your errand is surely
A foolish one, brothers,"
She says to the peasants,
"For this is the season
Of work, and no peasant
For chatter has time."

"Till now on our journey
Throughout half the Empire 470
We've met no denial,"
The peasants protest.

"But look for yourselves, now,
The corn-ears are bursting.
We've not enough hands."

"And we? What are we for?
Just give us some sickles,
And see if we don't
Get some work done to-morrow!"
The peasants reply. 480

Matróna sees clearly
Enough that this offer
Must not be rejected;
"Agreed," she said, smiling,
"To such lusty fellows
As you, we may well look
For ten sheaves apiece."

"You give us your promise
To open your heart to us?"

"I will hide nothing." 490

Matróna Korchágin
Now enters her cottage,
And while she is working
Within it, the peasants
Discover a very
Nice spot just behind it,
And sit themselves down.
There's a barn close beside them
And two immense haystacks,
A flax-field around them; 500
And lying just near them
A fine plot of turnips,
And spreading above them
A wonderful oak-tree,
A king among oaks.
They're sitting beneath it,
And now they're producing
The magic white napkin:
"Heh, napkin enchanted,
Give food to the peasants!" 510
The napkin unfolds,
Two hands have come floating
From no one sees where,
Place a pailful of vodka,
A large pile of bread
On the magic white napkin,
And dwindle away.
The two brothers Goóbin
Are chuckling together,
For they have just pilfered 520
A very big horse-radish
Out of the garden--
It's really a monster!

The skies are dark blue now,
The bright stars are twinkling,
The moon has arisen
And sails high above them;
The woman Matróna
Comes out of the cottage
To tell them her tale. 530




CHAPTER I


THE WEDDING

"My girlhood was happy,
For we were a thrifty
Arid diligent household;
And I, the young maiden,
With Father and Mother
Knew nothing but joy.
My father got up
And went out before sunrise,
He woke me with kisses
And tender caresses; 10
My brother, while dressing,
Would sing little verses:
'Get up, little Sister,
Get up, little Sister,
In no little beds now
Are people delaying,
In all little churches
The peasants are praying,
Get up, now, get up,
It is time, little Sister. 20
The shepherd has gone
To the field with the sheep,
And no little maidens
Are lying asleep,
They've gone to pick raspberries,
Merrily singing.
The sound of the axe
In the forest is ringing.'

"And then my dear mother,
When she had done scouring 30
The pots and the pans,
When the hut was put tidy,
The bread in the oven,
Would steal to my bedside,
And cover me softly
And whisper to me:

"'Sleep on, little dove,
Gather strength--you will need it--
You will not stay always
With Father and Mother, 40
And when you will leave them
To live among strangers
Not long will you sleep.
You'll slave till past midnight,
And rise before daybreak;
You'll always be weary.
They'll give you a basket
And throw at the bottom
A crust. You will chew it,
My poor little dove, 50
And start working again....'

"But, brothers, I did not
Spend much time in sleeping;
And when I was five
On the day of St. Simon,
I mounted a horse
With the help of my father,
And then was no longer
A child. And at six years
I carried my father 60
His breakfast already,
And tended the ducks,
And at night brought the cow home,
And next--took my rake,
And was off to the hayfields!
And so by degrees
I became a great worker,
And yet best of all
I loved singing and dancing;
The whole day I worked 70
In the fields, and at nightfall
Returned to the cottage
All covered with grime.
But what's the hot bath for?
And thanks to the bath
And boughs of the birch-tree,
And icy spring water,
Again I was clean
And refreshed, and was ready
To take out my spinning-wheel, 80
And with companions
To sing half the night.

"I never ran after
The youths, and the forward
I checked very sharply.
To those who were gentle
And shy, I would whisper:
'My cheeks will grow hot,
And sharp eyes has my mother;
Be wise, now, and leave me 90
Alone'--and they left me.

"No matter how clever
I was to avoid them,
The one came at last
I was destined to wed;
And he--to my bitter
Regret--was a stranger:
Young Phílip Korchágin,
A builder of ovens.
He came from St. Petersburg. 100
Oh, how my mother
Did weep: 'Like a fish
In the ocean, my daughter,
You'll plunge and be lost;
Like a nightingale, straying
Away from its nest,
We shall lose you, my daughter!
The walls of the stranger
Are not built of sugar,
Are not spread with honey, 110
Their dwellings are chilly
And garnished with hunger;
The cold winds will nip you,
The black rooks will scold you,
The savage dogs bite you,
The strangers despise you.'

"But Father sat talking
And drinking till late
With the 'swat.'[45] I was frightened.
I slept not all night.... 120

"Oh, youth, pray you, tell me,
Now what can you find
In the maiden to please you?
And where have you seen her?
Perhaps in the sledges
With merry young friends
Flying down from the mountain?
Then you were mistaken,
O son of your father,
It was but the frost 130
And the speed and the laughter
That brought the bright tints
To the cheeks of the maiden.
Perhaps at some feast
In the home of a neighbour
You saw her rejoicing
And clad in bright colours?
But then she was plump
From her rest in the winter;
Her rosy face bloomed 140
Like the scarlet-hued poppy;
But wait!--have you been
To the hut of her father
And seen her at work
Beating flax in the barn?
Ah, what shall I do?
I will take brother falcon
And send him to town:
'Fly to town, brother falcon,
And bring me some cloth 150
And six colours of worsted,
And tassels of blue.
I will make a fine curtain,
Embroider each corner
With Tsar and Tsaritsa,
With Moscow and Kiev,
And Constantinople,
And set the great sun
Shining bright in the middle,
And this I will hang 160
In the front of my window:
Perhaps you will see it,
And, struck by its beauty,
Will stand and admire it,
And will not remember
To seek for the maiden....'

"And so till the morning
I lay with such thoughts.
'Now, leave me, young fellow,'
I said to the youth 170
When he came in the evening;
'I will not be foolish
Enough to abandon
My freedom in order
To enter your service.
God sees me--I will not
Depart from my home!'

"'Do come,' said young Phílip,
'So far have I travelled
To fetch you. Don't fear me-- 180
I will not ill-treat you.'
I begged him to leave me,
I wept and lamented;
But nevertheless
I was still a young maiden:
I did not forget
Sidelong glances to cast
At the youth who thus wooed me.
And Phílip was handsome,
Was rosy and lusty, 190
Was strong and broad-shouldered,
With fair curling hair,
With a voice low and tender....
Ah, well ... I was won....

"'Come here, pretty fellow,
And stand up against me,
Look deep in my eyes--
They are clear eyes and truthful;
Look well at my rosy
Young face, and bethink you: 200
Will you not regret it,
Won't my heart be broken,
And shall I not weep
Day and night if I trust you
And go with you, leaving
My parents forever?'

"'Don't fear, little pigeon,
We shall not regret it,'
Said Phílip, but still
I was timid and doubtful. 210
'Do go,' murmured I, and he,
'When you come with me.'
Of course I was fairer
And sweeter and dearer
Than any that lived,
And his arms were about me....
Then all of a sudden
I made a sharp effort
To wrench myself free. 219
'How now? What's the matter?
You're strong, little pigeon!'
Said Phílip astonished,
But still held me tight.
'Ah, Phílip, if you had
Not held me so firmly
You would not have won me;
I did it to try you,
To measure your strength;
You were strong, and it pleased me.'
We must have been happy 230
In those fleeting moments
When softly we whispered
And argued together;
I think that we never
Were happy again....

"How well I remember....
The night was like this night,
Was starlit and silent ...
Was dreamy and tender
Like this...." 240

And the woman,
Matróna, sighed deeply,
And softly began--
Leaning back on the haystack--
To sing to herself
With her thoughts in the past:

"'Tell me, young merchant, pray,
Why do you love me so--
Poor peasant's daughter?
I am not clad in gold, 250
I am not hung with pearls,
Not decked with silver.'

"'Silver your chastity,
Golden your beauty shines,
O my belovèd,
White pearls are falling now
Out of your weeping eyes,
Falling like tear-drops.'

"My father gave orders
To bring forth the wine-cups, 260
To set them all out
On the solid oak table.
My dear mother blessed me:
'Go, serve them, my daughter,
Bow low to the strangers.'
I bowed for the first time,
My knees shook and trembled;
I bowed for the second--
My face had turned white;
And then for the third time 270
I bowed, and forever
The freedom of girlhood
Rolled down from my head...."

"Ah, that means a wedding,"
Cry both brothers Goóbin,
"Let's drink to the health
Of the happy young pair!"

"Well said! We'll begin
With the bride," say the others.

"Will you drink some vodka, 280
Matróna Korchágin?"

"An old woman, brothers,
And not drink some vodka?"




CHAPTER II


A SONG

Stand before your judge--
And your legs will quake!
Stand before the priest
On your wedding-day,--
How your head will ache!
How your head will ache!
You will call to mind
Songs of long ago,
Songs of gloom and woe:
Telling how the guests 10
Crowd into the yard,
Run to see the bride
Whom the husband brings
Homeward at his side.
How his parents both
Fling themselves on her;
How his brothers soon
Call her "wasteful one";
How his sisters next
Call her "giddy one"; 20
How his father growls,
"Greedy little bear!"
How his mother snarls,
"Cannibal!" at her.
She is "slovenly"
And "disorderly,"
She's a "wicked one"!

"All that's in the song
Happened now to me.
Do you know the song? 30
Have you heard it sung?"

"Yes, we know it well;
Gossip, you begin,
We will all join in."

_Matróna_

So sleepy, so weary
I am, and my heavy head
Clings to the pillow.
But out in the passage
My Father-in-law
Begins stamping and swearing. 40

_Peasants in Chorus_

Stamping and swearing!
Stamping and swearing!
He won't let the poor woman
Rest for a moment.
Up, up, up, lazy-head!
Up, up, up, lie-abed!
Lazy-head!
Lie-abed!
Slut!

_Matróna_

So sleepy, so weary 50
I am, and my heavy head
Clings to the pillow;
But out in the passage
My Mother-in-law
Begins scolding and nagging.

_Peasants in Chorus_

Scolding and nagging!
Scolding and nagging!
She won't let the poor woman
Rest for a moment.
Up, up, up, lazy-head! 60
Up, up, up, lie-abed!
Lazy-head!
Lie-abed!
Slut!

"A quarrelsome household
It was--that of Philip's
To which I belonged now;
And I from my girlhood
Stepped straight into Hell.
My husband departed 70
To work in the city,
And leaving, advised me
To work and be silent,
To yield and be patient:
'Don't splash the red iron
With cold water--it hisses!'
With father and mother
And sisters-in-law he
Now left me alone;
Not a soul was among them 80
To love or to shield me,
But many to scold.
One sister-in-law--
It was Martha, the eldest,--
Soon set me to work
Like a slave for her pleasure.
And Father-in-law too
One had to look after,
Or else all his clothes
To redeem from the tavern. 90
In all that one did
There was need to be careful,
Or Mother-in-law's
Superstitions were troubled
(One never could please her).
Well, some superstitions
Of course may be right;
But they're most of them evil.
And one day it happened
That Mother-in-law 100
Murmured low to her husband
That corn which is stolen
Grows faster and better.
So Father-in-law
Stole away after midnight....
It chanced he was caught,
And at daybreak next morning
Brought back and flung down
Like a log in the stable.

"But I acted always 110
As Phílip had told me:
I worked, with the anger
Hid deep in my bosom,
And never a murmur
Allowed to escape me.
And then with the winter
Came Phílip, and brought me
A pretty silk scarf;
And one feast-day he took me
To drive in the sledges; 120
And quickly my sorrows
Were lost and forgotten:
I sang as in old days
At home, with my father.
For I and my husband
Were both of an age,
And were happy together
When only they left us
Alone, but remember
A husband like Phílip 130
Not often is found."

"Do you mean to say
That he never once beat you?"

Matróna was plainly
Confused by the question;
"Once, only, he beat me,"
She said, very low.

"And why?" asked the peasants.

"Well, you know yourselves, friends,
How quarrels arise 140
In the homes of the peasants.
A young married sister
Of Phílip's one day
Came to visit her parents.
She found she had holes
In her boots, and it vexed her.
Then Phílip said, 'Wife,
Fetch some boots for my sister.'
And I did not answer
At once; I was lifting 150
A large wooden tub,
So, of course, couldn't speak.
But Phílip was angry
With me, and he waited
Until I had hoisted
The tub to the oven,
Then struck me a blow
With his fist, on my temple.

"'We're glad that you came,
But you see that you'd better 160
Keep out of the way,'
Said the other young sister
To her that was married.

"Again Philip struck me!

"'It's long since I've seen you,
My dearly-loved daughter,
But could I have known
How the baggage would treat you!'...
Whined Mother-in-law.

"And again Phílip struck me! 170

"Well, that is the story.
'Tis surely not fitting
For wives to sit counting
The blows of their husbands,
But then I had promised
To keep nothing back."

"Ah, well, with these women--
The poisonous serpents!--
A corpse would awaken
And snatch up a horsewhip," 180
The peasants say, smiling.

Matróna said nothing.
The peasants, in order
To keep the occasion
In manner befitting,
Are filling the glasses;
And now they are singing
In voices of thunder
A rollicking chorus,
Of husbands' relations, 190
And wielding the knout.

... ...

"Cruel hated husband,
Hark! he is coming!
Holding the knout...."

_Chorus_

"Hear the lash whistle!
See the blood spurt!
Ai, leli, leli!
See the blood spurt!"

... ...

"Run to his father!
Bowing before him-- 200
'Save me!' I beg him;
'Stop my fierce husband--
Venomous serpent!'
Father-in-law says,
'Beat her more soundly!
Draw the blood freely!'"

_Chorus_

"Hear the lash whistle!
See the blood spurt!
Ai, leli, leli!
See the blood spurt!" 210

... ...

"Quick--to his mother!
Bowing before her--
'Save me!' I beg her;
'Stop my cruel husband!
Venomous serpent!'
Mother-in-law says,
'Beat her more soundly,
Draw the blood freely!'"

_Chorus_

"Hear the lash whistle!
See the blood spurt! 220
Ai, leli, leli!
See the blood spurt!"

* * * * *

"On Lady-day Phílip
Went back to the city;
A little while later
Our baby was born.
Like a bright-coloured picture
Was he--little Djóma;
The sunbeams had given
Their radiance to him, 230
The pure snow its whiteness;
The poppies had painted
His lips; by the sable
His brow had been pencilled;
The falcon had fashioned
His eyes, and had lent them
Their wonderful brightness.
At sight of his first
Angel smile, all the anger
And bitterness nursed 240
In my bosom was melted;
It vanished away
Like the snow on the meadows
At sight of the smiling
Spring sun. And not longer
I worried and fretted;
I worked, and in silence
I let them upbraid.
But soon after that
A misfortune befell me: 250
The manager by
The Pomyéshchick appointed,
Called Sitnikov, hotly
Began to pursue me.
'My lovely Tsaritsa!
'My rosy-ripe berry!'
Said he; and I answered,
'Be off, shameless rascal!
Remember, the berry
Is not in _your_ forest!' 260
I stayed from the field-work,
And hid in the cottage;
He very soon found me.
I hid in the corn-loft,
But Mother-in-law
Dragged me out to the courtyard;
'Now don't play with fire, girl!'
She said. I besought her
To send him away,
But she answered me roughly, 270
'And do you want Phílip
To serve as a soldier?'
I ran to Savyéli,
The grandfather, begging
His aid and advice.

"I haven't yet told you
A word of Savyéli,
The only one living
Of Phílip's relations
Who pitied and loved me. 280
Say, friends, shall I tell you
About him as well?"

"Yes, tell us his tale,
And we'll each throw a couple
Of sheaves in to-morrow,
Above what we promised."

"Well, well," says Matróna,
"And 'twould be a pity
To give old Savyéli
No place in the story; 290
For he was a happy one,
Too--the old man...."




CHAPTER III


SAVYÉLI

"A mane grey and bushy
Which covered his shoulders,
A huge grizzled beard
Which had not seen the scissors
For twenty odd years,
Made Savyéli resemble
A shaggy old bear,
Especially when he
Came out of the forest,
So broad and bent double. 10
The grandfather's shoulders
Were bowed very low,
And at first I was frightened
Whenever he entered
The tiny low cottage:
I thought that were he
To stand straight of a sudden
He'd knock a great hole
With his head in the ceiling.
But Grandfather could not 20
Stand straight, and they told me
That he was a hundred.
He lived all alone
In his own little cottage,
And never permitted
The others to enter;
He couldn't abide them.
Of course they were angry
And often abused him.
His own son would shout at him, 30
'Branded one! Convict!'
But this did not anger
Savyéli, he only
Would go to his cottage
Without making answer,
And, crossing himself,
Begin reading the scriptures;
Then suddenly cry
In a voice loud and joyful,
'Though branded--no slave!' 40
When too much they annoyed him,
He sometimes would say to them:
'Look, the swat's[46] coming!'
The unmarried daughter
Would fly to the window;
Instead of the swat there
A beggar she'd find!
And one day he silvered
A common brass farthing,
And left it to lie 50
On the floor; and then straightway
Did Father-in-law run
In joy to the tavern,--
He came back, not tipsy,
But beaten half-dead!
At supper that night
We were all very silent,
And Father-in-law had
A cut on his eyebrow,
But Grandfather's face 60
Wore a smile like a rainbow!

"Savyéli would gather
The berries and mushrooms
From spring till late autumn,
And snare the wild rabbits;
Throughout the long winter
He lay on the oven
And talked to himself.
He had favourite sayings:
He used to lie thinking 70
For whole hours together,
And once in an hour
You would hear him exclaiming:

"'Destroyed ... and subjected!'
Or, 'Ai, you toy heroes!
You're fit but for battles
With old men and women!'

"'Be patient ... and perish,
Impatient ... and perish!'

"'Eh, you Russian peasant, 80
You giant, you strong man,
The whole of your lifetime
You're flogged, yet you dare not
Take refuge in death,
For Hell's torments await you!'

"'At last the Korójins[47]
Awoke, and they paid him,
They paid him, they paid him,
They paid the whole debt!'
And many such sayings 90
He had,--I forget them.
When Father-in-law grew
Too noisy I always
Would run to Savyéli,
And we two, together,
Would fasten the door.
Then I began working,
While Djómushka climbed
To the grandfather's shoulder,
And sat there, and looked 100
Like a bright little apple
That hung on a hoary
Old tree. Once I asked him:

"'And why do they call you
A convict, Savyéli?'

"'I was once a convict,'
Said he.

"'You, Savyéli!'

"'Yes I, little Grandchild,
Yes, I have been branded. 110
I buried a German
Alive--Christian Vogel.'

"'You're joking, Savyéli!'

"'Oh no, I'm not joking.
I mean it,' he said,
And he told me the story.

"'The peasants in old days
Were serfs as they now are,
But our race had, somehow,
Not seen its Pomyéshchick; 120
No manager knew we,
No pert German agent.
And barschin we gave not,
And taxes we paid not
Except when it pleased us,--
Perhaps once in three years
Our taxes we'd pay.'

"'But why, little Grandad?'

"'The times were so blessed,--
And folk had a saying 130
That our little village
Was sought by the devil
For more than three years,
But he never could find it.
Great forests a thousand
Years old lay about us;
And treacherous marshes
And bogs spread around us;
No horseman and few men
On foot ever reached us. 140
It happened that once
By some chance, our Pomyéshchick,
Shaláshnikov, wanted
To pay us a visit.
High placed in the army
Was he; and he started
With soldiers to find us.
They soon got bewildered
And lost in the forest,
And had to turn back; 150
Why, the Zemsky policeman
Would only come once
In a year! They were good times!
In these days the Barin
Lives under your window;
The roadways go spreading
Around, like white napkins--
The devil destroy them!
We only were troubled
By bears, and the bears too 160
Were easily managed.
Why, I was a worse foe
By far than old Mishka,
When armed with a dagger
And bear-spear. I wandered
In wild, secret woodpaths,
And shouted, ''_My_ forest!''
And once, only once,
I was frightened by something:
I stepped on a huge 170
Female bear that was lying
Asleep in her den
In the heart of the forest.
She flung herself at me,
And straight on my bear-spear
Was fixed. Like a fowl
On the spit she hung twisting
An hour before death.
It was then that my spine snapped.
It often was painful 180
When I was a young man;
But now I am old,
It is fixed and bent double.
Now, do I not look like
A hook, little Grandchild?'

"'But finish the story.
You lived and were not much
Afflicted. What further?'

"'At last our Pomyéshchick
Invented a new game: 190
He sent us an order,
''Appear!'' We appeared not.
Instead, we lay low
In our dens, hardly breathing.
A terrible drought
Had descended that summer,
The bogs were all dry;
So he sent a policeman,
Who managed to reach us,
To gather our taxes, 200
In honey and fish;
A second time came he,
We gave him some bear-skins;
And when for the third time
He came, we gave nothing,--
We said we had nothing.
We put on our laputs,
We put our old caps on,
Our oldest old coats,
And we went to Korójin 210
(For there was our master now,
Stationed with soldiers).
''Your taxes!'' ''We have none,
We cannot pay taxes,
The corn has not grown,
And the fish have escaped us.''
''Your taxes!'' ''We have none.''
He waited no longer;
''Hey! Give them the first round!''
He said, and they flogged us. 220

"'Our pockets were not
Very easily opened;
Shaláshnikov, though, was
A master at flogging.
Our tongues became parched,
And our brains were set whirling,
And still he continued.
He flogged not with birch-rods,
With whips or with sticks,
But with knouts made for giants. 230
At last we could stand it
No longer; we shouted,
''Enough! Let us breathe!''
We unwound our foot-rags
And took out our money,
And brought to the Barin
A ragged old bonnet
With roubles half filled.

"'The Barin grew calm,
He was pleased with the money; 240
He gave us a glass each
Of strong, bitter brandy,
And drank some himself
With the vanquished Korójins,
And gaily clinked glasses.
''It's well that you yielded,''
Said he, ''For I swear
I was fully decided
To strip off the last shred
Of skins from your bodies 250
And use it for making
A drum for my soldiers!
Ha, ha! Ha, ha, ha!''
(He was pleased with the notion.)
''A fine drum indeed!''

"'In silence we left;
But two stalwart old peasants
Were chuckling together;
They'd two hundred roubles
In notes, the old rascals! 260
Safe hidden away
In the end of their coat-tails.
They both had been yelling,
''We're beggars! We're beggars!''
So carried them home.
''Well, well, you may cackle!''
I thought to myself,
''But the next time, be certain,
You won't laugh at me!''
The others were also 270
Ashamed of their weakness,
And so by the ikons
We swore all together
That next time we rather
Would die of the beating
Than feebly give way.
It seems the Pomyéshchick
Had taken a fancy
At once to our roubles,
Because after that 280
Every year we were summoned
To go to Korójin,
We went, and were flogged.

"'Shaláshnikov flogged like
A prince, but be certain
The treasures he thrashed from
The doughty Korójins
Were not of much weight.
The weak yielded soon,
But the strong stood like iron 290
For the commune. I also
Bore up, and I thought:
''Though never so stoutly
You flog us, you dog's son,
You won't drag the whole soul
From out of the peasant;
Some trace will be left.''

"'When the Barin was sated
We went from the town,
But we stopped on the outskirts 300
To share what was over.
And plenty there was, too!
Shaláshnikov, heh,
You're a fool! It was our turn
To laugh at the Barin;
Ah, they were proud peasants--
The plucky Korójins!
But nowadays show them
The tail of a knout,
And they'll fly to the Barin, 310
And beg him to take
The last coin from their pockets.
Well, that's why we all lived
Like merchants in those days.
One summer came tidings
To us that our Barin
Now owned us no longer,
That he had, at Varna,
Been killed. We weren't sorry,
But somehow we thought then: 320
''The peasants' good fortune
Has come to an end!''
The heir made a new move:
He sent us a German.[48]
Through vast, savage forests,
Through sly sucking bogs
And on foot came the German,
As bare as a finger.

"'As melting as butter
At first was the German: 330
''Just give what you can, then,''
He'd say to the peasants.

"'''We've nothing to give!''

"'''I'll explain to the Barin.''

"'''Explain,'' we replied,
And were troubled no more.
It seemed he was going
To live in the village;
He soon settled down.
On the banks of the river, 340
For hour after hour
He sat peacefully fishing,
And striking his nose
Or his cheek or his forehead.
We laughed: ''You don't like
The Korójin mosquitoes?''
He'd boat near the bankside
And shout with enjoyment,
Like one in the bath-house
Who's got to the roof.[49] 350

"'With youths and young maidens
He strolled in the forest
(They were not for nothing
Those strolls in the forest!)--
''Well, if you can't pay
You should work, little peasants.''

"'''What work should we do?''

"'''You should dig some deep ditches
To drain off the bog-lands.''
We dug some deep ditches. 360

"'''And now trim the forest.''

"'''Well, well, trim the forest....''
We hacked and we hewed
As the German directed,
And when we look round
There's a road through the forest!

"'The German went driving
To town with three horses;
Look! now he is coming
With boxes and bedding, 370
And God knows wherefrom
Has this bare-footed German
Raised wife and small children!
And now he's established
A village ispravnik,[50]
They live like two brothers.
His courtyard at all times
Is teeming with strangers,
And woe to the peasants--
The fallen Korójins! 380
He sucked us all dry
To the very last farthing;
And flog!--like the soul
Of Shaláshnikov flogged he!
Shaláshnikov stopped
When he got what he wanted;
He clung to our backs
Till he'd glutted his stomach,
And then he dropped down
Like a leech from a dog's ear. 390
But he had the grip
Of a corpse--had this German;
Until he had left you
Stripped bare like a beggar
You couldn't escape.'

"'But how could you bear it?'

"'Ah, how could we bear it?
Because we were giants--
Because by their patience
The people of Russia
Are great, little Grandchild. 400
You think, then, Matróna,
That we Russian peasants
No warriors are?
Why, truly the peasant
Does not live in armour,
Does not die in warfare,
But nevertheless
He's a warrior, child.
His hands are bound tight, 410
And his feet hung with fetters;
His back--mighty forests
Have broken across it;
His breast--I will tell you,
The Prophet Elijah
In chariot fiery
Is thundering within it;
And these things the peasant
Can suffer in patience.
He bends--but he breaks not; 420
He reels--but he falls not;
Then is he not truly
A warrior, say?'

"'You joke, little Grandad;
Such warriors, surely,
A tiny mouse nibbling
Could crumble to atoms,'
I said to Savyéli.

"'I know not, Matróna,
But up till to-day 430
He has stood with his burden;
He's sunk in the earth
'Neath its weight to his shoulders;
His face is not moistened
With sweat, but with heart's blood.


 


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