After having taken supper with my friends, I took my seat in the kibitka. The driver drove the horses at full gallop, as was his wont, and in a few minutes we were outside the city. It is hard to part, even for a short time, from those who have become necessary to us at every moment of our existence. It is hard to part,-- but happy is he who can part without smiling, for love or friendship is his consolation. You weep as you say " good-bye "; but think of your return,-- and let your tears dry up at this thought, as dries up the dew before the face of the sun. Happy is he who weeps, hoping to be consoled! Happy is he who sometimes lives in the future! Happy is he who lives in meditation! His existence is enriched; his joy is multiplied, and calm assuages the gloom of his pining, generating images of happiness in the mirrors of his contemplation.
I lay in the kibltka. The tinkling of the post bell was monotonous to my ears, and finally brought to me beneficent Morpheus. The grief of my parting persecuted me in my deathlike state, and painted me to my imagination as forlorn. I saw myself in a spacious vale which had lost all its amenity and greenness of leafage through the hot rays of the sun. There was not a spring to offer coolness, nor treeshade to protect from the heat. I was a hermit, left in the midst of Nature! I shuddered. "Miserable man!" I sighed, " where are you? What has become of all that has enticed you? Where is all that has made your life agreeable? Is it possible that the pleasures which you have tasted are only an idle dream ? "
Luckily there was a deep rut in the road, and my kibltka, getting into it, jostled me and woke me up. The kibitka stopped. I raised my head and saw three habitations in a barren spot.
" What is that ? " I asked my driver.
" A post station."
" Where are we? "
" In Sofiya, " and he unhitched the horses.
All around me was silence. I was absorbed in contemplation and did not notice that the kibitka had been standing quite a while without the horses. My driver broke my meditation:
" Master, father, some money for a drink!
This tax is illegal, but no one objects to paying it, in order that he may be able to travel at his ease; the twenty kopeks I gave him were a good investment. Who has travelled by post knows that a passport is a precaution without which any purse, unless it be a general's, will have to suffer. I took it out of my pocket and went with it, as people sometimes go with the cross for their defence.
I found the Post Commissary snoring. I touched his shoulder.
"Whom does the devil drive so? What a miserable habit to depart from the city at night ? There are no horses here, -it's too early yet. Go into the inn and drink tea, or go to sleep! "
Having said that, the Commissary turned to the wall, and went to snoring again. What was I to do? I once more shook the Commissary by his shoulder.
"What is the matter with you ? I told you there are no horses! " and, covering himself with the blanket, the Commissary turned away from me.
If the horses are all engaged, I thought to myself, then it is not right for me to disturb the Commissary's sleep. But if there are any horses in the stable . . . I made up my mind I would find out whether the Commissary told the truth. I went into the yard, hunted up the stable and found some twenty horses in it. It is true, one could count the bones on them, yet they would have taken me to the next station. From the stable I returned to the Commissary, and shook him harder than before, for I felt I had a right to do so, having discovered that he had told a lie. He jumped up from his bed and without opening his eyes asked who had arrived. " I . . . " But coming to his senses, and noticing me, he said:
" Young man, yon are evidently in the habit of commanding drivers of olden days, when they used to beat them with sticks. Well, that won't work now-a-days." The Commissary lay down angrily in his bed again. I had really a desire to treat him like one of those drivers when they were discovered cheating; but my generosity to the city driver caused the Sofiya drivers to hurry up and hitch the horses to the kibitka. just as I was getting ready to commit a crime on the back of the Commissary, the bells were heard in the yard. I remained a good citizen, and thus twenty kopeks saved a peaceable man from an inquest, my children from an example of incontinence in anger, and I discovered that reason is a slave to impatience.
The horses carried me away. The driver started a song which, as usual, was a doleful one. He who knows the tunes of Russian popular songs will admit that there is something in them that speaks of sadness of spirit. Nearly all the tunes of such songs are in the minor key. In this musical inclination of the popular ear one may find a solution of the trend of his actions. In it one may discover the condition of the nation's soul. Look at a Russian! You will always find him lost in meditation. If he wants to drive away ennui, or, as he calls it, have a good time, he goes to the inn. In his intoxication he is impulsive, bold, quarrelsome. If anything takes place not to his liking, he at once starts a brawl or fight. A churl who goes into the inn with a downcast look and returns from it covered with blood from having had his ears boxed may throw a light on many an enigmatic point in Russian history.
My driver was singing. It was three o'clock in the morning. As before the bell, so now his song put me to sleep:
0 Nature! Having swathed man at his birth in the winding-sheets of sorrow, dragging him all his life over the forbidding crags of fear, ennui and sadness, you have given him sleep as a consolation. You fall asleep, and all is at an end! Unbearable is the awakening to the unfortunate man. Oh, how acceptable death is to him! And if it is the end of sorrow. . . . All-kind Father! Wilt Thou turn away Thy look from him who ends his life in a manly way? To Thee, the source of all goodness, this sacrifice is brought. Thou alone givest strength when creation trembles and is convulsed. It is the voice of the Father, calling His child unto Himself! Thou hast given me life, to Thee I return it: upon earth it has become useless."
When I left St. Petersburg I thought I would find a very good road. All those who have travelled upon it after the Emperor have thought so. It had been such, indeed, but only for a short time. The dirt which had been put upon the road in dry weather in order to make it even had been washed by the rains, forming a swamp in the summer, and made it impassable. Fearing bad weather, I got out of the kibitka and went into the post station, intending to take a rest. In the room I found a traveller who was sitting behind a long, common peasant table in the nearer corner and was turning over some papers. He asked the Post Commissary to give him horses as soon as possible. To my question who he was, I learned that he was a pettifogger of the old style, and that he was going to St. Petersburg with a stack of torn papers which he was then examining. I immediately entered into a conversation with him, and here is what he said:
" Dear sir,--I, your humble servant, have been a Registrar in the Archives of the Estates, where I had an opportunity to make good use of my position: by assiduous labour I have collected a genealogy, based on clear documentary proof, of many Russian families, and I can trace their princely or noble origin several centuries back. I can reinstate many a man in his princely dignity, by showing his origin from Vladimir Monomakh, or even from Rurik. Dear sir," he continued, as he pointed to his papers, " all Great-Russian nobles ought to purchase my work, paying for it more than for any other wares. But with the leave of your High Birth, Noble Birth, or High and Noble Birth, for I do not know how to honour you, they do not know what they need. You know how the orthodox Tsar Feodor Aleksyeevich of blessed memory has injured the Russian nobility by doing away with the prefecture. That severe legislation placed many honourable princely and royal families on a level with the Novgorod nobility. But the orthodox Emperor Peter the Great has entirely put them in the shade by his Table of Ranks. He opened the way to all for obtaining the title of nobility through military and civil service, and he, so to say, has trampled the old nobility in the dirt. Our Most Gracious Mother, now reigning, has confirmed the former decrees by her august Law of the Nobility, which has very much disquieted all our higher nobles, for the old families are placed in the Book of the Nobility lower than the rest. There is, however, a rumour that there will soon be issued a supplementary decree by which those families that can trace their noble origin two or three hundred years back will be granted the title of Marquis or something like it, so that they will have some distinguishing feature from the other families. For this reason, dear sir, my work must be acceptable to all the old nobility. But there are rascals everywhere. In Moscow I fell in with a company of young gentlemen to whom I proposed my work, in order to be repaid through their kindness at least for the paper and ink wasted upon it. But instead of kindness they heaped raillery upon me; so I left that capital from grief, and am on my way to St. Petersburg, where there is more culture."
Saying this, he made a deep bow, and straightening himself up, stood before me with the greatest respect. I understood his thought, took something out of my purse and, giving it to him, advised him to sell his paper by weight to peddlers for wrapping paper, for the prospective marquisates would only turn people's heads, and he would be the cause of a recrudescence of an evil, now passed in Russia, of boasting of old genealogies.
I suppose it is all the same to you, whether I travelled in summer or winter, especially since it is not uncommon for travellers to travel both summer and winter, starting out in a sleigh and returning in a wheel carriage. The corduroy road wore out my sides. I crawled out of the kibitka, and started on foot. While I was lying in the kibitka, my thoughts were directed to the immeasurableness of the world, and while my soul flitted away from the earth, it seemed easier to bear the jostling of the carriage. But spiritual exercises do not always distract our corporeality, and it was in order to save my sides that I went on foot.
A few steps from the road I noticed a peasant who was ploughing his field. It was warm; I looked at my watch: it was twenty minutes to one. I left the city on Saturday, so it was Sunday then. The peasant that was ploughing evidently belonged to a landowner that did not receive any tax from him. The peasant was ploughing with great care; evidently the field did not belong to the master. He was turning the plough with remarkable ease.
God aid you! " I said as I approached the ploughman, who did not stop but finished the furrow he had begun.
" God aid you! " I repeated.
" Thank you, sir! " said the ploughman as he cleaned the ploughshare and transferred the plough to a new furrow.
You are, of course, a dissenter, since you work on Sunday. "
"No, sir, I make the correct sign of the cross," he said, and showed me his three fingers put together; " but God is merciful and does not want a person to starve, as long as he has a family and sufficient strength."
" Have you not any time to work during the week, that you work on a Sunday, and at that in a great heat? "
" In the week, sir, there are six days, and we have to work for the manor six times a week, and in the evening we haul the hay from the meadows, if the weather is good; and on holidays the women and girls go to the woods to gather mushrooms and berries. God grant a rain this evening," he added as he made the sign of the cross. " Sir, if you have any peasants, they are praying for the same."
" I have no peasants, my friend; and so nobody curses me. Have you a large family?
Three sons and three daughters. My eldest is ten years old. "
" How do you manage to get enough grain, if you have only the Sundays to yourself ? "
Not only the Sundays,-- the nights are ours too. We need not starve, if we are not lazy. You see, one horse is resting; and when this one gets tired, I'll take the other, and that's the way I make my work count."
" Do you work the same way for your master?
" No, sir! It would be sinful to work the same way; he has in his fields one hundred hands for one mouth, and I have but two hands for seven mouths, if you count it up. If you were to work yourself to death at your master's work, he would not thank you for it. The master will not pay the capitation tax; he will let you have no mutton, no hempen cloth, no chicken, no butter. Our people are fortunate in those places where the master receives a rent from the peasant, particularly without a superintendent! It is true, some good masters ask more than three roubles for each soul, yet that is better than tenant labour. They are now getting in the habit of letting farms out to renters who, being poor, flay us alive. They do not give us our own time, and do not let us go out in the winter to work for ourselves, because they pay our capitation tax. It is a devilish idea to let one's peasants do work for somebody else! There is at least a chance of complaining against a superintendent, but to whom is one to complain against a tenant ? "
" My friend! You are mistaken: the laws do not permit to torture people."
" Torture, yes! But, sir, you would not want to be in my hide ! " In the meantime the ploughman hitched another horse to his plough and, bidding me good-bye, began a new furrow.
The conversation with this agriculturist awakened a multitude of thoughts in me. Above all, I thought of the inequality of the peasant's condition. I compared the crown peasants with those of the proprietors. Both live in villages, but while the first pay a stated tax, the others have to be ready to pay whatever the master wishes. The first are judged by their peers; the others are dead to the laws, except in criminal matters. A member of society only then is taken cognisance of by the Government that protects him when he violates the social bond, when he becomes a criminal! That thought made all my blood boil. Beware, cruel proprietor! On the brow of every one of your peasants I see your condemnation!
Absorbed in these thoughts I accidentally turned my eyes to my servant, who was sitting in front of me in the kibltka and was shaking from side to side. I felt a sudden darkness come over me, which passed through all my blood and drove a burning feeling upwards and made it spread over my face. I felt so heartily ashamed of myself, that I wanted to cry. " In your anger," I said to myself, " you attack the cruel master who maltreats his peasants in the field; and are you not doing the same, or even worse? What crime did your poor Petrushka commit that you do not allow him to enjoy the comfort of our misfortunes, the greatest gift of Nature to the unfortunate man,-- sleep ? 'He receives his pay, his food and dress; I never have him whipped with a scourge or sticks.' 0 you kind man! You think that a piece of bread and a rag give you the right to treat a being that resembles you as a top? You are merely boasting that you do not very often whip it as it is whirling about. Do you know what is written in the first law of each man's heart? 'If I strike anyone, he has the right to strike me also.' Remember the day when Petrushka was drunk and did not dress you fast enough! Remember how you boxed his ears! Oh, if he had then, drunk as he was, come to his senses, and had answered your question in a befitting manner! Who has given you the right over him? The law! Law! And you dare besmirch that sacred name! Wretch!
Tears flowed from my eyes, and in this condition the post horses brought me to the next station.