I. N. (Ignatii Nikolaevich) Potapenko.

A Russian priest online

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came in.

" Only what remains over from last
year," answered the latter. " If you want
to sell it, it is not worth the trouble of
scraping up : about one hundred pouds *
of wheat and about forty quarters of

1 Poud=thirty-six pounds.


other grain. There are about thirty
pouds of barley, but we shall want it
ourselves ; and considering that the
crops have failed this summer it will
not even be sufficient.

" Very we'll, you can go."

But the bailiff hesitated, evidently
wishing to say something.

" If you please, there are four moujilcs
who want a measure of corn each ; they
say that if you don't give it, they will
die of hunger."

"Give it to them at once — this

"Very well."

The bailiff went out.

" Now let us come along," said Cyril.

" I am quite ready," answered she,
and having hastily made arrangements
for her son being looked after, they
started off. They both thought that
they ought to go on foot, because to
drive in a carriage at a moment when
hunger and death were about, would be
almost insulting to the people. The
parishioners again gazed with astonish-
ment when they saw Madame Kroupieiiv
and Cyril hurrying into the village with
agitated and alarmed expressions on
their faces. They walked in silence,
and Nadieshda Alecsieiivna hardly
managed to keep pace with Cyril.

This poor woman's death was only a
prelude to the misfortunes which were
threatening Lugovotl. She haddied more
or less accidentally, because, overcome
by hunger, she had eaten too much of
this chaffy food. But famine was now
torturing the inhabitants of half the
huts in the large village. Their in-
mates had absolutely no bread, and


there remained only a small quantity of
bran from last year's crops which had
not been eaten by the pigs. In some
of the huts the inhabitants had killed
their cattle, but these unfortunate crea-
tures were so thin and enervated that
they hardly supplied any food to their
owners. The children were playing
listlessly in the yards, they were pale,
and their stomachs protruded. Cyril
and Nadieshda Alecsilevna began their
visits at the first hut, and at every step
their despair increased. They found
suffering people in almost every hut
who laid on couches near the stoves,
and their friends were too feeble to help
them. The moujiks tried to go to work,
but as the whole district was in a state
of famine they had not sufficient
strength to walk to places where they
might have found employment. Besides
this, the price of labour had fallen so
low that it would not have been worth
it. It was clear that they must have
been suffering from hunger some weeks
already, and that the effects of it were
now beginning to be felt.

" Why did you not tell me ? Why did
not one come to me for help ? " asked
Nadieshda Alecsie'evna.

To this they answered nothing, and
it seemed to her that even now they
accepted her help unwillingly and
suspiciously. " I suppose if I had not
been with the clergyman, they would
not even have admitted me into their
huts," thought she ; and it seemed to her
perfectly natural and comprehensible.
How many years had she lived here
side by side with these people without
interesting herself about their thoughts


or lives ! She had shut herself up, and
devoted herself entirely to her son,
feeling a sort of contempt for all people.
It was not these people who had
awakened contempt in her, but others,
and so it had happened that she had
avoided these also, and they only used
to see her on rare occasions in church,
and then she used to hurry home and
shut herself up again in her half-ruined
manor-house, surrounded by the garden.
She was now paying for her neglect of
the people by incurring their distrust.

They continued their visits till late at
night, and then returned, tired out, to
the church-house. Mura was in a great
state of alarm. She could not think
tvhat had become of Cyril, and had
imagined all sorts of dreadful things to

" Ah ! if only you could see what a
terrible state they are in," exclaimed he,
"you would have left everything, and
come with us! They are hungry and
ill, and have no one to help them. What
a terrible thing it is to be far from help !
So long as things go on well, they
manage to make shift from day to day
without requiring anything, but the
moment misfortune comes, they are as
helpless as if they were on an island in
the middle of the ocean ? Good Lord 1
How many people in the cities and
towns there are who are full of intellect,
intelligence, and heart, but without
occupation — without even senseless
occupation ! Why don't they come here
to this dark corner ? Here living work
is awaiting them eagerly ! How cruel it
is ! Truly — Jionw homini lupus est.
These grasping shopkeepers at once


profit by the famine to put up the price
of provisions to absurd prices. It is
just the same in the time of war ! It
is terrible ! "

" It is very sad," said Mura, with real
sympathy ; " but what can we do ? — we
have nothing ourselves."

Cyril remained silent, with his brows
knitted. Nadieshda Alecsieevna was
thoughtfully looking out of the window.
The thought struck her, what a strange
couple these two were, and how little
they had in common. He, a passionate
enthusiast, idealist, who carried his ideas
almost to fanaticism, and ready to forget
everything else on earth for the sake ot
them ; she, an ordinary sort of creature,
who looked with astonishment on any
new idea or any action out of the ordi-
nary course of things. She did not
understand him in the least, and he paid
so little attention to his domestic sur-
roundings that clearly, up to this time,
he had not noticed this.

Cyril sat down at the writing-table.
He wrote to all the authorities in the
government town, drawing a gloomy
picture of the state of affairs at Lugovoe
in the most energetic language : he
asked for doctors, medicines, and food.
. . . He then composed an appeal to be
put in the newspapers, asking the citizens
for help. Having done all this, he
dispatched the sexton to the town on
one of Madame Kroupieev's best horses.
He then went out again into the village.
It was now three o'clock in the morning.
All were asleep. Nadieshda Alecsieevna
sent for her carriage, returned to the
manor-house, and having ascertained
that her son was all right, came back


again to the village. For two days they
worked hard. They distributed, where
r.ecessary, both money and food, but
devoted most of their attention to the
numerous sick. They tried in vain to
gauge the nature of the prevalent illness.
The symptoms were fever and delirium,
and Cyril thought it must be typhus
fever, but, as he did not know the
symptoms, had no real ground for his
supposition. There were four funerals
during these two days. On the third
day the wife of a clerk living in the
neighbourhood volunteered her services.
She was about forty years old and pitted
with small-pox, but a good-natured
person. She had acted as a sister of
mercy in the Turkish campaign, and was
therefore acquainted more or less with
medical matters. She set to work to
rub the patients, to give them poultices,
and even administered medicine. How-
ever, on the same day a doctor arrived
from the town, and this was the whole
extent of the help received from that


passed whole days in tears.
Cyril had deserted her. He
only returned home two or
three times a day, spoke a
few words to her, and went
out again. A dozen times
Mura had wished to speak
to him, but without success. One day,
however, she compelled him to listen to

" Cyril, what are you doing ? what are
you doing ? " asked she, with a handker-
chief in her hands, as tears were appear-
ing every minute in her eyes.

Cyril looked at her vaguely, as though
not understanding her question.

" Look at yourself in the glass. See
what you are coming to. All your looks
have gone. You will get ill and die."

" Nonsense, Mura ! one ought not to
think about such things. This is my
duty, and I am only fulfilling it."

" You consider this your duty ! You
forget that you have a wife and child ! "
" Yes, Mura, you are right. There
are moments, and even hours, when I
forget it. And how cat 1 remember it
when I see before me so *»T was a gloomy day. The
chime of the parish church
bells echoed through the
village with unusual solem-
nity. The church was filled
to overflowing, and even the
space outside the doors was

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Online LibraryI. N. (Ignatii Nikolaevich) PotapenkoA Russian priest → online text (page 12 of 13)