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I. N. (Ignatii Nikolaevich) Potapenko.

A Russian priest online

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crowded with people. There
were as many people there as on the
night of Easter eve. After a sorrowful
week, Sunday had come. By this time
people's minds had already become
easier. Dr. Saposhkof's skill, Madame
Kroupieev's devotion and liberality,
Cyril's energy in urging on an " im-
promptu" band of volunteers, had all
helped to improve the state of things.
Cyril officiated at the mass. Never
before had the parishioners seen him
as he was now. He had become
terribly thin, his cheeks were sunken,
and, arrayed in his priestly robes, he
seemed to them nobler than he had
ever been. Worn out by the fatigues
of the past week, he walked slowly, and
pronounced the prayers impressively,
thoughtfully uttering each word. His
voice was low, but the stillness in the
church was so great, and the congrega-
tion so attentive, that every word was
clearly heard.

Nadie"shda Alecsieevna was in church.
She also looked thinner than usual. By



202 A RUSSIAN PRIEST.

her side stood her dark-eyed boy, gazing
with astonishment at the church, and
all that was going on around him.
Madame Kroupieiiv had never before
taken him to church. But she specially
wished that he should see on that day
how Cyril officiated, and how the people
prayed. The deacon Obnovlienski,
stood near Dementii in the choir. Not
far from the choir stood Dr. Saposhkof,
who considered hismission as ended, and
was returning the same day to the town.

The mass ended, and the people went
out of church, but they did not disperse
as usual, but remained outside the
building. The crowd was so dense
that it was impossible to move. It was
evident that they were awaiting some-
thing. After a few minutes the church
was quite empty. Only Madame Krou-
pie'ev and the doctor waited for Cyril to
come out of the vestry, as she had
invited him to the manor-house to
dejeuner. The clerk's wife had also
received an invitation, but as she was a
lady of very shy and retiring disposition,
she had not joined the others, and had
remained standing in an obscure corner
of the church. Father Simeon and
Dementii bustled about near the altar,
and the old deacon waited in the choir.
At length Cyril appeared from behind
the eikonostasis, and shook hands with
Madame Kroupieev and the doctor.
Cyril's father joined them, the clerk's
wife came out from her obscure corner,
and they all moved off towards the door.

Cyril went first. As soon as he ap-
peared in the porch, simultaneously,
several hundred heads were uncovered,
and an indistinct murmur was heard in



A RUSSIAN PRIEST. 203

the crowd, followed by perfect silence.
Cyril stopped, surprised by this unex-
pected sight, and the others behind him
also stood where they were.

There was a movement in the crowd,
and a tall, thin, dried-up old man, with
a thin white beard, small eyes, and a
small bald head, came out from among
the people. He stopped and leant with
his hands crossed on a thick stick.

" Bdtoushka," said he, in a trembling,
but in a loud and distinct voice, and
with his head shaking — " Bdtoushka, and
you ladies and gentlemen ! The Lord
has visited us, but on account of our
poverty we cannot repay you for your
services. But what our feelings are —
let the whole village commune say what
we feel ! I will only say, that such
batoushkas and such ladies and gentle-
men never were before seen on the earth,
and never will be again. That's what
we feel ! "

The old man lifted up his arm and
wiped his fast- flowing tears with the
worn-out sleeve of his coat.

At this moment a still more unex-
pected event occurred. The old man
knelt down and made a profound bow
to the ground. Many others followed
his example. Others re-echoed his
words of gratitude, and the mingled
sound of their voices made a sort of
indistinct murmur. Several women,
overcome by emotion, ran up to the
porch, seized the end of Cyril's cassock
and pressed it to their lips. Tears
were in nearly all eyes. Nadieshda
Alecsieevna, overcome by this touching
scene, leant against a small column, fear-
ing that her legs would no longer support



204 A RUSSIAN PRIEST.

her. This was too much for her unstrung
nerves. Cyril, on the other hand, felt
a surprising flow of energy and manful-
ness. At this moment he felt that a strong,
unbreakable bond had been cemented
between him and his parishioners,
and that now he had a far greater influ-
ence than formerly over these people.
He felt that all the words he had said to
them before, had probably had but little
effect, that if he now repeated his advice
it would make an irresistible impression
on their minds. He had to reply to the
old man's speech, so, lifting up his hand
with that same majestic motion which
he made when appealing for help to
Madame Kroupieev, he said —

" Listen to me, my friends ! God has
visited you for your sins, but who among
us can say that he will not sin again in the
future, and thus incur another visitation r
Such a calamity may occur again, and
find you unprepared for it. So listen
to me, now that your hearts are purified
by affliction : swear that you will never
drink more than you ought, and that
the money which you would have spent
in this vodka, will be put into a common
fund for mutual assistance, against an
evil day.''

" We will !" answered voices from the
crowd. " We will close the public-
house, and make an agreement." '

"No, no!" replied Cyril. "An agree-

1 The system of local option prevails in
Russian villages. The "mir," or village com-
mune, has the right 13 grant a license for a
public-house, and to withdraw it. They
generally receive a sum of money from the
proprietor for the concession. This agreement
would be a formal act, closing the public-house



A RUSSIAN PRIEST.



ment may always be broken. Close the
public-house, and you will then have to
go thirty versts for vodkaj no agree-
ments are required. You give me your
promise now, on the spot. Do you
promise ?

" We promise 1 '' thundered the crowd,
like one man.

As soon as Cyril had descended the
steps leading to the porch, he found
himself in some one's embrace. This
proved to be the old man who had made
the speech. The embraces went on
without end, and extended to the doctor
and Madame Kroupieev and the old
deacon, who was most affected of all.

Nadieshda Alecsieevna scarcely man-
aged to get into her carriage, the various
impressions of the last half hour had
quite unnerved her.

When her guests, who had undergone
the process of being hugged by nearly
all the villagers, arrived at the manor-
house, she was scarcely in a state to
receive them. Cyril, on the other hand,
was very lively, cheerful, and talked a
great deal. He triumphantly reflected
that he would in future work among his
flock under quite altered circumstances.
An indissoluble bond was now estab-
lished between him and his parish-
ioners, and in one week he had gained
an extraordinary influence over them.
He spoke about the complete extermina-
tion of drunkenness, about establishing
a reserve fund, which would enable
them to improve their farming opera-
tions, about starting schools for grown-
up people.

" Ah, yes, Nadieshda Alecsieevna, we
have got firm ground under our feet



io6 A RUSSIAN PRIEST.

now. We have conquered Liigovoe to-
day, and now, with your help, we can do
a deal of good work," said he.

Nadieshda Alecsieevna smiled in a
melancholy way, and her eyes looked
at him inquiringly and sadly. During
dejeuner she hardly ate anything, and
took little part in the conversation.
Directly after the meal was ended, a
iarataika came round for the doctor and
for Cyril's father, who had decided to go
to the town to find out the state of the
situation with regard to the Fortifi-
cantofs.

" Ah ! how sorry I am to say good-
bye to you dear, sympathetic people !
Awfully sorry !" said Saposhkof, seating
himself on an improvised cushion of
hay in the tarataika. "By the way,
batoushka, don't forget to look after
that woman — what's her name ? — Pere-
pitchka ; you must change her com-
press," added he.

The deacon silently kissed Cyril, and
said — " You must think about yourself
a bit, my son ; neither God nor your
conscience forbid this."

Cyril asked to be remembered to all
the family, and to tell Mura that things
were now better in Liigovoe, and that
she and Gavroushka could return. The
clerk's wife also took her leave, perfectly
satisfied with her reward for her labours
at having been admitted into such
brilliant society.

Nadieshda Alecsie'evna and Cyril were
left alone.

" Let us come into the garden," said
she ; " I want some fresh air ! " They
went out together. The sun was ob-
scured by grey motionless clouds, like



A RUSSIAN PRIEST. 207

a thickening mist, but without any
promise of rain. A faint breeze just
stirred the branches of the trees.
Here and there on the ground lay dried-
up fallen leaves. The air was filled with
a pleasant freshness.

They walked together. The little boy
ran on in front. Every nook and
corner of the garden was familiar to
him as he had passed his whole life
in the house and the garden. The boy
was a sort of well-educated savage who
had scarcely seen any people, and
looked upon ever}' one besides his
mother and the chief bailiff as strangers.
The last few weeks, however, he had
become accustomed to Cyril and used
to call him " my man."

Nadieshda Alecsieevna threw a white
shawl over her shoulders, and every now
and then, shuddering, wrapped it closer
round herself.

" You are not well, Nadieshda Alec-
sieevna ! " said Cyril, looking at her
pale and exhausted face.

She smiledbitterly, nervously shrugged
her shoulders, and pulled her shawl
closer round her body.

" Yes, I have broken down ; it is time
for me to retire from active service," and
she gave a short and constrained laugh.
Cyril thought, " She is not well," and
answered nothing.

" Why don't you answer?" continued
Madame Kroupieev ; " why don't you
say — ' What ! you are such a young
hand to retire already : you have
scarcely finished one small work, and
you want to give up ! ' Why don't you
say this to me ? Give me your arm —
I feel as if I shall fall.



208 A RUSSIAN PRIEST.

Cyril was not in the habit of giving
his arm to ladies, and it seemed to him
as if the long sleeves of his cassock
would rather interfere with the opera-
tion. But Madame Kroupieev, approach-
ing him, took his arm herself, and
firmly leant on it.

" You require a rest, Nadidshda Alec-
sieevna," said Cyril. Madame Krou-
pieev paid no attention to this remark.

" I have lived a stupid life," said
she, in a quiet voice, as though with the
intention that be alone should hear her ;
"in my whole life there has only been
one important fact, and that was the
greatest folly which I have committed.
. . . The people I have met with have
always inspired me with contempt. . . .
You are the only man whom I
honour ! "

Cyril felt that she was trembling, and
that her quiet voice might at any
moment be changed into weeping.

" We will work together now," said
he, quietly.

" Look here," continued she, in the
same quiet voice — "why do you wear
that cassock? You don't really believe.
. . . Take it off!"

In her quiet, scarcely audible voice
something in the nature of a demand
was heard.

"Who told you that? I believe in
God, who has helped me to reach the
hearts of these dark people. Without
that I should never have done what
have," answered Cyril, in a tone of firm
conviction.

" Very well ! But why do you wear
that cassock ? "

Why ? Why in order to have the



A RUSSIAN PRIEST. 209

right to go amongst them in their every-
day life."

"Ah !" murmured she, in a painful
tone ; "these are words, mere words!
Why are you to give up all for them?
Am I not a poor creature, as worthy of
compassion as they ? Have we not
also the right to a portion of happiness ?
And I want happiness. . . . Listen !"

As though struck by a sudden blow,
he suddenly dropped her arm, stepped
back a little, and looked at her with an
astonished expression.

" You . . . you ? " said he, feeling that
his tongue would not act, and that he
was unable to express himself.

Nadieshda Alecsieevna approached
the trunk of an apple-tree, the branches
of which hung over their heads, and put
out her arm and leant against it. She
did not look at Cyril. Her face looked
darker than usual in the grey atmo-
sphere, and seemed to express a complete
collapse of spirit, and interminable grief.
She continued speaking in the same
low tone which gave the impression that
she might burst into tears at any
moment.

" Yes, you are guilty in this matter.
Why did you come to me with your
uprightness, which I had never met
with before in other people, with your
deep sincerity, the existence of which I
had never before believed in? You
stirred me out of my dreamy listlessness,
which at any rate never bred in me any
questionings, desires, or demands. I
was living as though half asleep, and
you aroused me. One inspired look
from you electrified me, and I followed
you without asking whither or why ;



2IO A RUSSIAN PRIEST

and when I have reached such a condi-
tion that I cannot do without you, that
I am ready to become your humble
slave and to follow you everywhere, you
look at me with surprise. Why? This
is not just ; this is the first time you are
not sincere with me ! You ought to
sympathize with me — this is so natural —
we have so much in common, and we
understand one another so well ! "

" And all this you say to me, a clergy-
man with a wife !" at length rejoined he.

u You do not love your wife — you
cannot love her. Do not tell me such an
untruth ! " she answered, sharply. Her
voice fell again, and became weaker than
before : " Forgive me, and forget all
that I have said to you. ... I have
made a mistake. ... I shall leave here
to-day I "

She quickly walked away down the
path, then turned to the left and
was lost to sight behind thick bushes.
Cyril remained motionless for several
seconds. His first impulse was to follow
her : it seemed to him that she walked
so feebly, that she required support.
But then he thought that such assistance
would only make matters worse. He
turned back. He felt conscious that
she was crying, but nevertheless he
directed his steps towards the gate.
He feared to turn back, and thought
with horror of the scene which had
just passed, and which was for him
perfectly unexpected.

He returned home with hasty steps,
as though he feared pursuit. He now un-
derstood that look of liveliness which had
appeared on Nadieshda Alecsieevna's
face when he visited her, and the readi-



A RUSSIAN PRIEST. 211

ness with which she followed him, and at
a word from him opened her purse and
her granaries to the moujiks who, up to
that time, she had never noticed. He
recalled also the looks she had cast at
him when he was addressing the crowd
that day near the church. All this,
together with the unexpected conclu-
sion which had just taken place, was
altogether strange and incomprehensible
to him. He was too simple. He could
not understand the possibility of talking
about love to a man who already had
a wife and a child, especially when this
man was a priest. It was evening
when he reached home. The night air
felt damp, and he was anxious to get
into his house. Entering and passing
through the rooms, he suddenly felt a
sense of loneliness. He wanted to see
Mura and his son, and a torturing chill
crept over his heart.

For a long time he wandered about
the house, the quiet of which was dis-
turbed only by the sound of his own
steps. This sound, which he had not
before noticed, not having been alone,
was particularly disagreeable to him. A
thousand various thoughts and impres-
sions sprang up in his mind, and he
thought how hard it was to reconcile
the various demands of different people
with his life.

Feokla entered the room, carrying a
lighted candle.

"Ah ! batoushka, there are two letters
for you," said she.

Fedkla looked at him furtively. She
did not approve of his conduct, and
could not forgive him for having let
Mura go.



A RUSSIAN PRIEST.



" Letters ? " said Cyril, going towards
her with sudden animation.

" Yes, one is lying there on the table.
From the town, I suppose ; the village
policeman has just brought it. And
here is another one, come this moment
from the manor-house."

Cyril stretched out his hand ; Fedkla
gave him a small note.

Inside the envelope was a visiting-
card, on the back of which was written
— " I beg you, as a friend, to forget all
that has passed to-day between us, and
only to preserve a kindly recollection ot
me. I am leaving here at once. When
/ am recovered, I will return and help
you, but now I can be of no use. I have
made arrangements that the people
shall continue to receive help from me.
What a noble and pure soul you
have ! "

Cyril slowly tore up the card and
threw the pieces into the waste-paper
basket. He saw before him Nadieshda
Alecsie'evna's pale face, brilliant eyes,
and heaving breast, when she was ad-
dressing those strange words to him.
And he suddenly felt pity for her, as for
a sick person, and regretted that it was
not in his power to shake hands with
her once more and take leave of her.
And after all, she had spent her money,
her time, and her strength nobly.

" Yes, it is merely an illness ; it will
pass away, and Nadie"shda Alecsieevna
will return, and we shall meet as friends,"
thought he.

He then suddenly remembered about
the other letter. The envelope was ad-
dressed in Anna Nikolaevna's hand-
writing.



A RUSSIAN PRIEST. 213

"Ah! it's not from Mura," thought
he, opening the letter.

The dignitary's wife wrote laconically,
but majestically — "My dear Son-in-law,
Cyril Ignatievitch, — Your mad doings
have driven us almost out of our wits,
and we were compelled to take from
you your wife, our daughter, together
with our grandson. We imagined,
naturally enough, that the following
day you would fly to the town to your
family, but we were mistaken — the idea
even does not seem to have occurred to
you. Your wife is weeping, but is too
proud to return to you. You will only
find yourself again in your family when
you have come to your senses. Wishing
you and my daughter every happiness,
I remain your mother-in-law, Anna
Fortificantof. P.S.— The bishop is
willing to appoint you to a place in
the merchants' church, if you wish it."

Cyril folded up the letter and replaced
it on the table. He walked twice up
and down the room, then stopped oppo-
site the window and looked out on the
village. In the thickening shades of
evening, the peasants' huts looked like
indistinct patches ; here and there lights
were visible. He felt that for the sake
of personal happiness, for the sake of
a peaceful and plentiful life, he would
abandon this grey village and settle in
the town in the rich parish of the mer-
chants' church. But immediately this
idea seemed to him absurd and un-
feasible.

" To come to one's senses ! That means
to enter on the well-trodden path, to live
without aims in life, without ideas ! No,
I will never come to my senses ! Never !



214 A RUSSIAN PRIEST.

Let me then live alone — let them even
deprive me of my son ! "

But then he felt that his son was.
necessary to him, and that sooner or
later he would claim him. He would
teach his son how he must live ; on this
point he would never yield. He would
instil his own ardent spirit into him,
and make him a man like himself. And,
after all, was he alone ? These grey
huts, under whose roofs so many im-
portant lives were passing — was he not
necessary to them ? Had he not con-
quered them, and made himself dear
to them ? Cyril remembered the sick
woman the doctor had spoken to him
about. He put on his cassock, took his
stick, and with a firm step descended
into the street.




THE GRESHAM PRESS,

UNWIN BROTHERS,
CHILWORTH AND LONDON.






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