“God Sees The Truth, But Does Not Tell At Once”, Fable by Leo Tolstoy

Russian Fable

Fables for Children By Leo Tolstoy

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryLeo TolstoyFables for Children By Leo Tolstoy

< < < The Gray Hare
Hunting Worse Than Slavery > > >

God Sees The Truth, But Does Not Tell At Once

In the city of Vladímir there lived a young merchant, Aksénov by name. He had two shops and a house.

Aksénov was a light-complexioned, curly-headed, fine-looking man and a very jolly fellow and good singer. In his youth Aksénov had drunk much, and when he was drunk he used to become riotous, but when he married he gave up drinking, and that now happened very rarely with him.

One day in the summer Aksénov went to the Nízhni-Nóvgorod fair. As he bade his family good-bye, his wife said to him:

“Iván Dmítrievich, do not start to-day! I have had a bad dream about you.”

Aksénov laughed, and said:

“Are you afraid that I might go on a spree at the fair?”

His wife said:

“I do not know what I am afraid of, but I had a bad dream: I dreamed that you came to town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your head was all gray.”

Aksénov laughed.

“That means that I shall make some profit. If I strike a good bargain, you will see me bring you some costly presents.”

And he bade his family farewell, and started.

In the middle of his journey he met a merchant whom he knew, and they stopped together in a hostelry for the night. They drank their tea together, and lay down to sleep in two adjoining rooms. Aksénov did not like to sleep long; he awoke in the middle of the night and, as it was easier to travel when it was cool, wakened his driver and told him to hitch the horses. Then he went to the “black” hut, paid his bill, and went away.

“‘Whose knife is this?’”
Photogravure from Painting by A. Kivshénko

When he had gone about forty versts, he again stopped to feed the horses and to rest in the vestibule of a hostelry. At dinner-time he came out on the porch, and ordered the samovár to be prepared for him. He took out his guitar and began to play. Suddenly a tróyka with bells drove up to the hostelry, and from the cart leaped an officer with two soldiers, and he went up to Aksénov, and asked him who he was and where he came from.

Aksénov told him everything as it was, and said:

“Would you not like to drink tea with me?”

But the officer kept asking him questions:

“Where did you stay last night? Were you alone, or with a merchant? Did you see the merchant in the morning? Why did you leave so early in the morning?”

Aksénov wondered why they asked him about all that; he told them everything as it was, and said:

“Why do you ask me this? I am not a thief, nor a robber. I am travelling on business of my own, and you have nothing to ask me about.”

Then the officer called the soldiers, and said:

“I am the chief of the rural police, and I ask you this, because the merchant with whom you passed last night has been found with his throat cut. Show me your things, and you look through them!”

They entered the house, took his valise and bag, and opened them and began to look through them. Suddenly the chief took a knife out of the bag, and cried out:

“Whose knife is this?”

Aksénov looked, and saw that they had taken out a blood-stained knife from his bag, and he was frightened “How did the blood get on the knife?”

Aksénov wanted to answer, but could not pronounce a word.

“I—I do not know—I—the knife—is not mine!”

Then the chief said:

“In the morning the merchant was found in his bed with his throat cut. No one but you could have done it. The house was locked from within, and there was no one in the house but you. Here is the bloody knife in your bag, and your face shows your guilt. Tell me, how did you kill him, and how much money did you rob him of?”

Aksénov swore that he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant after drinking tea with him; that he had with him his own eight thousand; that the knife was not his. But his voice faltered, his face was pale, and he trembled from fear, as though he were guilty.

The chief called in the soldiers, told them to bind him and to take him to the cart. When he was rolled into the cart with his legs tied, he made the sign of the cross and began to cry. They took away his money and things, and sent him to jail to the nearest town. They sent to Vladímir to find out what kind of a man Aksénov was, and all the merchants and inhabitants of Vladímir testified to the fact that Aksénov had drunk and caroused when he was young, but that he was a good man. Then they began to try him. He was tried for having killed the Ryazán merchant and having robbed him of twenty thousand roubles.

The wife was grieving for her husband and did not know what to think. Her children were still young, and one was still at the breast. She took them all and went with them to the town where her husband was kept in prison. At first she was not admitted, but later she implored the authorities, and she was taken to her husband. When she saw him in prison garb and in chains, together with murderers, she fell to the ground and could not come to for a long time. Then she placed her children about her, sat down beside him, and began to tell him about house matters, and to ask him about everything which had happened. He told her everything. She said:

“What shall I do?”

He said:

“We must petition the Tsar. An innocent man cannot be allowed to perish.”

His wife said that she had already petitioned the Tsar, but that the petition had not reached him. Aksénov said nothing, and only lowered his head. Then his wife said:

“You remember the dream I had about your getting gray. Indeed, you have grown gray from sorrow. If you had only not started then!”

And she looked over his hair, and said:

“Iván, my darling, tell your wife the truth: did you not do it?”

Aksénov said, “And you, too, suspect me!” and covered his face with his hands, and began to weep.

Then a soldier came, and told his wife that she must leave with her children. And Aksénov for the last time bade his family farewell.

When his wife had left, Aksénov thought about what they had been talking of. When he recalled that his wife had also suspected him and had asked him whether he had killed the merchant, he said to himself: “Evidently none but God can know the truth, and He alone must be asked, and from Him alone can I expect mercy.” And from that time on Aksénov no longer handed in petitions and stopped hoping, but only prayed to God.

Aksénov was sentenced to be beaten with the knout, and to be sent to hard labour. And it was done.

He was beaten with the knout, and later, when the knout sores healed over, he was driven with other convicts to Siberia.

In Siberia, Aksénov passed twenty-six years at hard labour. His hair turned white like snow, and his beard grew long, narrow, and gray. All his mirth went away. He stooped, began to walk softly, spoke little, never laughed, and frequently prayed to God.

In the prison Aksénov learned to make boots, and with the money which he earned he bought himself the “Legends of the Holy Martyrs,” and read them while it was light in the prison; on holidays he went to the prison church and read the Epistles, and sang in the choir,—his voice was still good. The authorities were fond of Aksénov for his gentleness, and his prison comrades respected him and called him “grandfather” and “God’s man.” When there were any requests to be made of the authorities, his comrades always sent him to speak for them, and when the convicts had any disputes between themselves, they came to Aksénov to settle them.

No one wrote Aksénov letters from his home, and he did not know whether his wife and children were alive, or not.

Once they brought some new prisoners to the prison. In the evening the old prisoners gathered around the new men, and asked them from what town they came, or from what village, and for what acts they had been sent up. Aksénov, too, sat down on the bed-boards near the new prisoners and, lowering his head, listened to what they were saying. One of the new prisoners was a tall, sound-looking old man of about sixty years of age, with a gray, clipped beard. He was telling them what he had been sent up for:

“Yes, brothers, I have come here for no crime at all. I had unhitched a driver’s horse from the sleigh. I was caught. They said, ‘You stole it.’ And I said, ‘I only wanted to get home quickly, for I let the horse go. Besides, the driver is a friend of mine. I am telling you the truth.’—’No,’ they said, ‘you have stolen it.’ But they did not know what I had been stealing, or where I had been stealing. There were crimes for which I ought to have been sent up long ago, but they could not convict me, and now I am here contrary to the law. ‘You are lying,—you have been in Siberia, but you did not make a long visit there—’”

“Where do you come from?” asked one of the prisoners.

“I am from the city of Vladímir, a burgher of that place. My name is Makár, and by my father Seménovich.”

Aksénov raised his head, and asked:

“Seménovich, have you not heard in Vladímir about the family of Merchant Aksénov? Are they alive?”

“Yes, I have heard about them! They are rich merchants, even though their father is in Siberia. He is as much a sinner as I, I think. And you, grandfather, what are you here for?”

Aksénov did not like to talk of his misfortune. He sighed, and said:

“For my sins have I passed twenty-six years at hard labour.”

Makár Seménovich said:

“For what sins?”

Aksénov said, “No doubt, I deserved it,” and did not wish to tell him any more; but the other prison people told the new man how Aksénov had come to be in Siberia. They told him how on the road some one had killed a merchant and had put the knife into his bag, and he thus was sentenced though he was innocent.

When Makár Seménovich heard that, he looked at Aksénov, clapped his knees with his hands, and said:

“What a marvel! What a marvel! But you have grown old, grandfather!”

He was asked what he was marvelling at, and where he had seen Aksénov, but Makár Seménovich made no reply, and only said:

“It is wonderful, boys, where we were fated to meet!”

And these words made Aksénov think that this man might know something about who had killed the merchant. He said:

“Seménovich, have you heard before this about that matter, or have we met before?”

“Of course I have heard. The earth is full of rumours. That happened a long time ago: I have forgotten what I heard,” said Makár Seménovich.

“Maybe you have heard who killed the merchant?” asked Aksénov.

Makár Seménovich laughed and said:

“I suppose he was killed by the man in whose bag the knife was found. Even if somebody stuck that knife into that bag, he was not caught, so he is no thief. And how could the knife have been put in? Was not the bag under your head? You would have heard him.”

The moment Aksénov heard these words, he thought that that was the man who had killed the merchant. He got up and walked away. All that night Aksénov could not fall asleep. He felt sad, and had visions: now he saw his wife such as she had been when she bade him farewell for the last time, as he went to the fair. He saw her, as though she was alive, and he saw her face and eyes, and heard her speak to him and laugh. Then he saw his children such as they had been then,—just as little,—one of them in a fur coat, the other at the breast. And he thought of himself, such as he had been then,—gay and young; he recalled how he had been sitting on the porch of the hostelry, where he was arrested, and had been playing the guitar, and how light his heart had been then. And he recalled the pillory, where he had been whipped, and the executioner, and the people all around, and the chains, and the prisoners, and his prison life of the last twenty-six years, and his old age. And such gloom came over him that he felt like laying hands on himself.

“And all that on account of that evil-doer!” thought Aksénov.

And such a rage fell upon him against Makár Seménovich, that he wanted to have his revenge upon him, even if he himself were to be ruined by it. He said his prayers all night long, but could not calm himself. In the daytime he did not walk over to Makár Seménovich, and did not look at him.

Thus two weeks passed. At night Aksénov could not sleep, and he felt so sad that he did not know what to do with himself.

Once, in the night, he walked all over the prison, and saw dirt falling from underneath one bedplace. He stopped to see what it was. Suddenly Makár Seménovich jumped up from under the bed and looked at Aksénov with a frightened face. Aksénov wanted to pass on, so as not to see him; but Makár took him by his arm, and told him that he had dug a passage way under the wall, and that he each day carried the dirt away in his boot-legs and poured it out in the open, whenever they took the convicts out to work. He said:

“Keep quiet, old man,—I will take you out, too. And if you tell, they will whip me, and I will not forgive you,—I will kill you.”

When Aksénov saw the one who had done him evil, he trembled in his rage, and pulled away his arm, and said:

“I have no reason to get away from here, and there is no sense in killing me,—you killed me long ago. And whether I will tell on you or not depends on what God will put into my soul.”

On the following day, when the convicts were taken out to work, the soldiers noticed that Makár Seménovich was pouring out the dirt, and so they began to search in the prison, and found the hole. The chief came to the prison and began to ask all who had dug the hole. Everybody denied it. Those who knew had not seen Makár Seménovich, because they knew that for this act he would be whipped half-dead. Then the chief turned to Aksénov. He knew that Aksénov was a just man, and said:

“Old man, you are a truthful man, tell me before God who has done that.”

Makár Seménovich stood as though nothing had happened and looked at the chief, and did not glance at Aksénov. Aksénov’s arms and lips trembled, and he could not utter a word for long time. He thought: “If I protect him, why should I forgive him, since he has ruined me? Let him suffer for my torments! And if I tell on him, they will indeed whip him to death. And suppose that I have a wrong suspicion against him. Will that make it easier for me?”

The chief said once more:

“Well, old man, speak, tell the truth! Who has been digging it?”

Aksénov looked at Makár Seménovich, and said:

“I cannot tell, your Honour. God orders me not to tell. And I will not tell. Do with me as you please,—you have the power.”

No matter how much the chief tried, Aksénov would not say anything more. And so they did not find out who had done the digging.

On the following night, as Aksénov lay down on the bed-boards and was just falling asleep, he heard somebody come up to him and sit down at his feet. He looked in the darkness and recognized Makár. Aksénov said:

“What more do you want of me? What are you doing here?”

Makár Seménovich was silent. Aksénov raised himself, and said:

“What do you want? Go away, or I will call the soldier.”

Makár bent down close to Aksénov, and said to him in a whisper:

“‘God will forgive you’”
Photogravure from Painting by A. Kivshénko

“Iván Dmítrievich, forgive me!”

Aksénov said:

“For what shall I forgive you?”

“It was I who killed the merchant and put the knife into your bag. I wanted to kill you, too, but they made a noise in the yard, so I put the knife into your bag and climbed through the window.”

Aksénov was silent and did not know what to say. Makár Seménovich slipped down from the bed, made a low obeisance, and said:

“Iván Dmítrievich, forgive me, forgive me for God’s sake! I will declare that it was I who killed the merchant,—you will be forgiven. You will return home.”

Aksénov said:

“It is easy for you to speak so, but see how I have suffered! Where shall I go now? My wife has died, my children have forgotten me. I have no place to go to—”

Makár Seménovich did not get up from the floor. He struck his head against the earth, and said:

“Iván Dmítrievich, forgive me! When they whipped me with the knout I felt better than now that I am looking at you. You pitied me, and did not tell on me. Forgive me, for Christ’s sake! Forgive me, the accursed evil-doer!” And he burst out into tears.

When Aksénov heard Makár Seménovich crying, he began to weep himself, and said:

“God will forgive you. Maybe I am a hundred times worse than you!”

And suddenly a load fell off from his soul. And he no longer pined for his home, and did not wish to leave the prison, but only thought of his last hour.

Makár Seménovich did not listen to Aksénov, but declared his guilt. When the decision came for Aksénov to leave,—he was dead.

< < < The Gray Hare
Hunting Worse Than Slavery > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryLeo TolstoyFables for Children By Leo Tolstoy

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