A Russian Proprietor By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

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Chapter X

At this moment, the window was darkened by the head of a peasant woman who passed carrying some linen on a yoke, and presently Davidka’s mother came into the hovel. She was a tall woman, fifty years old, very fresh and lively. Her ugly face was covered with pock-marks and wrinkles; but her straight, firm nose, her delicate, compressed lips, and her keen gray eyes gave witness to her mental strength and energy.

The angularity of her shoulders, the flatness of her chest, the thinness of her hands, and the solid muscles of her black bare legs, made it evident that she had long ago ceased to be a woman, and had become a mere drudge.

She came hurrying into the hovel, shut the door, set down her linen, and looked angrily at her son.

Nekhliudof was about to say something to her, but she turned her back on him, and began to cross herself before the black wooden ikon, that was visible behind the loom.

When she had thus done, she adjusted the dirty checkered handkerchief which was tied around her head, and made a low obeisance to the prince.

“A pleasant Lord’s day to you, excellency,” she said. “God spare you; you are our father.”

When Davidka saw his mother he grew confused, bent his back a little, and hung his head still lower.[48]

“Thanks, Arína,” replied Nekhliudof. “I have just been talking with your son about your affairs.”[36]

Arína or Aríshka Burlák,[37] as the peasants used to call her when she was a girl, rested her chin on the clinched fist of her right hand, which she supported with the palm of the left, and, without waiting for the prince to speak further, began to talk so sharply and loud that the whole hovel was filled with the sound of her voice; and from outside it might have been concluded that several women had suddenly fallen into a discussion.

“What, my father, what is then to be said to him? You can’t talk to him as to a man. Here he stands, the lout,” she continued contemptuously, wagging her head in the direction of Davidka’s woe-begone, stolid form.

“How are my affairs, your excellency? We are poor. In your whole village there are none so bad off as we are, either for our own work or for yours. It’s a shame! And it’s all his fault. I bore him, fed him, gave him to drink. Didn’t expect to have such a lubber. There is but one end to the story. Grain is all gone, and no more work to be got out of him than from that piece of rotten wood. All he knows is to lie on top of the oven, or else he stands here, and scratches his empty pate,” she said, mimicking him.

“If you could only frighten him, father! I myself beseech you: punish him, for the Lord God’s sake! send him off as a soldier,—it’s all one. But he’s no good to me,—that’s the way it is.”

“Now, aren’t you ashamed, Davidka, to bring your mother to this?” said Nekhliudof reproachfully, addressing the peasant.


Davidka did not move.

“One might think that he was a sick peasant,” continued Arína, with the same eagerness and the same gestures; “but only to look at him you can see he’s fatter than the pig at the mill. It would seem as if he might have strength enough to work on something, the lubber! But no, not he! He prefers to curl himself up on top of the oven. And even when he undertakes to do any thing, it would make you sick even to look at him, the way he goes about the work! He wastes time when he gets up, when he moves, when he does any thing,” said she, dwelling on the words, and awkwardly swaying from side to side with her angular shoulders.

“Now, here to-day my old man himself went to the forest after wood, and told him to dig a hole; but he did not even put his hand to the shovel.”

She paused for a moment.

“He has killed me,” she suddenly hissed, gesticulating with her arms, and advancing toward her son with threatening gesture. “Curse your smooth, bad face!”

She scornfully, and at the same time despairingly, turned from him, spat, and again addressed the prince with the same animation, still swinging her arms, but with tears in her eyes.

“I am the only one, benefactor. My old man is sick, old: yes, and I get no help out of him; and I am the only one at all. And this fellow hangs around my neck like a stone. If he would only die, then it would be easier; that would be the end of it. He lets me starve, the poltroon. You are our father. There’s no help for me. My daughter-in-law died of work, and I shall too.”[50]

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