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A Russian Proprietor By Count Leo N. Tolstoy

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents
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Chapter XII > > >

Chapter XI

“How did she die?” inquired Nekhliudof, somewhat sceptically.

“She died of hard work, as God knows, benefactor. We brought her last year from Baburin,” she continued, suddenly changing her wrathful expression to one of tearfulness and grief. “Well, the woman[38] was young, fresh, obliging, good stuff. As a girl, she lived at home with her father in clover, never knew want; and when she came to us, then she learned to do our work,—for the estate and at home and everywhere…. She and I—that was all to do it. What was it to me? I was used to it. She was going to have a baby, good father; and she began to suffer pain; and all because she worked beyond her strength. Well, she did herself harm, the poor little sweetheart. Last summer, about the time of the feast of Peter and Paul, she had a poor little boy born. But there was no bread. We ate whatever we could get, my father. She went to work too soon: her milk all dried up. The baby was her first-born. There was no cow, and we were mere peasants. She had to feed him on rye. Well, of course, it was sheer folly. It kept pining away on this. And when the child died, she became so down-spirited,—she would sob and sob, and howl and howl; and then it was poverty and work, and all the time going from bad to worse. So she passed [51]away in the summer, the sweetheart, at the time of the feast of St. Mary’s Intercession. He brought her to it, the beast,” she cried, turning to her son with wrathful despair. “I wanted to ask your excellency a favor,” she continued after a short pause, lowering her voice, and making an obeisance.

“What?” asked Nekhliudof in some constraint.

“You see he’s a young peasant still. He demands so much work of me. To-day I am alive, to-morrow I may die. How can he live without a wife? He won’t be any good to you at all. Help us to find some one for him, good father.”

“That is, you want to get a wife for him? What? What an idea!”

“God’s will be done! You are in the place of parents to us.”

And after making a sign to her son, she and the man threw themselves on the floor at the prince’s feet.

“Why do you stoop to the ground?” asked Nekhliudof peevishly, taking her by the shoulder. “You know I don’t like this sort of thing. Marry your son, of course, if you have a girl in view. I should be very glad if you had a daughter-in-law to help you.”

The old woman got up, and began to rub her dry eyes with her sleeves. Davidka followed her example, and, rubbing his eyes with his weak fist, with the same patiently-submissive expression, continued to stand, and listen to what Arína said.

“Plenty of brides, certainly. Here’s Vasiutka Mikheïkin’s daughter, and a right good girl she is; but the girl would not come to us without your consent.”

“Isn’t she willing?”

“No, benefactor, she isn’t.”

“Well, what’s to be done? I can’t compel her.[52] Select some one else. If you can’t find one at home, go to another village. I will pay for her, only she must come of her own free will. It is impossible to marry her by force. There’s no law allows that; that would be a great sin.”

“E-e-kh! benefactor! Is it possible that any one would come to us of her own accord, seeing our way of life, our wretchedness? Not even the wife of a soldier would like to undergo such want. What peasant would let us have his daughter?[39] It is not to be expected. You see we’re in the very depths of poverty. They will say, ‘Since you starved one to death, it will be the same with my daughter.’ Who is to give her?” she added, shaking her head dubiously. “Give us your advice, excellency.”

“Well, what can I do?”

“Think of some one for us, kind sir,” repeated Arína urgently. “What are we to do?”

“How can I think of any one? I can’t do any thing at all for you as things are.”

“Who will help us if you do not?” said Arína, drooping her head, and spreading her palms with an expression of melancholy discontent.

“Here you ask for grain, and so I will give orders for some to be delivered to you,” said the prince after a short silence, during which Arína sighed, and Davidka imitated her. “But I cannot do any thing more.”

Nekhliudof went into the entry. Mother and son with low bows followed the prince.

[53]


< < < Chapter X
Chapter XII > > >

Russian Literature – Children Books – Russian Poetry – Leo Tolstoy – A Russian Proprietor – contents


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