The parish church was nearly five miles away at Kosogorovo, and
the peasants only attended it when they had to do so for
baptisms, weddings, or funerals; they went to the services at
the church across the river. On holidays in fine weather the
girls dressed up in their best and went in a crowd together to
church, and it was a cheering sight to see them in their red,
yellow, and green dresses cross the meadow; in bad weather they
all stayed at home. They went for the sacrament to the parish
church. From each of those who did not manage in Lent to go to
confession in readiness for the sacrament the parish priest,
going the round of the huts with the cross at Easter, took
The old father did not believe in God, for he hardly ever
thought about Him; he recognized the supernatural, but
considered it was entirely the women's concern, and when
religion or miracles were discussed before him, or a question
were put to him, he would say reluctantly, scratching himself:
"Who can tell!"
Granny believed, but her faith was somewhat hazy; everything was
mixed up in her memory, and she could scarcely begin to think of
sins, of death, of the salvation of the soul, before poverty and
her daily cares took possession of her mind, and she instantly
forgot what she was thinking about. She did not remember the
prayers, and usually in the evenings, before lying down to
sleep, she would stand before the ikons and whisper:
"Holy Mother of Kazan, Holy Mother of Smolensk, Holy Mother of
Troerutchitsy. . ."
Marya and Fyokla crossed themselves, fasted, and took the
sacrament every year, but understood nothing. The children were
not taught their prayers, nothing was told them about God, and
no moral principles were instilled into them; they were only
forbidden to eat meat or milk in Lent. In the other families it
was much the same: there were few who believed, few who
understood. At the same time everyone loved the Holy Scripture,
loved it with a tender, reverent love; but they had no Bible,
there was no one to read it and explain it, and because Olga
sometimes read them the gospel, they respected her, and they all
addressed her and Sasha as though they were superior to
For church holidays and services Olga often went to neighbouring
villages, and to the district town, in which there were two
monasteries and twenty-seven churches. She was dreamy, and when
she was on these pilgrimages she quite forgot her family, and
only when she got home again suddenly made the joyful discovery
that she had a husband and daughter, and then would say, smiling
"God has sent me blessings!"
What went on in the village worried her and seemed to her
revolting. On Elijah's Day they drank, at the Assumption they
drank, at the Ascension they drank. The Feast of the
Intercession was the parish holiday for Zhukovo, and the
peasants used to drink then for three days; they squandered on
drink fifty roubles of money belonging to the Mir, and then
collected more for vodka from all the households. On the first
day of the feast the Tchikildyeevs killed a sheep and ate of it
in the morning, at dinner-time, and in the evening; they ate it
ravenously, and the children got up at night to eat more. Kiryak
was fearfully drunk for three whole days; he drank up
everything, even his boots and cap, and beat Marya so terribly
that they had to pour water over her. And then they were all
ashamed and sick.
However, even in Zhukovo, in this "Slaveytown," there was once
an outburst of genuine religious enthusiasm. It was in August,
when throughout the district they carried from village to
village the Holy Mother, the giver of life. It was still and
overcast on the day when they expected Her at Zhukovo. The girls
set off in the morning to meet the ikon, in their bright holiday
dresses, and brought Her towards the evening, in procession with
the cross and with singing, while the bells pealed in the church
across the river. An immense crowd of villagers and strangers
flooded the street; there was noise, dust, a great crush. . . .
And the old father and Granny and Kiryak -- all stretched out
their hands to the ikon, looked eagerly at it and said, weeping:
"Defender! Mother! Defender!"
All seemed suddenly to realize that there was not an empty void
between earth and heaven, that the rich and the powerful had not
taken possession of everything, that there was still a refuge
from injury, from slavish bondage, from crushing, unendurable
poverty, from the terrible vodka.
"Defender! Mother!" sobbed Marya. "Mother!"
But the thanksgiving service ended and the ikon was carried
away, and everything went on as before; and again there was a
sound of coarse drunken oaths from the tavern.
Only the well-to-do peasants were afraid of death; the richer
they were the less they believed in God, and in the salvation of
souls, and only through fear of the end of the world put up
candles and had services said for them, to be on the safe side.
The peasants who were rather poorer were not afraid of death.
The old father and Granny were told to their faces that they had
lived too long, that it was time they were dead, and they did
not mind. They did not hinder Fyokla from saying in Nikolay's
presence that when Nikolay died her husband Denis would get
exemption -- to return home from the army. And Marya, far from
fearing death, regretted that it was so slow in coming, and was
glad when her children died.
Death they did not fear, but of every disease they had an
exaggerated terror. The merest trifle was enough -- a stomach
upset, a slight chill, and Granny would be wrapped up on the
stove, and would begin moaning loudly and incessantly:
"I am dy-ing!"
The old father hurried off for the priest, and Granny received
the sacrament and extreme unction. They often talked of colds,
of worms, of tumours which move in the stomach and coil round to
the heart. Above all, they were afraid of catching cold, and so
put on thick clothes even in the summer and warmed themselves at
the stove. Granny was fond of being doctored, and often went to
the hospital, where she used to say she was not seventy, but
fifty-eight; she supposed that if the doctor knew her real age
he would not treat her, but would say it was time she died
instead of taking medicine. She usually went to the hospital
early in the morning, taking with her two or three of the little
girls, and came back in the evening, hungry and ill-tempered --
with drops for herself and ointments for the little girls. Once
she took Nikolay, who swallowed drops for a fortnight
afterwards, and said he felt better.
Granny knew all the doctors and their assistants and the wise
men for twenty miles round, and not one of them she liked. At
the Intercession, when the priest made the round of the huts
with the cross, the deacon told her that in the town near the
prison lived an old man who had been a medical orderly in the
army, and who made wonderful cures, and advised her to try him.
Granny took his advice. When the first snow fell she drove to
the town and fetched an old man with a big beard, a converted
Jew, in a long gown, whose face was covered with blue veins.
There were outsiders at work in the hut at the time: an old
tailor, in terrible spectacles, was cutting a waistcoat out of
some rags, and two young men were making felt boots out of wool;
Kiryak, who had been dismissed from his place for drunkenness,
and now lived at home, was sitting beside the tailor mending a
bridle. And it was crowded, stifling, and noisome in the hut.
The converted Jew examined Nikolay and said that it was
necessary to try cupping.
He put on the cups, and the old tailor, Kiryak, and the little
girls stood round and looked on, and it seemed to them that they
saw the disease being drawn out of Nikolay; and Nikolay, too,
watched how the cups suckling at his breast gradually filled
with dark blood, and felt as though there really were something
coming out of him, and smiled with pleasure.
"It's a good thing," said the tailor. "Please God, it will do
The Jew put on twelve cups and then another twelve, drank some
tea, and went away. Nikolay began shivering; his face looked
drawn, and, as the women expressed it, shrank up like a fist;
his fingers turned blue. He wrapped himself up in a quilt and in
a sheepskin, but got colder and colder. Towards the evening he
began to be in great distress; asked to be laid on the ground,
asked the tailor not to smoke; then he subsided under the
sheepskin and towards morning he died.