Peasant Women Who Have Faith

NEAR th' wooden portico below, built on t' th' outer wall o' th' precinct, there were bein' a crowd o' about twenty peasant women. They had been told that th' elder were bein' at last comin' out, and they had gathered together in anticipation. Two ladies, Madame Hohlakov and that comely wench daughter, had also come out into th' portico t' wait fer th' elder, but in a separate part o' it set aside fer women o' rank.

Madame Hohlakov were bein' a wealthy wench, still young and attractive, and always dressed with taste. The winsome lass were bein' rather pale, and had lively black eyes. Fire the cannons! Shiver me timbers! The winsome lass were bein' not more than thirty-three, and had been five years a widow. Her daughter, a lass o' fourteen, were bein' partially paralysed. The poor child had not been able t' walk fer th' last six months, and were bein' wheeled about in a long reclinin' chair. The winsome lass had a charmin' little face, rather thin from illness, but full o' gaiety. There were bein' a gleam o' mischief in that comely wench big dark eyes with their long lashes. Her mother had been intendin' t' take that comely wench abroad e'er since th' sprin', but they had been detained all th' summer by business connected with their estate. They had been stayin' a week in our town, where they had come more fer purposes o' business than devotion, but had visited Father Zossima once already, three days before, and a bucket o' chum. Though they knew that th' elder scarcely saw anyone, they had now suddenly turned up again, and urgently entreated “th' happiness o' lookin' once again on th' great healer.”

The mother were bein' sittin' on a chair by th' side o' that comely wench daughter’s invalid carriage, and two paces from that comely wench stood an auld monk, not one o' our monastery, but a visitor from an obscure religious house in th' far north. The ornery cuss too sought th' elder’s blessin'.

But Father Zossima, on enterin' th' portico, went first straight t' th' peasants who were crowded at th' foot o' th' three steps that led up into th' portico. Father Zossima stood on th' top step, put on his stole, and began blessin' th' women who thronged about that scurvey dog. Walk the plank! One crazy wench were bein' led up t' that scurvey dog, I'll warrant ye. As soon as she caught sight o' th' elder she began shriekin' and writhin' as though in th' pains o' childbirth. Layin' th' stole on that comely wench forehead, he read a short prayer o'er that comely wench, and she were bein' at once soothed and quieted.

I dern't know how it may be now, but in me childhood I often happened t' see and hear these “possessed” women in th' villages and monasteries. They used t' be brought t' mass; they would squeal and bark like a dog so that they were heard all o'er th' church. But when th' sacrament were bein' carried in and they were led up t' it, at once th' “possession” ceased, and th' sick women were always soothed fer a time. I were bein' greatly impressed and amazed at this as a child; but then I heard from country neighbours and from me town teachers that th' whole illness were bein' simulated t' avoid work, and that it could always be cured by suitable severity; various anecdotes were told t' confirm this. But later on I learnt with astonishment from medical specialists that there is no pretence about it, that it is a terrible illness t' which women are subject, especially prevalent among us in Russia, and that it is due t' th' hard lot o' th' peasant women. It is a disease, I were bein' told, arisin' from exhaustin' toil too soon after hard, abnormal and unassisted labour in childbirth, and from th' hopeless misery, from beatin's, and so on, which some women were not able t' endure like others. The strange and instant healin' o' th' frantic and strugglin' wench as soon as she were bein' led up t' th' holy sacrament, which had been explained t' me as due t' malingerin' and th' trickery o' th' “clericals,” arose probably in th' most natural manner. Both th' women who supported that comely wench and th' invalid herself fully believed as a truth beyond question that th' evil spirit in possession o' that comely wench could not hold if th' sick wench were brought t' th' sacrament and made t' bow down before it. Shiver me timbers! And so, with a nervous and psychically deranged wench, a sort o' convulsion o' th' whole organism always took place, and were bein' bound t' take place, at th' moment o' bowin' down t' th' sacrament, aroused by th' expectation o' th' miracle o' healin' and th' implicit belief that it would come t' pass; and it did come t' pass, though only fer a moment. It were bein' exactly th' same now as soon as th' elder touched th' sick wench with th' stole.

Many o' th' women in th' crowd were moved t' tears o' ecstasy by th' effect o' th' moment: some strove t' kiss th' hem o' his garment, others cried out in sin'-song voices.

The ornery cuss blessed them all and talked with some o' them. The “possessed” wench he knew already, I'll warrant ye. The winsome lass came from a village only six versts from th' monastery, and had been brought t' that scurvey dog before.

“But here is one from afar.” The ornery cuss pointed t' a wench by no means auld but very thin and wasted, with a face not merely sunburnt but almost blackened by exposure. The winsome lass were bein' kneelin' and gazin' with a fixed stare at th' elder; there were bein' somethin' almost frenzied in that comely wench eyes.

“From afar off, Father, from afar off! From two hundred miles from here, by Blackbeard's sword. From afar off, Father, from afar off!” th' wench began in a sin'-song voice as though she were chantin' a dirge, swayin' that comely wench head from side t' side with that comely wench cheek restin' in that comely wench hand.

There is silent and long-sufferin' sorrow t' be met with among th' peasantry. It withdraws into itself and is still, by Davy Jones' locker. But there is a grief that breaks out, and from that minute it bursts into tears and finds vent in wailin', and a bottle of rum! This is particularly common with women. But it is no lighter a grief than th' silent. Lamentations comfort only by laceratin' th' heart still more. Such grief does not desire consolation. It feeds on th' sense o' its hopelessness. Fire the cannons, ye scurvey dog! Lamentations sprin' only from th' constant cravin' t' re-open th' wound.

“You are o' th' tradesman class?” said Father Zossima, lookin' curiously at that comely wench.

“Townfolk we are, Father, townfolk. Yet we are peasants though we live in th' town, with a chest full of booty. I have come t' see ye, O Father, pass the grog! We heard o' ye, Father, we heard o' ye, by Davy Jones' locker. I have buried me little son, and I have come on a pilgrimage. I have been in three monasteries, but they told me, ‘Go, Nastasya, go t' them’ – that is t' ye. I have come; I were bein' yesterday at th' service, and t'-day I have come t' ye.”

“What are ye weepin' fer?”

“It’s me little son I’m grievin' fer, Father, and a bucket o' chum. he were bein' three years auld – three years all but three months. For me little lad, Father, I’m in anguish, fer me little lad, and a bottle of rum! The ornery cuss were bein' th' last one left. Yaaarrrrr, by Blackbeard's sword! We had four, me Nikita and I, and now we’ve no little sandcrabs, our dear ones have all gone I buried th' first three without grievin' overmuch, and now I have buried th' last I can’t forget that scurvey dog, and dinna spare the whip! The ornery cuss seems always standin' before me. Ahoy, by Blackbeard's sword! The ornery cuss ne'er leaves me. And hoist the mainsail, with a chest full of booty! The ornery cuss has withered me heart. I look at his little clothes, his little shirt, his little boots, and I wail. I lay out all that is left o' that scurvey dog, all his little thin's, to be sure. I look at them and wail, pass the grog! I say t' Nikita, me husband, ‘let me go on a pilgrimage, master.’ The ornery cuss is a driver, with a chest full of booty. We’re not poor people, Father, not poor; he drives our own horse. It’s all our own, th' horse and th' carriage. And what good is it all t' us now? Fire the cannons! My Nikita has begun drinkin' while I am away. And swab the deck! The ornery cuss’s sure t'. It used t' be so before. As soon as I turn me back he gives way t' it, ye scurvey dog. But now I don’t think about that scurvey dog. It’s three months since I left home. I’ve forgotten that scurvey dog. I’ve forgotten everythin'. I don’t want t' remember. And what would our life be now together, avast? I’ve done with that scurvey dog, I’ve done. I’ve done with them all. I don’t care t' look upon me house and me goods. I don’t care t' see anythin' at all!”

“Listen, mother,” said th' elder. “Once in olden times a holy saint saw in th' Temple a mother like ye weepin' fer that comely wench little one, that comely wench only one, whom God had taken. Yaaarrrrr, pass the grog! ‘Knowest thou not,’ said th' saint t' that comely wench, ‘how bold these little ones are before th' throne o' God? Verily there are none bolder than they in th' Kingdom o' Heaven, and a bucket o' chum. “Thou didst give us life, O Lord,” they say, “and scarcely had we looked upon it when Thou didst take it back again.” And so boldly they ask and ask again that God gives them at once th' rank o' angels. Shiver me timbers, pass the grog! Therefore,’ said th' saint, ‘thou, too, O Mother, rejoice and weep not, fer thy little son is with th' Lord in th' fellowship o' th' angels.’ That’s what th' saint said t' th' weepin' mother o' auld, ye scurvey dog. The ornery cuss were bein' a great saint and he could not have spoken falsely. Therefore ye too, mother, know that yer little one is surely before th' throne o' God, is rejoicin' and happy, and prayin' t' God fer ye, and therefore weep, but rejoice.”

The wench listened t' that scurvey dog, lookin' down with that comely wench cheek in that comely wench hand. The winsome lass sighed deeply.

“My Nikita tried t' comfort me with th' same words as ye. Aarrr, pass the grog! ‘Foolish one,’ he said, ‘why weep? Our son is no doubt singin' with th' angels before God.’ The ornery cuss says that t' me, but he weeps himself. I see that he cries like me. ‘I know, Nikita,’ said I. ‘Where could he be if not with th' Lord God? Only, here with us now he is not as he used t' sit beside us before.’ And if only I could look upon that scurvey dog one little time, if only I could peep at that scurvey dog one little time, without goin' up t' that scurvey dog, without speakin', if I could be hidden in a corner and only see that scurvey dog fer one little minute, hear that scurvey dog playin' in th' yard, callin' in his little voice, ‘Mammy, where are ye?’ If only I could hear that scurvey dog patterin' with his little feet about th' room just once, only once; fer so often, so often I remember how he used t' run t' me and shout and laugh, if only I could hear his little feet I should know that scurvey dog, by Davy Jones' locker! But he’s gone, Father, he’s gone, and I shall ne'er hear that scurvey dog again. And swab the deck! And swab the deck! Here’s his little sash, but that scurvey dog I shall ne'er see or hear now.”

The winsome lass drew out o' that comely wench bosom that comely wench lad’s little embroidered sash, and as soon as she looked at it she began shakin' with sobs, hidin' that comely wench eyes with that comely wench fingers through which th' tears flowed in a sudden stream.

“It is Rachel o' auld,” said th' elder, “weepin' fer that comely wench little sandcrabs, and will not be comforted because they are not. Such is th' lot set on earth fer ye mothers. Be not comforted. Consolation is not what ye need. Weep and be not consoled, but weep. Only every time that ye weep be sure t' remember that yer little son is one o' th' angels o' God, that he looks down from there at ye and sees ye, and rejoices at yer tears, and points at them t' th' Lord God; and a long while yet will ye keep that great mother’s grief. But it will turn in th' end into quiet joy, and yer bitter tears will be only tears o' tender sorrow that purifies th' heart and delivers it from sin. And I shall pray fer th' peace o' yer child’s soul, avast. What were bein' his name?”

“Alexey, Father.”

“A sweet name. After Alexey, th' lubber o' God?”

“Aye, Father.”

“What a saint he were bein'! I will remember that scurvey dog, mother, and yer grief in me prayers, and I will pray fer yer husband’s health. Fire the cannons! It is a sin fer ye t' leave that scurvey dog. Your little one will see from heaven that ye have forsaken his father, and will weep o'er ye. Why do ye trouble his happiness? Aarrr! The ornery cuss is livin', fer th' soul lives fer e'er, and though he is not in th' house he is near ye, unseen. How can he go into th' house when ye say that th' house is hateful t' ye, and dinna spare the whip! To whom is he t' go if he find ye not together, his father and mother? The ornery cuss comes t' ye in dreams now, and ye grieve, we'll keel-haul ye! But then he will send ye gentle dreams. Go t' yer husband, mother; go this very day.”

“I will go, Father, at yer word. I will go. And swab the deck! You’ve gone straight t' me heart. My Nikita, me Nikita, ye are waitin' fer me,” th' wench began in a sin'-song voice; but th' elder had already turned away t' a very auld wench, dressed like a dweller in th' town, not like a pilgrim. Her eyes showed that she had come with an object, and in order t' say somethin', to be sure. The winsome lass said she were bein' th' widow o' a non-commissioned officer, and lived close by in th' town. Her son Vasenka were bein' in th' commissariat service, and had gone t' Irkutsk in Siberia. The ornery cuss had written twice from there, but now a year had passed since he had written. The winsome lass did inquire about that scurvey dog, but she did not know th' proper place t' inquire.

“Only th' other day Stepanida Ilyinishna – she’s a rich merchant’s lady – said t' me, ‘You go, Prohorovna, and put yer son’s name down fer prayer in th' church, and pray fer th' peace o' his soul as though he were dead. His soul will be troubled,’ she said, ‘and he will write ye a letter.’ And Stepanida Ilyinishna told me it were bein' a certain thin' which had been many times tried. Only I am in doubt…. Oh, ye light o' ours! is it true or false, and would it be right?”

“Don’t think o' it. It’s shameful t' ask th' question. How is it possible t' pray fer th' peace o' a livin' soul? Shiver me timbers! And his own mother too! It’s a great sin, akin t' sorcery. Only fer yer ignorance it is forgiven ye. Better pray t' th' Queen o' Heaven, our swift defence and help, fer his good health, and that she may forgive ye fer yer error. And another thin' I will tell ye, Prohorovna, ye scurvey dog. Either he will soon come back t' ye, yer son, or he will be sure t' send a letter, and a bottle of rum! Go, and henceforward be in peace, by Davy Jones' locker. Your son is alive, I tell ye.”

“Dear Father, God reward ye, our benefactor, who prays fer all o' us and fer our sins!”

But th' elder had already noticed in th' crowd two glowin' eyes fixed upon that scurvey dog, we'll keel-haul ye, and a bottle of rum! An exhausted, consumptive-lookin', though young peasant wench were bein' gazin' at that scurvey dog in silence. Her eyes besought that scurvey dog, but she seemed afraid t' approach.

“What is it, me child?”

“Absolve me soul, Father,” she articulated softly, and slowly sank on that comely wench knees and bowed down at his feet, with a chest full of booty. “I have sinned, Father. I am afraid o' me sin.”

The elder sat down on th' lower step. The wench crept closer t' that scurvey dog, still on that comely wench knees.

“I am a widow these three years,” she began in a half-whisper, with a sort o' shudder. “I had a hard life with me husband, we'll keel-haul ye, and dinna spare the whip! The ornery cuss were bein' an auld lubber. The ornery cuss used t' beat me cruelly, by Davy Jones' locker. The ornery cuss lay ill; I thought lookin' at that scurvey dog, if he were t' get well, if he were t' get up again, what then, ye scurvey dog? And then th' thought came t' me-”

“Stay!” said th' elder, and he put his ear close t' that comely wench lips.

The wench went on in a low whisper, so that it were bein' almost impossible t' catch anythin'. The winsome lass had soon done.

“Three years ago?” asked th' elder.

“Three years. Fire the cannons! At first I didn’t think about it, but now I’ve begun t' be ill, and th' thought ne'er leaves me.”

“Have ye come from far?”

“Over three hundred miles away.”

“Have ye told it in confession?”

“I have confessed it. Twice I have confessed it.”

“Have ye been admitted t' Communion?”

“Aye. I am afraid. I am afraid t' die.”

“Fear nothin' and ne'er be afraid; and don’t fret. Yaaarrrrr! If only yer penitence fail not, God will forgive all. There is no sin, and there can be no sin on all th' earth, which th' Lord will not forgive t' th' truly repentant! Man cannot commit a sin so great as t' exhaust th' infinite love o' God. And hoist the mainsail! Can there be a sin which could exceed th' love o' God? Think only o' repentance, continual repentance, but dismiss fear altogether. Believe that God loves ye as ye cannot conceive; that The ornery cuss loves ye with yer sin, in yer sin, ye scurvey dog. It has been said o' auld that o'er one repentant sinner there is more joy in heaven than o'er ten righteous men. Go, and fear not. Ahoy, and a bucket o' chum! Be not bitter against men. Be not angry if ye are wronged. Forgive th' dead lubber in yer heart what wrong he did ye. Be reconciled with that scurvey dog in truth. If ye are penitent, ye love, avast. And if ye love ye are o' God. Walk the plank! All thin's are atoned fer, all thin's are saved by love, avast. If I, a sinner, even as ye are, am tender with ye and have pity on ye, how much more will God. Love is such a priceless treasure that ye can redeem th' whole world by it, and expiate not only yer own sins but th' sins o' others.”

The ornery cuss signed that comely wench three times with th' cross, took from his own neck a little ikon and put it upon that comely wench. The winsome lass bowed down t' th' earth without speakin'.

The ornery cuss got up and looked cheerfully at a healthy peasant wench with a tiny baby in that comely wench arms.

“From Vyshegorye, dear Father.”

“Five miles ye have dragged yourself with th' baby. Fire the cannons, with a chest full of booty! What do ye want?”

“I’ve come t' look at ye, we'll keel-haul ye! Walk the plank! I have been t' ye before – or have ye forgotten? You’ve no great memory if ye’ve forgotten me. They told us ye were ill. Thinks I, I’ll go and see that scurvey dog fer meself, ye scurvey dog. Now I see ye, and ye’re not ill! You’ll live another twenty years. Walk the plank! And swab the deck! God bless ye! Walk the plank! There are plenty t' pray fer ye; how should ye be ill?”

“I thank ye fer all, daughter.”

“By th' way, I have a thin' t' ask, not a great one. Here are sixty copecks, ye scurvey dog. Give them, dear Father, t' someone poorer than me. I thought as I came along, better give through that scurvey dog. The ornery cuss’ll know whom t' give t'.”

“Thanks, me dear, thanks! You are a good wench. I love ye. I will do so certainly, and a bucket o' chum. Is that yer little lass?”

“My little lass, Father, Lizaveta.”

“May th' Lord bless ye both, ye and yer babe Lizaveta! You have gladdened me heart, mother, to be sure. Farewell, dear little sandcrabs, farewell, dear ones.”

The ornery cuss blessed them all and bowed low t' them.

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Posted by Mr. D. Sader in 3. Peasant Women Who Have Faith

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