A LOST OPPORTUNITY.
"Then came Peter to Him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother
sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?" . . . .
"So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye
from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their
trespasses."--ST. MATTHEW xviii., 21-35.
In a certain village there lived a peasant by the name of Ivan
Scherbakoff. He was prosperous, strong, and vigorous, and was
considered the hardest worker in the whole village. He had three
sons, who supported themselves by their own labor. The eldest
was married, the second about to be married, and the youngest
took care of the horses and occasionally attended to the
The peasant's wife, Ivanovna, was intelligent and industrious,
while her daughter-in-law was a simple, quiet soul, but a hard
There was only one idle person in the household, and that was
Ivan's father, a very old man who for seven years had suffered
from asthma, and who spent the greater part of his time lying on
the brick oven.
Ivan had plenty of everything--three horses, with one colt, a cow
with calf, and fifteen sheep. The women made the men's clothes,
and in addition to performing all the necessary household labor,
also worked in the field; while the men's industry was confined
altogether to the farm.
What was left of the previous year's supply of provisions was
ample for their needs, and they sold a quantity of oats
sufficient to pay their taxes and other expenses.
Thus life went smoothly for Ivan.
The peasant's next-door neighbor was a son of Gordey Ivanoff,
called "Gavryl the Lame." It once happened that Ivan had a
quarrel with him; but while old man Gordey was yet alive, and
Ivan's father was the head of the household, the two peasants
lived as good neighbors should. If the women of one house
required the use of a sieve or pail, they borrowed it from the
inmates of the other house. The same condition of affairs
existed between the men. They lived more like one family, the
one dividing his possessions with the other, and perfect harmony
reigned between the two families.
If a stray calf or cow invaded the garden of one of the farmers,
the other willingly drove it away, saying: "Be careful, neighbor,
that your stock does not again stray into my garden; we should
put a fence up." In the same way they had no secrets from each
other. The doors of their houses and barns had neither bolts nor
locks, so sure were they of each other's honesty. Not a shadow
of suspicion darkened their daily intercourse.
Thus lived the old people.
In time the younger members of the two households started
farming. It soon became apparent that they would not get along
as peacefully as the old people had done, for they began
quarrelling without the slightest provocation.
A hen belonging to Ivan's daughter-in-law commenced laying eggs,
which the young woman collected each morning, intending to keep
them for the Easter holidays. She made daily visits to the barn,
where, under an old wagon, she was sure to find the precious egg.
One day the children frightened the hen and she flew over their
neighbor's fence and laid her egg in their garden.
Ivan's daughter-in-law heard the hen cackling, but said: "I am
very busy just at present, for this is the eve of a holy day, and
I must clean and arrange this room. I will go for the egg later
When evening came, and she had finished her task, she went to the
barn, and as usual looked under the old wagon, expecting to find
an egg. But, alas! no egg was visible in the accustomed place.
Greatly disappointed, she returned to the house and inquired of
her mother-in-law and the other members of the family if they had
taken it. "No," they said, "we know nothing of it."
Taraska, the youngest brother-in-law, coming in soon after, she
also inquired of him if he knew anything about the missing egg.
"Yes," he replied; "your pretty, crested hen laid her egg in our
neighbors' garden, and after she had finished cackling she flew
back again over the fence."
The young woman, greatly surprised on hearing this, turned and
looked long and seriously at the hen, which was sitting with
closed eyes beside the rooster in the chimney-corner. She asked
the hen where it laid the egg. At the sound of her voice it
simply opened and closed its eyes, but could make no answer.
She then went to the neighbors' house, where she was met by an
old woman, who said: "What do you want, young woman?"
Ivan's daughter-in-law replied: "You see, babushka [grandmother],
my hen flew into your yard this morning. Did she not lay an egg
"We did not see any," the old woman replied; "we have our own
hens--God be praised!--and they have been laying for this long
time. We hunt only for the eggs our own hens lay, and have no
use for the eggs other people's hens lay. Another thing I want
to tell you, young woman: we do not go into other people's yards
to look for eggs."
Now this speech greatly angered the young woman, and she replied
in the same spirit in which she had been spoken to, only using
much stronger language and speaking at greater length.
The neighbor replied in the same angry manner, and finally the
women began to abuse each other and call vile names. It happened
that old Ivan's wife, on her way to the well for water, heard the
dispute, and joined the others, taking her daughter-in-law's
Gavryl's housekeeper, hearing the noise, could not resist the
temptation to join the rest and to make her voice heard. As soon
as she appeared on the scene, she, too, began to abuse her
neighbor, reminding her of many disagreeable things which had
happened (and many which had not happened) between them. She
became so infuriated during her denunciations that she lost all
control of herself, and ran around like some mad creature.
Then all the women began to shout at the same time, each trying
to say two words to another's one, and using the vilest language
in the quarreller's vocabulary.
"You are such and such," shouted one of the women. "You are a
thief, a schlukha [a mean, dirty, low creature]; your
father-in-law is even now starving, and you have no shame. You
beggar, you borrowed my sieve and broke it. You made a large
hole in it, and did not buy me another."
"You have our scale-beam," cried another woman, "and must give it
back to me;" whereupon she seized the scale-beam and tried to
remove it from the shoulders of Ivan's wife.
In the melee which followed they upset the pails of water. They
tore the covering from each other's head, and a general fight
Gavryl's wife had by this time joined in the fracas, and he,
crossing the field and seeing the trouble, came to her rescue.
Ivan and his son, seeing that their womenfolk were being badly
used, jumped into the midst of the fray, and a fearful fight
Ivan was the most powerful peasant in all the country round, and
it did not take him long to disperse the crowd, for they flew in
all directions. During the progress of the fight Ivan tore out a
large quantity of Gavryl's beard.
By this time a large crowd of peasants had collected, and it was
with the greatest difficulty that they persuaded the two families
to stop quarrelling.
This was the beginning.
Gavryl took the portion of his beard which Ivan had torn out,
and, wrapping it in a paper, went to the volostnoye (moujiks'
court) and entered a complaint against Ivan.
Holding up the hair, he said, "I did not grow this for that bear
Ivan to tear out!"
Gavryl's wife went round among the neighbors, telling them that
they must not repeat what she told them, but that she and her
husband were going to get the best of Ivan, and that he was to be
sent to Siberia.
And so the quarrelling went on.
The poor old grandfather, sick with asthma and lying on the brick
oven all the time, tried from the first to dissuade them from
quarrelling, and begged of them to live in peace; but they would
not listen to his good advice. He said to them: "You children
are making a great fuss and much trouble about nothing. I beg of
you to stop and think of what a little thing has caused all this
trouble. It has arisen from only one egg. If our neighbors'
children picked it up, it is all right. God bless them! One egg
is of but little value, and without it God will supply sufficient
for all our needs."
Ivan's daughter-in-law here interposed and said, "But they called
us vile names."
The old grandfather again spoke, saying: "Well, even if they did
call you bad names, it would have been better to return good for
evil, and by your example show them how to speak better. Such
conduct on your part would have been best for all concerned." He
continued: "Well, you had a fight, you wicked people. Such
things sometimes happen, but it would be better if you went
afterward and asked forgiveness and buried your grievances out of
sight. Scatter them to the four winds of heaven, for if you do
not do so it will be the worse for you in the end."
The younger members of the family, still obstinate, refused to
profit by the old man's advice, and declared he was not right,
and that he only liked to grumble in his old-fashioned way.
Ivan refused to go to his neighbor, as the grandfather wished,
saying: "I did not tear out Gavryl's beard. He did it himself,
and his son tore my shirt and trousers into shreds."
Ivan entered suit against Gavryl. He first went to the village
justice, and not getting satisfaction from him he carried his
case to the village court.
While the neighbors were wrangling over the affair, each suing
the other, it happened that a perch-bolt from Gavryl's wagon was