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04-POLIKUSHKA

By Darlene Ferguson,2014-07-29 11:22
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04-POLIKUSHKA "POLIKUSHKA;" OR, THE LOT OF A WICKED COURT SERVANT. CHAPTER I. PO...

"POLIKUSHKA;"

OR,

The Lot of a Wicked Court Servant.

CHAPTER I.

    Polikey was a court man--one of the staff of servants belonging

    to the court household of a boyarinia (lady of the nobility).

    He held a very insignificant position on the estate, and lived in

    a rather poor, small house with his wife and children.

    The house was built by the deceased nobleman whose widow he still

    continued to serve, and may be described as follows: The four

    walls surrounding the one izba (room) were built of stone, and

    the interior was ten yards square. A Russian stove stood in the

    centre, around which was a free passage. Each corner was fenced

    off as a separate inclosure to the extent of several feet, and

    the one nearest to the door (the smallest of all) was known as

    "Polikey's corner." Elsewhere in the room stood the bed (with

    quilt, sheet, and cotton pillows), the cradle (with a baby lying

    therein), and the three-legged table, on which the meals were

    prepared and the family washing was done. At the latter also

    Polikey was at work on the preparation of some materials for use

    in his profession--that of an amateur veterinary surgeon. A

    calf, some hens, the family clothes and household utensils,

    together with seven persons, filled the little home to the utmost

    of its capacity. It would indeed have been almost impossible for

    them to move around had it not been for the convenience of the

    stove, on which some of them slept at night, and which served as

a table in the day-time.

    It seemed hard to realize how so many persons managed to live in

such close quarters.

    Polikey's wife, Akulina, did the washing, spun and wove, bleached

    her linen, cooked and baked, and found time also to quarrel and

gossip with her neighbors.

    The monthly allowance of food which they received from the

    noblewoman's house was amply sufficient for the whole family, and

    there was always enough meal left to make mash for the cow.

    Their fuel they got free, and likewise the food for the cattle.

    In addition they were given a small piece of land on which to

    raise vegetables. They had a cow, a calf, and a number of

chickens to care for.

    Polikey was employed in the stables to take care of two

    stallions, and, when necessary, to bleed the horses and cattle

and clean their hoofs.

    In his treatment of the animals he used syringes, plasters, and

    various other remedies and appliances of his own invention. For

    these services he received whatever provisions were required by

    his family, and a certain sum of money--all of which would have

    been sufficient to enable them to live comfortably and even

    happily, if their hearts had not been filled with the shadow of a

great sorrow.

    This shadow darkened the lives of the entire family.

    Polikey, while young, was employed in a horse-breeding

    establishment in a neighboring village. The head stableman was a

    notorious horse-thief, known far and wide as a great rogue, who,

    for his many misdeeds, was finally exiled to Siberia. Under his

    instruction Polikey underwent a course of training, and, being

    but a boy, was easily induced to perform many evil deeds. He

    became so expert in the various kinds of wickedness practiced by

    his teacher that, though he many times would gladly have

    abandoned his evil ways, he could not, owing to the great hold

    these early-formed habits had upon him. His father and mother

    died when he was but a child, and he had no one to point out to

him the paths of virtue.

    In addition to his other numerous shortcomings, Polikey was fond

    of strong drink. He also had a habit of appropriating other

    people's property, when the opportunity offered of his doing so

    without being seen. Collar-straps, padlocks, perch-bolts, and

    things even of greater value belonging to others found their way

    with remarkable rapidity and in great quantities to Polikey's

    home. He did not, however, keep such things for his own use, but

    sold them whenever he could find a purchaser. His payment

    consisted chiefly of whiskey, though sometimes he received cash.

    This sort of employment, as his neighbors said, was both light

    and profitable; it required neither education nor labor. It had

    one drawback, however, which was calculated to reconcile his

    victims to their losses: Though he could for a time have all his

    needs supplied without expending either labor or money, there was

    always the possibility of his methods being discovered; and this

    result was sure to be followed by a long term of imprisonment.

    This impending danger made life a burden for Polikey and his

family.

    Such a setback indeed very nearly happened to Polikey early in

    his career. He married while still young, and God gave him much

    happiness. His wife, who was a shepherd's daughter, was a

    strong, intelligent, hard-working woman. She bore him many

    children, each of whom was said to be better than the preceding

one.

    Polikey still continued to steal, but once was caught with some

    small articles belonging to others in his possession. Among them

    was a pair of leather reins, the property of another peasant, who

beat him severely and reported him to his mistress.

    From that time on Polikey was an object of suspicion, and he was

    twice again detected in similar escapades. By this time the

    people began to abuse him, and the clerk of the court threatened

    to recruit him into the army as a soldier (which is regarded by

    the peasants as a great punishment and disgrace). His noble

    mistress severely reprimanded him; his wife wept from grief for

    his downfall, and everything went from bad to worse.

    Polikey, notwithstanding his weakness, was a good-natured sort of

    man, but his love of strong drink had so overcome every moral

    instinct that at times he was scarcely responsible for his

    actions. This habit he vainly endeavored to overcome. It often

    happened that when he returned home intoxicated, his wife, losing

    all patience, roundly cursed him and cruelly beat him. At times

    he would cry like a child, and bemoan his fate, saying:

    "Unfortunate man that I am, what shall I do? LET MY EYES BURST

    INTO PIECES if I do not forever give up the vile habit! I will

not again touch vodki."

    In spite of all his promises of reform, but a short period

    (perhaps a month) would elapse when Polikey would again

    mysteriously disappear from his home and be lost for several days

on a spree.

    "From what source does he get the money he spends so freely?" the

    neighbors inquired of each other, as they sadly shook their

heads.

    One of his most unfortunate exploits in the matter of stealing

    was in connection with a clock which belonged to the estate of

    his mistress. The clock stood in the private office of the

    noblewoman, and was so old as to have outlived its usefulness,

    and was simply kept as an heirloom. It so happened that Polikey

    went into the office one day when no one was present but himself,

    and, seeing the old clock, it seemed to possess a peculiar

    fascination for him, and he speedily transferred it to his

    person. He carried it to a town not far from the village, where

he very readily found a purchaser.

    As if purposely to secure his punishment, it happened that the

    storekeeper to whom he sold it proved to be a relative of one of

    the court servants, and who, when he visited his friend on the

    next holiday, related all about his purchase of the clock.

    An investigation was immediately instituted, and all the details

    of Polikey's transaction were brought to light and reported to

    his noble mistress. He was called into her presence, and, when

    confronted with the story of the theft, broke down and confessed

    all. He fell on his knees before the noblewoman and plead with

    her for mercy. The kind-hearted lady lectured him about God, the

    salvation of his soul, and his future life. She talked to him

    also about the misery and disgrace he brought upon his family,

    and altogether so worked upon his feelings that he cried like a

    child. In conclusion his kind mistress said: "I will forgive you

    this time on the condition that you promise faithfully to reform,

    and never again to take what does not belong to you."

    Polikey, still weeping, replied: "I will never steal again in all

    my life, and if I break my promise may the earth open and swallow

    me up, and let my body be burned with red-hot irons!"

    Polikey returned to his home, and throwing himself on the oven

    spent the entire day weeping and repeating the promise made to

his mistress.

    From that time on he was not again caught stealing, but his life

    became extremely sad, for he was regarded with suspicion by every

one and pointed to as a thief.

    When the time came round for securing recruits for the army, all

    the peasants singled out Polikey as the first to be taken. The

    superintendent was especially anxious to get rid of him, and went

    to his mistress to induce her to have him sent away. The

    kind-hearted and merciful woman, remembering the peasant's

    repentance, refused to grant the superintendent's request, and

told him he must take some other man in his stead.

CHAPTER II.

    One evening Polikey was sitting on his bed beside the table,

    preparing some medicine for the cattle, when suddenly the door

    was thrown wide open, and Aksiutka, a young girl from the court,

    rushed in. Almost out of breath, she said: "My mistress has

    ordered you, Polikey Illitch [son of Ilia], to come up to the

court at once!"

    The girl was standing and still breathing heavily from her late

    exertion as she continued: "Egor Mikhailovitch, the

    superintendent, has been to see our lady about having you drafted

    into the army, and, Polikey Illitch, your name was mentioned

    among others. Our lady has sent me to tell you to come up to the

court immediately."

    As soon as Aksiutka had delivered her message she left the room

in the same abrupt manner in which she had entered.

    Akulina, without saying a word, got up and brought her husband's

    boots to him. They were poor, worn-out things which some soldier

    had given him, and his wife did not glance at him as she handed

them to him.

    "Are you going to change your shirt, Illitch?" she asked, at

last.

"No," replied Polikey.

    Akulina did not once look at him all the time he was putting on

    his boots and preparing to go to the court. Perhaps, after all,

    it was better that she did not do so. His face was very pale and

    his lips trembled. He slowly combed his hair and was about to

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