The Lot of a Wicked Court Servant.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
"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