Count Tolstoy at Home

“The adjutant’s hands trembled so with emotion that he could not apply the bandage to the prisoner’s eyes. Others tried and gave it up. Well, as soon as that man was buried his grave was covered with flowers, crosses, and all sorts of things by the peasants, who came many versts from all directions, as to the grave of a martyr. Masses for the dead were ordered there, in uninterrupted succession, by these poor peasants. The feeling was so great and appeared to be spreading to such an extent that the authorities were forced not only to prohibit access to the grave, but even to level it off so that it could not be found. But an Englishman! If he were told to cut the throat of his own father and eat him, he would do it.”

“Still, in spite of your very striking illustration, and your doubts as to my having read the papers correctly,” I remarked, “I am sure that the Russian peasant does, occasionally, murder with premeditation. He is a fine-tempered, much-enduring, admirable fellow, I admit, but he is human. He cannot be so different in this respect from all other races of men. Moreover, I have the testimony of a celebrated Russian author on my side.”

“What author? What testimony?”

“Have you ever read The Power of Darkness? The amount of deliberation, of premeditation, in any murder is often a matter of opinion; but the murder of the child in the last act of that comedy is surely deliberate enough to admit of no difference of judgment. Don’t you think that the author supports me?”

He gasped at my audacity in quoting his own writings against him, and retreated into the silence which was his resource when he could not or would not answer. Put him in a corner and he would refuse to come out.

Beggars used to come while we were eating out-of-doors; some called themselves “pilgrims.” The count would give them a little money, and they would tramp off again. One day when the birthday of an absent member of the family was being celebrated, and we were drinking healths in vodítchka (a sort of effervescent water flavored with fruit juices), we had a distinguished visitor, “Prince Románoff.” This was the crazy Balákhin mentioned in What to Do? as having had his brain turned by the sight of the luxury in the lives of others. His rags and patches, or rather this conglomeration of patches, surpassed anything we had seen that line. One of the lads jumped up and gave him a glass of raspberry vodítchka, telling him that it was rare old wine. The man sipped it, looked through it, and pretended (I am sure that it was mere pretense) to believe that it was wine. He promised us all large estates when the Emperor should give him back his own, now wrongfully withheld from him.

Balákhin stayed about the place, making himself at home with the servants, for twenty-four hours or more. I believe that he strays about among the landed proprietors of the district as a profession. In spite of his willingness to call himself “Prince Románoff “ as often as any one chose to incite him thereto, this did not impress me as a proof that he was too deranged to earn his own living, with his healthy frame, if he saw fit. I had observed the mania for titles in other persons (not all Russians, by any means) who would vigorously resent the imputation that they should be in a lunatic asylum. Moreover, this imperial “Prince Románoff” never forgot his “manners.” He invariably rose when his superiors (or his inferiors, perhaps I should say) approached, like any other peasant, and he looked far more crafty than crazy.

As the peasants were all busy haying, we postponed our visit to the village until the afternoon of SS. Peter and Paul’s day, in the hope that we should then find some of them at home. The butler’s family were drinking tea on the porch of their neat new log house with a tinned roof, at the end of the village near the park gate. They rose and invited us to honor them with our company and share their meal. We declined, for lack of time.

One of the count’s daughters had told me of a curious difference existing between the cut of the aprons of maidens and of those of married women. I had been incredulous, and she suggested that I put the matter to the test by asking the first married woman whom we should see. We found a pretty woman, with beautiful brown eyes and exquisite teeth (whose whiteness and soundness are said to be the result of the sour black bread which the peasants eat exclusively), standing at the door of her cottage.

“Here’s your chance!

“Show me your window, please,” I said.

She laughed, and turned her back to me. There was the “window,” sure enough. The peasant apron, which is fastened under the armpits, is pretty evenly distributed as to fullness all the way round, and in the case of a maiden falls in straight lines in the back. But the married woman makes hers with a semicircular opening a few inches below the band. The points of the opening are connected by a loop of fringe, a couple of cords not always tied, or anything that comes handy apparently for ornament. Now when the husband feels moved to demonstrate his affection for his spouse by administering a beating, he is not obliged to fumble and grope among those straight folds for the awkward triangular little opening, quite unsuited to accommodate his fist. He can grasp her promptly by the neck of her chemise and this comfortable semicircle, and not force her to doubt his love by delay and hesitation in expression. I asked the pretty woman if her husband found it very useful. “Sometimes,” she answered nonchalantly. The Russian peasant theory is: “No beating, no jealousy; no jealousy, no love.

She offered to sell us a new petticoat similar to the one which she wore. It was of homespun, hard-twisted wool étamine, very durable, of a sort which is made, with slight variations; in several governments. Ordinarily, in this district, it is of a bright scarlet plaited off with lines of white and yellow. A breadth of dark blue cotton cloth is always inserted in the left side. When a woman is in mourning, the same plaid on a dark blue foundation is used. Married women wear coarse chemises and aprons of homespun linen and their braided hair coiled on top of the head imparts a coronet shape to the gay cotton kerchief which is folded across the brow and knotted at the nape of the neck.

Young girls wear cotton chemises and aprons and print dresses, all purchased, not home made. It is considered that if a girl performs her due share of the house and field work she will not have time to weave more than enough linen for her wedding outfit, and the purchase of what is needed before that unhappy event is regarded as a certificate of industry. I call it an unhappy event because from the moment of her betrothal the prospective bride wears mourning garments. Black beads for the neck are the height of fashion here.

The girl’s gown, called a sarafán, is plaited straight and full into a narrow band, and suspended just below the armpits by cross-bands over the shoulders. She prefers for it plain scarlet cotton (kumátch), or scarlet printed in designs of yellow, white, and green. Her head kerchief matches in style. Her betrothal gown and kerchief have a dark blue or black ground with colored figures.

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