"Has our master gone quite mad?" cried the peasant's wife. "He cannot mean what he says!"
"Yes, little mother, indeed he does," lamented Peter, her youngest son, "he has arranged to sell us with a portion of his estate because he is in sore need of money."
"In need of money?" repeated the woman. "Who ever heard of such foolishness? Why, Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol is one of the richest noblemen in Russia."
"It is said," her son explained, "that his two sons, Pavel and Dimitri, have almost ruined him. These young army officers gamble continually. Some must lose that others may win."
"Do not speak about them; their names are hateful in my ears," moaned the peasant's wife. "They have brought sorrow to their parents, and now they bring sorrow to me."
Yes, indeed," Peter said, "they are to blame for all this. Well, what must be, must be."
"Oh! do not speak like that," his mother cried.
"Something must be done to prevent this calamity. It will kill me, and it will kill your poor old father. Oh! it cannot be true that my children are to be taken from me."
"Alas! it is only too true. I have brought a Moscow Gazette with me," her son told her, drawing a folded newspaper from his belt. "Listen to this, little mother."
Then he began to read the advertisement, missing the opening part which referred to the portion of the estate which was offered for sale:
"'To be sold with the said portion of this estate--An excellent clerk, who can play on a musical instrument------"
"That is yourself, Peter," his mother interrupted. "Alas! why were you ever taught to read and write?"
"'Also a well-trained coachman, strong and handsome."
"Ivan--your brother Ivan," the woman exclaimed; "will he sell my first-born also?"
"'And a girl of seventeen, accustomed to all kinds of housework and a good needlewoman------'"
"Little Sasha as well!" sobbed the broken-hearted mother. "Oh! cannot she be spared? What of Rurik--is his name not there?"
"No," her son answered sadly, "all that follows is:--
"'Also, fourteen strong labourers and several Dutch cows.' So, you see, Rurik is left to you, little mother."
"But you and Ivan and Sasha are to be sold with the labourers. No, no, it cannot be; it must not be," the woman protested. "I shall go and see the Master myself this very evening, and plead with him on my bended knees. Nicholas Ivanovitch is not a cruel man. He will listen to me with pity. I know he will."
Peter made a hopeless gesture. "You might as well appeal to a tree-stump as appeal to Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol. His mind is made up. Besides, his sons' creditors are threatening to bring ruin and disgrace to the family if their debts are not settled without delay."
"Come and speak to your father, little Peter," his mother urged. "He will tell you, as I tell you, that this sale cannot possibly take place. I know it can't. I feel it in my heart, and my heart never deceives me."
Paul, the old peasant, was very deaf. He was grinding corn in the barn when his son entered, with the Moscow Gazette crumpled up in his right hand.
"Little Peter tells me," his wife shouted, "that the sale is mentioned in the newspaper."
The peasant looked up with a pale, blank face, his eyes moving so quickly from one to another that he seemed to speak with them, so full were they of meaning.
"Peter and Ivan and Sasha are to be sold with fourteen labourers and some Dutch cows on the eastern portion of the estate," his wife bawled
in his ear; "that is what the newspaper says." Paul rose to his feet and drew a hand across his perspiring brow.
"It is not true," he muttered in a low, deep voice. "Our good master would never think of selling my family. Such a thing never happened before. My ancestors have served his ancestors for many generations. Our people have grown up here like the trees in the forest."
"We must go together and talk with Nicholas Ivanovitch this very evening," his wife urged.
"As you will," the peasant drawled. "But it is hardly necessary. What has put this foolishness into your head?"
"Mother, Mother! Where are you, Mother?" cried a girl's voice outside the barn.
"Ah! it is little Sasha," the woman exclaimed with agitation, hastening from her husband's side.
The girl embraced her mother convulsively and sobbed in her arms.
"I have run out to speak with you, little mother," she said; "our master and mistress are asleep after dinner. But I could not sleep, thinking of the sale. Oh, alas, my heart will break!"
"Come into the house, little Sasha, my own," whispered her mother. "Do not let your father see you. He does not understand--he cannot believe it is true; nor do I."
"My mistress told me I would be sold next month," the girl sobbed. "She said also that a great lady in Jaroslav had already written to ask
about me. What am I to do, Mother? I cannot leave you and father and the boys. If I am taken away, I may never see any of you again--never again. Oh, think of that!"
"This evening," her mother told her, "your father and I will go before our master and prevail upon him to spare us this great sorrow. So be comforted, my child, we'll arrange something better for you. See if we don't."
It was then that Rurik came upon them all of a sudden as he scampered round the house. His cheeks were flushed; his eyes danced in his head with excitement.
"Well, this is great news," he panted excitedly.
"I won't sleep to-night. I'm sure I won't."
"What has happened now, my son?" his mother asked in a low, nervous voice.
"Everyone is free. Do you understand? Everyone, I tell you. We can now go where we like, do what we like, and no one will dare interfere. The Tsar has said it. Long live the Tsar! He is the Little Father of all his people."
"Are you mad, boy?" his mother cried. "Has the misfortune which threatens us all turned your head?"
"Down in the village," Rurik went on, "the peasants are shouting and dancing with joy. A newspaper, in which the Tsar's decree has been printed, is in the hands of the priest. 1 I heard it
read myself. What it all meant I cannot tell you, but one man asked the priest, 'Are all the serfs free, now?' and he answered quite plainly, 'Yes, my children, you are all free. Long live the Tsar!"
Peter had joined the group ere his brother ceased speaking, and his mother turned to him, saying, "What think you of this? Do you understand?"
"For days past there have been strange rumours abroad," Peter told her, "but I paid little heed to them. But if what Rurik says is true, then------"
"Of course, it is true. We are all free," Rurik urged. "Everyone says so."
A confused clamour of voices reached their ears, and looking round, they beheld, with surprise, a crowd of peasants, who had left their work, hurrying towards them.
"Long live the Tsar!" they were shouting. "He has released us from bondage as He released the captives in Babylon."
"Where are you going now?" Peter asked their leader, Ivan Ivanovitch, a stout, loud-voiced man with a large mouth which he seemed incapable of closing; when he ceased to speak it gaped wide and he breathed through it.
"We are all going to speak with Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol," Ivan boasted.
"It is early yet. He will not receive you before sundown," said Peter.
"He will have to speak with us, and at once, too," Ivan persisted. "Does the Tsar not declare that we are free? Being free, we can select our own time to approach Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol. He cannot inflict punishments upon us now. Come with us, Maria, and bring old Paul also."
"Yes, yes, I shall certainly go with you," Maria answered. "But all you say must be fully explained to my husband, else he will refuse to leave his work. He is grinding corn."
She turned towards the barn, and the others went with her. "Can my children be sold now?" she asked suddenly.
"Sold?" laughed Ivan Ivanovitch, rolling his eyes and twisting his face. "Don't you understand how matters stand now? Why, we are all free--free as the birds of the forest. We can go whither we will."
"But I wish to remain here," Maria persisted. "I want my children to remain also. What if our master should send us away? Can he do so? Answer me that."
She had paused, and stood facing Ivan Ivanovitch. Her lips trembled and her hands shook.
Silence fell upon the peasants. The idea of being sent away had never occurred to most of them, but Ivan laughed again. "Merry times are in store for us," he declared. "I intend going to the great fair at Nijni-Novgorod, where a man can earn sufficient money in a month to
last him for the rest of the year. Ilia here was once in Moscow and wants to reside there, and Jacob speaks of going to Kiev. No doubt, your sons will wander hither and thither, like the rest, Maria," he added.
The woman began to smooth her hair. "I wish for nothing better than that my children should remain here always," she said. "But let us speak to my husband. He is the wisest man on the estate. He thinks all day long, and is fit to be a judge."
"Did you ever hear such a woman?" puffed Ivan. "She's always boasting about her husband's wisdom. But there are others quite as wise as he is."
Paul looked up with surprise when the little crowd entered his barn. "What has happened?" he asked. "Why have you left your work?"
Ivan Ivanovitch went towards him and bawled into his ear all he had told Maria. "Now," said he, "come with us to speak before Nicholas Ivanovitch."
"Not until sundown," Paul answered. "Would you have me neglect my work? Who ever heard of such a thing? Besides, our master would not receive us until the proper time. He has his duties to attend to just as we have."
"Very well. You are a stubborn man, Paul. Have your own way with it," bawled Ivan Ivanovitch. "But be warned in time. When you go to meet the master after sunset this evening he
may not be able to see you. Ha! ha! think of that."
"What do you mean?" Paul asked.
"A fierce spirit has broken out among our friends," Ivan said darkly. "There are old scores to be wiped out. One never knows what may happen."
"Ah!" Paul ejaculated, looking very grave. "Perhaps, after all, I had better go with you."
"Now you are talking sense," said Ivan; "I thought I would move you."
Maria then spoke to her husband, saying, "Our master has done a wickedness in trying to sell our children."
"Say no more," Paul urged. "If wrong has been done, God will punish the guilty. A serf cannot be the judge of his master. He that judges is higher than those who are judged."
"That may have been true once," declared Ivan, "but everything has changed now that we are free. . . . Well, well, good people, let us hasten to speak with the master. You see even Paul is coming with us."
"What is going to happen?" asked Maria with apprehension.
"Leave everything to me," Ivan remarked somewhat vainly.
"Will you plead with Nicholas Ivanovitch on behalf of my children?"
"Oh! dear me, listen to the woman," Ivan laughed. "She cannot understand yet. Come
along, all of you, and you will hear me speak. This day will not be readily forgotten. How I shall enjoy seeing our master trembling in his shoes when I tell him what I think! Follow me, my friends, follow me!"
He threw back his head and uttered a great shout. Paul heard it and looked up quickly with wide eyes. "I shall walk beside you, Ivan Ivanovitch," he said, taking the arm of the boastful peasant.
Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol, the proprietor, was a heavy-featured man with sleepy grey eyes and a closely-cropped beard. He lived an easy, lazy life, as had done his fathers before him, year in and year out, attending languidly to the business of his estate, on which there were more serfs than it was capable of sustaining. Each day he received reports from his oversmen, who saw that the routine work on the farm and in the forest was carried out, and once or twice a week drove round the fields on horseback to keep his eye on the oversmen. At midday he dined and then slept for two hours, as did also his wife and the house servants. Then he drank a great quantity of hot tea and attended to his accounts. In the evening he sat in front of his house to hear complaints regarding the serfs and order punishments, to settle disputes between families, or to scold
wives who were careless regarding their husbands' comforts or the care of their children. He was at once an employer, judge, and father of all his people, and his word was law. Being at heart a kindly man, he was invariably just and reasonable, and his serfs regarded him as indeed a good master. They could not leave his estate without his permission, and he paid them no wages, but those who were industrious and honest were rewarded with holdings of land, which were extended if well worked, and they were allowed to keep stock, paying in lieu of rent portions of their crops and produce. The younger men engaged in farm-work and wood-cutting, while certain of the peasants practised trades. Sometimes Nicholas sent an intelligent youth to Novgorod to be educated, and to receive a training in business. Such a one was Peter, son of Paul the peasant, who was engaged chiefly in clerical work.
Life on the estate continued with little change until the proprietor's two sons became army officers. It was their mother's ambition that they should distinguish themselves by acquiring high titles, but ere many years had passed, Nicholas Ivanovitch discovered that the family name could not be thus honoured without the expenditure of large sums of money. Both the lads proved to be spendthrifts. In Petrograd they gambled so heavily that their father found himself running into debt. It was then he resolved to cut down his expenditure, and on the
advice of his sons, he employed a steward from Moscow to manage his estate. It was the steward who proposed to sell a portion of the estate with those skilled and unskilled serfs attached to it.
As it chanced, this decision was come to at a time when great reforms were about to be introduced. The chief of these was the liberation of the serfs. Hints of the coming change appeared in the newspapers, but Nicholas Ivanovitch never read them. Such gossip as reached his ears he ignored or dismissed with scorn as false and foolish. One day his son wrote him saying that there could be no doubt of the Tsar's intention, and that soon all the serfs would be set free. Nicholas knitted his brows, and, tossing aside the letter, remarked to his wife: "Dimitri will never learn sense. All the money I have spent upon him has been wasted."
But reports of like character reached him day after day from other sources. Once his steward began to speak regarding them with a very grave face, but Nicholas scolded him, saying: "So you too have been listening to idle gossip. Get on with your work and see that the peasants do theirs. Have you sent the advertisement to the Moscow newspaper, setting forth that I have land with serfs and cattle for sale?"
"Yes, master," answered the steward. "As you ordered me, so have I done. I am here to obey your commands."
Still Nicholas was troubled in mind, and one forenoon he mounted his horse and rode over to the house of a neighbouring proprietor to talk about these strange rumours which were flying about as thick as autumn leaves.
This man, Andrei Petrovitch, was a district judge, and told Nicholas that the Tsar was about to grant a Constitution.
"And what then?" asked Nicholas.
"Who can foretell?" the judge exclaimed. "The Imperial edict has not yet been issued. But it seems that the serfs will have to be paid wages for their labour and be given the right of living where they choose. I expect that most of them will at once hasten to the towns. Then we shall not be able to get our land worked."
Nicholas frowned, was silent for a moment, and then laughed aloud. "Has all the world gone mad?" he exclaimed. "I always thought you were a sensible man, Andrei Petrovitch. Now I see you are given over to foolishness like so many others."
His friend shook his head gravely. "Very well," said he, "just wait until you are a little older and you shall see."
Nicholas struck his boots once or twice with his riding-whip and moved about uneasily. "Won't you speak seriously, then," he asked, "and tell me the truth about this matter? I want to sell some land with serfs, being in need of money. Shall I be prevented from doing so?"
"You can't sell the serfs with your land, as
has hitherto been the custom, once the Tsar's edict is issued. If you did so now you would only rouse up all your people against you. Then they would certainly desert you, and you would not have a workman left on your estate. Be careful, Nicholas Ivanovitch, what you do. I warn you as a friend."
"Then I shall sell my whole estate before it is too late," fumed Nicholas. The judge shrugged his shoulders. "Who would buy it just at present when everything is so uncertain, and there is no guarantee that labourers can be obtained?" he smiled grimly.
Nicholas Ivanovitch rode away in ill temper. It seemed to him that the whole world was being tumbled upside down, and he could not understand why. His mind was in confusion, and as he returned to his house he said, There is only one thing of which I am certain, and that is that I am hungry." He sat down gloomily to dinner, and ate a great quantity of fat pork with mushrooms and onions. Then feeling drowsy he went to his bedroom, and fell asleep as soon as his head touched the pillow. His wife sought a couch, and covering her face with a handkerchief to protect it from the flies, was soon asleep also. All the servants slumbered like the master and mistress, as was their wont after the midday meal, except little Sasha and her brother Peter, who had stolen homeward to sorrow with their parents over the proposal to sell them to strangers.
While Nicholas Ivanovitch slept, he dreamed a dream. He saw all his serfs, armed with weapons, surrounding his house with purpose to slay him, and he called to the house servants to close the doors, but they only jeered at him, saying: "We will no longer serve you, You have ceased to love us, and you have tried to sell us to enrich yourself. What care we although these men put you to death?"
He strove to cry out for help, but was unable to utter a sound. His tongue seemed to have frozen in his mouth. Then a dark form came towards him with a naked sword. He expected to be slain in another moment. But suddenly he escaped into a cellar, and closing the door, lay down trembling in every limb.
"Set the house on fire!" cried many voices. Thereupon he seemed to hear the roaring flames, and thrusting open the door, ran into the corridor to effect his escape. But he found himself confronted by a woman. It was Maria, wife of Paul, the deaf peasant. He quailed before her, and she spoke and said: "Do not fear, Nicholas Ivanovitch. Although you have sold my children I will save you, for I will drown the flames with my tears."
He awoke with a start and sat up rubbing his eyes. Cold beads of perspiration had broken out on his forehead, and a convulsive shudder went through his body. "Thank God," he muttered, "it is only a dream! This is the result of all the foolish talk people are indulging in."
He went towards the living room and found that the tea-urn had just been carried in. So he sat down and drank glass after glass of hot tea until he felt refreshed. Afterwards he left the house and stood musing a time in the farm-yard.
A workman was sitting on the ground, and Nicholas flew into a passion. "What do you mean, you son of a frog?" he exclaimed. "I'll have you flogged if you do not go to your work at once."
He expected to see the serf leaping to his feet and hurrying away. But the man remained sitting where he was.
"Are you deaf? Have your senses left you?" roared the infuriated proprietor.
"No, master," the man answered. "I am not deaf, and have heard what you said. Know you not what has happened? Everything is in confusion. The Tsar has set all the serfs at liberty, and now we can do as it pleases us. I am content to sit here and ponder over my good luck."
Nicholas was struck dumb with astonishment. He turned on his heel to go back to the house, when he saw the steward hastening towards him.
"Well, what have you to tell me now?" the proprietor asked.
"The Tsar's decree has been published," answered the steward excitedly. "All the serfs are now free."
"So these reports I scoffed at are true after all?" Nicholas remarked gloomily.
"Yes, master, perfectly true. There is trouble everywhere. Agitators are advising the peasants not to do any more work."
"Then how are they to live?" asked Nicholas. "If they will not work there will be no food for them."
"That is true, master. Matters must be fully explained to them. I have here a copy of the Moscow Gazette, in which the Tsar's decree has been published. Shall I read it to you?"
"Yes, do," Nicholas assented. He went towards a chair which had been placed for him in a shady part of the veranda and sat down. Then the steward, leaning against the wall, opened the newspaper and began to read.
Half an hour later Nicholas Ivanovitch saw a score of his serfs drawing near. Ivan, the agitator, walked in front with deaf Paul and Maria.
Then Nicholas remembered with pain the arrangement to sell a portion of his land with serfs, including three children of the old couple.
"What is to be done now regarding Paul's family and the others?" he asked the steward.
"They cannot be sold," was the answer.
"Well, perhaps it is better so. I am not sorry. Some change had to come, and now the Tsar has done more than I ever sought to do. But where will money be found? Tell me that."
"Rents will have to be paid, master," the steward answered. "Think of that. You may have less trouble about money in the future."
"So you say. But don't tell me there will be less trouble. When the well is disturbed mud rises, and takes a long time to settle down. I do not like the look of these serfs. See how high Ivan Ivanovitch holds his head! The insolent dog! He has not forgotten the last flogging he received for stealing."
For the first time in his life Nicholas felt nervous in the sight of his people. Often and often had he sat there to receive them of an evening, addressing them as "my children ", and listening to their complaints and appeals. Now they were coming with hostile hearts, perhaps to assault him. He was no coward, and did not fear on his own account. So long as they did not attack his wife, or burn his house, he cared little what they might say, whether in folly or wrath. He eyed them in silence until they came to a stand about half a dozen yards in front of him. Then speaking very calmly he said: "You have come earlier than usual, children. Well, what do you want of me?"
Ivan Ivanovitch was taken by surprise, and his jaw dropped. He was expecting a scolding, and came ready to pour out abuse.
"What is it, Maria, that you wish to say?" the proprietor asked softly, observing that the old woman's face twitched with emotion.
Maria crouched on her knees, stretching out her hands appealingly: "Is it true, O master," she cried, "that you are to sell my children? Do not answer 'yes', or my heart will break."
A flush suffused the proprietor's face. "I shall speak regarding this matter to your husband," said he; "let him wait behind the others."
Ivan Ivanovitch then found his voice. "Well you know," he said passionately, "that Paul is as deaf as a door-post and cannot hear half you say. Why not answer Maria now in presence of her friends?"
"Yes, yes; answer here and now," broke in half a dozen voices.
Nicholas felt that his power over the peasants was slipping away. He clutched the arms of the chair and stared coldly until their eyes fell. Then he added, "Have you all come here to speak on behalf of Paul and Maria?"
A murmur of general assent reached his ears.
"You blockheads!" he exclaimed angrily. "What do you mean? It is no affair of yours."
"Besides," interjected the steward, "there is no need now"
"Silence!" the proprietor commanded, wheeling about. "Your turn to speak has not yet come."
Nicholas fixed his eyes next on Ivan Ivanovitch. "It is not because Maria has a sore heart that you have led a rabble to my house. Her lamentations are nothing to you. Why have you come here, you son of insolence, at this time of day? Are you not afraid?"
"The Tsar has set us free," Ivan answered boldly, with defiance in his eyes.
"So you have heard that?" Nicholas answered
with a sneer. "Well, others have heard it before you. Young people who are able to read knew of this many days ago. Being free, they wish to leave the homes of their fathers and go elsewhere."
"But you cannot sell the children of Maria and Paul," persisted Ivan.
"I could have sold you all with my land long since," Nicholas fumed; "but I did not do so because you were faithful and industrious. Now you begin to rebel against me. What am I to do with you? If I cannot sell you, I can send you all away to find new masters. Is that your wish, Ivan Ivanovitch?"
The peasant hung his head. He had not expected such an answer, and knew not what to say.
Then the steward spoke: "Shall I explain to them how matters stand now?" he asked the proprietor.
"As you will," Nicholas answered. "Let them hear the worst."
"Listen to me, good people," the steward said, "and I will explain to you what the Tsar's decree signifies. Do not be deceived by ignorant men, who seek to stir up dispeace among you. These 'bawlers' (gorlopany) are self-seekers, who wish to profit themselves at your expense. There are changes coming. You will be left more to your own free will, but you will have greater obligations laid on your shoulders. If famine comes, you will have no claim for food on our master. If
you gather firewood, you must pay for it with money. If you graze cattle, you must pay rent for the fields. If your cows die, you must suffer the loss yourselves and not come to our master to ask for calves from his own stock. You will be paid for the work you do, but out of your wages you must pay for all you eat, and for wool to make garments, and for timber to repair your houses. Those who are lazy will receive no work to do, they will have to wander through the country as beggars. Withal, you will have to pay taxes as well as rents. Do not imagine that the great Tsar, who is above us all, desires that you should rise up against your master. As Nicholas Ivanovitch is your master, so is the Tsar the master of Nicholas Ivanovitch, and will protect him if needs be."
"But we are all free," Ivan exclaimed, endeavouring to rouse the spirits of the others, for the steward's speech had struck consternation into their hearts. "Long live the Tsar!"
"You are all free, indeed," the steward agreed. "You are now free to lay down the old burdens, but you must shoulder the new. Such is the will of the Tsar. Long live the Tsar!"
Silence fell upon them all. Then deaf Paul stood forward and spoke. "Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol," he began, "I have heard nothing of what has been said. But seeing that all lips are now motionless, it would seem my turn has come. I have been your faithful servant. I served your
father before you, and pray that my children may grow up to serve your children. Servants must be faithful to their masters. Such is the will of God and the Tsar's decree." He paused for a moment and wiped his brow. "What things are now being told to me?" he went on. "My wife says you desire to sell my children. I answer her saying, 'What foolishness is this? None of my kin was ever sold. We have all grown up here on our master's estate like the trees of the forest; we are part of it. Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol will do as his ancestors did. I shall go to him and say, Tell us there is no truth in these rumours, O master, that the hearts of your servants may be comforted'."
Nicholas smiled and nodded, and Maria began to weep copiously, kneeling on the ground beside her husband.
Paul mopped his brow again. "Others have spoken in different manner," he resumed. "They have told me it is the Tsar's will that we should no longer work for our master. 'This is mere foolishness,' I have answered. 'If we do not work, how can we obtain food and clothing and houses to shelter us from the cold? God sent us naked into the world, and left our parents to cherish us and give to us according to our needs. We grow up to fight against cold and hunger and wickedness.' I have thought it all over in my own mind, talking to myself constantly, for I hear but little of the words of others, To those who
perform their work faithfully comes sure reward. They overcome all that is evil. How, then, could the Tsar say, 'My children, you need not work any more'? The Tsar is wise and just. God has placed him over the people and their masters. We are all members of his family. He would not say, 'Work not,' knowing that if we became idlers, we should die of hunger and cold."
Nicholas rose and went towards old Paul. "Your words are true wisdom," he called in his ear. "So long as you live, you shall neither hunger nor thirst, nor have need of clothing."
"Master, master!" exclaimed Maria, "what of my children? Must they be sold? Oh! rather would I suffer any hardship than lose my dear ones."
Nicholas raised her up. "Do not weep, Maria," he said softly. "The Tsar has spoken, and we must all obey. If it is your children's desire that they should remain with you, well, let them remain. Such is my will."
The woman flung her arms round her husband's neck and cried, "May God prosper Nicholas Ivanovitch! He will not sell our children."
"Said I not so?" Paul exclaimed. "Long live Nicholas Ivanovitch!"
"Long live the Tsar!" called Ivan in a hoarse voice.
"Long live the Tsar!" Nicholas repeated. "We shall all obey the will of the Tsar." Then the peasants crowded round the proprietor,
saying: "Do not send us away, O master. Let us live as we have lived before. It pleases us to work for you. No matter what others may do, we shall serve you faithfully and well."
The heart of Nicholas was deeply moved. "You are all my children," he said. "So let us continue to live together as our fathers have done before us, doing God's will and honouring the Tsar. But let that be as you wish. I cannot compel you to remain. Those who hate me in secret should now leave me. All are free. Let those who desire to go, speed their departure, so that there may be no dispeace amongst us."
He glanced round, and his eyes fell upon Ivan Ivanovitch and three others, who stood apart whispering one to another.
"As for you, Ivan," he exclaimed, "I bear you no ill-will. But I bid you begone. Take with you also all those who follow you. Be their master, and use them well."
Ivan shrank away. His influence as an agitator had come to an end, and he knew it. None followed him. All the peasants remained with Nicholas Ivanovitch Gogol, whom they loved and trusted.
It was well that Nicholas had won the confidence of the people, for several months went past before the new arrangements were carried out, and the Peace Arbiters began their work of settling the differences that had arisen between the proprietors and the peasants. Nicholas Ivanovitch
experienced no trouble. The rural serfs who remained with him became his tenants, and among these none prospered more than the sons of deaf Paul and Maria, who received their shares of land, for which they paid annual rents. New Courts were set up, and the authority exercised by the proprietor as governor of the people passed to the village Assembly, which was elected every three years. The first chairman, or "village elder", who was chosen by the tenants of Nicholas was deaf Paul, who ever dealt justly with all men, and won the respect of proprietor and peasant alike. He never ceased to counsel the people to be industrious and upright, so that "they might be pleasing in the sight of God and man".
When the first three years went past, the Assembly wished to re-elect him, but he answered: "I have begun the good work, and served my term. Now let a younger man take my place."
So they elected Peter, who did his utmost to walk in the footsteps of his father.
172:1 Serfdom was abolished in Russia by a manifesto of Tsar Alexander II, in 1861. It had prevailed at one time all over Europe.