“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 plowing.
The peasant’s wife, Ivanovna, was intelligent and industrious, while her daughter-in-law was a simple, quiet soul, but a hard worker.
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 on.”
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 there?”
“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 part.
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 ensued.
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 followed.
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 lost; and the women of Gavryl’s household accused Ivan’s son of stealing it.
They said: “We saw him in the night-time pass by our window, on his way to where the wagon was standing.” “And my kumushka [sponsor],” said one of them, “told me that Ivan’s son had offered it for sale at the kabak [tavern].”
This accusation caused them again to go into court for a settlement of their grievances.
While the heads of the families were trying to have their troubles settled in court, their home quarrels were constant, and frequently resulted in hand-to-hand encounters. Even the little children followed the example of their elders and quarrelled incessantly.
The women, when they met on the riverbank to do the family washing, instead of attending to their work passed the time in abusing each other, and not infrequently they came to blows.
At first the male members of the families were content with accusing each other of various crimes, such as stealing and like meannesses. But the trouble in this mild form did not last long.
They soon resorted to other measures. They began to appropriate one another’s things without asking permission, while various articles disappeared from both houses and could not be found. This was done out of revenge.Page 2 »