Chapter 9

UNTIL PRINCE ANDREY’S STAY at Bogutcharovo, the estate had never had an owner in residence, and the Bogutcharovo peasants were of quite a different character from the peasants of Bleak Hills. They differed from them in speech, in dress, and in manners. They said they came from the steppes. The old prince praised them for their industry when they came to Bleak Hills for harvesting, or digging ponds and ditches; but he did not like them because of their savage manners.

Prince Andrey’s residence at Bogutcharovo, and his innovations—his hospitals and schools and the lowering of their rent—had not softened their manners, but, on the contrary, had intensified their traits of character, which the old prince called their savagery.

Obscure rumours were always current among them: at one time a belief that they were all to be carried off to be made Cossacks, then that they were to be converted to some new religion, then rumours of some supposed proclamations of the Tsar, or of the oath to the Tsar Pavel Petrovitch in 1797 (which was said to have granted freedom to the peasants, and to have been withdrawn by the gentry later); then of the expected return of the Tsar Peter Fedorovitch, who was to rise again from the dead in seven years, and to bring perfect freedom, and to make an end of the existing order of things. Rumours of the war, and Bonaparte and his invasion, were connected in their minds with vague conceptions of Antichrist, of the end of the world, and perfect freedom.

In the vicinity of Bogutcharovo were large villages inhabited by Crown serfs, or peasants who paid rent to absentee owners. There were very few resident landowners in the neighbourhood, and consequently very few house-serfs or peasants able to read and write. And among the peasants of that part of the country there could be seen more distinctly and strongly marked than among others those mysterious undercurrents in the life of the Russian peasantry, which are so baffling to contemporaries. Twenty years before, there had been a movement among the peasants of the district to emigrate to certain supposedly warm rivers. Hundreds of peasants, among them those of Bogutcharovo, had suddenly begun selling their cattle and moving away with their families towards the south-west. Like birds flying to unknown realms over the ocean, these men with their wives and children turned towards the south-west, where no one of them had been. They set off in caravans, redeemed their freedom one by one, ran and drove and walked to the unknown region of the warm springs. Many were punished; some sent to Siberia; many died of cold and hunger on the road; many came back of their own accord; and the movement died down as it had begun without obvious cause. But the undercurrents still flowed among the people, and were gathering force for some new manifestation, destined to appear as strangely, unexpectedly, and at the same time simply, naturally, and forcibly. In 1812 any one living in close relations with the peasants might have observed that there was a violent ferment working below the surface, and an outbreak of some kind was at hand.

Alpatitch, who came to Bogutcharovo a little while before the old prince’s death, noticed that there was some excitement among the peasants; and noticed that, unlike Bleak Hills district, where within a radius of sixty versts all the peasants had moved away, abandoning their villages to be wasted by the Cossacks, in the Bogutcharovo steppe country the peasants had entered, it was said, into communication with the French, and were remaining in their homes, and there were some mysterious documents circulating among them. He learned through serfs who were attached to him that the peasant Karp, a man of great influence in the village, had a few days previously accompanied a government transport, and had returned with the news that the Cossacks were destroying the deserted villages, while the French would not touch them. He knew that another peasant had on the previous day even brought from the hamlet of Vislouhovo, where the French were encamped, a proclamation from the French general that no harm would be done to the inhabitants, and that everything taken from them would be paid for, if they would remain. In token of good faith, the peasant brought from Vislouhovo a hundred-rouble note (he did not know it was false), paid him in advance for hay.

And last, and most important of all, Alpatitch learned that on the day on which he had given the village elder orders to collect carts to move the princess’s luggage from Bogutcharovo, there had been a meeting in the village at which it was resolved to wait and not to move. Meanwhile, time was pressing. On the

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