day of the prince’s death, the 15th of August, the marshal urged Princess Marya to move the same day, as it was becoming dangerous. He said that he could not answer for what might happen after the 16th. He drove away that evening, promising to return next morning for the funeral. But next day he could not come, as he received information of an expected advance of the French, and was only just in time to get his family and valuables moved away from his own estate.

For nearly thirty years Bogutcharovo had been under the direction of the village elder, Dron, called by the old prince, Dronushka.

Dron was one of those physically and morally vigorous peasants, who grow a thick beard as soon as they are grown up, and go on almost unchanged till sixty or seventy, without a grey hair or the loss of a tooth, as upright and vigorous at sixty as at thirty.

Shortly after the attempted migration to the warm rivers, in which he had taken part with the rest, Dron was made village elder and overseer of Bogutcharovo, and had filled those positions irreproachably for twenty-three years. The peasants were more afraid of him than of their master. The old prince and the young one and the steward respected him, and called him in joke the minister. Dron had never once been drunk or ill since he had been appointed elder; he had never after sleepless nights or severe labour shown the slightest signs of fatigue; and though he could not read or write, he never forgot an account of the pounds of flour in the huge waggon-loads he sold, and of the money paid for them, nor missed a sheaf of wheat on an acre of the Bogutcharovo fields.

This peasant Dron it was for whom Alpatitch sent on coming from the plundered estate at Bleak Hills. He ordered him to get ready twelve horses for the princess’s carriages, and eighteen conveyances for the move which was to be made from Bogutcharovo. Though the peasants paid rent instead of working as serfs, Alpatitch expected to meet no difficulty on their part in carrying out this order, since there were two hundred and thirty efficient families in Bogutcharovo, and the peasants were well-to-do. But Dron, on receiving the order, dropped his eyes and made no reply. Alpatitch mentioned the names of peasants from whom he told him to take the carts.

Dron replied that the horses belonging to those peasants were away on hire. Alpatitch mentioned the names of other peasants. They too, according to Dron, had no horses available: some were employed in government transport, others had gone lame, and others had died through the shortness of forage. In Dron’s opinion, there was no hope of getting horses enough for the princess’s carriages, not to speak of the transport of baggage.

Alpatitch looked intently at Dron and scowled. Dron was a model village elder, but Alpatitch had not been twenty years managing the prince’s estates for nothing, and he too was a model steward. He possessed in the highest degree the faculty of divining the needs and instincts of the peasants, with whom he had to deal, and was consequently an excellent steward. Glancing at Dron, he saw at once that his answers were not the expression of his own ideas, but the expression of the general drift of opinion in the Bogutcharovo village, by which the elder had already been carried away. At the same time, he knew that Dron, who had saved money and was detested by the village, must be hesitating between two camps—the master’s and the peasants’. He detected the hesitation in his eyes, and so frowning he came closer to Dron.

“Now, Dronushka,” he said, “you listen to me! Don’t you talk nonsense to me. His excellency, Prince Andrey Nikolaevitch, himself gave me orders to move the folk away, and not leave them with the enemy, and the Tsar has issued a decree that it is to be so. Any one that stays is a traitor to the Tsar. Do you hear?”

“I hear,” answered Dron, not raising his eyes.

Alpatitch was not satisfied with his reply.

“Ay, Dron, there’ll be trouble!” said Alpatitch, shaking his head.

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.