Chapter 11

AN HOUR LATER Dunyasha came in to the princess with the news that Dron had come, and all the peasants by the princess’s orders were assembled at the granary and desirous of speaking with their mistress.

“But I did not send for them,” said Princess Marya. “I merely told Dronushka to give them the corn.”

“Only, for God’s sake, your excellency, order them to be sent away and don’t go to them. It’s all a plot,” said Dunyasha, “and Yakov Alpatitch will come and we will start … and pray …”

“How a plot?” asked the princess in surprise.

“Why, I know all about it, only do listen to me, for God’s sake. Ask old nurse too. They say they won’t agree to move away at your orders.”

“You are making some mistake. Why, I have never given them orders to go away …” said Princess Marya. “Call Dronushka.”

Dron on coming in confirmed Dunyasha’s words; the peasants had come by the princess’s instructions.

“But I have never sent for them,” said the princess. “You must have given them my message wrong. I only said that you were to give them the corn.”

Dron sighed without replying.

“If so you command, they will go away,” he said.

“No, no, I’ll go out to them,” said Princess Marya.

In spite of Dunyasha’s and the old nurse’s attempts to dissuade her, Princess Marya went out on to the steps. Dronushka, Dunyasha, the old nurse, and Mihail Ivanitch followed her.

“They probably imagine I am offering them the corn to keep them here while I go away myself, leaving them at the mercy of the French,” thought Princess Marya. “I will promise them monthly rations and lodgings on the Moscow estate. I am sure Andrey would do more for them in my place,” she thought, as she went out in the twilight towards the crowd, waiting on the pasture near the granary.

The crowd stirred, huddling closer, and rapidly took off their hats. Princess Marya came closer to them, her eyes cast down and her feet tripping over her gown. So many different eyes, old and young, were fixed upon her, there were so many different faces that Princess Marya did not see a single one of them, and feeling it necessary to address all at once, did not know how to set about it. But again the sense that she was the representative of her father and brother gave her strength, and she boldly began her speech.

“I am very glad you have come,” she began, not raising her eyes and feeling the rapid and violent beating of her heart. “Dronushka has told me that the war has ruined you. That is our common trouble, and I will grudge nothing to aid you. I am going away myself because it is dangerous here … and the enemy is near … because … I give you everything, my friends, and I beg you to take everything, all our corn, that you may not suffer want. But if you have been told that I am giving you corn to keep you here, it is false. On the contrary, I beg you to move away with all your belongings to our Moscow estate, and there I undertake and promise you that you shall not be in want. You shall be given houses and bread.” The princess stopped. Nothing was to be heard from the crowd but sighs.

“I don’t do this on my own account,” the princess went on; “I do it in the name of my dead father, who was a good master to you, and for my brother and his son.”

She paused again. No one broke the silence.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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