It was getting dusk when Prince Andrew and Pierre drove up to the front entrance of the house at Bald Hills. As they approached the house, Prince Andrew with a smile drew Pierre’s attention to a commotion going on at the back porch. A woman, bent with age, with a wallet on her back, and a short, long-haired, young man in a black garment had rushed back to the gate on seeing the carriage driving up. Two women ran out after them, and all four, looking round at the carriage, ran in dismay up the steps of the back porch.
“Those are Mary’s ‘God’s folk,’” said Prince Andrew. “They have mistaken us for my father. This is the one matter in which she disobeys him. He orders these pilgrims to be driven away, but she receives them.”
“But what are ‘God’s folk’?” asked Pierre.
Prince Andrew had no time to answer. The servants came out to meet them, and he asked where the old prince was and whether he was expected back soon.
The old prince had gone to the town and was expected back any minute.
Prince Andrew led Pierre to his own apartments, which were always kept in perfect order and readiness for him in his father’s house; he himself went to the nursery.
“Let us go and see my sister,” he said to Pierre when he returned. “I have not found her yet, she is hiding now, sitting with her ‘God’s folk.’ It will serve her right, she will be confused, but you will see her ‘God’s folk.’ It’s really very curious.”
“What are ‘God’s folk’?” asked Pierre.
“Come, and you’ll see for yourself.”
Princess Mary really was disconcerted and red patches came on her face when they went in. In her snug room, with lamps burning before the icon stand, a young lad with a long nose and long hair, wearing a monk’s cassock, sat on the sofa beside her, behind a samovar. Near them, in an armchair, sat a thin, shriveled, old woman, with a meek expression on her childlike face.
“Andrew, why didn’t you warn me?” said the princess, with mild reproach, as she stood before her pilgrims like a hen before her chickens.
“Charmée de vous voir. Je suis très contente de vous voir,”[*] she said to Pierre as he kissed her hand. She had known him as a child, and now his friendship with Andrew, his misfortune with his wife, and above all his kindly, simple face disposed her favorably toward him. She looked at him with her beautiful radiant eyes and seemed to say, “I like you very much, but please don’t laugh at my people.” After exchanging the first greetings, they sat down.
“Ah, and Ivánushka is here too!” said Prince Andrew, glancing with a smile at the young pilgrim.
“Andrew!” said Princess Mary, imploringly. “Il faut que vous sachiez que c’est une femme,”[*] said Prince Andrew to Pierre.
“Andrew, au nom de Dieu!”[*] Princess Mary repeated.
It was evident that Prince Andrew’s ironical tone toward the pilgrims and Princess Mary’s helpless attempts to protect them were their customary long-established relations on the matter.
“Mais, ma bonne amie,” said Prince Andrew, “vous devriez au contraire m’être reconnaissante de ce que j’explique à Pierre votre intimité avec ce jeune homme.”[*]
“Really?” said Pierre, gazing over his spectacles with curiosity and seriousness (for which Princess Mary was specially grateful to him) into Ivánushka’s face, who, seeing that she was being spoken about, looked round at them all with crafty eyes.
Princess Mary’s embarrassment on her people’s account was quite unnecessary. They were not in the least abashed. The old woman, lowering her eyes but casting side glances at the newcomers, had turned her cup upside down and placed a nibbled bit of sugar beside it, and sat quietly in her armchair, though hoping to be offered another cup of tea. Ivánushka, sipping out of her saucer, looked with sly womanish eyes from under her brows at the young men.
“Where have you been? To Kiev?” Prince Andrew asked the old woman.
“I have, good sir,” she answered garrulously. “Just at Christmastime I was deemed worthy to partake of the holy and heavenly sacrament at the shrine of the saint. And now I’m from Kolyázin, master, where a great and wonderful blessing has been revealed.”
“And was Ivánushka with you?”
“I go by myself, benefactor,” said Ivánushka, trying to speak in a bass voice. “I only came across Pelagéya in Yúkhnovo....”
Pelagéya interrupted her companion; she evidently wished to tell what she had seen.
“In Kolyázin, master, a wonderful blessing has been revealed.”
“What is it? Some new relics?” asked Prince Andrew.
“Andrew, do leave off,” said Princess Mary. “Don’t tell him, Pelagéya.”
“No... why not, my dear, why shouldn’t I? I like him. He is kind, he is one of God’s chosen, he’s a benefactor, he once gave me ten rubles, I remember. When I was in Kiev, Crazy Cyril says to me (he’s one of God’s own and goes barefoot summer and winter), he says, ‘Why are you not going to the right place? Go to Kolyázin where a wonder-working icon of the Holy Mother of God has been revealed.’ On hearing those words I said good-by to the holy folk and went.”
All were silent, only the pilgrim woman went on in measured tones, drawing in her breath.
“So I come, master, and the people say to me: ‘A great blessing has been revealed, holy oil trickles from the cheeks of our blessed Mother, the Holy Virgin Mother of God.’...”
“All right, all right, you can tell us afterwards,” said Princess Mary, flushing.
“Let me ask her,” said Pierre. “Did you see it yourselves?” he inquired.
“Oh, yes, master, I was found worthy. Such a brightness on the face like the light of heaven, and from the blessed Mother’s cheek it drops and drops....”
“But, dear me, that must be a fraud!” said Pierre, naïvely, who had listened attentively to the pilgrim.
“Oh, master, what are you saying?” exclaimed the horrified Pelagéya, turning to Princess Mary for support.
“They impose on the people,” he repeated.
“Lord Jesus Christ!” exclaimed the pilgrim woman, crossing herself. “Oh, don’t speak so, master! There was a general who did not believe, and said, ‘The monks cheat,’ and as soon as he’d said it he went blind. And he dreamed that the Holy Virgin Mother of the Kiev catacombs came to him and said, ‘Believe in me and I will make you whole.’ So he begged: ‘Take me to her, take me to her.’ It’s the real truth I’m telling you, I saw it myself. So he was brought, quite blind, straight to her, and he goes up to her and falls down and says, ‘Make me whole,’ says he, ‘and I’ll give thee what the Tsar bestowed on me.’ I saw it myself, master, the star is fixed into the icon. Well, and what do you think? He received his sight! It’s a sin to speak so. God will punish you,” she said admonishingly, turning to Pierre.
“How did the star get into the icon?” Pierre asked.
“And was the Holy Mother promoted to the rank of general?” said Prince Andrew, with a smile.
Pelagéya suddenly grew quite pale and clasped her hands.
“Oh, master, master, what a sin! And you who have a son!” she began, her pallor suddenly turning to a vivid red. “Master, what have you said? God forgive you!” And she crossed herself. “Lord forgive him! My dear, what does it mean?...” she asked, turning to Princess Mary. She got up and, almost crying, began to arrange her wallet. She evidently felt frightened and ashamed to have accepted charity in a house where such things could be said, and was at the same time sorry to have now to forgo the charity of this house.
“Now, why need you do it?” said Princess Mary. “Why did you come to me?...”
“Come, Pelagéya, I was joking,” said Pierre. “Princesse, ma parole, je n’ai pas voulu l’offenser.[*] I did not mean anything, I was only joking,” he said, smiling shyly and trying to efface his offense. “It was all my fault, and Andrew was only joking.”
Pelagéya stopped doubtfully, but in Pierre’s face there was such a look of sincere penitence, and Prince Andrew glanced so meekly now at her and now at Pierre, that she was gradually reassured.
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