An hour later Dunyásha came to tell the princess that Dron had come, and all the peasants had assembled at the barn by the princess’ order and wished to have word with their mistress.
“But I never told them to come,” said Princess Mary. “I only told Dron to let them have the grain.”
“Only, for God’s sake, Princess dear, have them sent away and don’t go out to them. It’s all a trick,” said Dunyásha, “and when Yákov Alpátych returns let us get away... and please don’t...”
“What is a trick?” asked Princess Mary in surprise.
“I know it is, only listen to me for God’s sake! Ask nurse too. They say they don’t agree to leave Boguchárovo as you ordered.”
“You’re making some mistake. I never ordered them to go away,” said Princess Mary. “Call Drónushka.”
Dron came and confirmed Dunyásha’s words; the peasants had come by the princess’ order.
“But I never sent for them,” declared the princess. “You must have given my message wrong. I only said that you were to give them the grain.”
Dron only sighed in reply.
“If you order it they will go away,” said he.
“No, no. I’ll go out to them,” said Princess Mary, and in spite of the nurse’s and Dunyásha’s protests she went out into the porch; Dron, Dunyásha, the nurse, and Michael Ivánovich following her.
“They probably think I am offering them the grain to bribe them to remain here, while I myself go away leaving them to the mercy of the French,” thought Princess Mary. “I will offer them monthly rations and housing at our Moscow estate. I am sure Andrew would do even more in my place,” she thought as she went out in the twilight toward the crowd standing on the pasture by the barn.
The men crowded closer together, stirred, and rapidly took off their hats. Princess Mary lowered her eyes and, tripping over her skirt, came close up to them. So many different eyes, old and young, were fixed on her, and there were so many different faces, that she could not distinguish any of them and, feeling that she must speak to them all at once, did not know how to do it. But again the sense that she represented her father and her brother gave her courage, and she boldly began her speech.
“I am very glad you have come,” she said without raising her eyes, and feeling her heart beating quickly and violently. “Drónushka tells me that the war has ruined you. That is our common misfortune, and I shall grudge nothing to help you. I am myself going away because it is dangerous here... the enemy is near... because... I am giving you everything, my friends, and I beg you to take everything, all our grain, so that you may not suffer want! And if you have been told that I am giving you the grain to keep you here—that is not true. On the contrary, I ask you to go with all your belongings to our estate near Moscow, and I promise you I will see to it that there you shall want for nothing. You shall be given food and lodging.”
The princess stopped. Sighs were the only sound heard in the crowd.
“I am not doing this on my own account,” she continued, “I do it in the name of my dead father, who was a good master to you, and of my brother and his son.”
Again she paused. No one broke the silence.
“Ours is a common misfortune and we will share it together. All that is mine is yours,” she concluded, scanning the faces before her.
All eyes were gazing at her with one and the same expression. She could not fathom whether it was curiosity, devotion, gratitude, or apprehension and distrust—but the expression on all the faces was identical.
“We are all very thankful for your bounty, but it won’t do for us to take the landlord’s grain,” said a voice at the back of the crowd.
“But why not?” asked the princess.
No one replied and Princess Mary, looking round at the crowd, found that every eye she met now was immediately dropped.
“But why don’t you want to take it?” she asked again.
No one answered.
The silence began to oppress the princess and she tried to catch someone’s eye.
“Why don’t you speak?” she inquired of a very old man who stood just in front of her leaning on his stick. “If you think something more is wanted, tell me! I will do anything,” said she, catching his eye.
But as if this angered him, he bent his head quite low and muttered:
“Why should we agree? We don’t want the grain.”
“Why should we give up everything? We don’t agree. Don’t agree.... We are sorry for you, but we’re not willing. Go away yourself, alone...” came from various sides of the crowd.
And again all the faces in that crowd bore an identical expression, though now it was certainly not an expression of curiosity or gratitude, but of angry resolve.
“But you can’t have understood me,” said Princess Mary with a sad smile. “Why don’t you want to go? I promise to house and feed you, while here the enemy would ruin you....”
But her voice was drowned by the voices of the crowd.
“We’re not willing. Let them ruin us! We won’t take your grain. We don’t agree.”
Again Princess Mary tried to catch someone’s eye, but not a single eye in the crowd was turned to her; evidently they were all trying to avoid her look. She felt strange and awkward.
“Oh yes, an artful tale! Follow her into slavery! Pull down your houses and go into bondage! I dare say! ‘I’ll give you grain, indeed!’ she says,” voices in the crowd were heard saying.
With drooping head Princess Mary left the crowd and went back to the house. Having repeated her order to Dron to have horses ready for her departure next morning, she went to her room and remained alone with her own thoughts.
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