Until Prince Andrew settled in Bogucharovo
its owners had always been absentees, and its peasants
were of quite a different character from those of
Bald Hills. They differed from them in speech,
dress, and disposition. They were called steppe
peasants. The old prince used to approve of them
for their endurance at work when they came to Bald
Hills to help with the harvest or to dig ponds, and
ditches, but he disliked them for their boorishness.
Prince Andrew’s last stay at
Bogucharovo, when he introduced hospitals and schools
and reduced the quitrent the peasants had to pay, had
not softened their disposition but had on the contrary
strengthened in them the traits of character the old
prince called boorishness. Various obscure rumors
were always current among them: at one time a
rumor that they would all be enrolled as Cossacks;
at another of a new religion to which they were all
to be converted; then of some proclamation of the
Tsar’s and of an oath to the Tsar Paul in 1797
(in connection with which it was rumored that freedom
had been granted them but the landowners had stopped
it), then of Peter Fedorovich’s return to the
throne in seven years’ time, when everything
would be made free and so “simple” that
there would be no restrictions. Rumors of the
war with Bonaparte and his invasion were connected
in their minds with the same sort of vague notions
of Antichrist, the end of the world, and “pure
In the vicinity of Bogucharovo were
large villages belonging to the crown or to owners
whose serfs paid quitrent and could work where they
pleased. There were very few resident landlords
in the neighborhood and also very few domestic or
literate serfs, and in the lives of the peasantry
of those parts the mysterious undercurrents in the
life of the Russian people, the causes and meaning
of which are so baffling to contemporaries, were more
clearly and strongly noticeable than among others.
One instance, which had occurred some twenty years
before, was a movement among the peasants to emigrate
to some unknown “warm rivers.” Hundreds
of peasants, among them the Bogucharovo folk, suddenly
began selling their cattle and moving in whole families
toward the southeast. As birds migrate to somewhere
beyond the sea, so these men with their wives and
children streamed to the southeast, to parts where
none of them had ever been. They set off in caravans,
bought their freedom one by one or ran away, and drove
or walked toward the “warm rivers.”
Many of them were punished, some sent to Siberia,
many died of cold and hunger on the road, many returned
of their own accord, and the movement died down of
itself just as it had sprung up, without apparent reason.
But such undercurrents still existed among the people
and gathered new forces ready to manifest themselves
just as strangely, unexpectedly, and at the same time
simply, naturally, and forcibly. Now in 1812,
to anyone living in close touch with these people
it was apparent that these undercurrents were acting
strongly and nearing an eruption.
Alpatych, who had reached Bogucharovo
shortly before the old prince’s death, noticed
an agitation among the peasants, and that contrary
to what was happening in the Bald Hills district,
where over a radius of forty miles all the peasants
were moving away and leaving their villages to be
devastated by the Cossacks, the peasants in the steppe
region round Bogucharovo were, it was rumored, in
touch with the French, received leaflets from them
that passed from hand to hand, and did not migrate.
He learned from domestic serfs loyal to him that the
peasant Karp, who possessed great influence in the
village commune and had recently been away driving
a government transport, had returned with news that
the Cossacks were destroying deserted villages, but
that the French did not harm them. Alpatych also
knew that on the previous day another peasant had
even brought from the village of Visloukhovo, which
was occupied by the French, a proclamation by a French
general that no harm would be done to the inhabitants,
and if they remained they would be paid for anything
taken from them. As proof of this the peasant
had brought from Visloukhovo a hundred rubles in notes
(he did not know that they were false) paid to him
in advance for hay.
More important still, Alpatych learned
that on the morning of the very day he gave the village
Elder orders to collect carts to move the princess’
luggage from Bogucharovo, there had been a village
meeting at which it had been decided not to move but
to wait. Yet there was no time to waste.
On the fifteenth, the day of the old prince’s
death, the Marshal had insisted on Princess Mary’s
leaving at once, as it was becoming dangerous.
He had told her that after the sixteenth he could
not be responsible for what might happen. On the
evening of the day the old prince died the Marshal
went away, promising to return next day for the funeral.
But this he was unable to do, for he received tidings
that the French had unexpectedly advanced, and had
barely time to remove his own family and valuables
from his estate.
For some thirty years Bogucharovo
had been managed by the village Elder, Dron, whom
the old prince called by the diminutive “Dronushka.”
Dron was one of those physically and
mentally vigorous peasants who grow big beards as
soon as they are of age and go on unchanged till they
are sixty or seventy, without a gray hair or the loss
of a tooth, as straight and strong at sixty as at
Soon after the migration to the “warm
rivers,” in which he had taken part like the
rest, Dron was made village Elder and overseer of
Bogucharovo, and had since filled that post irreproachably
for twenty-three years. The peasants feared him
more than they did their master. The masters,
both the old prince and the young, and the steward
respected him and jestingly called him “the Minister.”
During the whole time of his service Dron had never
been drunk or ill, never after sleepless nights or
the hardest tasks had he shown the least fatigue,
and though he could not read he had never forgotten
a single money account or the number of quarters of
flour in any of the endless cartloads he sold for
the prince, nor a single shock of the whole corn crop
on any single acre of the Bogucharovo fields.
Alpatych, arriving from the devastated
Bald Hills estate, sent for his Dron on the day of
the prince’s funeral and told him to have twelve
horses got ready for the princess’ carriages
and eighteen carts for the things to be removed from
Bogucharovo. Though the peasants paid quitrent,
Alpatych thought no difficulty would be made about
complying with this order, for there were two hundred
and thirty households at work in Bogucharovo and the
peasants were well to do. But on hearing the
order Dron lowered his eyes and remained silent.
Alpatych named certain peasants he knew, from whom
he told him to take the carts.
Dron replied that the horses of these
peasants were away carting. Alpatych named others,
but they too, according to Dron, had no horses available:
some horses were carting for the government, others
were too weak, and others had died for want of fodder.
It seemed that no horses could be had even for the
carriages, much less for the carting.
Alpatych looked intently at Dron and
frowned. Just as Dron was a model village Elder,
so Alpatych had not managed the prince’s estates
for twenty years in vain. He was a model steward,
possessing in the highest degree the faculty of divining
the needs and instincts of those he dealt with.
Having glanced at Dron he at once understood that his
answers did not express his personal views but the
general mood of the Bogucharovo commune, by which
the Elder had already been carried away. But he
also knew that Dron, who had acquired property and
was hated by the commune, must be hesitating between
the two camps: the masters’ and the serfs’.
He noticed this hesitation in Dron’s look and
therefore frowned and moved closer up to him.
“Now just listen, Dronushka,”
said he. “Don’t talk nonsense to me.
His excellency Prince Andrew himself gave me orders
to move all the people away and not leave them with
the enemy, and there is an order from the Tsar about
it too. Anyone who stays is a traitor to the Tsar.
Do you hear?”
“I hear,” Dron answered without lifting
Alpatych was not satisfied with this reply.
“Eh, Dron, it will turn out badly!” he
said, shaking his head.
“The power is in your hands,” Dron rejoined
“Eh, Dron, drop it!” Alpatych
repeated, withdrawing his hand from his bosom and
solemnly pointing to the floor at Dron’s feet.
“I can see through you and three yards into
the ground under you,” he continued, gazing
at the floor in front of Dron.
Dron was disconcerted, glanced furtively
at Alpatych and again lowered his eyes.
“You drop this nonsense and
tell the people to get ready to leave their homes
and go to Moscow and to get carts ready for tomorrow
morning for the princess’ things. And don’t
go to any meeting yourself, do you hear?”
Dron suddenly fell on his knees.
“Yakov Alpatych, discharge me!
Take the keys from me and discharge me, for Christ’s
“Stop that!” cried Alpatych
sternly. “I see through you and three yards
under you,” he repeated, knowing that his skill
in beekeeping, his knowledge of the right time to
sow the oats, and the fact that he had been able to
retain the old prince’s favor for twenty years
had long since gained him the reputation of being
a wizard, and that the power of seeing three yards
under a man is considered an attribute of wizards.
Dron got up and was about to say something,
but Alpatych interrupted him.
“What is it you have got into
your heads, eh?... What are you thinking of,
“What am I to do with the people?”
said Dron. “They’re quite beside
themselves; I have already told them...”
“‘Told them,’ I
dare say!” said Alpatych. “Are they
drinking?” he asked abruptly.
“Quite beside themselves, Yakov
Alpatych; they’ve fetched another barrel.”
“Well, then, listen! I’ll
go to the police officer, and you tell them so, and
that they must stop this and the carts must be got
Alpatych did not insist further.
He had managed people for a long time and knew that
the chief way to make them obey is to show no suspicion
that they can possibly disobey. Having wrung a
submissive “I understand” from Dron, Alpatych
contented himself with that, though he not only doubted
but felt almost certain that without the help of troops
the carts would not be forthcoming.
And so it was, for when evening came
no carts had been provided. In the village, outside
the drink shop, another meeting was being held, which
decided that the horses should be driven out into the
woods and the carts should not be provided. Without
saying anything of this to the princess, Alpatych
had his own belongings taken out of the carts which
had arrived from Bald Hills and had those horses got
ready for the princess’ carriages. Meanwhile
he went himself to the police authorities.