IT WAS DARK by the time Prince Andrey and Pierre drove up to the principal entrance of the house at Bleak Hills. While they were driving in, Prince Andrey with a smile drew Pierre's attention to a commotion that was taking place at the back entrance. A bent little old woman with a wallet on her back, and a short man with long hair, in a black garment, ran back to the gate on seeing the carriage driving up. Two women ran out after them, and all the four, looking round at the carriage with scared faces, ran in at the back entrance.
“Those are Masha's God's folk,” said Prince Andrey. “They took us for my father. It's the one matter in which she does not obey him. He orders them to drive away these pilgrims, but she receives them.”
“But what are God's folk?” asked Pierre.
Prince Andrey had not time to answer him. The servants came out to meet them, and he inquired where the old prince was and whether they expected him home soon. The old prince was still in the town, and they were expecting him every minute.
Prince Andrey led Pierre away to his own suite of rooms, which were always in perfect readiness for him in his father's house, and went off himself to the nursery.
“Let us go to my sister,” said Prince Andrey, coming back to Pierre; “I have not seen her yet, she is in hiding now, sitting with her God's folk. Serve her right; she will be put to shame, and you will see God's folk. It's curious, upon my word.”
“What are ‘God's folk'?” asked Pierre.
“You shall see.”
Princess Marya certainly was disconcerted, and reddened in patches when they went in. In her snug room, with lamps before the holy picture stand, there was sitting, behind the samovar, on the sofa beside her, a young lad with a long nose and long hair, wearing a monk's cassock. In a low chair near sat a wrinkled, thin, old woman, with a meek expression on her childlike face.
“Andrey, why did you not let me know?” she said with mild reproach, standing before her pilgrims like a hen before her chickens.
“Delighted to see you. I am very glad to see you,” she said to Pierre, as he kissed her hand. She had known him as a child, and now his friendship with Andrey, his unhappy marriage, and above all, his kindly, simple face, disposed her favourably to him. She looked at him with her beautiful, luminous eyes, and seemed to say to him: “I like you very much, but, please, don't laugh at my friends.”
After the first phrases of greeting, they sat down
“Oh, and Ivanushka's here,” said Prince Andrey with a smile, indicating the young pilgrim.
“Andryusha!” said Princess Marya imploringly.
“You must know, it is a woman,” said Andrey to Pierre in French.
“Andrey, for heaven's sake!” repeated Princess Marya.
It was plain that Prince Andrey's ironical tone to the pilgrims, and Princess Marya's helpless championship of them, were their habitual, long-established attitudes on the subject.
“Why, my dear girl,” said Prince Andrey, “you ought to be obliged to me, on the contrary, for explaining your intimacy with this young man to Pierre.”
“Indeed?” said Pierre, looking with curiosity and seriousness (for which Princess Marya felt particularly grateful to him) at the face of Ivanushka, who, seeing that he was the subject under discussion, looked at all of them with his crafty eyes.
Princess Marya had not the slightest need to feel embarrassment on her friends' account. They were quite at their ease. The old woman cast down her eyes, but stole sidelong glances at the new-comers, and turning her cup upside down in the saucer, and laying a nibbled lump of sugar beside it, sat calmly without stirring in her chair, waiting to be offered another cup. Ivanushka, sipping out of the saucer, peeped from under his brows with his sly, feminine eyes at the young men.
“Where have you been, in Kiev?” Prince Andrey asked the old woman.
“I have, good sir,” answered the old woman, who was conversationally disposed; “just at the Holy Birth I was deemed worthy to be a partaker in holy, heavenly mysteries from the saints. And now, good sir, from Kolyazin a great blessing has been revealed.”
“And Ivanushka was with you?”
“I go alone by myself, benefactor,” said Ivanushka, trying to speak in a bass voice. “It was only at Yuhnovo I joined Pelageyushka …”
Pelageyushka interrupted her companion; she was evidently anxious to tell of what she had seen. “In Kolyazin, good sir, great is the blessing revealed.”
“What, new relics?” asked Prince Andrey.
“Hush, Andrey,” said Princess Marya. “Don't tell us about it, Pelageyushka.”
“Not … nay, ma'am, why not tell him? I like him. He's a good gentleman, chosen of God, he's my benefactor; he gave me ten roubles, I remember. When I was in Kiev, Kiryusha, the crazy pilgrim, tells me—verily a man of God, winter and summer he goes barefoot—why are you not going to your right place, says he; go to Kolyazin, there a wonder-working ikon, a holy Mother of God has been revealed. On these words I said good-bye to the holy folk and off I went …”
All were silent, only the pilgrim woman talked on in her measured voice, drawing her breath regularly. “I came, good sir, and folks say to me: a great blessing has been vouchsafed, drops of myrrh trickle from the cheeks of the Holy Mother of God …”
“Come, that will do, that will do; you shall tell me later,” said Princess Marya, flushing.
“Let me ask her a question,” said Pierre. “Did you see it yourself?” he asked.
“To be sure, good sir, I myself was found worthy. Such a brightness overspread the face, like the light of heaven, and from the Holy Mother's cheeks drops like this and like this …”
“Why, but it must be a trick,” said Pierre naïvely, after listening attentively to the old woman.
“Oh, sir, what a thing to say!” said Pelageyushka with horror, turning to Princess Marya for support.
“They impose upon the people,” he repeated.
“Lord Jesus Christ!” said the pilgrim woman, crossing herself. “Oh, don't speak so, sir. There was a general did not believe like that, said ‘the monks cheat,' and as he said it, he was struck blind. And he dreamed a dream, the holy mother of Petchersky comes to him and says: ‘Believe in me and I will heal thee.' And so he kept beseeching them: ‘Take me to her, take me to her.' It's the holy truth I'm telling you, I've seen it myself. They carried him, blind as he was, to her; he went up, fell down, and said: ‘Heal me! I will give thee,' says he, ‘what the Tsar bestowed on me.' I saw it myself—a sort of star carved in it. Well—he regained his sight! It's a sin to speak so. God will punish you,” she said admonishingly to Pierre.
“How? Was the star in the holy image?” asked Pierre.
“And didn't they make the holy mother a general?” said Prince Andrey, smiling.
Pelageyushka turned suddenly pale and flung up her hands.
“Sir, sir, it's a sin of you, you've a son!” she said, suddenly turning from white to dark red. “Sir, for what you have said, God forgive you.” She crossed herself. “Lord, forgive him. Lady, what's this? …” she turned to Princess Marya. She got up, and almost crying began gathering up her wallet. Plainly she was both frightened and ashamed at having accepted bounty in a house where they could say such things, and sorry that she must henceforth deprive herself of the bounty of that house.
“What did you want to do this for?” said Princess Marya. “Why did you come to me? …”
“No, I was joking really, Pelageyushka,” said Pierre. “Princess, ma parole, je n'ai pas voulu l'offenser. I said it, meaning nothing. Don't think of it, I was joking,” he said, smiling timidly and trying to smooth over his crime. “It was all my fault; but he didn't mean it, he was joking.”
Pelageyushka remained distrustful; but Pierre's face wore a look of such genuine penitence, and Prince Andrey looked so mildly from Pelageyushka to Pierre, that she was gradually reassured.