Presently Taraska came in, and after having his supper, put on
his sheepskin coat, and, taking some bread with him, returned to
watch over his horses for the night. His eldest brother wished
to accompany him, but Ivan himself arose and went with him as far
as the porch. The night was dark and cloudy and a strong wind
was blowing, which produced a peculiar whistling sound that was
most unpleasant to the ear. Ivan helped his son to mount his
horse, which, followed by a colt, started off on a gallop.
Ivan stood for a few moments looking around him and listening to
the clatter of the horse's hoofs as Taraska rode down the village
street. He heard him meet other boys on horseback, who rode quite
as well as Taraska, and soon all were lost in the darkness.
Ivan remained standing by the gate in a gloomy mood, as he was
unable to banish from his mind the harassing thoughts of Gavryl,
which the latter's menacing words had inspired: "Something will burn with greater fierceness in Ivan's household before long."
"He is so desperate," thought Ivan, "that he may set fire to my
house regardless of the danger to his own. At present everything
is dry, and as the wind is so high he may sneak from the back of
his own building, start a fire, and get away unseen by any of us.
He may burn and steal without being found out, and thus go
unpunished. I wish I could catch him."
This thought so worried Ivan that he decided not to return to his
house, but went out and stood on the street-corner.
"I guess," thought Ivan to himself, "I will take a walk around
the premises and examine everything carefully, for who knows what
he may be tempted to do?"
Ivan moved very cautiously round to the back of his buildings,
not making the slightest noise, and scarcely daring to breathe.
Just as he reached a corner of the house he looked toward the fence, and it seemed to him that he saw something moving, and
that it was slowly creeping toward the corner of the house
opposite to where he was standing. He stepped back quickly and
hid himself in the shadow of the building. Ivan stood and
listened, but all was quiet. Not a sound could be heard but the
moaning of the wind through the branches of the trees, and the
rustling of the leaves as it caught them up and whirled them in
all directions. So dense was the darkness that it was at first
impossible for Ivan to see more than a few feet beyond where he
After a time, however, his sight becoming accustomed to the
gloom, he was enabled to see for a considerable distance. The
plow and his other farming implements stood just where he had
placed them. He could see also the opposite corner of the house.
He looked in every direction, but no one was in sight, and he
thought to himself that his imagination must have played him some
trick, leading him to believe that some one was moving when there
really was no one there.
Still, Ivan was not satisfied, and decided to make a further
examination of the premises. As on the previous occasion, he
moved so very cautiously that he could not hear even the sound of
his own footsteps. He had taken the precaution to remove his
shoes, that he might step the more noiselessly. When he reached
the corner of the barn it again seemed to him that he saw
something moving, this time near the plow; but it quickly
disappeared. By this time Ivan's heart was beating very fast,
and he was standing in a listening attitude when a sudden flash
of light illumined the spot, and he could distinctly see the
figure of a man seated on his haunches with his back turned
toward him, and in the act of lighting a bunch of straw which he
held in his hand! Ivan's heart began to beat yet faster, and he
became terribly excited, walking up and down with rapid strides,
but without making a noise.
Ivan said: "Well, now, he cannot get away, for he will be caught
in the very act."
Ivan had taken a few more steps when suddenly a bright light
flamed up, but not in the same spot in which he had seen the
figure of the man sitting. Gavryl had lighted the straw, and
running to the barn held it under the edge of the roof, which
began to burn fiercely; and by the light of the fire he could
distinctly see his neighbor standing.
As an eagle springs at a skylark, so sprang Ivan at Gavryl,
saying: "I will tear you into pieces! You shall not get away
from me this time!"
But "Gavryl the Lame," hearing footsteps, wrenched himself free
from Ivan's grasp and ran like a hare past the buildings.
Ivan, now terribly excited, shouted, "You shall not escape me!"
and started in pursuit; but just as he reached him and was about
to grasp the collar of his coat, Gavryl succeeded in jumping to
one side, and Ivan's coat became entangled in something and he was thrown violently to the ground. Jumping quickly to his feet he shouted, "Karaool! derji!"(watch! catch!)
While Ivan was regaining his feet Gavryl succeeded in reaching
his house, but Ivan followed so quickly that he caught up with
him before he could enter. Just as he was about to grasp him he
was struck on the head with some hard substance. He had been hit
on the temple as with a stone. The blow was struck by Gavryl,
who had picked up an oaken stave, and with it gave Ivan a
terrible blow on the head.
Ivan was stunned, and bright sparks danced before his eyes, while
he swayed from side to side like a drunken man, until finally all
became dark and he sank to the ground unconscious.
When he recovered his senses, Gavryl was nowhere to be seen, but
all around him was as light as day. Strange sounds proceeded
from the direction of his house, and turning his face that way he saw that his barns were on fire. The rear parts of both were
already destroyed, and the flames were leaping toward the front.
Fire, smoke, and bits of burning straw were being rapidly whirled
by the high wind over to where his house stood, and he expected
every moment to see it burst into flames.
"What is this, brother?" Ivan cried out, as he beat his thighs
with his hands. "I should have stopped to snatch the bunch of
burning straw, and, throwing it on the ground, should have
extinguished it with my feet!"
Ivan tried to cry out and arouse his people, but his lips refused
to utter a word. He next tried to run, but he could not move his
feet, and his legs seemed to twist themselves around each other.
After several attempts he succeeded in taking one or two steps,
when he again began to stagger and gasp for breath. It was some
moments before he made another attempt to move, but after
considerable exertion he finally reached the barn, the rear of which was by this time entirely consumed; and the corner of his
house had already caught fire. Dense volumes of smoke began to
pour out of the room, which made it difficult to approach.
A crowd of peasants had by this time gathered, but they found it
impossible to save their homes, so they carried everything which
they could to a place of safety. The cattle they drove into
neighboring pastures and left some one to care for them.
The wind carried the sparks from Ivan's house to Gavryl's, and
it, too, took fire and was consumed. The wind continued to
increase with great fury, and the flames spread to both sides of
the street, until in a very short time more than half the village
The members of Ivan's household had great difficulty in getting
out of the burning building, but the neighbors rescued the old
man and carried him to a place of safety, while the women escaped
in only their night-clothes. Everything was burned, including
the cattle and all the farm implements. The women lost their
trunks, which were filled with quantities of clothing, the
accumulation of years. The storehouse and all the provisions
perished in the flames, not even the chickens being saved.
Gavryl, however, more fortunate than Ivan, saved his cattle and a
few other things.
The village was burning all night.
Ivan stood near his home, gazing sadly at the burning building,
and he kept constantly repeating to himself: "I should have taken
away the bunch of burning straw, and have stamped out the fire
with my feet."
But when he saw his home fall in a smoldering heap, in spite of
the terrible heat he sprang into the midst of it and carried out
a charred log. The women seeing him, and fearing that he would
lose his life, called to him to come back, but he would not pay
any attention to them and went a second time to get a log. Still
weak from the terrible blow which Gavryl had given him, he was
overcome by the heat, and fell into the midst of the burning
mass. Fortunately, his eldest son saw him fall, and rushing into
the fire succeeded in getting hold of him and carrying him out of
it. Ivan's hair, beard, and clothing were burned entirely off.
His hands were also frightfully injured, but he seemed
indifferent to pain.
"Grief drove him crazy," the people said.
The fire was growing less, but Ivan still stood where he could
see it, and kept repeating to himself, "I should have taken,"
The morning after the fire the starosta (village elder) sent his
son to Ivan to tell him that the old man, his father, was dying,
and wanted to see him to bid him good-bye.
In his grief Ivan had forgotten all about his father, and could
not understand what was being said to him. In a dazed way he
asked: "What father? Whom does he want?"
The elder's son again repeated his father's message to Ivan.
"Your aged parent is at our house dying, and he wants to see you
and bid you good-bye. Won't you go now, uncle Ivan?" the boy
Finally Ivan understood, and followed the elder's son.
When Ivan's father was carried from the oven, he was slightly
injured by a big bunch of burning straw falling on him just as he
reached the street. To insure his safety he was removed to the
elder's house, which stood a considerable distance from his late
home, and where it was not likely that the fire would reach it.
When Ivan arrived at the elder's home he found only the latter's
wife and children, who were all seated on the brick oven. The
old man was lying on a bench holding a lighted candle in his hand
(a Russian custom when a person is dying). Hearing a noise, he
turned his face toward the door, and when he saw it was his son
he tried to move. He motioned for Ivan to come nearer, and when
he did so he whispered in a trembling voice: "Well, Ivanushka, did I not tell you before what would be the result of this sad affair? Who set the village on fire?"
"He, he, batiushka [little father]; he did it. I caught him. He
placed the bunch of burning straw to the barn in my presence.
Instead of running after him, I should have snatched the bunch of
burning straw and throwing it on the ground have stamped it out
with my feet; and then there would have been no fire."
"Ivan," said the old man, "death is fast approaching me, and
remember that you also will have to die. Who did this dreadful
thing? Whose is the sin?"
Ivan gazed at the noble face of his dying father and was silent.
His heart was too full for utterance.
"In the presence of God," the old man continued, "whose is the
It was only now that the truth began to dawn upon Ivan's mind,
and that he realized how foolish he had acted. He sobbed bitterly, and fell on his knees before his father, and, crying
like a child, said:
"My dear father, forgive me, for Christ's sake, for I am guilty
before God and before you!"
The old man transferred the lighted candle from his right hand to
the left, and, raising the former to his forehead, tried to make
the sign of the cross, but owing to weakness was unable to do so.
"Glory to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee!" he exclaimed; and
turning his dim eyes toward his son, he said: "See here,
Ivanushka! Ivanushka, my dear son!"
"What, my dear father?" Ivan asked.
"What are you going to do," replied the old man, "now that you
have no home?"
Ivan cried and said: "I do not know how we shall live now."
The old man closed his eyes and made a movement with his lips, as
if gathering his feeble strength for a final effort. Slowly
opening his eyes, he whispered:
"Should you live according to God's commands you will be happy
and prosperous again."
The old man was now silent for awhile and then, smiling sadly, he
"See here, Ivanushka, keep silent concerning this trouble, and do
not tell who set the village on fire. Forgive one sin of your
neighbor's, and God will forgive two of yours."
Grasping the candle with both hands, Ivan's father heaved a deep
sigh, and, stretching himself out on his back, yielded up the
Ivan for once accepted his father's advice. He did not betray
Gavryl, and no one ever learned the origin of the fire.
Ivan's heart became more kindly disposed toward his old enemy,
feeling that much of the fault in connection with this sad affair
rested with himself.
Gavryl was greatly surprised that Ivan did not denounce him before all the villagers, and at first he stood in much fear of him, but he soon afterwards overcame this feeling.
The two peasants ceased to quarrel, and their families followed
their example. While they were building new houses, both
families lived beneath the same roof, and when they moved into
their respective homes, Ivan and Gavryl lived on as good terms as
their fathers had done before them.
Ivan remembered his dying father's command, and took deeply to
heart the evident warning of God that a fire should be extinguished in the beginning. If any one wronged him he did not seek revenge, but instead made every effort to settle the matter peaceably. If any one spoke to him unkindly, he did not answer in the same way, but replied softly, and tried to persuade the person not to speak evil. He taught the women and children of his household to do the same.
Ivan Scherbakoff was now a reformed man. He lived well and peacefully, and again became prosperous.
Let us, therefore, have peace, live in brotherly love and kindness, and we will be happy.