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PAGE 2

The Candle
by [?]

It happened once, before the Easter holidays, that one of these meetings was held in the woods, where Michael had sent the serfs to make a clearance for their master. At noon they assembled to eat their dinner and to hold a consultation. “Why can’t we leave now?” said one. “Very soon we shall be reduced to nothing. Already we are almost worked to death–there being no rest, night or day, either for us or our poor women. If anything should be done in a way not exactly to please him he will find fault and perhaps flog some of us to death–as was the case with poor Simeon, whom he killed not long ago. Only recently Anisim was tortured in irons till he died. We certainly cannot stand this much longer.” “Yes,” said another, “what is the use of waiting? Let us act at once. Michael will be here this evening, and will be certain to abuse us shamefully. Let us, then, thrust him from his horse and with one blow of an axe give him what he deserves, and thus end our misery. We can then dig a big hole and bury him like a dog, and no one will know what became of him. Now let us come to an agreement–to stand together as one man and not to betray one another.”

The last speaker was Vasili Minayeff, who, if possible, had more cause to complain of Michael’s cruelty than any of his fellow-serfs. The superintendent was in the habit of flogging him severely every week, and he took also Vasili’s wife to serve him as cook.

Accordingly, during the evening that followed this meeting in the woods Michael arrived on the scene on horseback. He began at once to find fault with the manner in which the work had been done, and to complain because some lime-trees had been cut down.

“I told you not to cut down any lime-trees!” shouted the enraged superintendent. “Who did this thing? Tell me at once, or I shall flog every one of you!”

On investigation, a peasant named Sidor was pointed out as the guilty one, and his face was roundly slapped. Michael also severely punished Vasili, because he had not done sufficient work, after which the master rode safely home.

In the evening the serfs again assembled, and poor Vasili said: “Oh, what kind of people ARE we, anyway? We are only sparrows, and not men at all! We agree to stand by each other, but as soon as the time for action comes we all run and hide. Once a lot of sparrows conspired against a hawk, but no sooner did the bird of prey appear than they sneaked off in the grass. Selecting one of the choicest sparrows, the hawk took it away to eat, after which the others came out crying, ‘Twee-twee!’ and found that one was missing. ‘Who is killed?’ they asked. ‘Vanka! Well, he deserved it.’ You, my friends, are acting in just the same manner. When Michael attacked Sidor you should have stood by your promise. Why didn’t you arise, and with one stroke put an end to him and to our misery?”

The effect of this speech was to make the peasants more firm in their determination to kill their superintendent. The latter had already given orders that they should be ready to plough during the Easter holidays, and to sow the field with oats, whereupon the serfs became stricken with grief, and gathered in Vasili’s house to hold another indignation meeting. “If he has really forgotten God,” they said, “and shall continue to commit such crimes against us, it is truly necessary that we should kill him. If not, let us perish, for it can make no difference to us now.”