Book 10 Chapter 11

AN HOUR LATER Dunyasha came in to the princess with the news that Dron had come, and all the peasants by the princess's orders were assembled at the granary and desirous of speaking with their mistress.

“But I did not send for them,” said Princess Marya. “I merely told Dronushka to give them the corn.”

“Only, for God's sake, your excellency, order them to be sent away and don't go to them. It's all a plot,” said Dunyasha, “and Yakov Alpatitch will come and we will start … and pray …”

“How a plot?” asked the princess in surprise.

“Why, I know all about it, only do listen to me, for God's sake. Ask old nurse too. They say they won't agree to move away at your orders.”

“You are making some mistake. Why, I have never given them orders to go away …” said Princess Marya. “Call Dronushka.”

Dron on coming in confirmed Dunyasha's words; the peasants had come by the princess's instructions.

“But I have never sent for them,” said the princess. “You must have given them my message wrong. I only said that you were to give them the corn.”

Dron sighed without replying.

“If so you command, they will go away,” he said.

“No, no, I'll go out to them,” said Princess Marya.

In spite of Dunyasha's and the old nurse's attempts to dissuade her, Princess Marya went out on to the steps. Dronushka, Dunyasha, the old nurse, and Mihail Ivanitch followed her.

“They probably imagine I am offering them the corn to keep them here while I go away myself, leaving them at the mercy of the French,” thought Princess Marya. “I will promise them monthly rations and lodgings on the Moscow estate. I am sure Andrey would do more for them in my place,” she thought, as she went out in the twilight towards the crowd, waiting on the pasture near the granary.

The crowd stirred, huddling closer, and rapidly took off their hats. Princess Marya came closer to them, her eyes cast down and her feet tripping over her gown. So many different eyes, old and young, were fixed upon her, there were so many different faces that Princess Marya did not see a single one of them, and feeling it necessary to address all at once, did not know how to set about it. But again the sense that she was the representative of her father and brother gave her strength, and she boldly began her speech.

“I am very glad you have come,” she began, not raising her eyes and feeling the rapid and violent beating of her heart. “Dronushka has told me that the war has ruined you. That is our common trouble, and I will grudge nothing to aid you. I am going away myself because it is dangerous here … and the enemy is near … because … I give you everything, my friends, and I beg you to take everything, all our corn, that you may not suffer want. But if you have been told that I am giving you corn to keep you here, it is false. On the contrary, I beg you to move away with all your belongings to our Moscow estate, and there I undertake and promise you that you shall not be in want. You shall be given houses and bread.” The princess stopped. Nothing was to be heard from the crowd but sighs.

“I don't do this on my own account,” the princess went on; “I do it in the name of my dead father, who was a good master to you, and for my brother and his son.”

She paused again. No one broke the silence.

“We have trouble in common, and we will share it all equally. All that is mine is yours,” she said, looking up at the faces before her. All the eyes were gazing at her with the same expression, the meaning of which she could not fathom. Whether it were curiosity, devotion, gratitude, or apprehension, and distrust, the expression on all the faces was alike.

“Very thankful for your kindness, only it's not for us to take the master's corn,” said a voice from the back.

“But why not?” said the princess. No one answered, and Princess Marya, looking up at the crowd, noticed that now all the eyes dropped at once on meeting hers.

“Why don't you want to?” she asked again.

No one replied.

Princess Marya was oppressed by the silence; she tried to catch somebody's eye.

“Why don't you speak!” she said, addressing a very old man who was standing near her, his arms propped on his stick. “Tell me if you think something more is needed. I will do anything,” she said, catching his eye. But as though angered by her doing so, he bent his head, and said:

“Why should we agree? We don't want your corn.”

“Why are we to give up everything? We're not willing … Not willing. It's not with our consent. We are sorry for you, but we are not willing. You go away by yourself, alone …” was protested from different parts of the crowd. And again all the faces in the crowd wore the same expression; and now it was unmistakably not an expression of curiosity and gratitude, but an expression of exasperated determination.

“But you misunderstand me,” said Princess Marya, with a melancholy smile. “Why don't you want to move away? I promise to settle you, to provide for you. And here the enemy will plunder you …” But her voice was drowned by the voices of the crowd.

“We're not willing, let him plunder us! We won't take your corn, we won't agree!”

Princess Marya tried again to catch some one's eye in the crowd, but no one was looking at her; their eyes unmistakably avoided hers. She felt strange and awkward.

“To be sure, she would school us, … a good dodge, … follow her into slavery. Pull down your house and go into bondage. I dare say! I'll give you corn, says she!” voices were saying in the crowd.

Princess Marya moved out of the ring, and went to the house with a dejected countenance. Repeating her command to Dron that horses were to be ready next day for her to start, she went away to her own room and remained alone with her own thoughts.