The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Stories HTML version
"Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth: but I say
unto you, That ye resist not evil."--ST. MATTHEW V. 38, 39.
It was in the time of serfdom--many years before Alexander II.'s liberation of the sixty
million serfs in 1862. In those days the people were ruled by different kinds of lords.
There were not a few who, remembering God, treated their slaves in a humane manner,
and not as beasts of burden, while there were others who were seldom known to perform
a kind or generous action; but the most barbarous and tyrannical of all were those former
serfs who arose from the dirt and became princes.
It was this latter class who made life literally a burden to those who were unfortunate
enough to come under their rule. Many of them had arisen from the ranks of the
peasantry to become superintendents of noblemen's estates.
The peasants were obliged to work for their master a certain number of days each week.
There was plenty of land and water and the soil was rich and fertile, while the meadows
and forests were sufficient to supply the needs of both the peasants and their lord.
There was a certain nobleman who had chosen a superintendent from the peasantry on
one of his other estates. No sooner had the power to govern been vested in this newly-
made official than he began to practice the most outrageous cruelties upon the poor serfs
who had been placed under his control. Although this man had a wife and two married
daughters, and was making so much money that he could have lived happily without
transgressing in any way against either God or man, yet he was filled with envy and
jealousy and deeply sunk in sin.
Michael Simeonovitch began his persecutions by compelling the peasants to perform
more days of service on the estate every week than the laws obliged them to work. He
established a brick-yard, in which he forced the men and women to do excessive labor,
selling the bricks for his own profit.
On one occasion the overworked serfs sent a delegation to Moscow to complain of their
treatment to their lord, but they obtained no satisfaction. When the poor peasants returned
disconsolate from the nobleman their superintendent determined to have revenge for their
boldness in going above him for redress, and their life and that of their fellow-victims
became worse than before.
It happened that among the serfs there were some very treacherous people who would
falsely accuse their fellows of wrong-doing and sow seeds of discord among the
peasantry, whereupon Michael would become greatly enraged, while his poor subjects
began to live in fear of their lives. When the superintendent passed through the village the