Once on the highway, seven peasants converge-recent serfs, and now temporarily liable “from neighboring villages-Zaplatov, Dyryavin, Razotov, Znobishin, Gorelov, Neelov, Neurojazhka identity.” Instead of going their own way, the peasants start a dispute about who in Russia lives happily and freely. Each of them judges in his own way about who is the main lucky man in Russia: a landlord, an official, a priest, a merchant, a noble boyar, a minister of sovereigns or a king.
Behind the argument they do not notice that they have given a detour thirty versts. Seeing that it’s too late to return home late, the peasants are baking a fire and the dispute continues for vodka – which, of course, gradually grows into a fight. But the fight also does not help to solve the problem that stirs the peasants.
The solution is unexpected: one of the peasants, Pakhom, catches a chickling chick, and for the sake of freeing the chick, the chiffchaff tells the peasants
where you can find a tablecloth self-harness. Now the peasants are provided with bread, vodka, cucumbers, kvass, tea – in a word, everything that is necessary for them for a long journey. Besides, the self-tattoo tablecloth will repair and wash their clothes! Having received all these benefits, the men give a vow to find out “who lives happily, is free in Russia.”
The first possible “lucky”, who met them on the road, is pop. But the answer to the question about whether his life is sweet, disappoints the peasants. They agree with the priest that happiness is in peace, wealth and honor. But none of these blessings the priest does not possess. In the haymaking season, in the spring, on a dead autumn night, in a frigid frost, he must go to where there are aching, dying and being born. And every time his soul hurts when he sees grave sobs and orphan sorrow – so that the hand does not come up to take the copper pyataki – a pathetic retribution for the demand. The landlords, who used to live in patrimonial estates here and got married, christened children, enjoyed the deceased, –
now scattered not only in Russia, but also in a distant foreign land; they do not have to hope for their reward. Well, but about what the priest likes, the peasants know themselves: they become embarrassed,
Realizing that the Russian pop is not among the lucky ones, the peasants go to the festive fair in the trading village of Kuzminskoe, there to ask people about happiness. In a rich and dirty village there are two churches, a tightly boarded up house with the inscription “school”, a paramedic hut, a dirty hotel. But most of all in the village of drinking establishments, in each of which hardly manage to manage with thirsty. The old man Vavila can not buy a granddaughter gantry shoes, because he drank to a crescent. It’s good that Pavlusha Veretennikov, a lover of Russian songs, for some reason everyone calls him “master,” buys for him a treasured gift.
Peasant muzhiks watch Petroushka’s booth, watch how the offices pick up the book goods – not Belinsky and Gogol at all, but portraits of fat generals and works about “my lord stupid”. They also see the end of a brisk trading day: general drunkenness, fights on the way home. However, the peasants are outraged by the attempt of Pavlusha Veretennikov to measure the peasant to a man’s measure. In their opinion, a sober person in Russia can not live: he will not stand neither excessive work, nor muzhik trouble; without drinking from the angry peasant soul, a bloody shower would be shed. These words are confirmed by Yakim Naga from the village of Bosovo – one of those who “until death dies, until he dies”. Yakim believes that only pigs walk on the earth and the sky does not see the sky. He himself during the fire saved not saved up for the rest of his life money, and useless and favorite pictures, hanging in the hut; he is sure that with the termination of drunkenness, great sorrow will come to Russia.
Muzhiks-wanderers do not lose hope to find people who live well in Russia. But even for the promise to give away fortunate people they can not find them. For the sake of a free drink, the lucky ones are ready to declare themselves and the worker who has broken up, and the paralytic who was paralyzed for forty years licked the plates with the best French truffle from the master, and even the beggars who were ragged.
Finally, someone tells them the story of Ermil Girin, the burmist in the patrimony of Prince Yurlov, who earned universal respect for his justice and honesty. When Girin needed money to buy the mill, the peasants lent them to him without demanding a receipt. But Ermil is now unhappy: after a peasant rebellion, he sits in a prison.
The misfortune that befell the noblemen after the peasant reform, tells peasants-wanderers the ruddy sixty-year-old landowner Gavrila Oblt-Obolduyev. He recalls how in old times the gentleman rejoiced: villages, forests, fields, serf actors, musicians, hunters, who completely owned him. Oblt-Obolduyev, with affection, tells how he invited his serfs to pray at the manor house on the twentieth feast-despite the fact that after that he had to drive the women out of all the patrimony to wash the floors.
And although the peasants themselves know that life in the serf-days was far from the idyll painted by Obolduyev, they still understand: the great chain of serfdom, having broken, hit both the master who at once lost his habitual way of life and the peasant.
Desperate to find a happy man among the peasants, the wanderers decide to ask the women. Nearby peasants remember that in the village of Klin there lives Matryona Timofeevna Korchagina, who is considered lucky. But Matryona thinks differently. In confirmation, she tells the Wanderers the story of her life.
Before the marriage, Matryona lived in a non-drinking and well-to-do peasant family. She married a stove-maker from a strange village of Philip Korchagin. But the only happy thing for her was that night, when the groom persuaded Matryona to marry him; then the usual hopeless life of a village woman began. True, her husband loved her and beat only once, but soon he went to work in St. Petersburg, and Matryona was forced to endure resentment in the family father-in-law. The only one who pitied Matryona was grandfather Saveliy, who lived in his family after hard labor, where he fell for the murder of the hated German manager. Saveliy told Matryona what a Russian nobility is: a peasant can not be defeated, because he “bends, but does not break.”
The birth of the first-born Demushka brightened the life of Matryona. But soon her mother-in-law forbade her to take the child to the field, and old grandfather Savely did not follow the baby and fed him to the pigs. In front of Matryona, the judges who came from the city conducted an autopsy of her child. Matryona could not forget her first-born, although after she had five sons. One of them, the shepherd Fedot, once allowed a she-wolf to carry a sheep. Matryona accepted the punishment assigned to her son. Then, being the pregnant son of Lydor, she was forced to go to the city to seek justice: her husband, bypassing the laws, was taken into the soldiers. Matrena was then helped by the Governor Helen Alexandrovna, for whom the whole family is now praying.
By all peasant standards, the life of Matryona Korchagina can be considered happy. But it is impossible to tell about the invisible mental thunderstorm that passed through this woman – as well as about unpaid mortal offenses, and about the blood of the first-born. Matryona Timofeevna is convinced that a Russian peasant woman can not be happy at all, because the keys to her happiness and free will are lost from God himself.
In the midst of haymaking pilgrims come to the Volga. Here they are witnessing a strange scene. On three boats to the shore swims the family of the family. The Koscians, who just sat down to rest, immediately jump up to show the old master his zeal. It turns out that the peasants of the village of Vakhlachina help the heirs hide from the survivor of the landowner Utyatin the abolition of serfdom. Relatives of the After-Death-Duck, for this promise the peasants floodplain meadows. But after the long-awaited death of the Afterdog, the heirs forget their promises, and the entire peasant performance is in vain.
Here, near the village of Vakhlachina, wanderers listen to peasant songs – corvee, hungry, soldier, salt – and stories about serfdom. One of these stories – about the servant of the exemplary Yakov faithful. The only joy of Jacob was the satisfaction of his master, the small landowner Polivanov. Samovour Polivanov in gratitude beat Jacob in the teeth with a heel, which caused in the lackey’s soul even greater love. To his old age Polivanov’s legs were cut off, and Jacob began to follow him, like a child. But when the nephew of Yakov, Grisha, planned to marry the fortress beauty Arisha, Polivanov from jealousy gave the guy in recruits. Jacob was drunk, but soon returned to the master. And yet he managed to take revenge on Polivanov – the only way available to him, lackey way. Having brought the master to the forest, Jacob hanged himself right above him on a pine tree. Polivanov spent the night under the corpse of his faithful servant,
Another story – about two great sinners – tells the peasants God’s wanderer Ion Lyapushkin. The Lord awakened his conscience to the ataman of the robbers of Kudeyar. The robber long prayed for sins, but they were all released to him only after he killed the cruel Pan Glukhovsky in a tidal wave of anger.
Wanderers-pilgrims listen to the story of another sinner – Gleb the elder, who, for money, hid the last will of the late Admiral Widower, who decided to free his peasants.
But it’s not just peasant wanderers who think about people’s happiness. On Vakhlachin there lives the son of the sexton, seminarian Grisha Dobroskolonov. In his heart, the love of the deceased mother merged with the love for the whole Vakhlachina. For fifteen years, Grisha knew exactly who was ready to give his life, for whom he was ready to die. He thinks of all the mysterious Russia as a miserable, plentiful, powerful and powerless mother, and waits for the indestructible power that he feels in his own soul to be affected in her. Such strong souls as Grisha Dobrosklonov, the angel of mercy himself calls for an honest way. The fate prepares Grisha “a glorious path, the name of a loud national defender, consumption and Siberia.”
If the wanderer peasants knew what was happening in the soul of Grisha Dobrosklonov, they would surely understand that they could already return under their native shelter, because the purpose of their journey was achieved.