PART FIVE : Chapter 27

Leo TolstoyAug 24, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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After the lesson with the grammar
teacher came his father’s lesson.  While
waiting for his father, Seryozha sat at the table
playing with a penknife, and fell to dreaming. 
Among Seryozha’s favorite occupations was searching
for his mother during his walks.  He did not
believe in death generally, and in her death in particular,
in spite of what Lidia Ivanovna had told him and his
father had confirmed, and it was just because of that,
and after he had been told she was dead, that he had
begun looking for her when out for a walk.  Every
woman of full, graceful figure with dark hair was
his mother.  At the sight of such a woman such
a feeling of tenderness was stirred within him that
his breath failed him, and tears came into his eyes. 
And he was on the tiptoe of expectation that she
would come up to him, would lift her veil.  All
her face would be visible, she would smile, she would
hug him, he would sniff her fragrance, feel the softness
of her arms, and cry with happiness, just as he had
one evening lain on her lap while she tickled him,
and he laughed and bit her white, ring-covered fingers. 
Later, when he accidentally learned from his old
nurse that his mother was not dead, and his father
and Lidia Ivanovna had explained to him that she was
dead to him because she was wicked (which he could
not possibly believe, because he loved her), he went
on seeking her and expecting her in the same way. 
That day in the public gardens there had been a lady
in a lilac veil, whom he had watched with a throbbing
heart, believing it to be she as she came towards them
along the path.  The lady had not come up to them,
but had disappeared somewhere.  That day, more
intensely than ever, Seryozha felt a rush of love
for her, and now, waiting for his father, he forgot
everything, and cut all round the edge of the table
with his penknife, staring straight before him with
sparkling eyes and dreaming of her.

“Here is your papa!” said
Vassily Lukitch, rousing him.

Seryozha jumped up and went up to
his father, and kissing his hand, looked at him intently,
trying to discover signs of his joy at receiving the
Alexander Nevsky.

“Did you have a nice walk?”
said Alexey Alexandrovitch, sitting down in his easy
chair, pulling the volume of the Old Testament to
him and opening it.  Although Alexey Alexandrovitch
had more than once told Seryozha that every Christian
ought to know Scripture history thoroughly, he often
referred to the Bible himself during the lesson, and
Seryozha observed this.

“Yes, it was very nice indeed,
papa,” said Seryozha, sitting sideways on his
chair and rocking it, which was forbidden.  “I
saw Nadinka” (Nadinka was a niece of Lidia Ivanovna’s
who was being brought up in her house).  “She
told me you’d been given a new star.  Are
you glad, papa?”

“First of all, don’t rock
your chair, please,” said Alexey Alexandrovitch. 
“And secondly, it’s not the reward that’s
precious, but the work itself.  And I could have
wished you understood that.  If you now are going
to work, to study in order to win a reward, then the
work will seem hard to you; but when you work”
(Alexey Alexandrovitch, as he spoke, thought of how
he had been sustained by a sense of duty through the
wearisome labor of the morning, consisting of signing
one hundred and eighty papers), “loving your
work, you will find your reward in it.”

Seryozha’s eyes, that had been
shining with gaiety and tenderness, grew dull and
dropped before his father’s gaze.  This
was the same long-familiar tone his father always took
with him, and Seryozha had learned by now to fall
in with it.  His father always talked to him ­so
Seryozha felt ­as though he were addressing
some boy of his own imagination, one of those boys
that exist in books, utterly unlike himself. 
And Seryozha always tried with his father to act being
the story-book boy.

“You understand that, I hope?” said his

“Yes, papa,” answered
Seryozha, acting the part of the imaginary boy.

The lesson consisted of learning by
heart several verses out of the Gospel and the repetition
of the beginning of the Old Testament.  The verses
from the Gospel Seryozha knew fairly well, but at
the moment when he was saying them he became so absorbed
in watching the sharply protruding, bony knobbiness
of his father’s forehead, that he lost the thread,
and he transposed the end of one verse and the beginning
of another.  So it was evident to Alexey Alexandrovitch
that he did not understand what he was saying, and
that irritated him.

He frowned, and began explaining what
Seryozha had heard many times before and never could
remember, because he understood it too well, just
as that “suddenly” is an adverb of manner
of action.  Seryozha looked with scared eyes
at his father, and could think of nothing but whether
his father would make him repeat what he had said,
as he sometimes did.  And this thought so alarmed
Seryozha that he now understood nothing.  But
his father did not make him repeat it, and passed
on to the lesson out of the Old Testament.  Seryozha
recounted the events themselves well enough, but when
he had to answer questions as to what certain events
prefigured, he knew nothing, though he had already
been punished over this lesson.  The passage at
which he was utterly unable to say anything, and began
fidgeting and cutting the table and swinging his chair,
was where he had to repeat the patriarchs before the
Flood.  He did not know one of them, except Enoch,
who had been taken up alive to heaven.  Last
time he had remembered their names, but now he had
forgotten them utterly, chiefly because Enoch was
the personage he liked best in the whole of the Old
Testament, and Enoch’s translation to heaven
was connected in his mind with a whole long train of
thought, in which he became absorbed now while he
gazed with fascinated eyes at his father’s watch-chain
and a half-unbuttoned button on his waistcoat.

In death, of which they talked to
him so often, Seryozha disbelieved entirely. 
He did not believe that those he loved could die,
above all that he himself would die.  That was
to him something utterly inconceivable and impossible. 
But he had been told that all men die; he had asked
people, indeed, whom he trusted, and they too, had
confirmed it; his old nurse, too, said the same, though
reluctantly.  But Enoch had not died, and so it
followed that everyone did not die.  “And
why cannot anyone else so serve God and be taken alive
to heaven?” thought Seryozha.  Bad people,
that is those Seryozha did not like, they might die,
but the good might all be like Enoch.

“Well, what are the names of the patriarchs?”

“Enoch, Enos ­”

“But you have said that already. 
This is bad, Seryozha, very bad.  If you don’t
try to learn what is more necessary than anything
for a Christian,” said his father, getting up,
“whatever can interest you?  I am displeased
with you, and Piotr Ignatitch” (this was the
most important of his teachers) “is displeased
with you….  I shall have to punish you.”

His father and his teacher were both
displeased with Seryozha, and he certainly did learn
his lessons very badly.  But still it could not
be said he was a stupid boy.  On the contrary,
he was far cleverer than the boys his teacher held
up as examples to Seryozha.  In his father’s
opinion, he did not want to learn what he was taught. 
In reality he could not learn that.  He could
not, because the claims of his own soul were more binding
on him than those claims his father and his teacher
made upon him.  Those claims were in opposition,
and he was in direct conflict with his education. 
He was nine years old; he was a child; but he knew
his own soul, it was precious to him, he guarded it
as the eyelid guards the eye, and without the key
of love he let no one into his soul.  His teachers
complained that he would not learn, while his soul
was brimming over with thirst for knowledge. 
And he learned from Kapitonitch, from his nurse, from
Nadinka, from Vassily Lukitch, but not from his teachers. 
The spring his father and his teachers reckoned upon
to turn their mill-wheels had long dried up at the
source, but its waters did their work in another channel.

His father punished Seryozha by not
letting him go to see Nadinka, Lidia Ivanovna’s
niece; but this punishment turned out happily for
Seryozha.  Vassily Lukitch was in a good humor,
and showed him how to make windmills.  The whole
evening passed over this work and in dreaming how
to make a windmill on which he could turn himself ­clutching
at the sails or tying himself on and whirling round. 
Of his mother Seryozha did not think all the evening,
but when he had gone to bed, he suddenly remembered
her, and prayed in his own words that his mother tomorrow
for his birthday might leave off hiding herself and
come to him.

“Vassily Lukitch, do you know
what I prayed for tonight extra besides the regular

“That you might learn your lessons better?”



“No.  You’ll never
guess.  A splendid thing; but it’s a secret! 
When it comes to pass I’ll tell you.  Can’t
you guess!”

“No, I can’t guess. 
You tell me,” said Vassily Lukitch with a smile,
which was rare with him.  “Come, lie down,
I’m putting out the candle.”

“Without the candle I can see
better what I see and what I prayed for.  There! 
I was almost telling the secret!” said Seryozha,
laughing gaily.

When the candle was taken away, Seryozha
heard and felt his mother.  She stood over him,
and with loving eyes caressed him.  But then came
windmills, a knife, everything began to be mixed up,
and he fell asleep.


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