- The Bishop
THE evening service was being celebrated on
the eve of Palm Sunday in the Old Petrovsky Convent. When they
began distributing the palm it was close upon ten o'clock, the
candles were burning dimly, the wicks wanted snuffing; it was
all in a sort of mist. In the twilight of the church the crowd
seemed heaving like the sea, and to Bishop Pyotr, who had been
unwell for the last three days, it seemed that all the faces --
old and young, men's and women's -- were alike, that everyone
who came up for the palm had the same expression in his eyes. In
the mist he could not see the doors; the crowd kept moving and
looked as though there were no end to it. The female choir was
singing, a nun was reading the prayers for the day.
How stifling, how hot it was! How long the service went on!
Bishop Pyotr was tired. His breathing was laboured and rapid,
his throat was parched, his shoulders ached with weariness, his
legs were trembling. And it disturbed him unpleasantly when a
religious maniac uttered occasional shrieks in the gallery. And
then all of a sudden, as though in a dream or delirium, it
seemed to the bishop as though his own mother Marya Timofyevna,
whom he had not seen for nine years, or some old woman just like
his mother, came up to him out of the crowd, and, after taking a
palm branch from him, walked away looking at him all the while
good-humouredly with a kind, joyful smile until she was lost in
the crowd. And for some reason tears flowed down his face. There
was peace in his heart, everything was well, yet he kept gazing
fixedly towards the left choir, where the prayers were being
read, where in the dusk of evening you could not recognize
anyone, and -- wept. Tears glistened on his face and on his
beard. Here someone close at hand was weeping, then someone else
farther away, then others and still others, and little by little
the church was filled with soft weeping. And a little later,
within five minutes, the nuns' choir was singing; no one was
weeping and everything was as before.
Soon the service was over. When the bishop got into his carriage
to drive home, the gay, melodious chime of the heavy, costly
bells was filling the whole garden in the moonlight. The white
walls, the white crosses on the tombs, the white birch-trees and
black shadows, and the far-away moon in the sky exactly over the
convent, seemed now living their own life, apart and
incomprehensible, yet very near to man. It was the beginning of
April, and after the warm spring day it turned cool; there was a
faint touch of frost, and the breath of spring could be felt in
the soft, chilly air. The road from the convent to the town was
sandy, the horses had to go at a walking pace, and on both sides
of the carriage in the brilliant, peaceful moonlight there were
people trudging along home from church through the sand. And all
was silent, sunk in thought; everything around seemed kindly,
youthful, akin, everything -- trees and sky and even the moon,
and one longed to think that so it would be always.
At last the carriage drove into the town and rumbled along the
principal street. The shops were already shut, but at Erakin's,
the millionaire shopkeeper's, they were trying the new electric
lights, which flickered brightly, and a crowd of people were
gathered round. Then came wide, dark, deserted streets, one
after another; then the highroad, the open country, the
fragrance of pines. And suddenly there rose up before the
bishop's eyes a white turreted wall, and behind it a tall belfry
in the full moonlight, and beside it five shining, golden
cupolas: this was the Pankratievsky Monastery, in which Bishop
Pyotr lived. And here, too, high above the monastery, was the
silent, dreamy moon. The carriage drove in at the gate,
crunching over the sand; here and there in the moonlight there
were glimpses of dark monastic figures, and there was the sound
of footsteps on the flag-stones. . . .
"You know, your holiness, your mamma arrived while you were
away," the lay brother informed the bishop as he went into his
"My mother? When did she come?"
"Before the evening service. She asked first where you were and
then she went to the convent."
"Then it was her I saw in the church, just now! Oh, Lord!"
And the bishop laughed with joy.
"She bade me tell your holiness," the lay brother went on, "that
she would come to-morrow. She had a little girl with her -- her
grandchild, I suppose. They are staying at Ovsyannikov's inn."
"What time is it now?"
"A little after eleven."
"Oh, how vexing!"
The bishop sat for a little while in the parlour, hesitating,
and as it were refusing to believe it was so late. His arms and
legs were stiff, his head ached. He was hot and uncomfortable.
After resting a little he went into his bedroom, and there, too,
he sat a little, still thinking of his mother; he could hear the
lay brother going away, and Father Sisoy coughing the other side
of the wall. The monastery clock struck a quarter.
The bishop changed his clothes and began reading the prayers
before sleep. He read attentively those old, long familiar
prayers, and at the same time thought about his mother. She had
nine children and about forty grandchildren. At one time, she
had lived with her husband, the deacon, in a poor village; she
had lived there a very long time from the age of seventeen to
sixty. The bishop remembered her from early childhood, almost
from the age of three, and -- how he had loved her! Sweet,
precious childhood, always fondly remembered! Why did it, that
long-past time that could never return, why did it seem
brighter, fuller, and more festive than it had really been? When
in his childhood or youth he had been ill, how tender and
sympathetic his mother had been! And now his prayers mingled
with the memories, which gleamed more and more brightly like a
flame, and the prayers did not hinder his thinking of his
When he had finished his prayers he undressed and lay down, and
at once, as soon as it was dark, there rose before his mind his
dead father, his mother, his native village Lesopolye . . . the
creak of wheels, the bleat of sheep, the church bells on bright
summer mornings, the gypsies under the window -- oh, how sweet
to think of it! He remembered the priest of Lesopolye, Father
Simeon -- mild, gentle, kindly; he was a lean little man, while
his son, a divinity student, was a huge fellow and talked in a
roaring bass voice. The priest's son had flown into a rage with
the cook and abused her: "Ah, you Jehud's ass!" and Father
Simeon overhearing it, said not a word, and was only ashamed
because he could not remember where such an ass was mentioned in
the Bible. After him the priest at Lesopolye had been Father
Demyan, who used to drink heavily, and at times drank till he
saw green snakes, and was even nicknamed Demyan Snakeseer. The
schoolmaster at Lesopolye was Matvey Nikolaitch, who had been a
divinity student, a kind and intelligent man, but he, too, was a
drunkard; he never beat the schoolchildren, but for some reason
he always had hanging on his wall a bunch of birch-twigs, and
below it an utterly meaningless inscription in Latin: "Betula
kinderbalsamica secuta." He had a shaggy black dog whom he
And his holiness laughed. Six miles from Lesopolye was the
village Obnino with a wonder-working ikon. In the summer they
used to carry the ikon in procession about the neighbouring
villages and ring the bells the whole day long; first in one
village and then in another, and it used to seem to the bishop
then that joy was quivering in the air, and he (in those days
his name was Pavlusha) used to follow the ikon, bareheaded and
barefoot, with nave faith, with a nave smile, infinitely
happy. In Obnino, he remembered now, there were always a lot of
people, and the priest there, Father Alexey, to save time during
mass, used to make his deaf nephew Ilarion read the names of
those for whose health or whose souls' peace prayers were asked.
Ilarion used to read them, now and then getting a five or ten
kopeck piece for the service, and only when he was grey and
bald, when life was nearly over, he suddenly saw written on one
of the pieces of paper: "What a fool you are, Ilarion." Up to
fifteen at least Pavlusha was undeveloped and idle at his
lessons, so much so that they thought of taking him away from
the clerical school and putting him into a shop; one day, going
to the post at Obnino for letters, he had stared a long time at
the post-office clerks and asked: "Allow me to ask, how do you
get your salary, every month or every day?"
His holiness crossed himself and turned over on the other side,
trying to stop thinking and go to sleep.
"My mother has come," he remembered and laughed.
The moon peeped in at the window, the floor was lighted up, and
there were shadows on it. A cricket was chirping. Through the
wall Father Sisoy was snoring in the next room, and his aged
snore had a sound that suggested loneliness, forlornness, even
vagrancy. Sisoy had once been housekeeper to the bishop of the
diocese, and was called now "the former Father Housekeeper"; he
was seventy years old, he lived in a monastery twelve miles from
the town and stayed sometimes in the town, too. He had come to
the Pankratievsky Monastery three days before, and the bishop
had kept him that he might talk to him at his leisure about
matters of business, about the arrangements here. . . .
At half-past one they began ringing for matins. Father Sisoy
could be heard coughing, muttering something in a discontented
voice, then he got up and walked barefoot about the rooms.
"Father Sisoy," the bishop called.
Sisoy went back to his room and a little later made his
appearance in his boots, with a candle; he had on his cassock
over his underclothes and on his head was an old faded
"I can't sleep," said the bishop, sitting up. "I must be unwell.
And what it is I don't know. Fever!"
"You must have caught cold, your holiness. You must be rubbed
with tallow." Sisoy stood a little and yawned. "O Lord, forgive
me, a sinner."
"They had the electric lights on at Erakin's today," he said; "I
don't like it!"
Father Sisoy was old, lean, bent, always dissatisfied with
something, and his eyes were angry-looking and prominent as a
"I don't like it," he said, going away. "I don't like it. Bother