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SUNDAY IN EAST LONDON:-continued.
ST. GEORGE'S EAST AND THE LONDON
Sunday in the North Sea. G. A. Hutchison.
Cyprian the Bishop, and Cyril the BoyMartyr
Disciple whom Jesus Loved, The.
Faithful unto Death
First Christian Emperor, The
Gospel in Gaul and Africa, The
Comradeship in Work
Difficulty, The Greatest
"Growing Time," The
NADYA : A TALE OF THE STEPPES.
Last Days of Jerusalem, The Last Pagan Emperor, The
Losing Life and Saving it
1, 69, 137, 205, 273, 341
Preacher with the Mouth of Gold
CHAPTER I.-A VILLAGE IN THE UKRAINE.
LAVO, when you enter it, is like almost every
other South Russian village, a huddled crowd of squat and dirty huts either of mud or plastered planks, the whitewash peeling off, the roofs green and decaying. The roads are dull, broad, and unbroken, filled with malodorous refuse in which the children, the pigs and the dogs wallow.
There are old men and babui sitting at the doors, the men mostly in red shirts, loose trousers and high boots of coarse construction; the women in brightly coloured head-kerchiefs and short petticoats. Everywhere there is a tumble
down appearance, as though nobody had any encouragement to erect again anything that had happened to fall. No one seems to be either richer or poorer than another. If by any chance a peasant happens to make a little money it is by hard parsimony, and not by enterprise; he hoards, but never invests. He is inert, lazy, full of dreams, and far too poetical to understand the joys and activities of business. In the early spring he bestows some little attention on his fields, and during harvest he works like a galleyslave; but all the while he is thinking of his holidays and of dancing, and of the grand opportunities of getting drunk which a bounteous harvest will give him.
If you happen to pass a Sunday in Slavo you will see the religion of the people. The villagers saunter up to the church with the lax joints of the reposing toiler and crowd around the doors, and murmur together the small talk of the village, crossing themselves devoutly and repeatedly as the bell above warns them when some particularly impressive portion of the service is being said.
The more devout are inside with the women. Here all is pathetic and full of significance. Women with eyes red from weeping are clustered round the altar of the Virgin, and either holding lighted guttering tapers in their hands or sticking them in the little receptacles before the saint's pale face. They are praying, generally begging for the life or the restored health of some one very dear to them, and feeling that Mary knows what is the cost of bitter tears shed over a bier.
By counting the tapers you can tell almost exactly the number of poor souls lying in the village in extremity or in pain. And when the priest in his tawdry robes has finished his liturgy, said in the deepest of bass voices, they all troop out, and a few beggars round the church door receive great lumps of rye bread, for no true Russian ever turns empty away a "guest of God," as he beautifully calls the poor outcasts who tramp so forlornly from village to village.
Slavo lies some sixty miles from the city of Kief, lower down the mighty river which has played so prominent a role in the history of Russia. A white ribbon of road across the steppe from Kief leads to the village which tops the high bank on the opposite side of the stream, here flowing among poplars and stunted alders and great expanses of reeds. The road ceases at a long low belt of sand opposite the village, covered by the stream in the floods of spring, and a rude ferry takes the traveller across the river where he is landed among sedge and scrub just below the village. The gently sloping bank, of which Slavo crowns the top, is cut down by picturesque little gullies filled with brushwood. the centre of the long straggling village stands the church, a low cruciform building crudely white-washed, with high sunlit bell-tower, and green star-spangled cupola which glitters afar off under the sun.
You ascend to the village and look down on the Dnieper, wide, calm, and strong, sweeping along in majestic curves and reaches, and away across it to the illimitable steppe and the hazy horizon. In early April it is all green and peaceful, the air is exquisitely clear, there is a strange sense of expanse in the wide plain and the blue sky vaulted over it. But if it be towards the end of summer that one enters Slavo you look upon a totally changed scene. The air is hot and dry; the parched earth gapes under the sun; the steppe which in April is broidered with flowers is now bare or clothed only with withered weeds, and the whole land has a tawny torrid look. You feel at once the character of the mighty wilderness that stretches from here all the way with scarcely a break right to the Wall of China and the snowy barriers of the Thian Shan.
It would be giving only an imperfect idea.
of Slavo if we stopped here. On that side of the village remotest from the river there are scattered about some thirty or forty houses whose appearance denotes that the dwellers in them are men and women of an altogether different stamp to the rest of the villagers. They are in perfect repair, with walls freshly white-washed, and roofs freshly thatched. In place of the midden before the door there are brightly-painted railings, and at the houses where one had hitherto seen only a filthy yard and untidy and ruinous outhouses, are neat little vegetable gardens and trim haggards. Instead of the loose red shirt, the unkempt beard, and dirt-grimed faces of the ordinary villagers, the owners of these cottages are dressed in the neat costume of western peasants; they are for the most part clean-shaven, and they are scrupulously tidy and clean.
The villagers in the red shirts look upon these people as little better than heathens, and although they feel that their influence is slowly permeating the village it remains quite incomprehensible how they can exist without getting drunk occasionally, without smoking, without attending church, without icons, as the holy pictures are called, without attaching any importance to the prazdniki, or numerous festivals of the church.
"Our fathers," the villagers would say, "lived as we are living, dressed as we dress, ploughed as we plough, got drunk, danced, prayed as we do; why should we change all this, and eschew our pleasures, and dress like Germans, and sing hymns, and read books?"
Ah," the village pope would say, talking things over with some selected members of his flock, 66 Ah, these Stundists will ruin the country. Why should we think ourselves wiser than our fathers? Where will all this stir lead to? These wretched heretics have sundered themselves from our holy church; they scorn our icons and our crosses which we have adored from childhood, which the Tsar himself adores; they follow the customs of the Germans who are the bitterest enemies of our fatherland; they say we sin and blaspheme when we call on the Holy Mother in our needs; they say that the blessed relics in our temples, and the embalmed bodies of our holy martyrs in Kief are nothing but sticks, and stones, and rotting flesh and bones; are we to wonder if God some day comes down from His throne, and smites us with hunger or cholera, or slays our cattle out on the steppe? I entered Kulmenko's cottage yesterday, and when I would have bowed and crossed myself before the icon I saw before me a picture of the heretic Luther, and another of William the German Tsar."
Every one shook his head sorrowfully, and they all went off to Haim Rosenberg's kabak to assuage their grief with vodka.
Beneath these prejudiced words of the village priest we get a glimpse of the truth.
Ten years before this an old labourer who had lived all his life in Slavo had returned to his home after a year spent in a German colony in the south. He had left his village a beggar, and had wandered far away to the shores of the Euxine doing odd. jobs of work to keep body and soul together. He