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About The Hesperian / (Lincoln, Neb.) 1885-1899 | View Entire Issue (Oct. 16, 1893)
she had heard it from returned convicts; all
about the awful marches in the mud and ice,
and how on the boundary line the men would
weep and fall down and kiss the soil of Rus
sia. When her brother reached the prison,
he and his wife used to work in the mines.
His wife was too good a woman to get on
well in the prison, the haba said, and one
day she had been knouted to death at the
command of an officer. After that her hus
band tried in many ways to kill himself, but
they always caught him at it. At last, one
night, he bit deep into his arm and tore open
the veins with his teeth and bled to death.
The officials found him dead with his teeth
still set in his lacerated arm. When she
finished the little boys used to cry out at the
awfulness of it, but their mother would
soothe them and tell them that such things
could not possibly happen here, because in
this country the State took care of people.
In Russia there was no State, only the great
Tzar. Ah, yes, the State would take care of
the children! The labahnd heard a Fourth-6f-July
speech once, and she had great ideas
about the State.
Serge used to listen till his eyes grew big,
and play that he was that brother of the
ldba8 and that he had been knouted by the
officials and that was why his little legs
smarted so. Sometimes he would steal out
in the snow in his bare feet and take a sun
flower stalk and play he was hunting bears
in Russia, or would walk about on the little
frozen pond where his mother had died and
think it was the Volga. Before his birth
his mother used to go off alone and sit in the
snow for hours to cool the fever in her head
and weep and think about her own country.
The feeling for the snow and the love for it
seemed lo go into the boy's blood, somehow.
He was never so happy as when he saw the
white flakes whirling.
When he was twelve years old a farmer
took him to work for his board and clothes.
Then a change came into Serge's life. That
first morning lie stood, awkward and embar
rassed, in the Davis kitchen, holding his
hands under his hat and shuffling his bare
feet over the floor, a little yellow cur came
up to him and began to rub its nose against
his leg. He held out his hand and the dog
licked it. Serge bent over him, stroking him
and calling him Russian pet names. For the
first time in his lonely, loveless life, he felt
that something liked him.
The Davises gave him enough to eat and
enough to wear and they did not beat him.
He could not read or talk English, so they
treated him very much as they did the horses.
He stayed there seven years because he did
not have sense enough to know that he was
utterly miserable and could go somewhere
else, and because the Slavonic instinct was
in him to labor and keep silent. The dog
was the only thing that made life endurable.
He called the dog Matusika, which was the
name by which he always thought of his
mother. He used to go to town sometimes,
but he did not enjoy it, people frightened
him so. When the town girls used to pass
him dressed in their pretty dresses with their
clean, white hands, ho thought of his bare
feet and his rough, tawny hair and his ragged
overalls, and he would slink away behind his
team with Matiishka. On the coldest winter
nights he always slept in the barn with the
dog for a bedfellow. As he and the dog
cuddled up to each other in the hay, he used
to think about things, most often about Rus
sia and the State. Russia must be a fine
country but he was glad he did not live there,
because the State was much better. The State
was so very good to people. Once a man
came there to get Davis to vote for him, and
he asked Serge who his father was. Serge
said he had none. The man only smiled and
said, "Well, never mind, the State will be a
father to you, my lad, and a mother."
Serge had a vague idea that the State must
be an abstract thing of some kind, but he
always thought of her as a vroraan with kind
eyes, dressed in white with a yellow light
about her head, and a little child in her arms,
like the picture of the virgin in the church.
He always took off his hat when ho passed
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