There was a time when it was possible for the peasants, when driven to despair, to devise means whereby they could rid themselves of an inhuman monster such as Simeonovitch, and so these unfortunate people began to consider whether something could not be done to relieve THEM of their intolerable yoke.
Toward the evening an elder came to the peasants from the nobleman's court and said: "Our superintendent, Michael Simeonovitch, orders you to go to-morrow to plough the field for the oats." Thus the official went through the village and directed the men to prepare for work the next day some by the river and others by the roadway.
"Some of them declared that your back should be broken." Simeonovitch appeared to enjoy this immensely, for he laughed outright. "We shall see whose back will be the first to be broken," said he. "Was that Tishka's opinion? While I did not suppose they would say anything good about me, I did not expect such curses and threats. And Peter Mikhayeff was that fool cursing me too?"
"He stood long enough to say: 'There should be peace on earth and good-will to men, after which he resumed his ploughing and singing, the candle burning even more brightly than before." Simeonovitch had now ceased to ridicule, and, putting aside his guitar, his head dropped on his breast and he became lost in thought.
"Not that I could discover. The work seems to be well done. They are evidently afraid of you." "How is the soil?" "Very good. It appears to be quite soft." "Well," said Simeonovitch, after a pause, "what did they say about me? Cursed me, I suppose?" As the elder hesitated somewhat, Michael commanded him to speak and tell him the whole truth.
Rudely thrusting his hot pipe against her cheek, Michael chased his wife from the room, after which he ordered his dinner. After eating a hearty meal consisting of cabbage-soup, roast pig, meat-cake, pastry with milk, jelly, sweet cakes, and vodki, he called his woman cook to him and ordered her to be seated and sing songs, Simeonovitch accompanying her on the guitar.
Michael Simeonovitch began his persecutions by compelling the peasants to perform more days of service on the estate every week than the laws obliged them to work. He established a brick-yard, in which he forced the men and women to do excessive labor, selling the bricks for his own profit.
Then turning suddenly to the superintendent he said: "They complain, Michael Simeonovitch! They complain bitterly." "But what did they say?" demanded Michael. "Tell me!" "Well, one thing they said was, 'He does not believe in God." Michael laughed. "Who said that?" he asked. "It seemed to be their unanimous opinion. 'He has been overcome by the Evil One, they said."