“GOD SEES THE TRUTH, BUT WAITS” (1872) (part one)
By Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) (1907 Maude translation)
In the town of Vladímir lived a young merchant named Iván Dmítritch Aksyónof. He had two shops and a house of his own. Aksyónof was a handsome, fair-haired, curly-headed fellow, full of fun, and very fond of singing. When quite a young man he had been given to drink, and was riotous when he had had too much. But after he married he gave up drinking, except now and then.
One summer Aksyónof was going to the Nízhny Fair, and as he bade good-bye to his family his wife said to him, “Iván, do not start to-day. I have had a bad dream about you.”
Aksyónof laughed, and said, “You are afraid that when I get to the fair I shall go on the spree.”
His wife replied: “I do not know what I am afraid of; all I know is that I had a bad dream. I dreamt you returned from the town, and when you took off your cap I saw that your hair was quite gray.”
Aksyónof laughed. “That’s a lucky sign,” said he. “I will sell out all my goods, and bring you some presents from the fair.” So he said good-bye to his family, and drove away.
When he had traveled half-way, he met a merchant whom he knew, and they put up at the same inn for the night. They had some tea together, and then went to bed in adjoining rooms.
It was not Aksyónof’s habit to sleep late, and, wishing to travel while it was still cool, he aroused his driver before dawn, and told him to put in the horses. Then he paid his bill and continued his journey.
When he had gone about 25 miles, he stopped for the horses to be fed. Aksyónof rested awhile in the passage of the inn, then he stepped out into the porch and got out his guitar and began to play.
Suddenly a carriage drove up with tinkling bells, and an official stepped out, followed by two soldiers. He came to Aksyónof and began to question him, asking him who he was and whence he came. Aksyónof answered him fully, and said, “Won’t you have some tea with me?” But the official went on cross-questioning him and asking him, “Where did you spend last night? Were you alone, or with a fellow-merchant? Did you see the other merchant this morning? Why did you leave the inn before dawn?”
Aksyónof wondered why he was asked all these questions, but he described all that had happened, and then added, “Why do you cross-question me as if I were a thief or a robber? I am traveling on business of my own, and there is no need to question me.”
Then the official, calling the soldiers, said, “I am the police-officer of this district, and I question you because the merchant with whom you spent last night has been found with his throat cut. We must search your things.”
They entered the house. The soldiers and the police-officer unstrapped Aksyónof’s luggage and searched it. Suddenly the officer drew a knife out of a bag, crying, “Whose knife is this?”
Aksyónof looked, and seeing a blood-stained knife taken from his bag, he was frightened.
“How is it there is blood on this knife?” asked the police-officer.
Aksyónof tried to answer, but could hardly utter a word, and only stammered: “I… I don’t know… it’s not mine.”
Then the police-officer said, “This morning the merchant was found in bed with his throat cut. You are the only person who could have done it. The house was locked from inside, and no one else was there. Here is this bloodstained knife in your bag, and your face and manner betray you!”
Aksyónof swore he had not done it; that he had not seen the merchant after they had had tea together; that he had no money except eight thousand roubles of his own, and that the knife was not his. But his voice was broken, his face pale, and he trembled with fear as though he were guilty.
The police-officer ordered the soldiers to bind Aksyónof and to put him in the cart. As they tied his feet together and flung him into the cart, Aksyónof crossed himself and wept. His money and goods were taken from him, and he was sent to the nearest town and imprisoned there. Enquiries as to his character were made in Vladímir. The merchants and other inhabitants of that town said that in former days he used to drink and waste his time, but that he was a good man. Then the trial was held. He was charged with murdering a merchant from Ryazán, and robbing him of twenty thousand roubles.
His wife was in despair, and did not know what to believe. Her children were all quite small; one was a baby at her breast. Taking them all with her, she went to the town where her husband was in jail. At first she was not allowed to see him; but, after much begging, she obtained permission from the officials, and was taken to him. When she saw her husband in prison-dress and in chains, shut up with thieves and criminals, she fell down, and did not come to her senses for a long time. Then she drew her children to her, and sat down near him. She told him of things at home, and asked about what had happened to him. He told her all, and she asked, “What can we do now?”
“We must petition the Tsar not to let an innocent man perish,” he said.
His wife told him that she had sent a petition to the Tsar, but that it had not been accepted. Aksyónof did not reply, but only looked downcast.
Then his wife said, “It was not for nothing I dreamt your hair had turned grey. Do you remember? You should not have started that day.” And passing her fingers through his hair, she said, “My dearest, tell your wife the truth; was it not you who did it?”
“So you, too, suspect me!” said Aksyónof, and hiding his face in his hands, he began to weep. Then a soldier came to say that the wife and children must go away; and Aksyónof said good-bye to his family for the last time.
When they were gone, Aksyónof recalled what had been said, and when he remembered that his wife also had suspected him, he said to himself, “It seems that only God can know the truth, it is to Him alone we must appeal, and from Him alone expect mercy.” And Aksyónof wrote no more petitions; gave up all hope, and only prayed to God.
Aksyónof was condemned to be flogged and sent to the mines. So he was flogged with a heavy whip, and when his wounds were healed, he was driven to Siberia with other convicts. (continued…)
Micah 7:7-8 — But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.
Lord, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God.