Alyosha the Pot by Leo Tolstoy
ALYOSHA was the younger brother. He was called the Pot, because
his mother had once sent him with a pot of milk to the deacon's wife,
and he had stumbled against something and broken it. His mother had
beaten him, and the children had teased him. Since then he was
nicknamed the Pot. Alyosha was a tiny, thin little fellow, with ears
like wings, and a huge nose. "Alyosha has a nose that looks like a dog
on a hill!" the children used to call after him. Alyosha went to the
village school, but was not good at lessons; besides, there was so
little time to learn. His elder brother was in town, working for a
merchant, so Alyosha had to help his father from a very early age.
When he was no more than six he used to go out with the girls to watch
the cows and sheep in the pasture, and a little later he looked after
the horses by day and by night. And at twelve years of age he had
already begun to plough and to drive the cart. The skill was there
though the strength was not. He was always cheerful. Whenever the
children made fun of him, he would either laugh or be silent. When his
father scolded him he would stand mute and listen attentively, and as
soon as the scolding was over would smile and go on with his work.
Alyosha was nineteen when his brother was taken as a soldier. So his
father placed him with the merchant as a yard-porter. He was given his
brother's old boots, his father's old coat and cap, and was taken to
town. Alyosha was de- lighted with his clothes, but the merchant was
not impressed by his appearance.
"I thought you would bring me a man in Sime- on's place," he said,
scanning Alyosha; "and you've brought me THIS! What's the good of
"He can do everything; look after horses and drive. He's a good
one to work. He looks rather thin, but he's tough enough. And he's
"He looks it. All right; we'll see what we can do with him."
So Alyosha remained at the merchant's.
The family was not a large one. It consisted of the merchant's
wife: her old mother: a married son poorly educated who was in his
father's busi- ness: another son, a learned one who had finished
school and entered the University, but having been expelled, was living
at home: and a daughter who still went to school.
They did not take to Alyosha at first. He was uncouth, badly
dressed, and had no manner, but they soon got used to him. Alyosha
worked even better than his brother had done; he was really very
willing. They sent him on all sorts of er- rands, but he did
everything quickly and readily, going from one task to another without
stopping. And so here, just as at home, all the work was put upon his
shoulders. The more he did, the more he was given to do. His
mistress, her old mother, the son, the daughter, the clerk, and the
cook--all ordered him about, and sent him from one place to another.
"Alyosha, do this! Alyosha, do that! What! have you forgotten,
Alyosha? Mind you don't forget, Alyosha!" was heard from morning till
night. And Alyosha ran here, looked after this and that, forgot
nothing, found time for every- thing, and was always cheerful.
His brother's old boots were soon worn out, and his master scolded
him for going about in tat- ters with his toes sticking out. He
ordered an- other pair to be bought for him in the market. Alyosha was
delighted with his new boots, but was angry with his feet when they
ached at the end of the day after so much running about. And then he
was afraid that his father would be annoyed when he came to town for
his wages, to find that his master had deducted the cost of the boots.
In the winter Alyosha used to get up before day- break. He would
chop the wood, sweep the yard, feed the cows and horses, light the
stoves, clean the boots, prepare the samovars and polish them
afterwards; or the clerk would get him to bring up the goods; or the
cook would set him to knead the bread and clean the saucepans. Then he
was sent to town on various errands, to bring the daughter home from
school, or to get some olive oil for the old mother. "Why the devil
have you been so long?" first one, then another, would say to him. Why
should they go? Alyosha can go. "Alyosha! Alyosha!" And Alyosha ran
here and there. He breakfasted in snatches while he was working, and
rarely managed to get his dinner at the proper hour. The cook used to
scold him for being late, but she was sorry for him all the same, and
would keep something hot for his dinner and supper.
At holiday times there was more work than ever, but Alyosha liked
holidays because everybody gave him a tip. Not much certainly, but it
would amount up to about sixty kopeks [1s 2d]--his very own money. For
Alyosha never set eyes on his wages. His father used to come and take
them from the merchant, and only scold Alyosha for wearing out his
When he had saved up two roubles [4s], by the advice of the cook he
bought himself a red knitted jacket, and was so happy when he put it
on, that he couldn't close his mouth for joy. Alyosha was not
talkative; when he spoke at all, he spoke abruptly, with his head
turned away. When told to do anything, or asked if he could do it, he
would say yes without the smallest hesitation, and set to work at once.
Alyosha did not know any prayer; and had for- gotten what his
mother had taught him. But he prayed just the same, every morning and
every evening, prayed with his hands, crossing himself.
He lived like this for about a year and a half, and towards the end
of the second year a most startling thing happened to him. He
discovered one day, to his great surprise, that, in addition to the
relation of usefulness existing between people, there was also another,
a peculiar relation of quite a different character. Instead of a man
being wanted to clean boots, and go on errands and har- ness horses, he
is not wanted to be of any service at all, but another human being
wants to serve him and pet him. Suddenly Alyosha felt he was such a
He made this discovery through the cook Us- tinia. She was young,
had no parents, and worked as hard as Alyosha. He felt for the first
time in his life that he--not his services, but he himself --was
necessary to another human being. When his mother used to be sorry for
him, he had taken no notice of her. It had seemed to him quite
natural, as though he were feeling sorry for him- self. But here was
Ustinia, a perfect stranger, and sorry for him. She would save him
some hot porridge, and sit watching him, her chin propped on her bare
arm, with the sleeve rolled up, while he was eating it. When he looked
at her she would begin to laugh, and he would laugh too.
This was such a new, strange thing to him that it frightened
Alyosha. He feared that it might interfere with his work. But he was
pleased, nev- ertheless, and when he glanced at the trousers that
Ustinia had mended for him, he would shake his head and smile. He
would often think of her while at work, or when running on errands. "A
fine girl, Ustinia!" he sometimes exclaimed.
Ustinia used to help him whenever she could, and he helped her.
She told him all about her life; how she had lost her parents; how her
aunt had taken her in and found a place for her in the town; how the
merchant's son had tried to take lib- erties with her, and how she had
rebuffed him. She liked to talk, and Alyosha liked to listen to her.
He had heard that peasants who came up to work in the towns frequently
got married to servant girls. On one occasion she asked him if his
par- ents intended marrying him soon. He said that he did not know;
that he did not want to marry any of the village girls.
"Have you taken a fancy to some one, then?"
"I would marry you, if you'd be willing."
"Get along with you, Alyosha the Pot; but you've found your tongue,
haven't you?" she ex- claimed, slapping him on the back with a towel
she held in her hand. "Why shouldn't I?"
At Shrovetide Alyosha's father came to town for his wages. It had
come to the ears of the mer- chant's wife that Alyosha wanted to marry
Ustinia, and she disapproved of it. "What will be the use of her with
a baby?" she thought, and in- formed her husband.
The merchant gave the old man Alyosha's wages.
"How is my lad getting on?" he asked. "I told you he was willing."
"That's all right, as far as it goes, but he's taken some sort of
nonsense into his head. He wants to marry our cook. Now I don't
approve of married servants. We won't have them in the house."
"Well, now, who would have thought the fool would think of such a
thing?" the old man ex- claimed. "But don't you worry. I'll soon
He went into the kitchen, and sat down at the table waiting for his
son. Alyosha was out on an errand, and came back breathless.
"I thought you had some sense in you; but what's this you've taken
into your head?" his father began.
"How, nothing? They tell me you want to get married. You shall get
married when the time comes. I'll find you a decent wife, not some
His father talked and talked, while Alyosha stood still and sighed.
When his father had quite finished, Alyosha smiled.
"All right. I'll drop it."
"Now that's what I call sense."
When he was left alone with Ustinia he told her what his father had
said. (She had listened at the door.)
"It's no good; it can't come off. Did you hear? He was
angry--won't have it at any price."
Ustinia cried into her apron.
Alyosha shook his head.
"What's to be done? We must do as we're told."
"Well, are you going to give up that nonsense, as your father told
you?" his mistress asked, as he was putting up the shutters in the
"To be sure we are," Alyosha replied with a smile, and then burst
From that day Alyosha went about his work as usual, and no longer
talked to Ustinia about their getting married. One day in Lent the
clerk told him to clear the snow from the roof. Alyosha climbed on to
the roof and swept away all the snow; and, while he was still raking
out some frozen lumps from the gutter, his foot slipped and he fell
over. Unfortunately he did not fall on the snow, but on a piece of
iron over the door. Us- tinia came running up, together with the mer-
"Have you hurt yourself, Alyosha?"
"Ah! no, it's nothing."
But he could not raise himself when he tried to, and began to
He was taken into the lodge. The doctor ar- rived, examined him,
and asked where he felt the pain.
"I feel it all over," he said. "But it doesn't matter. I'm only
afraid master will be annoyed. Father ought to be told."
Alyosha lay in bed for two days, and on the third day they sent for
"Are you really going to die?" Ustinia asked.
"Of course I am. You can't go on living for ever. You must go
when the time comes " Aly- osha spoke rapidly as usual. "Thank you,
Us- tinia. You've been very good to me. What a lucky thing they
didn't let us marry! Where should we have been now? It's much better as
When the priest came, he prayed with his bands and with his heart.
"As it is good here when you obey and do no harm to others, so it will
be there," was the thought within it.
He spoke very little; he only said he was thirsty, and he seemed
full of wonder at something.
He lay in wonderment, then stretched himself, and died.