The Masses (periodical)/Volume 1/Number 1/The Little Sinner

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By E. N. Chirikov
Illustrated by F. van SlounTranslated from the Russian by Thomas Seltzer

KOLYA took the hottest and most active interest in all the preparations for Easter. When Dasha, the maid, with up-drawn skirts and tucked-up sleeves entered the parlor and began to wash the window panes and to sweep the dust and cobwebs from ceiling and corners, it was not long before Kolya put in an appearance and began to meddle in the work.

"Dasha, Dasha," he shouted in his ringing voice. "You left a cobweb!"


"There! Look! There it is hanging, you blind chicken!"

"Say, mister, you'd better go away. Don't bother me."

"I'll tell mama, then."

"Well, where is it? Where did I leave it?"

"There, in the corner. Don't you see the spider? Take it off."

Dasha in exasperation thrust the broom into the corner that Kolya pointed out to her, and walked away.

"Stay here, stay here! The spider fell down," Kolya shouted joyously, noticing a little grey spider, which he wanted Dasha to put in his pill box.

"Oh, what a bother!" the maid cried angrily. "The things you get into your head! What do you want such trash for?"

"Dasha, how dare you? You are trash yourself. Put him in here."

Having gotten the spider, Kolya ran into the dining room pressing the box firmly in his little hand. In the dining room at the table covered with an oil-cloth sat his twelve-year-old sister, Natasha, and the old nurse, Mikheyevna, who had nursed them both and was now living in their house for the sake of auld lang syne. Natasha and Mikheyevna were completely absorbed in painting eggs.

"Natasha, Mikheyevna!"


"Do you want me to show you something?"

"What, Kolya, dear? What will you show us?"

"Here it is in my box," Kolya announced enigmatically, shaking his box.

"Show it to us, show it to us."

"Well, come here. Natasha, it's a trick."

Kolya put the box under Natasha's very nose, and opened the lid. Natasha was frightened, Mikheyevna also, and Kolya was in ecstasy.

"Oh you cowards! "I'm not a bit afraid, not a weeny bit. Give me a little stick. Mikheyevna, give me a stick, I tell you."

"I have no time, Kolya, dear I must paint the eggs."

"You have time enough. I'll show you a trick. There, give me one of those matches."

Kolya took a match, made the spider crawl on it, and extending his hand began in a recitative:

"Spider, spider, make a web
Spider, spider, make a web."

The spider let himself down from the match on a thin thread, and Kolya began to wind the thread around the match, and shouted with all his might:

"Look, look how he's hanging in the air!"

Natasha was seized with curiosity, and forgot her egg. Mikheyevna also bent over the children. Then their mother came in.

"What are you doing?"

"Mama, mama, look!"

"Spider, spider, make a web.
Spider, spider, make a web."

"Ugh! Throw it away! Kill it!"

"I won't! It's a sin!" exclaimed Kolya, and quickly hid the spider in the pill box.

"So far from it's being wrong to kill a spider, Kolya, dear," said Mikheyevna, "you will be forgiven forty sins for doing it!"

The mother walked into the kitchen, the scene of the greatest bustle, and Kolya entered into a discussion with Mikheyevna.

"If you kill a spider, God forgives you forty sins?"

"Yes, my boy, he does."


"As you please, Kolya, dear. But that's what they say. Forty sins are forgiven for killing a spider."

"And how many if you kill two?"

"Why, forty and forty again. How much is that? Count."

"Eighty," Natasha said seriously, putting a lock of hair behind her ear.

Kolya sank into reflection. He tapped his fingers on the box, and put it into his pocket.

"That's nonsense," he said incredulously. "Why did you fast that time, Mikheyevna? Tell me, why?"

"Why, child, I had to."

"You should have gotten a whole lot of spiders, and trodden on them. Then God would have forgiven you all your sins. Forty and forty and forty more. How many sins have you?"

"Oh, oh, you'd never get through counting them, my child.

"You can find a lot of spiders. You should have looked for them in the kitchen and the nursery, then you could have gone to another house."

Turning on his heels Kolya skipped off to the kitchen. He stopped in the hall and removed the pill box from his pocket. Then he looked at the spider, and again closed the lid. Kolya was wavering. It was a question of the life or death of the spider. Kolya felt sorry to kill it, but perhaps it was true that if you kill a spider, God forgives forty sins. Kolya wanted very much to fast during the last week of lent, like Natasha and Mikheyevna, but his mother would not let him. The day before, when Natasha had come from church, all had called her sinless and holy. Mikheyevna said that Natasha was now just like an angel, and Kolya was envious.

"And I? How about me?" he insistently questioned the nurse.

"You are without sin, anyway. You are little still. What sins can you have committed, you little boy?"

"Then I am holy, too?" Kolya demanded categorically.

"What sins can you have committed?"

"No, tell me, am I holy?"

"Well, yes, you are holy."

"And how about what happened yesterday? Do you remember?"

"What, my boy?"

"About the jam, do you remember?" Kolya whispered, and added, "You said it was a sin."

"Of course, it's a sin. How can one do such a thing without asking permission. You must obey your mother, and you mustn't do anything on the sly. Besides you stuck your fingers into it."

"Well, then I've sinned, haven't I?"

Kolya now began to search his conscience. Remembering the days just passed he discovered several n ore sins. He had called Natasha naughty—that was one sin—he had upset the ink on his father's desk—two—he had fooled his mother. She had set him on his knees, and when she left the room he had seated himself on his heels, but when she returned he had risen to his knees again. That was three, and there were many more.

Kolya had already counted six sins when his mother passed by.

"Still fooling with the spider?" she remarked.

"I want to kill it, mama," Kolya said thoughtfully.

"That's right," the mother, who was preoccupied, dropped in passing, and walked into another room.

Kolya opened the box again. The spider scurried quickly on all sides. Kolya shook it to the floor.

"Forgive me in the next world. I would have set you free if——" Kolya muttered thoughtfully while he crushed the spider under his foot.

Having accomplished the bloody deed, Kolya sat himself on the floor and began to examine the remains of the murdered insect. The only-thing left of it was a moist blotch and the legs.

"Ah, you shameless good-for-nothing! On a dirty floor! Get up!" cried the mother, appearing unexpectedly.

Kolya rose from the floor.

"Just look! Made his pants dirty again!" the mother exclaimed in vexation, brushing the dust from Kolya's knees. She gave him a slap, and pushed him into the room.

"Go in there, you shameless fellow."

Here was a strange, sudden, and unexpected conclusion to the question of sin and to Kolya's inner conflict in regard to the murder of the spider. Kolya did not feel at all pained, but he felt so offended, so offended that he couldn't say how much. He wanted to cry, and would have done so, had not the landlord's daughter come down from the upper floor to Natasha her schoolmate. Kolya was ashamed to cry in her presence. He ran off to the nursery, and hid himself in the wardrobe. He shut the closet door behind him, and crept into the farthest corner. Here it was altogether dark, and he did not have to feel ashamed. He wept quietly, and then grew silent. He did not want to cry any more. He sat on his heels and listened to what was going on in the dining room. The conversation of Mikheyevna, Natasha, and the landlord's daughter, as Kolya called Natasha's friend, reached his ear. Kolya was convinced that they were speaking about the sad end of the history of the spider. And in fact:

"Where is he now?"

"He ran away somewhere," Kolya heard Natasha reply.

"Koyla put the box under Natasha's very nose and opened the lid."

"Yes, I slapped him," explained the mother. "I put all fresh clothes on him this morning, and now he's dirty again. Where did he run to?"

Kolya held his breath, and dropped to the floor of the wardrobe.

"Kolya, Kolya!"

Kolya was silent.

"I won't creep out," he resolved, insulted and humiliated. But his mother's fur cloak, behind which the little sinner concealed himself, was very warm, and he felt stifled and hot. In a few minutes he opened the door slightly and peeped through the crack. It was light and cheerful there and not hot. He suddenly grew tired of sitting in the wardrobe, and wanted to join Natasha and Mikheyevna and the landlord's daughter. But it was necessary to wait.

He must choose an opportune moment for escaping unnoticed from the wardrobe, else the instant he was seen everybody would surely remember that his mother had slapped him; and this would make him very much ashamed, especially before the landlord's daughter. He must suffer in patience. Out of ennui Kolya began to pull hair from his mother's fur cloak. He looked through the door and listened. There was no danger—he could creep out quietly, go across me room through his mother's chamber, through his father's study and the parlor into the dining room, where they all were He stuck out one foot, but immediately withdrew it because at that instant Natasha entered the nursery. It was too late, Natasha had noticed Kolya's leg.

"Come out. I'll tell mama. The wardrobe is not meant for you to sit in. You'll soil my new dress. Come out."

"I won't."

"Mikheyevna, why is Kolya soiling my new dress? He's gotten into the wardrobe, and I don't know what he's doing there."

All was lost; both Mikheyevna and the landlord's daughter had now found out that Kolya had esconced himself in the wardrobe.

"Well, I won't come out, and that's all!" he grumbled once more, and covered himself with his mother's cloak.

"Kolya, dear, what a shame, come out, my darling," said Mikheyevna.

"Well, well, so that's where my beau is, in the wardrobe," said the landlord's daughter laughing, as she too entered the nursery.

Kolya did not want to come out. Mikheyevna caught him by the foot, and Kolya began to kick out.

Mikheyevna conquered in the end. Kolya emerged from the wardrobe red as a peony, angry and abashed. His hair stuck out like the quills of a porcupine, and his eyes flashed like a wolf's. Natasha was the fault of it all. She had discovered and betrayed him, and that's why Kolya was angrier with her than with anyone else.

"Don't touch me," he shouted, when Natasha took him by the elbow to drag him from the wardrobe.

"Mama has already given you one slapping to-day. Do you want another?" asked Natasha, straightening the new dress hanging in the wardrobe.

"Oh you! Naughty—once—naughty—twice—naughty—three times—I killed the spider and I have only six sins. There you are! And I could call you naughty some more and I could call you mean!" shouted Kolya, out of breath, and ran from the nursery.

"Well?" he asked, looking from the door of his father's study. "Well? And I could call Mikheyevna naughty, too, only I don't want to."

Not least of the signs of the greatness of the modern Socialist movement is the fact that it appeals with equal charm and force to men and women of many diverse points of view. It is, I think, the supreme glory of this great world-movement that so many temperaments and passions, so many qualities of mind and character, are attracted to it; each finding in it something that answers its own peculiar needs. The saying attributed to Jesus, "I, if I be lifted up out of the earth, will draw all men unto myself," has been cited many times as proof of the sublime faith of Jesus. Likewise it may be said of this Socialist movement that its adherents have a sublime faith in the power of their ideal to draw and unite all men, regardless of race, color or creed.—Spargo.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1932, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 91 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1929.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1943, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

Public domainPublic domainfalsefalse