The Son of a Thief
by Leo Tolstoy
One day the city court convened for a jury trial. Among the members of the jury were peasants, noblemen, and salesmen. The foreman of the jury was a merchant, Ivan Akimovich Belov, respected and loved by everyone for his good life: he led his business honestly, never cheated anyone, and helped others. He was an old man, in his late sixties. The members of the jury came into the courtroom, took the oath, and took their places. The defendant was brought in, a horse-thief who had stolen a horse from a peasant. But as they started the court proceedings, Ivan Akimovich stood and said, “Excuse me, your honor, but I cannot be a member of the jury.”
The judge was surprised. “Why is this?”
”I simply can’t. Please let me go.”
And suddenly Ivan Akimovich’s voice trembled, and he began to cry. He cried and cried, so hard that he couldn’t even speak. When he regained control of himself, he said to the judge, “I can’t be on this jury, your honor, because my father and I were perhaps worse than this thief. How could I judge someone guilty of the same kind of evil as I am? I can’t do this. I ask you, please—let me go.”
The judge let Ivan Akimovich go. That night, the judge invited Ivan Akimovich to his house and asked him a question: “Why did you refuse to be a juror?”
”Here’s why,” said Ivan Akimovich, and told the following story:
You think that I am a merchant’s son and that I was born in your city. That’s not true. I am a peasant’s son. My father was a peasant, but he was also a thief, the best thief in the neighborhood, and he died in prison. He was a kind man, but he drank, and when he was drunk, he beat my mother, became violent, and was capable of all kinds of evil deeds, and then he would repent.
One day he enticed me to steal, and on that day my happiness came to an end. My father was with other thieves in a pub, and they started to talk about where they could steal something. My father said, “Listen, fellows. You know the merchant Belov’s storehouse that faces the street. There are lots of expensive goods in this storehouse. It is hard to get inside, but I have a plan. And here’s my plan: There is a small window in the storehouse, high above the ground and too narrow for an adult to get inside. But here’s what I think. I have a boy, and he is a very smart boy indeed,” he said, about me. “We’ll tie a rope around him and hoist him up to the window. once he is inside, we’ll lower him down to the storehouse floor. Then we’ll give him another rope, and he’ll tie the expensive goods from the storehouse onto it, and we will pull it down. And when we’ve taken as much as we can carry, then we’ll pull him out, too.”
The thieves liked this idea and they said, “We’ll then, bring your son here.”
So my father came home and asked for me. My mother said, “What do you want him for?”
”What difference does it make? I need him.”
My mother said, “He’s outside.”
“Call him inside.”
My mother knew that when he was drunk she couldn’t argue with him or he would beat her. She ran outside and called me into the house. My father asked me, “Vanka, are you good at climbing fences?”
“Oh, yes, I can climb anywhere.”
“Then come with me.”
My mother tried to talk him out of it, but he threatened to hit her and she became quiet. My father put on my coat and off we went to the pub" they gave me tea with sugar and some snacks, and we sat until night came. When it was dark, all of us—there were three men—went out.
We came to the merchant Belov’s storehouse. Right away they tied a rope around me, gave me the other rope, and hoisted me up. “Aren’t you afraid?” they asked me.
“Why should I be afraid? I’m not afraid of anything.”
“Then get inside and get hold of the best thing you can find there. Find some furs, and tie them up with the rope you’re holding. Make sure you tie the things to the middle of the rope, and not to the end, so that when we pull it out, your end of the rope will stay inside with you. Do you understand?” they asked.
Of course I understood. How could I not understand such simple things?
So they helped me up to the window, I climbed in, and they lowered me to the floor with the rope. As soon as I felt something solid under my feet, I began to feel around with my hands. It was so dark I couldn’t see a thing. When I felt something furry, I fixed it to the rope—not to the end but to the middle—and they pulled it out. Then I pulled the rope back to me and tied more goods to it.
When we had done this about three times, they pulled all the rope to themselves. This meant enough. Then they started to pull me back out the window, while I held the rope with my small hands. They had pulled me only about halfway when—boom!—the rope went slack, and I fell. It was good that I fell on cushions, and was not hurt.
Afterwards, I found out what had happened: a guard saw my father and the other thieves, gave an alarm, and they let go of the rope and ran away with the stolen things, leaving me by myself.
Lying alone in the darkness, I became terrified. “Mommy!” I cried. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy!” I was so tired from crying, fear, and lack of sleep that I don't remember how I finally drifted off to sleep on the cushions.
I awoke suddenly and saw in front of me the man who owned the storehouse, the merchant Belov, with a lantern and a police officer. The policeman asked me who had brought me there. I said, “My father.”
“And who is your father?”
At that, I started to cry all over again.
Belov was an old man, and he said to the policeman, “Cod be with him. A child is the soul of God. It is not good to witness against your own father. What’s been stolen is stolen.”
Belov was a good man, god rest his soul. And his wife was even kinder than he. She took me to her room and gave me some gifts, and I stopped crying. As you know, a child can be made happy with small things. In the morning, she asked me, “Do you want to go home?”
Not knowing what to say, I said, “Yes, I do.”
“And would you like to stay with me here?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, “I would.”
“Then stay with me.”
And so I stayed, living at their home with them. They did the necessary paperwork to make me their foster child. First I worked at the shop as a delivery boy. When I grew up, they made me a shop assistant, and later, a shop manager. I worked hard. They were very kind people, and they loved me and allowed me to marry their daughter. They treated me as if I were their son. When the old man died, all his estate went to me.
“And that is who I am,” concluded Ivan Akimovich. “I am a thief and the son of a thief, and I cannot judge others. To do so is not a Christian thing, your honor. We should forgive other people and love them. If a person has made a mistake, you should not punish him but rather take pity, remembering what Christ told us.”
That was the story of Ivan Akimovich.
And judge stopped asking questions and considered whether, according to the laws Christ, it was possible to judge other.
The Son of a Thief. Tolstoy's free interpretation of a story by Nikolai Leskov, "Abused Before Christmas," published in the St. Petersburg Gazette on December 25, 1890, and sent immediately after by the author to Tolstoy. The story was not included in Leskov's Works or anthologized in book form.
Divine And Human and other stories by Leo Tolstoy