Traveling on the Ladoga Lake by steamer, the travelers, of whom the narrator was one, visited the village of Korela. When the journey continued, the companions began discussing this ancient but very poor Russian town.
One of the interlocutors, inclined to philosophy, remarked that "inconvenient people" should not be sent to Siberia, but to Korela - it would be cheaper for the state. Another said that the sexton who lived here in exile did not long endure the apathy and boredom prevailing in Korela - he hanged himself. The philosopher thought the sexton had done the right thing - "he died and the ends are in water," but his opponent, a man of religion, thought that suicides suffer in the afterlife, because no one here prays for them.
Suddenly a new passenger, a silent, powerful, gray-haired man of about fifty, dressed as a novice, interceded for the suicidal sexton.
He was a bogatyr in the full sense of the word, a typical, simple-hearted, kind Russian bogatyr, reminiscent of grandfather Ilya Muromets in a wonderful picture by Vereshchagin.
He told of a priest from the Moscow diocese who prays for suicides and by this "fixes their situation" in hell. Patriarch Filaret wanted to have the priest cut because of his drunkenness, but St. Sergius himself interceded for him, appearing twice in the vicar's dream.
Then the passengers began to ask the monk about his life and learned that he served in the army as a conserter - he selected and tamed the army horses, with whom he had a special touch. By all accounts, it was evident that the black man had lived a long and turbulent life. The passengers begged him to tell them about himself.
Ivan Severyanych Flyagin was born a serf on the estate of a rich count from Orel province. The count bred horses, and Ivan's father served as his coachman. Ivan's mother had been childless for a long time, so the woman begged God for a child, and she herself died in childbirth. The boy was born with a huge head, so the servants called him Golovan.
Ivan spent his early childhood in a stable and fell in love with horses. At the age of eleven, he was put as a gelding on a six-wheeler ruled by his father. Ivan had to shout, chasing people off the road. He whipped those who got stuck.
One day Ivan and his father were taking the count on a visit past the monastery. The boy cracked the whip on a monk who had fallen asleep in the cart. He became frightened, fell off the cart, the horses carried him, and the monk was crushed by the wheels. At night the monk, who had been killed by him, appeared to Ivan and told him that Ivan's mother had not only begged him, but had promised God, and told him to go to the monastery.
You will perish many times and never perish until your true perdition comes, and then you will remember your mother's promise for you and go to the nuns.
Ivan did not pay any attention to the dead monk's words, but soon his "first perdition" happened. On the way to Voronezh, the count's sled with the carriage almost collapsed into a deep abyss. Ivan managed to stop the horses, and himself fell under the precipice, but miraculously survived.
The Count decided to reward Ivan for saving his life. Instead of asking to go to a monastery, the boy wanted a harmonica, which he had never learned to play.
Soon Ivan got himself a pair of pigeons, from which his chicks started to fly, and the cat got into the habit of carrying them. Ivan caught the cat, whipped it, cut off its tail, and nailed it above his window. The cat belonged to the Countess's favourite maid. The girl ran to Ivan to scold her, who beat her "with a broom across the waist", for which she was flogged in the stable and sent to smash stone for the garden paths.
Ivan spent so much time pounding the stone that his "knees grew round". He was fed up with being mocked - they judged him for having a cat's tail - and so Ivan decided to hang himself in the nearest aspen forest. He was just hanging in the noose, when a gypsy who appeared out of nowhere cut the rope and offered to go with him as a thief. He agreed.
To keep Ivan off the hook, the gypsy forced him to steal horses from the count's stables. The horses were sold at a high price, but Ivan received only a silver ruble, argued with the gypsy, and decided to surrender to the authorities. He ended up with the crooked clerk. The latter paid Ivan a ruble and a silver cross for a pass and advised him to go to Nikolaev, where there was much work.
In Nikolayev Ivan ended up with a Polish landowner. His wife ran away with the military, abandoning her infant daughter, whom Ivan had to nurse and feed with goat's milk. Within a year Ivan had become attached to the child. One day he noticed that the girl's feet were "going around in a wheel." The healer said that it was an "aglitz disease" and advised to bury the child in warm sand.
Ivan began to carry the pupil to the bank of the estuary. There he saw the monk again, calling him somewhere, showing him a large white monastery, the steppes, "wild people" and said affectionately, "You still have much to endure, and then you will reach." Waking up, Ivan saw an unfamiliar lady kissing his ward. The lady turned out to be the girl's mother. Ivan did not allow to take the child, but allowed them to meet at the estuary secretly from the baron.
The lady said that her stepmother forced her into marriage. She did not love her first husband, but she loves her current husband, because he is very affectionate to her. When it was time for the lady to leave, she offered Ivan a lot of money for the girl, but he refused because he was a man of "office and loyalty."
Then the lady's roommate, a lancer, showed up. Ivan immediately wanted to fight him and spat on the money he gave. "Nothing but bodily grief" was gained for himself by the lancer, but he did not raise the money, and by this nobility he greatly pleased Ivan. Ivan tried to take the lancer's child away, but at first he would not let him, but then he saw the mother reaching out to him and was moved with compassion. At that moment the Polish gentleman appeared with a pistol, and Ivan had to leave with the lady and the lancer, leaving his "lawless" passport with the Pole.
The Lancer told him in Penza that he, a military man, could not keep the fugitive serf, gave Ivan money and let him go. Ivan decided to turn himself in to the police, but first he went to a tavern and drank tea and pretzels, after which he wandered over to the bank of the Sura River. There Dzhangar Khan, "the first steppe horse breeder" and king, was selling wonderful horses. Two rich Tartars decided to fight for one mare.
They stare into each other's eyes, their feet are pressing against each other and their left hands are shaking firmly, and their right hands are whipping each other...
An acquaintance, with whom Ivan was drinking tea, explained to him all the subtleties of Tatar wrestling, and the twenty-three-year-old bogatyr wanted to take part.
The lancer got into a dispute for the next horse. Ivan instead of him fought the Tatar and whipped him to death. After that, the Russians wanted to imprison Ivan, but the Tatars took pity on him and took him to the steppe.
Ivan lived in the steppe for ten years, and worked for the Tatars as a healer, treating horses and people. He wanted to leave his homeland, but the Tatars caught him and "guards": they cut the skin on his feet, stuffed chopped horsehair there, and stitched up. When everything had healed, Ivan could not walk properly - his stubble stabbed so badly, he had to learn to tread "askew", on his ankles, and stay in the steppe.
For several years, Ivan lived in one horde, where he had his own yurt, two wives, and children. Then a neighboring khan asked to cure his wife and left the healer with him. There Ivan received two more wives. To his many children, Ivan did not feel fatherly feelings, as they were "unbaptized and not smeared with the world. For ten years he had not accustomed to the steppes, and was very homesick.
It is a sultry and severe sight, there is no end to the vastness <...> and the sun burns and the steppe is like a dismal life, there is no end in sight, it has no bottom to the misery...
Ivan often remembered the house, the festive feasts without the depressing horsemeat, and his father Ilya. At night he would go quietly into the steppe and pray for a long time.
As time passed, Ivan despaired of returning to his homeland and even stopped praying - "what is the point of praying when nothing comes out of it? One day two priests showed up in the steppes - they came to convert the Tatars to Christianity. Ivan asked the priests to help him, but they refused to interfere in the affairs of the Tatars. Some time later, Ivan found one priest dead and buried him as a Christian, but the other disappeared without a trace.
A year later two men in turbans and bright robes appeared in the horde. They came from Khiva to buy horses and set the Tatars against the Russians. So that the Tatars would not rob and kill them, they began frightening the people with the fiery god Talafa, who gave them his fire.
One night the strangers put on a fiery show of light. The horses got scared and scattered, and the adult Tatars rushed to catch them. Women, old men and children were left in the camp. Then Ivan climbed out of the yurt and realized that the strangers were scaring people with the usual fireworks. Ivan found a large stock of fireworks, started setting them off, and scared the wild Tatars so much that they agreed to be baptized.
There Ivan also found "caustic earth," which "scorches the body terribly." He put it on his heels and pretended to be sick. Within days, his feet became sores, and the stitches in them came out with the pus. When his feet had healed, Ivan "for more of an ostracism, he set off the biggest firecracker and left."
Three days later Ivan went out to the Caspian Sea, and from there he went to Astrakhan, earned a ruble, and drank heavily. He woke up in prison, from where he was sent to his native estate. Father Ilya refused to confess and give Ivan communion because he lived with the Tatars in sin. The Count, who after his wife's death became a God-pleaser, did not want to tolerate a man excommunicated, flogged Ivan twice, gave him his passport, and let him go.
Ivan leaves his family estate and goes to a fair, where he sees a gypsy trying to sell an unfit horse to a man. Being offended by the gypsy, Ivan helped the peasant. From that day on he began to go to fairs, "to guide the poor" and gradually became a threat to all the Gypsies and bidders.
One of the military princes asked Ivan to reveal the secret by which he chooses the horses. Ivan began to teach the prince how to distinguish a good horse, but he could not assimilate the science and called him to serve as his stallion.
For three years Ivan lived with the prince "as a friend and assistant", choosing horses for the army. Sometimes the prince lost his money and asked Ivan for the money, but he would not let him pay it back. The prince was angry at first, but then thanked Ivan for his loyalty. When Ivan himself was gambling, he gave the money to the prince for safekeeping.
One day the prince went away to the fair, and soon he ordered that a mare be sent there, which Ivan liked very much. Ivan was grieved and wanted to have a drink, but there was no one to keep the state money. The devil "tormented" Ivan for several days, until he prayed at an early mass. After that he became better, and Ivan went to the tavern for tea, where he met a "noble" beggar. He had been begging the public for vodka and snacked on it with a glass glass glass for fun.
Ivan took pity on the poor man, offered him a carafe of vodka and advised him to stop drinking. The beggar answered that his Christian feelings did not allow him to stop drinking.
And what do you suppose, if I give up this habit of drinking, and someone picks it up: will he be glad of it or not?
The beggar showed Ivan his gift of momentary sobriety, which he attributed to natural magnetism, and promised to relieve him of his "drunken passion". The beggar forced Ivan to drink glass after glass, making passes over each one.
So Ivan "treated" until the evening, all the time staying sane and checking if the money was intact in his sinuses. In the end, the drinking partners quarreled: the beggar considered love a sacred emotion, while Ivan insisted that it was nothing. They were kicked out of the inn, and the beggar brought Ivan to a "living place" full of gypsies.
In this house Ivan was charmed by a singer, the beautiful gypsy Grusha, and he threw all the government money at her feet.
Sobering up, Ivan discovers that his magnetizer had died of drunkenness, but he himself remained magnetised, and has not taken vodka in his mouth since. He confessed to the Prince that he had squandered the treasury on a gypsy girl, after which he became ill with violent fever.
Having recovered, Ivan found out that his prince had mortgaged all his property to buy the beautiful Grusha out of the tabor.
A woman is worth everything in the world, because she can inflict such a pestilence that the whole kingdom will not be cured of it, but she alone can cure it in one minute.
Grusha quickly fell in love with the prince, and the latter, having got his wish, began to grow weary of the uneducated gypsy and stopped noticing her beauty. Ivan became friends with Grusha, and felt pity for her.
When the gypsy became pregnant, the prince began to be annoyed by his poverty. He began one business after another, but all his "projects" brought only losses. Soon jealous Grusha suspected that the Prince has a mistress, and sent Ivan to town to find out.
Ivan went to the prince's former mistress, "secretary's daughter" Evgenia Semyonovna, by whom he had a child, and became an unwitting witness to their conversation. The prince wanted to borrow money from Evgenia Semyonovna, to rent a cloth factory, to become famous as a manufacturer and marry a rich heiress. He was going to marry Grusha off to Ivan.
The woman, who still loved the prince, mortgaged the house he himself had given her, and the prince soon made a marriage proposal to the daughter of the leader. When Ivan returned from the fair, where he bought fabric samples and took orders from "the Asians," he discovered that the prince's house had been renovated and was ready for the wedding, but Grusha was nowhere to be found.
Ivan decided that the prince had killed the gypsy and buried her in the woods. He began to search for her body, and one day he came upon Grusha, alive by the river. She told him that the prince had locked her in a forest house under the protection of three girls, but that she had escaped from them. Ivan asked the gypsy to live together as a sister and brother, but she refused.
Grusha was afraid that she could not stand it and would ruin an innocent soul, the Prince's bride, so she made Ivan swear by a terrible oath that he would kill her, threatening to make her "the most ashamed woman". Unable to endure, Ivan threw the gypsy woman from the precipice into the river.
Ivan ran away and wandered for a long time, until Grusha, who appeared in the form of a girl with wings, showed him the way. Along the way, Ivan met two old men who were taking their only son away as a soldier, and agreed to serve in his place. The old men got Ivan new documents, and he became Peter Serdyukov.
Once in the army, Ivan asked to go to the Caucasus, "to die rather for the faith," and served there for more than fifteen years. One day Ivan's unit pursued the Caucasians who had gone beyond the Koysu River. Several soldiers died trying to build a bridge across the river, and then Ivan volunteered, deciding it was the best case "to end his life." While he swam across the river, he was guarded by Grusha in the form of "a teenager about sixteen years old," warding off death with her wings, and Ivan came ashore unharmed. Afterwards he told the Colonel about his life, the Colonel sent a paper to find out if it was true that the gypsy Grusha had been murdered. He was answered that there had been no murder, and that Ivan Severyanych Flyagin had died in the house of the Serdyukov peasants.
The colonel decided that Ivan's mind had become confused by the danger and the icy water, promoted him to officer, retired him, and gave him a letter "to a great man in St. Petersburg." In St. Petersburg, Ivan was arranged to work as a "clerk" in the address desk, but his career did not go, because he got the letter "fita", which had very few surnames, and there was almost no income from such work.
Ivan, a noble officer, was not hired as a coachman, so he went as a performer to play the demon in a street circus. There Ivan stood up for a young actress, and he was kicked out. He had nowhere else to go, so he went to a monastery and soon fell in love with the life there, similar to that of the army. Ivan became Father Ishmael, and was assigned to the horses.
The travelers began to ask if Ivan was suffering "from a demon," and he told them that he had been tempted by a demon who pretended to be the beautiful Grusha. An old man taught Ivan to drive the demon away by praying on his knees.
A man's knees <...> are the first instrument: when you fall on them, your soul just flies upwards
Ivan coped with the demon through prayer and fasting, but he soon began to be bothered by small demoniacs. Because of them, Ivan accidentally killed the monastery cow, mistaking it at night for a devil. For this and other transgressions, the Father Abbot locked Ivan in a cellar for the whole summer and ordered him to grind salt.
Ivan read a lot of newspapers in the cellar, started prophesying, and prophesied the imminent war. The Abbot transferred him to an empty hut, where Ivan lived all winter. The healer who was called to him could not understand whether Ivan was a prophet or a madman, and advised to let him "go for a run".
Ivan found himself on a steamboat, making his way on a pilgrimage. He believed firmly in the future war, and was going to join the army to "die for the people." Having told all this, the enchanted pilgrim fell into a reverie, and the passengers did not dare to ask him any more questions, for he had told about his past, and the future remains "in the hand of him who hides his destinies from the clever and prudent, and only sometimes reveals them to babes."