“He fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.”*
The nickname “Greasy” was given to Paul when he was but eight years old under special circumstances that will be mentioned later. His real family name was Tikhomirov.1 He was the son of a farmer from one of the poorest villages in the Government of Mogilev. The family consisted of the father, the mother, and two children—ten-year-old Shura (Alexandra) and eight-year-old Pasha (Paul). They lived peacefully, were religious in the orthodox way, and enjoyed the respect not only of the inhabitants of their own village, but of those of all the district.
On the holy days, the local orthodox priest used to visit them to play cards with the father—not for money, but merely to pass the time. Sometimes the game was “Duratchki” (tomfool), in which it was customary for the losing one to suffer the pack of cards to be thrown at his nose. If either of the players had some money, they sent the children for liquor, which would put them in a hilarious mood. The priest, whom they called “Batushka” (Daddy), used to say, “It is no sin to drink with moderation. Even the Lord Jesus loved to be joyful, and at the wedding in Cana changed water into wine.”
The children loved to look on, and noted with special interest how the nose of the priest would become more and more red—they did not know whether it was from drinking the liquor or from the frequent hits with the pack of cards thrown at him cleverly by their father, who usually won the game. The good-natured priest used to say with a croaking voice, “He who will endure to the end will be saved. I shall have my turn, my beloved, and then look out, because it is written, ‘Owe no man any thing,’* and, ‘With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.’*”
This hilarious life came to an abrupt end. Several successive bad harvests compelled the farmers of the village of Sosnovka to consider moving to Siberia. In groups they talked over the matter with one another and finally decided to send out messengers to find an appropriate piece of land in one of the Siberian districts. Because he was a clever and experienced man, Tikhomirov was among those landseekers. After three months the messengers returned; they had found land in the Government of Tomsk. Promptly selling their land and property, the farmers started on their way. This was in the year 1897.
During the trip, the trains made slow headway and had to make long stopovers at the crossroads in Samara, Chelyabinsk, and Omsk. The moving farmers had to wait for weeks to get trains for further travel. Their days and nights were spent in the small railroad stations, sleeping on the floor. The boiled water was not sufficient for all, nor could the people afford to buy warm food from the restaurants. Consequently, the poor, simple people satisfied themselves with dried herring or other dried fish and drank unboiled water. As a result, many had stomach trouble, and cholera set in. The older people were especially afflicted by the plague.
On the last stretch before reaching Tomsk, Mr. Tikhomirov became sick. All indications signified cholera. To the horror of his wife and children, at one of the stations he was taken from the train and put in the barracks for people with infectious diseases. It was only natural that Mrs. Tikhomirov and the children leave the train also. They found refuge not far from the barracks behind the snow fences along the railroad tracks. Daily they inquired about the condition of the father, but the report was worse every time.
After three days had passed, the sorrow-stricken mother had to tell the children that she also was sick. It was a heart-breaking scene when the mother was taken away on a stretcher from the crying children. In her they lost their last support. With a sad heart the mother parted from her children, suspecting that she would never see them again. But more terrible to her was the possibility that her beloved children soon would be orphans in a strange land.
As the mother was carried into the barracks, the desperate children ran crying behind the carriers until the heavy barracks door was slammed in their faces. How lonesome and miserable Shura and Pasha felt. As if bereft of their senses, they circled the barracks, calling now for their father and then for their mother. The only answer they received was a coarse cry from the guard, threatening them with a whipping if they would not leave the barracks. But the children did not cease crying and asking to be let in. They wanted to die with their parents, since they felt that they could not live without them. Thus they kept running around the barracks until late at night when the severe cold compelled them to think of their warmer clothing, which they had left with some other things behind the snow fences. However, when they came back to the spot where they had been camping, they found no sign of their baggage. Apparently someone had taken the few poor things of the immigrants…
This is a true story demonstrating the power of the Gospel. It is based in Russia. The translator is Charles Lukesh, a missionary with the Christian & Missionary Alliance. It came out in 1940. If you want to read the rest of this very powerful and touching narrative, please go to http://library.timelesstruths.org/texts/Greasy_the_Robber/