This is the prequel to the previous post on Boyhood, featuring the same characters, and almost certainly written first. Behind the stories of the children there is the nature of serfdom which I must wonder at, having never experienced anything of the sort. An example of this relates to a young lady who had been in the service of the grandfather, and sought to marry a young man who was also a servant:
"At last she ventured to go and ask my grandfather if she might marry Foka, but her master took the request in bad part, flew into a passion, and punished poor Natashka by exiling her to a farm which he owned in a remote quarter of the Steppes. At length, when she had been gone six months and nobody could be found to replace her, she was recalled to her former duties. Returned, and with her dress in rags, she fell at Grandpapa's feet, and besought him to restore her his favour and kindness, and to forget the folly of which she had been guilty--folly which, she assured him, should never recur again. And she kept her word."
Natashka returns and is a simple, loyal, and single servant for life. As a practical matter, she is a slave, but her entire being is wrapped up in the taking care of the household, including the children and grandchildren. This has me wanting to compare these circumstances with the experience of American slavery, but that will need to wait. Thankfully the serf system was done away with in Russia about the same time the US put an end to slavery.