It was a story about an old merchant, who lived a seemly and God-fearing life with his family, and went once with a comrade, a rich merchant, to the Makary.
Having stopped at an inn, the two merchants went to bed, and the next day the comrade was found murdered and robbed. The bloody knife was found under the old merchant’s pillow. The merchant was tried, punished with the knout, and, having had his nostrils slit, was sent to hard labor.
And so ten years or more go by after this affair. The old man lives at hard labor. Duly submits, does nothing bad. Only asks God for death. Good. And the convicts got together, a nightly thing, and the old man was with them. They started talking about who suffers for what, and what he’s guilty of before God. They began telling: this one killed a man, that one killed two, another set a fire, another was a runaway, so he did nothing. They started asking the old man: ‘What are you suffering for, grandpa?’ ‘I, my dear brothers,’ he says, ‘am suffering for my own and other people’s sins. I didn’t kill anybody, or take anything that wasn’t mine, but even gave to beggars. I, my dear brothers, was a merchant; I had great wealth.’ Thus and so, he says. That is, he told them how the whole thing went, in proper order. ‘I don’t grieve over myself,’ he says. ‘God, that is, has found me. I only pity my old woman and children.’ And so the old man wept. In their company there happened to be the very man who had killed the merchant. ‘Where did it happen, grandpa?’ he says. ‘When, in what month?’—he asked everything. His heart ached inside him. He goes up to the old man and—plop at his feet. ‘You’re perishing because of me, old man. It’s the real truth. This man is suffering, lads,’ he says, ‘guiltlessly and needlessly. I did that deed,’ he says, ‘and put the knife under your head while you slept. Forgive me, grandpa,’ he says, ‘for Christ’s sake.’”
And the old man says: ‘God will forgive you, and we’re all sinful before God, I’m suffering for my own sins.’ And he wept bitter tears. And what do you think, little falcon? This same murderer denounced himself to the authorities. ‘I killed six men,’ he says (he was a great villain), ‘but I’m sorriest for this old man. Let him not lament on account of me.’ He declared it: they wrote it down, duly sent a letter. This was a far-off place, it was a while before everything got done, all the papers filled out as they ought, to the authorities, that is. It went all the way to the Tsar. Time passed, the Tsar’s ukase came: release the merchant, give him a reward, as much as they decided. The paper came, they started searching for the old man. Where’s that old man who has suffered guiltlessly and needlessly? A paper has come from the Tsar. They started searching. But God had already forgiven him—he was dead.
(War & Peace – Leo Tolstoy – Page 1062)