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Title: The Outcasts and Other Stories
Author: Gorky, Maxime
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Outcasts and Other Stories" ***

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THE OUTCASTS

And other Stories

BY MAXIM GORKY

_SECOND IMPRESSION_

London

T. FISHER UNWIN

MCMV



CONTENTS

THE OUTCASTS

Translated by DORA B. MONTEFIORE
and EMILY JAKOWLEFF.

WAITING FOR THE FERRY.

Translated by DORA B. MONTEFIORI
and EMILY JAKOWLEFF.

THE AFFAIR OF THE CLASPS.

Translated by VERA VOLKHOVSKY.



THE OUTCASTS


I

The High Street consists of two rows of one-storeyed hovels, squeezed
close one against another; old hovels with leaning walls and crooked
windows, with dilapidated roofs, disfigured by time, patched with
shingles, and overgrown with moss; here and there above them rise tall
poles surmounted with starling houses, whilst the roofs are shaded by
the dusty green of pollard willows and elder bushes, the sole miserable
vegetation of suburbs where dwell the poorest classes.

The windows of these hovels, their glass stained green with age, seem
to watch each other with the shifty, cowardly glance of thieves. Up
the middle of the street crawls a winding channel passing between
deep holes, washed out by the heavy rain; here and there lie heaps
of old, broken bricks and stones overgrown with weeds, the remains
of the various attempts made from time to time by the inhabitants to
build dwellings; but these attempts have been rendered useless by
the torrents of stormwater sweeping down from the town above. On the
hill nestle, amongst the luxuriant green of gardens, magnificent
stone-built houses; the steeples of churches rise proudly towards the
blue heavens, their golden crosses glittering in the sun.

In wet weather the town pours into this outlying suburb all its surface
water, and in the dry weather all its dust, and this miserable row of
hovels has the appearance of having been swept down at one of these
moments by some powerful hand.

Crushed into the ground, these half-rotten human shelters seem to cover
all the hill, whilst, stained by the sun, by the dust, and by the
rains, they take on them the dirty nondescript colour of old decaying
wood.

At the end of this miserable street stood an old, long, two-storeyed
house, which seemed to have been cast out in this way from the town,
and which had been bought by the merchant Petounnikoff. This was the
last house in the row, standing just under the hill, and stretching
beyond it were fields, ending at a distance of half a verst from the
house in an abrupt fall towards the river. This large and very old
house had a more sinister aspect than its neighbours; all its walls
were crooked, and in its rows of windows there was not one that had
preserved its regular form; whilst the remnants of the window panes
were of the dirty green colour of stagnant water.

The spaces between the windows were disfigured with discoloured patches
of fallen plaster, as if time had written the history of the house in
these hieroglyphics. Its roof, sagging forwards towards the street,
increased its pathetic aspect; it seemed as if the house were bowing
itself towards the ground, and were humbly waiting for the last stroke
of fate to crumble it into dust, or into a deformed heap of half-rotten
ruins.

The front gates were ajar. One side, torn from its hinges, lay on the
ground, and from the cracks between the boards sprang grass, which
also covered the great desolate yard. At the farther end of this yard
stood a low, smoke-blackened shed with an iron roof. The house itself
was uninhabited, but in this mean shed, which had been a forge, was
installed a common lodging-house or doss-house, kept by a retired
cavalry officer, Aristide Fomitch Kouvalda.

Inside, this doss-house appeared as a long, dark den, lighted by four
square windows and a wide door. The brick unplastered walls were dark
with smoke, which had also blackened the ceiling. In the middle stood
a large stove, round which, and along the walls, were ranged wooden
bunks containing bundles of rubbish which served the dossers for beds.
The walls reeked with smoke, the earthen floor with damp, and the bunks
with sweat and rotten rags.

The master's bunk was on the stove, and those in its immediate
neighbourhood were looked upon as places of honour, and were granted to
the inmates who rejoiced in his favour and friendship. The master spent
the greater part of the day seated at the door of the shed in a sort of
arm-chair, which he had himself constructed of bricks, or else in the
beerhouse of Jegor Vaviloff, just across the way, where Aristide dined
and drank vodka.

Before starting the lodging-house, Aristide Kouvalda used to keep
a servants' registry office in the town; and glancing farther back
into his life, we should find he had had a printing establishment;
and before the printing business, according to his own account, he
lived--and "lived, devil take it, well; lived as a connoisseur, I can
assure you!"

He was a broad-shouldered man of about fifty, with a pock-marked face,
bloated with drink, and a bushy, yellow beard. His eyes were grey,
large, audaciously gay; he spoke with a bass voice, and almost always
held between his teeth a German china pipe with a curved stem. When
he was angry the nostrils of his red crooked nose would dilate wide,
and his lips would quiver, showing two rows of large yellow teeth like
those of a wolf. Long-handed and bow-legged, he dressed always in an
old dirty military overcoat and a greasy cap with a red band, but
without a peak; and in worn felt boots reaching to his knees. In the
morning he was always in a state of drunken stupor, and in the evening
he became lively. Drunk he never could be; for however much liquor he
stowed away, he never lost his gay humour.

In the evening he might be seen seated in his brick arm-chair, his pipe
between his teeth, receiving his lodgers.

"Who are you?" he would ask, on the approach of some ragged,
depressed-looking individual, who had been turned out of the town for
drunkenness or for some other reason.

The man would reply.

"Show me your papers, to prove that you are not lying!"

The papers were shown, if there were any forthcoming. The master would
push them into his shirt, not caring to look at their contents.

"All right! For one night two kopecks; a week, ten kopecks; a month,
twenty kopecks; go and take your place, but mind not to take anyone
else's, or you will catch it. The people who live here are particular."

The new-comer would ask him, "Can one get tea, bread, and grub? Don't
you sell them?"

"I sell only walls and roof, for which I pay the rogue Petounnikoff,
the owner of this hole, five roubles a month," Kouvalda would explain
in a business-like tone. "People who come to me are not used to luxury,
and if you are in the habit of guzzling every day, there's a beershop
just opposite. But you'd better get out of that bad habit as soon as
possible, you skulker; you are not a gentleman born, then why do you
want to eat? You had better eat yourself!"

For these and like speeches, uttered in a pretended severe voice, but
always with a laugh in his eyes, and for his attention to his lodgers,
Kouvalda was very popular among the outcasts of the town.

It sometimes happened that a former client would come into the
doss-house, no longer ragged and down-trodden, but in more or less
decent clothes, and with a cheerful face.

"Good-day, your honour; how are you?"

"All right; quite well; what do you want?"

"Don't you recognise me?"

"No, I don't."

"Don't you remember last winter I spent a month with you, when you had
a police raid and three were taken up?"

"Oh, my good fellow, the police often come under my hospitable roof!"

"And, good Lord! don't you remember how you cheeked the police officer?"

"Well, that will do with recollections; just say simply what you want."

"Let me stand you something. When I lived with you, you were so"--

"Gratitude should be always encouraged, my friend, for we seldom meet
with it. You must be a really good fellow, though I can't remember you;
but I'll accompany you to the vodka shop with pleasure, and drink to
your success in life."

"Ah! you're always the same--always joking."

"Well, what else can one do when one lives among a miserable set like
you?"

Then they would go off, and often the former lodger would return
staggering to the doss-house. Next day the entertainment would begin
anew; and one fine morning the lodger would come to his senses, to find
that he had drunk away all that he possessed.

"See, your honour! Once more I am one of your crew; what am I to do
now?"

"Well, it's a position you can't boast about, but being in it, it's no
use crying," argued the captain. "You must look at your position with
equanimity, my friend, and not spoil life with philosophising and
reasoning. Philosophy is always useless, and to philosophise before
the drink is out of one is inexpressibly foolish. When you are getting
over a bout of drinking you want vodka, and not remorse and grinding of
teeth. You must take care of your teeth, otherwise there will be none
to knock out. Here are twenty kopecks; go and bring some vodka and a
piece of hot tripe or lights, a pound of bread, and two cucumbers. When
we get over our drink then we'll think over the state of affairs."

The state of affairs would become clear in two or three days, when
the master had nothing more left of the four or five roubles which
had found their way into his pocket on the day of the return of the
grateful lodger.

"Here we are, at the end of our tether!" the captain would say. "Now,
you fool, that we have drunk all we had, let us try to walk in the
paths of sobriety and of virtue. As it is, how true is the saying,
'If one hasn't sinned, one can't repent; and if one hasn't repented,
one can't be saved!' The first commandment we have fulfilled; but
repentance is of no use, so let's go straight for salvation. Be off to
the river and start work. If you are not sure of yourself, tell the
contractor to keep your money back, or else give it to me to keep When
we've saved a good sum I'll buy you some breeches and what is necessary
to make you look like a decent, tidy, working man persecuted by fate.
In good breeches you will still stand a good chance. Now be off with
you!"

The lodger went off to work on the towpath, down by the river, smiling
to himself at the long, wise speeches of Kouvalda. The pith of the
wisdom he did not understand, but watching the merry eyes, and feeling
the influence of the cheerful spirit, he knew that in the discursive
captain he had a friend who would always help him in case of need.

And, indeed, after a month or two of hard work, the lodger, thanks to
the strict supervision of the captain, found himself in a pecuniary
position which enabled him to rise a step above that condition into
which he had fallen, thanks also to the kind assistance of the same
captain.

"Well, my friend," Kouvalda would say, critically inspecting his
renovated acquaintance, "here you are now with breeches and a coat.
These matters are very important, believe me. As long as I had decent
breeches I lived as a decent man in the town; but, damn it all! as soon
as these fell to pieces, I fell also in the estimation of mankind, and
I had to leave the town and come out here. People, you fool, judge by
the outer appearance only; the inner meaning is inaccessible to them,
because of their innate stupidity. Put that into your pipe and smoke
it.--Pay me half your debt if you like, and go in peace. Seek and you
will find."

"How much, Aristide Fomitch, do I owe you?" the lodger would ask
confusedly.

"One rouble and seventy. You may give me the rouble or the seventy
kopecks, whichever you like now; and for the rest I'll wait for the
time when you can steal or earn more than you have now."

"Many thanks for your kindness," replied the lodger, touched by such
consideration. "You are--well, you are--such a good soul; it's a pity
that life has been so hard on you. You must have been a proud sort of
eagle when you were in your right place."

The captain could not get on without grandiloquent phrases. "What do
you mean by being in my right place? Who knows what his right place
should be? Everyone wants to put his neck into someone else's yoke.
Judah Petounnikoff's place should be in penal servitude, but he walks
freely about the town, and is even going to build a new factory. Our
schoolmaster's place should be by the side of a nice, fat, quiet wife,
with half a dozen children round him, instead of lying about drunk in
Vaviloff's vodka shop. Then there's yourself, who are going to look
for a place as a waiter or porter, whereas I know you ought to be a
soldier. You can endure much, you are not stupid, and you understand
discipline. See how the matter stands! Life shuffles us up like cards,
and it's only now and then we fall into our right places; but when that
does happen, it's not for long; we are soon shuffled out again."

Sometimes such farewell speeches would serve only as a preface to a
renewed friendship, which would start with a fresh booze, and would end
with the lodger being surprised to find that he had nothing left, when
the captain would again treat him, till both were in the same state of
destitution.

These backslidings never spoilt the good understanding on either
side. The aforementioned schoolmaster was amongst those friends who
only got put on his feet in order to be knocked over again. He was
intellectually the most on a level with the captain, and this was
perhaps just the reason that, once having fallen to the doss-house, he
could never rise again.

He was the only one with whom Aristide Kouvalda could philosophise,
and be sure that he was understood. He appreciated the schoolmaster
for this reason, and when his renovated friend was about to leave the
doss-house, having again earned some money with the intention of taking
a decent room in town, Aristide Kouvalda would begin such a string of
melancholy tirades, that both would recommence drinking, and once more
would lose all. In all probability Kouvalda was conscious of what he
was doing, and the schoolmaster, much as he desired it, could never
get away from the doss-house. Could Aristide Kouvalda, a gentleman
by birth, and having received an education, the remnants of which
still flashed through his conversation, along with a love of argument
acquired during the vicissitudes of fortune--could he help desiring
to keep by his side a kindred spirit? It is always ourselves we pity
first. This schoolmaster once upon a time used to give lessons in a
training school for teachers in a town on the Volga, but as the result
of some trouble he was expelled; after that he became a clerk at a
tanner's, and was forced, after a time, to leave that place as well;
then he became a librarian in a private library, tried various other
professions, and at length, having passed an attorney's examination,
he began drinking, and came across the captain. He was a bald-headed
man, with a stoop, and a sharp-pointed nose. In a thin, yellow face,
with a pointed beard, glittered restless, sad, deep-sunk eyes, and
the corners of his mouth were drawn down, giving him a depressed
expression. His livelihood, or rather the means to get drunk, he earned
by being a reporter on the local newspapers. Sometimes he would earn
as much as fifteen roubles a week; these he would give to the captain,
saying, "This is the last of it! Another week of hard work, and I shall
get enough to be decently dressed, and then--_addio, mio caro!_"

"That's all right; you have my hearty approbation. I won't give you
another glass of vodka the whole week," the captain would reply
severely.

"I shall be very grateful. You must not give me a single drop."

The captain heard in these words something approaching very near to a
humble appeal, and would add still more severely, "You may shout for
it, but I won't give you any more."

"Well, that's an end of it," the teacher would sigh, and go off to his
work. But in a day or two, feeling exhausted, fatigued, and thirsty, he
would look furtively at the captain, with sad, imploring eyes, hoping
anxiously that his friend's heart would melt. The captain would keep a
severe face, uttering speeches full of the disgrace of weak natures,
of the bestial pleasures of drunkenness, and other words applicable to
the circumstances. To give him his due, it is right to add that he
was sincere in his rôle of mentor and of moralist, but the patrons of
his doss-house always inclined to be sceptical, and while listening
to the scathing words of the captain, would say to each other with a
wink, "He's a sly one for knowing how to get rid of all responsibility
himself! 'I told you so; but you wouldn't listen to me; now blame
yourself.'"

"The gentleman is an old soldier; he doesn't advance without preparing
a retreat."

The schoolmaster would catch his friend in a dark corner, and holding
him by his dirty cloak, trembling and moistening his parched lips with
his tongue, would look into the captain's eyes with an expression so
deeply tragic that no words could describe it.

"Can't you?" the captain would question sombrely.

The schoolmaster would silently nod, and then drop his head on his
chest, trembling through all his long, thin body.

"Try one more day; perhaps you will conquer yourself," proposed
Kouvalda.

The schoolmaster would sigh and shake his head in a hopeless negative.
When the captain saw that his friend's lean body was shaken with the
thirst for poison, he would take the money out of his pocket.

"It's generally useless to argue with fate," he would say, as if
wishing to justify himself.

But if the schoolmaster held out the whole week, the farewell of the
friends terminated in a touching scene, the end of which generally
took place in Vaviloff's vodka shop.

The schoolmaster never drank all his money; at least half of it he
spent on the children of the High Street. Poor people are always rich
in children, and in the dust and ditches in this street might be seen
from morning till night groups of torn, hungry, noisy youngsters.
Children are the living flowers of the earth, but in the High Street
they were like flowers faded before their time; probably because they
grew on soil poor in nourishing qualities.

Sometimes the schoolmaster would gather the children round him, buy a
quantity of bread, eggs, apples, nuts, and go with them into the fields
towards the river. There they would greedily eat up all he had to offer
them, filling the air around with merry noise and laughter. The lank,
thin figure of the drunkard seemed to shrivel up and grow small like
the little ones round him, who treated him with complete familiarity,
as if he were one of their own age. They called him "Philippe," not
adding even the title of "uncle." They jumped around him like eels,
they pushed him, got on his back, slapped his bald head, and pulled
his nose. He probably liked it, for he never protested against these
liberties being taken. He spoke very little to them, and his words were
humble and timid, as if he were afraid that his voice might soil or
hurt them. He spent many hours with them, sometimes as plaything, and
at other times as playmate. He used to look into their bright faces
with sad eyes, and would then slowly and thoughtfully slink off into
Vaviloff's vodka shop, where he would drink till he lost consciousness.

Almost every day when he returned from his reporting, the schoolmaster
would bring back a paper from the town, and the outcasts would form a
circle round him. As soon as they saw him coming, they would gather
from the different corners of the yard, some drunk, some in a state
of stupor, all in different stages of raggedness, but all equally
miserable and dirty.

First would appear Alexai Maximovitch Simtzoff, round as a barrel;
formerly a surveyor of forest lands, but now a pedlar of matches, ink,
blacking, and bad lemons. He was an old man of sixty, in a canvas coat
and a broad-brimmed crushed hat, which covered his fat red face, with
its thick white beard, out of which peeped forth a small red nose, and
thick lips of the same colour, and weak, running, cynical eyes. They
called him "Kubar," a top, and this nickname well portrayed his round,'
slowly moving figure and his thick, humming speech.

Louka Antonovitch Martianoff, nicknamed Konetz, "The End," would
come out of some corner, a morose, black, silent drunkard, formerly
an inspector of a prison; a man who gained his livelihood at present
by playing games of hazard, such as the three-card trick and
thimble-rig, and by the display of other talents equally ingenious, but
equally unappreciated by the police. He would drop his heavy, often
ill-treated, body on the grass beside the schoolmaster, his black eyes
glistening, and stretching forth his hand to the bottle, would ask in
a hoarse bass voice--

"May I?"

Then also would draw near the mechanic Pavel Sontseff, a consumptive
of about thirty. The ribs on his left side had been broken in a street
row; and his face, yellow and sharp, was constantly twisted into a
cunning, wicked smile. His thin lips showed two rows of black, decayed
teeth, and the rags on his thin shoulders seemed to be hanging on a
peg. They used to call him "Scraps"; he earned his living by selling
brooms of his own making, and brushes made of a certain kind of grass,
which were very useful for brushing clothes.

Besides these, there was a tall, bony, one-eyed man with uncertain
antecedents; he had a scared expression in his large, round, silent,
and timid eyes. He had been three times condemned for thefts, and had
suffered imprisonment for them. His name was Kisselnikoff, but he
was nicknamed "Tarass and a half" because he was just half the size
again of his inseparable friend Tarass, a former church deacon, but
degraded now for drunkenness and dissipation. The deacon was a short,
robust little man with a broad chest and a round, matted head of hair;
he was famous for his dancing, but more so for his swearing; both he
and "Tarass and a half" chose as their special work wood-sawing on
the river-bank, and in their leisure hours the deacon would tell long
stories "of his own composition," as he expressed it, to his friend or
to anyone who cared to hear them. Whilst listening to these stories,
the heroes of which were always saints, kings, clergy, and generals,
even the habitués of the doss-house used to spit the taste of them out
of their mouths, and opened wide eyes of astonishment at the wonderful
imagination of the deacon, who would relate these shameless, obscene,
fantastic adventures with great coolness, and with eyes closed in
rapture. The imagination of this man was powerful and inexhaustible; he
could invent and talk the whole day long, and never repeated himself.
In him the world lost perhaps a great poet, and certainly a remarkable
story-teller, who could put life and soul even into stones, by his foul
but imaginatively powerful thought.

Besides these there was an absurd youth, who was called by Kouvalda
"The Meteor." He once came to seek a night's lodging, and to the
astonishment of all he never left. At first no one noticed him, for
during the day he would go out to earn a livelihood, as did the rest,
but in the evening he stuck closely to the friendly doss-house society.
One day the captain asked him--

"My lad, what do you do in this world?"

The boy answered shortly and boldly, "I? I'm a tramp."

The captain looked at him critically. The lad had long hair, a broad,
foolish face adorned with a snub nose; he wore a blue blouse without a
belt, and on his head were the remains of a straw hat. His feet were
bare.

"You are a fool!" said Aristide Kouvalda. "What are you doing here? You
are of no use to us. Do you drink vodka? No! And can you steal? Not
that either? Well, go and learn all that, and make a man of yourself,
and then come back."

The lad smiled. "No, I shan't; I'll stay where I am!"

"Why?"

"Because"--

"Ah! you're a meteor!" said the captain.

"Let me knock some of his teeth out," proposed Martianoff.

"But why?" asked the lad.

"Because"--

"Well, then, I should take a stone and knock you on the head," replied
the boy respectfully.

Martianoff would have thrashed him if Kouvalda had not interfered.
"Leave him alone; he is distantly related to you, brother, as he is to
all of us. You, without sufficient reason, want to knock his teeth out;
and he, also without sufficient reason, wants to live with us. Well,
damn it all! We all have to live without sufficient reason for doing
so. We live, but ask us why; we can't say. Well, it's so with him, so
let him be."

"But still, young man, you had better leave us," the schoolmaster
intervened, surveying the lad with sad eyes.

The lad did not answer, but remained. At last they grew accustomed to
him, and paid no attention to him, but he watched closely all that they
said and did.

All the above-mentioned individuals formed the captain's bodyguard, and
with good-natured irony he used to call them his "Outcasts." Besides
these, there were five or six tramp rank-and-file in the doss-house;
these were country-folk who could not boast of such antecedents as the
outcasts, though they had undergone no less vicissitudes of fate; but
they were a degree less degraded, and not so completely broken down. It
may be that a decent man from the educated classes in town is somewhat
above a decent peasant; but it is inevitable that a vicious townsman
should be immeasurably more degraded in mind than a criminal from the
country. This rule was strikingly illustrated by the inhabitants of
Kouvalda's dwelling.

The most prominent peasant representative was a rag-picker of the name
of Tiapa. Tall, and horribly thin, he constantly carried his head so
that his chin fell on his breast, and from this position his shadow
always assumed the shape of a hook.

One could never see his full face, but his profile showed an aquiline
nose, projecting underlip, and bushy grey eyebrows. He was the
captain's first lodger, and it was rumoured that he possessed large
sums of money hidden somewhere about him. It was for this money that
two years ago he had had his throat cut, since when he had been forced
to keep his head so strangely bent. He denied having any money, and
said that he had been struck with a knife for fun; and this accident
had made it convenient for him to become a rag and bone picker, as his
head was always necessarily bent forward towards the ground. When he
walked about with his swaying, uncertain gait, and without his stick
and bag, the badges of his profession, he seemed a being absorbed with
his own thoughts, and Kouvalda, pointing at him with his finger, would
say, "Look out! there is the escaped conscience of Judah Petounnikoff,
seeking for a refuge! See how ragged and dirty this fugitive conscience
looks!"

Tiapa spoke with such a hoarse voice that it was almost impossible
to understand him, and that was perhaps why he spoke little, and
always sought solitude. Each time, when a new-comer, driven from the
village, arrived at the doss-house, Tiapa at sight of him would fall
into a state of angry irritation and restlessness. He would persecute
the miserable being with sharp, mocking words, which issued from his
throat in an angry hiss; and he would set on him one of the most savage
amongst the tramps, and finally threaten to beat and rob him himself in
the night. He nearly always succeeded in driving out the terrified and
disconcerted peasant, who never returned.

When Tiapa was somewhat appeased, he would hide himself in a corner to
mend his old clothes or to read in a Bible, as old, as tom, as dirty
as himself. Tiapa would come out of his corner when the schoolmaster
brought the newspaper to read. Generally Tiapa listened silently to
the news, sighed deeply, but never asked any questions. When the
schoolmaster closed the newspaper, Tiapa would stretch out his bony
hand and say--

"Give it here."

"What do you want it for?"

"Give it; perhaps there is something written concerning us."

"Concerning whom?"

"The village."

They laughed at him, and threw the paper at him. He would take it and
read those parts which told of corn beaten down by the hail; of thirty
holdings being destroyed by fire, and of a woman poisoning a whole
family; in fact, all those parts about village life which showed it as
miserable, sordid, and cruel. Tiapa read all these in a dull voice, and
emitted sounds which might be interpreted as expressing either pity or
pleasure. On Sunday he never went out rag-picking, but spent most of
his day reading his Bible, during which process he moaned and sighed.
His book he always held resting on his chest, and he was angry if
anyone touched it or interrupted his reading.

"Hullo, you magician!" Kouvalda would say; "you don't understand
anything of that; leave the book alone!"

"And you? What do you understand?"

"Well, old magician, I don't understand anything; but then I don't read
books."

"But I do."

"More fool you!" answered the captain. "It's bad enough to have vermin
in the head. But to get thoughts into the bargain. How will you ever be
able to live, you old toad?"

"Well, I have not got much longer to live," said Tiapa quietly.

One day the schoolmaster inquired where he had learned to read, and
Tiapa answered shortly--

"In prison."

"Have you been there?"

"Yes, I have."

"For what?"

"Because--I made a mistake. It was there I got my Bible. A lady gave it
me. It's good in prison, don't you know that, brother?"

"It can't be. What is there good in it?"

"They teach one there. You see how I was taught to read. They gave me a
book, and all that free!"

When the schoolmaster came to the doss-house, Tiapa had been there
already a long time. He watched the schoolmaster constantly; he would
bend his body on one side in order to get a good look at him, and would
listen attentively to his conversation.

Once he began, "Well, I see you are a learned man. Have you ever read
the Bible?"

"Yes, I have."

"Well, do you remember it?"

"I do! What then?"

The old man bent his whole body on one side and looked at the
schoolmaster with grey, morose, distrustful eyes.

"And do you remember anything about the Amalekites?"

"Well, what then?"

"Where are they now?"

"They have died out, Tiapa--disappeared."

The old man was silent, but soon he asked again--

"And the Philistines?"

"They've gone also."

"Have they all disappeared?"

"Yes, all."

"Does that mean that we shall also disappear as well?"

"Yes, when the time comes," the schoolmaster replied, in an indifferent
tone of voice.

"And to which tribe of Israel do we belong?"

The schoolmaster looked at him steadily, thought for a moment, and
began telling him about the Cymri, the Scythians, the Huns, and the
Slavs.

The old man seemed to bend more than ever on one side, and watched the
schoolmaster with scared eyes.

"You are telling lies!" he hissed out, when the schoolmaster had
finished.

"Why do you think I am lying?" asked the astonished schoolmaster.

"Those people you have spoken of, none of them are in the Bible!" He
rose and went out, deeply insulted, and cursing angrily.

"You are going mad, Tiapa!" cried the schoolmaster after him.

Then the old man turned round, and stretching out his hand shook with a
threatening action his dirty, crooked forefinger.

"Adam came from the Lord. The Jews came from Adam. And all people come
from the Jews--we amongst them."

"Well?"

"The Tartars came from Ishmael. And he came from a Jew!"

"Well, what then?"

"Nothing. Only why do you tell lies?"

And he went off, leaving his companion in a state of bewilderment. But
in two or three days' time he approached him again.

"As you are a learned man, you ought at least to know who we are!"

"Slavs, Tiapa--Slavs!" replied the schoolmaster.

And he awaited with interest Tiapa's answer, hoping to understand him.

"Speak according to the Bible! There are no names like that in the
Bible. Who are we, Babylonians or Edomites?"

The teacher began criticising the Bible. The old man listened long and
attentively, and finally interrupted him.

"Stop all that! Do you mean that among all the people known to God
there were no Russians? We were unknown to God? Is that what you mean
to say? Those people, written about in the Bible, God knew them all.
He used to punish them with fire and sword; He destroyed their towns
and villages, but still He sent them His prophets to teach them, which
meant He loved them. He dispersed the Jews and Tartars, but He still
preserved them. And what about us? Why have we no prophets?"

"Well, I don't know," said the schoolmaster, trying in vain to
understand the old man.

The old peasant put his hand on the schoolmaster's shoulder, rocking
him gently to and fro whilst he hissed and gurgled as if swallowing
something, and muttered in a hoarse voice--

"You should have said so long ago. And you went on talking as if you
knew everything. It makes me sick to hear you. It troubles my soul.
You'd better hold your tongue. See, you don't even know why we have no
prophets. You don't know where we were when Jesus was on earth. And
such lies too. Can a whole people die out? The Russian nation can't
disappear; it's all lies. They are mentioned somewhere in the Bible,
only I don't know under what name. Don't you know what a nation means?
It is immense. See how many villages there are! And in each village
look at the number of people; and you say they will die out. A people
cannot die out, but a person can. A people is necessary to God, for
they till the soil. The Amalekites have not died out; they are the
French or the Germans. And see what you have been telling me. You ought
to know why we don't possess God's favour; He never sends us now either
plagues or prophets. So how _can_ we be taught now?"

Tiapa's speech was terribly powerful. It was penetrated with irony,
reproach, and fervent faith. He spoke for a long time, and the
schoolmaster, who was as usual half drunk, and in a peaceful frame
of mind, got tired of listening. He felt as if his nerves were being
sawn with a wooden saw. He was watching the distorted body of the
old man, and feeling the strange oppressive strength in his words.
Finally he fell to pitying himself, and from that passed into a sad,
wearied mood. He also wanted to say something forcible to old Tiapa,
something positive, that might win the old man's favour, and change
his reproachful, morose tone into one that was soft and fatherly. The
schoolmaster felt as if words were rising to his lips, but could not
find any strong enough to express his thought.

"Ah! You are a lost man," said Tiapa. "Your soul is torn, and yet you
speak all sorts of empty fine words. You'd better be silent!"

"Ah, Tiapa!" sadly exclaimed the schoolmaster, "all that you say is
true. And about the people also. The mass of the people is immense!
But I am a stranger to it, and it is a stranger to me. There lies the
tragedy of my life! But what's to be done? I must go on suffering.
Indeed there are no prophets; no, not any. And it's true I talk too
much and to no purpose. I had better hold my tongue. But you mustn't be
so hard on me. Ah, old man, you don't know! You don't know. You can't
understand."

Finally the schoolmaster burst into tears; he cried so easily and
freely, with such abundant tears, that afterwards he felt quite
relieved.

"You should go into the country; you should get a place as schoolmaster
or as clerk. You would be comfortable there, and have a change of air.
What's the use of leading this miserable life here?" Tiapa hissed
morosely.

But the schoolmaster continued to weep, enjoying his tears.

From that time forth they became friends, and the outcasts, seeing them
together, would say--

"The schoolmaster is making up to old Tiapa; he is trying to get at his
money."

"It's Kouvalda who has put him up to trying to find out where the old
man's hoard is."

It is very possible that their words were not in agreement with their
thoughts; for these people had one strange trait in common--they liked
to appear to each other worse than they really were.

The man who has nothing good in him likes sometimes to show himself in
the worst light.

When all of them were gathered round the schoolmaster with his
newspaper, the reading would begin.

"Now," would say the captain, "what does the paper offer us to-day? Is
there a serial story coming out in it?"

"No," the schoolmaster would reply.

"Your editor is mean. Is there a leading article?"

"Yes, there is one to-day. I think it is by Gouliaff."

"Give us a taste of it! The fellow writes well. He's a cute one, he is!"

"The valuation of real estate," reads the schoolmaster, "which took
place more than fifteen years ago, continues still to form a basis for
present-day rating, to the great advantage of the town."

"The rogues!" interjects Captain Kouvalda.

"'Still continues to form!' It's indeed absurd! It's to the advantage
of the merchants who manage the affairs of the town that it should
continue to form the basis, and that's why it does continue!"

"Well, the article is written with that idea," says the schoolmaster.

"Ah! is it? How strange! It would be a good theme for the serial story,
where it could be given a spicy flavour!"

A short dispute arises. The company still listens attentively, for they
are at their first bottle of vodka. After the leading article they take
the local news. After that they attack the police news, and law cases.
If in these a merchant is the sufferer, Aristide Kouvalda rejoices.
If a merchant is robbed, all is well; it is only a pity they did not
take more. If his horses ran away with him and smashed him up, it was
pleasant to listen to, and only a pity that the fellow escaped alive.
If a shopkeeper lost a lawsuit, that was a good hearing; the sad point
was that he was not made to pay the expenses twice over.

"That would have been illegal," remarks the schoolmaster.

"Illegal?" Kouvalda exclaims hotly. "But does a shopkeeper himself act
always according to the law? What is a shopkeeper? Let us examine this
vulgar, absurd creature. To begin with, every shopkeeper is a moujik.
He comes from the country, and after a certain time he takes a shop
and begins to trade. To keep a shop one must have money, and where can
a moujik or peasant get money? As everyone knows, money is not earned
by honest labour. It means that the peasant by some means or other has
cheated. It means that a shopkeeper is a dishonest peasant!"

"That's clever!" The audience shows its approbation of the orator's
reasoning.

Tiapa groans and rubs his chest; the sound is like that which he makes
after swallowing his first glass of vodka.

The captain is buoyant. They now begin reading provincial
correspondence. Here the captain is in his own sphere, as he expresses
it. Here it is apparent how shamefully the shopkeeper lives, and how
he destroys and disfigures life. Kouvalda's speech thunders round the
shopkeeper, and annihilates him. He is listened to with pleasure, for
he uses violent words.

"Oh, if I could only write in newspapers!" he exclaims, "I'd show the
shopkeeper up in his right colours! I'd show he was only an animal who
was temporarily performing the duties of man. I can see through him
very well! I know him. He's a coarse fool with no taste for life, who
has no notion of patriotism, and understands nothing beyond kopecks!"

"Scraps," knowing the weak side of the captain, and delighting in
arousing anger, would interpose--

"Yes, since the gentry are dying out from hunger, there is no one of
any account left in the world."

"You are right, you son of a spider and of a frog! Since the gentry
have gone under no one is left. There are nothing but shopkeepers, and
I hate them!"

"That's easy to see; for have they not trodden you under foot?"

"What's that to me? I came down in the world through my love of life,
while the shopkeeper does not understand living. That's just why I hate
him so, and not because I am a gentleman. But just take this as said,
that I'm no longer a gentleman, but just simply an outcast, the shadow
only of my former self. I spit at all and everything, and life for me
is like a mistress who has deserted me. That is why I despise it, and
am perfectly indifferent towards it."

"All lies!" says "Scraps."

"Am I a liar?" roars Aristide Kouvalda, red with anger.

"Why roar like that?" says Martianoff's bass voice, coolly and
gloomily. "What's the use of arguing? Shopkeeper or gentleman, what
does it matter to us?"

"That's just it, for we are neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red
herring," interposes Deacon Tarass.

"Leave him in peace, 'Scraps,'" says the schoolmaster pacifically.
"What's the use of throwing oil on the fire?"

The schoolmaster did not like quarrels and noise. When passions grew
hot around him his lips twitched painfully, and he unobtrusively tried
to make peace; not succeeding in which, he would leave the company to
themselves. The captain knew this well, and if he was not very drunk
he restrained himself, not wishing to lose the best auditor of his
brilliant speeches.

"I repeat," he continued now, with more restraint--"I repeat, that
I see that life is in the hands of foes, not only of foes of the
nobility, but foes of all that is noble; of greedy, ignorant people,
who won't do anything to improve the conditions of life. Still," argues
the schoolmaster, "merchants created Genoa, Venice, Holland. It was the
merchants, the merchants of England who won India. It was the merchants
Stroganoff's"--

"What have I to do with those merchants? I am speaking of Judah
Petounnikoff and his kind, with whom I have to do."

"And what have you to do with these?" asked the schoolmaster softly.

"Well, I'm alive. I'm in the world. I can't help being indignant at the
thought of these savages, who have got hold of life, and who are doing
their best to spoil it!"

"And who are laughing at the noble indignation of a captain and an
outcast!" interjects "Scraps" provokingly.

"It's stupid, very stupid! I agree with you. As an outcast I must
destroy all the feelings and thoughts that were once in me. That's
perhaps true; but how shall we arm ourselves, you and I, if we throw on
one side these feelings?"

"Now you are beginning to speak reasonably," says the schoolmaster
encouragingly.

"We want something different. New ways of looking at life, new
feelings, something fresh, for we ourselves are a new phase in life."

"Yes, indeed, that's what we want," says the schoolmaster.

"What's the use of discussing and thinking?" inquires "The End"; "we
haven't got long to live; I'm forty, you are fifty. There is no one
under thirty among us. And even if one were twenty, one could not live
very long in such surroundings as these."

"And then again, what new phase are we? Tramps, it seems to We, have
always existed in the world," says "Scraps" satirically.

"Tramps created Rome," says the schoolmaster.

"Yes; that was so!" said the captain jubilantly. "Romulus and Remus,
were they not tramps? And we--when our time comes--we shall also
create." "A breach of the peace!" interjects "Scraps," and laughs,
pleased with his own wit.

His laugh is wicked, and jars on the nerves. He is echoed by Simtzoff,
by the deacon, and by "Tarass and a half." The naïve eyes of the lad
"Meteor" burn with a bright glow, and his cheeks flush red. "The End"
mutters, in tones that fall like a hammer on the heads of the audience--

"All that's trash and nonsense, and dreams!"

It was strange to hear these people, outcasts from life, ragged,
saturated with vodka, anger, irony, and filth, discussing life in this
way.

For the captain such discussions were a feast. He spoke more than the
others, and that gave him a chance of feeling his superiority. For
however low a person may fall, he can never refuse himself the delight
of feeling stronger and better off than the rest. Aristide Kouvalda
abused this sensation, and never seemed to have enough of it, much to
the disgust of "Scraps," "The Top," and the other outcasts, little
interested in similar questions. Politics was with them the favourite
topic. A discussion on the necessity of conquering India, and of
checking England, would continue endlessly. The question as to the best
means of sweeping the Jews off the face of the earth, was no less hotly
debated. In this latter question the leader was always "Scraps," who
invented marvellously cruel projects; but the captain, who liked always
to be first in a discussion, evaded this topic. Women were always
willingly and constantly discussed, but with unpleasant allusions; and
the schoolmaster always appeared as women's champion, and grew angry
when the expressions used by the others were of too strong a nature.
They gave in to him, for they looked upon him as a superior being, and
on Saturdays they would borrow money from him, which he had earned
during the week.

He enjoyed besides many privileges. For instance, he was never knocked
about on the frequent occasions when the discussions finished in a
general row. He was allowed to bring women into the doss-house; and no
one else enjoyed this right, for the captain always warned his clients--

"I'll have no women here! Women, shopkeepers, and philosophy have been
the three causes of my ruin. I'll knock down anyone I see with a woman,
and I'll knock the woman down as well. On principle, I would twist the
neck of"--

He could have twisted anyone's neck, for in spite of his years he
possessed wonderful strength. Besides, whenever he had a fighting job
on, he was always helped by Martianoff. Gloomy and silent as the tomb
in the usual way, yet on these occasions, when there was a general
row on, he would stand back to back with Kouvaloff, these two forming
together a destructive but indestructible engine. If Kouvalda was
engaged in a hand-to-hand fight, "The End" would creep up and throw his
opponent on the ground.

Once when Simtzoff was drunk, he, without any reason, caught hold of
the schoolmaster's hair and pulled a handful out. Kouvalda, with one
blow of his fist, dropped Simtzoff unconscious, and he lay where he
fell for half an hour. When the fellow came to his senses he was made
to swallow the schoolmaster's hair, which he did for fear of being
beaten to death.

Besides the reading of the newspaper, discussions, and laughter, the
other amusement was card-playing. They always left Martianoff out, for
he could not play honestly. After being several times caught cheating,
he candidly confessed--

"I can't help cheating; it's a habit of mine." "Such things do happen,"
corroborated Deacon Tarass. "I used to have the habit of beating my
wife every Sunday after mass; and, would you believe it, after she died
I had such a gnawing feeling come over me every Sunday I can scarcely
describe it. I got over one Sunday, but things seemed to go all wrong.
Another Sunday passed, and I felt very bad. The third Sunday I could
not bear it any longer, and struck the servant girl. She kicked up a
row, and threatened to take me before a magistrate. Just imagine my
position! When the fourth Sunday came I knocked her about as I used
to do my wife; I paid her ten roubles down, and arranged that I should
beat her as a matter of course until I married again."

"Deacon, you are telling lies! How could you marry again?" broke in
"Scraps."

"Well--I--she--we did without the ceremony. She kept house for me."

"Had you any children?" asked the schoolmaster.

"Yes, five of them. One got drowned--the eldest. He was a queer boy.
Two died of diphtheria. One daughter married a student, and followed
him to Siberia. The other wanted to study in Petersburg, and died
there; I am told it was consumption. Yes, five of them. We clergy are
very prolific."

And he began giving reasons for this, causing by his explanations
Homeric laughter. When they were tired of laughing, Alexai Maximovitch
Simtzoff remembered that he also had a daughter.

"She was called Lidka. Oh, how fat she was!" Probably he remembered
nothing more, for he looked round deprecatingly, smiled, and found
nothing more to say.

These people spoke but little of their past. They seldom recalled it,
and if ever they did so, it was in general terms, and in a more or
less scoffing tone. Perhaps they were right in treating their past
slightingly, for recollections with most people have a tendency to
weaken present energy, and destroy hope in the future.

On rainy days, and during dark, cold, autumn weather, these outcasts
would gather in Vaviloff's vodka shop. They were habitués there, and
were feared as a set of thieves and bullies; on one hand they were
despised as confirmed drunkards, and on the other hand they were
respected and listened to as superior people. Vaviloff's vodka shop was
the club of the neighbourhood, and the outcasts were the intellectuals
of the club.

On Saturday evenings, and on Sundays from early morning till night, the
vodka shop was full of people, and the outcasts were welcome guests.
They brought with them, amongst these inhabitants of the High Street,
oppressed as they were by poverty and misery, a rollicking humour, in
which there was something that seemed to brighten these lives, broken
and worn out in the struggle for bread. The outcasts' art of talking
jestingly on every subject, their fearlessness of opinion, their
careless audacity of expression, their absence of fear of everything
which the neighbourhood feared, their boldness, their dare-devilry--all
this did not fail to please. Besides, almost all of them knew something
of law, could give advice on many matters, could write a petition, or
could give a helping hand in a shady transaction without getting into
trouble. They were paid in vodka, and in flattering encomiums on their
various talents.

According to their sympathies, the street was divided into two nearly
equal parties. One considered that the captain was very superior to
the schoolmaster: "A real hero! His pluck and his intelligence are
far greater!" The other considered that the schoolmaster outbalanced
Kouvalda in every respect. The admirers of Kouvalda were those who were
known in the street as confirmed drunkards, thieves, and scapegraces,
who feared neither poverty nor prison. The schoolmaster was admired
by those who were more decent, who were always hoping for something,
always expecting something, and yet whose bellies were always empty.

The respective merits of Kouvalda and the schoolmaster may be judged of
by the following example. Once in the vodka shop they were discussing
the town regulations under which the inhabitants of the neighbourhood
were bound to fill up the ruts and holes in the streets; the dead
bodies of animals and manure were not to be used for this purpose, but
rubble and broken bricks from buildings.

"How the devil am I to get broken bricks? I, who all my life have been
wanting to build a starling house, and yet have never been able to
begin?" complained in a pitiful voice Mokei Anissimoff, a seller of
kringels[1] which were made by his wife.

The captain considered that he ought to give an opinion on the
question, and thumped the table energetically to attract the attention
of the company.

"Don't you know where to get bricks and rubble? Let's go all of us, my
lads, into the town together and demolish the Town Hall. It's an old,
good-for-nothing building, and your work will be crowned by a double
success. You will improve the town by forcing them to build a new Town
Hall, and you will make your own neighbourhood decent. You can use the
Mayor's horses to draw the bricks, and you can take his three daughters
as well; the girls would look well in harness! Or else you may pull
down Judah Petounnikoff's house, and mend the street with wood. By the
bye, Mokei, I know what your wife was using to-day to heat the oven for
baking her kringels! It was the shutters from the third window, and the
boards from two of the steps!"

[Footnote 1: A sort of white bread of a particular shape, which is very
popular amongst the Russian peasantry.]


When the audience had had its laugh out, and had finished joking at the
captain's proposal, the serious-minded gardener Pavluguine asked--

"But, after all, captain, what's to be done? What do you advise us to
do?"

"I--I advise you not to move hand or foot. If the rain destroys the
street, let it. It isn't our fault."

"Some of the houses are tumbling down already."

"Leave them alone, let them fall! If they come down the town must pay
damages, and if the authorities refuse, bring the matter before a
magistrate. For just consider where the water comes from; doesn't it
come down from the town? Well, that shows the town is to blame for the
houses being destroyed."

"They will say it's rain water."

"But in the town the rain doesn't wash down the houses, does it? The
town makes you pay rates and gives you no vote to help you claim your
rights. The town destroys your life and your property, and yet holds
you responsible for them. Pitch into the town on every side!"

And one half of the dwellers in the street, convinced by the radical
Kouvalda, decided to wait till the storm-waters of the town had washed
down their hovels.

The more serious half got the schoolmaster to write out an elaborate,
convincing report for presentation to the town authorities. In this
report, the refusal to carry out the town regulations was based on
such solid reasons that the municipality was bound to take them into
consideration. The dwellers in the street were granted permission to
use the refuse left after the rebuilding of the barracks, and five
horses from the fire brigade were lent to cart the rubbish. Besides
this it was decided to lay a drain down the street.

This, added to other circumstances, made the schoolmaster very popular
in the neighbourhood. He wrote petitions, got articles put into the
papers. Once, for instance, the guests at Vaviloff's noticed that the
herrings and other coarse food were not up to the mark, and two days
later Vaviloff, standing at the counter with the newspaper in his
hands, made a public recantation.

"It's quite just I have nothing to say for myself. The herrings
were indeed rotten when I bought them, and the cabbage--that's also
true--had been lying about too long. Well, it's only natural everyone
wants to put more kopecks into his own pocket. And what comes of it?
Just the opposite to what one hopes. I tried to get at other men's
pockets, and a clever man has shown me up for my avarice. Now we're
quits!"

This recantation produced an excellent effect on his audience, and gave
Vaviloff the chance of using up all his bad herrings and stale cabbage,
the public swallowing them down unheeding their ancient flavour, which
was concealed with the spice of a favourable impression. This event
was remarkable in two ways; it not only increased the prestige of the
schoolmaster, but it taught the inhabitants the value of the Press.

Sometimes the schoolmaster would hold forth on practical morality.

"I saw," he would say, accosting the house painter Jashka Turine, "I
saw, Jakoff, how you were beating your wife to-day."

Jashka had already raised his spirits with two glasses of vodka, and
was in a jovial mood. The company looked at him, expecting some sally,
and silence reigned in the vodka shop.

"Well, if you saw it I hope you liked it!" said Jashka.

The company laughed discreetly.

"No, I didn't like it," answered the schoolmaster; his tone of voice
was suggestively serious, and silence fell on the listeners.

"I did what I could; in fact I tried to do my best," said Jashka,
trying to brave it out, but feeling he was about to catch it from the
schoolmaster. "My wife has had enough; she won't be able to get out of
bed to-day."

The schoolmaster traced with his forefinger some figures on the table,
and whilst examining them said--

"Look here, Jakoff, this is why I don't like it. Let us go thoroughly
into the question of what you are doing, and of what may be the result
of it. Your wife is with child; you beat her yesterday all over the
body; you might, when you do that, kill the child, and when your wife
is in labour she might die or be seriously ill. The trouble of having
a sick wife is not pleasant; it may cost you also a good deal, for
illness means medicine, and medicine means money. If, even, you are
fortunate enough not to have killed the child, you have certainly
injured it, and it will very likely be born hunchbacked or crooked, and
that means it won't be fit for work. It is of importance to you that
the child should be able to earn its living. Even supposing it is only
born delicate, that also will be an awkward business for you. It will
be a burden to its mother, and it will require care and medicine. Do
you see what you are laying up in store for yourself? Those who have to
earn their living must be born healthy and bear healthy children. Am I
not right?"

"Quite right," affirms the company.

"But let's hope this won't happen," says Jashka, rather taken aback by
the picture drawn by the schoolmaster. "She's so strong one can't touch
the child through her. Besides, what's to be done? she's such a devil.
She nags and nags at me for the least trifle."

"I understand, Jakoff, that you can't resist beating your wife,"
continued the schoolmaster, in his quiet, thoughtful voice. "You may
have many reasons for it, but it's not your wife's temper that causes
you to beat her so unwisely. The cause is your unenlightened and
miserable condition."

"That's just so," exclaimed Jakoff. "We do indeed live in darkness--in
darkness as black as pitch!"

"The conditions of your life irritate you, and your wife has to suffer
for it. She is the one nearest to you in the world, and she is the
innocent sufferer just because you are the stronger of the two. She is
always there ready to your hand; she can't get away from you. Don't you
see how absurd it is of you?"

"That's all right, damn her! But what am I to do? Am I not a man?"

"Just so; you are a man. Well, don't you see what I want to explain to
you? If you must beat her, do so; but beat her carefully. Remember that
you can injure her health and that of the child. Remember, as a general
rule, it is bad to beat a woman who is with child on the breasts, or
the lower part of the body. Beat her on the back of the neck, or take a
rope and strike her on the fleshy parts of the body."

As the orator finished his speech, his sunken dark eyes glanced at the
audience as if asking pardon or begging for something. The audience
was in a lively, talkative mood. This morality of an outcast was to it
perfectly intelligible--the morality of the vodka shop and of poverty.

"Well, brother Jashka, have you understood?"

"Damn it all! there's truth in what you say."

Jakoff understood one thing--that to beat his wife unwisely might be
prejudicial to himself.

He kept silence, answering his friends' jokes with shamefaced smiles.

"And then again, look what a wife can be to one," philosophises the
kringel-seller, Mokei Anissimoff. "One's wife is a friend, if you look
at the matter in the right light. She is, as it were, chained to one
for life, like a fellow-convict, and one must try and walk in step with
her. If one gets out of step, the chain galls."

"Stop!" says Jakoff. "You beat your wife also, don't you?"

"I'm not saying I don't, because I do. How can I help it? I can't beat
the wall with my fists when I feel I must beat something!"

"That's just how I feel," says Jakoff.

"What an existence is ours, brothers! So narrow and stifling, one can
never have a real fling."

"One has even to beat one's wife with caution," humorously condoles
someone.

Thus they would go on gossiping late into the night, or until a
row would begin, provoked by their state of drunkenness, or by the
impressions aroused by these conversations.

Outside the rain beats against the window and the icy wind howls
wildly. Inside the air is close, heavy with smoke, but warm. In the
street it is wet, cold, and dark; the gusts of wind seem to strike
insolently against the window panes as if inviting the company to go
outside, and threatening to drive them like dust over the face of the
earth. Now and then is heard in its howling a suppressed moan, followed
at intervals by what sounds like a hoarse, chill laugh. These sounds
suggest sad thoughts of coming winter; of the damp, short, sunless
days, and of the long nights; of the necessity for providing warm
clothes and much food. There is little sleep to be got during these
long winter nights if one has an empty stomach! Winter is coming--is
coming! How is one to live through it?

These sad thoughts encouraged thirst among the dwellers in the High
Street, and the sighs of the outcasts increased the number of wrinkles
on their foreheads. Their voices sounded more hollow, and their dull,
slow thought kept them, as it were, at a distance from each other.
Suddenly amongst them there flashed forth anger like that of wild
beasts or the desperation of those who are overdriven and crushed down
by a cruel fate, or else they seemed to feel the proximity of that
unrelenting foe who had twisted and contorted their lives into one
long, cruel absurdity. But this foe was invulnerable because he was
unknown.

Then they took to beating one another, and they struck each other
cruelly, wildly. After making it up again they would fall to drinking
once more, and drink till they had pawned everything that the easygoing
Vaviloff would accept as a pledge.

Thus, in dull anger, in trouble that crushed the heart, in the
uncertainty of the issue of this miserable existence, they spent
the autumn days awaiting the still harder days of winter. During
hard times like these Kouvalda would come to their rescue with his
philosophy.

"Pluck up courage, lads! All comes to an end!--that's what there is
best about life! Winter will pass and summer will follow; good times
when, as they say, 'even a sparrow has beer'!"

But his speeches were of little avail; a mouthful of pure water does
not satisfy a hungry stomach.

Deacon Tarass would also try to amuse the company by singing songs
and telling stories. He had more success. Sometimes his efforts would
suddenly arouse desperate, wild gaiety in the vodka shop. They would
sing, dance, shout with laughter, and for some hours would behave like
maniacs. And then--

And then they would fall into a dull, indifferent state of despair as
they sat round the gin-shop table in the smoke of the lamps and the
reek of tobacco; gloomy, ragged, letting words drop idly from their
lips while they listened to the triumphant howl of the wind; one
thought uppermost in their minds--how to get more vodka to drown their
senses and to bring unconsciousness. And each of them hated the other
with a deadly, senseless hatred, but hid that hatred deep down in his
heart.

II

Everything in this world is relative, and there is no situation which
cannot be matched with a worse one.

One fine day at the end of September Captain Kouvalda sat, as was his
custom, in his arm-chair at the door of the doss-house looking at the
big brick building erected by the merchant Petounnikoff by the side of
Vaviloff's vodka shop. Kouvalda was deep in thought.

This building, from which the scaffolding had not yet been removed,
was destined to be a candle factory; and for some time it had been
a thorn in the captain's side, with its row of dark, empty, hollow
windows and its network of wood surrounding it from foundation to roof.
Blood-red in colour, it resembled some cruel piece of machinery, not
yet put into motion, but which had already opened its row of deep,
greedy jaws ready to seize and gulp down everything that came in its
way. The grey, wooden vodka shop of Vaviloff, with its crooked roof
overgrown with moss, leaned up against one of the brick walls of the
factory, giving the effect of a great parasite drawing its nourishment
from it. The captain's mind was occupied by the thought that the old
house would soon be replaced by a new one and the doss-house would be
pulled down. He would have to seek another shelter, and it was doubtful
if he would find one as cheap and as convenient. It was hard to be
driven from a place one was used to, and harder still because a damned
shopkeeper takes it into his head to want to make candles and soap. And
the captain felt that if he had the chance of spoiling the game of this
enemy of his he would do it with the greatest pleasure.

Yesterday, the shopkeeper, Ivan Andreevitch Petounnikoff, was in the
yard of the doss-house with his son and an architect. They made a
survey of the yard and stuck in pegs all over the place, which, after
Petounnikoff had left, the captain ordered "The Meteor" to pull up and
throw away.

The shopkeeper was for ever before the captain's eyes--short, lean,
shrivelled up, dressed in a long garment something between an overcoat
and a kaftan, with a velvet cap on his head, and wearing long, brightly
polished boots. With prominent cheek-bones and a grey, sharp-pointed
beard; a high, wrinkled forehead, from under which peeped narrow, grey,
half-closed, watchful eyes; a hooked, gristly nose and thin-lipped
mouth--taken altogether, the merchant gave the impression of being
piously rapacious and venerably wicked.

"Damned offspring of a fox and a sow!" said the captain angrily to
himself, as he recalled some words of Petounnikoff's.

The merchant had come with a member of the town council to look at the
house, and at the sight of the captain he had asked his companion in
the abrupt dialect of Kostroma--

"Is that your tenant--that lunatic at large?"

And since that time, more than eighteen months ago, they had rivalled
each other in the art of insult.

Yesterday again there had been a slight interchange of "holy words," as
the captain called his conversations with the merchant. After having
seen the architect off, Petounnikoff approached the captain.

"What, still sitting--always sitting?" asked he, touching the peak of
his cap in a way that left it uncertain whether he were fixing it on
his head or bowing.

"And you--you are still on the prowl," echoed the captain, jerking out
his lower jaw and making his beard wag in a way that might be taken for
a bow by anyone not too exacting in these matters; it might also have
been interpreted as the act of removing his pipe from one corner of his
mouth to the other.

"I've plenty of money; that's why I'm always on the go. Money needs
putting out, so I'm obliged to keep it moving," says the shopkeeper in
an aggravating voice to the other, screwing up his eyes slyly.

"Which means that you are the slave of money, and not money your
slave," replies Kouvalda, resisting an intense desire to kick his enemy
in the stomach.

"It's all the same either way where money is concerned. But if you have
no money!"--and the shopkeeper looked at the captain with bold but
feigned compassion, while his trembling upper lip showed large, wolfish
teeth.

"Anyone with a head on his shoulders and with a good conscience can do
without it. Money generally comes when the conscience begins to grow a
little out-at-elbows. The less honesty the more money!"

"That's true, but there are some people who have neither honesty nor
money."

"That describes you when you were young, no doubt," said Kouvalda
innocently.

Petounnikoff wrinkles his nose, he sighs, closes his narrow eyes, and
says, "Ah! when I was young, what heavy burdens I had to bear!"

"Yes, I should think so!"

"I worked! Oh, how I worked!"

"Yes, you worked at outwitting others!"

"People like you and the nobility--what does it matter? Many of them
have, thanks to me, learnt to extend the hand in Christ's name."

"Ah! then you did not assassinate, you only robbed?" interrupted the
captain.

Petounnikoff turns a sickly green and thinks it is time to change the
conversation.

"You are not an over polite host; you remain sitting while your visitor
stands."

"Well, he can sit down."

"There is nothing to sit on."

"There is the ground. The ground never rejects any filth!"

"You prove that rule, but I had better leave you, you blackguard!" says
Petounnikoff coolly, though his eyes dart cold venom at the captain.

He went off leaving Kouvalda with the agreeable sensation that the
merchant was afraid of him. If it were not so he would have turned
him out of the doss-house long ago. It was not for the five roubles a
month that the Jew let him remain on! ... And the captain watches with
pleasure the slowly retreating back of Petounnikoff, as he walks slowly
away. Kouvalda's eyes still follow the merchant as he climbs up and
down the scaffolding of his new building. He feels an intense desire
that the merchant should fall and break his back. How many times has he
not conjured up results of this imaginary fall, as he has sat watching
Petounnikoff crawling about the scaffolding of his new factory, like
a spider crawling about its net. Yesterday he had even imagined that
one of the boards had given way under the weight of the merchant; and
Kouvalda had jumped out of his seat with excitement--but nothing had
come of it.

And to-day, as always, before the eyes of Aristide Kouvalda stands the
great red building, so foursquare, so solid, so firmly fixed into the
ground, as if already drawing from thence its nourishment. It seemed as
if mocking the captain through the cold dark yawning openings in its
walls. And the sun poured on its autumn rays with the same prodigality
as on the distorted tumble-down little houses of the neighbourhood.

"But what if?" exclaimed the captain to himself, measuring with his eye
the factory wall. "What if?"

Aroused and excited by the thought which had come into his mind,
Aristide Kouvalda jumped up and hastened over to Vaviloff's vodka
shop, smiling, and muttering something to himself. Vaviloff met him at
the counter with a friendly exclamation: "How is your Excellency this
morning?"

Vaviloff was a man of medium height, with a bald head surrounded by a
fringe of grey hair; with clean-shaved cheeks, and moustache bristly
as a toothbrush. Upright and active, in a dirty braided jacket, every
movement betrayed the old soldier, the former non-commissioned officer.

"Jegor! Have you the deeds and the plan of your house and property?"
Kouvalda asked hastily.

"Yes, I have."

And Vaviloff closed his suspicious thievish eyes and scrutinised the
captain's face, in which he observed something out of the common.

"Just show them to me!" exclaimed the captain, thumping on the counter
with his fist, and dropping on to a stool.

"What for?" asked Vaviloff, who decided, in view of the captain's state
of excitement, to be on his guard.

"You fool! Bring them at once!"

Vaviloff wrinkled his forehead, and looked up inquiringly at the
ceiling.

"By the bye, where the devil are those papers?"

Not finding any information on this question on the ceiling, the old
soldier dropped his eyes towards the ground, and began thoughtfully
drumming with his fingers on the counter.

"Stop those antics!" shouted Kouvalda, who had no love for the old
soldier; as, according to the captain, it was better for a former
non-commissioned officer to be a thief than a keeper of a vodka shop.

"Well now, Aristide Kouvalda, I think I remember! I believe those
papers were left at the law-courts at the time when"--

"Jegorka! stop this fooling. It's to your own interest to do so. Show
me the plans, the deed of sale, and all that you have got at once!
Perhaps you will gain by this more than a hundred roubles! Do you
understand now?"

Vaviloff understood nothing; but the captain spoke in such an
authoritative and serious tone that the eyes of the old soldier
sparkled with intense curiosity; and saying that he would go and see if
the papers were not in his strong box, he disappeared behind the door
of the counter. In a few moments he returned with the papers in his
hand, and a look of great surprise on his coarse face.

"Just see! The damned things were after all in the house!"

"You circus clown! Who would think you had been a soldier!"

Kouvalda could not resist trying to shame him, whilst snatching from
his hands the cotton case containing the blue legal paper. Then he
spread the papers out before him, thus exciting more and more the
curiosity of Vaviloff, and began reading and scrutinising them;
uttering from time to time interjections in a meaning tone. Finally, he
rose with an air of decision, went to the door leaving the papers on
the counter, shouting out to Vaviloff--

"Wait a moment! Don't put them away yet!" Vaviloff gathered up
the papers, put them in his cash box, locked it, felt to see that
it was securely fastened. Then rubbing his bald head, he went and
stood in the doorway of his shop. There he saw the captain measuring
with his stride the length of the front of the vodka shop, whilst
he snapped his fingers from time to time, and once more began his
measurements--anxious but satisfied.

Vaviloff's face wore at first a worried expression; then it grew long,
and at last it suddenly beamed with joy.

"'Ristide Fomitch! Is it possible?" he exclaimed, as the captain drew
near.

"Of course it's possible! More than a yard has been taken off! That's
only as far as the frontage is concerned; as to the depth, I will see
about that now!"

"The depth is thirty-two yards!"

"Well, I see you've guessed what I'm after. You stupid fool!"

"Well, you're a wonder,'Ristide Fomitch! You've an eye that sees two
yards into the ground!" exclaimed the delighted Vaviloff. A few minutes
later they were seated opposite each other in Vaviloff's room, and the
captain was swallowing great gulps of beer, and saying to the landlord--

"You see, therefore, all the factory wall stands on your ground. Act
without mercy. When the schoolmaster comes we will draw up a report for
the law-courts. We will reckon the damages at a moderate figure, so
that the revenue stamps shan't cost us too much, but we will ask that
the wall shall be pulled down. This sort of thing, you fool, is called
a violation of boundaries, and it's a stroke of luck for you! To pull a
great wall like that down and move it farther back is not such an easy
business, and costs no end of money. Now's your chance for squeezing
Judah! We will make a calculation of what the pulling down will cost,
taking into consideration the value of the broken bricks and the cost
of digging out the new foundations. We will calculate everything, even
the value of the time, and then, O just Judah, what do you say to two
thousand roubles?"

"He won't give it!" exclaimed Vaviloff anxiously, blinking his eyes,
which were sparkling with greedy fire.

"Let him try and get out of it! Just look, what can he do? There will
be nothing for him but to pull it down. But look out, Jegor! Don't let
yourself be worsted in the bargain. They will try and buy you off! Mind
you don't let them off too easily! They will try and frighten you;
don't you be afraid; rely on us to back you up!"

The captain's eyes burnt with wild delight, and his face, purple with
excitement, twitched nervously. He had succeeded in arousing the greed
of the gin-shop keeper, and after having persuaded him to commence
proceedings as soon as possible, went off triumphant, and implacably
revengeful.

That evening all the outcasts learnt the discovery that the captain had
made, and discussed eagerly the future proceedings of Petounnikoff,
representing to themselves vividly his astonishment and anger the
day when he should have the copy of the lawsuit presented to him.
The captain was the hero of the day. He was happy, and all around
were pleased. A heap of dark tattered figures lay about in the yard,
talking noisily and eagerly, animated by the important event. All
knew Petounnikoff, who often passed near them, blinking his eyes
disdainfully, and paying as little attention to them as he did to
the rest of the rubbish lying about in the yard. He was a picture of
self-satisfaction, and this irritated them; even his boots seemed to
shine disdainfully at them. But now the shopkeeper's pocket and his
self-esteem were going to be hurt by one of themselves! Wasn't that an
excellent joke?

Evil had a singular attraction for these people; it was the only
weapon which came easily to their hands, and which was within their
reach. For a long time now, each of them had cultivated within himself
dim half-conscious feelings of keen hatred against all who, unlike
themselves, were neither hungry nor ragged. This was why all the
outcasts felt such an intense interest in the war declared by Kouvalda
against the shopkeeper Petounnikoff. Two whole weeks the dwellers in
the doss-house had been living on the expectation of new developments,
and during all that time Petounnikoff did not once come to visit the
almost completed building. They assured each other that he was out of
town, and that the summons had not therefore yet been served upon him.
Kouvalda raged against the delays of civil procedure. It is doubtful if
anyone ever awaited the arrival of the shopkeeper so impatiently as did
these tramps.

    "He comes not, he comes not!
    Alas! he loves me not!"

sang the Deacon Tarass, leaning his chin on his hand, and gazing with a
comically sad expression up the hill.

But one fine day, towards evening, Petounnikoff appeared. He arrived in
a strong light cart, driven by his son, a young man with red cheeks
and wearing a long checked overcoat, and smoked blue spectacles. They
tied up the horse; the son drew from his pocket a tape measure, gave
one end of it to his father, and both of them silently, and with
anxious expressions, began measuring the ground.

"Ah!" exclaimed triumphantly the captain.

All who were about the doss-house went and stood outside the gate
watching the proceedings and expressing aloud their opinions on what
was going forward.

"See what it is to have the habit of stealing! A man steals
unconsciously, not intending to steal, and thereby risks more than
he can gain," said the captain, with mock sympathy; thereby arousing
laughter among his bodyguard, and provoking a whole string of remarks
in the same strain.

"Look out, you rogue!" at length exclaimed Petounnikoff, exasperated by
these jibes. "If you don't mind I'll have you up before the magistrate."

"It's of no use without witnesses, and a son can't give evidence for a
father," the captain reminded him.

"All right; we shall see! Though you seem such a bold leader, you may
find your match some day."

And Petounnikoff shook his forefinger at him. The son, quiet and deeply
interested in his calculations, paid no heed to this group of squalid
figures, who were cruelly mocking his father. He never looked once
towards them.

"The young spider is well trained!" remarked "Scraps," who was
following the actions and the movements of the younger Petounnikoff.

Having taken all the necessary measurements, Ivan Andreevitch frowned,
climbed silently into his cart, and drove off, whilst his son, with
firm, decided steps, entered Vaviloff's vodka shop, and disappeared.

"He's a precious young thief! that he is. We shall see what comes of
it!" said Kouvalda.

"What will come of it? Why, Petounnikoff junior will square Jegor
Vaviloff!" remarked "Scraps," with great assurance, smacking his lips,
and with a look of keen satisfaction on his cunning face.

"That would please you, perhaps?" asked Kouvalda severely.

"It pleases me to see human calculations go wrong!" explained "Scraps,"
blinking his eyes and rubbing his hands.

The captain spat angrily, and kept silence. The rest of them, standing
at the gate of the tumbledown house, watched silently the door of
the vodka shop. An hour and more passed in this silent expectation.
At length the door opened, and young Petounnikoff appeared, looking
as calm as when he had entered. He paused for a moment, cleared his
throat, raised his coat collar, glanced at those who were watching his
movements, and turned up the street towards the town.

The captain watched him till he was out of sight, and, turning towards
"Scraps," smiled ironically and said--

"It seems, after all, as if you might be right, you son of a scorpion
and of a centipede! You smell out everything that's evil. One can
see by the dirty mug of the young rogue that he has got his own way!
I wonder how much Jegor has screwed out of him? He's got something,
that's sure! They're birds of a feather. I'm damned if I haven't
arranged it all for them. It's cursed hard to think what a fool I've
been. You see, mates, life is dead against us. One can't even spit into
one's neighbour's face--the spittle flies back into one's own eyes."

Consoling himself with this speech, the venerable captain glanced at
his bodyguard. All were disappointed, for all felt that what had taken
place between Vaviloff and Petounnikoff had turned out differently
from what they had expected, and all felt annoyed. The consciousness
of being unable to cause evil is more obnoxious to men than the
consciousness of being unable to do good; it is so simple and so easy
to do evil!

"Well! what's the use of sticking here? We have nothing to wait for
except for Jegorka to stand us treat," said the captain, glowering
angrily at the vodka shop. "It's all up with our peaceful and happy
life under Judah's roof. He'll send us packing now; so I give you all
notice, my brigade of _sans-culottes!_"

"The End" laughed morosely.

"Now then, gaoler, what's the matter with you?" asked Kouvalda.

"Where the devil am I to go?"

"That indeed is a serious question, my friend. But never fear, your
fate will decide it for you," said the captain, turning towards the
doss-house.

The outcasts followed him idly.

"We shall await the critical moment," said the captain, walking along
with them. "When we get the sack there will be time enough to look
out for another shelter. Meanwhile, what's the use of spoiling life
with troubles like that? It is at critical moments that man rises to
the occasion, and if life as a whole were to consist of nothing but
critical moments, if one had to tremble every minute of one's life for
the safety of one's carcass, I'll be hanged if life wouldn't be more
lively, and people more interesting!"

"Which would mean that people would fly at each other's throats more
savagely than they do now," explained "Scraps," smiling.

"Well, what of that?" struck in the captain, who did not care to have
his ideas enlarged on.

"Nothing! nothing! It's all right--when one wants to get to one's
destination quickly, one thrashes the horse, or one stokes up one's
machine."

"Yes, that's it; let everything go full speed to the devil. I should
be only too glad if the earth would suddenly take fire, burst up, and
go to pieces, only I should like to be the last man left, to see the
others."

"You're a nice one!" sneered "Scraps."

"What of that? I'm an outcast, am I not? I'm freed from all chains
and fetters; therefore I can spit at everything. By the very nature
of the life I lead now, I am bound to drop everything to do with the
past--all fine manners and conventional ideas of people who are well
fed, and well dressed, and who despise me because I am not equally
well fed and dressed. So I have to cultivate in myself something fresh
and new--don't you see--something you know which will make people like
Judah Petounnikoff, when they pass by me, feel a cold shudder run down
their backs!"

"You have a bold tongue!" sneered "Scraps."

"You miserable wretch!" Kouvalda scanned him disdainfully. "What do
you understand, what do you know? You don't even know how to think!
But I have thought much, I have read books of which you would not have
understood a word."

"Oh, I know I'm not fit to black the boots of such a learned man! But
though you have read and thought so much, and I have done neither the
one nor the other, yet we are not after all so far apart."

"Go to the devil!" exclaimed Kouvalda.

His conversations with "Scraps" always finished in this way. When
the schoolmaster was not about, the captain knew well that his
speeches were only wasted, and were lost for want of understanding and
appreciation. But for all that, he couldn't help talking, and now,
having snubbed his interlocutor, he felt himself lonely amongst the
others. His desire for conversation was not, however, satisfied, and he
turned therefore to Simtzoff with a question.

"And you, Alexai Maximovitch, where will you lay your old head?"

The old man smiled good-naturedly, rubbed his nose with his hand, and
explained--

"Don't know! Shall see by and by. I'm not of much account. A glass of
vodka, that's all I want."

"A very praiseworthy ambition, and very simple," said the captain.

After a short silence Simtzoff added that he would find shelter more
easily than the rest, because the women liked him.

This was true, for the old man had always two or three mistresses among
the prostitutes, who would keep him sometimes for two or three days at
a time on their scant earnings. They often beat him, but he took it
stoically. For some reason or other they never hurt him much; perhaps
they pitied him. He was a great admirer of women, but added that they
were the cause of all his misfortunes in life. The close terms on which
he lived with women, and the character of their relations towards him,
were shown by the fact that his clothes were always neatly mended, and
cleaner than the clothes of his companions. Seated now on the ground
at the door of the doss-house amidst his mates, he boastfully related
that he had for some time been asked by Riedka to go and live with her,
but that he had till now refused, not wanting to give up the present
company.

He was listened to with interest, mingled with envy. All knew Riedka;
she lived not far down the hill, and only a few months ago she came out
of prison after serving a second term for theft. She had formerly been
a wet nurse; a tall, stout, strapping countrywoman, with a pock-marked
face, and fine eyes, somewhat dulled by drink.

"The old rogue!" cursed "Scraps," watching Simtzoff, who smiled with
self-satisfaction.

"And do you know why they all like me? Because I understand what their
souls need."

"Indeed?" exclaimed Kouvalda interrogatively.

"I know how to make women pity me. And when a woman's pity is aroused,
she can even kill, out of pure pity! Weep before her, and implore her
to kill; she will have pity on you, and will kill."

"It's I who would kill!" exclaimed Martianoff, in a decided voice, with
a dark scowl.

"Whom do you mean?" asked "Scraps," edging away from him.

"It's all the same to me! Petounnikoff--Jegorka--you if you like!"

"Why?" asked Kouvalda, with aroused interest.

"I want to be sent to Siberia. I'm tired of this stupid life. There one
will know what to do with one's life."

"H'm!" said the captain reflectively. "You will indeed know what to do
with your life there!"

Nothing more was spoken about Petounnikoff, nor of their impending
expulsion from the doss-house. All were sure that this expulsion was
imminent, was perhaps a matter of a few days only; and they therefore
considered it useless to discuss the point further. Discussion wouldn't
make it easier; besides, it was not cold yet, though the rainy season
had begun. One could sleep on the ground anywhere outside the town.

Seated in a circle on the grass, they chatted idly and aimlessly,
changing easily from one topic to another, and paying only just as
much attention to the words of their companions as was absolutely
necessary to prevent the conversation from dropping. It was a nuisance
to have to be silent, but it was equally a nuisance to have to listen
with attention. This society of the outcasts had one great virtue: no
one ever made an effort to appear better than he was, nor forced others
to try and appear better than they were.

The August sun was shedding its warmth impartially on the rags that
covered theirs back and on their uncombed heads--a chaotic blending
of animal, vegetable, and mineral matter. In the corners of the yard,
weeds grew luxuriantly--tall agrimony, all covered with prickles, and
other useless plants, whose growth rejoiced the eyes of none but these
equally useless people.

In Vaviloff's vodka shop the following scene had--been going forward.

Petounnikoff junior entered, leisurely looked around, made a disdainful
grimace, and slowly removing his grey hat, asked the landlord, who met
him with an amiable bow and a respectful smile--

"Are you Jegor Terentievitch Vaviloff?"

"That's myself!" answered the old soldier, leaning on the counter with
both hands, as if ready with one bound to jump over.

"I have some business to transact with you," said Petounnikoff.

"Delighted! Won't you come into the back room?"

They went into the back part of the house, and sat down before a round
table; the visitor on a sofa covered with oilcloth, and the host on a
chair opposite to him.

In one corner of the room a lamp burnt before a shrine, around which
on the walls hung eikons, the gold backgrounds of which were carefully
burnished, and shone as if new. In the room, piled up with boxes and
old furniture, there was a mingled smell of paraffin oil, of tobacco,
and of sour cabbage. Petounnikoff glanced around, and made another
grimace. Vaviloff with a sigh glanced up at the images, and then they
scrutinised each other attentively, and each produced on the other a
favourable impression. Petounnikoff was pleased with Vaviloff's frankly
thievish eyes, and Vaviloff was satisfied with the cold, decided
countenance of Petounnikoff, with its broad jaw and strong white teeth.

"You know me, of course, and can guess my errand," began Petounnikoff.

"About the summons, I guess," replied the old soldier respectfully.

"Just so! I'm glad to see that you are straightforward, and attack the
matter like an open-hearted man," continued Petounnikoff encouragingly.

"You see I'm a soldier," modestly suggested the other.

"I can see that. Let us tackle this business as quickly and as
straightforwardly as possible, and get it over."

"By all means!"

"Your complaint is quite in order, and there is no doubt but that you
have right on your side. I think it better to tell you that at once."

"Much obliged to you," said the soldier, blinking his eyes to conceal a
smile.

"But I should like to know why you thought it best to begin an
acquaintance with us, your future neighbours, so unpleasantly--with a
lawsuit?" Vaviloff shrugged his shoulders, and was silent.

"It would have been better for you to have come to us, and we could
have arranged matters between us. Don't you think so?"

"That indeed would have been pleasanter. But, don't you see? there was
a little hitch. I didn't act altogether on my own. I was set on by
someone else; afterwards I understood what would have been best, but it
was too late then."

"That's just it. I suppose it was some lawyer who put you up to it!"

"Something of that sort"

"Yes, yes. And now you are willing to settle things out of court?"

"That's my great wish!" exclaimed the soldier. Petounnikoff remained
silent for a moment, then glanced at the landlord and said in an
abrupt, dry voice--

"And why do you wish it now, may I ask?" Vaviloff did not expect this
question, and was not prepared for an immediate answer. He considered
it an idle question, and shrugging his shoulders with a look of
superiority, smiled sneeringly at Petounnikoff:

"Why? Well, it's easy to understand: because one must live with others
in peace."

"Come!" interrupted Petounnikoff, "it isn't altogether that! I see you
don't clearly understand yourself why it is so necessary for you to
live in peace with us. I will explain it to you."

The soldier was slightly surprised. This queerlooking young fellow in
his check suit was holding forth to him just as Commander Rashkin used
to do, who when he got angry would knock out three teeth at a time from
the head of one of his troopers.

"It is necessary for you to live in peace with us because it will be
profitable to you to have us as neighbours. And it will be profitable
because we shall employ at least a hundred and fifty workmen at first,
and more as time goes on. If a hundred of these on each weekly pay-day
drink a glass of vodka, it means that during the month you will sell
four hundred glasses more than you do at present. This is taking it at
the lowest calculation; besides that, there's the catering for them.
You don't seem a fool, and you've had some experience; don't you see
now the advantage that our neighbourhood will be to you?"

"It's true!" said Vaviloff, nodding his head. "I knew it."

"Well then"--

The young merchant raised his voice.

"Oh! nothing. Let's arrange terms."

"I'm delighted you make up your mind so promptly. I have here a
declaration prepared in readiness, declaring that you are willing to
stop proceedings against my father. Read it and sign it."

Vaviloff glanced with round eyes at his interlocutor, with a
presentiment that something exceedingly disagreeable was coming.

"Wait a moment. Sign what? What do you mean?"

"Simply write your name and your family name here," said Petounnikoff,
politely pointing out with his finger the place left for the signature.

"That's not what I mean--that is, I mean, what compensation will you
give me for the land?"

"The land is of no use to you," said Petounnikoff soothingly.

"Still it's mine!" exclaimed the soldier.

"To be sure. But how much would you claim?"

"Well, let's say the sum named in the summons. The amount is stated
there," suggested Vaviloff hesitatingly.

"Six hundred?" Petounnikoff laughed as if highly amused. "That's a good
joke!"

"I have a right to it! I can even claim two thousand! I can insist on
your pulling down the wall; and that is what I want. That's why the sum
claimed is so small. I demand that you should pull it down!"

"Go on with it then! We shall perhaps have to pull it down, but not
for two or three years--not till you have been involved in heavy law
expenses. After that we shall open a vodka shop of our own, which will
be better than yours, and you will go to the wall! You'll be ruined, my
friend; we'll take care of that. We might be taking steps to start the
vodka shop at once, but we are busy just now, have got our hands full;
besides, we are sorry for you. Why should one take the bread out of a
man's mouth without a reason?"

Jegor Terentievitch clenched his teeth, feeling that his visitor held
his fate in his hands. Vaviloff felt pity for himself, brought face
to face as he was with this cold, mercenary, implacable person in his
ridiculous check suit.

"And living so near us, and being on friendly terms with us, you,
my friend, might have turned a pretty penny. We might have helped
you also; for instance, I should advise you at once to open a little
shop--tobacco, matches, bread, cucumbers, and so on. You'd find plenty
of customers."

Vaviloff listened, and not being a fool, understood that the best for
him at present was to trust to the generosity of his enemy. In fact, he
ought to have begun by that; and not being able any longer to conceal
his anger and his humiliation, he burst out into loud imprecations
against Kouvalda.

"Drunkard! Cursed swine--may the devil take him!"

"That's meant for the lawyer who worded your report?" asked
Petounnikoff quietly, and added with a sigh: "Indeed he might have
served you a bad turn, if we hadn't taken pity on you!"

"Ah!" sighed the distressed soldier, letting his hands fall in despair.
"There were two of them--one started the business, and the other did
the writing, the cursed scribbler!"

"How, a newspaper scribbler?"

"Well, he writes for the newspapers. They are both of them tenants of
yours. Nice sort of people they are! Get rid of them; send them off for
God's sake! They are robbers; they set everyone in the street against
each other; there is no peace with them; they have no respect for law
or order. One has always to be on one's guard with them against robbery
or arson."

"But this newspaper scribbler, who is he?" asked Petounnikoff in an
interested tone.

"He? He's a drunkard. He was a schoolteacher, and got turned away. He
has drunk all he had, and now he writes for the newspapers, and invents
petitions. He's a real bad 'un!"

"H'm-m! And it was he, then, who wrote your petition? Just so!
Evidently it was he who wrote about the construction of the
scaffolding. He seemed to suggest that the scaffolding was not built
according to the by-laws."

"That's he! That's just like him, the dog! He read it here, and was
boasting that he would run Petounnikoff into expense!"

"H'm-m! Well, how about coming to terms?" "To terms?" The soldier
dropped his head and grew thoughtful. "Ah! what a miserable dark
existence ours is!" he exclaimed sadly, scratching the back of his head.

"You must begin to improve it!" said Petounnikoff, lighting a cigarette.

"Improve it? That's easy to say, sir! But we have no liberty! that's
what is the matter. Just look at my life, sir. I'm always in terror,
always on my guard, and have no freedom of action. And why is that?
Fear! This wretch of a schoolmaster may write to the newspapers about
me, he sets the sanitary authorities at me, and I have to pay fines.
One has always to be on one's guard against these lodgers of yours,
lest they burn, murder, or rob one! How can I stop them? They don't
fear the police! If they do get clapped into prison, they are only
glad; because it means free rations!"

"Well, we'll get rid of them if we come to terms with you,"
Petounnikoff promised.

"And what shall the terms be?" asked Vaviloff, anxiously and gloomily.

"State your own terms."

"Well, then, let it be the six hundred mentioned in the summons!"

"Wouldn't a hundred be enough?" said the trader, in a calm voice.

He watched the landlord narrowly, and smiling gently, added, "I won't
give a rouble more!"

After saying this he removed his spectacles, and began slowly wiping
the glasses with his handkerchief. Vaviloff, sick at heart, looked
at him, experiencing every moment towards him a feeling of greater
respect. In the quiet face of young Petounnikoff, in his large grey
eyes and prominent cheek-bones, and in his whole coarse, robust
figure, there was so much self-reliant force, sure of itself, and
well disciplined by the mind. Besides, Vaviloff liked the way that
Petounnikoff spoke to him; his voice possessed simple friendly
intonations, and there was no striving after effect, just as if he
were speaking to an equal; though Vaviloff well understood that he, a
soldier, was not the equal of this man.

Watching him almost with admiration, the soldier felt within himself a
rush of eager curiosity, which for a moment checked all other feeling,
so that he could not help asking Petounnikoff in a respectful voice--

"Where did you study?"

"At the Technological Institution. But why do you ask?" replied the
other, smiling.

"Oh, nothing; I beg your pardon."

The soldier dropped his head, and suddenly exclaimed in a voice that
was almost inspired, so full was it of admiration and of envy, "Yes!
that's what education can do! Knowledge is indeed enlightenment, and
that means everything! And we others, we are like owls looking at the
sun. Bad luck to us! Well, sir, let us settle up this affair."

And with a decided gesture he stretched out his hand to Petounnikoff,
and said in a half choking voice--

"Let's say five hundred!"

"Not more than a hundred roubles, Jegor Terentievitch!"

Petounnikoff shrugged his shoulders, as if regretting not being able to
give more, and patted the soldier's hairy hand with his large white one.

They soon clinched the bargain now, for the soldier suddenly started
with long strides to meet the terms of Petounnikoff, who remained
implacably firm. When Vaviloff had received the hundred roubles, and
signed the paper, he dashed the pen on the table, exclaiming, "That's
done! Now I'll have to settle up with that band of tramps. They'll
bother the life out of me, the devils!"

"You can tell them that I paid you all that you demanded in the
summons," suggested Petounnikoff, puffing out thin rings of smoke, and
watching them rise and vanish.

"They'll never believe that! They are clever rogues; as sharp as"--

Vaviloff stopped just in time, confused at the thought of the
comparison which almost escaped from his lips, and glanced nervously at
the merchant's son. But this latter went on smoking, and seemed wholly
engrossed with that occupation. He left soon after, promising Vaviloff,
as he bade him good-bye, to destroy ere long this nest of noxious
beings. Vaviloff watched him, sighing, and feeling a keen desire to
shout something malicious and offensive at the man who walked with firm
steps up the steep road, striding over the ruts and heaps of rubbish.

That same evening the captain appeared at the vodka shop; his brows
were knit severely, and his right hand was firmly clenched. Vaviloff
glanced at him deprecatingly.

"Well, you worthy descendant of Cain and of Judas! tell us all about
it!"

"It's all settled!" said Vaviloff, sighing and dropping his eyes.

"I don't doubt it. How many shekels did you get?"

"Four hundred roubles down!"

"A lie! as sure as I live! Well, so much the better for me. Without
any more talking, Jegorka, hand me over 10 per cent, for my discovery;
twenty-five roubles for the schoolmaster for writing out the summons,
and a gallon of vodka for the company, with grub to match. Hand the
money over at once, and the vodka with the rest must be ready by eight
o'clock!"

Vaviloff turned green, and stared at Kouvalda with wide-open eyes.

"Don't you wish you may get it! That's downright robbery! I'm not going
to give it. Are you in your senses to suggest such a thing, Aristide
Fomitch? You'll have to keep your appetite till the next holiday comes
round; things have changed, and I'm in a position not to be afraid of
you now, I am!"

Kouvalda glanced at the clock.

"I give you, Jegor, ten minutes for your fool's chatter! Then stop
wagging your tongue and give me what I demand! If you don't--then
look out for yourself! Do you remember reading in the paper about
that robbery at Bassoff's? Well, 'The End' has been selling things to
you--you understand? You shan't have time to hide anything; we'll see
to that; and this very night, you understand?"

"'Ristide Fomitch! Why are you so hard on me?" wailed the old soldier.

"No more cackle! Have you understood? Yes or no?"

Kouvalda, tall and grey-headed, frowning impressively, spoke in a low
voice, whose hoarse bass resounded threateningly in the empty vodka
shop. At the best of times Vaviloff was afraid of him as a man who
had been once an officer, and as an individual who had now nothing to
lose. But at this moment he beheld Kouvalda in a new light; unlike his
usual manner, the captain spoke little, but his words were those of one
who expected obedience, and in his voice there was an implied threat
Vaviloff felt that the captain could, if he chose, destroy him with
pleasure. He had to give way to force, but choking with rage, he tried
once more to escape his punishment. He sighed deeply and began humbly--

"It would seem the proverb is right which says, 'You reap what you
sow.' 'Ristide Fomitch, I have lied to you! I wanted to make myself out
cleverer than I really am. All I got was a hundred roubles."

"Well! what then?" asked Kouvalda curtly.

"It wasn't four hundred as I told you, and that means"--

"It means nothing! How am I to know whether you were lying then or now?
I mean to have sixty-five roubles out of you. That's only reasonable,
so now."

"Ah, my God! 'Ristide Fomitch. I have always paid you your due!"

"Come! no more words, Jegorka, you descendant of Judas!"

"I will give it to you, then, but God will punish you for this!"

"Silence, you scab!" roared the captain, rolling his eyes savagely. "I
am sufficiently punished by God already. He has placed me in a position
in which I am obliged to see you and talk to you. I'll crush you here
on the spot like a fly."

And he shook his fist under Vaviloff's nose, and gnashed his teeth.

After he had left, Vaviloff smiled cunningly and blinked his eyes
rapidly. Then two large tears rolled down his cheeks. They were hot and
grimy, and as they disappeared into his beard, two others rolled down
in their place. Then Vaviloff retired into the back room, and knelt
in front of the eikons; he remained there for some time motionless,
without wiping the tears from his wrinkled brown cheeks.

Deacon Tarass, who had always a fancy for the open air, proposed to
the outcasts they should go out into the fields, and there in one of
the hollows, in the midst of nature's beauties, and under the open
sky, should drink Vaviloff's vodka. But the captain and the others
unanimously scouted the deacon's ideas of nature, and decided to have
their carouse in their own yard.

"One, two, three," reckoned Aristide Fomitch, "we are thirteen in all;
the schoolmaster is missing, but some other waifs and strays are sure
to turn up, so let's say twenty. Two cucumbers and a half for each, a
pound of bread and of meat--that's not a bad allowance! As to vodka,
there will be about a bottle each. There's some sour cabbage, some
apples, and three melons. What the devil do we want more? What do you
say, mates? Let us therefore prepare to devour Jegor Vaviloff; for all
this is his body and his blood!"

They spread some ragged garments on the ground, on which they laid out
their food and drink, and they crouched round in a circle, restraining
with difficulty the thirst for drink which lurked in the eyes of each
one of them.

Evening was coming on, its shadows fell across the foul, untidy yard,
and the last rays of the sun lit up the roof of the half-ruined house.
The evening was cool and calm.

"Let us fall to, brethren!" commanded the captain. "How many mugs have
we? Only six, and there are thirteen of us. Alexai Maximovitch, pour
out the drink! Make ready! Present! Fire!"

"Ach--h!" They swallowed down great gulps, and then fell to eating.

"But the schoolmaster isn't here I I haven't seen him for three days.
Has anyone else seen him?" said Kouvalda.

"No one."

"That's not like him! Well, never mind, let's have another drink I
Let's drink to the health of Aristide Kouvalda, my only friend, who,
during all my lifetime has never once forsaken me; though, devil take
it, if he had deprived me of his society sometimes I might have been
the gainer."

"That's well said," cried "Scraps," and cleared his throat.

The captain, conscious of his superiority, looked round at his cronies,
but said nothing, for he was eating.

After drinking two glasses the company brightened up; for the measures
were full ones. "Tarass and a half" humbly expressed a wish for a
story, but the deacon was eagerly engaged discussing with "The Top"
the superiority of thin women over fat ones, and took no notice of his
friend's words, defending his point of view with the eagerness and
fervour of a man deeply convinced of the truth of his opinion. The
naïve face of "The Meteor," who was lying beside him on his stomach,
expressed admiration and delight at the suggestive words of the
disputants. Martianoff, hugging his knees with his huge, hairy hands,
glanced gloomily and silently at the vodka bottle, while he constantly
made attempts to catch his moustache with his tongue and gnaw it with
his teeth. "Scraps" was teasing Tiapa.

"I know now where you hide your money, you old ogre!"

"All the better for you!" hissed Tiapa in a hoarse voice.

"I'll manage to get hold of it some day!"

"Do it if you can!"

Kouvalda felt bored amongst this set of people; there was not one
worthy to hear his eloquence, or capable of understanding it.

"Where the devil can the schoolmaster be?" he said, expressing his
thought aloud.

Martianoff looked at him and said--

"He will return."

"I am certain he will come back on foot, and not in a carriage! Let us
drink to your future, you born convict. If you murder a man who has
got some money, go shares with me. Then, old chap, I shall start for
America, make tracks for those lampas--pampas--what do you call them?
I shall go there, and rise at length to be President of the United
States. Then I shall declare war against Europe, and won't I give it
them hot? As to an army, I shall buy mercenaries in Europe itself. I
shall invite the French, the Germans, and the Turks, and the whole lot
of them, and I shall use them to beat their own relations. Just as Ilia
de Mouronetz conquered the Tartars with the Tartars. With money one can
become even an Ilia, and destroy Europe, and hire Judah Petounnikoff
as one's servant. He'd work if one gave him a hundred roubles a month,
that he would, I'm sure. But he'd be a bad servant; he'd begin by
stealing."

"And besides, a thin woman is better than a fat one, because she costs
less," eagerly continued the deacon. "My first deaconess used to buy
twelve yards for a dress, and the second one only ten. It's the same
with food."

"Tarass and a half" smiled deprecatingly, turned his face towards the
deacon, fixed his one eye on him, and shyly suggested in an embarrassed
tone--"I also had a wife once."

"That may happen to anybody," observed Kouvalda. "Go on with your lies!"

"She was thin, but she ate a great deal; it was even the cause of her
death."

"You poisoned her, you one-eyed beggar!" said "Scraps," with conviction.

"No! on my word I didn't; she ate too much pickled herring."

"And I tell you, you did! you poisoned her," "Scraps" repeated, with
further assurance.

It was often his way, after having said some absurdity, to continue to
repeat it, without bringing forward any grounds of confirmation; and
beginning in a pettish, childish tone, he would gradually work himself
up into a rage.

The deacon took up the cudgels for his friend.

"He couldn't have poisoned her, he had no reason to do so."

"And I say he did poison her!" screamed "Scraps."

"Shut up!" shouted the captain in a threatening voice.

His sense of boredom was gradually changing into suppressed anger. With
savage eyes he glanced round at the company, and not finding anything
in their already half-drunken faces that might serve as an excuse for
his fury, he dropped his head on his breast, remained sitting thus for
a few moments, and then stretched himself full length on the ground,
with his face upwards. "The Meteor" was gnawing cucumbers; he would
take one in his hand, without looking at it, thrust half of it into his
mouth, and then suddenly bite it in two with his large yellow teeth,
so that the salt juice oozed out on either side and wetted his cheeks.
He was clearly not hungry, but this proceeding amused him. Martianoff
remained motionless as a statue in the position he had taken, stretched
on the ground and absorbed in gloomily watching the barrel of vodka,
which was by this time more than half empty. Tiapa had his eyes fixed
on the ground, whilst he masticated noisily the meat which would not
yield to his old teeth. "Scraps" lay on his stomach, coughing from time
to time, whilst convulsive movements shook all his small body. The rest
of the silent dark figures sat or lay about in various positions, and
these ragged objects were scarcely distinguishable in the twilight from
the heaps of rubbish half overgrown with weeds which were strewn about
the yard. Their bent, crouching forms, and their tatters gave them the
look of hideous animals, created by some coarse and freakish power, in
mockery of man.

    "There lived in Sousdal town
    A lady of small renown;
    She suffered from cramps and pains,
    And very disagreeable they were ..."

sang the deacon in a low voice, embracing Alexai Maximovitch,
who smiled back stupidly in his face. "Tarass and a half" leered
lasciviously.

Night was coming on. Stars glittered in the sky; on the hill towards
the town the lights began to show. The prolonged wail of the steamers'
whistles was heard from the river; the door of Vaviloff's vodka shop
opened with a creaking noise, and a sound of cracking glass. Two dark
figures entered the yard and approached the group of men seated round
the vodka barrel, one of them asking in a hoarse voice--

"You are drinking?"

Whilst the other figure exclaimed in a low tone, envy and delight in
his voice--

"What a set of lucky devils!"

Then over the head of the deacon a hand was stretched out and seized
the bottle; and the peculiar gurgling sound was heard of vodka being
poured from the bottle into a glass. Then someone coughed loudly.

"How dull you all are!" exclaimed the deacon. "Come, you one-eyed
beggar, let's recall old times and have a song! Let us sing _By the
waters of Babylon_."

"Does he know it?" asked Simtzoff.

"He? Why he was the soloist in the archbishop's choir. Come now, begin!
_By_--_the_--_waters_--_of_--_Babylon_."

The voice of the deacon was wild, hoarse, and broken, whilst his friend
sang with a whining falsetto. The doss-house, shrouded in darkness,
seemed either to have grown larger or to have moved its half-rotten
mass nearer towards these people, who with their wild howlings had
aroused its dull echoes. A thick, heavy cloud slowly moved across the
sky over the house. One of the outcasts was already snoring; the rest,
not yet quite drunk, were either eating or drinking, or talking in low
voices with long pauses. All felt a strange sense of oppression after
this unusually abundant feast of vodka and of food. For some reason or
another it took longer than usual to arouse to-day the wild gaiety
of the company, which generally came so easily when the dossers were
engaged round the bottle.

"Stop your howling for a minute, you dogs!" said the captain to the
singers, raising his head from the ground, and listening. "Someone is
coming, in a carriage!"

A carriage in those parts at this time of night could not fail to
arouse general attention. Who would risk leaving the town, to encounter
the ruts and holes of such a street? Who? and for what purpose?

All raised their heads and listened. In the silence of the night could
be heard the grating of the wheels against the splashboards.

The carriage drew nearer. A coarse voice was heard asking--

"Well, where is it then?"

Another voice answered--

"It must be the house over there."

"I'm not going any farther!"

"They must be coming here!" exclaimed the captain.

An anxious murmur was heard: "The Police!" "In a carriage? You fools!"
said Martianoff in a low voice.

Kouvalda rose and went towards the entrance gates.

"Scraps," stretching his neck in the direction the captain had taken,
was listening attentively.

"Is this the doss-house?" asked someone in a cracked voice.

"Yes, it is the house of Aristide Kouvalda," replied the uninviting
bass voice of the captain.

"That's it, that's it! It's here that the reporter Titoff lived, is it
not?"

"Ah! You have brought him back?"

"Yes."

"Drunk?"

"Ill."

"That means he's very drunk. Now then, schoolmaster, out with you!"

"Wait a minute. I'll help you; he's very bad. He's been two nights at
my house; take him under the arms. We've had the doctor, but he's very
bad."

Tiapa rose and went slowly towards the gates. "Scraps" sneered, and
drank another glass.

"Light up there!" ordered the captain.

"The Meteor" went into the doss-house and lit a lamp, from which a
long stream of light fell across the yard, and the captain, with the
assistance of the stranger, led the schoolmaster into the doss-house.
His head hung loose on his breast, and his feet dragged along the
ground; his arms hung in the air as if they were broken. With Tiapa's
help they huddled him on to one of the bunks, where he stretched out
his limbs, uttering suppressed groans, whilst shudders ran through his
body.

"We worked together on the same newspaper; he's been very unlucky. I
told him, 'Stay at my house if you like; you won't disturb me'; but
he begged and implored me to take him home, got quite excited about
it. I feared that worrying would do him more harm, so I have brought
him--home; for this is where he meant, isn't it?"

"Perhaps you think he's got some other home?" asked Kouvalda in a
coarse voice, watching his friend closely all the time. "Go, Tiapa, and
fetch some cold water."

"Well now," said the little man, fidgeting about shyly, "I suppose I
can't be of any further use to him."

"Who? You?"

The captain scanned him contemptuously.

The little man was dressed in a well-worn coat, carefully buttoned
to the chin. His trousers were frayed out at the bottom. His hat was
discoloured with age, and was as crooked and wrinkled as was his thin,
starved face.

"No, you can't be of any further use. There are many like you here,"
said the captain, turning away from the little man.

"Well, good-bye then!"

The little man went towards the door, and standing there said softly--

"If anything happens let us know at the office; my name is Rijoff.
I would write a short obituary notice. After all, you see, he was a
journalist."

"H--m--m! an obituary notice, do you say? Twenty lines, forty kopecks.
I'll do something better, when he dies; I will cut off one of his legs,
and send it to the office, addressed to you. That will be worth more to
you than an obituary notice. It will last you at least three or four
days; he has nice fat legs. I know all of you down there lived on him
when he was alive, so you may as well live on him when he is dead."

The little man uttered a strange sound, and disappeared; the captain
seated himself on the bunk, by the side of the schoolmaster, felt his
forehead and his chest, and called him by name--

"Philippe!"

The sound echoed along the dirty walls of the doss-house, and died away.

"Come, old chap! this is absurd!" said the captain, smoothing with
his hand the disordered hair of the motionless schoolmaster. Then the
captain listened to the hot gasping breath, noted the death-like,
haggard face, sighed, and wrinkling his brows severely, glanced around.
The lamp gave a sickly light; its flame flickered, and on the walls of
the doss-house dark shadows danced silently.

The captain sat watching them and stroking his beard.

Tiapa came in with a bucket of water, placed it on the floor beside the
schoolmaster's head, and taking hold of his arm held it in his hand, as
if to feel its weight.

"The water is of no use!" said the captain in a hopeless voice.

"It's the priest he wants," said the old rag-picker.

"Nothing's of any use," replied the captain.

They remained a few moments silent, watching the schoolmaster.

"Come and have a drink, old boy!"

"And what about him?"

"Can you do anything for him?"

Tiapa turned his back on the schoolmaster, and both returned to the
yard, and rejoined the company.

"Well, what's going on?" asked "Scraps," turning his shrewd face round
to the captain.

"Nothing out of the common. The man's dying," the captain replied
abruptly.

"Has he been knocked about?" asked "Scraps," with curiosity.

The captain did not answer, for at that moment he was drinking vodka.

"It's just as if he knew that we had something extra for his funeral
feast," said "Scraps," lighting a cigarette.

One of them laughed, and another sighed heavily, but on the whole
the conversation of "Scraps" and the captain did not produce much
impression on the company; at least there were no apparent signs
of trouble, of interest, or of thought. All had looked upon the
schoolmaster as a man rather out of the common, but now most of them
were drunk, and the rest remained calm and outwardly detached from what
was going forward. Only the deacon evinced signs of violent agitation;
his lips moved, he rubbed his forehead, and wildly howled--

"_Peace be to the dead!_..."

"Stop it!" hissed "Scraps." "What are you howling about?"

"Smash his jaw!" said the captain.

"You fool!" hissed Tiapa. "When a soul is passing, you should keep
quiet, and not break the silence."

It was quiet enough; in the cloud-covered sky, which threatened rain,
and on the earth, shrouded in the still silence of an autumn night. At
intervals the silence was broken by the snoring of those who had fallen
asleep; by the gurgle of vodka being poured from the bottle, or the
noisy munching of food. The deacon was muttering something. The clouds
hung so low that it almost seemed as if they would catch the roof of
the old house, and overturn it on to the outcasts.

"Ah! how one suffers when a dear friend is passing away!" stammered the
captain, dropping his head on his chest.

No one answered him.

"He was the best among you all--the cleverest, the most honest. I am
sorry for him."

"_May_--_the_--_sa-i-nts_--_receive--him!_ ... Sing, you one-eyed
devil!" muttered the deacon, nudging his friend, who lay by his side
half asleep.

"Will you be quiet!" exclaimed "Scraps" in an angry whisper, jumping to
his feet.

"I'll go and give him a knock over the head," proposed Martianoff.

"What! are you not asleep?" exclaimed Aristide Fomitch in an
extraordinarily gentle voice. "Have you heard? Our schoolmaster is"--

Martianoff turned over heavily on his side, stood up, and glanced at
the streams of light which issued from the door and windows of the
doss-house, shrugged his shoulders, and without a word came and sat
down by the side of the captain.

"Let's have another drop," suggested Kouvalda.

They groped for the glasses, and drank.

"I shall go and see," said Tiapa. "He may want something."

"Nothing but a coffin!" hiccoughed the captain.

"Don't talk about it!" implored "Scraps" in a dull voice.

After Tiapa, "The Meteor" got up. The deacon wanted to rise as well;
but he fell down again, cursing loudly.

When Tiapa had gone, the captain slapped Martianoff's shoulder, and
began to talk in a low voice.

"That's how the matter stands, Martianoff; you ought to feel it more
than the rest. You were--but it's better to drop it. Are you sorry for
Philippe?"

"No!" answered the former gaoler, after a short silence. "I don't feel
anything of that sort. I have lost the habit of it; I am so disgusted
with life. I'm quite in earnest when I say I shall kill someone."

"Yes?" replied the captain indifferently. "Well, what then?... let's
have another drop!"

"We are of no account; we can drink, that's all we can do," muttered
Simtzoff, who had just woke in a happy frame of mind. "Who's there,
mates? Pour out a glass for the old man!"

The vodka was poured out and handed to him.

After drinking it he dropped down again, falling with his head on
someone's body.

A silence, as dark and as miserable as the autumn night, continued for
a few moments longer. Then someone spoke in a whisper.

"What is it?" the others asked aloud.

"I say that after all he was a good sort of fellow; he had a clever
head on his shoulders, and so quiet and gentle!"

"Yes; and when he got hold of money he never grudged spending it
amongst his friends."

Once more silence fell on the company.

"He is going!"

Tiapa's cry rang out over the captain's head.

Aristide Fomitch rose, making an effort to walk, firmly, and went
towards the doss-house.

"What are you going for?" said Tiapa, stopping him. "Don't you know
that you are drunk, and that it's not the right thing?"

The captain paused and reflected.

"And is anything right on this earth? Go to the devil!" And he pushed
Tiapa aside.

On the walls of the doss-house the shadows were still flickering and
dancing, as if struggling silently with one another.

On a bunk, stretched out at full length, lay the schoolmaster, with
the death-rattle in his throat. His eyes were wide open, his bare
breast heaved painfully, and froth oozed from the corners of his mouth.
His face wore a strained expression, as if he were trying to say
something important and difficult; and the failure to say it caused him
inexpressible suffering.

The captain placed himself opposite, with his hands behind his back,
and watched the dying man for a moment in silence. At last he spoke,
knitting his brows as if in pain.

"Philippe, speak to me! Throw a word of comfort to your friend. You
know I love you; all the others are brute beasts. You are the only one
I look upon as a man, although you are a drunkard. What a one you were
to drink vodka, Philippe! That was what caused your ruin. You ought to
have kept yourself in hand and listened to me. Was I not always telling
you so?"

The mysterious all-destructive force, called Death, as if insulted
by the presence of this drunken man, during its supreme and solemn
struggle with life, decided to finish its impassive work, and the
schoolmaster, after sighing deeply, groaned, shuddered, stretched
himself out, and died.

The captain swayed backwards and forwards, and continued his speech.
"What's the matter with you? Do you want me to bring you some vodka?
It's better not to drink, Philippe! restrain yourself. Well, drink if
you like! To speak candidly, what is the use of restraining oneself?
What's the use of it, Philippe?"

And he took the body by the leg and pulled it towards him.

"Ah! you are already asleep, Philippe! Well, sleep on. Good-night.
To-morrow I'll explain it all to you, and I hope I shall convince you
that it's no use denying oneself anything. So now, go to sleep, if you
are not dead."

He went out, leaving dead silence behind him; and approaching his mates
exclaimed--

"He's asleep or dead, I don't know which. I'm a--little--drunk."

Tiapa stooped lower still, and crossed himself. Martianoff threw
himself down on the ground without saying a word. "The Meteor" began
sobbing in a soft, silly way, like a woman who has been ill-treated.
"Scraps" wriggled about on the ground, saying in a low, angry,
frightened voice--

"Devil take you all! A set of plagues! Dead? ... what of that? Why
should I be bothered with it? When my time comes I shall have to die
too! just as he has done; I'm no worse than the rest!"

"That's right! that's it!" exclaimed the captain, dropping himself down
heavily on the earth. "When the time comes, we shall all die, just like
the rest! Ha! ha! It doesn't much matter how we live; but die we shall,
like the rest. For that's the goal of life, trust my word for it! Man
lives that he may die. And he dies, and this being so, isn't it all the
same what he dies of, or how he dies, or how he lived? Am I not right,
Martianoff? Let's have another drink, and yet another, and another, as
long as there is life in us."

Rain began to fall. Thick, heavy darkness enshrouded the figures of the
outcasts, as they lay on the ground in all the ugliness of sleep or
of drunkenness. The streak of light issuing from the doss-house grew
paler, flickered, and finally disappeared. Either the wind had blown
the lamp out, or the oil was exhausted. The drops of rain falling on
the iron roof of the doss-house pattered down softly and timidly. The
solemn sound of a bell came at intervals from the town above, telling
that the watchers in the church were on duty.

The metallic sound wafted from the steeple melted into the soft
darkness, and slowly died away; but before the gloom had smothered the
last trembling note, another stroke was heard, and yet another, whilst
through the silence of the night spread and echoed the sad booming sigh
of the bell.

The following morning Tiapa was the first to awake.

Turning over on his back, he looked at the sky; for this was the only
position in which his distorted neck would allow him to look upwards.

It was a monotonously grey morning. A cold, damp gloom, hiding the sun,
and concealing the blue depths of the sky, shed sadness over the earth.

Tiapa crossed himself, and leaning on his elbow looked round to see
if there was no vodka left. The bottle was near, but it proved to
be--empty. Crawling over his companions, Tiapa began inspecting the
mugs. He found one nearly full, and swallowed the contents, wiping his
mouth with his sleeve, and then shook the captain by the shoulder.

"Get up! Can't you hear?"

The captain lifted his head, and looked at Tiapa with dim, bloodshot
eyes.

"We must give notice to the police! so get up."

"What's the matter?" asked the captain in an angry, drowsy voice.

"Why, he's dead."

"Who's dead?"

"Why, the learned man."

"Philippe? Ah, yes, so he is!"

"And you had already forgotten!" hissed Tiapa reproachfully.

The captain rose to his feet, yawned loudly, and stretched himself till
his bones cracked.

"Well, go and give notice."

"No, I shan't go. I'm not fond of those gentry!" said Tiapa gloomily.

"Well, go and wake the deacon, and I'll go and see what can be done."

"Yes, that's better. Get up, deacon!"

The captain entered the doss-house, and stood at the foot of the bunk
where lay the schoolmaster, stretched out at full length; his left
hand lay on his breast, his right was thrown backwards, as if ready to
strike. The idea crossed the captain's mind that if the schoolmaster
were to get up now, he would be as tall as "Tarass and a half." Then he
sat down on the bunk at the feet of his dead friend, and recalling to
his mind the fact that they had lived together for three long years, he
sighed.

Tiapa entered, holding his head like a goat ready to butt. He placed
himself on the opposite side of the schoolmaster, watching for a time
his sunk, serene, and calm face; then hissed out--

"Sure enough he is dead; it won't be long before I go also."

"It's time you did," said the captain gloomily.

"That's so!" agreed Tiapa. "And you also--you ought to die; it would be
better than living on as you are doing."

"It might be worse. What do you know about it?"

"It can't be any worse. When one dies, one has to deal with God; whilst
here, one has to deal with men. And men, you know what they are."

"That's all right, only stop your grumbling!" said Kouvalda angrily.

And in the half light of early dawn an impressive silence reigned once
more throughout the doss-house.

They sat thus for a long time quietly, at the feet of their dead
companion, occasionally glancing at him, but plunged both of them in
deep thought. At length Tiapa inquired--

"Are you going to bury him?"

"I? No, let the police bury him."

"Ah! now it's you who ought to do it! You took the share of the money
due to him for writing the petition for Vaviloff. If you haven't enough
I'll make it up."

"Yes, I have his money, but I am not going to bury him."

"That doesn't seem right. It's like robbing a dead man. I shall tell
everyone that you mean to stick to his money!"

"You are an old fool!" said Kouvalda disdainfully.

"I'm not such a fool as all that, but it doesn't seem right or
friendly."

"Very well! just leave me alone."

"How much money was there?"

"A twenty-five rouble note," said Kouvalda carelessly.

"Come now! you might give me five out of that."

"What a rogue you are, old man!" scowled the captain, looking blankly
into Tiapa's face.

"Why so? Come now, shell out!"

"Go to the devil! I'll erect a monument to him with the money,"

"What will be the use of that to him?"

"I'll buy a mill-stone and an anchor; I'll put the stone on the tomb,
and I will fasten the anchor to the stone with a chain. That will make
it heavy enough."

"What's that for? Why do you talk such nonsense?"

"That's no business of yours."

"Never mind! I shall tell of you," threatened Tiapa once more.

Aristide Fomitch looked vaguely at him and was silent. And once more
there reigned in the doss-house that solemn and mysterious hush, which
always seems to accompany the presence of death.

"Hark! They are coming," said Tiapa.

And he rose and went out at the door.

Almost at the same moment there appeared the police officer, the
doctor, and the magistrate. All three in turn went up to the body, and
after glancing at it moved away, looking meanwhile at Kouvalda askance
and with suspicion.

He sat, taking no notice of them, until the police officer asked,
nodding towards the schoolmaster's body--

"What did he die of?"

"Ask him yourself. I should say from being unaccustomed"--

"What do you mean?" asked the magistrate.

"I say that, according to my idea, he died from being unaccustomed to
the complaint from which he was suffering."

"H'm! Yes. Had he been ill long?"

"It would be better to bring him over here; one can't see anything in
there," suggested the doctor in a bored voice. "There may be some marks
on him."

"Go and call someone to carry him out!" the police officer ordered
Kouvalda.

"Call them in yourself. I don't mind his staying here," retorted the
captain coolly.

"Be off with you," shouted the police officer savagely.

"Easy there!" threw back Kouvalda, not stirring from his place,
speaking with cool insolence and showing his teeth.

"Damn you!" roared the police officer, his face suffused with blood
from suppressed rage. "You shall remember this!"--

"Good-day to you, honourable gentlemen!" said the oily, insinuating
voice of Petounnikoff, as he appeared in the doorway. Scrutinising
rapidly the faces of the bystanders, he suddenly stopped, shuddered,
drew back a step, and taking off his cap, crossed himself devoutly.
Then a vicious smile of triumph spread over his countenance, and
looking hard at the captain, he asked in a respectful tone, "What is
the matter here? No one has been killed, I hope."

"It looks like it," answered the magistrate.

Petounnikoff sighed deeply, crossed himself again, and in a grieved
tone said--

"Merciful heavens! That's what I always feared! Whenever I came here,
I used to look in, and then draw back with fear. Then when I was at
home, such terrible things came into my mind. God preserve us all from
such things! How often I used to wish to refuse shelter any longer to
this gentleman here, the head of this band; but I was always afraid.
You see, they were such a bad lot, that it seemed better to give in
to them, lest something worse should happen." He made a deprecating
movement with one hand, and gathering up his beard with the other,
sighed once more.

"They are a dangerous set, and this gentleman here is a sort of chief
of the gang--quite like a brigand chief."

"Well, we shall take him in hand!" said the police officer in a meaning
tone, looking at the captain with a vindictive expression. "I also know
him well."

"Yes, my fine fellow, we are old pals," agreed Kouvalda in a tone of
familiarity. "How often have I bribed you and the like of you to hold
your tongues?"

"Gentlemen!" said the police officer, "did you hear that? I beg you
will remember those words. I won't forgive that. That's how it is,
then? Well, you shan't forget me! I'll give you something, my friend,
to remember me by."

"Don't holloa till you are out of the wood, my dear friend," said
Aristide Fomitch coolly. The doctor, a young man in spectacles, looked
at him inquiringly; the magistrate with an attention that boded no
good; Petounnikoff with a look of triumph; whilst the police officer
shouted and gesticulated threateningly.

At the door of the doss-house appeared the dark figure of Martianoff;
he came up quietly and stood behind Petounnikoff, so that his chin
appeared just above the merchant's head. The old deacon peeped from
behind Martianoff, opening wide his small, swollen red eyes.

"Well, something must be done," suggested the doctor.

Martianoff made a frightful grimace, and suddenly sneezed straight on
to the head of Petounnikoff. The latter yelled, doubled up his body,
and sprang on one side, nearly knocking the police officer off his
feet, and falling into his arms.

"There, you see now!" said the merchant, trembling and pointing at
Martianoff. "You see now what sort of people they are, don't you?"

Kouvalda was shaking with laughter, in which the doctor and the
magistrate joined; whilst round the door of the doss-house clustered
every moment more and more figures. Drowsy, dissipated faces, with red,
inflamed eyes, and dishevelled hair, stood unceremoniously surveying
the doctor, the magistrate, and the police officer.

"Where are you shoving to?" said a constable who had accompanied the
police officer, pulling at their rags, and pushing them away from the
door.

But he was one against many; and they, paying no heed to him,
continued to press forward in threatening silence, their breath
heavy with sour vodka. Kouvalda glanced first at them and then at
the officials, who began to show signs of uneasiness in the midst of
this overwhelmingly numerous society of undesirables, and sneeringly
remarked to the officials--

"Perhaps, gentlemen, you would like me to introduce you formally to my
lodgers and my friends. Say so if you wish it, for sooner or later, in
the exercise of your duties, you will have to make their acquaintance."

The doctor laughed with an embarrassed air; the magistrate closed his
lips firmly; and the police officer was the only one who showed himself
equal to the emergency; he shouted into the yard--

"Sideroff, blow your whistle, and when they come, tell them to bring a
cart."

"Well, I'm off," said Petounnikoff, appearing from some remote corner.
"You'll be kind enough, sirs, to clear out my little shed to-day.
I want to have it pulled down. I beg you to make the necessary
arrangements; if not, I shall have to apply to the authorities."

In the yard the policeman's whistle was sounding shrilly; and round the
doss-house door stood the compact crowd of its occupants, yawning and
scratching themselves.

"So you don't want to make their acquaintance; that's not quite
polite," said Aristide Kouvalda, laughing.

Petounnikoff drew his purse from his pocket, fumbled with it for a few
minutes, finally pulling out ten kopecks; he crossed himself and placed
them at the feet of the dead man.

"God rest his soul! Let this go towards burying the sinful ashes."

"How!" roared the captain. "You! you! giving towards the burial? Take
it back; take it back, I command you, you rogue! How dare you give your
dishonest gains towards the burial of an honest man! I'll smash every
bone in your body!"

"Sir!" exclaimed the alarmed shopkeeper, seizing the police officer
imploringly by the elbow.

The doctor and the magistrate hurried outside, while the police officer
shouted again loudly, "Sideroff! Come inside here!"

The outcasts formed a barrier round the door of the doss-house,
watching and listening to the scene with an intense interest which
lighted up their haggard faces.

Kouvalda, shaking his fist over Petounnikoff's head, roared wildly,
rolling his bloodshot eyes--

"Rogue and thief! take the coppers back! you vile creature; take them
back, I tell you, or I'll smash them into your eyes! Take them back!"

Petounnikoff stretched out one trembling hand towards his little
offering, whilst shielding himself with the other against Kouvalda's
threatening fist, and said--

"Bear witness, you, sir, the police officer, and you, my good people."

"We are not good people, you damned old shopkeeper!" was heard in the
creaking tones of "Scraps."

The police officer, distending his face like a bladder, was whistling
wildly, whilst defending Petounnikoff, who was writhing and twisting
about in front of him, as if wishing to get inside the officer for
protection.

"You vile thing! I'll make you kiss the feet of this dead body if you
don't mind! Come here with you!"

And seizing Petounnikoff by the collar, Kouvalda flung him out of the
door, as he would have done a kitten.

The outcasts moved on one side to make room for the merchant to fall;
and he pitched forward, frightened and yelling at their feet.

"They are killing me! Murder! They have killed me!"

Martianoff slowly lifted his foot, and took aim at the head of the
shopkeeper; "Scraps," with an expression of extreme delight, spat full
into the face of Petounnikoff. The merchant raised himself on to his
hands and knees, and half rolled, half dragged himself farther out into
the yard, followed by peals of laughter. At this moment two constables
arrived in the yard, and the police officer, pointing to Kouvalda,
exclaimed in a voice of triumph--

"Arrest him! Tie him up!"

"Yes, tie him up tightly, my dears!" implored Petounnikoff.

"I defy you to touch me! I'm not going to run away! I'll go wherever I
have to go," said Kouvalda, defending himself against the constables,
who approached him.

The outcasts dropped off one by one. The cart rolled into the yard. One
or two ragged strangers, who had been called in, were already dragging
the schoolmaster's body out of the doss-house.

"You shall catch it! just wait a bit!" said the police officer
threateningly to Kouvalda.

"Well, captain, how goes it now?" jeered Petounnikoff, maliciously
pleased and happy at the sight of his foe's hands being tied. "Well,
you are caught now; only wait, and you will get something warmer by and
by!"

But Kouvalda was silent; he stood between the two constables, terrible
and erect, and was watching the schoolmaster's body being hoisted into
the cart. The man who was holding the corpse under the arms, being
too short for the job, could not get the schoolmaster's head into the
cart at the same moment as his legs were thrown in. Thus, for a second
it appeared as if the schoolmaster were trying to throw himself head
foremost out of the cart, and hide himself in the ground, away from all
these cruel and stupid people, who had never given him any rest.

"Take him away!" ordered the police officer, pointing to the captain.

Kouvalda, without a word of protest, walked silent and scowling from
the yard, and, passing by the schoolmaster, bent his head towards the
body, without looking at it. Martianoff followed him, his face set like
a stone.

Petounnikoff's yard emptied rapidly.

"Gee-up!" cried the driver, shaking the reins on the horse's back.
The cart moved off, jolting along the uneven surface of the yard.
The schoolmaster's body, covered with some scanty rags, and lying
face upwards, shook and tumbled about with the jolting of the cart He
seemed to be quietly and peacefully smiling, as if pleased with the
thought that he was leaving the doss-house, never to return--never any
more. Petounnikoff, following the cart with his eyes, crossed himself
devoutly, and then began carefully dusting his clothes with his cap to
get rid of the rubbish that had stuck to them. Gradually, as the dust
disappeared from his coat, a serene expression of contentment and of
self-reliance spread over his face. Looking up the hill, as he stood in
the yard, he could see Captain Aristide Fomitch Kouvalda, with hands
tied behind his back, tall and grey, wearing a cap with an old red
band like a streak of blood round it, being led away towards the town.
Petounnikoff smiled with a smile of triumph, and turned towards the
doss-house, but suddenly stopped, shuddering. In the doorway facing him
stood a terrible old man, horrible to look at in the rags which covered
his long body, with a stick in his hand, and a large sack on his back,
stooping under the weight of his burden, and bending his head forward
on his chest as if he were about to rush forward at the merchant.

"What do you want?" cried Petounnikoff. "Who are you?"

"A man," hissed a muffled, hoarse voice.

This hoarse, hissing sound pleased Petounnikoff, and reassured him.

"A man!" he exclaimed. "Was there ever a man who looked like you?"

And moving on one side, he made way for the old man, who walked
straight towards him, muttering gloomily--

"There are men of all sorts. That's just as God wills. Some are worse
than I am, that's all--much worse than I am."

The threatening sky looked down quietly at the dirty yard, and the trim
little old man with the sharp grey beard, who walked about measuring
and calculating with his cunning eyes. On the roof of the old house sat
a crow triumphantly croaking, and swaying backwards and forwards with
outstretched neck.

The grey lowering clouds, with which the whole sky was covered, seemed
fraught with suspense and inexorable design, as if ready to burst and
pour forth torrents of water, to wash away all that soiled this sad,
miserable, tortured earth.



WAITING FOR THE FERRY


As my hooded sleigh jolted across the confines of the wood, and we came
out on to the open road, a broad, dull-hued horizon lay stretched out
before us. Isaiah stood up on the coach-box, and, stretching forward
his neck, exclaimed--

"Devil take it all! it seems to have started already!"

"Is that so?"

"Yes; it looks as if it were moving."

"Drive on, then, as fast as you can, you scoundrel!"

The sturdy little pony, with ears like a donkey and coat like a poodle
dog, jumped forward at the crack of the whip; then stopped short
suddenly, stamping its feet and shaking its head with a sort of injured
look.

"Come! I'll teach you to play tricks!" shouted Isaiah, pulling at the
reins.

The clerk, Isaiah Miakunikoff, was a frightfully ugly man of about
forty years of age. On his left cheek and under his jaw grew a sandy
beard; while on his right cheek there was an immense swelling which
closed up one eye and hung down to his shoulder in a kind of wrinkly
bag. Isaiah was a desperate drunkard, and something of a philosopher
and a satirist. He was taking me to see his brother, who had been a
fellow-teacher with me in a village school, but who now lay dying
of consumption. After five hours' travelling, we had scarcely done
twenty versts, partly because the road was bad, and partly because
our fantastic steed was a cross-grained brute. Isaiah called it every
name he could lay his tongue to--"a clumsy brute," "a mortar," "a
mill-stone," etc.--each of which epithets seemed to express equally
well one or other of the inward or outward characteristics of the
animal. In the same way one comes across at times human beings with
similar complex characters, so that whatever name one applies to them
seems a fitting one. Only the one word "man" seems inapplicable to them.

Above us hung a heavy, grey, clouded sky. Around us stretched enormous
snow-covered fields, dotted with black spaces, showing where the snow
was thawing. In front of us, and three versts ahead, rose the blue
hills of the mountain range through which flowed the Volga. The distant
hills looked low under the leaden, lowering sky, which seemed to crush
and weigh them down. The river itself was hidden from our sight by a
hedge of thick tangled bushes. A south wind was blowing, covering the
surfaces of the little pools with quivering ripples; the air seemed
full of a dull, heavy moisture; the water splashed under the horse's
feet. A spirit of sadness seemed diffused over everything visible,
as if Nature were wearied with waiting for the bright sun of spring,
and as if she were dissatisfied with the long absence of the warm
sun-rays, without which she was melancholy and depressed.

"The flood-tide in the river will stop us!" cried Isaiah, jumping up
and down on the coach-box. "Jakoff will die before we get there; then
our journey will have been a useless torment of the flesh. And even if
we do find him alive, what will be the good of it all? No one should
force himself into the presence of the dying at the moment of death;
the dying person should be left alone, so that his thoughts may not be
distracted from the consideration of the needs of his soul, nor his
mind turned from the depths of his own heart to the contemplation of
trifles. For we, who are alive, are in fact nothing but trifles and of
no use to one who is dying.... It is true that our customs demand that
we should remain near them; but if we only would make use of the brains
in our heads instead of the brains in our heels, we should soon see
that this custom is good neither for the living nor for the dying, but
is only an extra torment for the heart. The living ought not to think
of death, nor remember that it is waiting somewhere for them; it is bad
for them to do so, for it darkens their joys. Holloa! you stock! Move
your legs more briskly! Look alive!"

Isaiah spoke in a monotonous, thick, hoarse voice, and his awkward,
thin figure, wrapped in a clumsy, ragged, rusty armiah, rocked heavily
backwards and forwards on the coach-box. Now and again he would jump up
from his seat, then he would sway from side to side, then nod his head,
or toss it backwards. His broad-brimmed black hat--a present from
the priest--was fastened under his chin with tapes, the floating ends
of which were blown into his face by the wind. With his hat slouched
forward over his eyes, and his coat-tails puffed out behind by the
wind, he shook his queer-shaped head, and jumped and swore, and twisted
about on his seat. As I watched him, I thought how much needless
trouble men take about most insignificant things! If the miserable worm
of small commonplace evils had not so much power over us, we might
easily crush the great horrible serpent of our serious misfortunes!

"It's gone!" exclaimed Isaiah.

"Can you see it?"

"I can see horses standing near the bushes. And there are people with
them!" Isaiah spat on one side with a gesture of despair.

"That means there is no chance of getting across?"

"Oh, we shall manage to get over somehow! Yes, of course we shall get
over, when the ice has gone down stream, but what are we to do till
then? That's the question now! Besides, I'm hungry already; I'm too
hungry for words! I told you we ought to have had something to eat.
'No, drive on!' Well, now you see I have driven on!"

"I'm as hungry as you are! Didn't you bring something with you?"

"And what if I have forgotten to bring something?" replied Isaiah
crossly.

Looking ahead over his shoulders, I caught sight of a landau, drawn by
a troika, and a wicker char-a-banc with a pair of horses. The horses'
heads were turned towards us, and several people were standing near
them; one, a tall Russian functionary with a red moustache, and wearing
a cap with a scarlet band, the badge of Russian nobility. The other man
wore a long fur coat.

"That's our district judge, Soutchoff, and the miller Mamaieff,"
muttered Isaiah, in a tone that denoted respect. Then, addressing the
pony, he shouted, "Whoa, my benefactor!"

Then, pushing his hat to the back of his head, he turned to the fat
coachman standing near the troika, and remarked, "We are too late, it
seems; eh?"

The coachman glanced with a sulky look at Isaiah's egg-shaped head, and
turned away without deigning to reply.

"Yes, you are behindhand," said the miller, with a smile. He was a
short, thick-set man, with a very red face and cunning, smiling eyes.

The district judge scanned us from under his full eyebrows, as he leant
against the foot-board of his carriage, smoked a cigarette, and twisted
his moustache. There were two other people in the group--Mamaieff's
coachman, a tall fellow with a curly head, and a miserable bandy-legged
peasant in a torn sheepskin overcoat swathed tightly round him. His
figure seemed bent into the chronic position of a low bow, which at the
present moment was evidently meant for us. His small, shrunk face was
covered with a scanty grey beard, his eyes were almost hidden in his
wrinkled countenance, and his thin blue lips were drawn into a smile,
expressive at one and the same time of respect and of derision, of
stupidity and of cunning. He was sitting in an ape-like attitude, with
his legs drawn up under his body; and, as he turned his head from side
to side, he followed each one of us closely with his glance, without
showing his own eyes. Through the many holes of his ragged sheepskin
bunches of wool protruded, and he produced altogether a singular
impression--an impression of having been half masticated before
escaping from the iron jaws of some monster, who had meant to swallow
him up.

The high sandy bank behind which we were standing sheltered us from the
blasts of wind, though it concealed the river from our view.

"I am going to see how matters stand yonder," said Isaiah, as he
started climbing up the bank.

The district judge followed him in gloomy silence; and finally the
merchant and myself, with the unhappy-looking peasant, who scrambled on
his hands and feet, brought up the rear. When we had all reached the
top of the bank we all sat down again, looking as black and as gloomy
as a lot of crows. About three or four arshines away from us, and eight
or nine below us, lay the river, a broad blue-grey line, its surface
wrinkled and dotted with heaps of broken ice. These little heaps of ice
had the appearance of an unpleasant scab, moving ever slowly forward
with an indomitable force lying hidden under its furtive movement. A
grating, scraping sound was heard through the raw, damp air.

"Kireelka!" cried the district judge.

The unhappy-looking peasant jumped to his feet, and pulling off his
hat, bowed low before the judge; at the same time placing himself in
a position which gave him the appearance of offering his head for
decapitation.

"Well, is it coming soon?"

"It won't detain your honour long; it will put in directly. Just see,
your honour: this is the way it comes. At this rate it can't help
getting in in time. A little higher up there is a small headland; if it
touches that, all will be right. It will all depend on that large block
of ice. If that gets fixed in the passage by the headland, then all
is up, for the ferry will get squeezed in the narrow passage, and all
movement will be stopped."

"That's enough! Hold your tongue!"

The peasant closed his lips with a snap, and was silent.

"Devil take it all!" cried the judge indignantly. "I told you, you
idiot, to send two boats over to this side, didn't I?"

"Yes, your honour, you did," replied the peasant, with an air of having
deserved blame.

"Well, and why did you not do so?"

"I hadn't time, because it went off all of a sudden."

"You blockhead!" replied the judge; then turning to Mamaieff, "These
stupid asses can't even understand ordinary language!"

"Yes, that's true; but then they're nothing but peasants," sneered
Manaieff, with an ingratiating smirk. "They're a silly race--a dull
set of wooden blockheads; but let us hope that this renewed energy
of the Zemstvo, this increase of schools, this enlightenment, this
education"--

"Schools! Oh yes, indeed! Reading--rooms, magic lanterns! A fine
story! I know what it all means. But I'm no enemy to education, as you
know yourself. And I know by experience that a good whipping educates
quicker and better than does anything else. Birch rods cost the peasant
nothing, whereas education strips him bare to the skin, and causes him
more suffering than can any rod. Up to the present time education has
brought nothing but ruin to the peasant. That's my opinion. I don't,
however, object to their being taught; I only say wait a little."

"That's it!" exclaimed the merchant, in a tone of voice that denoted
thorough agreement. "It would really be better to wait a little; times
are hard for the peasants just now. Failing harvests, sickness and
disease, their unfortunate weakness for strong drinks, all these things
undermine their prosperity, and then, on the top of this, they pile
schools and reading-rooms! What's to be done for the peasant under such
circumstances? There is nothing to be done for him, believe me."

"Yes; nobody knows that better than you do, Nitrita Pavlovitch,"
remarked Isaiah. His tone was firm but scrupulously polite, and he
sighed devoutly as he spoke.

"I should think so, indeed! Haven't I been seventeen years among them?
As for education, my opinion is this: if education is given at the
proper time it's all right, then it may benefit people. But if--excuse
the expression--I have an empty belly, I don't want to learn anything
except, maybe, how to rob and steal."

"No, indeed, there's no good at all in education!" exclaimed Isaiah,
assuming an expression of good-natured respect.

Mamaieff glanced at him, and drew in his lips.

"There's a peasant for you, that fellow Kireelka!" cried the judge,
turning to us with something almost of solemnity in his face and in
his voice. "Just look at him, please. He is anything but an ordinary
peasant--he is a rare sort of animal! During the fire on board the
steamer _Gregory_ this ragamuffin, this gnat, rescued without anyone's
assistance six persons. It was late autumn then; for four long hours
he laboured in peril of his life, soaked to the skin, for rain was
coming down in torrents. When he had rescued six lives, he quietly
disappeared; they looked for him everywhere, for they wanted to
recompense him, to give him a medal for his bravery; and at last they
found him, stealing away to hide himself in the dark woods. He has
always managed his affairs well; he has been thrifty; he drove his
young daughter-in-law into her grave; his old wife beats him sometimes
with logs of wood; he is a drunkard, and at the same time he is pious.
He sings in the church choir, and he possesses a fine beehive with good
swarms of bees; added to all this, he is a great thief! Once a barge
got stopped here, and he was caught stealing; he had carried off three
bags of plums. You see what a curious character he is!"

This speech made us all turn our attention to the clever peasant, who
stood in front of us with eyes cast down, and sniffing vigorously. His
gaze was fixed on the elegant shoes of the district judge, and two
suggestive little wrinkles played round the corner of his mouth, though
his lips were firmly closed, and his face was void of all expression.

"Come, let us examine him. Tell us, Kireelka, what benefits are to be
derived from learning to read?"

Kireelka sighed, moved his lips, but no word escaped from them.

"Come now, you can read!" continued the judge, in a more imperative
tone. "You must know whether learning to read has made it easier for
you to live or not!"

"That depends upon circumstances," said Kireelka, dropping his head
still lower on his breast.

"But you must tell us something more definite than that. You can read
and write, so you surely can say whether you gain any benefit by it?"

"Benefit, well perhaps. But no, I think there is more; that is, if we
look upon it in the right light, those who teach us may gain something
by it."

"What can they gain by it? And who do you mean by 'they'?"

"Well, I mean the teachers, or maybe the Zemstvo, or somebody."

"You stupid creature! But I ask you about yourself; for you personally,
is it of any use?"

"That is just as you wish, your honour."

"How just as I wish?"

"Why, to be sure, just as you wish. You see, you are our masters."

"Be off with you!"

The ends of the judge's moustache quivered, and his face grew very red.

"Well, you see, he has said little, but I think you are well answered.
No, gentlemen, the time is not yet ripe for teaching the peasant his A
B C; he must be thoroughly disciplined first. The peasant is nothing
but a vicious child; that is what he is. Nevertheless, it is of him
that the foundations are made. Do you understand? He is the groundwork,
the base of the pyramid of the State. If that base should suddenly
begin to shake, do you not understand what serious disorder might be
produced in the State?"

"That's quite true," reflected Mamaieff. "Certainly the foundations
ought to be kept strong."

As I also was interested in the cause of the peasants, I, at this
point, joined in the conversation, and in a short time all four of us
were hotly and eagerly deciding the future of the peasantry. The true
vocation of every individual seems to be to lay down rules for his
neighbour's conduct; and those preachers are in the wrong who declare
that we are all egoists; for in our altruistic aspirations to improve
the human race, we forget our own shortcomings; and this may account
for the fact that much of the evil of the world is concealed from us.
We continued thus to argue, whilst the river wound its serpentine
course in front of our eyes, swishing against the banks with its cold
grey scales of ice.

In the same way our conversation twisted and wound like an angry snake,
that flings itself now on one side, and now on the other, in the
endeavour to seize its prey, which nevertheless continues to escape.
And the cause of all our talk, the peasant himself, who sat there, at
no great distance from us, on the sandy bank, in silence, and with a
countenance wholly devoid of expression--who was he, and what was he?

Mamaieff again took up the conversation.

"No, he is not such a fool as you say; he is not really stupid; it's
not so easy to get round him."

The district judge seemed to be losing his temper. "I don't say he is
a fool; I say he is demoralised!" "Pray don't misunderstand me. I say
he has no control over himself. No control such as it is necessary to
exercise over children--that is where the root of the evil lies."

"And with all due deference, I beg to think that there is nothing wrong
with him! He is one of the Great Maker's children, like all of us; but,
I must apologise perhaps for mentioning it, he is tormented out of his
senses. I mean, bad government has deprived him of all hope for the
future."

It was Isaiah who spoke in a suave, respectful voice, smiling softly,
and sighing all the time. His eyes were half closed, as if he feared
to look straight at anyone; but the swelling on the side of his head
seemed to be overflowing with laughter, ready to burst into loud mirth,
but not daring to do so. "I for my part urge that there is nothing the
matter with the peasant but hunger. Only give him enough good food, and
he would soon be everything we I could desire."

"You believe he is starved!" exclaimed the judge irritably. "In the
devil's name, what makes you think so?"

"To me it seems quite clear."

"For goodness' sake, do tell me! Why, fifty years ago, he did not know
what hunger meant. He was then well fed, healthy, humble--h'm! I did
not mean that exactly. I meant to say--I--I--myself am hungry just now!
And hungry--devil take him!--because of his stupidity. Come now, what
do you think of that? I had given orders for the boats to be sent over
here to wait for me. Well, when I get here, there sits Kireelka, just
as if nothing were the matter. No, really, they are a dreadful set of
idiots, I assure you. I mean they have not the least respect or the
least obedience for the commands of those who are set in authority over
them."

"Well, it would be a good thing if we could get something to eat," said
Mamaieff in a melancholy voice.

"Ah, it would indeed!" sighed Isaiah.

Suddenly all four of us, who a few moments before had been snarling
irritably at each other over our argument, grew silent, feeling
suddenly united by the common pangs of hunger, felt in common. We all
turned towards poor Kireelka, who grew confused under our gaze, and
began dragging at his hat.

"Whatever have you done with that boat--eh?" Isaiah asked him
reproachfully.

"Well, supposing the boat had been here, you couldn't have eaten it,"
replied Kireelka, with a hangdog look on his face, which made us all
turn our backs on him.

"Six mortal hours have I been sitting here!" ejaculated Mamaieff,
taking out his gold watch and looking at it.

"There now, you see!" angrily exclaimed the judge, twisting his
moustache. "And this wretch says there will be a block in the ice
directly, and I want to know if we shall get off before that--eh?"

It almost appeared as if the judge imagined that Kireelka had some
power over the river, and considered that he was entirely to blame
for our long delay. However that might be, the judge's question set
all poor Kireelka's muscles in motion. He crawled to the very edge of
the bank, shaded his eyes with his hand, and with a troubled look on
his face tried to peer out into the distance. His lips moved, and he
spasmodically kicked out one leg, as if he were trying either to work a
spell or to utter some inaudible commands to the river.

The ice was moving slowly down in an ever more compact mass, the
grey-blue blocks ground against each other with a grating sound as
they broke, cracked, and split into small fragments, sometimes showing
the muddy waters below, and then once again hiding them from view. The
river had the appearance of some enormous body eaten by some terrible
skin disease, as it lay spread out before us, covered with scabs and
sores; while some invisible hand seemed to be trying to purify it from
the filthy scales which disfigured its surface. Any minute it seemed to
us we might behold the river, freed from its bondage, and flowing past
us in all its might and beauty, with its waves once more sparkling and
gleaming under the sunlight, which, piercing the clouds, would cast
bright, joyful glances earthwards.

"They will be here soon now, your honour!" exclaimed Kireelka in a
cheerful voice. "The ice is getting thinner there, and they are just at
the headland now."

He pointed with his cap, which he held in his hand, into the distance,
where, however, I could see nothing but ice.

"Is it far from here to Olchoff?"

"Well, your honour, by the nearest way it would be about five versts."

"Devil take it all! A-hem. I say, have you got anything with you?
Potatoes or bread?"

"Bread? Well, yes, your honour, I have got a bit of bread with me, but
as for potatoes--no--I haven't any; they didn't yield this year."

"Well, have you got the bread with you?"

"Yes, here it is, inside my shirt."

"Faugh! Why the devil do you put it into your pazoika?"

"Well, there isn't much of it--only a pound or two; and it keeps warmer
there."

"You fool! I wish I had sent my man over to Olchoff; he might have got
some milk or something else there; but this idiot kept on saying,
'Very so-on, very so-on!' The devil! how vexing it all is!"

The judge continued to twist his moustache angrily, but the merchant
cast longing glances in the direction of the peasant's pazoika. This
latter stood with bowed head, slowly raising his hand towards his shirt
front. Isaiah meanwhile was making signs to him. When he caught sight
of them he moved noiselessly towards my friend, keeping his face turned
to the judge's back.

The ice was still gradually diminishing, and already fissures showed
themselves between the blocks, like wrinkles on a pale, bloodless face.
The play of these wrinkles seemed to give various expressions to the
river, all of them alike cold and pensive, though sometimes sad or
mocking, or even disfigured by pain. The heavy, damp mass of clouds
overhead seemed to look down on the movements of the ice with a stolid,
passionless expression. The grating of the ice blocks against the sand
sounded now like a frightened whisper, awakening in those who listened
to it a feeling of despondency.

"Give me a bit of your bread," I heard Isaiah say in a low whisper.

At the same moment the merchant gave a grunt, and the judge called out
in a loud, angry voice, "Kireelka, bring the bread here!" The poor
peasant pulled off his cap with one hand, whilst with the other he
drew the bread out of his shirt, laid it on his cap, and presented it
to the judge, bending and bowing low, like a court lackey of the time
of Louis XV. Taking the bread in his hand, the judge examined it with
something like a look of disgust, smiled sourly, and turning to us,
said--

"Gentlemen, I see we all aspire to the possession of this piece of
bread, and we all have a perfectly equal right to it--the right of
hungry people. Well, let us divide equally this frugal meal. Devil take
it! it is indeed a ludicrous position we are in! But what else is there
to do? In my haste to start before the road got spoiled--Allow me to
offer you"--

With this he handed a piece of the bread to Mamaieff. The merchant
looked at it askance, cocked his head on one side, measured with his
eye the piece of bread, and bolted his share of it. Isaiah took what
was left and gave me my share of it. Once more we sat down side by
side, this time silently munching our--what shall I call it? For lack
of a better word to describe it, I suppose I must call it bread. It was
of the consistency of clay, and it smelt of sheepskin, saturated with
perspiration, and with the stale odour of rotten cabbage; its flavour
no words could express! I ate it, however, as I silently watched the
dirty fragments of the river's winter attire float slowly past.

"Now this is what they call bread!" said our judge, looking
reproachfully at the sour lump in his hand. "This is the Russian
peasant's food! He eats this stuff while the peasants of other
countries eat cheese, good wheaten bread, and drink wine. There is
sawdust, trash, and refuse of all sorts in this bread; and this is our
peasant's food on the eve of the twentieth century! I should like to
know why that is so?"

As the question seemed addressed to the merchant, he sighed deeply, and
meekly answered, "Yes, it's not very grand food--not attractive!"

"But I ask you why, sir?" demanded the judge.

"Why? I suppose because the land is exhausted, if I may say so."

"Ahem! Nonsense, no such thing! All this talk about exhausted land is
useless; it's nothing but a fancy of the statisticians."

On hearing this remark Kireelka sighed deeply, and crushed his hat down
on his head.

"You tell me now, my good fellow, how does your land yield?" said the
judge.

"Well, that depends. When the land is healthy it yields--well, as much
as you can want."

"Come, now, don't try to get out of it! But give a straight answer.
Does your land give good crops?"

"If---that is--then"--

"Don't lie!"

"If good hands work it, why, then, it is all right" "Ah-ha! Do you
hear that? Good hands! There it is! No hands to work the land! And
why? What do we see? Drunkenness and slackness, idleness, sloth. There
is no authority over the peasants. If they happen to have a bad crop
one year, well, then, the Zemstvo comes at once to their aid, saying,
'Here is seed for you; sow your land, my friend. Here is bread; eat
it, my good friend.' Now I tell you, this is all wrong! Why did the
land yield good harvests up till 1861? Because when the crops were not
good the peasant was brought before his master, who asked him, 'How
did you sow? How did you plough?' and so on. The master then gave him
some seed, and if the crops were then not good the peasant answered
for it with a scarred back. His crops after that were sure to be good.
Whereas, now he is protected by the Zemstvo, and has lost his capacity
for work. It's all because there is no master over him to teach him to
use his senses!"

"Yes, that's just it. The proprietors knew well how to make their serfs
work!" said Mamaieff, with assurance. "They could make what they liked
out of the moujiks!"

"Musicians, painters, dancers, actors!" eagerly interrupted the judge;
"they made them whatever they liked!"

"That's quite true. I well remember when I was a boy how our Count's
house-servant was taught to mimic everything he heard."

"Yes, that was so."

"Indeed, he learnt to mimic everything, not only human or animal
sounds, but even the sound of the sawing of wood, the breaking of
glass, or anything else. He would blow out his cheeks and make
whatever sound was commanded. The Count would say, 'Feodka, bark like
vixen--like Catcher!' And Feodka did it. That was how they were taught
then. Nowadays a good sum of money might be earned by such tricks!"

"The boats are coming!" shouted Isaiah.

"At last! Kireelka, my horses! No, stop a moment; I will tell the
coachman myself."

"Well, let's hope our waiting has come to an end," said Mamaieff, with
a smile of relief.

"Yes, I suppose it has come to an end."

"It's always like that in life; one waits, and waits; and at last what
one was waiting for arrives. Ha! ha! ha! All things in this world come
to an end."

"That's a comfort, at any rate," said Isaiah.

Two long objects were to be seen moving along near the opposite bank.

"They are coming nearer," said Kireelka, as he watched them.

The judge watched him from the corner of his eye.

"Do you still drink as much as you used to?" he asked the peasant.

"If I have a chance, I drink a glass."

"And do you still steal firewood in the forest?"

"Why should I do that, your honour?"

"Come, tell the truth!"

"I never did steal wood," replied Kireelka, shaking his head
deprecatingly.

"What was it I condemned you for, then?"

"It's true you condemned me."

"What was it for, then?"

"Why, your honour, you see, you are put in authority over us; you have
a right to condemn us." "Ah! I see you are a cunning rascal! And you do
not steal plums from the barges either, when they are detained; do you?"

"I only tried that once, your honour."

"And that once you were caught! Wasn't that so? Ha! Ha! Ha!"

"We are not accustomed to that sort of work. That's why I was caught."

"Well, you had better get a little practice at it; hadn't you? Ha! Ha!
Ha!"

"He! He! He!" echoed Mamaieff, laughing also.

The peasants on board the boat pushed away with large iron bars the ice
which impeded its course; and, as they drew nearer, we could hear them
shouting to each other. Kireelka, putting his hands to his mouth, stood
up and shouted back to them, "Steer for the old willow!"

Then he hurried down the bank towards the river, almost tumbling head
over heels in his haste. We quickly followed him, and were soon on
board; Isaiah and I going in one boat, whilst the judge and Mamaieff
went in the other.

"All right, my men!" said the judge, taking off his hat and crossing
himself.

The two men in his boat crossed themselves devoutly, and once more
started pushing away the ice-blocks which pressed against the sides of
the boat.

But the blocks continued to strike the sides of the boat with an
angry crashing sound; the air struck cold as it blew over the water.
Mamaieff's face turned livid, and the judge, with knitted brow and
with a look of intense anxiety, watched the current which was driving
enormous blue-grey heaps of ice against the boats. The smaller pieces
grated against the keel with a sound of sharp teeth gnawing through
the wooden planks.

The air was damp and full of noises; our eyes were anxiously fixed
on the cold, dirty ice--so powerful and yet so helpless. Through the
various noises around us I suddenly distinguished the voice of someone
shouting from the shore, and glancing in the direction of the sound I
saw Kireelka standing bareheaded on the bank behind us. There was a
twinkle in his cunning grey eyes as he shouted in a strange, hoarse
voice, "Uncle Anthony, when you go to fetch the mail mind you don't
forget to bring some bread for me! The gentry have eaten my loaf of
bread whilst they were waiting for the ferry; and it was the last I
had!"



THE AFFAIR OF THE CLASPS


There were three of us friends--Semka[1] Kargouza, myself, and
Mishka,[2] a bearded giant with great blue eyes that perpetually beamed
on everything and were always swollen from drink. We lived in a field
beyond the town in an old tumbledown building, called for some reason
"the glass factory," perhaps because there was not a single whole pane
in its windows, and undertook all kinds of work, despising nothing;
cleaned yards, dug ditches and sewers, pulled down old buildings and
fences, and once even tried to build a henhouse. But in this we were
unsuccessful. Semka, who was pedantically honest about the duties he
took upon himself, began to doubt our knowledge of the architecture of
hen-houses, and one day at noon, when we were all resting, took the
nails that had been given out to us, two new planks, and the master's
axe to the public-house. For this we lost our work, but as we possessed
nothing no one demanded compensation.

[Footnote 1: An abbreviation or diminutive of _Simon,_ used to express
intimacy or contempt.--TR.]

[Footnote 2: An abbreviation or diminutive of _Michael,_ used
to express intimacy or contempt. Bears are nicknamed Mishka in
Russia.--TR.]

We struggled on, living from hand to mouth,[3] and all three of us felt
a very natural and lawful dissatisfaction with our fate. Sometimes this
took an acute form, giving us a hostile feeling to all around us, and
drawing us into somewhat riotous exploits provided for in the "Statutes
on Penalties inflicted by the Justices of the Peace"; but as a rule
we were weighed down by a dull melancholy, anxiously preoccupied in
the search of a meagre earning, and responded but feebly to all those
impressions which we could not turn to material advantage. In our
spare time--and there was always more of it than we required--we built
castles in the air. Semka, the eldest and most matter-of-fact of us,
was a thick-set, Penza-born peasant. He used to be a gardener, but,
ruined by drink, as fate willed it, he struck at the town of K---- a
year ago, on his way to the Nigny Fair, where he hoped somehow to "get
on." His dreams, the embittered sceptic's, took a clear and definite
form. He required but little.

"Damn my soul!"[3] he used to say, when we, lying on our empty
stomachs on the ground, somewhere in the shade, beyond the town, tried
to illumine our future, little by little, but insistently looking into
its darkness.

[Footnote 3: The Russian exclamation has no English equivalent.--TR.]

"If I could just cut to Siberia. I'd make my way there, meet a good
business-like man, apprentice myself to him directly. 'Take me, mate,'
I'd say, 'to share your luck. Pals in prison, pals in hunger.' Then I'd
polish off one or two little jobs with him. That would be something
_like._ Ye-es."

"Why should you go to Siberia particularly?" I asked him once.

"Why? It's there the real smart ones are, man. Lots of 'em--easy to
find. But _here_--here you can't for the life of you find a good one.
As for trying alone, you'd only go hang for nothing. Not used to it.
Skill it wants--experience."

Mishka could not express his dreams in words, but there was not the
slightest doubt that he dreamed continually and persistently. You had
but to look at his good-natured blue eyes, always gazing into space,
at his gentle tipsy smile, constantly parting his thick moustache and
beard, which always contained some extraneous matter, such as bird's
feathers, bits of straw, a shaving or two, breadcrumbs, pieces of
eggshell, etc.; you had but to glance at his simple open face to see in
him the typical peasant-dreamer. I had my dreams too, but the direction
of my thoughts is even now interesting to no one but myself.

We had all three met in a night shelter a fortnight or so before the
incident I want to describe, deeming it interesting. In a day or two we
were friends--that is, went everywhere together, told each other our
aims and wishes, divided everything that fell to one equally amongst
us, and, in fact, made a tacit defensive and offensive alliance against
Life, which treated us in an extremely hostile manner.

During the day we tried with great energy to find something to saw
or take to pieces, to pull down, to dig, to carry, and, if such an
opportunity occurred, at first set to work with a will.

But, perhaps because each of us in his heart thought himself destined
for the fulfilment of higher-business than, for instance, the digging
of cesspools, or cleaning them, which is still worse, I may add, for
the information of those not initiated into that art, after some two
hours of the work our ardour somewhat abated. Then Semka would begin to
doubt its necessity.

"They dig a ditch ... And what for? For _slops._ Why can't they just
pour them out on the ground? 'Won't do. They'll smell,' they say. Get
along with you! Slops smell! What stuff people do talk, just from
having nothing to do. Now throw a salt cucumber[4] out. Why should it
smell if it's a little one? It'll lie there a day or two, and there you
are--it's gone, rotted away. If you throw a dead man out into the sun,
now, he'll smell a bit, to be sure, for it's a big carcass."

[Footnote 4: A very common food in Russia.--TR.]

Such reasoning and conclusions on Semka's part considerably damped our
ardour for work. And this was rather advantageous for us if the job
was by the day, but if it was by the piece it invariably happened that
we took our wages and spent them on food before the work was finished.
Then we used to go to our employer to ask for a "pribavka";[5] he
generally told us to clear out, and threatened, with the help of the
police, to make us finish the job already paid for. We argued that
we could not work hungry, and more or less hotly insisted on the
"pribavka," which in the majority of cases we got. Of course it was not
exactly honourable, but really it was extremely advantageous, and it
is not our fault if life is so clumsily arranged that the honourable
and the advantageous nearly always clash. The wages disputes with our
employers Semka always took upon himself, and really he conducted them
with an artist's skill, detailing the proofs of his rights in the tones
of a man worn out with work and exhausted by the burden of it.

[Footnote 5: Lit., "an addition," _i.e._ additional wage.--TR.]

Meanwhile Mishka looked on in silence, and blinked his blue eyes,
smiling from time to time with his good-natured, kindly smile, as
if he were trying to say something but could not summon up courage.
He generally spoke very little, and only when half-seas-over was he
capable of delivering something like an oration.

"Bratsi!"[6] he would then cry, smiling, and his lips twitched
curiously, his throat grey husky, and he would cough for some time
after the beginning of the speech, pressing his hand to his throat.

[Footnote 6: Diminutive of "brothers."--TR.]

"W-e-ll?" would be Semka's impatient and ungracious encouragement.

"Bratsi! We live like dogs, we do. And worse even. And what for? Nobody
knows. But I suppose by the will of God. Everything is done by His
will--eh, bratsi? Well, then--So there ... it shows we deserve to live
like dogs, for we are bad men. We're bad men, eh? Well, then--Now I
say, serve'em right, the dogs. Isn't it true what I say? So it shows
it's for our sins. And we must put up with it, eh? Isn't it true?"

"Fool!" briefly and indifferently answered Semka to the anxious
questioning of his comrade. And the other would penitently shrink up
into himself, smile timidly, and fall silent, blinking his eyes, which
he could scarcely keep open from drunken sleepiness.

Once we were in luck.

We were waiting for likely employers, elbowing our way through the
market, when we came upon a small wizened old lady with a stern,
wrinkled face. Her head shook, and on her beak-like nose hopped large
spectacles with heavy silver rims; she was constantly putting them
straight as her small, coldly glittering eyes gleamed out from behind
them.

"You are free? Are you looking for work?" she asked us, when we all
stared at her longingly. "Very well," she said, on receiving a quick
and respectful answer in the affirmative from Semka. "I want to have an
old bath-house[7] pulled down, and a well cleaned. How much would you
charge for it?"

"We should have to see, barynia, what sort of size your bath-house
is," said Semka, politely and reasonably. "And the well too. They run
different depths. Sometimes they are very deep."

We were invited to look, and in an hour's time, already armed with
axes and a lever, we were lustily pulling down the rafters of the
bath-house, having agreed to take it to pieces and to clean the well
for five roubles.[8] The bath-house stood in the corner of an old
neglected garden. Not far from it, among some cherry trees, was a
summer-house, and from the top of the bath-house we saw that the old
lady sat reading in there, holding a large open book on her lap. Now
and then she cast a sharp, attentive glance at us, the book on her lap
moved, and its massive clasps, evidently of silver, shone in the sun.

[Footnote 7: In Russia private dwellings have separate bath-houses,
built mostly of wood, and the baths are taken in somewhat the same
manner as Turkish.--TR.]

No work is so rapid as the work of destruction. We zealously bustled
about among clouds of grey, pungent dust, sneezing, coughing, blowing
our noses, and rubbing our eyes every minute. The bathhouse, half
rotten, and old like its mistress, was soon crashing and falling to
pieces.

"Now, mates, hard on it--ea-sy!" commanded Semka, and row after row of
beams fell creaking to the ground.

"Wonder what book that is she's got. Such a thick one!" said Mishka,
reflectively leaning upon his lever and wiping the sweat off his face
with his palm. Immediately turned into a mulatto, he spat on his
hands, raised the lever to drive it into a crack between two beams,
drove it in, and added in the same reflective tone, "Suppose it's the
Gospels--seems to me it's too thick."

"What's that to you?" asked Semka.

"To me? Why, nothing. I like to hear a book read--if it's a holy one.
We had a soldier in the village, African his name was; he'd begin to
reel off the psalms sometimes, just like a drum--fine."

[Footnote 8: A rouble is about two shillings.--TR.]

"Well?" Semka said again, busy making a cigarette.

"Well--nothing. Only it _was_ fine! Couldn't understand it, still it's
the Word of God--don't hear it in the street like. Can't understand it,
still you feel it's a word for the soul."

"Can't understand it, you say. Still you can see you're a blockhead,"
said Semka, imitating him.

"I know you're always swearing at me," sighed the other.

"How else can you talk to fools? They can't understand anything. Come
on--let's have a go at this rotten plank."

The bath-house was falling to pieces, surrounded by splinters and
drowned in clouds of dust, which had even made the leaves of the
nearest trees a light grey. The July sun mercilessly scorched our backs
and shoulders. One could not tell from our faces, streaked with dust
and sweat, to which precisely of the four coloured races we belonged.

"The book's got silver on too," again began Mishka.

Semka raised his head and looked attentively in the direction of the
summer-house.

"Looks like it," he said shortly.

"Must be the Gospels, then."

"Well, and what if it is?"

"Nothing."

"Got enough and to spare of that stuff, my boy. If you're so fond of
Holy Scripture you'd better go to her. Go to her and say, 'Read to me a
bit, grannie. For _we_ can't get that sort of thing.' Say, '_We_ don't
go to church, by reason of our dirtiness. But we've got souls too, all
as they should be, in the right place.' Go on--go along."

"Truth, shall I?"

"Go on."

Mishka threw down his lever, pulled his shirt straight, smeared the
dust over his face with his sleeve, and jumped down from the bath-house.

"_She'll_ give it you, devil of a fool, you," mumbled Semka, smiling
sceptically, but watching with extreme curiosity the figure of his
comrade, making its way to the summer-house through the mass of
dock-leaves.

Tall and bent, with bare, dirty hands, heavily lurching as he walked
and catching the branches of the bushes now and then, he was moving
clumsily forward, a confused, gentle smile on his face.

The sun glistened on the glasses of the old lady's spectacles and on
their silver rims.

Contrary to Semka's supposition, she did not "give it him." We could
not hear for the rustle of the foliage what Mishka was saying to her,
but we presently saw him heavily sitting down at her feet, so that his
nose almost touched the open book. His face was dignified and calm;
we saw him blow on his beard, to try and get the dust off it, fidget,
and at last settle down in an uncomfortable position, with his neck
stretched out, expectantly watching the old lady's little shrivelled
hands as they methodically turned over the leaves of the book.

"Look at him, the hairy dog! Got a fine rest for himself. Let's go too!
He'll be taking it easy there, and we've got to do his work for him.
Come on!"

In two or three minutes Semka and I were also sitting on the ground,
one on each side of our comrade. The old lady did not say a word to us
when we appeared, only looked at us attentively and sharply, and again
began to turn over the leaves of the book, searching for something. We
sat in a luxuriant green ring of fresh, sweet-smelling foliage, and
above us was spread the kindly, soft, cloudless sky. Now and then came
a light breeze, and the leaves began to rustle with that mysterious
sound which always speaks to the heart, waking in it gentleness and
peace, and turning the thoughts to something indefinite, yet dear to
man, cleansing his soul from foulness, or, at any rate, making him
forget it for a time and breathe freely, and, as it were, anew.

"'Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ,'" began the old lady's voice.
Shaking and cracked from age, it was yet full of a stern and pompous
piety. At its first sound Mishka energetically crossed himself.

Semka began fidgeting on the ground, trying to find a more comfortable
position. The old lady cast a glance at him, but continued to read.

"'For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual
gift, to the end ye may be established--that is, that I with you may
be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and
mine.'"

Semka, like the true heathen he was, gave a loud yawn. His comrade cast
a reproachful glance at him from his blue eyes and hung his touzled
head, all covered with dust. The old lady also looked at him severely
without leaving off reading, and this somewhat abashed him. He wrinkled
up his nose, looked sideways, and, evidently wishing to atone for his
yawn, gave a long, pious sigh.

Several minutes passed quietly. The improving and monotonous reading
acted as a sedative.

"'For the wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and'"--

"What do you want?" suddenly cried the old lady to Semka.

"O-oh ... nothing. If you would kindly go on reading--I am listening!"
he explained meekly.

"Why are you touching the clasp with your dirty great hand?" she said,
in exasperation.

"I'm curious, for--it's such fine work, you see. And it's in my line. I
understand locksmith work. So I just felt it."

"Listen," said the old lady drily. "Tell me, what have I been reading
about?"

"Why, certainly. I understand."

"Well, tell me."

"A sermon--so, of course, it's teaching on the faith and likewise on
sin. It's very simple, all of it, and--all very true. Just takes hold
of the soul--pinches it, like!"

The old lady shook her head sadly and looked round on us all with
reproach.

"Lost souls you are--stones. Go back to work!"

"She--seems to be annoyed, mates," observed Mishka, smiling penitently.

Semka scratched his back, yawned, and looking after the old lady, who,
without turning round, was walking away down the narrow path, said
reflectively--

"The clasps are silver, no mistake," and he gave a broad smile, as if
enjoying some pleasant prospect.

Having spent the night in the garden by the ruins of the bath-house,
which we had finished pulling down that day, towards noon of the next
we cleaned out the well, got soaked in the water, smeared all over with
mud, and were sitting in the yard by the porch in the expectation of
our wages, talking to each other and anticipating a good dinner and
supper in the near future; to look farther ahead we none of us were
inclined.

"Why the devil doesn't that old hag come?" said Semka impatiently, but
in a low voice.

"Just listen to him!" said Mishka reproachfully, shaking his head.
"Now, what on earth is he swearing for? She's a real godly old lady.
And he swears at her. What a disposition!"

"We are clever, aren't we? You great scarecrow!"

This pleasant and interesting conversation of friends was interrupted
by the appearance of the old lady. She came up to us, and holding out
her hand with the money in it said scornfully--

"There, take it and go along. I wanted to give you the wash-house
planks to break up for firewood, but you are not worth it."

Unhonoured with the task of breaking up the wash-house planks, which,
however, we were not in need of now, we took the money in silence and
went.

"Oh, you old she-devil!" began Semka, as soon as we were outside the
gate. "Did you ever? We're not worth it! You dead toad--you! There, go
and screech over your book now!"

Plunging his hand into his pocket, he pulled out two bright metal
objects and showed them to us in triumph.

Mishka stopped, stretching his neck towards Semka's uplifted hand.

"You've broken the clasps off?" he asked, astonished.

"That's it, mate. Silver! Get a rouble for them at least."

"Well, I never! When did you do it? Hide them quick, out of harm's way!"

"I'll hide 'em all right."

We continued our way up the street in silence.

"That's smart," Mishka said to himself. "Went and broke it off! Ye-es.
But the book is a good book. The old lady will be offended with us very
likely."

"Why, no, mate, not she! She'll call us back and tip us," joked Semka.

"How much do you want for them?"

"Lowest price--ninety kopeks.[9] Not a copper less. Cost more to me.
Broke my nail over it--look."

"Sell them to me," said Mishka timidly.

[Footnote 9: A penny is equal to four or five kopeks.--TR.]

"To you? Thinking of having 'em for studs? They'll make first-rate
ones--just suit your lovely face they would!"

"No; truth--sell them to me!" And Mishka lowered his tone in
supplication.

"Why, take 'em, I say. How much will you give?"

"Take. How much is there for my share?"

"Rouble twenty."

"And how much do you want for them?"

"A rouble."

"Make it less to oblige a mate."

"Oh, you fool! What the devil do you want them for?"

"Never mind; you just sell them to me."

At last the bargain was struck, and the clasps were transferred to
Mishka for ninety kopeks.

He stopped and began turning them over in his hand, his touzled head
bent low, carefully examining them with knit brows.

"Hang 'em on your nose," suggested Semka.

"Why should I?" replied Mishka gravely. "I'll take'em back to the old
lady. 'Here, old lady,' I'll say, 'we just took these little things
with us by mistake, so you put'em on again,' I'll say, 'in their
places--on that same book there.' Only you've torn them out with the
stuff; how can she fix them on now?"

"Are you actually going to take them back?" and Semka opened his mouth.

"Why, yes. You see a book like that--it ought to be all whole, you
know. It won't do to tear off bits of it. The old lady will be
offended, too. And she's not far from her grave. So I'll just--You wait
for me a minute. I'll run back."

And before we could hold him, he had disappeared round the street comer.

"There's a soft-boned fool for you. You dirty insect, you!" cried
Semka in indignation, taking in the meaning of the occurrence and its
possible consequences. And swearing for all he was worth, he began
persuading me.

"Come on, hurry up! He'll do us. He's sitting there now, as like as
not, with his hands tied behind him, and the old hag's sent for the
policeman already. That's what philandering round with a ninny like
that means. Why, he'll get you into jail for nothing at all. What a
scoundrel! What foul-souled thing would treat his mate like this? Good
Lord! That's what people have come to! Come on, you devil, what are you
standing there for? Waiting? The devil wait for you and take you all,
the scoundrels. Pah, you damned asses! Not coming? All right, then"--

Promising me something extraordinarily dreadful, Semka gave me a
despairing poke in the ribs, and went off with rapid strides.

I wanted to know what was happening to Mishka and the old lady, and
walked quietly towards her house. I did not think that I would incur
any danger or unpleasantness.

And I was not mistaken.

Approaching the house, I looked through a chink in the board fence, and
saw and heard the following:--

The old lady sat on the steps holding the clasps of her Bible, "torn
out with the stuff," in her hand, and looked searchingly and sternly
through her spectacles at Mishka's face, who stood with his back to me.

Notwithstanding the stern, hard gleam in her hard eyes, there were soft
lines at the corners of her mouth now; it was clear that the old lady
wanted to conceal a kindly smile--the smile of forgiveness.

From behind her back protruded three heads--two women's--one red-faced,
and tied up in a many-coloured handkerchief, the other uncovered,
with a cataract in the left eye; over her shoulders appeared a man's
face--wedge-shaped, with little grey side-whiskers and a crest of hair
on the top. This face incessantly blinked and winked in a curious
manner with both eyes, as if saying to Mishka--

"Cut, man! Run!"

Mishka mumbled, trying to explain.

"Such a rare book! says you're all beasts and dogs, you are. So
I thought to myself--it's true, Lord. To tell the truth, we are
godless scoundrels--miserable wretches. And then, too, I thought,
barynia--she's an old lady; perhaps she's got but this one book for a
comfort. Then the clasps--we wouldn't get much for them. But on the
book now, they are a real thing. So I turned it over in my mind, and I
said to myself, 'I'll go give the old lady some pleasure'--bring her
this back. Then too, thanked be the Lord, we earned somewhat yesterday
to buy our bread. Well, good-afternoon to you, ma'am; I'll be going."

"Wait a moment," said the old lady. "Did you understand what I read
yesterday?"

"Did I? Why, no, how can I understand it? I hear it, that's so--and
even then, _how_ do I hear it? As if our ears were fit for the Word of
God? We can't understand it. You hear it with your heart like, but the
ear, it doesn't take it in. Goodbye to you, ma'am."

"So--so!" drawled out the old lady. "No, just wait a minute."

Mishka sighed forlornly, so that you could hear him all over the yard,
and moved his weight from one foot to the other like a bear. Evidently
this explanation was growing very wearisome to him.

"Would you like me to read you some more?"

"M'm! my mates are waiting for me."

"Never mind them. You are a good fellow. You must leave them."

"Very well," assented Mishka in a low voice.

"You will leave them? Yes?"

"I'll leave them."

"That's a sensible fellow. You're quite a child. And look at you--a
great beard, almost to your waist! Are you married?"

"A widower. My wife, she died."

"And why do you drink? You are a drunkard, aren't you?"

"A drunkard, ma'am. I drink."

"Why?"

"Why do I drink? Why, from foolishness. Being a fool, I drink. If a
man had brains, would he go and ruin himself of his own accord?" said
Mishka in a desolate tone.

"You are quite right. Then cultivate wisdom and get better. Go to
church. Hear God's Word. In It is all wisdom."

"That's so, of course," almost groaned Mishka.

"I will read some more to you. Would you like it?"

"Just as you please, ma'am." Mishka was weary to death.

The old lady got her Bible from somewhere behind her, found a place,
and the yard was filled with her quavering voice:

"'Judge not, that ye be not judged, for with what judgment ye judge, ye
shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be meted unto
you.'"

Mishka gave his head a shake, and scratched his left shoulder.

"'Dost thou think to escape the judgment of God?'"

"Barynia!" began Mishka in a plaintive tone, "let me go, for God's
sake. I had better come some other time to listen. But now I'm real
hungry, barynia. My stomach aches, even. We've had nothing to eat since
last night."

The barynia shut the door with a bang.

"Go along! Go!" sounded sharply and shortly through the yard.

"Thank you kindly." And he almost ran to the gate.

"Unrepentant souls, hearts of beasts," hissed in the yard behind him.

In half an hour we were sitting in an inn, having tea and kalatch.[10]

[Footnote 10: A circular roll made of hard dough.--TR.]

"It was as though she was driving a gimlet into me," said Mishka,
smiling at me with his good-natured eyes. "I stood there, and thought
to myself, oh my goodness! What on earth did I go for? Went for
martyrdom. She might, like a sensible woman, have taken the clasps
from me and let me go my way; but no, she begins a-talking. What queer
people there are! You want to treat them honest, and they go on, at
their own, all the time. I tell her straight. 'There, barynia,' I said,
'here are your clasps. Don't blame me.' And she says, 'No,' she says,
'wait a bit--you tell me why you brought them back to me,' and went
ahead as if she was pulling the veins out of my body. I broke out into
a sweat, with her talking even--truth I did."

And he still smiled with that infinitely gentle smile of his.

Semka, sulky, ruffled, and moody, said to him gravely when he had ended
his Odyssey--

"You'd better die outright, you precious blockhead, you! Or else
to-morrow, with these fine tricks of yours, the flies or beetles will
eat you up."

"How you do talk! Come, let's have a glass. Drink to the ending of the
affair!"

And we heartily drank to the ending of this queer affair.





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