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Title: Tales from Gorky
Author: Gorky, Maxime
Language: English
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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.

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TALES FROM GORKY

_TRANSLATED FROM THE RUSSIAN_

WITH

A BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE OF THE AUTHOR

BY

R. NISBET BAIN


THIRD EDITION

NEW YORK

FUNK AND WAGNALL'S COMPANY, 30, LAFAYETTE PLACE

1902



CONTENTS.

BIOGRAPHICAL NOTICE

    I. IN THE STEPPE
   II. TWENTY-SIX OF US AND ONE OTHER OTHER--
  III. ONE AUTUMN NIGHT
   IV. A ROLLING STONE
    V. THE GREEN KITTEN
   VI. COMRADES
  VII. HER LOVER
 VIII. CHELKASH
   IX. CHUMS



BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.


We should not give very much for the chances of a poor friendless lad
of feeble constitution, vagrant disposition, and an overpowering taste
for excitement, who should be turned adrift to shift for himself at an
age when most young lads are still safe at school. The fortunes of such
a one, if adequately recorded, might, and no doubt would, be infinitely
more engrossing, if less edifying, than the humdrum chronicle of the
steady clerk or patient mechanic; but a prison, or workhouse infirmary,
might safely be predicted as the ultimate and inevitable receptacle of
such a piece of human flotsam.

But now let us suppose--a handy supposition, I admit--that our
imaginary little nomad were endowed with that illuminating spark we
call genius; let us suppose, too, that in late boyhood, or early
manhood, he learnt to love letters, and deliberately set about
describing his extraordinary experiences, as well as the strange
bedfellows whom misery from time to time threw in his way--what
piquant, what grotesque pen-and-ink sketches we might expect from such
an inspired ragamuffin! It would be Oliver Twist or Humphrey Clinker
telling his own tale without the softening intervention of Mr. Charles
Dickens or Mr. Tobias Smollett.

Let us further suppose not England but Russia to be the theatre of our
hero's miseries and adventures, and the interest of the story will at
once be infinitely enhanced. The odds would now be a thousand to one
against our hero's attaining to manhood at all, and a hundred thousand
to one against his ever attaining to authorship. His risks would be
out of all proportion to his chances. From first to last starvation
would constantly dog his footsteps, and Siberian exile would be the
least terrible of a score of those administrative measures by means of
which the servants of the Tsar wage unintermittent warfare against the
vagrant population of their master's immense Empire. The career, then,
of a professional tramp in Russia must needs be of tragic intensity,
and it was my good fortune, some eighteen months ago, in the pages
of "_The Pilot,_" to be the first to call the attention of English
readers to the strange history of a Russian tramp of genius, who is,
moreover, his own chronicler. Maksim Gorky--Maximus the Bitter--is
the pseudonym deliberately chosen, at the outset of his career, by
the young Muscovite author who is at the present moment (and I do
not even except the revered name of Tolstoi) by far the most popular
story-teller in the Russian Empire. The following brief biographical
sketch of this remarkable man is the best introduction I can affix to
this selection from Gorky's unique "Razskazui," in all of which the
author has, more or less, embodied his grim experiences of life beneath
the transparent veil of fiction.

Aleksyei Maksimovich Pyeshkov was born on March 14th, 1869, at
Nijni-Novgorod. His mother Barbara was the daughter of a house painter
and decorator, Vasily Kacherin; his father was Maksim Savvatiev
Pyeshkov, an upholsterer of Perm. Aleksyei's parents seem to have been
worthy, colourless people, and fairly well educated for their station;
but they dwindle into insignificance before their respective fathers.
Young Pyeshkov's two grandfathers were undeniably men of character,
self-made men of brutal energy, who terrorized their respective
families, and were as hard and cold as the money they worshipped. So
severe, indeed, was the regimen of Aleksyei's paternal grandfather,
that his own son ran away from him five times in the course of seven
years. On the fifth occasion he did not return, but walked all the way
(he was only seventeen) from Tobolsk in Siberia, where the family then
lived, to Nijni-Novgorod, where he settled down as an apprentice to a
clothier. Five years later we find him occupying a responsible position
in the office of a steamship company at Astrakhan. Gorky's maternal
grandfather may well have been the prototype of Ignat Gordyeev, the
most impressive character in Gorky's romance, "Thoma Gordyeev."
Beginning life as a raftsman on the Volga, in the course of a short
time he became a man of substance, started a dyeing factory at his
native place, Nijni-Novgorod, was elected _Starshina,_ or Chief of the
Traders' Guild there, and was generally looked up to by everyone but
his wretched daughter, whom he made more wretched still when she threw
herself away--or so he accounted it--on such a poor non-descript as
Maksim Pyeshkov.

The earlier years of Aleksyei Pyeshkov were as uneventful as are the
years of most children. In 1873, however, when he was only four years
old, he met with his first misfortune: his rolling stone of a father
died of cholera at Astrakhan. His mother re-married shortly afterwards,
and transferred him to the care of his grandfather, who seems to have
been kind to the little lad--cruel fathers are very often indulgent
grandfathers--and taught him to read with the aid of the Psalter and
other liturgical books, by way of preparing him for school, whither
he was presently sent But his regular schooling lasted no longer than
five months, for about this time his mother died of consumption, and
almost simultaneously his last natural prop gave way, his grandfather
suddenly ruining himself utterly by over-speculation. Little Aleksyei,
therefore, was obliged to exchange his schoolroom for the shop of a
cobbler to whom he was apprenticed; but after serving his master for
two months, he burnt one hand so severely with boiling pitch that he
was pronounced useless to the trade, and sent about his business.

On recovering from the effects of this accident he was apprenticed by
his kinsfolk to a draughtsman, who treated him so harshly that he ran
away, becoming first an assistant to an ikon-maker, and then a turnspit
on a steamer on the Volga. Here he met with an unexpected piece of
good luck. His new master, the cook on board the steamer, Smurny by
name, happened to be a lettered man of superior ability, and he proved
to be one of the best friends young Pyeshkov ever had. But for him,
indeed, modern Russian Literature in all probability would now have
been minus of one of its chief ornaments. Smurny awakened within the
lad a love of literature, and placed at his disposal his own little
library, a miscellaneous collection enough, in which fantastic lives
of the Greek Orthodox Saints and interminable treatises on Freemasonry
lay cheek by jowl; it was, however, an inestimable boon to Aleksyei,
and it included, at any rate, the works of one indisputable European
classic--Gogol--besides some of the novels of Alexandre Dumas. Pyeshkov
himself, in his fragmentary autobiography, insinuates that his chance
encounter with the cultured cook was a turning-point in his career.
"Till the advent of the cook," says he, "I could not endure books, or,
indeed, any sort of printed paper--passports included." Why he quitted
Smurny we are not told; but we do know that when he left the steamer
to become a gardener's assistant, he pursued his studies whenever
and wherever he had the chance. At the age of fifteen, indeed, his
thirst for learning induced him to present himself at the gates of the
University of Kazan, the great Volgan seminary, where Tolstoi had been
educated forty years earlier, in the naïve belief that instruction
of all sorts was to be had there by anyone for the simple asking. "I
was mistaken, it appeared," he observes with pathetic sarcasm, "so I
entered a biscuit factory at three roubles (6_s._) a month." He has
related his experiences of this grinding slavery in a subterranean
"stone cage" in that powerful story, "Twenty-Six of Us and one
Other."[1]

"It was a grievous evil life we lived within those thick walls....
We rose at five o'clock in the morning without having had our sleep
out, and--stupid and indifferent--at six o'clock we were sitting at
the table to make biscuits from dough already prepared for us by our
comrades while we were still sleeping.... Our master called us niggers,
and gave us rotten entrails for dinner instead of butcher's meat." No
wonder he calls this drudgery "the hardest work I ever experienced."

And here there is a blank in our biographical record--a blank, however,
which may, partially, be filled up from conjecture. To this period
belongs, I opine, the first of Pyeshkov's gipsy-like wanderings through
Russia. The most casual reader of his tales is struck at once by his
delight for the free, careless life of a vagabond. The justification,
the philosophy of that life, so to speak, he has put into the mouth
of that prince of vagabonds, Promtov[2], evidently a real person,
whose antitype Pyeshkov must have met with on his rambles, and who is
one of his best creations It was now, too, that he must have made the
acquaintance of the so-called "Buivshie Lyudi,"[2]--or "Have-beens,"
whom he has immortalized in so many of his tales, that numerous and
unhappy class who have fallen, beyond recovery, from positions of
trust or emolument. These, too, were the days when, as he tells us, "I
sawed wood, dragged loads," and, in fact, did all sorts of ill-paid,
menial labour. On the other hand, he made the acquaintance of numerous
students at Kazan, was admitted into their clubs, and his unquenchable
ardour for learning revived. We do not know what he read during
these years, but he must have read a very great deal. None can take
up his works without being impressed by the richness and variety of
his vocabulary, and it is not too much to say that no other Russian
writer ever uses, or has used, so many foreign terms (English and
French especially), or has coined so many new words from extraneous
western sources. It is also plain from internal evidence that he has
studied history, philosophy, and science with enthusiasm, and I agree
with those Russian critics who complain that he has assimilated more
Nietzschianism than is good for him, although, on the other hand, I
consider that his obligations to Nietzsche are far less considerable
than is commonly supposed. And at the same time he was consorting
freely with ruffians of every description,[4] sleeping round camp
fires with murderers and thieves, for the sake of a crust of bread,
and once would actually have starved to death but for the charity of a
kind-hearted prostitute[5] Naturally courageous, and with the buoyancy
of youth to hold him up, he seems to have endured these hardships
cheerfully enough, and a fine sunset, or a majestic seascape, or even
a glimpse of the monotonous grandeur of the endless steppe, would,
as a rule, be compensation enough for the fatigues of a hard day
at its close. But he, too, had his dark moments, and in 1888 (when
only nineteen) he tried to commit suicide from sheer wretchedness.
Fortunately the bullet struck no vital part, and he was nursed into
convalescence at a hospital in Kazan. "Having sufficiently recovered,"
says Gorky, sarcastically summing up his position at this period, "I
survived in order to devote myself to the apple-selling trade."

On quitting Kazan, Pyeshkov appeared at Tsaritsuin, where, for a time,
he was a railway porter. He was summoned from thence to his native
place, Nijni-Novgorod, to serve as a recruit. But Aleksyei was not of
the stuff of which soldiers are made. "They don't take rubbish like
me," he explains, so he eked out a living by selling lager-beer in the
streets till he attracted the attention of the benevolent advocate, A.
J. Lanin, who made young Pyeshkov his secretary.

According to Gorky's own admission, Lanin had a considerable influence
on his future development. But Gorky, who always felt himself "out of
place among intellectual folk," and has an undisguised contempt for
mere book-learning, now quitted his patron and returned to Tsaritsuin,
whence he rambled through Southern Russia, the Ukraine, and Bessarabia,
finally working his way through the Crimea and the Kuban District to
the Caucasus. The tour was rich in new experiences, and may be said to
have matured his genius, and taught him more than whole libraries of
books could have done, but he suffered terrible privations by the way.
He made a particular study during this period of the cities of Southern
Russia, their commercial activity and their shifting, nondescript
population, and that noble story, "Chelkash," which contains his finest
descriptions of nature, was the ultimate result of his experiences.

At Tiflis he worked as a navvy for a time, and in 1892 his first
printed story, "Makar Chudra," appeared in the columns of the Tiflis
journal, _Kavkaz._ I have described elsewhere[6] his dramatic
introduction to the astonished but appreciative editor on that
occasion. Returning to Nijni-Novgorod, Gorky got several subsequent
stories inserted in the principal newspapers of the various Volgan
cities; but he wrote but little at this period, and that little did not
win general favour.

In 1893 he made the acquaintance of the eminent Russian writer,
Korolenko, to whose encouragement he always attributed his ultimate
success. Korolenko urged him to have done with trifles, aim high,
and, above all things, cultivate his style. Shortly afterwards, Gorky
published his first indisputable masterpiece, "Chelkash," No. 8 of the
present collection, which opened "the big reviews" to the young author,
and made him famous. "Chelkash" was speedily followed by a whole
series of vivid stories. In 1900 appeared his first romance, "Thoma
Gordyeev," a disappointing performance on the whole, though not without
superlative merits. The descriptions of Volgan scenery are magnificent,
and the characterization is masterly. But it is far too long, and, the
narrative is swamped by floods of second-rate philosophy. A collection
of all Gorky's works, under the title of "Razskazui" (Tales), is
still in progress. At present Gorky is, without doubt, by far the most
popular author in Russia, and the authorities there have already paid
him the compliment of branding his writings as even more dangerous than
those of his veteran contemporary, Count Leo Tolstoi. He is also, I
fancy, likely to give them much more trouble in future than the Count,
as his temperament and genius are distinctly of the volcanic order.

R. NISBET BAIN.



[1] No. 2 of the present collection.

[2] In "A Rolling Stone."

[3] Lit., those who have been.

[4] _See_ "In the Steppe."

[5] _See_ "One Autumn Night."

[6] In the _Monthly Review_ for December. In the same number of the
same periodical appeared the first English translation of one of
Gorky's tales, curiously enough, the first tale he wrote.



TALES FROM GORKY.



I.--IN THE STEPPE.


We quitted Perekop in the vilest spirits--hungry as wolves and at
war with all the world. In the course of a whole twelve hours we had
unsuccessfully employed all our talents and capabilities to earn or
steal something, and when we became convinced, at last, that success
was impossible either way, we resolved to go further on. Whither?
Simply--further on.

This resolution was unanimous, and by mutual agreement. Moreover, we
were resolved to go further in every respect. The manner of life we
lately had been leading was to be a mere starting-point, and although
we did not so express ourselves aloud, it blazed forth plainly enough
in the sullen glare of our hungry eyes.

There were three of us, and we had all quite recently made one
another's acquaintance, having first rubbed shoulders together at
Kherson, in a little tavern on the banks of the Dnieper.

One of us had been a soldier of the railway battalion, and after that
a sort of upper road-mender on one of the Polish roads; he was a
red-haired, muscular chap with cold grey eyes; he could speak German,
and was very intimately acquainted with the _minutiæ_ of prison life.

Our friend did not like to speak very much of his past for more or less
well-founded reasons, and indeed we all of us took each other on trust,
at least we ostensibly took each other on trust, for, privately, not
one of us even trusted himself.

When our second comrade, a withered little mannikin with small teeth,
always pressed together sceptically--when our second comrade, I say,
speaking of himself, said that he had formerly been a student at the
University of Moscow, I and the soldier accepted the statement as a
fact. In reality it was all one to us whether he had been a student, a
bailiff's man, or a thief. The only matter of any importance to us was
that at the moment of our first acquaintance he stood on our level,
in other words: he was starving, engaged the particular attention of
the police in the towns, was an object of suspicion to the peasants in
the villages, hated everyone with the hatred of an impotent, bated,
and starving wild beast, and was intent on a universal vengeance--in a
word, he was of precisely the same kidney as ourselves.

Misfortune is the most durable cement for the joining together of
natures even diametrically opposed to each other, and we were all
convinced of our right to account ourselves unfortunate.

I was the third. The modesty inherent in me from my earliest years
forbids me to say a single word as to my merits, and, not wishing
to seem naïve, I will be reticent as to my defects. But by way of
supplying materials for an estimate of my character, I will add, if you
like, that I had always accounted myself better than other people, and
have successfully held to the same opinion down to this very day.

Thus we emerged from Perekop and went further on, our objective for
that day being the Chabans,[1] from whom it is always possible to cadge
a little bread, and who very rarely turn tramps away empty-handed.

I walked with the soldier, "the student" was slouching along behind us.
On his shoulders hung something dimly reminiscent of a pea-jacket; on
his head reposed a sharp, singular, and smoothly clipped fragment of
a broad-brimmed hat; grey breeches, covered with variegated patches,
fitted tightly round his thin little legs, and by way of foot gear he
made use of the leg of a boot which he had picked up on the road, and
attached to its proper place by means of little bandages ripped from
the inner lining of his costume. This invention he called sandals,
and he shambled along in silence, raising a great deal of dust, and
blinking around with his tiny, greenish little eyes. The soldier wore
a red woollen shirt, which, to use his own words, he had "gained with
his own hands" at Kherson; over the shirt he wore a warm wadding vest;
on his head was a military forage cap of indeterminate colour, worn,
according to the service regulations, "with the flap of the upper
segment over the left brow"; on his legs were broad baggy chumak
trousers. He was barefooted.

[1] Shepherds of Southern Russia.

I also had clothes on and was barefooted.

On we went, and around us in every direction, in heroic proportions,
stretched the steppe, covered by the blue sultry cupola of the
cloudless summer sky, and lying before us like a huge round black
platter. The grey dusty road intersected it like a broad ribbon and
burnt our feet Here and there we fell in with bristly patches of
trampled-down corn, having a strange resemblance to the long unshaven
cheeks of the soldier.

The soldier marched along, singing in a hoarse bass:

    "And thus, oh Holy Eastertide,
    Thy fame we sing and pr-r-raise."

While under arms he had held some sort of office resembling that
of clerk in the battalion church, and knew a countless number of
liturgical snatches and fragments, the knowledge of which he constantly
abused every time our conversation happened to flag.

In front of us on the horizon certain forms with soft outlines and
pleasant shades of colour, from faint lilac to fresh pink, began to
stand forth prominently.

"Evidently those are the Crimean mountains," said "the student" with a
dry voice.

"Mountains?" cried the soldier, "it's jolly early yet to see mountains.
They are clouds--simply clouds. Don't you see--just like cranberry
vinegar with milk."

I observed that it would be in the highest degree acceptable if they
were clouds and did indeed consist of cranberry vinegar. This suddenly
awakened our hunger--the evil of our days.

"Deuce take it!" growled the soldier, spitting a bit; "if only we could
fall in with a single living soul! There's nobody at all! We shall have
to do as the bears do in winter-time and suck our own paws."

"I said we ought to have gone towards inhabited places," observed "the
student" didactically.

"_You_ said, did you!" the soldier fired up at once. "Talk--that's
about all you students are up to! What sort of inhabited places are
there here? The Devil knows where they are."

"The student" was silent, he only pressed his lips tightly together.
The sun was setting, and the clouds on the horizon exhibited a play of
colour of every shade that language fails to grasp. There was a smell
of earth and of salt in the air, and this dry and tasty smell piqued
our appetites still more.

There was a sucking sensation in our stomachs, a strange and unpleasant
feeling. It seemed as if the juice was gradually trickling out of every
muscle in our bodies--trickling away somewhither, and evaporating,
and that our muscles were losing their vital elasticity. A feeling of
prickly dryness filled the hollow of the mouth and throat, there was a
dull sensation in our heads, and dark spots really arose and flashed
before our eyes. Sometimes they took the form of steaming pieces of
meat--nourishing beef. Memory provided these "visions of the past, dumb
visions," with their own peculiar fragrance, and then it was just as if
a knife were turning round in our stomachs.

We went along all the same, giving one another a description of our
feelings, casting angry sidelong glances about us in case we might
peradventure perceive a sheepfold, and listening for the sharp creak of
a Tatar _arba_[2] carrying fruit to the Armenian bazaar.

But the steppe was desolate and voiceless.

On the eve of this hard day we three had eaten four pounds of rye bread
and five melons, had walked about thirty-five miles--our income was
scarcely equal to our expenditure!--and after going to sleep in the
bazaar square at Perekop were awakened by hunger.

"The student" had very properly advised us not to lie down to sleep,
but in the course of the night to occupy ourselves with ... but in
orderly society it is not considered the right thing openly to speak
of any project for infringing the rights of property, and I will
therefore keep silence. I only want to be just and not rude to others
even in my own interests. I know that people in our highly cultured
days are becoming more and more soft hearted, and even when they take
their neighbours by the throat with the obvious intention of throttling
them--they try to do it with as much amiability as possible, and
with the observance of all the consideration which the circumstances
will admit of. The experience! of my own throat has caused me to
observe this progress in morals, and I maintain, with a pleasant
feeling of conviction, that everything in this world is developing
towards perfection. In particular this remarkable process is solidly
established every year by the growth of prisons, taverns, and tolerated
houses.

[2] A two-wheeled cart used in the Crimea.

Thus, swallowing the spittle of hunger, and endeavouring by friendly
conversation to blunt the pangs of our stomachs, we went along the
desolate and silent steppe--went along in the beautiful rays of the
setting sun, full of a dull hope of something or other turning up. In
front of us the setting sun was silently vanishing in the midst of soft
clouds liberally embellished by his rays, and behind us and on both
sides of us a dove-coloured mist, rising from the steppe into the sky,
fixed unalterably the disagreeable horizon surrounding us.

"My brothers, let us collect materials for a camp fire," said the
soldier, picking up from the road a chump of wood; "we shall have to
make a night of it in the steppe, and the dew is about to fall ...
cow-dung, twigs--take anything!"

We dispersed on the road in various directions, and began to collect
dry grass and everything that could possibly burn. Every time we
chanced to bend down towards the ground a passionate desire seized
upon our whole body to lie down upon the earth--lie there immovably
and eat the fat black stuff--eat a lot of it, eat till we could eat
no more, and then fall asleep. Only to eat!--if we slept for evermore
afterwards--to chew and chew and feel the thick warm mash flow
gradually from our mouths along our dried-up gullet and food passages
into our famished, extenuated stomachs, burning with the desire to suck
up some sort of nutriment.

"If only we could find some root or other!" sighed the soldier; "there
are roots you can eat, you know."

But in the black furrowed earth there were no roots. The southern night
came on quickly, and the last ray of the sun had scarce disappeared
when the stars were twinkling in the dark blue sky, and around us,
more and more solidly, were gathering the dark shadows, and a smooth
blankness engulfed the whole steppe.

"My brothers," said "the student," "yonder to the left a man is lying."

"A man?"--the soldier's tone was dubious--"what should he be lying
there for?"

"Go and ask. He must certainly have bread with him if he lies down in
the steppe," explained "the student."

The soldier looked in the direction where the man lay, and spitting
with decision, said:

"Let us go to him!"

Only the keen, green eyes of "the student" could have made out that
the dark patch rising up some fifty fathoms to the left of the road
was a man. We went towards him, quickly stepping over the ploughed-up
hummocks of earth, and we felt the hope of food new-born within us put
a fresh edge upon our hunger. We were already quite close--the man did
not move.

"Perhaps it is not a man at all!"--the soldier had put into words the
thought common to us all.

But our doubts were resolved that selfsame instant, for the heap on the
ground suddenly began to move, grew in size, and we saw that it was a
real living man, now on his knees and stretching towards us an arm.

And he said to us in a hollow, tremulous voice:

"Another step--and I fire!"

A short and dry click resounded through the murky air.

We stopped short, as if at the word of command, and were silent for
some seconds, dumfounded by such an unpleasant encounter.

"What a beast!" growled the soldier expressively.

"Well, I never!" said "the student," reflectively, "to go about with a
revolver. A well-plucked one evidently!"

"Aye!" cried the soldier, "pretty resolute too."

The man never changed his pose, but remained silent.

"Hie, you there! We won't touch you ... Only give us some bread--got
any, eh? Give us some, my brother, for Christ's sake--be anathema
accursed one!"

The last words of the soldier, naturally, were muttered between his
teeth.

The man was silent.

"Do you hear?" cried the soldier again, with a spasm of rage and
despair. "Give us bread, we pray you! We won't go near to you--throw it
to us!"

"All right!" said the man curtly.

He might have said "my dear brethren!" and if he had poured into these
three Christian words the holiest and purest feelings they would not
have excited us, they would not have humanized us so much, as did that
short and hollow: "All right!"

"Do not be afraid of us, good man!" began the soldier softly, and with
a sweet smile on his face, although the man could not have seen his
smile, for he was at least twenty paces distant from us.

"We are peaceful folks ... we are going from Russia into the Kuban. We
have lost our money on the road, we have eaten all our provisions, and
this is now the second four and twenty hours that we haven't tasted a
morsel...."

"Catch!" said the good man, flinging out his arm A black morsel
flashed towards us and fell on a hummock not very far from us. "The
student" fell upon it.

"Catch again!--again! There is no more!"

When "the student" had picked up this original gift it appeared that we
had four pounds of stale wheaten bread. It had been buried in the earth
and was very stale. The first piece barely arrested our attention, the
second piece pleased us very much. Stale bread is more satisfying than
fresh bread, there is less moisture in it.

"So--and so--and so!" said the soldier, concentrating all his attention
on the division of the morsels. "Stay! That's fair, I think! A little
corner ought to be nibbled off your piece, student, for his"--he meant
mine--"is too little."

"The student," without a murmur, submitted to the subtraction from his
portion of about an ounce in weight. I snatched it, and popped it into
my mouth.

I began to chew it, chew it gradually, scarce able to control the
convulsive movement of my jaws, ready to pulverize a stone. It
afforded me a keen delight to feel the jerky throbs of my gullet,
and to be able, by little and little, to gratify it with little
rivulets of nutriment. Mouthful after mouthful, warm and inexplicably,
indescribably tasty, penetrated at last to my burning stomach, and
seemed instantly to turn into blood and muscle. Delight, such a
strange, calm, and vivifying delight, warmed my heart proportionately
to the filling of my stomach, and my general condition was similar to
that of someone half asleep. I forgot all about those accursed days of
chronic hunger, and I forgot about my comrades engulfed in the rapture
of those very feelings which I myself had just experienced.

But when I had cast from my palm into my mouth the last crumb of bread,
I felt a mortal desire for more.

"He must have about him--anathemas smite him!--some tallow or a bit of
meat," cried the soldier, sitting down on the ground opposite to me and
rubbing his belly with his hands.

"Certainly, for the bread has a smell of meat.... Yes, and he has
more bread, I'll be bound," said "the student," and he added very
quietly, "if only he hadn't a revolver!"

"Who is he, I wonder?"

"A hound!" said the soldier decidedly.

We sat together in a close group and cast sidelong glances in the
direction where sat our benefactor with his revolver. Not a sound, not
a sign of life now proceeded from that quarter.

Night had assembled her dark forces all around us. Mortally still
it was in the steppe there--we could hear each other's breath. Now
and then from somewhither resounded the melancholy whistle of the
_suslik_[3].... The stars, the bright flowers of heaven, shone down
upon us ... We wanted more to eat.

[3] The earless marmot of the steppe.

With pride I say it--I was neither better nor worse than my casual
comrades on this somewhat strange night. I persuaded them to get up and
go towards this man. We need not touch him, but we would eat everything
we found upon him. He would fire--let him! Out of three of us only one
could fall, even if one fell at all, and even if one of us did fall, a
mere revolver bullet would scarcely be the death of him.

"Let us go," said the soldier, leaping to his feet.

"The student" rose to his feet more slowly than the soldier.

And we went, we almost ran. "The student" kept well behind us.

"Comrade!" cried the soldier reproachfully.

There met us a dull report and the sharp sound of a snapping trigger.
There was a flash and the dry report of a firearm.

"It is over!" yelled the soldier joyfully, and with a single bound he
was level with the man. "Now, you devil, I am going to have it out with
you."

"The student" flung himself on the knapsack.

"The devil" fell from his knees on to his back, and stretching out his
arms gave forth a choking sound.

"What the deuce!" cried the astonished soldier in the very act of
raising his foot to give the man a kick. "What is he groaning for like
that? Hie! Hie you! What's the matter? Have you shot yourself or what?"

"There's meat and some pancakes and bread--a whole lot, my
brothers!"--and the voice of "the student" crowed with delight.

"But what the deuce ails him?--he is at the last gasp! Come then, let
us eat, my friends!" cried the soldier. I had taken the revolver out of
the hand of the man who had ceased to groan, and now lay motionless.
There was only a single cartridge in the cartridge-box.

Again we ate--ate in silence. The man also lay there in silence, not
moving a limb. We paid no attention to him whatever.

"My brothers, I suppose you have done all this simply for the sake of
bread?" suddenly exclaimed a hoarse and tremulous voice.

We all started. "The student" even swallowed a crumb, and bending low
towards the ground fell a coughing.

The soldier in the midst of his chewing became abusive.

"You soul of a dog! Take care I don't hack you like a clod of wood!
Or would you prefer us to flay you alive, eh?--It was ours because
we wanted it Shut your foolish mouth, you unclean spirit! A pretty
thing!--To go about armed and fire at folks! May you be anathema!"

He cursed while he ate, and for that reason his cursing lost all its
expression and force.

"Wait till we have eaten our fill and then we'll settle accounts with
you," remarked "the student" viciously.

And then through the silence of the night resounded a wailing cry which
frightened us.

"My brothers ... how could I tell? I fired because I was frightened.
I am going from New Athos ... to the Government of Smolensk ... Oh,
Lord! The fever has caught me ... it burns me up like the sun ... woe
is me! Even when I left Athos the fever was upon me ... I was doing
some carpenter's work ... I am a carpenter by trade ... At home is my
wife and two little girls ... for three or four years I have not seen
them ... my brothers ... you know all!"

"We are eating, don't bother," said "the student."

"Lord God! if only I had known that you were quiet peaceable folks ...
do you think I would have fired? And here in the steppe too, at night,
my brothers, you cannot say I am guilty, surely?"

He spoke and he wept, or to speak more accurately, he uttered a sort of
tremulous terrified howl.

"He's a miser!" said the soldier contemptuously.

"He _must_ have money about him," observed "the student."

The soldier winked, looked at him, and smiled.

"How sharp you are ... I say, give us some of the firewood here, and
we'll light up and go to sleep."

"And how about him?" inquired "the student."

"The deuce take him! He may roast himself with us if he likes--what?"

"He might follow us!" and "the student" shook his sharp head.

We went to fetch the materials we had collected, threw them down where
the carpenter had brought us to a standstill with his threatening cry,
set light to them, and soon were sitting round a bonfire. It burnt
quietly in the windless night and lighted up the tiny space occupied by
us. We ached to go to sleep, though for all that we should have liked a
little more supper first.

"My brothers!" the carpenter called to us. He was lying three yards
off, and sometimes it seemed to me that he was whispering something.

"Well!" said the soldier.

"May I come to you--to the fire? I am about to die ... all my bones are
broken Oh, Lord! it is plain to me that I shall never live to get home."

"Crawl along then,"--it was "the student" who decided.

Very gradually, as if fearing to lose hand or foot, the carpenter moved
along the ground towards the fire. He was a tall and frightfully wasted
man, every part of him seemed to be quivering, and his large dim eyes
expressed the pain that was consuming him. His shrivelled face was very
bony, and had in the light of the fire a yellowish earthy cadaverous
colour. He was still tremulous, and excited our contemptuous pity.
Stretching his long thin hands towards the fire, he rubbed his bony
fingers, and kneaded their joints slowly and wearily. At last it went
against us to look at him.

"What do you cut such a figure for, and why do you go on foot?--to save
expense, eh?" asked the soldier surlily.

"I was so advised ... don't go, said they, by water, but go by way of
the Crimea, for the air, they said. And lo! I cannot go, I am dying, my
brothers. I shall die alone in the steppe ... the birds will pick my
bones and nobody will know about it ... My wife ... my little daughters
will be waiting for me ... I wrote to them ... and my bones will be
washed by the rains of the steppe ... Lord, Lord!"

He uttered the anguished howl of a wounded wolf.

"Oh, the devil!" cried the soldier, waxing wrath, and springing to his
feet. "How you whine! Can't you leave folks in peace! You're dying, eh?
Well, die then, and hold your tongue ... What use are you to anyone?
Shut up!"

"Give him one on the chump!" suggested "the student."

"Lie down and sleep!" said I, "and if you want to be by the fire, don't
howl, really, you know...."

"Now you have heard," said the soldier savagely, "pray understand. You
fancy we shall pity you and pay attention to you because you flung
bread to us and fired bullets at us, do you? You sour-faced devil you!
Others would have... Ugh!"

The soldier ceased and stretched himself on the ground.

"The student" was already lying down I lay down too. The frightened
carpenter huddled himself into a heap, and edging gradually towards
the fire began to look at it in silence. I lay on his right, and heard
how his teeth chattered. "The student" lay on his left, and appeared
to have gone to sleep straight off after rolling himself into a ball.
The soldier, placing his hands beneath his head, lay face upwards, and
looked at the sky.

"What a night, eh?--what a lot of stars!--and warm, too!" said he,
turning to me after a time. "What a sky--a bed-top, not a sky. Friend,
I love this vagabond life. It is cold and hungry, but then it is as
free as the air ... You have no superior over you ... you are the
master of your own life ... Though you bite your own head off, nobody
can say a word to you ... It is good ... I have been very hungry and
very angry these last few days ... and now I am lying here as if
nothing had happened and look at the sky ... The stars blink at me ...
It is just as if they were saying: What matters it, Lakutin; go and
know, and be subject to nobody on this earth ... There you are ... my
heart is happy. And how is it with you, eh, carpenter? Don't be angry
with me, and fear nothing. We ate up your food, I know, but it doesn't
matter; you had food and we had none, so we ate up yours. And you are
a savage fellow, you go about firing bullets. Are you not aware that
bullets may do a man harm? I was very angry with you a little while
ago, and if you had not fallen down I should have well trounced you, my
brother, for your cheek. But as to the food--to-morrow you can go back
to Perekop and buy some there ... you have money ... I know it ... How
long is it since you caught the fever?"

For a long time the deep bass of the soldier and the tremulous voice of
the sick carpenter hummed in my ears. The night was dark, almost black,
obliterating everything here below, and a fresh sappy breeze streamed
out of its bosom.

A uniform light and an enlivening warmth proceeded from the fire. One's
eyes closed insensibly, and before them, as if seen through a vision,
passed something soothing and purifying.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Get up! awake! Let us go!"

I opened my eyes with a feeling of terror and quickly sprang to my
feet, the soldier helping by pulling me violently from the ground by
the arm.

"Come, look alive! March!"

His face was grim and anxious. I looked around me. The sun was rising,
and his rosy rays already lay upon the immovable and dark blue face
of the carpenter. His mouth was open, his eyes projected far out of
their sockets, and stared with a glassy look expressive of horror. The
clothes covering his bosom were all torn, and he lay in an unnatural,
broken-up sort of pose. There was no sign of "the student."

"Well, have you looked your fill!... Come on, I say!" said the soldier
excitedly, dragging at my sleeve.

"Is he dead?" I asked, shivering in the fresh morning air.

"Certainly. And he might have throttled _you_ ... and _you_ might
have died," explained the soldier.

"He! Who? 'The Student'?" I exclaimed.

"Well, who else? It wasn't you, eh? And I suppose you won't say it
was--me? Well, so much for your bookworms! He managed very cleverly
with the man ... and has left his comrades in the lurch. Had I
suspected it, I could have killed 'the student' yesterday evening. I
could have killed him at a blow ... Smash with my fist on his forehead,
and there would have been one blackguard the less in the world. See
what he has done, and remember it! Now we must move on so that not
a human eye may see us in the steppe. Do you understand? Recollect,
we came upon the carpenter to-day, throttled and plundered. And we'll
search for our brother ... find out in what direction he went, and
where he passed the night. Well, suppose they seize us ... although we
have nothing upon us ... except his revolver in my bosom!"

"Throw it away," I advised the soldier.

"Throw it away?" said he thoughtfully, "why it's a precious thing. And
then, too, they may not seize us yet ... No, I'll not chuck it ... Who
knows that the carpenter carried arms? I'll not chuck it ... It's worth
three roubles ... And there's a bullet in it. How I should like to fire
this selfsame bullet into the ear of our dear comrade! I wonder how
much money he filched, the hound! May he be anathema!"

"And there are the carpenter's little daughters!" said I.

"Daughters? What?... Well, they'll grow up, and it's not for us to find
them husbands; they don't concern us at all ... Let us go, my brother,
quickly. Whither shall we go?"

"I don't know ... it's all one to me."

"And I don't know, and I know it is all one. Let us go to the right ...
the sea must be there."

We went to the right.

I turned to look back. Far away from us in the steppe rose a dark
little mound, and on it the sun was shining.

"Are you looking to see whether he will rise again? Don't be afraid,
he won't rise up to pursue us. The scholar is evidently a chap up
to a dodge or two, and dealt with the case thoroughly. Well, he has
saddled us with it finely. And our comrade too! Ah, my brother! Folks
are degenerating! From year to year they degenerate more and more,"
observed the soldier sadly.

The steppe, speechless and desolate, flooded by the bright morning sun,
unfolded itself all around us, blending on the horizon with the sky, so
bright and friendly and lavish of light, that any black and iniquitous
deed seemed impossible in the midst of the grand spaciousness of that
free expanse, covered by the blue cupola of heaven.

"Feel hungry, brother?" said the soldier, twisting himself a cigarette
out of his _makharka._[4]

"Where are we going to-day, and how?"

"That's the question!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Here the narrator--my next neighbour in the hospital hammock--broke off
his story and said to me:

"That's all. I became very friendly with this soldier, and accompanied
him all the way to the Kars District. He was a good and very
experienced little fellow, a typical barelegged vagrant. I respected
him. We went together all the way to Asia Minor, and then we lost sight
of each other."

[4] Peasant's tobacco.

"Did you think sometimes of the carpenter?" I asked.

"As you see--or as you hear."

"And there was nothing more?"

He smiled.

"What ought my feelings to have been in such a case--do you mean that?
I was not to blame foe what happened to him, just as you are not to
blame for what has happened to me. And nobody is to blame for anything,
for all of us alike are--beasts of the same kidney."



II.--TWENTY-SIX OF US AND ONE OTHER.[1]


[1] Written in 1899.

There were twenty-six of us--twenty-six living machines shut up in a
damp cellar, where from morning to evening, we kneaded dough to make
cakes and biscuits. The windows of our cellar looked upon a ditch
yawning open before them and crammed full of bricks, green with damp;
the window-frames were partly covered from the outside by an iron
grating, and the light of the sun could not reach us through the
window-panes covered with flour dust Our master had closed up the
windows with iron in order that we might not give away a morsel of his
bread to the poor, or to those of our comrades who were living without
work, and therefore starving; our master called us galley-slaves, and
gave us rotten entrails for dinner instead of butcher's meat.

It was a narrow, stuffy life we lived in that stone cage beneath the
low and heavy rafters covered with soot and cobwebs. It was a grievous
evil life we lived within those thick walls, plastered over with
patches of dirt and mould.... We rose at five o'clock in the morning,
without having had our sleep out, and--stupid and indifferent--at six
o'clock we were sitting behind the table to make biscuits from dough
already prepared for us by our comrades while we were still sleeping.
And the whole day, from early morning to ten o'clock at night, some of
us sat at the table kneading the yeasty dough and rocking to and fro so
as not to get benumbed, while the others mixed the flour with water.
And all day long, dreamily and wearily, the boiling water hummed in
the cauldron where the biscuits were steamed, and the shovel of the
baker rasped swiftly and evilly upon our ears from beneath the oven as
often as it flung down baked bits of dough on the burning bricks. From
morning to evening, in one corner of the stove, they burned wood, and
the red reflection of the flames flickered on the wall of the workshop
as if silently laughing at us. The huge stove was like the misshapen
head of some fairy-tale monster--it seemed to stick out from under the
ground, opening its wide throat full of bright fire, breathing hotly
upon us, and regarding our endless labour with its two black vent-holes
just over its forehead. Those two deep cavities were like eyes--the
passionless and pitiless eyes of a monster; they always regarded us
with one and the same sort of dark look, as if they were weary of
looking at their slaves and, not expecting anything human from us,
despised us with the cold contempt of worldly wisdom.

From day to day in tormenting dust, in dirt brought in by our feet
from the yard, in a dense malodorous steaming vapour, we kneaded dough
and made biscuits, moistening them with our sweat, and we hated our
work with a bitter hatred; we never ate of that which came forth from
our hands, preferring black bread to the biscuits. Sitting behind the
long table, face to face with each other, nine over against nine, we
mechanically used our arms and fingers during the long hours, and were
so accustomed to our work that we no longer noticed our own movements.
And we had examined one another so thoroughly that everyone of us
knew all the wrinkles in the faces of his comrades. We had nothing to
talk about, so we got accustomed to talking about nothing, and were
silent the whole time unless we quarrelled--there is always a way to
make a man quarrel, especially if he be a comrade. But it was rarely
that we even quarrelled--how can a man be up to much if he is half
dead, if he is like a figure-head, if his feelings are blunted by
grievous labour? But silence is only a terror and a torture to those
who have already said all they have to say and can say no more; but
for people who have not begun to find their voices, silence is simple
and easy.... Sometimes, however, we sang; it came about in this way.
One of us in the midst of his work would suddenly whinny like a tired
horse and begin to croon very softly one of those protracted ditties,
the sadly caressing _motif_ of which always lightens the heaviness of
the singer's soul. One of us would begin singing, I say, and the rest
would, at first, merely listen to his lonely song, and beneath the
heavy roof of the cellar his song would flicker and die out like a tiny
camp-fire in the steppe on a grey autumn night when the grey sky hangs
over the earth like a leaden roof. Presently the first singer would be
joined by another, and then two voices, softly and sadly, would float
upwards from the stifling heat of our narrow ditch. And then, suddenly,
several voices together would lay hold of the song, and the song would
swell forth like a wave, and become stronger and more sonorous, and
seem to amplify the heavy grey walls of our stony prison.

And so it came about that the whole six-and-twenty of us would find
ourselves singing--our sustained, sonorous concert would fill the
work-room, and the song would seem not to have room enough therein. It
would beat against the stone wall, wail, weep, stir within the benumbed
heart the sensation of a gentle tickling ache, re-open old wounds in
it, and awake it to anguish. The singers would sigh deeply and heavily;
one of them would unexpectedly break off his own song and listen to
the singing of his comrades, and then his voice would blend once more
with the common billow of sound. Another of us, perhaps, would utter
an anguished "Ah!" and then continue singing with fast-closed eyes. No
doubt the broad dense wave of sound presented itself to his mind as a
road stretching far, far away--a broad road lit up by the bright sun,
with he himself walking along that road.

And all the time the flame of the furnace was flickering and the
baker's shovel was harshly scraping the brick floor, and the boiling
water was humming in the cauldron, and the reflection of the fire was
quivering on the wall and laughing at us noiselessly.... And we were
wailing forth in the words of others our dull misery, the heavy anguish
of living beings deprived of the sun, the anguish of slaves. Thus we
lived, twenty-six of us, in the cellar of a large stone house, and life
was as grievous to us as if all the three upper storeys of this house
had been built right upon our very shoulders.

       *       *       *       *       *

But, besides the singing, we had one other good thing--a thing we
set great store by and which, possibly, stood to us in the place of
sunshine. In the second storey of our house was a gold-embroidery
factory, and amongst the numerous factory girls employed there was
a damsel sixteen years old, Tanya by name. Every morning she would
come to the little window pierced through the door in the wall of our
workshop, and pressing against it her tiny rosy face, with its merry
blue eyes, would cry to us with a musical, friendly voice: "Poor little
prisoners! give me some little biscuits!"

All of us would instantly turn round at the familiar sound of that
bright voice, and gaze good-naturedly and joyously at the pure virginal
little face smiling upon us so gloriously. It became a usual and very
pleasant thing for us to see the little nose pressed against the
window-pane, to see the tiny white teeth gleaming from under the rosy
lips parted by a smile. There would then be a general rush to open the
door, each one trampling upon his fellows in his haste, and then in she
would come, always so bright and pleasant, and stand before us, her
head perched a little on one side, holding up her apron and smiling
all the time. The long thick locks of her chestnut hair, falling
across her shoulders, lay upon her breast. We dirty, grimy, misshapen
wretches stood there looking up at her--the threshold of the door was
four steps above the level of the floor--we had to raise our heads to
look at her, we would wish her good morning, and would address her in
especial language--the words seemed to come to us expressly for her
and for her alone. When we conversed with her our voices were gentler
than usual, and our jests were less rough. We had quite peculiar and
different manners--and all for her. The baker would take out of the
oven a shovelful of the ruddiest, best toasted biscuits, and skilfully
fling them into Tanya's apron.

"Take care you don't fall into the clutches of the master!" we would
always caution her. And she, roguishly laughing, would call to us:
"Good-bye, little prisoners," and vanish as quickly as a little mouse.

Only--long after her departure, we would talk pleasantly about her
among ourselves; we always said the same thing, and we said it late
and early, because she and we and everything around us was always the
same early and late. It is a heavy torment for a man to live where
everything around him is unchanging, and if this does not kill the soul
within him, the longer he lives the more tormenting will the immobility
of his environment become. We always spoke of women in such a way
that sometimes it went against the grain with us to listen to our own
coarse, shameful speeches, and it will be understood that the sort of
women we knew were unworthy to be alluded to in any other way. But we
never spoke ill of Tanya. None of us ever permitted himself to lay so
much as a finger upon her; nay, more, she never heard a loose jest from
any of us. Possibly this was because she never remained very long with
us: she twinkled before our eyes like a star falling from heaven and
vanished; but, possibly also, it was because she was so tiny and so
very pretty, and everything beautiful awakens respect for it even in
coarse people. And there was something else. Although our prison-like
labour had made dull brutes of us, for all that we were still human
beings, and, like all human beings, we could not live without
worshipping something or other. We had nothing better than she, and
nobody but she took any notice of us who lived in that vault; nobody,
though scores of people lived in that house. And finally--and that,
after all, was the chief thing--we all of us accounted her as in some
sort our own, as, in some sort, only existing thanks to our biscuits;
we looked upon it as our duty to give her biscuits piping hot, and
this became to us a daily sacrifice to our idol; it became almost a
sacred office, and every day bound us to her more and more. Besides
the biscuits we gave to Tanya a good deal of advice--she was to put
on warmer clothes, not run rapidly upstairs, not to carry heavy loads
of wood. She listened to our advice with a smile, responded to it with
laughter, and never followed it at all; but we were not offended with
her on that account, we only wanted to show her that we were taking
care of her.

Sometimes she asked us to do different things for her; such, for
instance, as to open the heavy cellar door, to chop up wood and so on,
and we joyfully, nay, with a sort of pride, did for her all that she
asked us to do.

But, once, when one of us asked her to mend his only shirt, she sniffed
contemptuously and said: "What next! do you think I've nothing better
to do."

We laughed heartily at the silly fellow--and never asked her to do
anything more. We loved her--and when that is said all is said. A man
always wants to lay his love upon someone, although sometime he may
crush her beneath the weight of it, and sometimes he may soil her; he
may poison the life of his neighbour with his love, because in loving
he does not revere the beloved. We were obliged to love Tanya because
we had none else to love.

At times one or other of us would begin to reason about it like this:
"Why are we spoiling the wench like this? What is there in her after
all? Eh? We are making a great deal of fuss about her!"

The fellow who ventured to use such language was pretty roughly
snubbed, I can tell you. We wanted something to love, we had found what
we wanted, and we loved it; and what we six-and-twenty loved was bound
to be inviolate, because it was our holy shrine, and everyone who ran
contrary to us in this matter was our enemy. No doubt people often love
what is not really good--but here we were, all twenty-six of us, in the
same boat, and therefore what we considered dear we would have others
regard as sacred.

       *       *       *       *       *

Besides the biscuit factory our master had a fancy-bakery; it was
located in the same house, and only separated from our hole by a wall;
but the fancy-bakers--there were four of them--kept us at arm's-length,
considering their work as cleaner than ours, and for that reason
considering themselves as better than we. So they did not come into
our workshop, and laughed contemptuously at us when they met us in the
yard. We, too, did not go to them; our master had forbidden us to
do so for fear we should steal the milk scones. We did not like the
fancy-bakers because we envied them. Their work was lighter than ours;
they got more than we did and were better fed; they had a spacious,
well-lighted workshop, and they were all so clean and healthy--quite
the opposite to us. We indeed, the whole lot of us, looked greyish
or yellowish; three of us were suffering from disease, others from
consumption, one of us was absolutely crippled by rheumatism. They, on
feast-days and in their spare time, put on pea-jackets and boots that
creaked; two of them had concertinas, and all of them went strolling
in the Park--we went about in little better than dirty rags, with
down-at-heel slippers or bast shoes on our feet, and the police would
not admit us into the Park--how could we possibly love the fancy-bakers?

Presently we heard that their overseer had taken to drink, that the
master had dismissed him and hired another, and that this other was
a soldier who went about in a rich satin waistcoat, and on great
occasions wore a gold chain. We were curious to see such a toff, and,
in the hope of seeing him, took it in turns to run out into the yard
one after the other.

But he himself appeared in our workshop. He kicked at the door, it flew
open, and, keeping it open, he stood on the threshold, smiled, and said
to us: "God be with you! I greet you, my children!"

The frosty air, rushing through the door in thick smoky clouds,
whirled round his feet, and there he stood on the threshold looking
down upon us from his eminence, and from beneath his blonde, skilfully
twisted moustaches gleamed his strong yellow teeth. His vest really
was something quite out of the common--it was blue, embroidered with
flowers, and had a sort of sparkle all over it, and its buttons were
made of pretty little pearls. And the gold chain _was_ there....

He was handsome, that soldier was, quite tall, robust, with ruddy
cheeks, and his large bright eyes looked good and friendly and clear.
On his head was a white stiffly starched cap, and from beneath his
clean spotless spats appeared the bright tops of his modish brilliantly
polished boots.

Our baker asked him, respectfully, to shut the door. He did so, quite
deliberately, and began asking us questions about our master. We
outdid each other in telling him that our master was a blood-sucker, a
slave-driver, a malefactor, and a tormentor; everything in short that
we could and felt bound to say about our master, but it is impossible
to write it down here. The soldier listened, twirled his moustache, and
regarded us with a gentle, radiant look.

"And I suppose now you've a lot of little wenches about here?" he
suddenly said.

Some of us laughed respectfully, others made languishing grimaces; one
of us made it quite clear to the soldier that there _were_ wenches
here--a round dozen of them.

"Do you amuse yourselves?" asked the soldier, blinking his eyes.

Again we laughed, not very loudly, and with some confusion of face....
Many of us would have liked to show the soldier that they were as
dashing fellows as himself, but none dared to do so; no, not one. One
of us indeed hinted as much by murmuring: "Situated as we are...."

"Yes, of course, it would be hard for you!" observed the soldier
confidentially, continuing to stare at us. "You ought to be--well, not
what you are. You're down on your luck--there's a way of holding one's
self--there's the look of the thing--you know what I mean! And women
you know like a man with style about him. He must be a fine figure
of a man--everything neat and natty you know. And then, too, a woman
respects strength. Now what do you think of that for an arm, eh?"

The soldier drew his right arm from his pocket, with the shirt-sleeve
stripped back, bare to the elbow, and showed it to us It was a strong,
white arm, bristling with shiny, gold-like hair.

"Legs and breast the same--plenty of grit there, eh? And then, too,
a man must be stylishly dressed, and must have nice things. Now look
at me--all the women love me! I neither call to them nor wink at
them--they come falling on my neck by the dozen."

He sat down on a flour-basket and discoursed to us for a long time
about how the women loved him, and how valiantly he comported himself
with them. After he had gone, and when the creaking door had closed
behind him, we were silent for a long time, thinking of him and of
his yarns. And after a bit we suddenly all fell a-talking at once,
and agreed unanimously that he was a very pleasant fellow. He was so
straightforward and jolly--he came and sat down and talked to us just
as if he were one of us. No one had ever come and talked to us in such
a friendly way before. And we talked of him and of his future successes
with the factory girls at the gold-embroiderer's, who, whenever they
met us in the yard, either curled their lips contemptuously, or gave us
a wide berth, or walked straight up to us as if we were not in their
path at all. And as for us, we only feasted our eyes upon them when
we met them in the yard, or when they passed by our window, dressed
in winter in peculiar little fur caps and fur pelisses, and in summer
in hats covered with flowers, and with sunshades of various colours
in their hands. But, on the other hand, among ourselves, we talked of
these girls in such a way that, had they heard it, they would have gone
mad with rage and shame.

"But how about little Tanya--I hope he won't spoil her!" said our chief
baker suddenly with a gloomy voice.

We were all silent, so greatly had these words impressed us. We had
almost forgotten about Tanya: the soldier had shut her out from us,
as it were, with his fine burly figure. Presently a noisy dispute
began. Some said that Tanya would not demean herself by any such
thing; others maintained that she would be unable to stand against the
soldier; finally, a third party proposed that if the soldier showed any
inclination to attach himself to Tanya, we should break his ribs. And,
at last, we all resolved to keep a watch upon the soldier and Tanya,
and warn the girl to beware of him.... And so the dispute came to an
end.

       *       *       *       *       *

A month passed by. The soldier baked his fancy-rolls, walked out with
the factory girls, and frequently paid us a visit in our workshop,
but of his victories over the wenches he said never a word, but only
twirled his moustaches and noisily smacked his lips.

Tanya came to us every morning for her "little biscuits," and was
always merry, gentle, and friendly with us. We tried to talk to her
about the soldier--she called him "the goggle-eyed bull-calf," and
other ridiculous names, and that reassured us. We were proud of our
little girl when we saw how the factory girls clung to the soldier.
Tanya's dignified attitude towards him seemed to raise the whole lot of
us, and we, as the directors of her conduct, even began to treat the
soldier himself contemptuously. But her we loved more than ever, her we
encountered each morning more and more joyfully and good-humouredly.

But one day the soldier came to us a little the worse for liquor,
he sat him down, began laughing, and when we asked him what he was
laughing about, he explained:

"Two of the wenches have been quarrelling about me, Liddy and Gerty,"
said he. "How they did blackguard each other! Ha, ha, ha! They caught
each other by the hair, and were down on the floor in a twinkling, one
on the top of the other; ha, ha, ha! And they tore and scratched like
anything, and I was nearly bursting with laughter. Why can't women
fight fair? Why do they always scratch, eh?"

He was sitting on the bench; there he sat so healthy, clean, and
light-hearted, and roared with laughter. We were silent. Somehow, or
other, he was disagreeable to us at that moment.

"No, I can't make it out. What luck I do have with women, it is
ridiculous. I've but to wink, and--she is ready. The d-deuce is in
it."

His white arms, covered with shining gold down, rose in the air and
fell down again on his knees with a loud bang. And he regarded us with
such a friendly look of amazement, just as if he himself were frankly
puzzled by the felicity of his dealings with women. His plump, ruddy
face regularly shone with happiness and self-complacency, and he kept
on noisily smacking his lips.

Our chief baker scraped his shovel along the hearth violently and
angrily, and suddenly remarked, with a sneer:

"It is no great feat of strength to fell little fir-trees, but to fell
a full-grown pine is a very different matter.

"Is that meant for me, now?" queried the soldier.

"It _is_ meant for you."

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing ... Never mind."

"Nay, stop a bit! What's your little game? What pine-tree do you mean?"

Our master-baker didn't answer, he was busily working with his shovel
at the stove, shovelled out the well-baked biscuits, sifted those that
were ready, and flung them boisterously on to the floor to the lads who
were arranging them in rows on the bast wrappings. He seemed to have
forgotten the soldier and his talk with him. But the soldier suddenly
became uneasy. He rose to his feet and approached the stove, running
the risk of a blow in the chest from the handle of the shovel which was
whirling convulsively in the air.

"Come, speak--what _she_ did you mean? You have insulted me. Not a
single she shall ever get the better of me, n-no--I say. And then, too,
you used such offensive words to me...."

He really seemed to be seriously offended. No doubt he had but a poor
opinion of himself except On this one point: his ability to win women.
Possibly, except this one quality, there was nothing really vital
in the man at all, and only this single quality allowed him to feel
himself a living man.

There are people who look upon some disease, either of the body, or of
the soul, as the best and most precious thing in life. They nurse it
all their lives, and only in it do they live at all. Though they suffer
by it, yet they live upon it. They complain of it to other people, and
by means of it attract to themselves the attention of their neighbours.
They use it as a means of obtaining sympathy, and without it--they
are nothing at all. Take away from them this disease, cure them, and
they will be unhappy because they are deprived of the only means of
living--there they stand empty. Sometimes the life of a man is poor to
such a degree that he is involuntarily obliged to put a high value on
some vice, and live thereby; indeed, we may say straight out that very
often people become vicious from sheer ennui.

The soldier was offended, rushed upon our master-baker, and bellowed:
"Come, I say--speak out! Who was it?"

"Speak out, eh?"--and the master-baker suddenly turned round upon him.

"Yes!--Well?"

"Do you know Tanya?"

"Well!"

"Well, there you are!--try her!"

"I?"

"You."

"Pooh! That's nothing."

"Let us see!"

"You shall see. Ha-ha-ha!"

"She look at you!"

"Give me a month!"

"What a braggart you are, soldier!"

"A fortnight! I'll show you. Who's she? Little Tanya! Pooh!"

"And now be off!--you're in the way."

"A fortnight, I say--and the thing's done. Poor you, I say!"

"Be off, I say."

Our baker suddenly grew savage; and flourished his shovel. The soldier
backed away from him in astonishment, and observed us in silence.
"Good!" he said at last with ominous calmness--and departed.

During the dispute we all remained silent, we were too deeply
interested in it to speak. But when the soldier departed, there arose
from among us a loud and lively babble of voices.

Someone shrieked at the baker: "A pretty business you've set a-going,
Paul!"

"Go on working, d'ye hear!" replied the master-baker fiercely.

We felt that the soldier would make the assault, and that Tanya was in
danger. We felt this, and yet at the same time we were all seized by
a burning curiosity that was not unpleasant--what would happen? Would
Tanya stand firm against the soldier? And almost all of us cried, full
of confidence:

"Little Tanya? She'll stand firm enough!"

We had all of us a frightful longing to put the fortitude of our little
idol to the test. We excitedly proved to each other that our little
idol was a strong little idol, and would emerge victorious from this
encounter. It seemed to us, at last, that we had not egged on our
soldier enough, that he was forgetting the contest, and that we ought
to spur his vanity just a little bit. From that day forth we began to
live a peculiar life, at high nervous tension, such as we had never
lived before. We quarrelled with each other for days together, just
as if we had all grown wiser, and were able to talk more and better.
It seemed to us as if we were playing a sort of game with the Devil,
and the stake on our part was--Tanya. And when we heard from the
fancy-bread-bakers that the soldier had begun "to run after our little
Tanya," it was painfully well with us, and so curious were we to live
it out, that we did not even observe that our master, taking advantage
of our excitement, had added 14 poods[2] of paste to our daily task.
We practically never left off working at all. The name of Tanya never
left our tongues all day. And every morning we awaited her with a
peculiar sort of impatience.

[2] 560 lbs.

Nevertheless we said not a word to her of the contest actually
proceeding. We put no questions to her, and were kind and affectionate
to her as before. Yet in our treatment of her there had already crept
in something new and strangely different to our former feeling for
Tanya--and this new thing was a keen curiosity, keen and cold as a
steel knife.

"My friends, the time's up to-day," said the master-baker one morning
as he set about beginning his work.

We knew that well enough without any reminder from him, but we trembled
all the same.

"Look at her well, she'll be here immediately," continued the baker.

Someone exclaimed compassionately:

"As if eyes could see anything!"

And again a lively, stormy debate arose among us. To-day we were to
know at last how clean and inviolable was the vessel in which we had
placed our best. That morning, all at once and as if for the first
time, we began to feel that we were really playing a great game,
and that this test of the purity of our divinity might annihilate
it altogether so far as we were concerned. We had all heard during
the last few days that the soldier was obstinately and persistently
persecuting Tanya, yet how was it that none of us asked her what her
relations with him were? And she used to come to us regularly, every
morning, for her little biscuits, and was the same as ever.

And this day also we very soon heard her voice.

"Little prisoners, I have come...."

We crowded forward to meet her, and when she came in, contrary to our
usual custom, we met her in silence. Looking at her with all our eyes,
we knew not what to say to her, what to ask her. We stood before her
a gloomy, silent crowd. She was visibly surprised at this unusual
reception--and all at once we saw her grow pale, uneasy, fidget in her
place, and inquire in a subdued voice:

"What's the matter with you?"

"And how about yourself?" the master-baker sullenly said, never taking
his eyes off her.

"Myself? What do you mean?"

"Oh, nothing, nothing."

"Come, give me the biscuits!--quick!"

Never before had she been so sharp with us.

"You're in a hurry," said the baker, not moving and never taking his
eyes from her face.

Then she suddenly turned round and disappeared through the door.

The baker caught up his shovel and, turning towards the stove, remarked
quietly:

"It means--she's all ready for him. Ah, that soldier ... the scoundrel
... the skunk!"

We like a flock of sheep, rubbing shoulders with each other, went to
our table, sat down in silence, and wearily began to work. Presently,
someone said: "Yet is it possible...?"

"Well, well, what's the good of talking?" screeched the baker.

We all knew that he was a wise man, far wiser than we. And we
understood his exclamation as a conviction of the victory of the
soldier.... We felt miserable and uneasy.

At twelve o'clock--dinner-time--the soldier arrived. He was as usual
spruce and genteel and--as he always did--looked us straight in the
eyes. But we found it awkward to look at _him._

"Well, my worthy gentlemen, if you like, I'll show you a bit of martial
prowess," said he, laughing proudly. "Just you come out into the
outhouse and look through the crevices--do you understand?"

Out we went, elbowing each other on the way, and glued our faces to
the crevices in the boarded-up wall of the outhouse looking upon the
courtyard. We had not long to wait. Very soon, at a rapid pace, and
with a face full of anxiety, Tanya came tearing through the yard,
springing over the puddles of stale snow and mud. Shortly afterwards,
in not the least hurry and whistling as he went, appeared the soldier,
making his way in the same direction as Tanya, evidently they had
arranged a rendezvous. His arms were thrust deep down in his pockets,
and his moustaches were moving up and down.... He also disappeared....

Then the rain came, and we watched the raindrops falling into the
puddles, and the puddles wrinkle beneath their impact. The day was
damp and grey--a very wearying day. Snow still lay upon the roofs,
and on the earth dark patches of mud were already appearing. And the
snow on the roofs also got covered with dirty dark-brown smuts. The
rain descended slowly with a melancholy sound. We found it cold and
unpleasant to stand waiting there, but we were furious with Tanya for
having deserted us, her worshippers, for the sake of a common soldier,
and we waited for her with the grim delight of executioners.

After a while--we saw Tanya returning. Her eyes--yes, _her_ eyes,
actually sparkled with joy and happiness, and her lips--were smiling.
And she was walking as if in a dream, rocking a little to and fro, with
uncertain footsteps....

We could not endure this calmly. The whole lot of us suddenly burst
through the door, rushed into the yard, and hissed and yelled at her
with evil, bestial violence.

On perceiving us she trembled--and stood as if rooted in the mud
beneath her feet. We surrounded her and, maliciously, without any
circumlocution, we reviled her to our hearts' content, and called her
the most shameful things.

We did not raise our voices, we took our time about it. We saw that
she had nowhere to go, that she was in the midst of us, and we might
vent our rage upon her as much as we liked. I don't know why, but we
did not beat her. She stood in the midst of us, and kept turning her
head now hither, now thither, as she listened to our insults. And
we--bespattered her, more and more violently, with the mud and the
venom of our words.

The colour quitted her face, her blue eyes, a minute before so radiant
with happiness, opened widely, her bosom heaved heavily, and her lips
trembled.

And we, surrounding her, revenged ourselves upon her, for she had
robbed us. She had belonged to us, we had expended our best upon
her, and although that best was but a beggar's crumb, yet we were
six-and-twenty and she was but one, therefore we could not devise
torments worthy of her fault. How we did abuse her! She was silent all
along--all along she looked at us with the wild eyes of a hunted beast,
she was all of a tremble.

We ridiculed, we reviled, we baited her.... Other people came running
up to us.... One of us plucked Tanya by the sleeve.

Suddenly her eyes sparkled, she leisurely raised her hands to her head
and, tidying her hair, looked straight into our faces, and cried loudly
but calmly:

"Ugh! you wretched prisoners!"

And she walked straight up to us, walked as simply as if we were not
standing there before her at all, as if we were not obstructing her
way. And for that very reason not one of us was actually standing in
her way when she came up to us.

And proceeding out of our midst and, without so much as turning towards
us, loudly, and with indescribable contempt, she kept on saying:

"Ugh! you wretches! you vermin!"

And--off she went.

We remained standing in the yard, in the midst of the mud, beneath the
pouring rain and the grey, sunless sky.

Presently we returned in silence to our grey, stony dungeon. As before,
the sun never once looked through our window, and--there was no Tanya
now.



III.--ONE AUTUMN NIGHT.


Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and
inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where
I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and
without a night's lodging.

Having sold during the first few days every part of my costume, without
which it was still possible to go about, I passed from the town into
the quarter called "Yste,"[1] where were the steamship wharves--a
quarter which during the navigation season fermented with boisterous
laborious life, but now was silent and deserted, and indeed we were in
the last days of October.

Dragging my feet along the moist sand, and obstinately scrutinising
it with the desire to discover in it any sort of fragment of food, I
wandered alone among the deserted buildings and warehouses, and thought
how good it would be to get a fair bellyful.

In our present state of culture hunger of the mind is more quickly
satisfied than hunger of the body. You wander about the streets, you
are surrounded by buildings not bad-looking from the outside and--
you may safely say it--not so badly furnished inside, and the sight
of them may excite within you stimulating ideas about architecture,
hygiene, and many other wise and high-flying subjects. You may meet
warmly and neatly dressed folks--all very polite, and turning away
from you tactfully, not wishing offensively to notice the lamentable
fact of your existence. Well, well, the mind of a hungry man is always
better nourished and healthier than the mind of the well-fed man--and
there you have a situation from which you may draw a very ingenious
conclusion in favour of the ill fed!

[1] River's mouth.

The evening was approaching, the rain was falling, and the wind blew
violently from the north. It whistled in the empty booths and shops,
blew into the plastered window-panes of the taverns, and whipped into
a foam the wavelets of the river which splashed noisily on the sandy
shore, casting high their white crests, racing one after another
into the dim distance, and leaping impetuously over one another's
shoulders.... It seemed as if the river felt the proximity of winter,
and was running at random away from the fetters of ice which the north
wind might well have flung upon her that very night. The sky was heavy
and dark, down from it swept incessantly scarcely visible drops of
rain, and the melancholy elegy in nature all around me was emphasised
by a couple of battered and misshapen willow-trees, and a boat, bottom
upwards, that was fastened to their roots.

The overturned canoe with its battered keel, and the old and miserable
trees rifled by the cold wind ... everything around me bankrupt,
barren, and dead, and the sky flowing with undryable tears ...
everything around waste and gloomy ... it seemed as if everything were
dead, leaving me alone among the living, and me also a cold death
awaited.

And I was then eighteen years old--a good time!

I walked and walked along the cold wet sand, making my chattering teeth
warble in honour of cold and hunger, and suddenly, as I was carefully
searching for something to eat behind one of the empty crates, I
perceived behind it, crouching on the ground, a figure in woman's
clothes dank with the rain and clinging fast to her stooping shoulders.
Standing over her, I watched to see what she was doing. It appeared
that she was digging a trench in the sand with her hands, digging away
under one of the crates.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked, crouching down on my heels quite
close to her.

She gave a little scream and was quickly on her legs again. Now that
she stood there staring at me, with her wide-open grey eyes full of
terror, I perceived that it was a girl of my own age, with a very
pleasant face embellished unfortunately by three large blue marks.
This spoilt her, although these blue marks had been distributed with a
remarkable sense of proportion, one at a time, and all of equal size:
two under the eyes, and one a little bigger on the forehead just over
the bridge of the nose. This symmetry was evidently the work of an
artist well inured to the business of spoiling the human physiognomy.

The girl looked at me, and the terror in her eyes gradually died
out.... She shook the sand from her hands, adjusted her cotton
head-gear, cowered down, and said:

"I suppose you too want something to eat? Dig away then!--my hands
are tired. Over there"--she nodded her head in the direction of a
booth--"there is bread for certain ... and sausages too ... That booth
is still carrying on business."

I began to dig. She, after waiting a little and looking at me, sat down
beside me and began to help me.

We worked in silence. I cannot say now whether I thought at that moment
of the criminal code, of morality, of proprietorship, and all the other
things about which, in the opinion of many experienced persons, one
ought to think every moment of one's life. Wishing to keep as close to
the truth as possible, I must confess that apparently I was so deeply
engaged in digging under the crate that I completely forgot about
everything else except this one thing: what could be inside that crate.

The evening drew on. The grey, mouldy, cold fog grew thicker and
thicker around us. The waves roared with a hollower sound than before,
and the rain pattered down on the boards of the crate more loudly and
more frequently. Somewhere or other the night-watchman began springing
his rattle.

"Has it got a bottom or not?" softly inquired my assistant. I did not
understand what she was talking about, and I kept silence.

"I say, has the crate got a bottom, for if it has we shall vainly try
to break into it. Here we are digging a trench, and we may, after all,
come upon nothing but solid boards. How shall we take them off? Better
smash the lock--it is a wretched lock."

Good ideas rarely visit the heads of women, but as you see, they do
visit them sometimes. I have always valued good ideas, and have always
tried to utilise them as far as possible.

Having found the lock, I tugged at it and wrenched off the whole thing.
My accomplice immediately stooped down and wriggled like a serpent into
the gaping-open, four-cornered cover of the crate whence she called to
me approvingly, _sotto voce_:

"You're a brick!"

Nowadays a little crumb of praise from a woman is dearer to me than
a whole dithyramb from a man, even though he be more eloquent than
all the ancient and modern orators put together. Then, however, I was
less amiably disposed than I am now, and, paying no attention to the
compliment of my comrade, I asked her curtly and anxiously:

"Is there anything?"

In a monotonous tone she set about calculating our discoveries.

"A basketful of bottles--thick furs--a sunshade--an iron pail."

All this was uneatable. I felt that my hopes had vanished.... But
suddenly she exclaimed vivaciously:

"Aha! here it is!"

"What?"

"Bread ... a loaf ... it's only wet ... take it!"

A loaf flew to my feet, and after it herself, my valiant comrade. I had
already bitten off a morsel, stuffed it in my mouth, and was chewing
it....

"Come, give me some too!... And we mustn't stay here.... Where shall we
go?" she looked inquiringly about on all sides.... It was dark, wet,
and boisterous.

"Look! there's an upset canoe yonder ... let us go there."

"Let us go then!" And off we set, demolishing our booty as we went,
and filling our mouths with large portions of it.... The rain grew
more violent, the river roared; from somewhere or other resounded a
prolonged mocking whistle--just as if Someone great who feared nobody
was whistling down all earthly institutions and along with them this
horrid autumnal wind and us its heroes. This whistling made my heart
throb painfully, in spite of which I greedily went on eating, in which
respect the girl, walking on my left hand, kept even pace with me.

"What do they call you?" I asked her, why I know not.

"Natasha," she answered shortly, munching loudly.

I stared at her--my heart ached within me, and then I stared into the
mist before me, and it seemed to me as if the inimical countenance of
my Destiny was smiling at me enigmatically and coldly.

       *       *       *       *       *

The rain scourged the timbers of the skiff incessantly, and its soft
patter induced melancholy thoughts, and the wind whistled as it flew
down into the boat's battered bottom--through a rift, where some loose
splinters of wood were rattling together--a disquieting and depressing
sound. The waves of the river were splashing on the shore, and sounded
so monotonous and hopeless, just as if they were telling something
unbearably dull and heavy, which was boring them into utter disgust
something from which they wanted to run away and yet were obliged to
talk about all the same. The sound of the rain blended with their
splashing, and a long-drawn sigh seemed to be floating above the
overturned skiff--the endless, labouring sigh of the earth, injured
and exhausted by the eternal changes from the bright and warm summer
to the cold misty and damp autumn. And the wind blew continually over
the desolate shore and the foaming river--blew and sang its melancholy
songs.

Our position beneath the shelter of the skiff was utterly devoid of
comfort; it was narrow and damp, tiny cold drops of rain dribbled
through the damaged bottom ... gusts of wind penetrated it. We sat
in silence and shivered with cold. I remember that I wanted to go
to sleep. Natasha leaned her back against the hull of the boat and
curled herself up into a tiny ball. Embracing her knees with her
hands, and resting her chin upon them, she stared doggedly at the
river with wide-open eyes; on the pale patch of her face they seemed
immense, because of the blue marks below them. She never moved, and
this immobility and silence--I felt it--gradually produced within me a
terror of my neighbour. I wanted to talk to her, but I knew not how to
begin.

It was she herself who spoke.

"What a cursed thing life is!" she exclaimed plainly, abstractedly, and
in a tone of deep conviction.

But this was no complaint. In these words there was too much of
indifference for a complaint. This simple soul thought according to
her understanding, thought and proceeded to form a certain conclusion
which she expressed aloud, and which I could not confute for fear of
contradicting myself. Therefore I was silent. And she, as if she had
not noticed me, continued to sit there immovable.

"Even if we croaked ... what then...." Natasha began again, this time
quietly and reflectively. And still there was not one note of complaint
in her words. It was plain that this person, in the course of her
reflections on life, was regarding her own case, and had arrived at
the conviction that in order to preserve herself from the mockeries of
life, she was not in a position to do anything else but simply "croak,"
to use her own expression.

The clearness of this line of thought was inexpressibly sad and painful
to me, and I felt that if I kept silence any longer I was really bound
to weep.... And it would have been shameful to have done this before
a woman, especially as she was not weeping herself. I resolved to speak
to her.

"Who was it that knocked you about?" I asked. For the moment I could
not think of anything more sensible or more delicate.

"Pashka did it all," she answered in a dull and level tone.

"And who is he?"

"My lover.... He was a baker."

"Did he beat you often?"

"Whenever he was drunk he beat me.... Often!"

And suddenly, turning towards me, she began to talk about herself,
Pashka, and their mutual relations. She was "one of the street-walking
girls who ..."--and he was a baker with red moustaches and played
very well on the banjo. He came to see her at "the establishment,"
and greatly pleased her, for he was a merry chap and wore nice clean
clothes. He had an under-vest which cost fifteen roubles and boots
with dress tops. For these reason she had fallen in love with him, and
he became her "creditor." And when he became her creditor he made it
his business to take away from her the money which the other guests
gave to her for bonbons, and getting drunk on this money would fall to
beating her; but that would have been nothing if he hadn't also begun
to "run after" other girls before her very eyes.

"Now, wasn't that an insult? I am not worse than the others. Of course
that meant that he was laughing at me, the blackguard. The day before
yesterday I asked leave of my mistress to go out for a bit, went to
him, and there I found Dimka sitting beside him drunk. And he, too, was
half seas over. I said to him: 'You scoundrel, you!' And he gave me a
thorough hiding. And he kicked me and dragged me by the hair--and did
everything. But that was nothing to what came after. But he spoiled
everything I had on--left me just as I am now! How could I appear
before my mistress? He spoiled everything ... my dress and my jacket
too--it was quite a new one--I gave a fiver for it ... and tore my
kerchief from my head ... Oh, Lord! What will become of me now!" she
suddenly whined in a lamentable overstrained voice.

And the wind howled, and became ever colder and more boisterous ...
Again my teeth began to dance up and down. And she, too, huddled up
to avoid the cold, pressing as closely to me as she could, so that I
could see the gleam of her eyes through the darkness.

"What wretches all you men are! I'd burn you all in an oven, I'd cut
you in pieces. If anyone of you was dying I'd spit in his mouth, and
not pity him a bit. Mean skunks. You wheedle and wheedle, you wag your
tails like cringing dogs, and we fools give ourselves up to you, and
it's all up with us! Immediately you trample us underfoot ... Miserable
loafers!"

She cursed us up and down, but there was no vigour, no malice, no
hatred of these "miserable loafers" in her cursing that I could
hear. The tone of her language by no means corresponded with its
subject-matter, for it was calm enough, and the gamut of her voice was
terribly poor.

Yet all this made a stronger impression on me than the most eloquent
and convincing pessimistic books and speeches, of which I had and have
read not a few, both earlier and later, and still read to this day. And
this, you see, was because the agony of a dying person is much more
natural and violent than the most minute and picturesque descriptions
of death.

I felt really wretched, more from cold than from the words of my
neighbour. I groaned softly and gnashed my teeth.

And almost at the same moment I felt two little arms about me--one of
them touched my neck and the other lay upon my face, and at the same
time an anxious, gentle, friendly voice uttered the question:

"What ails thee?"

I was ready to believe that someone was asking me this and not Natasha,
who had just declared that all men were scoundrels, and expressing a
wish for their destruction. But she it was, and now she began speaking
quickly, hurriedly.

"What ails thee, eh? Art cold? Art frozen? Ah, what a one thou art,
sitting there so silent like a little owl! Why, thou shouldst have
told me long ago that thou wert cold. Come ... lie on the ground ...
stretch thyself out and I will lie ... there! how's that? Now put your
arms round me!... tighter! How's that! thou shouldst be warm very
soon now ... And then we'll lie back to back.... The night will pass
so quickly, see if it won't I say ... hast thou too been drinking?...
turned out of thy place, eh?... It doesn't matter."

And she comforted me ... She encouraged me.

May I be thrice accursed! What a world of irony was in this single
fact for me! Just imagine! Here was I, seriously occupied at this very
time with the destiny of humanity, thinking of the re-organization
of the social system, of political revolutions, reading all sorts
of devilishly-wise books whose abysmal profundity was certainly
unfathomable by their very authors--at this very time, I say, I was
trying with all my might to make of myself "a potent active social
force." It even seemed to me that I had partially accomplished my
object; anyhow, at this time, in my ideas about myself I had got so
far as to recognise that I had an exclusive right to exist, that I had
the necessary greatness to deserve to live my life, and that I was
fully competent to play a great historical part therein. And a venal
woman was now warming me with her body, a wretched, battered, hunted
creature, who had no place and no value in life, and whom I had never
thought of helping till she helped me herself, and whom I really would
not have known how to help in any way even if the thought of it had
occurred to me.

Ah! I was ready to think that all this was happening to me in a
dream--in a disagreeable, an oppressive dream.

But, ugh! it was impossible for me to think that, for cold drops of
rain were dripping down upon me, the woman was pressing close to me,
her warm breath was fanning my face, and despite a slight bouquet of
vodka it did me good. The wind howled and raged, the rain smote upon
the skiff, the waves splashed, and both of us, embracing each other
convulsively, nevertheless shivered with cold. All this was only too
real, and I am certain that nobody ever dreamed such-an oppressive and
horrid dream as that reality.

But Natasha was talking all the time of something or other, talking
so kindly and sympathetically, as only women can talk. Beneath the
influence of her voice and kindly words a little fire began to burn up
within me, and something inside my heart thawed in consequence.

Then tears poured from my eyes like a hailstorm, washing away from my
heart much that was evil, much that was stupid, much sorrow and dirt
which had fastened upon it before that night. Natasha, too, encouraged
me:

"Come, come, that will do, little one! Don't take on! That'll do! God
will give thee another chance ... thou wilt right thyself and stand
in thy proper place again ... and it will be all right. And she kept
kissing me ... many kisses did she give me ... burning kisses ... and
all for nothing..."

Those were the first kisses from a woman that had ever been bestowed
upon me, and they were the best kisses too, for all the subsequent
kisses cost me frightfully dear, and really gave me nothing at all in
exchange.

"Come, don't take on so, funny one! I'll manage for thee to-morrow
if thou canst not find a place"--and her quiet persuasive whispering
sounded in my ears as if it came through a dream....

There we lay till dawn....

And when the dawn came, we crept from behind the skiff and went into
the town.... Then we took friendly leave of each other and never met
again, although for half a year I searched for that kind Natasha, with
whom I spent the autumn night just described by me, in every hole and
corner If she be already dead--and well for her if it were so!--may
she rest in peace! And if she be alive ... still I say: peace to her
soul! And may the consciousness of her fall never enter her soul ...
for that would be a superfluous and fruitless suffering if life is to
be lived....



IV.--A ROLLING STONE.


I.


I MEET HIM.


Stumbling in the dark upon the hurdle fence I valiantly strided over
puddles of mud from window to window, tapped, not very loudly, on the
window-panes with my fingers, and cried:

"Give a traveller a night's lodging!"

In reply they sent me to the neighbours or to the Devil; from one
window they promised to let the dog loose upon me, from another they
threatened me silently but eloquently with their fists--and big fists
too. A woman screamed at me.

"Go away, be off while you are still whole! My husband is at home."

I understood her: she only took in lodgers during the absence of her
husband.... Regretting that he was at home I went on to the next window.

"Good people, give a traveller a night's lodging!"

They answered me politely:

"In God's name go--further on!"

The weather was wretched--a fine, cold rain was falling, and the muddy
earth was thickly enveloped in darkness. From time to time a gust of
wind blew from some quarter or other; it moaned softly in the branches
of the trees, rustled the wet straw on the roofs, and gave birth to
many other cheerless noises, breaking in upon the gloomy silence of the
night with its miserable music of sighs and groans: Listening to this
dolorous prelude to the grim poem which they call Autumn, the people
under the roofs were no doubt in a bad humour, and therefore would not
give me a night's lodging. For a long time I had fought against this
resolution of theirs, they as doggedly opposed me and, at last, had
annihilated my hopes of a night's lodging beneath any roof whatsoever.
So I left the village and went forth into the fields, thinking that
there, perhaps, I might find a haycock or a rick of straw ... though
naught but chance could direct me to them in this thick and heavy
darkness.

But lo and behold! I saw, three paces in front of me, something big
rising up--something even darker than the darkness. I went thither, and
discovered that it was a corn magazine. Corn magazines, you know, are
built not right upon the earth but upon piles or stones; between the
floor of the magazine and the ground is a space where an ordinary man
can easily settle down ... all he has to do is to lie upon his belly
and wriggle into it.

Clearly, Destiny desired that I should pass that night not only under
a roof but under a floor. Content therewith, I wriggled along the dry
ground, feeling with my breast and sides for a somewhat more level
place for my night's lodging. And suddenly in the darkness resounded a
calmly-anticipatory voice:

"A little more to the left, if you please!"

This was not alarming, but unexpected it certainly was.

"Who's there?" I inquired.

"A man ... with a stick...."

"I have a stick too."

"And matches?"

"Yes, I have matches also."

"That's good."

I didn't see anything at all good in this, for, according to my view of
the matter, it would only have been good if I had had bread and tobacco
and not merely matches.

"I suppose they wouldn't let you have a night's lodging in the
village?" inquired the invisible voice.

"No, they wouldn't," I said.

"Me also they would not admit."

This was clear--if only he _had_ asked for a night's lodging. But he
might _not_ have asked, he might simply have crept in here to await
a favourable opportunity for executing some sort of risky operation
absolutely desiderating the protection of the night. Every sort of
labour is praiseworthy, I know, but for all that I resolved to clutch
my stick firmly.

"They wouldn't let me in, the Devils!" resumed the voice. "Blockheads!
In fine weather they let you in, while in weather like this ... may
they howl for it!"

"And whither are you going?" I asked.

"To ... Nikolaiev. And you?"

I told him.

"Fellow-travellers that means. And now strike a match. I'm going to
smoke."

The matches had got damp>--impatiently, it took me a long time, I
struck them against the boards above my head. At last a tiny little
light spluttered forth, and from out of the darkness stared a pale face
with a thick black beard.

The big, sensible eyes looked at me with a smile, presently some white
teeth gleamed from beneath the moustaches, and the man said to me:
"Like a smoke?"

The match burnt out. We lit another, and by the light of it we stared
once more at each other, after which my fellow lodger observed
confidentially:

"Well, it seems to me we shan't clash ... take a cigarette."

Another cigarette was between his teeth and, brightening as he smoked
it, illuminated his face with a faint reddish glimmer. Around his eyes
and on the forehead of this man was a lot of deep and finely furrowed
wrinkles. Earlier, by the light of the same match, I had observed that
he was dressed in the remains of an old wadding paletot, girded with
a piece of string, and on his feet were shoes made of a whole piece of
leather--_porshni_ as we call them on the Don.

"A pilgrim?" I asked.

"Yes, I go on foot. And you?"

"Likewise."

He moved slightly, and there was a sort of metallic clank--evidently
a kettle or tea-pot, that indispensable accessory of the pilgrim
to holy places; but in his tone there was not a trace of that foxy
unction which always betrays the pilgrim; in _his_ tone there was
nothing of the pilgrim's obligatory thievish oiliness, and, so far, his
words were unaccompanied by any pious groans or quotations from "the
Scriptures." In general he did not at all resemble the professional
loafers at the holy places--that shoddy and endless variety of "Russian
Vagabondage," whose lies and superstitions have such an effect upon the
spiritually-hungry and starving rural population. Besides, he was going
to Nikolaiev, where there were neither shrines nor relics....

"And where are you coming from?" I inquired.

"From Astrakhan."

Now in Astrakhan also there are no relics. Then I asked him:

"Doesn't that mean you are going from sea to sea and not to the holy
places at all?"

"Nay, but I go to the holy places too. Why should I not go to the holy
places? I go with pleasure ... they always feed you well there ...
especially if you get intimate with the monks. Our brother Isaac[1] is
much respected by them, because he makes life a little less monotonous
for them. What are your views on the subject?"

I explained.

"They are feeding-places," he admitted "And whither then do you go?
Aha! you find the way is long, eh? Strike a match and we'll smoke a
little more. When one smokes one grows a little warmer."

It really was cold, not only because of the wind, which impudently blew
right in upon us, but because of our wet clothes.

"Perhaps you'd like something to eat? I have bread, potatoes, and two
roasted ravens ... have some?"

"Ravens?" I inquired inquisitively.

"Never tasted them? They're not bad...."

He chucked me a large piece of bread.

I didn't try the raven.

"Come, try them! In the autumn they're capital. And after all it is
much more pleasant to eat raven angled for by your own hands than bread
or fat given to you by the hand of a neighbour out of the window of his
house, which, after you have accepted it as an alms, you always want to
burn."

His remarks were reasonable--reasonable and interesting. The use of
raven as an article of food was new to me but did not cause me any
surprise I knew that in winter at Odessa "the lower orders" eat rats,
and at Rostov--slugs. There was nothing improbable in it Even the
Parisians, when in a state of siege, were glad to eat all sorts of
rubbish, and there are people who all their life long live in a state
of siege.

[1] Himself.

"And how do you catch your ravens?" my desire for information led me to
ask.

"Not with your mouth, anyhow. You can knock them down with a stick or
a stone, but the surest way is to fish for them! You must tie a piece
of fat meat or a bit of bread at the end of a long piece of cord. The
raven seizes it, gulps it down, and you haul him in. Then you twist his
neck, pluck him, draw him, and, fastening him on to a stick, roast him
over a fire."

"Ah! it would be nice to be sitting by a fire now," I sighed.

The cold had become more sensible. It seemed as if the very wind were
freezing, it beat against the walls of the magazine with such a painful
tremulous whine. Sometimes it was wafted to us along with the howl
of some dog, the crowing of a cock, and the melancholy sound of the
bell of the village church, hidden in the darkness. Drops of rain fell
heavily from the roof of the magazine on to the wet earth.

"'Tis dull to be silent," observed my fellow night-lodger.

"It's rather cold ... to talk," I said.

"Put your tongue in your pocket ... it will warm it up."

"Thanks for the hint!"

"We will go together, eh? When we take the road I mean...?"

"All right!"

"Let us introduce ourselves then ... I, for instance, am Pavel Ignat'ev
Promtov, Esq."

I introduced myself likewise.

"That's right, now we know where we are! And now I'll ask you how you
came to fall into these paths. Was it through a weakness for vodka, eh?"

"It was from disgust of life."

"That's possible, too. Do you know that publication of the Senate,
entitled: Judicial Investigations?"

"Yes."

"Is your name also printed there?"

At that time I had had nothing printed about me, and so I told him.

"I also am not in print."

"But have you done anything?"

"Everything is in God's hands."

"But you are a merry fellow, apparently?"

"What's the good of grizzling?"

"Not everyone in your situation would talk like that..." I doubted the
sincerity of his words.

"The situation ... is damp and cold, but then you see it will be quite
different at dawn of day. The sun will come out, and then we shall
creep out of this, have some tea, eat and drink, and warm ourselves.
That won't be bad, eh?"

"Very good!" I admitted.

"So there, you see, every evil has its good side."

"And every good thing its evil side."

"Amen!" exclaimed Promtov with the voice of a deacon.

God knows he was a merry comrade enough. I regretted that I could not
see his face, which, judging from the rich intonation of his voice,
must have shown a very expressive play of feature. We talked about
trifles for a long time, concealing from each other our mutual desire
to be more closely acquainted, and I was inwardly lost in admiration
at the dexterity with which he inveigled me into blabbing about myself
while he kept his own counsel.

While we were quietly conversing the rain ceased, and the darkness
began to melt away; already in the East a rosy strip of dawn was
glowing with a vivid radiance. Simultaneously with the dawn the
freshness of morning made itself felt--that freshness which is so
stimulatingly pleasant when it meets a man dressed in warm and dry
clothes.

"I wonder if we could find anything here for a fire--dry twigs for
instance?" inquired Promtov.

Crawling on the floor we searched and searched, but could find nothing.
Then we decided to drag out one of the boards not very firmly fixed
in its place. We pulled it out and converted it into firewood. After
that Promtov proposed that we should, if possible, bore a hole in the
floor of the magazine in order to get some rye grain--for if rye grain
is boiled it makes a very good dish. I protested, observing that it was
not proper--for thereby we should waste some hundred-weights of grain
for the sake of a pound or two.

"And what business is that of yours?" asked Promtov.

"I have heard that one must respect the property of others."

"That, my dear boy, is only necessary when the property is your own
... and it is only necessary then because your property is not other
people's property...."

I was silent, but I reflected that this man must have extremely
liberal views with regard to property, and that the pleasure of his
acquaintance might, conceivably, have its drawbacks.

Soon the sun appeared, bright and cheerful. Blue patches of sky looked
out from the broken clouds which were sailing slowly and wearily
towards the north. Drops of rain were sparkling everywhere. Promtov and
I crept out of the magazine and entered the fields, amidst the bristles
of the mown corn, towards the green crooked ribbon of a village far
away from us.

"There's a stream," said my acquaintance.

I looked at him, and thought that he must be about forty, and that life
was no joke for him. His dark blue eyes, deeply sunken in their orbits,
glistened calmly and confidently, and whenever he screwed them up a
bit his face assumed a cunning and cruel expression. In his steady and
combative gait, in the leather knapsack adroitly slung across his back,
in his whole figure there could be detected the passion for a vagabond
life, lupine experience and vulpine craft.

"We'll go along together, then," said he; "straight across the stream,
five miles off, is the village of Mauzhelyeya, and from thence the
straight road to New Prague. Around this little place live Stundists,
Baptists, and other mystical muzhiks.... They'll feed us finely if we
set about amusing them properly. But not a word about the Scriptures
with them. They are at home, as it were, in the Scriptures...."

We chose us a place not far from a group of poplars, selected some
stones, numbers of which had been cast upon the shore by the little
stream, all turbid with the rain, and on the stones laid our fire. Two
versts away from us, on rising ground, stood the village, and on the
straw of its roofs shone the rosy glow of dawn. The walls of the white
huts were hidden by the sharp pyramids of the poplars coloured by the
tints of autumn and the rising sun. The poplars were enveloped by the
grey smoke from the chimneys, which darkened the orange and purple hues
of the foliage and the patches of fresh blue sky between it.

"I'm going to bathe," observed Promtov; "that is indispensable after
so wretched a night. I advise you to do the same. And while we are
refreshing ourselves the tea can be boiling. You know we ought to see
to it that our nature should always be clean and fresh."

So saying he began to undress. His body was the body of a gentleman,
beautifully shaped, with well-developed muscles. And when I saw
him--naked, his dirty rags, which he had cast from him, seemed to me
doubly filthy and disgusting--they had never seemed so bad till then.
After ducking in the bubbling water of the stream we leaped upon the
shore all tremulous and blue with cold, and hastily put on our clothes,
which had been warming by the fire. Then we sat down by the fire to
drink our tea.

Promtov had an iron pipkin, he poured scalding tea into it, and
handed it to me first. But the Devil, who is always ready to mock a
man, seized me by one of the lying chords of my heart, and I observed
magnanimously:

"Thank you, you drink first, I'll wait."

I said this with the firm conviction that Promtov would infallibly vie
with me in affability and politeness if I thus offered to surrender
to him the first drink of tea, but he simply said: "Very well, then!"
--and put the pipkin to his mouth.

I turned aside and began to gaze steadily at the desolate steppe,
wishing to convince Promtov that I did not see how venomously his dark
eyes were laughing at me. And he, while he sipped his tea, chewed his
bread deliberately, smacked his lips with gusto, and did it all with a
deliberation that was torture to me. My vitals were already shivering
with cold, and I was ready to pour the boiling water in the kettle down
my throat.

"Well," laughed Promtov, "it's not very profitable to do the polite, is
it now?"

"Alas, no!" I said,

"Well, that's all right! You'll learn to know better in time.... Why
yield to another what is profitable or pleasant to yourself?--that's
what I say. They say all men are brethren, yet nobody has ever
attempted to prove it by any system of measurement...."

"Is that really your opinion?"

"And why pray shouldn't I speak as I think?"

"Well, you know that a man always tries to brag a little bit whatever
he may be..."

"I know not why I should have inspired you with such a distrust of me,"
and this wolf shrugged his shoulders--"I suppose it is because I gave
you some bread and tea? I did this not from any brotherly feeling, but
out of curiosity. I see a man not in his proper place and I want to
know how and by what means he was chucked out of life...."

"And I, too, wanted to know the same thing. Tell me who and what you
are?" I asked.

He looked searchingly at me and said, after a moment's silence: "A man
never knows exactly who he is. One must be always asking him what he
takes himself for."

"Weill, take it like that."

"Well ... I think I am a man who has no room in life. Life is narrow
and I--am broad. Possibly this may not be true. But in this world
there is a peculiar sort of people who must be descendants of the
Wandering Jew. Their peculiarity is that they can never find a place
for themselves in the world to which they can stick fast. Inside them
lives an unruly aching desire for something new. The small fry of this
order of men are never able to work things out to their liking, and
for that reason are always discontented and unhappy, while the big
fish are never satisfied with anything--whether it be women, money, or
honour. Such people are not beloved in this life--they are audacious
and unendurable. You see, the majority of people are sixpences in
current coin, and all the difference between them is the date when they
were struck off. This one is worn out, that one is quite new; but their
value is the same, their substance is of the same sort, and in every
respect they are absolutely similar. Now I am not of these sixpences
... although perhaps I may be a half-sovereign.... That is all."

He said all this smiling sceptically, and it seemed to me that he did
not believe himself. But he excited in me an eager curiosity, and I
resolved to go with him till I discovered who he was. It was plain
that he was a so-called "intelligent person." There are many of them
among the vagabonds, but they are all--dead people, people who have
lost all self-respect, who lack the capacity of esteeming themselves,
and only manage to live by falling lower every day into filth and
nastiness; finally, they dissolve in it and disappear from life.

But there was something substantial and durable about Promtov. And he
did not grumble at life as all the others do.

"Well, shall we go on?" he proposed.

"By all means."

We rose from the ground warmed by tea and sunshine, and descended the
bank to the current of the stream.

"And how do you manage to get food?" I asked Promtov ... "do you work?"

"Wo-o-rk? No, I am no great lover of that."

"But how then do you manage?"

"You shall see."

He was silent. Presently, after walking a few steps, he began whistling
through his teeth some merry song. His eyes keenly and confidently
swept the steppe, and he walked firmly like a man sure of his object.

I looked at him, and the desire to know with whom I had to deal burnt
still more strongly within me.

The steppe surrounded us, desolate and quiet; above us shone the
friendly sun of the south; we breathed with all our lungs the pure
stimulating air, and went along in the direction where fragments of
clouds jostled one another in a chaos of shapes and colours.

When we came to the street of the village--a little dog from somewhere
or other bounded under our very feet, and barking loudly began to
turn round and round us. Every time we looked at her, she bounded to
one side, like a ball, with a terrified yelp, and again fell upon us
barking furiously. Some of her friends then ran out, but they did not
distinguish themselves by equal zeal, for after giving a bark or two
they retired to some hiding-place. Their indifference seemed, however,
to excite still more our little reddish doggie.

"Do you see what a mean nature that dog has?" observed Promtov,
shaking his head at the zealous little dog. "And it is all lies too.
She knows very well that barking is not necessary here, and she is
not spiteful--she is a coward, and only wants to show off before her
master. The little devil is purely human, and without doubt she has
been educated into it.... People spoil their beasts. The time will soon
come when beasts will be as abject and insincere as you and me...."

"Thank you," I said.

"Don't mention it. However, now I must take aim."

His expressive countenance now put on a pitiful mien, his eyes grew
foolish, he became all bent and crooked, and his rags stood up
straight like the fins of a chub.

"We must turn to our neighbour and ask for bread," he said by way of
explaining to me his transformation, and he began to look keenly at the
windows of the cottages. At the window of one of the cottages stood a
woman suckling a child. Promtov did obeisance to her, and said in a
supplicating tone:

"My sister, give bread to pilgrim folk!"

"Be not angry!" replied the woman, measuring us with suspicious eyes.

"May your breasts grow dry, then, daughter of a dog!" was the
valediction my fellow-traveller sourly threw her.

The woman screamed like one who has been stung, and rushed out to us.

"Oh, you, you...." she began.

Promtov, without moving from the spot, looked her straight in the face
with his black eyes, and their expression was savage and malevolent....
The woman grew pale, trembled, and murmuring something, quickly entered
the hut.

"Let us go," I proposed to Promtov.

"No, we'll wait till she brings out the bread."

"She'll bring out the men upon us with pitchforks."

"A lot you know!" observed this wolf with a sceptical smile.

He was right. The woman appeared before us, holding in her hands half
a loaf of bread and a solid bit of fat. Bowing low and silently to
Promtov, she said to him with the tone of a suppliant:

"Pray take it, oh, man of God! be not angry!"

"God deliver thee from the evil eye, from sorcery, and from the ague!"
was the unctuous farewell with which Promtov parted from her, and so we
went on our way.

"Listen now!" said I, when we were already a good way from the cottage,
"what an odd way of begging alms you have--to say no more."

"It's the best way. If you fix your eyes upon the woman for a little,
she takes you for a sorcerer, grows scared, and will not only give you
bread but the whole concern if necessary. Why should I beg and pray and
lower myself before her when I can command? I have always thought that
it is better to take than to beg ... but if you cannot take, you must
beg, I suppose...."

"And has it never happened that instead of bread you sometimes...."

"Got one for myself, eh? No. Trust to me for that! My dear brother, let
me tell you that I have got a magic little bit of paper, and I've only
got to show it to a muzhik,[2] and he is instantly my slave. Would you
like me to show it to you?"

I held in my hands a pretty dirty and crumpled piece of paper, and
perceived that it was a transit certificate issued to Pavel Ignat'ev
Promtov by the administrative authorities of Petersburg, permitting him
to journey from Astrakhan to Nikolaiev. The paper bore the seal of the
Astrakhan police-office, with the corresponding signatures--all quite
regular.

[2] Peasant.

"I don't understand," I said, returning this document into the hands of
its proprietor. "How is it you are starting from Astrakhan, when your
point of departure was St. Petersburg?"

He smiled, his whole face expressed the consciousness of his
superiority over me.

"Look now, it's quite simple. Think it out. They sent me from
Petersburg, and in sending me invited me to choose, for certain
reasons, my place of residence Say I choose Kursk, for example. Well,
I appear at Kursk, and go to the police-station. I have the honour to
present myself there. The Kursk police cannot welcome me amiably--they
have their own little brothers there--and are full up. They assume
that they have before them a sharper, and a clever sharper too; if
they cannot rid themselves of him forcibly with the assistance of the
statutes, they must have recourse to administrative measures in order
to get shot of him. And they are always glad to send me packing--even
if they plunge me into fresh misery. Perceiving their embarrassment I
humanely come to their assistance. Well, well, I say, I had already
chosen my place of residence, but perhaps you would like me to choose
it over again? They are only too glad to get quit of me. I say, too,
that I am ready to withdraw myself from the sphere of their duty,
which is to preserve the inviolability of person and property, but as
a reward for my amiability they must give me some provision for the
road. They give me five roubles or ten, a little more or less, as the
case may be, having regard to my temperament and character--and they
always give gladly. It is always better to lose a fiver than to saddle
themselves with grave inconvenience in my person--isn't it?"

"Possibly," I said.

"It is really so. And they provide me besides with a little piece of
paper in no way resembling a passport. It is in its difference from a
passport that the magic power of this little piece of paper consists.
On it is written, 'ad-min-is-tra-tive-ly sent from Pet-ers-burg!' Oh!
I show this to the starosta[3] who, generally, is as dull as a clod,
and devil a bit of it does he understand. He fears it--there is a seal
upon it. I say to him--on the strength of this bit of paper--you are
bound to give me a night's lodging! He gives it to me. You are bound
to feed me! He feeds me. He cannot do otherwise, for on the paper is
inscribed--from St Petersburg administratively. What's the meaning of
this 'administratively'?--the deuce only knows. It may mean: sent on a
secret mission for investigating the condition of the coast industries,
or inquiring as to the issue of false coin, or preventing illicit
distilling, or carrying out the sale of contraband goods. Or it may
imply an inquiry whether the people properly attend the services of the
Orthodox Church as prescribed. Or possibly it has something to do with
the land. Who can decide what 'administratively from Petersburg' means?
Possibly I may be someone in disguise. The muzhik is stupid, what can
he understand?"

[3] Village elder.

"Yes, he does not understand much," I observed.

"And a very good thing too!" declared Promtov with lively satisfaction.
"Such he is and ought to be, and such as he is, and only so, he is
indispensable to us all like the very air. For what is the muzhik?
The muzhik is for us all the means of nutriment, that is to say, he
is an edible creature. Look at me for instance! Would it be possible
for me to exist upon this earth but for the muzhik? Four things are
indispensable for the existence of man: the sun, water, air, and the
muzhik.

"And the land?"

"Granted the muzhik--and you have the land as well. You have but to
command him. Hie, you there! create the land, and there the land will
be. He cannot disobey."

This merry vagrant loved talking! We had long since passed the village,
left behind us many farms, and once more another village stood before
us, submerged in the orange foliage of autumn. Promtov chattered
on--as merrily as a finch--and I listened to him, and thought about
the muzhik and this new kind of parasite, unknown to me before,
participating in the illusory prosperity of the muzhik.... When will
the muzhik be well repaid for all the evil with which he has been so
liberally requited? Here, alongside of me, marched the product of town
life--a cynical and sensible vagrant, living on the vital juices of
this poor muzhik, a wolf fully conscious of his lupine strength.

"Listen now"--a circumstance had suddenly occurred to me--"we meet
under conditions which induce me strongly to doubt the efficacy of your
bit of paper--how do you explain it?"

"Aye, aye!" laughed Promtov, "very simply. I had already passed through
that place, and it is not always convenient to bring yourself back to
people's recollection as you know."

His candour pleased me. Candour is always a good quality, and it is
a great pity that it is so rarely to be met with among respectable
people. And I listened attentively to the random chatter of my comrade,
trying to make up my mind whether the picture he drew of himself was
the real one.

"Here is a village in front of us! If you like I will show you the
power of my bit of paper--what do you say?" proposed Promtov.

I objected to the experiment, proposing instead that he should tell me
how he had really earned this piece of paper.

"Well, that is a long, long story," said he, waving his hand. "But I'll
tell you--one day. Meantime let us rest and have a snack. We have an
ample store of food, which means that it is not necessary at present to
go into the village and trouble our neighbour."

Quitting the road, we sat down on the ground and began to eat. Then,
made lazy by the warm beams of the sun and the breath of the soft wind
of the steppe, we lay down and slept.... When we awoke, the sun purple
and large was already on the horizon, and on the steppe the mists of
the southern evening were encamping.

"Now you shall see," declared Promtov. "Fate is content that we should
pass the night in that little village."

"Let us go while there is still light," I proposed.

"Don't be afraid. To-night we shall have a roof above our heads."

He was right. At the first hut at which we knocked and asked for a
night's lodging we were hospitably invited to come in.

The "guid man" of the hut, a big, good-natured fellow, had just come
in from the fields where he had been ploughing, his "guid wife" was
making supper ready. Four grimy little children, huddled into a heap
in a corner of the room, peeped out at us from thence with timid,
inquisitive eyes. The buxom housewife bustled about from the hut to
the outhouse swiftly and silently, bringing bread and water-melons
and milk. The master of the house sat down on a bench opposite to
us rubbing his stomach with an air of concentration, and fixing
penetrating glances upon us. Presently the usual question came from him:

"Where are you going?"

"We're going, dear man, from sea to sea, to the city of Kiev," replied
Promtov cheerfully in the words of the old cradle song.

"What is there to be seen at Kiev?" inquired the "guid man"
meditatively.

"The holy relics."

The "guid man" looked at Promtov in silence and spat. Then after a
pause he asked:

"And from whence do you come?"

"I from Petersburg, he from Moscow," answered Promtov.

"All that way?"--the "guid man" raised his brows. "And what's
Petersburg like? Folks say that it is built upon the sea and that it is
often under water."[4]

Here the door opened and two other _khokhli_[5] came in.

"We want a word with you, Michael," said one of them.

"What have you got to say to me?"

"It's this--who are these people?"


[4] The peasant uses the Ruthenian dialect, the effect of which is lost
in a translation.

[5] "Tuft-headed," the name given to the Little Russians by the Great
Russians, from their mode of wearing their hair.

"These?" asked our host, nodding his head at us.

"Yes."

Our host was silent and thoughtful, he scratched his head a bit.

"I should like to know myself," he explained.

"Maybe you are pilgrims?" they inquired of us.

"Yes!" replied Promtov.

A long silence prevailed, in the course of which the three _khokhli_
regarded us doggedly, suspiciously, and inquisitively. At last they
all sat down to table and began, with loud crunching, to consume the
crimson water-melons.

"Maybe one of you is a scholar?" said one of the _khokhli,_ turning
towards Promtov.

"Both!" curtly replied Promtov

"Then perchance you know what a man ought to do when his backbone
smarts and itches to that degree that he cannot sleep o' nights?"

"We do know," replied Promtov.

"What?"

Promtov went on chewing his bread for a long time, dried his hands on
his rags, then pensively regarded the ceiling and, at last, observed
decisively and even severely:

"Break up a loaf and get your old woman at night to rub your spine with
the crummy part, and afterwards anoint it with hemp-oil and fat ...
that's all!"

"What will come of it?" inquired the _khokhol_.[6]

[6] Singular of khokhli.

"Nothing," and Promtov shrugged his shoulders.

"Nothing."

"Why should anything come of it?"

"Yet it's a good remedy?"

"Yes, it's a good remedy."

"I'll try it. Thanks!"

"To your good health!" said Promtov perfectly seriously.

There was a long silence amidst the crunching of the water-melons and
the whispering of the children.

"Hark ye," began the owner of the hut, "maybe you have heard all about
it at Moscow--I mean about Siberia--is it possible to settle there or
not? Our district magistrate said--but no doubt he lies--that it is
quite impossible!"

"Impossible!" observed Promtov with an air of astonishment.

The _khokhli_ glanced at each other, and the master of the house
murmured in his beard: "May a toad crawl into his stomach!"

"Impossible!" repeated Promtov, and suddenly his face glowed with
enthusiasm; "it is impossible, but why go to Siberia at all when there
is so much land everywhere--as much as you please?"

"Well, truly there's enough for the dead and to spare--but it is the
living who stand in need of it," remarked one of the _khokhli_ sadly.

"In Petersburg it has been decided," continued Promtov triumphantly,
"to take all the land belonging to the gentry and the peasantry and
make crown property of it."

The _khokhli_ looked at him with wild wide-open eyes and were silent
Promtov regarded them severely and asked:

"Yes, make crown property of it--and do you know why?"

The silence assumed an intense character, and the poor _khokhli,_
apparently, were almost bursting with anxiety and expectation. I looked
at them, and was scarce able to restrain the anger excited in me by the
practical joke which Promtov was thus malting at the poor creatures'
expense. But to have betrayed his audacious falsehood to them would
have meant a whacking for him, so I held my peace, overwhelmed by this
foolish dilemma.

"Speak out, good man, and tell us!" asked one of the _khokhli_ quietly
and timidly, with a stifled voice.

"They are going to take away the land in order to redistribute it
more fairly among the peasants. It has been decided there"--here
Promtov waved his hand vaguely to one side--"that the true owner of
the land is the peasant, and so it has been ordered that there shall
be no emigration to Siberia, but people are to wait till the land is
divided...."

One of the _khokhli_ let his slice of melon fall out of his mouth in
his excitement. All of them looked intently at Promtov's mouth with
greedy eyes and were silent, being much impressed by the strange
intelligence. And then--a few seconds afterwards--four expressions were
heard almost simultaneously:

"Most holy mother!"--from the woman almost hysterically.

"But ... maybe you are lying!"

"Nay, but tell us more, good man!"

"Ah, that's why we have had such bright dawns and sunsets!" exclaimed
the _khokhol_ whose backbone had ached, with conviction.

"It is only a rumour," said I. "No doubt all this sounds very much like
falsehood...."

Promtov regarded me with genuine amazement and exclaimed fiercely:

"What rumour? What lies? What do you mean?"

And there poured from his lips the melody of a most audacious
falsehood--sweet music for all who were listening to him except
myself. He liked the fun of spinning yarns. The _khokhli,_ whom he
wanted to persuade, were ready to jump into his mouth. But it was
abominable to me to listen to his inspired falsehoods, which might
very well result in bringing down a great misfortune upon the heads
of these simple-minded folks. I left the hut and lay down in the
courtyard thinking how best I could spoil the villainous game of my
travelling-companion. His voice sounded for a long time in my ears, and
then I fell asleep.

I was awakened by Promtov at sunrise.

"Get up! Let's be off!" he said.

Beside him stood the sleepy master of the hut, and the knapsack of
Promtov was bulging out on all sides. We took our leave and departed.
Promtov was merry. He sang, he whistled, and cast ironical sidelong
glances at me. I was thinking what I should say to him and walked by
his side in silence.

"Well! why don't you crucify me?" he suddenly asked.

"And are you aware of what will follow from all this?" I drily inquired.

"Why, of course! I understand you, and I know that you ought to turn
the jest against me. I'll even tell you how you'll do it. Would you
like to hear? But better far--chuck it! What harm is there in putting
ideas into the heads of these muzhiks? They will be none the wiser for
it. And, besides, I've played my game well Look how they've stuffed my
knapsack for me!"

"But you may bring them under the stick!"

"Scarcely.... And what if I did? What have I to do with other folks'
backs. God grant we may keep our own backs whole, that's all! That's
not moral I know, but what do I care whether a thing is moral or not
moral. You'll agree that that's nobody's business."

"Come," thought I, "the wolf's about right."

"Assume that they do suffer through my fault--I suppose the sky will
still be blue and the sea salt."

"But are you not sorry?"

"Not a bit ... I am a rolling stone, and everything which the wind
casts beneath my feet wounds me in the side."

He was serious and intensely wrathful, and his eyes gleamed
vindictively.

"I always do like that and sometimes worse. Once I recommended a
muzhik to drink constantly olive oil mixed with blackbeetles for a
pain in the stomach, because he was a skin-flint. Not a little evil of
a humorous sort have I wrought during my earthly pilgrimage. How many
stupid superstitions and mystifications have I not introduced into
the spiritual parts of the muzhik?... And in general I am never very
particular. Why should I be? For the sake of a few statutes, eh? Are
there not other laws within myself? This, my confession of faith, has
also the sanction of John Chrysostom, who says: 'the true Shekina--is
man.'"

"But why boast of it?"

"That is wrong, eh?--from your point of view. But I, you see, am no
great lover of gentlemanly points of view ... and I assume that if
people lift a stick to me it is my duty to respond with a stick and not
with an obeisance."

As I listened to him I reflected that it would be well for me to
recollect the first Psalm of King David, and depart from the way of
this sinner. But then I wanted to know his history.

I spent three more days with him, and during these three days I became
convinced of much which I had previously only suspected. Thus, for
example, it became quite clear to me in what manner various useless
and ancient objects found their way into Promtov's knapsack, such as
the lower half of a copper candlestick, a chisel, a bit of lace, and a
necklace. I understood that I was running the risk of a flogging and
perhaps of falling into those places which finally receive collectors
similar to Promtov. I should really have to part from him But then, his
story!

And lo! one day when the wind was howling savagely, knocking us off our
legs, and we found ourselves in a haystack sheltering from the cold,
Promtov told me the story of his life.



II.


THE STORY OF HIS LIFE.


Well--then! let us discourse for your profit and edification ... I'll
begin with papa. My papa was a stern and conscientious man, just
touching upon his sixtieth year, on half-pay, and he settled down
in a little country town where he bought himself a little house. My
mamma was a woman with a kind heart and generous blood.... For me,
at any rate, he had no respect. For every trifle he made me kneel in
a corner and lambed into me with a strap. But mamma loved me, and
it was pleasant to live with her.... At the time papa moved into the
little provincial town, I was in the sixth class of the Gymnasium, but
I was expelled from it shortly afterwards for getting mixed up with
the teacher of physics.... I ought to have taken my lessons in physics
from this teacher, and I took them instead from the head master's
chambermaid. The head master was very angry with me for this, and drove
me away to papa. I appeared before him, and explained that here I was
expelled from the Temple of Learning because of a misunderstanding
with the head master. But the head master had taken the precaution of
informing my father of the whole affair by letter, so that the moment
papa beheld me he began scolding me with all sorts of nasty words, and
mamma did ditto. When they were tired of scolding me they resolved to
send me away to Pskov, where papa had a brother living. So they're
sending me to Pskov, I said to myself; well, uncle is stupid and savage
enough, but my dear little cousins are nice and kind, so life will
be possible there anyhow. But even at Pskov it soon appeared that I
had no friends at court, so to speak. In three months uncle turned me
out, accusing me of immoral conduct, and having a bad influence on his
daughters. Again I was scolded, and again I was banished, this time
to the country, to the house of an aunt who lived in the Government
of Ryazan. My auntie seemed to be a glorious and good-natured old
lady, who always had heaps of young people about her. But at that
time everyone was infected by the foolish habit of reading forbidden
books--and suddenly I found myself in gaol, where I suppose I must
have remained three or four months. Mamma thereupon instructed me by
letter that I had killed her; papa informed me that I had dishonoured
him--what very tiresome parents it was my fate to have!

You know that if a man were free to choose his own parents it would
be a much more convenient arrangement than the present order of
things--now, wouldn't it? Well, well! They let me out of prison, and
I went to Nijni-Novgorod, where I had a married sister. But my sister
appeared to be overwhelmed by family cares, and very ill-humoured on
that account. What was I to do? Just at the nick of time Mass was being
celebrated, and I joined the choir of singers. My voice was good, I
had a handsome exterior, they promoted me to the rank of solo-singer,
and I sang all by myself. You imagine, I suppose, that I must have
taken to drink on this occasion. No, even now I hardly ever drink
vodka, only sometimes, and that very rarely--by way of warming myself.
A drunkard I never was; of course I have had my fill when good wines
were going--champagne for instance, and if you gave me Marsala, lots of
it I mean, I should undoubtedly get drunk upon it, for I love it as I
love women Women I love to frenzy--and perhaps I hate 'em too, for in
the end I always feel an irresistible desire to play them some dirty
trick.... Well, well! _Why_ I feel so mad with them sometimes I do not
know and cannot explain to myself. They have always been gracious to
me, for I was handsome and bold. But they're such ties! Well, the deuce
take them for what I care. I love to hear them cry and groan--for then
I always think: Aha! now you are having your deserts.

However, there was I singing away, I cared not what, so long as I had
a merry life. Then, one day, I was suddenly accosted by a clean-shaven
man who appeared before me and said: "Have you ever tried acting on the
stage?" Well, I had played a part in domestic spectacles. "Would you
like to earn twenty-five roubles[1] a month for playing light-comedy
parts?" "All right!" said I. So off we went to the town of Perm. At
Perm I played and sang in comic operas made up as a passionate dark
young chap--with a past, the past of a political offender. The ladies
were in raptures. Then I took the second lover rôles. "Try the heroic
parts," they said to me. So I played the part of Max in "Errant Fires,"
and it went off capitally--I knew it I played through a whole season
That summer our tour was a great success. We played at Vyatka, we
played at Ufa, we even played at Elabuga. In the winter we returned to
Perm.

[1] £2 10s.

And in that winter I felt a hatred and loathing of mankind. You know
how it is. You appear on the stage, and you see hundreds of fools and
wretches with their eyes fixed full upon you--that slavish cowardly
shudder (I know it so well) runs all down your back, and you have the
prickly sensation of one who has sat down in an ant heap. They look
upon you as their plaything, as a thing which they have purchased
for their gratification for a single evening. They have the power
to condemn or to approve. And there they sit waiting to see whether
you will exert yourself with sufficient diligence to please them And
if they think that you have used sufficient diligence, they will
bray--bray like tethered asses, and you must listen to them and feel
content with their applause. For a time you will forget that you are
their property ... then, when you call it to mind, you will smite
yourself upon the snout for having found pleasure in their approval.

I hated this "public" to the verge of convulsions. Frequently I should
have liked to have spat on them from the stage, to have rowed them
with the vilest words. There were times when their eyes--you will feel
with me--pricked my body like darning-needles; and how greedily that
"public" waits for you to tickle it--waits with the confidence of that
lady land-owner whose serf-girls used to scratch the soles of her feet
every evening. You are sensible of this expectation of theirs, and
you think how pleasant it would be to have in your hand a knife long
enough to clean slice off all the noses of the first row of spectators
at a single stroke. Devil take the whole lot of them!

But pardon me this outburst! I fear that for the moment I was becoming
quite sentimental!--I only meant to say that I was a player, that I
hated my public, and wanted to run away from it. In this I was assisted
by the wife of a procurator. She did not please me and that did not
please her. She set her husband in motion, and I suddenly appeared in
the town of Saransk--just as if I were a grain of wheat whirled by the
wind from the banks of the Kama. Ah, well! everything in this wretched
life of ours is like a dream!

So I settled down in the town of Saransk, and there settled down along
with me the young wife of a young Permiak of the mercantile persuasion.
She was a determined character and dearly loved my art. So there we
were together. We had no money, neither had we any acquaintances.
Moreover, I was weary of her. She also, from sheer ennui, began to din
it into me that I did not love her. At first I endured it patiently,
but after a bit I could stand it no longer: "Be off," I cried! "leave
me! go to the devil!" That is exactly what I said to her. She caught up
a revolver and fired it at me. The bullet lodged in my left shoulder--a
little lower and I should have been in Paradise long ago. Anyhow, down
I fell. But she was frightened, and in her terror leaped into a well.

And there she soddened to death.

Me they conducted to the hospital. Well, there of course ladies
appeared upon the scene They revolved around me till I was able to
stand on my legs again, and when I could do that I got the billet of
secretary to the local police-station. Well, say what you will--to be
associated with the police is more convenient than to be under police
supervision. So there I lived for two or three months.

It was in those days, for the first time in my life, that I had an
attack of crushing, overwhelming ennui, that most horrible of all
sensations to which humanity is liable.... Everything around you ceases
to be of interest, and you desire something new. You cast about hither
and thither, you seek and seek, you find something, you seize it, and
immediately you discover it is not what you wanted. You feel yourself
led captive by something dark, you feel yourself fettered within, you
feel yourself incapable of living in the world with yourself, and yet
this world is more necessary to a man than everything else. A wretched
condition of things!

And it brought me at last to such a pass that I married. Such a step in
a man of my character is only possible in case of anguish or drunkard's
head-ache.

My wife was the daughter of a priest, who lived with her mother--her
father was dead--and had the free disposition of her property. She had
her own house, you might even say mansion, and she had money besides.
She was a handsome girl, no fool, and of a lively disposition, but
she was very fond of reading books, and this had a very bad effect
both upon me and her. She was constantly fishing for rules of life in
all sorts of little books, and whenever she got what she wanted, she
immediately proceeded to apply k personally to us both. Now, from my
tenderest years morality was a thing I never could endure.... At first
I laughed at my wife, but afterwards it became tiresome to listen to
her. I saw that she always made a great show of ideas extracted from
various little books, and bookish lore is about as suitable for a
woman as his master's cast-off costume is for a lackey. We began to
quarrel.... Then I made the acquaintance of a certain priest--there
was one of that sort there--a rogue who could play the guitar and
sing, dance the _trepak_[2] to admiration, and take his skinful like a
man. To my mind he was the best fellow in the town, because one could
always live a jolly life in his company, and she--that is my wife--was
always running him down, and always tried to drag me into the company
of the Scribes and Pharisees who surrounded her. For in the evenings
all the serious and best people in the town, as she called them, used
to assemble at her house; and serious enough they all were, as serious,
to my mind, as gallows-birds.... I also loved reading in those days,
but I never used to trouble myself about what I read, and I don't
understand why people should. But they--I mean my wife and those who
were with her--whenever they had read through a book, immediately
became as restless as if they had hundreds of prickles beneath their
skin. Now, I look upon it like this. Here's a book. Very well! An
interesting book. So much the better. But every book has been written
by a man, and a man cannot leap higher than his own head. All books are
written with one object: they want to prove that good is good and bad
is bad, and it's all one whether you have read a hundred of them or a
thousand. My wife discussed her little books by the dozen, so that I
began to tell her straight out that I should have had a better time of
it if I had married the parson instead of her. It was only the parson
who saved me from boredom, and but for him I should have bolted from my
wife there and then. As soon as the Pharisees called upon her--off I
went to the parson. In this way I lived through a year and a half. From
sheer boredom I helped the parson in the church services. At one time I
read the epistles, at another I stood in the choir and sang:

"From my youth up many passions have fought against me."

[2] A boisterous national dance of Russia.

I went through a good deal in those days, and I shall be justified for
many things at the Last Day for this endurance. But now my parson was
joined by a young kinswoman, and this woman came to him first because
he was a widower, and in the second place because his swine had eaten
him, _i.e.,_ had not eaten him entirely, but spoilt the look of him. He
had, you must know, fallen down drunk in the yard and gone to sleep,
and the swine had come into the courtyard and nibbled away at his ears,
cheeks, and neck. It is notorious that swine eat all sorts of garbage.
This diminution of his person threw my parson into a fever, and caused
him to summon his kinswoman that she might cherish him and I might
cherish her. Well, she and I set about the business very zealously,
and with great success. But my wife found out how the land lay--found
out I say, and at last it came to a quarrel. What was I to do? I gave
her as good as I got. Then she said to me: "Leave my house!" Well, I
thought the matter well over, and I quietly went away--right away from
the town. Thus the bonds of my marriage were unloosed. If my consort
is still alive she certainly regards me as happily dead to her. I have
never felt the slightest desire to see her again. I also think that it
is well for her to forget me. May she live in peace! Greatly did she
bore me in those days.

So now behold me a free man again, living in the town of Penza! I came
to loggerheads with the police; no place could be found for me here
or there--no place anywhere in fact. At last I became a psalmsinger
in the church. I took up the office and sang and read. In the church
I had again a "public" before me, and again a loathing of it arose
within me. I was a miserable labourer in a dependent position. It was
horrible to me. But a merchant's wife was my salvation. She was a
stout, God-fearing woman, and had a very dull time of it. And she goes
and gets enamoured of me by way of spiritual edification. So I got
into the habit of going to see her, and she fed me. Her husband lived
at home and was a little dotty, so she had to manage the whole plaguy
business. I went to her very courteously, and I said to her: "It is
hard for me to be paying visits here, Sekleteya Kirillovna, precious
hard," I said; "why don't you make me your assistant?" She made some
bones about it at first, and said I was much mistaken, but at last she
took me as her manager. And now I had a good time of it, but the town
itself was a filthy hole. There was no theatre, no decent hotel, no
interesting people. Of course I was bored to death, and in the midst of
my boredom I wrote a letter to my uncle. During my five years' absence
from Petersburg I had, of course, become very knowing. So I wrote now
requesting forgiveness for all that I had done, promised never to do
anything like it any more, and asked, among other things, whether it
was not possible for me to live at Petersburg. My uncle wrote it was
possible, but I must be careful. Then I broke with the merchant's wife.

You must know that she was stupid, fat, stodgy, and ugly. I had had
mistresses of great repute, elegant and sensible gossips every one
of them. Very well! Yet with all my other mistresses I had parted
scurvily; either I had driven them away with wrath and contumely, or
they had played me some nasty trick or other. But this Sekleteya had
inspired me with respect by reason of her very simplicity.

"Farewell," I said to her; "farewell, my dearly-beloved! God grant thee
prosperity!"

"And does it not pain thee to part with me?" said she.

"What!" I cried, "how can I help being pained at parting with one so
beautiful and wise?"

"I would never have parted from thee," said she, "but I suppose it must
be so, nevertheless I will always remember thee. Well, now, thou art a
free bird again, and canst fly away whithersoever thou desirest," and
she burst into tears.

"Forgive me, Sekleteya, I beg," said I.

"What!" she cried, "I owe thee thanks, not forgiveness."

"Thanks?" I asked, "how and for what?"

"I'll tell thee. Thou art this sort of man. Thou wouldst think nothing
of casting me adrift in the wide world, I put myself wholly into thy
hands, and thou mightest have robbed me as thou didst like, and I would
not have prevented thee--and all this thou knewest. But thou hast
repaid confidence with confidence, and I know how much of mine thou
hast consumed in these days--about four thousand in all. Another in thy
place," she said, "would have gobbled up the whole pot and emptied the
saucer on the hearth as well."

That's what she said. Well, she was a kind-hearted old thing, that I
will say.

I gave her a parting kiss, and with a light heart and five thousand
roubles in my pocket--no doubt she had taken these also into
consideration--I appeared at St. Petersburg. I lived like a baron, went
to the theatre, made acquaintances, sometimes from sheer ennui played
on the boards, but I played much more frequently at cards. Cards are
a capital occupation. You sit down at a table, and in the course of a
single night you die and rise again ten times over. It is exciting to
know that within the next few moments your last roubles may dribble
away, and you yourself may step down into the street a beggar, with
nothing but suicide or highway robbery before you. It is also good to
know that your neighbour or partner has, with reference to _his_ last
rouble, exactly the same ticklish and cruelly poignant sensation as
you yourself have had not so very long before him. To see red and pale
excited faces, tremulous with the terror of being beaten and with the
greed of gain, to look at them and win their cards away, one after the
other--ah! how strangely that excites the nerves and the blood!...
You win a card--and it is just as if you stole away from the man's
heart a bit of warm flesh with the nerves and blood.... That's being
happy if you like! This constant risk of falling is the finest thing in
life, and the finest thought in life was well expressed by the poet:

    "Fierce contest is a rapturous bliss,
     E'en on the marge of the abyss."

Yes, there is rapture in it, and, in general, it is only possible to
feel happy when you are risking something. The more risk--the larger
and fuller the life. Have you ever happened to starve? It has been my
luck not to eat anything for twice twenty-four hours at a stretch....
And look you, when the belly begins to prey upon itself, when you feel
your vitals drying up and dying with hunger--then, for the sake of a
bit of bread, you are ready to kill a man, a child; you are ready for
anything, and this capacity for crime has its own peculiar poetry, it
is a very precious sensation, and, having once experienced it, you have
a great respect for yourself.

However, let us continue our varied story. As it is, it is spinning
itself out as long as a funeral procession, in which I occupy the place
of the dear departed. Ugh! what foolish comparisons do crowd into my
head. Yet it is true, I suppose, though it is none the wiser, after
all, for being that. Apropos, Mr. Balzac has a very true and timely
expression--"It is as stupid as a fact." Stupid? Well, let it pass.
What do I care about the difference between stupid and wise? Well, as
I was saying, I lived at St. Petersburg. It was a good sort of town,
but it would be as good again if one half of its inhabitants were
drowned in that tiresome sea which is always flop-flopping around it.
I lived a merry, easy life at St Petersburg for two or three years,
under the protection of a lady who had taken a great fancy to me; but
then, in order to oblige a friend, I seriously offended the police,
and they asked me whither I would like to go out of St. Petersburg. I
suggested Tsarskoe-Selo. "No," they said, "you must go further." At
last we effected a compromise, and Tula was fixed upon. "Very well, let
it be Tula then," said they. "You may go even further," they said, "if
you like, but you must not appear here till three years have expired.
Your documents we will keep by us in the meantime as a memento of you,
and permit us to offer you in exchange a transit certificate to Tula.
Try within four-and-twenty hours to take your flight from hence." Well,
thought I, what am I to do now? One must obey one's superiors, how can
one help doing so?

Well, there I was. I sold all my property to my landlady for a mere
song, and posted off to my protectress. She had given orders that I was
not to be admitted, the minx! I then went on to two or three others of
my acquaintances--they met me as if I were a leper. I spat upon them
all, and repaired to a holy place I knew of, there to spend the last
hours of my life at Petersburg. At six o'clock in the morning I issued
from thence without a farthing in my pocket--I had played at cards and
was stony broke! So thoroughly had a high official cleared me out that
I was even lost in admiration at his talent, without feeling the least
humiliation at having been beaten. What was I to do next? I went, why
I know not, to the Moscow Station, entered and mingled with the crowd.
I saw the train to Moscow come in. I got into a carriage and sat down.
We passed two or three stations, and then they drove me out in triumph.
They wanted to report me, asked who I was; but when I showed them my
testimonial they left me in peace. "Go on further," said they, and I
went. Ten versts I traversed, I grew tired, and felt that I must have
something to eat. There was a sentry-box, belonging to a sentry of a
line regiment. I went up to him: "Give me a bit of bread, dear little
friend," I said. He looked at me. He gave me not only bread but a large
cup of milk. I passed the night with him, for the first time in my life
in vagabond fashion, in the open air, on straw, in the field behind
the sentry-box. I awoke next day, the sun was shining, the air like
champagne, green things all round, and the birds singing. I took some
more bread from the sentry and went on further.

You should understand that in a vagabond life there is something that
draws you on and on, something that quite swallows you up. It is
pleasant to feel yourself free from obligations, free from the various
little fetters tying down your existence when you live among men; free
from all those bagatelles obstructing your life to such an extent that
it ceases to be a satisfaction, and becomes a weary burden--a heavy
basket-like burden in the nature of an obligation to dress becomingly,
to speak becomingly, and do everything according to an accepted form
and not as you would have it On meeting an acquaintance, for instance,
you must use the accepted formula and say: How do you do?--instead of:
Be d----d! as you would sometimes like to say.

In general--if I may speak the truth freely--these
foolishly-ceremonious usages are such as to turn the mutual relations
of respectable citizens into a wearisome comedy. Nay, even into a
base comedy, for nobody ever calls anybody a fool or a villain to
his face--or if it be done sometimes it is only in an access of that
sincerity which we call anger.

Now the vagabond position is clean outside all these tinsel trappings.
The very circumstance that you renounce all the earlier conveniences of
life without regret, and can exist without them, gives you a pleasant
sense of elevation in your own eyes. You take up an unreservedly
indulgent attitude towards yourself--though for the matter of that
I for one have never been severe towards myself. T have never taken
myself to task, the teeth of my conscience have never gnawed me, nor
have I ever been scratched by the claws of my reason. You must know
that very early, and as if insensibly, I appropriated the most simple
and sensible of philosophies: however you may live you must die all
the same. Why then come to loggerheads with yourself--why drag yourself
by the tail to the left when your nature with all her might pricks you
on to the right? Pah! I cannot endure people who are always rending
themselves in twain. Why do they strive and strive? Supposing I were
to talk to some of these monstrosities, this is what I should ask
them: "Why do you go on like this? Why do you make such a fuss?" "I am
striving after self-perfection," he would say. "But what for?--what on
earth for?" "Because human perfection is the sense of life." "Well,
I don't understand that at all. Now if you talk about the perfection
of a tree, the sense of your words would be quite clear to me. Its
perfection is to be measured by its utility; you may use it for making
cart shafts or coffins, or anything else useful to man. Very well!
But your striving after perfection is entirely your own affair. But
tell me, why do you come to me and try to convert me to your faith?"
"Because," he would say, "you are a beast, and don't seek out the sense
of life." "But I have _found_ it if I am a brute, and the consciousness
of my brutality does not overwhelm me." "You lie," he would say; "if
you are conscious of it you ought to try to improve." "Improve? How?
Here I am, you see, living my own life in the world; my mind and my
feelings are at one with each other, and word and deed are in perfect
harmony." "That," he would say, "is vileness and cynicism." And so
the whole lot of them would argue of course. I feel that they are
liars and fools--I feel that, I say, and I cannot but despise them.
For indeed--I know what people are--if everything which is mean,
dirty, and evil to-day, were to be declared by you to-morrow upright,
pure, and good--all these snouts, without any effort of their own,
would to-morrow be upright, pure, and good. One thing only would be
necessary--the cowardice to annihilate self within themselves. That's
how it is.

That's putting it strong, you'll say. Bosh! It _is_ so. Let it be
strongly put, it's none the less right for all that Look now! I'll
put it like this: Serve God or the Devil, but don't serve God and the
Devil. A good rascal is always better than a shoddy honest man. There's
black and there's white, but mix them and you only get a dirty smudge.
In all my life I have only met with shoddy honest folks--the sort you
know whose honesty is piecemeal, as it were, just as if they had picked
it up beneath windows as beggars gather crumbs. This sort of honesty
is parti-coloured, badly stuck together, as if with pegs; it is the
bookish honesty, which is learnt by repetition, and serves men in much
the same way as their best trousers, which are trotted out on state
occasions. And, in general, the best part of good people is made up for
Sunday use; they keep it not in them but by them, for show, to take a
rise out of each other.... I _have_ met with people naturally good, but
they are rarely to be met with, and only among simple folks outside
the walls of towns. You feel at once that these really _are_ good. And
you see that they are born good. Yes.

But be that as it may. Deuce take the whole lot of them, good or bad.
What's Hecuba to me, or I to Hecuba!

I am well aware that I am relating to you the facts of my life briefly
and superficially, and that it will be difficult for you to understand
the why and the wherefore, but that's my affair. It's not the facts but
the inclinations that are of importance. Facts are rot and rubbish.
I can make all sorts of facts if I like. For instance, I can take
this knife and stick it in your throat. That would be a fact of the
first order. Or if I were to stick myself with it that also would be
a fact, and in general you may make all sorts of facts according to
inclination. Inclinations--there you have the whole thing. Inclinations
produce facts, and they create ideas--and ideals. And you know what
ideals are--eh? Ideals are simply crutches, expressly invented for the
period when man has become a wretched brute, obliged to walk on his
hind paws only. On raising his head from the grey earth he sees above
him the blue sky, and is dazzled by the splendour of its brightness.
Then, in his stupidity, he says to himself: I will reach it. And
thenceforth he hobbles about the earth on these crutches, holding
himself upright on his hind paws with their assistance to this very
day.

Pray don't imagine that I also am climbing up to Heaven--I have never
experienced any such desire--I only say it because it sounds well.

But I have let my story get knotted and tangled again. However, it
doesn't matter. It is only in romances that the skein of events
revolves regularly; but our life is an irregular, clueless jumble. Why
do they pay money for romances while I grow old in vain? The Devil only
knows.

Well, let's get on.... This wandering life pleased me--pleased me all
the more because I soon discovered a means of subsistence. Once, as I
was on the trot, I perceived coming towards me--a Manor House stood
forth picturesquely in the distance--three highly genteel figures,
a man and two ladies. The man already had some grey in his beard,
and looked very genteel about the eyes; the faces of the ladies were
somewhat pinched, but they also were highly genteel. I put on the mug
of a martyr, drew up level with them, and begged for a night's lodging
at the Manor House. They looked at one another, and deliberated a long
time among themselves as if it were a matter of great importance. I
bowed politely, thanked them, and went on without making too much
haste. But they turned back and came after me. We entered into
conversation. Who was I, whence did I come, what was I about? They
were of a human temperament--liberal views, and their very questions
suggested such answers to me that by the time we had reached the
Manor House I had lied to them--the Devil only knows how much! I had
been a student, I had taught the people, my soul was held captive
to all manner of ideas, etc., etc. And all this simply because they
themselves would have it so. All I did was not to stand in the way of
their taking me for what they wanted to take me for. When I began to
reflect how hard the part would be that they wanted me to play, I was
not a little out of conceit with myself, I can tell you. But after
dinner I quite understood that it was for my own interest to play this
part, for they ate with a truly divine taste. They ate with feeling,
ate like civilised people. After the meal they conducted me to a little
apartment, the man provided me with trousers and other requisites--and,
speaking generally, they treated me humanely. Well, and I, in return,
loosed the reins of my imagination for their behoof.

Queen of Heaven, how I lied! Talk of Khlestakov![3] Khlestakov was an
idiot! I lied without ever losing the consciousness that I _was_ lying,
although it was my delight to lie my utmost. I lied to such an extent
that even the Black Sea would have turned red if it could have heard my
lying. These good people listened to me with delight--listened to me
and fed me, and looked after me as if I had been a sick child of their
own family. And I in return made up all sorts of things for them. Now
it was that I profited by all the good little books I had ever read,
and by the learned disputations of my wife's Scribes and Pharisees.

[3] The hero of Gogol's famous comedy, "Revizor."

Believe me, to lie with gumption is a high delight. If you lie and
see that folks believe you, you feel yourself on a higher level,
and to feel yourself above your fellows is a rare satisfaction. To
command their attention and think much of yourself in consequence is
foolishness; but to fool a man is always pleasant. And besides, it is
pleasant to the man himself to listen to lies--good lies--lies which
do not go against the grain. And it is possible that every lie, good
or the reverse, is a good lie. There is scarcely anything in the world
more worthy of attention than the various popular fables: notions,
dreams, and such like. Let us take love for instance. I have always
loved in women just that which they have never possessed, and with
which I myself have generally requited them. And this, too, is the best
thing in them. For instance, you come across a fresh little wench and
immediately you think to yourself: such a one must needs embrace you
this way, or kiss you that way. If in tears, she must look thus, and if
she laughs--thus. And then you persuade yourself that she has all these
qualities, and must certainly be exactly as you imagine her to be. And,
of course, when you make her acquaintance, and come to know her as she
really is--you find yourself sitting triumphantly in a puddle! But that
is of no importance. You cannot possibly make an enemy of fire simply
because it burns you sometimes, you must remember that it always warms
you. Isn't that so? Very well. For the same reason you must not call a
lie harmful; in every case put up with it and prefer it to truth....
Besides, it is quite uncertain what this thing called Truth is really
like. Nobody has ever seen her passport, and possibly if she were
called upon to produce her documents the deuce only knows how it would
turn out.

But here I am like Socrates, philosophising instead of attending to my
business.

Well, I lied to these good people till I had exhausted my imagination,
and as soon as I realised the danger of being a bore to them--I went
on further, after residing with them for three weeks. I departed well
provisioned for the journey, and I directed my footsteps towards the
nearest police-station in order that I might go from thence to Moscow.
But from Moscow to Tula I arrived in vain, in consequence of the
carelessness of my conductors.

Behold me, then, face to face with the Police-master at Tula. He looked
at me and inquired:

"What profession do you mean to follow here?"

"I don't know," I said.

"And why did they send you away from Petersburg?" he said.

"That also I don't know," said I.

"Obviously for some debauch not foreseen by the criminal code--eh?"
and he cross-examined me searchingly.

But I remained inscrutable.

"You are a very inconvenient sort of person," he observed.

"Everyone, I suppose, has his own speciality, my good sir," I rejoined.

He thought the matter over, and then he made me a proposition. "As
you have chosen your own place of residence, perhaps, if we do not
please you, you will go further on. There are many other towns for
choice--Orel, Kursk, Smolensk for example. After all it is all the same
to you where you live. Wouldn't it be agreeable to you if we passed
you on? It would be quite a relief to us not to have the bother of
looking after your health. We have such a mass of business here, and
you--pardon my candour--seem to be a man fully capable of increasing
the cares of the police; nay, you even seem to me expressly made for
the purpose. Well now," says he, "would you like me to give you a
_treshnetsa_[4] to assist you on your way?"

[4] A small Russian coin.

"You seem to appraise your duties somewhat cheaply," said I, "I think
it would be better if you let me remain here under the protection of
the laws of Tula."

But he obstinately refused to take me even as a gift. He was an odd
sort of chap! Well, I got fifteen roubles out of him, and went on
to the town of Smolensk. You see! The most awkward position contains
within it the possibility of something better. I affirm this on the
basis of solid experience and on the strength of my deep faith in the
dexterity of the human mind. Mind--that's the power! You are still
a young man, and what I say to you is this: believe in mind and you
shall never fall! Know that every man holds within him a fool and a
rogue; the fool is his senses, the rogue is his mind. His senses are
the fool because they are upright, just, and cannot dissemble, and how
is it possible to live without dissimulation? It is indispensable to
dissemble; it is necessary to do so even from compassion, and most of
all when they--your senses of course--pity others.

So I walked into Smolensk, feeling that the ground was firm beneath
me, and that on the one hand I could always count upon the support of
humane people, and on the other hand I was always sure of the support
of the Police. I was necessary to the first for the display of their
feelings, and to the second I was unnecessary--therefore they and
others were bound to pay me out of their superfluities.

That's how it was then!

So I went along and fell quite in love with myself. My prospects were
excellent. I fell in with a little muzhik. He looked up and asked:

"You will be one of the Enquiry-Agents, I suppose?"

"Enquiry-Agents," I thought, "what does he mean?"--but I answered:

"Yes, of course I am!"

"Did you come along the Trepovka Road?" he asked.

"Yes, along the Trepovka," I answered.

"And will you hire the folks soon?" he said.

"Very soon," said I.

"Listen, will they take deposits?"

"They will."

"Have you heard how much per head?"

"Yes, about two griveniki[5] per head."

"Laws!" said the little muzhik.

I put two and two together, guessed why he was ploughing there, and
asked him whence he came? how many souls[6] there were in his village?
how many could go out to work? how many went on foot? how many could go
on horseback?

[5] A grivenik = 10 kopecks = about 2¼d.

[6] Peasants.

He understood me.

"You are going to take labourers out of our village, eh?" said he.

"It is all the same to me where I take them from," said I.

I took from them a bank-note and promised to give to their village the
preference over other villages. I took two griveniki per head from the
labourers who had no horses, and thirty kopecks from the labourers who
had, on the pretext of giving them a written assurance of employment
for a period fixed by myself. They handed me over about a hundred
roubles[11] or so. And I wrote out little receipts for them, said a few
kind words to them, and so bade them adieu.

I appeared at Smolensk, and as it was already growing cold, I resolved
to pass the winter there. I quickly found some good people and stayed
with them The winter didn't pass half badly, but soon spring came and,
would you believe it, it drew me out of the town. I wanted to loaf
about--and who was there to prevent me? Off I went and strolled about
for a whole summer, and in the winter I plumped down into the city of
Elizavetgrad. There I plumped down, I say, and I could not wheedle
myself in anywhere. I hunted high and low, and at last I found my way.
I got the post of reporter of the local gazette--a petty affair, but it
found me my grub and left me a pretty free hand After that I made the
acquaintance of some Junkers--there is a school for the Junkers of the
cavalry regiment in the town--and established card-parties. We had some
capital card play, and in the course of the winter I managed to grab
a thousand roubles. And then spring again appeared. She found me with
money and the appearance of a gentleman.

Whither should I go? Well, I went to the town of Slavyansk by water.
There I played successfully till August, and then I was obliged to quit
the town. I passed the winter at Zhitornir with a butterfly--she was
wretched trash, but a woman of exquisite beauty.

In this manner I passed the years of my banishment from Petersburg and
then returned thither. The devil knows why, but the place has always
had an attraction for me. I arrived there a gentleman with means.
I sought out my acquaintances, and what do you think I discovered?
My adventures with the liberal people of the Moscow Government were
notorious. Everything was known--how I had lived three weeks with the
Ivanovs at the Manor House, feeding their hungry souls with the fruits
of my fancy; how I behaved to the Petrovs, and how I had impoverished
Madame Vanteva. Well, and what of it? Necessity knows no law, and if
seven doors are closed against you, ten more will open to you. But it
was no go. I tried very hard to make for myself a stable position in
society, and I could not do it. Was it because I had lost during these
three years something of my capacity of consorting with men, or was
it because people had grown more artful during that period? And now
when the shoe began to pinch the devil put it into my head to offer
my services to the Detective Force. I offered myself in the capacity
of an agent who keeps his eye upon the play-houses. They accepted
me. The terms were good. With this secret profession I combined a
public one--that of reporter to a small gazette. I provided them
with excellent newsletters, and occasionally composed the feuilletons
for them. And then, too, I played. In fact so carried away was I by
this card playing that I forgot to report it to the authorities. I
completely forgot, you know, that it was my duty to do so. But when
I lost I remembered: I must report this, I said to myself. But no,
I thought, first let me win back my losings, and then I will make
my report. In this way I put off the performance of my duty for a
very long time, till at last I was actually grabbed by the police on
the very scene of the offence behind a card-table. They abused me
publicly as one of their own agents. Next day I was brought up in the
usual way, a very savage indictment was laid against me; they told
me I had absolutely no conscience whatever; and banished me from the
capital--banished me a second time. And this time without the right of
re-entry for the space of ten years.

For six years I travelled about without complaining to God of my
fate--what did I care! I will relate nothing about this period, for
it was too monotonous--and manifold. Life in general is a gay bird.
Sometimes, indeed, it hasn't a grain to peck at; but it doesn't do to
be too exacting; even people sitting on thrones, remember, haven't
always things exactly their own way. In such a life as mine there are
no duties--that's the first great advantage--and there are no laws
except the law of nature--and that's the second. We disposers of our
lives may have our disquietudes--but then you'll find fleas even in
the best inns. On the other hand, you can go where you like, to the
right, to the left, forwards, backwards, everywhere your fancy draws
you; and if your fancy doesn't draw you, you can live on a peasant's
loaf--he is good, and will always give--you can live on the peasant's
loaf, I say, and lie down till the impulse seizes you to go on further.

Where have I been? I have been in the Tolstoi Colonies, and I have fed
in the kitchens of the Moscow merchants. I have lived in the great
monastery at Kiev and at New Athos. I have been at Czenstochowa, the
holiest shrine in Poland; at Muroma, the favourite place of pilgrimage
in Russia. Sometimes it seems to me as if I have traversed every little
footpath in the Russian Empire twice over. And as soon as ever I have
the opportunity of repairing my exterior I shall cross the frontier. I
shall make for Roumania, and there every road lies open before you. For
Russia now begins to bore me, and there is nothing to be done in her
that I have left undone.

And, indeed, during these six years, it seems to me that I have
accomplished a good deal. What a number of wondrous things I have
said, and what wonders I have related! You know the sort of thing. You
come to a village, you beg for a night's lodging, and when they have
fed you--you give free reins to your fancy. It is even possible that
I may have founded some new Sects, for I have spoken much, very much,
concerning the Scriptures. And the muzhik has a fine nose for the
Scriptures, and a couple of texts suffices him for the construction
of an entirely--new confession of faith which--but you know what I
mean. And how many laws have I not composed about the division and
repartition of land! Yes, I have infused a great deal of fancy into
life.

Well, that's how I live. I live and believe: wish for a dwelling-place
and it is yours. For I have common-sense and the women prize me. For
instance, I come to the town of Nikolaiev, and I go to the suburbs
where dwells the daughter of a soldier of Nikolaiev. The woman is a
widow, handsome, and well to do. I come in and say: "Well, Kapochka,
here I am; warm a bath for me! Wash me and clothe me, and I will abide
with thee even from moon to moon!" She immediately does everything
for me, and if she was entertaining a lover besides me, she drives
him away. And I live with her, a month or more, as long as I like.
For three years I lived with her, during the winter for two months,
last year I lived with her even three months; I might live with her
the whole winter through if she were not so silly and did not bore me.
Except her market garden, which brings her in two thousand roubles a
year, the woman certainly wants nothing.

And then I go to the Kuban, to the Labinskaya station. There lives the
cossack, Peter Cherny, and he accounts me a holy man--many consider
me a righteous man. Many simple believing folks say to me: "Little
father, take this money and place a candle for me before the Just One
when you are there...." I take it. I respect believing folks, and do
not want to offend them with the horrible truth. Not for the world
would I let them know that I expend their mite, not for a candle for
their patron, but in tobacco for my pipe.

There is also much charm in the consciousness of your aloofness from
people, in the clear comprehension of the height and stability of that
wall of offences committed against them which I myself have freely
erected. And there is much, both of sweet and bitter, in the constant
risk of being unmasked. Life is a game. I stake on my cards everything,
_i.e.,_ nothing, and I always win, without the risk of losing anything
else except my own ribs. But I am certain that if people, anywhere,
were to set about beating me, they would not be content with maiming me
but would kill me outright. It is impossible to feel offended at this,
and it would be foolish to fear it.

And so, young man, I have told you my story. I've even spun it out a
bit, as my story has its own philosophy, and you know that I take a
pleasure in telling it. It appears to me that I have told it pretty
well. I will go further, and say, very accurately. I have made up a
good deal of it, no doubt, but if I have lied I call Heaven to witness
that I have lied according to the facts. Look not upon them, but at
my talent for exposition--that, I assure you, is faithful to the
original--my own soul. I have set before you a dish hot from my fancy
served up with the sauce of the purest truth.

But why have I told you all this? I have told it you because, my dear
fellow, I feel that you believe in me--a little. It is kind of you. Be
it so!--but--believe no man! For whenever he tells you anything about
himself he is sure to be lying. If he be unfortunate he lies in order
to excite greater sympathy; if he be prosperous he lies in order to
make you envy him the more; and in every case, whether he be fortunate
or unfortunate, he lies in order to attract greater attention.



V.--THE GREEN KITTEN.[1]


The round window of my chamber looked out upon the prison-yard. It was
very high from the ground, but by placing the table against the wall
and mounting upon it, I could see everything that was going on in the
courtyard. Beneath the window, under the slope of the roof, the doves
had built themselves a nest, and when I set about looking out of my
window down into the court below, they began cooing above my head.

[1] The original title of this tale was "Zazubrina." Written in 1897.

I had lots of time to make the acquaintance of the inhabitants of the
prison-yard from my coign of vantage, and I knew already that the
merriest member of that grim and grey population went by the name of
Zazubrina.

He was a square-set, stout little fellow, with a ruddy face and a high
forehead, from beneath which his large bright, lively eyes sparkled
incessantly.

His cap he wore at the back of his head, his ears stuck out on both
sides of his shaven head as if in joke; he never fastened the strings
of his shirt-collar, he never buttoned his vest, and every movement
of his muscles gave you to understand that he was a merry soul and a
pronounced enemy of anger and sadness.

Always laughing, alert and noisy, he was the idol of the yard; he was
always surrounded by a group of grey comrades, and he would always
be laughing and regaling them with all sorts of curious pranks,
brightening up their dull and sorrowful life with his hearty, genuine
gaiety....

On one occasion he appeared at the door of the prison-quarters ready to
go for a walk with three rats whom he had dexterously harnessed as if
they were horses. Sometimes his inventiveness took a cruel form. Thus,
for instance, he once, somehow, glued to the wall the long hair of
one of the prisoners, a mere lad, who was sitting on the floor asleep
against the wall, and, when his hair had dried, suddenly awoke him.
The lad quickly leaped to his feet, and clapping his slim lean hands
to the back of his head, fell weeping to the ground. The prisoners
laughed, and Zazubrina was satisfied. Afterwards--I saw it through the
window--he fell a comforting the lad, who had left a no inconsiderable
tuft of hair on the wall.

Besides Zazubrina, there was yet another favourite in the prison--a
plump, reddish kitten, a tiny, playful little animal, pampered by
everyone. Whenever they went out for a walk, the prisoners used to hunt
him up and take him with them a good part of the way, passing him on
from hand to hand. They would run after him, too, in the yard, and let
him cling on to their hands and feet with his claws, delighting in the
sportive tricks of their pet.

Whenever the kitten appeared on the scene, he diverted the general
attention from Zazubrina, and the latter was by no means pleased with
this preference. Zazubrina was at heart an artist, and as an artist had
an inordinately good opinion of his own talents. When his public was
drawn away from him by the kitten, he remained alone and sat him down
in some hole or corner in the courtyard, and from thence would watch
the comrades who had forgotten him just then. And I, from my window,
would observe him, and felt everything with which his soul was full at
such moments. It appeared to me that Zazubrina must infallibly kill the
kitten at the first opportunity, and I was sorry for the merry prisoner
who was thus always longing to be the centre of general attention. Of
all the tendencies of man, this is the most injurious, for nothing
kills the soul so quickly as this longing to please people.

When you have to sit in a prison--even the life of the fungi on its
walls seems interesting. You will understand therefore the interest
with which I observed from my window the little tragedy going on
below there, this jealousy of a kitten on the part of a man--you will
understand, too, the patience with which I awaited the _dénouement._
The _dénouement_ was, indeed, approaching. It happened in this wise.

On a bright, sunny day, when the prisoners were pouring out of doors
into the courtyard, Zazubrina observed in a corner of the yard a pail
of green paint, left behind by the painters who were painting the roof
of the prison. He approached it, pondered over it, and, dipping a
finger into the paint, adorned himself with a pair of green whiskers.
These green whiskers on his red face drew forth a burst of laughter. A
certain hobbledehoy present, wishing to appropriate Zazubrina's idea,
began forthwith to paint his upper lip; but Zazubrina spoiled his fun
for him by dipping his hand in the pail and adroitly besprinkling his
whole physiognomy. The hobbledehoy spluttered and shook his head,
Zazubrina danced around him, and the public kept on laughing, and egged
on its jester with cries of encouragement.

At that very moment the red kitten suddenly appeared in the yard.
Leisurely he entered the courtyard, gracefully lifting his paws,
trotting along with tail erect, and evidently without the slightest
fear of coming to grief beneath the feet of the crowd frantically
careering round Zazubrina and the bespattered hobbledehoy, who was
violently rubbing away with the palm of his hand the mass of oil and
verdigris which covered his face.

"My brothers!" someone suddenly exclaimed, "pussy is coming."

"Pussy! Ah, the little rogue!"

"What ho, ginger! Puss, puss, puss!"

They caught up the cat and he was passed from hand to hand; everybody
caressed him.

"Look, there's no starving there! What a fat little tummy!"

"What a big cat he's growing!"

"And what claws he has got, the little devil!"

"Let him go! Let him play as he likes!"

"Well, I'll give him a back! Play away, puss!"

Zazubrina was deserted. He stood alone, wiping the green paint off
his whiskers with his fingers, and watched the kitten leaping on to
the backs and shoulders of the prisoners. Whenever he displayed a
wish to sit still on any particular shoulder or back, the men would
wriggle about and shake him off, and then he would set off leaping and
bounding again from one shoulder to the next. This diverted them all
exceedingly, and the laughter was incessant.

"Come, my friends! let us paint the cat!" resounded the voice of
Zazubrina. It sounded just as if Zazubrina, in proposing this pastime,
at the same time begged them to consent to it.

There was a commotion among the crowd of prisoners.

"But it will be the death of him," cried one.

"Paint the poor beast--what a thing to say!"

"What! paint a live animal, Zazubrina! You deserve a hiding!"

"I call it a devilish good joke," cried a little, broad-shouldered man
with a fiery-red beard, enthusiastically.

Zazubrina already held the kitten in his hands, and went with it
towards the pail of paint, and then Zazubrina began singing:

    "Look, my brothers! look at that!
    See me paint the ginger cat!
    Paint him well, and paint him green,
    And then we'll dance upon the scene."

There was a burst of laughter, and holding their sides, the prisoners
made a way in their midst, and I saw quite plainly how Zazubrina,
seizing the kitten by the tail, flung it into the pail, and then fell a
singing and dancing:

    "Stop that mewing! cease to squall!
    Would you your godfather maul?"

Peals of laughter!

"Oh, crooked-bellied Judas!" piped one squeaky voice.

"Alas, Batyushka!"[2] groaned another.

[2] Little father.

They were stifled, suffocated with laughter. Laughter twisted the
bodies of these people, bent them double, vibrated and gurgled in the
air--a mighty, devil-may-care laughter, growing louder continually,
and reaching the very confines of hysteria. Smiling faces, in white
kerchiefs, looked down from the windows of the women's quarters into
the yard. The Inspector, squeezing his back to the wall, poked out his
brawny body, and, holding it with both hands, discharged his thick,
bass, overpowering laugh in regular salvoes.

The joke scattered the folks in all directions around the pail.
Performing astounding antics with his legs, Zazubrina danced with all
his might, singing by way of accompaniment:

    "Ah, life is a merry thing,
      As the grey cat knew, I ween;
    And her son, the ginger kitten,
      Now lives in a world all green."

"Yes, that it will, deuce take you," cried the man with the fiery-red
beard.

But Zazubrina could not contain himself. Around him roared the
senseless laughter of all these grey people, and Zazubrina knew that
he, and he alone, was the occasion of all their laughter. In all his
gestures, in every grimace of his mobile comic face, this consciousness
manifestly proclaimed itself, and his whole body twitched with the
enjoyment of his triumph. He had already seized the kitten by the head,
and wiping from its fur the superfluous paint, with the ecstasy of the
artist conscious of his victory over the mob, never ceased dancing and
improvising:

    "My dear little brothers,
      In the calendar let us look,
    Here's a kitten to be christened,
      And no name for it in the book."

Everything laughed around the mob of prisoners, intoxicated by this
senseless mirth. The sun laughed upon the panes of glass in the
iron-grated windows. The blue sky smiled down upon the courtyard of
the prison, and even its dirty old walls seemed to be smiling with the
smile of beings who feel obliged to stifle all mirth, however it may
run riot within them. From behind the gratings of the windows of the
women's department the faces of women looked down upon the yard, they
also laughed, and their teeth glistened in the sun. Everything around
was transformed, as it were, threw off its dull, grey tone, so full of
anguish and weariness, and awoke to merriment, impregnated with that
purifying laughter which, like the sun, made the very dirt look more
decent.

Placing the green kitten on the grass, little islets of which,
springing up between the stones, variegated the prison-yard, Zazubrina,
excited, well-nigh blown, and covered with sweat, still, continued his
wild dance.

But the laughter had already died away. He was overdoing it, very
much overdoing it. The people were getting tired of him. Someone, here
and there, still shrieked hysterically; a few continued to laugh,
but already there were pauses. At last there were moments when the
silence was general, save for the singing, dancing Zazubrina, and the
kitten which mewed softly and piteously as it lay on the grass. It
was scarcely distinguishable from the grass in colour, and, no doubt,
because the paint had blinded it and hampered its movements, the poor
slippery, big-headed creature senselessly tottered on his trembling
paws, standing still as if glued to the grass, and all the while it
kept on mewing, Zazubrina commented on the movements of the kitten as
follows:

    "Look ye, Christian people, look,
    The green cat seeks a private nook,
    The wholesome ginger-coloured puss
    To find a place in vain makes fuss."

"Very clever, no doubt, you hound," said a red-haired lad.

The public regarded its artist with satiated eyes.

"How it mews!" observed the hobbledehoy prisoner, twisting his head
in the direction of the kitten, and he looked at his comrades. They
regarded the kitten in silence.

"Do you think he'll be green all his life long?" asked the lad.

"All his life long, indeed!--how long do you think he will live,
then?" began a tall, grey-bearded prisoner, squatting down beside poor
puss; "don't you see he's dying in the sun, his fur is all sticking to
him like glue; he'll turn up his toes soon...."

The kitten mewed spasmodically, producing a reaction in the sentiments
of the prisoners.

"Turn up his toes, eh?" said the hobbledehoy, "suppose we try to wash
it off him?"

Nobody answered him The little green lump writhed at the feet of the
rough fellows, a pitiable object of utter helplessness.

"Pooh! I'm all of a muck sweat!" screamed Zazubrina, flinging himself
on the ground. Nobody took the slightest notice of him.

The hobbledehoy bent over the kitten and took it up in his arms, but
immediately put it on the ground again. "It's all burning hot," he
explained.

Then he regarded his comrades, and sorrowfully said:

"Poor puss, look at him! We shall not have our puss much longer. What
was the use of killing the poor beast, eh?"

"Wait! I think it's picking up a bit," said the red-haired man.

The shapeless green creature was still writhing on the grass; twenty
pairs of eyes were following its movements, and there was not the
shadow of a smile in any of them. All were serious, all were silent,
all of them were as miserable to look upon as that kitten, just as if
it had communicated its suffering to them and they were feeling its
pangs.

"Pick up a bit, indeed!" laughed the hobbledehoy sardonically, raising
his voice, "very much so! Poor puss has had his day. We all loved him.
Why did we torture him so? Let someone put him out of his misery."

"And who was the cause of it all?" shrieked the red-haired prisoner
savagely. "Why there he is, with his devilish joke!"

"Come," said Zazubrina soothingly, "didn't the whole lot of you agree
to it?"

And he hugged himself as if he were cold.

"The whole lot of us, indeed!" sneered the hobbledehoy, "I like that.
You alone are to blame!--yes, you are!"

"Don't _you_ roar, pray, you bull-calf!" meekly suggested Zazubrina.

The grey-headed old man took up the kitten, and after carefully
examining it, pronounced his opinion:

"If we were to dip it in kerosene we might wash the paint off."

"If you'll take my advice you'll seize it by the tail and smash it
against the wall," said Zazubrina, adding, with a laugh, "that's the
simplest way out of it."

"What?" roared the red-haired man, "and if I were to treat you the same
way, how would _you_ like it?"

"The devil," screamed the hobbledehoy, and, snatching the kitten out of
the old man's hands, he set off running. The old man and a few of the
others went after him.

Then Zazubrina remained alone in the midst of a group of people, who
glowered upon him with evil and threatening eyes. They seemed to be
waiting for something from him.

"Remember, I am not alone, my friends," whined Zazubrina.

"Shut up!" shrieked the red-haired man, looking at the door; "not
alone! Who else is there, then?"

"Why the whole lot of you here," piped the jester nervously.

"You hound, you!"

The red-haired man shook his clenched fist in Zazubrina's very teeth.
The artist dodged back only to get a violent blow in the nape of the
neck.

"My friends ..." he implored piteously. But his friends had taken
note that the two warders were a good way off, and, thronging quickly
round their favourite, knocked him off his legs with a few blows. Seen
from a little distance the group might easily have been taken for a
party engaged in lively conversation. Surrounded and concealed by
them, Zazubrina lay there at their feet. Occasionally some dull thuds
were audible--they were kicking away at Zazubrina's ribs, kicking
deliberately, without the least hurry, each man waiting in turn for a
particularly favourable kicking spot to be revealed as his neighbour,
after planting his blow, wriggled his foot out of action.

Three minutes or so passed thus. Suddenly the voice of the warder
resounded in their ears:

"Now, you devils! what are you about there?"

The prisoners did not leave off the tormenting process immediately. One
by one they slowly tore themselves away from Zazubrina, and as each one
of them went away, he gave him a parting kick.

When they had all gone, he still remained lying on the ground. He
lay on his stomach, and his shoulders were all shivering--no doubt
he was weeping--and he kept on coughing and hawking. Presently, very
cautiously, as if fearing to fall to pieces, he slowly began to raise
himself from the ground, leaning heavily on his left arm, then bending
one leg beneath him, and whining like a sick dog, sat down on the
ground.

"You're pretending!" screeched the red-haired man in a threatening
voice. Then Zazubrina made an effort, and quickly stood on his feet.

Then he tottered to one of the walls of the prison. One arm was pressed
close to his breast, with the other he groped his way along. There he
now stood, holding on to the wall with his hand, his head hanging down
towards the ground. He coughed repeatedly.

I saw how dark drops were falling on to the ground; they also glistened
quite plainly on the grey ground of the prison wall.

And so as not to defile with his blood the official place of detention,
Zazubrina kept on doing his best to make it drip on the ground, so
that not a single drop should fall on the wall.

How they did laugh and jeer at him to be sure....

From henceforth the kitten vanished. And Zazubrina no longer had a
rival to divide with him the attention of the prisoners.



VI.--COMRADES.


I.

The burning sun of July shone blindingly down on Smolkena, Hooding
its old huts with liberal streams of bright sunshine. There was
a particularly large quantity of sunlight on the roof of the
Starosta's[1] hut, not so long ago re-roofed with smoothly-planed,
yellow, fragrant, boards. It was Sunday, and almost the whole
population of the village had come out into the street thickly grown
over with grass and spotted here and there with lumps of dry mud. In
front of the Starosta's house, a large group of men and women were
assembled; some were sitting on the mound of earth round the hut,
others were sitting on the bare ground, others were standing. The
little children were chasing each other in and out of the groups, to an
accompaniment of angry rebukes and slaps from the grown-ups.

[1] Chief of a village community.

The centre of this crowd was a tall man, with large drooping
moustaches. To judge from his cinnamon-brown face, covered with thick,
grey bristles, and a whole network of deep wrinkles--judging from the
grey tufts of hair forcing their way from under his dirty straw hat,
this man might have been fifty years of age. He was looking on the
ground, and the nostrils of his large and gristly nose were trembling,
and when he raised his head to cast a glance at the window of the
Starosta's house, his large, melancholy, almost sinister eyes became
visible: they were deep sunk in their orbits, and his thick brows cast
a shadow over their dark pupils. He was dressed in the brown shabby
under-coat of a lay-brother, scarcely covering his knees, and was girt
about with a cord. There was a satchel across his shoulder, in his
right hand he held a long stick with an iron ferrule, his left was
thrust into his bosom. Those around him regarded him suspiciously,
jeeringly, with contempt, and finally with an obvious joy that they
had succeeded in catching the wolf before he had done mischief to
the fold. He had come walking through the village, and, going to the
window of the Starosta, had asked for something to drink. The Starosta
had given him some _kvas,_[2] and entered into conversation with him.
But contrary to the habit of pilgrims, the wayfarer had answered
very unwillingly. Then the Starosta had asked him for his documents,
and there were no documents forthcoming. And they had detained the
wayfarer and had determined to send him to the local magistrate. The
Starosta had selected as his escort the village _Sotsky_[3] and was now
giving him directions in the hut, leaving the prisoner in the midst of
the mob.

[2] A sour popular Russian drink.

[3] The Starosta's deputy.

As if fixed to the trunk of a willow tree, there the prisoner stood,
leaning his bowed back against it. But now on the staircase of the hut
appeared a purblind old man with a foxy face and a grey, wedge-shaped
beard. Gradually his booted feet descended the staircase, step by step,
and his round stomach waggled solidly beneath his long shirt. From
behind his shoulder protruded the bearded, four-cornered face of the
_Sotsky._

"You understand then, my dear Efimushka?" inquired the Starosta of the
Sotsky.

"Certainly, why not? I understand thoroughly. That is to say, I, the
Sotsky of Smolkena, am bound to conduct this man to the district
magistrate--and that's all." The Sotsky pronounced his speech staccato,
and with comical dignity for the benefit of the public.

"And the papers?"

"The papers?--they are stored away safely in my breast-pocket."

"Well, that's all right," said the Starosta approvingly, at the same
time scratching his sides energetically.

"God be with you, then," he added.

"Well, my father, shall we stroll on, then?" said the Sotsky to the
prisoner.

"You might give us a conveyance," replied the prisoner to the
proposition of the Sotsky.

The Starosta smiled.

"A con-vey-ance, eh? Go along! Our brother the wayfarer here is used to
lounging about the fields and villages--and we've no horses to spare.
You must go on your own legs, that's all."

"It doesn't matter, let us go, my father!" said the Sotsky cheerfully.
"Surely you don't think it is too far for us? Twenty versts at
most, thank God! Come, let us go, 'twill be nothing. We shall do it
capitally, you and I. And when we get there you shall have a rest."

"In a cold cellar," explained the Starosta.

"Oh, that's nothing," the Sotsky hastened to say, "a man when he is
tired is not sorry to rest even in a dungeon. And then, too, a cold
cellar--it is cooling after a hot day--you'll be quite comfortable in
it."

The prisoner looked sourly at his escort--the latter smiled merrily and
frankly.

"Well, come along, honoured father! Good-bye, Vasil Gavriluich! Let's
be off!"

"God be with you, Efimushka. Be on your guard!"

"Be wide-awake!" suggested some young rustic out of the crowd to the
Sotsky.

"Do you think I'm a child, or what?" replied the Sotsky.

And off they went, sticking close to the huts in order to keep in
the strip of shadow. The man in the cassock went on in front, with
the slouching but rapid gait of an animal accustomed to roaming. The
Sotsky, with his good stout stick in his hand, walked behind him.

Efimushka was a little, undersized, muzhik, but strongly built, with
a broad, good-natured face framed in a rough, red straggling beard
beginning a little below his bright grey eyes. He always seemed to be
smiling at something, showing, as he did so, his healthy yellow teeth,
and wrinkling his nose as if he wanted to sneeze. He was clothed in
a long cloak, trussed up in the waist so as not to hamper his feet,
and-on his head was stuck a dark-green, brimless cap, drawn down over
his brows in front, and very much like the forage cap of his prisoner.

His fellow-traveller walked along without paying him the slightest
attention, just as if he were unconscious of his presence behind him.
They went along by the narrow country path, zigzagged through a billowy
sea of rye, and the shadows of the travellers glided along the golden
ears of corn.

The mane of a wood stood out blue against the horizon; to the left of
the travellers fields and fields extended to an endless distance, in
the midst of which lay villages like dark patches, and behind these
again lay fields and fields, dwindling away into a bluish mist.

To the right, from the midst of a group of willows, the spire of a
church, covered with lead, but not yet gilded over, pierced the blue
sky--it glistened so in the sun that it was painful to look upon. The
larks were singing in the sky, the cornflowers were smiling in the rye,
and it was hot--almost stifling. The dust flew up from beneath the feet
of the travellers.

Efimushka began to feel bored. Naturally a great talker, he could not
keep silent for long, and, clearing his throat, he suddenly burst forth
with two bars of a song in a falsetto voice.

"My voice can't quite manage the tune, burst it!" he said, "and I could
sing once upon a time. The Vishensky teacher used to say: 'Come along,
Efimushka,' and then we would sing together--a capital fellow he was
too!"

"Who was he?" growled the man in the cassock.

"The Vishensky teacher...."

"Did he belong to the Vishensky family?"

"Vishensky is the name of a village, my brother And the teacher's name
was Pavel Mikhaluich. A first-rate sort the man was. He died three
years ago.

"Young?"

"Not thirty."

"What did he die of?"

"Grief, I should say."

Efimushka's companion cast a furtive glance at him and smiled.

"It was like this, dear man. He taught and taught for seven years
at a stretch, and then he began to cough. He coughed and coughed
and he grew anxious. Now anxiety you know is often the beginning of
vodka-drinking. Now Father Aleyksyei did not love him, and when he
began to drink, Father Aleyksyei sent reports to town, and said this
and that, the teacher had taken to drink, it was becoming a scandal.
And in reply other papers came from the town, and they sent another
teacher-fellow too. He was lanky and bony, with a very big nose. Well,
Pavel Mikhaluich saw that things were going wrong. He grew worried and
ill.... They sent him straight from the schoolroom to the hospital, and
in five days he rendered up his soul to God.... That's all...."

For a time they went on in silence. The forest drew nearer and nearer
to the travellers at every step, growing up before their very eyes and
turning from blue to green.

"We are going to the forest, eh?" inquired the traveller of Efimushka.

"We shall hit the fringe of it, it is about a verst and a half distant
now. But, eh? what? You're a nice one, too, my worthy father, I have my
eye upon you!"

And Efimushka smiled and shook his head.

"What ails you?" inquired the prisoner.

"Nothing, nothing! Ah, ha! We are going to the forest, eh?" says he.
"You are a simpleton, my dear man. Another in your place would not have
asked that question, that is, if he had had more sense. Another would
have made straight for the forest, and then...."

"Well!"

"Oh, nothing, nothing. I can see through you, my brother. Your idea
is a thin reed in my eyes. No, you had better cast away that idea,
I tell you, so far as that forest is concerned. We must come to an
understanding, I see, you and I. Why, I would tackle three such as you,
and polish you off singly with my left hand.... Do you take me?"

"Take you? I take you for a fool!" said the prisoner curtly and
expressively.

"Ah, ha! I've guessed what you were up to, eh?" said Efimushka,
triumphantly.

"You scarecrow! What do you think you've guessed?" asked the prisoner
with a wry smile.

"Why, about the wood ... I understand ... I mean that when we came
to the wood you meant to knock me down--knock me down, I say--and bolt
across the fields or through the wood. Isn't that so?"

"You're a fool!"--and the enigmatic man shrugged his shoulders....
"Come now, where could I go?"

"Where? why where you liked, that was your affair."

"But where?" Efimushka's comrade was either angry or really wished to
hear from his escort where he might have been expected to go.

"I tell you, wherever you chose," Efimushka explained quietly.

"I have nowhere to run to, my brother, nowhere!" said his companion
calmly.

"Well, well!" exclaimed his escort, incredulously, and even waved his
hand. "There's always somewhere to run to. The earth is large. There is
always room for a man on it."

"But what do you mean? Do you really want me to run away, then?"
inquired the prisoner curiously, with a smile.

"Go along! You are really too good! Is that right now? You run away,
and instead of you someone else is put into gaol! I also should be
locked up. No, thank you. I've a word, to say to that."

"You are a blessed fool, you are ... but you seem a good sort of muzhik
too," said Efimushka's comrade with a sigh. Efimushka did not hesitate
to agree with him.

"Exactly, they do call me blessed sometimes, and it is also true that
I am a good muzhik. I am simple-minded, that's the chief cause of it.
Other folks get on by artfulness and cunning, but what is that to me? I
am a man all by myself in the world. Deal falsely--and you will die;
deal justly--and you will die all the same. So I always keep straight,
it is greater."

"You're a good fellow!" observed his companion indifferently.

"How! Why should I make my soul crooked when I stand here all alone.
I'm a free man, little brother. I live as I wish to live, I go through
life and am a law to myself.... Well, well!--But, say! what do they
call you?"

"What? Well--say Ivan Ivanov."

"So! Are you of a priestly stock or what?"

"No."

"Really? I thought you were of a priestly family."

"Because I am dressed like this, eh?"

"It's like this. You've all the appearance of a runaway monk or of an
unfrocked priest But then, your face does not correspond. By your face
I should take you for a soldier. God only knows what manner of man you
are"--and Efimushka cast an inquisitive look upon the pilgrim. The
latter sighed, readjusted his hat, wiped his sweating forehead, and
asked the Sotsky:

"Do you smoke?"

"Alas! crying your clemency! I do, indeed, smoke."

He drew from his bosom a greasy tobacco-pouch, and bowing his head, but
without stopping, began stuffing the tobacco into the clay pipe.

"There you are, then, smoke away!" The prisoner stopped, and bending
down to the match lighted by his escort, drew in his cheeks. A little
blue cloud rose into the air.

"Well, what may your people have been? City people, eh?"

"Gentry!" said the prisoner curtly, spitting aside at an ear of corn
already enveloped by the golden sunshine.

"Eh, eh! Very pretty! Then how do you come to be strolling about like
this without a passport?"

"It is my way!"

"Ah, ha! A likely tale! Your gentry do not usually live this wolf's
life, eh? You're a poor wretch, you are!"

"Very well--chatter away!" said the poor wretch drily.

Yet Efimushka continued to gaze at the passportless man with
ever-increasing curiosity and sympathy, and shaking his head
meditatively, continued:

"Ah, yes! How fate plays with a man if you come to think of it? Well,
it may be true for all that I know that you are a gentleman, for you
have such a majestic bearing. Have you lived long in this guise?"

The man with the majestic bearing looked grimly at Efimushka, and
waving him away as if he had been an importunate tuft of hair: "Shut
up!" said he, "you keep on like an old woman!"

"Oh, don't be angry!" cried Efimushka soothingly, "I speak from a pure
heart--my heart is very good."

"Then you're lucky. But your tongue gallops along without stopping, and
that is unlucky for me."

"All right! I will shut up, maybe--indeed, it would be easy to shut up
if only a man did not want to hear your conversation. And then, too,
you get angry without due cause. Is it my fault that you have taken up
the life of a vagabond?"

The prisoner stood still and clenched his teeth so hard that the sharp
corners of his cheek-bones projected, and his grey bristles stood
up like a hedgehog's. He measured Efimushka from head to foot with
screwed-up eyes, which blazed with wrath.

But before Efimushka had had time to observe this play of feature, he
had once more begun to measure the ground with broad strides.

A shade of distraught pensiveness lay across the face of the garrulous
Sotsky. He looked upwards, whence flowed the trills of the larks, and
whistled in concert between his teeth, beating time to his footsteps
with his stick as he marched along.

They drew nearer to the confines of the wood. There it stood, a dark,
immovable wall--not a sound came from it to greet the travellers. The
sun was already sinking, and its oblique rays coloured the tops of the
trees purple and gold. A breath of fragrant freshness came from the
trees, the gloom and the concentrated silence which filled the forest
gave birth to strange sensations.

When a forest stands before our eyes, dark and motionless, when it
is all plunged in mysterious silence, and every single tree seems to
be listening intently to something--then it seems to us as if the
whole forest were filled with some living thing which is only hiding
away for a time. And you wait expectantly for something immense and
incomprehensible to the human understanding to emerge the next moment,
and speak in a mighty voice concerning the great mysteries of nature
and creation.



II.


On arriving at the skirts of the wood Efimushka and his comrade
resolved to rest, and sat down on the grass round the trunk of a huge
oak. The prisoner slowly unloosed his knapsack from his shoulder, and
said to the Sotsky indifferently: "Would you like some bread?"

"Give me some, and I'll show you," said Efimushka, smiling.

And they began to munch their bread in silence. Efimushka ate slowly,
sighing to himself from time to time, and gazing about the fields to
the left of him; but his comrade, altogether absorbed in the process
of assimilation, ate quickly, and chewed noisily, with his eyes
fixed steadily on his morsel of bread. The fields were growing dark,
the ears of corn had already lost their golden colouring, and were
turning a rosy-yellow; ragged clouds were creeping up the sky from the
south-west, and their shadows fell upon the plain--fell and crept along
the corn towards the wood, where sat the two dusky human figures. And
from the trees also shadows descended upon the earth, and the breath
of these shadows wafted sorrow into the soul.

"Glory be to Thee, O Lord!" exclaimed Efimushka, gathering up the
crumbs of his piece of bread from the ground, and licking them off the
palm of his hand.... "The Lord hath fed us, no eye beheld us. And if
any eye hath seen, unoffended it hath been. Well, friend, shall we sit
here a little while? How about that cold dungeon of ours?"

The other shook his head.

"Well, this is a very nice place, and has many memories for me. Over
there used to be the mansion of Squire Tuchkov...."

"Where?" asked the prisoner quickly, turning in the direction indicated
by a wave of Efimushka's hand.

"Over there, behind that rising land. Everything around here belongs
to them They were the richest people hereabouts, but after the
emancipation they dwindled ... I also belonged to them once. All of us
hereabouts belonged to them It was a great family. The squire himself,
Aleksander Nikietich Tuchkov, was a colonel. There were children, too,
four sons; I wonder what has become of them all now? Really folks are
carried away like autumn leaves by the wind. Only one of them, Ivan
Aleksandrovich, is safe and sound--I am taking you to him now--he is
our district magistrate.... He is old already."

The prisoner laughed. It was a hollow, internal sort of laugh--his
bosom and his stomach were convulsed, but his face remained immovable,
and through his gnashing teeth came hollow sounds like sharp barks.

Efimushka shuddered painfully, and, moving his stick closer to his
hand, asked: "What ails you? Is anything the matter?"

"Nothing--or at any rate, it is all over now," said the prisoner,
spasmodically, but amicably--"but go on with your story."

"Well, that's how it is, you see--the Tuchkov Squires used to be
something here, and now there are none left.... Some of them died,
and some of them came to grief, and now never a word do you hear of
them--never a word. There was one in particular who used to be here ...
the youngest of the lot ... they called him Victor ... Vick.... He
and I were comrades. In the days when the emancipation was promulgated,
he and I were lads fourteen years old.... Ah, what a fine young chap he
was--the Lord be good to his dear little soul! A pure stream, if ever
there was one!--flashing along and gurgling merrily all day long. I
wonder where he is now? Alive or already no more?"

"Was he such a frightfully good fellow as all that?" inquired
Efimushka's fellow-traveller quietly.

"That he was!" exclaimed Efimushka, "handsome, with a head of his own,
and such a good heart! Ah, thou pilgrim man, good heart alive, he _was_
a ripe berry if you like! If only you--could have seen the pair of us
in those days! Aye, aye, aye! What games we did play! What a merry
life was ours!--raspberries la la[1]!--'Efimka!' he would cry, 'let
us go a hunting!' He had a gun of his own--his father gave it to him
on his name-day--and he let me carry it for him. And off we went to
the woods for a whole day, nay, for two, for three days! When we came
home--he had an imposition, and I had a whacking. Yet look you! the
next day he would say: 'Efimka! shall we go after mushrooms?' Thousands
of birds we killed together. And as for mushrooms--we gathered poods[2]
of them! And the butterflies and cockchafers he caught, and stuck them
on pins in little boxes! And he taught me my lessons too! 'Efimka,'
said he, 'I'll teach you.' And he went at it hammer and tongs. 'Come,
begin,' says he; 'say A,' and I roared 'A-a-a!' How we laughed. At
first I looked upon it as a joke. What does a boor want with reading
and writing? But he persuaded me. 'Come, you little fool,' says he,
'the emancipation was given to you that you might learn. You _must_
learn your letters in order to know how to live and where to seek for
justice.' Of course, children heard their parents speak like that in
those days, and began to talk the same way themselves.--It was all
nonsense, of course--true learning is in the heart, and it is the heart
that teaches the right way. So he taught me, you see! How he made
me stick to it! He gave me no rest, I can tell you. What torments!
'Vick,' I said, 'I can't learn my letters. It's not in me. I really
can't do it.' Oh, how he pitched into me. Sometimes he lambed it into
me with a whip--but teach me he would! 'Oh, be merciful,' I'd cry!
'Learn, then,' he would say! Once I ran away from him, regularly
bolted, and there was a to do. He searched for me all day with a
gun--he would have shot me. He said to me afterwards: 'If I had met you
that day,' said he, 'I should have shot you;' that's what he said! Ah,
he was so fierce! Fiery, unbending, a genuine master. He loved me, and
he had a soul of flame. Once my papa scored my back with the birch-rod,
and when Vick saw it he rushed off to our hut, and there was a scene,
my brother! He was all pale and trembling, clenched his fists, and
went after my father into his bedroom 'How dare you do it?' he asked.
Papa said: 'But I'm his father!' 'Father, eh? Very well, father! I
cannot cope with you single-handed, but your back shall be the same
as Efimka's.' He burst into tears after these words, and ran away.
And what do you say to this, my father--he was as good as his word.
Evidently he said something to the manor-house servants about it. For
one day my father came home groaning, and began to take off his shirt,
but it was sticking to his back! My father was very angry with me that
time. 'I've suffered all through you,' he said, 'you're a sneak, the
squire's sneak.' And he gave me a sound hiding. But he was wrong about
my being the squire's sneak I was never that, he might have let it
alone."

[1] Equivalent to "beer and skittles."

[2] A pood = 40 lb.

"No, you were never that, Efim!" said the prisoner with conviction,
and he trembled all over, "that's plain, you could not become a
lickspittle," he added hastily.

"Ah, he was a one!" exclaimed Efimushka, "and I loved him. Ah, Vick,
Vick! Such a talented lad, too. Everyone loved him, it was not only
I. He spoke several languages ... I don't remember what they were.
It's thirty years ago. Ah! Lord, Lord! Where is he now? Well, if he be
alive, he is either in high places ... or else he's in hot water. Life
is a strange distracting thing! It seethes and seethes, and makes a
pretty brew of the best of us! And folks, vanish away; it is pitiful,
to the last gasp it is pitiful!" Efimushka sighed heavily, and his head
sank upon his breast. For a moment there was silence.

"And are you sorry for _me_?" asked the prisoner merrily. There was no
doubt about his merry way of asking, his whole face was lit up by a
good and kindly smile.

"You're a rum 'un!" exclaimed Efimushka; "one cannot but pity you of
course! What are you, if you come to think of it? Wandering about as
you do, it is plain that you have nothing of your own in the earth--not
a corner, not a chip that you can call your own. Maybe, too, you carry
about with you some great sin--who knows what you are? In a word,
you're a miserable creature."

"So it is," answered the prisoner.

And again they were silent. The sun had already set, and the shadows
were growing thicker. In the air there was a fresh smell of earth and
flowers and sylvan humidity. For a long time they sat there in silence.

"However nice it may be to stay here we must still be going. We have
some eight versts before us. Come now, my father, let us be going!"

"Let us sit a little longer," begged "the father."

"Well, I don't care, I love to be about the woods at night myself. But
when shall we get to the district magistrate? He will blow me up, it is
late."

"Rubbish, he won't blow you up."

"I suppose you'll say a little word on our behalf, eh?" remarked the
Sotsky with a smile.

"I may."

"Oh--ai!"

"What do you mean?"

"You're a joker. He'll pepper you finely."

"Flog me, eh?"

"He's cruel! And quick to box one's ears, and at any rate you'll leave
him a little groggy on your pins."

"Well, well, we'll make it all right with him," said the prisoner
confidently, at the same time giving his escort a friendly tap on the
shoulder.

This familiarity did not please Efimushka. At any rate he, after all,
was the person in authority, and this blockhead ought not to have
forgotten that Efimushka carried his copper plaque of office on his
bosom. Efimushka rose to his feet, took up his stick, drew forth his
plaque, let it hang openly on the middle of his breast, and said,
severely:

"Stand up! Let's be off!"

"I'm not going," said the prisoner.

Efimushka was flabbergasted. Screwing up his eyes he was silent for a
moment, not understanding why this prisoner should suddenly have taken
to jesting.

"Come, don't make a pother, let's be going!" he said somewhat more
softly.

"I am not going," repeated the prisoner emphatically.

"Why not?" shrieked Efimushka, full of rage and amazement.

"Because I want to pass the night here with you. Come! let us light a
fire!"

"I let you pass the night here? I light a fire here by your side, eh? A
pretty thing, indeed!" growled Efimushka Yet at the bottom of his soul
he was amazed. The man had said: I won't go! but had shown no signs
of opposition, no disposition to quarrel, but simply lay down on the
ground and that was all. What was to be the end of it?

"Don't make a row, Efim!" advised the prisoner coolly.

Efimushka was again silent, and, shifting from leg to leg as he stood
over the prisoner, regarded him with wide-open eyes. And the latter
kept looking at him and looking at him and smiling. Efimushka fell a
pondering as to what he ought to be doing next.

And how was it that this vagabond, who had been so surly and sullen all
along, should all at once have become so gentle? Wouldn't it be as well
to fall upon him, twist his arms, give him a couple of whacks on the
neck, and so put an end to all this nonsense? And with as severely an
official tone as he could command, Efimushka said:

"Come, you rascal, stir your stumps! Get up, I say! And I tell you
this, I'll make you trot along then, never fear! Do you understand?
Very well! Look! I am about to strike."

"Strike _me?_" asked the prisoner with a smile.

"Yes, you; what are you thinking about, eh?"

"What! would you, Efimushka Gruizlov, strike me, Vic Tuchkov?"

"Alas! you are a little wide of the mark, you are," cried Efimushka in
astonishment; "but who are you, really? What sort of game is this?"

"Don't screech so, Efimushka! It is about time you recognised me, I
think," said the prisoner, smiling quietly and regaining his feet; "how
do you find yourself, eh?"

Efimushka bounded back from the hand extended to him, and gazed with
all his eyes at the face of his prisoner. Then his lips began to
tremble, and his whole face puckered up.

"Viktor Aleksandrovich--is it really and truly you?" he asked in a
whisper.

"If you like I'll show you my documents, or better still, I'll call to
mind old times. Let's see--don't you recollect how you fell into the
wolf's lair in the Ramensky fir-woods? Or how I climbed up that tree
after the nest, and hung head downwards for the fun of the thing? Or
how we stole the plums of that old Quaker woman Petrovna? And the tales
she used to tell us?"

Efimushka sat down on the ground heavily and laughed awkwardly.

"You believe me now, eh?" asked the prisoner, and he sat down alongside
of him, looked him in the face, and laid a hand upon his shoulder.
Efimushka was silent. It had grown absolutely dark around them. In the
forest a confused murmuring and whispering had arisen. Far away in the
thickest part of the wood the wail of a night-bird could be heard. A
cloud was passing over the wood with an almost perceptible motion.

"Well, Efim, art thou not glad to meet me? Or art thou so very glad
after all? Ah--holy soul! Thou hast remained the child thou wert wont
to be. Efim? _Say_ something, my dear old paragon!"

Efimushka cleared his throat violently.

"Well, my brother! Aye, aye, aye!" and the prisoner shook his head
reproachfully. "What's up, eh? Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Here
are you, in your fiftieth year, and yet you waste your time in this
wretched sort of business. Chuck it!"--and putting his arm round the
Sotsky's shoulder he lightly shook him. The Sotsky laughed, a tremulous
sort of laugh, and at last he spoke, without looking at his neighbour.

"What am I?... I'm glad, of course... And you to be like this? How can
I believe it? You and ... such a business as this! Vic--and in such a
plight! In a dungeon ... without passports ... living on crusts of
bread ... without tobacco ... Oh, Lord!... Is this a right state of
things? If I were like that for instance ... and you were even a Sotsky
... even that would be easier to bear! And now how will it end? How can
I look you in the face? I had always a joyful recollection of you ...
Vic ... as you may think ... Even then my heart ached. But now! Oh,
Lord! Why, if I were to tell people--they wouldn't believe it."

He murmured these broken phrases, gazing fixedly at his feet, and
clutching now his bosom and now his throat with one hand.

"There's no need to tell folks anything about it. And pray cease ... it
is not your fault, is it? Don't be disquieted about me ... I've got my
papers. I didn't show them to the Starosta because I didn't want to be
known about here. Brother Ivan won't put me in quod; on the contrary,
he will help to put me on my legs again ... I'll stay with him a bit,
and you and I shall go out hunting again, eh ... You see how well
things are turning out."

Vic said these words soothingly, in the tone used by grown-up people
when they would soothe spoilt children. The moon emerged from the
forest to meet the advancing cloud, and the edge of the cloud, silvered
by her rays, assumed a soft opal tint In the corn the quails were
calling; somewhere or other a land-rail rattled. The darkness of the
night was growing denser and denser.

"And this is all really true," began Efimushka softly; "Ivan
Aleksandrovich will be glad to see his own brother, and you, of course,
will begin your life again. And this is really so ... And we will go
hunting again ... Only 'tis not altogether as it was. I daresay you
have done some deeds in the course of your life. And it is--ah, what is
it?"

Vic Tuchkov laughed.

"Brother Efimushka, I have certainly done deeds in my life and to
spare ... I have run through my share of the property ... I have
not succeeded in the service, I have been an actor, I have been a
timber-trade clerk, after that I've had a troupe of actors of my own
... and after that I've gone quite to the dogs, have owed debts right
and left, got mixed up in a shady affair. Ah! I've been everything--and
lost everything."

The prisoner waved his hand and smiled good-humouredly.

"Brother Efimushka, I am no longer a gentleman. I am quite cured of
that. Now you and I will live together. Eh! what do you say?"

"Nothing at all," said Efimushka with a stifled voice; "I'm ashamed,
that's all. Here have I been saying to you all sorts of things ...
senseless words, and all sorts of rubbish. If it were a muzhik I could
understand it.... Well, shall we make a night of it here? I'll make a
fire."

"All right! make it!"

The prisoner stretched himself at full length on the ground, face
upwards, while the Sotsky disappeared into the skirt of the wood, from
whence speedily resounded the cracking of twigs and branches. Soon
Efimushka reappeared with an armful of firewood, and in a few moments
a fiery serpent was merrily creeping along a little hillock of dry
branches.

The old comrades gazed at it meditatively, sitting opposite each other,
and smoking their one pipe alternately.

"Just like it used to be," said Efimushka sadly.

"Only times are changed," said Tuchkov.

"Well, life is stronger than character. Lord, how she has broken you
down."

"It is still undecided which of the two will prevail--she or I,"
laughed Tuchkov.

For a time they were silent.

"Oh, Lord God! Vic! how lightly you take it all!" exclaimed Efimushka
bitterly.

"Certainly! Why not? What has been--is gone for ever!" observed Tuchkov
philosophically.

Behind them arose the dark wall of the softly whispering forest, the
bonfire crackled merrily; all around them the shadows danced their
noiseless dance, and over the plain lay impenetrable darkness.



VII.--HER LOVER.


An acquaintance of mine once told me the following story.

When I was a student at Moscow I happened to live alongside one of
those ladies who--you know what I mean. She was a Pole, and they
called her Teresa. She was a tallish, powerfully-built brunette, with
black, bushy eyebrows and a large coarse face as if carved out by a
hatchet--the bestial gleam of her dark eyes, her thick bass voice, her
cabman-like gait and her immense muscular vigour, worthy of a fishwife,
inspired me with horror. I lived on the top flight and her garret was
opposite to mine. I never left my door open when I knew her to be at
home But this, after all, was a very rare occurrence. Sometimes I
chanced to meet her on the staircase or in the yard, and she would
smile upon me with a smile which seemed to me to be sly and cynical.
Occasionally, I saw her drunk, with bleary eyes, touzled hair, and a
particularly hideous smile. On such occasions she would speak to me:

"How d'ye do, Mr. Student!" and her stupid laugh would still further
intensify my loathing of her. I should have liked to have changed my
quarters in order to have avoided such encounters and greetings; but my
little chamber was a nice one, and there was such a wide view from the
window, and it was always so quiet in the street below--so I endured.

And one morning I was sprawling on my couch, trying to find some sort
of excuse for not attending my class, when the door opened, and the
bass voice of Teresa the loathsome, resounded from my threshold:

"Good health to you, Mr. Student!"

"What do you want?" I said. I saw that her face was confused and
supplicatory.... It was a very unusual sort of face for her.

"Look ye, sir! I want to beg a favour of you. Will you grant it me?"

I lay there silent, and thought to myself:

"Gracious! An assault upon my virtue, neither more nor less.--Courage,
my boy!"

"I want to send a letter home, that's what it is," she said, her voice
was beseeching, soft, timid.

"Deuce take you!" I thought; but up I jumped, sat down at my table,
took a sheet of paper, and said:

"Come here, sit down, and dictate!"

She came, sat down very gingerly on a chair, and looked at me with a
guilty look.

"Well, to whom do you want to write?"

"To Boleslav Kashput, at the town of Svyeptsyana, on the Warsaw
Road...."

"Well, fire away!"

"My dear Bolés ... my darling ... my faithful lover. May the Mother of
God protect thee! Thou heart of gold, why hast thou not written for
such a long time to thy sorrowing little dove, Teresa?"

I very nearly burst out laughing. "A sorrowing little dove!" more than
five feet high, with fists a stone and more in weight, and as black a
face as if the little dove had lived all its life in a chimney, and had
never once washed itself! Restraining myself somehow, I asked:

"Who is this Bolest?"

"Bolés, Mr. Student," she said, as if offended with me for blundering
over the name, "he is Bolés--my young man."

"Young man!"

"Why are you so surprised, sir? Cannot I, a girl, have a young man?"

She? A girl? Well!

"Oh, why not?" I said, "all things are possible. And has he been your
young man long?"

"Six years."

"Oh, ho!" I thought. "Well, let us write your letter ..."

And I tell you plainly that I would willingly have changed places with
this Bolés if his fair correspondent had been not Teresa, but something
less than she.

"I thank you most heartily, sir, for your kind services," said Teresa
to me, with a curtsey. "Perhaps _I_ can show _you_ some service, eh?"

"No, I most humbly thank you all the same."

"Perhaps, sir, your shirts or your trousers may want a little mending?"

I felt that this mastodon in petticoats had made me grow quite red with
shame, and I told her pretty sharply that I had no need whatever of her
services.

She departed.

A week or two passed away. It was evening. I was sitting at my window
whistling and thinking of some expedient for enabling me to get away
from myself. I was bored, the weather was dirty. I didn't want to go
out, and out of sheer ennui I began a course of self-analysis and
reflection. This also was dull enough work, but I didn't care about
doing anything else. Then the door opened. Heaven be praised, someone
came in.

"Oh, Mr. Student, you have no pressing business, I hope?"

It was Teresa. Humph!

"No. What is it?"

"I was going to ask you, sir, to write me another letter."

"Very well! To Bolés, eh?"

"No, this time it is from him."

"Wha-at?"

"Stupid that I am! It is not for me, Mr. Student, I beg your pardon.
It is for a friend of mine, that is to say, not a friend but an
acquaintance--a man acquaintance. He has a sweetheart just like me
here, Teresa. That's how it is. Will you, sir, write a letter to this
Teresa?"

I looked at her--her face was troubled, her fingers were trembling. I
was a bit fogged at first--and then I guessed how it was.

"Look here, my lady," I said, "there are no Boleses or Teresas at all,
and you've been telling me a pack of lies. Don't you come sneaking
about me any longer. I have no wish whatever to cultivate your
acquaintance. Do you understand?"

And suddenly she grew strangely terrified and distraught; she began to
shift from foot to foot without moving from the place, and spluttered
comically, as if she wanted to say something and couldn't. I waited to
see what would come of all this, and I saw and felt that, apparently, I
had made a great mistake in suspecting her of wishing to draw me from
the path of righteousness. It was evidently something very different.

"Mr Student!" she began, and suddenly, waving her hand, she turned
abruptly towards the door and went out. I remained with a very
unpleasant feeling in my mind. I listened. Her door was flung violently
to--plainly the poor wench was very angry.... I thought it over,
and resolved to go to her, and, inviting her to come in here, write
everything she wanted.

I entered her apartment. I looked round. She was sitting at the table,
leaning on her elbows, with her head in her hands.

"Listen to me," I said.

Now, whenever I come to this point in my story, I always feel horribly
awkward and idiotic. Well, well!

"Listen to me," I said.

She leaped from her seat, came towards me with flashing eyes, and
laying her hands on my shoulders began to whisper, or rather to hum in
her peculiar bass voice:

"Look you, now! It's like this. There's no Bolés, at all, and there's
no Teresa either. But what's that to you? Is it a hard thing for you to
draw your pen over paper? Eh? Ah, and _you,_ too! Still such a little
fair-haired boy! There's nobody at all, neither Bolés, nor Teresa, only
me. There you have it, and much good may it do you!"

"Pardon me!" said I, altogether flabbergasted by such a reception,
"what is it all about? There's no, Bolés, you say?"

"No. So it is."

"And no Teresa either?"

"And no Teresa. I'm Teresa."

I didn't understand it at all. I fixed my eyes upon her, and tried to
make out which of us was taking leave of his or her senses. But she
went again to the table, searched about for something, came back to me,
and said in an offended tone:

"If it was so hard for you to write to Bolés, look, there's your
letter, take it! Others will write for me."

I looked. In her hand was my letter to Bolés. Phew!

"Listen, Teresa! What is the meaning of all this? Why must you get
others to write for you when I have already written it, and you haven't
sent it."

"Sent it where?"

"Why, to this--Bolés."

"There's no such person."

I absolutely did not understand it. There was nothing for me but to
spit and go. Then she explained.

"What is it?" she said, still offended. "There's no such person, I tell
you," and she extended her arms as if she herself did not understand
why there should be no such person. "But I wanted him to be.... Am I
then not a human creature like the rest of them? Yes, yes, I know, I
know, of course.... Yet no harm was done to anyone by my writing to him
that I can see...."

"Pardon me--to whom?"

"To Bolés, of course."

"But he doesn't exist."

"Alas! alas! But what if he doesn't? He doesn't exist, but he _might!_
I write to him, and it looks as if he did exist. And Teresa--that's me,
and he replies to me, and then I write to him again...."

I understood at last. And I felt so sick, so miserable, so ashamed,
somehow. Alongside of me, not three yards away, lived a human creature
who had nobody in the world to treat her kindly, affectionately, and
this human being had invented a friend for herself!

"Look, now! you wrote me a letter to Bolés, and I gave it to someone
else to read it to me; and when they read it to me I listened and
fancied that Bolés was there. And I asked you to write me a letter
from Bolés to Teresa--that is to me. When they write such a letter for
me, and read it to me, I feel quite sure that Bolés is there. And life
grows easier for me in consequence."

"Deuce take thee for a blockhead!" said I to myself when I heard this.

And from thenceforth, regularly, twice a week, I wrote a letter to
Bolés, and an answer from Bolés to Teresa. I wrote those answers
well.... She, of course, listened to them, and wept like anything,
roared, I should say, with her bass voice. And in return for my thus
moving her to tears by real letters from the imaginary Bolés, she began
to mend the holes I had in my socks, shirts, and other articles of
clothing. Subsequently, about three months after this history, began,
they put her in prison for something or other. No doubt by this time
she is dead.

My acquaintance shook the ash from his cigarette, looked pensively up
at the sky, and thus concluded:

Well, well, the more a human creature has tasted of better things the
more it hungers after the sweet things of life. And we, wrapped round
in the rags of our virtues, and regarding others through the mist of
our self-sufficiency, and persuaded of our universal impeccability, do
not understand this.

And the whole thing turns out pretty stupidly---and very cruelly. The
fallen classes, we say. And who are the fallen classes, I should like
to know? They are, first of all, people with the same bones, flesh, and
blood and nerves as ourselves. We have been told this day after day for
ages. And we actually listen--and the Devil only knows how hideous the
whole thing is. Or are we completely depraved by the loud sermonizing
of humanism? In reality, we also are fallen folks, and so far as I can
see, very deeply fallen into the abyss of self-sufficiency and the
conviction of our own superiority. But enough of this. It is all as
old as the hills--so old that it is a shame to speak of it Very old
indeed--yes, that's where it is!



VIII.--CHELKASH.


The blue southern sky was bedimmed by the dust rising from the haven;
the burning sun looked dully down into the greenish sea as if through a
thin grey veil. It could not reflect itself in the water, which indeed
was cut up by the strokes of oars and the furrows made by steam-screws
and the sharp keels of Turkish feluccas and other sailing vessels,
ploughing up in every direction the crowded harbour in which the free
billows of the sea were confined within fetters of granite and crushed
beneath the huge weights gliding over their crests, though they beat
against the sides of the ships, beat against the shore, beat themselves
into raging foam--foam begrimed by all sorts of floating rubbish.

The sound of the anchor chains, the clang of the couplings of the
trucks laden with heavy goods, the metallic wail of the iron plates
falling on the stone flagging, the dull thud of timber, the droning of
the carrier-wagons, the screaming of the sirens of the steamships, now
piercingly keen, now sinking to a dull roar, the cries of the porters,
sailors, and custom-house officers--all these sounds blended into the
deafening symphony of the laborious day, and vibrating restlessly,
remained stationary in the sky over the haven, as if fearing to mount
higher and disappear. And there ascended from the earth, continually,
fresh and ever fresh waves of sound--some dull and mysterious, and
these vibrated sullenly all around, others clangorous and piercing
which rent the dusty sultry air.

Granite, iron, the stone haven, the vessels and the people--everything
is uttering in mighty tones a madly passionate hymn to Mercury. But the
voices of the people, weak and overborne, are scarce audible therein.
And the people themselves to whom all this hubbub is primarily due,
are ridiculous and pitiful. Their little figures, dusty, strenuous,
wriggling into and out of sight, bent double beneath the burden of
heavy goods lying on their shoulders, beneath the burden of the labour
of dragging these loads hither and thither in clouds of dust, in a sea
of heat and racket--are so tiny and insignificant in comparison with
the iron colossi surrounding them, in comparison with the loads of
goods, the rumbling wagons, and all the other things which these same
little creatures have made! Their own handiwork has subjugated and
degraded them.

Standing by the quays, heavy giant steamships are now whistling, now
hissing, now deeply snorting, and in every sound given forth by them
there seems to be a note of ironical contempt for the grey, dusty
little figures of the people crowding about on the decks, and filling
the deep holds with the products of their slavish labour. Laughable
even to tears are the long strings of dockyard men, dragging after
them tens of thousands of pounds of bread and pitching them into the
iron bellies of the vessels in order to earn a few pounds of that very
same bread for their own stomachs--people, unfortunately, not made of
iron and feeling the pangs of hunger. These hustled, sweated crowds,
stupefied by weariness and by the racket and heat, and these powerful
machines, made by these selfsame people, basking, sleek and unruffled,
in the sunshine--machines which, in the first instance, are set in
motion not by steam, but by the muscles and blood of their makers--in
such a juxtaposition there was a whole epic of cold and cruel irony.

The din is overwhelming, the dust irritates the nostrils and blinds the
eyes, the heat burns and exhausts the body, and everything around--the
buildings, the people, the stone quays--seem to be on the stretch,
full-ripe, ready to burst, ready to lose all patience and explode in
some grandiose catastrophe, like a volcano, and thus one feels that
one would be able to breathe more easily and freely in the refreshened
air; one feels that then a stillness would reign upon the earth, and
this dusty din, benumbing and irritating the nerves to the verge of
melancholy mania, would vanish, and in the town, and on the sea, and
in the sky, everything would be calm, clear, and glorious. But it
only _seems_ so. One fancies it _must_ be so, because man has not yet
wearied of hoping for better things, and the wish to feel himself free
has not altogether died away within him.

Twelve measured and sonorous strokes of a bell resound. When the
last brazen note has died away the wild music of labour has already
diminished by at least a half. Another minute and it has passed into a
dull involuntary murmur. The voices of men and the splashing of the sea
have now become more audible. The dinner-hour has come.


I.

When the dock-hands, leaving off work, scatter along the haven in noisy
groups, buying something to eat from the costermonger women and sitting
down to their meal in the most shady corners of the macadamized quay,
amidst them appears Greg Chelkash, that old wolf of the pastures,
well-known to the people of the haven as a confirmed toper and a bold
and skilful thief. He is barefooted, in shabby old plush breeches,
hatless, with a dirty cotton shirt with a torn collar, exposing his
mobile, withered, knobbly legs in their cinnamon-brown case of skin.
It is plain from his touzled black, grey-streaked hair and his keen
wizened face that he has only just awoke. From one of his smutty
moustaches a wisp of straw sticks out, the fellow to it has lost itself
among the bristles of his recently shaved left cheek, and behind his
ear he has stuck a tiny linden twig just plucked from the tree. Lanky,
bony, and somewhat crooked, he slowly shambled along the stones, and
moving from side to side his hooked nose, which resembled the beak of a
bird of prey, he cast around him sharp glances, twinkling at the same
time his cold grey eyes as they searched for someone or other among the
dockyard men. His dirty brown moustaches, long and thick, twitched just
like a cat's whiskers, and his arms, folded behind his back, rubbed
one against the other, while the long, crooked, hook-like fingers
clutched at the air convulsively. Even here, in the midst of a hundred
such ragged striking tatter-demalions as he, he immediately attracted
attention by his resemblance to the vulture of the steppes, by his
bird-of-prey like haggardness, and that alert sort of gait, easy and
quiet in appearance, but inwardly the result of excited wariness, like
the flight of the bird of prey he called to mind.

When he came alongside one of the groups of ragged porters sprawling
in the shade beneath the shelter of the coal baskets, he suddenly
encountered a broad-shouldered little fellow with a stupid pimply face
and a neck scarred with scratches, evidently fresh from a sound and
quite recent drubbing. He got up and joined Chelkash, saying to him in
a subdued voice:

"Goods belonging to the fleet have been missed in two places. They are
searching for them still. Do you hear, Greg!"

"Well!" asked Chelkash quietly, calmly measuring his comrade from head
to foot.

"What do you mean by well? They're searching I say, that's all."

"Are they asking me to help them in their search then?"

And Chelkash, with a shrewd smile, glanced in the direction of the
lofty packhouse of the Volunteer Fleet.

"Go to the devil!"

His comrade turned back.

"Wait a bit! What are you so stuck-up about? Look how they've spoiled
the whole show! I don't see Mike here!"

"Haven't seen him for a long time," said the other, going back to his
companions.

Chelkash went on further, greeted by everyone like a man well-known.
And he, always merry with a biting repartee, to-day was evidently not
in a good humour, and gave abrupt and snappy answers.

At one point a custom-house officer, a dusty, dark-green man with the
upright carriage of a soldier, emerged from behind a pile of goods. He
barred Chelkash's way, standing in front of him with a challenging pose
and seizing with his left hand the handle of his dirk, tried to collar
Chelkash with his right.

"Halt! whither are you going?"

Chelkash took a step backwards, raised his eyes to the level of the
custom-house officer, and smiled drily.

The ruddy, good-humouredly-cunning face of the official tried to assume
a threatening look, puffing out its cheeks till they were round and
bloated, contracting its brows and goggling its eyes--and was supremely
ridiculous in consequence.

"You have been told that you are not to dare to enter the haven, or I'd
break your ribs for you. And here you are again!" cried the guardian of
the customs threateningly.

"Good day, Semenich! we have not seen each other for a long time,"
calmly replied Chelkash, stretching out his hand.

"I wish it had been a whole century. Be off! Be off!"

But Semenich pressed the extended hand all the same.

"What a thing to say!" continued Chelkash, still retaining in his
talon-like fingers the hand of Semenich, and shaking it in a friendly
familiar sort of way--"have you seen Mike by any chance?"

"Mike, Mike? whom do you mean? I don't know any Mike. Go away, my
friend! That packhouse officer is looking, he...."

"The red-haired chap, I mean, with whom I worked last time on board the
'Kostroma,'" persisted Chelkash.

"With whom you pilfered, you ought to say. They've carried your Mike
off to the hospital if you must know; he injured his leg with a bit of
iron. Go, my friend, while you are asked to go civilly; go, and I'll
soon saddle you with him again!"

"Ah! look there now! and you said you did not know Mike! Tell me now,
Semenich, why are you so angry?"

"Look here, Greg! none of your cheek! be off!"

The custom-house officer began to be angry, and glancing furtively
around him, tried to tear his hand out of the powerful hand of
Chelkash. Chelkash regarded him calmly from under his bushy brows,
smiled to himself, and not releasing his hand, continued to speak:

"Don't hurry me! I'll have my say with you and then I'll go. Now
tell me, how are you getting on?--you wife, your children, are they
well?"--and, twinkling his eyes maliciously and biting his lips, with a
mocking smile, he added: "I was going to pay you a visit, but I never
had the time--I was always on the booze...."

"Well, well, drop that!--none of your larks, you bony devil!--I'm
really your friend.... I suppose you're laying yourself out to nab
something under cover or in the streets?"

"Why so? Here and now I tell you a good time's coming for both you and
me, if only we lay hold of a bit In God's name, Semenich, lay hold!
Listen now, again in two places goods are missing! Look out now,
Semenich, and be very cautious lest you come upon them somehow!"

Utterly confused by the audacity of Chelkash, Semenich trembled all
over, spat freely about him, and tried to say something. Chelkash
let go his hand and calmly shuffled back to the dock gates with long
strides, the custom-house officer, cursing fiercely, moved after him.

Chelkash was now in a merry mood. He softly whistled through his teeth,
and burying his hands into his breeches' pockets, marched along with
the easy gait of a free man, distributing sundry jests and repartees
right and left. And the people he left behind paid him out in his own
coin as he passed by.

"Hello, Chelkash! how well the authorities mount guard over you!"
howled someone from among the group of dock-workers who had already
dined and were resting at full length on the ground.

"I'm barefooted you see, so Semenich follows behind so as not to tread
upon my toes--he might hurt me and lay me up for a bit," replied
Chelkash.

They reached the gates, two soldiers searched Chelkash and hustled him
gently into the street.

"Don't let him go!" bawled Semenich, stopping at the dockyard gate.

Chelkash crossed the road and sat down on a post opposite the door of a
pot-house. Out of the dockyard gates, lowing as they went, proceeded an
endless string of laden oxen, meeting the returning teams of unladen
oxen with their drivers mounted upon them. The haven vomited forth
thunderous noise and stinging dust, and the ground trembled.

Inured to this frantic hurly-burly, Chelkash, stimulated by the scene
with Semenich, felt in the best of spirits. Before him smiled a solid
piece of work, demanding not very much labour but a good deal of
cunning. He was convinced that he would be equal to it, and blinking
his eyes, fell thinking how he would lord it to-morrow morning, when
the whole thing would have been managed and the bank-notes would be in
his pocket. Then he called to mind his comrade Mike, who would have
just done for this night's job if he had not broken his leg. Chelkash
cursed inwardly that, without Mike's help, it would be a pretty
stiffish job for him alone. What sort of a night was it going to be? He
looked up at the sky and then all down the street....

Six paces away from him on the macadamized pavement, with his back
against a post, sat a young lad in a blue striped shirt, hose to match,
with bast shoes and a ragged red forage cap. Near him lay a small
knapsack and a scythe without a handle wrapped up in straw carefully
wound round with cord. The lad was broad-shouldered, sturdy, and
fair-haired, with a tanned and weather-beaten face, and with large blue
eyes gazing at Chelkash confidingly and good-naturedly....

Chelkash ground his teeth, protruded his tongue, and making a
frightful grimace, set himself to gaze fixedly at the youth with
goggling eyes.

The youth, doubtful, at first, what to make of it, blinked a good deal,
but suddenly bursting into a fit of laughter, screamed in the midst
of his laughter: "Ah, what a character!" and scarce rising from the
ground, rolled clumsily from his own to Chelkash's post, dragging his
knapsack along through the dust and striking the blade of the scythe
against a stone.

"What, brother, enjoying yourself, eh? Good health to you!" said he to
Chelkash, plucking his trouser.

"There's a job on hand, my sucking pig, and such a job!" confessed
Chelkash openly. He liked the look of this wholesome, good-natured lad
with the childish blue eyes. "Been a mowing, eh?"

"Pretty mowing! Mow a furlong and earn a farthing! Bad business that!
The very hungriest come crowding in, and they lower wages though they
don't gain any. They pay six griveniki[1] in the Kuban here--a pretty
wage! Formerly they paid, people say, three silver roubles, four, nay
five!"

[1] A grivenik is a 10 kopeck piece = 1/10th of a silver rouble. A
silver rouble = 2s.

"Formerly!--Ah, formerly, at the mere sight of a Russian man they paid
up splendidly there. I worked at the same job myself ten years ago. You
went up to the cossack station--here am I, a Russian! you said, and
immediately they looked at you, felt you, marvelled at you, and--three
roubles down into your palm straightway! Those were the days for eating
and drinking. And you lived pretty much as you liked."

The lad listened to Chelkash at first with wide-open mouth, with
puzzled rapture writ large on his rotund physiognomy; but, presently,
understanding that this ragamuffin was joking, he closed his lips with
a snap and laughed aloud. Chelkash preserved a serious countenance,
concealing his smile in his moustaches.

"Rum card that you are! you spoke as if it were true, and I listened
and believed you. Now, God knows, formerly...."

"But I count for something, don't I? I tell you that formerly...."

"Go along!" said the lad, waving his hand. "I suppose you're a
cobbler?--or are you a tailor? _What_ are you?"

"What am I?" repeated Chelkash, reflecting a little--"I'm a fisherman!"
he said at last.

"A fisherman! really?--you really catch fish?"

"Why fish? The fishermen here don't only catch fish. There's
more than that. There are drowned corpses, old anchors, sunken
ships--everything! There are hooks for fishing up all sorts...."

"Nonsense, nonsense! I suppose you mean the sort of fishermen who sang
of themselves:

    "'Our nets we cast forth abroad
      On the river bank so high,
      And in storehouse and grain loft so high....'"

"And you have seen such like, eh?" inquired Chelkash, looking at him
with a smile and thinking to himself that this fine young chap was
really very stupid.

"No, where could I see them? But I've heard of them...."

"Like the life, eh?"

"Like their life? Well, how shall I put it?--they are not bothered with
kids ... they live as they like ... they are free...."

"What do you know about freedom? Do you love it?"

"Why of course. To be your own master ... to go where you like ... to
do what you like. Still more, if you know how to keep straight, and
have no stone about your neck ... then it's splendid! You may enjoy
yourself as you like, if only you don't forget God...."

Chelkash spat contemptuously, ceased from questioning, and turned away
from the youth.

"I'll tell you my story," said the other with a sudden burst of
confidence. "When my father died he left but little, my mother was old,
the land was all ploughed to death, what was I to do? Live I must--but
how? I didn't know. I went to my wife's relations--a good house. Very
well! 'Will you give your daughter her portion?' But no, my devil of a
father-in-law would not shell out I was worrying him a long time about
it--a whole year. What a business it was! And if I had had a hundred
and fifty roubles in hand I could have paid off the Jew Antipas and
stood on my legs again. 'Will you give Marfa her portion?' I said.
'No? Very well! Thank God she is not the only girl in the village.' I
wanted to let him know that I would be my own master and quite free.
Heigh-ho!" And the young fellow sighed. "And now there is nothing for
it but to go to my relations after all. I had thought: look now! I'll
go to the Kuban District. I'll scrape together two hundred roubles--and
then I shall be a gentleman at large. But it was only so-so! It all
ended in smoke. Now you'll have to go back to your relations, I said to
myself ... as a day-labourer. I'm not fit to be my own master--no, I'm
quite unfit. Alas! Alas!'"

The young fellow had a violent disinclination to go to his relatives.
Even his cheerful face grew dark and made itself miserable. He shifted
heavily about on the ground, and drew Chelkash out of the reverie in
which he had plunged while the other was talking.

Chelkash also began to feel that the conversation was boring him, yet,
for all that, he asked a few more questions:

"And now where are you going?"

"Where am I going? Why, home of course."

"My friend, it is not 'of course' to me. You might be going to kick up
your heels in Turkey for ought I know."

"In Tur-tur-key?" stammered the youth. "Who of all the Orthodox would
think of going there? What do you mean?"

"I mean that you're a fool!" sighed Chelkash, and again he turned
away from the speaker, and this time he felt an utter disinclination
to waste another word upon him. There was something in this healthy
country lad which revolted him.

A troublesome, slowly ripening irritating feeling was stirring
somewhere deep within him, and prevented him from concentrating his
attention and meditating on all that had to be done that night.

The snubbed young rustic kept murmuring to himself in a low voice, now
and then glancing furtively at the vagabond. His cheeks were absurdly
chubby, his lips were parted, and his lackadaisical eyes blinked
ridiculously and preposterously often. Evidently he had never expected
that his conversation with this moustached ragamuffin would have been
terminated so quickly and so offensively.

The ragamuffin no longer paid him the slightest attention. He was
whistling reflectively as he sat on the post and beating time with his
naked dirty paw.

The rustic wanted to be quits with him.

"I say, fisherman, do you often get drunk?"--he was beginning, when
the same instant the fisherman turned round quickly face to face with
him and asked:

"Hark ye, babby! Will you work with me to-night? Come!--yes or no?"

"Work at what?" inquired the rustic suspiciously.

"At whatever work I give you. We'll go a fishing. You'll have to
row...."

"Oh!... All right!... No matter. I can work. Only don't let me in for
something ... You're so frightfully double-tongued ... you're a dark
horse...."

Chelkash began to feel something of the nature of a gangrened wound in
his breast, and murmured with cold maliciousness:

"No blabbing, whatever you may think. Look now, I've a good mind to
knock your blockhead about till I drive some light into it."

He leaped from his post, and while his left hand still twirled his
moustache, he clenched his right into a muscular fist as hard as iron,
while his eyes flashed and sparkled.

The rustic was terrified. He quickly looked about him, and timidly
blinking his eyes, also leapt from the ground. They both stood there
regarding each other in silence.

"Well?" inquired Chelkash sullenly, he was boiling over and tremulous
at the insult received from this young bull-calf, whom during the
whole course of their conversation he had despised, but whom he now
thoroughly hated because he had such clear blue eyes, such a healthy
sun-burnt face, such short strong arms. He hated him, moreover,
because, somewhere or other, he had his native village, and a house in
it, and because he numbered among his relatives a well-to-do peasant
farmer; he hated him for all his past life and all his life to come,
and, more than all this, he hated him because this creature, a mere
child in comparison with himself, Chelkash, dared to love freedom,
whose value he knew not, and which was quite unnecessary to him. It is
always unpleasant to see a man whom you regard as worse and lower than
yourself, love or hate the same thing as you do, and thus become like
unto yourself.

The rustic looked at Chelkash, and felt that in him he had found his
master.

"Well ..." he began, "I have nothing to say against it. I am glad, in
fact.... You see I am out of work. It is all one to me whom I work
for, for you or another. I only mean to say that you don't look like a
working man ... you're so terribly ragged, you know. Well, I know that
may happen to us all. Lord! the topers I've seen in my time! No end to
'em! But I've never seen any like you."

"All right, all right! It is agreed then, eh?" asked Chelkash. His
voice was now a little softer.

"With pleasure, so far as I am concerned. What's the pay?"

"I pay according to the amount of work done, and according to the kind
of work too. It depends upon the haul. You might get a fifth part--what
do you say to that?"

But now it was a matter of money, and therefore the peasant must needs
be exact and demand the same exactness from his employer. The rustic
had a fresh access of uncertainty and suspicion.

"Nay, brother, 'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush----'"

Chelkash fell in with his humour.

"No more gabble! Wait! come to the pub!"

And they walked along the street side by side, Chelkash twisting his
moustaches with the impudent air of a master, the rustic with the
expression of a complete readiness to buckle under, yet at the same
time full of uneasiness and suspicion.

"What do they call you?" inquired Chelkash.

"Gabriel," replied the rustic.

When they came to the filthy and smoke-black inn, Chelkash, going up to
the buffet with the familiar tone of an old habitué, ordered a bottle
of vodka, cabbage-soup, a roasted joint, tea; and totting up the amount
of the items, curtly remarked to the barmaid: "All to my account,
eh?" whereupon the barmaid nodded her head in silence. And Gabriel
was suddenly filled with a profound respect for his master, who,
notwithstanding his hang-dog look, enjoyed such notoriety and credit.

"Well, now we can peck a bit, and have a talk comfortably. You sit
here. I'll be back directly."

Out he went. Gabriel looked about him. The inn was on the ground-floor,
it was damp and dark, and full of the stifling odour of distilled
vodka, tobacco smoke, tar, and a something else of a pungent quality.
Opposite Gabriel, at another table, sat a drunken man in sailor's
costume, with a red beard, all covered with coal dust and tar. He was
growling, in the midst of momentary hiccoughs, a song, or rather the
fragmentary and inconsecutive words of a song, his voice now rising to
a frightful bellow, now sinking to a throaty gurgle. He was obviously
not a Russian.

Behind him sat two young Moldavian girls, ragged, dark-haired,
sun-burnt, also screeching some sort of a song with tipsy voices.

Further back other figures projected from the surrounding gloom, all of
them strangely unkempt, half-drunk, noisy, and restless....

Gabriel felt uncomfortable sitting there all alone. He wished his
master would return sooner. The din of the eating-house blended into a
single note, and it seemed to him like the roar of some huge animal.
It possessed a hundred different sorts of voices, and was blindly,
irritably, soaring away out of this stony prison, as if it wanted
to find an outlet for its will and could not.... Gabriel felt as
if something bemused and oppressive was sucking away in his body,
something which made his head swim, and made his eyes grow dim as they
wandered, curious and terrified, about the eating-house.

Chelkash now arrived, and they began to eat and drink and converse
at the same time. At the third rummer Gabriel got drunk. He felt
merry, and wanted to say something pleasant to his host who--glorious
youth!--though nothing to look at, was so tastefully entertaining him.
But the words, whole waves of them, pouring into his very throat, for
some reason or other wouldn't leave his tongue, which had suddenly
grown quite cumbersome.

Chelkash looked at him, and said with a derisive smile: "Why, you're
drunk already! What a milksop! And only the fifth glass too! How will
you manage to work?"

"My friend," lisped Gabriel, "never fear, I respect you--there you are
Let me kiss you. Ah!"

"Well, well--come, chink glasses once more."

Gabriel went on drinking, and arrived at last at that stage when to his
eyes everything began to vibrate with a regular spontaneous motion of
its own. This was very disagreeable, and made him feel unwell. His face
assumed a foolishly-ecstatic expression. He tried to say something,
but only made a ridiculous noise with his lips and bellowed. Chelkash
continued to gaze fixedly at him as if he was trying to recollect
something, and twirled his moustaches, smiling all the time, but now
his smile was grim and evil.

The eating-house was a babel of drunken voices. The red-haired sailor
had gone to sleep with his elbows resting on the table.

"Come now, let us go," said Chelkash, standing up.

Gabriel tried to rise, but could not, and cursing, loudly, began to
laugh the senseless laugh of the drunkard.

"He'll have to be carried," said Chelkash, sitting down again on the
chair opposite his comrade.

Gabriel kept on laughing, and looked at his host with lack-lustre eyes.
And the latter regarded him fixedly, keenly, and meditatively. He saw
before him a man whose life had fallen into his vulpine paws. Chelkash
felt that he could twist him round his little finger. He could break
him in pieces like a bit of cardboard, or he could make a substantial
peasant of him as solid as a picture in its frame. Feeling himself the
other man's master, he hugged himself with delight, and reflected that
this rustic had never emptied so many glasses as Fate had permitted
him, Chelkash, to do. And he had a sort of indignant pity for this
young life; he despised and even felt anxious about it, lest it should
fall at some other time into such hands as his. And finally, all
Chelkash's feelings blended together into one single sentiment--into
something paternal and hospitable. He was sorry for the youth, and
the youth was necessary to him. Then Chelkash took Gabriel under the
armpits, and urging him lightly forward from behind with his knee, led
him out of the door of the tavern, where he placed him on the ground
in the shadow of a pile of wood, and himself sat down beside him and
smoked his pipe. Gabriel rolled about for a bit, bellowed drunkenly,
and dozed off.



II.


"Well now, are you ready?" inquired Chelkash in a low voice of Gabriel,
who was fumbling about with the oars.

"Wait a moment. The row-locks are all waggly. Can I ship oars for a
bit?"

"No, no! Don't make a noise! Press down more firmly with your hands,
and they'll fall into place of their own accord."

The pair of them were quietly making off with the skiff attached to the
stern of one of a whole flotilla of sailing barques laden with batten
rivets and large Turkish feluccas half unloaded and still half-filled
with palm, sandal, and thick cypress-wood logs.

The night was dark, across the sky dense layers of ragged cloud were
flitting, and the water was still, dark, and as thick as oil. It
exhaled a moist, saline aroma, and murmured caressingly as it splashed
against the sides of the ships and against the shore, and rocked the
skiff of Chelkash to and fro. Stretching a long distance seawards from
the shore, rose the dark hulls of many vessels, piercing the sky with
their sharp masts which had variegated lanterns in their tops. The sea
reflected the lights of these lanterns, and was covered with a mass of
yellow patches. They twinkled prettily on its soft, faint-black, velvet
bosom, heaving so calmly, so powerfully. The sea was sleeping the sleep
of a strong and healthy labourer wearied to death by the day's work.

"Let's be off," said Gabriel, thrusting the oar into the water.

"Go!" Chelkash, with a powerful thrust of his hand, thrust the skiff
right into the strip of water behind the barques. The skiff flew
swiftly through the smooth water, and the water, beneath the stroke of
the oars, burned with a bluish, phosphorescent radiance. A long ribbon
of this radiance, faintly gleaming, tapered away from the keel of the
skiff.

"Well, how's the head? Aching, eh?" inquired Chelkash jocosely.

"Frightfully. It hums like molten iron. I'll wash it with water
presently."

"Why? What you want is something to go inside. Take a pull at
that--that will soon put you all right," and he handed Gabriel a flask.

"Oh-ho! Lord bless you!"

A gentle gurgle was audible.

"How now? Feel glad, eh? Stop, that'll do!"

The skiff sped on again, lightly and noiselessly, turning and winding
among the vessels. Suddenly it wrenched itself free from them, and
the sea--the endless, mighty, glistening; sea--lay extended before
them, receding into the blue distance, whence there arose out of its
waters mountains of cloud of a dark lilac-blue, with yellowish downy
fringes at the corners, and greenish clouds the colour of sea water,
and those melancholy leaden clouds which cast abroad such heavy,
oppressive shadows, crushing down mind and spirit. They crept so
slowly away from one another, and now blending with, now pursuing one
another, intermingled their shapes and colours, swallowing each other
up and re-emerging in fresh shapes, magnificent and menacing.... And
there was something mysterious in the gradual motion of these lifeless
masses. There seemed to be an infinite host of them at the verge of the
sea-shore, and it seemed as if they must always creep indifferently
over the face of Heaven, with the sullen, evil aim of obliterating
it, and never allowing it to shine down again upon the sleeping sea
with its millions of golden eyes, the many-coloured living stars that
sparkle so dreamily, awakening lofty desires in those to whom their
pure and holy radiance is so precious.

"The sea's good, ain't it?" inquired Chelkash.

"Rubbish! it's horrible to me," replied Gabriel, as his oars struck
the water vigorously and symmetrically. The water plashed and gurgled
with a scarcely audible sound beneath the strokes of the long
oars--splashing and splashing, and sparkling with its warm blue
phosphorescent light.

"Horrible! do you say? Ugh, you fool!" exclaimed Chelkash
contemptuously.

He, thief and cynic, loved the sea. His excitable, nervous nature,
greedy of new impressions, was never tired of contemplating that dark
expanse, limitless, free, and mighty. And it offended him to receive
such an answer to his question as to the loveliness of the thing he
loved. Sitting in the stern, he cut the water with his oar, and looked
calmly in front of him, full of the desire to go long and far in that
velvety smoothness.

On the sea there always arose within him a broad, warm feeling
embracing his whole soul, and, for a time, purifying him from the filth
of earthly life. This feeling he prized, and he loved to see himself
better there, in the midst of the water and the air, where thoughts of
life and life itself always lost first their keenness and then their
value. At night on the sea can be heard the soft murmur of the sea's
slumberous breathing, that incomprehensible sound which pours peace
into the soul of man, and caressingly taming his evil impulses, awakes
within him mighty musings....

"But where's the tackle, eh?" inquired Gabriel suddenly, looking
uneasily about the boat.

Chelkash started violently.

"The tackle?--It is with me in the stern of the boat."

"What sort of tackle is that?" Gabriel again inquired, this time with
suspicion in his voice.

"What tackle? Why, ground tackle and----"

But Chelkash felt ashamed to lie to this youngster while concealing
his real project, and he regretted the thoughts and feelings which the
question of this rustic had suddenly annihilated. He grew angry. A
familiar, sharp, burning sensation in his breast and throat convulsed
him, and he said to Gabriel with suppressed fury:

"Mind your own business, and don't thrust your nose into other folk's
affairs. You are hired to row--so row. If your tongue wags again it
will be the worse for you. Do you understand?"

For a moment the skiff rocked to and fro, and stood still. The oars
remained in the water feathering it, and Gabriel moved uneasily on his
bench.

"Row!"

Violent abuse shook the air. Gabriel grasped the oars. The skiff, as
if terrified, fared along with quick, nervous jolts, noisily cutting
through the water.

"Steadier!"

Chelkash rose a little from his seat in the stern, without letting go
his oar, and fixed his cold eyes on the pale face and trembling lips of
Gabriel. Bending forward with arched back he resembled a cat about to
spring. Perfectly audible was the savage grinding of his teeth, and
also a timorous clattering as if of bones.

"Who calls?" resounded a surly shout from the sea.

"Devil take it!--row, can't you? Quiet with the oars! I'll kill you,
you hound! Row, I say! One, two! You dare to whisper, that's all!"
whispered Chelkash.

"Mother of God! Holy Virgin!" whispered Gabriel, trembling and helpless
with terror and over-exertion.

The skiff turned and went lightly back towards the haven, where the
lights of the lanterns were jogging together in a parti-coloured group,
and the shafts of the masts were visible.

"Hie! who was making that row?" the voice sounded again. This time it
was further off than before. Chelkash felt easier.

"You're making all the row yourself, my friend!" he cried in the
direction of the voice, and then he turned again to Gabriel, who was
still muttering a prayer: "Well, my friend, you're in luck! If those
devils had come after us there would have been an end of you! Do you
hear? I'd have thrown you to the fishes in a twinkling!"

Now when Chelkash spoke calmly, and even good-naturedly, Gabriel
trembled still more with terror and fell to beseeching.

"Listen! Let me go! For Christ's sake let me go! Land me somewhere--oh,
oh, oh! I'm ruined altogether. Now, in the name of God, let me go!
What am I to you? I'm not up to it. I'm not used to such things. It's
the very first time. Oh, Lord! It's all up with me! How could you so
deceive me, my friend? It is wilful of you. You have lost your soul. A
pretty business."

"What business do you mean?" asked Chelkash surlily. "Ha! What
business, eh?"

He was amused at the terror of the rustic, and he took a delight
in Gabriel's terror, because it showed what a terrible fellow he,
Chelkash, was.

"A dark business, my friend! Let me go, for God's sake. What harm have
I done you?... Mercy...!"

"Silence! If you were of no use to me I would not have taken you. Do
you understand?--And now be quiet!"

"Oh, Lord!" sighed the sobbing Gabriel.

"Come, come! Don't blubber!" Chelkash rounded on him sternly.

But Gabriel could no longer restrain himself, and sobbing softly,
wept and snivelled and fidgeted on his seat, but rowed vigorously,
desperately. The skiff sped along like a dart. Again the dark hulls of
big vessels stood in their way, and the skiff lost itself among them,
turning like a top in the narrow streaks of water between the vessels.

"Hie you! Listen! If anyone asks you anything, hold your tongue, if you
want to remain alive! Do you understand?"

"Woe is me!" sighed Gabriel hopelessly in reply to the stern command,
adding bitterly: "My accursed luck!"

"Now row!" said Chelkash in an intense curdling whisper.

At this whisper Gabriel lost all capacity for forming any ideas
whatsoever, and became more dead than alive, benumbed by a cold
presentiment of coming evil. He mechanically lowered his oars into the
water, leaned back his uttermost, took a long pull, and set steadily to
work again, gazing stolidly all the time at his bast shoes.

The sleepy murmur of the waves had now a sullen sound and became
terrible. They were in the haven.... Behind its granite wall could
be heard people's voices, the splashing of water, singing, and
high-pitched whistling.

"Stop!" whispered Chelkash. "Ship oars! cling close to the wall! Hush,
you devil!"

Gabriel, grasping the slippery stones with his hands, drew the skiff
up alongside the wall. The skiff moved without any grating, its keel
gliding noiselessly over the slimy seaweed growing on the stones.

"Stop! Give me the oars! Give them here! Where's your passport? In your
knapsack? Hand over the knapsack! Come, look sharp! It will be a good
hostage for your not bolting! You'll not bolt now, I know! Without
the oars you might bolt somewhere, but without the passport you'd be
afraid to. Wait, and look here, if you whine--to the bottom of the sea
you go!"

And suddenly clinging to something with his hands, Chelkash rose in the
air and disappeared over the wall.

Gabriel trembled.... It was done so smartly. He began to feel the
cursed oppression and terror which he felt in the presence of that
evil moustached thief, rolling, creeping off him. Now was the time
to run!... With a sigh of relief he looked about him. To the left of
him rose a black mastless hull, a sort of immense tomb, unpeopled and
desolate. Every stroke of the billows against its side awoke within
it a hollow, hollow echo, like a heavy sigh. To the right of him on
the water, stretching right away, was the grey stony wall of the mole,
like a cold and massive serpent. Behind, some black bodies were also
visible, and in front, in the opening between the wall and the hull
of the floating tomb, the sea was visible, dumb and dreary with black
clouds all over it. Huge and heavy, they were moving slowly along,
drawing their horror from the gloom and ready to stifle man beneath
their heaviness. Everything was cold, black, and of evil omen. Gabriel
felt terrified. This terror was worse than the terror inspired by
Chelkash, it grasped the bosom of Gabriel in a strong embrace, made him
collapse into a timid lump, and nailed him to the bench of the skiff.

And around him all was silent, not a sound save the sighing of the
sea, and it seemed as if this silence were broken upon by something
terrible, something insanely loud, by something which shook the sea
to its very foundation, tore asunder the heavy flocks of clouds in
the sky, and scattered over the wilderness of the sea all those
heavy vessels. The clouds crept along the sky just as gradually and
wearyingly as before; but more and more of them kept rising from the
sea, and, looking at the sky, one might fancy that it also was a
sea, but a sea in insurrection against and falling upon the other so
slumberous, peaceful, and smooth. The clouds resembled billows pouring
upon the earth with grey inwardly-curling crests; they resembled an
abyss, from which these billows were torn forth by the wind; they
resembled new-born breakers still covered with greenish foam of rage
and frenzy.

Gabriel felt himself overwhelmed by this murky silence and beauty;
he felt that he would like to see his master again soon. Why was he
staying away there? The time passed slowly, more slowly even than
the clouds crawling across the sky.... And the silence as time went
on became more and more ominous. But now from behind the wall of the
mole a splashing, a rustling, and something like a whispering became
audible. It seemed to Gabriel as if he must die on the spot.

"Hie! Are you asleep? Catch hold!" sounded the hollow voice of Chelkash
cautiously.

Something round and heavy was let down from the wall, Gabriel hauled
it into the boat. Another similar thing was let down. Then across the
wall stretched the long lean figure of Chelkash, then from somewhither
appeared the oars, Gabriel's knapsack plumped down at his feet, and
heavily breathing Chelkash was sitting in the stern.

Gabriel looked at him and smiled joyfully and timidly.

"Tired?" he asked.

"A bit, you calf! Come, take the oars and put your whole heart into it.
A bit of work will do you no harm, my friend. The work's half done, now
we've only got to swim a bit under their very noses, and then you shall
have your money and go to your Polly. You have a Polly, haven't you?
Eh, baby?"

Gabriel did his very utmost, working with a breast like shaggy fur
and with arms like steel springs. The water foamed beneath the skiff,
and the blue strip behind the stern now became broader. Gabriel was
presently covered with sweat, but kept on rowing with all his might.
Experiencing such terror twice in one night, he feared to experience it
a third time, and only wished for one thing: to be quite out of this
cursed work, land on _terra firma,_ and run away from this man before
he killed him downright, or got him locked up in jail. He resolved to
hold no conversation with him, to contradict him in nothing, to do all
he commanded, and if he were fortunate enough to break away from him,
he vowed to offer up a prayer to St. Nicholas, the Wonder Worker, on
the morrow. A passionate prayer was ready to pour from his breast....
But he controlled himself, panted like a steam-engine, and was silent,
casting sidelong glances at Chelkash from time to time.

And Chelkash, long, lean, leaning forward and resembling a bird ready
to take to flight, glared into the gloom in front of the boat with
his vulture eyes, and moving his hooked beak from side to side, with
one hand held the tiller firmly, while with the other he stroked his
moustache, his features convulsed occasionally by the smiles that
curled his thin lips. Chelkash was satisfied with his success, with
himself, and with this rustic so terribly frightened by him, and now
converted into his slave. He was enjoying in anticipation the spacious
debauch of to-morrow, and now delighted in his power over this fresh
young rustic impounded into his service. He saw how he was exerting
himself, and he felt sorry for him, and wished to encourage him.

"Hie!" said he softly, with a smile, "got over your funk, eh?"

"It was nothing!" sighed Gabriel, squirming before him.

"You needn't lean so heavily on your oars now. Take it easy a bit We've
only got one more place to pass. Rest a bit."

Gabriel stopped short obediently, wiped the sweat off his face with his
shirt-sleeve, and again thrust the oars into the water.

"Row more gently. Don't let the water blab about you! We have only the
gates to pass. Softly, softly! We've serious people to deal with here,
my friend. They may take it into their heads to joke a bit with their
rifles. They might saddle you with such a swelling on your forehead
that you wouldn't even be able to sing out: oh!"

The skiff now crept along upon the water almost noiselessly. Only from
the oars dripped blue drops and when they fell into the sea, tiny blue
spots lingered for an instant on the place where they fell. The night
grew even darker and stiller. The sky no longer resembled a sea in
insurrection--the clouds had spread all over it and covered it with an
even, heavy baldachin, drooping low and motionless over the sea. The
sea grew still quieter, blacker, and exhaled a still stronger saline
odour, nor did it seem so vast as heretofore.

"Ah! if only the rain would come!" whispered Chelkash, "it would be as
good as a curtain for us."

Right and left of them some sort of edifice now rose out of the black
water--barges, immovable, sinister, and as black as the water itself.
On one of them a fire was twinkling, and someone was going about
with a lantern. The sea, washing their sides, sounded supplicatory
and muffled, and they responded in a shrill and cold echo, as if
quarrelsome and refusing to concede anything to it.

"The cordons!" whispered Chelkash in a scarcely audible voice.

From the moment when he commanded Gabriel to row more gently, Gabriel
was again dominated by a keen expectant tension. Onwards he kept, going
through the gloom, and it seemed to him that he was growing--his bones
and sinews were extending within him with a dull pain, his head, filled
with a single thought, ached abominably, the skin on his back throbbed,
and his feet were full of tiny, sharp, cold needles. His eyes were
exhausted by gazing intently into the gloom, from which he expected to
emerge every instant something which would cry to them with a hoarse
voice: "Stop, thieves!"

Now, when Chelkash whispered, "The cordons!" Gabriel trembled, a keen
burning thought ran through him, and settled upon his over-strained
nerves--he wanted to shout and call to people to help him. He had
already opened his mouth, and, rising a little in the skiff, stuck out
his breast, drew in a large volume of air, and opened his mouth ... but
suddenly, overcome by a feeling of terror which struck him like the
lash of a whip, he closed his eyes and rolled off his bench.

In front of the skiff, far away on the horizon out of the black water,
arose an enormous fiery-blue sword, cutting athwart the night, gliding
edgewise over the clouds on the sky, and lying on the bosom of the sea
in a broad blue strip. There it lay, and into the zone of its radiance
there floated out of the dark the hitherto invisible black vessels, all
silent and enshrouded in the thick night mists. It seemed as if they
had lain for long at the bottom of the sea, drawn down thither by the
mighty power of the tempest, and now behold! they had risen from thence
at the command of the fiery sea-born sword, risen to look at the sky
and at all above the water. Their tackle hugged the masts, and seemed
to be ends of seaweed risen from the depths together with these black
giants immeshed within them. And again this strange gleaming blue sword
arose from the surface of the sea, again it cut the night in twain,
and flung itself in another direction. And again where it lay the dark
hulls of vessels, invisible before its manifestation, floated out of
the darkness.

The skiff of Chelkash stood still and rocked to and fro on the water
as if irresolute Gabriel lay at the bottom of it, covering his face
with his hands, and Chelkash poked him with the oars and whispered
furiously, but quietly:

"Fool! that's the custom-house cruiser. That is the electric lantern.
Get up, you blockhead. The light will be thrown upon us in a moment.
What the devil! you'll ruin me as well as yourself if you don't look
out. Come!"

And at last when one of the blows with the sharp end of the oar caught
Gabriel more violently than the others on the spine, he leaped up,
still fearing to open his eyes, sat on the bench, blindly grasped the
oars, and again set the boat in motion.

"Not so much noise! I'll kill you, I will! Not so much noise, I say.
What a fool you are! Devil take you.... What are you afraid of? Now
then, ugly! The lantern is a mirror--that's all! Softly with the
oars, silly devil! They incline the mirror this way and that, and so
light up the sea, in order that they may see whether folks like you
and me, for instance, are sailing about anywhere. They do it to catch
smugglers. They won't tackle us--they'll sail far away. Don't be
afraid, clodhopper, they won't tackle us. Now we're clear...." Chelkash
looked round triumphantly.... "At last we've sailed out of it! Phew!
well you're lucky, blockhead!"

Gabriel kept silence, rowed and breathed heavily, still gazing
furtively in the direction where that fiery sword kept on rising and
falling. He could by no means believe Chelkash that it was only a lamp
with a reflector. The cold blue gleam, cutting the darkness asunder
and making the sea shine with a silvery radiance, had something
incomprehensible in it, and Gabriel again fell into the hypnosis of
anxious terror. And again a foreboding weighed heavily on his breast.
He rowed like a machine, all huddled up, as if he expected a blow to
come from above him; and not a desire, not a single feeling remained
in him--he was empty and spiritless. The agitation of this night had
at last gnawed out of him everything human.

But Chelkash triumphed once more, the whole thing was a complete
success. His nerves, accustomed to excitement, were already placid
again. His moustaches quivered with rapture, and a hungry little flame
was burning in his eyes. He felt magnificent, whistled between his
teeth, drew a deep inspiration of the moist air of the sea, glanced
around, and smiled good-naturedly when his eyes rested on Gabriel.

A breeze arose and awoke the sea, which suddenly began heaving
sportively. The clouds seemed to make themselves thinner and more
transparent, but the whole sky was obscured by them. Despite the
fact that the wind, though but a light breeze, played over the sea,
the clouds remained motionless, as if lost in some grey, grizzling
meditation.

"Come, friend, wake up! It's high time. Why, you look as if your soul
had evaporated through your skin, and only a bag of bones remained.
Dear friend, I say! We're pretty well at the end of this job, eh?"

It was pleasant to Gabriel, at any rate, to hear a human voice, even if
the speaker were Chelkash.

"I hear," he said softly.

"Very well, thick-head. Come now, take the rudder, and I'll have a go
at the oars. You seem tired. Come!"

Gabriel mechanically changed places. When Chelkash, in changing places
with him, looked him in the face and observed that his tottering legs
trembled beneath him, he was still sorrier for the lad. He patted him
on the shoulder.

"Well, well, don't be frightened. You have worked right well. I'll
richly reward you, my friend. What say you to a fiver, eh?"

"I want nothing. Put me ashore, that's all."

Chelkash waved his hand, spat a bit, and began rowing, flinging the
oars far back with his long arms.

The sea was waking. It was playing with tiny billows, producing
them, adorning them with a fringe of foam, bumping them together,
and beating them into fine dust. The foam, in dissolving, hissed and
spluttered--and everything around was full of a musical hubbub and
splashing. The gloom seemed to have more life in it.

"Now, tell me," said Chelkash, "I suppose you'll be off to your
village, marry, plough up the soil, and sow corn, your wife will bear
you children, and there won't be food enough. Now, tell me, do you mean
to go on working your heart out all your life long? Say! There's not
very much fun in that now, is there?"

"Fun indeed!" said Gabriel timidly and tremulously.

Here and there the wind had penetrated the clouds, and between the gaps
peeped forth little patches of blue sky, with one or two little stars
in them. Reflected by the sportive sea, these little stars leaped up
and down on the waters, now vanishing and now shining forth again.

"Move to the right," said Chelkash; "we shall soon be there now, I
hope. It's over now. An important little job, too. Look now--it's like
this, d'ye hear? In one single night I've grabbed half a thousand. What
do you think of that, eh?"

"Half a thousand!" gasped Gabriel incredulously, but then terror again
seized him, and kicking the bundle in the skiff, he asked quickly,
"What sort of goods is this?"

"It's silk. Precious wares. If you sold all that at a fair price you
would get a full thousand. But I'm not a shark! Smart, eh?"

"Ye-es!" gasped Gabriel. "If only it had been me," he sighed, all at
once thinking of his village, and his poor household, his necessities,
his mother, and everything belonging to his home so far away, for
the sake of which he had gone to seek work--for the sake of which he
had endured such torments this very night. A wave of reminiscence
overwhelmed him, and he bethought him of his little village running
down the steep slope of the hill, down to the stream hidden among the
birches, silver willows, mountain-ashes, and wild cherry-trees. These
reminiscences suffused him with a warm sort of feeling, and put some
heart into him. "Ah! it's valuable, no doubt," he sighed.

"Well, it seems to me you'll very soon be by your iron pot at home.
How the girls at home will cotton to you! You may pick and choose. No
doubt your house is crazy enough just now.... well, I suppose we want a
little money to build it up again, just a little, eh...?"

"That's true enough ... the house is in sore need--wood is so dear with
us."

"Come now, how much? Old shanty wants repairing, eh? How about a horse?
Got one?"

"A horse? Oh, yes, there is one ... but damned old."

"Well, you must have a horse, of course.... A jolly good 'un.... And a
cow, I suppose ... some sheep ... fowls of different sorts, eh?"

"Don't speak of it! Ah! if it could be so! Ah! Lord! Lord! then life
would be something like."

"Well, friend, life's a poor thing in itself.... I know something
about it myself. I have my own little nest somewhere or other. My
father was one of the richest in the village Chelkash rowed slowly.
The skiff rocked upon the waves saucily splashing against her sides,
scarcely moving upon the dark sea, and the sea sported ever more and
more saucily. Two people were dreaming as they rocked upon the water,
glancing pensively around them. Chelkash guided Gabriel's thoughts to
his village, wishing to encourage him a little and soothe him. At first
he spoke, smiling sceptically to himself all the time; but, presently,
suggesting replies to his neighbour, and reminding him of the joys of
a rustic life, as to which he himself had long been disillusioned, he
forgot all about them, and remembered only the actual present, and
wandered far away from his intention, so that instead of questioning
the rustic about his village and its affairs, he insensibly fell to
laying down the law to him on the subject.

"The chief thing in the life of the peasant, my friend, is liberty.
You are your own master. You have your house--not worth a farthing,
perhaps--but still it is your own. You have your land--a mere handful,
no doubt--still it is yours. You have your own hives, your own eggs,
your own apples. You are king on your own land! And then the regularity
of it. Work calls you up in the morning--in spring one sort of work,
in summer another sort of work, in autumn and in winter work again,
but again of a different sort. Wherever you go, it is to your house
that you always return--to warmth and quiet. You're a king, you see.
Ain't it so?" concluded Chelkash enthusiastically, thus totting up the
long category of rustic rights and privileges with the accompanying
suggestion of corresponding obligations.

Gabriel looked at him curiously, and also felt enthusiastic. During
this conversation he had managed to forget whom he was having dealings
with, and saw before him just such a peasant-farmer as himself, chained
for ages to the soil through many generations, bound to it by the
recollections of childhood, voluntarily separated from it and from its
cares, and bearing the just punishment of this separation.

"Ah, brother! true! Ah, how true! Look at yourself now. What are you
now without the land? Ah! the land, my friend, is like a mother; not
for long do you forget her."

Chelkash fell a musing. He began to feel once more that irritating,
burning sensation in his breast, that sensation which arose whenever
his pride--the pride of the tireless adventurer--was wounded by
something, especially by something which had no value in his eyes.

"Silence!" he cried savagely, "no doubt you thought I meant all that
seriously. Open your pouch a little wider."

"You're a funny sort of man," said Gabriel, suddenly grown timid again,
"as if I were speaking of you. I suppose there are lots like you. Alas!
what a lot of unhappy people there are in the world!... vagabonds
who...."

"Sit down, blockhead, and row," commanded Chelkash curtly, bottling up
within him, somehow or other, a whole stream of burning abuse gushing
into his throat.

Again they changed places, and as they did so Chelkash, as he crawled
into the stern across the packages, felt a burning desire to give
Gabriel a kick that would send him flying into the water, and at the
same time could not muster up sufficient strength to look him in the
face.

The short dialogue broke off; but now a breath of rusticity was wafted
to Chelkash from the very silence of Gabriel. He began to think of the
past, forgot to steer the boat, which was turned to and fro by the
surge, and drifted seawards. The waves seemed to understand that this
skiff had lost its purpose, and pitching her higher and higher, began
lightly playing with her, flashing their friendly blue fire beneath her
oars. And visions of the past rose quickly before Chelkash--visions
of the long distant past, separated from his present purpose by a
whole barrier of eleven years of a vagabond life. He succeeded in
recalling himself as a child; he saw before him his village, his
mother, a red-cheeked, plump woman, with good grey eyes, his father,
a red-bearded giant with a stern face. He saw himself a husband, he
saw his wife, black-haired Anfisa, with a long pig-tail, full-bodied,
gentle, merry ... again he beheld himself, a handsome beau, a soldier
in the Guards; again he saw his father, grey-headed and crooked by
labour, and his mother all wrinkled and inclining earthwards; he
conjured up, too, a picture of the meeting in the village when he
returned from service; he saw how proud of his Gregory his father was
before the whole village, his broad-shouldered, vigorous, handsome
soldier-son.... Memory, that scourge of the unlucky, revived the very
stories of the past, and even distilled a few drops of honey into the
proffered draught of venom--and all this, too, simply to crush a man
with the consciousness of his mistakes, and make him love this past and
deprive him of hope in the future.

Chelkash felt himself fanned by the peaceful, friendly breezes of his
native air, conveying with them to his ear the friendly words of his
mother and the solid speeches of his sturdy peasant-father, and many
forgotten sounds, and the sappy smell of his mother-earth, now just
thawed, now just ploughed up, and now covered by the emerald-green
silk of the winter crops. And he felt himself cast aside, rejected,
wretched, and lonely, plucked forth from and flung for ever away from
that order of life in which the blood that flowed in his veins had
worked its way upwards.

"Hie! whither are we going?" asked Gabriel suddenly.

Chelkash started, and looked around with the uneasy glance of a bird of
prey.

"Ugh! The devil only knows! It doesn't matter ... come, a steadier
stroke! We shall be ashore immediately."

"Meditating, eh?" inquired Gabriel with a smile.

Chelkash looked at him angrily. The youth had quite recovered himself;
he was calm, merry, and, in a way, even triumphant. He was very young,
he had the whole of life still before him. And he knew nothing. That
was stupid. Perhaps it was the land that kept him back. When such
thoughts flashed through the head of Chelkash, he became still surlier,
and in reply to Gabriel's question he growled:

"I was tired ... and there was the rocking of the sea...."

"Yes, it does rock.... But now, suppose we are nabbed with that?" he
asked, and he touched the parcels with his foot.

"No fear ... be easy! I'm going to hand them over immediately and get
the money. Come!"

"Five hundred, eh?"

"Not much less, I should think."

"What a lot of money! If only it had come to a poor wretch like me! I'd
have sung a pretty song with it."

"In clodhopper fashion, eh?"

"Nothing less. Why, I would straight off...."

And Gabriel was carried away on the wings of his imagination.
Chelkash seemed depressed. His moustaches hung down, his right side,
sprinkled by the waves, was wet, his eyes were sunken, and had lost
their brilliance. He was very miserable and depressed. All that was
predatory in his appearance seemed to have been steeped in a lowering
melancholy, which even came to light in the folds of his dirty shirt.

"Tired, eh? and I'm so well.... You've over-done it...."

"We shall be there in a moment.... Look!... yonder!"

Chelkash turned the boat sharply round, and steered it in the direction
of a black something emerging from the water.

The sky was once more all covered with clouds, and rain had begun to
descend--a fine, warm rain pattering merrily down on the crests of the
waves.

"Stop! slower!" commanded Chelkash.

The nose of the skiff bumped against the hull of a barque.

"Are the devils asleep," growled Chelkash, grasping with his boat-hook
a rope dangling down the side of the ship.... "Why, the ladder's not
let down! And it's raining, too! Why don't they look sharp! Hie!
sluggards! hie!"

"Is that Chelkash?" murmured a friendly voice above them.

"Yes, let down the ladder."

"How goes it, Chelkash?"

"Let down the ladder, you devil!" roared Chelkash.

"Oh, he's waxy to-day, eh? There you are, then."

"Up you go, Gabriel," said Chelkash, turning to his companion.

In a moment they were on the deck, where three dark-bearded figures,
jabbering vigorously together in a strange pricky sort of tongue, were
looking over-board into Chelkash's skiff. The fourth, wrapped round in
a long cloak, came to him and pressed his hand in silence, and then
glanced suspiciously at Gabriel.

"Have the money ready by morning," said Chelkash curtly. "And now I'll
have a little sleep. Come, Gabriel. Do you want anything to eat?"

"I should like to sleep," replied Gabriel, and in a few moments he was
snoring in the dirty hold of the ship; but Chelkash, seated by his
side, was fitting on some sort of boot to his foot, and meditatively
spitting about him, fell to whistling angrily and moodily through
his teeth. Then he stretched himself alongside Gabriel, and without
taking off his boots, folded his arms beneath his head, and began
concentrating his attention on the deck, twisting his moustaches the
while.

The barque rocked slowly on the heaving water, now and then a plank
gave forth a melancholy squeak, the rain fell softly on the deck, and
the waves washed the sides of the vessel. It was all very mournful,
and sounded like the cradle-song of a mother having no hope of the
happiness of her son.

Chelkash, grinding his teeth, raised his head a little, looked around
him ... and having whispered something, lay down again.... Stretching
his legs wide, he resembled a large pair of shears.


III.

He awoke first, gazed anxiously around, immediately recovered his
self-possession, and looked at the still sleeping Gabriel. He was
sweetly snoring, and was smiling at something in his sleep with his
childish, wholesome, sun-tanned face. Chelkash sighed, and climbed up
the narrow rope ladder. Through the opening of the hold he caught sight
of a leaden bit of sky. It was light, but grey and drear--autumnal in
fact.

Chelkash returned in about a couple of hours. His face was cheerful,
his moustaches were twirled neatly upwards, a good-natured, merry smile
was on his lips. He was dressed in long strong boots, a short jacket,
leather trousers, and walked with a jaunty air. His whole costume was
the worse for wear, but strong, and fitted him well, making his figure
broader, hiding his boniness, and giving him a military air.

"Hie! get up, blockhead!" bumping Gabriel with his foot.

The latter started up, and not recognising him for sleepiness, gazed
upon him with dull and terrified eyes. Chelkash laughed.

"Why, who would have known you?" said Gabriel at last, with a broad
grin; "you have become quite a swell."

"Oh, with us that soon happens. Well, still in a funk, eh? How many
times did you think you were going to die last night, eh? Tell me, now."

"Nay, but judge fairly. In the first place, what sort of a job was I
on? Why, I might have ruined my soul for ever!"

"Well, I should like it all over again. What do you say?"

"Over again? Nay, that's a little too ... how shall I put it? Is it
worth it? That's where it is."

"What, not for two rainbows?"

"Two hundred roubles you mean? Not if I know it. Why, I ought.

"Stop. How about ruining your soul, eh?"

"Well, you see, _I_ might ... even if you didn't," smiled Gabriel;
"instead of ruining yourself you'd be a made man for life, no doubt."

Chelkash laughed merrily.

"All right, we must have our jokes, I suppose. Let us go ashore. Come,
look sharp!"

"I'm ready."

And again they were in the skiff, Chelkash at the helm, Gabriel with
the oars. Above them the grey sky was covered by a uniform carpet of
clouds, and the turbid green sea sported with their skiff, noisily
tossing it up and down on the still tiny billows, and sportively
casting bright saline jets of watertight into it. Far away along the
prow of the skiff a yellow strip of sandy shore was visible, and far
away behind the stern stretched the free, sportive sea, all broken up
by the hurrying heads of waves adorned here and there with fringes of
white sparkling foam. There, too, far away, many vessels were visible,
rocking on the bosom of the sea; far away to the left was a whole
forest of masts, and the white masses of the houses of the town. From
thence a dull murmur flitted along the sea, thunderous, and at the same
time blending with the splashing of the waves into a good and sonorous
music.... And over everything was cast a fine web of ashen vapour,
separating the various objects from each other.

"Ah, we shall have a nice time of it this evening," and Chelkash jerked
his head towards the sea.

"A storm, eh?" inquired Gabriel, ploughing hard among the waves with
his oars. He was already wet from head to foot from the scud carried
across the sea by the wind.

Chelkash grunted assent.

Gabriel looked at him searchingly.

"How much did they give you?" he asked at last, perceiving that
Chelkash was not inclined to begin the conversation.

"Look there," said Chelkash, extending towards Gabriel a small pouch
which he had taken from his pocket.

Gabriel saw the rainbow-coloured little bits of paper,[1] and
everything he gazed upon assumed a bright rainbow tinge.

[1] Bank-notes.

"You are a brick! And here have I been thinking all the time that you
would rob me. How much?"

"Five hundred and forty. Smart, eh?"

"S-s-smart!" stammered Gabriel, his greedy eyes running over the five
hundred and forty roubles before they disappeared into the pocket
again. "Oh my! what a lot of money!"--and he sighed as if a whole
weight was upon his breast.

"We'll have a drink together, clodhopper," cried Chelkash
enthusiastically. "Ah, we'll have a good time. Don't think I want to do
you, my friend, I'll give you your share. I'll give you forty, eh? Is
that enough for you? If you like you shall have 'em at once."

"If it's all the same to you--no offence--I'll have 'em then."

Gabriel was all tremulous with expectation, and not only with
expectation, but with another acute sucking feeling which suddenly
arose in his breast.

"Ha, ha, ha! That's like you! What a tight-fisted devil you are! I'll
take 'em now! Well, take 'em, my friend; take 'em, I implore you. I
really don't know what I might do with such a lot of money. Relieve me
of it! Do take it I beg!"

Chelkash handed Gabriel some nice bank-notes. The latter seized them
with a trembling hand, threw down the oars, and began concealing
the cash somewhere in his bosom, greedily screwing up his eyes and
noisily inhaling the air, as if he were drinking something burning hot.
Chelkash, with a sarcastic smile, observed him, but Gabriel soon took
up the oars again, and rowed on nervously and hurriedly, as if afraid
of something, and with his eyes cast down. His shoulders and ears were
all twitching.

"Ah, you're greedy! Isn't that good enough? What more do you want? Just
like a rustic!" said Chelkash pensively.

"Ah, with money one can do something," cried Gabriel, suddenly
exploding with passionate excitement. And gaspingly, hurriedly, as
if pursuing his own thoughts and catching his words on the wing, he
talked of life in the country, with money and without money, honour,
contentment, liberty, and hilarity.

Chelkash listened to him attentively with a serious face, and with eyes
puckered with some idea or other. At times he smiled a complacent smile.

"We have arrived!" cried Chelkash, at last interrupting the discourse
of Gabriel.

A wave caught the skiff and skilfully planted it on the strand.

"Well, my friend, here's the end of the job. We must drag the boat a
little further in shore that it may not be washed away. And then you
and I will say good-bye. It is eight versts from here to the town. What
are you going to do?--back to town, eh?"

A sly, good-natured smile lit up the face of Chelkash, and he had
all the appearance of a man meditating something very pleasant for
himself and unexpected for Gabriel. Dipping his hand into his pocket he
crinkled the bank-notes there.

"No ... I--I'm not going! I--I...." Gabriel breathed heavily, as
if struggling with something. Within him was raging a whole mob of
desires, words, and feelings, mutually devouring each other and filling
him as if with fire.

Chelkash looked at him doubtfully.

"Why are you twisting about like that?"

"It's because, because...." But the face of Gabriel was burning red at
one moment and deadly grey at another, and he was glued to the spot,
now desiring to fall upon Chelkash, and now torn by other desires, the
fulfilment of which was difficult for him.

Chelkash did not know what to make of such a state of excitement in
this rustic. He waited to see what would come of it.

Gabriel began to laugh in an odd sort of way, it was more of a howl
than a laugh. His head was lowered, the expression of his face Chelkash
did not see, but the ears of Gabriel, alternately reddish and palish,
were painfully prominent.

"Come, what the devil's the matter," said Chelkash, waving his hand,
"have you fallen in love with me all at once? What's up? You change
colour like a wench. Sorry to part from me, eh? Eh, blockhead? Say
what's the matter with you, and I'll be off."

"Going, are you?" shrieked Gabriel shrilly.

The sandy and desolate shore trembled beneath his cry, and the yellow
billows of sand, washed by the billows of the sea, seemed to undulate.
Chelkash also trembled. Suddenly Gabriel bounded from his place, threw
himself at the feet of Chelkash, embraced them with his arms, and
turned towards him. Chelkash staggered, sat down heavily on the sand,
gnashed his teeth, and cut the air sharply with his long arm, clenching
his fist at the same time. But strike he could not, being stayed by the
shamefaced supplicating whisper of Gabriel:

"Dear little pigeon.... Give me ... that money! Give it to me, for
Christ's sake!... What is it to you? Why, it was gained in a single
night ... in a single night!... It would take me years.... Give it me
... I'll pray for you if you will! Perpetually ... in three churches
... for the salvation of your soul! Look now, you'd scatter it to the
... winds ... I would put it into land. Oh, give it to me! What is it
to you?... How can you prize it? A single night ... and you're a rich
man. Do a good act! You're all but done for.... You haven't got your
way to make. But I would.... Oh! give them to me!"

Chelkash, alarmed, astonished, and offended, sat on the sand, leaning
back, supporting himself on his arms; he sat there in silence and
fixed a terrible gaze on the rustic who had buried his head in his
knees, sobbing as he whispered his petition. He repulsed him at last,
leaped to his feet and, thrusting his hands into his pockets, flung the
rainbow bank-notes to Gabriel.

"There, you dog! Devour...!" he cried trembling with excitement, bitter
sorrow and loathing for this greedy slave. And he felt himself a hero
for thus throwing away the money. Reckless daring shone in his eyes and
lit up his whole face.

"I was going to give you more of my own accord. I was a bit down in
the mouth yesterday, and bethought me of my own village. I thought to
myself: let us give this rustic a helping hand. I was waiting to see
what you would do. If you asked you were to get nothing. And you! Ugh!
you miser! mean hound! To think that it is possible so to lower oneself
for money I Fool! Greedy devils the lot of you! Not to recollect
yourself! To sell yourself for a fiver! Ugh!"

"Dear little pigeon! Christ save you! Now I _have_ got something ...
a thousand! Now I am rich!" cried Gabriel in his enthusiasm, all
tremulous as he hid his money away in his bosom. "Ah, you merciful one!
Never will I forget it ... Never!... And I'll make my wife and children
pray for you."

Chelkash listened to his joyous cries, looked at his radiant face
deformed by the rapture of greed, and he felt that he, thief, vagabond,
and outcast though he was, never could be so greedy, so mean, so
forgetful of his own dignity. Never would he be such a one! And these
thoughts and sensations, filling him with the consciousness of his
large mindedness and nonchalance, held him fast to Gabriel by the sandy
sea-shore.

"You have made me happy!" shrieked Gabriel, and seizing the hand of
Chelkash he pulled it towards his face.

Chelkash was silent, and fleshed his teeth like a wolf. Gabriel
continued to pour forth his heart to him:

"Do you know what was in my mind?... We came here--I saw the money....
Thinks I ... I'll fetch him one ... you I meant ... with the
oar--c-c-crack! The money's mine and he ... that's you ... goes into
the sea.... Who would ever light upon him? And if they did find him
they would never inquire how he was killed or who killed him ... such a
fellow as that! He's not the sort of man people make a fuss about!...
He's no good at all in the world! Who would ever trouble about him? You
see how...."

"Give up that money!" howled Chelkash, seizing Gabriel by the throat.

Gabriel tore himself away--the other hand of Chelkash twined round him
like a serpent--there was the grating tear of a rent shirt, and Gabriel
lay on the sands with senseless goggling eyes, with sprawling feet and
the tips of his outstretched fingers fumbling for air. Chelkash stiff,
dry, and savage, with grinding teeth, laughed a bitter spasmodic laugh,
and his moustaches twitched nervously on his clear-cut angular face.
Never in his whole life had he felt so angry.

"What, you're lucky, eh?" he inquired of Gabriel in the midst of
his laughter, and turning his back upon him, went right away in the
direction of the town. But he hadn't gone a couple of yards when
Gabriel, with his back arched like a cat, rose on one knee, and taking
a wide sweep with his arm, threw after him a large stone, crying
spitefully: "Crack!"

Chelkash yelled, put both his hands to the back of his head, tottered
forward, turned towards Gabriel, and fell prone in the sand. Gabriel's
heart died away as he gazed at him. There he lay, and presently he
moved his foot, tried to raise his head, and stretched himself,
quivering like a bow-string. Then Gabriel set off running away in
the direction of the misty shore, it was overhung by a shaggy black
cloud, and was dark. The waves were roaring as they ran upon the sand,
mingling with it and then running back again. The foam hissed, and the
sea-scud was flying about in the air.

The rain began to fall. At first there were but rare drops, but soon
it poured down in torrents, descending from the sky in long thin jets,
weaving a whole net of water-threads--a net suddenly hiding away within
it the steppes and the sea, and removing them to an immense distance
Gabriel vanished behind it. For a long time nothing was visible except
the rain, and the long lean man lying on the sand by the sea. But
behold I again from out of the rain emerged the running Gabriel; he
flew like a bird and, running towards Chelkash, fell down before him,
and began to pull him about on the ground. His hands dipped into the
warm red slime. He trembled and staggered back with a pale and stupid
face.

"Brother! get up! do get up!" he whispered in the ear of Chelkash
amidst the din of the sea.

Chelkash came to himself and shoved Gabriel away, hoarsely exclaiming:
"Be off!"

"Brother, forgive!... the devil tempted me!" whispered the tremulous
Gabriel, kissing Chelkash's hand.

"Go! Be off!" growled the other.

"Take the sin from my soul, my brother! Forgive!"

"Slope! Go to the devil, I say!" cried Chelkash, and with an effort
he sat up on the sand. His face was pale and angry, his eyes were
dull and half closed, as if he wanted to sleep. "What more do you
want? You have done what you wanted to do.... So go! Be off!" and he
tried to kick the utterly woe-begone Gabriel, but could not, and would
again have rolled over had not Gabriel held him up by embracing his
shoulders. The face of Chelkash was now on a level with the face of
Gabriel; both were pale, pitiful, and odd-looking.

"Phew!" said Chelkash, and he spat full into the wide-open eyes of his
workman.

The latter gently wiped it off with his sleeve.

"What would you do? Won't you answer a word? Forgive me, for Christ's
sake!"

"Ugh, you horror! But you'll never understand," cried Chelkash
contemptuously, dragging off his shirt from under his short jacket
and proceeding to wrap it round his head in silence, save for the
occasional gnashing of his teeth. "You have taken the notes, I
suppose?" he muttered through his teeth.

"No, I've not taken them, my friend!... I don't want them ... they'd do
me harm!"

Chelkash shoved his hand into the pocket of his jacket, drew out a
bundle of money, put back again in his pocket a single rainbow note,
and pitched all the rest at Gabriel.

"Take it and go!"

"I'll not take it, my brother ... I cannot I Forgive me!"

"Take it, I say!" roared Chelkash, rolling his eyes horribly.

"Forgive me ... and then I'll take it!" said Gabriel timidly, and fell
on his knees before Chelkash on the grey sand, now saturated with rain.

"Take it, you monster!" said Chelkash confidently, and, with an effort,
raising Gabriel's head by the hair, he flung the money in his face.
"There, take it! You shan't work for me for nothing. Take it without
fear! Don't be ashamed of nearly killing a man. Nobody will bother
about such as I. They'll even thank you when they hear about it. Come,
take it! Nobody knows about your deed, and it's worth a recompense.
There you are!"

Gabriel perceived that Chelkash was laughing at him, and his heart grew
lighter. He grasped the money tightly in his hand.

"But, brother, you forgive me, won't you?" he inquired tearfully.

"What for, my brother?" said Chelkash in the same tone, rising to his
feet and tottering a little. "What for? For nothing at all. To-day it's
your turn, to-morrow mine."

"Alas, my brother, my brother!" sobbed the afflicted Gabriel, shaking
his head.

Chelkash stood in front of him with a strange smile, and the rag round
his head, now slightly tinged with red, bore some resemblance to a
Turkish fez.

The rain was pouring down as if from a bucket The sea raged with a
muffled roar, and the waves now beat upon the shore with frantic rage.

For a time both men were silent.

"Well, good-bye!" said Chelkash coldly and sarcastically, and set off
on his journey.

He staggered as he went, his feet tottered beneath him, and he held his
head so oddly, just as if he were afraid of losing it.

"Forgive me, brother!" Gabriel besought him once more.

"Bosh!" coldly replied Chelkash, pursuing his way.

On he staggered, supporting his head all the time in the palm of his
left hand, while with his right he gently twirled his fierce moustache.

Gabriel continued to gaze after him till he disappeared in the rain,
which was now pouring down more densely than ever from the clouds in
fine endless jets, enveloping the steppe in an impenetrable mist of a
steely hue.

Then Gabriel took off his wet cap, crossed himself, looked at the money
fast squeezed in his palm, sighed deeply and freely, hid the notes
in his bosom, and With a spacious confident stride marched off along
the sea-shore in the direction opposite to that in which Chelkash had
vanished.

The sea howled, and cast huge heavy waves on the strand, churning
them up into foam and scud. The rain cut up sea and land furiously.
Everything around was filled with howling, yelling, moaning. Neither
sea nor sky was visible behind the rain.

Soon the rain and the wash of the waves had cleansed the red spot
on the place where Chelkash had lain, had washed away all traces of
Chelkash, and all traces of the young rustic from the sand of the
sea-shore. And on the desolate strand nothing remained as a memorial of
the petty drama played there by two living souls.



IX.--CHUMS.


I.


One of them was called Jig-Leg, and the other Hopeful, and they were
thieves by profession.

They lived on the outskirts of the town, in the suburb that straggled
strangely along the gully, in One of those crazy shanties compounded
of clay and half-rotten wood--probably the rubbish sweepings chucked
down the gully. The chums went a-thieving in the villages adjoining
the town, for in the town itself it was difficult to thieve, and their
neighbours in the suburb were not worth robbing.

Both of them were cautious, modest chaps--they were not above
appropriating a piece of cloth, a peasant's coarse coat, or an axe, a
bit of harness, a shirt, or a hen, and they always gave a very wide
berth for a very long time to any village where they happened to "cop"
anything. But despite such a sensible mode of procedure, the suburban
muzhiks knew them very well, and occasionally threatened to beat them
to death. But the muzhiks, so far, had never got their opportunity,
and the bones of the two friends were still whole, though they had
followed their profession and heard the threats of the muzhiks for
quite six years.

Jig-Leg was a man of about forty years of age, tall, scraggy, haggard
and muscular. He walked with his head bent earthwards, his long arms
folded behind his back, with a leisurely but spacious stride, and, as
he walked, he always glanced on every side of him with his restlessly
keen and anxiously puckered-up eyes. The hair of his head he clipped
short, his beard he shaved; his thick, dark-grey, military moustaches
hid his mouth, giving to his face a sort of grim and savage expression.
His left leg must have been twisted or broken, and had grown in such
a way as to become longer than the right leg. When he raised it as he
strode along, it used to leap into the air and make a sweep sideways,
and to this peculiarity of his gait he owed his nickname.

Hopeful was five years younger than his comrade, not so tall, but
broader in the shoulders. He frequently had a hollow cough, and his
bony face, overgrown by a large black beard, streaked with grey, was
a screen to his morbidly yellow complexion. His eyes were large and
black, but they regarded everything amicably and deprecatingly. As
he walked, he would press his thick lips together into the shape of
a heart, and would softly whistle some song or other--a monotonous
melancholy song, always one and the same. A short garment of
parti-coloured rags, with some resemblance to a wadding pea-jacket,
bobbed up and down on his shoulders; but Jig-Leg always went about in a
long grey kaftan, girded with a belt.

Hopeful was a peasant's son, his companion the son of a sexton; he had
been a lackey and a billiard-marker. They were always seen together,
and the peasants used to say of them, "Here are the chums again ...
look at them both. Ah, the devils! I wonder when they are going to
croak."

The chums used to tramp along some village road, looking carefully
about them, and avoiding any chance encounters. Hopeful would cough,
and whistle his song; and the leg of his comrade would fling into the
air, as if attempting to wrench itself loose, and bolt away from the
dangerous path of its master. Or they would lie about somewhere on
the outskirts of a wood, amongst the rye, or in a gully, and quietly
discuss how to set about stealing in order that they might have
something to eat.



II.


In winter even the wolves, who are far better adapted for the struggle
for life than our two friends, even the wolves have a bad time of
it. Empty, ravenous, and fierce, they even run about the high-ways,
and though we kill them we fear them. They have claws and teeth for
self-defence, and--the main thing--their hearts are softened by
nothing. This last point is very important, for, in order to triumph
in the struggle for existence, one ought to have much wisdom, or the
heart of a beast.

In the winter the chums also fared ill. Often in the evening they both
went out into the streets of the town and begged for alms, trying at
the same time to escape the notice of the police. Very rarely did they
succeed in stealing anything; it was inexpedient to go into the country
because it was cold, and they left their traces in the snow; besides,
it was fruitless to visit the villages when everything in them was
closed and covered with snow. The comrades lost much strength in the
winter in their struggle with hunger, and possibly there was nobody who
awaited the spring as eagerly as they did.

And behold!--at last spring arrived. The comrades, sick and extenuated,
emerged from their gully and looked joyously at the fields where the
snow thawed more and more rapidly every day; dark-brown patches began
to appear everywhere, the meadows sparkled like mirrors, and the
streams fell a babbling. The sun poured down his unselfish favours
upon the earth, and the two friends warmed themselves in his rays,
calculating at the same time how soon the earth would get dry, and then
they might go and take pot-shots at luck among the villages. Frequently
Hopeful, who suffered from sleeplessness, would awake his friend in the
early morning with a piece of joyous intelligence:

"Hie! get up! the rooks are flying by!"

"Flying by, eh?"

"Yes, listen to their cawing!"

Emerging from their wretched shanty, they watched the black heralds
of the spring carefully building new nests or repairing old ones, and
filling the air with their hoarse and anxious cawing.

"Now it will be the turn of the larks," said Hopeful, setting about
mending his old and much worn bird-net.

And now the larks also appeared. Then the chums went into the fields,
spread their nets on one of the brown thawed patches, and running about
in the moist and muddy fields, drove into the nets the hungry birds,
who, wearied by their long flight, were seeking their food on the grey
earth which had only just freed itself from the snow. On catching the
birds they sold them at a _pyatachek_[1] or a _grivenik_[2] per head.
Then the nettles appeared, which they gathered and carried to the
bazaar for the market-garden huckster women. Nearly every day of the
spring gave them something fresh to do, some fresh if but trifling
bit of work. They could turn everything to some use: osiers, sorrel,
mushrooms, strawberries, fungi--nothing passed through their hands in
vain. Sometimes the soldiers would come out for firing-practice. After
the practice was over the chums would ferret about the earthworks
and fish up the bullets, which they would sell subsequently at twenty
kopecks the pound. All these occupations certainly prevented the chums
from dying of hunger, but very rarely gave them the opportunity of
eating their fill, rarely gave them the pleasant feeling of a full
stomach working warmly away upon hastily swallowed food.


[1] A silver five kopeck piece.

[2] A ten kopeck piece.



III


Once in April when the country-side had only just began to put forth
its buds and shoots, when the woods were still wrapped in a dark blue
gloom, and the grass had only just begun to appear on the fat fields
basking in the sun--the chums were going along the high-road smoking
_makharka_[1] cigars of their own manufacture, and conversing.

[1] Coarse tobacco smoked by the peasants.

"You are coughing worse than ever," said Jig-Leg to his comrade in a
tone of mild reproach.

"A fig for that! Look ye, the dear little sun will soon warm me up--and
I shall feel alive again."

"H'm! You may have to go into the hospital you know."

"What do I want with hospitals? If die I must, let me die!"

"Well, that's true enough."

They were passing a tract of land planted with birches, and the
birches cast upon them the patterned shadows of their fine slender
leaves. The sparrows were hopping along the road chirping merrily.

"You don't walk very well," remarked Jig-Leg after a moment's silence.

"That's because I have a choky feeling," exclaimed Hopeful. "The air
is now thick and damp, it is a fat sort of air and I find it hard to
swallow."

And stopping short, he fell a-coughing.

Jig-Leg stood beside him, smoked away, and never took his eyes off him.
Hopeful, shaken by his attack of coughing, held his bosom with his
hands and his face grew blue.

"It gives my lungs a good tearing any way!" said he, when he had ceased
coughing.

And on they went again after scaring away the sparrows.

"Now we are coming to Mukhina," observed Jig-Leg, throwing away his
cigarette, and spitting. "We must make a circuit round it at the
back by the way of the outhouses, perhaps we may be able to pick up
something. Then further on past the Sivtsova spinny to Kuznechikha....
From Kuznechikha we'll turn off towards Markvoka, and so home."

"That will be a walk of thirty versts," said Hopeful. "May it not be in
vain!"

To the left of the road stood a wood uniformly dark and inhospitable,
there was not a single patch of green amidst its naked branches to
cheer the eye. On the outskirts of the wood a small, rough, shaggy
little horse, with woefully fallen-in flanks was roaming, and its
prominent ribs were as sharply denned as the hoops of a barrel. The
chums stopped again and looked at it for a long time, watching how it
slowly picked its way along, lowering its snout towards the ground, and
cropping the herbage with its lips, carefully munching them with its
worn-out yellow teeth.

"She's starved too!" observed Hopeful.

"Gee-gee!" cried Jig-Leg enticingly.

The horse looked at him, and shaking his head, negatively bent it
earthwards again.

Hopeful explained the horse's wearisome movement: "He doesn't like
you!" said he.

"Come! If we hand him over to the gipsies, they no doubt will give us
seven roubles for her," observed Jig-Leg meditatively.

"No they won't! What could they do with her?"

"There's the hide!"

"The hide? Do you suppose they'll give as much as that for the hide?
Look at it! What sort of a hide do you call that? Why it isn't equal to
old shoe leather."

"Well, they'd give something any way."

"Yes, I suppose that's true enough."

Jig-Leg looked at his comrade, and after a pause, said:

"Well?"

"Awkward...." replied Hopeful doubtfully.

"How?"

"We should leave tracks. The ground is damp ... they could trace
where we took it."

"We could put clouts on her feet."

"As you like."

"Come along! Let's drive her into the wood and pass the night in the
gully. In the night we'll bring her out and drive her to the gipsies.
It's not far--only three versts."

"Let's go then," said Hopeful, shaking his head. "A bird in the bush
you know.... But suppose something comes of it?"

"Nothing will come of it," said Jig-Leg with conviction.

They quitted the road, and after glancing carefully around them,
entered the wood. The horse looked at them, snorted, waved her tail,
and again fell to munching the withered grass.



IV.


At the bottom of the deep sylvan hollow it was dark, damp, and still.
The murmuring of the stream was borne through the silence, monotonous
and melancholy, like a lament. From the steep sides of the gully above
waved the naked branches of the hazels, dwarf-cherries, and maples;
here and there the roots of the trees, saturated with the spring
water, projected helplessly out of the ground. The forest was still
dead; the gloom of evening magnified the lifeless monotony of its hues
and the sad silence lurking within it which had something of the gloomy
and triumphant repose of an old churchyard.

The chums had already been sitting a long time there in the damp and
silent gloom, beneath a group of aspens clustered together in a huge
clump of earth at the bottom of the ravine. A tiny fire burnt brightly
in front of them, and as they warmed their hands over it, they cast
into it, from time to time, dry twigs and branches, taking care that
the flame should burn evenly all the time, and that the fire should not
give forth smoke. Not very far off stood the horse. They had wrapped
her mouth round with a sleeve torn from the rags of Hopeful, and had
fastened her by her bridle to the trunk of a tree.

Hopeful, crouching down on his heels by the fire, was dreamily gazing
at the flame and whistling his song; his comrade, cutting away at
a bunch of osier-twigs, was making a basket out of them, and his
occupation kept him silent.

The sad melody of the stream and the soft whistling of the unlucky man
blended into one accord, and floated plaintively in the silence of
the evening and the forest. Now and then some twigs on the fire would
crackle, crackle and hiss, doubtless their way of sighing, as if they
felt that life was more lingering than their death in the fire, and
therefore more of a torment.

"What do you say? Shall we be going soon?" inquired Hopeful.

"It's early yet. Let it get quite dark and then we'll go," replied
Jig-Leg, without raising his head from his work.

Hopeful sighed and began to cough.

"Frozen, eh?" inquired his companion after a long pause.

"N--n--no ... Something makes me miserable."

"Let's hear it!" and Jig-Leg shook his head.

"My heart is throbbing."

"Sick, eh?"

"I suppose so ... but it may be something else."

Jig-Leg was silent for a while and then he said:

"I say!... don't think!"

"Of what?"

"Of everything."

"Look here now"--Hopeful suddenly seemed to grow alive--"how can I help
thinking? I look at her"--he waved his hand towards the horse--"I look
at her and I understand--I had such a one also. She was a sorrel, and
at all sorts of work--first-class. Once upon a time I even had a pair
of them--I worked right well in those days."

"What are you driving at?" asked Jig-Leg curtly and coldly. "I don't
like this sort of thing in you, you set up the bagpipes and begin to
groan!--what's the good?"

Hopeful silently threw into the fire a handful of twigs broken up
small, and watched the sparks fly upwards and disappear in the damp
air. His eyes blinked frequently, and shadows ran swiftly across his
face. Presently he turned his head in the direction of the horse and
gazed at her for a long time.

The horse was standing motionless, as if rooted in the ground; her
head, distorted out of recognition by the wrapping, was hanging down.

"We must take a single-minded view of things," said Jig-Leg, severely
and emphatically, "our life--is a day and a night--twenty-four hours
and that's all! If there's food--well and good; if there isn't--well
squeak and squeak as much as you like, you'd better leave off, for it
does no good. And the way you went on just now isn't nice to listen to.
It's because you're sick, that's what it is."

"It must be because I'm sick, I suppose," agreed. Hopeful meekly, but,
after a brief silence, he added, "But it may be owing to a weak heart."

"And that's because your heart is sick," declared Jig-Leg categorically.

He bit through the osier-twigs, waved them over his head, cut the air
with a shrill whistle, and said severely:

"I'm right enough you see--there's nothing of that sort the matter with
me."

The horse shifted from leg to leg; a branch cracked somewhere; some
earth plumped into the stream, introducing some fresh notes into its
quiet melody; then from somewhither two little birds started up and
flew along the gully, screeching uneasily. Hopeful followed them with
his eyes and remarked quietly:

"What birds are those? If they are starlings they have no business in
this forest. They are mostly around dwelling-places. I suppose they are
silk-tails[2] ... lots of 'em about."

"They may be cross-bills."[3]

[2] Bombycilla garrula.

[3] Loxia curvirostra.

"It's too early for cross-bills, and besides, what does a cross-bill
want in a fir-wood? It has no business there. They can only be
silk-tails."

"All right--drop 'em."

"Oh certainly!" agreed Hopeful, and he sighed heavily for some reason
or other.

The work in the hands of Jig-Leg progressed rapidly, he had already
woven the bottom of the basket, and was skilfully making the sides. He
cut the osiers with his knife, bit them through with his teeth, bent
and twined them, and snorted from time to time whenever he gave a tug
at his bristling moustaches.

Hopeful looked sometimes at him, sometimes at the horse, which seemed
to have petrified into its dejected pose, and sometimes at the sky,
already almost nocturnal, but without stars.

"The muzhiks grab all the horses," he suddenly remarked in a strange
voice--"and there are none left except here and there perhaps--so there
are no more horses!"

And Hopeful waved his arms about. His face was dull, and his eyes
blinked as frequently as if he was looking at something bright blazing
up before them.

"What's that to do with you?" asked Jig-Leg severely.

"I was calling to mind a story...." said Hopeful guiltily.

"What story?"

"Yes!... Just as it might be here ... the same thing happened to my
knowledge once ... they took away a horse ... from a neighbour of
mine ... Michael his name was ... such a big muzhik he was ... and
pock-marked...."

"Well?"

"Well, they took her away.... She was browsing on the winter
pastures--and all at once she was gone. When Michael understood that he
was nagless, down he plumped on the ground, and how he howled! Ah, my
little friend, how he did bellow then, to be sure ... it was just as if
he had broken his leg...."

"Well?"

"Well ... he was a long time like that."

"And how do you come in?"

At this sharp question from his comrade, Hopeful slunk away from him,
and timidly answered:

"Oh ... I only remembered it, that's all. For without his horse the
muzhik is in a hole."

"I tell you what it is," began Jig-Leg severely, looking Hopeful
straight in the face, "chuck it, d'ye hear? There's no sense in what
you say, do you understand? Michael, your neighbour, indeed! What's it
got to do with you?"

"Anyhow, it's a pity," objected Hopeful, shrugging his shoulders.

"A pity! Good heavens! and is there anyone who ever takes pity on us?"

"What do you mean?"

"Shut up! it will soon be time to go."

"Soon?"

"Yes."

Hopeful moved a little towards the fire, poked it with his stick, and
looking askance at Jig-Leg, who was once more immersed in his work,
said softly and beseechingly:

"Hadn't we better let her[4] go?"

"It's your low nature that makes you talk like that!" exclaimed Jig-Leg
angrily.

[4] The horse.

"Nay, but for God's sake listen!" persisted Hopeful softly, and with a
tone of conviction, "Just think, there's danger in it! Here we shall
have to drag her along for four versts.... And suppose the gipsies
won't take her!--what then?"

"That's my affair."

"As you like! Only it would be better to let her go. Let her go and
slope. Look what a knacker she is!"

Jig-Leg was silent, but his fingers moved more quickly than ever.

"How much would they give for her, I should like to know, in case they
gave anything at all?" persisted Hopeful, quietly but stubbornly. "And
now it's the best time. It will be dark immediately. If we go along the
gully we shall come out at Dubenka. Let's keep our eyes open, and we
may be able to prig something or other."

The monotonous speech of Hopeful, blending with the gurgling of the
stream, floated down the gully, and enraged the industrious Jig-Leg.

He was silent, ground his teeth, and the osier-twigs broke beneath his
fingers from sheer excitement.

"The women are bleaching their linen now."

The horse snorted loudly and became restive. Enwrapped by the mist, she
now looked more monstrous and more wretched than ever. Jig-Leg looked
at her and spat into the fire.

"The cattle, too, are now at large ... the geese are in the fields...."

"How long will it take you to spit it all out, you devil?" inquired
Jig-Leg savagely.

"For heaven's sake, Stephen, don't be angry with me. Let her loose in
the woods. It's the right thing to do."

"Have you eaten anything to-day?" shrieked Jig-Leg.

"No," replied Hopeful, confused and frightened by his comrade's shout.

"Then, deuce take you, you may starve for all I care. I spit upon you."

Hopeful looked at him in silence, Jig-Leg, collecting the osiers
together, bound them into a bundle, and snorted angrily. The reflection
of the fire fell upon his face, and his face, with the bristling
moustaches, was red and angry.

Hopeful turned away and sighed heavily.

"I spit upon such sentiments. I say--do as you like," said Jig-Leg,
hoarsely and viciously. "But let me tell you this," he went on, "if you
go hedging like this any more, you are no company for me. To that I
mean to stick. I know what you are, you...."

"You're an odd chap...."

"No more tall talk."

Hopeful squirmed and coughed; then after coughing his cough out, he
sighed heavily.

"Do you know why I talk so much about it? Because it is dangerous."

"All right!" cried Jig-Leg angrily.

He picked up the osier-twigs, flung them over his shoulder, shoved the
unfinished basket under his arm, and rose to his feet.

Hopeful also stood up, looked at his comrade, and softly approached the
horse.

"Wo-ah! Christ be with thee! Fear not!" his hollow voice resounded
through the gully.

"Wo-ah! Stand still! Well--go of your own accord--go along, then--there
you are!"

Jig-Leg watched his comrade pottering about the horse and unwinding the
clout from its mouth, and the moustaches of the surly thief twitched
with excitement.

"Let's be off," said he, moving forwards.

"I'm coming," said Hopeful.

And forcing their way through the scrub, they went silently along the
gully in the midst of the night darkness, which filled it to the very
brim.

The horse, too, came after them.

Presently behind them they heard the splashing of water, which drowned
the melody of the stream.

"Ah, thou fool! thou hast fallen into the water," said Hopeful.

Jig-Leg snorted angrily, but remained silent.

In the dark, amidst the gloomy silence of the ravine, resounded the
gentle crackling of twigs; the sound came floating along from the
place where the red cluster of the embers of the fire sparkled on the
ground like some monstrous and maliciously-mirthful eye.

The moon arose.

Her transparent radiance filled the ravine with a mist-like gloom; the
shadows fell on every side, making the forest all the denser, and the
silence therein more complete and more austere The white stems of the
birches, silvered over by the moon, stood out like wax-candles against
the darker ground of the oaks, elms, and brushwood.

The chums walked along the bottom of the ravine in silence. It was hard
going; sometimes their feet stumbled, sometimes they sank deep in the
mire. Hopeful frequently panted, and a whistling, wheezing, rattling
sound came from his breast, just as if a lot of large clocks that had
not been cleaned for a long time were stowed away there. Jig-Leg went
in front, the shadow of his lofty and erect figure fell upon Hopeful.

"Look now!" said he, petulantly and sulkily; "where are we going? What
are we after? Eh?"

Hopeful groaned, and was silent.

"The night is now shorter than a sparrow's beak, by daylight we shall
come to the village, and how shall we do? It is just as if we were
gentlemen at large taking a stroll."

"I feel very bad, brother," said Hopeful quietly.

"Very bad!" exclaimed Jig-Leg ironically; "there you are, of course!
How so?"

"I have great difficulty in breathing," replied the sick thief.

"In breathing? Why have you a great difficulty in breathing?"

"Because I am ill, I suppose."

"You lie! It is because you are stupid."

Jig-Leg stopped short, turned towards his comrade, and shaking his
fingers beneath his nose, added:

"Yes--you cannot breathe because of your stupidity. Do you understand?"

Hopeful bowed his head low, and answered guiltily:

"Certainly!"

He would have said something more, but began to cough instead, leaning
on to the trunk of a tree with trembling hands; and he coughed for a
long time, trampling the ground without moving from the spot, shaking
his head, and opening his mouth wide.

Jig-Leg continued looking at his face, which stood out haggard, earthy
and greenish in the light of the moon.

"You'll awaken all the wood-sprites in the forest," he said at last,
surlily.

And when Hopeful had coughed himself out, and throwing back his head,
groaned freely, he made a proposition to him in a dictatorial tone.

"Rest a bit. Sit down."

And they sat down on the damp earth in the shadow of the bushes.
Jig-Leg made a cigarette, began smoking it, looked at its glow, and
began to speak very deliberately.

"If only we had a home somewhere or other to go to, we might possibly
return home...."

"That's true," said Hopeful, wagging his head.

Jig-Leg looked askance at him, and continued: "But as we haven't got a
home--we must go on."

"Yes--we must," groaned Hopeful.

"We've no place to go to, so there's no sense talking about it. And the
chief cause of it is--we are fools! And what fools we are too!"

The dry voice of Jig-Leg cut through the air, and must have greatly
disquieted Hopeful--for he flung himself prone on the ground, sighed,
and gurgled oddly.

"And I want something to eat--I've a frightful longing that way,"
Jig-Leg concluded his drawling, reproachfully resonant speech.

Then Hopeful rose to his feet with an air of decision.

"What's the matter?" asked Jig-Leg.

"Let's be off!"

"Why so lively all at once?"

"Let's go!"

"Come along, then," and Jig-Leg also stood up, "only there's no sense
in this...."

"I don't care what happens!" and Hopeful waved his hand.

"Plucked up your courage again, eh?"

"What? Here you've been tormenting me and tormenting me, and
blackguarding me and blackguarding me ... Oh Lord!"

"Then why do you mess about so?"

"Mess about?"

"Yes."

"Well, look you, I felt so sorry."

"For whom? For what?"

"For whom? For that man, I suppose."

"For that--man?" drawled Jig-Leg. "Come now, take a pinch of snuff,
and have done with it. Ah! you're a good soul, but you've no sense.
What's the man to you? Can I make you understand that? Why, he'd collar
you, and smash you like a flea beneath his nail! At the very time that
you are pitying him I Then you'll go and declare your stupidity to
him, and in return for your compassion, he'll plague you with all the
seven plagues. Why, you carry your very guts in your hand for people
to look at, and drag your very vitals out into the light of day. Pity
indeed!--Ugh! I've no patience with you. For Heaven's sake, why don't
you have pity on yourself, instead of knocking yourself to bits? A
pretty fellow you are! Pity indeed!--pooh!"

Jig-Leg was quite outraged.

His voice, cutting and full of irony and contempt for his comrade,
resounded through the wood, and the branches of the shrubs shook with a
gentle rustle, as if agreeing with the rough truth of his words.

Hopeful, overwhelmed by these reproaches, paced along slowly on his
trembling legs, drawing up his arms into the sleeves of his jacket, and
drooping his head upon his breast.

"Wait!" said he at last. "What matters it? I'll put it all right. When
we come to the village, I will go into it--all alone. I'll go--you need
not come with me.... I'll prig the very first thing that falls within
my reach--and so home! Come along, and I'll show you something! It will
be hard for me--but don't say a word."

He spoke almost inaudibly, panting hard, with a rattling and a gurgling
in his breast. Jig-Leg looked at him suspiciously, stopped short as
if he were about to say something, waved his hand, and went on again
without saying anything.

For a long time they went on slowly and in silence.

The cocks began to crow somewhere near, the dogs barked, presently
the melancholy sound of the watch-bell was wafted to them from the
distant village church, and was swallowed up in the sombre silence of
the forest. A large bird, looking like a big black patch in the faint
moonlight, rose into the air, and there was an ominous sound in the
ravine of a flurried piping and the rustling of feathers.

"A crow--and a seed crow[5] too, if I'm not mistaken," observed Jig-Leg.

"Look here!" said Hopeful, sinking heavily on the ground, "go you, and
I'll remain here ... I can do no more ... I'm choking ... and my head
is going round."

"Well, there you are!" said Jig-Leg crossly. "What, can't you do a
little more?"

"I can't."

"I congratulate you. Ugh!"

"I've not a bit of strength in me."

"I'm not surprised, we've tramped without a meal since yesterday."

"No, it's not that ... it's all up with me ... look how the blood
trickles!"

And Hopeful raised his hand to Jig-Leg's face, all bespattered with
something dark. The other looked askance at it, and then, lowering his
voice, asked:

"What's to be done?"

"You go on ... I'll remain here ... I may rest a bit."

"Where shall I go? Suppose I go to the village and say there's a man in
the forest taken bad?"

"No ... they'd kill me."

"If they get the chance."

Hopeful fell upon his back, coughed a hollow cough, and vomited a whole
quantity of blood.

[5] A rook.

"How goes it?" inquired Jig-Leg, standing over him, but looking the
other way.

"Very badly," said Hopeful, in an almost inaudible voice, and fell
a-coughing again.

Jig-Leg cursed loudly and cynically.

"Suppose I call someone?"

"Whom?" said Hopeful, his voice was like a dismal echo.

"Or perhaps you may now be able to get up and go on for a little while?"

"No, no!"

Jig-Leg sat by the head of his comrade, and embracing his own knees
with his arms gazed steadily at Hopeful's face. The breast of Hopeful
was moving convulsively with a hollow rattling sound, his eyes were
deep-sunken, his lips gaped strangely apart and seemed to cleave to
his teeth. From the left corner of his mouth a dark living jet was
trickling.

"Is it still flowing?" asked Jig-Leg quietly, and in the tone of his
question there was something very near to respect.

The face of Hopeful shuddered.

"It is flowing," came a faint rattle.

Jig-Leg rested his head on his knees and was silent.

Over them hung the wall of the ravine furrowed by the deep cavities of
the spring streams. From its summit a shaggy row of trees illuminated
by the moon looked down into the abyss. The other side of the ravine,
which had a gentler slope, was overgrown with shrubs; here and there
the grey stems of the aspens stood out against its darker masses, and
on their naked branches the nests of the rooks were visible.... And the
ravine itself, lit up by the moon, was like a vision of slumber, like
a weary dream, with nothing of the hues of life; and the quiet gurgling
of the stream magnified its lifelessness still more and overshadowed
its melancholy silence.

"I am dying," whispered Hopeful in a scarce audible voice, and
immediately afterwards he repeated in a loud and clear voice, "I am
dying, Stephen!"

Jig-Leg trembled all over, wriggled, snorted, and raising his head from
his knees said, awkwardly, very gently, and as if fearing to disturb
something:

"Oh, you've not come to that ... don't be afraid. Quite impossible!
This is such a simple thing ... why it's nothing, my brother, God bless
me!"

"Oh, Lord Jesus Christ!" sighed Hopeful heavily.

"It's nothing at all!" whispered Jig-Leg, bending over his comrade's
face; "just you keep quiet for a bit ... maybe it will pass over!"

But Hopeful began to cough, and a new sound was audible in his breast,
just as if a wet clout was being smacked against his ribs. Jig-Leg
looked at him and twirled his moustaches in silence. Having coughed
himself out, Hopeful began to pant loudly and uninterruptedly--just as
if he were running away somewhere with all his might. For a long time
he panted like this, then he said:

"Forgive me, Stephen ... if anything I ... that horse you know ...
forgive me, little brother!"

"You forgive me!" interrupted Jig-Leg, and after a pause, he added:

"And I ... whither shall I go? And how will it be with me?"

"It doesn't matter. May the Lord give thee...."

He sighed without finishing his sentence and was silent.

Then he began to make a rattling sound ... then he stretched out his
legs--one of them he jerked sideways.

Jig-Leg gazed at him without once removing his eyes. A few moments
passed as long as hours.

Suddenly Hopeful raised his head, but immediately it fell helplessly
back on to the ground.

"What, my brother?" said Jig-Leg, leaning over him. But he answered no
more, but lay there quiet and motionless.

The sour-visaged Jig-Leg remained sitting by his chum a few minutes
longer, then he arose, took off his hat, crossed himself, and slowly
went on his way along the ravine. His face was peaked, his eyebrows and
moustaches were bristling, and he walked as firmly as if he wanted to
beat the earth with his feet and do her a mischief.

The day was already breaking. The sky was grey and cheerless; a savage
silence prevailed in the ravine; only the stream, disturbing no one,
uttered its monotonous melancholy speech.

But hark, there's a rustle--maybe a clump of earth has rolled down the
side of the ravine.... The rook awakes, and, croaking uneasily, flies
off elsewhere. Presently a titmouse utters her cry. In the damp cold
air of the ravine sounds don't live long--they arise and immediately
vanish.

THE END.





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