My Childhood, by Maksim Gorky

Chapter VI

WHEN the spring came my uncles separated Jaakov remained in the town and Michael established himself by the river, while grandfather bought a large, interesting house in Polevoi Street, with a tavern on the ground-floor, comfortable little rooms under the roof, and a garden running down to the causeway which simply bristled with leafless willow branches.

“Canes for you!” grandfather said, merrily winking at me, as after looking at the garden, I accompanied him on the soft, slushy road. “I shall begin teaching you to read and write soon, so they will come in handy.”

The house was packed full of lodgers, with the exception of the top floor, where grandfather had a room for himself and for the reception of visitors, and the attic, in which grandmother and I had established ourselves. Its window gave on to the street, and one could see, by leaning over the sill, in the evenings and on holidays, drunken men crawling out of the tavern and staggering up the road, shouting and tumbling about. Sometimes they were thrown out into the road, just as if they had been sacks, and then they would try to make their way into the tavern again; the door would bang, and creak, and the hinges would squeak, and then a fight would begin. It was very interesting to look down on all this.

Every morning grandfather went to the workshops of his sons to help them to get settled, and every evening he would return tired, depressed, and cross.

Grandmother cooked, and sewed, and pottered about in the kitchen and flower gardens, revolving about something or other all day long, like a gigantic top set spinning by an invisible whip; taking snuff continually, and sneezing, and wiping her perspiring face as she said:

“Good luck to you, good old world! Well now, Oleysha, my darling, isn’t this a nice quiet life now? This is thy doing, Queen of Heaven that everything has turned out so well!”

But her idea of a quiet life was not mine. From morning till night the other occupants of the house ran in and out and up and down tumultuously, thus demonstrating their neighborliness always in a hurry, yet always late; always complaining, and always ready to call out: “Akulina Ivanovna!”

And Akulina Ivanovna, invariably amiable, and impartially attentive to them all, would help herself to snuff and carefully wipe her nose and fingers on a red check handkerchief before replying:

“To get rid of lice, my friend, you must wash yourself oftener and take baths of mint-vapor; but if the lice are under the skin, you should take a tablespoonful of the purest goose-grease, a teaspoonful of sulphur, three drops of quicksilver stir all these ingredients together seven times with a potsherd in an earthenware vessel, and use the mixture as an ointment. But remember that if you stir it with a wooden or a bone spoon the mercury will be wasted, and that if you put a brass or silver spoon into it, it will do you harm to use it.”

Sometimes, after consideration, she would say:

“You had better go to Asaph, the chemist at Petchyor, my good woman, for I am sure I don’t know how to advise you.”

She acted as midwife, and as peacemaker in family quarrels and disputes; she would cure infantile maladies, and recite the “Dream of Our Lady,” so that the women might learn it by heart “for luck,” and was always ready to give advice in matters of housekeeping.

“The cucumber itself will tell you when pickling time comes; when it falls to the ground and gives forth a curious odor, then is the time to pluck it. Kvass must be roughly dealt with, and it does not like much sweetness, so prepare it with raisins, to which you may add one zolotnik to every two and a half gallons. . . . You can make curds in different ways. There ‘s the Donski flavor, and the Gimpanski, and the Caucasian.”

All day long I hung about her in the garden and in the yard, and accompanied her to neighbors’ houses, where she would sit for hours drinking tea and telling all sorts of stories. I had grown to be a part of her, as it were, and at this period of my life I do not remember anything so distinctly as that energetic old woman, who was never weary of doing good.

Sometimes my mother appeared on the scene from somewhere or other, for a short time. Lofty and severe, she looked upon us all with her cold gray eyes, which were like the winter sun, and soon vanished again, leaving us nothing to remember her by.

Once I asked grandmother: “Are you a witch?”

“Well! What idea will you get into your head next?” she laughed. But she added in a thoughtful tone: “How could I be a witch? Witchcraft is a difficult science. Why, I can’t read and write even; I don’t even know my alphabet. Grandfather he ‘s a regular cormorant for learning, but Our Lady never made me a scholar.”

Then she presented still another phase of her life to me as she went on:

“I was a little orphan like you, you know. My mother was just a poor peasant woman and a cripple.

She was little more than a child when a gentleman took advantage of her. In fear of what was to come, she threw herself out of the window one night, and broke her ribs and hurt her shoulder so much that her right hand, which she needed most, was withered . . . and a noted lace-worker, too! Well, of course her employers did not want her after that, and they dismissed her to get her living as well as she could. How can one earn bread without hands? So she had to beg, to live on the charity of others; but in those times people were richer and kinder . . . the carpenters of Balakhana, as well as the lace-workers, were famous, and all the people were for show.

“Sometimes my mother and I stayed in the town for the autumn and winter, but as soon as the Archangel Gabriel waved his sword and drove away the winter, and clothed the earth with spring, we started on our travels again, going whither our eyes led us. To Mourome we went, and to Urievitz, and by the upper Volga, and by the quiet Oka. It was good to wander about the world in the spring and summer, when all the earth was smiling and the grass was like velvet; and the Holy Mother of God scattered flowers over the fields, and everything seemed to bring joy to one, and speak straight to one’s heart. And sometimes, when we were on the hills, my mother, closing her blue eyes, would begin to sing in a voice which, though not powerful, was as clear as a bell; and listening to her, everything about us seemed to fall into a breathless sleep. Ah! God knows it was good to be alive in those days!

“But by the time that I was nine years old, my mother began to feel that she would be blamed if she took me about begging with her any longer; in fact, she began to be ashamed of the life we were leading, and so she settled at Balakhana, and went about the streets begging from house to house taking up a position in the church porch on Sundays and holidays, while I stayed at home and learned to make lace. I was an apt pupil, because I was so anxious to help my mother; but sometimes I did not seem to get on at all, and then I used to cry. But in two years I had learned the business, mind you, small as I was, and the fame of of it went through the town. When people wanted really good lace, they came to us at once:

“‘Now, Akulina, make your bobbins fly!’ ’

“And I was very happy . . . those were great days for me. But of course it was mother’s work, not mine; for though she had only one hand and that one useless, it was she who taught me how to work. And a good teacher is worth more than ten workers.

“Well, I began to be proud. ‘Now, my little mother,’ I said, ‘you must give up begging, for I can earn enough to keep us both.’

“‘Nothing of the sort!’ she replied. ‘What you earn shall be set aside for your dowry.’

“And not long after this, grandfather came on the scene. A wonderful lad he was only twenty-two, and already a freewater-man. His mother had had her eye on me for some time. She saw that I was a clever worker, and being only a beggar’s daughter, I suppose she thought I should be easy to manage; but! Well, she was a crafty, malignant woman, but we won’t rake up all that. . . . Besides, why should we remember bad people? God sees them; He sees all they do; and the devils love them.”

And she laughed heartily, wrinkling her nose comically, while her eyes, shining pensively, seemed to caress me, more eloquent even than her words.

I remember one quiet evening having tea with grandmother in grandfather’s room. He was not well, and was sitting on his bed undressed, with a large towel wrapped round his shoulders, sweating profusely and breathing quickly and heavily. His green eyes were dim, his face puffed and livid; his small, pointed ears also were quite purple, and his hand shook pitifully as he stretched it out to take his cup of tea. His manner was gentle too; he was quite unlike himself.

“Why haven’t you given me any sugar?” he asked pettishly, like a spoiled child.

“I have put honey in it; it is better for you,” replied grandmother kindly but firmly.

Drawing in his breath and making a sound in his throat like the quacking of a duck, he swallowed the hot tea at a gulp.

“I shall die this time,” he said; “see if I don’t!”

“Don’t you worry! I will take care of you.”

“That ‘s all very well; but if I die now I might as well have never lived. Everything will fall to pieces.”

“Now, don’t you talk. Lie quiet.”

He lay silent for a minute with closed eyes, twisting his thin beard round his fingers, and smacking his discolored lips together; but suddenly he shook himself as if some one had run a pin into him, and began to utter his thoughts aloud:

“Jaaschka and Mischka ought to get married again as soon as possible. New ties would very likely give them a fresh hold on life. What do you think?” Then he began to search his memory for the names of eligible brides in the town.

But grandmother kept silence as she drank cup after cup of tea, and I sat at the window looking at the evening sky over the town as it grew redder and redder and cast a crimson reflection upon the windows of the opposite houses. As a punishment for some misdemeanor, grandfather had forbidden me to go out in the garden or the yard. Round the birch trees in the garden circled beetles, making a tinkling sound with their wings; a cooper was working in a neighboring yard, and not far away some one was sharpening knives. The voices of children who were hidden by the thick bushes rose up from the garden and the causeway. It all seemed to draw me and hold me, while the melancholy of eventide flowed into my heart.

Suddenly grandfather produced a brand-new book from somewhere, banged it loudly on the palm of his hand, and called me in brisk tones.

“Now, yon young rascal, come here! Sit down! Now do you see these letters’? This is ‘Az.’ Say after me ‘Az,’ ‘Buki,’ ‘Viedi.’ What is this one?”

“Buki.”

“Right! And what is this?”

“Viedi.”

“Wrong! It is ‘Az.’

“Look at these ‘Glagol,’ ‘Dobro,’ ‘Yest.’ WTiat is this one?”

“Dobro.”

“Right! And this one?”

“Glagol.”

“Good! And this one?”

“Az.”

“You ought to be lying still, you know, Father,” put in grandmother.

“Oh, don’t bother! This is just die dung for me; it takes my thoughts off myself. Go on, Lexei!”

He put his hot, moist aim round my neck, and ticked off the letters on my shoulder with his finger He smelled strongly of vinegar, to which an odor of baked onion was added, and I felt nearly suffocated; but he flew into a rage and growled and roared in my ear:

“Zemlya, Loodi!”

The words were familiar to me, but the Slav characters did not correspond with them. “Zemlya” (Z) looked like a worm; 4i Glagol M (G) like round-shouldered Gregory; “Ya” resembled grandmother and me standing together; and grandfather seemed to have something in common with all the letters of the alphabet.

He took me through it over and over again, sometimes asking me the names of the letters in order, sometimes “dodging”; and his hot temper must have been catching, for I also began to perspire, and to shout at the top of my voice at which he was greatly amused. He clutched his chest as he coughed violently and tossed the book aside, wheezing:

“Do you hear how he bawls, Mother? What are you making that noise for, you little Astrakhan maniac?

It was you that made the noise.

It was a pleasure to me then to look at him and at grandmother, who, with her elbows on the table, and cheek resting on her hand, was watching us and laughing gently as she said:

“You will burst yourselves with laughing if you are not careful.”

“I am irritable because I am unwell,” grandfather explained in a friendly tone. “But what ‘s the matter with you, eh?”

“Our poor Natalia was mistaken,” he said to grandmother, shaking his damp head, “when she said he had no memory. He has a memory, thank God! It is like a horse’s memory. Get on with it, snub-nose!”

At last he playfully pushed me off the bed.

“That will do. You can take the book, and tomorrow you will say the whole alphabet to me without a mistake, and I will give you five kopecks.”

When I held out my hand for the book, he drew me to him and said gruffly:

“That mother of yours does not care what becomes of you, my lad.”

Grandmother started.

“Oh, Father, why do you say such things’?”

“I ought not to have said it my feelings got the better of me. Oh, what a girl that is for going astray!”

He pushed me from him roughly.

“Run along now! You can go out, but not into the street; don’t you dare to do that. Go to the yard or the garden.”

The garden had special attractions for me. As soon as I showed myself on the hillock there, the boys in the causeway started to throw stones at me, and I returned the charge with a will.

“Here comes the ninny,” they would yell as soon as they saw me, arming themselves hastily. “Let ‘s skin him!”

As I did not know what they meant by “ninny,” the nickname did not offend me; but I liked to feel that I was one alone fighting against the lot of them, especially when a well-aimed stone sent the enemy flying to shelter amongst the bushes. We engaged in these battles without malice, and they generally ended without any one being hurt.

I learned to read and write easily. Grandmother bestowed more and more attention on me, and whippings became rarer and rarer although in my opinion I deserved them more than ever before, for the older and more vigorous I grew the more often I broke grandfather’s rules, and disobeyed his commands; yet he did no more than scold me, or shake his fist at me. I began to think, if you please, that he must have beaten me without cause in the past, and I told him so.

He lightly tilted my chin and raised my face towards him, blinking as he drawled:

“Wha a a t?”

And half-laughing, he added:

“You heretic! How can you possibly know how many whippings you need? Who should know if not I? There! get along with you.”

But he had no sooner said this than he caught me by the shoulder and asked:

“Which are you now, I wonder crafty or simple?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know! Well, I will tell you this much be crafty; it pays! Simple-mindedness is nothing but foolishness. Sheep are simple-minded, remember that! That will do. Run away!”

Before long I was able to spell out the Psalms. Our usual time for this was after the evening tea, when I had to read one Psalm.

“B-1-e-s-s, Bless; e-d, ed; Blessed,” I read, guiding the pointer across the page. “Blessed is the man Does that mean Uncle Jaakov?” I asked, to relieve the tedium.

“I’ll box your ears; that will teach you who it is that is blessed,” replied grandfather, snorting angrily; but I felt that his anger was only assumed, because he thought it was the right thing to be angry.

And I was not mistaken; in less than a minute it was plain that he had forgotten all about me as he muttered:

“Yes, yes! King David showed himself to be very spiteful in sport, and in his songs, and in the Absalom affair. Ah! Maker of Songs, Master of Language, and Jester. That is what you were!”

I left off reading to look at his frowning, wondering face. His eyes, blinking slightly, seemed to look through me, and a warm, melancholy brightness shone from them; but I knew that before long his usual harsh expression would return to them. He drummed on the table spasmodically with his thin fingers; his stained nails shone, and his golden eyebrows moved up and down.

“Grandfather!”

“Eh? 5

“Tell me a story.”

“Get on with your reading, you lazy clown!” he said querulously, rubbing his eyes just as if he had been awakened from sleep. “You like stories, but you don’t care for the Psalms!”

I rather suspected that he, too, liked stories better than the Psalter, which he knew almost by heart, for he had made a vow to read it through every night before going to bed, which he did in a sort of chant, just as the deacons recite the breviary in church.

At my earnest entreaty, the old man, who was growing softer every day, gave in to me.

“Very well, then! You will always have the Psalter with you, but God will be calling me to judgment before long.”

So, reclining against the upholstered back of the old armchair, throwing back his head and gazing at the ceiling, he quietly and thoughtfully began telling me about old times, and about his father. Once robbers had come to Balakhana, to rob Zaev, the merchant, and grandfather’s father rushed to the belfry to sound the alarm; but the robbers came up after him, felled him with their swords, and threw him down from the tower.

“But I was an infant at the time, so of course I do not remember anything about the affair. The first person I remember is a Frenchman; that was when I was twelve years old exactly twelve. Three batches of prisoners were driven into Balakhana all small, wizened people; some of them dressed worse than beggars, and others so cold that they could hardly stand by themselves. The peasants would have beaten them to death, but the escort prevented that and drove them away; and there was no more trouble after that. We got used to the Frenchmen, who showed themselves to be skilful and sagacious; merry enough too . . . sometimes they sang songs. Gentlemen used to come out from Nijni in troikas to examine the prisoners; some of them abused the Frenchmen and shook their fists at them, and even went so far as to strike them, while others spoke kindly to them in their own tongue, gave them money, and showed them great cordiality. One old gentleman covered his face with his hands and wept, and said that that villain Bonaparte had ruined the French. There, you see! He was a Russian, and a gentleman, and he had a good heart he pitied those foreigners.”

He was silent for a moment, keeping his eyes closed, and smoothing his hair with his hands; then he went on, recalling the past with great precision.

“Winter had cast its spell over the streets, the peasants’ huts were frostbound, and the Frenchmen used sometimes to run to our mother’s house and stand under the windows she used to make little loaves to sell and tap on the glass, shouting and jumping about as they asked for hot bread. Mother would not have them in our cottage, but she threw them the loaves from the window; and all hot as they were, they snatched them up and thrust them into their breasts, against their bare skin. How they bore the heat I cannot imagine! Many of them died of cold, for they came from a warm country, and were not accustomed to frost. Two of them lived in our wash-house, in the kitchen garden an officer, with his orderly, Miron.

“The officer was a tall, thin man, with his bones coming through his skin, and he used to go about wrapped in a woman’s cloak which reached to his knees. He was very amiable, but a drunkard, and my mother used to brew beer on the quiet and sell it to him. When he had been drinking he used to sing. When he had learned to speak our language he used to air his views ‘Your country is not white at all, it is black and bad!’ He spoke very imperfectly, but we could understand him, and what he said was quite true. The upper banks of the Volga are not pleasing, but farther south the earth is warmer, and on the Caspian Sea snow is never even seen. One can believe that, for there is no mention of either snow or winter in the Gospels, or in the Acts, or in the Psalms, as far as I remember . . . and the place where Christ lived . . . Well, as soon as we have finished the Psalms we will read the Gospels together.”

He fell into another silence, just as if he had dropped off to sleep. His thoughts were far away, and his eyes, as they glanced sideways out of the window, looked small and sharp.

“Tell me some more,” I said, as a gentle reminder of my presence.

He started, and then began again.

“Well we were talking about French people. They are human beings like ourselves, after all, not worse, or more sinful. Sometimes they used to call out to my mother, ‘Madame! Madame!’ that means ‘my lady,’ ‘my mistress’ and she would put flour five poods of it into their sacks. Her strength was extraordinary for a woman; she could lift me up by the hair quite easily until I was twenty, and even at that age I was no light weight. Well, this orderly, Miron, loved horses; he used to go into the yard and make signs for them to give him a horse to groom. At first there was trouble about it there were disputes and enmity but in the end the peasants used to call him ‘Hi, Miron!’ and he used to laugh and nod his head, and run to them. He was sandy, almost red-haired, with a large nose and thick lips. He knew all about horses, and treated their maladies with wonderful success; later on he became a veterinary surgeon at Nijni, but he went out of his mind and was killed in a fire. Towards the spring the officer began to show signs of breaking up, and passed quietly away, one day in early spring, while he was sitting at the window of the out-house just sitting and thinking, with drooping head.

“That is how his end came. I was very grieved about it. I cried a little, even, on the quiet. He was so gentle. He used to pull my ears, and talk to me so kindly in his own tongue. I could not understand him, but I liked to hear him human kindness is not to be bought in any market. He began to teach me his language, but my mother forbade it, and even went so far as to send me to the priest, who prescribed a beating for me, and went himself to make a complaint to the officer. In those days, my lad, we were treated very harshly. You have not experienced anything like it yet. . . . What you have had to put up with is nothing to it, and don’t you forget it! . . . Take my own case, for example. . . . I had to go through so much ”

Darkness began to fall. Grandfather seemed to grow curiously large in the twilight, and his eyes gleamed like those of a cat. On most subjects he spoke quietly, carefully, and thoughtfully, but when he talked about himself his words came quickly and his tone was passionate and boastful, and I did not like to hear him; nor did I relish his frequent and peremptory command:

“Remember what I am telling you now! Take care you don’t forget this!”

He told me of many things which I had no desire to remember, but which, without any command from him, I involuntarily retained in my memory, to cause me a morbid sickness of heart.

He never told fictitious stories, but always related events which had really happened; and I also noticed that he hated to be questioned, which prompted me to ask persistently:

“Who are the best the French or the Russians?”

“How can I tell? I never saw a Frenchman at home,” he growled angrily. “A Pole cat is all right in its own hole,” he added.

“But are the Russians good?”

“In many respects they are, but they were better when the landlords ruled. We are all at sixes and sevens now; people can’t even get a living. The gentlefolk, of course, are to blame, because they have more intelligence to back them up; but that can’t be said of all of them, but only of a few good ones who have already been proved. As for the others most of them are as foolish as mice; they will take anything you like to give them. We have plenty of nut shells amongst us, but the kernels are missing; only nut shells, the kernels have been devoured. There ‘s a lesson for you, man! We ought to have learned it, our wits ought to have been sharpened by now; but we are not keen enough yet.”

“Are Russians stronger than other people?” “We have some very strong people amongst us; but it is not strength which is so important, but dexterity. As far as sheer strength goes, the horse is our superior.”

“But why did the French make war on us?”

“Well, war is the Emperor’s affair. We can’t expect to understand about it.”

But to my question: “What sort of a man was Bonaparte?” grandfather replied in a tone of retrospection:

“He was a wicked man. He wanted to make war on the whole world, and after that he wanted to make us all equal without rulers, or masters; every one to be equal, without distinction of class, under the same rules, professing the same religion, so that the only difference between one person and another would be their names. It was all nonsense, of course. Lobsters are the only creatures which cannot be distinguished one from the other . . . but fish are divided into classes. The sturgeon will not associate with the sheat-fish, and the sterlet refuses to make a friend of the herring. There have been Bonapartes amongst us; there was Razin (Stepan Timotheev), and Pygatch (Emilian Ivanov) but I will tell you about them another time.”

Sometimes he would remain silent for a long time, gazing at me with rolling eyes, as if he had never seen me before, which was not at all pleasant. But he never spoke to me of my father or my mother. Now and again grandmother would enter noiselessly during these conversations, and taking a seat in the corner, would remain there for a long time silent and invisible. Then she would ask suddenly in her caressing voice:

“Do you remember, Father, how lovely it was when we went on a pilgrimage to Mouron? What year would that be now?”

After pondering, grandfather would answer carefully:

“I can’t say exactly, but it was before the cholera. It was the year we caught those escaped convicts in the woods.”

“True, true! We were still frightened of them”

“That’s right!”

I asked what escaped convicts were, and why they were running about the woods; and grandfather rather reluctantly explained.

“They are simply men who have run away from prison from the work they have been set to do.”

“How did you catch them?”

“How did we catch them? Why, like little boys play hide-and-seek some run away and the others look for them and catch them. When they were caught they were thrashed, their nostrils were slit, and they were branded on the forehead as a sign that they were convicts.”

“But why?”

“Ah! that is the question and one I can’t answer.

As to which is in the wrong the one who runs away or the one who pursues him that also is a mystery!”

“And do you remember, Father,” said grandmother, “after the great fire, how we?”

Grandfather, who put accuracy before everything else, asked grimly:

“What great fire?”

When they went over the past like this, they forgot all about me. Their voices and their words mingled so softly and so harmoniously, that it sounded sometimes as if they were singing melancholy songs about illnesses and fires, about massacred people and sudden deaths, about clever rogues, and religious maniacs, and harsh landlords.

“What a lot we have lived through! What a lot we have seen!” murmured grandfather softly.

“We haven’t had such a bad life, have we?” said grandmother. “Do you remember how well the spring began, after Varia was born?”

“That was in the year ‘48, during the Hungarian Campaign; and the day after the christening they drove out her godfather, Tikhon ”

“And he disappeared,” sighed grandmother.

“Yes; and from that time God’s blessings have seemed to flow off our house like water off a duck’s back. Take Varvara, for instance ”

“Now, Father, that will do!”

“What do you mean That will do’?’ he asked, scowling at her angrily. “Our children have turned out badly, whichever way you look at them. What has become of the vigor of our youth? We thought we were storing it up for ourselves in our children, as one might pack something away carefully in a basket; when, lo and behold, God changes it in our hands into a riddle without an answer!”

He ran about the room, uttering cries as if he had burned himself, and groaning as if he were ill; then turning on grandmother he began to abuse his children, shaking his small, withered fist at her threateningly as he cried:

“And it is all your fault for giving in to them, and for taking their part, you old hag!”

His grief and excitement culminated in a tearful howl as he threw himself on the floor before the icon, and beating his withered, hollow breast with all his force, cried:

“Lord, have I sinned more than others’? Why then?”

And he trembled from head to foot, and his eyes, wet with tears, glittered with resentment and animosity.

Grandmother, without speaking, crossed herself as she sat in her dark corner, and then, approaching him cautiously, said:

“Now, why are you fretting like this? God knows what He is doing. You say that other people’s children are better than ours, but I assure you, Father, that you will find the same thing everywhere quarrels, and bickerings, and disturbances. All parents wash away their sins with their tears; you are not the only one.”

Sometimes these words would pacify him, and he would begin to get ready for bed; then grandmother and I would steal away to our attic.

But once when she approached him with soothing speech, he turned on her swiftly, and with all his force dealt her a blow in the face with his fist.

Grandmother reeled, and almost lost her balance, but she managed to steady herself, and putting her hand to her lips, said quietly: “Fool!” And she spit blood at his feet; but he only gave two prolonged howls and raised both hands to her.

“Go away, or I will kill you!”

“Fool!” she repeated as she was leaving the room.

Grandfather rushed at her, but, with haste, she stepped over the threshold and banged the door in his face.

“Old hag!” hissed grandfather, whose face had become livid, as he clung to the door-post, clawing it viciously.

I was sitting on the couch, more dead than alive, hardly able to believe my eyes. This was the first time he had struck grandmother in my presence, and I was overwhelmed with disgust at this new aspect of his character at this revelation of a trait which I found unforgivable, and I felt as if I were being suffocated. He stayed where he was, hanging on to the door-post, his face becoming gray and shriveled up as if it were covered with ashes.

Suddenly he moved to the middle of the room, knelt down, and bent forward, resting his hands on the floor; but he straightened himself almost directly, and beat his breast.

“And now, O Lord!”

I slipped off the warm tiles of the stove-couch, and crept out of the room, as carefully as if I were treading on ice. I found grandmother upstairs, walking up and down the room, and rinsing her mouth at intervals.

“Are you hurt?”

She went into the corner, spit out some water into the hand-basin, and replied coolly:

“Nothing to make a fuss about. My teeth are all right; it is only my lips that are bruised.”

“Why did he do it?’

Glancing out of the window she said:

“He gets into a temper. It is hard for him in his old age. Everything seems to turn out badly. Now you go to bed, say your prayers, and don’t think any more about this.”

I began to ask some more questions; but with a severity quite unusual in her, she cried:

“What did I say to you? Go to bed at once! I never heard of such disobedience!”

She sat at the window, sucking her lip and spitting frequently into her handkerchief, and I undressed, looking at her. I could see the stars shining above her black head through the blue, square window. In the street all was quiet, and the room was in darkness. When I was in bed she came over to me and softly stroking my head, she said:

“Sleep well! I shall go down to him. Don’t be anxious about me, sweetheart. It was my own fault, you know. Now go to sleep!”

She kissed me and went away; but an overwhelming sadness swept over me. I jumped out of the wide, soft, warm bed, and going to the window, gazed down upon the empty street, petrified by grief.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37