MY duties in the workshop were not complicated. In the morning when they were all asleep, I had to prepare the samovar for the men, and while they drank tea in the kitchen, Pavl and I swept and dusted the workshop, set out red, yellow, or white paints, and then I went to the shop. In the evening I had to grind up colors and “watch” the work. At first I watched with great interest, but I soon realized that all the men who were engaged on this handicraft which was divided up into so many processes, disliked it, and suffered from a torturing boredom.
The evenings were free. I used to tell them stories about life on the steamer and different stories out of books, and without noticing how it came about, I soon held a peculiar position in the workshop as story-teller and reader.
I soon found out that all these people knew less than I did; almost all of them had been stuck in the narrow cage of workshop life since their childhood, and were still in it. Of all the occupants of the workshop, only Jikharev had been in Moscow, of which he spoke suggestively and frowningly:
“Moscow does not believe in tears; there they know which side their bread is buttered.”
None of the rest had been farther than Shuya, or Vladimir. When mention was made of Kazan, they asked me:
“Are there many Russians there? Are there any churches?”
For them, Perm was in Siberia, and they would not believe that Siberia was beyond the Urals.
“Sandres come from the Urals; and sturgeon — where are they found? Where do they get them? From the Caspian Sea? That means that the Urals are on the sea!”
Sometimes I thought that they were laughing at me when they declared that England was on the other side of the Atlantic, and that Bonaparte belonged by birth to a noble family of Kalonga. When I told them stories of what I had seen, they hardly believed me, but they all loved terrible tales intermixed with history. Even the men of mature years evidently preferred imagination to the truth. I could see very well that the more improbable the events, the more fantastic the story, the more attentively they listened to me. On the whole, reality did not interest them, and they all gazed dreamily into the future, not wishing to see the poverty and hideousness of the present.
This astonished me so much the more, inasmuch as I had felt keenly enough the contradiction existing between life and books. Here before me were living people, and in books there were none like them — no Smouri, stoker Yaakov, fugitive Aleksander Vassiliev, Jikharev. or washerwoman Natalia.
In Davidov’s trunk a torn copy of Golitzinski’s stories was found — “Ivan Vuijigin,” “The Bulgar,” “A Volume of Baron Brambeuss.” I read all these aloud to them, and they were delighted. Larionovich said:
“Reading prevents quarrels and noise; it is a good thing!”
I began to look about diligently for books, found them, and read almost every evening. Those were pleasant evenings. It was as quiet as night in the workshop; the glass balls hung over the tables like white cold stars, their rays lighting up shaggy and bald heads. I saw round me at the table, calm, thoughtful faces; now and again an exclamation of praise of the author, or hero was heard. They were attentive and benign, quite unlike themselves. I liked them very much at those times, and they also behaved well to me. I felt that I was in my right place.
“When we have books it is like spring with us; when the winter frames are taken out and for the first time we can open the windows as we like,” said Sitanov one day.
It was hard to find books. We could not afford to subscribe to a library, but I managed to get them somehow, asking for them wherever I went, as a charity. One day the second officer of the fire brigade gave me the first volume of “Lermontov,” and it was from this that I felt the power of poety, and its mighty influence over people. I remember even now how, at the first lines of “The Demon,” Sitanov looked first at the book and then at my face, laid down his brush on the table, and, embracing his knee with his long arms, rocked to and fro, smiling.
“Not so much noise, brothers,” said Larionovich, and also laying aside his work, he went to Sitanov’s table where I was reading. The poem stirred me painfully and sweetly; my voice was broken; I could hardly read the lines. Tears poured from my eyes. But what moved me still more was the dull, cautious movement of the workmen. In the workshop everything seemed to be diverted from its usual course — drawn to me as if I had been a magnet. When I had finished the first part, almost all of them were standing round the table, closely pressing against one an — other, embracing one another, frowning and laugh — ing.
“Go on reading,” said Jikharev, bending my head over the book.
When I had finished reading, he took the book, looked at the title, put it under his arm, and said:
“We must read this again! We will read it tomorrow! I will hide the book away.”
He went away, locked “Lermontov” in his drawer, and returned to his work. It was quiet in the workshop; the men stole back to their tables. Sitanov went to the window, pressed his forehead against the glass, and stood there as if frozen. Jikharev, again laying down his brush, said in a stern voice:
“Well, such is life; slaves of God — yes — ah!”
He shrugged his shoulders, hid his face, and went on:
“I can draw the devil himself; black and rough, with wings of red flame, with red lead, but the face, hands, and feet — these should be bluish-white, like snow on a moonlight night.”
Until close upon suppertime he revolved about on his stool, restless and unlike himself, drumming with his fingers and talking unintelligibly of the devil, of women and Eve, of paradise, and of the sins of holy men.
“That is all true!” he declared. “If the saints sinned with sinful women, then of course the devil may sin with a pure soul.”
They listened to him in silence; probably, like me, they had no desire to speak. They worked unwillingly, looking all the time at their watches, and as soon as it struck ten, they put away their work altogether.
Sitanov and Jikharev went out to the yard, and I went with them. There, gazing at the stars, Sitanov said:
“Like a wandering caravan Thrown into space, it shone.”
“You did not make that up yourself!” “I can never remember words,” said Jikharev, shivering in the bitter cold. “I can’t remember anything; but he, I see — It is an amazing thing — a man who actually pities the devil! He has made you sorry for him, hasn’t he?”
“He has,” agreed Sitanov.
“There, that is a real man!” exclaimed Jikharev reminiscently. In the vestibule he warned me: “You, Maxim, don’t speak to any one in the shop about that book, for of course it is a forbidden one.”
I rejoiced; this must be one of the books of which the priest had spoken to me in the confessional.
We supped languidly, without the usual noise and talk, as if something important had occurred and we could not keep from thinking about it, and after supper, when we were going to bed, Jikharev said to me, as he drew forth the book:
“Come, read it once more!”
Several men rose from their beds, came to the table, and sat themselves round it, undressed as they were, with their legs crossed.
And again when I had finished reading, Jikharev said, strumming his fingers on the table:
“That is a living picture of him! Ach, devil, devil — that’s how he is, brothers, eh?”
Sitanov leaned over my shoulder, read something, and laughed, as he said:
“I shall copy that into my own note-book.”
Jikharev stood up and carried the book to his own table, but he turned back and said in an offended, shaky voice:
“We live like blind puppies — to what end we do not know. We are not necessary either to God or the devil! How are we slaves of the Lord? The Jehovah of slaves and the Lord Himself speaks with them! With Moses, tool He even gave Moses a name; it means This is mine’ — a man of God. And we — what are we?”
He shut up the book and began to dress himself, asking Sitanov:
“Are you coming to the tavern?”
“I shall go to my own tavern,” answered Sitanov softly.
When they had gone out, I lay down on the floor by the door, beside Pavl Odintzov. He tossed about for a long time, snored, and suddenly began to weep quietly.
“What is the matter with you?”
“I am sick with pity for all of them,” he said. “This is the fourth year of my life with them, and I know all about them.”
I also was sorry for these people. We did not go to sleep for a long time, but talked about them in whispers, finding goodness, good traits in each one of them, and also something which increased our childish pity.
I was very friendly with Pavl Odintzov. They made a good workman of him in the end, but it did not last long; before the end of three years he had begun to drink wildly, later on I met him in rags on the Khitrov market-place in Moscow, and not long ago I heard that he had died of typhoid. It is painful to remember how many good people in my life I have seen senselessly ruined. People of all nations wear themselves out, and to ruin themselves comes natural, but nowhere do they wear themselves out so terribly quickly, so senselessly, as in our own Russia.
Then he was a round-headed boy two years older than myself; he was lively, intelligent, and upright; he was talented, for he could draw birds, cats, and dogs excellently, and was amazingly clever in his caricatures of the workmen, always depicting them as feathered. Sitanov was shown as a sad-looking wood-cock standing on one leg, Jikharev as a cock with a torn comb and no feathers on his head; sickly Davidov was an injured lapwing. But best of all was his drawing of the old chaser, Golovev, representing him as a bat with large whiskers, ironical nose, and four feet with six nails on each. From the round, dark face, white, round eyes gazed forth, the pupils of which looked like the grain of a lentil. They were placed crossways, thus giving to the face a lifelike and hideous expression.
The workmen were not offended when Pavl showed them the caricatures, but the one of Golovev made an unpleasant impression on them all, and the artist was sternly advised:
“You had better tear it up, for if the old man sees it, he will half kill you!”
The dirty, putrid, everlastingly drunk old man was tiresomely pious, and inextinguishably malicious. He vilified the whole workshop to the shopman whom the mistress was about to marry to her niece, and who for that reason felt himself to be master of the whole house and the workpeople. The workmen hated him. but thcj were afraid of him, and for th€ same reason were afraid of Golovev, too.
Pavl worried the chaser furiously and in all manner of ways, just as if he had set before himself the aim of never allowing Golovev to have a moment’s peace. I helped him in this with enthusiasm, and the workshop amused itself with our pranks, which were al — most always pitilessly coarse. But we were warned:
“You will get into trouble, children! Kouzka–Juchek will half kill you!”
Kouzka–Juchek was the nickname of the shopman, which was given to him on the quiet by the workshop.
The warning did not alarm us. We painted the face of the chaser when he was asleep. One day when he was in a drunken slumber we gilded his nose, and it was three days before he was able to get the gold out of the holes in his spongy nose. But every time that we succeeded in infuriating the old man, I remembered the steamboat, and the little Viatski soldier, and I was conscious of a disturbance in my soul. In spite of his age, Golovev was so strong that he often beat us, falling upon us unexpectedly; he would beat us and then complain of us to the mistress.
She, who was also drunk every day, and for that reason always kind and cheerful, tried to frighten us, striking her swollen hands on the table, and crying:
“So you have been saucy again, you wild beast? He is an old man, and you ought to respect him! Who was it that put photographic solution in his glass, instead of wine?”
The mistress was amazed.
“Good Lord, they actually admit it! Ah, accursed ones, you ought to respect old men!”
She drove us away, and in the evening she complained to the shopman, who spoke to me angrily:
“How can you read books, even the Holy Scriptures, and still be so saucy, eh? Take care, my brother!”
The misjtress was solitary and touchingly sad. Sometimes when she had been drinking sweet liqueurs, she would sit at the window and sing:
“No one is sorry for me,
And pity have I from none;
What my grief is no one knows;
To whom shall I tell my sorrow.”
And sobbingly she drawled in the quavering voice of age:
“U— oo — oc.”
One day I saw her going down the stairs with a jug of warm milk in her hands, but suddenly her legs gave way under her. She sat down, and descended the stairs, sadly bumping from step to step, and never letting the jug out of her hand. The milk splashed over her dress, and she, with her hands outstretched, cried angrily to the jug:
“What is the matter with you, satyr? Where are you going?”
Not stout, but soft to flabbiness, she looked like an old cat which had grown beyond catching mice, and, languid from overfeeding, could do no more than purr, dwelling sweetly on the memories of past triumphs and pleasures.
“Here,” said Sitanov, frowning thoughtfully, “was a large — business, a fine workshop, and clever men labored at this trade; but now that is all done with, all gone to ruin, all directed by the paws of Kuzikin I . It is a case of working and working, and all for strangers! When one thinks of this, a sort of spring seems to break in one’s head. One wants to do nothing, — a fig for any kind of work I— just to lie on the roof, lie there for the whole summer and look up into the sky.”
Pavl Odintzov also appropriated these thoughts of Sitanov, and smoking a cigarette which had been given him by his elders, philosophized about God, drunkenness, and women. He enlarged on the fact that all work disappears; certain people do it and others destroy it, neither valuing it nor understanding it.
At such times his sharp, pleasant face frowned, aged. He would sit on his bed on the floor, embracing his knees, and look long at the blue square of the window, at the roof of the shed which lay under a fall of snow, and at the stars in the winter sky.
The workmen snored, or talked in their sleep; one of them raved, choking with words; in the loft, Davidov coughed away what was left of his life. In the corner, body to body, wrapped in an iron-bound sleep of intoxication, lay those “slaves of God” — Kapendiukhin, Sorokhin, Pcrshin; from the walls icons with — out faces, hands, or feet looked forth. There was a close smell of bad eggs, and dirt, which had turned sour in the crevices of the floor.
“How I pity them all!” whispered Pavl. “Lord!”
This pity for myself and others disturbed me more and more. To us both, as I have said before, all the workmen seemed to be good people, but their lives were bad, unworthy of them, unbearably dull. At the time of the winter snowstorms, when everything on the earth — the houses, the trees — was shaken, howled, and wept, and in Lent, when the melancholy bells rang out, the dullness of it all flowed over the workshop like a wave, as oppressive as lead, weighing people down, killing all that was alive in them, driving them to the tavern, to women, who served the same purpose as vodka in helping them to forget.
On such evenings books were of no use, so Pavl and I tried to amuse the others in our own way: smearing our faces with soot and paint, dressing ourselves up and playing different comedies composed by ourselves, heroically fighting against the boredom till we made them laugh. Remembering the “Account of how the soldier saved Peter the Great,” I turned this book into a conversational form, and climbing on to Davidov’s pallet-bed, we acted thereon cheerfully, cutting off the head of an imaginary Swede. Our audience burst out laughing.
They were especially delighted with the legend of the Chinese devil, Sing-U-Tongia. Pashka represented the unhappy devil who had planned to do a good deed, and I acted all the other characters — the people of the field, subjects, the good soul, and even the stones on which the Chinese devil rested in great pain after each of his unsuccessful attempts to perform a good action.
Our audience laughed loudly, and I was amazed when I saw how easily they could be made to laugh. This facility provoked me unpleasantly.
“Ach, clowns,” they cried. “Ach, you devils!”
But the further I went, the more I was troubled with the thought that sorrow appealed more than joy to the hearts of these people. Gaiety has no place in their lives, and as such has no value, but they evoke it from under their burdens, as a contrast to the dreamy Russian sadness. The inward strength of a gaiety which lives not of itself not because it wishes to live, but because it is aroused by the call of sad days, is suspect. And too often Russian gaiety changes suddenly into cruel tragedy. A man will be dancing as if he were breaking the shackles which bound him. Suddenly a ferocious wild beast is let loose in him, and with the unreasoning anguish of a wild beast he will throw himself upon all who come in his way, tear them in pieces, bite them, destroy them.
This intense joy aroused by exterior forces irritated me, and stirred to self-oblivion, I began to compose and act suddenly created fantasies — for I wanted so much to arouse a real, free, and unrestrained joy in these people. I succeeded in some measure. They praised me, they were amazed at me, but the sadness which I had almost succeeded in shaking off, stole back again, gradually growing denser and stronger, harassing them.
Gray Larionovich said kindly:
“Well, you are an amusing fellow, God bless you!”
“He is a boon to us,” Jikharev seconded him. “You know, Maxim, you ought to go into a circus, or a theater; you would make a good clown.”
Out of the whole workshop only two went to the theaters, on Christmas or carnival weeks, Kapendiukhin and Sitanov, and the older workmen seriously counseled them to wash themselves from this sin in the baptismal waters of the Jordan. Sitanov particularly would often urge me:
“Throw up everything and be an actor!”
And much moved, he would tell me the “sad” story of the life of the actor, Yakolev.
“There, that will show you what may happen!”
He loved to tell stories about Marie Stuart, whom he called “the rogue,” and his peculiar delight was the “Spanish nobleman.”
“Don Csesar de Bazan was a real nobleman. Maximich! Wonderful!”
There was something of the “Spanish nobleman” about himself.
One day in the market-place, in front of the fire-station, three firemen were amusing themselves by beating a peasant. A crowd of people, numbering about forty persons, looked on and cheered the soldiers. Sitanov threw himself into the brawl. With swinging blows of his long arms he struck the firemen, lifted the peasant, and carried him into the crowd, crying:
“Take him away!”
But he remained behind himself, one against three. The yard of the fire-station was only about ten steps away; they might easily have called others to their aid and Sitanov would have been killed. But by good luck the firemen were frightened and ran away into the yard.
“Dogs!” he cried after them.
On Sunday the young people used to attend boxing-matches held in the Tyessni yard behind the Petro — pavlovski churchyard, where sledge-drivers and peasants from the adjacent villages assembled to fight with the workmen. The wagoners put up against the town an eminent boxer, a Mordovan giant with a small head, and large eyes always full of tears. Wiping away the tears with the dirty sleeve of his short caftan, he stood before his backers with his legs planted widely apart, and challenged good-naturedly:
“Come on, then; what is the matter with you? Are you cold?’
Kapendiukhin was set up against him on our side, and the Mordovan always beat him. But the bleeding, panting Cossack said:
“I’ll lick that Mordovan if I die for it!”
In the end, that became the one aim of his life. He even went to the length of giving up vodka, rubbed his body with snow before he went to sleep, ate a lot of meat, and to develop his muscles, crossed himself many times every evening with two pound weights. But this did not avail him at all. Then he sewed a piece of lead inside his gloves, and boasted to Sitanov:
“Now we will finish the Mordovan!”
Sitanov sternly warned him:
“You had better throw it away, or I will give you away before the fight.”
Kapendiukhin did not believe him, but when the time for the fight arrived, Sitanov said abruptly to the Mordovan:
“Step aside, Vassili Ivanich; I have something to Bay to Kapendiukhin first!”
The Cossack turned purple and roared:
“I have nothing to do with you; go away!”
“Yes, you have!” said Sitanov, and approaching him, he looked into the Cossack’s face with a compelling glance.
Kapendiukhin stamped on the ground, tore the gloves from his hands, thrust them in his breast, and went quickly away from the scene of his fight.
Both our side and the other were unpleasantly surprised, and a certain important personage said angrily to Sitanov:
“That is quite against the rules, brother, — to bring private affairs to be settled in the world of the prize ring!”
They fell upon Sitanov from all sides, and abused him. He kept silence for a long time, but at length he said to the important personage:
“Am I to stand by and see murder done?”
The important personage at once guessed the truth, and actually taking off his cap said:
“Then our gratitude is due to you!”
“Only don’t go and spread it abroad, uncle!”
“Why should I? Kapendiukhin is hardly ever the victor, and ill-success embitters a man. We understand! But in future we will have his gloves ex — amined before the contest.”
“That is your affair!”
When the important personage had gone away, our side began to abuse Kapendiukhin:
“You have made a nice mess of it. He would have killed his man, our Cossack would, and now we have to stay on the losing side!”
They abused him at length, captiously, to their hearts’ content.
Sitanov sighed and said:
“Oh, you guttersnipes!”
And to the surprise of everyone he challenged the Mordovan to a single contest. The latter squared up and flourishing his fists said jokingly:
“We will kill each other.”
A good number of persons, taking hands, formed a wide, spacious circle. The boxers, looking at each other keenly, changed over, the right hand held out, the left on their breasts. The experienced people noticed at once that Sitanov’s arms were longer than those of the Mordovan. It was very quiet; the snow crunched under the feet of the boxers. Some one, unable to restrain his impatience, muttered complain — ingly and eagerly:
“They ought to have begun by now.”
Sitanov flourished his right hand, the Mordovan raised his left for defense, and received a straight blow under the right arm from Sitanov’s left hand. He gasped, retired, and exclaimed in a tone of satisfaction:
“He is young, but he Is no fool!”
They began to leap upon one another, striking each other’s breasts with blows from their mighty fists. In a few minutes not only our own people, but strangers began to cry excitedly:
“Get your blows in quicker, image-painter! Fix him up, embosser.”
The Mordovan was a little stronger than Sitanov, but as he was considerably the heavier, he could not deal such swift blows, and received two or three to every one he gave. But his seasoned body apparently did not suffer much, and he was laughing and exclaiming all the time, when, suddenly, with a heavy upward blow he put Sitanov’s right arm out of joint from the shoulder.
“Part them; it is a draw!” cried several voices, and, breaking the circle, the crowd gathered round the pugilists.
“He is not very strong but he is skilful, the image-painter,” said the Mordovan good-naturedly. “He will make a good boxer, and that I say before the whole world!”
The elder persons began a general wrestling match, and I took Sitanov to the Feldsher bone-setter. His deed had raised him still higher in my esteem, had increased my sympathy with him, and his importance in my eyes.
He was, in the main, very upright and honorable, and he felt that he had only done his duty, but the graceless Kapendiukhin made fun of him lightly.
“Ekh, Genya, you live for show! You have polished up your soul like a samovar before a holiday, and you go about boasting, ‘look how brightly it shines!’ But your soul is really brass, and a very dull affair, too.”
Sitanov remained calmly silent, either working hard or copying Lermontov’s verses into his note-book. He spent all his spare time in this copying, and when I suggested to him:
“Why, when you have plenty of money, don’t you buy the book?” he answered:
“No, it is better in my own handwriting.”
Having written a page in his pretty, small hand-writing, he would read softly while he was waiting for the ink to dry:
“Without regret, as a being apart, You will look down upon this earth, Where there is neither real happiness Nor lasting beauty.”
And he said, half-closing his eyes:
“That is true. Ekh! and well he knows the truth, too!”
The behavior (5f Sitanov to Kapendiukhin always amazed me. When he had been drinking, the Cossack always tried to pick a quarrel with his comrade, and Sitanov would go on for a long time bearing it, and saying persuasively:
“That will do, let me alone!”
And then he would start to beat the drunken man so cruelly that the workmen, who regarded internal dissensions amongst themselves merely as a spectacle, in terfered between the friends, and separated them.
“If we didn’t stop Evgen in time, he would beat any one to death, and he would never forgive himself,” they said.
When he was sober Kapendiukhin ceaselessly jeered at Sitanov, making fun of his passion for poetry and his unhappy romance, obscenely, but unsuccessfully trying to arouse jealousy. Sitanov listened to the Cossack’s taunts in silence, without taking offense, and he sometimes even laughed with Kapendiukhin at himself.
They slept side by side, and at night they would feold long, whispered conversations about something. These conversations gave me no peace, for I was anxious to know what these two people who were so un like each other found to talk about in such a friendly manner. But when I went near them, the Cossack veiled:
“What do you want?”
But Sitanov did not seem to see me.
However, one day they called me, and the Cossack asked:
“Maximich, if you were rich, what would you do?”
“I would buy books.”
“And what else?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ekh!” said Kapendiukhin, turning away from me in disgust, but Sitanov said calmly:
“You see; no one knows that, whether they be old or young. I tell you that riches in themselves are worth nothing, unless they are applied to some special purpose.”
I asked them, “What are you talking about?”
“We don’t feel inclined to sleep, and so we are talking,” answered the Cossack.
Later, listening to them, I found that they were discussing by night those things which other people dis cussed by day — God, truth, happiness, the stupidity and cunning of women, the greediness of the rich, and the fact that life is complicated and incomprehensible.
I always listened to their conversations eagerly; they excited me. I was pleased to think that almost every one had arrived at the same conclusion; namely, that life is evil, and that we ought to have a better form of existence! But at the same time I saw that the desire to live under better conditions would have no effect, would change nothing in the lives of the work-people, in their relations one with another. All these talks, throwing a light upon my life as it lay before me, revealed at the same time, beyond it, a sort of melancholy emptiness; and in this emptiness, like specks of dust in a pond ruffled by the wind, floated people, absurdly and exasperatingly, among them those very people who had said that such a crowd was devoid of sense. Always ready to give their opinion, they were always passing judgment on others, repeating, bragging, and starting bitter quarrels about mere trifles. They were always seriously offending one another. They tried to guess what would happen to them after death; while on the threshold of the workshop where the washstand stood, the floor-boards had rotted away. From that damp, fetid hole rose the cold, damp smell of sour earth, and it was this that made one’s feet freeze. Pavl and I stopped up this hole with straw and cloths. We often said that the boards should be renewed, but the hole grew larger and larger, and in bad weather fumes rose from it as from a pipe. Every one caught cold, and coughed. The tin ventilator in the fortochka squeaked, and when some one had oiled it, though they had all been grumbling at it, Jikharev said:
“It is dull, now that the fortochka has stopped squeaking.”
To come straight from the bath and lie down on a dirty, dusty bed, in the midst of dirt and bad smells, did not revolt any one of them. There were many insignificant trifles which made our lives unbearable. which might easily have been remedied, but no one took the trouble to do anything.
They often said:
“No one has any mercy upon human creatures, — neither God nor we ourselves.”
But when Pavl and I washed dying Davidov, who was eaten up with dirt and insects, a laugh was raised against us. They took off their shirts and invited us to search them, called us blockheads, and jeered at us as if we had done something shameful and very ludicrous.
From Christmas till the beginning of Lent drew near, Davidov lay in the loft, coughing protractedly, spitting blood, which, if it did not fall into the wash-hand basin, splashed on the floor. At night he woke the others with his delirious shrieks.
Almost every day they said:
“We must take him to the hospital!”
But it turned out that Davidov’s passport had expired. Then he seemed better, and they said:
“It is of no consequence after all; he will soon be dead!”
And he would say to himself:
“I shall soon be gone!”
He was a quiet humorist and also tried to relieve the dullness of the workshop by jokes, hanging down his dark bony face, and saying in a wheezy voice:
“Listen, people, to the voice of one who ascended to the loft.
“In the loft I live,
Early do I wake;
Asleep or awake
Cockroaches devour me.”
“He is not downhearted!” exclaimed his audience.
Sometimes Pavl and I went to him, and he joked with difficulty.
“With what shall I regale you, my dear guests? A fresh little spider — would you like that?”
He died slowly, and he grew very weary of it. He said with unfeigned vexation:
“It seems that I can’t die, somehow; it is really a calamity!”
His fearlessness in the face of death frightened Pavl very much. He awoke me in the night and whispered:
“Maximich, he seems to be dying. Suppose he dies in the night, when we are lying beneath him — Oh, Lord! I am frightened of dead people.”
Or he would say:
“Why was he born? Not twenty-two years have passed over his head and he is dying.”
Once, on a moonlight night he awoke, and gazing with wide-open, terrified eyes said:
Davidov was croaking in the loft, saying quickly and clearly:
“Give it to me — give — ”
Then he began to hiccup.
“He is dying, by God he is; you see!” said Pavl agitatedly.
I had been carrying snow from the yard into the fields all day, and I was very sleepy, but Pavl begged me:
“Don’t go to sleep, please; for Christ’s sake don’t go to sleep!”
And suddenly getting on to his knees, he cried f renziedly:
“Get up! Davidov is dead!”
Some of them awoke; several figures rose from the beds; angry voices were raised, asking questions.
Kapendiukhin climbed up into the loft and said in a tone of amzement:
“It is a fact; he is dead, although he is still warm.”
It was quiet now. Jikharev crossed himself, and wrapping himself round in his blanket, said:
“Well, he is in the Kingdom of Heaven now!”
Some one suggested:
“Let us carry him into the vestibule.”
Kapendiukhin climbed down from the loft and glanced through the window.
“Let him lie where he is till the morning; he never hurt any one while he was alive.”
Pavl, hiding his head under the pillow, sobbed.
But Sitanov did not even wake!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55