EVERY morning at six o’clock I set out tor my work in the market-place. I met interesting people there. There was the carpenter, Osip, a gray-haired man who looked like Saint Nikolai, a clever workman, and witty; there was the humpbacked slater, Ephimushka, the pious bricklayer, Petr, a thoughtful man who also reminded me of a saint; the plasterer, Gregory Shishlin, a flaxen-bearded, blue-eyed, handsome man, beaming with quiet good-nature.
I had come to know these people during the second part of my life at the draughtsman’s house. Every Sunday they used to appear in the kitchen, grave, important-looking, with pleasant speech, and with words which had a new flavor for me. All these solid-looking peasants had seemed to me then to be easy to read, good through and through, all pleasantly different from the spiteful, thieving, drunken inhabitants of the Kunavin and its environs.
The plasterer, Shishlin, pleased me most of all, and I actually asked if I might join his gang of workmen. But scratching his golden brow with a white finger, he gently refused to have me.
“It is too soon for you,” he said. “Our work is not easy; wait another year.”
Then throwing up his handsome head, he asked:
“You don’t like the way you are living? Never mind, have patience; learn to live a life of your own, and then you will be able to bear it!”
I do not know all that I gained from this good advice, but I remember it gratefully.
These people used to come to my master’s house every Sunday morning, sit on benches round the kitchen-table, and talk of interesting things while they waited for my master. When he came, he greeted them loudly and gayly, shaking their strong hands, and then sat down in the chief corner. They produced their accounts and bundles of notes, the workmen placed their tattered account-books on the table, and the reckoning up for the week began.
Joking and bantering, the master would try to prove them wrong in their reckoning, and they did the same to him. Sometimes there was a fierce dispute, but more often friendly laughter.
“Eh, you’re a dear man; you were born a rogue!” the workmen would say to the master.
And he answered, laughing in some confusion:
“And what about you, wild fowl? There’s as much roguery about you as about me!”
“How should we be anything else, friend?” agreed Ephimushka, but grave Petr said:
“You live by what you steal; what you earn you give to God and the emperor.”
“Well, then I’ll willingly make a burnt offering of you,” laughed the master.
They led him on good-naturedly:
“Set fire to us, you mean?”
“Burn us in a fiery furnace?”
Gregory Shishlin, pressing his luxuriant beard to his breast with his hands, said in a sing-song voice:
“Brothers, let us do our business without cheating. If we will only live honestly, how happy and peaceful we shall be, eh? Shall we not, dear people?”
His blue eyes darkened, grew moist; at that moment he looked wonderfully handsome. His question seemed to have upset them all; they all turned away from him in confusion.
“A peasant does not cheat much,” grumbled good-looking Osip with a sigh, as if he pitied the peasant.
The dark bricklayer, bending his round-shouldered back over the table, said thickly:
“Sin is like a sort of bog; the farther you go, the more swampy it gets!”
And the master said to them, as if he were making a speech:
“What about me? I go into it because something calls me. Though I don’t want to.”
After this philosophising they again tried to get the better of one another, but when they had finished their accounts, perspiring and tired from the effort, they went out to the tavern to drink tea, inviting the master to go with them.
On the market-place it was my duty to watch these people, to see that they did not steal nails, or bricks, or boards. Every one of them, in addition to my master’s work, held contracts of his own, and would try to steal something for his own work under my very nose.
They welcomed me kindly, and Shishlin said:
“Do you remember how you wanted to come into my gang? And look at you now; put over me as chief!”
“Well, well,” said Osip bantcringly, “keep watch over the river-banks, and may God help you!”
Petr observed in an unfriendly tone:
“They have put a young crane to watch old mice.”
My duties were a cruel trial to me. I felt ashamed in the presence of these people. They all seemd to possess some special knowledge which was hidden from the rest of the world, and I had to watch them as if they had been thieves and tricksters. The first part of the time it was very hard for me, but Osip soon noticed this, and one day he said to me privately:
“Look here, young fellow, you won’t do any good by sulking — understand?”
Of course I did not understand, but I felt that he realized the absurdity of my position, and I soon arrived at a frank understanding with him.
He took me aside in a corner and explained:
“If you want to know, the biggest thief among us is the bricklayer, Petrukha. He is a man with a large family, and he is greedy. You want to watch him well. Nothing is too small for him; everything comes in handy. A pound of nails, a dozen of bricks, a bag of mortar — he’ll take all. He is a good man. God-fearing, of severe ideas, and well educated, but he loves to steal! Ephimushka lives like a woman.
He is peaceable, and is harmless as far as you are concerned. He is clever, too — humpbacks are never fools! And there’s Gregory Shishlin. He has a fad — he will neither take from others nor give of his own. He works for nothing; any one can take him in, but he can deceive no one. He is not governed by his reason.”
“He is good, then?”
Osip looked at me as if I were a long way from him, and uttered these memorable words:
“True enough, he is good. To be good is the easiest way for lazy people. To be good, my boy, does not need brains.”
“And what about you?” I asked Osip.
He laughed and answered:
“I? I am like a young girl. When I am a grandmother I will tell you all about myself; till then you will have to wait. In the meanwhile you can set your brains to work to find out where the real T is hidden. Find out; that is what you have to do!”
He had upset all my ideas of himself and his friends.
It was difficult for me to doubt the truth of his statement. I saw that Ephimushka, Petr, and Gregory regarded the handsome old man as more clever and more learned in worldly wisdom than themselves. They took counsel with him about everything, listened attentively to his advice, and showed him every sign of respect.
“Will you be so good as to give us your advice,” they would ask him. But after one of these questions, when Osip had gone away, the bricklayer said softly to Grigori:
And Grigori burst out laughing and added:
The plasterer warned me in a friendly way:
“You look out for yourself with the old man, Maximich. You must be careful, or he will twist you round his finger in an hour; he is a bitter old man. God save you from the harm he can do.”
“That I can’t say!” answered the handsome workman, blinking.
I did not understand him in the least. I thought that the most honest and pious man of them all was the bricklayer, Petr; He spoke of everything briefly, suggestively; his thoughts rested mostly upon God, hell, and death.
“Ekh! my children, my brothers, how can you not be afraid”? How can you not look forward, when the grave and the churchyard let no one pass them?”
He always had the stomachache, and there were some days when he could not eat anything at all. Even a morsel of bread brought on the pain to such an extent as to cause convulsions and a dreadful sickness.
Humpbacked Ephimushka also seemed a very good and honest, but always queer fellow. Sometimes he was happy and foolish, like a harmless lunatic. He was everlastingly falling in love with different women, about whom he always used the same words:
“I tell you straight, she is not a woman, but a flower in cream — ei, bo — o!”
When the lively women of Kunavin Street came to wash the floors in the shops, Ephimushka let himself down from the roof, and standing in a corner somewhere, mumbled, blinking his gray, bright eyes, stretch — ing his mouth from ear to ear:
“Such a butterfly as the Lord has sent to me; such a joy has descended upon me! Well, what is she but a flower in cream, and grateful I ought to be for the chance which has brought me such a gift! Such beauty makes me full of life, afire!”
At first the women used to laugh at him, calling out to each other:
“Listen to the humpback running on! Oh Lord!”
The slater caused no little laughter. His high cheek-boned face wore a sleepy expression, and he used to talk as if he were raving, his honeyed phrases flowing in an intoxicating stream which obviously went to the women’s heads. At length one of the elder ones said to her friend in a tone of amazement:
“Just listen to how that man is going on! A clean young fellow he is!”
“He sings like a bird.”
“Or like a beggar in the church porch,” said an obstinate girl, refusing to give way.
But Ephimushka was not like a beggar at all. He stood firmly, like a squat tree-trunk; his voice rang out like a challenge; his words became more and more alluring; the women listened to him in silence. In fact, it seemed as if his whole being was flowing away in a tender, narcotic speech.
It ended in his saying to his mates in a tone of astonishment at supper-time, or after the Sabbath rest, shak — ing his heavy, angular head:
“Well, what a sweet little woman, a dear little thing! I have never before come across anything like her!”
When he spoke of his conquests Ephimushka was not boastful, nor jeered at the victim of his charms, as the others always did. He was only joyfully and gratefully touched, his gray eyes wide open with astonishment.
Osip, shaking his head, exclaimed:
“Oh, you incorrigible fellow! How old are you?”
“Forty — four years, but that’s nothing! I have grown five years younger today, as if I had bathed in the healing water of a river. I feel thoroughly fit, and my heart is at peace! Some women can produce that effect, diV
The bricklayer said coarsely:
“You are going on for fifty. You had better be careful, or you will find that your loose way of life will leave a bitter taste.”
“You are shameless, Ephimushka!” sighed Grigori Shishlin.
And it seemed to — me that the handsome fellow envied the success of the humpback.
Osip looked round on us all from under his level silver brows, and said jestingly:
“Every Mashka has her fancies. One will love cups and spoons, another buckles and earrings, but all Mashkas will be grandmothers in time.”
Shishlin was married, but his wife was living in the country, so he also cast his eyes on the floorscrubbers. They were all of them easy of approach. All of them “earned a bit” to add to their income, and they regarded this method of earning money in that poverty — stricken area as simply as they would have regarded any other kind of work. But the handsome workman never approached the women. He just gazed at them from afar with a peculiar expression, as if he were pitying some one — himself or them. But when they be — gan to sport with him and tempt him, he laughed bash — fully and went away.
“Well, you —”
“What’s the matter with you, you fool?” asked Ephimushka, amazed. “Do you mean to say you are going to lose the chance?”
“I am a married man,” Grigori reminded him.
“Well, do you think your wife will know anything about it?”
“My wife would always know if I lived unchastely. I can’t deceive her, my brother.”
“How can she know?”
“That I can’t say, but she is bound to know, while she lives chaste herself; and if I lead a chaste life, and she were to sin, I should know it.”
“But how?” cried Ephimushka, but Grigori repeated calmly:
“That I can’t say.”
The slater waved his hands agitatedly.
“There, if you please! Chaste, and doesn’t know! Oh, you blockhead!”
Shishlin’s workmen, numbering seven, treated him as one of themselves and not as their master, and behind his back they nicknamed him “The Calf.”
When he came to work and saw that they were lazy, he would take a trowel, or a spade, and artistically do the work himself, calling out coaxingly:
“Set to work, children, set to work!”
One day, carrying out the task which my master had angrily set me, I said to Grigori:
“What bad workmen you have.”
He seemed surprised.
“This work ought to have been finished yesterday, and they won’t finish it even today.”
“That is true; they won’t have time,” he agreed, and after a silence he added cautiously:
“Of course, I see that by rights I ought to dismiss them, but you see they are all my own people from my own village. And then again the punishment of God is that every man should eat bread by the sweat of his brow, and the punishment is for all of us — for you and me, too. But you and I labor less than they do, and — well, it would be awkward to dismiss them.”
He lived in a dream. He would walk along the deserted streets of the market-place, and suddenly halt — ing on one of the bridges over the Obvodni Canal, would stand for a long time at the railings, looking into the water, at the sky, or into the distance beyond the Oka. If one overtook him and asked:
“What are you doing?”
“What?” he would reply, waking up and smiling confusedly. “I was just standing, looking about me a bit.”
“God has arranged everything very well, brother,” he would often say. “The sky, the earth, the flowing rivers, the steamboats running. You can get on a boat and go where you like — to Riazan, or to Ribinsk, to Perm, to Astrakhan. I went to Riazan once. It wasn’t bad — a little town — but very dull, duller than Nijni. Our Nijni is wonderful, gay! And Astrakhan is still duller. There are a lot of Kalmucks there, and I don’t like them. I don’t like any of those Mordovans, or Kalmucks, Persians, or Germans, or any of the other nations.”
He spoke slowly; his words cautiously felt for sympathy in others, and always found it in the bricklayer, Petr.
“Those are not nations, but nomads,” said Petr with angry conviction. “They came into the world before Christ and they’ll go out of it before He comes again.”
Grigori became animated; he beamed.
“That’s it, isn’t it? But I love a pure race like the Russians, my brother, with a straight look. I don’t like Jews, either, and I cannot understand how they are the people of God. It is wisely arranged, no doubt.”
The slater added darkly:
“Wisely — but there is a lot that is superfluous!”
Osip listened to what they said, and then put in, mockingly and caustically:
“There is much that is superfluous, and your conversation belongs to that category. Ekh! you bab — blers; you want a thrashing, all of you!”
Osip kept himself to himself, and it was impossible to guess with whom he would agree, or with whom he would quarrel. Sometimes he seemed inclined to agree calmly with all men, and with all their ideas; but more often one saw that he was bored by all of them, regarding them as half-witted, and he said to Petr, Grigori, and Ephimushka:
“Ekh, you sow’s whelps!”
They laughed, not very cheerfully or willingly, but still they laughed.
My master gave me five copecks a day for food. This was not enough, and I was rather hungry. Seeing this, the workmen invited me to breakfast and sup — per with them, and sometimes the contractors would invite me to a tavern to drink tea with them. I willingly accepted the invitations. I loved to sit among them and listen to their slow speeches, their strange stories. I gave them great pleasure by my readings out of church books.
“You ‘ve stuck to books till you are fed up with them. Your crop is stuffed with them,” said Osip, regarding me attentively with his cornflower-blue eyes. It was difficult to catch their expression; his pupils always seemed to be floating, melting.
“Take it a drop at a time — it is better; and when you are grown up, you can be a monk and console the people by your teaching, and in that way you may become a millionaire.”
“A missioner,” corrected the bricklayer in a voice which for some reason sounded aggrieved.
“What?” asked Osip.
“A missioner is what you mean! You are not deaf, are you?”
“All right, then, a missioner, and dispute with heretics. And even those whom you reckon as heretics have the right to bread. One can live even with a heretic, if one exercises discretion.”
Grigori laughed in an embarrassed manner, and Petr said in his beard:
“And wizards don’t have a bad time of it, and other kinds of godless people.”
But Osip returned quickly:
“A wizard is not a man of education; education is not usually a possession of the wizard.”
And he told me:
“Now look at this; just listen. In our district there lived a peasant, Tushek was his name, an emaciated little man, and idle. He lived like a feather, blown about here and there by the wind, neither a worker nor a do-nothing. Well, one day he took to praying, because he had nothing else to do, and after wandering about for two years, he suddenly showed himself in a new character. His hair hung down over his shoulders; he wore a skull-cap, and a brown cassock of leather; he looked on all of us with a baneful eye, and said straight out: ‘Repent, ye cursed!’ And why not repent, especially if you happened to be a woman”? And the business ran its course: Tushek overfed, Tushek drunk, Tushek having his way with the women to his heart’s content — ”
The bricklayer interrupted him angrily:
“What has that got to do with the matter, his over-feeding, or overdrinking”?”
“What else has to do with it, then?”
“His words are all that matter.”
“Oh, I took no notice of his words; I am abundantly gifted with words myself.”
“We know all we want to know about Tushinkov, Dmitri Vassilich,” said Petr indignantly, and Grigori said nothing, but let his head droop, and gazed into his glass.
“I don’t dispute it,” replied Osip peaceably. “I was just telling our Maximich of the different pathways to the morsel — ”
“Some of the roads lead to prison!”
“Occasionally,” agreed Osip. “But you will meet with priests on all kinds of paths; one must learn where to turn off.”
He was always somewhat inclined to make fun of these pious people, the plasterer and the bricklayer; perhaps he did not like them, but he skilfully concealed the fact. His attitude towards people was always elusive.
He looked upon Ephimushka more indulgently, with more favor than upon the other. The slater did not enter into discussions about God, the truth, sects, the woes of humanity, as his friends did. Setting his chair sidewise to the table, so that its back should not be in the way of his hump, he would calmly drink glass after glass of tea. Then, suddenly alert, he would glance round the smoky room, listening to the incoherent babel of voices, and darting up, swiftly disap — pear. That meant that some one had come into the tavern to whom Ephimushka owed money, — he had a good dozen creditors, — so, as some of them used to beat him when they saw him, he just fled from sin.
“They get angry, the oddities!” he would say in a tone of surprise. “Can’t they understand that if I had the money I would give it to them?”
“Oh, bitter poverty!” Osip sped after him.
Sometimes Ephimushka sat deep in thought, hearing and seeing nothing; his high cheek-boned face softened, his pleasant eyes looking pleasanter than usual.
“What are you thinking about?” they would ask him. •
“I was thinking that if I were rich I would marry a real lady, a noblewoman — by God, I would! A colonel’s daughter, for example, and, Lord! how I would love her! I should be on fire with love of her. because, my brothers, I once roofed the country house of a certain colonel — ”
“And he had a widowed daughter; we ‘ve heard all that before!” interrupted Petr in an unfriendly tone.
But Ephimushka, spreading his hands out on his knees, rocked to and fro, his hump looking as if it were chiselling the air, and continued:
“Sometimes she went into the garden, all in white: glorious she looked. I looked at her from the roof, and I didn’t know what the sun had done to me. But what caused that white light? It was as if a white dove had flown from under her feet! She was just a cornflower in cream! With such a lady as that, one would like all one’s life to be night.”
“And how would you get anything to eat?” asked Petr gruffly. But this did not disturb Ephimushka.
“Lord!” he exclaimed. “Should we want much? Besides, she is rich.”
“And when are you going in for all this dissipation, Ephimushka, you rogue?”
Ephimushka never talked on any other subject but women, and he was an unreliable workman. At one time he worked excellently and profitably, at another time he did not get on at all; his wooden hammer tapped the ridges lazily, leaving crevices. He always smelt of train-oil, but he had a smell of his own as well, a healthy, pleasant smell like that of a newly cut tree.
One could discuss everything that was interesting with the carpenter. His words always stirred one’s feelings, but it was hard to tell when he was serious and when joking.
With Grigori it was better to talk about God; this was a subject which he loved, and on which he was an authority.
“Grisha,” I asked, “do you know there are people who do not believe in God?”
He laughed quietly.
“What do you mean?”
“They say there is no God.”
“Oh, that’s what you mean! I know that.”
And as if he were brushing away invisible flies, he went on:
“King David said in his time, you remember, ‘The fool hath said in his heart “There is no God.” ’ That’s what he said about that kind of fool. We can’t do without God!”
Osip said, as if agreeing with him:
“Take away God from Petrukha here, and he will show you!”
Shishlin’s handsome face became stern. He touched his beard with fingers the nails of which were covered with dried lime, and said mysteriously:
“God dwells in every incarnate being; the conscience and all the inner life is God-given.”
“Sin comes from the flesh, from Satan! Sin is an external thing, like smallpox, and nothing more! He who thinks too much of sin, sins all the more. If you do not remember sin, you will not sin. Thoughts about sin are from Satan, the lord of the flesh, who suggests.”
The bricklayer queried this.
“You are wrong there.”
“I am not! God is sinless, and man is in His image and likeness. It is the image of God, the flesh, which sins, but His likeness cannot sin; it is a spirit.”
He smiled triumphantly, but Petr growled:
“That is wrong.”
“According to you, I suppose,” Osip asked the brick-layer, “if you don’t sin, you can’t repent, and if you don’t repent, you won’t be saved?”
“That’s a more hopeful way. Forget the devil and you cease to love God, the fathers said.”
Shishlin was not intemperate, but two glasses would make him tipsy. His face would be flushed, his eyes childish, and his voice would be raised in song.
“How good everything is, brothers! Here we live, work a little, and have as much as we want to eat, God be praised! Ah, how good it is!”
He wept. The tears trickled down his beard and gleamed on the silken hairs like false pearls.
His laudation of our life and those tears were unpleasant to me. My grandmother had sung the praises of life more convincingly, more sympathetically, and not so crudely.
All these discussions kept me in a continual tension, and aroused a dull emotion in me. I had already read many books about peasants, and I saw how utterly unlike the peasants in the books were to those in real life. In books they were all unhappy. Good or evil characters, they were all poorer in words and ideas than peasants in real life. In books they spoke less of God, of sects, of churches, and more of government, land, and law. They spoke less about women, too, but quite as coarsely, though more kindly. For the peasants in real life, women were a pastime, but a danger — ous one. One had to be artful with women; other — wise they would gain the upper hand and spoil one’s whole life. The muzhik in books may be good or bad, but he is altogether one or the other. The real muzhik is neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but he is wonderfully interesting. If the peasant in real life does not blurt out all his thoughts to you, you have a feeling that he is keeping something back which he means to keep for himself alone, and that very unsaid, hidden thing is the most important thing about him.
Of all the peasants I had read of in books, the one I liked the best was Petr in “The Carpenter’s Gang.” I wanted to read the story to my comrades, and I brought the book to the Yarmaka. I often spent the night in one or another of the workshops; sometimes it was because I was so tired that I lacked the strength to get home.
When I told them that I had a book about carpenters, my statement aroused a lively interest, espe — cially in Osip. He took the book out of my hands, and turned over the leaves distrustfully, shaking his head.
“And it is really written about us! Oh, you rascal! Who wrote it? Some gentleman? I thought as much! Gentlemen, and chinovniks especially, are experts at anything. Where God does not even guess, a chinovnik has it all settled in his mind. That’s what they live for.”
“You speak very irreverently of God, Osip,” observed Petr.
“That’s all right! My words are less to God than a snowflake or a drop of rain are to me. Don’t you worry; you and I don’t touch God.”
He suddenly began to play restlessly, throwing off sharp little sayings like sparks from a flint, cutting off with them, as with scissors, whatever was displeasing to him. Several times in the course of the day he asked me:
“Are we going to read, Maximich? That’s right! A good idea!”
When the hour for rest arrived we had supper with him in his workshop, and after supper appeared Petr with his assistant Ardalon, and Shishlin with the lad Phoma. In the shed where the gang slept there was a lamp burning, and I began to read. They listened without speaking, but they moved about, and very soon Ardalon said crossly:
“I’ve had enough of this!”
And he went out. The first to fall asleep was Grigori, with his mouth open surprisingly; then the carpenters fell asleep; but Petr, Osip, and Phoma drew nearer to me and listened attentively. When I finished reading Osip put out the lamp at once. By the stars it was nearly midnight.
Petr asked in the darkness:
“What was that written for? Against whom?”
“Now for sleep!” said Osip, taking off his boots.
Petr persisted in his question:
“I asked, against whom was that written?”
“I suppose they know!” replied Osip, arranging himself for sleep on a scaffolding.
“If it is written against stepmothers, it is a waste of time. It won’t make stepmothers any better,” said the bricklayer firmly. “And if it is meant for Petr. it is also futile; his sin in his answer. For murder you go to Siberia, and that’s all there is about it! Books are no good for such sins; no use, eh?”
Osip did not reply, and the bricklayer added:
“They can do nothing themselves and so they discuss other people’s work. Like women at a meeting. Good-by, it is bedtime.”
He stood for a minute in the dark blue square of the open door, and asked:
“Are you asleep, Osip? What do you think about it?”
“Eh?” responded the carpenter sleepily.
“All right; go to sleep.”
Shishlin had fallen on his side where he had been sitting. Phoma lay on some trampled straw beside me. The whole neighborhood was asleep. In the distance rose the shriek of the railway engines, the heavy rumbling of iron wheels, the clang of buffers. In the shed rose the sound of snoring in different keys. I felt uncomfortable. I had expected some sort of discussion, and there had been nothing of the kind.
But suddenly Osip spoke softly and evenly:
“My child, don’t you believe anything of that. You are young; you have a long while to live; treasure > up your thoughts. Your own sense is worth twice some one else’s. Are you asleep, Phoma?”
“No,” replied Phoma with alacrity.
“That’s right! You have both received some education, so you go on reading. But don’t believe all you read. They can print anything, you know. That is their business!”
He lowered his feet from the scaffolding, and resting his hands on the edge of the plank, bent over us, and continued:
“How ought you to regard books? Denunciation of certain people, that’s what a book is! Look, they say, and see what sort of a man this is — a carpenter, or any one else — and here is a gentleman, a different kind of man! A book is not written without an object, and generally around some one.”
Phoma said thickly:
“Petr was right to kill that contractor!”
“That was wrong. It can never be right to kill a man. I know that you do not love Grigori, but put that thought away from you. We are none of us rich people. Today I am master, tomorrow a workman again.”
“I did not mean you, Uncle Osip.”
“It is all the same.”
“You are just — ”
“Wait; I am telling you why these books are written,” Osip interrupted Phoma’s angry words. “It is a very cunning idea! Here we have a gentleman without a muzhik; here a muzhik without a gentleman! Look now! Both the gentleman and the muzhik are badly off. The gentleman grows weak, crazy, and the muzhik becomes boastful, drunken, sickly, and offensive. That’s what happens! But in his lord’s castle it was better, they say. The lord hid himself behind the muzhik and the muzhik behind the master, and so they went round and round, well-fed, and peaceful. I don’t deny that it was more peaceful living with the nobles. It was no advantage to the lord if his muzhik was poor, but it was to his good if he was rich and intelligent. He was then a weapon in his hand. I know all about it; you see I lived in a nobleman’s domain for nearly forty years. There’s a lot of my experience written on my hide.”
I remembered that the carter, Petr, who committed suicide, used to talk in the same way about the nobility, and it was very unpleasant to my mind that the ideas of Osip should run on the same lines as those of that evil old man.
Osip touched my leg with his hand, and went on:
“One must understand books and all sorts of writings. No one does anything without a reason, and books are not written for nothing, but to muddle people’s heads. Every one is created with intelligence, without which no one can wield an ax, or sew a shoe.”
He spoke for a long time, and lay down. Again he jumped up, throwing gently his well turned, quaint phrases into the darkness and quietness.
“They say that the rlobles are quite a different race from the peasants, but it is not true. We are just like the nobles, only we happen to have been bom low down in the scale. Of course a noble learns from books, while I learn by my own noddle, and a gentleman has a delicate skin; that is all the difference. No — o, lads, it is time there was a new way of living; all these writings ought to be thrown aside! Let every one ask himself ‘What am IT A man! ‘And what is he? Also a man! What then? Does God need his superfluous wealth? No-o, we are equal in the sight of God when it comes to gifts.”
At last, in the morning, when the dawn had put out the light of the stars, Osip said to me:
“You see how I could write? I have talked about things that I have never thought about. But you mustn’t place too much faith in what I say. I was talking more because I was sleepless than with any serious intention. You lie down and think of something to amuse you. Once there was a raven which flew from the fields to the hills, from boundary to boundary, and lived beyond her time; the Lord punished her. The raven is dead and dried up. What is the meaning of that? There is no meaning in it, none. Now go to sleep; it will soon be time to get up.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55