PREVIOUS to his quarrel with Mayakin, Foma had caroused because of the weariness of life, out of curiosity, and half indifferently; now he led a dissipated life out of spite, almost in despair; now he was filled with a feeling of vengeance and with a certain insolence toward men, an insolence which astonished even himself at times. He saw that the people about him, like himself, lacked support and reason, only they did not understand this, or purposely would not understand it, so as not to hinder themselves from living blindly, and from giving themselves completely, without a thought, to their dissolute life. He found nothing firm in them, nothing steadfast; when sober, they seemed to him miserable and stupid; when intoxicated, they were repulsive to him, and still more stupid. None of them inspired him with respect, with deep, hearty interest; he did not even ask them what their names were; he forgot where and when he made their acquaintance, and regarding them with contemptuous curiosity, always longed to say and do something that would offend them. He passed days and nights with them in different places of amusement, and his acquaintances always depended just upon the category of each of these places. In the expensive and elegant restaurants certain sharpers of the better class of society surrounded him — gamblers, couplet singers, jugglers, actors, and property-holders who were ruined by leading depraved lives. At first these people treated him with a patronizing air, and boasted before him of their refined tastes, of their knowledge of the merits of wine and food, and then they courted favours of him, fawned upon him, borrowed of him money which he scattered about without counting, drawing it from the banks, and already borrowing it on promissory notes. In the cheap taverns hair-dressers, markers, clerks, functionaries and choristers surrounded him like vultures; and among these people he always felt better — freer. In these he saw plain people, not so monstrously deformed and distorted as that “clean society” of the elegant restaurants; these were less depraved, cleverer, better understood by him. At times they evinced wholesome, strong emotions, and there was always something more human in them. But, like the “clean society,” these were also eager for money, and shamelessly fleeced him, and he saw it and rudely mocked them.
To be sure, there were women. Physically healthy, but not sensual, Foma bought them, the dear ones and the cheap ones, the beautiful and the ugly, gave them large sums of money, changed them almost every week, and in general, he treated the women better than the men. He laughed at them, said to them disgraceful and offensive words, but he could never, even when half-drunk, rid himself of a certain bashfulness in their presence. They all, even the most brazen-faced, the strongest and the most shameless, seemed to him weak and defenseless, like small children. Always ready to thrash any man, he never laid a hand on women, although when irritated by something he sometimes abused them indecently. He felt that he was immeasurably stronger than any woman, and every woman seemed to him immeasurably more miserable than he was. Those of the women who led their dissolute lives audaciously, boasting of their depravity, called forth in Foma a feeling of bashfulness, which made him timid and awkward. One evening, during supper hour, one of these women, intoxicated and impudent, struck Foma on the cheek with a melon-rind. Foma was half-drunk. He turned pale with rage, rose from his chair, and thrusting his hands into his pockets, said in a fierce voice which trembled with indignation:
“You carrion, get out. Begone! Someone else would have broken your head for this. And you know that I am forbearing with you, and that my arm is never raised against any of your kind. Drive her away to the devil!”
A few days after her arrival in Kazan, Sasha became the mistress of a certain vodka-distiller’s son, who was carousing together with Foma. Going away with her new master to some place on the Kama, she said to Foma:
“Goodbye, dear man! Perhaps we may meet again. We’re both going the same way! But I advise you not to give your heart free rein. Enjoy yourself without looking back at anything. And then, when the gruel is eaten up, smash the bowl on the ground. Goodbye!”
And she impressed a hot kiss upon his lips, at which her eyes looked still darker.
Foma was glad that she was leaving him, he had grown tired of her and her cold indifference frightened him. But now something trembled within him, he turned aside from her and said in a low voice:
“Perhaps you will not live well together, then come back to me.”
“Thank you!” she replied, and for some reason or other burst into hoarse laughter, which was uncommon with her.
Thus lived Foma, day in and day out, always turning around on one and the same place, amid people who were always alike, and who never inspired him with any noble feelings. And then he considered himself superior to them, because the thoughts of the possibility of freeing himself from this life was taking deeper and deeper root in his mind, because the yearning for freedom held him in an ever firmer embrace, because ever brighter were the pictures as he imagined himself drifting away to the border of life, away from this tumult and confusion. More than once, by night, remaining all by himself, he would firmly close his eyes and picture to himself a dark throng of people, innumerably great and even terrible in its immenseness. Crowded together somewhere in a deep valley, which was surrounded by hillocks, and filled with a dusty mist, this throng jostled one another on the same place in noisy confusion, and looked like grain in a hopper. It was as though an invisible millstone, hidden beneath the feet of the crowd, were grinding it, and people moved about it like waves — now rushing downward to be ground the sooner and disappear, now bursting upward in the effort to escape the merciless millstone. There were also people who resembled crabs just caught and thrown into a huge basket — clutching at one another, they twined about heavily, crawled somewhere and interfered with one another, and could do nothing to free themselves from captivity.
Foma saw familiar faces amid the crowd: there his father is walking boldly, sturdily pushing aside and overthrowing everybody on his way; he is working with his long paws, massing everything with his chest, and laughing in thundering tones. And then he disappears, sinking somewhere in the depth, beneath the feet of the people. There, wriggling like a snake, now jumping on people’s shoulders, now gliding between their feet, his godfather is working with his lean, but supple and sinewy body. Here Lubov is crying and struggling, following her father, with abrupt but faint movements, now remaining behind him, now nearing him again. Striding softly with a kind smile on her face, stepping aside from everybody, and making way for everyone, Aunt Anfisa is slowly moving along. Her image quivers in the darkness before Foma, like the modest flame of a wax candle. And it dies out and disappears in the darkness. Pelagaya is quickly going somewhere along a straight road. There Sophya Pavlovna Medinskaya is standing, her hands hanging impotently, just as she stood in her drawing-room when he saw her last. Her eyes were large, but some great fright gleams in them. Sasha, too, is here. Indifferent, paying no attention to the jostling, she is stoutly going straight into the very dregs of life, singing her songs at the top of her voice, her dark eyes fixed in the distance before her. Foma hears tumult, howls, laughter, drunken shouts, irritable disputes about copecks — songs and sobs hover over this enormous restless heap of living human bodies crowded into a pit. They jump, fall, crawl, crush one another, leap on one another’s shoulders, grope everywhere like blind people, stumbling everywhere over others like themselves, struggle, and, falling, disappear from sight. Money rustles, soaring like bats over the heads of the people, and the people greedily stretch out their hands toward it, the gold and silver jingles, bottles rattle, corks pop, someone sobs, and a melancholy female voice sings:
“And so let us live while we can, And then — e’en grass may cease to grow!”
This wild picture fastened itself firmly in Foma’s mind, and growing clearer, larger and more vivid with each time it arose before him, rousing in his breast something chaotic, one great indefinite feeling into which fell, like streams into a river, fear and revolt and compassion and wrath and many another thing. All this boiled up within his breast into strained desire, which was thrusting it asunder into a desire whose power was choking him, and his eyes were filled with tears; he longed to shout, to howl like a beast, to frighten all the people, to check their senseless bustle, to pour into the tumult and vanity of their life something new, his own — to tell them certain loud firm words, to guide them all into one direction, and not one against another. He desired to seize them by their heads, to tear them apart one from another, to thrash some, to fondle others, to reproach them all, to illumine them with a certain fire.
There was nothing in him, neither the necessary words, nor the fire; all he had was the longing which was clear to him, but impossible of fulfillment. He pictured himself above life outside of the deep valley, wherein people were bustling about; he saw himself standing firmly on his feet and — speechless. He might have cried to the people:
“See how you live! Aren’t you ashamed?”
And he might have abused them. But if they were to ask on hearing his voice:
“And how ought we to live?”
It was perfectly clear to him that after such a question he would have to fly down head foremost from the heights there, beneath the feet of the throng, upon the millstone. And laughter would accompany him to his destruction.
Sometimes he was delirious under the pressure of this nightmare. Certain meaningless and unconnected words burst from his lips; he even perspired from this painful struggle within him. At times it occurred to him that he was going mad from intoxication, and that that was the reason why this terrible and gloomy picture was forcing itself into his mind. With a great effort of will he brushed aside these pictures and excitements; but as soon as he was alone and not very drunk, he was again seized by his delirium and again grew faint under its weight. And his thirst for freedom was growing more and more intense, torturing him by its force. But tear himself away from the shackles of his wealth he could not. Mayakin, who had Foma’s full power of attorney to manage his affairs, acted now in such a way that Foma was bound to feel almost every day the burden of the obligations which rested upon him. People were constantly applying to him for payments, proposing to him terms for the transportation of freight. His employees overwhelmed him in person and by letter with trifles with which he had never before concerned himself, as they used to settle these trifles at their own risk. They looked for him and found him in the taverns, questioned him as to what and how it should be done; he would tell them sometimes without at all understanding in what way this or that should be done. He noticed their concealed contempt for him, and almost always saw that they did not do the work as he had ordered, but did it in a different and better way. In this he felt the clever hand of his godfather, and understood that the old man was thus pressing him in order to turn him to his way. And at the same time he noticed that he was not the master of his business, but only a component part of it, and an insignificant part at that. This irritated him and moved him farther away from the old man, it augumented his longing to tear himself away from his business, even at the cost of his own ruin. Infuriated, he flung money about the taverns and dives, but this did not last long. Yakov Tarasovich closed his accounts in the banks, withdrawing all deposits. Soon Foma began to feel that even on promissory notes, they now gave him the money not quite as willingly as before. This stung his vanity; and his indignation was roused, and he was frightened when he learned that his godfather had circulated a rumour in the business world that he, Foma, was out of his mind, and that, perhaps, it might become necessary to appoint a guardian for him. Foma did not know the limits of his godfather’s power, and did not venture to take anyone’s counsel in this matter. He was convinced that in the business world the old man was a power, and that he could do anything he pleased. At first it was painful for him to feel Mayakin’s hand over him, but later he became reconciled to this, renounced everything, and resumed his restless, drunken life, wherein there was only one consolation — the people. With each succeeding day he became more and more convinced that they were more irrational and altogether worse than he — that they were not the masters of life, but its slaves, and that it was turning them around, bending and breaking them at its will, while they succumbed to it unfeelingly and resignedly, and none of them but he desired freedom. But he wanted it, and therefore proudly elevated himself above his drinking companions, not desiring to see in them anything but wrong.
One day in a tavern a certain half-intoxicated man complained to him of his life. This was a small-sized, meagre man, with dim, frightened eyes, unshaven, in a short frock coat, and with a bright necktie. He blinked pitifully, his ears quivered spasmodically, and his soft little voice also trembled.
“I’ve struggled hard to make my way among men; I’ve tried everything, I’ve worked like a bull. But life jostled me aside, crushed me under foot, gave me no chance. All my patience gave way. Eh! and so I’ve taken to drink. I feel that I’ll be ruined. Well, that’s the only way open to me!”
“Fool!” said Foma with contempt. “Why did you want to make your way among men? You should have kept away from them, to the right. Standing aside, you might have seen where your place was among them, and then gone right to the point!”
“I don’t understand your words.” The little man shook his close- cropped, angular head.
Foma laughed, self-satisfied.
“Is it for you to understand it?”“No; do you know, I think that he whom God decreed —”
“Not God, but man arranges life!” Foma blurted out, and was even himself astonished at the audacity of his words. And the little man glancing at him askance also shrank timidly.
“Has God given you reason?” asked Foma, recovering from his embarrassment.
“Of course; that is to say, as much as is the share of a small man,” said Foma’s interlocutor irresolutely.
“Well, and you have no right to ask of Him a single grain more! Make your own life by your own reason. And God will judge you. We are all in His service. And in His eyes we are all of equal value. Understand?”
It happened very often that Foma would suddenly say something which seemed audacious even to himself, and which, at the same time, elevated him in his own eyes. There were certain unexpected, daring thoughts and words, which suddenly flashed like sparks, as though an impression produced them from Foma’s brains. And he noticed more than once that whatever he had carefully thought out beforehand was expressed by him not quite so well, and more obscure, than that which suddenly flashed up in his heart.
Foma lived as though walking in a swamp, in danger of sinking at each step in the mire and slime, while his godfather, like a river loach, wriggled himself on a dry, firm little spot, vigilantly watching the life of his godson from afar.
After his quarrel with Foma, Yakov Tarasovich returned home, gloomy and pensive. His eyes flashed drily, and he straightened himself like a tightly-stretched string. His wrinkles shrank painfully, his face seemed to have become smaller and darker, and when Lubov saw him in this state it appeared to her that he was seriously ill, but that he was forcing and restraining himself. Mutely and nervously the old man flung himself about the room, casting in reply to his daughter’s questions, dry curt words, and finally shouted to her:
“Leave me alone! You see it has nothing to do with you.”
She felt sorry for him when she noticed the gloomy and melancholy expression of his keen, green eyes; she made it her duty to question him as to what had happened to him, and when he seated himself at the dinner-table she suddenly approached him, placed her hands on his shoulders, and looking down into his face, asked him tenderly and anxiously:
“Papa, are you ill? tell me!”
Her caresses were extremely rare; they always softened the lonely old man, and though he did not respond to them for some reason or other he nevertheless could not help appreciating them. And now he shrugged his shoulders, thus throwing off her hands and said:
“Go, go to your place. How the itching curiosity of Eve gives you no rest.”
But Lubov did not go away; persistingly looking into his eyes, she asked, with an offended tone in her voice:
“Papa, why do you always speak to me in such a way as though I were a small child, or very stupid?”
“Because you are grown up and yet not very clever. Yes! That’s the whole story! Go, sit down and eat!”
She walked away and silently seated herself opposite her father, compressing her lips for affront. Contrary to his habits Mayakin ate slowly, stirring his spoon in his plate of cabbage-soup for a long time, and examining the soup closely.
“If your obstructed mind could but comprehend your father’s thoughts!” said he, suddenly, as he sighed with a sort of whistling sound.
Lubov threw her spoon aside and almost with tears in her voice, said:
“Why do you insult me, papa? You see that I am alone, always alone! You understand how difficult my life is, and you never say a single kind word to me. You never say anything to me! And you are also lonely; life is difficult for you too, I can see it. You find it very hard to live, but you alone are to blame for it! You alone!
“Now Balaam’s she-ass has also started to talk!” said the old man, laughing. “Well! what will be next?”
“You are very proud of your wisdom, papa.”
“And what else?”
“That isn’t good; and it pains me greatly. Why do you repulse me? You know that, save you, I have no one.”
Tears leaped to her eyes; her father noticed them, and his face quivered.
“If you were not a girl!” he exclaimed. “If you had as much brains as Marfa Poosadnitza, for instance. Eh, Lubov? Then I’d laugh at everybody, and at Foma. Come now, don’t cry!”
She wiped her eyes and asked:
“What about Foma?”
“He’s rebellious. Ha! ha! he says: ‘Take away my property, give me freedom!’ He wants to save his soul in the kabak. That’s what entered Foma’s head.”
“Well, what is this?” asked Lubov, irresolutely. She wanted to say that Foma’s desire was good, that it was a noble desire if it were earnest, but she feared to irritate her father with her words, and she only gazed at him questioningly.
“What is it?” said Mayakin, excitedly, trembling. “That either comes to him from excessive drinking, or else — Heaven forbid — from his mother, the orthodox spirit. And if this heathenish leaven is going to rise in him I’ll have to struggle hard with him! There will be a great conflict between us. He has come out, breast foremost, against me; he has at once displayed great audacity. He’s young — there’s not much cunning in him as yet. He says: ‘I’ll drink away everything, everything will go up in smoke! I’ll show you how to drink!
Mayakin lifted his hand over his head, and, clenching his fist, threatened furiously.
“How dare you? Who established the business? Who built it up? You? Your father. Forty years of labour were put into it, and you wish to destroy it? We must all go to our places here all together as one man, there cautiously, one by one. We merchants, tradesmen, have for centuries carried Russia on our shoulders, and we are still carrying it. Peter the Great was a Czar of divine wisdom, he knew our value. How he supported us! He had printed books for the express purpose of teaching us business. There I have a book which was printed at his order by Polidor Virgily Oorbansky, about inventory, printed in 1720. Yes, one must understand this. He understood it, and cleared the way for us. And now we stand on our own feet, and we feel our place. Clear the way for us! We have laid the foundation of life, instead of bricks we have laid ourselves in the earth. Now we must build the stories. Give us freedom of action! That’s where we must hold our course. That’s where the problem lies; but Foma does not comprehend this. But he must understand it, must resume the work. He has his father’s means. When I die mine will be added to his. Work, you puppy! And he is raving. No, wait! I’ll lift you up to the proper point!”
The old man was choking with agitation and with flashing eyes looked at his daughter so furiously as though Foma were sitting in her place. His agitation frightened Lubov, but she lacked the courage to interrupt her father, and she looked at his stern and gloomy face in silence.
“The road has been paved by our fathers, and you must walk on it. I have worked for fifty years to what purpose? That my children may resume it after I am gone. My children! Where are my children?”
The old man drooped his head mournfully, his voice broke down, and he said sadly, as if he were speaking unto himself:
“One is a convict, utterly ruined; the other, a drunkard. I have little hope in him. My daughter, to whom, then, shall I leave my labour before my death? If I had but a son-in-law. I thought Foma would become a man and would be sharpened up, then I would give you unto him, and with you all I have — there! But Foma is good for nothing, and I see no one else in his stead. What sort of people we have now! In former days the people were as of iron, while now they are of india-rubber. They are all bending now. And nothing — they have no firmness in them. What is it? Why is it so?”
Mayakin looked at his daughter with alarm. She was silent.
“Tell me,” he asked her, “what do you need? How, in your opinion, is it proper to live? What do you want? You have studied, read, tell me what is it that you need?”
The questions fell on Lubov’s head quite unexpectedly to her, and she was embarrassed. She was pleased that her father asked her about this matter, and was at the same time afraid to reply, lest she should be lowered in his estimation. And then, gathering courage, as though preparing to jump across the table, she said irresolutely and in a trembling voice:
“That all the people should be happy and contented; that all the people should be equal, all the people have an equal right to life, to the bliss of life, all must have freedom, even as they have air. And equality ineverything!”
At the beginning of her agitated speech her father looked at her face with anxious curiosity in his eyes, but as she went on hastily hurling her words at him his eyes assumed an altogether different expression, and finally he said to her with calm contempt:
“I knew it before — you are a gilded fool!”
She lowered her head, but immediately raised it and exclaimed sadly:
“You have said so yourself — freedom.”
“You had better hold your tongue!” the old man shouted at her rudely. “You cannot see even that which is visibly forced outside of each man. How can all the people be happy and equal, since each one wants to be above the other? Even the beggar has his pride and always boasts of something or other before other people. A small child, even he wants to be first among his playmates. And one man will never yield to another; only fools believe in it. Each man has his own soul, and his own face; only those who love not their souls and care not for their faces can be planed down to the same size. Eh, you! You’ve read much trash, and you’ve devoured it!”
Bitter reproach and biting contempt were expressed on the old man’s face. He noisily pushed his chair away from the table, jumped up, and folding his hands behind his back, began to dart about in the room with short steps, shaking his head and saying something to himself in an angry, hissing whisper. Lubov, pale with emotion and anger, feeling herself stupid and powerless before him, listening to his whisper, and her heart palpitated wildly.
“I am left alone, alone, like Job. 0h Lord! What shall I do? Oh, alone! Am I not wise? Am I not clever? But life has outwitted me also. What does it love? Whom does it fondle? It beats the good, and suffers not the bad to go unpunished, and no one understands life’s justice.”
The girl began to feel painfully sorry for the old man; she was seized with an intense yearning to help him; she longed to be of use to him.
Following him with burning eyes, she suddenly said in a low voice:
“Papa, dear! do not grieve. Taras is still alive. Perhaps he —”
Mayakin stopped suddenly as though nailed to the spot, and he slowly lifted his head.
“The tree that grew crooked in its youth and could not hold out will certainly break when it’s old. But nevertheless, even Taras is a straw to me now. Though I doubt whether he is better than Foma. Gordyeeff has a character, he has his father’s daring. He can take a great deal on himself. But Taraska, you recalled him just in time. Yes!”
And the old man, who a moment ago had lost his courage to the point of complaining, and, grief-stricken had run about the room like a mouse in a trap, now calmly and firmly walked up with a careworn face to the table, carefully adjusted his chair, and seated himself, saying:
“We’ll have to sound Taraska. He lives in Usolye at some factory. I was told by some merchants — they’re making soda there, I believe. I’ll find out the particulars. I’ll write to him.”
“Allow me to write to him, papa!” begged Lubov, softly, flushing, trembling with joy.
“You?” asked Mayakin, casting a brief glance at her; he then became silent, thought awhile and said:
“That’s all right. That’s even better! Write to him. Ask him whether he isn’t married, how he lives, what he thinks. But then I’ll tell you what to write when the time has come.”
“Do it at once, papa,” said the girl.
“It is necessary to marry you off the sooner. I am keeping an eye on a certain red-haired fellow. He doesn’t seem to be stupid. He’s been polished abroad, by the way.
“Is it Smolin, papa?” asked Lubov, inquisitively and anxiously.
“And supposing it is he, what of it?” inquired Yakov Tarasovich in a business-like tone.
“Nothing, I don’t know him,” replied Lubov, indefinitely.
“We’ll make you acquainted. It’s time, Lubov, it’s time. Our hopes for Foma are poor, although I do not give him up.”
“I did not reckon on Foma — what is he to me?”
“That’s wrong. If you had been cleverer perhaps he wouldn’t have gone astray! Whenever I used to see you together, I thought: ‘My girl will attract the fellow to herself! That will be a fine affair!’ But I was wrong. I thought that you would know what is to your advantage without being told of it. That’s the way, my girl!” said the father, instructively.
She became thoughtful as she listened to his impressive speech. Robust and strong, Lubov was thinking of marriage more and more frequently of late, for she saw no other way out of her loneliness. The desire to forsake her father and go away somewhere in order to study something, to do something. This desire she had long since overcome, even as she conquered in herself many another longing just as keen, but shallow and indefinite. From the various books she had read a thick sediment remained within her, and though it was something live it had the life of a protoplasm. This sediment developed in the girl a feeling of dis-satisfaction with her life, a yearning toward personal independence, a longing to be freed from the heavy guardianship of her father, but she had neither the power to realize these desires, nor the clear conception of their realization. But nature had its influence on her, and at the sight of young mothers with children in their arms Lubov often felt a sad and mournful languor within her. At times stopping before the mirror she sadly scrutinized in it her plump, fresh face with dark circles around her eyes, and she felt sorry for herself. She felt that life was going past her, forgetting her somewhere on the side. Now listening to her father’s words she pictured to herself what sort of man Smolin might be. She had met him when he was yet a Gymnasium student, his face was covered with freckles, he was snub-nosed, always clean, sedate and tiresome. He danced heavily, awkwardly, he talked uninterestingly. A long time had passed since then, he had been abroad, had studied something there, how was he now? From Smolin her thoughts darted to her brother, and with a sinking heart she thought: what would he say in reply to her letter? What sort of a man was he? The image of her brother as she had pictured it to herself prevented her from seeing both her father and Smolin, and she had already made up her mind not to consent to marry before meeting Taras, when suddenly her father shouted to her:
“Eh, Lubovka! Why are you thoughtful? What are you thinking of mostly?”
“So, everything goes so swiftly,” replied Luba, with a smile.
“What goes swiftly?”
“Everything. A week ago it was impossible to speak with you about Taras, while now —”
“’Tis need, my girl! Need is a power, it bends a steel rod into a spring. And steel is stubborn. Taras, we’ll see what he is! Man is to be appreciated by his resistance to the power of life; if it isn’t life that wrings him, but he that wrings life to suit himself, my respects to that man! Allow me to shake your hand, let’s run our business together. Eh, I am old. And how very brisk life has become now! With each succeeding year there is more and more interest in it, more and more relish to it! I wish I could live forever, I wish I could act all the time!” The old man smacked his lips, rubbed his hands, and his small eyes gleamed greedily.
“But you are a thin-blooded lot! Ere you have grown up you are already overgrown and withered. You live like an old radish. And the fact that life is growing fairer and fairer is incomprehensible to you. I have lived sixty-seven years on this earth, and though I am now standing close to my grave I can see that in former years, when I was young, there were fewer flowers on earth, and the flowers were not quite as beautiful as they are now. Everything is growing more beautiful! What buildings we have now! What different trade implements. What huge steamers! A world of brains has been put into everything! You look and think; what clever fellows you are — 0h people! You merit reward and respect! You’ve arranged life cleverly. Everything is good, everything is pleasant. Only you, our successors, you are devoid of all live feelings! Any little charlatan from among the commoners is cleverer than you! Take that Yozhov, for instance, what is he? And yet he represents himself as judge over us, and even over life itself — he has courage. But you, pshaw! You live like beggars! In your joy you are beasts, in your misfortune vermin! You are rotten! They ought to inject fire into your veins, they ought to take your skin off and strew salt upon your raw flesh, then you would have jumped!”
Yakov Tarasovich, small-sized, wrinkled and bony, with black, broken teeth in his mouth, bald-headed and dark, as though burned by the heat of life and smoked in it, trembled in vehement agitation, showering jarring words of contempt upon his daughter, who was young, well-grown and plump. She looked at him with a guilty expression in her eyes, smiled confusedly, and in her heart grew a greater and greater respect for the live old man who was so steadfast in his desires.
.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And Foma went on straying and raving, passing his days and nights in taverns and dens, and mastering more and more firmly his contemptuously-hateful bearing toward the people that surrounded him. At times they awakened in him a sad yearning to find among them some sort of resistance to his wicked feeling, to meet a worthy and courageous man who would cause him to blush with shame by his burning reproach. This yearning became clearer — each time it sprang up in him it was a longing for assistance on the part of a man who felt that he had lost his way and was perishing.
“Brethren!” he cried one day, sitting by the table in a tavern, half-intoxicated, and surrounded by certain obscure and greedy people, who ate and drank as though they had not had a piece of bread in their mouths for many a long day before.
“Brethren! I feel disgusted. I am tired of you! Beat me unmercifully, drive me away! You are rascals, but you are nearer to one another than to me. Why? Am I not a drunkard and a rascal as well? And yet I am a stranger to you! I can see I am a stranger. You drink out of me and secretly you spit upon me. I can feel it! Why do you do it?”
To be sure, they could treat him in a different way. In the depth of his soul perhaps not one of them considered himself lower than Foma, but he was rich, and this hindered them from treating him more as a companion, and then he always spoke certain comically wrathful, conscience-rending words, and this embarrassed them. Moreover, he was strong and ready to fight, and they dared not say a word against him. And that was just what he wanted. He wished more and more intensely that one of these people he despised would stand up against him, face to face, and would tell him something strong, which, like a lever, would turn him aside from the sloping road, whose danger he felt, and whose filth he saw, being filled with helpless aversion for it.
And Foma found what he needed.
One day, irritated by the lack of attention for him, he cried to his drinking-companions:
“You boys, keep quiet, every one of you! Who gives you to drink and to eat? Have you forgotten it? I’ll bring you in order! I’ll show you how to respect me! Convicts! When I speak you must all keep quiet!”
And, indeed, all became silent; either for fear lest they might lose his good will, or, perhaps, afraid that he, that healthy and strong beast, might beat them. They sat in silence about a minute, concealing their anger at him, bending over the plates and attempting to hide from him their fright and embarrassment. Foma measured them with a self-satisfied look, and gratified by their slavish submissiveness, said boastfully:
“Ah! You’ve grown dumb now, that’s the way! I am strict! I—”
“You sluggard!” came some one’s calm, loud exclamation.
“Wha-at?” roared Foma, jumping up from his chair. “Who said that?”
Then a certain, strange, shabby-looking man arose at the end of the table; he was tall, in a long frock-coat, with a heap of grayish hair on his large head. His hair was stiff, standing out in all directions in thick locks, his face was yellow, unshaven, with a long, crooked nose. To Foma it seemed that he resembled a swab with which the steamer decks are washed, and this amused the half-intoxicated fellow.
“How fine!” said he, sarcastically. “What are you snarling at, eh? Do you know who I am?”
With the gesture of a tragic actor the man stretched out to Foma his hand, with its long, pliant fingers like those of a juggler, and he said in a deep hoarse basso:
“You are the rotten disease of your father, who, though he was a plunderer, was nevertheless a worthy man in comparison with you.”
Because of the unexpectedness of this, and because of his wrath, Foma’s heart shrank. He fiercely opened his eyes wide and kept silent, finding no words to reply to this insolence. And the man, standing before him, went on hoarsely, with animation, beastlike rolling his large, but dim and swollen, eyes:
“You demand of us respect for you, you fool! How have you merited it? Who are you? A drunkard, drinking away the fortune of your father. You savage! You ought to be proud that I, a renowned artist, a disinterested and faithful worshipper at the shrine of art, drink from the same bottle with you! This bottle contains sandal and molasses, infused with snuff-tobacco, while you think it is port wine. It is your license for the name of savage and ass.”
“Eh, you jailbird!” roared Foma, rushing toward the artist. But he was seized and held back. Struggling in the arms of those that seized him, he was compelled to listen without replying, to the thundering, deep and heavy bass of the man who resembled a swab.
“You have thrown to men a few copecks out of the stolen roubles, and you consider yourself a hero! You are twice a thief. You have stolen the roubles and now you are stealing gratitude for your few copecks! But I shall not give it to you! I, who have devoted all my life to the condemnation of vice, I stand before you and say openly: ‘You are a fool and a beggar because you are too rich! Here lies the wisdom: all the rich are beggars.’ That’s how the famous coupletist, Rimsky-Kannibalsky, serves Truth!”
Foma was now standing meekly among the people that had closely surrounded him, and he eagerly listened to the coupletist’s thundering words, which now aroused in him a sensation as though somebody was scratching a sore spot, and thus soothing the acute itching of the pain. The people were excited; some attempted to check the coupletist’s flow of eloquence, others wanted to lead Foma away somewhere. Without saying a word he pushed them aside and listened, more and more absorbed by the intense pleasure of humiliation which he felt in the presence of these people. The pain irritated by the words of the coupletist, caressed Foma’s soul more and more passionately, and the coupletist went on thundering, intoxicated with the impurity of his accusation:
“You think that you are the master of life? You are the low slave of the rouble.”
Someone in the crowd hiccoughed, and, evidently displeased with himself for this, cursed each time he hiccoughed:
And a certain, unshaven, fat-faced man took pity on Foma, or, perhaps, became tired of witnessing that scene, and, waving his hands, he drawled out plaintively:
“Gentlemen, drop that! It isn’t good! For we are all sinners! Decidedly all, believe me!”
“Well, speak on!” muttered Foma. “Say everything! I won’t touch you.”
The mirrors on the walls reflected this drunken confusion, and the people, as reflected in the mirrors, seemed more disgusting and hideous than they were in reality.
“I do not want to speak! “exclaimed the coupletist, “I do not want to cast the pearls of truth and of my wrath before you.”
He rushed forward, and raising his head majestically, turned toward the door with tragic footsteps.
“You lie!” said Foma, attempting to follow him. “Hold on! you have made me agitated, now calm me.”
They seized him, surrounded him and shouted something to him while he was rushing forward, overturning everybody. When he met tactile obstacles on his way the struggle with them gave him ease, uniting all his riotous feelings into one yearning to overthrow that which hindered him. And now, after he had jostled them all aside and rushed out into the street, he was already less agitated. Standing on the sidewalk he looked about the street and thought with shame:
“How could I permit that swab to mock me and abuse my father as a thief?”
It was dark and quiet about him, the moon was shining brightly, and a light refreshing breeze was blowing. Foma held his face to the cool breeze as he walked against the wind with rapid strides, timidly looking about on all sides, and wishing that none of the company from the tavern would follow him. He understood that he had lowered himself in the eyes of all these people. As he walked he thought of what he had come to: a sharper had publicly abused him in disgraceful terms, while he, the son of a well-known merchant, had not been able to repay him for his mocking.
“It serves me right!” thought Foma, sadly and bitterly. “That serves me right! Don’t lose your head, understand. And then again, I wanted it myself. I interfered with everybody, so now, take your share!” These thoughts made him feel painfully sorry for himself. Seized and sobered by them he kept on strolling along the streets, and searching for something strong and firm in himself. But everything within him was confused; it merely oppressed his heart, without assuming any definite forms. As in a painful dream he reached the river, seated himself on the beams by the shore, and began to look at the calm dark water, which was covered with tiny ripples. Calmly and almost noiselessly flowed on the broad, mighty river, carrying enormous weights upon its bosom. The river was all covered with black vessels, the signal lights and the stars were reflected in its water; the tiny ripples, murmuring softly, were gently breaking against the shore at the very feet of Foma. Sadness was breathed down from the sky, the feeling of loneliness oppressed Foma.
“0h Lord Jesus Christ!” thought he, sadly gazing at the sky. “What a failure I am. There is nothing in me. God has put nothing into me. Of what use am I? Oh Lord Jesus!”
At the recollection of Christ Foma felt somewhat better — his loneliness seemed alleviated, and heaving a deep sigh, he began to address God in silence:
“0h Lord Jesus Christ! Other people do not understand anything either, but they think that all is known to them, and therefore it is easier for them to live. While I— I have no justification. Here it is night, and I am alone, I have no place to go, I am unable to say anything to anybody. I love no one — only my godfather, and he is soulless. If Thou hadst but punished him somehow! He thinks there is none cleverer and better on earth than himself. While Thou sufferest it. And the same with me. If some misfortune were but sent to me. If some illness were to overtake me. But here I am as strong as iron. I am drinking, leading a gay life. I live in filth, but the body does not even rust, and only my soul aches. Oh Lord! To what purpose is such a life?”
Vague thoughts of protest flashed one after another through the mind of the lonely, straying man, while the silence about him was growing deeper, and night ever darker and darker. Not far from the shore lay a boat at anchor; it rocked from side to side, and something was creaking in it as though moaning.
“How am I to free myself from such a life as this?” reflected Foma, staring at the boat. “And what occupation is destined to be mine? Everybody is working.”
And suddenly he was struck by a thought which appeared great to him:
“And hard work is cheaper than easy work! Some man will give himself up entire to his work for a rouble, while another takes a thousand with one finger.”
He was pleasantly roused by this thought. It seemed to him that he discovered another falsehood in the life of man, another fraud which they conceal. He recalled one of his stokers, the old man Ilya, who, for ten copecks, used to be on watch at the fireplace out of his turn, working for a comrade eight hours in succession, amid suffocating heat. One day, when he had fallen sick on account of overwork, he was lying on the bow of the steamer, and when Foma asked him why he was thus ruining himself, Ilya replied roughly and sternly:
“Because every copeck is more necessary to me than a hundred roubles to you. That’s why!”
And, saying this, the old man turned his body, which was burning with pain, with its back to Foma.
Reflecting on the stoker his thoughts suddenly and without any effort, embraced all those petty people that were doing hard work. He wondered, Why do they live? What pleasure is it for them to live on earth? They constantly do but their dirty, hard work, they eat poorly, are poorly clad, they drink. One man is sixty years old, and yet he keeps on toiling side by side with the young fellows. And they all appeared to Foma as a huge pile of worms, which battled about on earth just to get something to eat. In his memory sprang up his meetings with these people, one after another — their remarks about life — now sarcastic and mournful, now hopelessly gloomy remarks — their wailing songs. And now he also recalled how one day in the office Yefim had said to the clerk who hired the sailors:
“Some Lopukhin peasants have come here to hire themselves out, so don’t give them more than ten roubles a month. Their place was burned down to ashes last summer, and they are now in dire need — they’ll work for ten roubles.”
Sitting on the beams, Foma rocked his whole body to and fro, and out of the darkness, from the river, various human figures appeared silently before him — sailors, stokers, clerks, waiters, half-intoxicated painted women, and tavern-loungers. They floated in the air like shadows; something damp and brackish came from them, and the dark, dense throng moved on slowly, noiselessly and swiftly, like clouds in an autumn sky. The soft splashing of the waves poured into his soul like sadly sighing music. Far away, somewhere on the other bank of the river, burned a wood-pile; embraced by the darkness on all sides, it was at times almost absorbed by it, and in the darkness it trembled, a reddish spot scarcely visible to the eye. But now the fire flamed up again, the darkness receded, and it was evident that the flame was striving upward. And then it sank again.
“0h Lord, 0h Lord!” thought Foma, painfully and bitterly, feeling that grief was oppressing his heart with ever greater power. “Here I am, alone, even as that fire. Only no light comes from me, nothing but fumes and smoke. If I could only meet a wise man! Someone to speak to. It is utterly impossible for me to live alone. I cannot do anything. I wish I might meet a man.”
Far away, on the river, two large purple fires appeared, and high above them was a third. A dull noise resounded in the distance, something black was moving toward Foma.
“A steamer going up stream,” he thought. “There may be more than a hundred people aboard, and none of them give a single thought to me. They all know whither they are sailing. Every one of them has something that is his own. Every one, I believe, understands what he wants. But what do I want? And who will tell it to me? Where is such a man?”
The lights of the steamer were reflected in the river, quivering in it; the illumined water rushed away from it with a dull murmur, and the steamer looked like a huge black fish with fins of fire.
A few days elapsed after this painful night, and Foma caroused again. It came about by accident and against his will. He had made up his mind to restrain himself from drinking, and so went to dinner in one of the most expensive hotels in town, hoping to find there none of his familiar drinking-companions, who always selected the cheaper and less respectable places for their drinking bouts. But his calculation proved to be wrong; he at once came into the friendly joyous embrace of the brandy- distiller’s son, who had taken Sasha as mistress.
He ran up to Foma, embraced him and burst into merry laughter.
“Here’s a meeting! This is the third day I have eaten here, and I am wearied by this terrible lonesomeness. There is not a decent man in the whole town, so I have had to strike up an acquaintance with newspaper men. They’re a gay lot, although at first they played the aristocrat and kept sneering at me. After awhile we all got dead drunk. They’ll be here again today — I swear by the fortune of my father! I’ll introduce you to them. There is one writer of feuilletons here; you know, that some one who always lauded you, what’s his name? An amusing fellow, the devil take him! Do you know it would be a good thing to hire one like that for personal use! Give him a certain sum of money and order him to amuse! How’s that? I had a certain coupletist in my employ — it was rather entertaining to be with him. I used to say to him sometimes: ‘Rimsky! give us some couplets!’ He would start, I tell you, and he’d make you split your sides with laughter. It’s a pity, he ran off somewhere. Have you had dinner?”
“Not yet. And how’s Aleksandra?” asked Foma, somewhat deafened by the loud speech of this tall, frank, red-faced fellow clad in a motley costume.
“Well, do you know,” said the latter with a frown, “that Aleksandra of yours is a nasty woman! She’s so obscure, it’s tiresome to be with her, the devil take her! She’s as cold as a frog — brrr! I guess I’ll send her away.”
“Cold — that’s true,” said Foma and became pensive. “Every person must do his work in a first class manner,” said the distiller’s son, instructively. “And if you become some one’s s mistress you must perform your duty in the best way possible, if you are a decent woman. Well, shall we have a drink?”
They had a drink. And naturally they got drunk. A large and noisy company gathered in the hotel toward evening. And Foma, intoxicated, but sad and calm, spoke to them with heavy voice:
“That’s the way I understand it: some people are worms, others sparrows. The sparrows are the merchants. They peck the worms. Such is their destined lot. They are necessary But I and you — all of you — are to no purpose. We live so that we cannot be compared to anything — without justification, merely at random. And we are utterly unnecessary. But even these here, and everybody else, to what purpose are they? You must understand that. Brethren! We shall all burst! By God! And why shall we burst? Because there is always something superfluous in us, there is something superfluous in our souls. And all our life is superfluous! Comrades! I weep. To what purpose am I? I am unnecessary! Kill me, that I may die; I want to die.”
And he wept, shedding many drunken tears. A drunken, small-sized, swarthy man sat down close to him, began to remind him of something, tried to kiss him, and striking a knife against the table, shouted:
“True! Silence! These are powerful words! Let the elephants and the mammoths of the disorder of life speak! The raw Russian conscience speaks holy words! Roar on, Gordyeeff! Roar at everything!” And again he clutched at Foma’s shoulders, flung himself on his breast, raising to Foma’s face his round, black, closely-cropped head, which was ceaselessly turning about on his shoulders on all sides, so that Foma was unable to see his face, and he was angry at him for this, and kept on pushing him aside, crying excitedly:
“Get away! Where is your face? Go on!”
A deafening, drunken laughter smote the air about them, and choking with laughter, the son of the brandy-distiller roared to someone hoarsely:
“Come to me! A hundred roubles a month with board and lodging! Throw the paper to the dogs. I’ll give you more!”
And everything rocked from side to side in rhythmic, wave-like movement. Now the people moved farther away from Foma, now they came nearer to him, the ceiling descended, the floor rose, and it seemed to Foma that he would soon be flattened and crushed. Then he began to feel that he was floating somewhere over an immensely wide and stormy river, and, staggering, he cried out in fright:
“Where are we floating? Where is the captain?”
He was answered by the loud, senseless laughter of the drunken crowd, and by the shrill, repulsive shout of the swarthy little man:
“True! we are all without helm and sails. Where is the captain? What? Ha, ha, ha!”
Foma awakened from this nightmare in a small room with two windows, and the first thing his eyes fell upon was a withered tree. It stood near the window; its thick trunk, barkless, with a rotten heart, prevented the light from entering the room; the bent, black branches, devoid of leaves, stretched themselves mournfully and helplessly in the air, and shaking to and fro, they creaked softly, plaintively. A rain was falling; streams of water were beating against the window-panes, and one could hear how the water was falling to the ground from the roof, sobbing there. This sobbing sound was joined by another sound — a shrill, often interrupted, hasty scratching of a pen over paper, and then by a certain spasmodic grumbling.
When he turned with difficulty his aching, heavy head on the pillow, Foma noticed a small, swarthy man, who sat by the table hastily scratching with his pen over the paper, shaking his round head approvingly, wagging it from side to side, shrugging his shoulders, and, with all his small body clothed in night garments only, constantly moving about in his chair, as though he were sitting on fire, and could not get up for some reason or other. His left hand, lean and thin, was now firmly rubbing his forehead, now making certain incomprehensible signs in the air; his bare feet scraped along the floor, a certain vein quivered on his neck, and even his ears were moving. When he turned toward Foma, Foma saw his thin lips whispering something, his sharp- pointed nose turned down to his thin moustache, which twitched upward each time the little man smiled. His face was yellow, bloated, wrinkled, and his black, vivacious small sparkling eyes did not seem to belong to him.
Having grown tired of looking at him, Foma slowly began to examine the room with his eyes. On the large nails, driven into the walls, hung piles of newspapers, which made the walls look as though covered with swellings. The ceiling was pasted with paper which had been white once upon a time; now it was puffed up like bladders, torn here and there, peeled off and hanging in dirty scraps; clothing, boots, books, torn pieces of paper lay scattered on the floor. Altogether the room gave one the impression that it had been scalded with boiling water.
The little man dropped the pen, bent over the table, drummed briskly on its edge with his fingers and began to sing softly in a faint voice:
“Take the drum and fear not — And kiss the sutler girl aloud — That’s the sense of learning — And that’s philosophy.”
Foma heaved a deed sigh and said:
“May I have some seltzer?”
“Ah!” exclaimed the little man, and jumping up from his chair, appeared at the wide oilcloth-covered lounge, where Foma lay. “How do you do, comrade! Seltzer? Of course! With cognac or plain?”
“Better with cognac,” said Foma, shaking the lean, burning hand which was outstretched to him, and staring fixedly into the face of the little man.
“Yegorovna!” cried the latter at the door, and turning to Foma, asked: “Don’t you recognise me, Foma Ignatyevich?”
“I remember something. It seems to me we had met somewhere before.”
“That meeting lasted for four years, but that was long ago! Yozhov.”
“0h Lord!” exclaimed Foma, in astonishment, slightly rising from the lounge. “Is it possible that it is you?”
“There are times, dear, when I don’t believe it myself, but a real fact is something from which doubt jumps back as a rubber ball from iron.”
Yozhov’s face was comically distorted, and for some reason or other his hands began to feel his breast.
“Well, well!” drawled out Foma. “But how old you have grown! Ah- ah! How old are you?”
“And you look as though you were fifty, lean, yellow. Life isn’t sweet to you, it seems? And you are drinking, too, I see.”
Foma felt sorry to see his jolly and brisk schoolmate so worn out, and living in this dog-hole, which seemed to be swollen from burns. He looked at him, winked his eyes mournfully and saw that Yozhov’s face was for ever twitching, and his small eyes were burning with irritation. Yozhov was trying to uncork the bottle of water, and thus occupied, was silent; he pressed the bottle between his knees and made vain efforts to take out the cork. And his impotence moved Foma.
“Yes; life has sucked you dry. And you have studied. Even science seems to help man but little,” said Gordyeeff plaintively.
“Drink!” said Yozhov, turning pale with fatigue, and handing him the glass. Then he wiped his forehead, seated himself on the lounge beside Foma, and said:
“Leave science alone! Science is a drink of the gods; but it has not yet fermented sufficiently, and, therefore is not fit for use, like vodka which has not yet been purified from empyreumatic oil. Science is not ready for man’s happiness, my friend. And those living people that use it get nothing but headaches. Like those you and I have at present. Why do you drink so rashly?”
“I? What else am I to do?” asked Foma, laughing. Yozhov looked at Foma searchingly with his eyes half closed, and he said:
“Connecting your question with everything you jabbered last night, I feel within my troubled soul that you, too, my friend, do not amuse yourself because life is cheerful to you.”
“Eh!” sighed Foma, heavily, rising from the lounge. “What is my life? It is something meaningless. I live alone. I understand nothing. And yet there is something I long for. I yearn to spit on all and then disappear somewhere! I would like to run away from everything. I am so weary!”
“That’s interesting!” said Yozhov, rubbing his hands and turning about in all directions. “This is interesting, if it is true and deep, for it shows that the holy spirit of dissatisfaction with life has already penetrated into the bed chambers of the merchants, into the death chambers of souls drowned in fat cabbage soup, in lakes of tea and other liquids. Give me a circumstantial account of it. Then, my dear, I shall write a novel.”
“I have been told that you have already written something about me?” inquired Foma, with curiosity, and once more attentively scrutinized his old friend unable to understand what so wretched a creature could write.
“Of course I have! Did you read it?”
“No, I did not have the chance.”
“And what have they told you?”
“That you gave me a clever scolding.”
“Hm! And doesn’t it interest you to read it yourself?” inquired Yozhov, scrutinizing Gordyeeff closely.
“I’ll read it!” Foma assured him, feeling embarrassed before Yozhov, and that Yozhov was offended by such regard for his writings. “Indeed, it is interesting since it is about myself,” he added, smiling kindheartedly at his comrade.
In saying this he was not at all interested, and he said it merely out of pity for Yozhov. There was quite another feeling in him; he wished to know what sort of a man Yozhov was, and why he had become so worn out. This meeting with Yozhov gave rise in him to a tranquil and kind feeling; it called forth recollections of his childhood, and these flashed now in his memory — flashed like modest little lights, timidly shining at him from the distance of the past. Yozhov walked up to the table on which stood a boiling samovar, silently poured out two glasses of tea as strong as tar, and said to Foma:
“Come and drink tea. And tell me about yourself.”
“I have nothing to tell you. I have not seen anything in life. Mine is an empty life! You had better tell me about yourself. I am sure you know more than I do, at any rate.”
Yozhov became thoughtful, not ceasing to turn his whole body and to waggle his head. In thoughtfulness his face became motionless, all its wrinkles gathered near his eyes and seemed to surround them with rays, and because of this his eyes receded deeper under his forehead.
“Yes, my dear, I have seen a thing or two, and I know a great deal,” he began, with a shake of the head. “And perhaps I know even more than it is necessary for me to know, and to know more than it is necessary is just as harmful to man as it is to be ignorant of what it is essential to know. Shall I tell you how I have lived? Very well; that is, I’ll try. I have never told any one about myself, because I have never aroused interest in anyone. It is most offensive to live on earth without arousing people’s interest in you!”
“I can see by your face and by everything else that your life has not been a smooth one!” said Foma, feeling pleased with the fact that, to all appearances, life was not sweet to his comrade as well. Yozhov drank his tea at one draught, thrust the glass on the saucer, placed his feet on the edge of the chair, and clasping his knees in his hands, rested his chin upon them. In this pose, small sized and flexible as rubber, he began:
“The student Sachkov, my former teacher, who is now a doctor of medicine, a whist-player and a mean fellow all around, used to tell me whenever I knew my lesson well: ‘You’re a fine fellow, Kolya! You are an able boy. We proletariats, plain and poor people, coming from the backyard of life, we must study and study, in order to come to the front, ahead of everybody. Russia is in need of wise and honest people. Try to be such, and you will be master of your fate and a useful member of society. On us commoners rest the best hopes of the country. We are destined to bring into it light, truth,’ and so on. I believed him, the brute. And since then about twenty years have elapsed. We proletariats have grown up, but have neither appropriated any wisdom, nor brought light into life. As before, Russia is still suffering from its chronic disease — a superabundance of rascals; while we, the proletariats, take pleasure in filling their dense throngs. My teacher, I repeat, is a lackey, a characterless and dumb creature, who must obey the orders of the mayor. While 1 am a clown in the employ of society. Fame pursues me here in town, dear. I walk along the street and I hear one driver say to another: ‘There goes Yozhov! How cleverly he barks, the deuce take him!’ Yes! Even this cannot be so easily attained.”
Yozhov’s face wrinkled into a bitter grimace, and he began to laugh, noiselessly, with his lips only. Foma did not understand his words, and, just to say something, he remarked at random:
“You didn’t hit, then, what you aimed at?”
“Yes, I thought I would grow up higher. And so I should! So I should, I say!”
He jumped up from his chair and began to run about in the room, exclaiming briskly in a shrill voice:
“But to preserve one’s self pure for life and to be a free man in it, one must have vast powers! I had them. I had elasticity, cleverness. I have spent all these in order to learn something which is absolutely unnecessary to me now. I have wasted the whole of myself in order to preserve something within myself. 0h devil! I myself and many others with me, we have all robbed ourselves for the sake of saving up something for life. Just think of it: desiring to make of myself a valuable man, I have underrated my individuality in every way possible. In order to study, and not die of starvation, I have for six years in succession taught blockheads how to read and write, and had to bear a mass of abominations at the hands of various papas and mammas, who humiliated me without any constraint. Earning my bread and tea, I could not, I had not the time to earn my shoes, and I had to turn to charitable institutions with humble petitions for loans on the strength of my poverty. If the philanthropists could only reckon up how much of the spirit they kill in man while supporting the life of his body! If they only knew that each rouble they give for bread contains ninety-nine copecks’ worth of poison for the soul! If they could only burst from excess of their kindness and pride, which they draw from their holy activity! There is none on earth more disgusting and repulsive than he who gives alms, even as there is none more miserable than he who accepts it!”
Yozhov staggered about in the room like a drunken man, seized with madness, and the paper under his feet was rustling, tearing, flying in scraps. He gnashed his teeth, shook his head, his hands waved in the air like broken wings of a bird, and altogether it seemed as though he were being boiled in a kettle of hot water. Foma looked at him with a strange, mixed sensation; he pitied Yozhov, and at the same time he was pleased to see him suffering.
“I am not alone, he is suffering, too,” thought Foma, as Yozhov spoke. And something clashed in Yozhov’s throat, like broken glass, and creaked like an unoiled hinge.
“Poisoned by the kindness of men, I was ruined through the fatal capacity of every poor fellow during the making of his career, through the capacity of being reconciled with little in the expectation of much. Oh! Do you know, more people perish through lack of proper self-appreciation than from consumption, and perhaps that is why the leaders of the masses serve as district inspectors!”
“The devil take the district inspectors!” said Foma, with a wave of the hand. “Tell me about yourself.”
“About myself! I am here entire!” exclaimed Yozhov, stopping short in the middle of the room, and striking his chest with his hands. “I have already accomplished all I could accomplish. I have attained the rank of the public’s entertainer — and that is all I can do! To know what should be done, and not to be able to do it, not to have the strength for your work — that is torture!”
“That’s it! Wait awhile! “said Foma, enthusiastically. “Now tell me what one should do in order to live calmly; that is, in order to be satisfied with one’s self.”
To Foma these words sounded loud, but empty, and their sounds died away without stirring any emotion in his heart, without giving rise to a single thought in his mind.
“You must always be in love with something unattainable to you. A man grows in height by stretching himself upwards.”
Now that he had ceased speaking of himself, Yozhov began to talk more calmly, in a different voice. His voice was firm and resolute, and his face assumed an expression of importance and sternness. He stood in the centre of the room, his hand with outstretched fingers uplifted, and spoke as though he were reading:
“Men are base because they strive for satiety. The well-fed man is an animal because satiety is the self-contentedness of the body. And the self-contentedness of the spirit also turns man into animal.”
Again he started as though all his veins and muscles were suddenly strained, and again he began to run about the room in seething agitation.
“A self-contented man is the hardened swelling on the breast of society. He is my sworn enemy. He fills himself up with cheap truths, with gnawed morsels of musty wisdom, and he exists like a storeroom where a stingy housewife keeps all sorts of rubbish which is absolutely unnecessary to her, and worthless. If you touch such a man, if you open the door into him, the stench of decay will be breathed upon you, and a stream of some musty trash will be poured into the air you breathe. These unfortunate people call themselves men of firm character, men of principles and convictions. And no one cares to see that convictions are to them but the clothes with which they cover the beggarly nakedness of their souls. On the narrow brows of such people there always shines the inscription so familiar to all: calmness and confidence. What a false inscription! Just rub their foreheads with firm hand and then you will see the real sign-board, which reads: ‘Narrow mindedness and weakness of soul!’”
Foma watched Yozhov bustling about the room, and thought mournfully:
“Whom is he abusing? I can’t understand; but I can see that he has been terribly wounded.”
“How many such people have I seen!” exclaimed Yozhov, with wrath and terror. “How these little retail shops have multiplied in life! In them you will find calico for shrouds, and tar, candy and borax for the extermination of cockroaches, but you will not find anything fresh, hot, wholesome! You come to them with an aching soul exhausted by loneliness; you come, thirsting to hear something that has life in it. And they offer to you some worm cud, ruminated book-thoughts, grown sour with age. And these dry, stale thoughts are always so poor that, in order to give them expression, it is necessary to use a vast number of high-sounding and empty words. When such a man speaks I say to myself: ‘There goes a well-fed, but over-watered mare, all decorated with bells; she’s carting a load of rubbish out of the town, and the miserable wretch is content with her fate.’”
“They are superfluous people, then,” said Foma. Yozhov stopped short in front of him and said with a biting smile on his lips:
“No, they are not superfluous, oh no! They exist as an example, to show what man ought not to be. Speaking frankly, their proper place is the anatomical museums, where they preserve all sorts of monsters and various sickly deviations from the normal. In life there is nothing that is superfluous, dear. Even I am necessary! Only those people, in whose souls dwells a slavish cowardice before life, in whose bosoms there are enormous ulcers of the most abominable self-adoration, taking the places of their dead hearts — only those people are superfluous; but even they are necessary, if only for the sake of enabling me to pour my hatred upon them.”
All day long, until evening, Yozhov was excited, venting his blasphemy on men he hated, and his words, though their contents were obscure to Foma, infected him with their evil heat, and infecting called forth in him an eager desire for combat. At times there sprang up in him distrust of Yozhov, and in one of these moments he asked him plainly:
“Well! And can you speak like that in the face of men?”
“I do it at every convenient occasion. And every Sunday in the newspaper. I’ll read some to you if you like.”
Without waiting for Foma’s reply, he tore down from the wall a few sheets of paper, and still continuing to run about the room, began to read to him. He roared, squeaked, laughed, showed his teeth and looked like an angry dog trying to break the chain in powerless rage. Not grasping the ideals in his friend’s creations, Foma felt their daring audacity, their biting sarcasm, their passionate malice, and he was as well pleased with them as though he had been scourged with besoms in a hot bath.
“Clever!” he exclaimed, catching some separate phrase. “That’s cleverly aimed!”
Every now and again there flashed before him the familiar names of merchants and well-known citizens, whom Yozhov had stung, now stoutly and sharply, now respectfully and with a fine needle-like sting.
Foma’s approbation, his eyes burning with satisfaction, and his excited face gave Yozhov still more inspiration, and he cried and roared ever louder and louder, now falling on the lounge from exhaustion, now jumping up again and rushing toward Foma.
“Come, now, read about me!” exclaimed Foma, longing to hear it.Yozhov rummaged among a pile of papers, tore out one sheet, and holding it in both hands, stopped in front of Foma, with his legs straddled wide apart, while Foma leaned back in the broken- seated armchair and listened with a smile.
The notice about Foma started with a description of the spree on the rafts, and during the reading of the notice Foma felt that certain particular words stung him like mosquitoes. His face became more serious, and he bent his head in gloomy silence. And the mosquitoes went on multiplying.
“Now that’s too much! “said he, at length, confused and dissatisfied. “Surely you cannot gain the favour of God merely because you know how to disgrace a man.”
“Keep quiet! Wait awhile!” said Yozhov, curtly, and went on reading.
Having established in his article that the merchant rises beyond doubt above the representatives of other classes of society in the matter of nuisance and scandal-making, Yozhov asked: “Why is this so?” and replied:
“It seems to me that this predilection for wild pranks comes from the lack of culture in so far as it is dependent upon the excess of energy and upon idleness. There cannot be any doubt that our merchant class, with but few exceptions, is the healthiest and, at the same time, most inactive class.”
“That’s true!” exclaimed Foma, striking the table with his fist. “That’s true! I have the strength of a bull and do the work of a sparrow.”
“Where is the merchant to spend his energy? He cannot spend much of it on the Exchange, so he squanders the excess of his muscular capital in drinking-bouts in kabaky; for he has no conception of other applications of his strength, which are more productive, more valuable to life. He is still a beast, and life has already become to him a cage, and it is too narrow for him with his splendid health and predilection for licentiousness. Hampered by culture he at once starts to lead a dissolute life. The debauch of a merchant is always the revolt of a captive beast. Of course this is bad. But, ah! it will be worse yet, when this beast, in addition to his strength, shall have gathered some sense and shall have disciplined it. Believe me, even then he will not cease to create scandals, but they will be historical events. Heaven deliver us from such events! For they will emanate from the merchant’s thirst for power; their aim will be the omnipotence of one class, and the merchant will not be particular about the means toward the attainment of this aim.
“Well, what do you say, is it true?” asked Yozhov, when he had finished reading the newspaper, and thrown it aside.
“I don’t understand the end,” replied Foma. “And as to strength, that is true! Where am I to make use of my strength since there is no demand for it! I ought to fight with robbers, or turn a robber myself. In general I ought to do something big. And that should be done not with the head, but with the arms and the breast. While here we have to go to the Exchange and try to aim well to make a rouble. What do we need it for? And what is it, anyway? Has life been arranged in this form forever? What sort of life is it, if everyone is grieved and finds it too narrow for him? Life ought to be according to the taste of man. If it is narrow for me, I must move it asunder that I may have more room. I must break it and reconstruct it. But nod? That’s where the trouble lies! What ought to be done that life may be freer? That I do not understand, and that’s all there is to it.”
“Yes!” drawled out Yozhov. “So that’s where you’ve gone! That, dear, is a good thing! Ah, you ought to study a little! How are you about books? Do you read any?”
“No, I don’t care for them. I haven’t read any.”
“That’s just why you don’t care for them.”“I am even afraid to read them. I know one — a certain girl — it’s worse than drinking with her! And what sense is there in books? One man imagines something and prints it, and others read it. If it is interesting, it’s all right. But learn from a book how to live! — that is something absurd. It was written by man, not by God, and what laws and examples can man establish for himself?”
“And how about the Gospels? Were they not written by men?”
“Those were apostles. Now there are none.”
“Good, your refutation is sound! It is true, dear, there are no apostles. Only the Judases remained, and miserable ones at that.”
Foma felt very well, for he saw that Yozhov was attentively listening to his words and seemed to be weighing each and every word he uttered. Meeting such bearing toward him for the first time in his life, Foma unburdened himself boldly and freely before his friend, caring nothing for the choice of words, and feeling that he would be understood because Yozhov wanted to understand him.
“You are a curious fellow!” said Yozhov, about two days after their meeting. “And though you speak with difficulty, one feels that there is a great deal in you — great daring of heart! If you only knew a little about the order of life! Then you would speak loud enough, I think. Yes!”
“But you cannot wash yourself clean with words, nor can you then free yourself,” remarked Foma, with a sigh. “You have said something about people who pretend that they know everything, and can do everything. I also know such people. My godfather, for instance. It would be a good thing to set out against them, to convict them; they’re a pretty dangerous set!”
“I cannot imagine, Foma, how you will get along in life if you preserve within you that which you now have,” said Yozhov, thoughtfully.
“It’s very hard. I lack steadfastness. Of a sudden I could perhaps do something. I understand very well that life is difficult and narrow for every one of us. I know that my godfather sees that, too! But he profits by this narrowness. He feels well in it; he is sharp as a needle, and he’ll make his way wherever he pleases. But I am a big, heavy man, that’s why I am suffocating! That’s why I live in fetters. I could free myself from everything with a single effort: just to move my body with all my strength, and then all the fetters will burst!”
“And what then?” asked Yozhov.
“Then?” Foma became pensive, and, after a moment’s thought, waved his hand. “I don’t know what will be then. I shall see!”
“We shall see!” assented Yozhov.
He was given to drink, this little man who was scalded by life. His day began thus: in the morning at his tea he looked over the local newspapers and drew from the news notices material for his feuilleton, which he wrote right then and there on the corner of the table. Then he ran to the editorial office, where he made up “Provincial Pictures” out of clippings from country newspapers. On Friday he had to write his Sunday feuilleton. For all they paid him a hundred and twenty-five roubles a month; he worked fast, and devoted all his leisure time to the “survey and study of charitable institutions.” Together with Foma he strolled about the clubs, hotels and taverns till late at night, drawing material everywhere for his articles, which he called “brushes for the cleansing of the conscience of society.” The censor he styled as superintendent of the diffusion of truth and righteousness in life,” the newspaper he called “the go-between, engaged in introducing the reader to dangerous ideas,” and his own work, “the sale of a soul in retail,” and “an inclination to audacity against holy institutions.”
Foma could hardly make out when Yozhov jested and when he was in earnest. He spoke of everything enthusiastically and passionately, he condemned everything harshly, and Foma liked it. But often, beginning to argue enthusiastically, he refuted and contradicted himself with equal enthusiasm or wound up his speech with some ridiculous turn. Then it appeared to Foma that that man loved nothing, that nothing was firmly rooted within him, that nothing guided him. Only when speaking of himself he talked in a rather peculiar voice, and the more impassioned he was in speaking of himself, the more merciless and enraged was he in reviling everything and everybody. And his relation toward Foma was dual; sometimes he gave him courage and spoke to him hotly, quivering in every limb.
“Go ahead! Refute and overthrow everything you can! Push forward with all your might. There is nothing more valuable than man, know this! Cry at the top of your voice: ‘Freedom! Freedom!”
But when Foma, warmed up by the glowing sparks of these words, began to dream of how he should start to refute and overthrow people who, for the sake of personal profit, do not want to broaden life, Yozhov would often cut him short:
“Drop it! You cannot do anything! People like you are not needed. Your time, the time of the strong but not clever, is past, my dear! You are too late! There is no place for you in life.”
“No? You are lying!” cried Foma, irritated by contradiction.
“Well, what can you accomplish?”
“Why, I can kill you!” said Foma, angrily, clenching his fist.
“Eh, you scarecrow!” said Yozhov, convincingly and pitifully, with a shrug of the shoulder. “Is there anything in that? Why, I am anyway half dead already from my wounds.”
And suddenly inflamed with melancholy malice, he stretched himself and said:
“My fate has wronged me. Why have I lowered myself, accepting the sops of the public? Why have I worked like a machine for twelve years in succession in order to study? Why have I swallowed for twelve long years in the Gymnasium and the University the dry and tedious trash and the contradictory nonsense which is absolutely useless to me? In order to become feuilleton-writer, to play the clown from day to day, entertaining the public and convincing myself that that is necessary and useful to them. Where is the powder of my youth? I have fired off all the charge of my soul at three copecks a shot. What faith have I acquired for myself? Only faith in the fact that everything in this life is worthless, that everything must be broken, destroyed. What do I love? Myself. And I feel that the object of my love does not deserve my love. What can I accomplish?”
He almost wept, and kept on scratching his breast and his neck with his thin, feeble hands.
But sometimes he was seized with a flow of courage, and then he spoke in a different spirit:
“I? Oh, no, my song is not yet sung to the end! My breast has imbibed something, and I’ll hiss like a whip! Wait, I’ll drop the newspaper, I’ll start to do serious work, and write one small book, which I will entitle ‘The Passing of the Soul’; there is a prayer by that name, it is read for the dying. And before its death this society, cursed by the anathema of inward impotence, will receive my book like incense.”
Listening to each and every word of his, watching him and comparing his remarks, Foma saw that Yozhov was just as weak as he was, that he, too, had lost his way. But Yozhov’s mood still infected Foma, his speeches enriched Foma’s vocabulary, and sometimes he noticed with joyous delight how cleverly and forcibly he had himself expressed this or that idea. He often met in Yozhov’s house certain peculiar people, who, it seemed to him, knew everything, understood everything, contradicted everything, and saw deceit and falsehood in everything. He watched them in silence, listened to their words; their audacity pleased him, but he was embarrassed and repelled by their condescending and haughty bearing toward him. And then he clearly saw that in Yozhov’s room they were all cleverer and better than they were in the street and in the hotels. They held peculiar conversations, words and gestures for use in the room, and all this was changed outside the room, into the most commonplace and human. Sometimes, in the room, they all blazed up like a huge woodpile, and Yozhov was the brightest firebrand among them; but the light of this bonfire illuminated but faintly the obscurity of Foma Gordyeeff’s soul.
One day Yozhov said to him:
“Today we will carouse! Our compositors have formed a union, and they are going to take all the work from the publisher on a contract. There will be some drinking on this account, and I am invited. It was I who advised them to do it. Let us go? You will give them a good treat.”
“Very well!” said Foma, to whom it was immaterial with whom he passed the time, which was a burden to him.
In the evening of that day Foma and Yozhov sat in the company of rough-faced people, on the outskirts of a grove, outside the town. There were twelve compositors there, neatly dressed; they treated Yozhov simply, as a comrade, and this somewhat surprised and embarrassed Foma, in whose eyes Yozhov was after all something of a master or superior to them, while they were really only his servants. They did not seem to notice Gordyeeff, although, when Yozhov introduced Foma to them, they shook hands with him and said that they were glad to see him. He lay down under a hazel-bush, and watched them all, feeling himself a stranger in this company, and noticing that even Yozhov seemed to have got away from him deliberately, and was paying but little attention to him. He perceived something strange about Yozhov; the little feuilleton-writer seemed to imitate the tone and the speech of the compositors. He bustled about with them at the woodpile, uncorked bottles of beer, cursed, laughed loudly and tried his best to resemble them. He was even dressed more simply than usual.
“Eh, brethren!” he exclaimed, with enthusiasm. “I feel well with you! I’m not a big bird, either. I am only the son of the courthouse guard, and noncommissioned officer, Matvey Yozhov!”
“Why does he say that?” thought Foma. “What difference does it make whose son a man is? A man is not respected on account of his father, but for his brains.”
The sun was setting like a huge bonfire in the sky, tinting the clouds with hues of gold and of blood. Dampness and silence were breathed from the forest, while at its outskirts dark human figures bustled about noisily. One of them, short and lean, in a broad-brimmed straw hat, played the accordion; another one, with dark moustache and with his cap on the back of his head, sang an accompaniment softly. Two others tugged at a stick, testing their strength. Several busied themselves with the basket containing beer and provisions; a tall man with a grayish beard threw branches on the fire, which was enveloped in thick, whitish smoke. The damp branches, falling on the fire, crackled and rustled plaintively, and the accordion teasingly played a lively tune, while the falsetto of the singer reinforced and completed its loud tones.
Apart from them all, on the brink of a small ravine, lay three young fellows, and before them stood Yozhov, who spoke in a ringing voice:
“You bear the sacred banner of labour. And I, like yourselves, am a private soldier in the same army. We all serve Her Majesty, the Press. And we must live in firm, solid friendship.”
“That’s true, Nikolay Matveyich!” some one’s thick voice interrupted him. “And we want to ask you to use your influence with the publisher! Use your influence with him! Illness and drunkenness cannot be treated as one and the same thing. And, according to his system, it comes out thus; if one of us gets drunk he is fined to the amount of his day’s earnings; if he takes sick the same is done. We ought to be permitted to present the doctor’s certificate, in case of sickness, to make it certain; and he, to be just, ought to pay the substitute at least half the wages of the sick man. Otherwise, it is hard for us. What if three of us should suddenly be taken sick at once?”
“Yes; that is certainly reasonable,” assented Yozhov. “But, my friends, the principle of cooperation —”
Foma ceased listening to the speech of his friend, for his attention was diverted by the conversation of others. Two men were talking; one was a tall consumptive, poorly dressed and angry-looking man; the other a fair-haired and fair-bearded young man.
“In my opinion,” said the tall man sternly, and coughing, “it is foolish! How can men like us marry? There will be children. Do we have enough to support them? The wife must be clothed — and then you can’t tell what sort of a woman you may strike.”
“She’s a fine girl,” said the fair-haired man, softly. “Well, it’s now that she is fine. A betrothed girl is one thing, a wife quite another. But that isn’t the main point. You can try — perhaps she will really be good. But then you’ll be short of means. You will kill yourself with work, and you will ruin her, too. Marriage is an impossible thing for us. Do you mean to say that we can support a family on such earnings? Here, you see, I have only been married four years, and my end is near. I have seen no joy — nothing but worry and care.”
He began to cough, coughed for a long time, with a groan, and when he had ceased, he said to his comrade in a choking voice:
“Drop it, nothing will come of it!”
His interlocutor bent his head mournfully, while Foma thought:
“He speaks sensibly. It’s evident he can reason well.”
The lack of attention shown to Foma somewhat offended him and aroused in him at the same time a feeling of respect for these men with dark faces impregnated with lead-dust. Almost all of them were engaged in practical serious conversation, and their remarks were studded with certain peculiar words. None of them fawned upon him, none bothered him with ov, with his back to the fire, and he saw before him a row of brightly illuminated, cheerful and simple faces. They were all excited from drinking, but were not yet intoxicated; they laughed, jested, tried to sing, drank, and ate cucumbers, white bread and sausages. All this had for Foma a particularly pleasant flavour; he grew bolder, seized by the general good feeling, and he longed to say something good to these people, to please them all in some way or other. Yozhov, sitting by his side, moved about on the ground, jostled him with his shoulder and, shaking his head, muttered something indistinctly.
Brethren!” shouted the stout fellow. “Let’s strike up the student song. Well, one, two!”
“Swift as the waves,”
Someone roared in his bass voice:
“Are the days of our life.”
“Friends!” said Yozhov, rising to his feet, a glass in his hand. He staggered, and leaned his other hand against Foma’s head. The started song was broken off, and all turned their heads toward him.
“Working men! Permit me to say a few words, words from the heart. I am happy in your company! I feel well in your midst. That is because you are men of toil, men whose right to happiness is not subject to doubt, although it is not recognised. In your ennobling midst, 0h honest people, the lonely man, who is poisoned by life, breathes so easily, so freely.”
Yozhov’s voice quivered and quaked, and his head began to shake. Foma felt that something warm trickled down on his hand, and he looked up at the wrinkled face of Yozhov, who went on speaking, trembling in every limb:
“I am not the only one. There are many like myself, intimidated by fate, broken and suffering. We are more unfortunate than you are, because we are weaker both in body and in soul, but we are stronger than you because we are armed with knowledge, which we have no opportunity to apply. We are gladly ready to come to you and resign ourselves to you and help you to live. There is nothing else for us to do! Without you we are without ground to stand on; without us, you are without light! Comrades! we were created by Fate itself to complete one another!”
“What does he beg of them?” thought Foma, listening to Yozhov’s words with perplexity. And examining the faces of the compositors he saw that they also looked at the orator inquiringly, perplexedly, wearily.
“The future is yours, my friends!” said Yozhov, faintly, shaking his head mournfully as though feeling sorry for the future, and yielding to these people against his will the predominance over it. “The future belongs to the men of honest toil. You have a great task before you! You have to create a new culture, everything free, vital and bright! I, who am one of you in flesh and in spirit; who am the son of a soldier; I propose a toast to your future! Hurrah!”
Yozhov emptied his glass and sank heavily to the ground. The compositors unanimously took up his broken exclamation, and a powerful, thundering shout rolled through the air, causing the leaves on the trees to tremble.
“Let’s start a song now,” proposed the stout fellow again.
“Come on!” chimed in two or three voices. A noisy dispute ensued as to what to sing. Yozhov listened to the noise, and, turning his head from one side to another, scrutinized them all.
“Brethren,” Yozhov suddenly cried again, “answer me. Say a few words in reply to my address of welcome.”
Again — though not at once — all became silent, some looking at him with curiosity, others concealing a grin, still others with an expression of dissatisfaction plainly written on their faces. And he again rose from the ground and said, hotly:
“Two of us here are cast away by life — I and that other one. We both desire the same regard for man and the happiness of feeling ourselves useful unto others. Comrades! And that big, stupid man- -”
“Nikolay Matveyich, you had better not insult our guest!” said someone in a deep, displeased voice.
“Yes, that’s unnecessary,” affirmed the stout fellow, who had invited Foma to the fireside. “Why use offensive language?”
A third voice rang out loudly and distinctly:
“We have come together to enjoy ourselves — to take a rest.”
“Fools!” laughed Yozhov, faintly. “Kind-hearted fools! Do you pity him? But do you know who he is? He is of those people who suck your blood.”
“That will do, Nikolay Matveyich!” they cried to Yozhov. And all began to talk, paying no further attention to him. Foma felt so sorry for his friend that he did not even take offence. He saw that these people who defended him from Yozhov’s attacks were now purposely ignoring the feuilleton-writer, and he understood that this would pain Yozhov if he were to notice it. And in order to take his friend away from possible unpleasantness, he nudged him in the side and said, with a kind-hearted laugh:
“Well, you grumbler, shall we have a drink? Or is it time to go home?”
“Home? Where is the home of the man who has no place among men?” asked Yozhov, and shouted again: “Comrades!”
Unanswered, his shout was drowned in the general murmur. Then he drooped his head and said to Foma:
“Let’s go from here.”
“Let’s go. Though I don’t mind sitting a little longer. It’s interesting. They behave so nobly, the devils. By God!”
“I can’t bear it any longer. I feel cold. I am suffocating.”
“Well, come then.”
Foma rose to his feet, removed his cap, and, bowing to the compositors, said loudly and cheerfully:
“Thank you, gentlemen, for your hospitality! Good-bye!”
They immediately surrounded him and spoke to him persuasively:
“Stay here! Where are you going? We might sing all together, eh?”
“No, I must go, it would be disagreeable to my friend to go alone. I am going to escort him. I wish you a jolly feast!”
“Eh, you ought to wait a little!” exclaimed the stout fellow, and then whispered:
“Some one will escort him home!”
The consumptive also remarked in a low voice:
“You stay here. We’ll escort him to town, and get him into a cab and — there you are!”
Foma felt like staying there, and at the same time was afraid of something. While Yozhov rose to his feet, and, clutching at the sleeves of his overcoat, muttered:
“Come, the devil take them!”
“Till we meet again, gentlemen! I’m going!” said Foma and departed amid exclamations of polite regret.
“Ha, ha, ha!” Yozhov burst out laughing when he had got about twenty steps away from the fire. “They see us off with sorrow, but they are glad that I am going away. I hindered them from turning into beasts.”
“It’s true, you did disturb them,” said Foma. “Why do you make such speeches? People have come out to enjoy themselves, and you obtrude yourself upon them. That bores them!”
“Keep quiet! You don’t understand anything!” cried Yozhov, harshly. “You think I am drunk? It’s my body that is intoxicated, but my soul is sober, it is always sober; it feels everything. Oh, how much meanness there is in the world, how much stupidity and wretchedness! And men — these stupid, miserable men.”
Yozhov paused, and, clasping his head with his hands, stood for awhile, staggering.
“Yes!” drawled out Foma. “They are very much unlike one another. Now these men, how polite they are, like gentlemen. And they reason correctly, too, and all that sort of thing. They have common sense. Yet they are only labourers.”
In the darkness behind them the men struck up a powerful choral song. Inharmonious at first, it swelled and grew until it rolled in a huge, powerful wave through the invigorating nocturnal air, above the deserted field.
“My God!” said Yozhov, sadly and softly, heaving a sigh. “Whereby are we to live? Whereon fasten our soul? Who shall quench its thirsts for friendship brotherhood, love, for pure and sacred toil?”
“These simple people,” said Foma, slowly and pensively, without listening to his companion s words, absorbed as he was in his own thoughts, “if one looks into these people, they’re not so bad! It’s even very — it is interesting. Peasants, labourers, to look at them plainly, they are just like horses. They carry burdens, they puff and blow.”
“They carry our life on their backs,” exclaimed Yozhov with irritation. “They carry it like horses, submissively, stupidly. And this submissiveness of theirs is our misfortune, our curse!”
And Foma, carried away by his own thought, argued:
“They carry burdens, they toil all their life long for mere trifles. And suddenly they say something that wouldn’t come into your mind in a century. Evidently they feel. Yes, it is interesting to be with them.”
Staggering, Yozhov walked in silence for a long time, and suddenly he waved his hand in the air and began to declaim in a dull, choking voice, which sounded as though it issued from his stomach:
“Life has cruelly deceived me, I have suffered so much pain.”
“These, dear boy, are my own verses,” said he, stopping short and nodding his head mournfully. “How do they run? I’ve forgotten. There is something there about dreams, about sacred and pure longings, which are smothered within my breast by the vapour of life. Oh!”
“The buried dreams within my breast Will never rise again.”
“Brother! You are happier than I, because you are stupid. While I—”
“Don’t be rude!” said Foma, irritated. “You would better listen how they are singing.”
“I don’t want to listen to other people’s songs,” said Yozhov, with a shake of the head. “I have my own, it is the song of a soul rent in pieces by life.”
And he began to wail in a wild voice:
The buried dreams within my breast Will never rise again . . . How great their number is!”
“There was a whole flower garden of bright, living dreams and hopes. They perished, withered and perished. Death is within my heart. The corpses of my dreams are rotting there. Oh! oh!”
Yozhov burst into tears, sobbing like a woman. Foma pitied him, and felt uncomfortable with him. He jerked at his shoulder impatiently, and said:
“Stop crying! Come, how weak you are, brother!” Clasping his head in his hand Yozhov straightened up his stooping frame, made an effort and started again mournfully and wildly:
“How great their number is! Their sepulchre how narrow! I clothed them all in shrouds of rhyme And many sad and solemn songs O’er them I sang from time to time!”
“0h, Lord!” sighed Foma in despair. “Stop that, for Christ’s sake! By God, how sad!”
In the distance the loud choral song was rolling through the darkness and the silence. Some one was whistling, keeping time to the refrain, and this shrill sound, which pierced the ear, ran ahead of the billow of powerful voices. Foma looked in that direction and saw the tall, black wall of forest, the bright fiery spot of the bonfire shining upon it, and the misty figures surrounding the fire. The wall of forest was like a breast, and the fire like a bloody wound in it. It seemed as though the breast was trembling, as the blood coursed down in burning streams. Embraced in dense gloom from all sides the people seemed on the background of the forest, like little children; they, too, seemed to burn, illuminated by the blaze of the bonfire. They waved their hands and sang their songs loudly, powerfully.
And Yozhov, standing beside Foma, spoke excitedly:
“You hard-hearted blockhead! Why do you repulse me? You ought to listen to the song of the dying soul, and weep over it, for, why was it wounded, why is it dying? Begone from me, begone! You think I am drunk? I am poisoned, begone!”
Without lifting his eyes off the forest and the fire, so beautiful in the darkness, Foma made a few steps aside from Yozhov and said to him in a low voice:
“Don’t play the fool. Why do you abuse me at random?”
“I want to remain alone, and finish singing my song.”
Staggering, he, too, moved aside from Foma, and after a few seconds again exclaimed in a sobbing voice:
“My song is done! And nevermore Shall I disturb their sleep of death, Oh Lord, 0h Lord, repose my soul! For it is hopeless in its wounds, Oh Lord, repose my soul.”
Foma shuddered at the sounds of their gloomy wailing, and he hurried after Yozhov; but before he overtook him the little feuilleton-writer uttered a hysterical shriek, threw himself chest down upon the ground and burst out sobbing plaintively and softly, even as sickly children cry.
“Nikolay!” said Foma, lifting him by the shoulders. “Cease crying; what’s the matter? 0h Lord. Nikolay! Enough, aren’t you ashamed?”
But Yozhov was not ashamed; he struggled on the ground, like a fish just taken from the water, and when Foma had lifted him to his feet, he pressed close to Foma’s breast, clasping his sides with his thin arms, and kept on sobbing.
“Well, that’s enough!” said Foma, with his teeth tightly clenched. “Enough, dear.”
And agitated by the suffering of the man who was wounded by the narrowness of life, filled with wrath on his account, he turned his face toward the gloom where the lights of the town were glimmering, and, in an outburst of wrathful grief, roared in a deep, loud voice:
“A-a-ana-thema! Be cursed! Just wait. You, too, shall choke! Be cursed!”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09