A DENSE, grayish fog lay over the river, and a steamer, now and then uttering a dull whistle, was slowly forging up against the current. Damp and cold clouds, of a monotone pallor, enveloped the steamer from all sides and drowned all sounds, dissolving them in their troubled dampness. The brazen roaring of the signals came out in a muffled, melancholy drone, and was oddly brief as it burst forth from the whistle. The sound seemed to find no place for itself in the air, which was soaked with heavy dampness, and fell downward, wet and choked. And the splashing of the steamer’s wheels sounded so fantastically dull that it seemed as though it were not begotten near by, at the sides of the vessel, but somewhere in the depth, on the dark bottom of the river. From the steamer one could see neither the water, nor the shore, nor the sky; a leaden-gray gloominess enwrapped it on all sides; devoid of shadings, painfully monotonous, the gloominess was motionless, it oppressed the steamer with immeasurable weight, slackened its movements and seemed as though preparing itself to swallow it even as it was swallowing the sounds. In spite of the dull blows of the paddles upon the water and the measured shaking of the body of the vessel, it seemed that the steamer was painfully struggling on one spot, suffocating in agony, hissing like a fairy tale monster breathing his last, howling in the pangs of death, howling with pain, and in the fear of death.
Lifeless were the steamer lights. About the lantern on the mast a yellow motionless spot had formed; devoid of lustre, it hung in the fog over the steamer, illuminating nothing save the gray mist. The red starboard light looked like a huge eye crushed out by some one’s cruel fist, blinded, overflowing with blood. Pale rays of light fell from the steamer’s windows into the fog, and only tinted its cold, cheerless dominion over the vessel, which was pressed on all sides by the motionless mass of stifling dampness.
The smoke from the funnel fell downwards, and, together with fragments of the fog, penetrated into all the cracks of the deck, where the third-class passengers were silently muffling themselves in their rags, and forming groups, like sheep. From near the machinery were wafted deep, strained groans, the jingling of bells, the dull sounds of orders and the abrupt words of the machinist:
“Yes — slow! Yes — half speed!”
On the stern, in a corner, blocked up by barrels of salted fish, a group of people was assembled, illuminated by a small electric lamp. Those were sedate, neatly and warmly clad peasants. One of them lay on a bench, face down; another sat at his feet, still another stood, leaning his back against a barrel, while two others seated themselves flat on the deck. Their faces, pensive and attentive, were turned toward a round-shouldered man in a short cassock, turned yellow, and a torn fur cap. That man sat on some boxes with his back bent, and staring at his feet, spoke in a low, confident voice:
“There will come an end to the long forbearance of the Lord, and then His wrath will burst forth upon men. We are like worms before Him, and how are we then to ward off His wrath, with what wailing shall we appeal to His mercy?”
Oppressed by his gloominess, Foma had come down on the deck from his cabin, and, for some time, had been standing in the shadow of some wares covered with tarpaulin, and listened to the admonitive and gentle voice of the preacher. Pacing the deck he had chanced upon this group, and attracted by the figure of the pilgrim, had paused near it. There was something familiar to him in that large, strong body, in that stern, dark face, in those large, calm eyes. The curly, grayish hair, falling from under the skull- cap, the unkempt bushy beard, which fell apart in thick locks, the long, hooked nose, the sharp-pointed ears, the thick lips — Foma had seen all these before, but could not recall when and where.
“Yes, we are very much in arrears before the Lord!” remarked one of the peasants, heaving a deep sigh.
“We must pray,” whispered the peasant who lay on the bench, in a scarcely audible voice.
“Can you scrape your sinful wretchedness off your soul with words of prayer?” exclaimed someone loudly, almost with despair in his voice.
No one of those that formed the group around the pilgrim turned at this voice, only their heads sank lower on their breasts, and for a long time these people sat motionless and speechless:
The pilgrim measured his audience with a serious and meditative glance of his blue eyes, and said softly:
“Ephraim the Syrian said: ‘Make thy soul the central point of thy thoughts and strengthen thyself with thy desire to be free from sin.
And again he lowered his head, slowly fingering the beads of the rosary.
“That means we must think,” said one of the peasants; “but when has a man time to think during his life on earth?”
“Confusion is all around us.”
“We must flee to the desert,” said the peasant who lay on the bench.
“Not everybody can afford it.”
The peasants spoke, and became silent again. A shrill whistle resounded, a little bell began to jingle at the machine. Someone’s loud exclamation rang out:
“Eh, there! To the water-measuring poles.”
“0h Lord! 0h Queen of Heaven!”— a deep sigh was heard.
And a dull, half-choked voice shouted:
Fragments of the fog burst forth upon the deck and floated over it like cold, gray smoke.
“Here, kind people, give ear unto the words of King David,” said the pilgrim, and shaking his head, began to read distinctly: “‘Lead me, Oh Lord, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. For there is no faithfulness in their mouths; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre; they flatter with their tongue. Destroy thou them, 0h God; let them fall by their own counsels.’”
“Eight! seven!” Like moans these exclamations resounded in the distance.
The steamer began to hiss angrily, and slackened its speed. The noise of the hissing of the steam deafened the pilgrim’s words, and Foma saw only the movement of his lips.
“Get off!” a loud, angry shout was heard. “It’s my place!”
“Here you have yours!”
“I’ll rap you on the jaw; then you’ll find your place. What a lord!”
An uproar ensued. The peasants who were listening to the pilgrim turned their heads toward the direction where the row was going on, and the pilgrim heaved a sigh and became silent. Near the machine a loud and lively dispute blazed up as though dry branches, thrown upon a dying bonfire, had caught the flame.
“I’ll give it to you, devils! Get away, both of you.”
“Take them away to the captain.”
“Ha! ha! ha! That’s a fine settlement for you!”
“That was a good rap he gave him on the neck!”
“The sailors are a clever lot.”
“Eight! nine!” shouted the man with the measuring pole.
“Yes, increase speed!” came the loud exclamation of the engineer.
Swaying because of the motion of the steamer, Foma stood leaning against the tarpaulin, and attentively listened to each and every sound about him. And everything was blended into one picture, which was familiar to him. Through fog and uncertainty, surrounded on all sides by gloom impenetrable to the eye, life of man is moving somewhere slowly and heavily. And men are grieved over their sins, they sigh heavily, and then fight for a warm place, and asking each other for the sake of possessing the place, they also receive blows from those who strive for order in life. They timidly search for a free road toward the goal.
The wailing cry is softly wafted over the vessel. “And the holy prayer of the pilgrim is deafened by the tumult of life. And there is no relief from sorrow, there is no joy for him who reflects on his fate.”
Foma felt like speaking to this pilgrim, in whose softly uttered words there rang sincere fear of God, and all manner of fear for men before His countenance. The kind, admonitive voice of the pilgrim possessed a peculiar power, which compelled Foma to listen to its deep tones.
“I’d like to ask him where he lives,” thought Foma, fixedly scrutinizing the huge stooping figure. “And where have I seen him before? Or does he resemble some acquaintance of mine?”
Suddenly it somehow struck Foma with particular vividness that the humble preacher before him was no other than the son of old Anany Shchurov. Stunned by this conjecture, he walked up to the pilgrim and seating himself by his side, inquired freely:
“Are you from Irgiz, father?”
The pilgrim raised his head, turned his face toward Foma slowly and heavily, scrutinized him and said in a calm and gentle voice:
“I was on the Irgiz, too.”
“Are you a native of that place?”
“Are you now coming from there?”
“No, I am coming from Saint Stephen.”
The conversation broke off. Foma lacked the courage to ask the pilgrim whether he was not Shchurov.
“We’ll be late on account of the fog,” said some one.
“How can we help being late!”
All were silent, looking at Foma. Young, handsome, neatly and richly dressed, he aroused the curiosity of the bystanders by his sudden appearance among them; he was conscious of this curiosity, he understood that they were all waiting for his words, that they wanted to understand why he had come to them, and all this confused and angered him.
“It seems to me that I’ve met you before somewhere, father,” said he at length.
The pilgrim replied, without looking at him:
“I would like to speak to you,” announced Foma, timidly, in a low voice.
“Well, then, speak.”
“Come with me.”
“To my cabin.”
The pilgrim looked into Foma’s face, and, after a moment’s silence, assented:
On leaving, Foma felt the looks of the peasants on his back, and now he was pleased to know that they were interested in him.
In the cabin he asked gently:
“Would you perhaps eat something? Tell me. I will order it.”
“God forbid. What do you wish?”
This man, dirty and ragged, in a cassock turned red with age, and covered with patches, surveyed the cabin with a squeamish look, and when he seated himself on the plush-covered lounge, he turned the skirt of the cassock as though afraid to soil it by the plush.
“What is your name, father?” asked Foma, noticing the expression of squeamishness on the pilgrim’s face.
“Why Mikhail?” asked the pilgrim.
“There was in our town the son of a certain merchant Shchurov, he also went off to the Irgiz. And his name was Mikhail.”
Foma spoke and fixedly looked at Father Miron; but the latter was as calm as a deaf-mute —
“I never met such a man. I don’t remember, I never met him,” said he, thoughtfully. “So you wished to inquire about him?”
“No, I never met Mikhail Shchurov. Well, pardon me for Christ’s sake!” and rising from the lounge, the pilgrim bowed to Foma and went toward the door.
“But wait awhile, sit down, let’s talk a little!” exclaimed Foma, rushing at him uneasily. The pilgrim looked at him searchingly and sank down on the lounge. From the distance came a dull sound, like a deep groan, and immediately after it the signal whistle of the steamer drawled out as in a frightened manner over Foma’s and his guest’s heads. From the distance came a more distant reply, and the whistle overhead again gave out abrupt, timorous sounds. Foma opened the window. Through the fog, not far from their steamer, something was moving along with deep noise; specks of fantastic lights floated by, the fog was agitated and again sank into dead immobility.
“How terrible!” exclaimed Foma, shutting the window.
“What is there to be afraid of?” asked the pilgrim. “You see! It is neither day nor night, neither darkness nor light! We can see nothing, we are sailing we know not whither, we are straying on the river.”
“Have inward fire within you, have light within your soul, and you shall see everything,” said the pilgrim, sternly and instructively.
Foma was displeased with these cold words and looked at the pilgrim askance. The latter sat with drooping head, motionless, as though petrified in thought and prayer. The beads of his rosary were softly rustling in his hands.
The pilgrim’s attitude gave birth to easy courage in Foma’s breast, and he said:
“Tell me, Father Miron, is it good to live, having full freedom, without work, without relatives, a wanderer, like yourself?”
Father Miron raised his head and softly burst into the caressing laughter of a child. All his face, tanned from wind and sunburn, brightened up with inward joy, was radiant with tranquil joy; he touched Foma’s knee with his hand and said in a sincere tone:
“Cast aside from you all that is worldly, for there is no sweetness in it. I am telling you the right word — turn away from evil. Do you remember it is said:
‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners.’ Turn away, refresh your soul with solitude and fill yourself with the thought of God. For only by the thought of Him can man save his soul from profanation.”
“That isn’t the thing!” said Foma. “I have no need of working out my salvation. Have I sinned so much? Look at others. What I would like is to comprehend things.”
“And you will comprehend if you turn away from the world. Go forth upon the free road, on the fields, on the steppes, on the plains, on the mountains. Go forth and look at the world from afar, from your freedom.”
“That’s right!” cried Foma. “That’s just what I think. One can see better from the side!”
And Miron, paying no attention to his words, spoke softly, as though of some great mystery, known only to him, the pilgrim:
“The thick slumbering forests around you will start to rustle in sweet voices about the wisdom of the Lord; God’s little birds will sing before you of His holy glory, and the grasses of the steppe will burn incense to the Holy Virgin.”
The pilgrim’s voice now rose and quivered from excess of emotion, now sank to a mysterious whisper. He seemed as though grown younger; his eyes beamed so confidently and clearly, and all his face was radiant with the happy smile of a man who has found expression for his joy and was delighted while he poured it forth.
“The heart of God throbs in each and every blade of grass; each and every insect of the air and of the earth, breathes His holy spirit. God, the Lord, Jesus Christ, lives everywhere! What beauty there is on earth, in the fields and in the forests! Have you ever been on the Kerzhenz? An incomparable silence reigns there supreme, the trees, the grass there are like those of paradise.”
Foma listened, and his imagination, captivated by the quiet, charming narrative, pictured to him those wide fields and dense forests, full of beauty and soul-pacifying silence.
“You look at the sky, as you rest somewhere under a little bush, and the sky seems to descend upon you as though longing to embrace you. Your soul is warm, filled with tranquil joy, you desire nothing, you envy nothing. And it actually seems to you that there is no one on earth save you and God.”
The pilgrim spoke, and his voice and sing-song speech reminded Foma of the wonderful fairy-tales of Aunt Anfisa. He felt as though, after a long journey on a hot day, he drank the clear, cold water of a forest brook, water that had the fragrance of the grasses and the flowers it has bathed. Even wider and wider grew the pictures as they unfolded upon him; here is a path through the thick, slumbering forest; the fine sunbeams penetrate through the branches of the trees, and quiver in the air and under the feet of the wanderer. There is a savoury odour of fungi and decaying foliage; the honeyed fragrance of the flowers, the intense odour of the pine-tree invisibly rise in the air and penetrate the breast in a warm, rich stream. All is silence: only the birds are singing, and the silence is so wonderful that it seems as though even the birds were singing in your breast. You go, without haste, and your life goes on like a dream. While here everything is enveloped in a gray, dead fog, and we are foolishly struggling about in it, yearning for freedom and light. There below they have started to sing something in scarcely audible voices; it was half song, half prayer. Again someone is shouting, scolding. And still they seek the way:
“Seven and a half. Seven!”
“And you have no care,” spoke the pilgrim, and his voice murmured like a brook. “Anybody will give you a crust of bread; and what else do you need in your freedom? In the world, cares fall upon the soul like fetters.”
“You speak well,” said Foma with a sigh.
“My dear brother!” exclaimed the pilgrim, softly, moving still closer toward him. “Since the soul has awakened, since it yearns toward freedom, do not lull it to sleep by force; hearken to its voice. The world with its charms has no beauty and holiness whatever, wherefore, then, obey its laws? In John Chrysostom it is said: ‘The real shechinah is man!’ Shechinah is a Hebrew word and it means the holy of holies. Consequently —”
A prolonged shrill sound of the whistle drowned his voice. He listened, rose quickly from the lounge and said:
“We are nearing the harbour. That’s what the whistle meant. I must be off! Well, goodbye, brother! May God give you strength and firmness to act according to the will of your soul! Goodbye, my dear boy!”
He made a low bow to Foma. There was something feminine, caressing and soft in his farewell words and bow. Foma also bowed low to him, bowed and remained as though petrified, standing with drooping head, his hand leaning against the table.
“Come to see me when you are in town,” he asked the pilgrim, who was hastily turning the handle of the cabin door.
“I will! I will come! Goodbye! Christ save you!”
When the steamer’s side touched the wharf Foma came out on the deck and began to look downward into the fog. From the steamer people were walking down the gang-planks, but Foma could not discern the pilgrim among those dark figures enveloped in the dense gloom. All those that left the steamer looked equally indistinct, and they all quickly disappeared from sight, as though they had melted in the gray dampness. One could see neither the shore nor anything else solid; the landing bridge rocked from the commotion caused by the steamer; above it the yellow spot of the lantern was swaying; the noise of the footsteps and the bustle of the people were dull.
The steamer put off and slowly moved along into the clouds. The pilgrim, the harbour, the turmoil of people’s voices — all suddenly disappeared like a dream, and again there remained only the dense gloom and the steamer heavily turning about in it. Foma stared before him into the dead sea of fog and thought of the blue, cloudless and caressingly warm sky — where was it?
On the next day, about noon, he sat In Yozhov’s small room and listened to the local news from the mouth of his friend. Yozhov had climbed on the table, which was piled with newspapers, and, swinging his feet, narrated:
“The election campaign has begun. The merchants are putting your godfather up as mayor — that old devil! Like the devil, he is immortal, although he must be upwards of a hundred and fifty years old already. He marries his daughter to Smolin. You remember that red-headed fellow. They say that he is a decent man, but nowadays they even call clever scoundrels decent men, because there are no men. Now Africashka plays the enlightened man; he has already managed to get into intelligent society, donated something to some enterprise or another and thus at once came to the front. Judging from his face, he is a sharper of the highest degree, but he will play a prominent part, for he knows how to adapt himself. Yes, friend, Africashka is a liberal. And a liberal merchant is a mixture of a wolf and a pig with a toad and a snake.”
“The devil take them all!” said Foma, waving his hand indifferently. “What have I to do with them? How about yourself — do you still keep on drinking?”
“I do! Why shouldn’t I drink?”
Half-clad and dishevelled, Yozhov looked like a plucked bird, which had just had a fight and had not yet recovered from the excitement of the conflict.
“I drink because, from time to time, I must quench the fire of my wounded heart. And you, you damp stump, you are smouldering little by little?”
“I have to go to the old man,” said Foma, wrinkling his face.
“I don’t feel like going. He’ll start to lecture me.”
“Then don’t go!”
“But I must.”
“Why do you always play the buffoon? “ said Foma, with displeasure, “as though you were indeed merry.”
“By God, I feel merry!” exclaimed Yozhov, jumping down from the table. “What a fine roasting I gave a certain gentleman in the paper yesterday! And then — I’ve heard a clever anecdote: A company was sitting on the sea-shore philosophizing at length upon life. And a Jew said to them: ‘Gentlemen, why do you employ so many different words? I’ll tell it to you all at once: Our life is not worth a single copeck, even as this stormy sea! ‘”
“Eh, the devil take you!” said Foma. “Good-bye. I am going.”
“Go ahead! I am in a fine frame of mind to-day and I will not moan with you. All the more so considering you don’t moan, but grunt.”
Foma went away, leaving Yozhov singing at the top of his voice:
“Beat the drum and fear not.”
“Drum? You are a drum yourself;” thought Foma, with irritation, as he slowly came out on the street.
At the Mayakins he was met by Luba. Agitated and animated, she suddenly appeared before him, speaking quickly:
“You? My God! How pale you are! How thin you’ve grown! It seems you have been leading a fine life.”
Then her face became distorted with alarm and she exclaimed almost in a whisper:
“Ah, Foma. You don’t know. Do you hear? Someone is ringing the bell. Perhaps it is he.”
And she rushed out of the room, leaving behind her in the air the rustle of her silk gown, and the astonished Foma, who had not even had a chance to ask her where her father was. Yakov Tarasovich was at home. Attired in his holiday clothes, in a long frock coat with medals on his breast, he stood on the threshold with his hands outstretched, clutching at the door posts. His green little eyes examined Foma, and, feeling their look upon him, Foma raised his head and met them.
“How do you do, my fine gentleman?” said the old man, shaking his head reproachfully. “Where has it pleased you to come from, may I ask? Who has sucked off that fat of yours? Or is it true that a pig looks for a puddle, and Foma for a place which is worse?”
“Have you no other words for me?” asked Foma, sternly, looking straight into the old man’s face. And suddenly he noticed that his godfather shuddered, his legs trembled, his eyes began to blink repeatedly, and his hands clutched the door posts with an effort. Foma advanced toward him, presuming that the old man was feeling ill, but Yakov Tarasovich said in a dull and angry voice:
“Stand aside. Get out of the way.”
And his face assumed its usual expression.
Foma stepped back and found himself side by side with a rather short, stout man, who bowed to Mayakin, and said in a hoarse voice:
“How do you do, papa?”
“How are you, Taras Yakovlich, how are you?” said the old man, bowing, smiling distractedly, and still clinging to the door posts.
Foma stepped aside in confusion, seated himself in an armchair, and, petrified with curiosity, wide-eyed, began to watch the meeting of father and son.
The father, standing in the doorway, swayed his feeble body, leaning his hands against the door posts, and, with his head bent on one side and eyes half shut, stared at his son in silence. The son stood about three steps away from him; his head already gray, was lifted high; he knitted his brow and gazed at his father with large dark eyes. His small, black, pointed beard and his small moustache quivered on his meagre face, with its gristly nose, like that of his father. And the hat, also, quivered in his hand. From behind his shoulder Foma saw the pale, frightened and joyous face of Luba — she looked at her father with beseeching eyes and it seemed she was on the point of crying out. For a few moments all were silent and motionless, crushed as they were by the immensity of their emotions. The silence was broken by the low, but dull and quivering voice of Yakov Tarasovich:
“You have grown old, Taras.”
The son laughed in his father’s face silently, and, with a swift glance, surveyed him from head to foot.
The father tearing his hands from the door posts, made a step toward his son and suddenly stopped short with a frown. Then Taras Mayakin, with one huge step, came up to his father and gave him his hand.
“Well, let us kiss each other,” suggested the father, softly.
The two old men convulsively clasped each other in their arms, exchanged warm kisses and then stepped apart. The wrinkles of the older man quivered, the lean face of the younger was immobile, almost stern. The kisses had changed nothing in the external side of this scene, only Lubov burst into a sob of joy, and Foma awkwardly moved about in his seat, feeling as though his breath were failing him.
“Eh, children, you are wounds to the heart — you are not its joy,” complained Yakov Tarasovich in a ringing voice, and he evidently invested a great deal in these words, for immediately after he had pronounced them he became radiant, more courageous, and he said briskly, addressing himself to his daughter:
“Well, have you melted with joy? You had better go and prepare something for us — tea and so forth. We’ll entertain the prodigal son. You must have forgotten, my little old man, what sort of a man your father is?”
Taras Mayakin scrutinized his parent with a meditative look of his large eyes and he smiled, speechless, clad in black, wherefore the gray hair on his head and in his beard told more strikingly.
“Well, be seated. Tell me — how have you lived, what have you done? What are you looking at? Ah! That’s my godson. Ignat Gordyeeff’s son, Foma. Do you remember Ignat?”
“I remember everything,” said Taras.
“Oh! That’s good, if you are not bragging. Well, are you married?”
“I am a widower.”
“Have you any children?”
“They died. I had two.”
“That’s a pity. I would have had grandchildren.”
“May I smoke?” asked Taras.
“Go ahead. Just look at him, you’re smoking cigars.”
“Don’t you like them?”
“I? Come on, it’s all the same to me. I say that it looks rather aristocratic to smoke cigars.”
“And why should we consider ourselves lower than the aristocrats?” said Taras, laughing.
“Do, I consider ourselves lower?” exclaimed the old man. “I merely said it because it looked ridiculous to me, such a sedate old fellow, with beard trimmed in foreign fashion, cigar in his mouth. Who is he? My son — he-he-he!” the old man tapped Taras on the shoulder and sprang away from him, as though frightened lest he were rejoicing too soon, lest that might not be the proper way to treat that half gray man. And he looked searchingly and suspiciously into his son’s large eyes, which were surrounded by yellowish swellings.
Taras smiled in his father’s face an affable and warm smile, and said to him thoughtfully:
“That’s the way I remember you — cheerful and lively. It looks as though you had not changed a bit during all these years.”
The old man straightened himself proudly, and, striking his breast with his fist, said:
“I shall never change, because life has no power over him who knows his own value. Isn’t that so?”
“Oh! How proud you are!”
“I must have taken after my son,” said the old man with a cunning grimace. “Do you know, dear, my son was silent for seventeen years out of pride.”
“That’s because his father would not listen to him,” Taras reminded him.
“It’s all right now. Never mind the past. Only God knows which of us is to blame. He, the upright one, He’ll tell it to you — wait! I shall keep silence. This is not the time for us to discuss that matter. You better tell me — what have you been doing all these years? How did you come to that soda factory? How have you made your way?”
“That’s a long story,” said Taras with a sigh; and emitting from his mouth a great puff of smoke, he began slowly: “When I acquired the possibility to live at liberty, I entered the office of the superintendent of the gold mines of the Remezovs.”
“I know; they’re very rich. Three brothers. I know them all. One is a cripple, the other a fool, and the third a miser. Go on!”
“I served under him for two years. And then I married his daughter,” narrated Mayakin in a hoarse voice.
“The superintendent’s? That wasn’t foolish at all.” Taras became thoughtful and was silent awhile. The old man looked at his sad face and understood his son.
“And so you lived with your wife happily,” he said. “Well, what can you do? To the dead belongs paradise, and the living must live on. You are not so very old as yet. Have you been a widower long?”
“This is the third year.”
“So? And how did you chance upon the soda factory?”
“That belongs to my father-in-law.”
“Aha! What is your salary?”
“About five thousand.”
“Mm. That’s not a stale crust. Yes, that’s a galley slave for you!”
Taras glanced at his father with a firm look and asked him drily:
“By the way, what makes you think that I was a convict?”
The old man glanced at his son with astonishment, which was quickly changed into joy:
“Ah! What then? You were not? The devil take them! Then — how was it? Don’t take offence! How could I know? They said you were in Siberia! Well, and there are the galleys!”
“To make an end of this once for all,” said Taras, seriously and impressively, clapping his hand on his knee, “I’ll tell you right now how it all happened. I was banished to Siberia to settle there for six years, and, during all the time of my exile, I lived in the mining region of the Lena. In Moscow I was imprisoned for about nine months. That’s all!”
“So-o! But what does it mean?” muttered Yakov Tarasovich, with confusion and joy.
“And here they circulated that absurd rumour.”
“That’s right — it is absurd indeed!” said the old man, distressed.
“And it did a pretty great deal of harm on a certain occasion.”
“Really? Is that possible?”
“Yes. I was about to go into business for myself, and my credit was ruined on account of —”
“Pshaw!” said Yakov Tarasovich, as he spat angrily. “Oh, devil! Come, come, is that possible?”
Foma sat all this time in his corner, listening to the conversation between the Mayakins, and, blinking perplexedly, he fixedly examined the newcomer. Recalling Lubov’s bearing toward her brother, and influenced, to a certain degree, by her stories about Taras, he expected to see in him something unusual, something unlike the ordinary people. He had thought that Taras would speak in some peculiar way, would dress in a manner peculiar to himself; and in general he would be unlike other people. While before him sat a sedate, stout man, faultlessly dressed, with stern eyes, very much like his father in face, and the only difference between them was that the son had a cigar in his mouth and a black beard. He spoke briefly in a business-like way of everyday things — where was, then, that peculiar something about him? Now he began to tell his father of the profits in the manufacture of soda. He had not been a galley slave — Lubov had lied! And Foma was very much pleased when he pictured to himself how he would speak to Lubov about her brother.
Now and then she appeared in the doorway during the conversation between her father and her brother. Her face was radiant with happiness, and her eyes beamed with joy as she looked at the black figure of Taras, clad in such a peculiarly thick frock coat, with pockets on the sides and with big buttons. She walked on tiptoe, and somehow always stretched her neck toward her brother. Foma looked at her questioningly, but she did not notice him, constantly running back and forth past the door, with plates and bottles in her hands.
It so happened that she glanced into the room just when her brother was telling her father about the galleys. She stopped as though petrified, holding a tray in her outstretched hands and listened to everything her brother said about the punishment inflicted upon him. She listened, and slowly walked away, without catching Foma’s astonished and sarcastic glance. Absorbed in his reflections on Taras, slightly offended by the lack of attention shown him, and by the fact that since the handshake at the introduction Taras had not given him a single glance, Foma ceased for awhile to follow the conversation of the Mayakins, and suddenly he felt that someone seized him by the shoulder. He trembled and sprang to his feet, almost felling his godfather, who stood before him with excited face:
“There — look! That is a man! That’s what a Mayakin is! They have seven times boiled him in lye; they have squeezed oil out of him, and yet he lives! Understand? Without any aid — alone — he made his way and found his place and — he is proud! That means Mayakin! A Mayakin means a man who holds his fate in his own hands. Do you understand? Take a lesson from him! Look at him! You cannot find another like him in a hundred; you’d have to look for one in a thousand. What? Just bear this in mind: You cannot forge a Mayakin from man into either devil or angel.”
Stupefied by this tempestuous shock, Foma became confused and did not know what to say in reply to the old man’s noisy song of praise. He saw that Taras, calmly smoking his cigar, was looking at his father, and that the corners of his lips were quivering with a smile. His face looked condescendingly contented, and all his figure somewhat aristocratic and haughty. He seemed to be amused by the old man’s joy.
And Yakov Tarasovich tapped Foma on the chest with his finger and said:
“I do not know him, my own son. He has not opened his soul to me. It may be that such a difference had grown up between us that not only an eagle, but the devil himself cannot cross it. Perhaps his blood has overboiled; that there is not even the scent of the father’s blood in it. But he is a Mayakin! And I can feel it at once! I feel it and say: ‘Today thou forgivest Thy servant, 0h Lord!’”
The old man was trembling with the fever of his exultation, and fairly hopped as he stood before Foma.
“Calm yourself, father!” said Taras, slowly rising from his chair and walking up to his father. “Why confuse the young man? Come, let us sit down.”
He gave Foma a fleeting smile, and, taking his father by the arm, led him toward the table.
“I believe in blood,” said Yakov Tarasovich; “in hereditary blood. Therein lies all power! My father, I remember, told me: ‘Yashka, you are my genuine blood!’ There. The blood of the Mayakins is thick — it is transferred from father to father and no woman can ever weaken it. Let us drink some champagne! Shall we? Very well, then! Tell me more — tell me about yourself. How is it there in Siberia?”
And again, as though frightened and sobered by some thought, the old man fixed his searching eyes upon the face of his son. And a few minutes later the circumstantial but brief replies of his son again aroused in him a noisy joy. Foma kept on listening and watching, as he sat quietly in his corner.
“Gold mining, of course, is a solid business,” said Taras, calmly, with importance, “but it is a rather risky operation and one requiring a large capital. The earth says not a word about what it contains within it. It is very profitable to deal with foreigners. Dealings with them, under any circumstances, yield an enormous percentage. That is a perfectly infallible enterprise. But a weary one, it must be admitted. It does not require much brains; there is no room in it for an extraordinary man; a man with great enterprising power cannot develop in it.”
Lubov entered and invited them all into the dining-room. When the Mayakins stepped out Foma imperceptibly tugged Lubov by the sleeve, and she remained with him alone, inquiring hastily:
“What is it?”
“Nothing,” said Foma, with a smile. “I want to ask you whether you are glad?”
“Of course I am!” exclaimed Lubov.
“And what about?”
“That is, what do you mean?”
“Just so. What about?”
“You’re queer!” said Lubov, looking at him with astonishment. “Can’t you see?”
“What?” asked Foma, sarcastically.
“What’s the trouble with you?” said Lubov, looking at him uneasily.
“Eh, you!” drawled out Foma, with contemptuous pity. “Can your father, can the merchant class beget anything good? Can you expect a radish to bring forth raspberries? And you lied to me. Taras is this, Taras is that. What is in him? A merchant, like the other merchants, and his paunch is also that of the real merchant. He-he!” He was satisfied, seeing that the girl, confused by his words, was biting her lips, now flushing, now turning pale.
“You — you, Foma,” she began, in a choking voice, and suddenly stamping her foot, she cried:
“Don’t you dare to speak to me!”
On reaching the threshold of the room, she turned her angry face to him, and ejaculated in a low voice, emphatically:
“Oh, you malicious man!”
Foma burst into laughter. He did not feel like going to the table, where three happy people were engaged in a lively conversation. He heard their merry voices, their contented laughter, the rattle of the dishes, and he understood that, with that burden on his heart, there was no place for him beside them. Nor was there a place for him anywhere. If all people only hated him, even as Lubov hated him now, he would feel more at ease in their midst, he thought. Then he would know how to behave with them, would find something to say to them. While now he could not understand whether they were pitying him or whether they were laughing at him, because he had lost his way and could not conform himself to anything. As he stood awhile alone in the middle of the room, he unconsciously resolved to leave this house where people were rejoicing and where he was superfluous. On reaching the street, he felt himself offended by the Mayakins. After all, they were the only people near to him in the world. Before him arose his godfather’s face, on which the wrinkles quivered with agitation, and illuminated by the merry glitter of his green eyes, seemed to beam with phosphoric light.
“Even a rotten trunk of a tree stands out in the dark!” reflected Foma, savagely. Then he recalled the calm and serious face of Taras and beside it the figure of Lubov bowing herself hastily toward him. That aroused in him feelings of envy and sorrow.
“Who will look at me like that? There is not a soul to do it.”
He came to himself from his broodings on the shore, at the landing-places, aroused by the bustle of toil. All sorts of articles and wares were carried and carted in every direction; people moved about hastily, care-worn, spurring on their horses excitedly, shouting at one another, filling the street with unintelligible bustle and deafening noise of hurried work. They busied themselves on a narrow strip of ground, paved with stone, built up on one side with tall houses, and the other side cut off by a steep ravine at the river, and their seething bustle made upon Foma an impression as though they had all prepared themselves to flee from this toil amid filth and narrowness and tumult — prepared themselves to flee and were now hastening to complete the sooner the unfinished work which would not release them. Huge steamers, standing by the shore and emitting columns of smoke from their funnels, were already awaiting them. The troubled water of the river, closely obstructed with vessels, was softly and plaintively splashing against the shore, as though imploring for a minute of rest and repose.
“Your Honour!” a hoarse cry rang out near Foma’s ears, “contribute some brandy in honour of the building!”
Foma glanced at the petitioner indifferently; he was a huge, bearded fellow, barefooted, with a torn shirt and a bruised, swollen face.
“Get away!” muttered Foma, and turned away from him.
“Merchant! When you die you can’t take your money with you. Give me for one glass of brandy, or are you too lazy to put your hand into your pocket?”
Foma again looked at the petitioner; the latter stood before him, covered more with mud than with clothes, and, trembling with intoxication, waited obstinately, staring at Foma with blood- shot, swollen eyes.
“Is that the way to ask?” inquired Foma.
“How else? Would you want me to go down on my knees before you for a ten-copeck piece?” asked the bare-footed man, boldly.
“There!” and Foma gave him a coin.
“Thanks! Fifteen copecks. Thanks! And if you give me fifteen more I’ll crawl on all fours right up to that tavern. Do you want me to?” proposed the barefooted man.
“Go, leave me alone!” said Foma, waving him off with his hand.
“He who gives not when he may, when he fain would, shall have nay,” said the barefooted man, and stepped aside.
Foma looked at him as he departed, and said to himself:
“There is a ruined man and yet how bold he is. He asks alms as though demanding a debt. Where do such people get so much boldness?”
And heaving a deep sigh, he answered himself:
“From freedom. The man is not fettered. What is there that he should regret? What does he fear? And what do I fear? What is there that I should regret?”
These two questions seemed to strike Foma’s heart and called forth in him a dull perplexity. He looked at the movement of the working people and kept on thinking: What did he regret? What did he fear?
“Alone, with my own strength, I shall evidently never come out anywhere. Like a fool I shall keep on tramping about among people, mocked and offended by all. If they would only jostle me aside; if they would only hate me, then — then — I would go out into the wide world! Whether I liked or not, I would have to go!”
From one of the landing wharves the merry “dubinushka” [“Dubinushka,” or the “Oaken Cudgel,” is a song popular with the Russian workmen.] had already been smiting the air for a long time. The carriers were doing a certain work, which required brisk movements, and were adapting the song and the refrain to them.
“In the tavern sit great merchants Drinking liquors strong,”
narrated the leader, in a bold recitative. The company joined in unison:
“Oh, dubinushka, heave-ho!”
And then the bassos smote the air with deep sounds:
“It goes, it goes.”
And the tenors repeated:
“It goes, it goes.”
Foma listened to the song and directed his footsteps toward it, on the wharf. There he noticed that the carriers, formed in two rows, were rolling out of the steamer’s hold huge barrels of salted fish. Dirty, clad in red blouses, unfastened at the collar, with mittens on their hands, with arms bare to the elbow, they stood over the hold, and, merrily jesting, with faces animated by toil, they pulled the ropes, all together, keeping time to their song. And from the hold rang out the high, laughing voice of the invisible leader:
“But for our peasant throats There is not enough vodka.”
And the company, like one huge pair of lungs, heaved forth loudly and in unison:
“Oh, dubinushka, heave-ho!”
Foma felt pleased and envious as he looked at this work, which was as harmonious as music. The slovenly faces of the carriers beamed with smiles, the work was easy, it went on smoothly, and the leader of the chorus was in his best vein. Foma thought that it would be fine to work thus in unison, with good comrades, to the tune of a cheerful song, to get tired from work to drink a glass of vodka and eat fat cabbage soup, prepared by the stout, sprightly matron of the company.
“Quicker, boys, quicker!” rang out beside him someone’s unpleasant, hoarse voice.
Foma turned around. A stout man, with an enormous paunch, tapped on the boards of the landing bridge with his cane, as he looked at the carriers with his small eyes and said:
“Bawl less and work faster.”
His face and neck were covered with perspiration; he wiped it off every now and then with his left hand and breathed heavily, as though he were going uphill.
Foma cast at the man a hostile look and thought:
“Others are working and he is sweating. And I am still worse than he. I’m like a crow on the fence, good for nothing.”
From each and every impression there immediately stood out in his mind the painful thought of his unfitness for life. Everything that attracted his attention contained something offensive to him, and this something fell like a brick upon his breast. At one side of him, by the freight scales, stood two sailors, and one of them, a square-built, red-faced fellow, was telling the other:
“As they rushed on me it began for fair, my dear chap! There were four of them — I was alone! But I didn’t give in to them, because I saw that they would beat me to death! Even a ram will kick out if you fleece it alive. How I tore myself away from them! They all rolled away in different directions.”
“But you came in for a sound drubbing all the same?” inquired the other sailor.
“Of course! I caught it. I swallowed about five blows. But what’s the difference? They didn’t kill me. Well, thank God for it!”
“To the stern, devils, to the stern, I’m telling you!” roared the perspiring man in a ferocious voice at two carriers who were rolling a barrel of fish along the deck.
“What are you yelling for?” Foma turned to him sternly, as he had started at the shout.
“Is that any of your business?” asked the perspiring man, casting a glance at Foma.
“It is my business! The people are working and your fat is melting away. So you think you must yell at them?” said Foma, threateningly, moving closer toward him.
“You — you had better keep your temper.”
The perspiring man suddenly rushed away from his place and went into his office. Foma looked after him and also went away from the wharf; filled with a desire to abuse some one, to do something, just to divert his thoughts from himself at least for a short while. But his thoughts took a firmer hold on him.
“That sailor there, he tore himself away, and he’s safe and sound! Yes, while I—”
In the evening he again went up to the Mayakins. The old man was not at home, and in the dining-room sat Lubov with her brother, drinking tea. On reaching the door Foma heard the hoarse voice of Taras:
“What makes father bother himself about him?”
At the sight of Foma he stopped short, staring at his face with a serious, searching look. An expression of agitation was clearly depicted on Lubov’s face, and she said with dissatisfaction and at the same time apologetically:
“Ah! So it’s you?”
“They’ve been speaking of me,” thought Foma, as he seated himself at the table. Taras turned his eyes away from him and sank deeper in the armchair. There was an awkward silence lasting for about a minute, and this pleased Foma.
“Are you going to the banquet?”
“Don’t you know? Kononov is going to consecrate his new steamer. A mass will be held there and then they are going to take a trip up the Volga.”
“I was not invited,” said Foma.
“Nobody was invited. He simply announced on the Exchange: ‘Anybody who wishes to honour me is welcome!
“I don’t care for it.”
“Yes? But there will be a grand drinking bout,” said Lubov, looking at him askance.
“I can drink at my own expense if I choose to do so.”
“I know,” said Lubov, nodding her head expressively.
Taras toyed with his teaspoon, turning it between his fingers and looking at them askance.
“And where’s my godfather?” asked Foma.
“He went to the bank. There’s a meeting of the board of directors today. Election of officers is to take place.
“They’ll elect him again.”
And again the conversation broke off. Foma began to watch the brother and the sister. Having dropped the spoon, Taras slowly drank his tea in big sips, and silently moving the glass over to his sister, smiled to her. She, too, smiled joyously and happily, seized the glass and began to rinse it assiduously. Then her face assumed a strained expression; she seemed to prepare herself for something and asked her brother in a low voice, almost reverently:
“Shall we return to the beginning of our conversation?”
“If you please,” assented Taras, shortly.
“You said something, but I didn’t understand. What was it? I asked: ‘If all this is, as you say, Utopia, if it is impossible, dreams, then what is he to do who is not satisfied with life as it is?’”
The girl leaned her whole body toward her brother, and her eyes, with strained expectation, stopped on the calm face of her brother. He glanced at her in a weary way, moved about in his seat, and, lowering his head, said calmly and impressively:
“We must consider from what source springs that dissatisfaction with life. It seems to me that, first of all, it comes from the inability to work; from the lack of respect for work. And, secondly, from a wrong conception of one’s own powers. The misfortune of most of the people is that they consider themselves capable of doing more than they really can. And yet only little is required of man: he must select for himself an occupation to suit his powers and must master it as well as possible, as attentively as possible. You must love what you are doing, and then labour, be it ever so rough, rises to the height of creativeness. A chair, made with love, will always be a good, beautiful and solid chair. And so it is with everything. Read Smiles. Haven’t you read him? It is a very sensible book. It is a sound book. Read Lubbock. In general, remember that the English people constitute the nation most qualified for labour, which fact explains their astonishing success in the domain of industry and commerce. With them labour is almost a cult. The height of culture stands always directly dependent upon the love of labour. And the higher the culture the more satisfied are the requirements of man, the fewer the obstacles on the road toward the further development of man’s requirements. Happiness is possible — it is the complete satisfaction of requirements. There it is. And, as you see, man’s happiness is dependent upon his relation toward his work.”
Taras Mayakin spoke slowly and laboriously, as though it were unpleasant and tedious for him to speak. And Lubov, with knitted brow, leaning toward him, listened to his words with eager attention in her eyes, ready to accept everything and imbibe it into her soul.
“Well, and suppose everything is repulsive to a man?” asked Foma, suddenly, in a deep voice, casting a glance at Taras’s face.
“But what, in particular, is repulsive to the man?” asked Mayakin, calmly, without looking at Foma.
Foma bent his head, leaned his arms against the table and thus, like a bull, went on to explain himself:
“Nothing pleases him — business, work, all people and deeds. Suppose I see that all is deceit, that business is not business, but merely a plug that we prop up with it the emptiness of our souls; that some work, while others only give orders and sweat, but get more for that. Why is it so? Eh?”
“I cannot grasp your idea,” announced Taras, when Foma paused, feeling on himself Lubov’s contemptuous and angry look.
“You do not understand?” asked Foma, looking at Taras with a smile. “Well, I’ll put it in this way:
A man is sailing in a boat on the river. The boat may be good, but under it there is always a depth all the same. The boat is sound, but if the man feels beneath him this dark depth, no boat can save him.”
Taras looked at Foma indifferently and calmly. He looked in silence, and softly tapped his fingers on the edge of the table. Lubov was uneasily moving about in her chair. The pendulum of the clock told the seconds with a dull, sighing sound. And Foma’s heart throbbed slowly and painfully, as though conscious that here no one would respond with a warm word to its painful perplexity.
“Work is not exactly everything for a man,” said he, more to himself than to these people who had no faith in the sincerity of his words. “It is not true that in work lies justification. There are people who do not work at all during all their lives long, and yet they live better than those that do work. How is that? And the toilers — they are merely unfortunate — horses! Others ride on them, they suffer and that’s all. But they have their justification before God. They will be asked: ‘To what purpose did you live?’ Then they will say: ‘We had no time to think of that. We worked all our lives.’ And I— what justification have I? And all those people who give orders — how will they justify themselves? To what purpose have they lived? It is my idea that everybody necessarily ought to know, to know firmly what he is living for.”
He became silent, and, tossing his head up, exclaimed in a heavy voice:
“Can it be that man is born merely to work, acquire money, build a house, beget children and — die? No, life means something. A man is born, he lives and dies. What for? It is necessary, by God, it is necessary for all of us to consider what we are living for. There is no sense in our life. No sense whatever! Then things are not equal, that can be seen at once. Some are rich — they have money enough for a thousand people, and they live in idleness. Others bend their backs over their work all their lives, and yet they have not even a grosh. And the difference in people is very insignificant. There are some that have not even any trousers and yet they reason as though they were attired in silks.”
Carried away by his thoughts, Foma would have continued to give them utterance, but Taras moved his armchair away from the table, rose and said softly, with a sigh:
“No, thank you! I don’t want any more.”
Foma broke off his speech abruptly, shrugged his shoulders and looked at Lubov with a smile.
“Where have you picked up such philosophy?” she asked, suspiciously and drily.
“That is not philosophy. That is simply torture!” said Foma in an undertone. “Open your eyes and look at everything. Then you will think so yourself.”
“By the way, Luba, turn your attention to the fact,” began Taras, standing with his back toward the table and scrutinizing the clock, “that pessimism is perfectly foreign to the Anglo-Saxon race. That which they call pessimism in Swift and in Byron is only a burning, sharp protest against the imperfection of life and man. But you cannot find among them the cold, well weighed and passive pessimism.”
Then, as though suddenly recalling Foma, he turned to him, clasping his hands behind his back, and, wriggling his thigh, said:
“You raise very important questions, and if you are seriously interested in them you must read books. In them will you find many very valuable opinions as to the meaning of life. How about you — do you read books?”
“No!” replied Foma, briefly.
“I don’t like them.”
“Aha! But they might nevertheless be of some help to you,” said Taras, and a smile passed across his lips.
“Books? Since men cannot help me in my thoughts books can certainly do nothing for me,” ejaculated Foma, morosely.
He began to feel awkward and weary with this indifferent man. He felt like going away, but at the same time he wished to tell Lubov something insulting about her brother, and he waited till Taras would leave the room. Lubov washed the dishes; her face was concentrated and thoughtful; her hands moved lazily. Taras was pacing the room, now and then he stopped short before the sideboard on which was the silverware, whistled, tapped his fingers against the window-panes and examined the articles with his eyes half shut. The pendulum of the clock flashed beneath the glass door of the case like some broad, grinning face, and monotonously told the seconds. When Foma noticed that Lubov glanced at him a few times questioningly, with expectant and hostile looks, he understood that he was in her way and that she was impatiently expecting him to leave.
“I am going to stay here over night,” said he, with a smile. “I must speak with my godfather. And then it is rather lonesome in my house alone.”
“Then go and tell Marfusha to make the bed for you in the corner room,” Lubov hastened to advise him.
He arose and went out of the dining-room. And he soon heard that Taras asked his sister about something in a low voice.
“About me!” he thought. Suddenly this wicked thought flashed through his mind: “It were but right to listen and hear what wise people have to say.”
He laughed softly, and, stepping on tiptoe, went noiselessly into the other room, also adjoining the dining-room. There was no light there, and only a thin band of light from the dining-room, passing through the unclosed door, lay on the dark floor. Softly, with sinking heart and malicious smile, Foma walked up close to the door and stopped.
“He’s a clumsy fellow,” said Taras.
Then came Lubov’s lowered and hasty speech:
“He was carousing here all the time. He carried on dreadfully! It all started somehow of a sudden. The first thing he did was to thrash the son-in-law of the Vice-Governor at the Club. Papa had to take the greatest pains to hush up the scandal, and it was a good thing that the Vice-Governor’s son-in-law is a man of very bad reputation. He is a card-sharper and in general a shady personality, yet it cost father more than two thousand roubles. And while papa was busying himself about that scandal Foma came near drowning a whole company on the Volga.”
“Ha-ha! How monstrous! And that same man busies himself with investigating as to the meaning of life.”
“On another occasion he was carousing on a steamer with a company of people like himself. Suddenly he said to them: ‘Pray to God! I’ll fling every one of you overboard!’ He is frightfully strong. They screamed, while he said: ‘I want to serve my country. I want to clear the earth of base people.’”
“Really? That’s clever!”
“He’s a terrible man! How many wild pranks he has perpetrated during these years! How much money he has squandered!”
“And, tell me, on what conditions does father manage his affairs for him? Do you know?”
“No, I don’t. He has a full power of attorney. Why do you ask?”
“Simply so. It’s a solid business. Of course it is conducted in purely Russian fashion; in other words, it is conducted abominably. But it is a splendid business, nevertheless. If it were managed properly it would be a most profitable gold mine.”
“Foma does absolutely nothing. Everything is in father’s hands.”
“Yes? That’s fine.”
“Do you know, sometimes it occurs to me that his thoughtful frame of mind — that these words of his are sincere, and that he can be very decent. But I cannot reconcile his scandalous life with his words and arguments. I cannot do it under any circumstances!”
“It isn’t even worthwhile to bother about it. The stripling and lazy bones seeks to justify his laziness.”
“No. You see, at times he is like a child. He was particularly so before.”
“Well, that’s what I have said: he’s a stripling. Is it worth while talking about an ignoramus and a savage, who wishes to remain an ignoramus and a savage, and does not conceal the fact? You see: he reasons as the bear in the fable bent the shafts.”
“You are very harsh.”
“Yes, I am harsh! People require that. We Russians are all desperately loose. Happily, life is so arranged that, whether we will it or not, we gradually brace up. Dreams are for the lads and maidens, but for serious people there is serious business.”
“Sometimes I feel very sorry for Foma. What will become of him?”
“That does not concern me. I believe that nothing in particular will become of him — neither good nor bad. The insipid fellow will squander his money away, and will be ruined. What else? Eh, the deuce take him! Such people as he is are rare nowadays. Now the merchant knows the power of education. And he, that foster- brother of yours, he will go to ruin.”
“That’s true, sir!” said Foma, opening the door and appearing on the threshold.
Pale, with knitted brow and quivering lips, he stared straight into Taras’s face and said in a dull voice: “True! I will go to ruin and — amen! The sooner the better!”
Lubov sprang up from the chair with frightened face, and ran up to Taras, who stood calmly in the middle of the room, with his hands thrust in his pockets.
“Foma! Oh! Shame! You have been eavesdropping. Oh, Foma!” said she in confusion.
“Keep quiet, you lamb!” said Foma to her.
“Yes, eavesdropping is wrong!” ejaculated Taras, slowly, without lifting from Foma his look of contempt.
“Let it be wrong!” said Foma, with a wave of the hand. “Is it my fault that the truth can be learned by eavesdropping only?”
“Go away, Foma, please!” entreated Lubov, pressing close to her brother.
“Perhaps you have something to say to me?” asked Taras, calmly.
“I?” exclaimed Foma. “What can I say? I cannot say anything. It is you who — you, I believe, know everything.”
“You have nothing then to discuss with me?” asked Taras again.
“I am very pleased.”
He turned sideways to Foma and inquired of Lubov:
“What do you think — will father return soon?”
Foma looked at him, and, feeling something akin to respect for the man, deliberately left the house. He did not feel like going to his own huge empty house, where each step of his awakened a ringing echo, he strolled along the street, which was enveloped in the melancholy gray twilight of late autumn. He thought of Taras Mayakin.
“How severe he is. He takes after his father. Only he’s not so restless. He’s also a cunning rogue, I think, while Lubka regarded him almost as a saint. That foolish girl! What a sermon he read to me! A regular judge. And she — she was kind toward me.” But all these thoughts stirred in him no feelings — neither hatred toward Taras nor sympathy for Lubov. He carried with him something painful and uncomfortable, something incomprehensible to him, that kept growing within his breast, and it seemed to him that his heart was swollen and was gnawing as though from an abscess. He hearkened to that unceasing and indomitable pain, noticed that it was growing more and more acute from hour to hour, and, not knowing how to allay it, waited for the results.
Then his godfather’s trotter passed him. Foma saw in the carriage the small figure of Yakov Mayakin, but even that aroused no feeling in him. A lamplighter ran past Foma, overtook him, placed his ladder against the lamp post and went up. The ladder suddenly slipped under his weight, and he, clasping the lamp post, cursed loudly and angrily. A girl jostled Foma in the side with her bundle and said:
He glanced at her and said nothing. Then a drizzling rain began to fall from the sky — tiny, scarcely visible drops of moisture overcast the lights of the lanterns and the shop windows with grayish dust. This dust made him breathe with difficulty.
“Shall I go to Yozhov and pass the night there? I might drink with him,” thought Foma and went away to Yozhov, not having the slightest desire either to see the feuilleton-writer or to drink with him.
At Yozhov’s he found a shaggy fellow sitting on the lounge. He had on a blouse and gray pantaloons. His face was swarthy, as though smoked, his eyes were large, immobile and angry, his thick upper lip was covered with a bristle-like, soldier moustache. He was sitting on the lounge, with his feet clasped in his huge arms and his chin resting on his knees. Yozhov sat sideways in a chair, with his legs thrown across the arm of the chair. Among books and newspapers on the table stood a bottle of vodka and there was an odour of something salty in the room.
“Why are you tramping about?” Yozhov asked Foma, and, nodding at him, said to the man on the lounge: “Gordyeeff!”
The man glanced at the newcomer and said in a harsh, shrill voice: “Krasnoshchokov.”
Foma seated himself on a corner of the lounge and said to Yozhov:
“I have come to stay here over night.”
“Well? Go on, Vasily.”
The latter glanced at Foma askance and went on in a creaking voice:
“In my opinion, you are attacking the stupid people in vain. Masaniello was a fool, but what had to be performed was done in the best way possible. And that Winkelried was certainly a fool also, and yet had he not thrust the imperial spears into himself the Swiss would have been thrashed. Have there not been many fools like that? Yet they are the heroes. And the clever people are the cowards. Where they ought to deal the obstacle a blow with all their might they stop to reflect: ‘What will come of it? Perhaps we may perish in vain?’ And they stand there like posts — until they breathe their last. And the fool is brave! He rushes headforemost against the wall — bang! If his skull breaks — what of it? Calves’ heads are not dear. And if he makes a crack in the wall the clever people will pick it open into gates, will pass and credit themselves with the honour. No, Nikolay Matveyich, bravery is a good thing even though it be without reason.”
“Vasily, you are talking nonsense!” said Yozhov, stretching his hand toward him.
“Ah, of course!” assented Vasily. “How am I to sip cabbage soup with a bast shoe? And yet I am not blind. I can see. There is plenty of brains, but no good comes of it. During the time the clever people think and reflect as to how to act in the wisest way, the fools will down them. That’s all.”
“Wait a little!” said Yozhov.
“I can’t! I am on duty today. I am rather late as it is. I’ll drop in tomorrow — may I?”
“Come! I’ll give a roasting!”
“That’s exactly your business.”
Vasily adjusted himself slowly, rose from the lounge, took Yozhov’s yellow, thin little hand in his big, swarthy paw and pressed it.
Then he nodded toward Foma and went through the door sideways.
“Have you seen?” Yozhov asked Foma, pointing his hand at the door, behind which the heavy footsteps still resounded.
“What sort of a man is he?”
“Assistant machinist, Vaska Krasnoshchokov. Here, take an example from him: At the age of fifteen he began to study, to read and write, and at twenty-eight he has read the devil knows how many good books, and has mastered two languages to perfection. Now he’s going abroad.”
“What for?” inquired Foma.
“To study. To see how people live there, while you languish here- -what for?”
“He spoke sensibly of the fools,” said Foma, thoughtfully.
“I don’t know, for I am not a fool.”
“That was well said. The stupid man ought to act at once. Rush forward and overturn.”
“There, he’s broken loose!” exclaimed Yozhov. “You better tell me whether it is true that Mayakin’s son has returned?”
“Why do you ask?”
“I can see by your face that there is something.”
“We know all about his son; we’ve heard about him.”
“But I have seen him.”
“Well? What sort of man is he?”
“The devil knows him! What have I to do with him?”
“Is he like his father?”
“He’s stouter, plumper; there is more seriousness about him; he is so cold.”
“Which means that he will be even worse than Yashka. Well, now, my dear, be on your guard or they will suck you dry.”
“Well, let them do it!”
“They’ll rob you. You’ll become a pauper. That Taras fleeced his father-in-law in Yekateringburg so cleverly.”
“Let him fleece me too, if he likes. I shall not say a word to him except ‘thanks.’”
“You are still singing that same old tune?”
“To be set at liberty.”
“Drop it! What do you want freedom for? What will you do with it? Don’t you know that you are not fit for anything, that you are illiterate, that you certainly cannot even split a log of wood? Now, if I could only free myself from the necessity of drinking vodka and eating bread!”
Yozhov jumped to his feet, and, stopping in front of Foma, began to speak in a loud voice, as though declaiming:
“I would gather together the remains of my wounded soul, and together with the blood of my heart I would spit them into the face of our intelligent society, the devil take it! I would say to them:
‘You insects, you are the best sap of my country! The fact of your existence has been repaid by the blood and the tears of scores of generations of Russian people. 0, you nits! How dearly your country has paid for you! What are you doing for its sake in return? Have you transformed the tears of the past into pearls? What have you contributed toward life? What have you accomplished? You have permitted yourselves to be conquered? What are you doing? You permit yourselves to be mocked.”’
He stamped his feet with rage, and setting his teeth together stared at Foma with burning, angry looks, and resembled an infuriated wild beast.
“I would say to them: ‘You! You reason too much, but you are not very wise, and you are utterly powerless, and you are all cowards! Your hearts are filled up with morality and noble intentions, but they are as soft and warm as feather beds; the spirit of creativeness sleeps within them a profound and calm sleep, and your hearts do not throb, they merely rock slowly, like cradles.’ Dipping my finger in the blood of my heart, I would smear upon their brows the brands of my reproaches, and they, paupers in spirit, miserable in their self-contentment, they would suffer. Oh, how they would suffer! My scourge is sharp, my hand is firm! And I love too deeply to have compassion! They would suffer! And now they do not suffer, for they speak of their sufferings too much, too often, and too loud! They lie! Genuine suffering is mute, and genuine passion knows no bounds! Passions, passions! When will they spring up in the hearts of men? We are all miserable because of apathy.”
Short of breath he burst into a fit of coughing, he coughed for a long time, hopping about hither and thither, waving his hands like a madman. And then he again stopped in front of Foma with pale face and blood-shot eyes. He breathed heavily, his lips trembled now and then, displaying his small, sharp teeth. Dishevelled, with his head covered with short heir, he looked like a perch just thrown out of the water. This was not the first time Foma saw him in such a state, and, as always, he was infected by his agitation. He listened to the fiery words of the small man, silently, without attempting to understand their meaning, having no desire to know against whom they were directed, absorbing their force only. Yozhov’s words bubbled on like boiling water, and heated his soul.
“I will say to them, to those miserable idlers:
‘Look! Life goes onward, leaving you behind!”’
“Eh! That’s fine!” exclaimed Foma, ecstatically, and began to move about on the lounge. “You’re a hero, Nikolay! Oh! Go ahead! Throw it right into their faces!”
But Yozhov was not in need of encouragement, it seemed even as though he had not heard at all Foma’s exclamations, and he went on:
“I know the limitations of my powers. I know they’ll shout at me: ‘Hold your peace!’ They’ll tell me: ‘Keep silence!’ They will say it wisely, they will say it calmly, mocking me, they will say it from the height of their majesty. I know I am only a small bird, 0h, I am not a nightingale! Compared with them I am an ignorant man, I am only a feuilleton-writer, a man to amuse the public. Let them cry and silence me, let them do it! A blow will fall on my cheek, but the heart will nevertheless keep on throbbing! And I will say to them:
“‘Yes, I am an ignorant man! And my first advantage over you is that I do not know a single book-truth dearer to me than a man! Man is the universe, and may he live forever who carries the whole world within him! And you,‘I will say, ‘for the sake of a word which, perhaps, does not always contain a meaning comprehensible to you, for the sake of a word you often inflict sores and wounds on one another, for the sake of a word you spurt one another with bile, you assault the soul. For this, believe me, life will severely call you to account: a storm will break loose, and it will whisk and wash you off the earth, as wind and rain whisk and wash the dust off a tree I There is in human language only one word whose meaning is clear and dear to everybody, and when that word is pronounced, it sounds thus: ‘Freedom!’”
“Crush on!” roared Foma, jumping up from the lounge and grasping Yozhov by the shoulders. With flashing eyes he gazed into Yozhov’s face, bending toward him, and almost moaned with grief and affliction: “Oh! Nikolay! My dear fellow, I am mortally sorry for you! I am more sorry than words can tell!”
“What’s this? What’s the matter with you?” cried Yozhov, pushing him away, amazed and shifted from his position by Foma’s unexpected outburst and strange words.
“Oh, brother!” said Foma, lowering his voice, which thus sounded deeper, more persuasive. “Oh, living soul, why do you sink to ruin?”
“Who? I? I sink? You lie!”
“My dear boy! You will not say anything to anybody! There is no one to speak to! Who will listen to you? Only I!”
“Go to the devil!” shouted Yozhov, angrily, jumping away from him as though he had been scorched.
And Foma went toward him, and spoke convincingly, with intense sorrow:
“Speak! speak to me! I shall carry away your words to the proper place. I understand them. And, ah! how I will scorch the people! Just wait! My opportunity will come.”
“Go away!” screamed Yozhov, hysterically, squeezing his back to the wall, under Foma’s pressure. Perplexed, crushed, and infuriated he stood and waved off Foma’s arms outstretched toward him. And at this time the door of the room opened, and on the threshold appeared a woman all in black. Her face was angry- looking and excited, her cheek was tied up with a kerchief. She tossed her head back, stretched out her hand toward Yozhov and said, in ahissing and shrill voice:
“Nikolay Matveyich! Excuse me, but this is impossible! Such beast-like howling and roaring. Guests everyday. The police are coming. No, I can’t bear it any longer! I am nervous. Please vacate the lodgings to-morrow. You are not living in a desert, there are people about you here. And an educated man at that! A writer! All people require rest. I have a toothache. I request you to move tomorrow. I’ll paste up a notice, I’ll notify the police.”
She spoke rapidly, and the majority of her words were lost in the hissing and whistling of her voice; only those words were distinct, which she shrieked out in a shrill, irritated tone. The corners of her kerchief protruded on her head like small horns, and shook from the movement of her jaws. At the sight of her agitated and comical figure Foma gradually retreated toward the lounge, while Yozhov stood, and wiping his forehead, stared at her fixedly, and listened to her words:
“So know it now!” she screamed, and behind the door, she said once more:
“Tomorrow! What an outrage.”
“Devil!” whispered Yozhov, staring dully at the door.
“Yes! what a woman! How strict!” said Foma, looking at him in amazement, as he seated himself on the lounge.
Yozhov, raising his shoulders, walked up to the table, poured out a half a tea-glass full of vodka, emptied it and sat down by the table, bowing his head low. There was silence for about a minute. Then Foma said, timidly and softly:
“How it all happened! We had no time even to wink an eye, and, suddenly, such an outcome. Ah!”
“You!” said Yozhov in an undertone, tossing up his head, and staring at Foma angrily and wildly. “Keep quiet! You, the devil take you. Lie down and sleep! You monster. Nightmare. Oh!”
And he threatened Foma with his fist. Then he filled the glass with more brandy, and emptied it again.
A few minutes later Foma lay undressed on the lounge, and, with half-shut eyes, followed Yozhov who sat by the table in an awkward pose. He stared at the floor, and his lips were quietly moving. Foma was astonished, he could not make out why Yozhov had become angry at him. It could not be because he had been ordered to move out. For it was he himself who had been shouting.
“0h devil!” whispered Yozhov, and gnashed his teeth.
Foma quietly lifted his head from the pillow. Yozhov deeply and noisily sighing, again stretched out his hand toward the bottle. Then Foma said to him softly:
“Let’s go to some hotel. It isn’t late yet.”
Yozhov looked at him, and, rubbing his head with his hands, began to laugh strangely. Then he rose from his chair and said to Foma curtly:
And seeing how clumsily and slowly he turned on the lounge, Yozhov shouted with anger and impatience:
“Well, be quicker! You personification of stupidity. You symbolical cart-shaft.”
“Don’t curse!” said Foma, with a peaceable smile. “Is it worthwhile to be angry because a woman has cackled?”
Yozhov glanced at him, spat and burst into harsh laughter.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55