DURING the very first day of his school life, stupefied by the lively and hearty noise of provoking mischiefs and of wild, childish games, Foma picked out two boys from the crowd who at once seemed more interesting to him than the others. One had a seat in front of him. Foma, looking askance, saw a broad back; a full neck, covered with freckles; big ears; and the back of the head closely cropped, covered with light-red hair which stood out like bristles.
When the teacher, a bald-headed man, whose lower lip hung down, called out: “Smolin, African!” the red-headed boy arose slowly, walked up to the teacher, calmly stared into his face, and, having listened to the problem, carefully began to make big round figures on the blackboard with chalk.
“Good enough!” said the teacher. “Yozhov, Nicolai. Proceed!”
One of Foma’s neighbours, a fidgety little boy with black little mouse-eyes, jumped up from his seat and passed through the aisle, striking against everything and turning his head on all sides. At the blackboard he seized the chalk, and, standing up on the toes of his boots, noisily began to mark the board with the chalk, creaking and filling with chalk dust, dashing off small, illegible marks.
“Not so loud!” said the teacher, wrinkling his yellow face and contracting his fatigued eyes. Yozhov spoke quickly and in a ringing voice:
“Now we know that the first peddler made 17k. profit.”
“Enough! Gordyeeff! Tell me what must we do in order to find out how much the second peddler gained?”
Watching the conduct of the boys, so unlike each other, Foma was thus taken unawares by the question and he kept quiet.
“Don’t you know? How? Explain it to him, Smolin.”
Having carefully wiped his fingers, which had been soiled with chalk, Smolin put the rag away, and, without looking at Foma, finished the problem and again began to wipe his hands, while Yozhov, smiling and skipping along as he walked, returned to his seat.
“Eh, you!” he whispered, seating himself beside Foma, incidentally striking his side with his fist. “Why don’t you know it? What was the profit altogether? Thirty kopecks. And there were two peddlers. One of them got 17. Well, how much did the other one get?”
“I know,” replied Foma, in a whisper, feeling confused and examining the face of Smolin, who was sedately returning to his seat. He didn’t like that round, freckled face, with the blue eyes, which were loaded with fat. And Yozhov pinched his leg and asked:
“Whose son are you? The Frantic’s?”
“So. Do you wish me to prompt you always?”
“And what will you give me for it?”
Foma thought awhile and asked:
“And do you know it all yourself?”
“I? I am the best pupil. You’ll see for yourself.”
“Hey, there! Yozhov, you are talking again?” cried the teacher, faintly.
Yozhov jumped to his feet and said boldly:
“It’s not I, Ivan Andreyich — it’s Gordyeeff.”
“Both of them were whispering,” announced Smolin, serenely.
Wrinkling his face mournfully and moving his big lip comically, the teacher reprimanded them all, but his words did not prevent Yozhov from whispering immediately:
“Very well, Smolin! I’ll remember you for telling.”
“Well, why do you blame it all on the new boy?” asked Smolin, in a low voice, without even turning his head to them.
“All right, all right,” hissed Yozhov.
Foma was silent, looking askance at his brisk neighbour, who at once pleased him and roused in him a desire to get as far as possible away from him. During recess he learned from Yozhov that Smolin, too, was rich, being the son of a tan-yard proprietor, and that Yozhov himself was the son of a guard at the Court of Exchequer, and very poor. The last was clearly evident by the adroit boy’s costume, made of gray fustian and adorned with patches on the knees and elbows; by his pale, hungry-looking face; and, by his small, angular and bony figure. This boy spoke in a metallic alto, elucidating his words with grimaces and gesticulations, and he often used words whose meaning was known but to himself.
“We’ll be friends,” he announced to Foma.
“Why did you complain to the teacher about me?” Gordyeeff reminded Yozhov, looking at him suspiciously.
“There! What’s the difference to you? You are a new scholar and rich. The teacher is not exacting with the rich. And I am a poor hanger-on; he doesn’t like me, because I am impudent and because I never bring him any presents. If I had been a bad pupil he would have expelled me long ago. You know I’ll go to the Gymnasium from here. I’ll pass the second class and then I’ll leave. Already a student is preparing me for the second class. There I’ll study so that they can’t hold me back! How many horses do you have?”
“Three. What do you need to study so much for?” asked Foma.
“Because I am poor. The poor must study hard so that they may become rich. They become doctors, functionaries, officers. I shall be a ‘tinkler.’ A sword at my side, spur on my boots. Cling, cling! And what are you going to be?”
“I don’t know,” said Foma, pensively, examining his companion.
“You need not be anything. And are you fond of pigeons?”
“What a good-for-nothing you are! Oh! Eh!” Yozhov imitated Foma’s slow way of speaking. “How many pigeons do you have?”
“I have none.”
“Eh, you! Rich, and yet you have no pigeons. Even I have three. If my father had been rich I would have had a hundred pigeons and chased them all day long. Smolin has pigeons, too, fine ones! Fourteen. He made me a present of one. Only, he is greedy. All the rich are greedy. And you, are you greedy, too?”
“I don’t know,” said Foma, irresolutely.
“Come up to Smolin’s and the three of us together will chase the pigeons.”
“Very well. If they let me.”
“Why, does not your father like you?”
“He does like me.”
“Well, then, he’ll let you go. Only don’t tell him that I am coming. Perhaps he would not let you go with me. Tell him you want to go to Smolin’s. Smolin!”
A plump boy came up to them, and Yozhov accosted him, shaking his head reproachfully:
“Eh, you red-headed slanderer! It isn’t worth while to be friends with you, blockhead!”
“Why do you abuse me?” asked Smolin, calmly, examining Foma fixedly.
“I am not abusing you; I am telling the truth,” Yozhov explained, straightening himself with animation. “Listen! Although you are a kissel, but — let it go! We’ll come up to see you on Sunday after mass.”
“Come,” Smolin nodded his head.
“We’ll come up. They’ll ring the bell soon. I must run to sell the siskin,” declared Yozhov, pulling out of his pocket a paper package, wherein some live thing was struggling. And he disappeared from the school-yard as mercury from the palm of a hand.
“What a queer fellow he is!” said Foma, dumfounded by Yozhov’s adroitness and looking at Smolin interrogatively.
“He is always like this. He’s very clever,” the red-headed boy explained.
“And cheerful, too,” added Foma.
“Cheerful, too,” Smolin assented. Then they became silent, looking at each other.
“Will you come up with him to my house?” asked the red-headed boy.
“Come up. It’s nice there.”
Foma said nothing to this. Then Smolin asked him:
“Have you many friends?”
“I have none.”
“Neither did I have any friends before I went to school. Only cousins. Now you’ll have two friends at once.”
“Yes,” said Foma.
“Are you glad?”
“When you have lots of friends, it is lively. And it is easier to study, too — they prompt you.”
“And are you a good pupil?”
“Of course! I do everything well,” said Smolin, calmly.
The bell began to bang as though it had been frightened and was hastily running somewhere.
Sitting in school, Foma began to feel somewhat freer, and compared his friends with the rest of the boys. He soon learned that they both were the very best boys in school and that they were the first to attract everybody’s attention, even as the two figures 5 and 7, which had not yet been wiped off the blackboard. And Foma felt very much pleased that his friends were better than any of the other boys.
They all went home from school together, but Yozhov soon turned into some narrow side street, while Smolin walked with Foma up to his very house, and, departing, said:
“You see, we both go home the same way, too.”
At home Foma was met with pomp: his father made him a present of a heavy silver spoon, with an ingenious monogram on it, and his aunt gave him a scarf knitted by herself. They were awaiting him for dinner, having prepared his favourite dishes for him, and as soon as he took off his coat, seated him at the table and began to ply him with questions.
“Well, how was it? How did you like the school?” asked Ignat, looking lovingly at his son’s rosy, animated face.
“Pretty good. It’s nice!” replied Foma.
“My darling!” sighed his aunt, with feeling, “look out, hold your own with your friends. As soon as they offend you tell your teachers about it.”
“Go on. What else will you tell him?” Ignat smiled. “Never do that! Try to get square with every offender yourself, punish him with your own hand, not with somebody else’s. Are there any good fellows there?”
“There are two,” Foma smiled, recalling Yozhov. “One of them is so bold — terrible!”
“Whose is he?”
“A guard’s son.”
“Mm! Bold did you say?”
“Well, let him be! And the other?”
“The other one is red-headed. Smolin.”
“Ah! Evidently Mitry Ivanovitch’s son. Stick to him, he’s good company. Mitry is a clever peasant. If the son takes after his father it is all right. But that other one — you know, Foma, you had better invite them to our house on Sunday. I’ll buy some presents and you can treat them. We’ll see what sort of boys they are.”
“Smolin asked me to come to him this Sunday,” said Foma, looking up at his father questioningly.
“So. Well, you may go! That’s all right, go. Observe what kind of people there are in the world. You cannot pass your life alone, without friendship. Your godfather and I, for instance, have been friends for more than twenty years, and I have profited a great deal by his common sense. So you, too, try to be friendly with those that are better and wiser than you. Rub against a good man, like a copper coin against silver, and you may then pass for a silver coin yourself.”
And, bursting into laughter at his comparison, Ignat added seriously:
“I was only jesting. Try to be, not artificial, but genuine. And have some common sense, no matter how little, but your own. Have you many lessons to do?”
“Many!” sighed the boy, and to his sigh, like an echo, his aunt answered with a heavy sigh.
“Well, study. Don’t be worse than others at school. Although, I’ll tell you, even if there were twenty-five classes in your school, they could never teach you there anything save reading, writing and arithmetic. You may also learn some naughty things, but God protect you! I shall give you a terrible spanking if you do. If you smoke tobacco I’ll cut your lips off.”
“Remember God, Fomushka,” said the aunt. “See that you don’t forget our Lord.”
“That’s true! Honour God and your father. But I wish to tell you that school books are but a trivial matter. You need these as a carpenter needs an adze and a pointer. They are tools, but the tools cannot teach you how to make use of them. Understand? Let us see: Suppose an adze were handed to a carpenter for him to square a beam with it. It’s not enough to have hands and an adze; it is also necessary for him to know how to strike the wood so as not to hit his foot instead. To you the knowledge of reading and writing is given, and you must regulate your life with it. Thus it follows that books alone are but a trifle in this matter; it is necessary to be able to take advantage of them. And it is this ability that is more cunning than any books, and yet nothing about it is written in the books. This, Foma, you must learn from Life itself. A book is a dead thing, you may take it as you please, you may tear it, break it — it will not cry out. While should you but make a single wrong step in life, or wrongly occupy a place in it, Life will start to bawl at you in a thousand voices; it will deal you a blow, felling you to the ground.”
Foma, his elbows leaning on the table, attentively listened to his father, and under the sound of his powerful voice he pictured to himself now the carpenter squaring a beam, now himself, his hands outstretched, carefully and stealthily approaching some colossal and living thing, and desiring to grasp that terrible something.
“A man must preserve himself for his work and must be thoroughly acquainted with the road to it. A man, dear, is like the pilot on a ship. In youth, as at high tide, go straight! A way is open to you everywhere. But you must know when it is time to steer. The waters recede — here you see a sandbank, there, a rock; it is necessary to know all this and to slip off in time, in order to reach the harbour safe and sound.”
“I will reach it!” said the boy, looking at his father proudly and with confidence.
“Eh? You speak courageously!” Ignat burst into laughter. And the aunt also began to laugh kindly.
Since his trip with his father on the Volga, Foma became more lively and talkative at home, with his father, with his aunt and with Mayakin. But on the street, in a new place, or in the presence of strangers, he was always gloomy, always looking about him with suspicion, as though he felt something hostile to him everywhere, something hidden from him spying on him.
At nights he sometimes awoke of a sudden and listened for a long time to the silence about him, fixedly staring into the dark with wide-open eyes. And then his father’s stories were transformed before him into images and pictures. Without being aware of it, he mixed up those stories with his aunt’s fairy-tales, thus creating for himself a chaos of adventures wherein the bright colours of fantasy were whimsically intertwined with the stern shades of reality. This resulted in something colossal, incomprehensible; the boy closed his eyes and drove it all away from him and tried to check the play of his imagination, which frightened him. In vain he attempted to fall asleep, and the chamber became more and more crowded with dark images. Then he quietly roused his aunt.
“What? Christ be with you.”
“I’ll come to you,” whispered Foma.
“Why? Sleep, darling, sleep.”
“I am afraid,” confessed the boy.
“You better say to yourself, ‘And the Lord will rise again,’ then you won’t be afraid.”
Foma lies with his eyes open and says the prayer. The silence of the night pictures itself before him in the form of an endless expanse of perfectly calm, dark water, which has overflowed everything and congealed; there is not a ripple on it, not a shadow of a motion, and neither is there anything within it, although it is bottomlessly deep. It is very terrible for one to look down from the dark at this dead water. But now the sound of the night watchman’s mallet is heard, and the boy sees that the surface of the water is beginning to tremble, and, covering the surface with ripples, light little balls are dancing upon it. The sound of the bell on the steeple, with one mighty swing, brings all the water in agitation and it is slightly trembling from that sound; a big spot of light is also trembling, spreading light upon the water, radiating from its centre into the dark distance, there growing paler and dying out. Again there is weary and deathlike repose in this dark desert.
“Auntie,” whispers Foma, beseechingly.
“I am coming to you.”
“Come, then, come, my darling.”
Going over into auntie’s bed, he presses close to her, begging:
“Tell me something.”
“At night?” protests auntie, sleepily.
He does not have to ask her long. Yawning, her eyes closed, the old woman begins slowly in a voice grown heavy with sleep:
“Well, my dear sir, in a certain kingdom, in a certain empire, there lived a man and his wife, and they were very poor. They were so unfortunate that they had nothing to eat. They would go around begging, somebody would give them a crust of stale bread and that would keep them for awhile. And it came to pass that the wife begot a child — a child was born — it was necessary to christen it, but, being poor, they could not entertain the godparents and the guests, so nobody came to christen the child. They tried this and they tried that — yet nobody came. And they began to pray to the Lord, ‘0h Lord! 0h Lord!’”
Foma knew this awful story about God’s godchild. He had heard it more than once and was already picturing to himself this godchild riding on a white horse to his godfather and godmother; he was riding in the darkness, over the desert, and he saw there all the unbearable miseries to which sinners are condemned. And he heard their faint moans and requests:
“Oh! Man! Ask the Lord yet how long are we to suffer here!”
Then it appeared to Foma that it was he who was riding at night on the white horse, and that the moans and the implorings were addressed to him. His heart contracts with some incomprehensible desire; sorrow compressed his breast and tears gathered in his eyes, which he had firmly closed and now feared to open.
He is tossing about in his bed restlessly,
“Sleep, my child. Christ be with you!” says the old woman, interrupting her tale of men suffering for their sins.
But in the morning after such a night Foma rose sound and cheerful, washed himself hastily, drank his tea in haste and ran off to school, provided with sweet cakes, which were awaited by the always hungry little Yozhov, who greedily subsisted on his rich friend’s generosity.
“Got anything to eat?” he accosted Foma, turning up his sharp-pointed nose. “Let me have it, for I left the house without eating anything. I slept too long, devil take it! I studied up to two o’clock last night. Have you solved your problems?”
“No, I haven’t.”
“Eh, you lazy bones! Well, I’ll dash them off for you directly!”
Driving his small, thin teeth into the cakes, he purred something like a kitten, stamped his left foot, beating time, and at the same time solved the problem, rattling off short phrases to Foma:
“See? Eight bucketfuls leaked out in one hour. And how many hours did it leak — six? Eh, what good things they eat in your house! Consequently, we must multiply six by eight. Do you like cake with green onions? Oh, how I like it! So that in six hours forty- eight bucketfuls leaked out of the first gauge-cock. And altogether the tub contained ninety. Do you understand the rest?”
Foma liked Yozhov better than Smolin, but he was more friendly with Smolin. He wondered at the ability and the sprightliness of the little fellow. He saw that Yozhov was more clever and better than himself; he envied him, and felt offended on that account, and at the same time he pitied him with the condescending compassion of a satisfied man for a hungry one. Perhaps it was this very compassion that prevented him from preferring this bright boy to the boring red-headed Smolin. Yozhov, fond of having a laugh at the expense of his well-fed friends, told them quite often: “Eh, you are little trunks full of cakes!”
Foma was angry with him for his sneers, and one day, touched to the quick, said wickedly and with contempt:
“And you are a beggar — a pauper!”
Yozhov’s yellow face became overcast, and he replied slowly:
“Very well, so be it! I shall never prompt you again — and you’ll be like a log of wood!”
And they did not speak to each other for about three days, very much to the regret of the teacher, who during these days had to give the lowest markings to the son of the esteemed Ignat Matveyich.
Yozhov knew everything: he related at school how the procurator’s chambermaid gave birth to a child, and that for this the procurator’s wife poured hot coffee over her husband; he could tell where and when it was best to catch perch; he knew how to make traps and cages for birds; he could give a detailed account of how the soldier had hanged himself in the garret of the armoury, and knew from which of the pupils’ parents the teacher had received a present that day and precisely what sort of a present it was.
The sphere of Smolin’s knowledge and interests was confined to the merchant’s mode of life, and, above all, the red-headed boy was fond of judging whether this man was richer than that, valuing and pricing their houses, their vessels and their horses. All this he knew to perfection, and spoke of it with enthusiasm.
Like Foma, he regarded Yozhov with the same condescending pity, but more as a friend and equal. Whenever Gordyeeff quarrelled with Yozhov, Smolin hastened to reconcile them, and he said to Foma one day, on their way home:
“Why do you always quarrel with Yozhov?”
“Well, why is he so self-conceited?” said Foma, angrily.
“He is proud because you never know your lessons, and he always helps you out. He is clever. And because he is poor — is he to blame for that? He can learn anything he wants to, and he will be rich, too.”
“He is like a mosquito,” said Foma, disdainfully; “he will buzz and buzz, and then of a sudden will bite.”
But there was something in the life of these boys that united them all; there were hours when the consciousness of difference in their natures and positions was entirely lost. On Sundays they all gathered at Smolin’s, and, getting up on the roof of the wing, where they had an enormous pigeon-house, they let the pigeons loose.
The beautiful, well-fed birds, ruffling their snow-white wings, darted out of the pigeon-house one by one, and, seating themselves in a row on the ridge of the roof, and, illumined by the sun, cooing, flaunted before the boys.
“Scare them!” implored Yozhov, trembling for impatience.
Smolin swung a pole with a bast-wisp fastened to its end, and whistled.
The frightened pigeons rushed into the air, filling it with the hurried flapping of their wings. And now, outlining big circles, they easily soar upwards, into the blue depths of the sky; they float higher and higher, their silver and snow-white feathers flashing. Some of them are striving to reach the dome of the skies with the light soaring of the falcon, their wings outstretched wide and almost motionless; others play, turn over in the air, now dropping downward in a snowy lump, now darting up like an arrow. Now the entire flock seems as though hanging motionless in the desert of the sky, and, growing smaller and smaller, seems to sink in it. With heads thrown back, the boys admire the birds in silence, without taking their eyes from them — their tired eyes, so radiant with calm joy, not altogether free from envying these winged creatures, which so freely took flight from earth up into the pure and calm atmosphere full of the glitter of the sun. The small group of scarcely visible dots, now mere specks in the azure of the sky, leads on the imagination of the children, and Yozhov expresses their common feeling when, in a low voice, he says thoughtfully:
“That’s the way we ought to fly, friends.”
While Foma, knowing that human souls, soaring heavenward, oftentimes assume the form of pigeons, felt in his breast the rising of a burning, powerful desire.
Unified by their joy, attentively and mutely awaiting the return of their birds from the depths of the sky, the boys, pressing close to one another, drifted far away from the breath of life, even as their pigeons were far from earth; at this moment they are merely children, knowing neither envy nor anger; free from everything, they are near to one another, they are mute, judging their feelings by the light in their eyes — and they feel as happy as the birds in the sky.
But now the pigeons come down on the roof again, and, tired out by their flight, are easily driven into the pigeon-house.
“Friends, let’s go for apples?” suggests Yozhov, the instigator of all games and adventures.
His call drives out of the children’s souls the peacefulness brought into them by the pigeons, and then, like plunderers, carefully listening for each and every sound, they steal quietly across the back yards toward the neighbouring garden. The fear of being caught is balanced by the hope of stealing with impunity. But stealing is work and dangerous work at that, and everything that is earned by your own labour is so sweet! And the more effort required to gain it, the sweeter it is. Carefully the boys climb over the fence of the garden, and, bending down, crawl toward the apple trees and, full of fright, look around vigilantly. Their hearts tremble and their throbbing slackens at the faintest rustle. They are alike afraid of being caught, and, if noticed, of being recognised, but in case they should only see them and yell at them, they would be satisfied. They would separate, each going in a different direction, and then, meeting again, their eyes aglow with joy and boldness, would laughingly tell one another how they felt when they heard some one giving chase to them, and what happened to them when they ran so quickly through the garden, as though the ground were burning under their feet.
Such invasions were more to Foma’s liking than all other adventures and games, and his behaviour during these invasions was marked with a boldness that at once astounded and angered his companions. He was intentionally careless in other people’s gardens: he spoke loud, noisily broke the branches of apple trees, and, tearing off a worm- eaten apple, threw it in the direction of the proprietor’s house. The danger of being caught in the act did not frighten him; it rather encouraged him — his eyes would turn darker, his teeth would clench, and his face would assume an expression of anger and pride.
Smolin, distorting his big mouth contemptibly, would say to him:
“You are making entirely too much fuss about yourself.”
“I am not a coward anyway!” replied Foma.
“I know that you are not a coward, but why do you boast of it? One may do a thing as well without boasting.”
Yozhov blamed him from a different point of view:
“If you thrust yourself into their hands willingly you can go to the devil! I am not your friend. They’ll catch you and bring you to your father — he wouldn’t do anything to you, while I would get such a spanking that all my bones would be skinned.”
“Coward!” Foma persisted, stubbornly.
And it came to pass one day that Foma was caught by the second captain, Chumakov, a thin little old man. Noiselessly approaching the boy, who was hiding away in his bosom the stolen apples, the old man seized him by the shoulders and cried in a threatening voice:
“Now I have you, little rogue! Aha!”
Foma was then about fifteen years old, and he cleverly slipped out of the old man’s hands. Yet he did not run from him, but, knitting his brow and clenching his fist, he said threateningly:
“You dare to touch me!”
“I wouldn’t touch you. I’ll just turn you over to the police! Whose son are you?”
Foma did not expect this, and all his boldness and spitefulness suddenly left him.
The trip to the police station seemed to him something which his father would never forgive him. He shuddered and said confusedly:
Now the second captain was taken aback. He straightened himself, expanded his chest and for some reason or other cleared his throat impressively. Then his shoulders sank and he said to the boy in a fatherly tone:
“It’s a shame! The son of such a well-known and respected man! It is unbecoming your position. You may go. But should this happen again! Hm! I should be compelled to notify your father, to whom, by the way, I have the honour of presenting my respects.”
Foma watched the play of the old man’s physiognomy and understood that he was afraid of his father. Like a young wolf, he looked askance at Chumakov; while the old man, with comical seriousness, twisted his gray moustache, hesitating before the boy, who did not go away, notwithstanding the given permission.
“You may go,” repeated the old man, pointing at the road leading to his house.
“And how about the police?” asked Foma, sternly, and was immediately frightened at the possible answer.
“I was but jesting,” smiled the old man. “I just wanted to frighten you.”
“You are afraid of my father yourself,” said Foma, and, turning his back to the old man, walked off into the depth of the garden.
“I am afraid? Ah! Very well!” exclaimed Chumakov after him, and Foma knew by the sound of his voice that he had offended the old man. He felt sad and ashamed; he passed the afternoon in walking, and, coming home, he was met by his father’s stern question:
“Foma! Did you go to Chumakov’s garden?”
“Yes, I did,” said the boy, calmly, looking into his father’s eyes.
Evidently Ignat did not expect such an answer and he was silent for awhile, stroking his beard.
“Fool! Why did you do it? Have you not enough of your own apples?”
Foma cast down his eyes and was silent, standing before his father.
“See, you are shamed! Yozhishka must have incited you to this! I’ll give it to him when he comes, or I’ll make an end of your friendship altogether.”
“I did it myself,” said Foma, firmly.
“From bad to worse!” exclaimed Ignat. “But why did you do it?”
“Because!” mocked the father. “Well, if you did it you ought to be able to explain to yourself and to others the reason for so doing. Come here!”
Foma walked up to his father, who was sitting on a chair, and placed himself between his knees. Ignat put his hand on the boy’s shoulders, and, smiling, looked into his eyes.
“Are you ashamed?”
“I am ashamed,” sighed Foma.
“There you have it, fool! You have disgraced me and yourself.”
Pressing his son’s head to his breast, he stroked his hair and asked again:
“Why should you do such a thing — stealing other people’s apples?”
“I— I don’t know,” said Foma, confusedly. “Perhaps because it is so lonesome. I play and play the same thing day after day. I am growing tired of it! While this is dangerous.”
“Exciting?” asked the father, smiling.
“Mm, perhaps it is so. But, nevertheless, Foma, look out — drop this, or I shall deal with you severely.”
“I’ll never climb anywhere again,” said the boy with confidence.
“And that you take all the blame on yourself — that is good. What will become of you in the future, only God knows, but meanwhile — it is pretty good. It is not a trifle if a man is willing to pay for his deeds with his own skin. Someone else in your place would have blamed his friends, while you say: ‘I did it myself.’ That’s the proper way, Foma. You commit the sin, but you also account for it. Didn’t Chumakov strike you?” asked Ignat, pausing as he spoke.
“I would have struck him back,” declared Foma, calmly.
“Mm,” roared his father, significantly.
“I told him that he was afraid of you. That is why he complained. Otherwise he was not going to say anything to you about it.”
“Is that so?”
“‘By God! Present my respects to your father,’ he said.”
“Ah! the dog! See what kind of people there are; he is robbed and yet he makes a bow and presents his respects! Ha, ha! It is true it might have been worth no more than a kopeck, but a kopeck is to him what a rouble is to me. And it isn’t the kopeck, but since it is mine, no one dares touch it unless I throw it away myself. Eh! The devil take them! Well, tell me — where have you been, what have you seen?”
The boy sat down beside his father and told him in detail all the impressions of that day. Ignat listened, fixedly watching the animated face of his son, and the eyebrows of the big man contracted pensively.
“You are still but floating on the surface, dear. You are still but a child. Eh! Eh!”
“We scared an owl in the ravine,” related the boy. “That was fun! It began to fly about and struck against a tree — bang! It even began to squeak so pitifully. And we scared it again; again it rose and flew about here and there, and again it struck against something, so that its feathers were coming out. It flew about in the ravine and at last hid itself somewhere with difficulty. We did not try to look for it, we felt sorry it was all bruised. Papa, is an owl entirely blind in daytime?”
“Blind!” said Ignat; “some men will toss about in life even as this owl in daytime. Ever searching for his place, he strives and strives — only feathers fly from him, but all to no purpose. He is bruised, sickened, stripped of everything, and then with all his might he thrusts himself anywhere, just to find repose from his restlessness. Woe to such people. Woe to them, dear!”
“How painful is it to them?” said Foma in a low voice.
“Just as painful as to that owl.”
“And why is it so?”
“Why? It is hard to tell. Someone suffers because he is darkened by his pride — he desires much, but has but little strength. Another because of his foolishness. But then there are a thousand and one other reasons, which you cannot understand.”
“Come in and have some tea,” Anfisa called to them. She had been standing in the doorway for quite a long while, and, folding her hands, lovingly admired the enormous figure of her brother, who bent over Foma with such friendliness, and the pensive pose of the boy, who clung to his father’s shoulder.
Thus day by day Foma’s life developed slowly — a quiet, peaceful life, not at all brimful of emotions. Powerful impressions, rousing the boy’s soul for an hour or for a day, sometimes stood out strikingly against the general background of this monotonous life, but these were soon obliterated. The boy’s soul was as yet but a calm lake — a lake hidden from the stormy winds of life, and all that touched the surface of the lake either sank to the bottom, stirring the placid water for a moment, or gliding over the smooth surface, swam apart in big circles and disappeared.
Having stayed at the district school for five years, Foma passed four classes tolerably well and came out a brave, dark-haired fellow, with a swarthy face, heavy eyebrows and dark down on the upper lip. His big dark eyes had a naive and pensive look, and his lips were like a child’s, half-open; but when meeting with opposition to his desires or when irritated by something else, the pupils of his eyes would grow wide, his lips press tight, and his whole face assume a stubborn and resolute expression. His godfather, smiling sceptically, would often say to him:
“To women, Foma, you’ll be sweeter than honey, but as yet not much common sense can be seen in you.”
Ignat would heave a sigh at these words.
“You had better start out your son as soon as possible.”
“There’s time yet, wait.”
“Why wait? He’ll go about the Volga for two or three years and then we’ll have him married. There’s my Lubov.”
Lubov Mayakina was now studying in the fifth class of some boarding school. Foma often met her on the street at which meeting she always bowed condescendingly, her fair head in a fashionable cap. Foma liked her, but her rosy cheeks, her cheerful brown eyes and crimson lips could not smooth the impression of offence given to him by her condescending bows. She was acquainted with some Gymnasium students, and although Yozhov, his old friend, was among them, Foma felt no inclination to be with them, and their company embarrassed him. It seemed to him that they were all boasting of their learning before him and that they were mocking his ignorance. Gathered together in Lubov’s house they would read some books, and whenever he found them reading or loudly arguing, they became silent at his sight. All this removed them further from him. One day when he was at Mayakin’s, Luba called him to go for a walk in the garden, and there, walking by his side, asked him with a grimace on her face:
“Why are you so unsociable? You never talk about anything.”
“What shall I talk about, since I know nothing!” said Foma, plainly.
“Study — read books.”
“I don’t feel like doing it.”
“You see, the Gymnasium students know everything, and know how to talk about everything. Take Yozhov, for instance.”
“I know Yozhov — a chatterbox.”
“You simply envy him. He is very clever — yes. He will soon graduate from the Gymnasium — and then he’ll go to Moscow to study in the University.”
“Well, what of it?” said Foma, indifferently.
“And you’ll remain just an ignorant man.”
“Well, be it so.”
“That will be nice!” exclaimed Luba, ironically.
“I shall hold my ground without science,” said Foma, sarcastically. “And I’ll have a laugh at all the learned people. Let the hungry study. I don’t need it.”
“Pshaw, how stupid you are, bad, disgusting!” said the girl with contempt and went away, leaving him alone in the garden. Offended and gloomy, he looked after her, moved his eyebrows and lowering his head, slowly walked off into the depth of the garden.
He already began to recognise the beauty of solitude and the sweet poison of contemplation. Oftentimes, during summer evenings, when everything was coloured by the fiery tints of sunset, kindling the imagination, an uneasy longing for something incomprehensible penetrated his breast. Sitting somewhere in a dark corner of the garden or lying in bed, he conjured up before him the images of the fairy-tale princesses — they appeared with the face of Luba and of other young ladies of his acquaintance, noiselessly floating before him in the twilight and staring into his eyes with enigmatic looks. At times these visions awakened in him a mighty energy, as though intoxicating him — he would rise and, straightening his shoulders, inhale the perfumed air with a full chest; but sometimes these same visions brought to him a feeling of sadness — he felt like crying, but ashamed of shedding tears, he restrained himself and never wept in silence. Or suddenly his heart began to tremble with the desire to express his gratitude to God, to bow before Him; the words of the prayer flashed through his memory, and beholding the sky, he whispered them for a long time, one by one, and his heart grew lighter, breathing into prayer the excess of his power.
The father patiently and carefully introduced him into commercial circles, took him on the Exchange, told him about his contracts and enterprises, about his co-associates, described to him how they had made their way, what fortunes they now possessed, what natures were theirs. Foma soon mastered it, regarding everything seriously and thoughtfully.
“Our bud is blooming into a blood-red cup-rose!” Mayakin smiled, winking to Ignat.
And yet, even when Foma was nineteen years old, there was something childish in him, something naive which distinguished him from the boys of his age. They were laughing at him, considering him stupid; he kept away from them, offended by their relations toward him. As for his father and Mayakin, who were watching him vigilantly, this uncertainty of Foma’s character inspired them with serious apprehensions.
“I cannot understand him!” Ignat would say with contrite heart. “ He does not lead a dissipated life, he does not seem to run after the women, treats me and you with respect, listens to everything — he is more like a pretty girl than a fellow! And yet he does not seem to be stupid!”
“No, there’s nothing particularly stupid about him,” said Mayakin.
“It looks as though he were waiting for something — as though some kind of shroud were covering his eyes. His late mother groped on earth in the same way.
“Just look, there’s Afrikanka Smolin, but two years older than my boy — what a man he has become! That is, it is difficult to tell whether he is his father’s head or his father his. He wants to go to some factory to study. He swears:
“‘Eh,’ says he, ‘papa, you have not taught me enough.’ Yes. While mine does not express himself at all. 0h Lord!”
“Look here,” Mayakin advised him, “you had better push him head foremost into some active business! I assure you! Gold is tested in fire. We’ll see what his inclinations are when at liberty. Send him out on the Kama — alone.”
“To give him a trial?”
“Well, he’ll do some mischief — you’ll lose something — but then we’ll know what stuff he is made of.”
“Indeed — I’ll send him off,” Ignat decided.
And thus in the spring, Ignat sent his son off on the Kama with two barges laden with corn. The barges were led by Gordyeeff’s steamer “Philezhny,” under the command of Foma’s old acquaintance, the former sailor Yefim — now, Yefim Ilyich, a squarely built man of about thirty with lynx-like eyes — a sober-minded, steady and very strict captain.
They sailed fast and cheerfully, because all were contented. At first Foma was proud of the responsible commission with which he had been charged. Yefim was pleased with the presence of the young master, who did not rebuke or abuse him for each and every oversight; and the happy frame of mind of the two most important persons on the steamer reflected in straight rays on the entire crew. Having left the place where they had taken in their cargo of corn in April, the steamer reached the place of its destination in the beginning of May, and the barges were anchored near the shore with the steamer at their side. Foma’s duty was to deliver the corn as soon as possible, and receiving the payments, start off for Perm, where a cargo of iron was awaiting him, which Ignat had undertaken to deliver at the market.
The barges stood opposite a large village, near a pine forest, about two versts distant from the shore. On the very next day after their arrival, a big and noisy crowd of women and peasants, on foot and on horses, came up to the shore early in the morning. Shouting and singing, they scattered on the decks and in an instant work started expeditiously. Having descended into the holds, the women were filling the sacks with rye, the peasants, throwing the sacks upon their shoulders, ran over the gang-planks to the shore, and from the shore, carts, heavily laden with the long-expected corn, went off slowly to the village. The women sang songs; the peasants jested and gaily abused one another; the sailors representing the guardians of peace, scolded the working people now and then; the gang-planks, bending under the feet of the carriers, splashed against the water heavily; while on the shore the horses neighed, and the carts and the sand under the wheels were creaking.
The sun had just risen, the air was fresh and invigorating and densely filled with the odour of pines; the calm water of the river, reflecting the clear sky, was gently murmuring, breaking against the sides of the vessels and the chains of the anchors. The loud and cheerful noise of toil, the youthful beauty of nature, gaily illumined by the sunbeams — all was full of a kind-hearted, somewhat crude, sound power, which pleasantly stirred Foma’s soul, awakening in him new and perplexed sensations and desires. He was sitting by the table under the awning of the steamer and drinking tea, together with Yefim and the receiver of the corn, a provincial clerk — a redheaded, short-sighted gentleman in glasses. Nervously shrugging his shoulders the receiver was telling in a hoarse voice how the peasants were starving, but Foma paid little attention to his words, looking now at the work below, now at the other side of the river — a tall, yellow, sandy steep shore, whose edges were covered with pine trees. It was unpeopled and quiet.
“I’ll have to go over there,” thought Foma. And as though from a distance the receiver’s tiresome, unpleasant, harsh voice fell on his ears:
“You wouldn’t believe it — at last it became horrible! Such an incident took place! A peasant came up to a certain intelligent man in Osa and brought along with him a girl about sixteen years old.
“‘What do you wish?”
“‘Here,’ he says, ‘I’ve brought my daughter to your Honour.’
“‘Perhaps,’ he says, ‘you’ll take her — you are a bachelor.’
“‘That is, how? What do you mean?’
“‘I took her around town,’ he says. ‘I wanted to hire her out as a servant — but nobody would have her — take her at least as your mistress!’
“Do you understand? He offered his own daughter — just think of it! A daughter — as a mistress! The devil knows what that is! Eh? The man, of course, became indignant and began abusing the peasant. But the peasant spoke to him reasonably:
“‘Your Honour! Of what use is she to me at this time? Utterly useless. I have,’ says he, ‘three boys — they will be working men; it is necessary to keep them up. Give me,’ says he, ‘ten roubles for the girl, and that will improve my lot and that of my boys.’
“How is that? Eh? It is simply terrible, I tell you.”
“No good!” sighed Yefim. “As they say — hunger will break through stone walls. The stomach, you see, has its own laws.”
This story called forth in Foma a great incomprehensible interest in the fate of the girl, and the youth hastened to enquire of the receiver:
“Well, did the man buy her?”
“Of course not!” exclaimed the receiver, reproachfully.
“Well, and what became of her?”
“Some good people took pity on her — and provided for her.”
“A-h!” drawled Foma, and suddenly he said firmly and angrily: “I would have given that peasant such a thrashing! I would have broken his head!” And he showed the receiver his big tightly-clenched fist.
“Eh! What for?” cried the receiver in a sickly, loud voice, tearing his spectacles from his eyes. “You do not understand the motive.”
“I do understand it!” said Foma, with an obstinate shake of his head.
“But what could he do? It came to his mind.”
“How can one allow himself to sell a human being?”
“Ah! It is brutal, I agree with you.”
“And a girl at that! I would have given him the ten roubles!”
The receiver waved his hand hopelessly and became silent. His gesture confused Foma. He arose from his seat, walked off to the railing and looked down at the deck of the barge, which was covered with an industriously working crowd of people. The noise intoxicated him, and the uneasy something, which was rambling in his soul, was now defined into a powerful desire to work, to have the strength of a giant, to possess enormous shoulders and put on them at one time a hundred bags of rye, that every one looking at him might be astonished.
“Come now, hurry up there!” he shouted down in a ringing voice. A few heads were raised to him, some faces appeared before him, and one of them — the face of a dark-eyed woman — smiled at him a gentle and enticing smile. Something flared up in his breast at this smile and began to spread over his veins in a hot wave. He drew back from the railing and walked up to the table again, feeling that his cheeks were burning.
“Listen!” said the receiver, addressing him, “wire to your father asking him to allow some grain for waste! Just see how much is lost here. And here every pound is precious! You should have understood this! What a fine father you have,” he concluded with a biting grimace.
“How much shall I allow?” asked Foma, boldly and disdainfully. “Do you want a hundred puds? [A pud is a weight of 40 Russian pounds.] Two hundred?”
“I— I thank you!” exclaimed the receiver, overjoyed and confused, “if you have the right to do it.”
“I am the master!” said Foma, firmly. “And you must not speak that way about my father — nor make such faces.”
“Pardon me! I— I do not doubt that you have full power. I thank you heartily. And your father, too — in behalf of all these men — in behalf of the people!”
Yefim looked cautiously at the young master, spreading out and smacking his lips, while the master with an air of pride on his face listened to the quick-witted speech of the receiver, who was pressing his hand firmly.
“Two hundred puds! That is Russian-like, young man! I shall directly notify the peasants of your gift. You’ll see how grateful they will be — how glad.” And he shouted down:
“Eh, boys! The master is giving away two hundred puds.”
“Three hundred!” interposed Foma.
“Three hundred puds. Oh! Thank you! Three hundred puds of grain, boys!”
But their response was weak. The peasants lifted up their heads and mutely lowered them again, resuming their work. A few voices said irresolutely and as though unwillingly:
“Thanks. May God give you. We thank you very humbly.”
And some cried out gaily and disdainfully:
“What’s the use of that? If they had given each of us a glass of vodka instead — that would be a just favour. For the grain is not for us — but for the country Council.”
“Eh! They do not understand!” exclaimed the receiver, confused. “I’ll go down and explain it to them.”
And he disappeared. But the peasants’ regard for his gift did not interest Foma. He saw that the black eyes of the rosy-cheeked woman were looking at him so strangely and pleasingly. They seemed to thank him and caressingly beckoned him, and besides those eyes he saw nothing. The woman was dressed like the city women. She wore shoes, a calico waist, and over her black hair she had a peculiar kerchief. Tall and supple, seated on a pile of wood, she repaired sacks, quickly moving her hands, which were bare up to the elbows, and she smiled at Foma all the time.
“Foma Ignatyich!” he heard Yefim’s reproachful voice, “you’ve showed off too much. Well, if it were only about fifty puds! But why so much? Look out that we don’t get a good scolding for this.”
“Leave me alone!” said Foma, shortly.
“What is it to me? I’ll keep quiet. But as you are so young, and as I was told to keep an eye on you, I may get a rap on the snout for being heedless.”
“I’ll tell my father all about it. Keep quiet!” said Foma.
“As for me — let it be so — so that you are master here.”
“I have said this, Foma Ignatyich, for your own sake — because you are so young and simple-minded.”
“Leave me alone, Yefim!”
Yefim heaved a sigh and became silent, while Foma stared at the woman and thought:
“I wish they would bring such a woman for sale to me.”
His heart beat rapidly. Though as yet physically pure, he already knew from conversations the mysteries of intimate relations between men and women. He knew by rude and shameful names, and these names kindled in him an unpleasant, burning curiosity and shame; his imagination worked obstinately, for he could not picture it to himself in intelligible images. And in his soul he did not believe that those relations were really so simple and rude, as he had been told. When they had laughed at him and assured him that they were such, and, indeed, could not be otherwise, he smiled stupidly and confusedly, but thought nevertheless that the relations with women did not have to be in such a shameful form for everyone, and that, in all probability, there was something purer, less rude and abusive to a human being.
Now looking at the dark-eyed working woman with admiration, Foma distinctly felt just that rude inclination toward her, and he was ashamed and afraid of something. And Yefim, standing beside him, said admonitively:
“There you are staring at the woman, so that I cannot keep silence any longer. You do not know her, but when she winks at you, you may, because of your youth — and with a nature like yours — you may do such a thing that we’ll have to go home on foot by the shore. And we’ll have to thank God if our trousers at least remain with us.”
“What do you want?” asked Foma, red with confusion.
“I want nothing. And you had better mind me. In regard to affairs with women I may perfectly well be a teacher. You must deal with a woman very plainly — give her a bottle of vodka, something to eat after it, then a couple of bottles of beer and after everything give her twenty kopecks in cash. For this price she will show you all her love in the best way possible.”
“You are lying,” said Foma, softly.
“I am lying? Why shall I lie to you since I have observed that same policy perhaps a hundred times? Just charge me to have dealings with her. Eh? I’ll make you acquainted with her in a moment.”
“Very well,” said Foma, feeling that he could hardly breathe and that something was choking his throat.
“Well, then, I’ll bring her up in the evening.”
And Yefim smiled approvingly into Foma’s face and walked off. Until evening Foma walked about as though lost in mist, not noticing the respectful and beseeching glances with which the peasants greeted him at the receiver’s instigation. Dread fell on him, he felt himself guilty before somebody, and to all those that addressed him he replied humbly and gently, as though excusing himself for something. Some of the working people went home toward evening, others gathered on the shore near a big, bright bonfire and began cooking their supper. Fragments of their conversation floated about in the stillness of the evening. The reflection of the fire fell on the river in red and yellow stripes, which trembled on the calm water and on the window panes of the cabin where Foma was s itting. He sat in the corner on a lounge, which was covered with oilcloth — and waited. On the table before him were a few bottles of vodka and beer, and plates with bread and dessert. He covered the windows and did not light the lamp; the faint light from the bonfire, penetrating through the curtains, fell on the table, on the bottles and on the wall, and trembled, now growing brighter, now fainter. It was quiet on the steamer and on the barges, only from the shore came indistinct sounds of conversation, and the river was splashing, scarcely audible, against the sides of the steamer. It seemed to Foma that somebody was hiding in the dark near by, listening to him and spying upon him. Now somebody is walking over the gang-plank of the barges with quick and heavy steps — the gang-plank strikes against the water clangously and angrily. Foma hears the muffled laughter of the captain and his lowered voice. Yefim stands by the cabin door and speaks softly, but somewhat reprimandingly, as though instructing. Foma suddenly felt like crying out:
“It is not necessary!”
And he arose from the lounge — but at this moment the cabin door was opened, the tall form of a woman appeared on the threshold, and, noiselessly closing the door behind her, she said in a low voice:
“0h dear! How dark it is! Is there a living soul somewhere around here?”
“Yes,” answered Foma, softly.
“Well, then, good evening.”
And the woman moved forward carefully.
“I’ll light the lamp,” said Foma in a broken voice, and, sinking on the lounge, he curled himself up in the corner.
“It is good enough this way. When you get used to it you can see everything in the dark as well.”
“Be seated,” said Foma.
She sat down on the lounge about two steps away from him. Foma saw the glitter of her eyes, he saw a smile on her full lips. It seemed to him that this smile of hers was not at all like that other smile before — this smile seemed plaintive, sad. This smile encouraged him; he breathed with less difficulty at the sight of these eyes, which, on meeting his own, suddenly glanced down on the floor. But he did not know what to say to this woman and for about two minutes both were silent. It was a heavy, awkward silence. She began to speak:
“You must be feeling lonesome here all alone?”
“Yes,” answered Foma.
“And do you like our place here?” asked the woman in a low voice.
“It is nice. There are many woods here.”
And again they became silent.
“The river, if you like, is more beautiful than the Volga,” uttered Foma, with an effort.
“I was on the Volga.”
“In the city of Simbirsk.”
“Simbirsk?” repeated Foma like an echo, feeling that he was again unable to say a word.
But she evidently understood with whom she had to deal, and she suddenly asked him in a bold whisper:
“Why don’t you treat me to something?”
“Here!” Foma gave a start. “Indeed, how queer I am? Well, then, come up to the table.”
He bustled about in the dark, pushed the table, took up one bottle, then another, and again returned them to their place, laughing guiltily and confusedly as he did so. She came up close to him and stood by his side, and, smiling, looked at his face and at his trembling hands.
“Are you bashful?” she suddenly whispered.
He felt her breath on his cheek and replied just as softly:
Then she placed her hands on his shoulders and quietly drew him to her breast, saying in a soothing whisper:
“Never mind, don’t be bashful, my young, handsome darling. How I pity you!”
And he felt like crying because of her whisper, his heart was melting in sweet fatigue; pressing his head close to her breast, he clasped her with his hands, mumbling to her some inarticulate words, which were unknown to himself.
“Be gone!” said Foma in a heavy voice, staring at the wall with his eyes wide open.
Having kissed him on the cheek she walked out of the cabin, saying to him:
Foma felt intolerably ashamed in her presence; but no sooner did she disappear behind the door than he jumped up and seated himself on the lounge. Then he arose, staggering, and at once he was seized with the feeling of having lost something very valuable, something whose presence he did not seem to have noticed in himself until the moment it was lost. But immediately a new, manly feeling of self-pride took possession of him. It drowned his shame, and, instead of the shame, pity for the woman sprang up within him — for the half-clad woman, who went out alone into the dark of the chilly May night. He hastily came out on the deck — it was a starlit, but moonless night; the coolness and the darkness embraced him. On the shore the golden-red pile of coals was still glimmering. Foma listened — an oppressive stillness filled the air, only the water was murmuring, breaking against the anchor chains. There was not a sound of footsteps to be heard. Foma now longed to call the woman, but he did not know her name. Eagerly inhaling the fresh air into his broad chest, he stood on deck for a few minutes. Suddenly, from beyond the roundhouse-
from the prow — a moan reached his ears — a deep, loud moan, resembling a wail. He shuddered and went thither carefully, understanding that she was there.
She sat on the deck close to the side of the steamer, and, leaning her head against a heap of ropes, she wept. Foma saw that her bare white shoulders were trembling, he heard her pitiful moans, and began to feel depressed. Bending over her, he asked her timidly:
“What is it?”
She nodded her head and said nothing in reply.
“Have I offended you?”
“Go away,” she said.
“But, how?” said Foma, alarmed and confused, touching her head with his hand. “Don’t be angry. You came of your own free will.”
“I am not angry!” she replied in a loud whisper. “Why should I be angry at you? You are not a seducer. You are a pure soul! Eh, my darling! Be seated here by my side.”
And taking Foma by the hand, she made him sit down, like a child, in her lap, pressed his head close to her breast, and, bending over him, pressed her lips to his for a long time.
“What are you crying about?” asked Foma, caressing her cheek with one hand, while the other clasped the woman’s neck.
“I am crying about myself. Why have you sent me away?” she asked plaintively.
“I began to feel ashamed of myself,” said Foma, lowering his head.
“My darling! Tell me the truth — haven’t you been pleased with me?” she asked with a smile, but her big, hot tears were still trickling down on Foma’s breast.
“Why should you speak like this?” exclaimed the youth, almost frightened, and hotly began to mumble to her some words about her beauty, about her kindness, telling her how sorry he was for her and how bashful in her presence. And she listened and kept on kissing his cheeks, his neck, his head and his uncovered breast.
He became silent — then she began to speak — softly and mournfully as though speaking of the dead:
“And I thought it was something else. When you said, ‘Be gone!’ I got up and went away. And your words made me feel sad, very sad. There was a time, I remembered, when they caressed me and fondled me unceasingly, without growing tired; for a single kind smile they used to do for me anything I pleased. I recalled all this and began to cry! I felt sorry for my youth, for I am now thirty years old, the last days for a woman! Eh, Foma Ignatyevich!” she exclaimed, lifting her voice louder, and reiterating the rhythm of her harmonious speech, whose accents rose and fell in unison with the melodious murmuring of the water.
“Listen to me — preserve your youth! There is nothing in the world better than that. There is nothing more precious than youth. With youth, as with gold, you can accomplish anything you please. Live so that you shall have in old age something to remind you of your youth. Here I recalled myself, and though I cried, yet my heart blazed up at the very recollection of my past life. And again I was young, as though I drank of the water of life! My sweet child I’ll have a good time with you, if I please you, we’ll enjoy ourselves as much as we can. Eh! I’ll burn to ashes, now that I have blazed up!”
And pressing the youth close to herself, she greedily began to kiss him on the lips.
“Lo-o-ok o-u-u-u-t!” the watch on the barge wailed mournfully, and, cutting short the last syllable, began to strike his mallet against the cast-iron board.
The shrill, trembling sounds harshly broke the solemn quiet of the night.
A few days later, when the barges had discharged their cargo and the steamer was ready to leave for Perm, Yefim noticed, to his great sorrow, that a cart came up to the shore and that the dark- eyed Pelageya, with a trunk and with some bundles, was in it.
“Send a sailor to bring her things,” ordered Foma, nodding his head toward the shore.
With a reproachful shake of his head, Yefim carried out the order angrily, and then asked in a lowered voice:
“So she, too, is coming with us?”
“She is going with me,” Foma announced shortly.
“It is understood. Not with all of us. Oh, Lord!”
“Why are you sighing?”
“Yes. Foma Ignatyich! We are going to a big city. Are there not plenty of women of her kind?”
“Well, keep quiet!” said Foma, sternly.
“I will keep quiet, but this isn’t right!”
“This very wantonness of ours. Our steamer is perfect, clean — and suddenly there is a woman there! And if it were at least the right sort of a woman! But as it is, she merely bears the name of woman.”
Foma frowned insinuatingly and addressed the captain, imperiously emphasizing his words:
“Yefim, I want you to bear it in mind, and to tell it to everybody here, that if anyone will utter an obscene word about her, I’ll strike him on the head with a log of wood!”
“How terrible!” said Yefim, incredulously, looking into the master’s face with curiosity. But he immediately made a step backward. Ignat’s son, like a wolf, showed his teeth, the apples of his eyes became wider, and he roared:
“Laugh! I’ll show you how to laugh!”
Though Yefim lost courage, he nevertheless said with dignity:
“Although you, Foma Ignatyich, are the master, yet as I was told, ‘Watch, Yefim,’ and then I am the captain here.”
“The captain?” cried Foma, shuddering in every limb and turning pale. “And who am I?”
“Well, don’t bawl! On account of such a trifle as a woman.”
Red spots came out on Foma’s pale face, he shifted from one foot to the other, thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket with a convulsive motion and said in a firm and even voice:
“You! Captain! See here, say another word against me — and you go to the devil! I’ll put you ashore! I’ll get along as well with the pilot! Understand? You cannot command me. Do you see?”
Yefim was dumfounded. He looked at his master and comically winked his eyes, finding no reply to his words.
“Do you understand, I say?”
“Yes. I understand! “ drawled Yefim. “But what is all this noise about? On account of —”
Foma’s eyes, which flashed wildly, and his face distorted with wrath, suggested to the captain the happy thought to leave his master as soon as possible and, turning around quickly, he walked off.
“Pshaw! How terrible! As it seems the apple did not fall too far from the tree,” he muttered sneeringly, walking on the deck. He was angry at Foma, and considered himself offended for nothing, but at the same time he began to feel over himself the real, firm hand of a master. For years accustomed to being subordinate, he rather liked this manifestation of power over him, and, entering the cabin of the old pilot, he related to him the scene between himself and his master, with a shade of satisfaction in his voice.
“See?” he concluded his story. “A pup coming from a good breed is an excellent dog at the very first chase. From his exterior he is so-so. A man of rather heavy mind as yet. Well, never mind, let him have his fun. It seems now as though nothing wrong will come out of this. With a character like his, no. How he bawled at me! A regular trumpet, I tell you! And he appointed himself master at once. As though he had sipped power and strictness out of a ladle.”
Yefim spoke the truth: during these few days Foma underwent a striking transformation. The passion now kindled in him made him master of the soul and body of a woman; he eagerly absorbed the fiery sweetness of this power, and this burned out all that was awkward in him, all that gave him the appearance of a somewhat stupid, gloomy fellow, and, destroying it, filled his heart with youthful pride, with the consciousness of his human personality. Love for a woman is always fruitful to the man, be the love whatever it may; even though it were to cause but sufferings there is always much that is rich in it. Working as a powerful poison on those whose souls are afflicted, it is for the healthy man as fire for iron, which is to be transformed into steel.
Foma’s passion for the thirty-year-old woman, who lamented in his embraces her dead youth, did not tear him away from his affairs; he was never lost in the caresses, or in his affairs, bringing into both his whole self. The woman, like good wine, provoked in him alike a thirst for labour and for love, and she, too, became younger from the kisses of the youth.
In Perm, Foma found a letter waiting for him. It was from his godfather, who notified him that Ignat, out of anxiety for his son, had begun to drink heavily, and that it was harmful to drink thus, for a man of his age. The letter concluded with advice to hurry up matters in order to return home the sooner. Foma felt alarmed over this advice, and it clouded the clear holiday of his heart. But this shadow soon melted in his worries over his affairs, and in the caresses of Pelageya. His life streamed on with the swiftness of a river wave, and each day brought to him new sensations, awakening in him new thoughts. Pelageya’s relations with him contained all the passion of a mistress, all that power of feeling which women of her age put into their passion when drinking the last drops from the cup of life. But at times a different feeling awoke in her, a feeling not less powerful, and by which Foma became still more attached to her — something similar to a mother’s yearning to guard her beloved son from errors, to teach him the wisdom of life. Oftentimes at night, sitting in his embraces on the deck, she spoke to him tenderly and sadly:
“Mind me as an older sister of yours. I have lived, I know men. I have seen a great deal in my life! Choose your companions with care, for there are people just as contagious as a disease. At first you cannot tell them even when you see them; he looks to be a man like everybody else, and, suddenly, without being aware of it yourself, you will start to imitate him in life. You look around — and you find that you have contracted his scabs. I myself have lost everything on account of a friend. I had a husband and two children. We lived well. My husband was a clerk at a volost.” She became silent and looked for a long time at the water, which was stirred by the vessel. Then she heaved a sigh and spoke to him again:
“May the Holy Virgin guard you from women of my kind — be careful. You are tender as yet, your heart has not become properly hardened. And women are fond of such as you — strong, handsome, rich. And most of all beware of the quiet women. They stick to a man like blood- suckers, and suck and suck. And at the same time they are always so kind, so gentle. They will keep on sucking your juice, but will preserve themselves. They’ll only break your heart in vain. You had better have dealings with those that are bold, like myself. These live not for the sake of gain.”
And she was indeed disinterested. In Perm Foma purchased for her different new things and what-not. She was delighted, but later, having examined them, she said sadly:
“Don’t squander your money too freely. See that your father does not get angry. I love you anyway, without all this.”
She had already told him that she would go with him only as far as Kazan, where she had a married sister. Foma could not believe that she would leave him, and when, on the eve of their arrival at Kazan, she repeated her words, he became gloomy and began to implore her not to forsake him.
“Do not feel sorry in advance,” she said. “We have a whole night before us. You will have time to feel sorry when I bid you good- bye, if you will feel sorry at all.”
But he still tried to persuade her not to forsake him, and, finally — which was to be expected — announced his desire to marry her.
“So, so!” and she began to laugh. “Shall I marry you while my husband is still alive? My darling, my queer fellow! You have a desire to marry, eh? But do they marry such women as I am? You will have many, many mistresses. Marry then, when you have overflowed, when you have had your fill of all sweets and feel like having rye bread. Then you may marry! I have noticed that a healthy man, for his own peace, must not marry early. One woman will not be enough to satisfy him, and he’ll go to other women. And for your own happiness, you should take a wife only when you know that she alone will suffice for you.”
But the more she spoke, the more persistent Foma became in his desire not to part with her.
“Just listen to what I’ll tell you,” said the woman, calmly. “A splinter of wood is burning in your hand, and you can see well even without its light — you had better dip it into water, so that there will be no smell of smoke and your hand will not be burned.”
“I do not understand your words.”
“Do understand. You have done me no wrong, and I do not wish to do you any. And, therefore, I am going away.”
It is hard to say what might have been the result of this dispute if an accident had not interfered with it. In Kazan Foma received a telegram from Mayakin, who wrote to his godson briefly: “Come immediately on the passenger steamer.” Foma’s heart contracted nervously, and a few hours later, gloomy and pale, his teeth set together, he stood on the deck of the steamer, which was leaving the harbour, and clinging to the rail with his hands, he stared motionlessly into the face of his love, who was floating far away from him together with the harbour and the shore. Pelageya waved her handkerchief and smiled, but he knew that she was crying, shedding many painful tears. From her tears the entire front of Foma’s shirt was wet, and from her tears, his heart, full of gloomy alarm, was sad and cold. The figure of the woman was growing smaller and smaller, as though melting away, and Foma, without lifting his eyes, stared at her and felt that aside from fear for his father and sorrow for the woman, some new, powerful and caustic sensation was awakening in his soul. He could not name it, but it seemed to him as something like a grudge against someone.
The crowd in the harbour blended into a close, dark and dead spot, faceless, formless, motionless. Foma went away from the rail and began to pace the deck gloomily.
The passengers, conversing aloud, seated themselves to drink tea; the porters bustled about on the gallery, setting the tables; somewhere below, on the stern, in the third class, a child was crying, a harmonica was wailing, the cook was chopping something with knives, the dishes were jarring — producing a rather harsh noise. Cutting the waves and making foam, shuddering under the strain and sighing heavily, the enormous steamer moved rapidly against the current. Foma looked at the wide strip of broken, struggling, and enraged waves at the stern of the steamer, and began to feel a wild desire to break or tear something; also to go, breast foremost, against the current and to mass its pressure against himself, against his breast and his shoulders.
“Fate!” said someone beside him in a hoarse and weary voice.
This word was familiar to him: his Aunt Anfisa had often used it as an answer to his questions, and he had invested in this brief word a conception of a power, similar to the power of God. He glanced at the speakers: one of them was a gray little old man, with a kind face; the other was younger, with big, weary eyes and with a little black wedge-shaped beard. His big gristly nose and his yellow, sunken cheeks reminded Foma of his godfather.
“Fate!” The old man repeated the exclamation of his interlocutor with confidence, and began to smile. “Fate in life is like a fisherman on the river: it throws a baited hook toward us into the tumult of our life and we dart at it with greedy mouths. Then fate pulls up the rod — and the man is struggling, flopping on the ground, and then you see his heart is broken. That’s how it is, my dear man.”
Foma closed his eyes, as if a ray of the sun had fallen full on them, and shaking his head, he said aloud:
“True! That is true!”
The companions looked at him fixedly: the old man, with a fine, wise smile; the large-eyed man, unfriendly, askance. This confused Foma; he blushed and walked away, thinking of Fate and wondering why it had first treated him kindly by giving him a woman, and then took back the gift from him, so simply and abusively? And he now understood that the vague, caustic feeling which he carried within him was a grudge against Fate for thus sporting with him. He had been too much spoiled by life, to regard more plainly the first drop of poison from the cup which was just started, and he passed all the time of the journey without sleep, pondering over the old man’s words and fondling his grudge. This grudge, however, did not awaken in him despondency and sorrow, but rather a feeling of anger and revenge.
Foma was met by his godfather, and to his hasty and agitated question, Mayakin, his greenish little eyes flashing excitedly, said when he seated himself in the carriage beside his godson:
“Your father has grown childish.”
“Worse — he has lost his mind completely.”
“Really? 0h Lord! Tell me.”
“Don’t you understand? A certain lady is always around him.”
“What about her?” exclaimed Foma, recalling his Pelageya, and for some reason or other his heart was filled with joy.
“She sticks to him and — bleeds him.”
“Is she a quiet one?”
“She? Quiet as a fire. Seventy-five thousand roubles she blew out of his pocket like a feather!”
“Oh! Who is she?”
“Sonka Medinskaya, the architect’s wife.”
“Great God! Is it possible that she — Did my father — Is it possible that he took her as his sweetheart?” asked Foma, with astonishment, in a low voice.
His godfather drew back from him, and comically opening his eyes wide, said convincedly:
“You are out of your mind, too! By God, you’re out of your mind! Come to your senses! A sweetheart at the age of sixty-three! And at such a price as this. What are you talking about? Well, I’ll tell this to Ignat.”
And Mayakin filled the air with a jarring, hasty laughter, at which his goat-like beard began to tremble in an uncomely manner. It took Foma a long time to obtain a categorical answer; the old man, contrary to his habit, was restless and irritated; his speech, usually fluent, was now interrupted; he was swearing and expectorating as he spoke, and it was with difficulty that Foma learned what the matter was. Sophya Pavlovna Medinskaya, the wealthy architect’s wife, who was well known in the city for her tireless efforts in the line of arranging various charitable projects, persuaded Ignat to endow seventy-five thousand roubles for the erection of a lodging-house in the city and of a public library with a reading-room. Ignat had given the money, and already the newspapers lauded him for his generosity. Foma had seen the woman more than once on the streets; she was short; he knew that she was considered as one of the most beautiful women in the city, and that bad rumours were afoot as to her behaviour.
“Is that all?” exclaimed Foma, when his godfather concluded the story. “And I thought God knows what!”
“You? You thought?” cried Mayakin, suddenly grown angry. “You thought nothing, you beardless youngster!”
“Why do you abuse me?” Foma said.
“Tell me, in your opinion, is seventy-five thousand roubles a big sum or not?”
“Yes, a big sum,” said Foma, after a moment’s thought.
“But my father has much money. Why do you make such a fuss about it?”
Yakov Tarasovich was taken aback. He looked into the youth’s face with contempt and asked him in a faint voice:
“And you speak like this?”
“I? Who then?”
“You lie! It is your young foolishness that speaks. Yes! And my old foolishness — brought to test a million times by life — says that you are a young dog as yet, and it is too early for you to bark in a basso.”
Foma hearing this, had often been quite provoked by his godfather’s too picturesque language.
Mayakin always spoke to him more roughly than his father, but now the youth felt very much offended by the old man and said to him reservedly, but firmly:
“You had better not abuse me without reflection, for I am no longer a small child.”
“Come, come!” exclaimed Mayakin, mockingly lifting his eyebrows and squinting.
This roused Foma’s indignation. He looked full into the old man’s eyes and articulated with emphasis:
“And I am telling you that I don’t want to hear any more of that undeserved abuse of yours. Enough!”
“Mm! So-o! Pardon me.”
Yakov Tarasovich closed his eyes, chewed a little with his lips, and, turning aside from his godson, kept silent for awhile. The carriage turned into a narrow street, and, noticing from afar the roof of his house, Foma involuntarily moved forward. At the same time Mayakin asked him with a roguish and gentle smile:
“Foma! Tell me — on whom you have sharpened your teeth? Eh?”
“Why, are they sharp?” asked Foma, pleased with the manner in which Mayakin now regarded him.
“Pretty good. That’s good, dear. That’s very good! Your father and I were afraid lest you should be a laggard. Well, have you learned to drink vodka?”
“I drank it.”
“Rather too soon! Did you drink much of it?”
“Does it taste good?”
“So. Never mind, all this is not so bad. Only you are too outspoken. You are ready to confess all your sins to each and every pope that comes along. You must consider it isn’t always necessary to do that. Sometimes by keeping silent you both please people and commit no sins. Yes. A man’s tongue is very seldom sober. Here we are. See, your father does not know that you have arrived. Is he home yet, I wonder?”
He was at home: his loud, somewhat hoarse laughter was heard from the open windows of the rooms. The noise of the carriage, which stopped at the house, caused Ignat to look out of the window, and at the sight of his son he cried out with joy:
“Ah! You’ve come.”
After a while he pressed Foma to his breast with one hand, and, pressing the palm of his other hand against his son’s forehead, thus bending his head back, he looked into his face with beaming eyes and spoke contentedly:
“You are sunburnt. You’ve grown strong. You’re a fine fellow! Madame! How’s my son? Isn’t he fine?”
“Not bad looking,” a gentle, silver voice was heard. Foma glanced from behind his father’s shoulder and noticed that a slender woman with magnificent fair hair was sitting in the front corner of the room, resting her elbows on the table; her dark eyes, her thin eyebrows and plump, red lips strikingly defined on her pale face. Behind her armchair stood a large philodendron-plant whose big, figured leaves were hanging down in the air over her little golden head.
“How do you do, Sophya Pavlovna,” said Mayakin, tenderly, approaching her with his hand outstretched. “What, are you still collecting contributions from poor people like us?”
Foma bowed to her mutely, not hearing her answer to Mayakin, nor what his father was saying to him. The lady stared at him steadfastly and smiled to him affably and serenely. Her childlike figure, clothed in some kind of dark fabric, was almost blended with the crimson stuff of the armchair, while her wavy, golden hair and her pale face shone against the dark background. Sitting there in the corner, beneath the green leaves, she looked at once like a flower, and like an ikon.
“See, Sophya Pavlovna, how he is staring at you. An eagle, eh?” said Ignat.
Her eyes became narrower, a faint blush leaped to her cheeks, and she burst into laughter. It sounded like the tinkling of a little silver bell. And she immediately arose, saying:
“I wouldn’t disturb you. Good-bye!”
When she went past Foma noiselessly, the scent of perfume came to him, and he noticed that her eyes were dark blue, and her eyebrows almost black.
“The sly rogue glided away,” said Mayakin in a low voice, angrily looking after her.
“Well, tell us how was the trip? Have you squandered much money?” roared Ignat, pushing his son into the same armchair where Medinskaya had been sitting awhile before. Foma looked at him askance and seated himself in another chair.
“Isn’t she a beautiful young woman, eh?” said Mayakin, smiling, feeling Foma with his cunning eyes. “If you keep on gaping at her she will eat away all your insides.”
Foma shuddered for some reason or other, and, saying nothing in reply, began to tell his father about the journey in a matter-of-fact tone. But Ignat interrupted him:
“Wait, I’ll ask for some cognac.”
“And you are keeping on drinking all the time, they say,” said Foma, disapprovingly.
Ignat glanced at his son with surprise and curiosity, and asked:
“Is this the way to speak to your father?”
Foma became confused and lowered his head.
“That’s it!” said Ignat, kind-heartedly, and ordered cognac to be brought to him.
Mayakin, winking his eyes, looked at the Gordyeeffs, sighed, bid them good-bye, and, after inviting them to have tea with him in his raspberry garden in the evening, went away.
“Where is Aunt Anfisa?” asked Foma, feeling that now, being alone with his father, he was somewhat ill at ease.
“She went to the cloister. Well, tell me, and I will have some cognac.”
Foma told his father all about his affairs in a few minutes and he concluded his story with a frank confession:
“I have spent much money on myself.”
“About six hundred roubles.”
“In six weeks! That’s a good deal. I see as a clerk you’re too expensive for me. Where have you squandered it all?”
“I gave away three hundred puds of grain.”
“To whom? How?”
Foma told him all about it.
“Hm! Well, that’s all right!” Ignat approved. “That’s to show what stuff we are made of. That’s clear enough — for the father’s honour — for the honour of the firm. And there is no loss either, because that gives a good reputation. And that, my dear, is the very best signboard for a business. Well, what else?”
“And then, I somehow spent more.”
“Speak frankly. It’s not the money that I am asking you about — I just want to know how you lived there,” insisted Ignat, regarding his son attentively and sternly.
“I was eating, drinking.” Foma did not give in, bending his head morosely and confusedly.
“Ah! So. Isn’t it rather too soon?”
“Ask Yefim whether I ever drank enough to be intoxicated.”
“Why should I ask Yefim? You must tell me everything yourself. So you are drinking? I don’t like it.”
“But I can get along without drinking.”
“Come, come! Do you want some cognac?”
Foma looked at his father and smiled broadly. And his father answered him with a kindly smile:
“Eh, you. Devil! Drink, but look out — know your business. What can you do? A drunkard will sleep himself sober, a fool — never. Let us understand this much at least, for our own consolation. And did you have a good time with girls, too? Be frank! Are you afraid that I will beat you, or what?”
“Yes. There was one on the steamer. I had her there from Perm to Kazan.”
“So,” Ignat sighed heavily and said, frowning: “You’ve become defiled rather too soon.”
“I am twenty years old. And you yourself told me that in your days fellows married at the age of fifteen,” replied Foma, confused.
“Then they married. Very well, then, let us drop the subject. Well, you’ve had dealings with a woman. What of it? A woman is like vaccination, you cannot pass your life without her. As for myself, I cannot play the hypocrite. I began to go around with women when I was younger than you are now. But you must be on your guard with them.”
Ignat became pensive and was silent for a long time, sitting motionless, his head bent low on his breast.
“Listen, Foma,” he started again, sternly and firmly. “I shall die before long. I am old. Something oppresses my breast. I breathe with difficulty. I’ll die. Then all my affairs will fall on your shoulders. At first your godfather will assist you — mind him! You started quite well; you attended to everything properly; you held the reins firmly in your hands. And though you did squander a big sum of money, it is evident that you did not lose your head. God grant the same in the future. You should know this: business is a living, strong beast; you must manage it ably; you must put a strong bridle on it or it will conquer you. Try to stand above your business. Place yourself so that it will all be under your feet; that each little tack shall be visible to you.”
Foma looked at his father’s broad chest, heard his heavy voice and thought to himself:
“Oh, but you won’t die so soon!”
This thought pleased him and awakened in him a kind, warm feeling for his father.
“Rely upon your godfather. He has enough common sense in his head to supply the whole town with it. All he lacks is courage, or he would have risen high. Yes, I tell you my days on earth are numbered. Indeed, it is high time to prepare myself for death; to cast everything aside; to fast, and see to it that people bear me good- will.”
“They will!” said Foma with confidence.
“If there were but a reason why they should.”
“And the lodging-house?”
Ignat looked at his son and began to laugh.
“Yakov has had time to tell it to you already! The old miser. He must have abused me?”
“A little.” Foma smiled.
“Of course! Don’t I know him?”
“He spoke of it as though it were his own money.”
Ignat leaned back in his chair and burst into still louder laughter.
“The old raven, eh? That’s quite true. Whether it be his own money or mine, it is all the same to him. There he is trembling now. He has an aim in view, the bald-headed fellow. Can you tell me what it is?”
Foma thought awhile and said:
“I don’t know.”
“Eh, you’re stupid. He wants to tell our fortunes.”
How is that?”
“Come now, guess!”
Foma looked at his father and — guessed it. His face became gloomy, he slightly raised himself from the armchair and said resolutely:
“No, I don’t want to. I shall not marry her!”
“Oh? Why so? She is a strong girl; she is not foolish; she’s his only child.”
“And Taras? The lost one? But I— I don’t want to at all!”
“The lost one is gone, consequently it is not worthwhile speaking of him. There is a will, dear, which says: ‘All my movable and real estates shall go to my daughter, Lubov.’ And as to the fact that she is your godfather’s daughter, we’ll set this right.”
“It is all the same,” said Foma, firmly. “I shall not marry her!”
“Well, it is rather early to speak of it now! But why do you dislike her so much?”
I do not like such as she is.”
“So-o! Just think of it! And which women are more to your liking, sir, may I ask?”
“Those that are more simple. She’s always busy with her Gymnasium students and with her books. She’s become learned. She’ll be laughing at my expense,” said Foma, emotionally.
“That is quite true. She is too bold. But that is a trifle. All sorts of rust can be removed if you try to do it. That’s a matter for the future. And your godfather is a clever old man. His was a peaceful, sedentary life; sitting in one place he gave a thought to everything. It is worthwhile listening to him, for he can see the wrong side of each and every worldly affair. He is our aristocrat- -descending from Mother Yekaterina — ha, ha! He understands a great deal about himself. And as his stem was cut off by Taras, he decided to put you in Taras’s place, do you see?”
“No, I’d rather select my place myself,” said Foma, stubbornly.
“You are foolish as yet.” Ignat smiled in reply to his son’s words.
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Aunt Anfisa.
“Foma! You’ve come,” she cried out, somewhere behind the doors. Foma rose and went to meet her, with a gentle smile.
Again his life streamed on slowly, calmly, monotonously. Again the Exchange and his father’s instructions. Retaining a kindly sarcastic and encouraging tone in his relation toward his son, Ignat began to treat him more strictly. He censured him for each and every trifle and constantly reminded him that he brought him up freely; that he was never in his way and that he never beat him.
“Other fathers beat fellows like yourself with logs of wood. And I never even touched you with a finger.”
“Evidently I didn’t deserve it,” said Foma one day, calmly.
Ignat became angry at his son for these words and for the tone.
“Don’t talk so much!” he roared. “You’ve picked up courage because of the softness of my hand. You find an answer to every word I say. Beware; though my hand was soft, it can nevertheless still squeeze you so that tears will gush forth from your heels. You’ve grown up too soon, like a toad-stool, just sprung up from the ground. You have a bad smell already.”
“Why are you so angry at me?” asked Foma, perplexed and offended, when his father chanced to be in a happy frame of mind.
“Because you cannot tolerate it when your father grumbles at you. You’re ready to quarrel immediately.”
“But it is offensive. I have not grown worse than I was before. Don’t I see how others live at my age?”
“Your head wouldn’t fall off from my scolding you. And I scold you because I see there is something in you that is not mine. What it is, I do not know, but I see it is there. And that something is harmful to you.”
These words of Ignat made the son very thoughtful. Foma also felt something strange in himself, something which distinguished him from the youth of his age, but he, too, could not understand what it was. And he looked at himself with suspicion.
Foma liked to be on the Exchange amid the bustle and talk of the sedate people who were making deals amounting to thousands of roubles; the respect with which the less well-to-do tradesmen greeted and spoke to him — to Foma, the son of the millionaire — flattered him greatly. He felt happy and proud whenever he successfully managed some part of his father’s business, assuming all responsibility on his own shoulders, and received a smile of approval from his father for it. There was in him a great deal of ambition, yearning to appear as a grown-up man of business, but — just as before his trip to Perm — he lived as in solitude; he still felt no longing for friends, although he now came in contact everyday with the merchants’ sons of his age. They had invited him more than once to join them in their sprees, but he rather rudely and disdainfully declined their invitations and even laughed at them.
“I am afraid. Your fathers may learn of your sprees, and as they’ll give you a drubbing, I might also come in for a share.”
What he did not like in them was that they were leading a dissipated and depraved life, without their fathers’ knowledge, and that the money they were spending was either stolen from their parents or borrowed on long-termed promissory notes, to be paid with exorbitant interest. They in turn did not like him for this very reserve and aversion, which contained the pride so offensive to them. He was timid about speaking to people older than himself, fearing lest he should appear in their eyes stupid and thick-headed.
He often recalled Pelageya, and at first he felt melancholy whenever her image flashed before his imagination. But time went on, and little by little rubbed off the bright colours of this woman; and before he was aware of it his thoughts were occupied by the slender, angel-like Medinskaya. She used to come up to Ignat almost every Sunday with various requests, all of which generally had but one aim — to hasten the building of the lodging-asylum. In her presence Foma felt awkward, huge, heavy; this pained him, and he blushed deeply under the endearing look of Sophya Pavlovna’s large eyes. He noticed that every time she looked at him, her eyes would grow darker, while her upper lip would tremble and raise itself slightly, thus displaying very small white teeth. This always frightened him. When his father noticed how steadfastly he was staring at Medinskaya he told him one day:
“Don’t be staring so much at that face. Look out, she is like a birch ember: from the outside it is just as modest, smooth and dark — altogether cold to all appearances — but take it into your hand and it will burn you.”
Medinskaya did not kindle in the youth any sensual passion, for there was nothing in her that resembled Pelageya, and altogether she was not at all like other women. He knew that shameful rumours about her were in the air, but he did not believe any of them. But his relations to her were changed when he noticed her one day in a carriage beside a stout man in a gray hat and with long hair falling over his shoulders. His face was like a bladder — red and bloated; he had neither moustache nor beard, and altogether he looked like a woman in disguise. Foma was told that this was her husband. Then dark and contradicting feelings sprang up within him: he felt like insulting the architect, and at the same time he envied and respected him. Medinskaya now seemed to him less beautiful and more accessible; he began to feel sorry for her, and yet he thought malignantly:
“She must surely feel disgusted when he kisses her.”
And after all this he sometimes perceived in himself some bottomless and oppressive emptiness, which could not be filled up by anything — neither by the impressions of the day just gone by nor by the recollection of the past; and the Exchange, and his affairs, and his thoughts of Medinskaya — all were swallowed up by this emptiness. It alarmed him: in the dark depth of this emptiness he suspected some hidden existence of a hostile power, as yet formless but already carefully and persistently striving to become incarnate.
In the meantime Ignat, changing but little outwardly, was growing ever more restless and querulous and was complaining more often of being ill.
“I lost my sleep. It used to be so sound that even though you had torn off my skin, I would not have felt it. While now I toss about from side to side, and I fall asleep only toward morning. And every now and then I awaken. My heart beats unevenly, now, though tired out; often thus: tuk-tuk-tuk. And sometimes it sinks of a sudden — and it seems as though it would soon tear itself away and fall somewhere into the deep; into the bosom. 0h Lord, have pity upon me through Thy great mercy.” And heaving a penitent sigh, he would lift heavenward his stern eyes, grown dim now, devoid of their bright, sparkling glitter.
“Death keeps an eye on me somewhere close by,” he said one day morosely, but humbly. And indeed, it soon felled his big, sturdy body to the ground.
This happened in August, early in the morning. Foma was sound asleep when suddenly he felt somebody shaking him by the shoulder, and a hoarse voice called at his ear:
He opened his eyes and saw that his father was seated in a chair near his bed, monotonously repeating in a dull voice:
“Get up, get up.”
The sun had just risen, and its light, falling on Ignat’s white linen shirt, had not yet lost its rosy tints.
“It’s early,” said Foma, stretching himself.
“Well, you’ll sleep enough later.”
Lazily muffling himself in the blanket, Foma asked:
“Why do you need me?”
“Get up, dear, will you, please?” exclaimed Ignat, adding, somewhat offended: “It must be necessary, since I am waking you.”
When Foma looked closely at his father’s face, he noticed that it was gray and weary.
“Are you ill? ”
“Shall we send for a doctor?”
“The devil take him!” Ignat waved his hand. “I am not a young man any longer. I know it as well without him.”
“Oh, I know it!” said the old man, mysteriously, casting a strange glance around the room. Foma was dressing himself, and his father, with lowered head, spoke slowly:
“I am afraid to breathe. Something tells me that if I should now heave a deep sigh, my heart would burst. Today is Sunday! After the morning mass is over, send for the priest.”
“What are you talking about, papa?” Foma smiled.
“Nothing. Wash yourself and go into the garden. I ordered the samovar to be brought there. We’ll drink our tea in the morning coolness. I feel like drinking now hot, strong tea. Be quicker.”
The old man rose with difficulty from the chair, and, bent and barefooted, left the room in a staggering gait. Foma looked at his father, and a shooting chill of fear made his heart shrink. He washed himself in haste, and hurried out into the garden.
There, under an old, spreading apple-tree sat Ignat in a big oaken armchair. The light of the sun fell in thin stripes through the branches of the trees upon the white figure of the old man clad in his night-garments. There was such a profound silence in the garden that even the rustle of a branch, accidentally touched by Foma’s clothes, seemed to him like a loud sound and he shuddered. On the table, before his father, stood the samovar, purring like a well-fed tom-cat and exhaling a stream of steam into the air. Amid the silence and the fresh verdure of the garden, which had been washed by abundant rains the day before, this bright spot of the boldly shining, loud brass seemed to Foma as something unnecessary, as something which suited neither the time nor the place — nor the feeling that sprang up within him at the sight of the sickly, bent old man, who was dressed in white, and who sat alone underneath the mute, motionless, dark-green foliage, wherein red apples were modestly peeping.
“Be seated,” said Ignat.
“We ought to send for a doctor.” Foma advised him irresolutely, seating himself opposite him.
“It isn’t necessary. It’s a little better now in the open air. And now I’ll sip some tea and perhaps that will do me more good,” said Ignat, pouring out tea into the glasses, and Foma noticed that the teapot was trembling in his father’s hand.
Silently moving up one glass for himself, Foma bent over it, blowing the foam off the surface of the tea, and with pain in his heart, hearing the loud, heavy breathing of his father. Suddenly something struck against the table with such force that the dishes began to rattle.
Foma shuddered, threw up his head and met the frightened, almost senseless look of his father’s eyes. Ignat stared at his son and whispered hoarsely:
“An apple fell down (the devil take it!). It sounded like the firing of a gun.”
“Won’t you have some cognac in your tea?” Foma suggested.
“It is good enough without it.”
They became silent. A flight of finches winged past over the garden, scattering a provokingly cheerful twittering in the air. And again the ripe beauty of the garden was bathed in solemn silence. The fright was still in Ignat’s eyes.
“0h Lord, Jesus Christ!” said he in a low voice, making the sign of the cross. “Yes. There it is — the last hour of my life.”
“Stop, papa!” whispered Foma.
“Why stop? We’ll have our tea, and then send for the priest, and for Mayakin.”
“I’d rather send for them now.”
“They’ll soon toll for the mass — the priest isn’t home — and then there’s no hurry, it may pass soon.”
And he noisily started to sip the tea out of the saucer.
“I should live another year or two. You are young, and I am very much afraid for you. Live honestly and firmly; do not covet what belongs to other people, take good care of your own.”
It was hard for him to speak, he stopped short and rubbed his chest with his hand.
“Do not rely upon others; expect but little from them. We all live in order to take, not to give. 0h Lord! Have mercy on the sinner!”
Somewhere in the distance the deep sound of the bell fell on the silence of the morning. Ignat and Foma crossed themselves three times.
After the first sound of the bell-tone came another, then a third, and soon the air was filled with sounds of the church-bells, coming from all sides — flowing, measured, calling aloud.
“There, they are tolling for the mass,” said Ignat, listening to the echo of the bell-metal. “Can you tell the bells by their sounds?”
“No,” answered Foma.
“Just listen. This one now — do you hear? the bass — this is from the Nikola Church. It was presented by Peter Mitrich Vyagin — and this, the hoarse one — this is at the church of Praskeva Pyatnitza.”
The singing waves of the bell-tones agitated the air, which was filled with them, and they died away in the clear blue of the sky. Foma stared thoughtfully at his father’s face and saw that the alarm was disappearing from his eyes, and that they were now brighter.
But suddenly the old man’s face turned very red, his eyes distended and rolled out of their orbits, his mouth opened with fright, and from it issued a strange, hissing sound:
Immediately after this Ignat’s head fell back on his shoulder, and his heavy body slowly slipped down from the chair to the ground as if the earth had dragged him imperiously unto itself. Foma was motionless and silent for awhile, then he rushed up to Ignat, lifted his head from the ground and looked into his face. The face was dark, motionless, and the wide-open eyes expressed nothing — neither pain, nor fear, nor joy. Foma looked around him. As before, nobody was in the garden, and the resounding chatter of the bells was still roaring in the air. Foma’s hands began to tremble, he let go his father’s head, and it struck heavily against the ground. Dark, thick blood began to gush in a narrow stream from his open mouth across his blue cheek.
Foma struck his breast with both hands, and kneeling before the dead body, he wildly cried aloud. He was trembling with fright, and with eyes like those of a madman he was searching for someone in the verdure of the garden.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50