HIS father’s death stupefied Foma and filled him with a strange sensation; quiet was poured into his soul — a painful, immovable quiet, which absorbed all the sounds of life without accounting for it. All sorts of acquaintances were bustling about him; they appeared, disappeared, said something to him — his replies to them were untimely, and their words called forth no images in him, drowning, without leaving any trace, in the bottomless depths of the death-like silence which filled his soul. He neither cried, nor grieved, nor thought of anything; pale and gloomy, with knitted brow, he was attentively listening to this quiet, which had forced out all his feelings, benumbed his heart and tightly clutched his brains. He was conscious but of the purely physical sensation of heaviness in all his frame and particularly in his breast, and then it also seemed to him that it was always twilight, and even though the sun was still high in the sky — everything on earth looked dark and melancholy.
The funeral was arranged by Mayakin. Hastily and briskly he was bustling about in the rooms, making much clatter with the heels of his boots; he cried at the household help imperiously, clapped his godson on the shoulder, consoling him:
“And why are you petrified? Roar and you will feel relieved. Your father was old — old in body. Death is prepared for all of us, you cannot escape it — consequently you must not be prematurely torpid. You cannot bring him to life again with your sorrow, and your grief is unnecessary to him, for it is said: ‘When the body is robbed of the soul by the terrible angels, the soul forgets all relatives and acquaintances,’ which means that you are of no consequence to him now, whether you cry or laugh. But the living must care for the living. You had better cry, for this is human. It brings much relief to the heart.”
But neither did these words provoke anything in Foma’s head or in his heart. He came to himself, however, on the day of the funeral, thanks to the persistence of his godfather, who was assiduously and oddly trying to rouse his sad soul.
The day of the funeral was cloudy and dreary. Amid a heavy cloud of dust an enormous crowd of people, winding like a black ribbon, followed the coffin of Ignat Gordyeeff. Here and there flashed the gold of the priest’s robes, and the dull noise of the slow movement of the crowd blended in harmony with the solemn music of the choir, composed of the bishop’s choristers. Foma was pushed from behind and from the sides; he walked, seeing nothing but the gray head of his father, and the mournful singing resounded in his heart like a melancholy echo. And Mayakin, walking beside him, kept on intrusively whispering in his ears:
“Look, what a crowd — thousands! The governor himself came out to accompany your father to the church, the mayor, and almost the entire city council. And behind you — just turn around! There goes Sophya Pavlovna. The town pays its respects to Ignat.”
At first Foma did not listen to his godfather’s whisper, but when he mentioned Medinskaya, he involuntarily looked back and noticed the governor. A little drop of something pleasant fell into his heart at the sight of this important personage, with a bright ribbon across his shoulder, with orders on his breast, pacing after the coffin, an expression of sorrow on his stern countenance.
Blessed is the road where this soul goeth today,” Yakov Tarasovich hummed softly, moving his nose, and he again whispered in his godson’s ear:
“Seventy-five thousand roubles is such a sum that you can demand so many escorts for it. Have you heard that Sonka is making arrangements for the laying of the corner-stone on the fifteenth? Just forty days after the death of your father.”
Foma again turned back, and his eyes met the eyes of Medinskaya. He heaved a deep sigh at her caressing glance, and felt relieved at once, as if a warm ray of light penetrated his soul and something melted there. And then and there he considered that it was unbecoming him to turn his head from side to side.
At church Foma’s head began to ache, and it seemed to him that everything around and underneath him was shaking. In the stifling air, filled with dust, with the breathing of the people and the smoke of the incense, the flames of the candles were timidly trembling. The meek image of Christ looked down at him from the big ikon, and the flames of the candles, reflected in the tarnished gold of the crown over the Saviour’s brow, reminded him of drops of blood.
Foma’s awakened soul was greedily feeding itself on the solemn, gloomy poetry of the liturgy, and when the touching citation was heard, “Come, let us give him the last kiss,” a loud, wailing sob escaped from Foma’s chest, and the crowd in church was stirred to agitation by this outburst of grief.
Having uttered the sob, Foma staggered. His godfather immediately caught him by his arms and began to push him forward to the coffin, singing quite loudly and with some anger:
Kiss him who was but lately with us. Kiss, Foma, kiss him — he is given over to the grave, covered with a stone. He is settling down in darkness, and is buried with the dead.”
Foma touched his father’s forehead with his lips and sprang back from the coffin with horror.
“Hold your peace! You nearly knocked me down,” Mayakin remarked to him, in a low voice, and these simple, calm words supported Foma better than his godfather’s hands.
“Ye that behold me mute and lifeless before you, weep for me, brethren and friends,” begged Ignat through the mouth of the Church. But his son was not crying any longer; his horror was called forth by the black, swollen face of his father, and this horror somewhat sobered his soul, which had been intoxicated by the mournful music of the Church’s lament for its sinful son. He was surrounded by acquaintances, who were kindly consoling him; he listened to them and understood that they all felt sorry for him and that he became dear to them. And his godfather whispered in his ear:
“See, how they all fawn upon you. The tom-cats have smelt the fat.”
These words were unpleasant to Foma, but they were useful to him, as they caused him to answer at all events.
At the cemetery, when they sang for Ignat’s eternal memory, he cried again bitterly and loud. His godfather immediately seized him by the arms and led him away from the grave, speaking to him earnestly:
“What a faint-hearted fellow you are! Do I not feel sorry for him? I have known his real value, while you were but his son. And yet, I do not cry. For more than thirty years we lived together in perfect harmony — how much had been spoken, how much thought — how much sorrow drunk. You are young; it is not for you to grieve! Your life is before you, and you will be rich in all sorts of friendship; while I am old, and now that I buried my only friend, I am like a pauper. I can no longer make a bosom friend!”
The old man’s voice began to jar and squeak queerly. His face was distorted, his lips were stretched into a big grimace and were quivering, and from his small eyes frequent tears were running over the now contracted wrinkles of his face. He looked so pitiful and so unlike himself, that Foma stopped short, pressed him close to his body with the tenderness of a strong man and cried with alarm:
“Don’t cry, father — darling! Don’t cry.”
“There you have it!” said Mayakin, faintly, and, heaving a deep sigh, he suddenly turned again into a firm and clever old man.
“You must not cry,” said he, mysteriously, seating himself in the carriage beside his godson. “You are now the commander-in-chief in the war and you must command your soldiers bravely. Your soldiers are the roubles, and you have a great army of these. Make war incessantly!”
Surprised at the quickness of his transformation, Foma listened to his words and for some reason or other they reminded him of those clods of earth, which the people threw into Ignat’s grave upon his coffin.
“On whom am I to make war?” said Foma with a sigh.
“I’ll teach you that! Did your father tell you that I was a clever old man and that you should mind me?”
“Then do mind me! If my mind should be added to your youthful strength, a good victory might be won. Your father was a great man, but he did not look far before him and he could not take my advice. He gained success in life not with his mind, but more with his head. Oh, what will become of you? You had better move into my house, for you will feel lonesome in yours.”
“Aunt is there.”
“Aunt? She is sick. She will not live long.”
“Do not speak of it,” begged Foma in a low voice.
“And I will speak of it. You need not fear death — you are not an old woman on the oven. Live fearlessly and do what you were appointed to do. Man is appointed for the organisation of life on earth. Man is capital — like a rouble, he is made up of trashy copper groshes and copecks. From the dust of the earth, as it is said; and even as he has intercourse with the world, he absorbs grease and oil, sweat and tears — a soul and a mind form themselves in him. And from this he starts to grow upward and downward. Now, you see his price is a grosh, now a fifteen copeck silver piece, now a hundred roubles, and sometimes he is above any price. He is put into circulation and he must bring interests to life. Life knows the value of each of us and will not check our course before time. Nobody, dear, works to his own detriment, if he is wise. And life has saved up much wisdom. Are you listening?”
“And what do you understand?”
“You are probably lying?” Mayakin doubted.
“But, why must we die?” asked Foma in a low voice.
Mayakin looked into his face with regret, smacked his lips and said:
“A wise man would never ask such a question. A wise man knows for himself that if it is a river, it must be flowing somewhere, and if it were standing in one place, it would be a swamp.”
“You’re simply mocking me at random,” said Foma, sternly. “The sea is not flowing anywhere.”
“The sea receives all rivers into itself, and then, powerful storms rage in it at times. Then the sea of life also submits on agitation, stirred up by men, and death renovates the waters of the sea of life, that they might not become spoiled. No matter how many people are dying, they are nevertheless forever growing in number.”
“What of it? But my father is dead.”
“You will die as well.”
“Then what have I to do with the fact that people are growing in number?” Foma smiled sadly.
“Eh, he, he!” sighed Mayakin. “That, indeed, concerns none of us. There, your trousers probably reason in the same way: what have we to do with the fact that there are all sorts of stuff in the world? But you do not mind them — you wear them out and throw them away.”
Foma glanced at his godfather reproachfully, and noticing that the old man was smiling, he was astonished and he asked respectfully:
“Can it be true, father, that you do not fear death?”
“Most of all I fear foolishness, my child,” replied Mayakin with humble bitterness. “My opinion is this: if a fool give you honey, spit upon it; if a wise man give you poison, drink it! And I will tell you that the perch has a weak soul since his fins do not stand on end.”
The old man’s mocking words offended and angered Foma. He turned aside and said:
“You can never speak without these subterfuges.”
“I cannot!” exclaimed Mayakin, and his eyes began to sparkle with alarm. “Each man uses the very same tongue he has. Do I seem to be stern? Do I?”
Foma was silent.
“Eh, you. Know this — he loves who teaches. Remember this well. And as to death, do not think of it. It is foolish, dear, for a live man to think of death. ‘Ecclesiastes’ reflected on death better than anybody else reflected on it, and said that a living dog is better than a dead lion.”
They came home. The street near the house was crowded with carriages, and from the open windows came loud sounds of talk. As soon as Foma appeared in the hall, he was seized by the arms and led away to the table and there was urged to drink and eat something. A marketplace noise smote the air; the hall was crowded and suffocating. Silently, Foma drank a glass of vodka, then another, and a third. Around him they were munching and smacking their lips; the vodka poured out from the bottles was gurgling, the wine-glasses were tinkling. They were speaking of dried sturgeon and of the bass of the soloist of the bishop’s choir, and then again of the dried sturgeon, and then they said that the mayor also wished to make a speech, but did not venture to do so after the bishop had spoken, fearing lest he should not speak so well as the bishop. Someone was telling with feeling:
“The deceased one used to do thus: he would cut off a slice of salmon, pepper it thickly, cover it with another slice of salmon, and then send it down immediately after a drink.”
“Let us follow his example,” roared a thick basso. Offended to the quick, Foma looked with a frown at the fat lips and at the jaws chewing the tasty food, and he felt like crying out and driving away all these people, whose sedateness had but lately inspired him with respect for them.
“You had better be more kind, more sociable,” said Mayakin in a low voice, coming up to him.
“Why are they gobbling here? Is this a tavern?” cried Foma, angrily.
“Hush,” Mayakin remarked with fright and hastily turned to look around with a kind smile on his face.
But it was too late; his smile was of no avail. Foma’s words had been overheard, the noise and the talk was subsiding, some of the guests began to bustle about hurriedly, others, offended, frowned, put down their forks and knives and walked away from the table, all looking at Foma askance.
Silent and angry, he met these glances without lowering his eyes.
“I ask you to come up to the table! “cried Mayakin, gleaming amid the crowd of people like an ember amid ashes. “Be seated, pray! They’re soon serving pancakes.”
Foma shrugged his shoulders and walked off toward the door, saying aloud:
“I shall not eat.”
He heard a hostile rumbling behind him and his godfather’s wheedling voice saying to somebody:
“It’s for grief. Ignat was at once father and mother to him.”
Foma came out in the garden and sat down on the same place where his father had died. The feeling of loneliness and grief oppressed his heart. He unbuttoned the collar of his shirt to make his breathing easier, rested his elbows on the table, and with his head tightly pressed between his hands, he sat motionless. It was drizzling and the leaves of the apple-tree were rustling mournfully under the drops of the rain. He sat there for a long time alone, motionless, watching how the small drops were falling from the apple-tree. His head was heavy from the vodka, and in his heart there was a growing grudge against men. Some indefinite, impersonal feelings and thoughts were springing up and vanishing within him; before him flashed the bald skull of his godfather with a little crown of silver hair and with a dark face, which resembled the faces of the ancient ikons. This face with the toothless mouth and the malicious smile, rousing in Foma hatred and fear, augmented in him the consciousness of solitude. Then he recalled the kind eyes of Medinskaya and her small, graceful figure; and beside her arose the tall, robust, and rosy- cheeked Lubov Mayakina with smiling eyes and with a big light golden- coloured braid. “Do not rely upon men, expect but little at their hands”— his father’s words began to ring in his memory. He sighed sadly and cast a glance around him. The tree leaves were fluttering from the rain, and the air was full of mournful sounds. The gray sky seemed as though weeping, and on the trees cold tears were trembling. And Foma’s soul was dry, dark; it was filled with a painful feeling of orphanhood. But this feeling gave birth to the question:
“How shall I live now that I am alone?”
The rain drenched his clothes, and when he felt that he was shivering with cold he arose and went into the house.
Life was tugging him from all sides, giving him no chance to be concentrated in thinking of and grieving for his father, and on the fortieth day after Ignat’s death Foma, attired in holiday clothes, with a pleasant feeling in his heart, went to the ceremony of the corner-stone laying of the lodging-asylum. Medinskaya notified him in a letter the day before, that he had been elected as a member of the building committee and also as honorary member of the society of which she was president. This pleased him and he was greatly agitated by the part he was to play today at the laying of the corner-stone. On his way he thought of how everything would be and how he should behave in order not to be confused before the people.
“Eh, eh! Hold on!”
He turned around. Mayakin came hastening to him from the sidewalk. He was in a frock-coat that reached his heels, in a high cap, and he carried a huge umbrella in his hand.
“Come on, take me up there,” said the old man, cleverly jumping into the carriage like a monkey. “To tell the truth, I was waiting for you. I was looking around, thinking it was time for you to go.”
“Are you going there?” asked Foma.
“Of course! I must see how they will bury my friend’s money in the ground.”
Foma looked at him askance and was silent. “Why do you frown upon me? Don’t fear, you will also start out as a benefactor among men.”
“What do you mean?” asked Foma, reservedly. “I’ve read in the newspaper this morning that you were elected as a member of the building committee and also as an honorary member of Sophya’s society.”
“This membership will eat into your pocket!” sighed Mayakin.
“That wouldn’t ruin me.”
“I don’t know it,” observed the old man, maliciously.
“I speak of this more because there is altogether very little wisdom in this charity business, and I may even say that it isn’t a business at all, but simply harmful nonsense.”
“Is it harmful to aid people?” asked Foma, hotly.
“Eh, you cabbage head!” said Mayakin with a smile. “You had better come up to my house, I’ll open your eyes in regard to this. I must teach you! Will you come?”
“Very well, I will come!” replied Foma.
“So. And in the meantime, hold yourself proud at the laying of the corner-stone. Stand in view of everybody. If I don’t tell this to you, you might hide yourself behind somebody’s back.”
“Why should I hide myself?” said Foma, displeased.
“That’s just what I say: there is no reason why. For the money was donated by your father and you are entitled to the honour as his heir. Honour is just the same as money. With honour a business man will get credit everywhere, and everywhere there is a way open to him. Then come forward, so that everybody may see you and that if you do five copecks’ worth of work, you should get a rouble in return for it. And if you will hide yourself — nothing but foolishness will be the result.”
They arrived at their destination, where all the important people had gathered already, and an enormous crowd of people surrounded the piles of wood, bricks and earth. The bishop, the governor, the representatives of the city’s aristocracy and the administration formed, together with the splendidly dressed ladies, a big bright group and looked at the efforts of the two stonemasons, who were preparing the bricks and the lime. Mayakin and his godson wended their way toward this group. He whispered to Foma:
“Lose no courage, these people have robbed their bellies to cover themselves with silk.”
And he greeted the governor before the bishop, in a respectfully cheerful voice.
“How do you do, your Excellency? Give me your blessing, your Holiness!”
“Ah, Yakov Tarasovich!” exclaimed the governor with a friendly smile, shaking and squeezing Mayakin’s hand, while the old man was at the same time kissing the bishop’s hand. “How are you, deathless old man?”
“I thank you humbly, your Excellency! My respects to Sophya Pavlovna!” Mayakin spoke fast, whirling like a peg-top amid the crowd of people. In a minute he managed to shake hands with the presiding justice of the court, with the prosecutor, with the mayor — in a word, with all those people whom he considered it necessary to greet first; such as these, however, were few. He jested, smiled and at once attracted everybody’s attention to his little figure, and Foma with downcast head stood behind him, looking askance at these people wrapped in costly stuffs, embroidered with gold; he envied the old man’s adroitness and lost his courage, and feeling that he was losing his courage — he grew still more timid. But now Mayakin seized him by the hand and drew him up to himself.
“There, your Excellency, this is my godson, Foma, the late Ignat’s only son.”
“Ah!” said the governor in his basso, “I’m very pleased. I sympathise with you in your misfortune, young man!” he said, shaking Foma’s hand, and became silent; then he added resolutely and confidently: “To lose a father, that is a very painful misfortune.”
And, having waited about two seconds for Foma’s answer, he turned away from him, addressing Mayakin approvingly:
“I am delighted with the speech you made yesterday in the city hall! Beautiful, clever, Yakov Tarasovich. Proposing to use the money for this public club, they do not understand the real needs of the population.”
“And then, your Excellency, a small capital means that the city will have to add its own money.”
“Perfectly true! Perfectly true!”
“Temperance, I say, is good! Would to God that all were sober! I don’t drink, either, but what is the use of these performances, libraries and all that, since the people cannot even read?”
The governor replied approvingly.
“Here, I say, you better use this money for a technical institution. If it should be established on a small plan, this money alone will suffice, and in case it shouldn’t, we can ask for more in St. Petersburg — they’ll give it to us. Then the city wouldn’t have to add of its own money, and the whole affair would be more sensible.”
“Precisely! I fully agree with you! But how the liberals began to cry at you! Eh? Ha, ha!”
“That has always been their business, to cry.”
The deep cough of the archdeacon of the cathedral announced the beginning of the divine service.
Sophya Pavlovna came up to Foma, greeted him and said in a sad, low voice:
“I looked at your face on the day of the funeral, and my heart saddened. My God, I thought, how he must suffer!”
And Foma listened to her and felt as though he was drinking honey.
“These cries of yours, they shook my soul, my poor child! I may speak to you this way, for I am an old woman already.”
“You!” exclaimed Foma, softly.
“Isn’t that so?” she asked, naively looking into his face.
Foma was silent, his head bent on his breast.
“Don’t you believe that I am an old woman?”
“I believe you; that is, I believe everything you may say; only this is not true!” said Foma, feelingly, in a low voice.
“What is not true? What do you believe me?”
“No! not this, but that. I— excuse me! I cannot speak!” said Foma, sadly, all aflush with confusion. “I am not cultured.”
“You need not trouble yourself on this account,” said Medinskaya, patronisingly. “You are so young, and education is accessible to everybody. But there are people to whom education is not only unnecessary, but who can also be harmed by it. Those that are pure of heart, sanguine, sincere, like children, and you are of those people. You are, are you not?”
What could Foma say in answer to this question? He said sincerely:
“I thank you humbly!”
And noticing that his words called forth a gay gleam in Medinskaya’s eyes, Foma appeared ridiculous and stupid in his own eyes; he immediately became angry at himself and said in a muffled voice:
“Yes, I am such. I always speak my mind. I cannot deceive. If I see something to laugh at, I laugh openly. I am stupid!”
“What makes you speak that way?” said the woman, reproachfully, and adjusting her dress, she accidentally stroked Foma’s hand, in which he held his hat. This made him look at his wrist and smile joyously and confusedly.
“You will surely be present at the dinner, won’t you?” asked Medinskaya.
“And tomorrow at the meeting in my house?”
“And perhaps sometime you will drop in, simply on a visit, wouldn’t you?”
“I— I thank you! I’ll come!”
“I must thank you for the promise.”
They became silent. In the air soared the reverently soft voice of the bishop, who recited the prayer expressively, outstretching his hand over the place where the corner-stone of the house was laid:
“May neither the wind, nor water, nor anything else bring harm unto it; may it be completed in thy benevolence, and free all those that are to live in it from all kinds of calumny.”
“How rich and beautiful our prayers are, are they not?” asked Medinskaya.
“Yes,” said Foma, shortly, without understanding her words and feeling that he was blushing again.
“They will always be opponents of our commercial interests,” Mayakin whispered loudly and convincingly, standing beside the city mayor, not far from Foma. “What is it to them? All they want is somehow to deserve the approval of the newspaper. But they cannot reach the main point. They live for mere display, not for the organisation of life; these are their only measures: the newspapers and Sweden! [Mayakin speaks of Sweden, meaning Switzerland. — Translator’s note.] The doctor scoffed at me all day yesterday with this Sweden. The public education, says he, in Sweden, and everything else there is first-class! But what is Sweden, anyway? It may be that Sweden is but a fib, is but used as an example, and that there is no education whatever or any of the other things there. And then, we don’t live for the sake of Sweden, and Sweden cannot put us to test. We have to make our lip according to our own last. Isn’t it so?
And the archdeacon droned, his head thrown back:
“Eternal me-emo-ory to the founder of this ho-ouse!”
Foma shuddered, but Mayakin was already by his side, and pulling him by the sleeve, asked:
“Are you going to the dinner?”
And Medinskaya’s velvet-like, warm little hand glided once more over Foma’s hand.
The dinner was to Foma a real torture. For the first time in his life among these uniformed people, he saw that they were eating and speaking — doing everything better than he, and he felt that between him and Medinskaya, who was seated just opposite him, was a high mountain, not a table. Beside him sat the secretary of the society of which Foma had been made an honorary member; he was a young court officer, bearing the odd name of Ookhtishchev. As if to make his name appear more absurd than it really was, he spoke in a loud, ringing tenor, and altogether — plump, short, round- faced and a lively talker — he looked like a brand new bell.
“The very best thing in our society is the patroness; the most reasonable is what we are doing — courting the patroness; the most difficult is to tell the patroness such a compliment as would satisfy her; and the most sensible thing is to admire the patroness silently and hopelessly. So that in reality, you are a member not of ‘the Society of Solicitude,’ and so on, but of the Society of Tantaluses, which is composed of persons bent on pleasing Sophya Medinskaya.”
Foma listened to his chatter, now and then looking at the patroness, who was absorbed in a conversation with the chief of the police; Foma roared in reply to his interlocutor, pretending to be busy eating, and he wished that all this would end the sooner. He felt that he was wretched, stupid, ridiculous and he was certain that everybody was watching and censuring him. This tied him with invisible shackles, thus checking his words and his thoughts. At last he went so far, that the line of various physiognomies, stretched out by the table opposite him, seemed to him a long and wavy white strip besprinkled with laughing eyes, and all these eyes were pricking him unpleasantly and painfully.
Mayakin sat near the city mayor, waved his fork in the air quickly, and kept on talking all the time, now contracting, now expanding the wrinkles of his face. The mayor, a gray-headed, red-faced, short- necked man, stared at him like a bull, with obstinate attention and at times he rapped on the edge of the table with his big finger affirmatively. The animated talk and laughter drowned his godfather’s bold speech, and Foma was unable to hear a single word of it, much more so that the tenor of the secretary was unceasingly ringing in his ears:
“Look, there, the archdeacon arose; he is filling his lungs with air; he will soon proclaim an eternal memory for Ignat Matveyich.”
“May I not go away?” asked Foma in a low voice.
“Why not? Everybody will understand this.”
The deacon’s resounding voice drowned and seemed to have crushed the noise in the hail; the eminent merchants fixed their eyes on the big, wide-open mouth, from which a deep sound was streaming forth, and availing himself of this moment, Foma arose from his seat and left the hall.
After awhile he breathed freely and, sitting in his cab, thought sadly that there was no place for him amid these people. Inwardly, he called them polished. He did not like their brilliancy, their faces, their smiles or their words, but the freedom and the cleverness of their movements, their ability to speak much and on any subject, their pretty costumes — all this aroused in him a mixture of envy and respect for them. He felt sad and oppressed at the consciousness of being unable to talk so much and so fluently as all these people, and here he recalled that Luba Mayakina had more than once scoffed at him on this account.
Foma did not like Mayakin’s daughter, and since he had learned from his father of Mayakin’s intention to marry him to Luba, the young Gordyeeff began to shun her. But after his father’s death he was almost every day at the Mayakins, and somehow Luba said to him one day:
“I am looking at you, and, do you know? — you do not resemble a merchant at all.”
“Nor do you look like a merchant’s daughter,” said Foma, and looked at her suspiciously. He did not understand the meaning of her words; did she mean to offend him, or did she say these words without any kind thoughts?
“Thank God for this!” said she and smiled to him a kind, friendly smile.
“What makes you so glad?” he asked.
“The fact that we don’t resemble our fathers.”
Foma glanced at her in astonishment and kept silent.
“Tell me frankly,” said she, lowering her voice, “you do not love my father, do you? You don’t like him?”
“Not very much,” said Foma, slowly.
“And I dislike him very much.”
“For everything. When you grow wiser, you will know it yourself. Your father was a better man.”
“Of course!” said Foma, proudly.
After this conversation an attachment sprang up between them almost immediately, and growing stronger from day to day, it soon developed into friendship, though a somewhat odd friendship it was.
Though Luba was not older than her god-brother, she nevertheless treated him as an older person would treat a little boy. She spoke to him condescendingly, often jesting at his expense; her talk was always full of words which were unfamiliar to Foma; and she pronounced these words with particular emphasis and with evident satisfaction. She was especially fond of speaking about her brother Taras, whom she had never seen, but of whom she was telling such stories as would make him look like Aunt Anfisa’s brave and noble robbers. Often, when complaining of her father, she said to Foma:
“You will also be just such a skinflint.”
All this was unpleasant to the youth and stung his vanity. But at times she was straightforward, simple-minded, and particularly kind and friendly to him; then he would unburden his heart before her, and for a long time they would share each other’s thoughts and feelings.
Both spoke a great deal and spoke sincerely, but neither one understood the other; it seemed to Foma that whatever Luba had to say was foreign to him and unnecessary to her, and at the same time he clearly saw that his awkward words did not at all interest her, and that she did not care to understand them. No matter how long these conversations lasted, they gave both of them the sensation of discomfort and dissatisfaction. As if an invisible wall of perplexity had suddenly arisen and stood between them. They did not venture to touch this wall, or to tell each other that they felt it was there — they resumed their conversations, dimly conscious that there was something in each of them that might bind and unite them.
When Foma arrived at his godfather’s house, he found Luba alone. She came out to meet him, and it was evident that she was either ill or out of humour; her eyes were flashing feverishly and were surrounded with black circles. Feeling cold, she muffled herself in a warm shawl and said with a smile:
“It is good that you’ve come! For I was sitting here alone; it is lonesome — I don’t feel like going anywhere. Will you drink tea?”
“I will. What is the matter with you, are you ill?”
“Go to the dining-room, and I’ll tell them to bring the samovar,” she said, not answering his question.
He went into one of the small rooms of the house, whose two windows overlooked the garden. In the middle of the room stood an oval table, surrounded with old-fashioned, leather-covered chairs; on one partition hung a clock in a long case with a glass door, in the corner was a cupboard for dishes, and opposite the windows, by the walls, was an oaken sideboard as big as a fair-sized room.
“Are you coming from the banquet?” asked Luba, entering.
Foma nodded his head mutely.
“Well, how was it? Grand?”
“It was terrible! “ Foma smiled. “I sat there as if on hot coals. They all looked there like peacocks, while I looked like a barn-owl.”
Luba was taking out dishes from the cupboard and said nothing to Foma.
“Really, why are you so sad?” asked Foma again, glancing at her gloomy face.
She turned to him and said with enthusiasm and anxiety:
“Ah, Foma! What a book I’ve read! If you could only understand it!”
“It must be a good book, since it worked you up in this way,” said Foma, smiling.
“I did not sleep. I read all night long. Just think of it: you read — and it seems to you that the gates of another kingdom are thrown open before you. And the people there are different, and their language is different, everything different! Life itself is different there.”
“I don’t like this,” said Foma, dissatisfied. “That’s all fiction, deceit; so is the theatre. The merchants are ridiculed there. Are they really so stupid? Of course! Take your father, for example.”
“The theatre and the school are one and the same, Foma,” said Luba, instructively. “The merchants used to be like this. And what deceit can there be in books?”
“Just as in fairy — tales, nothing is real.”
“You are wrong! You have read no books; how can you judge? Books are precisely real. They teach you how to live.”
“Come, come!” Foma waved his hand. “Drop it; no good will come out of your books! There, take your father, for example, does he read books? And yet he is clever! I looked at him today and envied him. His relations with everybody are so free, so clever, he has a word for each and every one. You can see at once that whatever he should desire he is sure to attain.”
“What is he striving for?” exclaimed Luba. “Nothing but money. But there are people that want happiness for all on earth, and to gain this end they work without sparing themselves; they suffer and perish! How can my father be compared with these?”
“You need not compare them. They evidently like one thing, while your father likes another.”
“They do not like anything!”
“They want to change everything.”
“So they do strive for something?” said Foma, thoughtfully. “They do wish for something?”
“They wish for happiness for all!” cried Luba, hotly. “I can’t understand this,” said Foma, nodding his head. “Who cares there for my happiness? And then again, what happiness can they give me, since I, myself, do not know as yet what I want? No, you should have rather looked at those that were at the banquet.”
“Those are not men!” announced Luba, categorically.
“I do not know what they are in your eyes, but you can see at once that they know their place. A clever, easy-going lot.”
“Ah, Foma!” exclaimed Luba, vexed. “You understand nothing! Nothing agitates you! You are an idler.”
“Now, that’s going too far! I’ve simply not had time enough to see where I am.”
“You are simply an empty man,” said Luba, resolutely and firmly.
“You were not within my soul,” replied Foma, calmly. “You cannot know my thoughts.”
“What is there that you should think of?” said Luba, shrugging her shoulders.
“So? First of all, I am alone. Secondly, I must live. Don’t I understand that it is altogether impossible for me to live as I am now? I do not care to be made the laughing-stock of others. I cannot even speak to people. No, nor can I think.” Foma concluded his words and smiled confusedly.
“It is necessary to read, to study,” Luba advised him convincingly, pacing up and down the room.
“Something is stirring within my soul,” Foma went on, not looking at her, as though speaking to himself; “but I cannot tell what it is. I see, for instance, that whatever my godfather says is clever and reasonable. But that does not attract me. The other people are by far more interesting to me.”
“You mean the aristocrats?” asked Luba.
“That’s just the place for you!” said Luba, with a smile of contempt. “Eh, you! Are they men? Do they have souls?”
“How do you know them? You are not acquainted with them.”
“And the books? Have I not read books about them?”
The maid brought in the samovar, and the conversation was interrupted. Luba made tea in silence while Foma looked at her and thought of Medinskaya. He was wishing to have a talk with her.
“Yes,” said the girl, thoughtfully, “I am growing more and more convinced everyday that it is hard to live. What shall I do? Marry? Whom? Shall I marry a merchant who will do nothing but rob people all his life, nothing but drink and play cards? A savage? I do not want it! I want to be an individual. I am such, for I know how wrong the construction of life is. Shall I study? My father will not allow this. 0h Lord! Shall I run away? I have not enough courage. What am I to do?”
She clasped her hands and bowed her head over the table.
“If you knew but how repulsive everything is. There is not a living soul around here. Since my mother died, my father drove everyone away. Some went off to study. Lipa, too, left us. She writes me:
‘Read.’ Ah, I am reading! I am reading!” she exclaimed, with despair in her voice, and after a moment’s silence she went on sadly:
“Books do not contain what the heart needs most, and there’s much I cannot understand in them. And then, I feel weary to be reading all the time alone, alone! I want to speak to a man, but there is none to speak to! I feel disgusted. We live but once, and it is high time for me to live, and yet there is not a soul! Wherefore shall I live? Lipa tells me: ‘Read and you will understand it.’ I want bread and she gives me a stone. I understand what one must do — one must stand up for what he loves and believes. He must fight for it.”
And she concluded, uttering something like a moan:
“But I am alone! Whom shall I fight? There are no enemies here. There are no men! I live here in a prison!
Foma listened to her words, fixedly examining the fingers of his hand; he felt that in her words was some great distress, but he could not understand her. And when she became silent, depressed and sad, he found nothing to tell her save a few words that were like a reproach:
“There, you yourself say that books are worthless to you, and yet you instruct me to read.”
She looked into his face, and anger flashed in her eyes.
“Oh, how I wish that all these torments would awaken within you, the torments that constantly oppress me. That your thoughts, like mine, would rob you of your sleep, that you, too, would be disgusted with everything, and with yourself as well! I despise every one of you. I hate you!”
All aflush, she looked at him so angrily and spoke with so much spitefulness, that in his astonishment he did not even feel offended by her. She had never before spoken to him in such manner.
“What’s the matter with you?” he asked her.
“I hate you, too! You, what are you? Dead, empty; how will you live? What will you give to mankind?” she said with malice, in a low voice.
“I’ll give nothing; let them strive for it themselves,” answered Foma, knowing that these words would augment her anger.
“Unfortunate creature!” exclaimed the girl with contempt.
The assurance and the power of her reproaches involuntarily compelled Foma to listen attentively to her spiteful words; he felt there was common sense in them. He even came nearer to her, but she, enraged and exasperated, turned away from him and became silent.
It was still light outside, and the reflection of the setting sun lay still on the branches of the linden-trees before the windows, but the room was already filled with twilight, and the sideboard, the clock and the cupboard seemed to have grown in size. The huge pendulum peeped out every moment from beneath the glass of the clock-case, and flashing dimly, was hiding with a weary sound now on the right side, now on the left. Foma looked at the pendulum and he began to feel awkward and lonesome. Luba arose and lighted the lamp which was hanging over the table. The girl’s face was pale and stern.
“You went for me,” said Foma, reservedly. “What for? I can’t understand.”
“I don’t want to speak to you!” replied Luba, angrily.
“That’s your affair. But nevertheless, what wrong have I done to you?”
“Understand me, I am suffocating! It is close here. Is this life? Is this the way how to live? What am I? I am a hanger-on in my father’s house. They keep me here as a housekeeper. Then they’ll marry me! Again housekeeping. It’s a swamp. I am drowning, suffocating.”
“And what have I to do with it?” asked Foma.
“You are no better than the others.”
“And therefore I am guilty before you?”
“Yes, guilty! You must desire to be better.”
“But do I not wish it?” exclaimed Foma.
The girl was about to tell him something, but at this time the bell began to ring somewhere, and she said in a low voice, leaning back in her chair:
“I would not feel sorry if he stayed away a little longer,” said Foma. “I wish I could listen to you some more. You speak so very oddly.”
“Ah! my children, my doves! “ exclaimed Yakov Tarasovich, appearing in the doorway. “You’re drinking tea? Pour out some tea for me, Lugava!”
Sweetly smiling, and rubbing his hands, he sat down near Foma and asked, playfully jostling him in the side:
“What have you been cooing about?”
“So — about different trifles,” answered Luba.
“I haven’t asked you, have I?” said her father to her, with a grimace. “You just sit there, hold your tongue, and mind your woman’s affairs.”
“I’ve been telling her about the dinner,” Foma interrupted his godfather’s words.
“Aha! So-o-o. Well, then, I’ll also speak about the dinner. I have been watching you of late. You don’t behave yourself sensibly!”
“What do you mean?” asked Foma, knitting his brow, ill pleased.
“I just mean that your behaviour is preposterous, and that’s all. When the governor, for instance, speaks to you, you keep quiet.”
“What should I tell him? He says that it is a misfortune to lose a father. Well, I know it. What could I tell him?”
“But as the Lord willed it so, I do not grumble, your Excellency. That’s what you should have said, or something in this spirit. Governors, my dear, are very fond of meekness in a man.”
“Was I to look at him like a lamb?” said Foma, with a smile.
“You did look like a lamb, and that was unnecessary. You must look neither like a lamb, nor like a wolf, but just play off before him as though saying: ‘You are our father, we are your children,’ and he will immediately soften.”
“And what is this for?”
“For any event. A governor, my dear, can always be of use somewhere.”
“What do you teach him, papa?” said Luba, indignantly, in a low voice.
“To dance attendance.”
“You lie, you learned fool! I teach him politics, not dancing attendance; I teach him the politics of life. You had better leave us alone! Depart from evil, and prepare some lunch for us. Go ahead!”
Luba rose quickly and throwing the towel across the back of the chair, left the room. Mayakin, winking his eyes, looked after her, tapped the table with his fingers and said:
“I shall instruct you, Foma. I shall teach you the most genuine, true knowledge and philosophy, and if you understand them, your life will be faultless.”
Foma saw how the wrinkles on the old man’s forehead were twitching, and they seemed to him like lines of Slavonic letters.
“First of all, Foma, since you live on this earth, it is your duty to think over everything that takes place about you. Why? That you may not suffer for your own senselessness, and may not harm others by your folly. Now, every act of man is double-faced, Foma. One is visible to all — this is the wrong side; the other is concealed — and that is the real one. It is that one that you must be able to find in order to understand the sense of the thing. Take for example the lodging-asylums, the work-houses, the poor-houses and other similar institutions. Just consider, what are they for?”
“What is there to consider here?” said Foma, wearily “Everybody knows what they are for — for the poor and feeble.”
“Eh, dear! Sometimes everybody knows that a certain man is a rascal and a scoundrel, and yet all call him Ivan or Peter, and instead of abusing him they respectfully add his father’s name to his own.”
“What has this to do with it?”
“It’s all to the point. So you say that these houses are for the poor, for beggars, consequently, in accordance with Christ’s commandment. Very well! But who is the beggar? The beggar is a man, forced by fate to remind us of Christ; he is a brother of Christ; he is the bell of the Lord and he rings in life to rouse our conscience, to arouse the satiety of the flesh of man. He stands by the window and sings out: ‘For the sake of Christ!’ and by his singing he reminds us of Christ, of His holy commandment to help the neighbour. But men have so arranged their life that it is impossible for them to act according to the teachings of Christ, and Jesus Christ has become altogether unnecessary to us. Not one time, but perhaps a hundred thousand times have we turned Him over to the cross, and yet we cannot drive Him altogether out of life, because His poor brethren sing His Holy name on the streets and thus remind us of Him. And now we have arranged to lock up these beggars in separate houses that they should not walk around on the streets and should not rouse our conscience.
“Cle-ver!” whispered Foma, amazed, staring fixedly at his godfather.
“Aha!” exclaimed Mayakin, his eyes beaming with triumph.
“How is it that my father did not think of this?” asked Foma, uneasily.
“Just wait! Listen further, it is still worse. So you see, we have arranged to lock them up in all sorts of houses and that they might be kept there cheaply, we have compelled those old and feeble beggars to work and we need give no alms now, and since our streets have been cleared of the various ragged beggars, we do not see their terrible distress and poverty, and we may, therefore, think that all men on earth are well-fed, shod and clothed. That’s what all these different houses are for, for the concealment of the truth, for the banishment of Christ from our life! Is this clear to you?”
“Yes!” said Foma, confused by the old man’s clever words.
“And this is not all. The pool is not yet baled out to the bottom!” exclaimed Mayakin, swinging his hand in the air with animation.
The wrinkles of his face were in motion; his long, ravenous nose was stirring, and in his voice rang notes of irritability and emotion.
“Now, let us look at this thing from the other side. Who contributes most in favour of the poor, for the support of these houses, asylums, poor-houses? The rich people, the merchants, our body of merchants. Very well! And who commands our life and regulates it? The nobles, the functionaries and all sorts of other people, not belonging to our class. From them come the laws, the newspapers, science — everything from them. Before, they were land-owners, now their land was snatched away from them — and they started out in service. Very well! But who are the most powerful people today? The merchant is the supreme power in an empire, because he has the millions on his side! Isn’t that so?”
“True!” assented Foma, eager to hear the sooner that which was to follow, and which was already sparkling in the eyes of his godfather.
“Just mark this,” the old man went on distinctly and impressively. “We merchants had no hand in the arrangement of life, nor do we have a voice or a hand in it today. Life was arranged by others, and it is they that multiplied all sorts of scabs in life — idlers and poor unfortunates; and since by multiplying them they obstructed life and spoilt it — it is, justly judging, now their duty to purify it. But we are purifying it, we contribute money for the poor, we look after them — we, judge it for yourself, why should we mend another’s rags, since we did not tear them? Why should we repair a house, since others have lived in it and since it belongs to others? Were it not wiser for us to step aside and watch until a certain time how rottenness is multiplying and choking those that are strangers to us? They cannot conquer it, they have not the means to do it. Then they will turn to us and say: ‘Pray, help us, gentlemen!’ and we’ll tell them: ‘Let us have room for our work! Rank us among the builders of this same life!’ And as soon as they do this we, too, will have to clear life at one sweep of all sorts of filth and chaff. Then the Emperor will see with his clear eyes who are really his faithful servants, and how much wisdom they have saved up while their hands were idle. Do you understand?”
“Of course, I do!” exclaimed Foma.
When his godfather spoke of the functionaries, Foma reminded himself of the people that were present at the dinner; he recalled the brisk secretary, and a thought flashed through his mind that this stout little man has in all probability an income of no more than a thousand roubles a year, while he, Foma, has a million. But that man lives so easily and freely, while he, Foma, does not know how to live, is indeed abashed to live. This comparison and his godfather’s speech roused in him a whirl of thoughts, but he had time to grasp and express only one of them:
“Indeed, do we work for the sake of money only? What’s the use of money if it can give us no power?”
“Aha!” said Mayakin, winking his eyes.
“Eh!” exclaimed Foma, offended. “How about my father? Have you spoken to him?”
“I spoke to him for twenty years.”
“Well, how about him?”
“My words did not reach him. The crown of your father’s head was rather thick. His soul was open to all, while his mind was hidden away far within him. Yes, he made a blunder, and I am very sorry about the money.”
“I am not sorry for the money.”
“You should have tried to earn even a tenth part of it, then speak.”
“May I come in?” came Luba’s voice from behind the door.
“Yes, step right in,” said the father.
“Will you have lunch now?” she asked, entering.
“Let us have it.”
She walked up to the sideboard and soon the dishes were rattling. Yakov Tarasovich looked at her, moved his lips, and suddenly striking Foma’s knee with his hand, he said to him:
“That’s the way, my godson! Think.”
Foma responded with a smile and thought: “But he’s clever — cleverer than my father.”
But another voice within him immediately replied:
“Cleverer, but worse.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50