ABOUT a week passed since Foma spoke to Medinskaya. And her image stood fixedly before Foma by night and by day, awakening in his heart a gnawing feeling of anxiety. He longed to go to her, and was so much afflicted over her that even his bones were aching from the desire of his heart to be near her again. But he was sternly silent; he frowned and did not care to yield to this desire, industriously occupying himself with his affairs and provoking in himself a feeling of anger against the woman. He felt that if he went up to her, he would no longer find her to be the same as he had left her; something must have changed within her after that conversation, and she would no longer receive him as cordially as before, would not smile at him the clear smile that used to awaken in him strange thoughts and hopes. Fearing that all this was lost and that something else must have taken its place, he restrained himself and suffered.
His work and his longing for the woman did not hinder him from thinking of life. He did not philosophize about this enigma, which was already stirring a feeling of alarm in his heart; he was not able to argue, but he began to listen attentively to everything that men said of life, and he tried to remember their words. They did not make anything clear to him; nay, they increased his perplexity and prompted him to regard them suspiciously. They were clever, cunning and sensible — he saw it; in dealings with them it was always necessary to be on one’s guard; he knew already that in important matters none of them spoke as they thought. And watching them carefully, he felt that their sighs and their complaints of life awakened in him distrust. Silently he looked at everybody with suspicion, and a thin wrinkle masked his forehead.
One morning his godfather said to him on the Exchange:
“Anany has arrived. He would like to see you. Go up to him toward evening, and see that you hold your tongue. Anany will try to loosen it in order to make you talk on business matters. He is cunning, the old devil; he is a holy fox; he’ll lift his eyes toward heaven, and meanwhile will put his paw into your pocket and grab your purse. Be on your guard.”
“Do we owe him anything?” asked Foma.
“Of course! We haven’t paid yet for the barge, and then fifty five- fathom beams were taken from him not long ago. If he wants everything at once — don’t give. A rouble is a sticky thing; the longer it turns about in your hand, the more copecks will stick to it. A rouble is like a good pigeon — it goes up in the air, you turn around and see — it has brought a whole flock with it into the pigeon-house.”
“But how can we help paying it now, if he demands it?”
“Let him cry and ask for it — and you roar — but don’t give it to him.”
I’ll go up there soon.”
Anany Savvich Shchurov was a rich lumber-dealer, had a big saw- mill, built barges and ran rafts. He had had dealings with Ignat, and Foma had more than once seen this tall, heavily-bearded, long- armed, white-haired old man, who kept himself as erect as a pine- tree. His big, handsome figure, his open face and his clear eyes called forth in Foma a feeling of respect for Shchurov, although he heard it rumoured that this lumber-dealer had gained his wealth not by honest toil and that he was leading an evil life at home, in an obscure village of the forest district; and Ignat had told Foma that when Shchurov was young and was but a poor peasant, he sheltered a convict in the bath-house, in his garden, and that there the convict made counterfeit money for him. Since that time Anany began to grow rich. One day his bathhouse burned down, and in the ashes they discovered the corpse of a man with a fractured skull. There was a rumour in the village that Shchurov himself had killed his workman — killed and then burned him. Such things had happened more than once with the good-looking old man; but similar rumours were on foot with reference to many a rich man in town — they had all, it was said, hoarded up their millions by way of robberies, murders and, mainly, by passing counterfeit money. Foma had heard such stories in his childhood and he never before considered whether they were true or not.
He also knew that Shchurov had got rid of two wives — one of them died during the first night of the wedding, in Anany’s embraces. Then he took his son’s wife away from him, and his son took to drink for grief and would have perished in drunkenness had he not come to himself in time and gone off to save himself in a hermitage, in Irgiz. And when his mistress-daughter-in-law had passed away, Shchurov took into his house a dumb beggar-girl, who was living with him to this day, and who had recently borne him a dead child. On his way to the hotel, where Anany stayed, Foma involuntarily recalled all this, and felt that Shchurov had become strangely interesting to him.
When Foma opened the door and stopped respectfully on the threshold of the small room, whose only window overlooked the rusty roof of the neighbouring house, he noticed that the old Shchurov had just risen from sleep, and sitting on his bed, leaning his hands against it, he stared at the ground; and he was so bent that his long, white beard fell over his knees. But even bent, he was large.
“Who entered?” asked Anany in a hoarse and angry voice, without lifting his head.
“I. How do you do, Anany Savvich?”
The old man raised his head slowly and, winking his large eyes, looked at Foma.
“Ignat’s son, is that right?”
“Well, come over here, sit down by the window. Let me see how you’ve grown up. Will you not have a glass of tea with me?”
“I wouldn’t mind.”
“Waiter!” cried the old man, expanding his chest, and, taking his beard in his hand, he began to examine Foma in silence. Foma also looked at him stealthily.
The old man’s lofty forehead was all covered with wrinkles, and its skin was dark. Gray, curly locks covered his temples and his sharp- pointed ears; his calm blue eyes lent the upper part of his face a wise and good expression. But his cheeks and his lips were thick and red, and seemed out of place on his face. His thin, long nose was turned downward as though it wished to hide itself in his white moustache; the old man moved his lips, and from beneath them small, yellow teeth were gleaming. He had on a pink calico shirt, a silk belt around his waist, and black, loose trousers, which were tucked into his boots. Foma stared at his lips and thought that the old man was surely such as he was said to be.
“As a boy you looked more like your father,” said Shchurov suddenly, and sighed. Then, after a moment’s silence, he asked: “Do you remember your father? Do you ever pray for him? You must, you must pray!” he went on, after he heard Foma’s brief answer. “Ignat was a terrible sinner, and he died without repentance, taken unawares. He was a great sinner!”
“He was not more sinful than others,” replied Foma, angrily, offended in his father’s behalf.
“Than who, for instance?” demanded Shchurov, strictly.
“Are there not plenty of sinners?”
“There is but one man on earth more sinful than was the late Ignat- -and that is that cursed heathen, your godfather Yashka,” ejaculated the old man.
“Are you sure of it?” inquired Foma, smiling.
“I? Of course, I am!” said Shchurov, confidently, nodding his head, and his eyes became somewhat darker. “I will also appear before the Lord, and that not sinless. I shall bring with me a heavy burden before His holy countenance. I have been pleasing the devil myself, only I trust to God for His mercy, while Yashka believes in nothing, neither in dreams, nor in the singing of birds. Yashka does not believe in God, this I know! And for his non-belief he will yet receive his punishment on earth.”
“Are you sure of this, too?”
“Yes, I am. And don’t you think I also know that you consider it ludicrous to listen to me. What a sagacious fellow, indeed! But he who has committed many sins is always wise. Sin is a teacher. That’s why Yashka Mayakin is extraordinarily clever.”
Listening to the old man’s hoarse and confident voice, Foma thought:
“He is scenting death, it seems.”
The waiter, a small man, with a face which was pale and characterless, brought in the samovar and quickly hastened out of the room, with short steps. The old man was undoing some bundles on the window-sill and said, without looking at Foma:
“You are bold, and the look of your eyes is dark. Before, there used to be more light-eyed people, because then the souls used to be brighter. Before, everything was simpler — both the people and the sins, and now everything has become complicated. Eh, eh!”
He made tea, seated himself opposite Foma and went on again:
“Your father at your age was a water-pumper and stayed with the fleet near our village. At your age Ignat was as clear to me as glass. At a single glance you could tell what sort of a man he was. While you — here I am looking at you, but cannot see what you are. Who are you? You don’t know it yourself, my lad, and that’s why you’ll suffer. Everybody nowadays must suffer, because they do not know themselves. Life is a mass of wind-fallen trees, and you must know how to find your way through it. Where is it? All are going astray, and the devil is delighted. Are you married?”
“Not yet,” said Foma.
“There again, you are not married, and yet, I’m quite sure, you are not pure any longer. Well, are you working hard in your business?”
“Sometimes. Meanwhile I am with my godfather.”
“What sort of work is it you have nowadays?” said the old man, shaking his head, and his eyes were constantly twinkling, now turning dark, now brightening up again. “You have no labour now! In former years the merchant travelled with horses on business. Even at night, in snowstorms, he used to go! Murderers used to wait for him on the road and kill him. And he died a martyr, washing his sins away with blood. Now they travel by rail; they are sending telegrams, or they’ve even invented something that a man may speak in his office and you can hear him five miles away. There the devil surely has a hand in it! A man sits, without motion, and commits sins merely because he feels lonesome, because he has nothing to do: the machine does all his work. He has no work, and without toil man is ruined! He has provided himself with machines and thinks it is good! While the machine is the devil’s trap for you. He thus catches you in it. While toiling, you find no time for sin, but having a machine — you have freedom. Freedom kills a man, even as the sunbeams kill the worm, the dweller of the depth of earth. Freedom kills man!”
And pronouncing his words distinctly and positively, the old Anany struck the table four times with his finger. His face beamed triumphantly, his chest rose high, and over it the silver hair of his beard shook noiselessly. Dread fell on Foma as he looked at him and listened to his words, for there was a ring of firm faith in them, and it was the power of this faith that confused Foma. He had already forgotten all he knew about the old man, all of which he had but a while ago believed to be true.
“Whoever gives freedom to his body, kills his soul!” said Anany, looking at Foma so strangely as if he saw behind him somebody, who was grieved and frightened by his words; and whose fear and pain delighted him. “All you people of today will perish through freedom. The devil has captured you — he has taken toil away from you, and slipped machines and telegrams into your hands. How freedom eats into the souls of men! Just tell me, why are the children worse than their fathers? Because of their freedom, yes. That’s why they drink and lead depraved lives with women. They have less strength because they have less work, and they have not the spirit of cheerfulness because they have no worries. Cheerfulness comes in time of rest, while nowadays no one is getting tired.”
“Well,” said Foma, softly, “they were leading depraved lives and drinking just as much in former days as now, I suppose.”
“Do you know it? You should keep silence!” cried Anany, flashing his eyes sternly. “In former days man had more strength, and the sins were according to his strength. While you, of today, have less strength, and more sins, and your sins are more disgusting. Then men were like oak-trees. And God’s judgment will also be in accordance with their strength. Their bodies will be weighed, and angels will measure their blood, and the angels of God will see that the weight of the sins does not exceed the weight of the body and the blood. Do you understand? God will not condemn the wolf for devouring a sheep, but if a miserable rat should be guilty of the sheep’s death, God will condemn the rat!”
“How can a man tell how God will judge man?” asked Foma, thoughtfully. “A visible trial is necessary.”
“Why a visible trial?”
“That people might understand.”
“Who, but the Lord, is my judge?”
Foma glanced at the old man and lowering his head, became silent. He again recalled the fugitive convict, who was killed and burnt by Shchurov, and again he believed that it really was so. And the women — his wives and his mistresses — had surely been hastened toward their graves by this old man’s caresses; he had crushed them with his bony chest, drunk the sap of their life with these thick lips of his which were scarlet yet from the clotted blood of the women, who died in the embraces of his long sinewy arms. And now, awaiting death, which was already somewhere beside him, he counts his sins, judges others, and perhaps judges himself, and says:
“Who, but the Lord, is my judge?”
“Is he afraid or not?” Foma asked himself and became pensive, stealthily scrutinising the old man.
“Yes, my lad! Think,” spoke Shchurov, shaking his head, “think, how you are to live. The capital in your heart is small, and your habits are great, see that you are not reduced to bankruptcy before your own self! Ho-ho-ho!”
“How can you tell what and how much I have within my heart?” said Foma, gloomily, offended by his laughter.
“I can see it! I know everything, because I have lived long! Oh-ho- ho! How long I have lived! Trees have grown up and been cut down, and houses built out of them, and even the houses have grown old. While I have seen all this and am still alive, and when, at times, I recall my life, I think, ‘Is it possible that one man could accomplish so much? Is it possible that I have witnessed all this?’” The old man glanced at Foma sternly, shook his head and became silent.
It became quiet. Outside the window something was softly rustling on the roof of the house; the rattle of wheels and the muffled sounds of conversation were heard from below, from the street. The samovar on the table sang a sad tune. Shchurov was fixedly staring into his glass of tea, stroking his beard, and one could hear that something rattled in his breast, as if some burden was turning about in it.
“It’s hard for you to live without your father, isn’t it?” said he.
“I am getting used to it,” replied Foma.
“You are rich, and when Yakov dies, you will be richer still. He’ll leave everything to you.”
“I don’t need it.”
“To whom else should he leave it? He has but one daughter, and you ought to marry that daughter, and that she is your godsister and foster-sister — no matter! That can be arranged — and then you would be married. What good is there in the life you are now leading? I suppose you are forever running about with the girls?”
“You don’t say! Eh, eh, eh! the merchant is passing away. A certain forester told me — I don’t know whether he lied or not — that in former days the dogs were wolves, and then degenerated into dogs. It is the same with our calling; we will soon also be dogs. We will take up science, put stylish hats on our heads, we’ll do everything that is necessary in order to lose our features, and there will be nothing by which to distinguish us from other people. It has become a custom to make Gymnasium students of all children. The merchants, the nobles, the commoners — all are adjusted to match the same colour. They dress them in gray and teach them all the same subjects. They grow man even as they grow a tree. Why do they do it? No one knows. Even a log could be told from another by its knot at least, while here they want to plane the people over so that all of them should look alike. The coffin is already waiting for us old people. Ye-es! It may be that about fifty years hence, no one will believe that I lived in this world. I, Anany, the son of Savva, by the surname of Shchurov. So! And that I, Anany, feared no one, save God. And that in my youth I was a peasant, that all the land I possessed then was two desyatins and a quarter; while toward my old age I have hoarded up eleven thousand desyatins, all forests, and perhaps two millions in cash.”
“There, they always speak of money!” said Foma, with dissatisfaction. “What joy does man derive from money?”“Mm,” bellowed Shchurov. “You will make a poor merchant, if you do not understand the power of money.”
“Who does understand it?” asked Foma.
“I!” said Shchurov, with confidence. “And every clever man. Yashka understands it. Money? That is a great deal, my lad! Just spread it out before you and think, ‘What does it contain?’ Then will you know that all this is human strength, human mind. Thousands of people have put their life into your money and thousands more will do it. And you can throw it all into the fire and see how the money is burning, and at that moment you will consider yourself master.”
“But nobody does this.”
“Because fools have no money. Money is invested in business. Business gives bread to the masses. And you are master over all those masses. Wherefore did God create man? That man should pray to Him. He was alone and He felt lonesome, so He began to desire power, and as man was created in the image of the Lord, man also desires power. And what, save money, can give power? That’s the way. Well, and you — have you brought me money?”
“No,” answered Foma. From the words of the old man Foma’s head was heavy and troubled, and he was glad that the conversation had, at last, turned to business matters.
“That isn’t right,” said Shchurov, sternly knitting his brow. “It is overdue — you must pay.
“You’ll get a half of it tomorrow.”
“Why a half? Why not all?”
“We are badly in need of money now.”
“And haven’t you any? But I also need it.”
“Wait a little.”
“Eh, my lad, I will not wait! You are not your father. Youngsters like you, milksops, are an unreliable lot. In a month you may break up the whole business. And I would be the loser for it. You give me all the money tomorrow, or I’ll protest the notes. It wouldn’t take me long to do it!”
Foma looked at Shchurov, with astonishment. It was not at all that same old man, who but a moment ago spoke so sagaciously about the devil. Then his face and his eyes seemed different, and now he looked fierce, his lips smiled pitilessly, and the veins on his cheeks, near his nostrils, were eagerly trembling. Foma saw that if he did not pay him at once, Shchurov would indeed not spare him and would dishonour the firm by protesting the notes.
“Evidently business is poor?” grinned Shchurov. “Well, tell the truth — where have you squandered your father’s money?”
Foma wanted to test the old man:
“Business is none too brisk,” said he, with a frown. “We have no contracts. We have received no earnest money, and so it is rather hard.”
“So-o! Shall I help you out?”
“Be so kind. Postpone the day of payment,” begged Foma, modestly lowering his eyes.
“Mm. Shall I assist you out of my friendship for your father? Well, be it so, I’ll do it.”
“And for how long will you postpone it?” inquired Foma.
“For six months.”
“I thank you humbly.”
“Don’t mention it. You owe me eleven thousand six hundred roubles. Now listen: rewrite the notes for the amount of fifteen thousand, pay me the interest on this sum in advance. And as security I’ll take a mortgage on your two barges.”
Foma rose from the chair and said, with a smile:
“Send me the notes tomorrow. I’ll pay you in full.”
Shchurov also rose from his chair and, without lowering his eyes at Foma’s sarcastic look, said, calmly scratching his chest:
“That’s all right.”
“Thank you for your kindness.”
“That’s nothing! You don’t give me a chance, or I would have shown you my kindness!” said the old man lazily, showing his teeth.
“Yes! If one should fall into your hands —”
“He’d find it warm —”
“I am sure you’d make it warm for him.”
“Well, my lad, that will do!” said Shchurov, sternly. “Though you consider yourself quite clever, it is rather too soon. You’ve gained nothing, and already you began to boast! But you just win from me — then you may shout for joy. Goodbye. Have all the money for tomorrow.”
“Don’t let that trouble you. Goodbye!”
“God be with you!”
When Foma came out of the room he heard that the old man gave a slow, loud yawn, and then began to hum in a rather hoarse bass:
“Open for us the doors of mercy. Oh blessed Virgin Mary!”
Foma carried away with him from the old man a double feeling. Shchurov pleased him and at the same time was repulsive to him.
He recalled the old man’s words about sin, thought of the power of his faith in the mercy of the Lord, and the old man aroused in Foma a feeling akin to respect.
“He, too, speaks of life; he knows his sins; but does not weep over them, does not complain of them. He has sinned — and he is willing to stand the consequences. Yes. And she?” He recalled Medinskaya, and his heart contracted with pain.
“And she is repenting. It is hard to tell whether she does it purposely, in order to hide from justice, or whether her heart is really aching. ‘Who, but the Lord,’ says he, ‘is to judge me?’ That’s how it is.”
It seemed to Foma that he envied Anany, and the youth hastened to recall Shchurov’s attempts to swindle him. This called forth in him an aversion for the old man He could not reconcile his feelings and, perplexed, he smiled.
“Well, I have just been at Shchurov’s,” he said, coming to Mayakin and seating himself by the table.
Mayakin, in a greasy morning-gown, a counting-board in his hand, began to move about in his leather-covered arm-chair impatiently, and said with animation:
“Pour out some tea for him, Lubava! Tell me, Foma, I must be in the City Council at nine o’clock; tell me all about it, make haste!”
Smiling, Foma related to him how Shchurov suggested to rewrite the notes.
“Eh!” exclaimed Yakov Tarasovich regretfully, with a shake of the head. “You’ve spoilt the whole mass for me, dear! How could you be so straightforward in your dealings with the man? Psha! The devil drove me to send you there! I should have gone myself. I would have turned him around my finger!”
“Hardly! He says, ‘I am an oak.’”
“An oak? And I am a saw. An oak! An oak is a good tree, but its fruits are good for swine only. So it comes out that an oak is simply a blockhead.”
“But it’s all the same, we have to pay, anyway.”
“Clever people are in no hurry about this; while you are ready to run as fast as you can to pay the money. What a merchant you are!”
Yakov Tarasovich was positively dissatisfied with his godson. He frowned and in an angry manner ordered his daughter, who was silently pouring out tea:
“Push the sugar nearer to me. Don’t you see that I can’t reach it?”
Lubov’s face was pale, her eyes seemed troubled, and her hands moved lazily and awkwardly. Foma looked at her and thought:
“How meek she is in the presence of her father.”
“What did he speak to you about?” asked Mayakin.
“Well, of course! His own affair is dearest to each and every man. And he is a manufacturer of sins. Both in the galleys and in hell they have long been weeping and longing for him, waiting for him impatiently.”
“He speaks with weight,” said Foma, thoughtfully, stirring his tea.
“Did he abuse me?” inquired Mayakin, with a malicious grimace.
“And what did you do?”
“Mm! And what did you hear?”
“‘The strong,’ he says, ‘ will be forgiven; but there is no forgiveness for the weak.’”
“Just think of it! What wisdom! Even the fleas know that.”
For some reason or another, the contempt with which Mayakin regarded Shchurov, irritated Foma, and, looking into the old man’s face, he said with a grin:
“But he doesn’t like you.”
“Nobody likes me, my dear,” said Mayakin, proudly. “There is no reason why they should like me. I am no girl. But they respect me. And they respect only those they fear.” And the old man winked at his godson boastfully.
“He speaks with weight,” repeated Foma. “He is complaining. ‘The real merchant,’ says he, ‘is passing away. All people are taught the same thing,’ he says: ‘so that all may be equal, looking alike.”’
“Does he consider it wrong?”
“Fo-o-o-l!” Mayakin drawled out, with contempt.
“Why? Is it good?” asked Foma, looking at his godfather suspiciously.
“We do not know what is good; but we can see what is wise. When we see that all sorts of people are driven together in one place and are all inspired there with one and the same idea — then must we acknowledge that it is wise. Because — what is a man in the empire? Nothing more than a simple brick, and all bricks must be of the same size. Do you understand? And those people that are of equal height and weight — I can place in any position I like.”
“And whom does it please to be a brick?” said Foma, morosely.
“It is not a question of pleasing, it is a matter of fact. If you are made of hard material, they cannot plane you. It is not everybody’s phiz that you can rub off. But some people, when beaten with a hammer, turn into gold. And if the head happens to crack — what can you do?It merely shows it was weak.”
“He also spoke about toil. ‘Everything,’ he says, ‘is done by machinery, and thus are men spoiled.”’
“He is out of his wits!” Mayakin waved his hand disdainfully. “I am surprised, what an appetite you have for all sorts of nonsense! What does it come from?”
“Isn’t that true, either?” asked Foma, breaking into stern laughter.
“What true thing can he know? A machine! The old blockhead should have thought —‘what is the machine made of?’ Of iron! Consequently, it need not be pitied; it is wound up — and it forges roubles for you. Without any words, without trouble, you set it into motion and it revolves. While a man, he is uneasy and wretched; he is often very wretched. He wails, grieves, weeps, begs. Sometimes he gets drunk. Ah, how much there is in him that is superfluous to me! While a machine is like an arshin (yardstick), it contains exactly so much as the work required. Well, I am going to dress. It is time.”
He rose and went away, loudly scraping with his slippers along the floor. Foma glanced after him and said softly, with a frown:
“The devil himself could not see through all this. One says this, the other, that.”
“It is precisely the same with books,” said Lubov in a low voice.
Foma looked at her, smiling good-naturedly. And she answered him with a vague smile.
Her eyes looked fatigued and sad.
“You still keep on reading?” asked Foma.
“Yes,” the girl answered sadly.
“And are you still lonesome?”
“I feel disgusted, because I am alone. There’s no one here to say a word to.”
She said nothing to this, but, lowering her head, she slowly began to finger the fringes of the towel.
“You ought to get married,” said Foma, feeling that he pitied her.
“Leave me alone, please,” answered Lubov, wrinkling her forehead.
“Why leave you alone? You will get married, I am sure.”
“There!” exclaimed the girl softly, with a sigh. “That’s just what I am thinking of — it is necessary. That is, I’ll have to get married. But how? Do you know, I feel now as though a mist stood between other people and myself — a thick, thick mist!”
“That’s from your books,” Foma interposed confidently.
“Wait! And I cease to understand what is going on about me. Nothing pleases me. Everything has become strange to me. Nothing is as it should be. Everything is wrong. I see it. I understand it, yet I cannot say that it is wrong, and why it is so.”
“It is not so, not so,” muttered Foma. “That’s from your books. Yes. Although I also feel that it’s wrong. Perhaps that is because we are so young and foolish.”
“At first it seemed to me,” said Lubov, not listening to him, “that everything in the books was clear to me. But now —”
“Drop your books,” suggested Foma, with contempt.
“Ah, don’t say that! How can I drop them? You know how many different ideas there are in the world! O Lord! They’re such ideas that set your head afire. According to a certain book everything that exists on earth is rational.”
“Everything?” asked Foma.
“Everything! While another book says the contrary is true.”
“Wait! Now isn’t this nonsense?”
“What were you discussing?” asked Mayakin, appearing at the door, in a long frock-coat and with several medals on his collar and his breast.
“Just so,” said Lubov, morosely.
“We spoke about books,” added Foma.
“What kind of books?”
“The books she is reading. She read that everything on earth is rational.”
“Well, and I say it is a lie!”
“Yes.” Yakov Tarasovich became thoughtful, he pinched his beard and winked his eyes a little.
“What kind of a book is it?” he asked his daughter, after a pause.
“A little yellow-covered book,” said Lubov, unwillingly.
“Just put that book on my table. That is said not without reflection — everything on earth is rational! See someone thought of it. Yes. It is even very cleverly expressed. And were it not for the fools, it might have been perfectly correct. But as fools are always in the wrong place, it cannot be said that everything on earth is rational. And yet, I’ll look at the book. Maybe there is common sense in it. Goodbye, Foma! Will you stay here, or do you want to drive with me?”
“I’ll stay here a little longer.”
Lubov and Foma again remained alone.
“What a man your father is,” said Foma, nodding his head toward the direction of his godfather.
“Well, what kind of a man do you think he is?”
“He retorts every call, and wants to cover everything with his words.”
“Yes, he is clever. And yet he does not understand how painful my life is,” said Lubov, sadly.
“Neither do I understand it. You imagine too much.”
“What do I imagine?” cried the girl, irritated.
“Why, all these are not your own ideas. They are someone else’s.”
“Someone else’s. Someone else’s.”
She felt like saying something harsh; but broke down and became silent. Foma looked at her and, setting Medinskaya by her side, thought sadly:
“How different everything is — both men and women — and you never feel alike.”
They sat opposite each other; both were lost in thought, and neither one looked at the other. It was getting dark outside, and in the room it was quite dark already. The wind was shaking the linden-trees, and their branches seemed to clutch at the walls of the house, as though they felt cold and implored for shelter in the rooms.
“Luba!” said Foma, softly.
She raised her head and looked at him.
“Do you know, I have quarrelled with Medinskaya.”
“Why?” asked Luba, brightening up.
“So. It came about that she offended me. Yes, she offended me.”
“Well, it’s good that you’ve quarrelled with her,” said the girl, approvingly, “for she would have turned your head. She is a vile creature; she is a coquette, even worse than that. Oh, what things I know about her!”
“She’s not at all a vile creature,” said Foma, morosely. “And you don’t know anything about her. You are all lying!”
“Oh, I beg your pardon!”
“No. See here, Luba,” said Foma, softly, in a beseeching tone, “don’t speak ill of her in my presence. It isn’t necessary. I know everything. By God! She told me everything herself.”
“Herself!” exclaimed Luba, in astonishment. “What a strange woman she is! What did she tell you?”
“That she is guilty,” Foma ejaculated with difficulty, with a wry smile.
“Is that all?” There was a ring of disappointment in the girl’s question; Foma heard it and asked hopefully:
“Isn’t that enough?”
“What will you do now?”
“That’s just what I am thinking about.”
“Do you love her very much?”
Foma was silent. He looked into the window and answered confusedly:
“I don’t know. But it seems to me that now I love her more than before.”
“Than before the quarrel?”
“I wonder how one can love such a woman!” said the girl, shrugging her shoulders.
“Love such a woman? Of course! Why not?” exclaimed Foma.
“I can’t understand it. I think, you have become attached to her just because you have not met a better woman.”
“No, I have not met a better one!” Foma assented, and after a moment’s silence said shyly, “Perhaps there is none better.”
“Among our people,” Lubov interposed.
“I need her very badly! Because, you see, I feel ashamed before her.”
“Oh, in general, I fear her; that is, I would not want her to think ill of me, as of others. Sometimes I feel disgusted. I think — wouldn’t it be a great idea to go out on such a spree that all my veins would start tingling. And then I recall her and I do not venture. And so everything else, I think of her, ‘What if she finds it out?’ and I am afraid to do it.”
“Yes,” the girl drawled out thoughtfully, “that shows that you love her. I would also be like this. If I loved, I would think of him — of what he might say . . . ”
“And everything about her is so peculiar,” Foma related softly. “She speaks in a way all her own. And, God! How beautiful she is! And then she is so small, like a child.”
“And what took place between you?” asked Lubov.
Foma moved his chair closer to her, and stooping, he lowered his voice for some reason or other, and began to relate to her all that had taken place between him and Medinskaya. He spoke, and as he recalled the words he said to Medinskaya, the sentiments that called forth the words were also awakened in him.
“I told her, ‘Oh, you! why did you make sport of me?’” he said angrily and with reproach.
And Luba, her cheeks aflame with animation, spurred him on, nodding her head approvingly:
“That’s it! That’s good! Well, and she?”
“She was silent!” said Foma, sadly, with a shrug of the shoulders. “That is, she said different things; but what’s the use?”
He waved his hand and became silent. Luba, playing with her braid, was also silent. The samovar had already become cold. And the dimness in the room was growing thicker and thicker, outside the window it was heavy with darkness, and the black branches of the linden-trees were shaking pensively.
“You might light the lamp,” Foma went on.
“How unhappy we both are,” said Luba, with a sigh.
Foma did not like this.
“I am not unhappy,” he objected in a firm voice. “I am simply — not yet accustomed to life.”
“He who knows not what he is going to do tomorrow, is unhappy,” said Luba, sadly. “I do not know it, neither do you. Whither go? Yet go we must, Why is it that my heart is never at ease? Some kind of a longing is always quivering within it.”
“It is the same with me,” said Foma. “ I start to reflect, but on what? I cannot make it clear to myself. There is also a painful gnawing in my heart. Eh! But I must go up to the club.”
“Don’t go away,” Luba entreated.
“I must. Somebody is waiting there for me. I am going. Goodbye!”
“Till we meet again!” She held out her hand to him and sadly looked into his eyes.
“Will you go to sleep now?” asked Foma, firmly shaking her hand.
“I’ll read a little.”
“You’re to your books as the drunkard to his whisky,” said the youth, with pity.
“What is there that is better?”
Walking along the street he looked at the windows of the house and in one of them he noticed Luba’s face. It was just as vague as everything that the girl told him, even as vague as her longings. Foma nodded his head toward her and with a consciousness of his superiority over her, thought:
“She has also lost her way, like the other one.”
At this recollection he shook his head, as though he wanted to frighten away the thought of Medinskaya, and quickened his steps.
Night was coming on, and the air was fresh. A cold, invigorating wind was violently raging in the street, driving the dust along the sidewalks and throwing it into the faces of the passers-by. It was dark, and people were hastily striding along in the darkness. Foma wrinkled his face, for the dust filled his eyes, and thought:
“If it is a woman I meet now — then it will mean that Sophya Pavlovna will receive me in a friendly way, as before. I am going to see her tomorrow. And if it is a man — I won’t go tomorrow, I’ll wait.”
But it was a dog that came to meet him, and this irritated Foma to such an extent that he felt like striking him with his cane.
In the refreshment-room of the club, Foma was met by the jovial Ookhtishchev. He stood at the door, and chatted with a certain stout, whiskered man; but, noticing Gordyeeff, he came forward to meet him, saying, with a smile:
“How do you do, modest millionaire!” Foma rather liked him for his jolly mood, and was always pleased to meet him.
Firmly and kind-heartedly shaking Ookhtishchev’s hand, Foma asked him:
“And what makes you think that I am modest?”
“What a question! A man, who lives like a hermit, who neither drinks, nor plays, nor likes any women. By the way, do you know, Foma Ignatyevich, that peerless patroness of ours is going abroad tomorrow for the whole summer?”
“Sophya Pavlovna?” asked Foma, slowly. “Of course! The sun of my life is setting. And, perhaps, of yours as well?”
Ookhtishchev made a comical, sly grimace and looked into Foma’s face.
And Foma stood before him, feeling that his head was lowering on his breast, and that he was unable to hinder it.
“Yes, the radiant Aurora.”
“Is Medinskaya going away?” a deep bass voice asked. “That’s fine! I am glad.”
“May I know why?” exclaimed Ookhtishchev. Foma smiled sheepishly and stared in confusion at the whiskered man, Ookhtishchev’s interlocutor.
That man was stroking his moustache with an air of importance, and deep, heavy, repulsive words fell from his lips on Foma’s ears.
“Because, you see, there will be one co-cot-te less in town.”
“Shame, Martin Nikitich!” said Ookhtishchev, reproachfully, knitting his brow.
“How do you know that she is a coquette?” asked Foma, sternly, coming closer to the whiskered man. The man measured him with a scornful look, turned aside and moving his thigh, drawled out:
“I didn’t say — coquette.”
“Martin Nikitich, you mustn’t speak that way about a woman who —” began Ookhtishchev in a convincing tone, but Foma interrupted him:
“Excuse me, just a moment! I wish to ask the gentleman, what is the meaning of the word he said?”
And as he articulated this firmly and calmly, Foma thrust his hands deep into his trousers-pockets, threw his chest forward, which at once gave his figure an attitude of defiance. The whiskered gentleman again eyed Foma with a sarcastic smile.
“Gentlemen!” exclaimed Ookhtishchev, softly.
“I said, co-cot-te,” pronounced the whiskered man, moving his lips as if he tasted the word. “And if you don’t understand it, I can explain it to you.”
“You had better explain it,” said Foma, with a deep sigh, not lifting his eyes off the man.
Ookhtishchev clasped his hands and rushed aside.
“A cocotte, if you want to know it, is a prostitute,” said the whiskered man in a low voice, moving his big, fat face closer to Foma.
Foma gave a soft growl and, before the whiskered man had time to move away, he clutched with his right hand his curly, grayish hair. With a convulsive movement of the hand, Foma began to shake the man’s head and his big, solid body; lifting up his left hand, he spoke in a dull voice, keeping time to the punishment:
“Don’t abuse a person — in his absence. Abuse him — right in his face — straight in his eyes.”
He experienced a burning delight, seeing how comically the stout arms were swinging in the air, and how the legs of the man, whom he was shaking, were bending under him, scraping against the floor. His gold watch fell out of the pocket and dangled on the chain, over his round paunch. Intoxicated with his own strength and with the degradation of the sedate man, filled with the burning feeling of malignancy, trembling with the happiness of revenge, Foma dragged him along the floor and in a dull voice, growled wickedly, in wild joy. In these moments he experienced a great feeling — the feeling of emancipation from the wearisome burden which had long oppressed his heart with grief and morbidness. He felt that he was seized by the waist and shoulders from behind, that someone seized his hand and bent it, trying to break it; that someone was crushing his toes; but he saw nothing, following with his bloodshot eyes the dark, heavy mass moaning and wriggling in his hand. Finally, they tore him away and downed him, and, as through a reddish mist, he noticed before him on the floor, at his feet, the man he had thrashed. Dishevelled, he was moving his legs over the floor, attempting to rise; two dark men were holding him by the arms, his hands were dangling in the air like broken wings, and, in a voice that was choking with sobs, he cried to Foma:
“You mustn’t beat me! You mustn’t! I have an . . .
Order. You rascal! Oh, rascal! I have children.
Everybody knows me! Scoundrel! Savage, 0 — 0 — 0! You may expect a duel!”
And Ookhtishchev spoke loudly in Foma’s ear:
“Come, my dear boy, for God’s sake!”
“Wait, I’ll give him a kick in the face,” begged Foma. But he was dragged off. There was a buzzing in his ears, his heart beat fast, but he felt relieved and well. At the entrance of the club he heaved a deep sigh of relief and said to Ookhtishchev, with a good- natured smile:
“I gave him a sound drubbing, didn’t I?”
“Listen! “exclaimed the gay secretary, indignantly. “You must pardon me but that was the act of a savage! The devil take it. I never witnessed such a thing before!”
“My dear man!” said Foma, friendly, “did he not deserve the drubbing? Is he not a scoundrel? How can he speak like that behind a person’s back? No! Let him go to her and tell it plainly to her alone.”
“Excuse me. The devil take you! But it wasn’t for her alone that you gave him the drubbing?”
“That is, what do you mea — not for her alone? For whom then?” asked Foma, amazed.
“For whom? I don’t know. Evidently you had old accounts to settle! 0h Lord! That was a scene! I shall not forget it in all my life!”
“He — that man — who is he?” asked Foma, and suddenly burst out laughing. “How he roared, the fool!”
Ookhtishchev looked fixedly into his face and asked:
“Tell me, is it true, that you don’t know whom you’ve thrashed? And is it really only for Sophya Pavlovna?”
“It is, by God!” avowed Foma.
“So, the devil knows what the result may be!” He stopped short, shrugged his shoulders perplexedly, waved his hand, and again began to pace the sidewalk, looking at Foma askance. “You’ll pay for this, Foma Ignatyevich.”
“Will he take me to court?”
“Would to God he does. He is the Vice-Governor’s son-in-law,”
“Is that so?” said Foma, slowly, and made a long face.
“Yes. To tell the truth, he is a scoundrel and a rascal. According to this fact I must admit, that he deserves a drubbing. But taking into consideration the fact that the lady you defended is also —”
“Sir!” said Foma, firmly, placing his hand on Ookhtishchev’s shoulder, “I have always liked you, and you are now walking with me. I understand it and can appreciate it. But do not speak ill of her in my presence. Whatever she may be in your opinion, in my opinion, she is dear to me. To me she is the best woman. So I am telling you frankly. Since you are going with me, do not touch her. I consider her good, therefore she is good.”
There was great emotion in Foma’s voice. Ookhtishchev looked at him and said thoughtfully:
“You are a queer man, I must confess.”
“I am a simple man — a savage. I have given him a thrashing and now I feel jolly, and as to the result, let come what will.’
“I am afraid that it will result in something bad. Do you know — to be frank, in return for your frankness — I also like you, although — Mm! It is rather dangerous to be with you. Such a knightly temper may come over you and one may get a thrashing at your hands.”
“How so? This was but the first time. I am not going to beat people every day, am I?” said Foma, confused. His companion began to laugh.
“What a monster you are! Listen to me — it is savage to fight — you must excuse me, but it is abominable. Yet, I must tell you, in this case you made a happy selection. You have thrashed a rake, a cynic, a parasite — a man who robbed his nephews with impunity.”
“Well, thank God for that!” said Foma with satisfaction. “Now I have punished him a little.”
“A little? Very well, let us suppose it was a little. But listen to me, my child, permit me to give you advice. I am a man of the law. He, that Kayazev, is a rascal! True! But you must not thrash even a rascal, for he is a social being, under the paternal custody of the law. You cannot touch him until he transgresses the limits of the penal code. But even then, not you, but we, the judges, will give him his due. While you must have patience.”
“And will he soon fall into your hands?” inquired Foma, naively.
“It is hard to tell. Being far from stupid, he will probably never be caught, and to the end of his days he will live with you and me in the same degree of equality before the law. 0h God, what I am telling you!” said Ookhtishchev, with a comical sigh.
“Betraying secrets?” grinned Foma.
“It isn’t secrets; but I ought not to be frivolous. De-e-evil! But then, this affair enlivened me. Indeed, Nemesis is even then true to herself when she simply kicks like a horse.”
Foma stopped suddenly, as though he had met an obstacle on his way.
“Nemesis — the goddess of Justice,” babbled Ookhtishchev. “What’s the matter with you?”
“And it all came about,” said Foma, slowly, in a dull voice, “because you said that she was going away.”
“Yes, she is going away. Well?”
He stood opposite Foma and stared at him, with a smile in his eyes. Gordyeeff was silent, with lowered head, tapping the stone of the sidewalk with his cane.
“Come,” said Ookhtishchev.
Foma started, saying indifferently:
“Well, let her go. And I am alone.” Ookhtishchev, waving his cane, began to whistle, looking at his companion.
“Sha’n’t I be able to get along without her?” asked Foma, looking somewhere in front of him and then, after a pause, he answered himself softly and irresolutely:
“Of course, I shall.”
“Listen to me!” exclaimed Ookhtishchev. “I’ll give you some good advice. A man must be himself. While you, you are an epic man, so to say, and the lyrical is not becoming to you. It isn’t your genre.”
“Speak to me more simply, sir,” said Foma, having listened attentively to his words.
“More simply? Very well. I want to say, give up thinking of this little lady. She is poisonous food for you.”
“She told me the same,” put in Foma, gloomily.
“She told you?” Ookhtishchev asked and became thoughtful. “Now, I’ll tell you, shouldn’t we perhaps go and have supper?”
“Let’s go,” Foma assented. And he suddenly roared obdurately, clinching his fists and waving them in the air: “Well, let us go, and I’ll get wound up; I’ll break loose, after all this, so you can’t hold me back!”
“What for? We’ll do it modestly.”
“No! wait!” said Foma, anxiously, seizing him by the shoulder. “What’s that? Am I worse than other people? Everybody lives, whirls, hustles about, has his own point. While I am weary. Everybody is satisfied with himself. And as to their complaining, they lie, the rascals! They are simply pretending for beauty’s sake. I have no reason to pretend. I am a fool. I don’t understand anything, my dear fellow. I simply wish to live! I am unable to think. I feel disgusted; one says this, another that! Pshaw! But she, eh! If you knew. My hope was in her. I expected of her — just what I expected, I cannot tell; but she is the best of women! And I had so much faith in her — when sometimes she spoke such peculiar words, all her own. Her eyes, my dear boy, are so beautiful! 0h Lord! I was ashamed to look upon them, and as I am telling you, she would say a few words, and everything would become clear to me. For I did not come to her with love alone — I came to her with all my soul! I sought — I thought that since she was so beautiful, consequently, I might become a man by her side!”
Ookhtishchev listened to the painful, unconnected words that burst from his companion’s lips. He saw how the muscles of his face contracted with the effort to express his thoughts, and he felt that behind this bombast there was a great, serious grief. There was something intensely pathetic in the powerlessness of this strong and savage youth, who suddenly started to pace the sidewalk with big, uneven steps. Skipping along after him with his short legs, Ookhtishchev felt it his duty somehow to calm Foma. Everything Foma had said and done that evening awakened in the jolly secretary a feeling of lively curiosity toward Foma, and then he felt flattered by the frankness of the young millionaire. This frankness confused him with its dark power; he was disconcerted by its pressure, and though, in spite of his youth, he had a stock of words ready for all occasions in life, it took him quite awhile to recall them.
“I feel that everything is dark and narrow about me,” said Gordyeeff. “I feel that a burden is falling on my shoulders, but what it is I cannot understand! It puts a restraint on me, and it checks the freedom of my movements along the road of life. Listening to people, you hear that each says a different thing. But she could have said —”
“Eh, my dear boy!” Ookhtishchev interrupted Foma, gently taking his arm. “That isn’t right! You have just started to live and already you are philosophizing! No, that is not right! Life is given us to live! Which means — live and let others live. That’s the philosophy! And that woman. Bah! Is she then the only one in the world? The world is large enough. If you wish, I’ll introduce you to such a virile woman, that even the slightest trace of your philosophy would at once vanish from your soul! Oh, a remarkable woman! And how well she knows how to avail herself of life! Do you know, there’s also something epic about her? She is beautiful; a Phryne, I may say, and what a match she would be to you! Ah, devil! It is really a splendid idea. I’ll make you acquainted with her! We must drive one nail out with another.”
“My conscience does not allow it,” said Foma, sadly and sternly. “So long as she is alive, I cannot even look at women.”
“Such a robust and healthy young man. Ho, ho!” exclaimed Ookhtishchev, and in the tone of a teacher began to argue with Foma that it was essential for him to give his passion an outlet in a good spree, in the company of women.
“This will be magnificent, and it is indispensable to you. You may believe me. And as to conscience, you must excuse me. You don’t define it quite properly. It is not conscience that interferes with you, but timidity, I believe. You live outside of society. You are bashful, and awkward. Youare dimly conscious of all this, and it is this consciousness that you mistake for conscience. In this case there can be no question about conscience. What has conscience to do here, since it is natural for man to enjoy himself, since it is his necessity and his right?”
Foma walked on, regulating his steps to those of his companion, and staring along the road, which lay between two rows of buildings, resembled an enormous ditch, and was filled with darkness. It seemed that there was no end to the road and that something dark, inexhaustible and suffocating was slowly flowing along it in the distance. Ookhtishchev’s kind, suasive voice rang monotonously in Foma’s ears, and though he was not listening to his words, he felt that they were tenacious in their way; that they adhered to him, and that he was involuntarily memorizing them. Notwithstanding that a man walked beside him, he felt as though he were alone, straying in the dark. And the darkness seized him and slowly drew him along, and he felt that he was drawn somewhere, and yet had no desire to stop. Some sort of fatigue hindered his thinking; there was no desire in him to resist the admonitions of his companion — and why should he resist them?
“It isn’t for everyone to philosophize,” said Ookhtishchev, swinging his cane in the air, and somewhat carried away by his wisdom. “For if everybody were to philosophize, who would live? And we live but once! And therefore it were best to make haste to live. By God! That’s true! But what’s the use of talking? Would you permit me to give you a shaking up? Let’s go immediately to a pleasure-house I know. Two sisters live there. Ah, how they live! You will come?”
“Well, I’ll go,” said Foma, calmly, and yawned. “Isn’t it rather late?” he asked, looking up at the sky which was covered with clouds.
“It’s never too late to go to see them!” exclaimed Ookhtishchev, merrily.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55