ONE Sunday afternoon, Yakov Tarasovich Mayakin was drinking tea in his garden and talking to his daughter. The collar of his shirt unbuttoned, a towel wound round his neck, he sat on a bench under a canopy of verdant cherry-trees, waved his hands in the air, wiped the perspiration off his face, and incessantly poured forth into the air his brisk speech.
“The man who permits his belly to have the upper hand over him is a fool and a rogue! Is there nothing better in the world than eating and drinking? Upon what will you pride yourself before people, if you are like a hog?”
The old man’s eyes sparkled irritably and angrily, his lips twisted with contempt, and the wrinkles of his gloomy face quivered.
“If Foma were my own son, I would have made a man of him!”
Playing with an acacia branch, Lubov mutely listened to her father’s words, now and then casting a close and searching look in his agitated, quivering face. Growing older, she changed, without noticing it, her suspicious and cold relation toward the old man. In his words she now began to find the same ideas that were in her books, and this won her over on her father’s side, involuntarily causing the girl to prefer his live words to the cold letters of the book. Always overwhelmed with business affairs, always alert and clever, he went his own way alone, and she perceived his solitude, knew how painful it was, and her relations toward her father grew in warmth. At times she even entered into arguments with the old man; he always regarded her remarks contemptuously and sarcastically; but more tenderly and attentively from time to time.
“If the deceased Ignat could read in the newspapers of the indecent life his son is leading, he would have killed Foma!” said Mayakin, striking the table with his fists. “How they have written it up! It’s a disgrace!”
“He deserves it,” said Lubov.
“I don’t say it was done at random! They’ve barked at him, as was necessary. And who was it that got into such a fit of anger?”
“What difference does it make to you?” asked the girl.
“It’s interesting to know. How cleverly the rascal described Foma’s behaviour. Evidently he must have been with him and witnessed all the indecency himself.”
“Oh, no, he wouldn’t go with Foma on a spree!’ said Lubov, confidently, and blushed deeply at her father’s searching look.
“So! You have fine acquaintances, Lubka! “ said Mayakin with humorous bitterness. “Well, who wrote it?”
“What do you wish to know it for, papa?”
“Come, tell me!”
She had no desire to tell, but the old man persisted, and his voice was growing more and more dry and angry. Then she asked him uneasily:
“And you will not do him any ill for it?”
“I? I will — bite his head off! Fool! What can I do to him? They, these writers, are not a foolish lot and are therefore a power — a power, the devils! And I am not the governor, and even he cannot put one’s hand out of joint or tie one’s tongue. Like mice, they gnaw us little by little. And we have to poison them not with matches, but with roubles. Yes! Well, who is it?”
“Do you remember, when I was going to school, a Gymnasium student used to come up to us. Yozhov? Such a dark little fellow!”
“Mm! Of course, I saw him. I know him. So it’s he?”
“The little mouse! Even at that time one could see already that something wrong would come out of him. Even then he stood in the way of other people. A bold boy he was. I should have looked after him then. Perhaps, I might have made a man of him.”
Lubov looked at her father, smiled inimically, and asked hotly:
“And isn’t he who writes for newspapers a man?”
For a long while, the old man did not answer his daughter. Thoughtfully, he drummed with his fingers against the table and examined his face, which was reflected in the brightly polished brass of the samovar. Then he raised his head, winked his eyes and said impressively and irritably:
“They are not men, they are sores! The blood of the Russian people has become mixed, it has become mixed and spoiled, and from the bad blood have come all these book and newspaper- writers, these terrible Pharisees. They have broken out everywhere, and they are still breaking out, more and more. Whence comes this spoiling of the blood? From slowness of motion. Whence the mosquitoes, for instance? From the swamp. All sorts of uncleanliness multiply in stagnant waters. The same is true of a disordered life.”
“That isn’t right, papa!” said Lubov, softly.
“What do you mean by — not right?”
“Writers are the most unselfish people, they are noble personalities! They don’t want anything — all they strive for is justice — truth! They’re not mosquitoes.”
Lubov grew excited as she lauded her beloved people; her face was flushed, and her eyes looked at her father with so much feeling, as though imploring him to believe her, being unable to convince him.
“Eh, you!” said the old man, with a sigh, interrupting her. “You’ve read too much! You’ve been poisoned! Tell me — who are they? No one knows! That Yozhov — what is he? Only God knows. All they want is the truth, you say? What modest people they are! And suppose truth is the very dearest thing there is? Perhaps everybody is seeking it in silence? Believe me — man cannot be unselfish. Man will not fight for what belongs not to him, and if he does fight — his name is ‘fool,’ and he is of no use to anybody. A man must be able to stand up for himself, for his own, then will he attain something! Here you have it! Truth! Here I have been reading the same newspaper for almost forty years, and I can see well — here is my face before you, and before me, there on the samovar is again my face, but it is another face. You see, these newspapers give a samovar face to everything, and do not see the real one. And yet you believe them. But I know that my face on the samovar is distorted. No one can tell the real truth; man’s throat is too delicate for this. And then, the real truth is known to nobody.”
“Papa!” exclaimed Lubov, sadly, “But in books and in newspapers they defend the general interests of all the people.”
“And in what paper is it written that you are weary of life, and that it was time for you to get married? So, there your interest is not defended! Eh! You! Neither is mine defended. Who knows what I need? Who, but myself, understands my interests?”
“No, papa, that isn’t right, that isn’t right! I cannot refute you, but I feel that this isn’t right!” said Lubov almost with despair.
“It is right!” said the old man, firmly. “Russia is confused, and there is nothing steadfast in it; everything is staggering! Everybody lives awry, everybody walks on one side, there’s no harmony in life. All are yelling out of tune, in different voices. And not one understands what the other is in need of! There is a mist over everything — everybody inhales that mist, and that’s why the blood of the people has become spoiled — hence the sores. Man is given great liberty to reason, but is not permitted to do anything — that’s why man does not live; but rots and stinks.”
“What ought one to do, then?” asked Lubov, resting her elbows on the table and bending toward her father.
“Everything!” cried the old man, passionately. “Do everything. Go ahead! Let each man do whatever he knows best! But for that liberty must be given to man — complete freedom! Since there has come a time, when everyraw youth believes that he knows everything and was created for the complete arrangement of life — give him, give the rogue freedom! Here, Carrion, live! Come, come, live! Ah! Then such a comedy will follow; feeling that his bridle is off, man will then rush up higher than his ears, and like a feather will fly hither and thither. He’ll believe himself to be a miracle worker, and then he’ll start to show his spirit.”
The old man paused awhile and, lowering his voice, went on, with a malicious smile:
“But there is very little of that creative spirit in him! He’ll bristle up for a day or two, stretch himself on all sides — and the poor fellow will soon grow weak. For his heart is rotten — he, he, he! Here, he, he, he! The dear fellow will be caught by the real, worthy people, by those real people who are competent to be the actual civil masters, who will manage life not with a rod nor with a pen, but with a finger and with brains.
“What, they will say. Have you grown tired, gentlemen? What, they will say, your spleens cannot stand a real fire, can they? So — “and, raising his voice, the old man concluded his speech in an authoritative tone:
“Well, then, now, you rabble, hold your tongues, and don’t squeak! Or we’ll shake you off the earth, like worms from a tree! Silence, dear fellows! Ha, ha, ha! That’s how it’s going to happen, Lubavka! He, he, he!”
The old man was in a merry mood. His wrinkles quivered, and carried away by his words, he trembled, closed his eyes now and then, and smacked his lips as though tasting his own wisdom.
“And then those who will take the upper hand in the confusion will arrange life wisely, after their own fashion. Then things won’t go at random, but as if by rote. It’s a pity that we shall not live to see it!”
The old man’s words fell one after another upon Lubov like meshes of a big strong net — they fell and enmeshed her, and the girl, unable to free herself from them, maintained silence, dizzied by her father’s words. Staring into his face with an intense look, she sought support for herself in his words and heard in them something similar to what she had read in books, and which seemed to her the real truth. But the malignant, triumphant laughter of her father stung her heart, and the wrinkles, which seemed to creep about on his face like so many dark little snakes, inspired her with a certain fear for herself in his presence. She felt that he was turning her aside from what had seemed so simple and so easy in her dreams.
“Papa!” she suddenly asked the old man, in obedience to a thought and a desire that unexpectedly flashed through her mind. “Papa! and what sort of a man — what in your opinion is Taras?”
Mayakin shuddered. His eyebrows began to move angrily, he fixed his keen, small eyes on his daughter’s face and asked her drily:
“What sort of talk is this?”
“Must he not even be mentioned?” said Lubov, softly and confusedly.
I don’t want to speak of him — and I also advise you not to speak of him! “— the old man threatened her with his finger and lowered his head with a gloomy frown. But when he said that he did not want to speak of his son, he evidently did not understand himself correctly, for after a minute’s silence he said sternly and angrily:
“Taraska, too, is a sore. Life is breathing upon you, milksops, and you cannot discriminate its genuine scents, and you swallow all sorts of filth, wherefore there is trouble in your heads. That’s why you are not competent to do anything, and you are unhappy because of this incompetence. Taraska. Yes. He must be about forty now. He is lost to me! A galley-slave — is that my son? A blunt-snouted young pig. He would not speak to his father, and — he stumbled.”
“What did he do?” asked Lubov, eagerly listening to the old man’s words.
“Who knows? It may be that now he cannot understand himself, if he became sensible, and he must have become a sensible man; he’s the son of a father who’s not stupid, and then he must have suffered not a little. They coddle them, the nihilists! They should have turned them over to me. I’d show them what to do. Into the desert! Into the isolated places — march! Come, now, my wise fellows, arrange life there according to your own will! Go ahead! And as authorities over them I’d station the robust peasants. Well, now, honourable gentlemen, you were given to eat and to drink, you were given an education — what have you learned? Pay your debts, pray. Yes, I would not spend a broken grosh on them. I would squeeze all the price out of them — give it up! You must not set a man at naught. It is not enough to imprison him! You transgressed the law, and are a gentleman? Never mind, you must work. Out of a single seed comes an ear of corn, and a man ought not be permitted to perish without being of use! An economical carpenter finds a place for each and every chip of wood — just so must every man be profitably used up, and used up entire, to the very last vein. All sorts of trash have a place in life, and man is never trash. Eh! it is bad when power lives without reason, nor is it good when reason lives without power. Take Foma now. Who is coming there — give a look.”
Turning around, Lubov noticed the captain of the “Yermak,” Yefim, coming along the garden path. He had respectfully removed his cap and bowed to her. There was a hopelessly guilty expression on his face and he seemed abashed. Yakov Tarasovich recognized him and, instantly grown alarmed, he cried:
“Where are you coming from? What has happened?”
“I— I have come to you!” said Yefim, stopping short at the table, with a low bow.
“Well, I see, you’ve come to me. What’s the matter? Where’s the steamer?”
“The steamer is there!” Yefim thrust his hand somewhere into the air and heavily shifted from one foot to the other.
“Where is it, devil? Speak coherently — what has happened?” cried the old man, enraged.
“So — a misfortune, Yakov.”
“Have you been wrecked?”
“No, God saved us.”
“Burned up? Well, speak more quickly.”
Yefim drew air into his chest and said slowly:
“Barge No. 9 was sunk — smashed up. One man’s back was broken, and one is altogether missing, so that he must have drowned. About five more were injured, but not so very badly, though some were disabled.”
“So-o!” drawled out Mayakin, measuring the captain with an ill- omened look.
“Well, Yefimushka, I’ll strip your skin off”
“It wasn’t I who did it!” said Yefim, quickly.
“Not you?” cried the old man, shaking with rage. “Who then?”
“The master himself.”
“Foma? And you. Where were you?”
“I was lying in the hatchway.”
“Ah! You were lying.”
“I was bound there.”
“Wha-at?” screamed the old man in a shrill voice.
“Allow me to tell you everything as it happened. He was drunk and he shouted: “‘Get away! I’ll take command myself!’ I said ‘I can’t! I am the captain.’ ‘Bind him!’ said he. And when they had bound me, they lowered me into the hatchway, with the sailors. And as the master was drunk, he wanted to have some fun. A fleet of boats was coming toward us. Six empty barges towed by ‘Cheruigorez.’ So Foma Ignatyich blocked their way. They whistled. More than once. I must tell the truth — they whistled!”
“Well, and they couldn’t manage it — the two barges in front crashed into us. And as they struck the side of our ninth, we were smashed to pieces. And the two barges were also smashed. But we fared much worse.”
Mayakin rose from the chair and burst into jarring, angry laughter. And Yefim sighed, and, outstretching his hands, said:xxx”He has a very violent character. When he is sober he is silent most of the time, and walks around thoughtfully, but when he wets his springs with wine — then he breaks loose. Then he is not master of himself and of his business — but their wild enemy — you must excuse me! And I want to leave, Yakov Tarasovich! I am not used to being without a master, I cannot live without a master!”
“Keep quiet!” said Mayakin, sternly. “Where’s Foma?”
“There; at the same place. Immediately after the accident, he came to himself and at once sent for workmen. They’ll lift the barge. They may have started by this time.”
“Is he there alone?” asked Mayakin, lowering his head.
“Not quite,” replied Yefim, softly, glancing stealthily at Lubov.
“There’s a lady with him. A dark one.”
“It looks as though the woman is out of her wits,” said Yefim, with a sigh. “She’s forever singing. She sings very well. It’s very captivating.”
“I am not asking you about her!” cried Mayakin, angrily. The wrinkles of his face were painfully quivering, and it seemed to Lubov that her father was about to weep.
“Calm yourself, papa!” she entreated caressingly. “Maybe the loss isn’t so great.”
“Not great?” cried Yakov Tarasovich in a ringing voice. “What do you understand, you fool? Is it only that the barge was smashed? Eh, you! A man is lost! That’s what it is! And he is essential to me! I need him, dull devils that you are!” The old man shook his head angrily and with brisk steps walked off along the garden path leading toward the house.
And Foma was at this time about four hundred versts away from his godfather, in a village hut, on the shore of the Volga. He had just awakened from sleep, and lying on the floor, on a bed of fresh hay, in the middle of the hut, he gazed gloomily out of the window at the sky, which was covered with gray, scattered clouds.
The wind was tearing them asunder and driving them somewhere; heavy and weary, one overtaking another, they were passing across the sky in an enormous flock. Now forming a solid mass, now breaking into fragments, now falling low over the earth, in silent confusion, now again rising upward, one swallowed by another.
Without moving his head, which was heavy from intoxication, Foma looked long at the clouds and finally began to feel as though silent clouds were also passing through his breast — passing, breathing a damp coldness upon his heart and oppressing him. There was something impotent in the motion of the clouds across the sky. And he felt the same within him. Without thinking, he pictured to himself all he had gone through during the past months. It seemed to him as though he had fallen into a turbid, boiling stream, and now he had been seized by dark waves, that resembled these clouds in the sky; had been seized and carried away somewhere, even as the clouds were carried by the wind. In the darkness and the tumult which surrounded him, he saw as though through a mist that certain other people were hastening together with him — to-day not those of yesterday, new ones each day, yet all looking alike — equally pitiful and repulsive. Intoxicated, noisy, greedy, they flew about him as in a whirlwind, caroused at his expense, abused him, fought, screamed, and even wept more than once. And he beat them. He remembered that one day he had struck somebody on the face, torn someone’s coat off and thrown it into the water and that some one had kissed his hands with wet, cold lips as disgusting as frogs. Had kissed and wept, imploring him not to kill. Certain faces flashed through his memory, certain sounds and words rang in it. A woman in a yellow silk waist, unfastened at the breast, had sung in a loud, sobbing voice:
“And so let us live while we canAnd then — e’en grass may cease to grow.”
All these people, like himself, grown wild and beastlike, were seized by the same dark wave and carried away like rubbish. All these people, like himself, must have been afraid to look forward to see whither this powerful, wild wave was carrying them. And drowning their fear in wine, they were rushing forward down the current struggling, shouting, doing something absurd, playing the fool, clamouring, clamouring, without ever being cheerful. He was doing the same, whirling in their midst. And now it seemed to him, that he was doing all this for fear of himself, in order to pass the sooner this strip of life, or in order not to think of what would be afterward.
Amid the burning turmoil of carouses, in the crowd of people, seized by debauchery, perplexed by violent passions, half-crazy in their longing to forget themselves — only Sasha was calm and contained. She never drank to intoxication, always addressed people in a firm, authoritative voice, and all her movements were equally confident, as though this stream had not taken possession of her, but she was herself mastering its violent course. She seemed to Foma the cleverest person of all those that surrounded him, and the most eager for noise and carouse; she held them all in her sway, forever inventing something new and speaking in one and the same manner to everybody; for the driver, the lackey and the sailor she had the same tone and the same words as for her friends and for Foma. She was younger and prettier than Pelageya, but her caresses were silent, cold. Foma imagined that deep in her heart she was concealing from everybody something terrible, that she would never love anyone, never reveal herself entire. This secrecy in the woman attracted him toward her with a feeling of timorous curiosity, of a great, strained interest in her calm, cold soul, which seemed even as dark as her eyes.
Somehow Foma said to her one day:
“But what piles of money you and I have squandered!”
She glanced at him, and asked:
“And why should we save it?”
“Indeed, why?” thought Foma, astonished by the fact that she reasoned so simply.
“Who are you?” he asked her at another occasion.
“Why, have you forgotten my name?”
“Well, the idea!”
“What do you wish to know then?”
“I am asking you about your origin.”
“Ah! I am a native of the province of Yaroslavl. I’m from Ooglich. I was a harpist. Well, shall I taste sweeter to you, now that you know who I am?”
“Do I know it?” asked Foma, laughing.
“Isn’t that enough for you? I shall tell you nothing more about it. What for? We all come from the same place, both people and beasts. And what is there that I can tell you about myself? And what for? All this talk is nonsense. Let’s rather think a little as to how we shall pass the day.”
On that day they took a trip on a steamer, with an orchestra of music, drank champagne, and every one of them got terribly drunk. Sasha sang a peculiar, wonderfully sad song, and Foma, moved by her singing, wept like a child. Then he danced with her the “Russian dance,” and finally, perspiring and fatigued, threw himself overboard in his clothes and was nearly drowned.
Now, recalling all this and a great deal more, he felt ashamed of himself and dissatisfied with Sasha. He looked at her well-shaped figure, heard her even breathing and felt that he did not love this woman, and that she was unnecessary to him. Certain gray, oppressive thoughts were slowly springing up in his heavy, aching head. It seemed to him as though everything he had lived through during this time was twisted within him into a heavy and moist ball, and that now this ball was rolling about in his breast, unwinding itself slowly, and the thin gray cords were binding him.
“What is going on in me?” he thought. “I’ve begun to carouse. Why? I don’t know how to live. I don’t understand myself. Who am I?”
He was astonished by this question, and he paused over it, attempting to make it clear to himself — why he was unable to live as firmly and confidently as other people do. He was now still more tortured. by conscience. More uneasy at this thought, he tossed about on the hay and irritated, pushed Sasha with his elbow.
“Be careful!” said she, although nearly asleep.
“It’s all right. You’re not such a lady of quality!” muttered Foma.
“What’s the matter with you?”
She turned her back to him, and said lazily, with a lazy yawn:
“I dreamed that I became a harpist again. It seemed to me that I was singing a solo, and opposite me stood a big, dirty dog, snarling and waiting for me to finish the song. And I was afraid of the dog. And I knew that it would devour me, as soon as I stopped singing. So I kept singing, singing. And suddenly it seemed my voice failed me. Horrible! And the dog is gnashing his teeth. 0h Lord, have mercy on me! What does it mean?”
“Stop your idle talk!” Foma interrupted her sternly. “You better tell me what you know about me.”
“I know, for instance, that you are awake now,” she answered, without turning to him.
“Awake? That’s true. I’ve awakened,” said Foma, thoughtfully and, throwing his arm behind his head, went on: “That’s why I am asking you. What sort of man do you think I am?”
“A man with a drunken headache,” answered Sasha, yawning.
“Aleksandra!” exclaimed Foma, beseechingly, “don’t talk nonsense! Tell me conscientiously, what do you think of me?”
“I don’t think anything!” she said drily. “Why are you bothering me with nonsense?”
“Is this nonsense?” said Foma, sadly. “Eh, you devils! This is the principal thing. The most essential thing to me.”
He heaved a deep sigh and became silent. After a minute’s silence, Sasha began to speak in her usual, indifferent voice:
“Tell him who he is, and why he is such as he is? Did you ever see! Is it proper to ask such questions of our kind of women? And on what ground should I think about each and every man? I have not even time to think about myself, and, perhaps, I don’t feel like doing it at all.”
Foma laughed drily and said:
“I wish I were like this — and had no desires for anything.”
Then the woman raised her head from the pillow, looked into Foma’s face and lay down again, saying:
“You are musing too much. Look out — no good will come of it to you. I cannot tell you anything about yourself. It is impossible to say anything true about a man. Who can understand him? Man does not know himself. Well, here, I’ll tell you — you are better than others. But what of it?”
“And in what way am I better?” asked Foma, thoughtfully.
“So! When one sings a good song — you weep. When one does some mean thing — you beat him. With women you are simple, you are not impudent to them. You are peaceable. And you can also be daring, sometimes.”
Yet all this did not satisfy Foma.
“You’re not telling me the right thing!” said he, softly.
“Well, I don’t know what you want. But see here, what are
we going to do after they have raised the barge?”
“What can we do?” asked Foma.
“Shall we go to Nizhni or to Kazan?”
“1 don’t want to carouse any more.”
“What else are you going to do?”
And both were silent for a long time, without looking at each other.
“You have a disagreeable character,” said Sasha, “a wearisome character.”
“But nevertheless I won’t get drunk any more!” said Foma, firmly and confidently.
“You are lying!” retorted Sasha, calmly.
“You’ll see! What do you think — is it good to lead such a life as this?”
“No, just tell me — is it good?”
“But what is better?”
Foma looked at her askance and, irritated, said:
“What repulsive words you speak.”
“Well, here again I haven’t pleased him!” said Sasha, laughing.
“What a fine crowd!” said Foma, painfully wrinkling his face. “They’re like trees. They also live, but how? No one understands. They are crawling somewhere. And can give no account either to themselves or to others. When the cockroach crawls, he knows whither and wherefore he wants to go? And you? Whither are you going?”
“Hold on!” Sasha interrupted him, and asked him calmly: “What have you to do with me? You may take from me all that you want, but don’t you creep into my soul!”
“Into your so-o-ul!” Foma drawled out, with contempt. “Into what soul? He, he!”
She began to pace the room, gathering together the clothes that were scattered everywhere. Foma watched her and was displeased because she did not get angry at him for his words about her soul. Her face looked calm and indifferent, as usual, but he wished to see her angry or offended; he wished for something human from the woman.
“The soul!” he exclaimed, persisting in his aim. “Can one who has a soul live as you live? A soul has fire burning in it, there is a sense of shame in it.”
By this time she was sitting on a bench, putting on her stockings, but at his words she raised her head and sternly fixed her eyes upon his face.
“What are you staring at?” asked Foma.
“Why do you speak that way?” said she, without lifting her eyes from him.
“Because I must.”
“Look out — must you really?”
There was something threatening in her question. Foma felt intimidated and said, this time without provocation in his voice:
“How could I help speaking?”
“Oh, you!” sighed Sasha and resumed dressing herself
“And what about me?”
“Merely so. You seem as though you were born of two fathers. Do you know what I have observed among people?”
“If a man cannot answer for himself, it means that he is afraid of himself, that his price is a grosh!”
“Do you refer to me?” asked Foma, after a pause.
“To you, too.”
She threw a pink morning gown over her shoulders and, standing in the centre of the room, stretched out her hand toward Foma, who lay at her feet, and said to him in a low, dull voice:
“You have no right to speak about my soul. You have nothing to do with it! And therefore hold your tongue! I may speak! If I please, I could tell something to all of you. Eh, how I could tell it! Only — who will dare to listen to me, if I should speak at the top of my voice? And I have some words about you — they’re like hammers! And I could knock you all on your heads so that you would lose your wits. And although you are all rascals — you cannot be cured by words. You should be burned in the fire — just as frying-pans are burned out on the first Monday of Lent.”
Raising her hands she abruptly loosened her hair, and when it fell over her shoulders in heavy, black locks — the woman shook her head haughtily and said, with contempt:
“Never mind that I am leading a loose life! It often happens, that the man who lives in filth is purer than he who goes about in silks. If you only knew what I think of you, you dogs, what wrath I bear against you! And because of this wrath — I am silent! For I fear that if I should sing it to you — my soul would become empty. I would have nothing to live on.” Foma looked at her, and now he was pleased with her. In her words there was something akin to his frame of mind. Laughing, he said to her, with satisfaction on his face and in his voice:
“And I also feel that something is growing within my soul. Eh, I too shall have my say, when the time comes.”
“Against whom?” asked Sasha, carelessly.
“I— against everybody!” exclaimed Foma, jumping to his feet. “Against falsehood. I shall ask —”
“Ask whether the samovar is ready,” Sasha ordered indifferently.
Foma glanced at her and cried, enraged:
“Go to the devil! Ask yourself.”
“Well, all right, I shall. What are you snarling about?”
And she stepped out of the hut.
In piercing gusts the wind blew across the river, striking against its bosom, and covered with troubled dark waves, the river was spasmodically rushing toward the wind with a noisy splash, and all in the froth of wrath. The willow bushes on the shore bent low to the ground — trembling, they now were about to lie down on the ground, now, frightened, they thrust themselves away from it, driven by the blows of the wind. In the air rang a whistling, a howling, and a deep groaning sound, that burst from dozens of human breasts:
“It goes — it goes — it goes!”
This exclamation, abrupt as a blow, and heavy as the breath from an enormous breast, which is suffocating from exertion, was soaring over the river, falling upon the waves, as if encouraging their mad play with the wind, and they struck the shores with might.
Two empty barges lay anchored by the mountainous shore, and their tall masts, rising skyward, rocked in commotion from side to side, as though describing some invisible pattern in the air. The decks of both barges were encumbered with scaffolds, built of thick brown beams; huge sheaves were hanging everywhere; chains and ropes were fastened to them, and rocking in the air; the links of the chains were faintly clanging. A throng of peasants in blue and in red blouses pulled a large beam across the dock and, heavily stamping their feet, groaned with full chest:
“It goes — it goes — it goes!”
Here and there human figures clung to the scaffoldings, like big lumps of blue and red; the wind, blowing their blouses and their trousers, gave the men odd forms, making them appear now hump- backed, now round and puffed up like bladders. The people on the scaffolds and on the decks of the barges were making fast, hewing, sawing, driving in nails; and big arms, with shirt sleeves rolled up to the elbows were seen everywhere. The wind scattered splinters of wood, and a varied, lively, brisk noise in the air; the saw gnawed the wood, choking with wicked joy; the beams, wounded by the axes, moaned and groaned drily; the boards cracked sickly as they split from the blows they received; the jointer squeaked maliciously. The iron clinking of the chains and the groaning creaking of the sheaves joined the wrathful roaring of the waves, and the wind howled loudly, scattering over the river the noise of toil and drove the clouds across the sky.
“Mishka-a! The deuce take you!” cried someone from the top of the scaffolding. And from the deck, a large-formed peasant, with his head thrown upward, answered:
“Wh-a-at?” And the wind, playing with his long, flaxen beard, flung it into his face.
“Hand us the end.”
A resounding basso shouted as through a speaking-trumpet:
“See how you’ve fastened this board, you blind devil? Can’t you see? I’ll rub your eyes for you!”
“Pull, my boys, come on!”
“Once more — brave — boys!” cried out some one in a loud, beseeching voice.
Handsome and stately, in a short cloth jacket and high boots, Foma stood, leaning his back against a mast, and stroking his beard with his trembling hand, admired the daring work of the peasants. The noise about him called forth in him a persistent desire to shout, to work together with the peasants, to hew wood, to carry burdens, to command — to compel everybody to pay attention to him, and to show them his strength, his skill, and the live soul within him. But he restrained himself. And standing speechless, motionless, he felt ashamed and afraid of something. He was embarrassed by the fact that he was master over everybody there, and that if he were to start to work himself, no one would believe that he was working merely to satisfy his desire, and not to spur them on in their work; to set them an example. And then, the peasants might laugh at him, in all probability.
A fair and curly-headed fellow, with his shirt collar unbuttoned, was now and again running past him, now carrying a log on his shoulder, now an axe in his hands; he was skipping along, like a frolicsome goat, scattering about him cheerful, ringing laughter, jests, violent oaths, and working unceasingly, now assisting one, now another, as he was cleverly and quickly running across the deck, which was obstructed with timber and shavings. Foma watched him closely, and envied this merry fellow, who was radiant with something healthy and inspiring.
“Evidently he is happy,” thought Foma, and this thought provoked in him a keen, piercing desire to insult him somehow, to embarrass him. All those about him were seized with the zest of pressing work, all were unanimously and hastily fastening the scaffoldings, arranging the pulleys, preparing to raise the sunken barge from the bottom of the river; all were sound and merry — they all lived. While he stood alone, aside from them, not knowing what to do, not knowing how to do anything, feeling himself superfluous to this great toil. It vexed him to feel that he was superfluous among men, and the more closely he watched them, the more intense was this vexation. And he was stung most by the thought that all this was being done for him. And yet he was out of place there.
“Where is my place, then?” he thought gloomily. “Where is my work? Am I, then, some deformed being? I have just as much strength as any of them. But of what use is it to me?“The chains clanged, the pulleys groaned, the blows of the axes resounded loud over the river, and the barges rocked from the shocks of the waves, but to Foma it seemed that he was rocking not because the barge was rocking under his feet, but rather because he was not able to stand firmly anywhere, he was not destined to do so.
The contractor, a small-sized peasant with a small pointed gray beard, and with narrow little eyes on his gray wrinkled face, came up to him and said, not loud, but pronouncing his words with a certain m the bottom of the river. He wished that they might not succeed, that they might feel embarrassed in his presence, and a wicked thought flashed through his mind:
“Perhaps the chains will break.”
“Boys! Attention!” shouted the contractor. “Start all together. God bless us!” And suddenly, clasping his hands in the air, he cried in a shrill voice:
“Let — her — go-o-o!”
The labourers took up his shout, and all cried out in one voice, with excitement and exertion:
“Let her go! She moves.”
The pulleys squeaked and creaked, the chains clanked, strained under the heavy weight that suddenly fell upon them; and the labourers, bracing their chests against the handle of the windlasses, roared and tramped heavily. The waves splashed noisily between the barges as though unwilling to give up their prize to the men. Everywhere about Foma, chains and ropes were stretched and they quivered from the strain — they were creeping somewhere across the deck, past his feet, like huge gray worms; they were lifted upward, link after link, falling back with a rattling noise, and all these sounds were drowned by the deafening roaring of the labourers.
“It goes, it goes, it goes,” they all sang in unison, triumphantly. But the ringing voice of the contractor pierced the deep wave of their voices, and cut it even as a knife cuts bread.
“My boys! Go ahead, all at once, all at once.”
Foma was seized with a strange emotion; passionately he now longed to mingle with this excited roaring of the labourers, which was as broad and as powerful as the river — to blend with this irritating, creaking, squeaking, clanging of iron and turbulent splashing of waves. Perspiration came out on his face from the intensity of his desire, and suddenly pale from agitation, he tore himself away from the mast, and rushed toward the windlasses with big strides.
“All at once! At once!” he cried in a fierce voice. When he reached the lever of the windlass, he dashed his chest against it with all his might, and not feeling the pain, he began to go around the windlass, roaring, and firmly stamping his feet against the deck. Something powerful and burning rushed into his breast, replacing the efforts which he spent while turning the windlass-lever! Inexpressible joy raged within him and forced itself outside in an agitated cry. It seemed to him that he alone, that only his strength was turning the lever, thus raising the weight, and that his strength was growing and growing. Stooping, and lowering his head, like a bull he massed the power of the weight, which threw him back, but yielded to him, nevertheless. Each step forward excited him the more, each expended effort was immediately replaced in him by a flood of burning and vehement pride. His head reeled, his eyes were blood- shot, he saw nothing, he only felt that they were yielding to him, that he would soon conquer, that he would overthrow with his strength something huge which obstructed his way — would overthrow, conquer and then breathe easily and freely, full of proud delight. For the first time in his life he experienced such a powerful, spiritualizing sensation, and he drank it with all the strength of a hungry, thirsty soul; he was intoxicated by it and he gave vent to his joy in loud, exulting cries in unison with the workers:
“It goes — it goes — it goes.”
“Hold on! Fasten! Hold on, boys!”
Something dashed against Foma’s chest, and he was hurled backward.
“I congratulate you on a successful result, Foma Ignatyich!” the contractor congratulated him and the wrinkles quivered on his face in cheerful beams.
“Thank God! You must be quite tired now?”
Cold wind blew in Foma’s face. A contented, boastful bustle was in the air about him; swearing at one another in a friendly way, merry, with smiles on their perspiring brows, the peasants approached him and surrounded him closely. He smiled in embarrassment: the excitement within him had not yet calmed down and this hindered him from understanding what had happened and why all those who surrounded him were so merry and contented.
“We’ve raised a hundred and seventy thousand puds as if we plucked a radish from a garden-bed!” said some one.
“We ought to get a vedro of whisky from our master.”
Foma, standing on a heap of cable, looked over the heads of the workers and saw; between the barges, side by side with them, stood a third barge, black, slippery, damaged, wrapped in chains. It was warped all over, it seemed as though it swelled from some terrible disease and, impotent, clumsy, it was suspended between its companions, leaning against them. Its broken mast stood out mournfully in the centre; reddish streams of water, like blood, were running across the deck, which was covered with stains of rust. Everywhere on the deck lay heaps of iron, of black, wet stumps of wood, and of ropes.
“Raised?” asked Foma, not knowing what to say at the sight of this ugly, heavy mass, and again feeling offended at the thought that merely for the sake of raising this dirty, bruised monster from the water, his soul had foamed up with such joy.
“How’s the barge?” asked Foma, indefinitely, addressing the contractor.
“It’s pretty good! We must unload right away, and put a company of about twenty carpenters to work on it — they’ll bring it quickly into shape I “said the contractor in a consoling tone.
And the light-haired fellow, gaily and broadly smiling into Foma’s face, asked:
“Are we going to have any vodka?”
“Can’t you wait? You have time!” said the contractor, sternly. “Don’t you see — the man is tired.”
Then the peasants began to speak:
“Of course, he is tired!
“That wasn’t easy work!”
“Of course, one gets tired if he isn’t used to work.”
“It is even hard to eat gruel if you are not used to it.”
“I am not tired,” said Foma, gloomily, and again were heard the respectful exclamations of the peasants, as they surrounded him more closely.
“Work, if one likes it, is a pleasant thing.”
“It’s just like play.”
“It’s like playing with a woman.”
But the light-haired fellow persisted in his request:
“Your Honour! You ought to treat us to a vedro of vodka, eh?” he said, smiling and sighing.
Foma looked at the bearded faces before him and felt like saying something offensive to them. But somehow everything became confused in his brain, he found no thoughts in it and, finally, without giving himself an account of his words, said angrily:
“All you want is to drink all the time! It makes no difference to you what you do! You should have thought — why? to what purpose? Eh, you!”
There was an expression of perplexity on the faces of those that surrounded him, blue and red, bearded figures began to sigh, scratch themselves, shift themselves from one foot to another. Others cast a hopeless glance at Foma and turned away.
“Yes, yes!” said the contractor, with a sigh. “That wouldn’t harm! That is — to think — why and how. These are words of wisdom.”
The light-haired fellow had a different opinion on the matter; smiling kind-heartedly, he waved his hand and said:
“We don’t have to think over our work! If we have it — we do it! Our business is simple! When a rouble is earned — thank God! we can do everything.”
“And do you know what’s necessary to do?” questioned Foma, irritated by the contradiction.
“Everything is necessary — this and that.”
“But where’s the sense?”
“There’s but one and the same sense in everything for our class — when you have earned for bread and taxes — live! And when there’s something to drink, into the bargain.”
“Eh, you!” exclaimed Foma, with contempt. “You’re also talking! What do you understand?”
“Is it our business to understand?” said the light-haired fellow, with a nod of the head. It now bored him to speak to Foma. He suspected that he was unwilling to treat them to vodka and he was somewhat angry.
“That’s it!” said Foma, instructively, pleased that the fellow yielded to him, and not noticing the cross, sarcastic glances. “And he who understands feels that it is necessary to do everlasting work!”
“That is, for God!” explained the contractor, eyeing the peasants, and added, with a devout sigh:
“That’s true. Oh, how true that is!”
And Foma was inspired with the desire to say something correct and important, after which these people might regard him in a different light, for he was displeased with the fact that all, save the light-haired fellow, kept silent and looked at him askance, surlily, with such weary, gloomy eyes.
“It is necessary to do such work,” he said, moving his eyebrows. “Such work that people may say a thousand years hence: ‘This was done by the peasants of Bogorodsk — yes!
The light-haired fellow glanced at Foma with astonishment and asked:
“Are we, perhaps, to drink the Volga dry?” Then he sniffed and, nodding his head, announced: “We can’t do that — we should all burst.”
Foma became confused at his words and looked about him; the peasants were smiling morosely, disdainfully, sarcastically. And these smiles stung him like needles. A serious-looking peasant, with a big gray beard, who had not yet opened his mouth up to that time, suddenly opened it now, came closer to Foma and said slowly:
“And even if we were to drink the Volga dry, and eat up that mountain, into the bargain — that too would be forgotten, your Honour. Everything will be forgotten. Life is long. It is not for us to do such deeds as would stand out above everything else. But we can put up scaffoldings — that we can!”
He spoke and sceptically spitting at his feet, indifferently walked off from Foma, and slipped into the crowd, as a wedge into a tree. His words crushed Foma completely; he felt, that the peasants considered him stupid and ridiculous. And in order to save his importance as master in their eyes, to attract again the now exhausted attention of the peasants to himself, he bristled up, comically puffed up his cheeks and blurted out in an impressive voice:
“I make you a present of three buckets of vodka.”
Brief speeches have always the most meaning and are always apt to produce a strong impression. The peasants respectfully made way for Foma, making low bows to him, and, smiling merrily and gratefully, thanked him for his generosity in a unanimous roar of approval.
“Take me over to the shore,” said Foma, feeling that the excitement that had just been aroused in him would not last long. A worm was gnawing his heart, and he was weary.
“I feel disgusted!” he said, entering the hut where Sasha, in a smart, pink gown, was bustling about the table, arranging wines and refreshments. “I feel disgusted, Aleksandra! If you could only do something with me, eh?”
She looked at him attentively and, seating herself on the bench, shoulder to shoulder with him, said:
“Since you feel disgusted — it means that you want something. What is it you want?”
“I don’t know!” replied Foma, nodding his head mournfully.
“Think of it — search.”
“I am unable to think. Nothing comes out of my thinking.”
“Eh, you, my child!” said Sasha, softly and disdainfully, moving away from him. “Your head is superfluous to you.”
Foma neither caught her tone nor noticed her movement. Leaning his hands against the bench, he bent forward, looked at the floor, and, swaying his body to and fro, said:
“Sometimes I think and think — and the whole soul is stuck round with thoughts as with tar. And suddenly everything disappears, without leaving any trace. Then it is dark in the soul as in a cellar — dark, damp and empty — there is nothing at all in it! It is even terrible — I feel then as though I were not a man, but a bottomless ravine. You ask me what I want?”
Sasha looked at him askance and pensively began to sing softly:
“Eh, when the wind blows — mist comes from the sea.”
“I don’t want to carouse — it is repulsive! Always the same — the people, the amusements, the wine. When I grow malicious — I’d thrash everybody. I am not pleased with men — what are they? It is impossible to understand them — why do they keep on living? And when they speak the truth — to whom are we to listen? One says this, another that. While I— I cannot say anything.”
“Eh, without thee, dear, my life is weary,”
sang Sasha, staring at the wall before her. And Foma kept on rocking and said:
“There are times when I feel guilty before men. Everybody lives, makes noise, while I am frightened, staggered — as if I did not feel the earth under me. Was it, perhaps, my mother that endowed me with apathy? My godfather says that she was as cold as ice — that she was forever yearning towards something. I am also yearning. Toward men I am yearning. I’d like to go to them and say: ‘Brethren, help me! Teach me! I know not how to live!. And if I am guilty — forgive me!’ But looking about, I see there’s no one to speak to. No one wants it — they are all rascals! And it seems they are even worse than I am. For I am, at least, ashamed of living as I am, while they are not! They go on.”
Foma uttered some violent, unbecoming invectives and became silent. Sasha broke off her song and moved still farther away from him. The wind was raging outside the window, hurling dust against the window-panes. Cockroaches were rustling on the oven as they crawled over a bunch of pine wood splinters. Somewhere in the yard a calf was lowing pitifully.
Sasha glanced at Foma, with a sarcastic smile, and said:
“There’s another unfortunate creature lowing. You ought to go to him; perhaps you could sing in unison. And placing her hand on his curly head she jestingly pushed it on the side.
“What are people like yourself good for? That’s what you ought to think of. What are you groaning about? You are disgusted with being idle — occupy yourself, then, with business.”
“0h Lord!” Foma nodded his head. “It is hard for one to make himself understood. Yes, it is hard!” And irritated, he almost cried out: “What business? I have no yearning toward business! What is business? Business is merely a name — and if you should look into the depth, into the root of it — you’ll find it is nothing but absurdity! Do I not understand it? I understand everything, I see everything, I feel everything! Only my tongue is dumb. What aim is there in business? Money? I have plenty of it! I could choke you to death with it, cover you with it. All this business is nothing but fraud. I meet business people — well, and what about them? Their greediness is immense, and yet they purposely whirl about in business that they might not see themselves. They hide themselves, the devils. Try to free them from this bustle — what will happen? Like blind men they will grope about hither and thither; they’ll lose their mind — they’ll go mad! I know it! Do you think that business brings happiness into man? No, that’s not so — something else is missing here. This is not everything yet! The river flows that men may sail on it; the tree grows — to be useful; the dog — to guard the house. There is justification for everything in the world! And men, like cockroaches, are altogether superfluous on earth. Everything is for them, and they — what are they for? Aha! Wherein is their justification? Ha, ha, ha!”
Foma was triumphant. It seemed to him that he had found something good for himself, something severe against men. And feeling that, because of this, there was great joy in him, he laughed loudly.
“Does not your head ache?” inquired Sasha, anxiously, scrutinizing his face.
“My soul aches!” exclaimed Foma, passionately. “And it aches because it is upright — because it is not to be satisfied with trifles. Answer it, how to live? To what purpose? There — take my godfather — he is wise! He says — create life! But he’s the only one like this. Well, I’ll ask him, wait! And everybody says — life has usurped us! Life has choked us. I shall ask these, too. And how can we create life? You must keep it in your hands to do this, you must be master over it. You cannot make even a pot, without taking the clay into your hands.”
“Listen!” said Sasha, seriously. “I think you ought to get married, that’s all!”
“What for?” asked Foma, shrugging his shoulders.
“You need a bridle.”
“All right! I am living with you — you are all of a kind, are you not? One is not sweeter than the other. I had one before you, of the same kind as you. No, but that one did it for love’s sake. She had taken a liking to me — and consented; she was good — but, otherwise, she was in every way the same as you — though you are prettier than she. But I took a liking to a certain lady — a lady of noble birth! They said she led a loose life, but I did not get her. Yes, she was clever, intelligent; she lived in luxury. I used to think — that’s where I’ll taste the real thing! I did not get her — and, it may be, if I had succeeded, all would have taken a different turn. I yearned toward her. I thought — I could not tear myself away. While now that I have given myself to drink, I’ve drowned her in wine — I am forgetting her — and that also is wrong. 0 man! You are a rascal, to be frank.”
Foma became silent and sank into meditation. And Sasha rose from the bench and paced the hut to and fro, biting her lips. Then she stopped short before him, and, clasping her hands to her head, said:
“Do you know what? I’ll leave you.”
“Where will you go?” asked Foma, without lifting his head.
“I don’t know — it’s all the same!”
“You’re always saying unnecessary things. It is lonesome with you. You make me sad.”
Foma lifted his head, looked at her and burst into mournful laughter.
“Really? Is it possible?”
“You do make me sad! Do you know? If I should reflect on it, I would understand what you say and why you say it — for I am also of that sort — when the time comes, I shall also think of all this. And then I shall be lost. But now it is too early for me. No, I want to live yet, and then, later, come what will!”
“And I— will I, too, be lost?” asked Foma, indifferently, already fatigued by his words.
“Of course!” replied Sasha, calmly and confidently. “All such people are lost. He, whose character is inflexible, and who has no brains — what sort of a life is his? We are like this.”
“I have no character at all,” said Foma, stretching himself. Then after a moment’s silence he added:
“And I have no brains, either.”
They were silent for a minute, eyeing each other.
“What are we going to do?” asked Foma.
“We must have dinner.”
“No, I mean, in general? Afterward?”
“Afterward? I don’t know?”
“So you are leaving me?”
“I am. Come, let’s carouse some more before we part. Let’s go to Kazan, and there we’ll have a spree — smoke and flame! I’ll sing your farewell song.”
“Very well,” assented Foma. “It’s quite proper at leave taking. Eh, you devil! That’s a merry life! Listen, Sasha. They say that women of your kind are greedy for money; are even thieves.”
“Let them say,” said Sasha, calmly.
“Don’t you feel offended?” asked Foma, with curiosity. “But you are not greedy. It’s advantageous to you to be with me. I am rich, and yet you are going away; that shows you’re not greedy.”
“I?” Sasha thought awhile and said with a wave of the hand: “Perhaps I am not greedy — what of it? I am not of the very lowest of the street women. And against whom shall I feel a grudge? Let them say whatever they please. It will be only human talk, not the bellowing of bulls. And human holiness and honesty are quite familiar to me! Eh, how well I know them! If I were chosen as a judge, I would acquit the dead only l” and bursting into malicious laughter, Sasha said: “Well, that will do, we’ve spoken enough nonsense. Sit down at the table!”
On the morning of the next day Foma and Sasha stood side by side on the gangway of a steamer which was approaching a harbour on the Ustye. Sasha’s big black hat attracted everybody’s attention by its deftly bent brim, and its white feathers, and Foma was ill at ease as he stood beside her, and felt as though inquisitive glances crawled over his perplexed face. The steamer hissed and quivered as it neared the landing-bridge, which was sprinkled by a waiting crowd of people attired in bright summer clothes, and it seemed to Foma that he noticed among the crowd of various faces and figures a person he knew, who now seemed to be hiding behind other people’s backs, and yet lifted not his eye from him.
“Let’s go into the cabin!” said he to his companion uneasily.
“Don’t acquire the habit of hiding your sins from people,” replied Sasha, with a smile. “Have you perhaps noticed an acquaintance there?”
“Mm. Yes. Somebody is watching me.”
“A nurse with a milk bottle? Ha, ha, ha!”
“Well, there you’re neighing!” said Foma, enraged, looking at her askance. “Do you think I am afraid?”
“I can see how brave you are.”
“You’ll see. I’ll face anybody,” said Foma, angrily, but after a close look at the crowd in the harbour his face suddenly assumed another expression, and he added softly:
“Oh, it’s my godfather.”
At the very edge of the landing-stage stood Yakov Tarasovich, squeezed between two stout women, with his iron-like face lifted upward, and he waved his cap in the air with malicious politeness. His beard shook, his bald crown flashed, and his small eye pierced Foma like borers.
“What a vulture!” muttered Foma, raising his cap and nodding his head to his godfather.
His bow evidently afforded great pleasure to Mayakin. The old man somehow coiled himself up, stamped his feet, and his face seemed beaming with a malicious smile.
“The little boy will get money for nuts, it seems!” Sasha teased Foma. Her words together with his godfather’s smile seemed to have kindled a fire in Foma’s breast.
“We shall see what is going to happen,” hissed Foma, and suddenly he became as petrified in malicious calm. The steamer made fast, and the people rushed in a wave to the landing-place. Pressed by the crowd, Mayakin disappeared for awhile from the sight of his godson and appeared again with a maliciously triumphant smile. Foma stared at him fixedly, with knitted brow, and came toward him slowly pacing the gang planks. They jostled him in the back, they leaned on him, they squeezed him, and this provoked Foma still more. Now he came face to face with the old man, and the latter greeted him with a polite bow, and asked:
“Whither are you travelling, Foma Ignatyich?”
“About my affairs,” replied Foma, firmly, without greeting his godfather.
“That’s praiseworthy, my dear sir!” said Yakov Tarasovich, all beaming with a smile. “The lady with the feathers — what is she to you, may I ask?”
“She’s my mistress,” said Foma, loud, without lowering his eyes at the keen look of his godfather.
Sasha stood behind him calmly examining over his shoulder the little old man, whose head hardly reached Foma’s chin. Attracted by Foma’s loud words, the public looked at them, scenting a scandal. And Mayakin, too, perceived immediately the possibility of a scandal and instantly estimated correctly the quarrelsome mood of his godson. He contracted his wrinkles, bit his lips, and said to Foma, peaceably:
“I have something to speak to you about. Will you come with me to the hotel?”
“Yes; for a little while.”
“You have no time, then? It’s a plain thing, you must be making haste to wreck another barge, eh?” said the old man, unable to contain himself any longer.
“And why not wreck them, since they can be wrecked?” retorted Foma, passionately and firmly.
“Of course, you did not earn them yourself; why should you spare them? Well, come. And couldn’t we drown that lady in the water for awhile?” said Mayakin, softly.
“Drive to the town, Sasha, and engage a room at the Siberian Inn. I’ll be there shortly!” said Foma and turning to Mayakin, he announced boldly:
“I am ready! Let us go!”
Neither of them spoke on their way to the hotel. Foma, seeing that his godfather had to skip as he went in order to keep up with him, purposely took longer strides, and the fact that the old man could not keep step with him supported and strengthened in him the turbulent feeling of protest which he was by this time scarcely able to master.
“Waiter!” said Mayakin, gently, on entering the hall of the hotel, and turning toward a remote corner, “let us have a bottle of moorberry kvass.”
“And I want some cognac,” ordered Foma.
“So-o! When you have poor cards you had better always play the lowest trump first!” Mayakin advised him sarcastically.
“You don’t know my game!” said Foma, seating himself by the table.
“Really? Come, come! Many play like that.”
“I mean as you do — boldly, but foolishly.”
“I play so that either the head is smashed to pieces, or the wall broken in half,” said Foma, hotly, and struck the table with his fist.
“Haven’t you recovered from your drunkenness yet?” asked Mayakin with a smile.
Foma seated himself more firmly in his chair, and, his face distorted with wrathful agitation, he said:
“Godfather, you are a sensible man. I respect you for your common sense.”
“Thank you, my son!” and Mayakin bowed, rising slightly, and leaning his hands against the table.
“Don’t mention it. I want to tell you that I am no longer twenty. I am not a child any longer.”
“Of course not!” assented Mayakin. “You’ve lived a good while, that goes without saying! If a mosquito had lived as long it might have grown as big as a hen.”
“Stop your joking!” Foma warned him, and he did it so calmly that Mayakin started back, and the wrinkles on his face quivered with alarm.
“What did you come here for?” asked Foma.
“Ah! you’ve done some nasty work here. So I want to find out whether there’s much damage in it! You see, I am a relative of yours. And then, I am the only one you have.”
“You are troubling yourself in vain. Do you know, papa, what I’ll tell you? Either give me full freedom, or take all my business into your own hands. Take everything! Everything — to the last rouble!”
This proposition burst forth from Foma altogether unexpectedly to himself; he had never before thought of anything like it. But now that he uttered such words to his godfather it suddenly became clear to him that if his godfather were to take from him all his property he would become a perfectly free man, he could go wherever he pleased, do whatever he pleased. Until this moment he had been bound and enmeshed with something, but he knew not his fetters and was unable to break them, while now they were falling off of themselves so simply, so easily. Both an alarming and a joyous hope blazed up within his breast, as though he noticed that suddenly light had begun to flash upon his turbid life, that a wide, spacious road lay open now before him. Certain images sprang up in his mind, and, watching their shiftings, he muttered incoherently:
“Here, this is better than anything! Take everything, and be done with it! And — as for me — I shall be free to go anywhere in the wide world! I cannot live like this. I feel as though weights were hanging on me, as though I were all bound. There — I must not go, this I must not do. I want to live in freedom, that I may know everything myself. I shall search life for myself. For, otherwise, what am I? A prisoner! Be kind, take everything. The devil take it all! Give me freedom, pray! What kind of a merchant am I? I do not like anything. And so — I would forsake men — everything. I would find a place for myself, I would find some kind of work, and would work. By God! Father! set me at liberty! For now, you see, I am drinking. I’m entangled with that woman.”
Mayakin looked at him, listened attentively to his words, and his face was stern, immobile as though petrified. A dull, tavern noise smote the air, some people went past them, they greeted Mayakin, but he saw nothing, staring fixedly at the agitated face of his godson, who smiled distractedly, both joyously and pitifully.
“Eh, my sour blackberry!” said Mayakin, with a sigh, interrupting Foma’s speech. “I see you’ve lost your way. And you’re prating nonsense. I would like to know whether the cognac is to blame for it, or is it your foolishness?”
“Papa!” exclaimed Foma, “this can surely be done. There were cases where people have cast away all their possessions and thus saved themselves.”
“That wasn’t in my time. Not people that are near to me!” said Mayakin, sternly, “or else I would have shown them how to go away!”
“Many have become saints when they went away.”
“Mm! They couldn’t have gone away from me! The matter is simple — you know how to play at draughts, don’t you? Move from one place to another until you are beaten, and if you’re not beaten then you have the queen. Then all ways are open to you. Do you understand? And why am I talking to you seriously? Psha!”
“Papa! why don’t you want it?” exclaimed Foma, angrily.
“Listen to me! If you are a chimney-sweep, go, carrion, on the roof! If you are a fireman, stand on the watch-tower! And each and every sort of men must have its own mode of life. Calves cannot roar like bears! If you live your own life; go on, live it! And don’t talk nonsense, and don’t creep where you don’t belong. Arrange your life after your pattern.” And from the dark lips of the old man gushed forth in a trembling, glittering stream the jarring, but confident and bold words so familiar to Foma. Seized with the thought of freedom, which seemed to him so easily possible, Foma did not listen to his words. This idea had eaten into his brains, and in his heart the desire grew stronger and stronger to sever all his connections with this empty and wearisome life, with his godfather, with the steamers, the barges and the carouses, with everything amidst which it was narrow and stifling for him to live.
The old man’s words seemed to fall on him from afar; they were blended with the clatter of the dishes, with the scraping of the lackey’s feet along the floor, with some one’s drunken shouting. Not far from them sat four merchants at a table and argued loudly:
“Two and a quarter — and thank God!”
“Luka Mitrich! How can I?”
“Give him two and a half!”
“That’s right! You ought to give it, it’s a good steamer, it tows briskly.”
“My dear fellows, I can’t. Two and a quarter!”
“And all this nonsense came to your head from your youthful passion!” said Mayakin, importantly, accompanying his words with a rap on the table. “Your boldness is stupidity; all these words of yours are nonsense. Would you perhaps go to the cloister? or have you perhaps a longing to go on the highways?”
Foma listened in silence. The buzzing noise about him now seemed to move farther away from him. He pictured himself amid a vast restless crowd of people; without knowing why they bustled about hither and thither, jumped on one another; their eyes were greedily opened wide; they were shouting, cursing, falling, crushing one another, and they were all jostling about on one place. He felt bad among them because he did not understand what they wanted, because he had no faith in their words, and he felt that they had no faith in themselves, that they understood nothing. And if one were to tear himself away from their midst to freedom, to the edge of life, and thence behold them — then all would become clear to him. Then he would also understand what they wanted, and would find his own place among them.
“Don’t I understand,” said Mayakin, more gently, seeing Foma lost in thought, and assuming that he was reflecting on his words —“I understand that you want happiness for yourself. Well, my friend, it is not to be easily seized. You must seek happiness even as they search for mushrooms in the wood, you must bend your back in search of it, and finding it, see whether it isn’t a toad-stool.”
“So you will set me free?” asked Foma, suddenly lifting his head, and Mayakin turned his eyes away from his fiery look.
“Father! at least for a short time! Let me breathe, let me step aside from everything!” entreated Foma. “I will watch how everything goes on. And then — if not — I shall become a drunkard.”
“Don’t talk nonsense. Why do you play the fool?” cried Mayakin, angrily.
“Very well, then!” replied Foma, calmly. “Very well! You do not want it? Then there will be nothing! I’ll squander it all! And there is nothing more for us to speak of. Goodbye! I’ll set out to work, you’ll see! It will afford you joy. Everything will go up in smoke!” Foma was calm, he spoke with confidence; it seemed to him that since he had thus decided, his godfather could not hinder him. But Mayakin straightened himself in his chair and said, also plainly and calmly:
“And do you know how I can deal with you?”
“As you like!” said Foma, with a wave of the hand. “Well then. Now I like the following: I’ll return to town and will see to it that you are declared insane, and put into a lunatic asylum.”
“Can this be done?” asked Foma, distrustfully, but with a tone of fright in his voice.
“We can do everything, my dear.”
Foma lowered his head, and casting a furtive glance at his godfather’s face, shuddered, thinking:
“He’ll do it; he won’t spare me.”
“If you play the fool seriously I must also deal with you seriously. I promised your father to make a man of you, and I will do it; if you cannot stand on your feet, I’ll put you in irons. Then you will stand. Though I know all these holy words of yours are but ugly caprices that come from excessive drinking. But if you do not give that up, if you keep on behaving indecently, if you ruin, out of wantonness, the property accumulated by your father, I’ll cover you all up. I’ll have a bell forged over you. It is very inconvenient to fool with me.”
Mayakin spoke gently. The wrinkles of his cheeks all rose upward, and his small eyes in their dark sockets were smiling sarcastically, coldly. And the wrinkles on his forehead formed an odd pattern, rising up to his bald crown. His face was stern and merciless, and breathed melancholy and coldness upon Foma’s soul.
“So there’s no way out for me?” asked Foma, gloomily. “You are blocking all my ways?”
“There is a way. Go there! I shall guide you. Don’t worry, it will be right! You will come just to your proper place.”
This self-confidence, this unshakable boastfulness aroused Foma’s indignation. Thrusting his hands into his pockets in order not to strike the old man, he straightened himself in his chair and clinching his teeth, said, facing Mayakin closely:
“Why are you boasting? What are you boasting of? Your own son, where is he? Your daughter, what is she? Eh, you — you life- builder! Well, you are clever. You know everything. Tell me, what for do you live? What for are you accumulating money? Do you think you are not going to die? Well, what then? You’ve captured me. You’ve taken hold of me, you’ve conquered me. But wait, I may yet tear myself away from you! It isn’t the end yet! Eh, you! What have you done for life? By what will you be remembered? My father, for instance, donated a lodging-house, and you — what have you done?”
Mayakin’s wrinkles quivered and sank downward, wherefore his face assumed a sickly, weeping expression.
“How will you justify yourself?” asked Foma, softly, without lifting his eyes from him.
“Hold your tongue, you puppy!” said the old man in a low voice, casting a glance of alarm about the room.
“I’ve said everything! And now I’m going! Hold me back!”
Foma rose from his chair, thrust his cap on his head, and measured the old man with abhorrence.
“You may go; but I’ll — I’ll catch you! It will come out as I say!” said Yakov Tarasovich in a broken voice.
“And I’ll go on a spree! I’ll squander all!”
“Very well, we’ll see!”
“Goodbye! you hero,” Foma laughed.
“Goodbye, for a short while! I’ll not go back on my own. I love it. I love you, too. Never mind, you’re a good fellow!” said Mayakin, softly, and as though out of breath.
“Do not love me, but teach me. But then, you cannot teach me the right thing!” said Foma, as he turned his back on the old man and left the hall.
Yakov Tarasovich Mayakin remained in the tavern alone. He sat by the table, and, bending over it, made drawings of patterns on the tray, dipping his trembling finger in the spilt kvass, and his sharp-pointed head was sinking lower and lower over the table, as though he did not decipher, and could not make out what his bony finger was drawing on the tray.
Beads of perspiration glistened on his bald crown, and as usual the wrinkles on his cheeks quivered with frequent, irritable starts.
In the tavern a resounding tumult smote the air so that the window-panes were rattling. From the Volga were wafted the whistlings of steamers, the dull beating of the wheels upon the water, the shouting of the loaders — life was moving onward unceasingly and unquestionably.
Summoning the waiter with a nod Yakov Tarasovich asked him with peculiar intensity and impressiveness
“How much do I owe for all this?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09