Part 2 out of 9
"All right, all right," hissed Yozhov.
Foma was silent, looking askance at his brisk neighbour, who at
once pleased him and roused in him a desire to get as far as
possible away from him. During recess he learned from Yozhov that
Smolin, too, was rich, being the son of a tan-yard proprietor,
and that Yozhov himself was the son of a guard at the Court of
Exchequer, and very poor. The last was clearly evident by the
adroit boy's costume, made of gray fustian and adorned with
patches on the knees and elbows; by his pale, hungry-looking
face; and, by his small, angular and bony figure. This boy spoke in
a metallic alto, elucidating his words with grimaces and
and he often used words whose meaning was known but to himself.
"We'll be friends," he announced to Foma.
"Why did you complain to the teacher about me?" Gordyeeff
reminded Yozhov, looking at him suspiciously.
"There! What's the difference to you? You are a new scholar and
rich. The teacher is not exacting with the rich. And I am a poor
hanger-on; he doesn't like me, because I am impudent and because
I never bring him any presents. If I had been a bad pupil he
would have expelled me long ago. You know I'll go to the
Gymnasium from here. I'll pass the second class and then I'll
leave. Already a student is preparing me for the second class.
There I'll study so that they can't hold me back! How many horses
do you have?"
"Three. What do you need to study so much for?" asked Foma.
"Because I am poor. The poor must study hard so that they may
become rich. They become doctors, functionaries, officers. I
shall be a 'tinkler.' A sword at my side, spur on my boots.
Cling, cling! And what are you going to be?"
"I don't know," said Foma, pensively, examining his companion.
"You need not be anything. And are you fond of pigeons?"
"What a good-for-nothing you are! Oh! Eh!" Yozhov imitated Foma's
slow way of speaking. "How many pigeons do you have?"
"I have none."
"Eh, you! Rich, and yet you have no pigeons. Even I have three.
If my father had been rich I would have had a hundred pigeons and
chased them all day long. Smolin has pigeons, too, fine ones!
Fourteen. He made me a present of one. Only, he is greedy. All
the rich are greedy. And you, are you greedy, too?"
"I don't know," said Foma, irresolutely.
"Come up to Smolin's and the three of us together will chase the
"Very well. If they let me."
"Why, does not your father like you?"
"He does like me."
"Well, then, he'll let you go. Only don't tell him that I am
coming. Perhaps he would not let you go with me. Tell him you
want to go to Smolin's. Smolin!"
A plump boy came up to them, and Yozhov accosted him, shaking his
"Eh, you red-headed slanderer! It isn't worth while to be friends
with you, blockhead!"
"Why do you abuse me?" asked Smolin, calmly, examining Foma
"I am not abusing you; I am telling the truth," Yozhov explained,
straightening himself with animation. "Listen! Although you are a
kissel, but--let it go! We'll come up to see you on Sunday after
"Come," Smolin nodded his head.
"We'll come up. They'll ring the bell soon. I must run to sell
the siskin," declared Yozhov, pulling out of his pocket a paper
package, wherein some live thing was struggling. And he
disappeared from the school-yard as mercury from the palm of a
"What a queer fellow he is!" said Foma, dumfounded by Yozhov's
adroitness and looking at Smolin interrogatively.
"He is always like this. He's very clever," the red-headed boy
"And cheerful, too," added Foma.
"Cheerful, too," Smolin assented. Then they became silent,
looking at each other.
"Will you come up with him to my house?" asked the red-headed boy.
"Come up. It's nice there."
Foma said nothing to this. Then Smolin asked him:
"Have you many friends?"
"I have none."
"Neither did I have any friends before I went to school. Only
cousins. Now you'll have two friends at once."
"Yes," said Foma.
"Are you glad?"
"When you have lots of friends, it is lively. And it is easier to
study, too--they prompt you."
"And are you a good pupil?"
"Of course! I do everything well," said Smolin, calmly.
The bell began to bang as though it had been frightened and was
hastily running somewhere.
Sitting in school, Foma began to feel somewhat freer, and
compared his friends with the rest of the boys. He soon learned
that they both were the very best boys in school and that they
were the first to attract everybody's attention, even as the two
figures 5 and 7, which had not yet been wiped off the blackboard.
And Foma felt very much pleased that his friends were better than
any of the other boys.
They all went home from school together, but Yozhov soon turned
into some narrow side street, while Smolin walked with Foma up to
his very house, and, departing, said:
"You see, we both go home the same way, too."
At home Foma was met with pomp: his father made him a present of
a heavy silver spoon, with an ingenious monogram on it, and his
aunt gave him a scarf knitted by herself. They were awaiting him
for dinner, having prepared his favourite dishes for him, and as
soon as he took off his coat, seated him at the table and began
to ply him with questions.
"Well, how was it? How did you like the school?" asked Ignat,
looking lovingly at his son's rosy, animated face.
"Pretty good. It's nice!" replied Foma.
"My darling!" sighed his aunt, with feeling, "look out, hold your
own with your friends. As soon as they offend you tell your
teachers about it."
"Go on. What else will you tell him?" Ignat smiled. "Never do
that! Try to get square with every offender yourself, punish him
with your own hand, not with somebody else's. Are there any good
"There are two," Foma smiled, recalling Yozhov. "One of them is
"Whose is he?"
"A guard's son."
"Mm! Bold did you say?"
"Well, let him be! And the other?"
"The other one is red-headed. Smolin."
"Ah! Evidently Mitry Ivanovitch's son. Stick to him, he's good
company. Mitry is a clever peasant. If the son takes after his
father it is all right. But that other one--you know, Foma, you
had better invite them to our house on Sunday. I'll buy some
presents and you can treat them. We'll see what sort of boys they
"Smolin asked me to come to him this Sunday," said Foma, looking
up at his father questioningly.
"So. Well, you may go! That's all right, go. Observe what kind of
people there are in the world. You cannot pass your life alone,
without friendship. Your godfather and I, for instance, have been
friends for more than twenty years, and I have profited a great
deal by his common sense. So you, too, try to be friendly with
those that are better and wiser than you. Rub against a good man,
like a copper coin against silver, and you may then pass for a
silver coin yourself."
And, bursting into laughter at his comparison, Ignat added
"I was only jesting. Try to be, not artificial, but genuine. And
have some common sense, no matter how little, but your own. Have
you many lessons to do?"
"Many!" sighed the boy, and to his sigh, like an echo, his aunt
answered with a heavy sigh.
"Well, study. Don't be worse than others at school. Although,
I'll tell you, even if there were twenty-five classes in your
school, they could never teach you there anything save reading,
writing and arithmetic. You may also learn some naughty things,
but God protect you! I shall give you a terrible spanking if you
do. If you smoke tobacco I'll cut your lips off."
"Remember God, Fomushka," said the aunt. "See that you don't
forget our Lord."
"That's true! Honour God and your father. But I wish to tell you
that school books are but a trivial matter. You need these as a
carpenter needs an adze and a pointer. They are tools, but the
tools cannot teach you how to make use of them. Understand? Let
us see: Suppose an adze were handed to a carpenter for him to
square a beam with it. It's not enough to have hands and an adze;
it is also necessary for him to know how to strike the wood so as
not to hit his foot instead. To you the knowledge of reading and
writing is given, and you must regulate your life with it. Thus
it follows that books alone are but a trifle in this matter; it
is necessary to be able to take advantage of them. And it is this
ability that is more cunning than any books, and yet nothing
about it is written in the books. This, Foma, you must learn from
Life itself. A book is a dead thing, you may take it as you
please, you may tear it, break it--it will not cry out. While
should you but make a single wrong step in life, or wrongly
occupy a place in it, Life will start to bawl at you in a
thousand voices; it will deal you a blow, felling you to the
Foma, his elbows leaning on the table, attentively listened to
his father, and under the sound of his powerful voice he pictured
to himself now the carpenter squaring a beam, now himself, his
hands outstretched, carefully and stealthily approaching some
colossal and living thing, and desiring to grasp that terrible
"A man must preserve himself for his work and must be thoroughly
acquainted with the road to it. A man, dear, is like the pilot on
a ship. In youth, as at high tide, go straight! A way is open to
you everywhere. But you must know when it is time to steer. The
waters recede--here you see a sandbank, there, a rock; it is
necessary to know all this and to slip off in time, in order to
reach the harbour safe and sound."
"I will reach it!" said the boy, looking at his father proudly
and with confidence.
"Eh? You speak courageously!" Ignat burst into laughter. And the
aunt also began to laugh kindly.
Since his trip with his father on the Volga, Foma became more
lively and talkative at home, with his father, with his aunt and
with Mayakin. But on the street, in a new place, or in the
presence of strangers, he was always gloomy, always looking about
him with suspicion, as though he felt something hostile to him
everywhere, something hidden from him spying on him.
At nights he sometimes awoke of a sudden and listened for a long
time to the silence about him, fixedly staring into the dark with
wide-open eyes. And then his father's stories were transformed
before him into images and pictures. Without being aware of it,
he mixed up those stories with his aunt's fairy-tales, thus
creating for himself a chaos of adventures wherein the bright
colours of fantasy were whimsically intertwined with the stern
shades of reality. This resulted in something colossal,
incomprehensible; the boy closed his eyes and drove it all away
from him and tried to check the play of his imagination, which
frightened him. In vain he attempted to fall asleep, and the
chamber became more and more crowded with dark images. Then he
quietly roused his aunt.
"What? Christ be with you."
"I'll come to you," whispered Foma.
"Why? Sleep, darling, sleep."
"I am afraid," confessed the boy.
"You better say to yourself, 'And the Lord will rise again,' then
you won't be afraid."
Foma lies with his eyes open and says the prayer. The silence of
the night pictures itself before him in the form of an endless
expanse of perfectly calm, dark water, which has overflowed
everything and congealed; there is not a ripple on it, not a
shadow of a motion, and neither is there anything within it,
although it is bottomlessly deep. It is very terrible for one to
look down from the dark at this dead water. But now the sound of
the night watchman's mallet is heard, and the boy sees that the
surface of the water is beginning to tremble, and, covering the
surface with ripples, light little balls are dancing upon it. The
sound of the bell on the steeple, with one mighty swing, brings
all the water in agitation and it is slightly trembling from that
sound; a big spot of light is also trembling, spreading light
upon the water, radiating from its centre into the dark distance,
there growing paler and dying out. Again there is weary and
deathlike repose in this dark desert.
"Auntie," whispers Foma, beseechingly.
"I am coming to you."
"Come, then, come, my darling."
Going over into auntie's bed, he presses close to her, begging:
"Tell me something."
"At night?" protests auntie, sleepily.
He does not have to ask her long. Yawning, her eyes closed, the
old woman begins slowly in a voice grown heavy with sleep:
"Well, my dear sir, in a certain kingdom, in a certain empire,
there lived a man and his wife, and they were very poor. They
were so unfortunate that they had nothing to eat. They would go
around begging, somebody would give them a crust of stale bread
and that would keep them for awhile. And it came to pass that the
wife begot a child--a child was born--it was necessary to
christen it, but, being poor, they could not entertain the
godparents and the guests, so nobody came to christen the child.
They tried this and they tried that--yet nobody came. And they
began to pray to the Lord, '0h Lord! 0h Lord!'"
Foma knew this awful story about God's godchild. He had heard it
more than once and was already picturing to himself this godchild
riding on a white horse to his godfather and godmother; he was
riding in the darkness, over the desert, and he saw there all the
unbearable miseries to which sinners are condemned. And he heard
their faint moans and requests:
"Oh! Man! Ask the Lord yet how long are we to suffer here!"
Then it appeared to Foma that it was he who was riding at night
on the white horse, and that the moans and the implorings were
addressed to him. His heart contracts with some incomprehensible
desire; sorrow compressed his breast and tears gathered in his
eyes, which he had firmly closed and now feared to open.
He is tossing about in his bed restlessly,
"Sleep, my child. Christ be with you!" says the old woman,
interrupting her tale of men suffering for their sins.
But in the morning after such a night Foma rose sound and cheerful,
washed himself hastily, drank his tea in haste and ran off to school,
provided with sweet cakes, which were awaited by the always hungry
little Yozhov, who greedily subsisted on his rich friend's generosity.
"Got anything to eat?" he accosted Foma, turning up his sharp-pointed
nose. "Let me have it, for I left the house without eating anything.
I slept too long, devil take it! I studied up to two o'clock last
night. Have you solved your problems?"
"No, I haven't."
"Eh, you lazy bones! Well, I'll dash them off for you directly!"
Driving his small, thin teeth into the cakes, he purred something
like a kitten, stamped his left foot, beating time, and at the
same time solved the problem, rattling off short phrases to Foma:
"See? Eight bucketfuls leaked out in one hour. And how many hours
did it leak--six? Eh, what good things they eat in your house!
Consequently, we must multiply six by eight. Do you like cake
with green onions? Oh, how I like it! So that in six hours forty-
eight bucketfuls leaked out of the first gauge-cock. And
altogether the tub contained ninety. Do you understand the rest?"
Foma liked Yozhov better than Smolin, but he was more friendly
with Smolin. He wondered at the ability and the sprightliness of
the little fellow. He saw that Yozhov was more clever and better
than himself; he envied him, and felt offended on that account,
and at the same time he pitied him with the condescending
compassion of a satisfied man for a hungry one. Perhaps it was
this very compassion that prevented him from preferring this
bright boy to the boring red-headed Smolin. Yozhov, fond of
having a laugh at the expense of his well-fed friends, told them
quite often: "Eh, you are little trunks full of cakes!"
Foma was angry with him for his sneers, and one day, touched to
the quick, said wickedly and with contempt:
"And you are a beggar--a pauper!"
Yozhov's yellow face became overcast, and he replied slowly:
"Very well, so be it! I shall never prompt you again--and you'll
be like a log of wood!"
And they did not speak to each other for about three days, very
much to the regret of the teacher, who during these days had to
give the lowest markings to the son of the esteemed Ignat Matveyich.
Yozhov knew everything: he related at school how the procurator's
chambermaid gave birth to a child, and that for this the
procurator's wife poured hot coffee over her husband; he could
tell where and when it was best to catch perch; he knew how to
make traps and cages for birds; he could give a detailed account
of how the soldier had hanged himself in the garret of the armoury,
and knew from which of the pupils' parents the teacher had received
a present that day and precisely what sort of a present it was.
The sphere of Smolin's knowledge and interests was confined to
the merchant's mode of life, and, above all, the red-headed boy
was fond of judging whether this man was richer than that,
valuing and pricing their houses, their vessels and their horses.
All this he knew to perfection, and spoke of it with enthusiasm.
Like Foma, he regarded Yozhov with the same condescending pity,
but more as a friend and equal. Whenever Gordyeeff quarrelled
with Yozhov, Smolin hastened to reconcile them, and he said to
Foma one day, on their way home:
"Why do you always quarrel with Yozhov?"
"Well, why is he so self-conceited?" said Foma, angrily.
"He is proud because you never know your lessons, and he always helps
you out. He is clever. And because he is poor--is he to blame for
He can learn anything he wants to, and he will be rich, too."
"He is like a mosquito," said Foma, disdainfully; "he will buzz
and buzz, and then of a sudden will bite."
But there was something in the life of these boys that united
them all; there were hours when the consciousness of difference
in their natures and positions was entirely lost. On Sundays they
all gathered at Smolin's, and, getting up on the roof of the
wing, where they had an enormous pigeon-house, they let the
The beautiful, well-fed birds, ruffling their snow-white wings,
darted out of the pigeon-house one by one, and, seating themselves
in a row on the ridge of the roof, and, illumined by the sun, cooing,
flaunted before the boys.
"Scare them!" implored Yozhov, trembling for impatience.
Smolin swung a pole with a bast-wisp fastened to its end, and
The frightened pigeons rushed into the air, filling it with the
hurried flapping of their wings. And now, outlining big circles,
they easily soar upwards, into the blue depths of the sky; they
float higher and higher, their silver and snow-white feathers
flashing. Some of them are striving to reach the dome of the
skies with the light soaring of the falcon, their wings
outstretched wide and almost motionless; others play, turn over
in the air, now dropping downward in a snowy lump, now darting up
like an arrow. Now the entire flock seems as though hanging
motionless in the desert of the sky, and, growing smaller and
smaller, seems to sink in it. With heads thrown back, the boys
admire the birds in silence, without taking their eyes from them--
their tired eyes, so radiant with calm joy, not altogether free
from envying these winged creatures, which so freely took flight
from earth up into the pure and calm atmosphere full of the glitter
of the sun. The small group of scarcely visible dots, now mere specks
in the azure of the sky, leads on the imagination of the children,
and Yozhov expresses their common feeling when, in a low voice, he
"That's the way we ought to fly, friends."
While Foma, knowing that human souls, soaring heavenward, oftentimes
assume the form of pigeons, felt in his breast the rising of a
Unified by their joy, attentively and mutely awaiting the return
of their birds from the depths of the sky, the boys, pressing
close to one another, drifted far away from the breath of life,
even as their pigeons were far from earth; at this moment they
are merely children, knowing neither envy nor anger; free from
everything, they are near to one another, they are mute, judging
their feelings by the light in their eyes--and they feel as happy
as the birds in the sky.
But now the pigeons come down on the roof again, and, tired out
by their flight, are easily driven into the pigeon-house.
"Friends, let's go for apples?" suggests Yozhov, the instigator
of all games and adventures.
His call drives out of the children's souls the peacefulness
brought into them by the pigeons, and then, like plunderers,
carefully listening for each and every sound, they steal quietly
across the back yards toward the neighbouring garden. The fear of
being caught is balanced by the hope of stealing with impunity.
But stealing is work and dangerous work at that, and everything
that is earned by your own labour is so sweet! And the more
effort required to gain it, the sweeter it is. Carefully the boys
climb over the fence of the garden, and, bending down, crawl
toward the apple trees and, full of fright, look around vigilantly.
Their hearts tremble and their throbbing slackens at the faintest
rustle. They are alike afraid of being caught, and, if noticed, of
being recognised, but in case they should only see them and yell at
them, they would be satisfied. They would separate, each going in a
different direction, and then, meeting again, their eyes aglow with
joy and boldness, would laughingly tell one another how they felt
when they heard some one giving chase to them, and what happened to
them when they ran so quickly through the garden, as though the ground
were burning under their feet.
Such invasions were more to Foma's liking than all other adventures
and games, and his behaviour during these invasions was marked with
a boldness that at once astounded and angered his companions. He was
intentionally careless in other people's gardens: he spoke loud,
noisily broke the branches of apple trees, and, tearing off a worm-
eaten apple, threw it in the direction of the proprietor's house.
The danger of being caught in the act did not frighten him; it
rather encouraged him--his eyes would turn darker, his teeth would
clench, and his face would assume an expression of anger and pride.
Smolin, distorting his big mouth contemptibly, would say to him:
"You are making entirely too much fuss about yourself."
"I am not a coward anyway!" replied Foma.
"I know that you are not a coward, but why do you boast of it?
One may do a thing as well without boasting."
Yozhov blamed him from a different point of view:
"If you thrust yourself into their hands willingly you can go to
the devil! I am not your friend. They'll catch you and bring you
to your father--he wouldn't do anything to you, while I would get
such a spanking that all my bones would be skinned."
"Coward!" Foma persisted, stubbornly.
And it came to pass one day that Foma was caught by the second
captain, Chumakov, a thin little old man. Noiselessly approaching
the boy, who was hiding away in his bosom the stolen apples, the old
man seized him by the shoulders and cried in a threatening voice:
"Now I have you, little rogue! Aha!"
Foma was then about fifteen years old, and he cleverly slipped out of
the old man's hands. Yet he did not run from him, but, knitting his
brow and clenching his fist, he said threateningly:
"You dare to touch me!"
"I wouldn't touch you. I'll just turn you over to the police!
Whose son are you?"
Foma did not expect this, and all his boldness and spitefulness
suddenly left him.
The trip to the police station seemed to him something which his
father would never forgive him. He shuddered and said confusedly:
Now the second captain was taken aback. He straightened himself,
expanded his chest and for some reason or other cleared his throat
impressively. Then his shoulders sank and he said to the boy in a
"It's a shame! The son of such a well-known and respected man! It
is unbecoming your position. You may go. But should this happen
again! Hm! I should be compelled to notify your father, to whom,
by the way, I have the honour of presenting my respects."
Foma watched the play of the old man's physiognomy and understood
that he was afraid of his father. Like a young wolf, he looked
askance at Chumakov; while the old man, with comical seriousness,
twisted his gray moustache, hesitating before the boy, who did not
go away, notwithstanding the given permission.
"You may go," repeated the old man, pointing at the road leading
to his house.
"And how about the police?" asked Foma, sternly, and was immediately
frightened at the possible answer.
"I was but jesting," smiled the old man. "I just wanted to frighten
"You are afraid of my father yourself," said Foma, and, turning his
back to the old man, walked off into the depth of the garden.
"I am afraid? Ah! Very well!" exclaimed Chumakov after him, and Foma
knew by the sound of his voice that he had offended the old man. He
felt sad and ashamed; he passed the afternoon in walking, and, coming
home, he was met by his father's stern question:
"Foma! Did you go to Chumakov's garden?"
"Yes, I did," said the boy, calmly, looking into his father's eyes.
Evidently Ignat did not expect such an answer and he was silent for
awhile, stroking his beard.
"Fool! Why did you do it? Have you not enough of your own apples?"
Foma cast down his eyes and was silent, standing before his father.
"See, you are shamed! Yozhishka must have incited you to this! I'll
give it to him when he comes, or I'll make an end of your friendship
"I did it myself," said Foma, firmly.
"From bad to worse!" exclaimed Ignat. "But why did you do it?"
"Because!" mocked the father. "Well, if you did it you ought to be
able to explain to yourself and to others the reason for so doing.
Foma walked up to his father, who was sitting on a chair, and placed
himself between his knees. Ignat put his hand on the boy's shoulders,
and, smiling, looked into his eyes.
"Are you ashamed?"
"I am ashamed," sighed Foma.
"There you have it, fool! You have disgraced me and yourself."
Pressing his son's head to his breast, he stroked his hair and
"Why should you do such a thing--stealing other people's apples?"
"I--I don't know," said Foma, confusedly. "Perhaps because it is
so lonesome. I play and play the same thing day after day. I am
growing tired of it! While this is dangerous."
"Exciting?" asked the father, smiling.
"Mm, perhaps it is so. But, nevertheless, Foma, look out--drop
this, or I shall deal with you severely."
"I'll never climb anywhere again," said the boy with confidence.
"And that you take all the blame on yourself--that is good. What
will become of you in the future, only God knows, but meanwhile--
it is pretty good. It is not a trifle if a man is willing to pay
for his deeds with his own skin. Someone else in your place would
have blamed his friends, while you say: 'I did it myself.' That's
the proper way, Foma. You commit the sin, but you also account for
it. Didn't Chumakov strike you?" asked Ignat, pausing as he spoke.
"I would have struck him back," declared Foma, calmly.
"Mm," roared his father, significantly.
"I told him that he was afraid of you. That is why he complained.
Otherwise he was not going to say anything to you about it."
"Is that so?"
"'By God! Present my respects to your father,' he said."
"Ah! the dog! See what kind of people there are; he is robbed and
yet he makes a bow and presents his respects! Ha, ha! It is true
it might have been worth no more than a kopeck, but a kopeck is
to him what a rouble is to me. And it isn't the kopeck, but since
it is mine, no one dares touch it unless I throw it away myself.
Eh! The devil take them! Well, tell me--where have you been, what
have you seen?"
The boy sat down beside his father and told him in detail all the
impressions of that day. Ignat listened, fixedly watching the animated
face of his son, and the eyebrows of the big man contracted pensively.
"You are still but floating on the surface, dear. You are still
but a child. Eh! Eh!"
"We scared an owl in the ravine," related the boy. "That was fun!
It began to fly about and struck against a tree--bang! It even
began to squeak so pitifully. And we scared it again; again it
rose and flew about here and there, and again it struck against
something, so that its feathers were coming out. It flew about in
the ravine and at last hid itself somewhere with difficulty. We
did not try to look for it, we felt sorry it was all bruised.
Papa, is an owl entirely blind in daytime?"
"Blind!" said Ignat; "some men will toss about in life even as
this owl in daytime. Ever searching for his place, he strives and
strives--only feathers fly from him, but all to no purpose. He is
bruised, sickened, stripped of everything, and then with all his
might he thrusts himself anywhere, just to find repose from his
restlessness. Woe to such people. Woe to them, dear!"
"How painful is it to them?" said Foma in a low voice.
"Just as painful as to that owl."
"And why is it so?"
"Why? It is hard to tell. Someone suffers because he is darkened
by his pride--he desires much, but has but little strength. Another
because of his foolishness. But then there are a thousand and one
other reasons, which you cannot understand."
"Come in and have some tea," Anfisa called to them. She had been
standing in the doorway for quite a long while, and, folding her
hands, lovingly admired the enormous figure of her brother, who
bent over Foma with such friendliness, and the pensive pose of
the boy, who clung to his father's shoulder.
Thus day by day Foma's life developed slowly--a quiet, peaceful
life, not at all brimful of emotions. Powerful impressions, rousing
the boy's soul for an hour or for a day, sometimes stood out
strikingly against the general background of this monotonous life,
but these were soon obliterated. The boy's soul was as yet but a calm
lake--a lake hidden from the stormy winds of life, and all that
touched the surface of the lake either sank to the bottom, stirring
the placid water for a moment, or gliding over the smooth surface,
swam apart in big circles and disappeared.
Having stayed at the district school for five years, Foma passed
four classes tolerably well and came out a brave, dark-haired
fellow, with a swarthy face, heavy eyebrows and dark down on the
upper lip. His big dark eyes had a naive and pensive look, and
his lips were like a child's, half-open; but when meeting with
opposition to his desires or when irritated by something else,
the pupils of his eyes would grow wide, his lips press tight, and
his whole face assume a stubborn and resolute expression. His
godfather, smiling sceptically, would often say to him:
"To women, Foma, you'll be sweeter than honey, but as yet not
much common sense can be seen in you."
Ignat would heave a sigh at these words.
"You had better start out your son as soon as possible."
"There's time yet, wait."
"Why wait? He'll go about the Volga for two or three years and
then we'll have him married. There's my Lubov."
Lubov Mayakina was now studying in the fifth class of some boarding
school. Foma often met her on the street at which meeting she always
bowed condescendingly, her fair head in a fashionable cap. Foma liked
her, but her rosy cheeks, her cheerful brown eyes and crimson lips
could not smooth the impression of offence given to him by her
condescending bows. She was acquainted with some Gymnasium students,
and although Yozhov, his old friend, was among them, Foma felt no
inclination to be with them, and their company embarrassed him. It
seemed to him that they were all boasting of their learning before
him and that they were mocking his ignorance. Gathered together in
Lubov's house they would read some books, and whenever he found them
reading or loudly arguing, they became silent at his sight. All this
removed them further from him. One day when he was at Mayakin's, Luba
called him to go for a walk in the garden, and there, walking by his
side, asked him with a grimace on her face:
"Why are you so unsociable? You never talk about anything."
"What shall I talk about, since I know nothing!" said Foma, plainly.
"I don't feel like doing it."
"You see, the Gymnasium students know everything, and know how to
talk about everything. Take Yozhov, for instance."
"I know Yozhov--a chatterbox."
"You simply envy him. He is very clever--yes. He will soon graduate
the Gymnasium--and then he'll go to Moscow to study in the
"Well, what of it?" said Foma, indifferently.
"And you'll remain just an ignorant man."
"Well, be it so."
"That will be nice!" exclaimed Luba, ironically.
"I shall hold my ground without science," said Foma, sarcastically.
"And I'll have a laugh at all the learned people. Let the hungry
I don't need it."
"Pshaw, how stupid you are, bad, disgusting!" said the girl with
contempt and went away, leaving him alone in the garden. Offended
and gloomy, he looked after her, moved his eyebrows and lowering
his head, slowly walked off into the depth of the garden.
He already began to recognise the beauty of solitude and the
sweet poison of contemplation. Oftentimes, during summer evenings,
when everything was coloured by the fiery tints of sunset, kindling
the imagination, an uneasy longing for something incomprehensible
penetrated his breast. Sitting somewhere in a dark corner of the
garden or lying in bed, he conjured up before him the images of the
fairy-tale princesses--they appeared with the face of Luba and of
other young ladies of his acquaintance, noiselessly floating before
him in the twilight and staring into his eyes with enigmatic looks.
At times these visions awakened in him a mighty energy, as though
intoxicating him--he would rise and, straightening his shoulders,
inhale the perfumed air with a full chest; but sometimes these same
visions brought to him a feeling of sadness--he felt like crying,
but ashamed of shedding tears, he restrained himself and never wept
in silence. Or suddenly his heart began to tremble with the desire
to express his gratitude to God, to bow before Him; the words of the
prayer flashed through his memory, and beholding the sky, he whispered
them for a long time, one by one, and his heart grew lighter,
into prayer the excess of his power.
The father patiently and carefully introduced him into commercial
circles, took him on the Exchange, told him about his contracts and
enterprises, about his co-associates, described to him how they had
made their way, what fortunes they now possessed, what natures were
theirs. Foma soon mastered it, regarding everything seriously and
"Our bud is blooming into a blood-red cup-rose!" Mayakin smiled,
winking to Ignat.
And yet, even when Foma was nineteen years old, there was something
childish in him, something naive which distinguished him from the boys
of his age. They were laughing at him, considering him stupid; he kept
away from them, offended by their relations toward him. As for his
and Mayakin, who were watching him vigilantly, this uncertainty of
character inspired them with serious apprehensions.
"I cannot understand him!" Ignat would say with contrite heart. " He
does not lead a dissipated life, he does not seem to run after the
women, treats me and you with respect, listens to everything--he is
more like a pretty girl than a fellow! And yet he does not seem to be
"No, there's nothing particularly stupid about him," said Mayakin.
"It looks as though he were waiting for something--as though some
kind of shroud were covering his eyes. His late mother groped on
earth in the same way.
"Just look, there's Afrikanka Smolin, but two years older than my
boy--what a man he has become! That is, it is difficult to tell
whether he is his father's head or his father his. He wants to go
to some factory to study. He swears:
"'Eh,' says he, 'papa, you have not taught me enough.' Yes. While
mine does not express himself at all. 0h Lord!"
"Look here," Mayakin advised him, "you had better push him head
foremost into some active business! I assure you! Gold is tested
in fire. We'll see what his inclinations are when at liberty.
Send him out on the Kama--alone."
"To give him a trial?"
"Well, he'll do some mischief--you'll lose something--but then
we'll know what stuff he is made of."
"Indeed--I'll send him off," Ignat decided.
And thus in the spring, Ignat sent his son off on the Kama with two
barges laden with corn. The barges were led by Gordyeeff's steamer
"Philezhny," under the command of Foma's old acquaintance, the
former sailor Yefim--now, Yefim Ilyich, a squarely built man of
about thirty with lynx-like eyes--a sober-minded, steady and very
They sailed fast and cheerfully, because all were contented. At
first Foma was proud of the responsible commission with which he
had been charged. Yefim was pleased with the presence of the young
master, who did not rebuke or abuse him for each and every oversight;
and the happy frame of mind of the two most important persons on the
steamer reflected in straight rays on the entire crew. Having left the
place where they had taken in their cargo of corn in April, the
steamer reached the place of its destination in the beginning of May,
barges were anchored near the shore with the steamer at their side.
Foma's duty was to deliver the corn as soon as possible, and receiving
the payments, start off for Perm, where a cargo of iron was awaiting
him, which Ignat had undertaken to deliver at the market.
The barges stood opposite a large village, near a pine forest,
about two versts distant from the shore. On the very next day
after their arrival, a big and noisy crowd of women and peasants,
on foot and on horses, came up to the shore early in the morning.
Shouting and singing, they scattered on the decks and in an instant
work started expeditiously. Having descended into the holds, the women
were filling the sacks with rye, the peasants, throwing the sacks upon
their shoulders, ran over the gang-planks to the shore, and from the
shore, carts, heavily laden with the long-expected corn, went off
slowly to the village. The women sang songs; the peasants jested and
gaily abused one another; the sailors representing the guardians of
peace, scolded the working people now and then; the gang-planks,
bending under the feet of the carriers, splashed against the water
heavily; while on the shore the horses neighed, and the carts and
the sand under the wheels were creaking.
The sun had just risen, the air was fresh and invigorating and
densely filled with the odour of pines; the calm water of the
river, reflecting the clear sky, was gently murmuring, breaking
against the sides of the vessels and the chains of the anchors.
The loud and cheerful noise of toil, the youthful beauty of nature,
gaily illumined by the sunbeams--all was full of a kind-hearted,
somewhat crude, sound power, which pleasantly stirred Foma's soul,
awakening in him new and perplexed sensations and desires. He was
sitting by the table under the awning of the steamer and drinking
tea, together with Yefim and the receiver of the corn, a provincial
clerk--a redheaded, short-sighted gentleman in glasses. Nervously
shrugging his shoulders the receiver was telling in a hoarse voice
how the peasants were starving, but Foma paid little attention to
his words, looking now at the work below, now at the other side of
the river--a tall, yellow, sandy steep shore, whose edges were
covered with pine trees. It was unpeopled and quiet.
"I'll have to go over there," thought Foma. And as though from a
distance the receiver's tiresome, unpleasant, harsh voice fell on his
"You wouldn't believe it--at last it became horrible! Such an incident
took place! A peasant came up to a certain intelligent man in Osa and
brought along with him a girl about sixteen years old.
"'What do you wish?"
"'Here,' he says, 'I've brought my daughter to your Honour.'
"'Perhaps,' he says, 'you'll take her--you are a bachelor.'
"'That is, how? What do you mean?'
"'I took her around town,' he says. 'I wanted to hire her out as a
servant--but nobody would have her--take her at least as your
"Do you understand? He offered his own daughter--just think of it!
A daughter--as a mistress! The devil knows what that is! Eh? The man,
of course, became indignant and began abusing the peasant. But the
peasant spoke to him reasonably:
"'Your Honour! Of what use is she to me at this time? Utterly useless.
I have,' says he, 'three boys--they will be working men; it is
necessary to keep them up. Give me,' says he, 'ten roubles for the
girl, and that will improve my lot and that of my boys.'
"How is that? Eh? It is simply terrible, I tell you."
"No good!" sighed Yefim. "As they say--hunger will break through
stone walls. The stomach, you see, has its own laws."
This story called forth in Foma a great incomprehensible interest in
the fate of the girl, and the youth hastened to enquire of the
"Well, did the man buy her?"
"Of course not!" exclaimed the receiver, reproachfully.
"Well, and what became of her?"
"Some good people took pity on her--and provided for her."
"A-h!" drawled Foma, and suddenly he said firmly and angrily: "I
would have given that peasant such a thrashing! I would have broken
his head!" And he showed the receiver his big tightly-clenched fist.
"Eh! What for?" cried the receiver in a sickly, loud voice, tearing
his spectacles from his eyes. "You do not understand the motive."
"I do understand it!" said Foma, with an obstinate shake of his head.
"But what could he do? It came to his mind."
"How can one allow himself to sell a human being?"
"Ah! It is brutal, I agree with you."
"And a girl at that! I would have given him the ten roubles!"
The receiver waved his hand hopelessly and became silent. His gesture
confused Foma. He arose from his seat, walked off to the railing and
looked down at the deck of the barge, which was covered with an
industriously working crowd of people. The noise intoxicated him, and
the uneasy something, which was rambling in his soul, was now defined
into a powerful desire to work, to have the strength of a giant, to
possess enormous shoulders and put on them at one time a hundred bags
of rye, that every one looking at him might be astonished.
"Come now, hurry up there!" he shouted down in a ringing voice. A
few heads were raised to him, some faces appeared before him, and
one of them--the face of a dark-eyed woman--smiled at him a gentle
and enticing smile. Something flared up in his breast at this smile
and began to spread over his veins in a hot wave. He drew back from
the railing and walked up to the table again, feeling that his cheeks
"Listen!" said the receiver, addressing him, "wire to your father
asking him to allow some grain for waste! Just see how much is lost
here. And here every pound is precious! You should have understood
this! What a fine father you have," he concluded with a biting
"How much shall I allow?" asked Foma, boldly and disdainfully. "Do
you want a hundred puds? [A pud is a weight of 40 Russian pounds.]
"I--I thank you!" exclaimed the receiver, overjoyed and confused,
"if you have the right to do it."
"I am the master!" said Foma, firmly. "And you must not speak
that way about my father--nor make such faces."
"Pardon me! I--I do not doubt that you have full power. I thank
you heartily. And your father, too--in behalf of all these men--
in behalf of the people!"
Yefim looked cautiously at the young master, spreading out and
smacking his lips, while the master with an air of pride on his face
listened to the quick-witted speech of the receiver, who was pressing
his hand firmly.
"Two hundred puds! That is Russian-like, young man! I shall directly
notify the peasants of your gift. You'll see how grateful they will
be--how glad." And he shouted down:
"Eh, boys! The master is giving away two hundred puds."
"Three hundred!" interposed Foma.
"Three hundred puds. Oh! Thank you! Three hundred puds of grain,
But their response was weak. The peasants lifted up their heads and
mutely lowered them again, resuming their work. A few voices said
irresolutely and as though unwillingly:
"Thanks. May God give you. We thank you very humbly."
And some cried out gaily and disdainfully:
"What's the use of that? If they had given each of us a glass of
vodka instead--that would be a just favour. For the grain is not
for us--but for the country Council."
"Eh! They do not understand!" exclaimed the receiver, confused.
"I'll go down and explain it to them."
And he disappeared. But the peasants' regard for his gift did not
interest Foma. He saw that the black eyes of the rosy-cheeked
woman were looking at him so strangely and pleasingly. They
seemed to thank him and caressingly beckoned him, and besides
those eyes he saw nothing. The woman was dressed like the city
women. She wore shoes, a calico waist, and over her black hair
she had a peculiar kerchief. Tall and supple, seated on a pile of
wood, she repaired sacks, quickly moving her hands, which were
bare up to the elbows, and she smiled at Foma all the time.
"Foma Ignatyich!" he heard Yefim's reproachful voice, "you've showed
off too much. Well, if it were only about fifty puds! But why so
much? Look out that we don't get a good scolding for this."
"Leave me alone!" said Foma, shortly.
"What is it to me? I'll keep quiet. But as you are so young, and as
I was told to keep an eye on you, I may get a rap on the snout for
"I'll tell my father all about it. Keep quiet!" said Foma.
"As for me--let it be so--so that you are master here."
"I have said this, Foma Ignatyich, for your own sake--because you
are so young and simple-minded."
"Leave me alone, Yefim!"
Yefim heaved a sigh and became silent, while Foma stared at the
woman and thought:
"I wish they would bring such a woman for sale to me."
His heart beat rapidly. Though as yet physically pure, he already
knew from conversations the mysteries of intimate relations
between men and women. He knew by rude and shameful names, and
these names kindled in him an unpleasant, burning curiosity and
shame; his imagination worked obstinately, for he could not
picture it to himself in intelligible images. And in his soul he
did not believe that those relations were really so simple and
rude, as he had been told. When they had laughed at him and
assured him that they were such, and, indeed, could not be
otherwise, he smiled stupidly and confusedly, but thought
nevertheless that the relations with women did not have to be in
such a shameful form for everyone, and that, in all probability,
there was something purer, less rude and abusive to a human being.
Now looking at the dark-eyed working woman with admiration, Foma
distinctly felt just that rude inclination toward her, and he was
ashamed and afraid of something. And Yefim, standing beside him,
"There you are staring at the woman, so that I cannot keep silence
any longer. You do not know her, but when she winks at you, you may,
because of your youth--and with a nature like yours--you may do such
a thing that we'll have to go home on foot by the shore. And we'll
have to thank God if our trousers at least remain with us."
"What do you want?" asked Foma, red with confusion.
"I want nothing. And you had better mind me. In regard to affairs
with women I may perfectly well be a teacher. You must deal with
a woman very plainly--give her a bottle of vodka, something to eat
after it, then a couple of bottles of beer and after everything
give her twenty kopecks in cash. For this price she will show you
all her love in the best way possible."
"You are lying," said Foma, softly.
"I am lying? Why shall I lie to you since I have observed that same
policy perhaps a hundred times? Just charge me to have dealings with
her. Eh? I'll make you acquainted with her in a moment."
"Very well," said Foma, feeling that he could hardly breathe and
that something was choking his throat.
"Well, then, I'll bring her up in the evening."
And Yefim smiled approvingly into Foma's face and walked off.
Until evening Foma walked about as though lost in mist, not
noticing the respectful and beseeching glances with which the
peasants greeted him at the receiver's instigation. Dread fell on
him, he felt himself guilty before somebody, and to all those that
addressed him he replied humbly and gently, as though excusing
himself for something. Some of the working people went home toward
evening, others gathered on the shore near a big, bright bonfire and
began cooking their supper. Fragments of their conversation floated
about in the stillness of the evening. The reflection of the fire
fell on the river in red and yellow stripes, which trembled on the
calm water and on the window panes of the cabin where Foma was s
itting. He sat in the corner on a lounge, which was covered with
oilcloth--and waited. On the table before him were a few bottles of
vodka and beer, and plates with bread and dessert. He covered the
windows and did not light the lamp; the faint light from the bonfire,
penetrating through the curtains, fell on the table, on the bottles
and on the wall, and trembled, now growing brighter, now fainter. It
was quiet on the steamer and on the barges, only from the shore came
indistinct sounds of conversation, and the river was splashing,
scarcely audible, against the sides of the steamer. It seemed to Foma
that somebody was hiding in the dark near by, listening to him and
spying upon him. Now somebody is walking over the gang-plank of the
barges with quick and heavy steps--the gang-plank strikes against the
water clangously and angrily. Foma hears the muffled laughter of the
captain and his lowered voice. Yefim stands by the cabin door and
speaks softly, but somewhat reprimandingly, as though instructing.
Foma suddenly felt like crying out:
"It is not necessary!"
And he arose from the lounge--but at this moment the cabin door was
opened, the tall form of a woman appeared on the threshold, and,
noiselessly closing the door behind her, she said in a low voice:
"0h dear! How dark it is! Is there a living soul somewhere around
"Yes," answered Foma, softly.
"Well, then, good evening."
And the woman moved forward carefully.
"I'll light the lamp," said Foma in a broken voice, and, sinking
on the lounge, he curled himself up in the corner.
"It is good enough this way. When you get used to it you can see
everything in the dark as well."
"Be seated," said Foma.
She sat down on the lounge about two steps away from him. Foma
saw the glitter of her eyes, he saw a smile on her full lips. It
seemed to him that this smile of hers was not at all like that
other smile before--this smile seemed plaintive, sad. This smile
encouraged him; he breathed with less difficulty at the sight of
these eyes, which, on meeting his own, suddenly glanced down on
the floor. But he did not know what to say to this woman and for
about two minutes both were silent. It was a heavy, awkward silence.
She began to speak:
"You must be feeling lonesome here all alone?"
"Yes," answered Foma.
"And do you like our place here?" asked the woman in a low voice.
"It is nice. There are many woods here."
And again they became silent.
"The river, if you like, is more beautiful than the Volga,"
uttered Foma, with an effort.
"I was on the Volga."
"In the city of Simbirsk."
"Simbirsk?" repeated Foma like an echo, feeling that he was again
unable to say a word.
But she evidently understood with whom she had to deal, and she
suddenly asked him in a bold whisper:
"Why don't you treat me to something?"
"Here!" Foma gave a start. "Indeed, how queer I am? Well, then,
come up to the table."
He bustled about in the dark, pushed the table, took up one bottle,
then another, and again returned them to their place, laughing
and confusedly as he did so. She came up close to him and stood by his
side, and, smiling, looked at his face and at his trembling hands.
"Are you bashful?" she suddenly whispered.
He felt her breath on his cheek and replied just as softly:
Then she placed her hands on his shoulders and quietly drew him
to her breast, saying in a soothing whisper:
"Never mind, don't be bashful, my young, handsome darling. How I
And he felt like crying because of her whisper, his heart was
melting in sweet fatigue; pressing his head close to her breast,
he clasped her with his hands, mumbling to her some inarticulate
words, which were unknown to himself.
"Be gone!" said Foma in a heavy voice, staring at the wall with
his eyes wide open.
Having kissed him on the cheek she walked out of the cabin,
saying to him:
Foma felt intolerably ashamed in her presence; but no sooner did
she disappear behind the door than he jumped up and seated
himself on the lounge. Then he arose, staggering, and at once he
was seized with the feeling of having lost something very valuable,
something whose presence he did not seem to have noticed in himself
until the moment it was lost. But immediately a new, manly feeling
of self-pride took possession of him. It drowned his shame, and,
instead of the shame, pity for the woman sprang up within him--
for the half-clad woman, who went out alone into the dark of the
chilly May night. He hastily came out on the deck--it was a starlit,
but moonless night; the coolness and the darkness embraced him. On the
shore the golden-red pile of coals was still glimmering. Foma
an oppressive stillness filled the air, only the water was murmuring,
breaking against the anchor chains. There was not a sound of footsteps
to be heard. Foma now longed to call the woman, but he did not know
her name. Eagerly inhaling the fresh air into his broad chest, he
stood on deck for a few minutes. Suddenly, from beyond the roundhouse-
from the prow--a moan reached his ears--a deep, loud moan, resembling
a wail. He shuddered and went thither carefully, understanding that
She sat on the deck close to the side of the steamer, and, leaning her
head against a heap of ropes, she wept. Foma saw that her bare white
shoulders were trembling, he heard her pitiful moans, and began to
feel depressed. Bending over her, he asked her timidly:
"What is it?"
She nodded her head and said nothing in reply.
"Have I offended you?"
"Go away," she said.
"But, how?" said Foma, alarmed and confused, touching her head
with his hand. "Don't be angry. You came of your own free will."
"I am not angry!" she replied in a loud whisper. "Why should I be
angry at you? You are not a seducer. You are a pure soul! Eh, my
darling! Be seated here by my side."
And taking Foma by the hand, she made him sit down, like a child,
in her lap, pressed his head close to her breast, and, bending
over him, pressed her lips to his for a long time.
"What are you crying about?" asked Foma, caressing her cheek with
one hand, while the other clasped the woman's neck.
"I am crying about myself. Why have you sent me away?" she asked
"I began to feel ashamed of myself," said Foma, lowering his head.
"My darling! Tell me the truth--haven't you been pleased with me?"
she asked with a smile, but her big, hot tears were still trickling
down on Foma's breast.
"Why should you speak like this?" exclaimed the youth, almost
frightened, and hotly began to mumble to her some words about her
beauty, about her kindness, telling her how sorry he was for her
and how bashful in her presence. And she listened and kept on
kissing his cheeks, his neck, his head and his uncovered breast.
He became silent--then she began to speak--softly and mournfully
as though speaking of the dead:
"And I thought it was something else. When you said, 'Be gone!' I
got up and went away. And your words made me feel sad, very sad.
There was a time, I remembered, when they caressed me and fondled
me unceasingly, without growing tired; for a single kind smile
they used to do for me anything I pleased. I recalled all this
and began to cry! I felt sorry for my youth, for I am now thirty
years old, the last days for a woman! Eh, Foma Ignatyevich!" she
exclaimed, lifting her voice louder, and reiterating the rhythm
of her harmonious speech, whose accents rose and fell in unison
with the melodious murmuring of the water.
"Listen to me--preserve your youth! There is nothing in the world
better than that. There is nothing more precious than youth. With
youth, as with gold, you can accomplish anything you please. Live
so that you shall have in old age something to remind you of your
youth. Here I recalled myself, and though I cried, yet my heart
blazed up at the very recollection of my past life. And again I
was young, as though I drank of the water of life! My sweet child I'll
have a good time with you, if I please you, we'll enjoy ourselves
as much as we can. Eh! I'll burn to ashes, now that I have blazed up!"
And pressing the youth close to herself, she greedily began to
kiss him on the lips.
"Lo-o-ok o-u-u-u-t!" the watch on the barge wailed mournfully, and,
cutting short the last syllable, began to strike his mallet against
the cast-iron board.
The shrill, trembling sounds harshly broke the solemn quiet of
A few days later, when the barges had discharged their cargo and
the steamer was ready to leave for Perm, Yefim noticed, to his
great sorrow, that a cart came up to the shore and that the dark-
eyed Pelageya, with a trunk and with some bundles, was in it.
"Send a sailor to bring her things," ordered Foma, nodding his
head toward the shore.
With a reproachful shake of his head, Yefim carried out the order
angrily, and then asked in a lowered voice:
"So she, too, is coming with us?"
"She is going with me," Foma announced shortly.
"It is understood. Not with all of us. Oh, Lord!"
"Why are you sighing?"
"Yes. Foma Ignatyich! We are going to a big city. Are there not
plenty of women of her kind?"
"Well, keep quiet!" said Foma, sternly.
"I will keep quiet, but this isn't right!"
"This very wantonness of ours. Our steamer is perfect, clean--and
suddenly there is a woman there! And if it were at least the right
sort of a woman! But as it is, she merely bears the name of woman."
Foma frowned insinuatingly and addressed the captain, imperiously
emphasizing his words:
"Yefim, I want you to bear it in mind, and to tell it to everybody
here, that if anyone will utter an obscene word about her, I'll
strike him on the head with a log of wood!"
"How terrible!" said Yefim, incredulously, looking into the master's
face with curiosity. But he immediately made a step backward. Ignat's
son, like a wolf, showed his teeth, the apples of his eyes became
and he roared:
"Laugh! I'll show you how to laugh!"
Though Yefim lost courage, he nevertheless said with dignity:
"Although you, Foma Ignatyich, are the master, yet as I was told,
'Watch, Yefim,' and then I am the captain here."
"The captain?" cried Foma, shuddering in every limb and turning
pale. "And who am I?"
"Well, don't bawl! On account of such a trifle as a woman."
Red spots came out on Foma's pale face, he shifted from one foot
to the other, thrust his hands into the pockets of his jacket
with a convulsive motion and said in a firm and even voice:
"You! Captain! See here, say another word against me--and you go
to the devil! I'll put you ashore! I'll get along as well with
the pilot! Understand? You cannot command me. Do you see?"
Yefim was dumfounded. He looked at his master and comically
winked his eyes, finding no reply to his words.
"Do you understand, I say?"
"Yes. I understand! " drawled Yefim. "But what is all this noise
about? On account of--"
Foma's eyes, which flashed wildly, and his face distorted with
wrath, suggested to the captain the happy thought to leave his
master as soon as possible and, turning around quickly, he walked off.
"Pshaw! How terrible! As it seems the apple did not fall too far
from the tree," he muttered sneeringly, walking on the deck. He
was angry at Foma, and considered himself offended for nothing,
but at the same time he began to feel over himself the real, firm
hand of a master. For years accustomed to being subordinate, he
rather liked this manifestation of power over him, and, entering
the cabin of the old pilot, he related to him the scene between
himself and his master, with a shade of satisfaction in his voice.
"See?" he concluded his story. "A pup coming from a good breed is
an excellent dog at the very first chase. From his exterior he is
so-so. A man of rather heavy mind as yet. Well, never mind, let
him have his fun. It seems now as though nothing wrong will come
out of this. With a character like his, no. How he bawled at me!
A regular trumpet, I tell you! And he appointed himself master at
once. As though he had sipped power and strictness out of a ladle."
Yefim spoke the truth: during these few days Foma underwent a
striking transformation. The passion now kindled in him made him
master of the soul and body of a woman; he eagerly absorbed the
fiery sweetness of this power, and this burned out all that was
awkward in him, all that gave him the appearance of a somewhat
stupid, gloomy fellow, and, destroying it, filled his heart with
youthful pride, with the consciousness of his human personality.
Love for a woman is always fruitful to the man, be the love
whatever it may; even though it were to cause but sufferings
there is always much that is rich in it. Working as a powerful
poison on those whose souls are afflicted, it is for the healthy
man as fire for iron, which is to be transformed into steel.
Foma's passion for the thirty-year-old woman, who lamented in his
embraces her dead youth, did not tear him away from his affairs;
he was never lost in the caresses, or in his affairs, bringing
into both his whole self. The woman, like good wine, provoked in
him alike a thirst for labour and for love, and she, too, became
younger from the kisses of the youth.
In Perm, Foma found a letter waiting for him. It was from his
godfather, who notified him that Ignat, out of anxiety for his
son, had begun to drink heavily, and that it was harmful to drink
thus, for a man of his age. The letter concluded with advice to
hurry up matters in order to return home the sooner. Foma felt
alarmed over this advice, and it clouded the clear holiday of his
heart. But this shadow soon melted in his worries over his affairs,
and in the caresses of Pelageya. His life streamed on with the
swiftness of a river wave, and each day brought to him new sensations,
awakening in him new thoughts. Pelageya's relations with him contained
all the passion of a mistress, all that power of feeling which women
of her age put into their passion when drinking the last drops from
the cup of life. But at times a different feeling awoke in her, a
feeling not less powerful, and by which Foma became still more
to her--something similar to a mother's yearning to guard her beloved
son from errors, to teach him the wisdom of life. Oftentimes at night,
sitting in his embraces on the deck, she spoke to him tenderly and
"Mind me as an older sister of yours. I have lived, I know men. I
have seen a great deal in my life! Choose your companions with
care, for there are people just as contagious as a disease. At
first you cannot tell them even when you see them; he looks to be
a man like everybody else, and, suddenly, without being aware of
it yourself, you will start to imitate him in life. You look around--
and you find that you have contracted his scabs. I myself have lost
everything on account of a friend. I had a husband and two children.
We lived well. My husband was a clerk at a volost." She became silent
and looked for a long time at the water, which was stirred by the
vessel. Then she heaved a sigh and spoke to him again:
"May the Holy Virgin guard you from women of my kind--be careful.
You are tender as yet, your heart has not become properly hardened.
And women are fond of such as you--strong, handsome, rich. And most
of all beware of the quiet women. They stick to a man like blood-
suckers, and suck and suck. And at the same time they are always so
kind, so gentle. They will keep on sucking your juice, but will
preserve themselves. They'll only break your heart in vain. You had
better have dealings with those that are bold, like myself. These live
not for the sake of gain."
And she was indeed disinterested. In Perm Foma purchased for her
different new things and what-not. She was delighted, but later,
having examined them, she said sadly:
"Don't squander your money too freely. See that your father does
not get angry. I love you anyway, without all this."
She had already told him that she would go with him only as far
as Kazan, where she had a married sister. Foma could not believe
that she would leave him, and when, on the eve of their arrival
at Kazan, she repeated her words, he became gloomy and began to
implore her not to forsake him.
"Do not feel sorry in advance," she said. "We have a whole night
before us. You will have time to feel sorry when I bid you good-
bye, if you will feel sorry at all."
But he still tried to persuade her not to forsake him, and, finally--
which was to be expected--announced his desire to marry her.
"So, so!" and she began to laugh. "Shall I marry you while my
husband is still alive? My darling, my queer fellow! You have a
desire to marry, eh? But do they marry such women as I am? You
will have many, many mistresses. Marry then, when you have
overflowed, when you have had your fill of all sweets and feel
like having rye bread. Then you may marry! I have noticed that a
healthy man, for his own peace, must not marry early. One woman
will not be enough to satisfy him, and he'll go to other women.
And for your own happiness, you should take a wife only when you
know that she alone will suffice for you."
But the more she spoke, the more persistent Foma became in his
desire not to part with her.
"Just listen to what I'll tell you," said the woman, calmly. "A
splinter of wood is burning in your hand, and you can see well even
without its light--you had better dip it into water, so that there
will be no smell of smoke and your hand will not be burned."
"I do not understand your words."
"Do understand. You have done me no wrong, and I do not wish to
do you any. And, therefore, I am going away."
It is hard to say what might have been the result of this dispute
if an accident had not interfered with it. In Kazan Foma received a
telegram from Mayakin, who wrote to his godson briefly: "Come
immediately on the passenger steamer." Foma's heart contracted
nervously, and a few hours later, gloomy and pale, his teeth set
together, he stood on the deck of the steamer, which was leaving the
harbour, and clinging to the rail with his hands, he stared
motionlessly into the face of his love, who was floating far away from
with the harbour and the shore. Pelageya waved her handkerchief and
smiled, but he knew that she was crying, shedding many painful tears.
From her tears the entire front of Foma's shirt was wet, and from
her tears, his heart, full of gloomy alarm, was sad and cold. The
figure of the woman was growing smaller and smaller, as though
melting away, and Foma, without lifting his eyes, stared at her and
felt that aside from fear for his father and sorrow for the woman,
some new, powerful and caustic sensation was awakening in his soul.
He could not name it, but it seemed to him as something like a grudge
The crowd in the harbour blended into a close, dark and dead spot,
faceless, formless, motionless. Foma went away from the rail and
began to pace the deck gloomily.
The passengers, conversing aloud, seated themselves to drink tea;
the porters bustled about on the gallery, setting the tables;
somewhere below, on the stern, in the third class, a child was
crying, a harmonica was wailing, the cook was chopping something
with knives, the dishes were jarring-- producing a rather harsh
noise. Cutting the waves and making foam, shuddering under the
strain and sighing heavily, the enormous steamer moved rapidly
against the current. Foma looked at the wide strip of broken,
struggling, and enraged waves at the stern of the steamer, and
began to feel a wild desire to break or tear something; also to
go, breast foremost, against the current and to mass its pressure
against himself, against his breast and his shoulders.
"Fate!" said someone beside him in a hoarse and weary voice.
This word was familiar to him: his Aunt Anfisa had often used it
as an answer to his questions, and he had invested in this brief
word a conception of a power, similar to the power of God. He
glanced at the speakers: one of them was a gray little old man,
with a kind face; the other was younger, with big, weary eyes and
with a little black wedge-shaped beard. His big gristly nose and
his yellow, sunken cheeks reminded Foma of his godfather.
"Fate!" The old man repeated the exclamation of his interlocutor
with confidence, and began to smile. "Fate in life is like a
fisherman on the river: it throws a baited hook toward us into
the tumult of our life and we dart at it with greedy mouths. Then
fate pulls up the rod--and the man is struggling, flopping on the
ground, and then you see his heart is broken. That's how it is,
my dear man."
Foma closed his eyes, as if a ray of the sun had fallen full on
them, and shaking his head, he said aloud:
"True! That is true!"
The companions looked at him fixedly: the old man, with a fine,
wise smile; the large-eyed man, unfriendly, askance. This confused
Foma; he blushed and walked away, thinking of Fate and wondering
why it had first treated him kindly by giving him a woman, and then
took back the gift from him, so simply and abusively? And he now
understood that the vague, caustic feeling which he carried within
him was a grudge against Fate for thus sporting with him. He had been
too much spoiled by life, to regard more plainly the first drop of
poison from the cup which was just started, and he passed all the time
of the journey without sleep, pondering over the old man's words and
fondling his grudge. This grudge, however, did not awaken in him
despondency and sorrow, but rather a feeling of anger and revenge.
Foma was met by his godfather, and to his hasty and agitated
question, Mayakin, his greenish little eyes flashing excitedly,
said when he seated himself in the carriage beside his godson:
"Your father has grown childish."
"Worse--he has lost his mind completely."
"Really? 0h Lord! Tell me."
"Don't you understand? A certain lady is always around him."
"What about her?" exclaimed Foma, recalling his Pelageya, and for
some reason or other his heart was filled with joy.
"She sticks to him and--bleeds him."
"Is she a quiet one?"
"She? Quiet as a fire. Seventy-five thousand roubles she blew out
of his pocket like a feather!"
"Oh! Who is she?"
"Sonka Medinskaya, the architect's wife."
"Great God! Is it possible that she--Did my father--Is it
possible that he took her as his sweetheart?" asked Foma, with
astonishment, in a low voice.
His godfather drew back from him, and comically opening his eyes
wide, said convincedly:
"You are out of your mind, too! By God, you're out of your mind!
Come to your senses! A sweetheart at the age of sixty-three! And
at such a price as this. What are you talking about? Well, I'll
tell this to Ignat."
And Mayakin filled the air with a jarring, hasty laughter, at which
his goat-like beard began to tremble in an uncomely manner. It took
Foma a long time to obtain a categorical answer; the old man, contrary
to his habit, was restless and irritated; his speech, usually fluent,
was now interrupted; he was swearing and expectorating as he spoke,
and it was with difficulty that Foma learned what the matter was.
Sophya Pavlovna Medinskaya, the wealthy architect's wife, who was well
known in the city for her tireless efforts in the line of arranging
various charitable projects, persuaded Ignat to endow seventy-five
thousand roubles for the erection of a lodging-house in the city and
of a public library with a reading-room. Ignat had given the money,
and already the newspapers lauded him for his generosity. Foma had
seen the woman more than once on the streets; she was short; he knew
that she was considered as one of the most beautiful women in the
and that bad rumours were afoot as to her behaviour.
"Is that all?" exclaimed Foma, when his godfather concluded the story.
"And I thought God knows what!"
"You? You thought?" cried Mayakin, suddenly grown angry. "You
thought nothing, you beardless youngster!"
"Why do you abuse me?" Foma said.
"Tell me, in your opinion, is seventy-five thousand roubles a big
sum or not?"
"Yes, a big sum," said Foma, after a moment's thought.
"But my father has much money. Why do you make such a fuss about it?"
Yakov Tarasovich was taken aback. He looked into the youth's face
with contempt and asked him in a faint voice:
"And you speak like this?"
"I? Who then?"
"You lie! It is your young foolishness that speaks. Yes! And my
old foolishness--brought to test a million times by life--says
that you are a young dog as yet, and it is too early for you to
bark in a basso."
Foma hearing this, had often been quite provoked by his godfather's
too picturesque language.
Mayakin always spoke to him more roughly than his father, but now
the youth felt very much offended by the old man and said to him
reservedly, but firmly:
"You had better not abuse me without reflection, for I am no
longer a small child."
"Come, come!" exclaimed Mayakin, mockingly lifting his eyebrows
This roused Foma's indignation. He looked full into the old man's
eyes and articulated with emphasis:
"And I am telling you that I don't want to hear any more of that
undeserved abuse of yours. Enough!"
"Mm! So-o! Pardon me."
Yakov Tarasovich closed his eyes, chewed a little with his lips,
and, turning aside from his godson, kept silent for awhile. The
carriage turned into a narrow street, and, noticing from afar the
roof of his house, Foma involuntarily moved forward. At the same
time Mayakin asked him with a roguish and gentle smile:
"Foma! Tell me--on whom you have sharpened your teeth? Eh?"
"Why, are they sharp?" asked Foma, pleased with the manner in
which Mayakin now regarded him.
"Pretty good. That's good, dear. That's very good! Your father and
I were afraid lest you should be a laggard. Well, have you learned
to drink vodka?"
"I drank it."
"Rather too soon! Did you drink much of it?"
"Does it taste good?"
"So. Never mind, all this is not so bad. Only you are too outspoken.
You are ready to confess all your sins to each and every pope that
comes along. You must consider it isn't always necessary to do that.
by keeping silent you both please people and commit no sins. Yes. A
man's tongue is very seldom sober. Here we are. See, your father does
not know that you have arrived. Is he home yet, I wonder?"
He was at home: his loud, somewhat hoarse laughter was heard from the
open windows of the rooms. The noise of the carriage, which stopped at
the house, caused Ignat to look out of the window, and at the sight of
his son he cried out with joy:
"Ah! You've come."
After a while he pressed Foma to his breast with one hand, and,
pressing the palm of his other hand against his son's forehead, thus
bending his head back, he looked into his face with beaming eyes and
"You are sunburnt. You've grown strong. You're a fine fellow! Madame!
How's my son? Isn't he fine?"
"Not bad looking," a gentle, silver voice was heard. Foma glanced
from behind his father's shoulder and noticed that a slender woman
with magnificent fair hair was sitting in the front corner of the
room, resting her elbows on the table; her dark eyes, her thin
and plump, red lips strikingly defined on her pale face. Behind her
armchair stood a large philodendron-plant whose big, figured leaves
were hanging down in the air over her little golden head.
"How do you do, Sophya Pavlovna," said Mayakin, tenderly, approaching
her with his hand outstretched. "What, are you still collecting
contributions from poor people like us?"
Foma bowed to her mutely, not hearing her answer to Mayakin, nor
what his father was saying to him. The lady stared at him steadfastly
and smiled to him affably and serenely. Her childlike figure, clothed
in some kind of dark fabric, was almost blended with the crimson stuff
of the armchair, while her wavy, golden hair and her pale face shone
against the dark background. Sitting there in the corner, beneath the
green leaves, she looked at once like a flower, and like an ikon.
"See, Sophya Pavlovna, how he is staring at you. An eagle, eh?"
Her eyes became narrower, a faint blush leaped to her cheeks, and
she burst into laughter. It sounded like the tinkling of a little
silver bell. And she immediately arose, saying:
"I wouldn't disturb you. Good-bye!"
When she went past Foma noiselessly, the scent of perfume came to him,
and he noticed that her eyes were dark blue, and her eyebrows almost
"The sly rogue glided away," said Mayakin in a low voice, angrily
looking after her.
"Well, tell us how was the trip? Have you squandered much money?"
roared Ignat, pushing his son into the same armchair where Medinskaya
had been sitting awhile before. Foma looked at him askance and seated
himself in another chair.
"Isn't she a beautiful young woman, eh?" said Mayakin, smiling,
feeling Foma with his cunning eyes. "If you keep on gaping at her she
will eat away all your insides."
Foma shuddered for some reason or other, and, saying nothing in reply,
began to tell his father about the journey in a matter-of-fact tone.
But Ignat interrupted him:
"Wait, I'll ask for some cognac."
"And you are keeping on drinking all the time, they say," said
Ignat glanced at his son with surprise and curiosity, and asked:
"Is this the way to speak to your father?"
Foma became confused and lowered his head.
"That's it!" said Ignat, kind-heartedly, and ordered cognac to be
brought to him.
Mayakin, winking his eyes, looked at the Gordyeeffs, sighed, bid
them good-bye, and, after inviting them to have tea with him in
his raspberry garden in the evening, went away.
"Where is Aunt Anfisa?" asked Foma, feeling that now, being alone
with his father, he was somewhat ill at ease.
"She went to the cloister. Well, tell me, and I will have some
Foma told his father all about his affairs in a few minutes and
he concluded his story with a frank confession:
"I have spent much money on myself."
"About six hundred roubles."
"In six weeks! That's a good deal. I see as a clerk you're too
expensive for me. Where have you squandered it all?"
"I gave away three hundred puds of grain."
"To whom? How?"
Foma told him all about it.
"Hm! Well, that's all right!" Ignat approved. "That's to show what
stuff we are made of. That's clear enough--for the father's honour--
for the honour of the firm. And there is no loss either, because that
gives a good reputation. And that, my dear, is the very best signboard
for a business. Well, what else?"
"And then, I somehow spent more."
"Speak frankly. It's not the money that I am asking you about--I
just want to know how you lived there," insisted Ignat, regarding
his son attentively and sternly.
"I was eating, drinking." Foma did not give in, bending his head
morosely and confusedly.
"Ah! So. Isn't it rather too soon?"
"Ask Yefim whether I ever drank enough to be intoxicated."
"Why should I ask Yefim? You must tell me everything yourself. So
you are drinking? I don't like it."
"But I can get along without drinking."
"Come, come! Do you want some cognac?"
Foma looked at his father and smiled broadly. And his father
answered him with a kindly smile:
"Eh, you. Devil! Drink, but look out--know your business. What
can you do? A drunkard will sleep himself sober, a fool--never.
Let us understand this much at least, for our own consolation.
And did you have a good time with girls, too? Be frank! Are you
afraid that I will beat you, or what?"
"Yes. There was one on the steamer. I had her there from Perm to
"So," Ignat sighed heavily and said, frowning: "You've become
defiled rather too soon."
"I am twenty years old. And you yourself told me that in your days
fellows married at the age of fifteen," replied Foma, confused.
"Then they married. Very well, then, let us drop the subject. Well,
you've had dealings with a woman. What of it? A woman is like
vaccination, you cannot pass your life without her. As for myself,
I cannot play the hypocrite. I began to go around with women when I
was younger than you are now. But you must be on your guard with
Ignat became pensive and was silent for a long time, sitting
motionless, his head bent low on his breast.
"Listen, Foma," he started again, sternly and firmly. "I shall
die before long. I am old. Something oppresses my breast. I
breathe with difficulty. I'll die. Then all my affairs will fall
on your shoulders. At first your godfather will assist you--mind
him! You started quite well; you attended to everything properly;
you held the reins firmly in your hands. And though you did
squander a big sum of money, it is evident that you did not lose
your head. God grant the same in the future. You should know this:
business is a living, strong beast; you must manage it ably; you must
put a strong bridle on it or it will conquer you. Try to stand above
your business. Place yourself so that it will all be under your feet;
that each little tack shall be visible to you."
Foma looked at his father's broad chest, heard his heavy voice
and thought to himself:
"Oh, but you won't die so soon!"
This thought pleased him and awakened in him a kind, warm feeling
for his father.
"Rely upon your godfather. He has enough common sense in his head
to supply the whole town with it. All he lacks is courage, or he
would have risen high. Yes, I tell you my days on earth are numbered.
Indeed, it is high time to prepare myself for death; to cast
everything aside; to fast, and see to it that people bear me good-
"They will!" said Foma with confidence.
"If there were but a reason why they should."