Part 3 out of 9
"And the lodging-house?"
Ignat looked at his son and began to laugh.
"Yakov has had time to tell it to you already! The old miser. He
must have abused me?"
"A little." Foma smiled.
"Of course! Don't I know him?"
"He spoke of it as though it were his own money."
Ignat leaned back in his chair and burst into still louder laughter.
"The old raven, eh? That's quite true. Whether it be his own money
or mine, it is all the same to him. There he is trembling now. He
has an aim in view, the bald-headed fellow. Can you tell me what it
Foma thought awhile and said:
"I don't know."
"Eh, you're stupid. He wants to tell our fortunes."
How is that?"
"Come now, guess!"
Foma looked at his father and--guessed it. His face became gloomy, he
slightly raised himself from the armchair and said resolutely:
"No, I don't want to. I shall not marry her!"
"Oh? Why so? She is a strong girl; she is not foolish; she's his
"And Taras? The lost one? But I--I don't want to at all!"
"The lost one is gone, consequently it is not worthwhile speaking
of him. There is a will, dear, which says: 'All my movable and real
estates shall go to my daughter, Lubov.' And as to the fact that she
is your godfather's daughter, we'll set this right."
"It is all the same," said Foma, firmly. "I shall not marry her!"
"Well, it is rather early to speak of it now! But why do you
dislike her so much?"
I do not like such as she is."
"So-o! Just think of it! And which women are more to your liking,
sir, may I ask?"
"Those that are more simple. She's always busy with her Gymnasium
students and with her books. She's become learned. She'll be laughing
at my expense," said Foma, emotionally.
"That is quite true. She is too bold. But that is a trifle. All
sorts of rust can be removed if you try to do it. That's a matter
for the future. And your godfather is a clever old man. His was a
peaceful, sedentary life; sitting in one place he gave a thought
to everything. It is worthwhile listening to him, for he can see
the wrong side of each and every worldly affair. He is our aristocrat-
-descending from Mother Yekaterina--ha, ha! He understands a great
deal about himself. And as his stem was cut off by Taras, he decided
to put you in Taras's place, do you see?"
"No, I'd rather select my place myself," said Foma, stubbornly.
"You are foolish as yet." Ignat smiled in reply to his son's words.
Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Aunt Anfisa.
"Foma! You've come," she cried out, somewhere behind the doors.
Foma rose and went to meet her, with a gentle smile.
Again his life streamed on slowly, calmly, monotonously. Again
the Exchange and his father's instructions. Retaining a kindly
sarcastic and encouraging tone in his relation toward his son,
Ignat began to treat him more strictly. He censured him for each
and every trifle and constantly reminded him that he brought him
up freely; that he was never in his way and that he never beat him.
"Other fathers beat fellows like yourself with logs of wood. And
I never even touched you with a finger."
"Evidently I didn't deserve it," said Foma one day, calmly.
Ignat became angry at his son for these words and for the tone.
"Don't talk so much!" he roared. "You've picked up courage because
of the softness of my hand. You find an answer to every word I say.
Beware; though my hand was soft, it can nevertheless still squeeze
you so that tears will gush forth from your heels. You've grown up
too soon, like a toad-stool, just sprung up from the ground. You have
a bad smell already."
"Why are you so angry at me?" asked Foma, perplexed and offended,
when his father chanced to be in a happy frame of mind.
"Because you cannot tolerate it when your father grumbles at you.
You're ready to quarrel immediately."
"But it is offensive. I have not grown worse than I was before.
Don't I see how others live at my age?"
"Your head wouldn't fall off from my scolding you. And I scold you
because I see there is something in you that is not mine. What it is,
I do not know, but I see it is there. And that something is harmful
These words of Ignat made the son very thoughtful. Foma also felt
something strange in himself, something which distinguished him
from the youth of his age, but he, too, could not understand what
it was. And he looked at himself with suspicion.
Foma liked to be on the Exchange amid the bustle and talk of the
sedate people who were making deals amounting to thousands of
roubles; the respect with which the less well-to-do tradesmen
greeted and spoke to him--to Foma, the son of the millionaire--
flattered him greatly. He felt happy and proud whenever he
successfully managed some part of his father's business, assuming
all responsibility on his own shoulders, and received a smile of
approval from his father for it. There was in him a great deal of
ambition, yearning to appear as a grown-up man of business, but--
just as before his trip to Perm--he lived as in solitude; he still
felt no longing for friends, although he now came in contact everyday
with the merchants' sons of his age. They had invited him more than
once to join them in their sprees, but he rather rudely and
disdainfully declined their invitations and even laughed at them.
"I am afraid. Your fathers may learn of your sprees, and as
they'll give you a drubbing, I might also come in for a share."
What he did not like in them was that they were leading a dissipated
and depraved life, without their fathers' knowledge, and that the
they were spending was either stolen from their parents or borrowed on
long-termed promissory notes, to be paid with exorbitant interest.
in turn did not like him for this very reserve and aversion, which
contained the pride so offensive to them. He was timid about speaking
to people older than himself, fearing lest he should appear in their
eyes stupid and thick-headed.
He often recalled Pelageya, and at first he felt melancholy whenever
her image flashed before his imagination. But time went on, and little
by little rubbed off the bright colours of this woman; and before he
was aware of it his thoughts were occupied by the slender, angel-like
Medinskaya. She used to come up to Ignat almost every Sunday with
various requests, all of which generally had but one aim--to hasten
the building of the lodging-asylum. In her presence Foma felt awkward,
huge, heavy; this pained him, and he blushed deeply under the
endearing look of Sophya Pavlovna's large eyes. He noticed that every
time she looked at him, her eyes would grow darker, while her upper
lip would tremble and raise itself slightly, thus displaying very
small white teeth. This always frightened him. When his father noticed
how steadfastly he was staring at Medinskaya he told him one day:
"Don't be staring so much at that face. Look out, she is like a birch
ember: from the outside it is just as modest, smooth and dark--
altogether cold to all appearances--but take it into your hand and it
will burn you."
Medinskaya did not kindle in the youth any sensual passion, for there
was nothing in her that resembled Pelageya, and altogether she was not
at all like other women. He knew that shameful rumours about her were
in the air, but he did not believe any of them. But his relations to
her were changed when he noticed her one day in a carriage beside a
stout man in a gray hat and with long hair falling over his shoulders.
His face was like a bladder--red and bloated; he had neither moustache
nor beard, and altogether he looked like a woman in disguise. Foma was
told that this was her husband. Then dark and contradicting feelings
sprang up within him: he felt like insulting the architect, and at the
same time he envied and respected him. Medinskaya now seemed to him
less beautiful and more accessible; he began to feel sorry for her,
and yet he thought malignantly:
"She must surely feel disgusted when he kisses her."
And after all this he sometimes perceived in himself some bottomless
and oppressive emptiness, which could not be filled up by anything--
neither by the impressions of the day just gone by nor by the
recollection of the past; and the Exchange, and his affairs, and his
thoughts of Medinskaya--all were swallowed up by this emptiness. It
alarmed him: in the dark depth of this emptiness he suspected some
hidden existence of a hostile power, as yet formless but already
carefully and persistently striving to become incarnate.
In the meantime Ignat, changing but little outwardly, was growing ever
more restless and querulous and was complaining more often of being
"I lost my sleep. It used to be so sound that even though you had torn
off my skin, I would not have felt it. While now I toss about from
side to side, and I fall asleep only toward morning. And every now and
then I awaken. My heart beats unevenly, now, though tired out; often
thus: tuk-tuk-tuk. And sometimes it sinks of a sudden--and it seems as
though it would soon tear itself away and fall somewhere into the
into the bosom. 0h Lord, have pity upon me through Thy great mercy."
And heaving a penitent sigh, he would lift heavenward his stern eyes,
grown dim now, devoid of their bright, sparkling glitter.
"Death keeps an eye on me somewhere close by," he said one day
but humbly. And indeed, it soon felled his big, sturdy body to the
This happened in August, early in the morning. Foma was sound asleep
when suddenly he felt somebody shaking him by the shoulder, and a
hoarse voice called at his ear:
He opened his eyes and saw that his father was seated in a chair
near his bed, monotonously repeating in a dull voice:
"Get up, get up."
The sun had just risen, and its light, falling on Ignat's white
linen shirt, had not yet lost its rosy tints.
"It's early," said Foma, stretching himself.
"Well, you'll sleep enough later."
Lazily muffling himself in the blanket, Foma asked:
"Why do you need me?"
"Get up, dear, will you, please?" exclaimed Ignat, adding, somewhat
offended: "It must be necessary, since I am waking you."
When Foma looked closely at his father's face, he noticed that it
was gray and weary.
"Are you ill? "
"Shall we send for a doctor?"
"The devil take him!" Ignat waved his hand. "I am not a young man
any longer. I know it as well without him."
"Oh, I know it!" said the old man, mysteriously, casting a strange
glance around the room. Foma was dressing himself, and his father,
with lowered head, spoke slowly:
"I am afraid to breathe. Something tells me that if I should now
heave a deep sigh, my heart would burst. Today is Sunday! After
the morning mass is over, send for the priest."
"What are you talking about, papa?" Foma smiled.
"Nothing. Wash yourself and go into the garden. I ordered the
samovar to be brought there. We'll drink our tea in the morning
coolness. I feel like drinking now hot, strong tea. Be quicker."
The old man rose with difficulty from the chair, and, bent and
barefooted, left the room in a staggering gait. Foma looked at
his father, and a shooting chill of fear made his heart shrink.
He washed himself in haste, and hurried out into the garden.
There, under an old, spreading apple-tree sat Ignat in a big oaken
armchair. The light of the sun fell in thin stripes through the
branches of the trees upon the white figure of the old man clad
in his night-garments. There was such a profound silence in the
garden that even the rustle of a branch, accidentally touched by
Foma's clothes, seemed to him like a loud sound and he shuddered.
On the table, before his father, stood the samovar, purring like
a well-fed tom-cat and exhaling a stream of steam into the air.
Amid the silence and the fresh verdure of the garden, which had
been washed by abundant rains the day before, this bright spot of
the boldly shining, loud brass seemed to Foma as something
as something which suited neither the time nor the place--nor the
feeling that sprang up within him at the sight of the sickly, bent old
man, who was dressed in white, and who sat alone underneath the mute,
motionless, dark-green foliage, wherein red apples were modestly
"Be seated," said Ignat.
"We ought to send for a doctor." Foma advised him irresolutely,
seating himself opposite him.
"It isn't necessary. It's a little better now in the open air.
And now I'll sip some tea and perhaps that will do me more good,"
said Ignat, pouring out tea into the glasses, and Foma noticed
that the teapot was trembling in his father's hand.
Silently moving up one glass for himself, Foma bent over it, blowing
the foam off the surface of the tea, and with pain in his heart,
the loud, heavy breathing of his father. Suddenly something struck
against the table with such force that the dishes began to rattle.
Foma shuddered, threw up his head and met the frightened, almost
senseless look of his father's eyes. Ignat stared at his son and
"An apple fell down (the devil take it!). It sounded like the
firing of a gun."
"Won't you have some cognac in your tea?" Foma suggested.
"It is good enough without it."
They became silent. A flight of finches winged past over the garden,
scattering a provokingly cheerful twittering in the air. And again the
ripe beauty of the garden was bathed in solemn silence. The fright was
still in Ignat's eyes.
"0h Lord, Jesus Christ!" said he in a low voice, making the sign
of the cross. "Yes. There it is--the last hour of my life."
"Stop, papa!" whispered Foma.
"Why stop? We'll have our tea, and then send for the priest, and
"I'd rather send for them now."
"They'll soon toll for the mass--the priest isn't home--and then
there's no hurry, it may pass soon."
And he noisily started to sip the tea out of the saucer.
"I should live another year or two. You are young, and I am very
much afraid for you. Live honestly and firmly; do not covet what
belongs to other people, take good care of your own."
It was hard for him to speak, he stopped short and rubbed his
chest with his hand.
"Do not rely upon others; expect but little from them. We all live in
order to take, not to give. 0h Lord! Have mercy on the sinner!"
Somewhere in the distance the deep sound of the bell fell on the
of the morning. Ignat and Foma crossed themselves three times.
After the first sound of the bell-tone came another, then a third, and
soon the air was filled with sounds of the church-bells, coming from
all sides--flowing, measured, calling aloud.
"There, they are tolling for the mass," said Ignat, listening to the
echo of the bell-metal. "Can you tell the bells by their sounds?"
"No," answered Foma.
"Just listen. This one now--do you hear? the bass--this is from the
Nikola Church. It was presented by Peter Mitrich Vyagin--and this,
the hoarse one--this is at the church of Praskeva Pyatnitza."
The singing waves of the bell-tones agitated the air, which was filled
with them, and they died away in the clear blue of the sky. Foma
stared thoughtfully at his father's face and saw that the alarm was
disappearing from his eyes, and that they were now brighter.
But suddenly the old man's face turned very red, his eyes distended
and rolled out of their orbits, his mouth opened with fright, and from
it issued a strange, hissing sound:
Immediately after this Ignat's head fell back on his shoulder, and his
heavy body slowly slipped down from the chair to the ground as if the
earth had dragged him imperiously unto itself. Foma was motionless and
silent for awhile, then he rushed up to Ignat, lifted his head from
the ground and looked into his face. The face was dark, motionless,
and the wide-open eyes expressed nothing--neither pain, nor fear, nor
joy. Foma looked around him. As before, nobody was in the garden, and
resounding chatter of the bells was still roaring in the air. Foma's
hands began to tremble, he let go his father's head, and it struck
heavily against the ground. Dark, thick blood began to gush in a
narrow stream from his open mouth across his blue cheek.
Foma struck his breast with both hands, and kneeling before the dead
body, he wildly cried aloud. He was trembling with fright, and with
eyes like those of a madman he was searching for someone in the
verdure of the garden.
HIS father's death stupefied Foma and filled him with a strange
sensation; quiet was poured into his soul--a painful, immovable
quiet, which absorbed all the sounds of life without accounting
for it. All sorts of acquaintances were bustling about him; they
appeared, disappeared, said something to him--his replies to them
were untimely, and their words called forth no images in him,
drowning, without leaving any trace, in the bottomless depths of
the death-like silence which filled his soul. He neither cried,
nor grieved, nor thought of anything; pale and gloomy, with
knitted brow, he was attentively listening to this quiet, which
had forced out all his feelings, benumbed his heart and tightly
clutched his brains. He was conscious but of the purely physical
sensation of heaviness in all his frame and particularly in his
breast, and then it also seemed to him that it was always
twilight, and even though the sun was still high in the sky--
everything on earth looked dark and melancholy.
The funeral was arranged by Mayakin. Hastily and briskly he was
bustling about in the rooms, making much clatter with the heels
of his boots; he cried at the household help imperiously, clapped
his godson on the shoulder, consoling him:
"And why are you petrified? Roar and you will feel relieved. Your
father was old--old in body. Death is prepared for all of us, you
cannot escape it--consequently you must not be prematurely torpid.
You cannot bring him to life again with your sorrow, and your grief
is unnecessary to him, for it is said: 'When the body is robbed of
the soul by the terrible angels, the soul forgets all relatives and
acquaintances,' which means that you are of no consequence to him
now, whether you cry or laugh. But the living must care for the
living. You had better cry, for this is human. It brings much relief
to the heart."
But neither did these words provoke anything in Foma's head or in
his heart. He came to himself, however, on the day of the funeral,
thanks to the persistence of his godfather, who was assiduously and
oddly trying to rouse his sad soul.
The day of the funeral was cloudy and dreary. Amid a heavy cloud
of dust an enormous crowd of people, winding like a black ribbon,
followed the coffin of Ignat Gordyeeff. Here and there flashed the
gold of the priest's robes, and the dull noise of the slow
movement of the crowd blended in harmony with the solemn music of
the choir, composed of the bishop's choristers. Foma was pushed
from behind and from the sides; he walked, seeing nothing but the
gray head of his father, and the mournful singing resounded in
his heart like a melancholy echo. And Mayakin, walking beside
him, kept on intrusively whispering in his ears:
"Look, what a crowd--thousands! The governor himself came out to
accompany your father to the church, the mayor, and almost the
entire city council. And behind you--just turn around! There goes
Sophya Pavlovna. The town pays its respects to Ignat."
At first Foma did not listen to his godfather's whisper, but when
he mentioned Medinskaya, he involuntarily looked back and noticed
the governor. A little drop of something pleasant fell into his
heart at the sight of this important personage, with a bright
ribbon across his shoulder, with orders on his breast, pacing after
the coffin, an expression of sorrow on his stern countenance.
Blessed is the road where this soul goeth today," Yakov Tarasovich
hummed softly, moving his nose, and he again whispered in his
"Seventy-five thousand roubles is such a sum that you can demand
so many escorts for it. Have you heard that Sonka is making
arrangements for the laying of the corner-stone on the fifteenth?
Just forty days after the death of your father."
Foma again turned back, and his eyes met the eyes of Medinskaya.
He heaved a deep sigh at her caressing glance, and felt relieved
at once, as if a warm ray of light penetrated his soul and
something melted there. And then and there he considered that it
was unbecoming him to turn his head from side to side.
At church Foma's head began to ache, and it seemed to him that
everything around and underneath him was shaking. In the stifling
air, filled with dust, with the breathing of the people and the
smoke of the incense, the flames of the candles were timidly
trembling. The meek image of Christ looked down at him from the
big ikon, and the flames of the candles, reflected in the
tarnished gold of the crown over the Saviour's brow, reminded him
of drops of blood.
Foma's awakened soul was greedily feeding itself on the solemn,
gloomy poetry of the liturgy, and when the touching citation was
heard, "Come, let us give him the last kiss," a loud, wailing sob
escaped from Foma's chest, and the crowd in church was stirred to
agitation by this outburst of grief.
Having uttered the sob, Foma staggered. His godfather immediately
caught him by his arms and began to push him forward to the coffin,
singing quite loudly and with some anger:
Kiss him who was but lately with us. Kiss, Foma, kiss him--he is
given over to the grave, covered with a stone. He is settling
down in darkness, and is buried with the dead."
Foma touched his father's forehead with his lips and sprang back
from the coffin with horror.
"Hold your peace! You nearly knocked me down," Mayakin remarked
to him, in a low voice, and these simple, calm words supported
Foma better than his godfather's hands.
"Ye that behold me mute and lifeless before you, weep for me,
brethren and friends," begged Ignat through the mouth of the
Church. But his son was not crying any longer; his horror was
called forth by the black, swollen face of his father, and this
horror somewhat sobered his soul, which had been intoxicated by
the mournful music of the Church's lament for its sinful son. He
was surrounded by acquaintances, who were kindly consoling him;
he listened to them and understood that they all felt sorry for
him and that he became dear to them. And his godfather whispered
in his ear:
"See, how they all fawn upon you. The tom-cats have smelt the fat."
These words were unpleasant to Foma, but they were useful to him,
as they caused him to answer at all events.
At the cemetery, when they sang for Ignat's eternal memory, he cried
again bitterly and loud. His godfather immediately seized him by the
arms and led him away from the grave, speaking to him earnestly:
"What a faint-hearted fellow you are! Do I not feel sorry for him?
I have known his real value, while you were but his son. And yet,
I do not cry. For more than thirty years we lived together in perfect
harmony--how much had been spoken, how much thought--how much sorrow
drunk. You are young; it is not for you to grieve! Your life is before
you, and you will be rich in all sorts of friendship; while I am old,
and now that I buried my only friend, I am like a pauper. I can no
longer make a bosom friend!"
The old man's voice began to jar and squeak queerly. His face was
distorted, his lips were stretched into a big grimace and were
quivering, and from his small eyes frequent tears were running
over the now contracted wrinkles of his face. He looked so pitiful
and so unlike himself, that Foma stopped short, pressed him close to
his body with the tenderness of a strong man and cried with alarm:
"Don't cry, father--darling! Don't cry."
"There you have it!" said Mayakin, faintly, and, heaving a deep
sigh, he suddenly turned again into a firm and clever old man.
"You must not cry," said he, mysteriously, seating himself in the
carriage beside his godson. "You are now the commander-in-chief
in the war and you must command your soldiers bravely. Your
soldiers are the roubles, and you have a great army of these.
Make war incessantly!"
Surprised at the quickness of his transformation, Foma listened
to his words and for some reason or other they reminded him of
those clods of earth, which the people threw into Ignat's grave
upon his coffin.
"On whom am I to make war?" said Foma with a sigh.
"I'll teach you that! Did your father tell you that I was a
clever old man and that you should mind me?"
"Then do mind me! If my mind should be added to your youthful
strength, a good victory might be won. Your father was a great
man, but he did not look far before him and he could not take my
advice. He gained success in life not with his mind, but more
with his head. Oh, what will become of you? You had better move
into my house, for you will feel lonesome in yours."
"Aunt is there."
"Aunt? She is sick. She will not live long."
"Do not speak of it," begged Foma in a low voice.
"And I will speak of it. You need not fear death--you are not an old
woman on the oven. Live fearlessly and do what you were appointed to
do. Man is appointed for the organisation of life on earth. Man is
capital--like a rouble, he is made up of trashy copper groshes and
copecks. From the dust of the earth, as it is said; and even as he
has intercourse with the world, he absorbs grease and oil, sweat and
tears--a soul and a mind form themselves in him. And from this he
starts to grow upward and downward. Now, you see his price is a
grosh, now a fifteen copeck silver piece, now a hundred roubles, and
sometimes he is above any price. He is put into circulation and he
must bring interests to life. Life knows the value of each of us and
will not check our course before time. Nobody, dear, works to his own
detriment, if he is wise. And life has saved up much wisdom. Are you
"And what do you understand?"
"You are probably lying?" Mayakin doubted.
"But, why must we die?" asked Foma in a low voice.
Mayakin looked into his face with regret, smacked his lips and said:
"A wise man would never ask such a question. A wise man knows for
himself that if it is a river, it must be flowing somewhere, and
if it were standing in one place, it would be a swamp."
"You're simply mocking me at random," said Foma, sternly. "The
sea is not flowing anywhere."
"The sea receives all rivers into itself, and then, powerful
storms rage in it at times. Then the sea of life also submits on
agitation, stirred up by men, and death renovates the waters of
the sea of life, that they might not become spoiled. No matter how
many people are dying, they are nevertheless forever growing in
"What of it? But my father is dead."
"You will die as well."
"Then what have I to do with the fact that people are growing in
number?" Foma smiled sadly.
"Eh, he, he!" sighed Mayakin. "That, indeed, concerns none of us.
There, your trousers probably reason in the same way: what have we to
do with the fact that there are all sorts of stuff in the world? But
you do not mind them--you wear them out and throw them away."
Foma glanced at his godfather reproachfully, and noticing that the old
man was smiling, he was astonished and he asked respectfully:
"Can it be true, father, that you do not fear death?"
"Most of all I fear foolishness, my child," replied Mayakin with
humble bitterness. "My opinion is this: if a fool give you honey, spit
upon it; if a wise man give you poison, drink it! And I will tell you
that the perch has a weak soul since his fins do not stand on end."
The old man's mocking words offended and angered Foma. He turned
aside and said:
"You can never speak without these subterfuges."
"I cannot!" exclaimed Mayakin, and his eyes began to sparkle with
alarm. "Each man uses the very same tongue he has. Do I seem to be
stern? Do I?"
Foma was silent.
"Eh, you. Know this--he loves who teaches. Remember this well.
And as to death, do not think of it. It is foolish, dear, for a
live man to think of death. 'Ecclesiastes' reflected on death
better than anybody else reflected on it, and said that a living
dog is better than a dead lion."
They came home. The street near the house was crowded with
carriages, and from the open windows came loud sounds of talk. As
soon as Foma appeared in the hall, he was seized by the arms and
led away to the table and there was urged to drink and eat
something. A marketplace noise smote the air; the hall was
crowded and suffocating. Silently, Foma drank a glass of vodka,
then another, and a third. Around him they were munching and
smacking their lips; the vodka poured out from the bottles was
gurgling, the wine-glasses were tinkling. They were speaking of
dried sturgeon and of the bass of the soloist of the bishop's
choir, and then again of the dried sturgeon, and then they said
that the mayor also wished to make a speech, but did not venture
to do so after the bishop had spoken, fearing lest he should not
speak so well as the bishop. Someone was telling with feeling:
"The deceased one used to do thus: he would cut off a slice of
salmon, pepper it thickly, cover it with another slice of salmon,
and then send it down immediately after a drink."
"Let us follow his example," roared a thick basso. Offended to
the quick, Foma looked with a frown at the fat lips and at the
jaws chewing the tasty food, and he felt like crying out and
driving away all these people, whose sedateness had but lately
inspired him with respect for them.
"You had better be more kind, more sociable," said Mayakin in a
low voice, coming up to him.
"Why are they gobbling here? Is this a tavern?" cried Foma, angrily.
"Hush," Mayakin remarked with fright and hastily turned to look
around with a kind smile on his face.
But it was too late; his smile was of no avail. Foma's words had
been overheard, the noise and the talk was subsiding, some of the
guests began to bustle about hurriedly, others, offended, frowned,
put down their forks and knives and walked away from the table, all
looking at Foma askance.
Silent and angry, he met these glances without lowering his eyes.
"I ask you to come up to the table! "cried Mayakin, gleaming
amid the crowd of people like an ember amid ashes. "Be seated,
pray! They're soon serving pancakes."
Foma shrugged his shoulders and walked off toward the door,
"I shall not eat."
He heard a hostile rumbling behind him and his godfather's
wheedling voice saying to somebody:
"It's for grief. Ignat was at once father and mother to him."
Foma came out in the garden and sat down on the same place where
his father had died. The feeling of loneliness and grief oppressed
his heart. He unbuttoned the collar of his shirt to make his
breathing easier, rested his elbows on the table, and with his head
tightly pressed between his hands, he sat motionless. It was drizzling
and the leaves of the apple-tree were rustling mournfully under the
drops of the rain. He sat there for a long time alone, motionless,
watching how the small drops were falling from the apple-tree. His
head was heavy from the vodka, and in his heart there was a growing
grudge against men. Some indefinite, impersonal feelings and thoughts
were springing up and vanishing within him; before him flashed the
bald skull of his godfather with a little crown of silver hair and
with a dark face, which resembled the faces of the ancient ikons.
This face with the toothless mouth and the malicious smile, rousing
in Foma hatred and fear, augmented in him the consciousness of
solitude. Then he recalled the kind eyes of Medinskaya and her small,
graceful figure; and beside her arose the tall, robust, and rosy-
cheeked Lubov Mayakina with smiling eyes and with a big light golden-
coloured braid. "Do not rely upon men, expect but little at their
hands"--his father's words began to ring in his memory. He sighed
sadly and cast a glance around him. The tree leaves were fluttering
from the rain, and the air was full of mournful sounds. The gray sky
seemed as though weeping, and on the trees cold tears were trembling.
And Foma's soul was dry, dark; it was filled with a painful feeling
of orphanhood. But this feeling gave birth to the question:
"How shall I live now that I am alone?"
The rain drenched his clothes, and when he felt that he was
shivering with cold he arose and went into the house.
Life was tugging him from all sides, giving him no chance to be
concentrated in thinking of and grieving for his father, and on
the fortieth day after Ignat's death Foma, attired in holiday
clothes, with a pleasant feeling in his heart, went to the ceremony
of the corner-stone laying of the lodging-asylum. Medinskaya notified
him in a letter the day before, that he had been elected as a member
of the building committee and also as honorary member of the society
of which she was president. This pleased him and he was greatly
agitated by the part he was to play today at the laying of the
corner-stone. On his way he thought of how everything would be and
how he should behave in order not to be confused before the people.
"Eh, eh! Hold on!"
He turned around. Mayakin came hastening to him from the sidewalk.
He was in a frock-coat that reached his heels, in a high cap, and
he carried a huge umbrella in his hand.
"Come on, take me up there," said the old man, cleverly jumping into
the carriage like a monkey. "To tell the truth, I was waiting for
you. I was looking around, thinking it was time for you to go."
"Are you going there?" asked Foma.
"Of course! I must see how they will bury my friend's money in
Foma looked at him askance and was silent. "Why do you frown upon
me? Don't fear, you will also start out as a benefactor among men."
"What do you mean?" asked Foma, reservedly. "I've read in the
newspaper this morning that you were elected as a member of the building
committee and also as an honorary member of Sophya's society."
"This membership will eat into your pocket!" sighed Mayakin.
"That wouldn't ruin me."
"I don't know it," observed the old man, maliciously.
"I speak of this more because there is altogether very little
wisdom in this charity business, and I may even say that it isn't
a business at all, but simply harmful nonsense."
"Is it harmful to aid people?" asked Foma, hotly.
"Eh, you cabbage head!" said Mayakin with a smile. "You had better
come up to my house, I'll open your eyes in regard to this. I must
teach you! Will you come?"
"Very well, I will come!" replied Foma.
"So. And in the meantime, hold yourself proud at the laying of
the corner-stone. Stand in view of everybody. If I don't tell
this to you, you might hide yourself behind somebody's back."
"Why should I hide myself?" said Foma, displeased.
"That's just what I say: there is no reason why. For the money
was donated by your father and you are entitled to the honour as
his heir. Honour is just the same as money. With honour a business
man will get credit everywhere, and everywhere there is a way open
to him. Then come forward, so that everybody may see you and that
if you do five copecks' worth of work, you should get a rouble in
return for it. And if you will hide yourself--nothing but foolishness
will be the result."
They arrived at their destination, where all the important people
had gathered already, and an enormous crowd of people surrounded
the piles of wood, bricks and earth. The bishop, the governor, the
representatives of the city's aristocracy and the administration
formed, together with the splendidly dressed ladies, a big bright
group and looked at the efforts of the two stonemasons, who were
preparing the bricks and the lime. Mayakin and his godson wended
their way toward this group. He whispered to Foma:
"Lose no courage, these people have robbed their bellies to cover
themselves with silk."
And he greeted the governor before the bishop, in a respectfully
"How do you do, your Excellency? Give me your blessing, your
"Ah, Yakov Tarasovich!" exclaimed the governor with a friendly smile,
shaking and squeezing Mayakin's hand, while the old man was at the
same time kissing the bishop's hand. "How are you, deathless old man?"
"I thank you humbly, your Excellency! My respects to Sophya Pavlovna!"
Mayakin spoke fast, whirling like a peg-top amid the crowd of people.
In a minute he managed to shake hands with the presiding justice of
the court, with the prosecutor, with the mayor--in a word, with all
those people whom he considered it necessary to greet first; such as
these, however, were few. He jested, smiled and at once attracted
everybody's attention to his little figure, and Foma with downcast
head stood behind him, looking askance at these people wrapped in
costly stuffs, embroidered with gold; he envied the old man's
adroitness and lost his courage, and feeling that he was losing his
courage--he grew still more timid. But now Mayakin seized him by the
hand and drew him up to himself.
"There, your Excellency, this is my godson, Foma, the late Ignat's
"Ah!" said the governor in his basso, "I'm very pleased. I sympathise
with you in your misfortune, young man!" he said, shaking Foma's hand,
and became silent; then he added resolutely and confidently: "To lose
a father, that is a very painful misfortune."
And, having waited about two seconds for Foma's answer, he turned
away from him, addressing Mayakin approvingly:
"I am delighted with the speech you made yesterday in the city hall!
Beautiful, clever, Yakov Tarasovich. Proposing to use the money for
this public club, they do not understand the real needs of the
"And then, your Excellency, a small capital means that the city
will have to add its own money."
"Perfectly true! Perfectly true!"
"Temperance, I say, is good! Would to God that all were sober! I
don't drink, either, but what is the use of these performances,
libraries and all that, since the people cannot even read?"
The governor replied approvingly.
"Here, I say, you better use this money for a technical institution.
If it should be established on a small plan, this money alone will
suffice, and in case it shouldn't, we can ask for more in St.
Petersburg--they'll give it to us. Then the city wouldn't have to
add of its own money, and the whole affair would be more sensible."
"Precisely! I fully agree with you! But how the liberals began to
cry at you! Eh? Ha, ha!"
"That has always been their business, to cry."
The deep cough of the archdeacon of the cathedral announced the
beginning of the divine service.
Sophya Pavlovna came up to Foma, greeted him and said in a sad,
"I looked at your face on the day of the funeral, and my heart
saddened. My God, I thought, how he must suffer!"
And Foma listened to her and felt as though he was drinking honey.
"These cries of yours, they shook my soul, my poor child! I may
speak to you this way, for I am an old woman already."
"You!" exclaimed Foma, softly.
"Isn't that so?" she asked, naively looking into his face.
Foma was silent, his head bent on his breast.
"Don't you believe that I am an old woman?"
"I believe you; that is, I believe everything you may say; only
this is not true!" said Foma, feelingly, in a low voice.
"What is not true? What do you believe me?"
"No! not this, but that. I--excuse me! I cannot speak!" said
Foma, sadly, all aflush with confusion. "I am not cultured."
"You need not trouble yourself on this account," said Medinskaya,
patronisingly. "You are so young, and education is accessible to
everybody. But there are people to whom education is not only
unnecessary, but who can also be harmed by it. Those that are pure
of heart, sanguine, sincere, like children, and you are of those
people. You are, are you not?"
What could Foma say in answer to this question? He said sincerely:
"I thank you humbly!"
And noticing that his words called forth a gay gleam in Medinskaya's
eyes, Foma appeared ridiculous and stupid in his own eyes; he
immediately became angry at himself and said in a muffled voice:
"Yes, I am such. I always speak my mind. I cannot deceive. If I
see something to laugh at, I laugh openly. I am stupid!"
"What makes you speak that way?" said the woman, reproachfully, and
adjusting her dress, she accidentally stroked Foma's hand, in which
he held his hat. This made him look at his wrist and smile joyously
"You will surely be present at the dinner, won't you?" asked
"And tomorrow at the meeting in my house?"
"And perhaps sometime you will drop in, simply on a visit, wouldn't
"I--I thank you! I'll come!"
"I must thank you for the promise."
They became silent. In the air soared the reverently soft voice
of the bishop, who recited the prayer expressively, outstretching
his hand over the place where the corner-stone of the house was laid:
"May neither the wind, nor water, nor anything else bring harm
unto it; may it be completed in thy benevolence, and free all
those that are to live in it from all kinds of calumny."
"How rich and beautiful our prayers are, are they not?" asked
"Yes," said Foma, shortly, without understanding her words and
feeling that he was blushing again.
"They will always be opponents of our commercial interests,"
Mayakin whispered loudly and convincingly, standing beside the
city mayor, not far from Foma. "What is it to them? All they want
is somehow to deserve the approval of the newspaper. But they cannot
reach the main point. They live for mere display, not for the
organisation of life; these are their only measures: the newspapers
and Sweden! [Mayakin speaks of Sweden, meaning Switzerland.--
Translator's note.] The doctor scoffed at me all day yesterday with
this Sweden. The public education, says he, in Sweden, and everything
else there is first-class! But what is Sweden, anyway? It may be that
Sweden is but a fib, is but used as an example, and that there is no
education whatever or any of the other things there. And then, we
don't live for the sake of Sweden, and Sweden cannot put us to test.
We have to make our lip according to our own last. Isn't it so?
And the archdeacon droned, his head thrown back:
"Eternal me-emo-ory to the founder of this ho-ouse!"
Foma shuddered, but Mayakin was already by his side, and pulling
him by the sleeve, asked:
"Are you going to the dinner?"
And Medinskaya's velvet-like, warm little hand glided once more
over Foma's hand.
The dinner was to Foma a real torture. For the first time in his
life among these uniformed people, he saw that they were eating
and speaking--doing everything better than he, and he felt that
between him and Medinskaya, who was seated just opposite him, was
a high mountain, not a table. Beside him sat the secretary of the
society of which Foma had been made an honorary member; he was a
young court officer, bearing the odd name of Ookhtishchev. As if
to make his name appear more absurd than it really was, he spoke
in a loud, ringing tenor, and altogether--plump, short, round-
faced and a lively talker--he looked like a brand new bell.
"The very best thing in our society is the patroness; the most
reasonable is what we are doing--courting the patroness; the most
difficult is to tell the patroness such a compliment as would
satisfy her; and the most sensible thing is to admire the patroness
silently and hopelessly. So that in reality, you are a member not of
'the Society of Solicitude,' and so on, but of the Society of
Tantaluses, which is composed of persons bent on pleasing Sophya
Foma listened to his chatter, now and then looking at the
patroness, who was absorbed in a conversation with the chief of
the police; Foma roared in reply to his interlocutor, pretending
to be busy eating, and he wished that all this would end the
sooner. He felt that he was wretched, stupid, ridiculous and he
was certain that everybody was watching and censuring him. This
tied him with invisible shackles, thus checking his words and his
thoughts. At last he went so far, that the line of various
physiognomies, stretched out by the table opposite him, seemed to
him a long and wavy white strip besprinkled with laughing eyes,
and all these eyes were pricking him unpleasantly and painfully.
Mayakin sat near the city mayor, waved his fork in the air quickly,
and kept on talking all the time, now contracting, now expanding the
wrinkles of his face. The mayor, a gray-headed, red-faced, short-
man, stared at him like a bull, with obstinate attention and at times
he rapped on the edge of the table with his big finger affirmatively.
The animated talk and laughter drowned his godfather's bold speech,
and Foma was unable to hear a single word of it, much more so that
the tenor of the secretary was unceasingly ringing in his ears:
"Look, there, the archdeacon arose; he is filling his lungs with air;
he will soon proclaim an eternal memory for Ignat Matveyich."
"May I not go away?" asked Foma in a low voice.
"Why not? Everybody will understand this."
The deacon's resounding voice drowned and seemed to have crushed the
noise in the hail; the eminent merchants fixed their eyes on the big,
wide-open mouth, from which a deep sound was streaming forth, and
availing himself of this moment, Foma arose from his seat and left
After awhile he breathed freely and, sitting in his cab, thought
sadly that there was no place for him amid these people. Inwardly,
he called them polished. He did not like their brilliancy, their
faces, their smiles or their words, but the freedom and the cleverness
of their movements, their ability to speak much and on any subject,
their pretty costumes--all this aroused in him a mixture of envy and
respect for them. He felt sad and oppressed at the consciousness of
being unable to talk so much and so fluently as all these people, and
here he recalled that Luba Mayakina had more than once scoffed at him
on this account.
Foma did not like Mayakin's daughter, and since he had learned from
his father of Mayakin's intention to marry him to Luba, the young
Gordyeeff began to shun her. But after his father's death he was
almost every day at the Mayakins, and somehow Luba said to him one
"I am looking at you, and, do you know?--you do not resemble a
merchant at all."
"Nor do you look like a merchant's daughter," said Foma, and looked
at her suspiciously. He did not understand the meaning of her words;
did she mean to offend him, or did she say these words without any
"Thank God for this!" said she and smiled to him a kind, friendly
"What makes you so glad?" he asked.
"The fact that we don't resemble our fathers."
Foma glanced at her in astonishment and kept silent.
"Tell me frankly," said she, lowering her voice, "you do not love
my father, do you? You don't like him?"
"Not very much," said Foma, slowly.
"And I dislike him very much."
"For everything. When you grow wiser, you will know it yourself.
Your father was a better man."
"Of course!" said Foma, proudly.
After this conversation an attachment sprang up between them almost
immediately, and growing stronger from day to day, it soon developed
into friendship, though a somewhat odd friendship it was.
Though Luba was not older than her god-brother, she nevertheless
treated him as an older person would treat a little boy. She spoke
to him condescendingly, often jesting at his expense; her talk was
always full of words which were unfamiliar to Foma; and she pronounced
these words with particular emphasis and with evident satisfaction.
She was especially fond of speaking about her brother Taras, whom she
had never seen, but of whom she was telling such stories as would make
him look like Aunt Anfisa's brave and noble robbers. Often, when
complaining of her father, she said to Foma:
"You will also be just such a skinflint."
All this was unpleasant to the youth and stung his vanity. But at
times she was straightforward, simple-minded, and particularly kind
and friendly to him; then he would unburden his heart before her, and
for a long time they would share each other's thoughts and feelings.
Both spoke a great deal and spoke sincerely, but neither one
understood the other; it seemed to Foma that whatever Luba had to
say was foreign to him and unnecessary to her, and at the same time
he clearly saw that his awkward words did not at all interest her,
and that she did not care to understand them. No matter how long these
conversations lasted, they gave both of them the sensation of
discomfort and dissatisfaction. As if an invisible wall of perplexity
had suddenly arisen and stood between them. They did not venture to
touch this wall, or to tell each other that they felt it was there--
they resumed their conversations, dimly conscious that there was
something in each of them that might bind and unite them.
When Foma arrived at his godfather's house, he found Luba alone.
She came out to meet him, and it was evident that she was either
ill or out of humour; her eyes were flashing feverishly and were
surrounded with black circles. Feeling cold, she muffled herself
in a warm shawl and said with a smile:
"It is good that you've come! For I was sitting here alone; it is
lonesome--I don't feel like going anywhere. Will you drink tea?"
"I will. What is the matter with you, are you ill?"
"Go to the dining-room, and I'll tell them to bring the samovar,"
she said, not answering his question.
He went into one of the small rooms of the house, whose two windows
overlooked the garden. In the middle of the room stood an oval table,
surrounded with old-fashioned, leather-covered chairs; on one
partition hung a clock in a long case with a glass door, in the corner
was a cupboard for dishes, and opposite the windows, by the walls,
was an oaken sideboard as big as a fair-sized room.
"Are you coming from the banquet?" asked Luba, entering.
Foma nodded his head mutely.
"Well, how was it? Grand?"
"It was terrible! " Foma smiled. "I sat there as if on hot coals. They
all looked there like peacocks, while I looked like a barn-owl."
Luba was taking out dishes from the cupboard and said nothing to Foma.
"Really, why are you so sad?" asked Foma again, glancing at her
She turned to him and said with enthusiasm and anxiety:
"Ah, Foma! What a book I've read! If you could only understand it!"
"It must be a good book, since it worked you up in this way,"
said Foma, smiling.
"I did not sleep. I read all night long. Just think of it: you read--
and it seems to you that the gates of another kingdom are thrown
open before you. And the people there are different, and their
language is different, everything different! Life itself is different
"I don't like this," said Foma, dissatisfied. "That's all fiction,
deceit; so is the theatre. The merchants are ridiculed there. Are
they really so stupid? Of course! Take your father, for example."
"The theatre and the school are one and the same, Foma," said Luba,
instructively. "The merchants used to be like this. And what deceit
can there be in books?"
"Just as in fairy--tales, nothing is real."
"You are wrong! You have read no books; how can you judge? Books
are precisely real. They teach you how to live."
"Come, come!" Foma waved his hand. "Drop it; no good will come
out of your books! There, take your father, for example, does he
read books? And yet he is clever! I looked at him today and
envied him. His relations with everybody are so free, so clever,
he has a word for each and every one. You can see at once that
whatever he should desire he is sure to attain."
"What is he striving for?" exclaimed Luba. "Nothing but money.
But there are people that want happiness for all on earth, and to
gain this end they work without sparing themselves; they suffer
and perish! How can my father be compared with these?"
"You need not compare them. They evidently like one thing, while
your father likes another."
"They do not like anything!"
"They want to change everything."
"So they do strive for something?" said Foma, thoughtfully. "They
do wish for something?"
"They wish for happiness for all!" cried Luba, hotly. "I can't
understand this," said Foma, nodding his head. "Who cares there
for my happiness? And then again, what happiness can they give
me, since I, myself, do not know as yet what I want? No, you
should have rather looked at those that were at the banquet."
"Those are not men!" announced Luba, categorically.
"I do not know what they are in your eyes, but you can see at
once that they know their place. A clever, easy-going lot."
"Ah, Foma!" exclaimed Luba, vexed. "You understand nothing!
Nothing agitates you! You are an idler."
"Now, that's going too far! I've simply not had time enough to
see where I am."
"You are simply an empty man," said Luba, resolutely and firmly.
"You were not within my soul," replied Foma, calmly. "You cannot
know my thoughts."
"What is there that you should think of?" said Luba, shrugging
"So? First of all, I am alone. Secondly, I must live. Don't I
understand that it is altogether impossible for me to live as I
am now? I do not care to be made the laughing-stock of others. I
cannot even speak to people. No, nor can I think." Foma concluded
his words and smiled confusedly.
"It is necessary to read, to study," Luba advised him
convincingly, pacing up and down the room.
"Something is stirring within my soul," Foma went on, not looking at
her, as though speaking to himself; "but I cannot tell what it is. I
see, for instance, that whatever my godfather says is clever and
reasonable. But that does not attract me. The other people are by
far more interesting to me."
"You mean the aristocrats?" asked Luba.
"That's just the place for you!" said Luba, with a smile of contempt.
"Eh, you! Are they men? Do they have souls?"
"How do you know them? You are not acquainted with them."
"And the books? Have I not read books about them?"
The maid brought in the samovar, and the conversation was interrupted.
Luba made tea in silence while Foma looked at her and thought of
Medinskaya. He was wishing to have a talk with her.
"Yes," said the girl, thoughtfully, "I am growing more and more
convinced everyday that it is hard to live. What shall I do? Marry?
Whom? Shall I marry a merchant who will do nothing but rob people all
his life, nothing but drink and play cards? A savage? I do not want
it! I want to be an individual. I am such, for I know how wrong the
construction of life is. Shall I study? My father will not allow this.
0h Lord! Shall I run away? I have not enough courage. What am I to
She clasped her hands and bowed her head over the table.
"If you knew but how repulsive everything is. There is not a living
soul around here. Since my mother died, my father drove everyone
away. Some went off to study. Lipa, too, left us. She writes me:
'Read.' Ah, I am reading! I am reading!" she exclaimed, with despair
in her voice, and after a moment's silence she went on sadly:
"Books do not contain what the heart needs most, and there's much I
cannot understand in them. And then, I feel weary to be reading all
the time alone, alone! I want to speak to a man, but there is none
to speak to! I feel disgusted. We live but once, and it is high time
for me to live, and yet there is not a soul! Wherefore shall I live?
Lipa tells me: 'Read and you will understand it.' I want bread and
she gives me a stone. I understand what one must do--one must stand
up for what he loves and believes. He must fight for it."
And she concluded, uttering something like a moan:
"But I am alone! Whom shall I fight? There are no enemies here.
There are no men! I live here in a prison!
Foma listened to her words, fixedly examining the fingers of his hand;
he felt that in her words was some great distress, but he could not
understand her. And when she became silent, depressed and sad, he
found nothing to tell her save a few words that were like a reproach:
"There, you yourself say that books are worthless to you, and yet
you instruct me to read."
She looked into his face, and anger flashed in her eyes.
"Oh, how I wish that all these torments would awaken within you, the
torments that constantly oppress me. That your thoughts, like mine,
would rob you of your sleep, that you, too, would be disgusted with
everything, and with yourself as well! I despise every one of you.
I hate you!"
All aflush, she looked at him so angrily and spoke with so much
spitefulness, that in his astonishment he did not even feel offended
by her. She had never before spoken to him in such manner.
"What's the matter with you?" he asked her.
"I hate you, too! You, what are you? Dead, empty; how will you live?
What will you give to mankind?" she said with malice, in a low voice.
"I'll give nothing; let them strive for it themselves," answered
Foma, knowing that these words would augment her anger.
"Unfortunate creature!" exclaimed the girl with contempt.
The assurance and the power of her reproaches involuntarily
compelled Foma to listen attentively to her spiteful words; he felt
there was common sense in them. He even came nearer to her, but she,
enraged and exasperated, turned away from him and became silent.
It was still light outside, and the reflection of the setting sun
lay still on the branches of the linden-trees before the windows,
but the room was already filled with twilight, and the sideboard,
the clock and the cupboard seemed to have grown in size. The huge
pendulum peeped out every moment from beneath the glass of the
clock-case, and flashing dimly, was hiding with a weary sound now
on the right side, now on the left. Foma looked at the pendulum and
he began to feel awkward and lonesome. Luba arose and lighted the lamp
which was hanging over the table. The girl's face was pale and stern.
"You went for me," said Foma, reservedly. "What for? I can't
"I don't want to speak to you!" replied Luba, angrily.
"That's your affair. But nevertheless, what wrong have I done to you?"
"Understand me, I am suffocating! It is close here. Is this life?
Is this the way how to live? What am I? I am a hanger-on in my
father's house. They keep me here as a housekeeper. Then they'll
marry me! Again housekeeping. It's a swamp. I am drowning,
"And what have I to do with it?" asked Foma.
"You are no better than the others."
"And therefore I am guilty before you?"
"Yes, guilty! You must desire to be better."
"But do I not wish it?" exclaimed Foma.
The girl was about to tell him something, but at this time the bell
began to ring somewhere, and she said in a low voice, leaning back in
"I would not feel sorry if he stayed away a little longer," said Foma.
"I wish I could listen to you some more. You speak so very oddly."
"Ah! my children, my doves! " exclaimed Yakov Tarasovich, appearing in
the doorway. "You're drinking tea? Pour out some tea for me, Lugava!"
Sweetly smiling, and rubbing his hands, he sat down near Foma and
asked, playfully jostling him in the side:
"What have you been cooing about?"
"So--about different trifles," answered Luba.
"I haven't asked you, have I?" said her father to her, with a grimace.
"You just sit there, hold your tongue, and mind your woman's affairs."
"I've been telling her about the dinner," Foma interrupted his
"Aha! So-o-o. Well, then, I'll also speak about the dinner. I have
been watching you of late. You don't behave yourself sensibly!"
"What do you mean?" asked Foma, knitting his brow, ill pleased.
"I just mean that your behaviour is preposterous, and that's all.
When the governor, for instance, speaks to you, you keep quiet."
"What should I tell him? He says that it is a misfortune to lose
a father. Well, I know it. What could I tell him?"
"But as the Lord willed it so, I do not grumble, your Excellency.
That's what you should have said, or something in this spirit.
Governors, my dear, are very fond of meekness in a man."
"Was I to look at him like a lamb?" said Foma, with a smile.
"You did look like a lamb, and that was unnecessary. You must look
neither like a lamb, nor like a wolf, but just play off before him as
though saying: 'You are our father, we are your children,' and he will
"And what is this for?"
"For any event. A governor, my dear, can always be of use somewhere."
"What do you teach him, papa?" said Luba, indignantly, in a low voice.
"To dance attendance."
"You lie, you learned fool! I teach him politics, not dancing
attendance; I teach him the politics of life. You had better leave us
alone! Depart from evil, and prepare some lunch for us. Go ahead!"
Luba rose quickly and throwing the towel across the back of the chair,
left the room. Mayakin, winking his eyes, looked after her, tapped the
table with his fingers and said:
"I shall instruct you, Foma. I shall teach you the most genuine,
true knowledge and philosophy, and if you understand them, your
life will be faultless."
Foma saw how the wrinkles on the old man's forehead were twitching,
and they seemed to him like lines of Slavonic letters.
"First of all, Foma, since you live on this earth, it is your duty to
think over everything that takes place about you. Why? That you may
not suffer for your own senselessness, and may not harm others by
your folly. Now, every act of man is double-faced, Foma. One is
visible to all--this is the wrong side; the other is concealed--and
that is the real one. It is that one that you must be able to find
in order to understand the sense of the thing. Take for example the
lodging-asylums, the work-houses, the poor-houses and other similar institutions. Just consider, what are they for?"
"What is there to consider here?" said Foma, wearily "Everybody
knows what they are for--for the poor and feeble."
"Eh, dear! Sometimes everybody knows that a certain man is a rascal
and a scoundrel, and yet all call him Ivan or Peter, and instead of
abusing him they respectfully add his father's name to his own."
"What has this to do with it?"
"It's all to the point. So you say that these houses are for the
poor, for beggars, consequently, in accordance with Christ's
commandment. Very well! But who is the beggar? The beggar is a
man, forced by fate to remind us of Christ; he is a brother of
Christ; he is the bell of the Lord and he rings in life to rouse
our conscience, to arouse the satiety of the flesh of man. He
stands by the window and sings out: 'For the sake of Christ!' and
by his singing he reminds us of Christ, of His holy commandment
to help the neighbour. But men have so arranged their life that
it is impossible for them to act according to the teachings of
Christ, and Jesus Christ has become altogether unnecessary to us.
Not one time, but perhaps a hundred thousand times have we turned
Him over to the cross, and yet we cannot drive Him altogether out
of life, because His poor brethren sing His Holy name on the
streets and thus remind us of Him. And now we have arranged to
lock up these beggars in separate houses that they should not
walk around on the streets and should not rouse our conscience.
"Cle-ver!" whispered Foma, amazed, staring fixedly at his godfather.
"Aha!" exclaimed Mayakin, his eyes beaming with triumph.
"How is it that my father did not think of this?" asked Foma,
"Just wait! Listen further, it is still worse. So you see, we have
arranged to lock them up in all sorts of houses and that they might
be kept there cheaply, we have compelled those old and feeble beggars
to work and we need give no alms now, and since our streets have been
cleared of the various ragged beggars, we do not see their terrible
distress and poverty, and we may, therefore, think that all men on
earth are well-fed, shod and clothed. That's what all these different
houses are for, for the concealment of the truth, for the banishment
of Christ from our life! Is this clear to you?"
"Yes!" said Foma, confused by the old man's clever words.
"And this is not all. The pool is not yet baled out to the bottom!"
exclaimed Mayakin, swinging his hand in the air with animation.
The wrinkles of his face were in motion; his long, ravenous nose was
stirring, and in his voice rang notes of irritability and emotion.
"Now, let us look at this thing from the other side. Who
contributes most in favour of the poor, for the support of these
houses, asylums, poor-houses? The rich people, the merchants, our
body of merchants. Very well! And who commands our life and regulates
it? The nobles, the functionaries and all sorts of other people, not
belonging to our class. From them come the laws, the newspapers,
science--everything from them. Before, they were land-owners, now
their land was snatched away from them--and they started out in
service. Very well! But who are the most powerful people today? The
merchant is the supreme power in an empire, because he has the
millions on his side! Isn't that so?"
"True!" assented Foma, eager to hear the sooner that which was to
follow, and which was already sparkling in the eyes of his godfather.
"Just mark this," the old man went on distinctly and impressively.
"We merchants had no hand in the arrangement of life, nor do we have
a voice or a hand in it today. Life was arranged by others, and it
is they that multiplied all sorts of scabs in life--idlers and poor
unfortunates; and since by multiplying them they obstructed life and
spoilt it--it is, justly judging, now their duty to purify it. But
we are purifying it, we contribute money for the poor, we look after
them--we, judge it for yourself, why should we mend another's rags,
since we did not tear them? Why should we repair a house, since
others have lived in it and since it belongs to others? Were it not
wiser for us to step aside and watch until a certain time how
rottenness is multiplying and choking those that are strangers to
us? They cannot conquer it, they have not the means to do it. Then
they will turn to us and say: 'Pray, help us, gentlemen!' and we'll
tell them: 'Let us have room for our work! Rank us among the builders
of this same life!' And as soon as they do this we, too, will have to
clear life at one sweep of all sorts of filth and chaff. Then the
Emperor will see with his clear eyes who are really his faithful
servants, and how much wisdom they have saved up while their hands
were idle. Do you understand?"
"Of course, I do!" exclaimed Foma.
When his godfather spoke of the functionaries, Foma reminded himself
of the people that were present at the dinner; he recalled the brisk
secretary, and a thought flashed through his mind that this stout
little man has in all probability an income of no more than a thousand
roubles a year, while he, Foma, has a million. But that man lives so
easily and freely, while he, Foma, does not know how to live, is
indeed abashed to live. This comparison and his godfather's speech
roused in him a whirl of thoughts, but he had time to grasp and
express only one of them:
"Indeed, do we work for the sake of money only? What's the use of
money if it can give us no power?"
"Aha!" said Mayakin, winking his eyes.
"Eh!" exclaimed Foma, offended. "How about my father? Have you
spoken to him?"
"I spoke to him for twenty years."
"Well, how about him?"
"My words did not reach him. The crown of your father's head was
rather thick. His soul was open to all, while his mind was hidden
away far within him. Yes, he made a blunder, and I am very sorry
about the money."
"I am not sorry for the money."
"You should have tried to earn even a tenth part of it, then speak."
"May I come in?" came Luba's voice from behind the door.
"Yes, step right in," said the father.
"Will you have lunch now?" she asked, entering.
"Let us have it."
She walked up to the sideboard and soon the dishes were rattling.
Yakov Tarasovich looked at her, moved his lips, and suddenly
striking Foma's knee with his hand, he said to him:
"That's the way, my godson! Think."
Foma responded with a smile and thought: "But he's clever--
cleverer than my father."
But another voice within him immediately replied:
"Cleverer, but worse."
FOMA'S dual relation toward Mayakin grew stronger and stronger as
time went on; listening to his words attentively and with eager
curiosity, he felt that each meeting with his godfather was
strengthening in him the feeling of hostility toward the old man.
Sometimes Yakov Tarasovich roused in his godson a feeling akin to
fear, sometimes even physical aversion. The latter usually came to
Foma whenever the old man was pleased with something and laughed.
From laughter the old man's wrinkles would tremble, thus changing
the expression of his face every now and then; his dry, thin lips
would stretch out and move nervously, displaying black broken teeth,
and his red little beard was as though aflame. His laughter sounded
like the squeaking of rusty hinges, and altogether the old man looked
like a lizard at play. Unable to conceal his feelings, Foma often
expressed them to Mayakin rather rudely, both in words and in gesture,
but the old man, pretending not to notice it, kept a vigilant eye on
him, directing his each and every step. Wholly absorbed by the
steamship affairs of the young Gordyeeff, he even neglected his own
little shop, and allowed Foma considerable leisure time. Thanks to
Mayakin's important position in town and to his extensive acquaintance
on the Volga, business was splendid, but Mayakin's zealous interest
in his affairs strengthened Foma's suspicions that his godfather was
firmly resolved to marry him to Luba, and this made the old man more
repulsive to him.
He liked Luba, but at the same time she seemed suspicious and
for him. She did not marry, and Mayakin never said a word about it; he
gave no evening parties, invited none of the youths to his house and
did not allow Luba to leave the house. And all her girl friends were
married already. Foma admired her words and listened to her just as
eagerly as to her father; but whenever she started to speak of Taras
with love and anguish, it seemed to him that she was hiding another
man under that name, perhaps that same Yozhov, who according to her
words, had to leave the university for some reason or other, and go
to Moscow. There was a great deal of simplemindedness and kindness in
her, which pleased Foma, and ofttimes her words awakened in him a
feeling of pity for her; it seemed to him that she was not alive,
that she was dreaming though awake.
His conduct at the funeral feast for his father became known to
all the merchants and gave him a bad reputation. On the Exchange,
he noticed, everybody looked at him sneeringly, malevolently, and
spoke to him in some peculiar way. One day he heard behind him a
low exclamation, full of contempt:
He felt that this was said of him, but he did not turn around to
see who it was that flung those words at him. The rich people, who
had inspired him with timidity before, were now losing in his eyes
the witchery of their wealth and wisdom. They had more than once
snatched out of his hands this or that profitable contract; he
clearly saw that they would do it again, and they all seemed to him
alike-- greedy for money, always ready to cheat one another. When he
imparted to his godfather his observation, the old man said:
"How then? Business is just the same as war--a hazardous affair.
There they fight for the purse, and in the purse is the soul."
"I don't like this," announced Foma.
"Neither do I like everything--there's too much fraud.
But to be fair in business matters is utterly impossible; you must be
shrewd! In business, dear, on approaching a man you must hold honey
in your left hand, and clutch a knife in your right. Everybody would
like to buy five copecks' worth for a half a copeck."
"Well, this isn't too good," said Foma, thoughtfully. "But it will be
good later. When you have taken the upper hand, then it will be good.
Life, dear Foma, is very simple: either bite everybody, or lie in the
The old man smiled, and the broken teeth in his mouth roused in
Foma the keen thought:
"You have bitten many, it seems."
"There's but one word--battle!" repeated the old man.
"Is this the real one?" asked Foma, looking at Mayakin searchingly.
"That is, what do you mean--the real?"
"Is there nothing better than this? Does this contain everything?"
"Where else should it be? Everybody lives for himself. Each of us
wishes the best for himself. And what is the best? To go in front of
others, to stand above them. So that everybody is trying to attain the
first place in life--one by this means, another by that means. But
everyone is positively anxious to be seen from afar, like a tower.
And man was indeed appointed to go upward. Even the Book of Job says:
'Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks, to fly upward.' Just see:
even children at play always wish to surpass one another. And each
and every game has its climax, which makes it interesting. Do you
"I understand this!" said Foma, firmly and confidently.
"But you must also feel this. With understanding alone you cannot
go far, and you must desire, and desire so that a big mountain
should seem to you but a hillock, and the sea but a puddle. Eh!
When I was of your age I had an easy life, while you are only
taking aim. But then, good fruit does not ripen early."
The old man's monotonous speeches soon accomplished what they
were intended to do. Foma listened to them and made clear to
himself the aim of life. He must be better than others, he
resolved, and the ambition, kindled by the old man, took deep
root in his heart. It took root within his heart, but did not
fill it up, for Foma's relations toward Medinskaya assumed that
character, which they were bound to assume. He longed for her, he
always yearned to see her; while in her presence he became timid,
awkward and stupid; he knew it and suffered on this account. He
frequently visited her, but it was hard to find her at home alone;
perfumed dandies like flies over a piece of sugar--were always
flitting about her. They spoke to her in French, sang and laughed,
while he looked at them in silence, tortured by anger and jealousy.
His legs crossed, he sat somewhere in a corner of her richly furnished
drawing-room, where it was extremely difficult to walk without
overturning or at least striking against something--Foma sat and
watched them sternly.
Over the soft rugs she was noiselessly passing hither and thither,
casting to him kind glances and smiles, while her admirers were
fawning upon her, and they all, like serpents, were cleverly gliding
by the various little tables, chairs, screens, flower-stands--a
storehouse full of beautiful and frail things, scattered about the
room with a carelessness equally dangerous to them and to Foma. But
when he walked there, the rugs did not drown his footsteps, and all
these things caught at his coat, trembled and fell. Beside the piano
stood a sailor made of bronze, whose hand was lifted, ready to throw
the life-saving ring; on this ring were ropes of wire, and these
always pulled Foma by the hair. All this provoked laughter among
Pavlovna and her admirers, and Foma suffered greatly, changing
from heat to cold.
But he felt no less uncomfortable even when alone with her.
Greeting him with a kindly smile, she would take a seat beside
him in one of the cosy corners of her drawing-room and would usually
start her conversation by complaining to him of everybody:
"You wouldn't believe how glad I am to see you!" Bending like a cat,
she would gaze into his eyes with her dark glance, in which something
avidious would now flash up.
"I love to speak to you," she said, musically drawling her words.
"I've grown tired of all the rest of them. They're all so boring,
ordinary and worn-out, while you are fresh, sincere. You don't
like those people either, do you?"
"I can't bear them!" replied Foma, firmly.
"And me?" she asked softly.
Foma turned his eyes away from her and said, with a sigh:
"How many times have you asked me that?"
"Is it hard for you to tell me?"
"It isn't hard, but what for?"
"I must know it."
"You are making sport of me," said Foma, sternly. And she opened
her eyes wide and inquired in a tone of great astonishment:
"How do I make sport of you? What does it mean to make sport?"
And her face looked so angelic that he could not help believing her.
"I love you! I love you! It is impossible not to love you!" said he
hotly, and immediately added sadly, lowering his voice: "But you don't
"There you have it!" sighed Medinskaya, satisfied, drawing back
from him. "I am always extremely pleased to hear you say this, with so
much youthfulness and originality. Would you like to kiss my hand?"
Without saying a word he seized her thin, white little hand and
carefully bending down to it, he passionately kissed it for a long
time. Smiling and graceful, not in the least moved by his passion,
she freed her hand from his. Pensively, she looked at him with that
strange glitter in her eyes, which always confused Foma; she examined
him as something rare and extremely curious, and said:
"How much strength and power and freshness of soul you possess! Do
you know? You merchants are an altogether new race, an entire race
with original traditions, with an enormous energy of body and soul.
Take you, for instance--you are a precious stone, and you should be
Whenever she told him: "You," or "according to your merchant
fashion," it seemed to Foma that she was pushing him away from
her with these words. This at once saddened and offended him. He
was silent, looking at her small maidenly figure, which was always
somehow particularly well dressed, always sweet-scented like a flower.
Sometimes he was seized with a wild, coarse desire to embrace and
kiss her. But her beauty and the fragility of her thin, supple body
awakened in him a fear of breaking and disfiguring her, and her calm,
caressing voice and the clear, but somewhat cautious look of her eyes
chilled his passion; it seemed to him as though she were looking
straight into his soul, divining all his thoughts. But these bursts
of emotion were rare. Generally the youth regarded Medinskaya with
adoration, admiring everything in her--her beauty, her words, her
dresses. And beside this adoration there was in him a painfully keen
consciousness of his remoteness from her, of her supremacy over him.
These relations were established between them within a short time;
after two or three meetings Medinskaya was in full possession of the
youth and she slowly began to torture him. Evidently she liked to have
a healthy, strong youth at her mercy; she liked to rouse and tame the
animal in him merely with her voice and glance, and confident of the
power of her superiority, she found pleasure in thus playing with
him. On leaving her, he was usually half-sick from excitement, bearing
her a grudge, angry with himself, filled with many painful and
intoxicating sensations. And about two days later he would come to
undergo the same torture again.
One day he asked her timidly:
"Sophya Pavlovna! Have you ever had any children?"
"I thought not!" exclaimed Foma with delight.
She cast at him the look of a very naive little girl, and said:
"What made you think so? And why do you want to know whether I
had any children or not?"
Foma blushed, and, bending his head, began to speak to her in a
heavy voice, as though he was lifting every word from the ground
and as though each word weighed a few puds.
"You see--a woman who--has given birth to children--such a woman
has altogether different eyes."
"So? What kind are they then?"
"Shameless!" Foma blurted out.
Medinskaya broke into her silver laughter, and Foma, looking at
her, also began to laugh.
"Excuse me!" said he, at length. "Perhaps I've said something
"Oh, no, no! You cannot say anything improper. You are a pure,
amiable boy. And so, my eyes are not shameless?"
"Yours are like an angel's!" announced Foma with enthusiasm, looking
at her with beaming eyes. And she glanced at him, as she had never
done before; her look was that of a mother, a sad look of love mingled
with fear for the beloved.
"Go, dear one. I am tired; I need a rest," she said to him, as
she rose without looking at him. He went away submissively.
For some time after this incident her attitude toward him was
stricter and more sincere, as though she pitied him, but later
their relations assumed the old form of the cat-and-mouse play.
Foma's relation toward Medinskaya could not escape his godfather's
notice, and one day the old man asked him, with a malicious grimace:
"Foma! You had better feel your head more often so that you may
not lose it by accident."
"What do you mean?" asked Foma.
"I speak of Sonka. You are going to see her too often."
"What has that to do with you?" said Foma, rather rudely. "And
why do you call her Sonka?"
"It's nothing to me. I would lose nothing if you should be
fleeced. And as to calling her Sonka--everybody knows that is
her name. So does everybody know that she likes to rake up the
fire with other people's hands."
"She is clever!" announced Foma, firmly, frowning and hiding his
hands in his pockets. "She is intelligent."
"Clever, that's true! How cleverly she arranged that entertainment;
there was an income of two thousand four hundred roubles, the
expenses--one thousand nine hundred; the expenses really did not even
amount to a thousand roubles, for everybody does everything for her
for nothing. Intelligent! She will educate you, and especially will
those idlers that run around her."
"They're not idlers, they are clever people!" replied Foma, angrily,
contradicting himself now. "And I learn from them. What am I? I know
nothing. What was I taught? While there they speak of everything--and
each one has his word to say. Do not hinder me from being like a man."
"Pooh! How you've learned to speak! With so much anger, like the hail
striking against the roof! Very well, be like a man, but in order to
like a man it might be less dangerous for you to go to the tavern; the
people there are after all better than Sophya's people. And you, young
man, you should have learned to discriminate one person from another.
Take Sophya, for instance: What does she represent? An insect for the
adornment of nature and nothing more!"
Intensely agitated, Foma set his teeth together and walked away from
Mayakin, thrusting his hands still deeper into his pockets. But the
old man soon started again a conversation about Medinskaya.
They were on their way back from the bay after an inspection of the
steamers, and seated in a big and commodious sledge, they were
enthusiastically discussing business matters in a friendly way. It was
in March. The water under the sledge-runners was bubbling, the snow
was already covered with a rather dirty fleece, and the sun shone
warmly and merrily in the clear sky.
"Will you go to your lady as soon as we arrive?" asked Mayakin,
unexpectedly, interrupting their business talk.
"I will," said Foma, shortly, and with displeasure,
"Mm. Tell me, how often do you give her presents?" asked Mayakin,
plainly and somewhat intimately.
"What presents? What for?" Foma wondered.
"You make her no presents? You don't say. Does she live with you
then merely so, for love's sake?"
Foma boiled up with anger and shame, turned abruptly toward the
old man and said reproachfully:
"Eh! You are an old man, and yet you speak so that it is a shame
to listen to you! To say such a thing! Do you think she would
come down to this?"
Mayakin smacked his lips and sang out in a mournful voice:
"What a blockhead you are! What a fool!" and suddenly grown angry,
he spat out: "Shame upon you! All sorts of brutes drank out of the
pot, nothing but the dregs remained, and now a fool has made a god
unto himself of this dirty pot. Devil! You just go up to her and tell
her plainly: 'I want to be your lover. I am a young man, don't charge
me much for it.'"
"Godfather!" said Foma, sternly, in a threatening voice, "I
cannot bear to hear such words. If it were someone else."
"But who except myself would caution you? Good God!" Mayakin
cried out, clasping his hands. "So she has led you by the nose
all winter long! What a nose! What a beast she is!"
The old man was agitated; in his voice rang vexation, anger, even
tears Foma had never before seen him in such a state, and looking
at him, he was involuntarily silent.
"She will ruin you! 0h Lord! The Babylonian prostitute!"
Mayakin's eyes were blinking, his lips were trembling, and in
rude, cynical words he began to speak of Medinskaya, irritated,
with a wrathful jar in his voice.
Foma felt that the old man spoke the truth. He now began to breathe
with difficulty and he felt that his mouth had a dry, bitter taste.
"Very well, father, enough," he begged softly and sadly, turning
aside from Mayakin.
"Eh, you ought to get married as soon as possible!" exclaimed the
old man with alarm.
"For Christ's sake, do not speak," uttered Foma in a dull voice.
Mayakin glanced at his godson and became silent. Foma's face
looked drawn; he grew pale, and there was a great deal of painful,
bitter stupor in his half-open lips and in his sad look. On the right
and on the left of the road a field stretched itself, covered here
and there with patches of winter-raiment. Rooks were hopping busily
about over the black spots, where the snow had melted. The water under
the sledge-runners was splashing, the muddy snow was kicked up by the
hoofs of the horses.
"How foolish man is in his youth!" exclaimed Mayakin, in a low voice.
Foma did not look at him.
"Before him stands the stump of a tree, and yet he sees the snout
of a beast--that's how he frightens himself. Oh, oh!"
"Speak more plainly," said Foma, sternly.
"What is there to say? The thing is clear: girls are cream; women
are milk; women are near, girls are far. Consequently, go to Sonka,
if you cannot do without it, and tell her plainly. That's how the
matter stands. Fool! If she is a sinner, you can get her more easily.
Why are you so angry, then? Why so bristled up?"
"You don't understand," said Foma, in a low voice.
"What is it I do not understand? I understand everything!"
"The heart. Man has a heart," sighed the youth.