Part 5 out of 9
listened to the song, motionless, as though bewitched by it. From
the fire came the peasant. He stepped carefully over the boards,
on tiptoe; his hands were clasped behind his back, and his broad,
bearded face was now transformed into a smile of astonishment and
of a naive delight.
"Eh! but feel, my kind, brave man!"
entreated Vassa, plaintively, nodding her head. And her sister,
her chest bent forward, her hand still higher, wound up the song
in powerful triumphant notes:
"The yearning and the pangs of love!"
When she finished singing, she looked haughtily about her, and
seating herself by Foma's side, clasped his neck with a firm and
"Well, was it a nice song?"
"It's capital!" said Foma with a sigh, as he smiled at her.
The song filled his heart with thirst for tenderness and, still
full of charming sounds, it quivered, but at the touch of her arm
he felt awkward and ashamed before the other people.
"Bravo-o! Bravo, Aleksandra Sarelyevna!" shouted Ookhtishchev,
and the others were clapping their hands. But she paid no
attention to them, and embracing Foma authoritatively, said:
"Well, make me a present of something for the song."
"Very well, I will," Foma assented.
"You tell me."
"I'll tell you when we come to town. And if you'll give me what I
like--Oh, how I will love you!"
"For the present?" asked Foma, smiling suspiciously. "You ought
to love me anyway."
She looked at him calmly and, after a moment's thought, said
"It's too soon to love you anyway. I will not lie. Why should I
lie to you? I am telling you frankly. I love you for money, for
presents. Because aside from money, men have nothing. They cannot
give anything more than money. Nothing of worth. I know it well
already. One can love merely so. Yes, wait a little--I'll know
you better and then, perhaps, I may love you free of charge. And
meanwhile, you mustn't take me amiss. I need much money in my
mode of life."
Foma listened to her, smiled and now and then quivered from the
nearness of her sound, well-shaped body. Zvantzev's sour, cracked
and boring voice was falling on his ears. "I don't like it. I
cannot understand the beauty of this renowned Russian song. What
is it that sounds in it? Eh? The howl of a wolf. Something
hungry, wild. Eh! it's the groan of a sick dog--altogether
something beastly. There's nothing cheerful, there's no chic
to it; there are no live and vivifying sounds in it. No, you
ought to hear what and how the French peasant sings. Ah! or the
"Excuse me, Ivan Nikolayevich," cried Ookhtishchev, agitated.
"I must agree with you, the Russian song is monotonous and
gloomy. It has not, you know, that brilliancy of culture," said
the man with the side whiskers wearily, as he sipped some wine
out of his glass.
"But nevertheless, there is always a warm heart in it," put in
the red-haired lady, as she peeled an orange.
The sun was setting. Sinking somewhere far beyond the forest, on
the meadow shore, it painted the entire forest with purple tints
and cast rosy and golden spots over the dark cold water. Foma
gazed in that direction at this play of the sunbeams, watched how
they quivered as they were transposed over the placid and vast
expanse of waters, and catching fragments of conversation, he
pictured to himself the words as a swarm of dark butterflies,
busily fluttering in the air. Sasha, her head resting on his
shoulder, was softly whispering into his ear something at which
he blushed and was confused, for he felt that she was kindling in
him the desire to embrace this woman and kiss her unceasingly.
Aside from her, none of those assembled there interested
him--while Zvantzev and the gentleman with the side whiskers
were actually repulsive to him.
"What are you staring at? Eh?" he heard Ookhtishchev's jestingly-
The peasant, at whom Ookhtishchev shouted, drew the cap from his
head, clapped it against his knee and answered, with a smile:
"I came over to listen to the lady's song."
"Well, does she sing well?"
"What a question! Of course," said the peasant, looking at Sasha,
with admiration in his eyes.
"That's right!" exclaimed Ookhtishchev.
"There is a great power of voice in that lady's breast," said the
peasant, nodding his head.
At his words, the ladies burst out laughing and the men made some
double-meaning remarks about Sasha.
After she had calmly listened to these and said nothing in reply,
Sasha asked the peasant:
"Do you sing?"
"We sing a little!" and he waved his hand, "What songs do you
"All kinds. I love singing." And he smiled apologetically.
"Come, let's sing something together, you and I."
"How can we? Am I a match for you?"
"Well, strike up!"
"May I sit down?"
"Come over here, to the table."
"How lively this is!" exclaimed Zvantzev, wrinkling his face.
"If you find it tedious, go and drown yourself," said Sasha,
angrily flashing her eyes at him.
"No, the water is cold," replied Zvantzev, shrinking at her
"As you please!" The woman shrugged her shoulders. "But it is
about time you did it, and then, there's also plenty of water
now, so that you wouldn't spoil it all with your rotten body."
"Fie, how witty!" hissed the youth, turning away from her, and
added with contempt: "In Russia even the prostitutes are rude."
He addressed himself to his neighbour, but the latter gave him
only an intoxicated smile in return. Ookhtishchev was also drunk.
Staring into the face of his companion, with his eyes grown dim,
he muttered something and heard nothing. The lady with the bird-
like face was pecking candy, holding the box under her very nose.
Pavlinka went away to the edge of the raft and, standing there,
threw orange peels into the water.
"I never before participated in such an absurd outing and--
company," said Zvantzev, to his neighbour, plaintively.
And Foma watched him with a smile, delighted that this feeble and
ugly-looking man felt bored, and that Sasha had insulted him. Now
and then he cast at her a kind glance of approval. He was pleased
with the fact that she was so frank with everybody and that she
bore herself proudly, like a real gentlewoman.
The peasant seated himself on the boards at her feet, clasped his
knees in his hands, lifted his face to her and seriously listened
to her words.
"You must raise your voice, when I lower mine, understand?"
"I understand; but, Madam, you ought to hand me some just to give
"Foma, give him a glass of brandy!"
And when the peasant emptied it, cleared his throat with
pleasure, licked his lips and said: "Now, I can do it," she
ordered, knitting her brow:
The peasant made a wry mouth, lifted his eyes to her face, and
in a high-pitched tenor:
"I cannot drink, I cannot eat."
Trembling in every limb, the woman sobbed out tremulously, with
"Wine cannot gladden my soul."
The peasant smiled sweetly, tossed his head to and fro, and
closing his eyes, poured out into the air a tremulous wave of
"Oh, time has come for me to bid goodbye!"
And the woman, shuddering and writhing, moaned and wailed:
"Oi, from my kindred I must part."
Lowering his voice and swaying to and fro, the peasant declaimed
in a sing-song with a remarkably intense expression of anguish:
"Alas, to foreign lands I must depart."
When the two voices, yearning and sobbing, poured forth into the
silence and freshness of the evening, everything about them
seemed warmer and better; everything seemed to smile the
sorrowful smile of sympathy on the anguish of the man whom an
obscure power is tearing away from his native soil into some
foreign place, where hard labour and degradation are in store for
him. It seemed as though not the sounds, nor the song,
but the burning tears of the human heart in which the plaint had
surged up--it seemed as though these tears moistened the air.
Wild grief and pain from the sores of body and soul, which were
wearied in the struggle with stern life; intense sufferings from
the wounds dealt to man by the iron hand of want--all this was
invested in the simple, crude words and was tossed in ineffably
melancholy sounds toward the distant, empty sky, which has no
echo for anybody or anything.
Foma had stepped aside from the singers, and stared at them with
a feeling akin to fright, and the song, in a huge wave, poured
forth into his breast, and the wild power of grief, with which it
had been invested, clutched his heart painfully. He felt that
tears would soon gush from his breast, something was clogging his
throat and his face was quivering. He dimly saw Sasha's black
eyes; immobile and flashing gloomily, they seemed to him enormous
and still growing larger and larger. And it seemed to him that it
was not two persons who were singing--that everything about him
was singing and sobbing, quivering and palpitating in torrents of
sorrow, madly striving somewhere, shedding burning tears, and
all--and all things living seemed clasped in one powerful embrace
of despair. And it seemed to him that he, too, was
singing in unison with all of them--with the people, the river
and the distant shore, whence came plaintive moans that mingled
with the song.
Now the peasant went down on his knees, and gazing at Sasha,
waved his hands, and she bent down toward him and shook her head,
keeping time to the motions of his hands. Both were now singing
without words, with sounds only, and Foma still could not believe
that only two voices were pouring into the air these moans and
sobs with such mighty power.
When they had finished singing, Foma, trembling with excitement,
with a tear-stained face, gazed at them and smiled sadly.
"Well, did it move you?" asked Sasha. Pale with fatigue, she
breathed quickly and heavily.
Foma glanced at the peasant. The latter was wiping the sweat off
his brow and looking around him with such a wandering look as
though he could not make out what had taken place.
All was silence. All were motionless and speechless.
"0h Lord!" sighed Foma, rising to his feet. "Eh, Sasha! Peasant!
Who are you?" he almost shouted.
"I am--Stepan," said the peasant, smiling confusedly, and also
rose to his feet. "I'm Stepan. Of course!"
"How you sing! Ah!" Foma exclaimed in astonishment, uneasily
shifting from foot to foot.
"Eh, your Honour!" sighed the peasant and added softly and
convincingly: "Sorrow can compel an ox to sing like a
nightingale. And what makes the lady sing like this, only God
knows. And she sings, with all her veins--that is to say, so you
might just lie down and die with sorrow! Well, that's a lady."
"That was sung very well!" said Ookhtishchev in a drunken voice.
No, the devil knows what this is!" Zvantzev suddenly shouted,
almost crying, irritated as he jumped up from the table. "I've
come out here for a good time. I want to enjoy myself, and here
they perform a funeral service for me! What an outrage! I can't
stand this any longer. I'm going away!"
"Jean, I am also going. I'm weary, too," announced the gentleman
with the side whiskers.
"Vassa," cried Zvantzev to his lady, "dress yourself!"
"Yes, it's time to go," said the red-haired lady to Ookhtishchev.
"It is cold, and it will soon be dark."
"Stepan! Clear everything away!" commanded Vassa.
All began to bustle about, all began to speak of something. Foma
stared at them in suspense and shuddered. Staggering, the crowd
walked along the rafts. Pale and fatigued, they said to one
another stupid, disconnected things. Sasha jostled them
unceremoniously, as she was getting her things together.
"Stepan! Call for the horses!"
"And I'll drink some more cognac. Who wants some more cognac with
me?" drawled the gentleman with the side whiskers in a beatific
voice, holding a bottle in his hands.
Vassa was muffling Zvantzev's neck with a scarf. He stood in
front of her, frowning, dissatisfied, his lips curled
capriciously, the calves of his legs shivering. Foma became
disgusted as he looked at them, and he went off to the other
raft. He was astonished that all these people behaved as though
they had not heard the song at all. In his breast the song was
alive and there it called to life a restless desire to do
something, to say something. But he had no one there to speak to.
The sun had set and the distance was enveloped in blue mist. Foma
glanced thither and turned away. He did not feel like going to
town with these people, neither did he care to stay here with
them. And they were still pacing the raft with uneven steps,
shaking from side to side and muttering disconnected words. The
women were not quite as drunk as the men, and only the red-haired
one could not lift herself from the bench for a long time, and
finally, when she rose, she declared:
"Well, I'm drunk."
Foma sat down on a log of wood, and lifting the axe, with which
the peasant had chopped wood for the fire, he began to play with
it, tossing it up in the air and catching it.
"Oh, my God! How mean this is!" Zvantzev's capricious voice was
Foma began to feel that he hated it, and him, and everybody,
except Sasha, who awakened in him a certain uneasy feeling, which
contained at once admiration for her and a fear lest she might do
something unexpected and terrible.
"Brute!" shouted Zvantzev in a shrill voice, and Foma noticed
that he struck the peasant on the chest, after which the peasant
removed his cap humbly and stepped aside.
"Fo-o-ol!" cried Zvantzev, walking after him and lifting his
Foma jumped to his feet and said threateningly, in a loud voice:
"Eh, you! Don't touch him!"
"Wha-a-at?" Zvantzev turned around toward him.
"Stepan, come over here," called Foma.
"Peasant!" Zvantzev hurled with contempt, looking at Foma.
Foma shrugged his shoulders and made a step toward him; but
suddenly a thought flashed vividly through his mind! He smiled
maliciously and inquired of Stepan, softly:
"The string of rafts is moored in three places, isn't it?
"In three, of course!"
"Cut the connections!"
"Keep quiet! Cut!"
"Cut! Quietly, so they don't notice it!"
The peasant took the axe in his hands, slowly walked up to the
place where one link was well fastened to another link, struck a
few times with his axe, and returned to Foma.
"I'm not responsible, your Honour," he said.
"Don't be afraid."
"They've started off," whispered the peasant with fright, and
hastily made the sign of the cross. And Foma gazed, laughing
softly, and experienced a painful sensation that keenly and
sharply stung his heart with a certain strange, pleasant and
The people on the raft were still pacing to and fro, moving about
slowly, jostling one another, assisting the ladies with their
wraps, laughing and talking, and the raft was meanwhile turning
slowly and irresolutely in the water.
"If the current carries them against the fleet," whispered the
peasant, "they'll strike against the bows--and they'll be smashed
"You'll get a boat, and overtake them."
"That's it! Thank you. What then? They're after all human beings.
And we'll be held responsible for them." Satisfied now, laughing
with delight, the peasant dashed in bounds across the rafts to
the shore. And Foma stood by the water and felt a passionate
desire to shout something, but he controlled himself, in order to
give time for the raft to float off farther, so that those
drunken people would not be able to jump across to the moored
links. He experienced a pleasant caressing sensation as he saw
the raft softly rocking upon the water and floating off farther
and farther from him every moment.The heavy and dark feeling,
with which his heart had been filled during this time, now seemed
to float away together with the people on the raft. Calmly he
inhaled the fresh air and with it something sound that cleared
his brain. At the very edge of the floating raft stood Sasha,
with her back toward Foma; he looked at her beautiful figure and
involuntarily recalled Medinskaya. The latter was smaller in
size. The recollection of her stung him, and he cried out in a
loud, mocking voice:
"Eh, there! Good-bye! Ha! ha! ha!"
Suddenly the dark figures of the people moved toward him and
crowded together in one group, in the centre of the raft. But by
this time a clear strip of water, about three yards wide, was
flashing between them and Foma.
There was a silence lasting for a few seconds.
Then suddenly a hurricane of shrill, repulsively pitiful sounds,
which were full of animal fright, was hurled at Foma, and louder
than all and more repulsive than all, Zvantzev's shrill, jarring
cry pierced the ear:
Some one--in all probability, the sedate gentleman with the side
whiskers--roared in his basso:
"Drowning! They're drowning people!"
"Are you people?" cried Foma, angrily, irritated by their screams
which seemed to bite him. And the people ran about on the raft in
the madness of fright; the raft rocked under their feet, floated
faster on account of this, and the agitated water was loudly
splashing against and under it. The screams rent the air, the
people jumped about, waving their hands, and the stately figure
of Sasha alone stood motionless and speechless on the edge of the
"Give my regards to the crabs!" cried Foma. Foma felt more and
more cheerful and relieved in proportion as the raft was floating
away from him.
"Foma Ignatyevich!" said Ookhtishchev in a faint, but sober
voice, "look out, this is a dangerous joke. I'll make a
"When you are drowned? You may complain!" answered Foma,
"You are a murderer!" exclaimed Zvantzev, sobbing. But at this
time a ringing splash of water was heard as though it groaned
with fright or with astonishment. Foma shuddered and became as
though petrified. Then rang out the wild, deafening shrieks of
the women, and the terror-stricken screams of men, and all the
figures on the raft remained petrified in their places. And Foma,
staring at the water, felt as though he really were petrified. In
the water something black, surrounded with splashes, was floating
Rather instinctively than consciously, Foma threw himself with
his chest on the beams of the raft, and stretched out his hands,
his head hanging down over the water. Several incredibly long
seconds passed. Cold, wet arms clasped his neck and dark eyes
flashed before him. Then he understood that it was Sasha.
The dull horror, which had suddenly seized him, vanished,
replaced now by wild, rebellious joy. Having dragged the woman
out of the water, he grasped her by the waist, clasped her to his
breast, and, not knowing what to say to her, he stared into her
eyes with astonishment. She smiled at him caressingly.
"I am cold," said Sasha, softly, and quivered in every limb.
Foma laughed gaily at the sound of her voice, lifted her into his
arms and quickly, almost running, dashed across the rafts to the
shore. She was wet and cold, but her breathing was hot, it burned
Foma's cheek and filled his breast with wild joy.
"You wanted to drown me?" said she, firmly, pressing close to
him. "It was rather too early. Wait!"
"How well you have done it," muttered Foma, as he ran.
"You're a fine, brave fellow! And your device wasn't bad, either,
though you seem to be so peaceable."
"And they are still roaring there, ha! ha!"
"The devil take them! If they are drowned, we'll be sent to
Siberia," said the woman, as though she wanted to console and
encourage him by this. She began to shiver, and the shudder of
her body, felt by Foma, made him hasten his pace.
Sobs and cries for help followed them from the river. There, on
the placid water, floated in the twilight a small island,
withdrawing from the shore toward the stream of the main current
of the river, and on that little island dark human figures were
Night was closing down upon them.
ONE Sunday afternoon, Yakov Tarasovich Mayakin was drinking tea
in his garden and talking to his daughter. The collar of his
shirt unbuttoned, a towel wound round his neck, he sat on a bench
under a canopy of verdant cherry-trees, waved his hands in the
air, wiped the perspiration off his face, and incessantly poured
forth into the air his brisk speech.
"The man who permits his belly to have the upper hand over him is
a fool and a rogue! Is there nothing better in the world than
eating and drinking? Upon what will you pride yourself before
people, if you are like a hog?"
The old man's eyes sparkled irritably and angrily, his lips
twisted with contempt, and the wrinkles of his gloomy face
"If Foma were my own son, I would have made a man of him!"
Playing with an acacia branch, Lubov mutely listened to her
father's words, now and then casting a close and searching look
in his agitated, quivering face. Growing older, she changed,
without noticing it, her suspicious and cold relation toward the
old man. In his words she now began to find the same ideas that
were in her books, and this won her over on her father's side,
involuntarily causing the girl to prefer his live words to the
cold letters of the book. Always overwhelmed with business
affairs, always alert and clever, he went his own way alone, and
she perceived his solitude, knew how painful it was, and her
relations toward her father grew in warmth. At times she even
entered into arguments with the old man; he always regarded her
remarks contemptuously and sarcastically; but more tenderly and
attentively from time to time.
"If the deceased Ignat could read in the newspapers of the
indecent life his son is leading, he would have killed Foma!"
said Mayakin, striking the table with his fists. "How they have
written it up! It's a disgrace!"
"He deserves it," said Lubov.
"I don't say it was done at random! They've barked at him, as was
necessary. And who was it that got into such a fit of anger?"
"What difference does it make to you?" asked the girl.
"It's interesting to know. How cleverly the rascal described
Foma's behaviour. Evidently he must have been with him and
witnessed all the indecency himself."
"Oh, no, he wouldn't go with Foma on a spree!' said Lubov,
confidently, and blushed deeply at her father's searching look.
"So! You have fine acquaintances, Lubka! " said Mayakin with
humorous bitterness. "Well, who wrote it?"
"What do you wish to know it for, papa?"
"Come, tell me!"
She had no desire to tell, but the old man persisted, and his
voice was growing more and more dry and angry. Then she asked him
"And you will not do him any ill for it?"
"I? I will--bite his head off! Fool! What can I do to him? They,
these writers, are not a foolish lot and are therefore a power--a
power, the devils! And I am not the governor, and even he cannot
put one's hand out of joint or tie one's tongue. Like mice, they
gnaw us little by little. And we have to poison them not with
matches, but with roubles. Yes! Well, who is it?"
"Do you remember, when I was going to school, a Gymnasium student
used to come up to us. Yozhov? Such a dark little fellow!"
"Mm! Of course, I saw him. I know him. So it's he?"
"The little mouse! Even at that time one could see already that
something wrong would come out of him. Even then he stood in the
way of other people. A bold boy he was. I should have looked
after him then. Perhaps, I might have made a man of him."
Lubov looked at her father, smiled inimically, and asked hotly:
"And isn't he who writes for newspapers a man?"
For a long while, the old man did not answer his daughter.
Thoughtfully, he drummed with his fingers against the table and
examined his face, which was reflected in the brightly polished
brass of the samovar. Then he raised his head, winked his eyes
and said impressively and irritably:
"They are not men, they are sores! The blood of the Russian
people has become mixed, it has become mixed and spoiled, and
from the bad blood have come all these book and newspaper-
writers, these terrible Pharisees. They have broken out
everywhere, and they are still breaking out, more and more.
Whence comes this spoiling of the blood? From slowness of motion.
Whence the mosquitoes, for instance? From the swamp. All sorts of
uncleanliness multiply in stagnant waters. The same is true of a
"That isn't right, papa!" said Lubov, softly.
"What do you mean by--not right?"
"Writers are the most unselfish people, they are noble
personalities! They don't want anything--all they strive for is
justice--truth! They're not mosquitoes."
Lubov grew excited as she lauded her beloved people; her face was
flushed, and her eyes looked at her father with so much feeling,
as though imploring him to believe her, being unable to convince
"Eh, you!" said the old man, with a sigh, interrupting her.
"You've read too much! You've been poisoned! Tell me--who are
they? No one knows! That Yozhov--what is he? Only God knows. All
they want is the truth, you say? What modest people they are! And
suppose truth is the very dearest thing there is? Perhaps
everybody is seeking it in silence? Believe me--man cannot be
unselfish. Man will not fight for what belongs not to him, and if
he does fight--his name is 'fool,' and he is of no use to
anybody. A man must be able to stand up for himself, for his own,
then will he attain something! Here you have it! Truth! Here I
have been reading the same newspaper for almost forty years, and
I can see well--here is my face before you, and before me, there
on the samovar is again my face, but it is another face. You see,
these newspapers give a samovar face to everything, and do not
see the real one. And yet you believe them. But I know that my
face on the samovar is distorted. No one can tell the real truth;
man's throat is too delicate for this. And then, the real truth
is known to nobody."
"Papa!" exclaimed Lubov, sadly, "But in books and in newspapers
they defend the general interests of all the people."
"And in what paper is it written that you are weary of life, and
that it was time for you to get married? So, there your interest
is not defended! Eh! You! Neither is mine defended. Who knows
what I need? Who, but myself, understands my interests?"
"No, papa, that isn't right, that isn't right! I cannot refute
you, but I feel that this isn't right!" said Lubov almost with
"It is right!" said the old man, firmly. "Russia is confused, and
there is nothing steadfast in it; everything is staggering!
Everybody lives awry, everybody walks on one side, there's no
harmony in life. All are yelling out of tune, in different
voices. And not one understands what the other is in need of!
There is a mist over everything--everybody inhales that mist, and
that's why the blood of the people has become spoiled--hence the
sores. Man is given great liberty to reason, but is not permitted
to do anything--that's why man does not live; but rots and
"What ought one to do, then?" asked Lubov, resting her elbows on
the table and bending toward her father.
"Everything!" cried the old man, passionately. "Do everything. Go
ahead! Let each man do whatever he knows best! But for that
liberty must be given to man--complete freedom! Since there has
come a time, when everyraw youth believes that he knows
everything and was created for the complete arrangement of life--
give him, give the rogue freedom! Here, Carrion, live! Come,
come, live! Ah! Then such a comedy will follow; feeling that his
bridle is off, man will then rush up higher than his ears, and
like a feather will fly hither and thither. He'll believe himself
to be a miracle worker, and then he'll start to show his spirit."
The old man paused awhile and, lowering his voice, went on, with
a malicious smile:
"But there is very little of that creative spirit in him! He'll
bristle up for a day or two, stretch himself on all sides--and
the poor fellow will soon grow weak. For his heart is rotten--he,
he, he! Here, he, he, he! The dear fellow will be caught by the
real, worthy people, by those real people who are competent to be
the actual civil masters, who will manage life not with a rod nor
with a pen, but with a finger and with brains.
"What, they will say. Have you grown tired, gentlemen? What, they
will say, your spleens cannot stand a real fire, can they? So--
"and, raising his voice, the old man concluded his speech in an
"Well, then, now, you rabble, hold your tongues, and don't
squeak! Or we'll shake you off the earth, like worms from a tree!
Silence, dear fellows! Ha, ha, ha! That's how it's going to
happen, Lubavka! He, he, he!"
The old man was in a merry mood. His wrinkles quivered, and
carried away by his words, he trembled, closed his eyes now and
then, and smacked his lips as though tasting his own wisdom.
"And then those who will take the upper hand in the confusion
will arrange life wisely, after their own fashion. Then things
won't go at random, but as if by rote. It's a pity that we shall
not live to see it!"
The old man's words fell one after another upon Lubov like meshes
of a big strong net--they fell and enmeshed her, and the girl,
unable to free herself from them, maintained silence, dizzied by
her father's words. Staring into his face with an intense look,
she sought support for herself in his words and heard in them
something similar to what she had read in books, and which seemed
to her the real truth. But the malignant, triumphant laughter of
her father stung her heart, and the wrinkles, which seemed to
creep about on his face like so many dark little snakes, inspired
her with a certain fear for herself in his presence. She felt
that he was turning her aside from what had seemed so simple and
so easy in her dreams.
"Papa!" she suddenly asked the old man, in obedience to a thought
and a desire that unexpectedly flashed through her mind. "Papa!
and what sort of a man--what in your opinion is Taras?"
Mayakin shuddered. His eyebrows began to move angrily, he fixed
his keen, small eyes on his daughter's face and asked her drily:
"What sort of talk is this?"
"Must he not even be mentioned?" said Lubov, softly and
I don't want to speak of him--and I also advise you not to speak
of him! "--the old man threatened her with his finger and lowered
his head with a gloomy frown. But when he said that he did not
want to speak of his son, he evidently did not understand himself
correctly, for after a minute's silence he said sternly and
"Taraska, too, is a sore. Life is breathing upon you, milksops,
and you cannot discriminate its genuine scents, and you swallow
all sorts of filth, wherefore there is trouble in your heads.
That's why you are not competent to do anything, and you are
unhappy because of this incompetence. Taraska. Yes. He must be
about forty now. He is lost to me! A galley-slave--is that my
son? A blunt-snouted young pig. He would not speak to his father,
"What did he do?" asked Lubov, eagerly listening to the old man's
"Who knows? It may be that now he cannot understand himself, if
he became sensible, and he must have become a sensible man; he's
the son of a father who's not stupid, and then he must have
suffered not a little. They coddle them, the nihilists! They
should have turned them over to me. I'd show them what to do.
Into the desert! Into the isolated places--march! Come, now, my
wise fellows, arrange life there according to your own will! Go
ahead! And as authorities over them I'd station the robust
peasants. Well, now, honourable gentlemen, you were given to eat
and to drink, you were given an education--what have you learned?
Pay your debts, pray. Yes, I would not spend a broken grosh on
them. I would squeeze all the price out of them--give it up! You
must not set a man at naught. It is not enough to imprison him!
You transgressed the law, and are a gentleman? Never mind, you
must work. Out of a single seed comes an ear of corn, and a man
ought not be permitted to perish without being of use! An
economical carpenter finds a place for each and every chip of
wood--just so must every man be profitably used up, and used up
entire, to the very last vein. All sorts of trash have a place in
life, and man is never trash. Eh! it is bad when power lives
without reason, nor is it good when reason lives without power.
Take Foma now. Who is coming there--give a look."
Turning around, Lubov noticed the captain of the "Yermak," Yefim,
coming along the garden path. He had respectfully removed his cap
and bowed to her. There was a hopelessly guilty expression on his
face and he seemed abashed. Yakov Tarasovich recognized him and,
instantly grown alarmed, he cried:
"Where are you coming from? What has happened?"
"I--I have come to you!" said Yefim, stopping short at the table,
with a low bow.
"Well, I see, you've come to me. What's the matter? Where's the
"The steamer is there!" Yefim thrust his hand somewhere into the
air and heavily shifted from one foot to the other.
"Where is it, devil? Speak coherently--what has happened?" cried
the old man, enraged.
"So--a misfortune, Yakov."
"Have you been wrecked?"
"No, God saved us."
"Burned up? Well, speak more quickly."
Yefim drew air into his chest and said slowly:
"Barge No. 9 was sunk--smashed up. One man's back was broken, and
one is altogether missing, so that he must have drowned. About
five more were injured, but not so very badly, though some were
"So-o!" drawled out Mayakin, measuring the captain with an ill-
"Well, Yefimushka, I'll strip your skin off"
"It wasn't I who did it!" said Yefim, quickly.
"Not you?" cried the old man, shaking with rage. "Who then?"
"The master himself."
"Foma? And you. Where were you?"
"I was lying in the hatchway."
"Ah! You were lying."
"I was bound there."
"Wha-at?" screamed the old man in a shrill voice.
"Allow me to tell you everything as it happened. He was drunk and
he shouted: "'Get away! I'll take command myself!' I said 'I
can't! I am the captain.' 'Bind him!' said he. And when they had
bound me, they lowered me into the hatchway, with the sailors.
And as the master was drunk, he wanted to have some fun. A fleet
of boats was coming toward us. Six empty barges towed by
'Cheruigorez.' So Foma Ignatyich blocked their way. They
whistled. More than once. I must tell the truth--they whistled!"
"Well, and they couldn't manage it--the two barges in front
crashed into us. And as they struck the side of our ninth, we
were smashed to pieces. And the two barges were also smashed. But
we fared much worse."
Mayakin rose from the chair and burst into jarring, angry
laughter. And Yefim sighed, and, outstretching his hands,
said:xxx"He has a very violent character. When he is sober he is
silent most of the time, and walks around thoughtfully, but when
he wets his springs with wine--then he breaks loose. Then he is
not master of himself and of his business--but their wild enemy--
you must excuse me! And I want to leave, Yakov Tarasovich! I am
not used to being without a master, I cannot live without a
"Keep quiet!" said Mayakin, sternly. "Where's Foma?"
"There; at the same place. Immediately after the accident, he
came to himself and at once sent for workmen. They'll lift the
barge. They may have started by this time."
"Is he there alone?" asked Mayakin, lowering his head.
"Not quite," replied Yefim, softly, glancing stealthily at Lubov.
"There's a lady with him. A dark one."
"It looks as though the woman is out of her wits," said Yefim,
with a sigh. "She's forever singing. She sings very well. It's
"I am not asking you about her!" cried Mayakin, angrily. The
wrinkles of his face were painfully quivering, and it seemed to
Lubov that her father was about to weep.
"Calm yourself, papa!" she entreated caressingly. "Maybe the loss
isn't so great."
"Not great?" cried Yakov Tarasovich in a ringing voice. "What do
you understand, you fool? Is it only that the barge was smashed?
Eh, you! A man is lost! That's what it is! And he is essential to
me! I need him, dull devils that you are!" The old man shook his
head angrily and with brisk steps walked off along the garden
path leading toward the house.
And Foma was at this time about four hundred versts away from his
godfather, in a village hut, on the shore of the Volga. He had
just awakened from sleep, and lying on the floor, on a bed of
fresh hay, in the middle of the hut, he gazed gloomily out of the
window at the sky, which was covered with gray, scattered clouds.
The wind was tearing them asunder and driving them somewhere;
heavy and weary, one overtaking another, they were passing across
the sky in an enormous flock. Now forming a solid mass, now
breaking into fragments, now falling low over the earth, in
silent confusion, now again rising upward, one swallowed by
Without moving his head, which was heavy from intoxication, Foma
looked long at the clouds and finally began to feel as though
silent clouds were also passing through his breast,--passing,
breathing a damp coldness upon his heart and oppressing him.
There was something impotent in the motion of the clouds across
the sky. And he felt the same within him. Without thinking, he
pictured to himself all he had gone through during the past
months. It seemed to him as though he had fallen into a turbid,
boiling stream, and now he had been seized by dark waves, that
resembled these clouds in the sky; had been seized and carried
away somewhere, even as the clouds were carried by the wind. In
the darkness and the tumult which surrounded him, he saw as
though through a mist that certain other people were hastening
together with him--to-day not those of yesterday, new ones each
day, yet all looking alike--equally pitiful and repulsive.
Intoxicated, noisy, greedy, they flew about him as in a
whirlwind, caroused at his expense, abused him, fought, screamed,
and even wept more than once. And he beat them. He remembered
that one day he had struck somebody on the face, torn someone's
coat off and thrown it into the water and that some one had
kissed his hands with wet, cold lips as disgusting as frogs. Had
kissed and wept, imploring him not to kill. Certain faces flashed
through his memory, certain sounds and words rang in it. A woman
in a yellow silk waist, unfastened at the breast, had sung in a
loud, sobbing voice:
"And so let us live while we canAnd then--e'en grass may cease to
All these people, like himself, grown wild and beastlike, were
seized by the same dark wave and carried away like rubbish. All
these people, like himself, must have been afraid to look forward
to see whither this powerful, wild wave was carrying them. And
drowning their fear in wine, they were rushing forward down the
current struggling, shouting, doing something absurd, playing the
fool, clamouring, clamouring, without ever being cheerful. He was
doing the same, whirling in their midst. And now it seemed to
him, that he was doing all this for fear of himself, in order to
pass the sooner this strip of life, or in order not to think of
what would be afterward.
Amid the burning turmoil of carouses, in the crowd of people,
seized by debauchery, perplexed by violent passions, half-crazy
in their longing to forget themselves--only Sasha was calm and
contained. She never drank to intoxication, always addressed
people in a firm, authoritative voice, and all her movements were
equally confident, as though this stream had not taken possession
of her, but she was herself mastering its violent course. She
seemed to Foma the cleverest person of all those that surrounded
him, and the most eager for noise and carouse; she held them all
in her sway, forever inventing something new and speaking in one
and the same manner to everybody; for the driver, the lackey and
the sailor she had the same tone and the same words as for her
friends and for Foma. She was younger and prettier than Pelageya,
but her caresses were silent, cold. Foma imagined that deep in
her heart she was concealing from everybody something terrible,
that she would never love anyone, never reveal herself entire.
This secrecy in the woman attracted him toward her with a feeling
of timorous curiosity, of a great, strained interest in her calm,
cold soul, which seemed even as dark as her eyes.
Somehow Foma said to her one day:
"But what piles of money you and I have squandered!"
She glanced at him, and asked:
"And why should we save it?"
"Indeed, why?" thought Foma, astonished by the fact that she
reasoned so simply.
"Who are you?" he asked her at another occasion.
"Why, have you forgotten my name?"
"Well, the idea!"
"What do you wish to know then?"
"I am asking you about your origin."
"Ah! I am a native of the province of Yaroslavl. I'm from
Ooglich. I was a harpist. Well, shall I taste sweeter to you, now
that you know who I am?"
"Do I know it?" asked Foma, laughing.
"Isn't that enough for you? I shall tell you nothing more about
it. What for? We all come from the same place, both people and
beasts. And what is there that I can tell you about myself? And
what for? All this talk is nonsense. Let's rather think a little
as to how we shall pass the day."
On that day they took a trip on a steamer, with an orchestra of
music, drank champagne, and every one of them got terribly drunk.
Sasha sang a peculiar, wonderfully sad song, and Foma, moved by
her singing, wept like a child. Then he danced with her the
"Russian dance," and finally, perspiring and fatigued, threw
himself overboard in his clothes and was nearly drowned.
Now, recalling all this and a great deal more, he felt ashamed of
himself and dissatisfied with Sasha. He looked at her well-shaped
figure, heard her even breathing and felt that he did not love
this woman, and that she was unnecessary to him. Certain gray,
oppressive thoughts were slowly springing up in his heavy, aching
head. It seemed to him as though everything he had lived through
during this time was twisted within him into a heavy and moist
ball, and that now this ball was rolling about in his breast,
unwinding itself slowly, and the thin gray cords were binding
"What is going on in me?" he thought. "I've begun to carouse.
Why? I don't know how to live. I don't understand myself. Who am
He was astonished by this question, and he paused over it,
attempting to make it clear to himself--why he was unable to live
as firmly and confidently as other people do. He was now still
more tortured. by conscience. More uneasy at this thought, he
tossed about on the hay and irritated, pushed Sasha with his
"Be careful!" said she, although nearly asleep.
"It's all right. You're not such a lady of quality!" muttered
"What's the matter with you?"
She turned her back to him, and said lazily, with a lazy yawn:
"I dreamed that I became a harpist again. It seemed to me that I
was singing a solo, and opposite me stood a big, dirty dog,
snarling and waiting for me to finish the song. And I was afraid
of the dog. And I knew that it would devour me, as soon as I
stopped singing. So I kept singing, singing. And suddenly it
seemed my voice failed me. Horrible! And the dog is gnashing his
teeth. 0h Lord, have mercy on me! What does it mean?"
"Stop your idle talk!" Foma interrupted her sternly. "You better
tell me what you know about me."
"I know, for instance, that you are awake now," she answered,
without turning to him.
"Awake? That's true. I've awakened," said Foma, thoughtfully and,
throwing his arm behind his head, went on: "That's why I am
asking you. What sort of man do you think I am?"
"A man with a drunken headache," answered Sasha, yawning.
"Aleksandra!" exclaimed Foma, beseechingly, "don't talk nonsense!
Tell me conscientiously, what do you think of me?"
"I don't think anything!" she said drily. "Why are you bothering
me with nonsense?"
"Is this nonsense?" said Foma, sadly. "Eh, you devils! This is
the principal thing. The most essential thing to me."
He heaved a deep sigh and became silent. After a minute's
silence, Sasha began to speak in her usual, indifferent voice:
"Tell him who he is, and why he is such as he is? Did you ever
see! Is it proper to ask such questions of our kind of women? And
on what ground should I think about each and every man? I have
not even time to think about myself, and, perhaps, I don't feel
like doing it at all."
Foma laughed drily and said:
"I wish I were like this--and had no desires for anything."
Then the woman raised her head from the pillow, looked into
Foma's face and lay down again, saying:
"You are musing too much. Look out--no good will come of it to
you. I cannot tell you anything about yourself. It is impossible
to say anything true about a man. Who can understand him? Man
does not know himself. Well, here, I'll tell you--you are better
than others. But what of it?"
"And in what way am I better?" asked Foma, thoughtfully.
"So! When one sings a good song--you weep. When one does some
mean thing--you beat him. With women you are simple, you are not
impudent to them. You are peaceable. And you can also be daring,
Yet all this did not satisfy Foma.
"You're not telling me the right thing!" said he, softly.
"Well, I don't know what you want. But see here, what are
we going to do after they have raised the barge?"
"What can we do?" asked Foma.
"Shall we go to Nizhni or to Kazan?"
"1 don't want to carouse any more."
"What else are you going to do?"
And both were silent for a long time, without looking at each
"You have a disagreeable character," said Sasha, "a wearisome
"But nevertheless I won't get drunk any more!" said Foma, firmly
"You are lying!" retorted Sasha, calmly.
"You'll see! What do you think--is it good to lead such a life as
"No, just tell me--is it good?"
"But what is better?"
Foma looked at her askance and, irritated, said:
"What repulsive words you speak."
"Well, here again I haven't pleased him!" said Sasha, laughing.
"What a fine crowd!" said Foma, painfully wrinkling his face.
"They're like trees. They also live, but how? No one understands.
They are crawling somewhere. And can give no account either to
themselves or to others. When the cockroach crawls, he knows
whither and wherefore he wants to go? And you? Whither are you
"Hold on!" Sasha interrupted him, and asked him calmly: "What
have you to do with me? You may take from me all that you want,
but don't you creep into my soul!"
"Into your so-o-ul!" Foma drawled out, with contempt. "Into what
soul? He, he!"
She began to pace the room, gathering together the clothes that
were scattered everywhere. Foma watched her and was displeased
because she did not get angry at him for his words about her
soul. Her face looked calm and indifferent, as usual, but he
wished to see her angry or offended; he wished for something
human from the woman.
"The soul!" he exclaimed, persisting in his aim. "Can one who has
a soul live as you live? A soul has fire burning in it, there is
a sense of shame in it."
By this time she was sitting on a bench, putting on her
stockings, but at his words she raised her head and sternly fixed
her eyes upon his face.
"What are you staring at?" asked Foma.
"Why do you speak that way?" said she, without lifting her eyes
"Because I must."
"Look out--must you really?"
There was something threatening in her question. Foma felt
intimidated and said, this time without provocation in his voice:
"How could I help speaking?"
"Oh, you!" sighed Sasha and resumed dressing herself
"And what about me?"
"Merely so. You seem as though you were born of two fathers. Do
you know what I have observed among people?"
"If a man cannot answer for himself, it means that he is afraid
of himself, that his price is a grosh!"
"Do you refer to me?" asked Foma, after a pause.
"To you, too."
She threw a pink morning gown over her shoulders and, standing in
the centre of the room, stretched out her hand toward Foma, who
lay at her feet, and said to him in a low, dull voice:
"You have no right to speak about my soul. You have nothing to do
with it! And therefore hold your tongue! I may speak! If I
please, I could tell something to all of you. Eh, how I could
tell it! Only,--who will dare to listen to me, if I should speak
at the top of my voice? And I have some words about you,--they're
like hammers! And I could knock you all on your heads so that you
would lose your wits. And although you are all rascals--you
cannot be cured by words. You should be burned in the fire--just
as frying-pans are burned out on the first Monday of Lent."
Raising her hands she abruptly loosened her hair, and when it
fell over her shoulders in heavy, black locks--the woman shook
her head haughtily and said, with contempt:
"Never mind that I am leading a loose life! It often happens,
that the man who lives in filth is purer than he who goes about
in silks. If you only knew what I think of you, you dogs, what
wrath I bear against you! And because of this wrath--I am silent!
For I fear that if I should sing it to you--my soul would become
empty. I would have nothing to live on." Foma looked at her, and
now he was pleased with her. In her words there was something
akin to his frame of mind. Laughing, he said to her, with
satisfaction on his face and in his voice:
"And I also feel that something is growing within my soul. Eh, I
too shall have my say, when the time comes."
"Against whom?" asked Sasha, carelessly.
"I--against everybody!" exclaimed Foma, jumping to his feet.
"Against falsehood. I shall ask--"
"Ask whether the samovar is ready," Sasha ordered indifferently.
Foma glanced at her and cried, enraged:
"Go to the devil! Ask yourself."
"Well, all right, I shall. What are you snarling about?"
And she stepped out of the hut.
In piercing gusts the wind blew across the river, striking
against its bosom, and covered with troubled dark waves, the
river was spasmodically rushing toward the wind with a noisy
splash, and all in the froth of wrath. The willow bushes on the
shore bent low to the ground--trembling, they now were about to
lie down on the ground, now, frightened, they thrust themselves
away from it, driven by the blows of the wind. In the air rang a
whistling, a howling, and a deep groaning sound, that burst from
dozens of human breasts:
"It goes--it goes--it goes!"
This exclamation, abrupt as a blow, and heavy as the breath from
an enormous breast, which is suffocating from exertion, was
soaring over the river, falling upon the waves, as if encouraging
their mad play with the wind, and they struck the shores with
Two empty barges lay anchored by the mountainous shore, and their
tall masts, rising skyward, rocked in commotion from side to
side, as though describing some invisible pattern in the air. The
decks of both barges were encumbered with scaffolds, built of
thick brown beams; huge sheaves were hanging everywhere; chains
and ropes were fastened to them, and rocking in the air; the
links of the chains were faintly clanging. A throng of peasants
in blue and in red blouses pulled a large beam across the dock
and, heavily stamping their feet, groaned with full chest:
"It goes--it goes--it goes!"
Here and there human figures clung to the scaffoldings, like big
lumps of blue and red; the wind, blowing their blouses and their
trousers, gave the men odd forms, making them appear now hump-
backed, now round and puffed up like bladders. The people on the
scaffolds and on the decks of the barges were making fast,
hewing, sawing, driving in nails; and big arms, with shirt
sleeves rolled up to the elbows were seen everywhere. The wind
scattered splinters of wood, and a varied, lively, brisk noise in
the air; the saw gnawed the wood, choking with wicked joy; the
beams, wounded by the axes, moaned and groaned drily; the boards
cracked sickly as they split from the blows they received; the
jointer squeaked maliciously. The iron clinking of the chains and
the groaning creaking of the sheaves joined the wrathful roaring
of the waves, and the wind howled loudly, scattering over the
river the noise of toil and drove the clouds across the sky.
"Mishka-a! The deuce take you!" cried someone from the top of the
scaffolding. And from the deck, a large-formed peasant, with his
head thrown upward, answered:
"Wh-a-at?" And the wind, playing with his long, flaxen beard,
flung it into his face.
"Hand us the end."
A resounding basso shouted as through a speaking-trumpet:
"See how you've fastened this board, you blind devil? Can't you
see? I'll rub your eyes for you!"
"Pull, my boys, come on!"
"Once more--brave--boys!" cried out some one in a loud,
Handsome and stately, in a short cloth jacket and high boots,
Foma stood, leaning his back against a mast, and stroking his
beard with his trembling hand, admired the daring work of the
peasants. The noise about him called forth in him a persistent
desire to shout, to work together with the peasants, to hew wood,
to carry burdens, to command--to compel everybody to pay
attention to him, and to show them his strength, his skill, and
the live soul within him. But he restrained himself. And standing
speechless, motionless, he felt ashamed and afraid of something.
He was embarrassed by the fact that he was master over everybody
there, and that if he were to start to work himself, no one would
believe that he was working merely to satisfy his desire, and not
to spur them on in their work; to set them an example. And then,
the peasants might laugh at him, in all probability.
A fair and curly-headed fellow, with his shirt collar unbuttoned,
was now and again running past him, now carrying a log on his
shoulder, now an axe in his hands; he was skipping along, like a
frolicsome goat, scattering about him cheerful, ringing laughter,
jests, violent oaths, and working unceasingly, now assisting one,
now another, as he was cleverly and quickly running across the
deck, which was obstructed with timber and shavings. Foma watched
him closely, and envied this merry fellow, who was radiant with
something healthy and inspiring.
"Evidently he is happy," thought Foma, and this thought provoked
in him a keen, piercing desire to insult him somehow, to
embarrass him. All those about him were seized with the zest of
pressing work, all were unanimously and hastily fastening the
scaffoldings, arranging the pulleys, preparing to raise the
sunken barge from the bottom of the river; all were sound and
merry--they all lived. While he stood alone, aside from them, not
knowing what to do, not knowing how to do anything, feeling
himself superfluous to this great toil. It vexed him to feel that
he was superfluous among men, and the more closely he watched
them, the more intense was this vexation. And he was stung most
by the thought that all this was being done for him. And yet he
was out of place there.
"Where is my place, then?" he thought gloomily. "Where is my
work? Am I, then, some deformed being? I have just as much
strength as any of them. But of what use is it to me?"The chains
clanged, the pulleys groaned, the blows of the axes resounded
loud over the river, and the barges rocked from the shocks of the
waves, but to Foma it seemed that he was rocking not because the
barge was rocking under his feet, but rather because he was not
able to stand firmly anywhere, he was not destined to do so.
The contractor, a small-sized peasant with a small pointed gray
beard, and with narrow little eyes on his gray wrinkled face,
came up to him and said, not loud, but pronouncing his words with
a certain m the bottom of the river. He wished that they might
not succeed, that they might feel embarrassed in his presence,
and a wicked thought flashed through his mind:
"Perhaps the chains will break."
"Boys! Attention!" shouted the contractor. "Start all together.
God bless us!" And suddenly, clasping his hands in the air, he
cried in a shrill voice:
The labourers took up his shout, and all cried out in one voice,
with excitement and exertion:
"Let her go! She moves."
The pulleys squeaked and creaked, the chains clanked, strained
under the heavy weight that suddenly fell upon them; and the
labourers, bracing their chests against the handle of the
windlasses, roared and tramped heavily. The waves splashed
noisily between the barges as though unwilling to give up their
prize to the men. Everywhere about Foma, chains and ropes were
stretched and they quivered from the strain--they were creeping
somewhere across the deck, past his feet, like huge gray worms;
they were lifted upward, link after link, falling back with a
rattling noise, and all these sounds were drowned by the
deafening roaring of the labourers.
"It goes, it goes, it goes," they all sang in unison,
triumphantly. But the ringing voice of the contractor pierced the
deep wave of their voices, and cut it even as a knife cuts bread.
"My boys! Go ahead, all at once, all at once."
Foma was seized with a strange emotion; passionately he now
longed to mingle with this excited roaring of the labourers,
which was as broad and as powerful as the river--to blend with
this irritating, creaking, squeaking, clanging of iron and
turbulent splashing of waves. Perspiration came out on his face
from the intensity of his desire, and suddenly pale from
agitation, he tore himself away from the mast, and rushed toward
the windlasses with big strides.
"All at once! At once!" he cried in a fierce voice. When he
reached the lever of the windlass, he dashed his chest against it
with all his might, and not feeling the pain, he began to go
around the windlass, roaring, and firmly stamping his feet
against the deck. Something powerful and burning rushed into his
breast, replacing the efforts which he spent while turning the
windlass-lever! Inexpressible joy raged within him and forced
itself outside in an agitated cry. It seemed to him that he
alone, that only his strength was turning the lever, thus raising
the weight, and that his strength was growing and growing.
Stooping, and lowering his head, like a bull he massed the power
of the weight, which threw him back, but yielded to him,
nevertheless. Each step forward excited him the more, each
expended effort was immediately replaced in him by a flood of
burning and vehement pride. His head reeled, his eyes were blood-
shot, he saw nothing, he only felt that they were yielding to
him, that he would soon conquer, that he would overthrow with his
strength something huge which obstructed his way--would
overthrow, conquer and then breathe easily and freely, full of
proud delight. For the first time in his life he experienced such
a powerful, spiritualizing sensation, and he drank it with all
the strength of a hungry, thirsty soul; he was intoxicated by it
and he gave vent to his joy in loud, exulting cries in unison
with the workers:
"It goes--it goes--it goes."
"Hold on! Fasten! Hold on, boys!"
Something dashed against Foma's chest, and he was hurled
"I congratulate you on a successful result, Foma Ignatyich!" the
contractor congratulated him and the wrinkles quivered on his
face in cheerful beams.
"Thank God! You must be quite tired now?"
Cold wind blew in Foma's face. A contented, boastful bustle was
in the air about him; swearing at one another in a friendly way,
merry, with smiles on their perspiring brows, the peasants
approached him and surrounded him closely. He smiled in
embarrassment: the excitement within him had not yet calmed down
and this hindered him from understanding what had happened and
why all those who surrounded him were so merry and contented.
"We've raised a hundred and seventy thousand puds as if we
plucked a radish from a garden-bed!" said some one.
"We ought to get a vedro of whisky from our master."
Foma, standing on a heap of cable, looked over the heads of the
workers and saw; between the barges, side by side with them,
stood a third barge, black, slippery, damaged, wrapped in chains.
It was warped all over, it seemed as though it swelled from some
terrible disease and, impotent, clumsy, it was suspended between
its companions, leaning against them. Its broken mast stood out
mournfully in the centre; reddish streams of water, like blood,
were running across the deck, which was covered with stains of
rust. Everywhere on the deck lay heaps of iron, of black, wet
stumps of wood, and of ropes.
"Raised?" asked Foma, not knowing what to say at the sight of
this ugly, heavy mass, and again feeling offended at the thought
that merely for the sake of raising this dirty, bruised monster
from the water, his soul had foamed up with such joy.
"How's the barge?" asked Foma, indefinitely, addressing the
"It's pretty good! We must unload right away, and put a company
of about twenty carpenters to work on it--they'll bring it
quickly into shape I "said the contractor in a consoling tone.
And the light-haired fellow, gaily and broadly smiling into
Foma's face, asked:
"Are we going to have any vodka?"
"Can't you wait? You have time!" said the contractor, sternly.
"Don't you see--the man is tired."
Then the peasants began to speak:
"Of course, he is tired!
"That wasn't easy work!"
"Of course, one gets tired if he isn't used to work."
"It is even hard to eat gruel if you are not used to it."
"I am not tired," said Foma, gloomily, and again were heard the
respectful exclamations of the peasants, as they surrounded him
"Work, if one likes it, is a pleasant thing."
"It's just like play."
"It's like playing with a woman."
But the light-haired fellow persisted in his request:
"Your Honour! You ought to treat us to a vedro of vodka, eh?" he
said, smiling and sighing.
Foma looked at the bearded faces before him and felt like saying
something offensive to them. But somehow everything became
confused in his brain, he found no thoughts in it and, finally,
without giving himself an account of his words, said angrily:
"All you want is to drink all the time! It makes no difference to
you what you do! You should have thought--why? to what purpose?
There was an expression of perplexity on the faces of those that
surrounded him, blue and red, bearded figures began to sigh,
scratch themselves, shift themselves from one foot to another.
Others cast a hopeless glance at Foma and turned away.
"Yes, yes!" said the contractor, with a sigh. "That wouldn't
harm! That is--to think--why and how. These are words of wisdom."
The light-haired fellow had a different opinion on the matter;
smiling kind-heartedly, he waved his hand and said:
"We don't have to think over our work! If we have it--we do it!
Our business is simple! When a rouble is earned--thank God! we
can do everything."
"And do you know what's necessary to do?" questioned Foma,
irritated by the contradiction.
"Everything is necessary--this and that."
"But where's the sense?"
"There's but one and the same sense in everything for our class--
when you have earned for bread and taxes--live! And when there's
something to drink, into the bargain."
"Eh, you!" exclaimed Foma, with contempt. "You're also talking!
What do you understand?"
"Is it our business to understand?" said the light-haired fellow,
with a nod of the head. It now bored him to speak to Foma. He
suspected that he was unwilling to treat them to vodka and he was
"That's it!" said Foma, instructively, pleased that the fellow
yielded to him, and not noticing the cross, sarcastic glances.
"And he who understands feels that it is necessary to do
"That is, for God!" explained the contractor, eyeing the
peasants, and added, with a devout sigh:
"That's true. Oh, how true that is!"
And Foma was inspired with the desire to say something correct
and important, after which these people might regard him in a
different light, for he was displeased with the fact that all,
save the light-haired fellow, kept silent and looked at him
askance, surlily, with such weary, gloomy eyes.
"It is necessary to do such work," he said, moving his eyebrows.
"Such work that people may say a thousand years hence: 'This was
done by the peasants of Bogorodsk--yes!
The light-haired fellow glanced at Foma with astonishment and
"Are we, perhaps, to drink the Volga dry?" Then he sniffed and,
nodding his head, announced: "We can't do that--we should all
Foma became confused at his words and looked about him; the
peasants were smiling morosely, disdainfully, sarcastically. And
these smiles stung him like needles. A serious-looking peasant,
with a big gray beard, who had not yet opened his mouth up to
that time, suddenly opened it now, came closer to Foma and said
"And even if we were to drink the Volga dry, and eat up that
mountain, into the bargain--that too would be forgotten, your
Honour. Everything will be forgotten. Life is long. It is not for
us to do such deeds as would stand out above everything else. But
we can put up scaffoldings--that we can!"
He spoke and sceptically spitting at his feet, indifferently
walked off from Foma, and slipped into the crowd, as a wedge into
a tree. His words crushed Foma completely; he felt, that the
peasants considered him stupid and ridiculous. And in order to
save his importance as master in their eyes, to attract again the
now exhausted attention of the peasants to himself, he bristled
up, comically puffed up his cheeks and blurted out in an
"I make you a present of three buckets of vodka."
Brief speeches have always the most meaning and are always apt to
produce a strong impression. The peasants respectfully made way
for Foma, making low bows to him, and, smiling merrily and
gratefully, thanked him for his generosity in a unanimous roar of
"Take me over to the shore," said Foma, feeling that the
excitement that had just been aroused in him would not last long.
A worm was gnawing his heart, and he was weary.
"I feel disgusted!" he said, entering the hut where Sasha, in a
smart, pink gown, was bustling about the table, arranging wines
and refreshments. "I feel disgusted, Aleksandra! If you could
only do something with me, eh?"
She looked at him attentively and, seating herself on the bench,
shoulder to shoulder with him, said:
"Since you feel disgusted--it means that you want something. What
is it you want?"
"I don't know!" replied Foma, nodding his head mournfully.
"Think of it--search."
"I am unable to think. Nothing comes out of my thinking."
"Eh, you, my child!" said Sasha, softly and disdainfully, moving
away from him. "Your head is superfluous to you."
Foma neither caught her tone nor noticed her movement. Leaning
his hands against the bench, he bent forward, looked at the
floor, and, swaying his body to and fro, said:
"Sometimes I think and think--and the whole soul is stuck round
with thoughts as with tar. And suddenly everything disappears,
without leaving any trace. Then it is dark in the soul as in a
cellar--dark, damp and empty--there is nothing at all in it! It
is even terrible--I feel then as though I were not a man, but a
bottomless ravine. You ask me what I want?"
Sasha looked at him askance and pensively began to sing softly:
"Eh, when the wind blows--mist comes from the sea."
"I don't want to carouse--it is repulsive! Always the same--the
people, the amusements, the wine. When I grow malicious--I'd
thrash everybody. I am not pleased with men--what are they? It is
impossible to understand them--why do they keep on living? And
when they speak the truth--to whom are we to listen? One says
this, another that. While I--I cannot say anything."
"Eh, without thee, dear, my life is weary,"
sang Sasha, staring at the wall before her. And Foma kept on
rocking and said:
"There are times when I feel guilty before men. Everybody lives,
makes noise, while I am frightened, staggered--as if I did not
feel the earth under me. Was it, perhaps, my mother that endowed
me with apathy? My godfather says that she was as cold as ice--
that she was forever yearning towards something. I am also
yearning. Toward men I am yearning. I'd like to go to them and
say: 'Brethren, help me! Teach me! I know not how to live!. And
if I am guilty--forgive me!' But looking about, I see there's no
one to speak to. No one wants it--they are all rascals! And it
seems they are even worse than I am. For I am, at least, ashamed
of living as I am, while they are not! They go on."
Foma uttered some violent, unbecoming invectives and became
silent. Sasha broke off her song and moved still farther away
from him. The wind was raging outside the window, hurling dust
against the window-panes. Cockroaches were rustling on the oven
as they crawled over a bunch of pine wood splinters. Somewhere in
the yard a calf was lowing pitifully.
Sasha glanced at Foma, with a sarcastic smile, and said:
"There's another unfortunate creature lowing. You ought to go to
him; perhaps you could sing in unison. And placing her hand on
his curly head she jestingly pushed it on the side.
"What are people like yourself good for? That's what you ought to
think of. What are you groaning about? You are disgusted with
being idle--occupy yourself, then, with business."
"0h Lord!" Foma nodded his head. "It is hard for one to make
himself understood. Yes, it is hard!" And irritated, he almost
cried out: "What business? I have no yearning toward business!
What is business? Business is merely a name--and if you should
look into the depth, into the root of it--you'll find it is
nothing but absurdity! Do I not understand it? I understand
everything, I see everything, I feel everything! Only my tongue
is dumb. What aim is there in business? Money? I have plenty of
it! I could choke you to death with it, cover you with it. All
this business is nothing but fraud. I meet business people--well,
and what about them? Their greediness is immense, and yet they
purposely whirl about in business that they might not see
themselves. They hide themselves, the devils. Try to free them
from this bustle--what will happen? Like blind men they will
grope about hither and thither; they'll lose their mind--they'll
go mad! I know it! Do you think that business brings happiness
into man? No, that's not so--something else is missing here. This
is not everything yet! The river flows that men may sail on it;
the tree grows--to be useful; the dog--to guard the house. There
is justification for everything in the world! And men, like
cockroaches, are altogether superfluous on earth. Everything is
for them, and they--what are they for? Aha! Wherein is their
justification? Ha, ha, ha!"
Foma was triumphant. It seemed to him that he had found something
good for himself, something severe against men. And feeling that,
because of this, there was great joy in him, he laughed loudly.
"Does not your head ache?" inquired Sasha, anxiously,
scrutinizing his face.
"My soul aches!" exclaimed Foma, passionately. "And it aches
because it is upright--because it is not to be satisfied with
trifles. Answer it, how to live? To what purpose? There--take my
godfather--he is wise! He says--create life! But he's the only
one like this. Well, I'll ask him, wait! And everybody says--life
has usurped us! Life has choked us. I shall ask these, too. And
how can we create life? You must keep it in your hands to do
this, you must be master over it. You cannot make even a pot,
without taking the clay into your hands."
"Listen!" said Sasha, seriously. "I think you ought to get
married, that's all!"
"What for?" asked Foma, shrugging his shoulders.
"You need a bridle."
"All right! I am living with you--you are all of a kind, are you
not? One is not sweeter than the other. I had one before you, of
the same kind as you. No, but that one did it for love's sake.
She had taken a liking to me--and consented; she was good--but,
otherwise, she was in every way the same as you--though you are
prettier than she. But I took a liking to a certain lady--a lady
of noble birth! They said she led a loose life, but I did not get
her. Yes, she was clever, intelligent; she lived in luxury. I
used to think--that's where I'll taste the real thing! I did not
get her--and, it may be, if I had succeeded, all would have taken
a different turn. I yearned toward her. I thought--I could not
tear myself away. While now that I have given myself to drink,
I've drowned her in wine--I am forgetting her--and that also is
wrong. 0 man! You are a rascal, to be frank."
Foma became silent and sank into meditation. And Sasha rose from
the bench and paced the hut to and fro, biting her lips. Then she
stopped short before him, and, clasping her hands to her head,
"Do you know what? I'll leave you."
"Where will you go?" asked Foma, without lifting his head.
"I don't know--it's all the same!"
"You're always saying unnecessary things. It is lonesome with
you. You make me sad."
Foma lifted his head, looked at her and burst into mournful
"Really? Is it possible?"
"You do make me sad! Do you know? If I should reflect on it, I
would understand what you say and why you say it--for I am also
of that sort--when the time comes, I shall also think of all
this. And then I shall be lost. But now it is too early for me.
No, I want to live yet, and then, later, come what will!"
"And I--will I, too, be lost?" asked Foma, indifferently, already
fatigued by his words.
"Of course!" replied Sasha, calmly and confidently. "All such
people are lost. He, whose character is inflexible, and who has
no brains--what sort of a life is his? We are like this."
"I have no character at all," said Foma, stretching himself. Then
after a moment's silence he added:
"And I have no brains, either."
They were silent for a minute, eyeing each other.
"What are we going to do?" asked Foma.
"We must have dinner."
"No, I mean, in general? Afterward?"
"Afterward? I don't know?"
"So you are leaving me?"
"I am. Come, let's carouse some more before we part. Let's go to
Kazan, and there we'll have a spree--smoke and flame! I'll sing
your farewell song."
"Very well," assented Foma. "It's quite proper at leave taking.
Eh, you devil! That's a merry life! Listen, Sasha. They say that
women of your kind are greedy for money; are even thieves."
"Let them say," said Sasha, calmly.
"Don't you feel offended?" asked Foma, with curiosity. "But you
are not greedy. It's advantageous to you to be with me. I am
rich, and yet you are going away; that shows you're not greedy."
"I?" Sasha thought awhile and said with a wave of the hand:
"Perhaps I am not greedy--what of it? I am not of the very lowest
of the street women. And against whom shall I feel a grudge? Let
them say whatever they please. It will be only human talk, not
the bellowing of bulls. And human holiness and honesty are quite
familiar to me! Eh, how well I know them! If I were chosen as a
judge, I would acquit the dead only l" and bursting into
malicious laughter, Sasha said: "Well, that will do, we've spoken
enough nonsense. Sit down at the table!"
On the morning of the next day Foma and Sasha stood side by side
on the gangway of a steamer which was approaching a harbour on
the Ustye. Sasha's big black hat attracted everybody's attention
by its deftly bent brim, and its white feathers, and Foma was ill
at ease as he stood beside her, and felt as though inquisitive
glances crawled over his perplexed face. The steamer hissed and
quivered as it neared the landing-bridge, which was sprinkled by
a waiting crowd of people attired in bright summer clothes, and
it seemed to Foma that he noticed among the crowd of various
faces and figures a person he knew, who now seemed to be hiding
behind other people's backs, and yet lifted not his eye from him.
"Let's go into the cabin!" said he to his companion uneasily.
"Don't acquire the habit of hiding your sins from people,"
replied Sasha, with a smile. "Have you perhaps noticed an
"Mm. Yes. Somebody is watching me."
"A nurse with a milk bottle? Ha, ha, ha!"
"Well, there you're neighing!" said Foma, enraged, looking at her
askance. "Do you think I am afraid?"
"I can see how brave you are."
"You'll see. I'll face anybody," said Foma, angrily, but after a
close look at the crowd in the harbour his face suddenly assumed
another expression, and he added softly:
"Oh, it's my godfather."
At the very edge of the landing-stage stood Yakov Tarasovich,
squeezed between two stout women, with his iron-like face lifted
upward, and he waved his cap in the air with malicious
politeness. His beard shook, his bald crown flashed, and his
small eye pierced Foma like borers.
"What a vulture!" muttered Foma, raising his cap and nodding his
head to his godfather.
His bow evidently afforded great pleasure to Mayakin. The old man
somehow coiled himself up, stamped his feet, and his face seemed
beaming with a malicious smile.
"The little boy will get money for nuts, it seems!" Sasha teased
Foma. Her words together with his godfather's smile seemed to
have kindled a fire in Foma's breast.
"We shall see what is going to happen," hissed Foma, and suddenly
he became as petrified in malicious calm. The steamer made fast,
and the people rushed in a wave to the landing-place. Pressed by
the crowd, Mayakin disappeared for awhile from the sight of his
godson and appeared again with a maliciously triumphant smile.
Foma stared at him fixedly, with knitted brow, and came toward
him slowly pacing the gang planks. They jostled him in the back,
they leaned on him, they squeezed him, and this provoked Foma
still more. Now he came face to face with the old man, and the
latter greeted him with a polite bow, and asked:
"Whither are you travelling, Foma Ignatyich?"
"About my affairs," replied Foma, firmly, without greeting his
"That's praiseworthy, my dear sir!" said Yakov Tarasovich, all
beaming with a smile. "The lady with the feathers--what is she to
you, may I ask?"
"She's my mistress," said Foma, loud, without lowering his eyes
at the keen look of his godfather.
Sasha stood behind him calmly examining over his shoulder the
little old man, whose head hardly reached Foma's chin. Attracted
by Foma's loud words, the public looked at them, scenting a
scandal. And Mayakin, too, perceived immediately the possibility
of a scandal and instantly estimated correctly the quarrelsome
mood of his godson. He contracted his wrinkles, bit his lips, and
said to Foma, peaceably:
"I have something to speak to you about. Will you come with me to
"Yes; for a little while."
"You have no time, then? It's a plain thing, you must be making
haste to wreck another barge, eh?" said the old man, unable to
contain himself any longer.
"And why not wreck them, since they can be wrecked?" retorted
Foma, passionately and firmly.
"Of course, you did not earn them yourself; why should you spare
them? Well, come. And couldn't we drown that lady in the water
for awhile?" said Mayakin, softly.
"Drive to the town, Sasha, and engage a room at the Siberian Inn.
I'll be there shortly!" said Foma and turning to Mayakin, he
"I am ready! Let us go!"
Neither of them spoke on their way to the hotel. Foma, seeing
that his godfather had to skip as he went in order to keep up
with him, purposely took longer strides, and the fact that the
old man could not keep step with him supported and strengthened
in him the turbulent feeling of protest which he was by this time
scarcely able to master.
"Waiter!" said Mayakin, gently, on entering the hall of the
hotel, and turning toward a remote corner, "let us have a bottle
of moorberry kvass."
"And I want some cognac," ordered Foma.
"So-o! When you have poor cards you had better always play the
lowest trump first!" Mayakin advised him sarcastically.
"You don't know my game!" said Foma, seating himself by the
"Really? Come, come! Many play like that."
"I mean as you do--boldly, but foolishly."
"I play so that either the head is smashed to pieces, or the wall
broken in half," said Foma, hotly, and struck the table with his
"Haven't you recovered from your drunkenness yet?" asked Mayakin
with a smile.
Foma seated himself more firmly in his chair, and, his face
distorted with wrathful agitation, he said:
"Godfather, you are a sensible man. I respect you for your common
"Thank you, my son!" and Mayakin bowed, rising slightly, and
leaning his hands against the table.
"Don't mention it. I want to tell you that I am no longer twenty.
I am not a child any longer."
"Of course not!" assented Mayakin. "You've lived a good while,
that goes without saying! If a mosquito had lived as long it
might have grown as big as a hen."
"Stop your joking!" Foma warned him, and he did it so calmly that
Mayakin started back, and the wrinkles on his face quivered with
"What did you come here for?" asked Foma.
"Ah! you've done some nasty work here. So I want to find out