Part 6 out of 9
whether there's much damage in it! You see, I am a relative of
yours. And then, I am the only one you have."
"You are troubling yourself in vain. Do you know, papa, what I'll
tell you? Either give me full freedom, or take all my business
into your own hands. Take everything! Everything--to the last
This proposition burst forth from Foma altogether unexpectedly to
himself; he had never before thought of anything like it. But now
that he uttered such words to his godfather it suddenly became
clear to him that if his godfather were to take from him all his
property he would become a perfectly free man, he could go
wherever he pleased, do whatever he pleased. Until this moment he
had been bound and enmeshed with something, but he knew not his
fetters and was unable to break them, while now they were falling
off of themselves so simply, so easily. Both an alarming and a
joyous hope blazed up within his breast, as though he noticed
that suddenly light had begun to flash upon his turbid life, that
a wide, spacious road lay open now before him. Certain images
sprang up in his mind, and, watching their shiftings, he muttered
"Here, this is better than anything! Take everything, and be done
with it! And--as for me--I shall be free to go anywhere in the
wide world! I cannot live like this. I feel as though weights
were hanging on me, as though I were all bound. There--I must not
go, this I must not do. I want to live in freedom, that I may
know everything myself. I shall search life for myself. For,
otherwise, what am I? A prisoner! Be kind, take everything. The
devil take it all! Give me freedom, pray! What kind of a merchant
am I? I do not like anything. And so--I would forsake men--
everything. I would find a place for myself, I would find some
kind of work, and would work. By God! Father! set me at liberty!
For now, you see, I am drinking. I'm entangled with that woman."
Mayakin looked at him, listened attentively to his words, and his
face was stern, immobile as though petrified. A dull, tavern
noise smote the air, some people went past them, they greeted
Mayakin, but he saw nothing, staring fixedly at the agitated face
of his godson, who smiled distractedly, both joyously and
"Eh, my sour blackberry!" said Mayakin, with a sigh, interrupting
Foma's speech. "I see you've lost your way. And you're prating
nonsense. I would like to know whether the cognac is to blame for
it, or is it your foolishness?"
"Papa!" exclaimed Foma, "this can surely be done. There were
cases where people have cast away all their possessions and thus
"That wasn't in my time. Not people that are near to me!" said
Mayakin, sternly, "or else I would have shown them how to go
"Many have become saints when they went away."
"Mm! They couldn't have gone away from me! The matter is simple--
you know how to play at draughts, don't you? Move from one place
to another until you are beaten, and if you're not beaten then
you have the queen. Then all ways are open to you. Do you
understand? And why am I talking to you seriously? Psha!"
"Papa! why don't you want it?" exclaimed Foma, angrily.
"Listen to me! If you are a chimney-sweep, go, carrion, on the
roof! If you are a fireman, stand on the watch-tower! And each
and every sort of men must have its own mode of life. Calves
cannot roar like bears! If you live your own life; go on, live
it! And don't talk nonsense, and don't creep where you don't
belong. Arrange your life after your pattern." And from the dark
lips of the old man gushed forth in a trembling, glittering
stream the jarring, but confident and bold words so familiar to
Foma. Seized with the thought of freedom, which seemed to him so
easily possible, Foma did not listen to his words. This idea had
eaten into his brains, and in his heart the desire grew stronger
and stronger to sever all his connections with this empty and
wearisome life, with his godfather, with the steamers, the barges
and the carouses, with everything amidst which it was narrow and
stifling for him to live.
The old man's words seemed to fall on him from afar; they were
blended with the clatter of the dishes, with the scraping of the
lackey's feet along the floor, with some one's drunken shouting.
Not far from them sat four merchants at a table and argued
"Two and a quarter--and thank God!"
"Luka Mitrich! How can I?"
"Give him two and a half!"
"That's right! You ought to give it, it's a good steamer, it tows
"My dear fellows, I can't. Two and a quarter!"
"And all this nonsense came to your head from your youthful
passion!" said Mayakin, importantly, accompanying his words with
a rap on the table. "Your boldness is stupidity; all these words
of yours are nonsense. Would you perhaps go to the cloister? or
have you perhaps a longing to go on the highways?"
Foma listened in silence. The buzzing noise about him now seemed
to move farther away from him. He pictured himself amid a vast
restless crowd of people; without knowing why they bustled about
hither and thither, jumped on one another; their eyes were
greedily opened wide; they were shouting, cursing, falling,
crushing one another, and they were all jostling about on one
place. He felt bad among them because he did not understand what
they wanted, because he had no faith in their words, and he felt
that they had no faith in themselves, that they understood
nothing. And if one were to tear himself away from their midst to
freedom, to the edge of life, and thence behold them--then all
would become clear to him. Then he would also understand what
they wanted, and would find his own place among them.
"Don't I understand," said Mayakin, more gently, seeing Foma lost
in thought, and assuming that he was reflecting on his words--"I
understand that you want happiness for yourself. Well, my
friend, it is not to be easily seized. You must seek happiness
even as they search for mushrooms in the wood, you must bend your
back in search of it, and finding it, see whether it isn't a
"So you will set me free?" asked Foma, suddenly lifting his head,
and Mayakin turned his eyes away from his fiery look.
"Father! at least for a short time! Let me breathe, let me step
aside from everything!" entreated Foma. "I will watch how
everything goes on. And then--if not--I shall become a drunkard."
"Don't talk nonsense. Why do you play the fool?" cried Mayakin,
"Very well, then!" replied Foma, calmly. "Very well! You do not
want it? Then there will be nothing! I'll squander it all! And
there is nothing more for us to speak of. Goodbye! I'll set out
to work, you'll see! It will afford you joy. Everything will go
up in smoke!" Foma was calm, he spoke with confidence; it seemed
to him that since he had thus decided, his godfather could not
hinder him. But Mayakin straightened himself in his chair and
said, also plainly and calmly:
"And do you know how I can deal with you?"
"As you like!" said Foma, with a wave of the hand. "Well then.
Now I like the following: I'll return to town and will see to it
that you are declared insane, and put into a lunatic asylum."
"Can this be done?" asked Foma, distrustfully, but with a tone of
fright in his voice.
"We can do everything, my dear."
Foma lowered his head, and casting a furtive glance at his
godfather's face, shuddered, thinking:
"He'll do it; he won't spare me."
"If you play the fool seriously I must also deal with you
seriously. I promised your father to make a man of you, and I
will do it; if you cannot stand on your feet, I'll put you in
irons. Then you will stand. Though I know all these holy words of
yours are but ugly caprices that come from excessive drinking.
But if you do not give that up, if you keep on behaving
indecently, if you ruin, out of wantonness, the property
accumulated by your father, I'll cover you all up. I'll have a
bell forged over you. It is very inconvenient to fool with me."
Mayakin spoke gently. The wrinkles of his cheeks all rose upward,
and his small eyes in their dark sockets were smiling
sarcastically, coldly. And the wrinkles on his forehead formed an
odd pattern, rising up to his bald crown. His face was stern and
merciless, and breathed melancholy and coldness upon Foma's soul.
"So there's no way out for me?" asked Foma, gloomily. "You are
blocking all my ways?"
"There is a way. Go there! I shall guide you. Don't worry, it
will be right! You will come just to your proper place."
This self-confidence, this unshakable boastfulness aroused Foma's
indignation. Thrusting his hands into his pockets in order not to
strike the old man, he straightened himself in his chair and
clinching his teeth, said, facing Mayakin closely:
"Why are you boasting? What are you boasting of? Your own son,
where is he? Your daughter, what is she? Eh, you--you life-
builder! Well, you are clever. You know everything. Tell me, what
for do you live? What for are you accumulating money? Do you
think you are not going to die? Well, what then? You've captured
me. You've taken hold of me, you've conquered me. But wait, I may
yet tear myself away from you! It isn't the end yet! Eh, you!
What have you done for life? By what will you be remembered? My
father, for instance, donated a lodging-house, and you--what have
Mayakin's wrinkles quivered and sank downward, wherefore his face
assumed a sickly, weeping expression.
"How will you justify yourself?" asked Foma, softly, without
lifting his eyes from him.
"Hold your tongue, you puppy!" said the old man in a low voice,
casting a glance of alarm about the room.
"I've said everything! And now I'm going! Hold me back!"
Foma rose from his chair, thrust his cap on his head, and
measured the old man with abhorrence.
"You may go; but I'll--I'll catch you! It will come out as I
say!" said Yakov Tarasovich in a broken voice.
"And I'll go on a spree! I'll squander all!"
"Very well, we'll see!"
"Goodbye! you hero," Foma laughed.
"Goodbye, for a short while! I'll not go back on my own. I love
it. I love you, too. Never mind, you're a good fellow!" said
Mayakin, softly, and as though out of breath.
"Do not love me, but teach me. But then, you cannot teach me the
right thing!" said Foma, as he turned his back on the old man and
left the hall.
Yakov Tarasovich Mayakin remained in the tavern alone. He sat by
the table, and, bending over it, made drawings of patterns on the
tray, dipping his trembling finger in the spilt kvass, and his
sharp-pointed head was sinking lower and lower over the table, as
though he did not decipher, and could not make out what his bony
finger was drawing on the tray.
Beads of perspiration glistened on his bald crown, and as usual
the wrinkles on his cheeks quivered with frequent, irritable
In the tavern a resounding tumult smote the air so that the
window-panes were rattling. From the Volga were wafted the
whistlings of steamers, the dull beating of the wheels upon the
water, the shouting of the loaders--life was moving onward
unceasingly and unquestionably.
Summoning the waiter with a nod Yakov Tarasovich asked him with
peculiar intensity and impressiveness
"How much do I owe for all this?"
PREVIOUS to his quarrel with Mayakin, Foma had caroused because
of the weariness of life, out of curiosity, and half
indifferently; now he led a dissipated life out of spite, almost
in despair; now he was filled with a feeling of vengeance and
with a certain insolence toward men, an insolence which
astonished even himself at times. He saw that the people about
him, like himself, lacked support and reason, only they did not
understand this, or purposely would not understand it, so as not
to hinder themselves from living blindly, and from giving
themselves completely, without a thought, to their dissolute
life. He found nothing firm in them, nothing steadfast; when
sober, they seemed to him miserable and stupid; when intoxicated,
they were repulsive to him, and still more stupid. None of them
inspired him with respect, with deep, hearty interest; he did not
even ask them what their names were; he forgot where and when he
made their acquaintance, and regarding them with contemptuous
curiosity, always longed to say and do something that would
offend them. He passed days and nights with them in different
places of amusement, and his acquaintances always depended just
upon the category of each of these places. In the expensive and
elegant restaurants certain sharpers of the better class of
society surrounded him--gamblers, couplet singers, jugglers,
actors, and property-holders who were ruined by leading depraved
lives. At first these people treated him with a patronizing air,
and boasted before him of their refined tastes, of their
knowledge of the merits of wine and food, and then they courted
favours of him, fawned upon him, borrowed of him money which he
scattered about without counting, drawing it from the banks, and
already borrowing it on promissory notes. In the cheap taverns
hair-dressers, markers, clerks, functionaries and choristers
surrounded him like vultures; and among these people he always
felt better--freer. In these he saw plain people, not so
monstrously deformed and distorted as that "clean society" of the
elegant restaurants; these were less depraved, cleverer, better
understood by him. At times they evinced wholesome, strong
emotions, and there was always something more human in them. But,
like the "clean society," these were also eager for money, and
shamelessly fleeced him, and he saw it and rudely mocked them.
To be sure, there were women. Physically healthy, but not
sensual, Foma bought them, the dear ones and the cheap ones, the
beautiful and the ugly, gave them large sums of money, changed
them almost every week, and in general, he treated the women
better than the men. He laughed at them, said to them disgraceful
and offensive words, but he could never, even when half-drunk,
rid himself of a certain bashfulness in their presence. They all,
even the most brazen-faced, the strongest and the most shameless,
seemed to him weak and defenseless, like small children. Always
ready to thrash any man, he never laid a hand on women, although
when irritated by something he sometimes abused them indecently.
He felt that he was immeasurably stronger than any woman, and
every woman seemed to him immeasurably more miserable than he
was. Those of the women who led their dissolute lives
audaciously, boasting of their depravity, called forth in Foma a
feeling of bashfulness, which made him timid and awkward. One
evening, during supper hour, one of these women, intoxicated and
impudent, struck Foma on the cheek with a melon-rind. Foma was
half-drunk. He turned pale with rage, rose from his chair, and
thrusting his hands into his pockets, said in a fierce voice
which trembled with indignation:
"You carrion, get out. Begone! Someone else would have broken
your head for this. And you know that I am forbearing with you,
and that my arm is never raised against any of your kind. Drive
her away to the devil!"
A few days after her arrival in Kazan, Sasha became the mistress
of a certain vodka-distiller's son, who was carousing together
with Foma. Going away with her new master to some place on the
Kama, she said to Foma:
"Goodbye, dear man! Perhaps we may meet again. We're both going
the same way! But I advise you not to give your heart free rein.
Enjoy yourself without looking back at anything. And then, when
the gruel is eaten up, smash the bowl on the ground. Goodbye!"
And she impressed a hot kiss upon his lips, at which her eyes
looked still darker.
Foma was glad that she was leaving him, he had grown tired of her
and her cold indifference frightened him. But now something
trembled within him, he turned aside from her and said in a low
"Perhaps you will not live well together, then come back to me."
"Thank you!" she replied, and for some reason or other burst into
hoarse laughter, which was uncommon with her.
Thus lived Foma, day in and day out, always turning around on one
and the same place, amid people who were always alike, and who
never inspired him with any noble feelings. And then he
considered himself superior to them, because the thoughts of the
possibility of freeing himself from this life was taking deeper
and deeper root in his mind, because the yearning for freedom
held him in an ever firmer embrace, because ever brighter were
the pictures as he imagined himself drifting away to the border
of life, away from this tumult and confusion. More than once, by
night, remaining all by himself, he would firmly close his eyes
and picture to himself a dark throng of people, innumerably great
and even terrible in its immenseness. Crowded together somewhere
in a deep valley, which was surrounded by hillocks, and filled
with a dusty mist, this throng jostled one another on the same
place in noisy confusion, and looked like grain in a hopper. It
was as though an invisible millstone, hidden beneath the feet of
the crowd, were grinding it, and people moved about it like
waves-- now rushing downward to be ground the sooner and
disappear, now bursting upward in the effort to escape the
merciless millstone. There were also people who resembled crabs
just caught and thrown into a huge basket--clutching at one
another, they twined about heavily, crawled somewhere and
interfered with one another, and could do nothing to free
themselves from captivity.
Foma saw familiar faces amid the crowd: there his father is
walking boldly, sturdily pushing aside and overthrowing everybody
on his way; he is working with his long paws, massing everything
with his chest, and laughing in thundering tones. And then he
disappears, sinking somewhere in the depth, beneath the feet of
the people. There, wriggling like a snake, now jumping on
people's shoulders, now gliding between their feet, his godfather
is working with his lean, but supple and sinewy body. Here Lubov
is crying and struggling, following her father, with abrupt but
faint movements, now remaining behind him, now nearing him again.
Striding softly with a kind smile on her face, stepping aside
from everybody, and making way for everyone, Aunt Anfisa is
slowly moving along. Her image quivers in the darkness before
Foma, like the modest flame of a wax candle. And it dies out and
disappears in the darkness. Pelagaya is quickly going somewhere
along a straight road. There Sophya Pavlovna Medinskaya is
standing, her hands hanging impotently, just as she stood in her
drawing-room when he saw her last. Her eyes were large, but some
great fright gleams in them. Sasha, too, is here. Indifferent,
paying no attention to the jostling, she is stoutly going
straight into the very dregs of life, singing her songs at the
top of her voice, her dark eyes fixed in the distance before her.
Foma hears tumult, howls, laughter, drunken shouts, irritable
disputes about copecks--songs and sobs hover over this enormous
restless heap of living human bodies crowded into a pit. They
jump, fall, crawl, crush one another, leap on one another's
shoulders, grope everywhere like blind people, stumbling
everywhere over others like themselves, struggle, and, falling,
disappear from sight. Money rustles, soaring like bats over the
heads of the people, and the people greedily stretch out their
hands toward it, the gold and silver jingles, bottles rattle,
corks pop, someone sobs, and a melancholy female voice sings:
"And so let us live while we can,
And then--e'en grass may cease to grow!"
This wild picture fastened itself firmly in Foma's mind, and
growing clearer, larger and more vivid with each time it arose
before him, rousing in his breast something chaotic, one great
indefinite feeling into which fell, like streams into a river,
fear and revolt and compassion and wrath and many another thing.
All this boiled up within his breast into strained desire, which
was thrusting it asunder into a desire whose power was choking
him, and his eyes were filled with tears; he longed to shout, to
howl like a beast, to frighten all the people, to check their
senseless bustle, to pour into the tumult and vanity of their
life something new, his own-- to tell them certain loud firm
words, to guide them all into one direction, and not one against
another. He desired to seize them by their heads, to tear them
apart one from another, to thrash some, to fondle others, to
reproach them all, to illumine them with a certain fire.
There was nothing in him, neither the necessary words, nor the
fire; all he had was the longing which was clear to him, but
impossible of fulfillment. He pictured himself above life outside
of the deep valley, wherein people were bustling about; he saw
himself standing firmly on his feet and--speechless. He might
have cried to the people:
"See how you live! Aren't you ashamed?"
And he might have abused them. But if they were to ask on hearing
"And how ought we to live?"
It was perfectly clear to him that after such a question he would
have to fly down head foremost from the heights there, beneath
the feet of the throng, upon the millstone. And laughter would
accompany him to his destruction.
Sometimes he was delirious under the pressure of this nightmare.
Certain meaningless and unconnected words burst from his lips; he
even perspired from this painful struggle within him. At times it
occurred to him that he was going mad from intoxication, and that
that was the reason why this terrible and gloomy picture was
forcing itself into his mind. With a great effort of will he
brushed aside these pictures and excitements; but as soon as he
was alone and not very drunk, he was again seized by his delirium
and again grew faint under its weight. And his thirst for freedom
was growing more and more intense, torturing him by its force.
But tear himself away from the shackles of his wealth he could
not. Mayakin, who had Foma's full power of attorney to manage his
affairs, acted now in such a way that Foma was bound to feel
almost every day the burden of the obligations which rested upon
him. People were constantly applying to him for payments,
proposing to him terms for the transportation of freight. His
employees overwhelmed him in person and by letter with trifles
with which he had never before concerned himself, as they used to
settle these trifles at their own risk. They looked for him and
found him in the taverns, questioned him as to what and how it
should be done; he would tell them sometimes without at all
understanding in what way this or that should be done. He noticed
their concealed contempt for him, and almost always saw that they
did not do the work as he had ordered, but did it in a different
and better way. In this he felt the clever hand of his godfather,
and understood that the old man was thus pressing him in order to
turn him to his way. And at the same time he noticed that he was
not the master of his business, but only a component part of it,
and an insignificant part at that. This irritated him and moved
him farther away from the old man, it augumented his longing to
tear himself away from his business, even at the cost of his own
ruin. Infuriated, he flung money about the taverns and dives, but
this did not last long. Yakov Tarasovich closed his accounts in
the banks, withdrawing all deposits. Soon Foma began to feel that
even on promissory notes, they now gave him the money not quite
as willingly as before. This stung his vanity; and his
indignation was roused, and he was frightened when he learned
that his godfather had circulated a rumour in the business world
that he, Foma, was out of his mind, and that, perhaps, it might
become necessary to appoint a guardian for him. Foma did not know
the limits of his godfather's power, and did not venture to take
anyone's counsel in this matter. He was convinced that in the
business world the old man was a power, and that he could do
anything he pleased. At first it was painful for him to feel
Mayakin's hand over him, but later he became reconciled to this,
renounced everything, and resumed his restless, drunken life,
wherein there was only one consolation--the people. With each
succeeding day he became more and more convinced that they were
more irrational and altogether worse than he--that they were not
the masters of life, but its slaves, and that it was turning them
around, bending and breaking them at its will, while they
succumbed to it unfeelingly and resignedly, and none of them but
he desired freedom. But he wanted it, and therefore proudly
elevated himself above his drinking companions, not desiring to
see in them anything but wrong.
One day in a tavern a certain half-intoxicated man complained to
him of his life. This was a small-sized, meagre man, with dim,
frightened eyes, unshaven, in a short frock coat, and with a
bright necktie. He blinked pitifully, his ears quivered
spasmodically, and his soft little voice also trembled.
"I've struggled hard to make my way among men; I've tried
everything, I've worked like a bull. But life jostled me aside,
crushed me under foot, gave me no chance. All my patience gave
way. Eh! and so I've taken to drink. I feel that I'll be ruined.
Well, that's the only way open to me!"
"Fool!" said Foma with contempt. "Why did you want to make your
way among men? You should have kept away from them, to the right.
Standing aside, you might have seen where your place was among
them, and then gone right to the point!"
"I don't understand your words." The little man shook his close-
cropped, angular head.
Foma laughed, self-satisfied.
"Is it for you to understand it?""No; do you know, I think that
he whom God decreed--"
"Not God, but man arranges life!" Foma blurted out, and was even
himself astonished at the audacity of his words. And the little
man glancing at him askance also shrank timidly.
"Has God given you reason?" asked Foma, recovering from his
"Of course; that is to say, as much as is the share of a small
man," said Foma's interlocutor irresolutely.
"Well, and you have no right to ask of Him a single grain more!
Make your own life by your own reason. And God will judge you. We
are all in His service. And in His eyes we are all of equal
It happened very often that Foma would suddenly say something
which seemed audacious even to himself, and which, at the same
time, elevated him in his own eyes. There were certain
unexpected, daring thoughts and words, which suddenly flashed
like sparks, as though an impression produced them from Foma's
brains. And he noticed more than once that whatever he had
carefully thought out beforehand was expressed by him not quite
so well, and more obscure, than that which suddenly flashed up in
Foma lived as though walking in a swamp, in danger of sinking at
each step in the mire and slime, while his godfather, like a
river loach, wriggled himself on a dry, firm little spot,
vigilantly watching the life of his godson from afar.
After his quarrel with Foma, Yakov Tarasovich returned home,
gloomy and pensive. His eyes flashed drily, and he straightened
himself like a tightly-stretched string. His wrinkles shrank
painfully, his face seemed to have become smaller and darker, and
when Lubov saw him in this state it appeared to her that he was
seriously ill, but that he was forcing and restraining himself.
Mutely and nervously the old man flung himself about the room,
casting in reply to his daughter's questions, dry curt words, and
finally shouted to her:
"Leave me alone! You see it has nothing to do with you."
She felt sorry for him when she noticed the gloomy and melancholy
expression of his keen, green eyes; she made it her duty to
question him as to what had happened to him, and when he seated
himself at the dinner-table she suddenly approached him, placed
her hands on his shoulders, and looking down into his face, asked
him tenderly and anxiously:
"Papa, are you ill? tell me!"
Her caresses were extremely rare; they always softened the lonely
old man, and though he did not respond to them for some reason or
other he nevertheless could not help appreciating them. And now
he shrugged his shoulders, thus throwing off her hands and said:
"Go, go to your place. How the itching curiosity of Eve gives you
But Lubov did not go away; persistingly looking into his eyes,
she asked, with an offended tone in her voice:
"Papa, why do you always speak to me in such a way as though I
were a small child, or very stupid?"
"Because you are grown up and yet not very clever. Yes! That's
the whole story! Go, sit down and eat!"
She walked away and silently seated herself opposite her father,
compressing her lips for affront. Contrary to his habits Mayakin
ate slowly, stirring his spoon in his plate of cabbage-soup for a
long time, and examining the soup closely.
"If your obstructed mind could but comprehend your father's
thoughts!" said he, suddenly, as he sighed with a sort of
Lubov threw her spoon aside and almost with tears in her voice,
"Why do you insult me, papa? You see that I am alone, always
alone! You understand how difficult my life is, and you never say
a single kind word to me. You never say anything to me! And you
are also lonely; life is difficult for you too, I can see it. You
find it very hard to live, but you alone are to blame for it! You
"Now Balaam's she-ass has also started to talk!" said the old
man, laughing. "Well! what will be next?"
"You are very proud of your wisdom, papa."
"And what else?"
"That isn't good; and it pains me greatly. Why do you repulse me?
You know that, save you, I have no one."
Tears leaped to her eyes; her father noticed them, and his face
"If you were not a girl!" he exclaimed. "If you had as much
brains as Marfa Poosadnitza, for instance. Eh, Lubov? Then I'd
laugh at everybody, and at Foma. Come now, don't cry!"
She wiped her eyes and asked:
"What about Foma?"
"He's rebellious. Ha! ha! he says: 'Take away my property, give
me freedom!' He wants to save his soul in the kabak. That's what
entered Foma's head."
"Well, what is this?" asked Lubov, irresolutely. She wanted to
say that Foma's desire was good, that it was a noble desire if it
were earnest, but she feared to irritate her father with her
words, and she only gazed at him questioningly.
"What is it?" said Mayakin, excitedly, trembling. "That either
comes to him from excessive drinking, or else--Heaven forbid--
from his mother, the orthodox spirit. And if this heathenish
leaven is going to rise in him I'll have to struggle hard with
him! There will be a great conflict between us. He has come out,
breast foremost, against me; he has at once displayed great
audacity. He's young-- there's not much cunning in him as yet. He
says: 'I'll drink away everything, everything will go up in
smoke! I'll show you how to drink!
Mayakin lifted his hand over his head, and, clenching his fist,
"How dare you? Who established the business? Who built it up?
You? Your father. Forty years of labour were put into it, and you
wish to destroy it? We must all go to our places here all
together as one man, there cautiously, one by one. We merchants,
tradesmen, have for centuries carried Russia on our shoulders,
and we are still carrying it. Peter the Great was a Czar of
divine wisdom, he knew our value. How he supported us! He had
printed books for the express purpose of teaching us business.
There I have a book which was printed at his order by Polidor
Virgily Oorbansky, about inventory, printed in 1720. Yes, one
must understand this. He understood it, and cleared the way for
us. And now we stand on our own feet, and we feel our place.
Clear the way for us! We have laid the foundation of life,
instead of bricks we have laid ourselves in the earth. Now we
must build the stories. Give us freedom of action! That's where
we must hold our course. That's where the problem lies; but Foma
does not comprehend this. But he must understand it, must resume
the work. He has his father's means. When I die mine will be
added to his. Work, you puppy! And he is raving. No, wait! I'll
lift you up to the proper point!"
The old man was choking with agitation and with flashing eyes
looked at his daughter so furiously as though Foma were sitting
in her place. His agitation frightened Lubov, but she lacked the
courage to interrupt her father, and she looked at his stern and
gloomy face in silence.
"The road has been paved by our fathers, and you must walk on it.
I have worked for fifty years to what purpose? That my children
may resume it after I am gone. My children! Where are my
The old man drooped his head mournfully, his voice broke down,
and he said sadly, as if he were speaking unto himself:
"One is a convict, utterly ruined; the other, a drunkard. I have
little hope in him. My daughter, to whom, then, shall I leave my
labour before my death? If I had but a son-in-law. I thought Foma
would become a man and would be sharpened up, then I would give
you unto him, and with you all I have--there! But Foma is good
for nothing, and I see no one else in his stead. What sort of
people we have now! In former days the people were as of iron,
while now they are of india-rubber. They are all bending now. And
nothing--they have no firmness in them. What is it? Why is it
Mayakin looked at his daughter with alarm. She was silent.
"Tell me," he asked her, "what do you need? How, in your opinion,
is it proper to live? What do you want? You have studied, read,
tell me what is it that you need?"
The questions fell on Lubov's head quite unexpectedly to her, and
she was embarrassed. She was pleased that her father asked her
about this matter, and was at the same time afraid to reply, lest
she should be lowered in his estimation. And then, gathering
courage, as though preparing to jump across the table, she said
irresolutely and in a trembling voice:
"That all the people should be happy and contented; that all the
people should be equal, all the people have an equal right to
life, to the bliss of life, all must have freedom, even as they
have air. And equality ineverything!"
At the beginning of her agitated speech her father looked at her
face with anxious curiosity in his eyes, but as she went on
hastily hurling her words at him his eyes assumed an altogether
different expression, and finally he said to her with calm
"I knew it before--you are a gilded fool!"
She lowered her head, but immediately raised it and exclaimed
"You have said so yourself--freedom."
"You had better hold your tongue!" the old man shouted at her
rudely. "You cannot see even that which is visibly forced outside
of each man. How can all the people be happy and equal, since
each one wants to be above the other? Even the beggar has his
pride and always boasts of something or other before other
people. A small child, even he wants to be first among his
playmates. And one man will never yield to another; only fools
believe in it. Each man has his own soul, and his own face; only
those who love not their souls and care not for their faces can
be planed down to the same size. Eh, you! You've read much trash,
and you've devoured it!"
Bitter reproach and biting contempt were expressed on the old
man's face. He noisily pushed his chair away from the table,
jumped up, and folding his hands behind his back, began to dart
about in the room with short steps, shaking his head and saying
something to himself in an angry, hissing whisper. Lubov, pale
with emotion and anger, feeling herself stupid and powerless
before him, listening to his whisper, and her heart palpitated
"I am left alone, alone, like Job. 0h Lord! What shall I do? Oh,
alone! Am I not wise? Am I not clever? But life has outwitted me
also. What does it love? Whom does it fondle? It beats the good,
and suffers not the bad to go unpunished, and no one understands
The girl began to feel painfully sorry for the old man; she was
seized with an intense yearning to help him; she longed to be of
use to him.
Following him with burning eyes, she suddenly said in a low
"Papa, dear! do not grieve. Taras is still alive. Perhaps he--"
Mayakin stopped suddenly as though nailed to the spot, and he
slowly lifted his head.
"The tree that grew crooked in its youth and could not hold out
will certainly break when it's old. But nevertheless, even Taras
is a straw to me now. Though I doubt whether he is better than
Foma. Gordyeeff has a character, he has his father's daring. He
can take a great deal on himself. But Taraska, you recalled him
just in time. Yes!"
And the old man, who a moment ago had lost his courage to the
point of complaining, and, grief-stricken had run about the room
like a mouse in a trap, now calmly and firmly walked up with a
careworn face to the table, carefully adjusted his chair, and
seated himself, saying:
"We'll have to sound Taraska. He lives in Usolye at some factory.
I was told by some merchants--they're making soda there, I
believe. I'll find out the particulars. I'll write to him."
"Allow me to write to him, papa!" begged Lubov, softly, flushing,
trembling with joy.
"You?" asked Mayakin, casting a brief glance at her; he then
became silent, thought awhile and said:
"That's all right. That's even better! Write to him. Ask him
whether he isn't married, how he lives, what he thinks. But then
I'll tell you what to write when the time has come."
"Do it at once, papa," said the girl.
"It is necessary to marry you off the sooner. I am keeping an eye
on a certain red-haired fellow. He doesn't seem to be stupid.
He's been polished abroad, by the way.
"Is it Smolin, papa?" asked Lubov, inquisitively and anxiously.
"And supposing it is he, what of it?" inquired Yakov Tarasovich
in a business-like tone.
"Nothing, I don't know him," replied Lubov, indefinitely.
"We'll make you acquainted. It's time, Lubov, it's time. Our
hopes for Foma are poor, although I do not give him up."
"I did not reckon on Foma--what is he to me?"
"That's wrong. If you had been cleverer perhaps he wouldn't have
gone astray! Whenever I used to see you together, I thought: 'My
girl will attract the fellow to herself! That will be a fine
affair!' But I was wrong. I thought that you would know what is
to your advantage without being told of it. That's the way, my
girl!" said the father, instructively.
She became thoughtful as she listened to his impressive speech.
Robust and strong, Lubov was thinking of marriage more and more
frequently of late, for she saw no other way out of her
loneliness. The desire to forsake her father and go away
somewhere in order to study something, to do something. This
desire she had long since overcome, even as she conquered in
herself many another longing just as keen, but shallow and
indefinite. From the various books she had read a thick sediment
remained within her, and though it was something live it had the
life of a protoplasm. This sediment developed in the girl a
feeling of dis-satisfaction with her life, a yearning toward
personal independence, a longing to be freed from the heavy
guardianship of her father, but she had neither the power to
realize these desires, nor the clear conception of their
realization. But nature had its influence on her, and at the
sight of young mothers with children in their arms Lubov often
felt a sad and mournful languor within her. At times stopping
before the mirror she sadly scrutinized in it her plump, fresh
face with dark circles around her eyes, and she felt sorry for
herself. She felt that life was going past her, forgetting her
somewhere on the side. Now listening to her father's words she
pictured to herself what sort of man Smolin might be. She had met
him when he was yet a Gymnasium student, his face was covered
with freckles, he was snub-nosed, always clean, sedate and
tiresome. He danced heavily, awkwardly, he talked
uninterestingly. A long time had passed since then, he had been
abroad, had studied something there, how was he now? From Smolin
her thoughts darted to her brother, and with a sinking heart she
thought: what would he say in reply to her letter? What sort of a
man was he? The image of her brother as she had pictured it to
herself prevented her from seeing both her father and Smolin, and
she had already made up her mind not to consent to marry before
meeting Taras, when suddenly her father shouted to her:
"Eh, Lubovka! Why are you thoughtful? What are you thinking of
"So, everything goes so swiftly," replied Luba, with a smile.
"What goes swiftly?"
"Everything. A week ago it was impossible to speak with you about
Taras, while now--"
"'Tis need, my girl! Need is a power, it bends a steel rod into a
spring. And steel is stubborn. Taras, we'll see what he is! Man
is to be appreciated by his resistance to the power of life; if
it isn't life that wrings him, but he that wrings life to suit
himself, my respects to that man! Allow me to shake your hand,
let's run our business together. Eh, I am old. And how very brisk
life has become now! With each succeeding year there is more and
more interest in it, more and more relish to it! I wish I could
live forever, I wish I could act all the time!" The old man
smacked his lips, rubbed his hands, and his small eyes gleamed
"But you are a thin-blooded lot! Ere you have grown up you are
already overgrown and withered. You live like an old radish. And
the fact that life is growing fairer and fairer is
incomprehensible to you. I have lived sixty-seven years on this
earth, and though I am now standing close to my grave I can see
that in former years, when I was young, there were fewer flowers
on earth, and the flowers were not quite as beautiful as they are
now. Everything is growing more beautiful! What buildings we have
now! What different trade implements. What huge steamers! A world
of brains has been put into everything! You look and think; what
clever fellows you are-- 0h people! You merit reward and respect!
You've arranged life cleverly. Everything is good, everything is
pleasant. Only you, our successors, you are devoid of all live
feelings! Any little charlatan from among the commoners is
cleverer than you! Take that Yozhov, for instance, what is he?
And yet he represents himself as judge over us, and even over
life itself--he has courage. But you, pshaw! You live like
beggars! In your joy you are beasts, in your misfortune vermin!
You are rotten! They ought to inject fire into your veins, they
ought to take your skin off and strew salt upon your raw flesh,
then you would have jumped!"
Yakov Tarasovich, small-sized, wrinkled and bony, with black,
broken teeth in his mouth, bald-headed and dark, as though burned
by the heat of life and smoked in it, trembled in vehement
agitation, showering jarring words of contempt upon his daughter,
who was young, well-grown and plump. She looked at him with a
guilty expression in her eyes, smiled confusedly, and in her
heart grew a greater and greater respect for the live old man who
was so steadfast in his desires.
.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And Foma went on straying and raving, passing his days and nights
in taverns and dens, and mastering more and more firmly his
contemptuously-hateful bearing toward the people that surrounded
him. At times they awakened in him a sad yearning to find among
them some sort of resistance to his wicked feeling, to meet a
worthy and courageous man who would cause him to blush with shame
by his burning reproach. This yearning became clearer--each time
it sprang up in him it was a longing for assistance on the part
of a man who felt that he had lost his way and was perishing.
"Brethren!" he cried one day, sitting by the table in a tavern,
half-intoxicated, and surrounded by certain obscure and greedy
people, who ate and drank as though they had not had a piece of
bread in their mouths for many a long day before.
"Brethren! I feel disgusted. I am tired of you! Beat me
unmercifully, drive me away! You are rascals, but you are nearer
to one another than to me. Why? Am I not a drunkard and a rascal
as well? And yet I am a stranger to you! I can see I am a
stranger. You drink out of me and secretly you spit upon me. I
can feel it! Why do you do it?"
To be sure, they could treat him in a different way. In the depth
of his soul perhaps not one of them considered himself lower than
Foma, but he was rich, and this hindered them from treating him
more as a companion, and then he always spoke certain comically
wrathful, conscience-rending words, and this embarrassed them.
Moreover, he was strong and ready to fight, and they dared not
say a word against him. And that was just what he wanted. He
wished more and more intensely that one of these people he
despised would stand up against him, face to face, and would tell
him something strong, which, like a lever, would turn him aside
from the sloping road, whose danger he felt, and whose filth he
saw, being filled with helpless aversion for it.
And Foma found what he needed.
One day, irritated by the lack of attention for him, he cried to
"You boys, keep quiet, every one of you! Who gives you to drink
and to eat? Have you forgotten it? I'll bring you in order! I'll
show you how to respect me! Convicts! When I speak you must all
And, indeed, all became silent; either for fear lest they might
lose his good will, or, perhaps, afraid that he, that healthy and
strong beast, might beat them. They sat in silence about a
minute, concealing their anger at him, bending over the plates
and attempting to hide from him their fright and embarrassment.
Foma measured them with a self-satisfied look, and gratified by
their slavish submissiveness, said boastfully:
"Ah! You've grown dumb now, that's the way! I am strict! I--"
"You sluggard!" came some one's calm, loud exclamation.
"Wha-at?" roared Foma, jumping up from his chair. "Who said
Then a certain, strange, shabby-looking man arose at the end of
the table; he was tall, in a long frock-coat, with a heap of
grayish hair on his large head. His hair was stiff, standing out
in all directions in thick locks, his face was yellow, unshaven,
with a long, crooked nose. To Foma it seemed that he resembled a
swab with which the steamer decks are washed, and this amused the
"How fine!" said he, sarcastically. "What are you snarling at,
eh? Do you know who I am?"
With the gesture of a tragic actor the man stretched out to Foma
his hand, with its long, pliant fingers like those of a juggler,
and he said in a deep hoarse basso:
"You are the rotten disease of your father, who, though he was a
plunderer, was nevertheless a worthy man in comparison with you."
Because of the unexpectedness of this, and because of his wrath,
Foma's heart shrank. He fiercely opened his eyes wide and kept
silent, finding no words to reply to this insolence. And the man,
standing before him, went on hoarsely, with animation, beastlike
rolling his large, but dim and swollen, eyes:
"You demand of us respect for you, you fool! How have you merited
it? Who are you? A drunkard, drinking away the fortune of your
father. You savage! You ought to be proud that I, a renowned
artist, a disinterested and faithful worshipper at the shrine of
art, drink from the same bottle with you! This bottle contains
sandal and molasses, infused with snuff-tobacco, while you think
it is port wine. It is your license for the name of savage and
"Eh, you jailbird!" roared Foma, rushing toward the artist. But
he was seized and held back. Struggling in the arms of those that
seized him, he was compelled to listen without replying, to the
thundering, deep and heavy bass of the man who resembled a swab.
"You have thrown to men a few copecks out of the stolen roubles,
and you consider yourself a hero! You are twice a thief. You have
stolen the roubles and now you are stealing gratitude for your
few copecks! But I shall not give it to you! I, who have devoted
all my life to the condemnation of vice, I stand before you and
say openly: 'You are a fool and a beggar because you are too
rich! Here lies the wisdom: all the rich are beggars.' That's how
the famous coupletist, Rimsky-Kannibalsky, serves Truth!"
Foma was now standing meekly among the people that had closely
surrounded him, and he eagerly listened to the coupletist's
thundering words, which now aroused in him a sensation as though
somebody was scratching a sore spot, and thus soothing the acute
itching of the pain. The people were excited; some attempted to
check the coupletist's flow of eloquence, others wanted to lead
Foma away somewhere. Without saying a word he pushed them aside
and listened, more and more absorbed by the intense pleasure of
humiliation which he felt in the presence of these people. The
pain irritated by the words of the coupletist, caressed Foma's
soul more and more passionately, and the coupletist went on
thundering, intoxicated with the impurity of his accusation:
"You think that you are the master of life? You are the low slave
of the rouble."
Someone in the crowd hiccoughed, and, evidently displeased with
himself for this, cursed each time he hiccoughed:
And a certain, unshaven, fat-faced man took pity on Foma, or,
perhaps, became tired of witnessing that scene, and, waving his
hands, he drawled out plaintively:
"Gentlemen, drop that! It isn't good! For we are all sinners!
Decidedly all, believe me!"
"Well, speak on!" muttered Foma. "Say everything! I won't touch
The mirrors on the walls reflected this drunken confusion, and
the people, as reflected in the mirrors, seemed more disgusting
and hideous than they were in reality.
"I do not want to speak! "exclaimed the coupletist, "I do not
want to cast the pearls of truth and of my wrath before you."
He rushed forward, and raising his head majestically, turned
toward the door with tragic footsteps.
"You lie!" said Foma, attempting to follow him. "Hold on! you
have made me agitated, now calm me."
They seized him, surrounded him and shouted something to him
while he was rushing forward, overturning everybody. When he met
tactile obstacles on his way the struggle with them gave him
ease, uniting all his riotous feelings into one yearning to
overthrow that which hindered him. And now, after he had jostled
them all aside and rushed out into the street, he was already
less agitated. Standing on the sidewalk he looked about the
street and thought with shame:
"How could I permit that swab to mock me and abuse my father as a
It was dark and quiet about him, the moon was shining brightly,
and a light refreshing breeze was blowing. Foma held his face to
the cool breeze as he walked against the wind with rapid strides,
timidly looking about on all sides, and wishing that none of the
company from the tavern would follow him. He understood that he
had lowered himself in the eyes of all these people. As he walked
he thought of what he had come to: a sharper had publicly abused
him in disgraceful terms, while he, the son of a well-known
merchant, had not been able to repay him for his mocking.
"It serves me right!" thought Foma, sadly and bitterly. "That
serves me right! Don't lose your head, understand. And then
again, I wanted it myself. I interfered with everybody, so now,
take your share!" These thoughts made him feel painfully sorry
for himself. Seized and sobered by them he kept on strolling
along the streets, and searching for something strong and firm in
himself. But everything within him was confused; it merely
oppressed his heart, without assuming any definite forms. As in a
painful dream he reached the river, seated himself on the beams
by the shore, and began to look at the calm dark water, which was
covered with tiny ripples. Calmly and almost noiselessly flowed
on the broad, mighty river, carrying enormous weights upon its
bosom. The river was all covered with black vessels, the signal
lights and the stars were reflected in its water; the tiny
ripples, murmuring softly, were gently breaking against the shore
at the very feet of Foma. Sadness was breathed down from the sky,
the feeling of loneliness oppressed Foma.
"0h Lord Jesus Christ!" thought he, sadly gazing at the sky.
"What a failure I am. There is nothing in me. God has put nothing
into me. Of what use am I? Oh Lord Jesus!"
At the recollection of Christ Foma felt somewhat better--his
loneliness seemed alleviated, and heaving a deep sigh, he began
to address God in silence:
"0h Lord Jesus Christ! Other people do not understand anything
either, but they think that all is known to them, and therefore
it is easier for them to live. While I--I have no justification.
Here it is night, and I am alone, I have no place to go, I am
unable to say anything to anybody. I love no one--only my
godfather, and he is soulless. If Thou hadst but punished him
somehow! He thinks there is none cleverer and better on earth
than himself. While Thou sufferest it. And the same with me. If
some misfortune were but sent to me. If some illness were to
overtake me. But here I am as strong as iron. I am drinking,
leading a gay life. I live in filth, but the body does not even
rust, and only my soul aches. Oh Lord! To what purpose is such a
Vague thoughts of protest flashed one after another through the
mind of the lonely, straying man, while the silence about him was
growing deeper, and night ever darker and darker. Not far from
the shore lay a boat at anchor; it rocked from side to side, and
something was creaking in it as though moaning.
"How am I to free myself from such a life as this?" reflected
Foma, staring at the boat. "And what occupation is destined to be
mine? Everybody is working."
And suddenly he was struck by a thought which appeared great to
"And hard work is cheaper than easy work! Some man will give
himself up entire to his work for a rouble, while another takes a
thousand with one finger."
He was pleasantly roused by this thought. It seemed to him that
he discovered another falsehood in the life of man, another fraud
which they conceal. He recalled one of his stokers, the old man
Ilya, who, for ten copecks, used to be on watch at the fireplace
out of his turn, working for a comrade eight hours in succession,
amid suffocating heat. One day, when he had fallen sick on
account of overwork, he was lying on the bow of the steamer, and
when Foma asked him why he was thus ruining himself, Ilya replied
roughly and sternly:
"Because every copeck is more necessary to me than a hundred
roubles to you. That's why!"
And, saying this, the old man turned his body, which was burning
with pain, with its back to Foma.
Reflecting on the stoker his thoughts suddenly and without any
effort, embraced all those petty people that were doing hard
work. He wondered, Why do they live? What pleasure is it for them
to live on earth? They constantly do but their dirty, hard work,
they eat poorly, are poorly clad, they drink. One man is sixty
years old, and yet he keeps on toiling side by side with the
young fellows. And they all appeared to Foma as a huge pile of
worms, which battled about on earth just to get something to eat.
In his memory sprang up his meetings with these people, one after
another--their remarks about life--now sarcastic and mournful,
now hopelessly gloomy remarks--their wailing songs. And now he
also recalled how one day in the office Yefim had said to the
clerk who hired the sailors:
"Some Lopukhin peasants have come here to hire themselves out, so
don't give them more than ten roubles a month. Their place was
burned down to ashes last summer, and they are now in dire need--
they'll work for ten roubles."
Sitting on the beams, Foma rocked his whole body to and fro, and
out of the darkness, from the river, various human figures
appeared silently before him--sailors, stokers, clerks, waiters,
half-intoxicated painted women, and tavern-loungers. They floated
in the air like shadows; something damp and brackish came from
them, and the dark, dense throng moved on slowly, noiselessly and
swiftly, like clouds in an autumn sky. The soft splashing of the
waves poured into his soul like sadly sighing music. Far away,
somewhere on the other bank of the river, burned a wood-pile;
embraced by the darkness on all sides, it was at times almost
absorbed by it, and in the darkness it trembled, a reddish spot
scarcely visible to the eye. But now the fire flamed up again,
the darkness receded, and it was evident that the flame was
striving upward. And then it sank again.
"0h Lord, 0h Lord!" thought Foma, painfully and bitterly, feeling
that grief was oppressing his heart with ever greater power.
"Here I am, alone, even as that fire. Only no light comes from
me, nothing but fumes and smoke. If I could only meet a wise man!
Someone to speak to. It is utterly impossible for me to live
alone. I cannot do anything. I wish I might meet a man."
Far away, on the river, two large purple fires appeared, and high
above them was a third. A dull noise resounded in the distance,
something black was moving toward Foma.
"A steamer going up stream," he thought. "There may be more than
a hundred people aboard, and none of them give a single thought
to me. They all know whither they are sailing. Every one of them
has something that is his own. Every one, I believe, understands
what he wants. But what do I want? And who will tell it to me?
Where is such a man?"
The lights of the steamer were reflected in the river, quivering
in it; the illumined water rushed away from it with a dull
murmur, and the steamer looked like a huge black fish with fins
A few days elapsed after this painful night, and Foma caroused
again. It came about by accident and against his will. He had
made up his mind to restrain himself from drinking, and so went
to dinner in one of the most expensive hotels in town, hoping to
find there none of his familiar drinking-companions, who always
selected the cheaper and less respectable places for their
drinking bouts. But his calculation proved to be wrong; he at
once came into the friendly joyous embrace of the brandy-
distiller's son, who had taken Sasha as mistress.
He ran up to Foma, embraced him and burst into merry laughter.
"Here's a meeting! This is the third day I have eaten here, and I
am wearied by this terrible lonesomeness. There is not a decent
man in the whole town, so I have had to strike up an acquaintance
with newspaper men. They're a gay lot, although at first they
played the aristocrat and kept sneering at me. After awhile we
all got dead drunk. They'll be here again today--I swear by the
fortune of my father! I'll introduce you to them. There is one
writer of feuilletons here; you know, that some one who always
lauded you, what's his name? An amusing fellow, the devil take
him! Do you know it would be a good thing to hire one like that
for personal use! Give him a certain sum of money and order him
to amuse! How's that? I had a certain coupletist in my employ,--
it was rather entertaining to be with him. I used to say to him
sometimes: 'Rimsky! give us some couplets!' He would start, I
tell you, and he'd make you split your sides with laughter. It's
a pity, he ran off somewhere. Have you had dinner?"
"Not yet. And how's Aleksandra?" asked Foma, somewhat deafened by
the loud speech of this tall, frank, red-faced fellow clad in a
"Well, do you know," said the latter with a frown, "that
Aleksandra of yours is a nasty woman! She's so obscure, it's
tiresome to be with her, the devil take her! She's as cold as a
frog,--brrr! I guess I'll send her away."
"Cold--that's true," said Foma and became pensive. "Every person
must do his work in a first class manner," said the distiller's
son, instructively. "And if you become some one's s mistress you
must perform your duty in the best way possible, if you are a
decent woman. Well, shall we have a drink?"
They had a drink. And naturally they got drunk. A large and noisy
company gathered in the hotel toward evening. And Foma,
intoxicated, but sad and calm, spoke to them with heavy voice:
"That's the way I understand it: some people are worms, others
sparrows. The sparrows are the merchants. They peck the worms.
Such is their destined lot. They are necessary But I and you--all
of you--are to no purpose. We live so that we cannot be compared
to anything--without justification, merely at random. And we are
utterly unnecessary. But even these here, and everybody else, to
what purpose are they? You must understand that. Brethren! We
shall all burst! By God! And why shall we burst? Because there is
always something superfluous in us, there is something
superfluous in our souls. And all our life is superfluous!
Comrades! I weep. To what purpose am I? I am unnecessary! Kill
me, that I may die; I want to die."
And he wept, shedding many drunken tears. A drunken, small-sized,
swarthy man sat down close to him, began to remind him of
something, tried to kiss him, and striking a knife against the
"True! Silence! These are powerful words! Let the elephants and
the mammoths of the disorder of life speak! The raw Russian
conscience speaks holy words! Roar on, Gordyeeff! Roar at
everything!" And again he clutched at Foma's shoulders, flung
himself on his breast, raising to Foma's face his round, black,
closely-cropped head, which was ceaselessly turning about on his
shoulders on all sides, so that Foma was unable to see his face,
and he was angry at him for this, and kept on pushing him aside,
"Get away! Where is your face? Go on!"
A deafening, drunken laughter smote the air about them, and
choking with laughter, the son of the brandy-distiller roared to
"Come to me! A hundred roubles a month with board and lodging!
Throw the paper to the dogs. I'll give you more!"
And everything rocked from side to side in rhythmic, wave-like
movement. Now the people moved farther away from Foma, now they
came nearer to him, the ceiling descended, the floor rose, and it
seemed to Foma that he would soon be flattened and crushed. Then
he began to feel that he was floating somewhere over an immensely
wide and stormy river, and, staggering, he cried out in fright:
"Where are we floating? Where is the captain?"
He was answered by the loud, senseless laughter of the drunken
crowd, and by the shrill, repulsive shout of the swarthy little
"True! we are all without helm and sails. Where is the captain?
What? Ha, ha, ha!"
Foma awakened from this nightmare in a small room with two
windows, and the first thing his eyes fell upon was a withered
tree. It stood near the window; its thick trunk, barkless, with a
rotten heart, prevented the light from entering the room; the
bent, black branches, devoid of leaves, stretched themselves
mournfully and helplessly in the air, and shaking to and fro,
they creaked softly, plaintively. A rain was falling; streams of
water were beating against the window-panes, and one could hear
how the water was falling to the ground from the roof, sobbing
there. This sobbing sound was joined by another sound--a shrill,
often interrupted, hasty scratching of a pen over paper, and then
by a certain spasmodic grumbling.
When he turned with difficulty his aching, heavy head on the
pillow, Foma noticed a small, swarthy man, who sat by the table
hastily scratching with his pen over the paper, shaking his round
head approvingly, wagging it from side to side, shrugging his
shoulders, and, with all his small body clothed in night garments
only, constantly moving about in his chair, as though he were
sitting on fire, and could not get up for some reason or other.
His left hand, lean and thin, was now firmly rubbing his
forehead, now making certain incomprehensible signs in the air;
his bare feet scraped along the floor, a certain vein quivered on
his neck, and even his ears were moving. When he turned toward
Foma, Foma saw his thin lips whispering something, his sharp-
pointed nose turned down to his thin moustache, which twitched
upward each time the little man smiled. His face was yellow,
bloated, wrinkled, and his black, vivacious small sparkling eyes
did not seem to belong to him.
Having grown tired of looking at him, Foma slowly began to
examine the room with his eyes. On the large nails, driven into
the walls, hung piles of newspapers, which made the walls look as
though covered with swellings. The ceiling was pasted with paper
which had been white once upon a time; now it was puffed up like
bladders, torn here and there, peeled off and hanging in dirty
scraps; clothing, boots, books, torn pieces of paper lay
scattered on the floor. Altogether the room gave one the
impression that it had been scalded with boiling water.
The little man dropped the pen, bent over the table, drummed
briskly on its edge with his fingers and began to sing softly in
a faint voice:
"Take the drum and fear not,--
And kiss the sutler girl aloud--
That's the sense of learning--
And that's philosophy."
Foma heaved a deed sigh and said:
"May I have some seltzer?"
"Ah!" exclaimed the little man, and jumping up from his chair,
appeared at the wide oilcloth-covered lounge, where Foma lay.
"How do you do, comrade! Seltzer? Of course! With cognac or
"Better with cognac," said Foma, shaking the lean, burning hand
which was outstretched to him, and staring fixedly into the face
of the little man.
"Yegorovna!" cried the latter at the door, and turning to Foma,
asked: "Don't you recognise me, Foma Ignatyevich?"
"I remember something. It seems to me we had met somewhere
"That meeting lasted for four years, but that was long ago!
"0h Lord!" exclaimed Foma, in astonishment, slightly rising from
the lounge. "Is it possible that it is you?"
"There are times, dear, when I don't believe it myself, but a
real fact is something from which doubt jumps back as a rubber
ball from iron."
Yozhov's face was comically distorted, and for some reason or
other his hands began to feel his breast.
"Well, well!" drawled out Foma. "But how old you have grown! Ah-
ah! How old are you?"
"And you look as though you were fifty, lean, yellow. Life isn't
sweet to you, it seems? And you are drinking, too, I see."
Foma felt sorry to see his jolly and brisk schoolmate so worn
out, and living in this dog-hole, which seemed to be swollen from
burns. He looked at him, winked his eyes mournfully and saw that
Yozhov's face was for ever twitching, and his small eyes were
burning with irritation. Yozhov was trying to uncork the bottle
of water, and thus occupied, was silent; he pressed the bottle
between his knees and made vain efforts to take out the cork. And
his impotence moved Foma.
"Yes; life has sucked you dry. And you have studied. Even science
seems to help man but little," said Gordyeeff plaintively.
"Drink!" said Yozhov, turning pale with fatigue, and handing him
the glass. Then he wiped his forehead, seated himself on the
lounge beside Foma, and said:
"Leave science alone! Science is a drink of the gods; but it has
not yet fermented sufficiently, and, therefore is not fit for
use, like vodka which has not yet been purified from empyreumatic
oil. Science is not ready for man's happiness, my friend. And
those living people that use it get nothing but headaches. Like
those you and I have at present. Why do you drink so rashly?"
"I? What else am I to do?" asked Foma, laughing. Yozhov looked at
Foma searchingly with his eyes half closed, and he said:
"Connecting your question with everything you jabbered last
night, I feel within my troubled soul that you, too, my friend,
do not amuse yourself because life is cheerful to you."
"Eh!" sighed Foma, heavily, rising from the lounge. "What is my
life? It is something meaningless. I live alone. I understand
nothing. And yet there is something I long for. I yearn to spit
on all and then disappear somewhere! I would like to run away
from everything. I am so weary!"
"That's interesting!" said Yozhov, rubbing his hands and turning
about in all directions. "This is interesting, if it is true and
deep, for it shows that the holy spirit of dissatisfaction with
life has already penetrated into the bed chambers of the
merchants, into the death chambers of souls drowned in fat
cabbage soup, in lakes of tea and other liquids. Give me a
circumstantial account of it. Then, my dear, I shall write a
"I have been told that you have already written something about
me?" inquired Foma, with curiosity, and once more attentively
scrutinized his old friend unable to understand what so wretched
a creature could write.
"Of course I have! Did you read it?"
"No, I did not have the chance."
"And what have they told you?"
"That you gave me a clever scolding."
"Hm! And doesn't it interest you to read it yourself?" inquired
Yozhov, scrutinizing Gordyeeff closely.
"I'll read it!" Foma assured him, feeling embarrassed before
Yozhov, and that Yozhov was offended by such regard for his
writings. "Indeed, it is interesting since it is about myself,"
he added, smiling kindheartedly at his comrade.
In saying this he was not at all interested, and he said it
merely out of pity for Yozhov. There was quite another feeling in
him; he wished to know what sort of a man Yozhov was, and why he
had become so worn out. This meeting with Yozhov gave rise in him
to a tranquil and kind feeling; it called forth recollections of
his childhood, and these flashed now in his memory,--flashed like
modest little lights, timidly shining at him from the distance of
the past. Yozhov walked up to the table on which stood a boiling
samovar, silently poured out two glasses of tea as strong as tar,
and said to Foma:
"Come and drink tea. And tell me about yourself."
"I have nothing to tell you. I have not seen anything in life.
Mine is an empty life! You had better tell me about yourself. I
am sure you know more than I do, at any rate."
Yozhov became thoughtful, not ceasing to turn his whole body and
to waggle his head. In thoughtfulness his face became motionless,
all its wrinkles gathered near his eyes and seemed to surround
them with rays, and because of this his eyes receded deeper under
"Yes, my dear, I have seen a thing or two, and I know a great
deal," he began, with a shake of the head. "And perhaps I know
even more than it is necessary for me to know, and to know more
than it is necessary is just as harmful to man as it is to be
ignorant of what it is essential to know. Shall I tell you how I
have lived? Very well; that is, I'll try. I have never told any
one about myself, because I have never aroused interest in
anyone. It is most offensive to live on earth without arousing
people's interest in you!"
"I can see by your face and by everything else that your life has
not been a smooth one!" said Foma, feeling pleased with the fact
that, to all appearances, life was not sweet to his comrade as
well. Yozhov drank his tea at one draught, thrust the glass on
the saucer, placed his feet on the edge of the chair, and
clasping his knees in his hands, rested his chin upon them. In
this pose, small sized and flexible as rubber, he began:
"The student Sachkov, my former teacher, who is now a doctor of
medicine, a whist-player and a mean fellow all around, used to
tell me whenever I knew my lesson well: 'You're a fine fellow,
Kolya! You are an able boy. We proletariats, plain and poor
people, coming from the backyard of life, we must study and
study, in order to come to the front, ahead of everybody. Russia
is in need of wise and honest people. Try to be such, and you
will be master of your fate and a useful member of society. On us
commoners rest the best hopes of the country. We are destined to
bring into it light, truth,' and so on. I believed him, the
brute. And since then about twenty years have elapsed. We
proletariats have grown up, but have neither appropriated any
wisdom, nor brought light into life. As before, Russia is still
suffering from its chronic disease--a superabundance of rascals;
while we, the proletariats, take pleasure in filling their dense
throngs. My teacher, I repeat, is a lackey, a characterless and
dumb creature, who must obey the orders of the mayor. While 1 am
a clown in the employ of society. Fame pursues me here in town,
dear. I walk along the street and I hear one driver say to
another: 'There goes Yozhov! How cleverly he barks, the deuce
take him!' Yes! Even this cannot be so easily attained."
Yozhov's face wrinkled into a bitter grimace, and he began to
laugh, noiselessly, with his lips only. Foma did not understand
his words, and, just to say something, he remarked at random:
"You didn't hit, then, what you aimed at?"
"Yes, I thought I would grow up higher. And so I should! So I
should, I say!"
He jumped up from his chair and began to run about in the room,
exclaiming briskly in a shrill voice:
"But to preserve one's self pure for life and to be a free man in
it, one must have vast powers! I had them. I had elasticity,
cleverness. I have spent all these in order to learn something
which is absolutely unnecessary to me now. I have wasted the
whole of myself in order to preserve something within myself. 0h
devil! I myself and many others with me, we have all robbed
ourselves for the sake of saving up something for life. Just
think of it: desiring to make of myself a valuable man, I have
underrated my individuality in every way possible. In order to
study, and not die of starvation, I have for six years in
succession taught blockheads how to read and write, and had to
bear a mass of abominations at the hands of various papas and
mammas, who humiliated me without any constraint. Earning my
bread and tea, I could not, I had not the time to earn my shoes,
and I had to turn to charitable institutions with humble
petitions for loans on the strength of my poverty. If the
philanthropists could only reckon up how much of the spirit they
kill in man while supporting the life of his body! If they only
knew that each rouble they give for bread contains ninety-nine
copecks' worth of poison for the soul! If they could only burst
from excess of their kindness and pride, which they draw from
their holy activity! There is none on earth more disgusting and
repulsive than he who gives alms, even as there is none more
miserable than he who accepts it!"
Yozhov staggered about in the room like a drunken man, seized
with madness, and the paper under his feet was rustling, tearing,
flying in scraps. He gnashed his teeth, shook his head, his hands
waved in the air like broken wings of a bird, and altogether it
seemed as though he were being boiled in a kettle of hot water.
Foma looked at him with a strange, mixed sensation; he pitied
Yozhov, and at the same time he was pleased to see him suffering.
"I am not alone, he is suffering, too," thought Foma, as Yozhov
spoke. And something clashed in Yozhov's throat, like broken
glass, and creaked like an unoiled hinge.
"Poisoned by the kindness of men, I was ruined through the fatal
capacity of every poor fellow during the making of his career,
through the capacity of being reconciled with little in the
expectation of much. Oh! Do you know, more people perish through
lack of proper self-appreciation than from consumption, and
perhaps that is why the leaders of the masses serve as district
"The devil take the district inspectors!" said Foma, with a wave
of the hand. "Tell me about yourself."
"About myself! I am here entire!" exclaimed Yozhov, stopping
short in the middle of the room, and striking his chest with his
hands. "I have already accomplished all I could accomplish. I
have attained the rank of the public's entertainer--and that is
all I can do! To know what should be done, and not to be able to
do it, not to have the strength for your work--that is torture!"
"That's it! Wait awhile! "said Foma, enthusiastically. "Now tell
me what one should do in order to live calmly; that is, in order
to be satisfied with one's self."
To Foma these words sounded loud, but empty, and their sounds
died away without stirring any emotion in his heart, without
giving rise to a single thought in his mind.
"You must always be in love with something unattainable to you. A
man grows in height by stretching himself upwards."
Now that he had ceased speaking of himself, Yozhov began to talk
more calmly, in a different voice. His voice was firm and
resolute, and his face assumed an expression of importance and
sternness. He stood in the centre of the room, his hand with
outstretched fingers uplifted, and spoke as though he were
"Men are base because they strive for satiety. The well-fed man
is an animal because satiety is the self-contentedness of the
body. And the self-contentedness of the spirit also turns man
Again he started as though all his veins and muscles were
suddenly strained, and again he began to run about the room in
"A self-contented man is the hardened swelling on the breast of
society. He is my sworn enemy. He fills himself up with cheap
truths, with gnawed morsels of musty wisdom, and he exists like a
storeroom where a stingy housewife keeps all sorts of rubbish
which is absolutely unnecessary to her, and worthless. If you
touch such a man, if you open the door into him, the stench of
decay will be breathed upon you, and a stream of some musty trash
will be poured into the air you breathe. These unfortunate people
call themselves men of firm character, men of principles and
convictions. And no one cares to see that convictions are to them
but the clothes with which they cover the beggarly nakedness of
their souls. On the narrow brows of such people there always
shines the inscription so familiar to all: calmness and
confidence. What a false inscription! Just rub their foreheads
with firm hand and then you will see the real sign-board, which
reads: 'Narrow mindedness and weakness of soul!'"
Foma watched Yozhov bustling about the room, and thought
"Whom is he abusing? I can't understand; but I can see that he
has been terribly wounded."
"How many such people have I seen!" exclaimed Yozhov, with wrath
and terror. "How these little retail shops have multiplied in
life! In them you will find calico for shrouds, and tar, candy
and borax for the extermination of cockroaches, but you will not
find anything fresh, hot, wholesome! You come to them with an
aching soul exhausted by loneliness; you come, thirsting to hear
something that has life in it. And they offer to you some worm
cud, ruminated book-thoughts, grown sour with age. And these dry,
stale thoughts are always so poor that, in order to give them
expression, it is necessary to use a vast number of high-sounding
and empty words. When such a man speaks I say to myself: 'There
goes a well-fed, but over-watered mare, all decorated with bells;
she's carting a load of rubbish out of the town, and the
miserable wretch is content with her fate.'"
"They are superfluous people, then," said Foma. Yozhov stopped
short in front of him and said with a biting smile on his lips:
"No, they are not superfluous, oh no! They exist as an example,
to show what man ought not to be. Speaking frankly, their proper
place is the anatomical museums, where they preserve all sorts of
monsters and various sickly deviations from the normal. In life
there is nothing that is superfluous, dear. Even I am necessary!
Only those people, in whose souls dwells a slavish cowardice
before life, in whose bosoms there are enormous ulcers of the
most abominable self-adoration, taking the places of their dead
hearts--only those people are superfluous; but even they are
necessary, if only for the sake of enabling me to pour my hatred
All day long, until evening, Yozhov was excited, venting his
blasphemy on men he hated, and his words, though their contents
were obscure to Foma, infected him with their evil heat, and
infecting called forth in him an eager desire for combat. At
times there sprang up in him distrust of Yozhov, and in one of
these moments he asked him plainly:
"Well! And can you speak like that in the face of men?"
"I do it at every convenient occasion. And every Sunday in the
newspaper. I'll read some to you if you like."
Without waiting for Foma's reply, he tore down from the wall a
few sheets of paper, and still continuing to run about the room,
began to read to him. He roared, squeaked, laughed, showed his
teeth and looked like an angry dog trying to break the chain in
powerless rage. Not grasping the ideals in his friend's
creations, Foma felt their daring audacity, their biting sarcasm,
their passionate malice, and he was as well pleased with them as
though he had been scourged with besoms in a hot bath.
"Clever!" he exclaimed, catching some separate phrase. "That's
Every now and again there flashed before him the familiar names
of merchants and well-known citizens, whom Yozhov had stung, now
stoutly and sharply, now respectfully and with a fine needle-like
Foma's approbation, his eyes burning with satisfaction, and his
excited face gave Yozhov still more inspiration, and he cried and
roared ever louder and louder, now falling on the lounge from
exhaustion, now jumping up again and rushing toward Foma.
"Come, now, read about me!" exclaimed Foma, longing to hear
it.Yozhov rummaged among a pile of papers, tore out one sheet,
and holding it in both hands, stopped in front of Foma, with his
legs straddled wide apart, while Foma leaned back in the broken-
seated armchair and listened with a smile.
The notice about Foma started with a description of the spree on
the rafts, and during the reading of the notice Foma felt that
certain particular words stung him like mosquitoes. His face
became more serious, and he bent his head in gloomy silence. And
the mosquitoes went on multiplying.
"Now that's too much! "said he, at length, confused and
dissatisfied. "Surely you cannot gain the favour of God merely
because you know how to disgrace a man."
"Keep quiet! Wait awhile!" said Yozhov, curtly, and went on
Having established in his article that the merchant rises beyond
doubt above the representatives of other classes of society in
the matter of nuisance and scandal-making, Yozhov asked: "Why is
this so?" and replied:
"It seems to me that this predilection for wild pranks comes from
the lack of culture in so far as it is dependent upon the excess
of energy and upon idleness. There cannot be any doubt that our
merchant class, with but few exceptions, is the healthiest and,
at the same time, most inactive class."
"That's true!" exclaimed Foma, striking the table with his fist.
"That's true! I have the strength of a bull and do the work of a
"Where is the merchant to spend his energy? He cannot spend much
of it on the Exchange, so he squanders the excess of his muscular
capital in drinking-bouts in kabaky; for he has no conception of
other applications of his strength, which are more productive,
more valuable to life. He is still a beast, and life has already
become to him a cage, and it is too narrow for him with his
splendid health and predilection for licentiousness. Hampered by
culture he at once starts to lead a dissolute life. The debauch
of a merchant is always the revolt of a captive beast. Of course
this is bad. But, ah! it will be worse yet, when this beast, in
addition to his strength, shall have gathered some sense and
shall have disciplined it. Believe me, even then he will not
cease to create scandals, but they will be historical events.
Heaven deliver us from such events! For they will emanate from
the merchant's thirst for power; their aim will be the
omnipotence of one class, and the merchant will not be particular
about the means toward the attainment of this aim.
"Well, what do you say, is it true?" asked Yozhov, when he had
finished reading the newspaper, and thrown it aside.
"I don't understand the end," replied Foma. "And as to strength,
that is true! Where am I to make use of my strength since there
is no demand for it! I ought to fight with robbers, or turn a
robber myself. In general I ought to do something big. And that
should be done not with the head, but with the arms and the
breast. While here we have to go to the Exchange and try to aim
well to make a rouble. What do we need it for? And what is it,
anyway? Has life been arranged in this form forever? What sort of
life is it, if everyone is grieved and finds it too narrow for
him? Life ought to be according to the taste of man. If it is
narrow for me, I must move it asunder that I may have more room.
I must break it and reconstruct it. But nod? That's where the
trouble lies! What ought to be done that life may be freer? That
I do not understand, and that's all there is to it."
"Yes!" drawled out Yozhov. "So that's where you've gone! That,
dear, is a good thing! Ah, you ought to study a little! How are
you about books? Do you read any?"
"No, I don't care for them. I haven't read any."
"That's just why you don't care for them.""I am even afraid to
read them. I know one--a certain girl--it's worse than drinking
with her! And what sense is there in books? One man imagines
something and prints it, and others read it. If it is
interesting, it's all right. But learn from a book how to live!--
that is something absurd. It was written by man, not by God, and
what laws and examples can man establish for himself?"
"And how about the Gospels? Were they not written by men?"
"Those were apostles. Now there are none."
"Good, your refutation is sound! It is true, dear, there are no
apostles. Only the Judases remained, and miserable ones at that."
Foma felt very well, for he saw that Yozhov was attentively
listening to his words and seemed to be weighing each and every
word he uttered. Meeting such bearing toward him for the first
time in his life, Foma unburdened himself boldly and freely
before his friend, caring nothing for the choice of words, and
feeling that he would be understood because Yozhov wanted to
"You are a curious fellow!" said Yozhov, about two days after
their meeting. "And though you speak with difficulty, one feels
that there is a great deal in you--great daring of heart! If you
only knew a little about the order of life! Then you would speak
loud enough, I think. Yes!"
"But you cannot wash yourself clean with words, nor can you then
free yourself," remarked Foma, with a sigh. "You have said
something about people who pretend that they know everything, and
can do everything. I also know such people. My godfather, for
instance. It would be a good thing to set out against them, to
convict them; they're a pretty dangerous set!"
"I cannot imagine, Foma, how you will get along in life if you
preserve within you that which you now have," said Yozhov,
"It's very hard. I lack steadfastness. Of a sudden I could
perhaps do something. I understand very well that life is
difficult and narrow for every one of us. I know that my
godfather sees that, too! But he profits by this narrowness. He
feels well in it; he is sharp as a needle, and he'll make his way
wherever he pleases. But I am a big, heavy man, that's why I am
suffocating! That's why I live in fetters. I could free myself
from everything with a single effort: just to move my body with
all my strength, and then all the fetters will burst!"
"And what then?" asked Yozhov.
"Then?" Foma became pensive, and, after a moment's thought, waved
his hand. "I don't know what will be then. I shall see!"
"We shall see!" assented Yozhov.
He was given to drink, this little man who was scalded by life.
His day began thus: in the morning at his tea he looked over the
local newspapers and drew from the news notices material for his
feuilleton, which he wrote right then and there on the corner of
the table. Then he ran to the editorial office, where he made up
"Provincial Pictures" out of clippings from country newspapers.
On Friday he had to write his Sunday feuilleton. For all they
paid him a hundred and twenty-five roubles a month; he worked
fast, and devoted all his leisure time to the "survey and study
of charitable institutions." Together with Foma he strolled about
the clubs, hotels and taverns till late at night, drawing
material everywhere for his articles, which he called "brushes
for the cleansing of the conscience of society." The censor he
styled as superintendent of the diffusion of truth and
righteousness in life," the newspaper he called "the go-between,
engaged in introducing the reader to dangerous ideas," and his
own work, "the sale of a soul in retail," and "an inclination to
audacity against holy institutions."
Foma could hardly make out when Yozhov jested and when he was in
earnest. He spoke of everything enthusiastically and
passionately, he condemned everything harshly, and Foma liked it.
But often, beginning to argue enthusiastically, he refuted and
contradicted himself with equal enthusiasm or wound up his speech
with some ridiculous turn. Then it appeared to Foma that that man
loved nothing, that nothing was firmly rooted within him, that
nothing guided him. Only when speaking of himself he talked in a
rather peculiar voice, and the more impassioned he was in
speaking of himself, the more merciless and enraged was he in
reviling everything and everybody. And his relation toward Foma
was dual; sometimes he gave him courage and spoke to him hotly,
quivering in every limb.
"Go ahead! Refute and overthrow everything you can! Push forward
with all your might. There is nothing more valuable than man,
know this! Cry at the top of your voice: 'Freedom! Freedom!"
But when Foma, warmed up by the glowing sparks of these words,
began to dream of how he should start to refute and overthrow
people who, for the sake of personal profit, do not want to
broaden life, Yozhov would often cut him short:
"Drop it! You cannot do anything! People like you are not needed.
Your time, the time of the strong but not clever, is past, my
dear! You are too late! There is no place for you in life."
"No? You are lying!" cried Foma, irritated by contradiction.
"Well, what can you accomplish?"
"Why, I can kill you!" said Foma, angrily, clenching his fist.
"Eh, you scarecrow!" said Yozhov, convincingly and pitifully,
with a shrug of the shoulder. "Is there anything in that? Why, I
am anyway half dead already from my wounds."
And suddenly inflamed with melancholy malice, he stretched
himself and said:
"My fate has wronged me. Why have I lowered myself, accepting the
sops of the public? Why have I worked like a machine for twelve
years in succession in order to study? Why have I swallowed for
twelve long years in the Gymnasium and the University the dry and
tedious trash and the contradictory nonsense which is absolutely
useless to me? In order to become feuilleton-writer, to play the
clown from day to day, entertaining the public and convincing
myself that that is necessary and useful to them. Where is the
powder of my youth? I have fired off all the charge of my soul at
three copecks a shot. What faith have I acquired for myself? Only
faith in the fact that everything in this life is worthless, that
everything must be broken, destroyed. What do I love? Myself. And
I feel that the object of my love does not deserve my love. What
can I accomplish?"
He almost wept, and kept on scratching his breast and his neck
with his thin, feeble hands.
But sometimes he was seized with a flow of courage, and then he
spoke in a different spirit:
"I? Oh, no, my song is not yet sung to the end! My breast has
imbibed something, and I'll hiss like a whip! Wait, I'll drop the
newspaper, I'll start to do serious work, and write one small
book, which I will entitle 'The Passing of the Soul'; there is a
prayer by that name, it is read for the dying. And before its
death this society, cursed by the anathema of inward impotence,
will receive my book like incense."
Listening to each and every word of his, watching him and
comparing his remarks, Foma saw that Yozhov was just as weak as
he was, that he, too, had lost his way. But Yozhov's mood still
infected Foma, his speeches enriched Foma's vocabulary, and
sometimes he noticed with joyous delight how cleverly and
forcibly he had himself expressed this or that idea. He often met
in Yozhov's house certain peculiar people, who, it seemed to him,
knew everything, understood everything, contradicted everything,
and saw deceit and falsehood in everything. He watched them in
silence, listened to their words; their audacity pleased him, but
he was embarrassed and repelled by their condescending and
haughty bearing toward him. And then he clearly saw that in
Yozhov's room they were all cleverer and better than they were in
the street and in the hotels. They held peculiar conversations,
words and gestures for use in the room, and all this was changed
outside the room, into the most commonplace and human. Sometimes,
in the room, they all blazed up like a huge woodpile, and Yozhov
was the brightest firebrand among them; but the light of this
bonfire illuminated but faintly the obscurity of Foma Gordyeeff's
One day Yozhov said to him:
"Today we will carouse! Our compositors have formed a union, and
they are going to take all the work from the publisher on a
contract. There will be some drinking on this account, and I am
invited. It was I who advised them to do it. Let us go? You will
give them a good treat."
"Very well!" said Foma, to whom it was immaterial with whom he
passed the time, which was a burden to him.
In the evening of that day Foma and Yozhov sat in the company of
rough-faced people, on the outskirts of a grove, outside the
town. There were twelve compositors there, neatly dressed; they
treated Yozhov simply, as a comrade, and this somewhat surprised
and embarrassed Foma, in whose eyes Yozhov was after all
something of a master or superior to them, while they were really
only his servants. They did not seem to notice Gordyeeff,
although, when Yozhov introduced Foma to them, they shook hands
with him and said that they were glad to see him. He lay down
under a hazel-bush, and watched them all, feeling himself a
stranger in this company, and noticing that even Yozhov seemed to
have got away from him deliberately, and was paying but little
attention to him. He perceived something strange about Yozhov;
the little feuilleton-writer seemed to imitate the tone and the
speech of the compositors. He bustled about with them at the
woodpile, uncorked bottles of beer, cursed, laughed loudly and
tried his best to resemble them. He was even dressed more simply
"Eh, brethren!" he exclaimed, with enthusiasm. "I feel well with
you! I'm not a big bird, either. I am only the son of the
courthouse guard, and noncommissioned officer, Matvey Yozhov!"
"Why does he say that?" thought Foma. "What difference does it
make whose son a man is? A man is not respected on account of his
father, but for his brains."
The sun was setting like a huge bonfire in the sky, tinting the
clouds with hues of gold and of blood. Dampness and silence were
breathed from the forest, while at its outskirts dark human
figures bustled about noisily. One of them, short and lean, in a
broad-brimmed straw hat, played the accordion; another one, with