Part 8 out of 9
"Is that any of your business?" asked the perspiring man, casting
a glance at Foma.
"It is my business! The people are working and your fat is
melting away. So you think you must yell at them?" said Foma,
threateningly, moving closer toward him.
"You--you had better keep your temper."
The perspiring man suddenly rushed away from his place and went
into his office. Foma looked after him and also went away from
the wharf; filled with a desire to abuse some one, to do
something, just to divert his thoughts from himself at least for
a short while. But his thoughts took a firmer hold on him.
"That sailor there, he tore himself away, and he's safe and
sound! Yes, while I--"
In the evening he again went up to the Mayakins. The old man was
not at home, and in the dining-room sat Lubov with her brother,
drinking tea. On reaching the door Foma heard the hoarse voice of
"What makes father bother himself about him?"
At the sight of Foma he stopped short, staring at his face with a
serious, searching look. An expression of agitation was clearly
depicted on Lubov's face, and she said with dissatisfaction and
at the same time apologetically:
"Ah! So it's you?"
"They've been speaking of me," thought Foma, as he seated himself
at the table. Taras turned his eyes away from him and sank deeper
in the armchair. There was an awkward silence lasting for about a
minute, and this pleased Foma.
"Are you going to the banquet?"
"Don't you know? Kononov is going to consecrate his new steamer.
A mass will be held there and then they are going to take a trip
up the Volga."
"I was not invited," said Foma.
"Nobody was invited. He simply announced on the Exchange:
'Anybody who wishes to honour me is welcome!
"I don't care for it."
"Yes? But there will be a grand drinking bout," said Lubov,
looking at him askance.
"I can drink at my own expense if I choose to do so."
"I know," said Lubov, nodding her head expressively.
Taras toyed with his teaspoon, turning it between his fingers and
looking at them askance.
"And where's my godfather?" asked Foma.
"He went to the bank. There's a meeting of the board of directors
today. Election of officers is to take place.
"They'll elect him again."
And again the conversation broke off. Foma began to watch the
brother and the sister. Having dropped the spoon, Taras slowly
drank his tea in big sips, and silently moving the glass over to
his sister, smiled to her. She, too, smiled joyously and happily,
seized the glass and began to rinse it assiduously. Then her face
assumed a strained expression; she seemed to prepare herself for
something and asked her brother in a low voice, almost
"Shall we return to the beginning of our conversation?"
"If you please," assented Taras, shortly.
"You said something, but I didn't understand. What was it? I
asked: 'If all this is, as you say, Utopia, if it is impossible,
dreams, then what is he to do who is not satisfied with life as
The girl leaned her whole body toward her brother, and her eyes,
with strained expectation, stopped on the calm face of her
brother. He glanced at her in a weary way, moved about in his
seat, and, lowering his head, said calmly and impressively:
"We must consider from what source springs that dissatisfaction
with life. It seems to me that, first of all, it comes from the
inability to work; from the lack of respect for work. And,
secondly, from a wrong conception of one's own powers. The
misfortune of most of the people is that they consider themselves
capable of doing more than they really can. And yet only little
is required of man: he must select for himself an occupation to
suit his powers and must master it as well as possible, as
attentively as possible. You must love what you are doing, and
then labour, be it ever so rough, rises to the height of
creativeness. A chair, made with love, will always be a good,
beautiful and solid chair. And so it is with everything. Read
Smiles. Haven't you read him? It is a very sensible book. It is a
sound book. Read Lubbock. In general, remember that the English
people constitute the nation most qualified for labour, which
fact explains their astonishing success in the domain of industry
and commerce. With them labour is almost a cult. The height of
culture stands always directly dependent upon the love of labour.
And the higher the culture the more satisfied are the
requirements of man, the fewer the obstacles on the road toward
the further development of man's requirements. Happiness is
possible--it is the complete satisfaction of requirements. There
it is. And, as you see, man's happiness is dependent upon his
relation toward his work."
Taras Mayakin spoke slowly and laboriously, as though it were
unpleasant and tedious for him to speak. And Lubov, with knitted
brow, leaning toward him, listened to his words with eager
attention in her eyes, ready to accept everything and imbibe it
into her soul.
"Well, and suppose everything is repulsive to a man?" asked Foma,
suddenly, in a deep voice, casting a glance at Taras's face.
"But what, in particular, is repulsive to the man?" asked
Mayakin, calmly, without looking at Foma.
Foma bent his head, leaned his arms against the table and thus,
like a bull, went on to explain himself:
"Nothing pleases him--business, work, all people and deeds.
Suppose I see that all is deceit, that business is not business,
but merely a plug that we prop up with it the emptiness of our
souls; that some work, while others only give orders and sweat,
but get more for that. Why is it so? Eh?"
"I cannot grasp your idea," announced Taras, when Foma paused,
feeling on himself Lubov's contemptuous and angry look.
"You do not understand?" asked Foma, looking at Taras with a
smile. "Well, I'll put it in this way:
A man is sailing in a boat on the river. The boat may be good,
but under it there is always a depth all the same. The boat is
sound, but if the man feels beneath him this dark depth, no boat
can save him."
Taras looked at Foma indifferently and calmly. He looked in
silence, and softly tapped his fingers on the edge of the table.
Lubov was uneasily moving about in her chair. The pendulum of the
clock told the seconds with a dull, sighing sound. And Foma's
heart throbbed slowly and painfully, as though conscious that
here no one would respond with a warm word to its painful
"Work is not exactly everything for a man," said he, more to
himself than to these people who had no faith in the sincerity of
his words. "It is not true that in work lies justification. There
are people who do not work at all during all their lives long,
and yet they live better than those that do work. How is that?
And the toilers--they are merely unfortunate--horses! Others ride
on them, they suffer and that's all. But they have their
justification before God. They will be asked: 'To what purpose
did you live?' Then they will say: 'We had no time to think of
that. We worked all our lives.' And I--what justification have I?
And all those people who give orders--how will they justify
themselves? To what purpose have they lived? It is my idea that
everybody necessarily ought to know, to know firmly what he is
He became silent, and, tossing his head up, exclaimed in a heavy
"Can it be that man is born merely to work, acquire money, build
a house, beget children and--die? No, life means something. A man
is born, he lives and dies. What for? It is necessary, by God, it
is necessary for all of us to consider what we are living for.
There is no sense in our life. No sense whatever! Then things are
not equal, that can be seen at once. Some are rich--they have
money enough for a thousand people, and they live in idleness.
Others bend their backs over their work all their lives, and yet
they have not even a grosh. And the difference in people is very
insignificant. There are some that have not even any trousers and
yet they reason as though they were attired in silks."
Carried away by his thoughts, Foma would have continued to give
them utterance, but Taras moved his armchair away from the table,
rose and said softly, with a sigh:
"No, thank you! I don't want any more."
Foma broke off his speech abruptly, shrugged his shoulders and
looked at Lubov with a smile.
"Where have you picked up such philosophy?" she asked,
suspiciously and drily.
"That is not philosophy. That is simply torture!" said Foma in an
undertone. "Open your eyes and look at everything. Then you will
think so yourself."
"By the way, Luba, turn your attention to the fact," began Taras,
standing with his back toward the table and scrutinizing the
clock, "that pessimism is perfectly foreign to the Anglo-Saxon
race. That which they call pessimism in Swift and in Byron is
only a burning, sharp protest against the imperfection of life
and man. But you cannot find among them the cold, well weighed
and passive pessimism."
Then, as though suddenly recalling Foma, he turned to him,
clasping his hands behind his back, and, wriggling his thigh,
"You raise very important questions, and if you are seriously
interested in them you must read books. In them will you find
many very valuable opinions as to the meaning of life. How about
you--do you read books?"
"No!" replied Foma, briefly.
"I don't like them."
"Aha! But they might nevertheless be of some help to you," said
Taras, and a smile passed across his lips.
"Books? Since men cannot help me in my thoughts books can
certainly do nothing for me," ejaculated Foma, morosely.
He began to feel awkward and weary with this indifferent man. He
felt like going away, but at the same time he wished to tell
Lubov something insulting about her brother, and he waited till
Taras would leave the room. Lubov washed the dishes; her face was
concentrated and thoughtful; her hands moved lazily. Taras was
pacing the room, now and then he stopped short before the
sideboard on which was the silverware, whistled, tapped his
fingers against the window-panes and examined the articles with
his eyes half shut. The pendulum of the clock flashed beneath the
glass door of the case like some broad, grinning face, and
monotonously told the seconds. When Foma noticed that Lubov
glanced at him a few times questioningly, with expectant and
hostile looks, he understood that he was in her way and that she
was impatiently expecting him to leave.
"I am going to stay here over night," said he, with a smile. "I
must speak with my godfather. And then it is rather lonesome in
my house alone."
"Then go and tell Marfusha to make the bed for you in the corner
room," Lubov hastened to advise him.
He arose and went out of the dining-room. And he soon heard that
Taras asked his sister about something in a low voice.
"About me!" he thought. Suddenly this wicked thought flashed
through his mind: "It were but right to listen and hear what wise
people have to say."
He laughed softly, and, stepping on tiptoe, went noiselessly into
the other room, also adjoining the dining-room. There was no
light there, and only a thin band of light from the dining-room,
passing through the unclosed door, lay on the dark floor. Softly,
with sinking heart and malicious smile, Foma walked up close to
the door and stopped.
"He's a clumsy fellow," said Taras.
Then came Lubov's lowered and hasty speech:
"He was carousing here all the time. He carried on dreadfully! It
all started somehow of a sudden. The first thing he did was to
thrash the son-in-law of the Vice-Governor at the Club. Papa had
to take the greatest pains to hush up the scandal, and it was a
good thing that the Vice-Governor's son-in-law is a man of very
bad reputation. He is a card-sharper and in general a shady
personality, yet it cost father more than two thousand roubles.
And while papa was busying himself about that scandal Foma came
near drowning a whole company on the Volga."
"Ha-ha! How monstrous! And that same man busies himself with
investigating as to the meaning of life."
"On another occasion he was carousing on a steamer with a company
of people like himself. Suddenly he said to them: 'Pray to God!
I'll fling every one of you overboard!' He is frightfully strong.
They screamed, while he said: 'I want to serve my country. I want
to clear the earth of base people.'"
"Really? That's clever!"
"He's a terrible man! How many wild pranks he has perpetrated
during these years! How much money he has squandered!"
"And, tell me, on what conditions does father manage his affairs
for him? Do you know?"
"No, I don't. He has a full power of attorney. Why do you ask?"
"Simply so. It's a solid business. Of course it is conducted in
purely Russian fashion; in other words, it is conducted
abominably. But it is a splendid business, nevertheless. If it
were managed properly it would be a most profitable gold mine."
"Foma does absolutely nothing. Everything is in father's hands."
"Yes? That's fine."
"Do you know, sometimes it occurs to me that his thoughtful frame
of mind--that these words of his are sincere, and that he can be
very decent. But I cannot reconcile his scandalous life with his
words and arguments. I cannot do it under any circumstances!"
"It isn't even worthwhile to bother about it. The stripling and
lazy bones seeks to justify his laziness."
"No. You see, at times he is like a child. He was particularly so
"Well, that's what I have said: he's a stripling. Is it worth
while talking about an ignoramus and a savage, who wishes to
remain an ignoramus and a savage, and does not conceal the fact?
You see: he reasons as the bear in the fable bent the shafts."
"You are very harsh."
"Yes, I am harsh! People require that. We Russians are all
desperately loose. Happily, life is so arranged that, whether we
will it or not, we gradually brace up. Dreams are for the lads
and maidens, but for serious people there is serious business."
"Sometimes I feel very sorry for Foma. What will become of him?"
"That does not concern me. I believe that nothing in particular
will become of him--neither good nor bad. The insipid fellow will
squander his money away, and will be ruined. What else? Eh, the
deuce take him! Such people as he is are rare nowadays. Now the
merchant knows the power of education. And he, that foster-
brother of yours, he will go to ruin."
"That's true, sir!" said Foma, opening the door and appearing on
Pale, with knitted brow and quivering lips, he stared straight
into Taras's face and said in a dull voice: "True! I will go to
ruin and--amen! The sooner the better!"
Lubov sprang up from the chair with frightened face, and ran up
to Taras, who stood calmly in the middle of the room, with his
hands thrust in his pockets.
"Foma! Oh! Shame! You have been eavesdropping. Oh, Foma!" said
she in confusion.
"Keep quiet, you lamb!" said Foma to her.
"Yes, eavesdropping is wrong!" ejaculated Taras, slowly, without
lifting from Foma his look of contempt.
"Let it be wrong!" said Foma, with a wave of the hand. "Is it my
fault that the truth can be learned by eavesdropping only?"
"Go away, Foma, please!" entreated Lubov, pressing close to her
"Perhaps you have something to say to me?" asked Taras, calmly.
"I?" exclaimed Foma. "What can I say? I cannot say anything. It
is you who--you, I believe, know everything."
"You have nothing then to discuss with me?" asked Taras again.
"I am very pleased."
He turned sideways to Foma and inquired of Lubov:
"What do you think--will father return soon?"
Foma looked at him, and, feeling something akin to respect for
the man, deliberately left the house. He did not feel like going
to his own huge empty house, where each step of his awakened a
ringing echo, he strolled along the street, which was enveloped
in the melancholy gray twilight of late autumn. He thought of
"How severe he is. He takes after his father. Only he's not so
restless. He's also a cunning rogue, I think, while Lubka
regarded him almost as a saint. That foolish girl! What a sermon
he read to me! A regular judge. And she--she was kind toward me."
But all these thoughts stirred in him no feelings--neither hatred
toward Taras nor sympathy for Lubov. He carried with him
something painful and uncomfortable, something incomprehensible
to him, that kept growing within his breast, and it seemed to him
that his heart was swollen and was gnawing as though from an
abscess. He hearkened to that unceasing and indomitable pain,
noticed that it was growing more and more acute from hour to
hour, and, not knowing how to allay it, waited for the results.
Then his godfather's trotter passed him. Foma saw in the carriage
the small figure of Yakov Mayakin, but even that aroused no
feeling in him. A lamplighter ran past Foma, overtook him, placed
his ladder against the lamp post and went up. The ladder suddenly
slipped under his weight, and he, clasping the lamp post, cursed
loudly and angrily. A girl jostled Foma in the side with her
bundle and said:
He glanced at her and said nothing. Then a drizzling rain began
to fall from the sky--tiny, scarcely visible drops of moisture
overcast the lights of the lanterns and the shop windows with
grayish dust. This dust made him breathe with difficulty.
"Shall I go to Yozhov and pass the night there? I might drink
with him," thought Foma and went away to Yozhov, not having the
slightest desire either to see the feuilleton-writer or to drink
At Yozhov's he found a shaggy fellow sitting on the lounge. He
had on a blouse and gray pantaloons. His face was swarthy, as
though smoked, his eyes were large, immobile and angry, his thick
upper lip was covered with a bristle-like, soldier moustache. He
was sitting on the lounge, with his feet clasped in his huge arms
and his chin resting on his knees. Yozhov sat sideways in a
chair, with his legs thrown across the arm of the chair. Among
books and newspapers on the table stood a bottle of vodka and
there was an odour of something salty in the room.
"Why are you tramping about?" Yozhov asked Foma, and, nodding at
him, said to the man on the lounge: "Gordyeeff!"
The man glanced at the newcomer and said in a harsh, shrill
Foma seated himself on a corner of the lounge and said to Yozhov:
"I have come to stay here over night."
"Well? Go on, Vasily."
The latter glanced at Foma askance and went on in a creaking
"In my opinion, you are attacking the stupid people in vain.
Masaniello was a fool, but what had to be performed was done in
the best way possible. And that Winkelried was certainly a fool
also, and yet had he not thrust the imperial spears into himself
the Swiss would have been thrashed. Have there not been many
fools like that? Yet they are the heroes. And the clever people
are the cowards. Where they ought to deal the obstacle a blow
with all their might they stop to reflect: 'What will come of it?
Perhaps we may perish in vain?' And they stand there like posts--
until they breathe their last. And the fool is brave! He rushes
headforemost against the wall--bang! If his skull breaks--what of
it? Calves' heads are not dear. And if he makes a crack in the
wall the clever people will pick it open into gates, will pass
and credit themselves with the honour. No, Nikolay Matveyich,
bravery is a good thing even though it be without reason."
"Vasily, you are talking nonsense!" said Yozhov, stretching his
hand toward him.
"Ah, of course!" assented Vasily. "How am I to sip cabbage soup
with a bast shoe? And yet I am not blind. I can see. There is
plenty of brains, but no good comes of it. During the time the
clever people think and reflect as to how to act in the wisest
way, the fools will down them. That's all."
"Wait a little!" said Yozhov.
"I can't! I am on duty today. I am rather late as it is. I'll
drop in tomorrow--may I?"
"Come! I'll give a roasting!"
"That's exactly your business."
Vasily adjusted himself slowly, rose from the lounge, took
Yozhov's yellow, thin little hand in his big, swarthy paw and
Then he nodded toward Foma and went through the door sideways.
"Have you seen?" Yozhov asked Foma, pointing his hand at the
door, behind which the heavy footsteps still resounded.
"What sort of a man is he?"
"Assistant machinist, Vaska Krasnoshchokov. Here, take an example
from him: At the age of fifteen he began to study, to read and
write, and at twenty-eight he has read the devil knows how many
good books, and has mastered two languages to perfection. Now
he's going abroad."
"What for?" inquired Foma.
"To study. To see how people live there, while you languish here-
"He spoke sensibly of the fools," said Foma, thoughtfully.
"I don't know, for I am not a fool."
"That was well said. The stupid man ought to act at once. Rush
forward and overturn."
"There, he's broken loose!" exclaimed Yozhov. "You better tell me
whether it is true that Mayakin's son has returned?"
"Why do you ask?"
"I can see by your face that there is something."
"We know all about his son; we've heard about him."
"But I have seen him."
"Well? What sort of man is he?"
"The devil knows him! What have I to do with him?"
"Is he like his father?"
"He's stouter, plumper; there is more seriousness about him; he
is so cold."
"Which means that he will be even worse than Yashka. Well, now,
my dear, be on your guard or they will suck you dry."
"Well, let them do it!"
"They'll rob you. You'll become a pauper. That Taras fleeced his
father-in-law in Yekateringburg so cleverly."
"Let him fleece me too, if he likes. I shall not say a word to
him except 'thanks.'"
"You are still singing that same old tune?"
"To be set at liberty."
"Drop it! What do you want freedom for? What will you do with it?
Don't you know that you are not fit for anything, that you are
illiterate, that you certainly cannot even split a log of wood?
Now, if I could only free myself from the necessity of drinking
vodka and eating bread!"
Yozhov jumped to his feet, and, stopping in front of Foma, began
to speak in a loud voice, as though declaiming:
"I would gather together the remains of my wounded soul, and
together with the blood of my heart I would spit them into the
face of our intelligent society, the devil take it! I would say
'You insects, you are the best sap of my country! The fact of
your existence has been repaid by the blood and the tears of
scores of generations of Russian people. 0, you nits! How dearly
your country has paid for you! What are you doing for its sake in
return? Have you transformed the tears of the past into pearls?
What have you contributed toward life? What have you
accomplished? You have permitted yourselves to be conquered? What
are you doing? You permit yourselves to be mocked."'
He stamped his feet with rage, and setting his teeth together
stared at Foma with burning, angry looks, and resembled an
infuriated wild beast.
"I would say to them: 'You! You reason too much, but you are not
very wise, and you are utterly powerless, and you are all
cowards! Your hearts are filled up with morality and noble
intentions, but they are as soft and warm as feather beds; the
spirit of creativeness sleeps within them a profound and calm
sleep, and your hearts do not throb, they merely rock slowly,
like cradles.' Dipping my finger in the blood of my heart, I
would smear upon their brows the brands of my reproaches, and
they, paupers in spirit, miserable in their self-contentment,
they would suffer. Oh, how they would suffer! My scourge is
sharp, my hand is firm! And I love too deeply to have compassion!
They would suffer! And now they do not suffer, for they speak of
their sufferings too much, too often, and too loud! They lie!
Genuine suffering is mute, and genuine passion knows no bounds!
Passions, passions! When will they spring up in the hearts of
men? We are all miserable because of apathy."
Short of breath he burst into a fit of coughing, he coughed for a
long time, hopping about hither and thither, waving his hands
like a madman. And then he again stopped in front of Foma with
pale face and blood-shot eyes. He breathed heavily, his lips
trembled now and then, displaying his small, sharp teeth.
Dishevelled, with his head covered with short heir, he looked
like a perch just thrown out of the water. This was not the first
time Foma saw him in such a state, and, as always, he was
infected by his agitation. He listened to the fiery words of the
small man, silently, without attempting to understand their
meaning, having no desire to know against whom they were
directed, absorbing their force only. Yozhov's words bubbled on
like boiling water, and heated his soul.
"I will say to them, to those miserable idlers:
'Look! Life goes onward, leaving you behind!"'
"Eh! That's fine!" exclaimed Foma, ecstatically, and began to
move about on the lounge. "You're a hero, Nikolay! Oh! Go ahead!
Throw it right into their faces!"
But Yozhov was not in need of encouragement, it seemed even as
though he had not heard at all Foma's exclamations, and he went
"I know the limitations of my powers. I know they'll shout at me:
'Hold your peace!' They'll tell me: 'Keep silence!' They will say
it wisely, they will say it calmly, mocking me, they will say it
from the height of their majesty. I know I am only a small bird,
0h, I am not a nightingale! Compared with them I am an ignorant
man, I am only a feuilleton-writer, a man to amuse the public.
Let them cry and silence me, let them do it! A blow will fall on
my cheek, but the heart will nevertheless keep on throbbing! And
I will say to them:
"'Yes, I am an ignorant man! And my first advantage over you is
that I do not know a single book-truth dearer to me than a man!
Man is the universe, and may he live forever who carries the
whole world within him! And you,'I will say, 'for the sake of a
word which, perhaps, does not always contain a meaning
comprehensible to you, for the sake of a word you often inflict
sores and wounds on one another, for the sake of a word you spurt
one another with bile, you assault the soul. For this, believe
me, life will severely call you to account: a storm will break
loose, and it will whisk and wash you off the earth, as wind and
rain whisk and wash the dust off a tree I There is in human
language only one word whose meaning is clear and dear to
everybody, and when that word is pronounced, it sounds thus:
"Crush on!" roared Foma, jumping up from the lounge and grasping
Yozhov by the shoulders. With flashing eyes he gazed into
Yozhov's face, bending toward him, and almost moaned with grief
and affliction: "Oh! Nikolay! My dear fellow, I am mortally sorry
for you! I am more sorry than words can tell!"
"What's this? What's the matter with you?" cried Yozhov, pushing
him away, amazed and shifted from his position by Foma's
unexpected outburst and strange words.
"Oh, brother!" said Foma, lowering his voice, which thus sounded
deeper, more persuasive. "Oh, living soul, why do you sink to
"Who? I? I sink? You lie!"
"My dear boy! You will not say anything to anybody! There is no
one to speak to! Who will listen to you? Only I!"
"Go to the devil!" shouted Yozhov, angrily, jumping away from him
as though he had been scorched.
And Foma went toward him, and spoke convincingly, with intense
"Speak! speak to me! I shall carry away your words to the proper
place. I understand them. And, ah! how I will scorch the people!
Just wait! My opportunity will come."
"Go away!" screamed Yozhov, hysterically, squeezing his back to
the wall, under Foma's pressure. Perplexed, crushed, and
infuriated he stood and waved off Foma's arms outstretched toward
him. And at this time the door of the room opened, and on the
threshold appeared a woman all in black. Her face was angry-
looking and excited, her cheek was tied up with a kerchief. She
tossed her head back, stretched out her hand toward Yozhov and
said, in ahissing and shrill voice:
"Nikolay Matveyich! Excuse me, but this is impossible! Such
beast-like howling and roaring. Guests everyday. The police are
coming. No, I can't bear it any longer! I am nervous. Please
vacate the lodgings to-morrow. You are not living in a desert,
there are people about you here. And an educated man at that! A
writer! All people require rest. I have a toothache. I request
you to move tomorrow. I'll paste up a notice, I'll notify the
She spoke rapidly, and the majority of her words were lost in the
hissing and whistling of her voice; only those words were
distinct, which she shrieked out in a shrill, irritated tone. The
corners of her kerchief protruded on her head like small horns,
and shook from the movement of her jaws. At the sight of her
agitated and comical figure Foma gradually retreated toward the
lounge, while Yozhov stood, and wiping his forehead, stared at
her fixedly, and listened to her words:
"So know it now!" she screamed, and behind the door, she said
"Tomorrow! What an outrage."
"Devil!" whispered Yozhov, staring dully at the door.
"Yes! what a woman! How strict!" said Foma, looking at him in
amazement, as he seated himself on the lounge.
Yozhov, raising his shoulders, walked up to the table, poured out
a half a tea-glass full of vodka, emptied it and sat down by the
table, bowing his head low. There was silence for about a minute.
Then Foma said, timidly and softly:
"How it all happened! We had no time even to wink an eye, and,
suddenly, such an outcome. Ah!"
"You!" said Yozhov in an undertone, tossing up his head, and
staring at Foma angrily and wildly. "Keep quiet! You, the devil
take you. Lie down and sleep! You monster. Nightmare. Oh!"
And he threatened Foma with his fist. Then he filled the glass
with more brandy, and emptied it again.
A few minutes later Foma lay undressed on the lounge, and, with
half-shut eyes, followed Yozhov who sat by the table in an
awkward pose. He stared at the floor, and his lips were quietly
moving. Foma was astonished, he could not make out why Yozhov had
become angry at him. It could not be because he had been ordered
to move out. For it was he himself who had been shouting.
"0h devil!" whispered Yozhov, and gnashed his teeth.
Foma quietly lifted his head from the pillow. Yozhov deeply and
noisily sighing, again stretched out his hand toward the bottle.
Then Foma said to him softly:
"Let's go to some hotel. It isn't late yet."
Yozhov looked at him, and, rubbing his head with his hands, began
to laugh strangely. Then he rose from his chair and said to Foma
And seeing how clumsily and slowly he turned on the lounge,
Yozhov shouted with anger and impatience:
"Well, be quicker! You personification of stupidity. You
"Don't curse!" said Foma, with a peaceable smile. "Is it
worthwhile to be angry because a woman has cackled?"
Yozhov glanced at him, spat and burst into harsh laughter.
"ARE all here?" asked Ilya Yefimovich Kononov, standing on the
bow of his new steamer, and surveying the crowd of guests with
"It seems to be all!"
And raising upward his stout, red, happy-looking face, he shouted
to the captain, who was already standing on the bridge, beside
"Cast off, Petrukha!"
The captain bared his huge, bald head, made the sign of the
cross, glancing up at the sky, passed his hand over his wide,
black beard, cleared his throat, and gave the command:
The guests watched the movements of the captain silently and
attentively, and, emulating his example, they also began to cross
themselves, at which performance their caps and high hats flashed
through the air like a flock of black birds.
Give us Thy blessing, 0h Lord!" exclaimed Kononov with emotion.
"Let go astern! Forward!" ordered the captain. The massive "Ilya
Murometz," heaving a mighty sigh, emitted a thick column of white
steam toward the side of the landing-bridge, and started upstream
easily, like a swan.
"How it started off," enthusiastically exclaimed commercial
counsellor Lup Grigoryev Reznikov, a tall, thin, good-looking
man. "Without a quiver! Like a lady in the dance!"
"It's not a ship, it's a Leviathan!" remarked with a devout sigh
the pock-marked and stooping Trofim Zubov, cathedral-warden and
principal usurer in town.
It was a gray day. The sky, overcast with autumn clouds, was
reflected in the water of the river, thus giving it a cold leaden
colouring. Flashing in the freshness of its paint the steamer
sailed along the monotonous background of the river like a huge
bright spot, and the black smoke of its breath hung in the air
like a heavy cloud. All white, with pink paddle-boxes and bright
red blades, the steamer easily cut through the cold water with
its bow and drove it apart toward the shores, and the round
window-panes on the sides of the steamer and the cabin glittered
brilliantly, as though smiling a self-satisfied, triumphant
"Gentlemen of this honourable company!" exclaimed Kononov,
removing his hat, and making a low bow to the guests. "As we have
now rendered unto God, so to say, what is due to God, would you
permit that the musicians render now unto the Emperor what is due
to the Emperor?"
And, without waiting for an answer from his guests, he placed his
fist to his mouth, and shouted:
"Musicians! Play 'Be Glorious!'"
The military orchestra, behind the engine, thundered out the
And Makar Bobrov, the director and founder of the local
commercial bank, began to hum in a pleasant basso, beating time
with his fingers on his enormous paunch:
"Be glorious, be glorious, our Russian Czar--tra-rata! Boom!"
"I invite you to the table, gentlemen! Please! Take pot-luck, he,
he! I entreat you humbly," said Kononov, pushing himself through
the dense group of guests.
There were about thirty of them, all sedate men, the cream of the
local merchants. The older men among them, bald-headed and gray,
wore old-fashioned frock-coats, caps and tall boots. But there
were only few of these; high silk hats, shoes and stylish coats
reigned supreme. They were all crowded on the bow of the steamer,
and little by little, yielding to Kononov's requests, moved
towards the stern covered with sailcloth, where stood tables
spread with lunch. Lup Reznikov walked arm in arm with Yakov
Mayakin, and, bending over to his ear, whispered something to
him, while the latter listened and smiled. Foma, who had been
brought to the festival by his godfather, after long admonitions,
found no companion for himself among these people who were
repulsive to him, and, pale and gloomy, held himself apart from
them. During the past two days he had been drinking heavily with
Yozhov, and now he had a terrible headache. He felt ill at ease
in the sedate and yet jolly company; the humming of the voices,
the thundering of the music and the clamour of the steamer, all
these irritated him.
He felt a pressing need to doze off, and he could find no rest
from the thought as to why his godfather was so kind to him
today, and why he brought him hither into the company of the
foremost merchants of the town. Why had he urged so persuasively,
and even entreated him to attend Kononov's mass and banquet?
"Don't be foolish, come!" Foma recalled his godfather's
admonitions. "Why do you fight shy of people? Man gets his
character from nature, and in riches you are lower than very few.
You must keep yourself on an equal footing with the others.
"But when are you going to speak seriously with me, papa?" Foma
had asked, watching the play of his godfather's face and green
"You mean about setting you free from the business? Ha, ha! We'll
talk it over, we'll talk it over, my friend! What a queer fellow
you are. Well? Will you enter a monastery when you have thrown
away your wealth? After the example of the saints? Eh?"
"I'll see then!" Foma had answered.
"So. Well, and meanwhile, before you go to the monastery, come
along with me! Get ready quickly. Rub your phiz with something
wet, for it is very much swollen. Sprinkle yourself with cologne,
get it from Lubov, to drive away the smell of the kabak. Go
Arriving on the steamer while the mass was in progress, Foma took
up a place on the side and watched the merchants during the whole
They stood in solemn silence; their faces had an expression of
devout concentration; they prayed with fervour, deeply sighing,
bowing low, devoutly lifting their eyes heavenward. And Foma
looked now at one, now at another, and recalled what he knew
There was Lup Reznikov; he had begun his career as a brothel-
keeper, and had become rich all of a sudden. They said he had
strangled one of his guests, a rich Siberian. Zubov's business in
his youth had been to purchase thread from the peasants. He had
failed twice. Kononov had been tried twenty years ago for arson,
and even now he was indicted for the seduction of a minor.
Together with him, for the second time already, on a similar
charge, Zakhar Kirillov Robustov had been dragged to court.
Robustov was a stout, short merchant with a round face and
cheerful blue eyes. Among these people there was hardly one about
whom Foma did not know something disgraceful.
And he knew that they were all surely envying the successful
Kononov, who was constantly increasing the number of his steamers
from year to year. Many of those people were at daggers' points
with one another, none of them would show mercy to the others in
the battlefield of business, and all knew wicked and dishonest
things about one another. But now, when they gathered around
Kononov, who was triumphant and happy, they blended in one dense,
dark mass, and stood and breathed as one man, concentrated and
silent, surrounded by something invisible yet firm, by something
which repulsed Foma from them, and which inspired him with fear
"Impostors!" thought he, thus encouraging himself.
And they coughed gently, sighed, crossed themselves, bowed, and,
surrounding the clergy in a thick wall, stood immovable and firm,
like big, black rocks.
"They are pretending!" Foma exclaimed to himself. Beside him
stood the hump-backed, one-eyed Pavlin Gushchin--he who, not long
before, had turned the children of his half-witted brother into
the street as beggars--he stood there and whispered penetratingly
as he looked at the gloomy sky with his single eye:
"0h Lord! Do not convict me in Thy wrath, nor chastise me in Thy
And Foma felt that that man was addressing the Lord with the most
profound and firm faith in His mercy.
"0h Lord, God of our fathers, who hadst commanded Noah, Thy
servant, to build an ark for the preservation of the world," said
the priest in his deep bass voice, lifting his eyes and
outstretching his hands skyward, "protect also this vessel and
give unto it a guarding angel of good and peace. Guard those that
will sail upon it."
The merchants in unison made the sign of the cross, with wide
swings of their arms, and all their faces bore the expression of
one sentiment--faith in the power of prayer. All these pictures
took root in Foma's memory and awakened in him perplexity as to
these people, who, being able to believe firmly in the mercy of
God, were, nevertheless, so cruel unto man. He watched them
persistently, wishing to detect their fraud, to convince himself
of their falsehood.
Their grave firmness angered him, their unanimous self-
confidence, their triumphant faces, their loud voices, their
laughter. They were already seated by the tables, covered with
luncheon, and were hungrily admiring the huge sturgeon, almost
three yards in length, nicely sprinkled over with greens and
large crabs. Trofim Zubov, tying a napkin around his neck, looked
at the monster fish with happy, sweetly half-shut eyes, and said
to his neighbour, the flour merchant, Yona Yushkov:
"Yona Nikiforich! Look, it's a regular whale! It's big enough to
serve as a casket for your person, eh? Ha, ha! You could creep
into it as a foot into a boot, eh? Ha, ha!"
The small-bodied and plump Yona carefully stretched out his short
little hand toward the silver pail filled with fresh caviar,
smacked his lips greedily, and squinted at the bottles before
him, fearing lest he might overturn them.
Opposite Kononov, on a trestle, stood a half-vedro barrel of old
vodka, imported from Poland; in a huge silver-mounted shell lay
oysters, and a certain particoloured cake, in the shape of a
tower, stood out above all the viands.
"Gentlemen! I entreat you! Help yourselves to whatever you
please!" cried Kononov. "I have here everything at once to suit
the taste of everyone. There is our own, Russian stuff, and there
is foreign, all at once! That's the best way! Who wishes
anything? Does anybody want snails, or these crabs, eh? They're
from India, I am told."
And Zubov said to his neighbour, Mayakin:
"The prayer 'At the Building of a Vessel' is not suitable for
steam-tugs and river steamers, that is, not that it is not
suitable, it isn't enough alone. A river steamer is a place of
permanent residence for the crew, and therefore it ought to be
considered as a house. Consequently it is necessary to make the
prayer 'At the Building of a House,' in addition to that for the
vessel. But what will you drink?"
"I am not much of a wine fiend. Pour me out some cumin vodka,"
replied Yakov Tarasovich.
Foma, seated at the end of the table among some timid and modest
men who were unfamiliar to him, now and again felt on himself the
sharp glances of the old man.
"He's afraid I'll make a scandal," thought Foma. "Brethren!"
roared the monstrously stout ship builder Yashchurov, in a hoarse
voice," I can't do without herring! I must necessarily begin with
herring, that's my nature."
"Musicians! strike up 'The Persian March!"
"Hold on! Better 'How Glorious!'"
"Strike up 'How Glorious."'
The puffing of the engine and the clatter of the steamer's
wheels, mingling with the sounds of the music, produced in the
air something which sounded like the wild song of a snow-storm.
The whistle of the flute, the shrill singing of the clarionets,
the heavy roaring of the basses, the ruffling of the little drum
and the drones of the blows on the big one, all this fell on the
monotonous and dull sounds of the wheels, as they cut the water
apart, smote the air rebelliously, drowned the noise of the human
voices and hovered after the steamer, like a hurricane, causing
the people to shout at the top of their voices. At times an angry
hissing of steam rang out within the engine, and there was
something irritable and contemptuous in this sound as it burst
unexpectedly upon the chaos of the drones and roars and shouts.
"I shall never forget, even unto my grave, that you refused to
discount the note for me," cried some one in a fierce voice.
"That will do! Is this a place for accounts?" rang out Bobrov's
"Brethren! Let us have some speeches!"
"Come up to the bank and I'll explain to you why I didn't
"A speech! Silence!"
"Musicians, cease playing!"
"Strike up 'In the Meadows.'"
"No! Yakov Tarasovich, we beg of you!"
"That's called Strassburg pastry."
"We beg of you! We beg of you!"
"Pastry? It doesn't look like it, but I'll taste it all the
"Brethren! It is jolly! By God."
"And in 'La Belle Helene' she used to come out almost naked, my
dear," suddenly Robustov's shrill and emotional voice broke
through the noise.
"Look out! Jacob cheated Esau? Aha!"
"I can't! My tongue is not a hammer, and I am no longer young.
"Yasha! We all implore you!"
"Do us the honour!"
"We'll elect you mayor!"
"Tarasovich! don't be capricious!"
"Sh! Silence! Gentlemen! Yakov Tarasovich will say a few words!"
And just at the moment the noise subsided some one's loud,
indignant whisper was heard:
"How she pinched me, the carrion."
And Bobrov inquired in his deep basso:
"Where did she pinch you?"
All burst into ringing laughter, but soon fell silent, for Yakov
Tarasovich Mayakin, rising to his feet, cleared his throat, and,
stroking his bald crown, surveyed the merchants with a serious
look expecting attention.
"Well, brethren, open your ears!" shouted Kononov, with
"Gentlemen of the merchant class!" began Mayakin with a smile.
"There is a certain foreign word in the language of intelligent
and learned people, and that word is 'culture.' So now I am going
to talk to you about that word in all the simplicity of my soul."
"So, that's where he is aiming to!" some ones satisfied
exclamation was heard.
"Dear gentlemen!" said Mayakin, raising his voice, "in the
newspapers they keep writing about us merchants, that we are not
acquainted with this 'culture,' that we do not want it, and do
not understand it. And they call us savage, uncultured people.
What is culture? It pains me, old man as I am, to hear such
words, and one day I made it my business to look up that word, to
see what it really contains." Mayakin became silent, surveyed the
audience with his eyes, and went on distinctly, with a triumphant
"It proved, upon my researches, that this word means worship,
that is, love, great love for business and order in life. 'That's
right!' I thought, 'that's right!' That means that he is a
cultured man who loves business and order, who, in general, loves
to arrange life, loves to live, knows the value of himself and of
life. Good!" Yakov Tarasovich trembled, his wrinkles spread over
his face like beams, from his smiling eyes to his lips, and his
bald head looked like some dark star.
The merchants stared silently and attentively at his mouth, and
all faces bespoke intense attention. The people seemed petrified
in the attitudes in which Mayakin's speech had overtaken them.
"But if that word is to be interpreted precisely thus, and not
otherwise, if such is the case-- then the people who call us
uncultured and savage, slander and blaspheme us! For they love
only the word, but not its meaning; while we love the very root
of the word, we love its real essence, we love activity. We have
within us the real cult toward life, that is, the worship of
life; we, not they! They love reasoning' we love action. And
here, gentlemen of the merchant class, here is an example of our
culture, of our love for action. Take the Volga! Here she is, our
dear own mother! With each and every drop of her water she can
corroborate our honour and refute the empty blasphemy spattered
on us. Only one hundred years have elapsed, my dear sirs, since
Emperor Peter the Great launched decked barks on this river, and
now thousands of steamships sail up and down the river. Who has
built them? The Russian peasant, an utterly unlettered man! All
these enormous steamers, barges--whose are they? Ours! Who has
invented them? We! Everything here is ours, everything here is
the fruit of our minds, of our Russian shrewdness, and our great
love for action! Nobody has assisted us in anything! We ourselves
exterminated piracy on the Volga; at our own expense we hired
troops; we exterminated piracy and sent out on the Volga
thousands of steamers and various vessels over all the
thousands of miles of her course. Which is the best town on the
Volga? The one that has the most merchants. Whose are the best
houses in town? The merchants! Who takes the most care of the
poor? The merchant! He collects groshes and copecks, and donates
hundreds of thousands of roubles. Who has erected the churches?
We! Who contributes the most money to the government? The
merchants! Gentlemen! to us alone is the work dear for its own
sake, for the sake of our love for the arrangement of life, and
we alone love order and life! And he who talks about us merely
talks, and that's all! Let him talk! When the wind blows the
willow rustles; when the wind subsides the willow is silent; and
neither a cart-shaft, nor a broom can be made out of the willow;
it is a useless tree! And from this uselessness comes the noise.
What have they, our judges, accomplished; how have they adorned
life? We do not know it. While our work is clearly evident!
Gentlemen of the merchant class! Seeing in you the foremost men
in life, most industrious and loving your labours, seeing in you
the men who can accomplish and have accomplished everything, I
now heartily, with respect and love for you, lift my brimming
goblet, to the glorious, strong-souled, industrious Russian
merchant class. Long may you live! May you succeed for the glory
of Mother Russia! Hurrah!"
The shrill, jarring shout of Mayakin called forth a deafening,
triumphant roar from the merchants. All these big, fleshy bodies,
aroused by wine and by the old man's words, stirred and uttered
from their chests such a unanimous, massive shout that everything
around them seemed to tremble and to quake.
"Yakov! you are the trumpet of the Lord!" cried Zubov, holding
out his goblet toward Mayakin.
Overturning the chairs, jostling the tables, thus causing the
dishes and the bottles to rattle and fall, the merchants,
agitated, delighted, some with tears in their eyes, rushed toward
Mayakin with goblets in their hands.
"Ah! Do you understand what has been said here?" asked Kononov,
grasping Robustov by the shoulder and shaking him. "Understand
it! That was a great speech!"
"Yakov Tarasovich! Come, let me embrace you!"
"Let's toss, Mayakin!
"Strike up the band."
"Sound a flourish! A march. 'The Persian March."'
"We don't want any music! The devil take it!"
"Here is the music! Eh, Yakov Tarasovich! What a mind!"
"I was small among my brethren, but I was favoured with
"You lie, Trofim!"
"Yakov! you'll die soon. Oh, what a pity! Words can't express how
sorry we are!"
"But what a funeral that is going to be!"
"Gentlemen! Let us establish a Mayakin fund! I put up a
"Silence! Hold on!"
"Gentlemen!" Yakov Tarasovich began to speak again, quivering in
every limb. "And, furthermore, we are the foremost men in life
and the real masters in our fatherland because we are--peasants!'
"That's right! Dear mother! That's an old man for you!"
"Hold on! Let him finish."
"We are primitive Russian people, and everything that comes from
us is truly Russian! Consequently it is the most genuine, the
most useful and obligatory."
"As true as two and two make four!"
"It's so simple."
"He is as wise as a serpent!"
"And as meek as a--"
"As a hawk. Ha, ha, ha!"
The merchants encircled their orator in a close ring, they looked
at him with their oily eyes, and were so agitated that they could
no longer listen to his words calmly. Around him a tumult of
voices smote the air, and mingling with the noise of the engine,
and the beating of the wheels upon the water, it formed a
whirlwind of sounds which drowned the jarring voice of the old
man. The excitement of the merchants was growing more and more
intense; all faces were radiant with triumph; hands holding out
goblets were outstretched toward Mayakin; the merchants clapped
him on the shoulder, jostled him, kissed him, gazed with emotion
into his face. And some screamed ecstatically:
"The kamarinsky. The national dance!"
"We have accomplished all that!" cried Yakov Tarasovich, pointing
at the river. "It is all ours! We have built up life!"
Suddenly rang out a loud exclamation which drowned all sounds:
"Ah! So you have done it? Ah, you."
And immediately after this, a vulgar oath resounded through the
air, pronounced distinctly with great rancour, in a dull but
powerful voice. Everyone heard it and became silent for a moment,
searching with their eyes the man who had abused them. At this
moment nothing was heard save the deep sighs of the engines and
the clanking of the rudder chains.
"Who's snarling there?" asked Kononov with a frown.
"We can't get along without scandals!" said Reznikov, with a
"Who was swearing here at random?"
The faces of the merchants mirrored alarm, curiosity,
astonishment, reproach, and all the people began to bustle about
stupidly. Only Yakov Tarasovich alone was calm and seemed even
satisfied with what had occurred. Rising on tiptoe, with his neck
outstretched, he stared somewhere toward the end of the table,
and his eyes flashed strangely, as though he saw there something
which was pleasing to him.
"Gordyeeff" said Yona Yushkov, softly.
And all heads were turned toward the direction in which Yakov
Tarasovich was staring.
There, with his hands resting on the table, stood Foma. His face
distorted with wrath, his teeth firmly set together, he silently
surveyed the merchants with his burning, wide-open eyes. His
lower jaw was trembling, his shoulders were quivering, and the
fingers of his hands, firmly clutching the edge of the table, were
nervously scratching the tablecloth. At the sight of his wolf-
like, angry face and his wrathful pose, the merchants again
became silent for a moment.
"What are you gaping at?" asked Foma, and again accompanied his
question with a violent oath.
"He's drunk!" said Bobrov, with a shake of the head.
"And why was he invited?" whispered Reznikov, softly.
"Foma Ignatyevich!" said Kononov, sedately, "you mustn't create
any scandals. If your head is reeling--go, my dear boy, quietly
and peacefully into the cabin and lie down! Lie down, and--"
"Silence, you!" roared Foma, and turned his eye at him. "Do not
dare to speak to me! I am not drunk. I am soberer than any one of
you here! Do you understand?"
"But wait awhile, my boy. Who invited you here?" asked Kononov,
reddening with offence.
"I brought him!" rang out Mayakin's voice.
"Ah! Well, then, of course. Excuse me, Foma Ignatyevich. But as
you brought him, Yakov, you ought to subdue him. Otherwise it's
Foma maintained silence and smiled. And the merchants, too, were
silent, as they looked at him.
"Eh, Fomka!" began Mayakin. "Again you disgrace my old age."
"Godfather!" said Foma, showing his teeth, "I have not done
anything as yet, so it is rather early to read me a lecture. I am
not drunk, I have drunk nothing, but I have heard everything.
Gentlemen merchants! Permit me to make a speech! My godfather,
whom you respect so much, has spoken. Now listen to his godson."
"What--speeches?" said Reznikov. "Why have any discourses? We
have come together to enjoy ourselves."
"Come, you had better drop that, Foma Ignatyevich."
"Better drink something."
"Let's have a drink! Ah, Foma, you're the son of a fine father!"
Foma recoiled from the table, straightened himself and
continuously smiling, listened to the kind, admonitory words.
Among all those sedate people he was the youngest and the
handsomest. His well-shaped figure, in a tight-fitting frock
coat, stood out, to his advantage, among the mass of stout bodies
with prominent paunches. His swarthy face with large eyes was
more regularly featured, more full of life than the shrivelled or
red faces of those who stood before him with astonishment and
expectancy. He threw his chest forward, set his teeth together,
and flinging the skirts of his frock coat apart, thrust his hands
into his pockets.
"You can't stop up my mouth now with flattery and caresses!" said
he, firmly and threateningly, "Whether you will listen or not, I
am going to speak all the same. You cannot drive me away from
He shook his head, and, raising his shoulders, announced calmly:
"But if any one of you dare to touch me, even with a finger, I'll
kill him! I swear it by the Lord. I'll kill as many as I can!"
The crowd of people that stood opposite him swayed back, even as
bushes rocked by the wind. They began to talk in agitated
whispers. Foma's face grew darker, his eyes became round.
"Well, it has been said here that you have built up life, and
that you have done the most genuine and proper things."
Foma heaved a deep sigh, and with inexpressible aversion
scrutinized his listeners' faces, which suddenly became strangely
puffed up, as though they were swollen. The merchants were
silent, pressing closer and closer to one another. Some one in
the back rows muttered:
"What is he talking about? Ah! From a paper, or by heart?"
"Oh, you rascals!" exclaimed Gordyeeff, shaking his head. "What
have you made? It is not life that you have made, but a prison.
It is not order that you have established, you have forged
fetters on man. It is suffocating, it is narrow, there is no room
for a living soul to turn. Man is perishing! You are murderers!
Do you understand that you exist today only through the patience
"What does this mean?" exclaimed Reznikov, clasping his hands in
rage and indignation. "Ilya Yefimov, what's this? I can't bear to
hear such words."
"Gordyeeff!" cried Bobrov. "Look out, you speak improper words."
"For such words you'll get--oi, oi, oi! " said Zubov,
"Silence!" roared Foma, with blood-shot eyes. "Now they're
"Gentlemen!" rang out Mayakin's calm, malicious voice, like the
screech of a smooth-file on iron. "Don't touch him! I entreat you
earnestly, do not hinder him. Let him snarl. Let him amuse
himself. His words cannot harm you."
"Well, no, I humbly thank you! "cried Yushkov. And close at
Foma's side stood Smolin and whispered in his ear:
"Stop, my dear boy! What's the matter with you? Are you out of
your wits? They'll do you--!"
"Get away!" said Foma, firmly, flashing his angry eyes at him.
"You go to Mayakin and flatter him, perhaps something will come
Smolin whistled through his teeth and stepped aside. And the
merchants began to disperse on the steamer, one by one. This
irritated Foma still more he wished he could chain them to the
spot by his words, but he could not find such powerful words.
"You have built up life!" he shouted. "Who are you?
A few men turned toward Foma, as if he had called them.
"Kononov! are they soon going to try you for that little girl?
They'll convict you to the galleys. Goodbye, Ilya! You are
building your steamers in vain. They'll transport you to Siberia
on a government vessel."
Kononov sank into a chair; his blood leaped to his face, and he
shook his fist in silence. Foma said hoarsely:
"Very well. Good. I shall not forget it."
Foma saw his distorted face with its trembling lips, and
understood with what weapons he could deal these men the most
"Ha, ha, ha! Builders of life! Gushchin, do you give alms to your
little nephews and nieces? Give them at least a copeck a day. You
have stolen sixty-seven thousand roubles from them. Bobrov! why
did you lie about that mistress of yours, saying that she had
robbed you, and then send her to prison? If you had grown tired
of her, you might have given her over to your son. Anyway he has
started an intrigue with that other mistress of yours. Didn't you
know it? Eh, you fat pig, ha, ha! And you, Lup, open again a
brothel, and fleece your guests there as before. And then the
devil will fleece you, ha, ha! It is good to be a rascal with a
pious face like yours! Whom did you kill then, Lup?"
Foma spoke, interrupting his speech with loud, malevolent
laughter, and saw that his words were producing an impression on
these people. Before, when he had spoken to all of them they
turned away from him, stepping aside, forming groups, and looking
at their accuser from afar with anger and contempt. He saw smiles
on their faces, he felt in their every movement something
scornful, and understood that while his words angered them they
did not sting as deep as he wished them to. All this had chilled
his wrath, and within him there was already arising the bitter
consciousness of the failure of his attack on them. But as soon
as he began to speak of each one separately, there was a swift
and striking change in the relation of his hearers toward him.
When Kononov sank heavily in the chair, as though he were unable
to withstand the weight of Foma's harsh words, Foma noticed that
bitter and malicious smiles crossed the faces of some of the
merchants. He heard some one's whisper of astonishment and
"That's well aimed!"
This whisper gave strength to Foma, and he confidently and
passionately began to hurl reproaches, jeers and abuses at those
who met his eyes. He growled joyously, seeing that his words were
taking effect. He was listened to silently, attentively; several
men moved closer toward him.
Exclamations of protest were heard, but these were brief, not
loud, and each time Foma shouted some one's name, all became
silent, listening, casting furtive, malicious glances in the
direction of their accused comrade.
Bobrov laughed perplexedly, but his small eyes bored into Foma as
gimlets. And Lup Reznikov, waving his hands, hopped about
awkwardly and, short of breath, said:
"Be my witnesses. What's this! No-o! I will not forgive this!
I'll go to court. What's that?" and suddenly he screamed in a
shrill voice, out-stretching his hand toward Foma:
Foma was laughing.
"You cannot bind the truth, you can't do it! Even bound, truth
will not grow dumb!"
"Go-o-od!" drawled out Kononov in a dull, broken voice.
"See here, gentlemen of the merchant class!" rang out Mayakin's
voice. "I ask! you to admire him, that's the kind of a fellow he
One after another the merchants moved toward Foma, and on their
faces he saw wrath, curiosity, a malicious feeling of
satisfaction, fear. Some one of those modest people among whom
Foma was sitting, whispered to him:
"Give it to them. God bless you. Go ahead! That will be to
"Robustov!" cried Foma. "What are you laughing at? What makes you
glad? You will also go to the galleys."
"Put him ashore!" suddenly roared Robustov, springing to his
And Kononov shouted to the captain:
"Back! To the town! To the Governor."
And someone insinuatingly, in a voice trembling with feeling:
"That's a collusive agreement. That was done on purpose. He was
instigated, and made drunk to give him courage."
"No, it's a revolt!"
"Bind him! Just bind him!"
Foma grasped a champagne bottle and swung it in the air.
"Come on now! No, it seems that you will have to listen to me."
With renewed fury, frantic with joy at seeing these people
shrinking and quailing under the blows of his words, Foma again
started to shout names and vulgar oaths, and the exasperated
tumult was hushed once more. The men, whom Foma did not know,
gazed at him with eager curiosity, with approval, while some
looked at him even with joyous surprise. One of them, a gray-
haired little old man with rosy cheeks and small mouse eyes,
suddenly turned toward the merchants, who had been abused by
Foma, and said in a sweet voice:
"These are words from the conscience! That's nothing! You must
endure it. That's a prophetic accusation. We are sinful. To tell
the truth we are very--"
He was hissed, and Zubov even jostled him on the shoulder. He
made a low bow and disappeared in the crowd.
"Zubov!" cried Foma. "How many people have you fleeced and turned
to beggars? Do you ever dream of Ivan Petrov Myakinnikov, who
strangled himself because of you? Is it true that you steal at
every mass ten roubles out of the church box?"
Zubov had not expected the attack, and he remained as petrified,
with his hand uplifted. But he immediately began to scream in a
shrill voice, as he jumped up quickly:
"Ah! You turn against me also? Against me, too?
And suddenly he puffed up his cheeks and furiously began to shake
his fist at Foma, as he screamed in a shrill voice:
"The fool says in his heart there is no God! I'll go to the
bishop! Infidel! You'll get the galleys!"
The tumult on the steamer grew, and at the sight of these
enraged, perplexed and insulted people, Foma felt himself a
fairy-tale giant, slaying monsters. They bustled about, waving
their arms, talking to one another--some red with anger, others
pale, yet all equally powerless to check the flow of his jeers at
"Send the sailors over here!" cried Reznikov, tugging Kononov by
the shoulder. "What's the matter with you, Ilya? Ah? Have you
invited us to be ridiculed?"
"Against one puppy," screamed Zubov.
A crowd had gathered around Yakov Tarasovitch Mayakin, and
listened to his quiet speech with anger, and nodded their heads
"Act, Yakov!" said Robustov, loudly. "We are all witnesses. Go
And above the general tumult of voices rang out Foma's loud,
"It was not life that you have built--you have made a cesspool!
You have bred filth and putrefaction by your deeds! Have you a
conscience? Do you remember God? Money--that's your God! And your
conscience you have driven away. Whither have you driven it away?
Blood-suckers! You live on the strength of others. You work with
other people's hands! You shall pay for all this! When you
perish, you will be called to account for everything! For
everything, even to a teardrop. How many people have wept blood
at those great deeds of yours? And according to your deserts,
even hell is too good a place for you, rascals. Not in fire, but
in boiling mud you shall be scorched. Your sufferings shall last
for centuries. The devils will hurl you into a boiler and will
pour into it--ha, ha, ha! they'll pour into it--ha, ha, ha!
Honourable merchant class! Builders of Life. Oh, you devils!"
Foma burst into ringing laughter, and, holding his sides,
staggered, tossing his head up high.
At that moment several men quickly exchanged glances,
simultaneously rushed on Foma and downed him with their weight. A
"Now you're caught!" ejaculated some one in a suffocating voice.
"Ah! Is that the way you're doing it?" cried Foma, hoarsely.
For about a half a minute a whole heap of black bodies bustled
about on one spot, heavily stamping their feet, and dull
exclamations were heard:
"Throw him to the ground!"
"Hold his hand, his hand! Oh!"
"By the beard?"
"Get napkins, bind him with napkins."
"You'll bite, will you?"
"So! Well, how's it? Aha!"
"Don't strike! Don't dare to strike."
"How strong he is!"
"Let's carry him over there toward the side."
"Out in the fresh air, ha, ha!"
They dragged Foma away to one side, and having placed him against
the wall of the captain's cabin, walked away from him, adjusting
their costumes, and mopping their sweat-covered brows. Fatigued
by the struggle, and exhausted by the disgrace of his defeat,
Foma lay there in silence, tattered, soiled with something,
firmly bound, hand and foot, with napkins and towels. With round,
blood-shot eyes he gazed at the sky; they were dull and
lustreless, as those of an idiot, and his chest heaved unevenly
and with difficulty.
Now came their turn to mock him. Zubov began. He walked up to
him, kicked him in the side and asked in a soft voice, all
trembling with the pleasure of revenge:
"Well, thunder-like prophet, how is it? Now you can taste the
sweetness of Babylonian captivity, he, he, he!"
"Wait," said Foma, hoarsely, without looking at him. "Wait until
I'm rested. You have not tied up my tongue."
But saying this, Foma understood that he could no longer do
anything, nor say anything. And that not because they had bound
him, but because something had burned out within him, and his
soul had become dark and empty.
Zubov was soon joined by Reznikov. Then one after another the
others began to draw near. Bobrov, Kononov and several others
preceded by Yakov Mayakin went to the cabin, anxiously discussing
something in low tones.
The steamer was sailing toward the town at full speed. The
bottles on the tables trembled and rattled from the vibration of
the steamer, and Foma heard this jarring, plaintive sound above
everything else. Near him stood a throng of people, saying
malicious, offensive things.
But Foma saw them as though through a fog, and their words did
not touch him to the quick. A vast, bitter feeling was now
springing up within him, from the depth of his soul; he followed
its growth and though he did not yet understand it, he already
experienced something melancholy and degrading.
"Just think, you charlatan! What have you done to yourself?" said
Reznikov. "What sort of a life is now possible to you? Do you
know that now no one of us would care even as much as to spit on
"What have I done?" Foma tried to understand. The merchants stood
around him in a dense, dark mass.
"Well," said Yashchurov, "now, Fomka, your work is done."
"Wait, we'll see," bellowed Zubov in a low voice.
"Let me free!" said Foma.
"Well, no! we thank you humbly!"
"It's all right! You can lie that way as well."
"Call up my godfather."
But Yakov Tarasovich came up at this moment. He came up, stopped
near Foma, sternly surveyed with his eyes the outstretched figure
of his godson, and heaved a deep sigh.
"Well, Foma," he began.
"Order them to unbind me," entreated Foma, softly, in a mournful
"So you can be turbulent again? No, no, you'd better lie this
way," his godfather replied.
"I won't say another word. I swear it by God! Unbind me. I am
ashamed! For Christ's sake. You see I am not drunk. Well, you
needn't untie my hands."
"You swear that you'll not be troublesome?" asked Mayakin.
"0h Lord! I will not, I will not," moaned Foma.
They untied his feet, but left his hands bound. When he rose, he
looked at them all, and said softly with a pitiful smile:
"We always shall!" replied his godfather, smiling sternly.
Foma bent, with his hands tied behind his back, advanced toward
the table silently, without lifting his eyes to anyone. He seemed
shorter in stature and thinner. His dishevelled hair fell on his
forehead and temples; the torn and crumpled bosom of his shirt
protruding from under his vest, and the collar covered his lips.
He turned his head to push the collar down under his chin, and
was unable to do it. Then the gray-headed little old man walked
up to him, adjusted what was necessary, looked into his eyes with
a smile and said:
"You must endure it."
Now, in Mayakin's presence, those who had mocked Foma were
silent, looking at the old man questioningly, with curiosity and
expectancy. He was calm but his eyes gleamed in a way not at all
becoming to the occasion, contentedly and brightly.
"Give me some vodka," begged Foma, seating himself at the table,
and leaning his chest against its edge. His bent figure look
piteous and helpless. Around they were talking in whispers,
passing this way and that cautiously. And everyone looked now at
him, now at Mayakin, who had seated himself opposite him. The old
man did not give Foma the vodka at once. First he surveyed him
fixedly, then he slowly poured out a wine glassful, and finally,
without saying a word, raised it to Foma's lips. Foma drank the
vodka, and asked:
"That's enough!" replied Mayakin.
And immediately after this there fell a minute of perfect,
painful silence. People were coming up to the table noiselessly,
on tiptoe, and when they were near they stretched their necks to
"Well, Fomka, do you understand now what you have done?" asked
Mayakin. He spoke softly, but all heard his question.
Foma nodded his head and maintained silence.
"There's no forgiveness for you!" Mayakin went on firmly, and
raising his voice. "Though we are all Christians, yet you will
receive no forgiveness at our hands. Just know this."
Foma lifted his head and said pensively:
"I have quite forgotten about you, godfather. You have not heard
anything from me."
"There you have it!" exclaimed Mayakin, bitterly, pointing at his
godson. "You see?"
A dull grumble of protest burst forth.
"Well, it's all the same!" resumed Foma with a sigh. "It's all
the same! Nothing--no good came out of it anyway."
And again he bent over the table.
"What did you want?" asked Mayakin, sternly.
"What I wanted?" Foma raised his head, looked at the merchants
and smiled. "I wanted--"
"Drunkard! Nasty scamp!"
"I am not drunk!" retorted Foma, morosely. "I have drank only two
glasses. I was perfectly sober."
"Consequently," said Bobrov, "you are right, Yakov Tarasovich, he
"I?" exclaimed Foma.
But they paid no attention to him. Reznikov, Zubov and Bobrov
leaned over to Mayakin and began to talk in low tones.
"Guardianship!" Foma's ears caught this one word. "I am in my
right mind!" he said, leaning back in his chair and staring at
the merchants with troubled eyes. "I understand what I wanted. I
wanted to speak the truth. I wanted to accuse you."
He was again seized with emotion, and he suddenly jerked his
hands in an effort to free them.
"Eh! Hold on!" exclaimed Bobrov, seizing him by the shoulders.
"Well, hold me!" said Foma with sadness and bitterness. "Hold me-
-what do you need me for?"
"Sit still!" cried his godfather, sternly.
Foma became silent. He now understood that what he had done was
of no avail, that his words had not staggered the merchants. Here
they stood, surrounding him in a dense throng, and he could not
see anything for them. They were calm, firm, treating him as a
drunkard and a turbulent fellow, and were plotting something
against him. He felt himself pitiful, insignificant, crushed by
that dark mass of strong-souled, clever and sedate people. It
seemed to him that a long time had passed since he had abused
them, so long a time that he himself seemed as a stranger,
incapable of comprehending what he had done to these people, and
why he had done it. He even experienced in himself a certain
feeling of offence, which resembled shame at himself in his own
eyes. There was a tickling sensation in his throat, and he felt
there was something foreign in his breast, as though some dust or
ashes were strewn upon his heart, and it throbbed unevenly and
with difficulty. Wishing to explain to himself his act, he said
slowly and thoughtfully, without looking at anyone:
"I wanted to speak the truth. Is this life?"
"Fool!" said Mayakin, contemptuously. "What truth can you speak?
What do you understand?"
"My heart is wounded, that I understand! What justification have
you all in the eyes of God? To what purpose do you live? Yes, I
feel--I felt the truth!"
"He is repenting!" said Reznikov, with a sarcastic smile.
"Let him!" replied Bobrov, with contempt.
Some one added:
"It is evident, from his words, that he is out of his wits."
"To speak the truth, that's not given to everyone!" said Yakov
Tarasovich, sternly and instructively, lifting his hand upward.
"It is not the heart that grasps truth; it is the mind; do you
understand that? And as to your feeling, that's nonsense! A cow
also feels when they twist her tail. But you must understand,
understand everything! Understand also your enemy. Guess what he
thinks even in his dreams, and then go ahead!"
According to his wont, Mayakin was carried away by the exposition
of his practical philosophy, but he realised in time that a
conquered man is not to be taught how to fight, and he stopped
short. Foma cast at him a dull glance, and shook his head
"Lamb!" said Mayakin.
"Leave me alone!" entreated Foma, plaintively. "It's all yours!
Well, what else do you want? Well, you crushed me, bruised me,
that serves me right! Who am I? 0 Lord!"
All listened attentively to his words, and in that attention
there was something prejudiced, something malicious.
"I have lived," said Foma in a heavy voice. "I have observed. I
have thought; my heart has become wounded with thoughts! And
here--the abscess burst. Now I am utterly powerless! As though
all my blood had gushed out. I have lived until this day, and
still thought that now I will speak the truth. Well, I have
He talked monotonously, colourlessly, and his speech resembled
that of one in delirium.
"I have spoken it, and I have only emptied myself, that's all.
Not a trace have my words left behind them. Everything is
uninjured. And within me something blazed up; it has burned out,
and there's nothing more there. What have I to hope for now? And
everything remains as it was."
Yakov Tarasovich burst into bitter laughter.
"What then, did you think to lick away a mountain with your
tongue? You armed yourself with malice enough to fight a bedbug,
and you started out after a bear, is that it? Madman! If your
father were to see you now. Eh!"
"And yet," said Foma, suddenly, loudly, with assurance, and his
eyes again flared up, "and yet it is all your fault! You have
spoiled life! You have made everything narrow. We are suffocating
because of you! And though my truth against you is weak, it is
truth, nevertheless! You are godless wretches! May you all be
He moved about in his chair, attempting to free his hands, and
cried out, flashing his eyes with fury:
"Unbind my hands!"
They came closer to him; the faces of the merchants became more
severe, and Reznikov said to him impressively:
"Don't make a noise, don't be bothersome! We'll soon be in town.
Don't disgrace yourself, and don't disgrace us either. We are not
going to take you direct from the wharf to the insane asylum."
"So!" exclaimed Foma. "So you are going to put me into an insane
No one replied. He looked at their faces and hung his head.
"Behave peacefully! We'll unbind you!" said someone.
"It's not necessary!" said Foma in a low voice. "It's all the
same. I spit on it! Nothing will happen."
And his speech again assumed the nature of a delirium.
"I am lost, I know it! Only not because of your power, but rather
because of my weakness. Yes! You, too, are only worms in the eyes
of God. And, wait! You shall choke. I am lost through blindness.
I saw much and I became blind, like an owl. As a boy, I remember,
I chased an owl in a ravine; it flew about and struck against
something. The sun blinded it. It was all bruised and it
disappeared, and my father said to me then: 'It is the same with
man; some man bustles about to and fro, bruises himself, exhausts
himself, and then throws himself anywhere, just to rest.' Hey I
unbind my hands."
His face turned pale, his eyes closed, his shoulders quivered.
Tattered and crumpled he rocked about in the chair, striking his
chest against the edge of the table, and began to whisper
The merchants exchanged significant glances. Some, nudging one
another in the sides, shook their heads at Foma in silence. Yakov
Mayakin's face was dark and immobile as though hewn out of stone.
"Shall we perhaps unbind him?" whispered Bobrov.
"When we get a little nearer."
"No, it's not necessary," said Mayakin in an undertone- "We'll
leave him here. Let someone send for a carriage. We'll take him
straight to the asylum."
"And where am I to rest?" Foma muttered again. "Whither shall I
fling myself?" And he remained as though petrified in a broken,
uncomfortable attitude, all distorted, with an expression of pain
on his face.
Mayakin rose from his seat and went to the cabin, saying softly:
"Keep an eye on him, he might fling himself overboard."
"I am sorry for the fellow," said Bobrov, looking at Yakov
Tarasovich as he departed.
"No one is to blame for his madness," replied Reznikov, morosely.
"And Yakov," whispered Zubov, nodding his head in the direction
"What about Yakov? He loses nothing through it."
"Yes, now he'll, ha, ha!"