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First digital edition 2017 by Anna Ruggieri
One morning, justas I was about to set off to my office,Agrafena, my cook, washerwoman and housekeeper, came in to me and,to my surprise, entered into conversation.
She had always been such a silent, simple creature that, excepther daily inquiry about dinner, she had not uttered a word for thelast six years. I, at least, had heard nothing else from her.
"Here I have come in to have a word with you, sir," she beganabruptly; "you really ought to let the little room."
"Which little room?"
"Why, the one next the kitchen,to be sure."
"What for? Why because folks do take in lodgers, to besure."
"But who would take it?"
"Who would take it? Why, a lodger would take it, to besure."
"But, my good woman, one could not put a bedstead in it; therewouldn't be room tomove! Who could live in it?"
"Who wants to live there! As long as he has a place to sleep in.Why, he would live in the window."
"In what window?"
"In what window! As though you didn't know! The one in thepassage, to be sure. He would sit there, sewing or doing anythingelse. Maybe he would sit on a chair, too. He's got a chair; and hehas a table, too; he's got everything."
"Who is 'he' then?"
"Oh, a good man, a man of experience. I will cook for him. AndI'll ask him three roubles a month for his boardand lodging."
After prolonged efforts I succeeded at last in learning fromAgrafena that an elderly man had somehow managed to persuade her toadmit him into the kitchen as a lodger and boarder. Any notionAgrafena took into her head had to be carried out; if not, I knewshe would give me no peace. When anything was not to her liking,she at once began to brood,and sank into a deep dejection thatwould last for a fortnight or three weeks. During that period mydinners were spoiled, my linen was mislaid, my floors wentunscrubbed; in short, I had a great deal to put up with. I hadobserved long ago that this inarticulate woman was incapable ofconceiving a project, of originating an idea of her own. But ifanything like a notion or a project was by some means put into herfeeble brain, to prevent its being carried out meant, for a time,her moral assassination. And so, as I cared more for my peace ofmind than for anything else, I consented forthwith.
"Has he a passport anyway, or something of the sort?"
"Tobe sure, he has. He is a good man, a man of experience; threeroubles he's promised to pay."
The very next day the new lodger made his appearance in mymodest bachelor quarters; but I was not put out by this, indeed Iwas inwardly pleased. I lead as a rule a very lonely hermit'sexistence. I have scarcely any friends; I hardly ever go anywhere.As I had spent ten years never coming out of my shell, I had, ofcourse, grown used to solitude. But another ten or fifteen years ormore of the same solitary existence, with the same Agrafena, in thesame bachelor quarters, was in truth a somewhat cheerless prospect.And therefore a new inmate, if well-behaved, was a heaven-sentblessing.
Agrafena had spoken truly: my lodger was certainly a man ofexperience. From his passport it appeared that he was an oldsoldier, a fact which I should have known indeed from his face. Anold soldier is easily recognised. Astafy Ivanovitch was afavourable specimen of his class. We got on very well together.What was best of all, Astafy Ivanovitch would sometimes tell astory, describing some incident in his own life. In the perpetualboredom of my existence such a story-teller was a veritabletreasure. One day he told me one of these stories. It made animpression on me. The following event was what led to it.
I was left alone in the flat; both Astafy and Agrafena were outon business of their own. All of a sudden I heard from the innerroom somebody—I fancied a stranger—come in; I went out;there actually was a stranger in the passage, a short fellowwearing no overcoat in spite of the cold autumn weather.
"What do you want?"
"Does a clerk called Alexandrov live here?"
"Nobody of that name here, brother. Good-bye."
"Why, the dvornik told me it was here," said my visitor,cautiously retiring towards the door.
"Be off, be off, brother, get along."
Next day after dinner, while Astafy Ivanovitch was fitting on acoat which he was altering for me, again some one came into thepassage. I half opened the door.
Before my very eyes my yesterday's visitor, with perfectcomposure, took my wadded greatcoat from the peg and, stuffing itunder his arm, darted out of the flat. Agrafena stood all the timestaring at him, agape with astonishment and doing nothing for theprotection of my property. Astafy Ivanovitch flew in pursuit of thethief and ten minutes later came back out of breath andempty-handed. He had vanished completely.
"Well, there's a piece of luck, Astafy Ivanovitch!"
"It's a good job your cloak is left! Or he would have put you ina plight, the thief!"
But the whole incident had so impressed Astafy Ivanovitch that Iforgot the theft as I looked at him. He could not get over it.Every minute or two he would drop the work upon which he wasengaged, and would describe over again how it hadall happened, howhe had been standing, how the greatcoat had been taken down beforehis very eyes, not a yard away, and how it had come to pass that hecould not catch the thief. Then he would sit down to his workagain, then leave it once more, and at last I saw him go down tothe dvornik to tell him all about it, and to upbraid him forletting such a thing happen in his domain. Then he came back andbegan scolding Agrafena. Then he sat down to his work again, andlong afterwards he was still muttering to himself how it had allhappened, how he stood there and I was here, how before our eyes,not a yard away, the thief took the coat off the peg, and so on. Inshort, though Astafy Ivanovitch understood his business, he was aterrible slow-coach and busy-body.
"He's made fools of us, Astafy Ivanovitch," I said to him in theevening, as I gave him a glass of tea. I wanted to while away thetime by recalling the story of the lost greatcoat, the frequentrepetition of which, together with the great earnestnessof thespeaker, was beginning to become very amusing.
"Fools, indeed, sir! Even though it is no business of mine, I amput out. It makes me angry though it is not my coat that was lost.To my thinking there is no vermin in the world worse than a thief.Another takes what you can spare, but a thief steals the work ofyour hands, the sweat of your brow, your time ... Ugh, it's nasty!One can't speak of it! it's too vexing. How is it you don't feelthe loss of your property, sir?"
"Yes, you are right, Astafy Ivanovitch, better if the thing hadbeen burnt; it's annoying to let the thief have it, it'sdisagreeable."
"Disagreeable! I should think so! Yet, to be sure, there arethieves and thieves. And I have happened, sir, to come across anhonest thief."
"Anhonest thief? But how can a thief be honest, AstafyIvanovitch?"
"There you are right indeed, sir. How can a thief be honest?There are none such. I only meant to say that he was an honest man,sure enough, and yet he stole. I was simply sorry for him."
"Why, how was that, Astafy Ivanovitch?"
"It was about two years ago, sir. I had been nearly a year outof a place, and just before I lost my place I made the acquaintanceof a poor lost creature. We got acquainted in a public-house. Hewas a drunkard, a vagrant, a beggar, he had been in a situation ofsome sort, but from his drinking habits he had lost his work. Sucha ne'er-do-weel! God only knows what he had on! Often you wouldn'tbe sure if he'd a shirt under his coat; everything he could lay hishands upon he would drink away. But he was not one to quarrel; hewas a quiet fellow. A soft, good-natured chap. And he'd never ask,he was ashamed; but you could see for yourself the poor fellowwanted a drink, and you would stand it him. And so we gotfriendly,that's to say, he stuck to me.... It was all one to me.And what a man he was, to be sure! Like a little dog he wouldfollow me; wherever I went there he would be; and all that afterour first meeting, and he as thin as a thread-paper! At first itwas 'let me stay the night'; well, I let him stay.
"I looked at his passport, too; the man was all right.
"Well, the next day it was the same story, and then the thirdday he came again and sat all day in the window and stayed thenight. Well, thinks I, he is sticking to me; give him food anddrink and shelter at night, too—here am I, a poor man, and ahanger-on to keep as well! And before he came to me, he used to goin the same way to a government clerk's; he attached himself tohim; they were always drinking together; but he, through trouble ofsome sort, drank himself into the grave. My man was called EmelyanIlyitch. I pondered and pondered what I was to do with him. Todrive him away I was ashamed. I was sorry for him; such a pitiful,God-forsaken creature Inever did set eyes on. And not a word saideither; he does not ask, but just sits there and looks into youreyes like a dog. To think what drinking will bring a man downto!
"I keep asking myself how am I to say to him: 'You must bemoving, Emelyanoushka,there's nothing for you here, you've come tothe wrong place; I shall soon not have a bite for myself, how am Ito keep you too?'
"I sat and wondered what he'd do when I said that to him. And Iseemed to see how he'd stare at me, if he were to hear me saythat,how long he would sit and not understand a word of it. And when itdid get home to him at last, how he would get up from the window,would take up his bundle—I can see it now, the red-checkhandkerchief full of holes, with God knows what wrapped up in it,which he had always with him, and then how he would set his shabbyold coat to rights, so that it would look decent and keep him warm,so that no holes would be seen—he was a man of delicatefeelings! And how he'd open the door and go out with tearsin hiseyes. Well, there's no letting a man go to ruin like that.... One'ssorry for him.
"And then again, I think, how am I off myself? Wait a bit,Emelyanoushka, says I to myself, you've not long to feast with me:I shall soon be going away and then youwill not find me.
"Well, sir, our family made a move; and Alexandr Filimonovitch,my master (now deceased, God rest his soul), said, 'I am thoroughlysatisfied with you, Astafy Ivanovitch; when we come back from thecountry we will take you on again.' I had been butler with them; anice gentleman he was, but he died that same year. Well, afterseeing him off, I took mybelongings, what little money I had, and Ithought I'd have a rest for a time, so I went to an old woman Iknew, and I took a corner in herroom. There was only one cornerfree in it. She had been a nurse, so now she had a pension and aroom of her own. Well, now good-bye, Emelyanoushka, thinks I, youwon't find me now, my boy.
"And what do you think, sir? I had gone out to see a man I knew,and when I came back in the evening, the first thing I saw wasEmelyanoushka! There he was, sitting on my box and his check bundlebeside him; he was sitting in his ragged old coat, waiting for me.And to while away the time he had borrowed a church book from theold lady, and was holding it wrong side upwards. He'd scented meout! My heart sank. Well, thinks I, there's no help forit—why didn't I turn him out at first? So I asked himstraight off: Have you brought your passport, Emelyanoushka?'
"I sat downon the spot, sir, and began to ponder: will avagabond like that be very much trouble to me? And on thinking itover it seemed he would not be much trouble. He must be fed, Ithought. Well, a bit of bread in the morning, and to make it godown better I'llbuy him an onion. At midday I should have to givehim another bit of bread and an onion; and in the evening, onionagain with kvass, with some more bread if he wanted it. And if somecabbage soup were to come our way, then we should both have had ourfill.I am no great eater myself, and a drinking man, as we allknow, never eats; all he wants is herb-brandy or green vodka. He'llruin me with his drinking, I thought, but then another idea cameinto my head, sir, and took great hold on me. So much so thatifEmelyanoushka had gone away I should have felt that I had nothingto live for, I do believe.... I determined on the spot to be afather and guardian to him. I'll keep him from ruin, I thought,I'll wean him from the glass! You wait a bit, thought I; verywell,Emelyanoushka, you may stay, only you must behave yourself; youmust obey orders.
"Well, thinks I to myself, I'll begin by training him to work ofsome sort, but not all at once; let him enjoy himself a littlefirst, and I'll look round and find something you are fit for,Emelyanoushka. For every sort of work a man needs a specialability, you know, sir. And I began to watch him on the quiet; Isoon saw Emelyanoushka was a desperate character. I began, sir,with a word of advice: I said this and thatto him. 'Emelyanoushka,'said I, 'you ought to take a thought and mend your ways. Have donewith drinking! Just look what rags you go about in: that old coatof yours, if I may make bold to say so, is fit for nothing but asieve. A pretty state of things!It's time to draw the line, sureenough.' Emelyanoushka sat and listened to me with his head hangingdown. Would you believe it, sir? It had come to such a pass withhim, he'd lost his tongue through drink and could not speak a wordof sense. Talk to him of cucumbers and he'd answer back aboutbeans! He would listen and listen to me and then heave such a sigh.'What are you sighing for, Emelyan Ilyitch?' I asked him.
"'Oh, nothing; don't you mind me, Astafy Ivanovitch. Do you knowthere were two women fighting in the street to-day, AstafyIvanovitch? One upset the other woman's basket of cranberries byaccident.'
"'Well, what of that?'
"'And the second one upset the other's cranberries on purposeand trampled them under foot, too.'
"'Well, and what of it, Emelyan Ilyitch?'
"'Why, nothing, Astafy Ivanovitch, I just mentioned it.'
"'"Nothing, I just mentioned it!" Emelyanoushka, my boy, Ithought, you've squandered and drunk away your brains!'
"'And do you know, a gentleman dropped a money-note on thepavementin Gorohovy Street, no, it was Sadovy Street. And a peasantsaw it and said, "That's my luck"; and at the same time another mansaw it and said, "No, it's my bit of luck. I saw it before youdid."'
"'Well, Emelyan Ilyitch?'
"'And the fellows had a fight over it, Astafy Ivanovitch. But apoliceman came up, took away the note, gave it back to thegentleman and threatened to take up both the men.'
"'Well, but what of that? What is there edifying about it,Emelyanoushka?'
"'Why, nothing, to be sure. Folks laughed, AstafyIvanovitch.'
"'Ach, Emelyanoushka! What do the folks matter? You've sold yoursoul for a brass farthing! But do you know what I have to tell you,Emelyan Ilyitch?'
"'What, Astafy Ivanovitch?'
"'Take a job of some sort, that's what you must do. For thehundredth time I say to you, set to work, have some mercy onyourself!'
"'What could I set to, Astafy Ivanovitch? I don't know what jobI could set to, and there is no one who will take me on, AstafyIvanovitch.'
"'That's how you came to be turned off, Emelyanoushka, youdrinking man!'
"'And do you know Vlass, the waiter, was sent for to the officeto-day, Astafy Ivanovitch?'
"'Why did they send for him, Emelyanoushka?' I asked.
"'I could not say why, Astafy Ivanovitch. I suppose they wantedhimthere, and that's why they sent for him.'
"A-ach, thought I, we are in a bad way, poor Emelyanoushka! TheLord is chastising us for our sins. Well, sir, what is one to dowith such a man?
"But a cunning fellow he was, and no mistake. He'd listen andlistento me, but at last I suppose he got sick of it. As soon as hesees I am beginning to get angry, he'd pick up his old coat and outhe'd slip and leave no trace. He'd wander about all day and comeback at night drunk. Where he got the money from, the Lord onlyknows; I had no hand in that.
"'No,' said I, 'Emelyan Ilyitch, you'll come to a bad end. Giveover drinking, mind what I say now, give it up! Next time you comehome in liquor, you can spend the night on the stairs. I won't letyou in!'
"After hearingthat threat, Emelyanoushka sat at home that dayand the next; but on the third he slipped off again. I waited andwaited; he didn't come back. Well, at least I don't mind owning, Iwas in a fright, and I felt for the man too. What have I done tohim? I thought. I've scared him away. Where's the poor fellow goneto now? He'll get lost maybe. Lord have mercy upon us!
"Night came on, he did not come. In the morning I went out intothe porch; I looked, and if he hadn't gone to sleep in the porch!There he was with his head on the step, and chilled to the marrowof his bones.
"'What next, Emelyanoushka, God have mercy on you! Where willyou get to next!'
"'Why, you were—sort of—angry with me, AstafyIvanovitch, the other day, you were vexed and promised to put metosleep in the porch, so I didn't—sort of—venture to comein, Astafy Ivanovitch, and so I lay down here....'
"I did feel angry and sorry too.
"'Surely you might undertake some other duty, Emelyanoushka,instead of lying here guarding the steps,' I said.
"'Why, what other duty, Astafy Ivanovitch?'
"'You lost soul'—I was in such a rage, I called himthat—'if you could but learn tailoring work! Look at your oldrag of a coat! It's not enough to have it in tatters, here you aresweeping the steps with it! Youmight take a needle and boggle upyour rags, as decency demands. Ah, you drunken man!'
"What do you think, sir? He actually did take a needle. Ofcourse I said it in jest, but he was so scared he set to work. Hetook off his coat and began threading the needle. I watched him; asyou may well guess, his eyes were all red and bleary, and his handswere all of a shake. He kept shoving and shoving the thread andcould not get it through the eye of the needle; he kept screwinghis eyes up and wetting the threadand twisting it in hisfingers—it was no good! He gave it up and looked at me.
"'Well,' said I, 'this is a nice way to treat me! If there hadbeen folks by to see, I don't know what I should have done! Why,you simple fellow, I said it you in joke, as a reproach. Give overyour nonsense, God bless you! Sit quiet and don't put me to shame,don't sleep on my stairs and make a laughing-stock of me.'
"'Why, what am I to do, Astafy Ivanovitch? I know very well I ama drunkard and good for nothing! I can do nothing but vex you, mybene—bene—factor....'
"And at that his blue lips began all of a sudden to quiver, anda tear ran down his white cheek and trembled on his stubbly chin,and then poor Emelyanoushka burst into a regularflood of tears.Mercy on us! I feltas though a knife were thrust into my heart! Thesensitive creature! I'd never have expected it. Who could haveguessed it? No, Emelyanoushka, thought I, I shall give you upaltogether. You can go your way like the rubbish you are.
"Well, sir, why make along story of it? And the whole affair isso trifling; it's not worth wasting words upon. Why, you, forinstance, sir, would not have given a thought to it, but I wouldhave given a great deal—if I had a great deal togive—that it never should have happened at all.
"I had a pair of riding breeches by me, sir, deuce take them,fine, first-rate riding breeches they were too, blue with a checkon it. They'd been ordered by a gentleman from the country, but hewould not have them after all; said they were not full enough, sothey were left on my hands. It struck me they were worth something.At the second-hand dealer's I ought to get five silver roubles forthem, or if not I could turn them into two pairs of trousers forPetersburg gentlemen and have a piece over for a waistcoat formyself. Of course for poor people like us everything comes in. Andit happened just then that Emelyanoushka was having a sad time ofit. There he sat day after day: he did not drink, not a drop passedhis lips, but he sat and moped like an owl. It was sad to seehim—he just sat and brooded. Well, thought I, either you'venot got a copper to spend, my lad, or else you're turning over anew leaf of yourself, you've given it up, you've listened toreason. Well, sir, that's how it was withus; and just then came aholiday. I went to vespers; when I came home I found Emelyanoushkasitting in the window, drunk and rocking to and fro.
"Ah! so that's what you've been up to, my lad! And I went to getsomething out of my chest. And when I lookedin, the breeches werenot there.... I rummaged here and there; they'd vanished. When I'dransacked everywhere and saw they were not there, something seemedto stab me to the heart. I ran first to the old dame and beganaccusing her; of Emelyanoushka I'd not the faintest suspicion,though there was cause for it in his sitting there drunk.
"'No,' said the old body, 'God be with you, my fine gentleman,what good are riding breeches to me? Am I going to wear suchthings? Why, a skirt I had I lost the other daythrough a fellow ofyour sort ... I know nothing; I can tell you nothing about it,' shesaid.
"'Who has been here, who has been in?' I asked.
"'Why, nobody has been, my good sir,' says she; 'I've been hereall the while; Emelyan Ilyitch went out and cameback again; therehe sits, ask him.'
"'Emelyanoushka,' said I, 'have you taken those new ridingbreeches for anything; you remember the pair I made for thatgentleman from the country?'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch,' said he; 'I've not—sortof—touched them.'
"Iwas in a state! I hunted high and low for them—they werenowhere to be found. And Emelyanoushka sits there rocking himselfto and fro. I was squatting on my heels facing him and bending overthe chest, and all at once I stole a glance at him.... Alack,Ithought; myheart suddenly grew hot within me and I felt myselfflushing up too. And suddenly Emelyanoushka looked at me.
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch,' said he, 'those riding breeches ofyours, maybe, you are thinking, maybe, I took them, but I nevertouched them.'
"'But what can have become of them, Emelyan Ilyitch?'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch,' said he, 'I've never seen them.'
"'Why, Emelyan Ilyitch, I suppose they've run off of themselves,eh?'
"'Maybe they have, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"When I heard him say that,I got up at once, went up to him,lighted the lamp and sat down to work to my sewing. I was alteringa waistcoat for a clerk who lived below us. And wasn't there aburning pain and ache in my breast! I shouldn't have minded so muchif I had put all the clothes I had in the fire. Emelyanoushkaseemed to have an inkling of what a rage I was in. When a man isguilty, you know, sir, he scents trouble far off, like the birds ofthe air before a storm.
"'Do you know what, Astafy Ivanovitch,' Emelyanoushka began,andhis poor old voice was shaking as he said the words, 'AntipProhoritch, the apothecary, married the coachman's wife thismorning, who died the other day——'
"I did give him a look, sir, a nasty look it was; Emelyanoushkaunderstood it too. I saw him getup, go to the bed, and begin torummage there for something. I waited—he was busy there along time and kept muttering all the while, 'No, not there, wherecan the blessed things have got to!' I waited to see what he'd do;I saw him creep under the bed onall fours. I couldn't bear it anylonger. 'What are you crawling about under the bed for, EmelyanIlyitch?' said I.
"'Looking for the breeches, Astafy Ivanovitch. Maybe they'vedropped down there somewhere.'
"'Why should you try to help a poor simple manlike me,' said I,'crawling on your knees for nothing, sir?'—I called him thatin my vexation.
"'Oh, never mind, Astafy Ivanovitch, I'll just look. They'llturn up, maybe, somewhere.'
"'H'm,' said I, 'look here, Emelyan Ilyitch!'
"'What is it, Astafy Ivanovitch?' said he.
"'Haven't you simply stolen them from me like a thief and arobber, in return for the bread and salt you've eaten here?' saidI.
"I felt so angry, sir, at seeing him fooling about on his kneesbefore me.
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"And he stayed lying as he was on his face under the bed. A longtime he lay there and then at last crept out. I looked at him andthe man was as white as a sheet. He stood up, and sat down near mein the window and sat so for some ten minutes.
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch,' he said, and all at once he stood upand came towards me, and I can see him now; he looked dreadful.'No, Astafy Ivanovitch,' said he, 'I never—sortof—touched your breeches.'
"He was all of a shake, poking himself in the chest with atrembling finger, and his poor old voice shook so that I wasfrightened, sir, and sat as though I was rooted to thewindow-seat.
"'Well, Emelyan Ilyitch,' said I, 'as you will, forgive me if I,in my foolishness, have accused you unjustly. As for the breeches,let them go hang; we can live without them. We've still our hands,thank God; we need not go thieving or begging from some other poorman; we'll earn our bread.'
"Emelyanoushka heard me out and went on standing there beforeme. I looked up, and he had sat down. Andthere he sat all theevening without stirring. At last I lay down to sleep.Emelyanoushka went on sitting in the same place. When I looked outin the morning, he was lying curled up in his old coat on the barefloor; he felt too crushed even to come to bed. Well, sir, I feltno more liking for the fellow from that day, in fact for the firstfew days I hated him. I felt as one may say as though my own sonhad robbed me, and done me a deadly hurt. Ach, thought I,Emelyanoushka, Emelyanoushka! And Emelyanoushka, sir, went ondrinking for a whole fortnight without stopping. He was drunk allthe time, and regularly besotted. He went out in the morning andcame back late at night, and for a whole fortnight I didn't get aword out of him. It was as though grief wasgnawing at his heart, oras though he wanted to do for himself completely. At last hestopped; he must have come to the end of all he'd got, and then hesat in the window again. I remember he sat there without speakingfor three days and three nights; allof a sudden I saw that he wascrying. He was just sitting there, sir, and crying like anything; aperfect stream, as though he didn't know how his tears wereflowing. And it's a sad thing, sir, to see a grown-up man and anold man, too, crying from woe and grief.
"'What's the matter, Emelyanoushka?' said I.
"He began to tremble so that he shook all over. I spoke to himfor the first time since that evening.
"'Nothing, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"'God be with you, Emelyanoushka, what's lost is lost. Why areyou moping about like this?' I felt sorry for him.
"'Oh, nothing, Astafy Ivanovitch, it's no matter. I want to findsome work to do, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"'And what sort of work, pray, Emelyanoushka?'
"'Why, any sort; perhaps I could find a situation such as I usedto have. I've been already to ask Fedosay Ivanitch. I don't like tobe a burden on you, Astafy Ivanovitch. If I can find a situation,Astafy Ivanovitch, then I'll pay it you all back, and make you areturn for all your hospitality.'
"'Enough, Emelyanoushka, enough; let bygones bebygones—and no more to be said about it. Let us go on as weused to do before.'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch, you, maybe, think—but I nevertouched your riding breeches.'
"'Well, have it your own way; God be with you,Emelyanoushka.'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch, I can't go on living with you, that'sclear. You must excuse me, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"'Why, God bless you, Emelyan Ilyitch, who's offending you anddriving you out of the place—am I doing it?'
"'No, it's not the proper thing forme to live with you likethis, Astafy Ivanovitch. I'd better be going.'
"He was so hurt, it seemed, he stuck to his point. I looked athim, and sure enough, up he got and pulled his old coat over hisshoulders.
"'But where are you going, Emelyan Ilyitch? Listen to reason:what are you about? Where are you off to?'
"'No, good-bye, Astafy Ivanovitch, don't keep me now'—andhe was blubbering again—'I'd better be going. You're not thesame now.'
"'Not the same as what? I am the same. But you'll be lost byyourself like a poor helpless babe, Emelyan Ilyitch.'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch, when you go out now, you lock up yourchest and it makes me cry to see it, Astafy Ivanovitch. You'dbetter let me go, Astafy Ivanovitch, and forgive me all the troubleI've given youwhile I've been living with you.'
"Well, sir, the man went away. I waited for a day; I expectedhe'd be back in the evening—no. Next day no sign of him, northe third day either. I began to get frightened; I was so worried,I couldn't drink, I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep. The fellow hadquite disarmed me. On the fourth day I went out to look for him; Ipeeped into all the taverns, to inquire for him—but no,Emelyanoushka was lost. 'Have you managed to keep yourself alive,Emelyanoushka?' I wondered. 'Perhaps he is lying dead under somehedge, poor drunkard, like a sodden log.' I went home more deadthan alive. Next day I went out to look for him again. And I keptcursing myself that I'd been such a fool as to let the man go offby himself. On the fifth day it was a holiday—in the earlymorning I heard the door creak. I looked up and there was myEmelyanoushka coming in. His face was blue and his hair was coveredwith dirt as though he'd been sleeping in the street; he was asthin as a match. He took off his old coat, sat down on the chestand looked at me. I was delighted to see him, but I feltmore upsetabout him than ever. For you see, sir, if I'd been overtaken insome sin, as true as I am here, sir, I'd have died like a dogbefore I'd have come back.But Emelyanoushka did come back. And asad thing it was, sure enough, to see a man sunk so low. I began tolook after him, to talk kindly to him, to comfort him.
"'Well, Emelyanoushka,' said I, 'I am glad you've come back. Hadyou been away much longer I should have gone to look for you in thetaverns again to-day. Are you hungry?'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"'Come, now, aren't you really? Here, brother, is some cabbagesoup left over from yesterday; there was meat in it; it is goodstuff. And here is some bread and onion. Come, eat it, it'll do youno harm.'
"I made him eat it, and I saw at once that the man had nottasted food for maybe three days—he was as hungry as a wolf.So it was hunger that had driven him to me. My heart was meltedlooking at the poordear. 'Let me run to the tavern,' thought I,'I'll get something to ease his heart, and then we'll make an endof it. I've no more anger in my heart against you, Emelyanoushka!'I brought him some vodka. 'Here, Emelyan Ilyitch, let us have adrink for theholiday. Like a drink? And it will do you good.' Heheld out his hand, held it out greedily; he was just taking it, andthen he stopped himself. But a minute after I saw him take it, andlift it to his mouth, spilling it on his sleeve. But though he gotit to his lips he set it down on the table again.
"'What is it, Emelyanoushka?'
"'Nothing, Astafy Ivanovitch, I—sort of——'
"'Won't you drink it?'
"'Well, Astafy Ivanovitch, I'm not—sort of—going todrink any more, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"'Do you mean you'vegiven it up altogether, Emelyanoushka, orare you only not going to drink to-day?'
"He did not answer. A minute later I saw him rest his head onhis hand.
"'What's the matter, Emelyanoushka, are you ill?'
"'Why, yes, Astafy Ivanovitch, I don't feel well.'
"I took him and laid him down on the bed. I saw that he reallywas ill: his head was burning hot and he was shivering with fever.I sat by him all day; towards night he was worse. I mixed him someoil and onion and kvass and bread broken up.
"'Come, eat some of this,' said I, 'and perhaps you'll bebetter.' He shook his head. 'No,' said he, 'I won't have any dinnerto-day, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"I made some tea for him, I quite flustered our oldwoman—he was no better. Well, thinks I, it's a bad look-out!Thethird morning I went for a medical gentleman. There was oneIknew living close by, Kostopravov by name. I'd made hisacquaintance when I was in service with the Bosomyagins; he'dattended me. The doctor come and looked at him. 'He's in a badway,' said he, 'it was no use sending for me. But if you like I cangive him a powder.' Well, I didn't give him a powder, I thoughtthat's just the doctor's little game; and then the fifth daycame.
"He lay, sir, dying before my eyes. I sat in the window with myworkin my hands. The old woman was heating the stove. We were allsilent. My heart was simply breaking over him, the good-for-nothingfellow; I felt as if it were a son of my own I was losing. I knewthat Emelyanoushka was looking at me. I'd seen the man all the daylong making up his mind to say something and not daring to.
"At last I looked up at him; I saw such misery in the poorfellow's eyes. He had kept them fixed on me, but when he saw that Iwas looking at him, he looked down at once.
"'What is it, Emelyanoushka?'
"'If you were to take my old coat to a second-hand dealer's, howmuch do you think they'd give you for it, Astafy Ivanovitch?'
"'There's no knowing how much they'd give. Maybe they would giveme a rouble for it, EmelyanIlyitch.'
"But if I had taken it they wouldn't have given a farthing forit, but would have laughed in my face for bringing such a trumperything. I simply said that to comfort the poor fellow, knowing thesimpleton he was.
"'But I was thinking, Astafy Ivanovitch, they might give youthree roubles for it; it's made of cloth, Astafy Ivanovitch. Howcould they only give one rouble for a cloth coat?'
"'I don't know, Emelyan Ilyitch,' said I, 'if you are thinkingof taking it you should certainly ask three roubles to beginwith.'
"Emelyanoushka was silent for a time, and then he addressed meagain—
"'What is it, Emelyanoushka?' I asked.
"'Sell my coat when I die, and don't bury me in it. I can lie aswell without it; and it's a thing of some value—it might comein useful.'
"I can't tell you how it made my heart ache to hear him. I sawthat the death agony was coming on him. We were silent again for abit. So an hour passed by. I looked at him again: he was stillstaring at me, and when he met my eyes he looked down again.
"'Do you want some water to drink, Emelyan Ilyitch?' Iasked.
"'Give me some, God bless you, Astafy Ivanovitch.'
"I gave him a drink.
"'Thank you, Astafy Ivanovitch,' said he.
"'Is there anything else you would like, Emelyanoushka?'
"'No, Astafy Ivanovitch, there's nothing I want, butI—sort of——'
"'What is it, Emelyanoushka?'
"'Those riding breeches——it was——sortof——I who took them——AstafyIvanovitch.'
"'Well, God forgive you, Emelyanoushka,' said I, 'you poor,sorrowful creature. Depart in peace.'
"And I was choking myself, sir, and the tears were in my eyes. Iturned aside for a moment.
"I saw Emelyanoushka wanted to tell me something; he was tryingto sit up, trying to speak, and mumbling something. He flushed redall over suddenly, looked at me ... then I saw him turn whiteagain, whiter and whiter, and he seemed to sink away all in aminute. His head fell back, he drew one breath and gave up his soulto God."
(From Pyotr Ivanitch To Ivan Petrovitch)
Dear Sir and Most Precious Friend, Ivan Petrovitch,
For the last two days I have been, I may say, in pursuit of you,my friend, having to talk over most urgent business with you, and Icannot come across you anywhere. Yesterday, while we were at SemyonAlexeyitch's, my wife made a very good joke about you,saying thatTatyana Petrovna and you were a pair of birds always on the wing.You have not been married three months and you already neglect yourdomestic hearth. We all laughed heartily—from our genuinekindly feeling for you, of course—but, joking apart,myprecious friend, you have given me a lot of trouble. SemyonAlexeyitch said to me that youmight be going to the ball at theSocial Union's club! Leaving my wife with Semyon Alexeyitch's goodlady, I flew off to the Social Union. It was funny and tragic!Fancy my position! Me at the ball—and alone, without my wife!Ivan Andreyitch meeting me in the porter's lodge and seeing mealone, at once concluded (the rascal!) that I had a passion fordances, and taking me by the arm, wanted to drag me off by forcetoa dancing class, saying that it was too crowded at the SocialUnion, that an ardent spirit had not room to turn, and that hishead ached from the patchouli and mignonette. I found neither you,nor Tatyana Petrovna. Ivan Andreyitch vowed and declared that youwould be atWoe from Wit, at the Alexandrinsky theatre.
I flew off to the Alexandrinsky theatre: you were not thereeither. This morning I expected to find you atTchistoganov's—no sign of you there. Tchistoganov sent to thePerepalkins'—the same thing there. In fact, I am quite wornout; you can judge how much trouble I have taken! Now I am writingto you (there is nothing else I can do). My business is by no meansa literary one (you understand me?); it would be better to meetface to face, it is extremely necessary to discuss something withyou and as quickly as possible, and so I beg you to come to usto-day with Tatyana Petrovna to tea and for a chat in the evening.My Anna Mihalovna will be extremely pleased to see you. You willtruly, as they say, oblige me to my dying day. By the way, myprecious friend—since I have taken up my pen I'll go into allI have against you—I have a slight complaint I must make; infact, I must reproach you, my worthy friend, for an apparently veryinnocent little trick which you have played at my expense.... Youare a rascal, a man without conscience. About the middle of lastmonth, you brought into my house an acquaintance of yours, YevgenyNikolaitch; you vouched for him by your friendly and, for me, ofcourse, sacred recommendation; I rejoiced at the opportunity ofreceiving the young man with open arms, and when I did so I put myhead in a noose. A noose it hardly is, but it has turned out apretty business. I have not time now to explain, and indeed it isan awkward thing to do in writing, only a very humble request toyou, my malicious friend: could you not somehow very delicately, inpassing, drop a hint into the young man's ear that there are agreat many houses in the metropolis besides ours? It's more than Ican stand, my dear fellow! We fall at your feet, as our friendSemyonovitch says. I will tell you all about it when we meet. Idon't mean to say that the young man has sinned against goodmanners, or is lacking in spiritual qualities, or is not up to themark in some other way. On the contrary, he is an amiable andpleasant fellow; but wait, we shall meet; meanwhile if you see him,for goodness' sake whisper a hint to him, my good friend. I woulddo it myself, but you know what I am, I simply can't, and that'sall about it. You introduced him. But I will explain myself morefully this evening, anyway. Now good-bye. I remain, etc.
P.S.—My little boy has been ailing for the last week, andgets worse and worse every day; he is cutting his poor littleteeth. My wife is nursing him all the time, and is depressed, poorthing. Be sure to come, you will give us real pleasure, my preciousfriend.
(From Ivan Petrovitch to Pyotr Ivanitch)
Dear Sir, Pyotr Ivanitch!
I got your letter yesterday, I read it and wasperplexed. Youlooked for me, goodness knows where, and I was simply at home. Tillten o'clock I was expecting Ivan Ivanitch Tolokonov. At once ongetting your letter I set out with my wife, I went to the expenseof taking a cab, and reached your house about half-past six. Youwere not at home, but we were met by your wife. I waited to see youtill half-past ten, I could not stay later. I set off with my wife,went to the expense of a cab again, saw her home, and went onmyself to the Perepalkins', thinkingI might meet you there, butagain I was out in my reckoning. When I get home I did not sleepall night, I felt uneasy; in the morning I drove round to you threetimes, at nine, at ten and at eleven; three times I went to theexpense of a cab, and again you left me in the lurch.