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by Maxim Gorky
Published 2018 by Blackmore Dennett
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TABLE OF CONTENTS
There are many solitary graves amid the woods of Kerschentz; within them moulder the bones of old men, men of an ancient piety, and of one of these old men, Antipa, this tale is told in the villages of Kerschentz.
Antipa Lunev, a rich peasant of austere disposition, lived to his fiftieth year, sunken in worldly sins, then was moved to profound self-examination, and seized with agony of soul, forsook his family and buried himself in the loneliness of the forest. There on the edge of a ravine he built his hermit's cell, and lived for eight years, summer and winter. He let no one approach him, neither acquaintances nor kindred. Sometimes people who had lost their way in the woods came by chance on his hut and saw Antipa kneeling on the threshold, praying. He was terrible to see—worn with fasting and prayer, and covered with hair like a wild beast. If he caught sight of any one, he rose up and bowed himself to the ground before him. If he were asked the way out of the forest, he indicated the path with his hand without speaking, bowed to the ground again, went into his cell and shut himself in. He was seen many times during the eight years, but no man ever heard his voice. His wife and children used to visit him, he took food and clothing from them, bowed himself before them as before others, but, during the time of his anchorite life, spoke no word with them any more than with strangers.
He died the same year that the hermitages of the wood were swept away, and his death came in this fashion.
The Chief of Police came through the forest with a detachment of soldiers, and saw Antipa kneeling, silently praying in his cell.
"You there!" shouted the officer. "Clear out of this, we're going to smash up this den of yours!"
But Antipa heard nothing, and however loudly the captain shouted, the pious hermit answered him never a word. Then the officer ordered his men to drag Antipa out of his cell. But the soldiers were troubled before the gaze of the old man, who continued in prayer so steadfastly and earnestly, and paid no heed to them, and, shaken by such strength of soul, they hesitated to carry out the command. Then the captain ordered them to break up the hut, and they began to remove the roof silently and very carefully, to avoid hurting the worshipper within.
The axes rang over Antipa's head, the boards split and fell to the ground, the dull echo of the blows sounded through the wood, the birds terrified by the noise fluttered uneasily round the cell, and the leaves trembled on the trees. But the old man prayed on as though he neither saw nor heard. They began to break up the flooring of the hut, and still its owner knelt undisturbed, and only when the last timbers were thrown aside and the captain himself went up to Antipa and caught him by the hair, only then did he speak, his eyes lifted to heaven, quietly, to God, "Merciful Father, forgive them."
Then he fell back and died.
When this happened, Jakov, the eldest son of Antipa, was twenty-three years old, and Terenti, the youngest, eighteen. Jakov, handsome and strong, gained the name of "scatter-brain," while still a youngster, and by the time his father died, was already the chief loafer and bully in the country-side. All complained of him—his mother, the Starost, the neighbours: he was imprisoned, he was whipped, with and without legal condemnation, but nothing tamed his wild disposition, and day by day he felt more stifled and constrained in the village among the pious people, busy and hard working as moles, scorners of every new thing, holding fast to the precepts of their ancient faith. Jakov smoked tobacco, drank brandy, wore clothes of German cut, and went to no prayers or religious services, and if decent folk admonished him and reminded him of his father, he would say scornfully, "Wait a bit, good people, all in good time. When I have sinned enough, I will think of repentance. It's too early yet; you need not hold up my father as an example to me—he sinned for fifty years, and repented only for eight after all. My sins now are nothing but as the down on the young bird, but when my full feathers are grown, then I may think of repentance."
"An evil heretic," was Jakov Lunev's name in the village, where they hated and feared him.
Some two years after his father's death, he married. The farm that his father established by thirty years strenuous labour, he had thoroughly ruined by his spendthrift life, and no one in the village would give him a daughter in marriage. But somewhere in a distant village he found a pretty orphan-girl, and he sold a pair of horses and his father's bee-farm, to raise the money to celebrate his wedding. His brother Terenti, a timid, silent, humpbacked youth, with unusually long arms, was no hindrance to his mode of life; his mother lay sick on the stove, and from there only called to him with hoarse foreboding voice, "Accursed one! Take heed to your soul. Come to your senses."
"Don't worry yourself, my dear mother," answered Jakov. "Father will put in a word for me with the Almighty."
At first, for close on a year, Jakov lived in peace and content with his wife, and even took to working, but then began to loaf again, disappeared from the house for a month at a time, and came back to his wife, worn out, bruised and hungry.
Jakov's mother died; at the funeral, in a drunken fit he assaulted the Starost, his old enemy, and was arrested in consequence, and imprisoned. His term of imprisonment at an end, he reappeared in the village, gloomy and ill-tempered. The village people hated him still more and extended their hatred to his family, especially to the silent, hump-backed Terenti who had been the sport of the boys and girls from his childhood. They called Jakov jail-bird and thief, but Terenti, monster and wizard. Terenti endured insult and mockery silently, but Jakov broke out in open threats, "All right, just wait a bit, I'll teach you."
He was close on forty years of age when a conflagration broke out in the village; he was accused of incendiarism and sent, a prisoner, to Siberia.
Jakov's wife, who lost her reason at the time of the fire, was left in the care of Terenti, and with her, her son Ilya, a boy of ten, sturdy, black-eyed, and serious beyond his years. Whenever the lad appeared in the village streets, the other children ran after him, throwing stones at him, and the bigger ones would shout, "Ah! the young devil the prison brat, bad luck to you!"
Terenti, unfitted for laborious work, dealt up to the time of the fire in tar, needles and thread, and such small wares, but the catastrophe which destroyed half the village made an end both of the Lunevs' house and Terenti's whole stock-in-trade, so that all the Lunevs then possessed in the world amounted to one horse and thirty-three roubles in money.
As soon as Terenti found that his native village would offer him no way whatever to earn a living, he entrusted his sister-in-law to the care of an old peasant woman at fifty kopecks a month, bought a ricketty old cart, and placed his nephew in it, determined to make for the chief town of the district, where he hoped for some assistance from a distant relative, Petrusha Filimonov, a servant in a small tavern.
Secretly and like a thief in the night, Terenti left his home. He guided his horse silently, often looking back with his large dark eyes. The horse trotted on, the cart jolted from side to side and Ilya nestled into the hay, and soon slept the deep sleep of childhood.
In the middle of the night the boy was awakened by a strange terrifying sound, like the howl of a wolf. It was a clear night, the cart was standing at the outskirts of a wood, and the horse moved round it cropping the dewy grass. A great pine tree, its highest branches scorched, stood far apart in the plain, as though driven out from the forest. The boy's eager eyes looked anxiously for his uncle; but through the quiet night from time to time the only distant sound was the dull thud of the horse's hoofs, or the noise of its breathing like heavy sighs, and the same mysterious terrifying sound filled the air, and frightened the lad.
"Uncle?" he called softly.
"What is it?" answered Terenti, at once, and the doleful sound ceased suddenly.
"Where are you?"
"Here. Go to sleep again."
Then Ilya saw his uncle, sitting on a mound at the edge of the wood, like a black tree-stump rising out of the earth.
"I'm frightened," said the boy.
"What then—frightened? Why? there's nothing here."
"Some one was crying."
"You've been dreaming," said the hunchback softly.
"No! truly, he was crying."
"A wolf perhaps, far away. Go to sleep again."
But Ilya could sleep no more. He was frightened at the clear stillness, and in his ears the mournful sound still rang. He looked cautiously at the country round, and then saw that his uncle was gazing in the direction where, over the mountain, far in the midst of the wood, stood a white church with five towers, the large round moon shining brightly above it. Ilya knew that this was the church of Romodanov, and that two versts from it nearer to them, in the wood above the valley, lay their village Kitschnaja.
"We haven't come far," he said, thoughtfully.
"What?" asked his uncle.
"We must get on further, I said, some one might come."
Ilya nodded in the direction of the village with a look of hate.
"We'll get on presently," replied his uncle.
And again all was quiet round about. Ilya squatted with his knees up to his chin, supported himself against the front of the cart and began to gaze in the same direction as his uncle. The village was not visible in the dense black shadow of the forest, but it seemed to him that he saw clearly every house and all its people, and the old white willow by the well in the middle of the street. Against the willow's roots lay his father bound with a rope, his shirt torn to rags, his hands tied behind his back, his naked breast thrust forward, and his head as though it had grown to the willow stem. He lay motionless as a dead man, and looked with terrible eyes at the peasants, crowding before the house of the Starost, There were very many, all angry, they shouted, cursed him——. The memory troubled the boy, and a lump came in his throat. He felt he must soon cry for sorrow and the coldness of the night, but he did not wish to disturb his uncle, and mastering himself he huddled his little body closer together.
Suddenly a low wail sounded again. First a deep sigh, then sobs, then loud, unspeakable lamentation.
The boy shivered with terror and stared round him. But the sound quivered again through the air and grew in volume.
"Uncle! Is it you crying?" called Ilya.
Terenti neither spoke nor moved.
Then the boy sprang from the cart, ran to his uncle, fell in front of him, clasped his knees, and burst into tears. He heard his uncle's voice broken by sobs.
"They've driven us out—driven us out. Oh! God! Where shall we go? Where? oh!"
But the boy said, swallowing down his tears:
"Wait—when I grow up—I'll show them—just wait."
He cried his sorrow out and then fell asleep. His uncle lifted him in his arms and laid him in the cart, but he himself went apart again and cried aloud once more, lamenting in bitter agony.
Ilya remembered quite clearly in after life his arrival at the town. He awoke early one morning and saw before him a broad, muddy river, and on the further side on a lofty hill a heap of houses, with red and green roofs and tall trees with dark foliage between them. The houses crowded picturesquely up the slopes of the hill, and above on the summit stretched out in a straight line and looked proudly down and away across the river. The golden crosses and domes of the churches stood out above the roofs up into the sky. The sun was newly risen; its slanting rays glanced back from the windows of the houses, and the whole town blazed in bright colour and glittered in shining gold.
"Ah! how beautiful it is. Look, look," said the boy, half aloud, staring with wide eyes at the wonderful picture, and gazed in silent delight for a long time.
Then the anxious thought arose in his mind, where he should live in that heap of houses—he, the little, black-haired, touzled youngster, in worn breeches of hemp-linen, and his clumsy humpbacked uncle. Would they even be admitted into this clean, rich, golden city? He thought that the little cart must be standing still on the river's bank just because no such poor, ragged, wretched folk might enter the town, and his uncle, no doubt, had gone on to beg permission to come in.
Ilya looked for his uncle with troubled eyes. In front of their cart and behind it stood many waggons; on one, wooden tubs full of milk, on another great baskets of poultry, cucumbers, or onions, bark baskets full of berries, sacks of potatoes. On the waggons and round about them sat or stood peasants and peasant women, and they were people of a strange kind. They spoke loudly with clear intonations and were not dressed in blue linen, but in clothes of gay-coloured calico and bright red cotton. Nearly all of them wore boots, and when a man with a sword at his side, a police officer or sergeant, went up and down past them, they were not in the least disturbed, and did not once salute him, and that seemed very strange to Ilya; he sat on the cart, staring at the lively scene, steeped in bright sunshine, and dreamed of the time when he too should wear boots and a shirt of red cotton. Far off, in the midst of the peasants, uncle Terenti came, as it were, to the surface. He advanced across the deep sand with big, confident strides, and held his head high; his face wore an expression of gaiety, and he smiled at Ilya from a long way off, and stretched out his hand to show him something.
"The Lord is good to us, Ilya! Don't be frightened any more! I've found uncle Petrusha straight off. There—catch—get your teeth into that!" and he held out a cake to Ilya.
The boy took it almost reverently, put it inside his shirt, and asked anxiously:
"Won't they let us into the town?"
"They'll let us in this very minute.... The ferry-boats will come and then we'll get over the river."
"They'll take us too?"
"Of course, we can't stay here."
"Oh! and I thought they'd never let us in—and where shall we live over there?"
"I don't know yet. The Lord will show us the way."
"Perhaps we'll live in the big house there with the red——"
"Oh! you silly boy; that's the barracks where the soldiers live."
"In that one then—there—that one?"
"Hardly, it's a bit too high up for us."
"That doesn't matter," said Ilya, in a tone of conviction. "We'll manage to crawl up to it."
"Oh you——!" sighed uncle Terenti, and disappeared again somewhere.
They found shelter, quite at the end of the town, near the market-place, in a big grey house; all round its walls leant outbuildings of every kind, some comparatively recent, others as old as the house itself, and of the same dirty grey colour. The doors and windows were warped, and everything in the house creaked and cracked. The outbuildings, the fence, the gates, everything was falling to pieces together, and the whole formed a mass of half-rotten wood overgrown with greenish moss. The window panes were dim with age; a couple of beams in the front wall bulged right out, and altogether the house was an image of its owner, who used it as a tavern. He, too, was old and grey; the eyes in his worn face were like the glass panes in the windows; as he walked, he leant heavily on a thick staff—evidently it was not easy for him to carry his big paunch—and he, too, creaked and cracked all the time.
Uncle Terenti established himself in one of the countless corners of the building—in a cellar, on a bench by a window opening on a corner of the courtyard. In this corner lay a great rubbish heap, and an old sweet-scented lime tree stood there between two elder bushes. It was three days after their arrival before the proprietor of the house noticed Ilya for the first time, as he tried to hide behind the rubbish heap and stared with terrified eyes.
"Where do you belong, youngster? Hey!" he asked in his creaking voice, pointing at Ilya with his stick. "How did you come here? Hey!"
Ilya blinked and said nothing.
"Hullo, where does this youngster belong here? Send him off! out with you, you rascal! Wait a bit, I'll show you!—Hey!—Oh, you scamp! What—you belong to the man who does the washing up, do you? Are you his son? Not? Oh! a relation are you? The humpbacked rascal might have said he had a relation with him! Now then, Peter, what are you looking at? The humpback has a relation with him! What's the meaning of that? That won't do!"
The potman Petrusha put his red face out of the bar window opening on the courtyard and shouted, shaking his curly head:
"He's only got the youngster for a little while. Take, care Vassily Dorimendontytch—he's a poor orphan—I know about it—but if you don't like it, he shall clear out at once."
When Ilya heard that he was to go away, he began to scream with all his might, then darted across like an arrow and slipped through the window into the cellar like a mouse into its hole. There he threw himself on the bench, buried his head in his uncle's coat and began to cry, quivering from head to foot. But his uncle came and soothed him:
"No! No! don't be frightened! He only shouts like that to make pretence. He's going silly with age; he isn't the chief person here—it's Petrusha. Petrusha settles everything here. Just be friendly with him, be very polite to him! And as for the landlord—he doesn't count for anything!"
In the early days that Ilya lived in the house, he crept everywhere and examined everything. The place pleased him and astonished him with its extraordinary roominess. It was crammed so full that Ilya truly believed more people lived there than in the whole village of Kiteshnaja, and it was as noisy inside as in a market place.
Both storeys of the house were used for the tavern, which was visited by a constant stream of customers—whilst in the attics lodged sundry women apparently always drunk, one of whom, Matiza, big and dark, with a deep bass voice, drove fear into the heart of the lad with her wild, staring black eyes. In the cellar lived the cobbler Perfishka, with his crippled, ailing wife and his seven-year-old daughter; also an old rag picker, "grandfather" Jeremy; a lean old beggar-woman, called in the courtyard by no name but "Screamer," because of her habit of shrieking out loud at all times and seasons, and the tavern cab driver, Makar Stepanitsh, a grave, silent man, advanced in years. In one corner of the courtyard was a smithy; here from morning to night the fire flamed, wheel tires were welded, horses shod, while the hammers clinked and the tall sinewy smith, Savel Gratschev, for ever sang long-drawn songs in a deep, sorrowful voice. Sometimes Savel's wife appeared in the smithy, a little round, fair-haired woman, with blue eyes. She always wore a white kerchief round her head, and by this white head stood out often quite strangely against the dark hollow of the smithy. She laughed almost all the time a little silvery laugh, while Savel chimed in at times loudly as though with a hammer stroke. But more often his answer to her laughter was a kind of growl. Men said that he loved his wife passionately, while she led a wanton life.
In every cranny of the house there was some one, and from early morning to late at night the whole place quivered with noise and outcry as though it were an old rusty kettle in which something seethed and boiled. In the evening all these people crept from their holes into the courtyard, to the bench that stood by the house door; the cobbler Perfishka played on his harmonica, Savel hummed his songs and Matiza, if she were drunk, sang something very strange, very mournful with words that no one understood, sang and wept bitterly at the same time.
In one corner of the courtyard all the children of the house crowded in a circle round grandfather Jeremy, and begged him:
"Grandfather dear! Tell us a story!"
The old rag picker looked at them with his bleared red eyes, from which tears constantly ran down over his wrinkled cheeks, and then pulling his foxy old cap further over his forehead, began in a thin, quavering voice.
"Once in a land, I don't know where, a heretic child was born of unknown parents, who were punished for their sins by Almighty God with this child...."
Grandfather Jeremy's long, grey beard shook when he opened his black, toothless mouth, his head nodded to and fro and one tear after another rolled over the wrinkles on his cheeks.
"And this heretic child was altogether wicked; he did not believe in Christ the Lord, did not love the mother of God, always went past the church without lifting his cap, would not obey his father and mother."
The children listened to the thin, quavering voice of the old man and looked silently into his face.
The fair-haired Jashka, son of the potman Petrusha, listened and looked more attentively than all the rest. He was a lean, sharp-nosed boy, with a big head on a thin neck. When he ran, his head always rolled from one side to the other as though it would shake loose from his body. His eyes were big and strangely restless. They shifted anxiously over everything as if they were afraid to rest anywhere, and when at last they rested on anything they rolled oddly in their sockets, and gave the lad a sheepish expression. He stood out from the rest also by his delicate bloodless face, and his clean, respectable clothes. Ilya quickly made friends with him, and the very first day of their acquaintance Jashka asked his new playmate with a mysterious air:
"Are there many wizards in your village?"
"Of course," answered Ilya, "several, and witches too—our neighbour could work magic."
"Had he red hair?" asked Jakov, in a trembling voice.
"No, grey. They always have grey hair."
"The grey ones are not wicked, they are good-hearted. But the red-haired ones—ah, I tell you, they drink blood."
They were sitting in the prettiest, pleasantest corner of the courtyard behind the rubbish heap under the lime tree and the elder bushes. It was reached through a narrow crack between the sheds and the house; it was always quiet there, and nothing could be seen but the sky over their heads and the house wall with three windows, two of them boarded up. It became the favourite corner of the two friends. The sparrows hopped twittering about the lime-tree branches, and the boys sat on the ground at its root and chattered of everything that interested them.
All day long before Ilya's eyes whirled a great, gay something, noisy and shouting, that blinded and deafened him. At first he was quite confused by the wild pell-mell of this life. In the bar Ilya would often stand by the table where uncle Terenti, dripping with sweat, and wet with water, rinsed the dishes and glasses and saw how people came, and ate, and drank, shouted and sang, kissed and fought. They were covered with sweat, dirty and tired; clouds of tobacco smoke enwrapped them, and in this fog they rioted like madmen.
"Hullo!" his uncle would say to him, while his humpback shook, and he bustled unceasingly with the glasses. "What do you want here? Get along into the yard, else the landlord will see you and pitch into you."
Deafened with the noise of the bar, Ilya betook himself to the courtyard. Here Savel was striking great blows on the anvil with his hammer and quarrelling with his mates. Out of the cellar the jolly song of the cobbler Perfishka rang out into the open, and from above came the scolding and shrieking of the drunken women. Savel's son Pashka, called "the rowdy," was riding round the yard on a stick shouting angrily to his steed: "Get on you devil." His round, pert face was covered with dirt and soot; there was a boil on his forehead; his strong healthy body shone through the countless holes in his shirt. Pashka was the leading bully and brawler in the courtyard; twice already he had thrashed Ilya soundly, and when Ilya complained tearfully, his uncle shrugged his shoulders and said:
"What can I do? You must bear it. It'll pass off."
"I'll give it to him next time though, see if I don't," threatened Ilya through his tears.
"No, don't do that," said his uncle decidedly. "You mustn't do that, anyway."
"Then he may do it and I'm not to?"
"He!—he belongs here, d'you see, and you're a stranger."
Ilya went on pouring out threats against Pashka, but his uncle became angry all at once, and stormed at him, a thing that very rarely happened. So the consciousness dawned in Ilya, that he was not the equal of the children who belonged to the place, and while from that time he hid his enmity to Pashka, he clung all the closer to Jakov.
Jakov always behaved himself very well; he never fought the other boys and seldom so much as shouted at them. Even in the games, he hardly ever joined the others though he loved to speak of the games the children of the rich played in the town park. Jakov's only friend among the other children of the house, excepting Ilya, was Mashka, the seven-year-old daughter of the cobbler Perfishka. Mashka was a dirty, delicate, sickly child. Her little head of black curls flitted about the court from morning to night. Her mother sat almost all the time in the doorway leading to the cellar. She was tall, with a long plait of hair down her back, and sewed incessantly, bent double over her work. Whenever she raised her head to look after her daughter, Ilya could see her face. It was a purplish, expressionless, bloated face—like the face of a corpse. Even her pleasant black eyes had about them something fixed, immovable. She spoke to no one, even to her daughter she used to beckon if she wanted her. Only very rarely she would cry in a hoarse, half-choked voice:
At first, something about this woman took Ilya's fancy. But later, when he learnt that she had been a cripple for three years and would soon die, he grew afraid of her.
Once, as Ilya passed close to her, she stretched out an arm, caught him by the sleeve and drew him, terrified, up to her.
"Please, please, my son," she said, "be good to our Mashka! Be good to her." Speech came from her with difficulty, she struggled for breath after it. "Be—very good to her, my dear."
She looked with imploring eyes in his face and let him go. Ilya from that time took charge of the cobbler's daughter with Jakov, and looked after her carefully. He liked to fulfil the request of a grown-up person the more, as most of them only spoke to him to order him about. The men and women were always very harsh to the children. Makar, the coachman, kicked at them, or struck them in the face with wet cloths if they wanted to look on at the cleaning of the carriages. Savel raged at every one who looked with curiosity into his smithy and threw coal-grit at the children. The cobbler flung the first thing that came handy at the head of any one who stood in front of his cellar window and blocked out the light. Sometimes they would strike the children for want of any other occupation or by way of playing with them. Only grandfather Jeremy never struck them.
Ilya was soon convinced that life in the village was far pleasanter than life in town. In the village he could go where he liked, but here his uncle forbade him to leave the courtyard. In the village there were cucumbers and peas, or anything you liked, to eat on the sly. But here there was no garden, and nothing to be had without paying for it. There it was spacious and still, and every one did just the same work; here every one quarrels and fights; every one does what he likes, and all are poor and eat strange bread and are half starved. Day after day Ilya drifted on, round about in the courtyard, and it became dreary to him to live in this hateful grey house with the dim windows.
One morning at the midday meal, Terenti said to his nephew with a deep sigh, "The autumn's drawing on, Ilyusha. Oh dear! that's when the pinch will come for us, come with a vengeance. My God!"
He was silent for a long time, lost in thought, looking sadly into his dish of cabbage soup. The boy, too, was thoughtful. They both took their meals at the table where the hunchback washed the dishes. A wild tumult filled the bar room.
"Petrusha thinks you ought to go to school with your friend Jashka. Ah—yes—it's very important. I see that in this place being without education is like being without eyes. You're fairly lost! But you'll need new shoes and new clothes if you go to school, and where are they to come from out of my five roubles a month ... Oh God! in Thee I set my trust."
His uncle's sighs and sad countenance made Ilya's heart sink, and he said gently, "Come, uncle! We'll get out of this place!"
"But where," asked the hunchback gloomily, "where can we go?"
"Why not into the wood?" said Ilya, gleefully excited at his idea in a moment, "grandfather lived ever so many years in the wood you used to tell me. And there are two of us. We could strip bark from the trees, and catch foxes and squirrels. You'll get a gun, and I'll catch birds in traps. Yes, and there are berries there and mushrooms. Shall we go there uncle?"
His uncle looked on him kindly and said with a smile:
"And what about wolves? and bears?"
"But we'd have a gun," cried Ilya boldly. "I won't be afraid of wild beasts when I'm grown up! I'll strangle them with my hands! I'm not afraid now—not of anything. Life is no joke here. If I am little I can see that, and they knock you about here worse than in the village. Yes! I can feel it, I'm not made of wood. When the smith gives me a whack on the head, it sings for the whole day. All the people here look as if they'd been beaten, even if they do put on airs."
"Ah! poor laddie!" said Terenti feebly, then put down his spoon and went away—went very quickly.
In the evening of this same day, Ilya sat on the floor beside his uncle's table tired out with his voyages of discovery in the courtyard, where there was never anything new. Half asleep, he heard a conversation between Terenti and grandfather Jeremy, who came to drink a glass of tea at the bar. The old rag-picker had struck up a friendship with the hunchback, and always when he came from work settled himself near Terenti to drink his tea.
"It don't matter," Ilya heard Jeremy's creaking voice, "only trust in God! See! Think only one thing, God! You're just His slave, for it says in the Bible a servant! So make sure of that! God's servant, that's what you are, and everything you have belongs to God; good or bad, everything is God's. He will know how to decide for you. He sees your life. He, our Father, sees—everything.... And a glorious day will come for you when He says to His angel, 'Go down, my servant in Heaven and lighten the burden of my servant Terenti!' And then your good fortune will come to you—believe it—it will come!"
"I do trust in the Lord, grandfather. What else have I left?" said Terenti gently. "I believe in Him. He will help."
"He? He will never leave a man in the lurch on this earth, I promise you. The earth is given to us by God, to try us, to see if we fulfil His commands. He looks down from above and gives heed. 'Children of men, do you love one another, even as I bade you?' and when He sees that life weighs heavy on Terenti, He sends a good message to old Jeremy. 'Jeremy, help my true servant!'" Then suddenly the voice of the old man altered, till it was almost like the voice of Petrusha the potman when he was angry, and he said to Terenti:
"I will give you some money, so that Ilyusha can have clothes for school. I'll give you five roubles. I'll scrape it together somehow. I'll borrow it for you. But if you are ever rich, you'll give it me back."
"Grandfather," cried Terenti.
"Sh! Don't say anything! Besides you can let me have the boy, he hasn't anything to do here anyhow. He can help me, instead of interest on the money; he can pick me up a bone or a bit of rag. I shan't need to double up my old back so often."
"Ah! God bless you," cried the hunchback with a shaking voice.
"The Lord gives to me, I to you; you to the lad and the lad to the Lord again. So it goes round the circle, and no one of us owes anything to the others. Hey! Isn't that good? Eh? Ah! my brother. I have lived and lived and seen—seen, and have seen nothing but God. Everything is His, everything belongs to Him, everything comes from Him and is for Him!"
Ilya went to sleep while they talked. But next morning early, old Jeremy waked him with the joyful summons:
"Now then, up with you, Ilyusha, you're to come with me. So cheerily! cheerily! rub the sleep out of your peepers!"
Ilya's daily work arranged itself fairly comfortably under the friendly hand of old Jeremy. Every morning he roused the boy early, and from then till late at night both tramped round the town and collected rags, bones, old paper, old iron, scraps of leather, and anything else of a similar kind. The town was large and there were many remarkable things to be seen in it, so that at first Ilya only half helped the old man, while he gazed constantly at the people and the houses, marvelled at everything, and questioned the grandfather unceasingly.
Jeremy was glad to chatter. With head bent forward and eyes searching the ground he passed from courtyard to courtyard, tapped the pavement with the iron ferule of his stick, wiped the tears from his eyes with his torn sleeve or the point of the dirty rag bag, and told all kinds of histories to his small companion, without ceasing, in a sing-song monotonous voice.
"This house belongs to the merchant Sava Petrovitch Ptschelin—a rich man is the merchant Ptschelin ... his house is full of silver and crystal."
"Grandfather, dear," asked Ilya, "tell me, how does a man get rich?"
"He must work for it, toil for it, that's the way. They work day and night and pile gold on gold, and when they have piled up enough, then they build themselves houses and get themselves horses, and all kinds of belongings, and everything the heart can wish, bright, new things. And then they hire clerks, and servants, and people who work for them, and they rest and enjoy the day. When any one has managed like that, men say of him, he has become rich by honest work. Ah! But there are some who grow rich through sin. People say of the merchant Ptschelin, that he destroyed his soul while he was quite young. Perhaps it is only envy that makes them say it, perhaps it is true. He is a wicked man, this Ptschelin, and his eyes look so frightened, they are always wandering here and there as if they wanted to hide. But perhaps it is all lies, as I said, that they tell of Ptschelin. It happens lots of times that a man becomes rich all at once quite easily, if he just is lucky, if fortune smiles on him. Ah! only God lives in the Truth, and we men know nothing! We are only men, and men are the seed God sows—grains of corn, my dear boy! God has sown them on the earth. 'Grow! and I will see what kind of bread you will make!' That's how it is! And that house there belongs to a certain Mitri Pavlovitch Sabaneyev. He is even richer than Ptschelin, and he is really a downright swindler. I know it! I don't judge him, for judgment is for God, but I know it right enough—as a matter of fact, he was overseer in our village, and robbed us all, cheated us!—God had patience with him for a long time, but in time He began to make up His account. First Mitri Pavlov became deaf, then his son was killed by a horse, and just lately I heard that his daughter had run away."
The old man knew everything and everybody in the town and spoke of them all quite simply without malice. Everything he told seemed to have been purified, as if all his histories were cleansed in his never ceasing tears.
Ilya listened attentively while at the same time he looked at the big houses, and said now and then:
"If I could only have half a look inside!"
"You'll soon see inside, wait a bit! Learn diligently and work! Wait till you grow up, then you'll soon see what is inside there. Perhaps some day you'll be rich too. Learn first to live and to see. Yes—yes—I have lived and lived and seen and seen. That's how I have ruined my eyes. Now the tears keep flowing, and so I have grown so thin and feeble. My strength has flowed away, I think, with my tears, my blood is all dried up."
It was pleasant to Ilya to hear the old man speak of God with such conviction and love. Through hearing him speak, there grew up in his heart a strong, invigorating feeling of hope for something good and joyful awaiting him somewhere in the future. He was gayer and more of a child at this time than when first he found a resting-place in the town.
He helped the old man zealously to rummage in the dust heaps. He found it most exciting to burrow into these heaps of every kind of rubbish with a stick, and specially pleasant to see the old man's joy when he made an unusual find among the rubbish. One day, Ilya found a big silver spoon in a drain, and the old man bought him half a pound of ginger bread for it. Then once he dug out a little purse covered with green mould, with more than a rouble in money inside it. More often he found knives, forks, metal rings, broken brasswork, pretty tin boxes—formerly full of blacking or pickled fish—and once, in the valley where the refuse of the whole town was unloaded, he grubbed out a heavy brass candlestick quite uninjured. For every valuable find of this sort Ilya received some dainty or other from the old man as a reward.
Whenever Ilya found anything out of the common, he would cry out gleefully: "Grandfather! Look! See here! this is something like!"
Then the old man would look anxiously all round him and say in a warning whisper:
"But don't shout so—don't shout for any sake!"
He was always anxious if they made any unusual discovery, and would take it quickly out of Ilya's hands and conceal it in the big sack.
"Ha! Ha! I've hooked another big fish!" Ilya would cry, delighted with his success.
"Be quiet, youngster! Quiet, my boy," the old man would say in a friendly tone, while the tears ran and ran from his red swollen eyes.
"But look grandfather," Ilya would break out again, "what a tremendous big bone!"
Bones and rags did not excite the old man. He took them from the bag, wiped off the dirt with wood shavings and stuffed them quietly into the sack. He had sewed for Ilya a little sack and given him a stick with an iron point, and the youngster was not a little proud of this equipment. In his sack he collected all kinds of small boxes, broken toys, pretty potsherds, and it filled him with joy to feel all these things in the bag on his back, and to hear how they rattled and rustled. Old Jeremy made it the lad's business to collect all these trifles.
"Do you collect just these pretty things and carry them home. You can share them with the children and make them happy. God is pleased when a man makes his brothers happy. Ah! my son, all men long for happiness, and yet there is so little. So very little in all the world. So little that many a man never meets happiness all his life, never."
Ilya preferred rummaging in the town refuse heaps to pottering about courtyards. There in the open space, there was nobody except two or three old people like Jeremy who searched the rubbish as he did. In the courtyard, on the contrary, there was need of constant anxious attention, lest a house servant should come out, broom in hand, and chase them away with angry words, or even with blows. Every day Jeremy said to his companion when they had searched for about two hours:
"That's enough just now, Ilya, that's enough, laddie! We'll sit down a while and rest, and have a bit to eat."
He took a piece of bread out of his pocket, made the sign of the cross over it, and divided it. They both made a meal, and after eating, rested full half an hour, camped on the edge of the valley. The valley opened on to the river, and they could see the stream quite plainly. It swept slowly past the valley in broad, silver-shining streaks, and when Ilya followed the flow of the water, he felt in his heart a keen desire to glide away with it—somewhere, anywhere. On the further side of the river, the green, newly-mown meadows stretched away and away, haystacks rising up among them like grey towers, and far on the horizon the dark jagged line of the forest stood out against the blue sky. A sense of rest and kindliness brooded over the meadow lands, inspiring the thought that a pure, transparent, sweet-smelling air drifted over them, while here it was so suffocating with the reek of the rotting refuse; the stench of it gripped the lungs and irritated the nose, and tears ran from Ilya's eyes as well as from the old man's.
"See, Ilya, how great and wide the world is!" said Jeremy; "and everywhere in it there are men living—living and tormenting themselves—and the Lord looks down out of Heaven and He sees everything and knows everything. All that a man so much as thinks, is known to Him, wherefore He is also called by the Holy Name, Lord God of Sabaoth, Jesus Christ. He knows everything, counts everything, thinks of everything. The spots of sin upon your soul you may conceal from men, but never from Him. He sees all. He thinks of you. 'Ah! thou sinner, thou miserable sinner! Wait, I must chastise thee.' And when the time comes, then He punishes—punishes you grievously! He gave command to men, 'Love ye one another,' and He has so ordered it that he who does not love his fellow-men is loved by no one. Such men live lonely in the world and their lot is heavy, and they have no gladness."
Ilya lay on his back, and looked up into the blue sky, whose limits he could not determine. Melancholy and sleepiness fell on him, vague, confused pictures drifted before his soul. It seemed to him as if far above in the sky, there hovered a mighty being, transparently clear, gentle and comforting, at once good and powerful, and that he, the little boy, might raise himself, with the old grandfather Jeremy and the whole earth, up into the boundless space, the blue ocean of light and shining purity, and his heart was full of peaceful, quiet joy. In the evening, when they returned home, Ilya trod the courtyard with the important self-assured gait of a man who has completed a good day's work. In the well-earned desire for rest, he retained not the least pleasure in such foolish things as other little boys and girls delight in. By his serious demeanour and the sack on his back, stuffed full of rare and fascinating things, he inspired a decided respect in all the children.
The grandfather smiled in a friendly way at the youngsters and chaffed them:
"Here children, see! the Lazaruses have come home again. They have hunted through the whole town and shoved their noses in everywhere. Run along Ilya, wash your face and come into the bar for tea."
Ilya went to his corner in the cellar with important strides, and a crowd of children followed him, keenly curious as to the contents of the sack. Only Pashka stood in his path and asked him pertly:
"Hullo! Rag-picker! Show us what you've brought."
"You'll have to wait," answered Ilya with decision. "Let me have my tea, then I'll show you."
In the bar, uncle Terenti met him with a friendly smile.
"Ha! Ha! little workman, back again? Tramped yourself tired, eh, young'un?"
Ilya liked to be called a little workman, and he received the title from others besides his uncle. Once when Pashka had played some pranks, his father Savel took his head between his knees and thrashed him soundly.
"I'll teach you, you rascal! You'll play your tricks again, will you? Take that then—and that—and one more! Other children no older than you earn their own bread, and you can do nothing—nothing but stuff yourself and tear your clothes!"
Pashka screamed till the whole house rang, and kicked hard while the rope's end whistled about his back. At first Ilya heard his enemy's cries of pain with a certain sense of satisfaction, and at the same time the words of the smith, which he took to himself, filled him with a consciousness of his superiority to Pashka. Then the thought roused compassion in him for the victim.
"Uncle Savel, please stop!" he called out suddenly. "Uncle Savel!"
The smith gave his son one cut more, then looked at Ilya and said crossly:
"Shut up! You! Speak up for him, will you? Look out for yourself!"
Then he swung his son on to one side and went into the smithy. Pashka got on to his feet and tottered with wavering steps into a dark corner of the courtyard. Ilya followed him pityingly. Pashka knelt down in the corner, pressed his head against the fence and began to scream more loudly than ever, rubbing his back with his hands. Ilya felt a wish to say something friendly to his humbled enemy; presently he asked:
"Does it hurt much?"
"Get away! Get out!" screamed Pashka.
The ill-tempered tone angered Ilya, and he said in a prim way:
"You used to be always knocking the others about, and now——"
Before he could finish Pashka flung himself upon him and dragged him to the ground. Ilya was immediately filled with rage, gripped fast hold of his antagonist and both rolled on the earth in a knot. Pashka bit and scratched while Ilya, with his hand twisted firmly in his adversary's hair, bumped his head vigorously against the ground till Pashka cried:
"There! you see!" said Ilya, proud of his victory, as he got on to his feet, "you see, I'm stronger than you. So don't try that game on me again, unless you want another licking!"
He walked off wiping the blood from his scratched face with his sleeve. The smith was standing in the middle of the yard with lowering brows. When Ilya saw him, he shivered and stood still, convinced that the smith would take vengeance on him for Pashka's defeat. But the smith only shrugged his shoulders and said: "Now then, what are you glowering at? Never seen me before? Get along with you!"
But the same evening as Ilya stepped through the door, he met Savel again; the smith flipped him lightly on the head with his finger and said smiling:
"Hullo! young dust-grubber, how goes business? Eh?"
Ilya giggled happily; he was delighted. The gloomy smith, the strongest man in the yard, who inspired every one with fear and respect had joked with him. The smith gripped the lad's shoulder with his iron hand, and increased his delight still further by saying:
"Eh, you're a sturdy youngster! It's not so easy to bowl you over. When you grow a bit I'll take you on in the smithy."
Ilya caught the smith round his huge thigh and pressed against him. The giant must have felt the tumultuous beating of that little heart, that his clumsy kindness had set going. He laid a heavy hand on Ilya's head, and after a moment's silence said in his deep voice:
"Ah! poor motherless lad. There! there!"
Beaming with happiness, Ilya set to at his usual evening's task, the distribution of the treasures he had collected in the day. The children had been waiting for him for ever so long. They sat in a circle on the ground about him and gazed with greedy eyes at the dirty sack. Ilya fetched out of the bag a couple of strips of calico, a wooden soldier, bleached by wind and weather, a blacking pot, a pomade box, and a teacup with a broken rim and no handle:
"That is for me!—for me—for me!" came the children's voices, and from all sides little dirty hands caught at the rare treasures.
"Wait! Wait! No grabbing!" commanded Ilya. "Do you call that playing fair if you all snatch at once? Now then, I'll open the shop. First, I'll sell this piece of calico, quite wonderful calico, the price is half a rouble. Mashka, buy it!"
"It's bought," shouted Jakov instead of the cobbler's daughter, and drew out of his pocket a potsherd he had held in readiness and pressed it into the merchant's hand. But Ilya would not take it. "What sort of a game's that? You must bargain—my goodness! You never bargain. In the market you must bargain!"
"I forgot," Jakov excused himself, and now began an obstinate haggling. Seller and buyers grew wildly excited, and while they chaffered, Pashka quickly snatched what he wanted out of the heap, and ran off, dancing and shouting in mockery:
"Ha! ha! I've got it! I've got it! You sleepyheads, you silly duffers!"
At first Pashka's thievish ways enraged all the children. The little ones cried and howled, while Jakov and Ilya chased the robber, but usually without success. By degrees they became accustomed to his knavery, looked for nothing better from him and paid him out by refusing angrily to play with him. Pashka lived for himself, and thought of nothing but how to play his evil tricks. The big-headed Jakov, on the other hand, was a kind of nursemaid for the curly-haired daughter of the cobbler. She took his care for her interest as something quite natural, and if she called him always coaxingly "Jashetschka," she also scratched and struck him fairly often. Jakov's friendship with Ilya grew from day to day and he was always telling his friend his most wonderful dreams.
"I dreamed last night that I had a heap of money—bright roubles, a whole sackful, and I carried the sack into the wood on my back. Then all at once some robbers came at me with knives—horrible! I ran away, of course, and then in a minute the sack seemed alive. I threw it away and—you'll never guess—all sorts of birds flew out of it. Whirr! Whirr! Siskins and tits and finches, oh such a tremendous lot! They lifted me up and carried me through the air—high, ever so high."
He broke off and looked at Ilya with his prominent eyes, while a sheepish look came into his face.
"Well, what next?" Ilya prompted him, eager to hear the end.
"Oh! I flew right away," Jakov ended his tale thoughtfully.
"Where? Oh—just—just right away."
"Oh you!" said Ilya disappointed and contemptuous. "You never remember anything."
Grandfather Jeremy came out from the bar and called, shading his eyes with his hand:
"Ilyusha! Where are you? Come to bed it's getting late."
Ilya followed the old man obediently and went to his bed, made of a sack full of hay. He slept soundly on his sack, and lived happily with the old rag-picker, but all too fast this pleasant easy life slipped away.
Grandfather Jeremy kept his word; he bought Ilya a pair of boots, a thick heavy coat and a cap, and thus equipped, the youngster was sent to school. Full at once of curiosity and anxiety he went, and gloomy and sick, with tears in his eyes he came home. The boys had recognised him as old Jeremy's companion and had jeered at him in chorus:
"Rag-picker! Stinking rag-picker!"
Some pinched him, others put their tongues out at him, and one specially impudent boy went up to him, sniffed the air, and shouted, turning away with a grimace of disgust:
"Ah! how beastly the lout smells!"
"Why do they laugh at me?" Ilya asked his uncle, full of wrath and doubt. "Is there any shame in being a rag-picker?"
"No! No!" answered Terenti, stroking his nephew's hair, and trying to hide his face from the boy's inquiring eyes. "They only do it—oh just—because they're ill-mannered. Don't worry! Try to bear it! They'll soon have enough of it, and you'll get used to it."
"But they laugh at my boots, too, and my overcoat; they said they were odds and ends dug out of a rubbish heap!"
Grandfather Jeremy comforted him, blinking in a friendly way.
"Bear it, dear lad! There's One will soon make it up to you: He! There's no one else that matters."
The old man spoke of God with such joy, such confidence in his justice, as though he knew well all the mind of God, and was initiated into all His intentions. And Jeremy's words relieved a little the boy's feeling of heart-sickness. But the next day the feeling rose up in him stronger than ever. Ilya had become accustomed to regard himself as a person of importance, a real workman. Why, Savel the smith spoke in a friendly way with him, and these school-boys laughed and mocked at him. He could get no peace, no respite. Every day the bitter insulting expressions of the school became more marked, and drove deeper into his soul. The school hours were for him a heavy, burdensome duty. He kept himself apart, held no intercourse with the others. Through his quickness of comprehension he attracted the attention of the teacher, and being held up as an example to the others, his relations with his schoolfellows became, if possible, more strained than before. He sat on the front bench, and never lost the sense of his enemies at his back. They had him constantly before their eyes, and readily discovered anything about him that might appear ridiculous. And they laughed at him all the time. Jakov attended the same school and was at once tarred with the same brush as his comrade. They usually called him "Muttonhead." He was absent-minded, learnt with difficulty, and was punished almost every day, but remained absolutely indifferent to all punishments. Mostly he seemed hardly to notice what went on round about him, and lived in a world of his own, at school as at home. He had his own thoughts, and by his odd questions moved Ilya to astonishment nearly every day. For instance, he would say, casually, gazing meditatively before him, "Tell me, Ilya, how is it that such little eyes as men have can see everything? One can see the whole street, the whole town; how can anything so big get into our little eyes?"
Or he would stare up into the sky and say suddenly:
"Ah! the sun."
"Well—what?" asked Ilya.
"How it blazes away!"
"Well, what then?"
"Oh nothing. D'you know what I was thinking? The sun and moon must be parents and the stars are their children."
At first Ilya pondered deeply over his odd sayings, but by degrees these fancies began to worry him, because they took his mind off the things that were happening close to him. And there were many things happening, and the boy had soon learnt to take good heed of them.
One day he came home from school and said with scorn to old Jeremy:
"Our teacher—ah!—he's a good one! Yesterday the son of Malafyeyev the merchant, smashed a window, and he let him off very easy, and to-day he's had the window mended and paid for it out of his own pocket."
"But see then, how good he is!" answered Jeremy.