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Chapter 1

    I WENT out into the world as “shop-boy” at a fashionable boot-shop in themain street of the town.

  My master was a small, round man. He had a brown, rugged face, greenteeth, and watery, mud-colored eyes. At first I thought he was blind, and tosee if my supposition was correct, I made a grimace.

  “Don’t pull your face about!” he said to me gently, but sternly. Thethought that those dull eyes could see me was unpleasant, and I did not wantto believe that this was the case. Was it not more than probable that he hadguessed I was making grimaces ?

  “I told you not to pull your face about,” he said again, hardly moving histhick lips.

  “Don’t scratch your hands,” his dry whisper came to me, as it were,stealthily. “You are serving in a first-class shop in the main street of thetown, and you must not forget it. The door-boy ought to stand like a statue.”

  I did not know what a statue was, and I couldn’t help scratching myhands, which were covered with red pimples and sores, for they had beensimply devoured by vermin.

  “What did you do for a living when you were at home?” asked my master,looking at my hands.

  I told him, and he shook his round head, which was closely covered withgray hair, and said in a shocked voice :

  “Rag-picking! Why, that is worse than begging or stealing!”

  I informed him, not without pride :

  “But I stole as well.”

  At this he laid his hands on his desk, looking just like a cat with her pawsup, and fixed his eyes on my face with a terrified expression as hewhispered :

  “Wha — a — t? How did you steal?”

  I explained how and what I had stolen.

  “Well, well, I look upon that as nothing but a prank. But if you rob me ofboots or money, I will have you put in prison, and kept there for the rest ofyour life.”

  He said this quite calmly, and I was frightened, and did not like him anymore.

  Besides the master, there were serving in the shop my cousin, SaschaJaakov, and the senior assistant, a competent, unctuous person with a redface. Sascha now wore a brown frock-coat, a false shirt-front, a cravat, andlong trousers, and was too proud to take any notice of me.

  When grandfather had brought me to my master, he had asked Sascha tohelp me and to teach me. Sascha had frowned with an air of importance ashe said warningly:

  “He will have to do what I tell him, then.”

  Laying his hand on my head, grandfather had forced me to bend myneck.

  “You are to obey him; he is older than you both in years and experience.”

  And Sascha said to me, with a nod :

  “Don’t forget what grandfather has said.” He lost no time in profiting byhis seniority.

  “Kashirin, don’t look so goggle-eyed,” his master would advise him.

  “I— I ‘m all right,” Sascha would mutter, putting his head down. But themaster would not leave him alone.

  “Don’t butt; the customers will think you are a goat.”

  The assistant smiled respectfully, the master stretched his lips in ahideous grin, and Sascha, his face flushing, retreated behind the counter. Idid not like the tone of these conversations. Many of the words they usedwere unintelligible to me, and sometimes they seemed to be speaking in astrange language. When a lady customer came in, the master would take hishands out of his pockets, tug at his mustache, and fix a sweet smile upon hisface — a smile which wrinkled his cheeks, but did not change the expressionof his dull eyes. The assistant would draw himself up, with his elbowspressed closely against his sides, and his wrists respectfully dangling. Saschawould blink shyly, trying to hide his protruding eyes, while I would stand atthe door, surreptitiously scratching my hands, and observing the ceremonialof selling.

  Kneeling before the customer, the assistant would try on shoes withwonderfully deft fingers. He touched the foot of the woman so carefully thathis hands trembled, as if he were afraid of breaking her leg. But the leg wasstout enough. It looked like a bottle with sloping shoulders, turned neckdownward.

  One of these ladies pulled her foot away one day, shrieking :

  “Oh, you are tickling me!”

  “That is — because — you are so sensitive,” the assistant explainedhastily, with warmth.

  It was comical to watch him fawning upon the customers, and I had toturn and look through the glass of the door to keep myself from laughing.

  But something used to draw me back to watcli the sale. The proceedings ofthe assistant were very interesting, and while I looked at him I was thinkingthat I should never be able to make my fingers move so delicately, or sodeftly put boots on other people’s feet.

  It often happened that the master went away from the shop into a littleroom behind it, and he would call Sascha to him, leaving the assistant alonewith the customer. Once, lingering over the foot of a red-haired woman, hetook it between his fingers and kissed it.

  “Oh,” breathed the woman, “what a bold man you are!”

  He puffed out his cheeks and emitted a long-drawn-out sound :

  “0 — 0 — hi”

  At this I laughed so much that, to keep my feet, I had to hang on to thehandle of the door. It flew open, and my head knocked against one of thepanes of glass and broke it. The assistant stamped his foot at me, my masterhit me on the head with his heavy gold ring, and Sascha tried to pull my ears.

  In the evening, when we were on our way home, he said to me, sternly:

  “You will lose your place for doing things like that. I ‘d like to knowwhere the joke comes in.” And then he explained: “If ladies take a fancy tothe assistant, it is good for trade. A lady may not be in need of boots, but shecomes in and buys what she does not want just to have a look at theassistant, who pleases her. But you — you can’t understand! One puts oneselfout for you, and — ”

  This incensed me. No one put himself out for me, and he least of all.

  In the morning the cook, a sickly, disagreeable woman, used to call mebefore him. I had to clean the boots and brush the clothes of the master, theassistant, and Sascha, get the samovar ready, bring in wood for all the stoves,and wash up. When I got to the shop I had to sweep the floor, dust, get thetea ready, carry goods to the customers, and go home to fetch the dinner, myduty at the door being taken in the meantime by Sascha, who, finding itlowering to his dignity, rated me.

  “Lazy young wretch! I have to do all your work for you.”

  This was a wearisome, dull life for me. I was accustomed to liveindependently in the sandy streets of Kunavin, on the banks of the turbidOka, in the fields or woods, from morning to night. I was parted fromgrandmother and from my comrades. I had no one to speak to, and life wasshowing me her seamy, false side. There were occasions on which a customerwent away without making ‘ a purchase, when all three would feelthemselves affronted. The master would put his sweet smile away in hispocket as he said :

  “Kashirin, put these things away.” Then he would grumble :

  “There’s a pig of a woman! The fool found it dull sitting at home, so shemust come and turn our shop upside down! If you were my wife, I ‘d give yousomething!”

  His wife, a dried-up woman with black eyes and a large nose, simplymade a doormat of him. She used to scold him as if he were a servant.

  Often, after he had shown out a frequent customer with polite bows andpleasant words, they would all begin to talk about her in a vile and shamelessmanner, arousing in me a desire to run into the street after her and tell herwhat they said. I knew, of course, that people generally speak evil of oneanother behind one another’s backs, but these spoke of every one in aparticularly revolting manner, as if they were in the front rank of goodpeople and had been appointed to judge the rest of the world. Envious ofmany of them, they were never known to praise any one, and knewsomething bad about everybody.

  One day there came to the shop a young woman with bright, rosy cheeksand sparkling eyes, attired in a velvet cloak with a collar of black fur. Herface rose out of the fur like a wonderful flower. When she had thrown thecloak off her shoulders and handed it to Sascha, she looked still morebeautiful. Her fine figure was fitted tightly with a blue-gray silk robe;diamonds sparkled in her ears. She reminded me of “Vassilissa theBeautiful,” and I could have believed that she was in truth the governor’swife. They received her with particular respect, bending before her as if shewere a bright light, and almost choking themselves in their hurry to get outpolite words. All three rushed about the shop like wild things : theirreflections bobbed up and down in the glass of the cupboard. But when sheleft, after having bought some expensive boots in a great hurry, the master,smacking his lips, whistled and said :


  “An actress — that sums her up,” said the assistant, contemptuously.

  They began to talk of the lovers of the lady and the luxury in which she lived.

  After dinner the master went to sleep in the room behind the shop, and I,opening his gold watch, poured vinegar into the works. It was a moment ofsupreme joy to me when he awoke and came into the shop, with his watch inhis hand, muttering wildly:

  “What can have happened? My watch is all wet.

  I never remember such a thing happening before. It is all wet; it will beruined.”

  In addition to the burden of my duties in the shop and the housework, Iwas weighed down by depression. I often thought it would be a good idea tobehave so badly that I should get my dismissal. Snow-covered people passedthe door of the shop without making a sound. They looked as if on their wayto somebody’s funeral. Having meant to accompany the body to the grave,they had been delayed, and, being late for the funeral procession, werehurrying to the graveside. The horses quivered with the effort of makingtheir way through the snow-drifts. From the belfry of the church behind theshop the bells rang out with a melancholy sound every day. It was Lent, andevery stroke of the bell fell upon my brain as if it had been a pillow, nothurting, but stupefying and deafening, me. One day when I was in the yardunpacking a case of new goods just received, at the door of the shop, thewatchman of the church, a crooked old man, as soft as if he were made ofrags and as ragged as if he had been torn to pieces by dogs, approached me.

  “Are you going to be kind and steal some goloshes for me?” he asked.

  I was silent. He sat down on an empty case, yawned, made the sign of thecross over his mouth, and repeated:

  “Will you steal them for me?”

  “It is wrong to steal,” I informed him.

  “But people steal all the same. Old age must have its compensations.”

  He was pleasantly different from the people among whom I lived. I feltthat he had a firm belief in my readiness to steal, and I agreed to hand himthe goloshes through the window.

  “That’s right,” he said calmly, without enthusiasm. “You are notdeceiving me? No, I see that you are not.”

  He was silent for a moment, trampling the dirty, wet snow with the solesof his boots. Then he lit a long pipe, and suddenly startled me.

  “But suppose it is I who deceive you? Suppose I take the goloshes to yourmaster, and tell him that you have sold them to me for half a ruble? Whatthen? Their price is two rubles, and you have sold them for half a ruble. As apresent, eh?”

  I gazed at him dumbly, as if he had already done what he said he woulddo; but he went on talking gently through his nose, looking at his boots, andblowing out blue smoke.

  “Suppose, for example, that your master has said to me, ‘Go and try thatyoungster, and see if he is a thief? What then?”

  “I shall not give you the goloshes,” I said, angry and frightened.

  “You must give them now that you have promised.”

  He took me by the arm and drew me to him, and, tapping my foreheadwith his cold fingers, drawled:

  “What are you thinking of, with your ‘take this’ and ‘take that’ ?”

  “You asked me for them yourself.”

  “I might ask you to do lots of things. I might ask you to come and rob thechurch. Would you do it? Do you think you can trust everybody? Ah, youyoung fool!” He pushed me away from him and stood up.

  “I don’t want stolen goloshes. I am not a gentleman, and I don’t weargoloshes. I was only making fun of you. For your simplicity, when Eastercomes, I will let you come up into the belfry and ring the bells and look at thetown.”

  “I know the town.”

  “It looks better from the belfry.”

  Dragging his broken boots in the snow, he went slowly round the cornerof the church, and I looked after him, wondering dejectedly and fearfullywhether the old man had really been making fun of me, or had been sent bymy master to try me. I did not want to go back to the shop.

  Sascha came hurriedly into the yard and shouted:

  “What the devil has become of you?”

  I shook my pincers at him in a sudden access of rage. I knew that both heand the assistant robbed the master. They would hide a pair of boots orslippers in the stovepipe, and when they left the shop, would slip them intothe sleeves of their overcoats. I did not like this, and felt alarmed about it, forI remembered the threats of the master.

  “Are you stealing?” I had asked Sascha.

  “Not I, but the assistant,” he would explain crossly. “I am only helpinghim. He says, ‘Do as I tell you,’ and I have to obey. If I did not, he would dome some mischief. As for master, he was an assistant himself once, and heunderstands. But you hold your tongue.”

  As he spoke, he looked in the glass and set his tie straight with just sucha movement of his naturally spreading fingers as the senior assistantemployed. He was unwearying in his demonstrations of his seniority andpower over me, scolding me in a bass voice, and ordering me about withthreatening gestures. I was taller than he, but bony and clumsy, while he wascompact, flexible, and fleshy. In his frock-coat and long trousers he seemedan important and substantial figure in my eyes, and yet there was somethingludicrous and unpleasing about him. He hated the cook, a curious woman, ofwhom it was impossible to decide whether she was good or bad.

  “What I love most in the world is a fight,” she said, opening wide herburning black eyes. “I don’t care what sort of fight it is, cock-fights, dogfights,or fights between men. It is all the same to me.”

  And if she saw cocks or pigeons fighting in the yard, she would throwaside her work and watch the fight to the end, standing dumb andmotionless at the window. In the evenings she would say to me and Sascha:

  “Why do you sit there doing nothing, children ? You had far better befighting.”

  This used to make Sascha angry.

  “I am not a child, you fool; I am junior assistant.”

  “That does not concern me. In my eyes, while you remain unmarried,you are a child.”

  “Fool! Blockhead!”

  “The devil is clever, but God does not love him.”

  Her talk was a special source of irritation to Sascha, and he used to teaseher ; but she would look at him contemptuously, askance, and say:

  “Ugh, you beetle! One of God’s mistakes!”

  Sometimes he would tell me to rub blacking or soot on her face when shewas asleep, stick pins into her pillow, or play other practical jokes on her; butI was afraid of her. Besides, she slept very lightly and used to wake upfrequently. Lighting the lamp, she would sit on the side of her bed, gazingfixedly at something in the corner. Sometimes she came over to me, where Islept behind the stove, and woke me up, saying hoarsely :

  “I can’t sleep, Leksyeka. I am not very well. Talk to me a little.”

  Half asleep, I used to tell her some story, and she would sit withoutspeaking, swaying from side to side. I had an idea that her hot body smelt ofwax and incense, and that she would soon die. Every moment I expected tosee her fall face downward on the floor and die. In terror I would begin tospeak loudly, but she would check me.

  “ ‘S-sh! You will wake the whole place up, and they will think that you aremy lover.”

  She always sat near me in the same attitude, doubled up, with her wristsbetween her knees, squeezing them against the sharp bones of her legs. Shehad no chest, and even through the thick linen night-dress her ribs werevisible, just like the ribs of a broken cask. After sitting a long time in silence,she would suddenly whisper:

  “What if I do die, it is a calamity which happens to all.” Or she would asksome invisible person, “Well, I have lived my life, haven’t If“Sleep!” she would say, cutting me short in the middle of a word, and,straightening herself, would creep noiselessly across the dark kitchen.

  “Witch!” Sascha used to call her behind her back.

  I put the question to him:

  “Why don’t you call her that to her face?”

  “Do you think that I am afraid to?” But a second later he said, with afrown: “No, I can’t say it to her face. She may really be a witch.”

  Treating every one with the same scornful lack of consideration, sheshowed no indulgence to me, but would drag me out of bed at six o’clockevery morning, crying:

  “Are you going to sleep forever? Bring the wood in! Get the samovarready! Clean the door-plate!”

  Sascha would wake up and complain:

  “What are you bawling like that for? I will tell the master. You don’t giveany one a chance to sleep.”

  Moving quickly about the kitchen with her lean, withered body, shewould flash her blazing, sleepless eyes upon him.

  “Oh, it’s you, God’s mistake? If you were my son, I would give yousomething!”

  Sascha would abuse her, calling her “accursed one,” and when we weregoing to the shop he said to me: “We shall have to do something to get hersent away. We’ll put salt in everything when she’s not looking. If everythingis cooked with too much salt, they will get rid of her. Or paraffin would do.

  What are you gaping about?”

  “Why don’t you do it yourself?”

  He snorted angrily :


  The cook died under our very eyes. She bent down to pick up thesamovar, and suddenly sank to the floor without uttering a word, just as ifsome one had given her a blow on the chest. She moved over on her side,stretched out her arms, and blood trickled from her mouth.

  We both understood in a flash that she was dead, but, stupefied byterror, we gazed at her a long time without strength to say a word. At lastSascha rushed headlong out of the kitchen, and I, not knowing what to do,pressed close to the window in the light. The master came in, fussily squatteddown beside her, and touched her face with his finger.

  “She is dead; that’s certain,” he said. “What can have caused it?” He wentinto the corner where hung a small image of Nikolai Chudovortz and crossedhimself; and, when he had prayed he went to the door and commanded:

  “Kashirin, run quickly and fetch the police!”

  The police came, stamped about, received money for drinks, and went.

  They returned later, accompanied by a man with a cart, lifted the cook by thelegs and the head, and carried her into the street. The mistress stood in thedoorway and watched them. Then she said to me :

  “Wash the floor!”

  And the master said :

  “It is a good thing that she died in the evening.”

  I could not understand why it was a good thing. When we went to bedSascha said to me with unusual gentleness :

  “Don’t put out the lamp!”

  “Are you afraid?”

  He covered his head with the blanket, and lay silent a long time. Thenight was very quiet, as if it were listening for something, waiting forsomething. It seemed to me that the next minute a bell rang out, andsuddenly the whole town was running and shouting in a great terrifieduproar.

  Sascha put his nose out of the blanket and suggested softly:

  “Let’s go and lie on the stove together.”

  “It is hot there.”

  After a silence he said:

  “How suddenly she went off, didn’t she? I am sure she was a witch. Ican’t get to sleep.”

  “Nor I, either.”

  He began to tell tales about dead people — how they came out of theirgraves and wandered till midnight about the town, seeking the place wherethey had lived and looking for their relations.

  “Dead people can only remember the town,” he said softly; “but theyforget the streets and houses at once.”

  It became quieter and quieter and seemed to be getting darker. Sascharaised his head and asked :

  “Would you like to see what I have got in my trunk?”

  I had long wanted to know what he hid in his trunk. He kept it lockedwith a padlock, and always opened it with peculiar caution. If I tried to peephe would ask harshly :

  “What do you want, eh?”

  When I agreed, he sat up in bed without putting his feet to the floor, andordered me in a tone of authority to bring the trunk to the bed, and place it athis feet. The key hung round his neck with his baptismal cross. Glancinground at the dark corners of the kitchen, he frowned importantly, unfastenedthe lock, blew on the lid of the trunk as if it had been hot, and at length,raising it, took out several linen garments.

  The trunk was half-full of chemist’s boxes, packets of variously coloredtea-paper, and tins which had contained blacking or sardines.

  “What is it?”

  “You shall see.”

  He put a foot on each side of the trunk and bent over it, singing softly :

  “Czaru nebesnui ”

  I expected to see toys. I had never possessed any myself, and pretendedto despise them, but not without a feeling of envy for those who did possessthem. I was very pleased to think that Sascha, such a serious character, hadtoys, although he hid them shame-facedly; but I quite understood his shame.

  Opening the first box, he drew from it the frame of a pair of spectacles,put them on his nose, and, looking at me sternly, said :

  “It does not matter about there not being any glasses. This is a specialkind of spectacle.”

  “Let me look through them.”

  “They would not suit your eyes. They are for dark eyes, and yours arelight,” he explained, and began to imitate the mistress scolding; but suddenlyhe stopped, and looked about the kitchen with an expression of fear.

  In a blacking tin lay many different kinds of buttons, and he explained tome with pride:

  “I picked up all these in the street. All by myself! I already have thirty-seven.”

  In the third box was a large brass pin, also found in the street; hobnails,worn-out, broken, and whole; buckles off shoes and slippers; brass door-handles, broken bone cane-heads; girls’ fancy combs, “The Dream Book andOracle”; and many other things of similar value.

  When I used to collect rags I could have picked up ten times as manysuch useless trifles in one month. Sascha’s things aroused in me a feeling ofdisillusion, of agitation, and painful pity for him. But he gazed at every singlearticle with great attention, lovingly stroked them with his fingers, and stuckout his thick lips importantly. His protruding eyes rested on themaffectionately and solicitously ; but the spectacles made his childish face lookcomical.

  “Why have you kept these things?”

  He flashed a glance at me through the frame of the spectacles, andasked :

  “Would you like me to give you something?”

  “No; I don’t want anything.”

  He was obviously offended at the refusal and the poor impression hisriches had made. He was silent a moment; then he suggested quietly:

  “Get a towel and wipe them all; they are covered with dust.”

  When the things were all dusted and replaced, he turned over in the bed,with his face to the wall. The rain was pouring down. It dripped from theroof, and the wind beat against the window. Without turning toward me,Sascha said :

  “You wait! When it is dry in the garden I will show you a thing —something to make you gasp.”

  I did not answer, as I was just dropping off to sleep.

  After a few seconds he started up, and began to scrape the wall with hishands. With quivering earnestness, he said :

  “I am afraid — Lord, I am afraid! Lord, have mercy upon me! What is it?”

  I was numbed by fear at this. I seemed to see the cook standing at thewindow which looked on the yard, with her back to me, her head bent, andher forehead pressed against the glass, just as she used to stand when shewas alive, looking at a cock-fight. Sascha sobbed, and scraped on the wall. Imade a great effort and crossed the kitchen, as if I were walking on hot coals,without daring to look around, and lay down beside him. At length,overcome by weariness, we both fell asleep.

  A few days after this there was a holiday. We were in the shop tillmidday, had dinner at home, and when the master had gone to sleep afterdinner, Sascha said to me secretly :

  “Come along!”

  I guessed that I was about to see the thing which was to make me gasp.

  We went into the garden. On a narrow strip of ground between two housesstood ten old lime-trees, their stout trunks covered with green lichen, theirblack, naked branches sticking up lifelessly, and not one rook’s nest betweenthem. They looked like monuments in a graveyard. There was nothingbesides these trees in the garden; neither bushes nor grass. The earth on thepathway was trampled and black, and as hard as iron, and where the bareground was visible under last year’s leaves it was also flattened, and assmooth as stagnant water.

  Sascha went to a corner of the fence which hid us from the street, stoodunder a lime-tree, and, rolling his eyes, glanced at the dirty windows of theneighboring house. Squatting on his haunches, he turned over a heap ofleaves with his hands, disclosing a thick root, close to which were placed twobricks deeply embedded in the ground. He lifted these up, and beneath themappeared a piece of roof iron, and under this a square board. At length alarge hole opened before my eyes, running under the root of the tree.

  Sascha lit a match and applied it to a small piece of wax candle, which heheld over the hole as he said to me:

  “Look in, only don’t be frightened.”

  He seemed to be frightened himself. The piece of candle in his handshook, and he had turned pale. His lips drooped unpleasantly, his eyes weremoist, and he stealthily put his free hand behind his back. He infected mewith his terror, and I glanced very cautiously into the depths under the root,which he had made into a vault, in the back of which he had lit three littletapers that filled the cave with a blue light. It was fairly broad, though indepth no more than the inside of a pail. But it was broad, and the sides wereclosely covered with pieces of broken glass and broken earthenware. In thecenter, on an elevation, covered with a piece of red cloth, stood a little coffinornamented with silver paper, half covered with a fragment of materialwhich looked like a brocaded pall. From beneath this was thrust out a littlegray bird’s claw and the sharp-billed head of a sparrow. Behind the coffinrose a reading-stand, upon which lay a brass baptismal cross, and aroundwhich burned three wax tapers, fixed in candlesticks made out of gold andsilver paper which had been wrapped round sweets.

  The thin flames bowed toward the entrance to the cave. The interior wasfaintly bright with many colored gleams and patches of light. The odor ofwax, the warm smell of decay and soil, beat against my face, made my eyessmart, and conjured up a broken rainbow, which made a great display ofcolor. All this aroused in me such an overwhelming astonishment that itdispelled my terror.

  “Is it good?”

  “What is it for?”

  “It is a chapel,” he explained. “Is it like one?”

  “I don’t know.”

  “And the sparrow is a dead person. Perhaps there will be relics of him,because he suffered undeservedly.”

  “Did you find him dead?”

  “No. He flew into the shed and I put my cap over him and smotheredhim.”

  “But why?”

  “Because I chose to.”

  He looked into my eyes and asked again :

  “Is it good?”


  Then he bent over the hole, quickly covered it with the board, pressedthe bricks into the earth with the iron, stood up, and, brushing the dirt fromhis knees, asked sternly:

  “Why don’t you like it?”

  “I am sorry for the sparrow.”

  He stared at me with eyes which were perfectly stationary, like those of ablind person, and, striking my chest, cried :

  “Fool, it is because you are envious that you say that you do not like it! Isuppose you think that the one in your garden in Kanatnoe Street was betterdone.”

  I remembered my summer-house, and said with conviction :

  “Certainly it was better.”

  Sascha pulled off his coat and threw it on the ground, and, turning up hissleeves, spat on his hands and said:

  “If that is so, we will fight about it.”

  I did not want to fight. My courage was undermined by depression; I feltuneasy as I looked at the wrathful face of my cousin. He made a rush at me,struck my chest with his head, and knocked me over. Then he sat astride ofme and cried :

  “Is it to be life or death?”

  But I was stronger than he and very angry. In a few minutes he was lyingface downward with his hands behind his head and a rattling in his throat.

  Alarmed, I tried to help him up, but he thrust me away with his hands andfeet. I grew still more alarmed. I went away to one side, not knowing whatelse to do, and he raised his head and said :

  “Do you know what you have brought on yourself? I will work things sothat when the master and mistress are not looking I shall have to complain ofyou, and then they will dismiss you.”

  He went on scolding and threatening me, and his words infuriated me. Irushed to the cave, took away the stones, and threw the coffin containing thesparrow over the fence into the street. I dug Out all the inside of the cave andtrampled it under my feet.

  Sascha took my violence strangely. Sitting on the ground, with his mouthpartly covered and his eyebrows drawn together, he watched me, sayingnothing. When I had finished, he stood up without any hurry, shook out hisclothes, threw on his coat, and then said calmly and ominously:

  “Now you will see what will happen; just wait a little! I arranged all thisfor you purposely; it is witchcraft. Aha!”

  I sank down as if his words had physically hurt me, and I felt quite coldinside. But he went away without glancing back at me, which accentuated hiscalm — ness still more. I made up my mind to run away from the town thenext day, to run away from my master, from Sascha with his witchcraft, fromthe whole of that worthless, foolish life.

  The next morning the new cook cried out when she called me:

  “Good gracious! what have you been doing to your face?’

  “The witchcraft is beginning to take effect,” I thought, with a sinkingheart.

  But the cook laughed so heartily that I also smiled involuntarily, andpeeped into her glass. My face was thickly smeared with soot.

  “Sascha did this?” I asked.

  “Or I,” laughed the cook.

  When I began to clean the boots, the first boot into which I put my handhad a pin in the lining, which ran into my finger.

  “This is his witchcraft!”

  There were pins or needles in all the boots, put in so skilfully that theyalways pricked my palm. Then I took a bowl of cold water, and with greatpleasure poured it over the head of the wizard, who was either not awake orwas pretending to sleep.

  But all the same I was miserable. I was always thinking of the coffincontaining the sparrow, with its gray crooked claws and its waxen billpathetically sticking upward, and all around the colored gleams whichseemed to be trying unsuccessfully to form themselves into a rainbow. In myimagination the coffin was enlarged, the claws of the bird grew, stretchedupward quivering, were alive.

  I made up my mind to run away that evening, but in warming up somefood on an oil-stove before dinner I absentmindedly let it catch fire. When Iwas trying to put the flames out, I upset the contents of the vessel over myhand, and had to be taken to the hospital. I remember well that oppressivenightmare of the hospital. In what seemed to be a yellow — gray wildernessthere were huddled together, grum — bling and groaning, gray and whitefigures in shrouds, while a tall man on crutches, with eyebrows like whiskers,pulled his black beard and roared :

  “I will report it to his Eminence!”

  The pallet beds reminded me of the coffin, and the patients, lying withtheir noses upward, were like dead sparrows. The yellow walls rocked, theceiling curved outward like a sail, the floor rose and fell beside my cot.

  Everything about the place was hope — less and miserable, and the twigs oftrees tapped against the window like rods in some one’s hand.

  At the door there danced a red-haired, thin dead person, drawing hisshroud round him with his thin hands and squeaking:

  “I don’t want mad people.”

  The man on crutches shouted in his ear :

  “I shall report it to his Eminence!”

  Grandfather, grandmother, and every one had told me that they alwaysstarved people in hospitals, so I looked upon my life as finished. A womanwith glasses, also in a shroud, came to me, and wrote something on a slatehanging at the head of the bed. The chalk broke and fell all over me.

  “What is your name?”

  “I have no name.”

  “But you must have one.”


  “Now, don’t be silly, or you will be whipped.”

  I could well believe that they would whip me ; that was why I would notanswer her. She made a hissing sound like a cat, and went out noiselessly,also like a cat.

  Two lamps were lit. The yellow globes hung down from the ceiling liketwo eyes, hanging and winking, dazzled, and trying to get closer together.

  Some one in the corner said:

  “How can I play without a hand?”

  “Ah, of course; they have cut off your hand.”

  I came to the conclusion at once that they cut off a man’s hand becausehe played at cards! What would they do with me before they starved me?

  My hands burned and smarted just as if some one were pulling the bonesout of them. I cried softly from fright and pain, and shut my eyes so that thetears should not be seen; but they forced their way through my eyelids, and,trickling over my temples, fell into my ears.

  The night came. All the inmates threw themselves upon their pallet beds,and hid themselves under gray blankets. Every minute it became quieter.

  Only some one could be heard muttering in a comer, “It is no use ; both heand she are rotters.”

  I would have written a letter to grandmother, telling her to come andsteal me from the hospital while I was still alive, but I could not write; myhands could not be used at all. I would try to find a way of getting out of theplace.

  The silence of the night became more intense every moment, as if it weregoing to last forever. Softly putting my feet to the floor, I went to the doubledoor, half of which was open. In the corridor, under the lamp, on a woodenbench with a back to it, appeared a gray, bristling head surrounded bysmoke, looking at me with dark, hollow eyes. I had no time to hide myself.

  “Who is that wandering about ? Come here!”

  The voice was not formidable; it was soft. I went to him. I saw a roundface with short hair sticking out round it. On the head the hair was long andstuck out in all directions like a silver halo, and at the belt of this personhung a bunch of keys. If his beard and hair had been longer, he would havelooked like the Apostle Peter.

  “You are the one with the burned hands? Why are you wandering aboutat night? By whose authority?”

  He blew a lot of smoke at my chest and face, and, putting his warmhands on my neck, drew me to him.

  “Are you frightened?”


  “Every one is frightened when they come here first, but that is nothing.

  And you need not be afraid of me, of all people. I never hurt any one. Wouldyou like to smoke”? No, don’t! It is too soon; wait a year or two. And whereare your parents? You have none? Ah, well, you don’t need them; you will beable to get along without them. Only you must not be afraid, do you see?”

  It was a long time since I had come across any one who spoke to mesimply and kindly in language that I could understand, and it wasinexpressibly pleasant to me to listen to him. When he took me back to mycot I asked him :

  “Come and sit beside me.”

  “All right,” he agreed.

  “Who are you?”

  “I? I am a soldier, a real soldier, a Cossack. And I have been in the wars— well, of course I have! Soldiers live for war. I have fought with the Hun —garians, with the Circassians, and the Poles, as many as you like. War, myboy, is a great profession.”

  I closed my eyes for a minute, and when I opened them, there, in theplace of the soldier, sat grandmother, in a dark frock, and he was standing byher. She was saying:

  “Dear me! So they are all dead?”

  The sun was playing in the room, now gilding every object, then hiding,and then looking radiantly upon us all again, just like a child frolicking.

  Babushka bent over me and asked :

  “What is it, my darling? They have been mutilating you? I told that oldred devil — ”

  “I will make all the necessary arrangements,” said the soldier, goingaway, and grandmother, wiping the tears from her face, said:

  “Our soldier, it seems, comes from Balakhna.”

  I still thought that I must be dreaming, and kept silence. The doctorcame, bandaged my burns, and, behold! I was sitting with grandmother in acab, and driving through the streets of the town. She told me:

  “That grandfather of ours he is going quite out of his mind, and he is sogreedy that it is sickening to look at him. Not long ago he took a hundredrubles out of the office-book of Xlist the furrier, a new friend of his. What aset-out there was! E-h-h-h!”

  The sun shone brightly, and clouds floated in the sky like white birds. Wewent by the bridge across the Volga. The ice groaned under us, water wasvisible under the planks of the bridge, and the golden cross gleamed over thered dome of the cathedral in the market-place.

  We met a woman with a broad face. She was carrying an armful ofwillow-branches. The spring was coming; soon it would be Easter.

  “I love you very much. Grandmother!”

  This did not seem to surprise her. She answered in a calm voice :

  “That is because we are of the same family. But— and I do not say it boastfully — there are others who love me, too,thanks to thee, O Blessed Lady!” She added, smiling:

  “She will soon be rejoicing; her Son will rise again! Ah, Variusha, mydaughter!”

  Then she was silent.


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