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Chapter 8

    WHEN the snows came, grandfather once more took me to grandmother’ssister.

  “It will do you no harm,” he said to me.

  I seemed to have had a wonderful lot of experience during the summer. Ifelt that I had grown older and cleverer, and the dullness of my master’shouse seemed worse than ever. They fell ill as often as ever, upsetting theirstomachs with offensive poisons, and giv — ing one another detailedaccounts of the progress of their illnesses. The old woman prayed to God inthe same terrible and malignant way. The young mistress had grown thin,but she moved about just as pompously and slowly as when she wasexpecting her child. When she stitched at the baby-clothes she always sangthe same song softly to herself:

  “Spiria, Spiria, Spiridon,Spiria, my little brother,I will sit in the sledge myselfAnd Spiria on the foot-board.”

  If any one went into the room she left off singing at once and criedangrily:

  “What do you want?”

  I fully believed that she knew no other song but that.

  In the evenings they used to call me into the sitting-room, and the orderwas given: i8o“Now tell us how you lived on the boat.”

  I sat on a chair near the door and spoke. I liked to recall a different lifefrom this which I was forced to lead against my will. I was so interested that Iforgot my audience, but not for long.

  The women, who had never been on a boat, asked me:

  “But it was very alarming, wasn’t it?”

  I did not understand. Why should it be alarming?

  “Why, the boat might go down any moment, and every one would bedrowned.”

  The master burst out laughing, and I, although I knew that boats did notsink just because there were deep places, could not convince the women. Theold woman was certain that the boat did not float on the water, but wentalong on wheels on the bottom of the river, like a cart on dry land.

  “If they are made of iron, how can they float? An ax will not float; nofear!”

  “But a scoop does not sink in the water.”

  “There’s a comparison to make! A scoop is a small thing, nothing tospeak of.”

  When I spoke of Smouri and his books they regarded me with contempt.

  The old lady said that only fools and heretics wrote books.

  “What about the Psalms and King David?”

  “The Psalms are sacred writings, and King David prayed God to forgivehim for writing the Psalms.”

  “Where does it say so?”

  “In the palms of my hands; that’s where! When I get hold of you by theneck you will learn where.”

  She knew everything; she spoke on all subjects with conviction andalways savagely.

  “A Tatar died on the Pechorka, and his soul came out of his mouth asblack as tar.”

  “Soul? Spirit?” I said, but she cried contemptuously :

  “Of a Tatar! Fool!”

  The young mistress was afraid of books, too.

  “It is very injurious to read books, and especially when you are young,”

  she said. “At home, at Grebeshka, there was a young girl of good family whoread and read, and the end of it was that she fell in love with the deacon, andthe deacon’s wife so shamed her that it was terrible to see. In the street,before everybody.”

  Sometimes I used words out of Smouri’s books, in one of which, onewithout beginning or end, was written, “Strictly speaking, no one personreally invented powder; as is always the case, it appeared at the end of a longseries of minor observations and discoveries.” I do not know why Iremembered these words so well. What I liked best of all was the joining oftwo phrases, “strictly speaking, no one person really invented powder.” I wasaware of force underlying them ; but they brought me sorrow, ludicrous sor— row. It happened thus.

  One day when my employers proposed that I should tell them aboutsomething which had happened on the boat I answered:

  “I haven’t anything left to tell, strictly speaking.”

  This amazed them. They cried:

  “What? What’s that you said?’

  And all four began to laugh in a friendly fashion, repeating :

  “‘Strictly speaking,’ — ah. Lord!”

  Even the master said to me :

  “You have thought that out badly, old fellow.”

  And for a long time after that they used to call me:

  “Hi, ‘strictly speaking,’ come here and wipe up the floor after the baby,strictly speaking.”

  This stupid banter did not offend, but it greatly surprised, me. I lived in afog of stupefying grief, and I worked hard in order to fight against it. I didnot feel my inefficiencies when I was at work. In the house were two youngchildren. The nurses never pleased the mistresses, and were continuallybeing changed. I had to wait upon the children, to wash baby-clothes everyday, and every week I had to go to the Jandarmski Fountain to rinse thelinen. Here I was derided by the washerwomen:

  “Why are you doing women’s work?”

  Sometimes they worked me up to such a pitch that I slapped them withthe wet, twisted linen. They paid me back generously for this, but I foundthem merry and interesting.

  The Jandarmski Fountain ran along the bottom of a deep causeway andfell into the Oka. The causeway cut the town off from the field which wascalled, from the name of an ancient god, Yarilo. On that field, near Semika,the inhabitants of the town had made a promenade. Grandmother had toldme that in the days of her youth people still believed in Yarilo and offeredsacrifices to him. They took a wheel, covered it with tarred tow, and let it rolldown the hill with cries and songs, watching to see if the burning wheelwould roll as far as the Oka. If it did, the god Yarilo had accepted thesacrifice; the summer would be sunny and happy.

  The washerwomen were for the most part from Yarilo, bold, headstrongwomen who had the life of the town at their finger-ends. It was veryinteresting to hear their tales of the merchants, chinovniks and officers forwhom they worked. To rinse the linen in winter in the icy water of the riverwas work for a galley-slave. All the women had their hands so frost-bittenthat the skin was broken. Bending over the stream, inclosed in a woodentrough, under an old penthouse full of crevices, which was no protectionagainst either wind or snow, the women rinsed the linen. Their faces wereflushed, pinched by the frost. The frost burned their wet fingers ; they couldnot bend them. Tears trickled from their eyes, but they chatted all the time,telling one another different stories, bearing themselves with a peculiarbravery toward every one and everything.

  The best of all the stories were told by Natalia Kozlovski, a woman ofabout thirty, fresh-faced, strong, with laughing eyes and a peculiarly facileand sharp tongue. All her companions had a high regard for her; she wasconsulted on all sorts of affairs, and much admired for her skill in work, forthe neatness of her attire, and because she had been able to send herdaughter to the high school. When, bending under the weight of two basketsof wet linen, she came down the hill on the slippery footpath, they greetedher gladly, and asked solicitously:

  “Well, and how is the daughter?”

  “Very well, thank you; she is learning well, thank God!”

  “Look at that now! She will be a lady.”

  “That’s why I am having her taught. Where do the ladies with the paintedfaces come from? They all come from us, from the black earth. And whereelse should they come from? He who has the most knowledge has the longestarms and can take more, and the one who takes the most has the honor andglory. God sends us into the world as stupid children and expects to take usback as wise old people, which means that we must learn!”

  When she spoke every one was silent, listening attentively to her fluent,self-confident speech. They praised her to her face and behind her back,amazed at her cleverness, her intellect ; but no one tried to imitate her. Shehad sewn brown leather from the leg of a boot, over the sleeve of her bodicewhich saved her from the necessity of baring her arms to the elbow, andprevented her sleeves from getting wet. They all said what a good idea it was,but not one of them followed her example. When I did so they laughed at me.

  “Ekh, you! Letting a woman teach you!” With reference to her daughtershe said: “That is an important affair. There will be one more young lady inthe world. Is that a small thing? But of course she may not be able to finishher studies ; she may die. And it is not an easy life for those who arestudents, you see. There was that daughter of the Bakhilovs. She studied andstudied, and even became a teacher herself. Once you become a teacher, youknow, you are settled for life.”

  “Of course, if they marry, they can do without education; that is, if theyhave something else to recom — mend them.”

  “A woman’s wit lies not in her head.” It was strange and embarrassing tohear them speak about themselves with such lack of reticence. I knew howsailors, soldiers, and tillers of the soil spoke about women. I heard menalways boasting among themselves of their skill in deceiving women, ofcunning in their relations with them. I felt that their attitude toward“females” was hostile, but generally there was a ring of something in theseboastings which led me to suppose that these stories were merely brag,inventions, and not the truth.

  The washerwomen did not tell one another about their love adventures,but in whatever they said about men I detected an undercurrent of derision,of malice, and I thought it might be true that woman was strength.

  “Even when they don’t go about among their fellows and make friends,they come to women, every one of them!” said Natalia one day, and an oldwoman cried to her in a rheumy voice:

  “And to whom else should they go? Even from God monks and hermitscome to us.”

  These conversations amid the weeping splash of the water, the slappingof wet clothes on the ground, or against the dirty chinks, which not even thesnow could hide with its clean cover — these shameless, maliciousconversations about secret things, about that from which all races andpeoples have sprung, roused in me a timid disgust, forced my thoughts andfeelings to fix themselves on “the romances” which surrounded and irritatedme. For me the understanding of the “romances” was closely intertwinedwith representations of obscure, immoral stories.

  However, whether I was with the washerwomen, or in the kitchen withthe orderlies or in cellars where lived the field laborers, I found it much moreinteresting than to be at home, where the stilted conversa — tions werealways on the same lines, where the same things happened over and overagain, arousing nothing but a feeling of constraint and embittered bore —dom. My employers dwelt within the magic circle of food, illness, sleep, andthe anxieties attendant on preparing for eating and sleeping. They spoke ofsin and of death, of which they were much afraid. They rubbed against oneanother as grains of corn are rubbed against the grindstone, which theyexpect every moment to crush them. In my free time I used to go into theshed to chop wood, desiring to be alone. But that rarely happened. Theorderlies used to come and talk about the news of the yard.

  Ermokhin and Sidorov came more often than the others. The former wasa long, bow-backed Kalougan, with thick, strong veins all over him, a smallhead, and dull eyes. He was lazy and irritatingly stupid; he moved slowly andclumsily, and when he saw a woman he blinked and bent forward, just as ifhe were going to throw himself at her feet. All the yard was amazed by hisswift conquest of the cooks and the maids, and envied him. They were allafraid of his bear-like strength. Sidorov, a lean, bony native of Tula, wasalways sad, spoke softly, and loved to gaze into dark corners. He would relatesome incident in a low voice, or sit in silence, looking into the darkest corner.

  “What are you looking at?”

  “I thought I saw a mouse running about. I love mice ; they run to and froso quietly.”

  I used to write letters home for these orderlies — love-letters. I liked this,but it was pleasanter to write letters for Sidorov than for any of the others.

  Every Saturday regularly he sent a letter to his sister at Tula.

  He invited me into his kitchen, sat down beside me at the table, and,rubbing his close-cropped hair hard, whispered in my ear :

  “Well, go on. Begin it as it ought to be begun. ‘My dearest sister, may yoube in good health for many years’ — you know how it ought to go. And nowwrite, ‘I received the ruble; only you need not have sent it. But I thank you. Iwant for nothing; we live well here.’ As a matter of fact, we do not live at allwell, but like dogs; but there is no need to write that. Write that we live well.

  She is little, only fourteen years old. Why should she know? Now write byyourself, as you have been taught.”

  He pressed upon me from the left side, breathing into my ear hotly andodorously, and whispered perseveringly :

  “Write ‘if any one speaks tenderly to you, you are not to believe him. Hewants to deceive you, and ruin you.’ ”

  His face was flushed by his effort to keep back a cough. Tears stood in hiseyes. He leaned on the table and pushed against me.

  “You are hindering me!”

  “It is all right; go on I ‘Above all, never believe gentlemen. They will leada girl wrong the first time they see her. They know exactly what to say. And ifyou have saved any money, give it to the priest to keep for you, if he is a goodman. But the best thing, is to bury it in the ground, and remember the spot.’


  It was miserable work trying to listen to this whisper, which wasdrowned by the squeaking of the tin ventilator in the fortochka, I looked atthe blackened front of the stove, at the china cupboard covered with flies.

  The kitchen was certainly very dirty, overrun with bugs, redolent with anacrid smell of burnt fat, kerosene, and smoke. On the stove, among the sticksof wood, cockroaches crawled in and out. A sense of melancholy stole overmy heart. I could have cried with pity for the soldier and his sister. Was itpossible, was it right that people should live like this?

  I wrote something, no longer listening to Sidorov’s whisper. I wrote ofthe misery and repulsiveness of life, and he said to me, sighing:

  “You have written a lot; thank you. Now she will know what she has to beafraid of.”

  “There is nothing for her to be afraid of,” I said angrily, although I wasafraid of many things myself.

  The soldier laughed, and cleared his throat.

  “What an oddity you are! How is there nothing to be afraid of? Whatabout gentlemen, and God? Isn’t that something?”

  When he received a letter from his sister he said restlessly :

  “Read it, please. Be quick!”

  And he made me read the badly scrawled, insultingly short, andnonsensical letter three times.

  He was good and kind, but he behaved toward women like all the others;that is, with the primitive coarseness of an animal. Willingly and unwillingly,as I observed these affairs, which often went on under my eyes, beginningand ending with striking and impure swiftness, I saw Sidorov arouse in thebreast of a woman a kind feeling of pity for him in his soldier’s life, thenintoxicate her with tender lies, and then tell Ermokhin of his conquest,frowning and spitting his disgust, just as if he had been taking some bittermedicine. This made my heart ache, and I angrily asked the soldiers whythey all deceived women, lied to them, and then, jeering among themselvesat the woman they had treated so, gave her away and often beat her.

  One of them laughed softly, and said :

  “It is not necessary for you to know anything about such things. It is allvery bad; it is sin. You are young; it is too early for you.”

  But one day I obtained a more definite answer, which I have alwaysremembered.

  “Do you think that she does not know that I am deceiving her?” he said,blinking and coughing. “She kno-o-ows. She wants to be deceived.

  Everybody lies in such affairs ; they are a disgrace to all concerned. There isno love on either side; it is simply an amusement. It is a dreadful disgrace.

  Wait, and you will know for yourself. It was for that God drove them out ofparadise, and from that all unhappiness has come.”

  He spoke so well, so sadly, and so penitently that he reconciled me alittle to these “romances.” I began to have a more friendly feeling toward himthan towards Ermokhin, whom I hated, and seized every oc — casion ofmocking and teasing. I succeeded in this, and he often pursued me across theyard with some evil design, which only his clumsiness prevented him fromexecuting.

  “It is forbidden,” went on Sidorov, speaking of women.

  That it was forbidden I knew, but that it was the cause of humanunhappiness I did not believe. I saw that people were unhappy, but I did notbelieve what he said, because I sometimes saw an extraordinary expressionin the eyes of people in love, and was aware of a peculiar tenderness in thosewho loved. To witness this festival of the heart was always pleasant to me.

  However, I remember that life seemed to me to grow more and moretedious, cruel, fixed for ever in those forms of it which I saw from day to day.

  I did not dream of anything better than that which passed interminablybefore my eyes.

  But one day the soldiers told me a story which stirred me deeply. In oneof the flats lived a cutter-out, employed by the best tailor in the town, a quiet,meek foreigner. He had a little, childless wife who read books all day long.

  Over the noisy yard, amid houses full of drunken people, these two lived,invisible and silent. They had no visitors, and never went anywherethemselves except to the theater in holiday-time.

  The husband was engaged from early morning until late at night. Thewife, who looked like an undersized girl, went to the library twice a week. Ioften saw her walking with a limp, as if she were slightly lame, as far as thedike, carrying books in a strap, like a school-girl. She looked unaffected,pleasant, new, clean, with gloves on her small hands. She had a face like abird, with little quick eyes, and everything about her was pretty, like aporcelain figure on a mantel-shelf. The soldiers said that she had some ribsmissing in her left side, and that was what made her sway so curiously as shewalked; but I thought this very nice, and at once set her above all the otherladies in the yard — the officers’ wives. The latter, despite their loud voices,their variegated attire, and haut tournure had a soiled look about them, as ifthey had been lying forgotten for a long time, in a dark closet among otherunneeded things.

  The little wife of the cutter-out was regarded in the yard as half witted. Itwas said that she had lost her senses over books, and had got into such acondition that she could not manage the housekeeping; that her husbandhad to go to the market himself in search of provisions, and order the dinnerand supper of the cook, a great, huge foreign female. She had only one redeye, which was always moist, and a narrow pink crevice in place of the other.

  She was like her mistress, they said of her. She did not know how to cook adish of fried veal and onions properly, and one day she ignominiously boughtradishes, thinking she was buying parsley. Just think what a dreadful thingthat was IAll three were aliens in the building, as if they had fallen by accident intoone of the compartments of a large hen-house. They reminded me of a titmousewhich, taking refuge from the frost, flies through the fortochka into astifling and dirty habitation of man.

  And then the orderlies told me how the officers had played an insultingand wicked trick on the tailor’s little wife. They took turns to write her aletter every day, declaring their love for her, speaking of their sufferings andof her beauty. She answered them, begging them to leave her in peace,regretting that she had been the cause of unhappiness to any one, andpraying God that He would help them to give up loving her. When any one ofthem received a letter like that, they used to read it all together, and thenmake up another letter to her, signed by a different person.

  When they told me this story, the orderlies laughed too, and abused thelady.

  “She is a wretched fool, the crookback,” said Ermokhin in a bass voice,and Sidorov softly agreed with him.

  “Whatever a woman is, she likes being deceived. She knows all about it.”

  I did not believe that the wife of the cutter-out knew that they werelaughing at her, and I resolved at once to tell her about it. I watched for thecook to go down into the cellar, and I ran up the dark staircase to the flat ofthe little woman, and slipped into the kitchen. It was empty. I went on to thesitting-room. The tailor’s wife was sitting at the table. In one hand she held aheavy gold cup, and in the other an open book. She was startled. Pressing thebook to her bosom, she cried in a low voice :

  “Who is that? Angus te! Who are you?”

  I began to speak quickly and confusedly, expecting every minute that shewould throw the book at me. She was sitting in a large, raspberry-coloredarm-chair, dressed in a pale-blue wrap with a fringe at the hem and lace onthe collar and sleeves over her shoulders was spread her flaxen, wavy hair.

  She looked like an angel from the gates of heaven. Leaning against the backof her chair, she looked at me with round eyes, at first angrily, then insmiling surprise.

  When I had said what I wanted to say, and, losing my courage, turned tothe door, she cried after me :


  Placing the cup on the tray, throwing the book on the table, and foldingher hands, she said in a husky, grown-up voice:

  “What a funny boy you are! Come closer!”

  I approached very cautiously. She took me by the hand, and, stroking itwith her cold, small fingers, said :

  “Are you sure that no one sent you to tell me this? No? All right; I seethat you thought of it yourself.”

  Letting my hand go, she closed her eyes, and said softly and drawingly:

  “So that is how the soldiers speak of me?”

  “Leave this place,” I advised her earnestly.


  “They will get the better of you/’

  She laughed pleasantly. Then she asked :

  “Do you study ? Are you fond of books?”

  “I have no time for reading.”

  “If you were fond of it, you would find the time. Well, thank you.”

  She held out a piece of silver money to me, grasped between her firstfinger and her thumb. I felt ashamed to take that cold thing from her, but Idid not dare to refuse. As I went out, I laid it on the pedestal of the stair-banisters.

  I took away with me a deep, new impression from that woman. It was asif a new day had dawned for me. I lived for several days in a state of joy,thinking of the spacious room and the tailor’s wife sitting in it, dressed inpale blue and looking like an angel. Everything around her was unfamiliarlybeautiful. A dull-gold carpet lay under her feet; the winter day lookedthrough the silver panes of the window, warming itself in her presence. Iwanted very much to look at her again. How would it be if I went to her andasked her for a book?

  I acted upon this idea. Once more I saw her in the same place, also with abook in her hand; but she had a red handkerchief tied round her face, andher eyes were swollen. As she gave me a book with a black binding, sheindistinctly called out something.

  I went away feeling sad, carrying the book, which smelt of creosote andaniseed drops. I hid it in the attic, wrapping it up in a clean shirt and somepaper; for I was afraid that my employers might find it and spoil it.

  They used to take the “Neva” for the sake of the patterns and prizes, butthey never read it. When they had looked at the pictures, they put it away ina cupboard in the bedroom, and at the end of the year they had been bound,placing them under the bed, where already lay three volumes of “The Reviewof Painting.” When I washed the floor in the bedroom dirty water flowedunder these books. The master subscribed to the “Russian Courier,” butwhen he read it in the evening he grumbled at it.

  “What the devil do they want to write all this for? Such dull stuff!”

  On Saturday, when I was putting away the linen in the attic, Iremembered about the book. I undid it from its wrappings, and read the firstlines: “Houses are like people; they all have physiognomies of their own.”

  The truth of this surprised me, and I went on reading farther, standing at thedormer-window until I was too cold to stay longer. But in the evening, whenthey had gone to vespers, I carried the book into the kitchen and buriedmyself in the yellow, worn pages, which were like autumn leaves. Withouteffort, they carried me into another life, with new names and new standards,showed me noble heroes, gloomy villains, quite unlike the people with whomI had to do. This was a novel by Xavier de Montepaine. It was long, likeall his novels, simply packed with people and incidents, describing anunfamiliar, vehement life. Everything in this novel was wonderfully clear andsimple, as if a mellow light hid — den between the lines illuminated the goodand evil. It helped one to love and hate, compelling one to follow withintense interest the fates of the people, who seemed so inextricablyentangled. I was seized with sudden desires to help this person, to hinderthat, forgetting that this life, which had so unexpectedly opened before me,had its existence only on paper. I forgot everything else in the excitingstruggles. I was swallowed up by a feeling of joy on one page, and by a feelingof grief on the next.

  I read until I heard the bell ring in the front hall. I knew at once who itwas that was ringing, and why.

  The candle had almost burned out. The candle-stick, which I had cleanedonly that morning, was covered with grease; the wick of the lamp, which Iought to have looked after, had slipped out of its place, and the flame hadgone out. I rushed about the kitchen trying to hide the traces of my crime. Islipped the book under the stove-hole, and began to put the lamp to rights.

  The nurse caine running out of the sitting-room.

  “Are you deaf? They have rung!”

  I rushed to open the door.

  “Were you asleep?” asked the master roughly. His wife, mounting thestairs heavily, complained that she had caught cold. The old lady scolded me.

  In the kitchen she noticed the burned-out candle at once, and began to askme what I had been doing. I said nothing. I had only just come down fromthe heights, and I was all to pieces with fright lest they should find the book.

  She cried out that I would set the house on fire. When the master and hiswife came down to supper she complained to them.

  “There, you see, he has let the candle gutter, he will set the house onfire.”

  While they were at supper the whole four of them lashed me with theirtongues, reminding me of all my crimes, wilful and involuntary, threateningme with perdition; but I knew quite well that they were all speaking not fromill-feeling, or for my good, but simply because they were bored. And it wascurious to observe how empty and foolish they were compared with thepeople in books.

  When they had finished eating, they grew heavy, and went wearily tobed. The old woman, after disturbing God with her angry complaints, settledher — self on the stove and was silent. Then I got up, took the book from thestove-hole, and went to the window. It was a bright night, and the moonlooked straight into the window ; but my sight was not good enough to seethe small print. My desire to read was tormenting me. I took a brasssaucepan from the shelf and reflected the light of the moon from it on thebook; but it became still more difficult and blurred. Then I betook myself tothe bench in the corner where the icon was, and, standing upon it, began toread by the light of the small lamp. But I was very tired, and dozed, sinkingdown on the bench. I was awakened by the cries and blows of the old woman.

  She was hitting me painfully over the shoulders with the book, which sheheld in her hand. She was red with rage, furiously tossing her brown head,barefooted, and wearing only her night-dress. Victor roared from the loft:

  “Mamasha, don’t make such a noise! You make life unbearable.”

  “She has found the book. She will tear it up!” I thought.

  My trial took place at breakfast-time. The master asked me, sternly:

  “Where did you get that book?”

  The women exclaimed, interrupting each other. Victor sniffedcontemptuously at the pages and said:

  “Good gracious! what does it smell of?”

  Learning that the book belonged to the priest, they looked at it again,surprised and indignant that the priest should read novels. However, thisseemed to calm them down a little, though the master gave me another longlecture to the effect that reading was both injurious and dangerous.

  “It is the people who read books who rob trains and even commitmurders.”

  The mistress cried out, angry and terrified :

  “Have you gone out of your mind? What do you want to say such thingsto him for?”

  I took Montepaine to the soldier and told him what had happened.

  Sidorov took the book, opened a small trunk, took out a clean towel, and,wrapping the novel in it, hid it in the trunk.

  “Don’t you take any notice of them. Come and read here. I shan’t tell anyone. And if you come when I am not here, you will find the key hangingbehind the icon. Open the trunk and read.”

  The attitude my employers had taken with regard to the book raised it tothe height of an important and terrible secret in my mind. That some“readers” had robbed a train or tried to murder some one did not interestme, but I remembered the question the priest had asked me in confession,the reading of the gymnasiast in the basement, the words of Smouri, the“proper books,” and grandfather’s stories of the black books of freemasonry.

  He had said:

  “In the time of the Emperor Alexander Pavlovich of blessed memory thenobles took up the study of ‘black books’ and freemasonry. They planned tohand over the whole Russian people to the Pope of Rome, if you please! ButGeneral Arakcheev caught them in the act, and, without regard to theirposition, sent them all to Siberia, into prison. And there they were ;exterminated like vermin.”

  I remembered the “umbra” of Smouri’ s book and “Gervase” and thesolemn, comical words:

  Profane ones who are curious to know our business,Never shall your weak eyes spy it out!

  I felt that I was on the threshold of the discovery of some great secret, andwent about like a lunatic. I wanted to finish reading the book, and was afraidthat the soldier might lose it or spoil it somehow. What should I say to thetailor’s wife then?

  The old woman watched me sharply to see that I did not run to theorderly’s room, and taunted me :

  “Bookworm! Books! They teach dissoluteness. Look at that woman, thebookish one. She can’t even go to market herself. All she can do is to carry onwith the officers. She receives them in the daytime. I kno-o-w.”

  I wanted to cry, “That’s not true. She does not carry on,” but I was afraidto defend the tailor’s wife, for then the old woman might guess that the bookwas hers.

  I had a desperately bad time of it for several days. I was distracted andworried, and could not sleep for fear that Montepaine had come to grief.

  Then one day the cook belonging to the tailor’s household stopped me in theyard and said :

  “You are to bring back that book.”

  I chose the time after dinner, when my employers lay down to rest, andappeared before the tailor’s wife embarrassed and crushed. She looked nowas she had the first time, only she was dressed differently. She wore a grayskirt and a black velvet blouse, with a turquoise cross upon her bare neck.

  She looked like a hen bullfinch. When I told her that I had not had time toread the book, and that I had been forbidden to read, tears filled my eyes.

  They were caused by mortification, and by joy at seeing this woman.

  “Too! what stupid people!” she said, drawing her fine brows together.

  “And your master has such an interesting face, too! Don’t you fret about it. Iwill write to him.”

  “You must not! Don’t write!” I begged her. “They will laugh at you andabuse you. Don’t you know that no one in the yard likes you, that they alllaugh at you, and say that you are a fool, and that some of your ribs aremissing?”

  As soon as I had blurted this out I knew that I had said somethingunnecessary and insulting to her. She bit her lower lip, and clapped herhands on her hips as if she were riding on horseback. I hung my head inconfusion and wished that I could sink into the earth; but she sank into achair and laughed merrily, saying over and over again:

  “Oh, how stupid I how stupid! Well, what is to be done?” she asked,looking fixedly at me. Then she sighed and said, “You are a strange boy, verystrange.”

  Glancing into the mirror beside her, I saw a face with high cheek-bonesand a short nose, a large bruise on the forehead, and hair, which had notbeen cut for a long time, sticking out in all directions. That is what she called“a strange boy.” The strange boy was not in the least like a fine porcelainfigure.

  “You never took the money that I gave you. Why?”

  “I did not want it.”

  She sighed.

  “Well, what is to be done? If they will allow you to read, come to me andI will give you some books.”

  On the mantel-shelf lay three books. The one which I had brought backwas the thickest. I looked at it sadly. The tailor’s wife held out her small, pinkhand to me.

  “Well, good-by!”

  I touched her hand timidly, and went away quickly.

  It was certainly true what they said about her not knowing anything.

  Fancy calling two grevines money! It was just like a child.

  But it pleased me.


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