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Chapter 12

    LATE in the autumn, when the steamboat voyage finished, I went as pupil inthe workshop of an icon painter. But in a day or two my mistress, a gentle oldlady given to tippling, announced to me in her Vladimirski speech:

  “The days are short now and the evenings long, so you will go to the shopin the mornings, and be shop-boy. In the evenings you will learn.”

  She placed me under the authority of a small, swift-footed shopman, ayoung fellow with a handsome, false face. In the mornings, in the coldtwilight of dawn, I went with him right across the town, up the sleepymercantile street, Ilnik, to the Nijni bazaar, and there, on the second floor ofthe Gostini Dvor, was the shop. It had been converted from a warehouse intoa shop, and was dark, with an iron door, and one small window on theterrace, protected by iron bars. The shop was packed with icons of differentsizes, with image-cases, and with highly finished books in church Slavcharacters, bound in yellow leather. Beside our shop there was another, inwhich were also sold icons and books, by a black-bearded merchant,kinsman to an Old Believer valuer. He was celebrated beyond the Volga asfar as the boundaries of Kirjinski, and was assisted by his lean and lively son,who had the small gray face of in old man, and the restless eyes of a mouse.

  When I had opened the shop, I had to run to the tavern for boiling water,and when I had finished breakfast, I had to set the shop in order, dust thegoods, and then go out on the terrace and watch with vigilant eyes, lestcustomers should enter the neighboring shop.

  “Customers are fools,” said the shopman forcibly to me. “They don’tmind where they buy, so long as it is cheap, and they do not understand thevalue of the goods.”

  Lightly tapping the wooden surface of an icon, he aired his slightknowledge of the business to me. He instructed me :

  “This is a clever piece of work — very cheap — three or four vershoks —stands by itself. Here is another — six or seven vershoks — stands by itself.

  Do you know about the saints? Remember Boniface is a protection againstdrink; Vvaara, the great martyr, against toothache and death by accident ;Blessed Vassili, against fevers. Do you know all about Our Lady? Look! Thisis Our Lady of Sorrows, and Our Lady of Abalak, Most Renowned. Do notweep for me, Mother. Assuage my griefs. Our lady of Kazan, of Pokrove; OurLady of Seven Dolors.”

  I soon remembered the prices of the icons, according to their size andthe work on them, and learned to distinguish between the different images ofOur Lady. But to remember the significations of the various saints wasdifficult.

  Sometimes I would be standing at the door of the shop, dreaming, whenthe shopman would suddenly test my knowledge.

  “Who is the deliverer from painful childbirth?”

  If I answered wrongly, he would ask scornfully :

  “What is the use of your head?”

  Harder still was it for me to tout for customers. The hideously paintedicons did not please me at all, and I did not like having to sell them.

  According to grandmother’s stories, I had imagined Our Lady as young,beautiful, and good, just as she was in pictures in the magazines, but theicons represented her as old and severe, with a long crooked nose, andwooden hands.

  On market days, Wednesdays and Fridays, business was brisk. Peasants,old women, and sometimes whole families together, appeared on the terrace,— all old Ritualists from Zavoljia, suspicious and surly people of the forests. Iwould see, perhaps, coming along slowly, almostly timidly, across the gallery,a ponderous man wrapped in sheepskin and thick, home-made cloth, and Iwould feel awkward and ashamed at having to accost him. At last by a greateffort I managed to intercept him, and revolving about his feet in their heavyboots, I chanted in a constrained, buzzing voice:

  “What can we do for you, your honor? We have psalters with notes andcomments, the books of Ephrem Siren, Kyrillov, and all the canonical booksand breviaries. Please come and look at them. All kinds of icons, whateveryou want, at various prices. Only the best work, — dark colors! We takeorders, too, if you wish it, for all kinds of saints and madonnas. Perhaps youwould like to order something for a Name Day, or for your family? This is thebest workshop in Russia! Here are the best goods in the town!”

  The impervious and inscrutable customer would look at me for a longtime in silence. Suddenly pushing me aside with an arm like a piece of wood,he would go into the shop next door, and my shopman, rubbing his largeears, grumbled angrily :

  “You have let him go! You’re a nice salesman!”

  In the next shop could be heard a soft, sweet voice, pouring forth aspeech which had the effect of a narcotic.

  “We don’t sell sheepskins or boots, my friend, but the blessing of God,which is of more value than silver or gold; which, in fact, is priceless.”

  “The devil!” whispered our shopman, full of envy and almost besidehimself with rage. “A curse on the eyes of that muzhik! You must learn! Youmust learn!”

  I did honestly try to learn, for one ought to do well whatever one has todo. But I was not a success at enticing the customers in, nor as a salesman.

  These gruff men, so sparing of their words, those old women who looked likerats, always for some reason timid and abject, aroused my pity, and I wantedto tell them on the quiet the real value of the icons, and not ask for the extratwo greven.

  They amazed me by their knowledge of books, and of the value of thepainting on the icons. One day a gray-haired old man whom I had herdedinto the shop said to me shortly :

  “It is not true, my lad, that your image workshop \s, the best in Russia —the best is Rogoshin’s in Moscow.”

  In confusion I stood aside for him to pass, and he went to another shop,not even troubling to go next door.

  “Has he gone away?” asked the shopman spitefully.

  “You never told me about Rogoshin’s workshop.”

  He became abusive.

  “They come in here so quietly, and all the time they know all there is toknow, curse them! They understand all about the business, the dogs!”

  Handsome, overfed, and selfish, he hated the peasants. When he was in agood humor, he would com plain to me:

  “I am clever! I like cleanliness and scents, incense, and eau-de-Cologne,and though I set such a value on myself, I am obliged to bow and scrape tosome peasant, to get five copecks’ profit out of him for the mistress. Do youthink it is fair? What is a peasant, after all? A bundle of foul wool, a winterlouse, and yet ”

  And he fell into an indignant silence.

  I liked the peasants. There was something elusive about each one ofthem which reminded me of Yaakov.

  Sometimes there would climb into the shop a miserable-looking figure ina chapan7 put on over a short, fur-coat. He would take off his shaggy cap,cross himself with two fingers, look into the corner where the lampglimmered, yet try not to, lest his eyes rest on the unblessed icons. Thenglancing around, without speaking for some time, he would manage at lengthto say:

  “Give me a psalter with a commentary.”

  Tucking up the sleeves of his chapan he would read the pages, as heturned them over with clumsy movement, biting his lips the while.

  “Haven’t you any more ancient than this?”

  “An old one would cost a thousand rubles, as you know.”

  “I know.”

  The peasant moistened his finger as he turned over the leaves, and therewas left a dark fingerprint where he had touched them. The shopman, gazingwith an evil expression at the back of his head, said :

  “The Holy Scriptures are all of the same age; the word of God does notchange.”

  “We know all about that; we have heard that! God did not change it, butNikon did.”

  Closing the book, he went out in silence.

  7 The Nikonites are the followers of Nikon, patriarch of Moscow, whoobjected to the innovation of Peter the Great in suppressing the patriarchateof Moscow, and establishing a State Church upon the lines of the oldpatriarchal church. They are also termed the Old Believers, who are split upinto several extraordinary schisms which existed before and after thesuppression of the patriarchate, but who, in the main, continue theirorthodoxy.

  Sometimes these forest people disputed with the shopman, and it wasevident to me that they knew more about the sacred writings than he did.

  “Outlandish heathen!” grumbled the shop-man.

  I saw also that, although new books were not to the taste of the peasants,they looked upon a new book with awe, handling it carefully, as if it were abird which might fly out of their hands. This was very pleasant to me to see,because a book was a miracle to me. In it was inclosed the soul of the writer,and when I opened it, I set this soul free, and it spoke to me in secret.

  Often old men and women brought books to sell printed in the oldcharacters of the preNikonovski period, or copies of such books, beautifullymade by the monks of Irgiz and Kerjentz. They also brought copies of missalsuncorrected by Dmitry Rostovski, icons with ancient inscriptions, crosses,folding icons with brass mountings, and silver, eucharist spoons given by theMuscovite princes to their hosts as keepsakes. All these were offered secretly,from their hoards under the floor.

  Both my shopman and his neighbor kept a very sharp lookout for suchvendors, each trying to take them away from the other. Having boughtantiques for anything up to ten rubles, they would sell them on the marketplaceto rich Old Ritualists for hundreds of rubles.

  “Mind you look out for those were — wolves, those wizards! Look forthem with all your eyes; they bring luck with them.”

  When a vendor of this kind appeared, the shop-man used to send me tofetch the valuer, Petr Vas — silich, a connoisseur in old books, icons, and allkind of antiques.

  He was a tall old man with a long beard, like Blessed Vassili, withintelligent eyes in a pleasant face. The tendon of one of his legs had beenremoved, and he walked lame, with a long stick. Summer and winter he worea light garment, like a cassock, and a velvet cap of a strange shape, whichlooked like a saucepan. Usually brisk and upright, when he entered the shop,he let his shoulders droop, and bent his back, sighing gently and crossinghimself often, muttering prayers and psalms to himself all the time. Thispious and aged feebleness at once inspired the vendor with confidence in thevaluer.

  “What is the matter? Has something gone wrong ?” the old man wouldask.

  “Here is a man who has brought an icon to sell. He says it is aStroganovski.”

  “What ?”

  “A Stroganovski.”

  “Aha, my hearing is bad. The Lord has stopped my ears against theabomination of the Nikonites.”

  Taking off his cap, he held the icon horizontally, looked at the inscriptionlengthways, sideways, straight up, examined the knots in the wood, blinked,and murmured :

  “The godless Nikonites, observing our love of ancient beauties, andinstructed by the devil, have mali — ciously made forgeries. In these days it isvery easy to make holy images, — oh, very easy! At first sight, this might be areal Stroganovski, or an Ustiujcki painting, or even a Suzdulski, but whenyou look into it, it is a forgery.”

  If he said “forgery,” it meant, “This icon is precious and rare.”

  By a series of prearranged signs, he informed the shopman how much hewas to give for the icon or book. I knew that the words “melancholy” and“affliction” meant ten rubles. “Nikon the tiger” meant twenty-five. I feltashamed to see how they deceived the sellers, but the skilful by-play of thevaluer amused me.

  “Those Nikonites, black children of Nikon the tiger, will do anything, —led by the Devil as they are! Look! Even this signature looks real, and thebas-relief as if it were painted by the one hand. But look at the face — thatwas not done by the same brush. An old master like Pimen Ushakov,although he was a heretic, did the whole icon himself. He did the bas-relief,the face, and even the chasing very carefully, and sketched in the inscription,but the impious people of our day cannot do anything like it! In old timesimage painting was a holy calling, but now they make what concerns Godmerely a matter of art.”

  At length he laid the icon down carefully on the counter, and putting onhis hat, said :

  “It is a sin!”

  This meant “buy it.”

  Overwhelmed by his flow of sweet words, astounded by the old man’sknowledge, the client would ask in an impressed tone :

  “Well, your honor, what is your opinion of the icon?”

  “The icon was made by Nikonite hands.”

  “That cannot be! My grandfather and my grandmother prayed before it!”

  “Nikon lived before your grandfather lived.”

  The old man held the icon close to the face of the seller, and said sternly :

  “Look now what a joyous expression it has! Do you call that an icon? It isnothing more than a picture — a blind work of art, a Nikonski joke — there isno soul in it! Would I tell you what is not true? I, an old man, persecuted forthe sake of the truth! I shall soon have to go to God. I have nothing to gain byacting unfairly.”

  He went out from the shop onto the terrace, languid with the feeblenessof old age, offended by the doubt cast upon his valuation. The shopman paida few rubles for the picture, the seller left, bowing low to Petr Vassilich, andthey sent me to the tavern to get boiling water for the tea. When I returned, Iwould find the valuer brisk and cheerful, looking lovingly at the purchase,and thus instructing the shopman :

  “Look, this icon has been very carefully done!

  The painting is very fine, done in the fear of God. Human feelings had nopart in it.”

  “And whose work is it?” asked the shopman, beaming and jumping aboutfor joy.

  “It is too soon for you to know that.”

  “But how much would connoisseurs give for it?”

  “That I could not say. Give it to me, and I will show it to some one.”

  “Och, Petr Vassilich.”

  “And if I sell it, you shall have half the hundred rubles. Whatever there isover, that is mine!”

  “Och!”

  “You need not keep on saying ‘Och’!”

  They drank their tea, bargaining shamelessly, looking at one anotherwith the eyes of conspirators. That the shopman was completely under thethumb of the old man was plain, and when the latter went away, he wouldsay to me :

  “Now don’t you go chattering to the mistress about this deal.”

  When they had finished talking about the sale of the icon, the shopmanwould ask :

  “And what news is there in the town, Petr Vassilich ?”

  Smoothing his beard with his yellow fingers, laying bare his oily lips, theold man told stories of the lives of the merchants. He spoke of commercialsuccesses, of feasts, of illnesses, of weddings, and of the infidelities ofhusbands and wives. He served up these greasy stories quickly and skilfully,as a good cook serves up pancakes, with a sauce of hissing laughter. Theshopman’s round face grew dark with envy and rapture. His eyes were widewith dreamy wistfulness, as he said complainingly :

  “Other people live, and here am I!”

  “Every one has his appointed destiny,” resounded the deep voice. “Ofone, the fate is heralded by angels with little silver hammers, and’ of another,by devils with the butt-end of an ax.”

  This strong, muscular, old man knew everything — the whole life of thetown, all the secrets of the merchants, chinovniks, priests, and citizens. Hewas keensighted as a bird of prey, and with this had some of the qualities ofthe wolf and fox. I always wanted to make him angry, but he looked at mefrom afar, almost as if through a fog. He seemed to me to be surrounded by alimitless space. If one went closer to him, one seemed to be falling. I felt inhim some affinity to the stoker Shumov.

  Although the shopman went into ecstasies over his cleverness, both tohis face and behind his back, there were times when, like me, he wanted toprovoke or offend the old man.

  “You are a deceiver of men,” he would say, suddenly looking heatedlyinto the old man’s face.

  The latter, smiling lazily, answered:

  “Only the Lord lives without deceit, and we live among fools, you see.

  Can one meet fools, and not deceive them? Of what use would they be,then?”

  The shopman lost his temper.

  “Not all the peasants are fools. The merchants themselves came from thepeasantry!”

  “We are not talking about merchants. Fools do not live as rogues do. Afool is like a saint — his brains are asleep.”

  The old man drawled more and more lazily, and this was very irritating.

  It seemed to me that he was standing on a hillock in the midst of a quagmire.

  It was impossible to make him angry. Either he was above rage, or he wasable to hide it very successfully.

  But he often happened to be the one to start a dispute with me. He wouldcome quite close to me, and smiling into his beard, remark:

  “What do you call that French writer — Ponoss?”

  I was desperately angry at this silly way of turning the names upsidedown. But holding myself in for the time, I said:

  “Ponson de Terrail.”

  “Where was he lost?” 88 Terryat in Russian means “to lose.”

  “Don’t play the fool. You are not a child.”

  “That is true. I am not a child. What are you reading?”

  “‘Ephrem Siren.’”

  “And who writes best. Your foreign authors? or he?”

  I made no reply.

  “What do the foreign ones write about most?”

  “About everything which happens to exist in life.”

  “That is to say, about dogs and horses — whichever may happen to cometheir way.”

  The shopman laughed. I was enraged. The atmosphere was oppressive,unpleasant to me. But if I attempted to get away, the shopman stopped me.

  “Where are you going ?”

  And the old man would examine me.

  “Now, you learned man, gnaw this problem. Suppose you had a thousandnaked people standing before you, five hundred women and five hundredmen, and among them Adam and Eve. How would you tell which were Adamand Eve”?”

  He kept asking me this, and at length explained triumphantly :

  “Little fool, don’t you see that, as they were not born, but were created,they would have no navels!”

  The old man knew an innumerable quantity of these “problems.” Hecould wear me out with them.

  During my early days at the shop, I used to tell the shopman the contentsof some of the books I had read. Now these stories came back to me in an evilform. The shopman retold them to Petr Vassilich, considerably cut up,obscenely mutilated. The old man skilfully helped him in his shamefulquestions. Their slimy tongues threw the refuse of their obscene words atEugenie Grandet, Ludmilla, and Henry IV.

  I understood that they did not do this out of ill-nature, but simplybecause they wanted something to do. All the same, I did not find it easy tobear. Having created the filth, they wallowed in it, like hogs, and gruntedwith enjoyment when they soiled what was beautiful, strange, unintelligible,and therefore comical to them.

  The whole Gostinui Dvor, the whole of its population of merchants andshopinen, lived a strange life, full of stupid, puerile, and always maliciousdiversions. If a passing peasant asked which was the nearest way to any placein the town, they always gave him the wrong direction. This had becomesuch a habit with them that the deceit no longer gave them pleasure. Theywould catch two rats, tie their tails together, and let them go in the road.

  They loved to see how they pulled in different directions, or bit each other,and sometimes they poured paraffin-oil over the rats, and set fire to them.

  They would tie an old iron pail on the tail of a dog, who, in wild terror, wouldtear about, yelping and growling, while they all looked on, and laughed.

  There were many similar forms of recreation, and it seemed to me thatall kinds of people, especially country people, existed simply for theamusement of the Gostinui Dvor. In their relations to other people, therewas a constant desire to make fun of them, to give them pain, and to makethem uncomfortable. It was strange that the books I had read were silent onthe subject of this unceasing, deep-seated tendency of people to jeer at oneanother.

  One of the amusements of the Gostinui Dvor seemed to me peculiarlyoffensive and disgusting.

  Underneath our shop there was a dealer in woolen and felt footwear,whose salesman amazed the whole of Nijni by his gluttony. His master usedto boast of this peculiarity of his employee, as one boasts of the fierceness ofa dog, or the strength of a horse. He often used to get the neighboringshopkeepers to bet.

  “Who will go as high as ten rubles? I will bet that Mishka devours tenpounds of ham in two hours!”

  But they all knew that Mishka was well able to do that, and they said:

  “We won’t take your bet, but buy the ham and let him eat it, and we willlook on.”

  “Only let it be all meat and no bones!”

  They would dispute a little and lazily, and then out of the darkstorehouse crept a lean, beardless fellow with high cheek-bones, in a longcloth coat girdled with a red belt all stuck round with tufts of wool.

  Respectfully removing his cap from his small head, he gazed in silence, witha dull expression in his deep-set eyes, at the round face of his master whichwas suffused with purple blood. The latter was saying in his thick harsh voice:

  “Can you eat a gammon of ham?”

  “How long shall I have for it?” asked Mishka practically, in his thin voice.

  “Two hours.”

  “That will be difficult.”

  “Where is the difficulty?”

  “Well, let me have a drop of beer with it.”

  “All right,” said his master, and he would boast:

  “You need not think that he has an empty stomach. No! In the morninghe had two pounds of bread, and dinner at noon, as you know.”

  They brought the ham, and the spectators took their places. All themerchants were tightly enveloped in their thick fur-coats and looked likegigantic weights. They were people with big stomachs, but they all had smalleyes and some had fatty tumors. An unconquerable feeling of boredomoppressed them all.

  With their hands tucked into their sleeves, they surrounded the greatglutton in a narrow circle, armed with knives and large crusts of rye bread.

  He crossed himself piously, sat down on a sack of wool and placed the hamon a box at his side, measuring it with his vacant eyes.

  Cutting off a thin slice of bread and a thick one of meat, the gluttonfolded them together carefully, and held the sandwich to his mouth withboth hands. His lips trembled; he licked them with his thin and long caninetongue, showing his small sharp teeth, and with a dog-like movement benthis snout again over the meat.

  “He has begun!”

  “Look at the time!”

  All eyes were turned in a business-like manner on the face of the glutton,on his lower jaw, on the round protuberances near his ears; they watched thesharp chin rise and fall regularly, and drowsily uttered their thoughts.

  “He eats cleanly — like a bear.”

  “Have you ever seen a bear eat?”

  “Do I live in the woods? There is a saying, ‘he gobbles like a bear.’ ”

  “Like a pig, it says.”

  “Pigs don’t eat pig.”

  They laughed unwillingly, and soon some one knowingly said :

  “Pigs eat everything — little pigs and their own sisters.”

  The face of the glutton gradually grew darker, his ears became livid, hisrunning eyes crept out of their bony pit, he breathed with difficulty, but hischin moved as regularly as ever.

  “Take it easy, Mikhail, there is time!” they encouraged him.

  He uneasily measured the remains of the meat with his eyes, drank somebeer, and once more began to munch. The spectators became moreanimated. Looking more often at the watch in the hand of Mishka’s master,they suggested to one another:

  “Don’t you think he may have put the watch back? Take it away fromhim! Watch Mishka in case he should put any meat up his sleeve! He won’tfinish it in the time!”

  Mishka’s master cried passionately:

  “I’ll take you on for a quarter of a ruble! Mishka, don’t give way!”

  They began to dispute with the master, but no one would take the bet.

  And Mishka went on eating and eating; his face began to look like theham, his sharp grisly nose whistled plaintively. It was terrible to look at him.

  It seemed to me that he was about to scream, to wail:

  “Have mercy on me!”

  At length he finished it all, opened his tipsy eyes wide, and said in ahoarse, tired voice :

  “Let me go to sleep.”

  But his master, looking at his watch, cried angrily:

  “You have taken four minutes too long, you wretch!”

  The others teased him:

  “What a pity we did not take you on; you would have lost.”

  “However, he is a regular wild animal, that fellow.”

  “Ye — e — es, he ought to be in a show.”

  “You see what monsters the Lord can make of men, eh?”

  “Let us go and have some tea, shall we?”

  And they swam like barges to the tavern.

  I wanted to know what stirred in the bosoms of these heavy, iron-heartedpeople that they should gather round the poor fellow because his unhealthygluttony amused them.

  It was dark and dull in that narrow gallery closel3f packed with wool,sheepskins, hemp, ropes, felt, boots, and saddlery. It was cut off — from thepavement by pillars of brick, clumsily thick, weather-beaten, and spatteredwith mud from the road. All the bricks and all the chinks between them, allthe holes made by the fallen-away mortar, had been mentally counted by mea thousand times, and their hideous designs were forever heavily imprintedon my memory.

  The foot-passenger dawdled along the pavement; hackney carriages andsledges loaded with goods passed up the road without haste. Beyond thestreet, in a red-brick, square, two-storied shop, was the market-place,littered with cases, straw, crumpled paper, covered with dirt and trampledsnow.

  All this, together with the people and the horses, in spite of themovement, seemed to be motionless, or lazily moving round and round inone place to which it was fastened by invisible chains. One felt suddenly thatthis life was almost devoid of sound, or so poor in sounds that it amounted todumbness. The sides of the sledges squeaked, the doors of the shopsslammed, sellers of pies and honey cried their wares, but their voicessounded unhappy, unwilling. They were all alike; one quickly became used tothem, and ceased to pay attention to them.

  The church-bells tolled funerally. That melancholy sound was always inmy ears. It seemed to float in the air over the market-place without ceasingfrom morning to night; it was mingled with all my thoughts and feelings ; itlay like a copper veneer over all my impressions.

  Tedium, coldness, and want breathed all around: from the earth coveredwith dirty snow, from the gray snow-drift on the roof, from the flesh-coloredbricks of the buildings; tedium rose from the chimneys in a thick gray smoke,and crept up to the gray, low, empty sky; with tedium horses sweated andpeople sighed. They had a peculiar smell of their own, these people — theoppressive dull smell of sweat, fat, hemp oil, hearth-cakes, and smoke. It wasan odor which pressed upon one’s head like a warm close-fitting cap, and randown into one’s breast, arousing a strange feeling of intoxication, a vaguedesire to shut one’s eyes, to cry out despairingly, to run away somewhere andknock one’s head against the first wall.

  I gazed into the faces of the merchants, over-nourished, full-blooded,frost-bitten, and as immobile as if they were asleep. These people oftenyawned, opening their mouths like fish which have been cast on dry land.

  In winter, trade was slack and there was not in the eyes of the dealer thatcautious, rapacious gleam which somehow made them bright and animatedin the summer. The heavy fur coats hampered their movements, bowed themto the earth. As a rule they spoke lazily, but when they fell into a passion,they grew vehement. I had an idea that they did this purposely, in order toshow one another that they were alive.

  It was perfectly clear to me that tedium weighed upon them, was killingthem, and the unsuccessful struggle against its overwhelming strength wasthe only explanation I could give of their cruelty and senseless amusementsat the expense of others.

  Sometimes I discussed this with Petr Vissilich.

  Although as a rule he behaved to me scornfully and jeeringly, he liked mefor my partiality for books, and at times he permitted himself to talk to meinstructively, seriously.

  “I don’t like the way these merchants live,” I said.

  Twisting a strand of his beard in his long fingers, he said:

  “And how do you know how they live? Do you then often visit them attheir houses? This is merely a street, my friend, and people do not live in astreet; they simply buy and sell, and they get through that as quickly as theycan, and then go home again! People walk about the streets with their clotheson, and you do not know what they are like under their clothes. What a manreally is is seen in his own home, within his own four walls, and how he livesthere — that you know nothing about!”

  “Yes, but they have the same ideas whether they are here or at home,don’t they?”

  “And how can any one know what ideas his neighbors have?” said the oldman, making his eyes round. “Thoughts are like lice; you cannot count them.

  It may be that a man, on going to his home, falls on his knees and, weeping,prays to God : Torgive me, Lord, I have defiled Thy holy day!’ It may be thathis house is a sort of monastery to him, and he lives there alone with his God.

  You see how it is! Every spider knows its own corner, spins its own web, andunderstands its own position, so that it may hold its own.”

  When he spoke seriously, his voice went lower and lower to a deep base,as if he were communicating secrets.

  “Here you are judging others, and it is too soon for you; at your age onelives not by one’s reason but by one’s eyes. What you must do is to look,remember, and hold your tongue. The mind is for business, but faith is forthe soul. It is good for you to read books, but there must be moderation in allthings, and some have read themselves into madness and godlessness.”

  I looked upon him as immortal ; it was hard for me to believe that hemight grow older and change. He liked to tell stories about merchants andcoiners who had become notorious. I had heard many such stories fromgrandfather, who told them better than the valuer, but the underlying themewas the same — that riches always lead to sin towards God and one’s fellow-creatures. Petr Vassilich had no pity for human creatures, but he spoke ofGod with warmth of feeling, sighing and covering his eyes.

  “And so they try to cheat God, and He, the Lord Jesus Christ, sees it alland weeps. ‘My people, my people, my unhappy people, hell is beingprepared for you!’ ”

  Once I jokingly reminded him:

  “But you cheat the peasants yourself.”

  He was not offended by this.

  “Is that a great matter as far as I am concerned?” he said. “I may robthem of from three to five rubles, and that is all it amounts to!”

  When he found me reading, he would take the book out of my hands andask me questions about what I had read, in a fault-finding manner. Withamazed incredulity he would say to the shopman:

  “Just look at that now; he understands books, the young rascal!”

  And he would give me a memorable, intelligent lecture:

  “Listen to what I tell you now; it is worth your while. There were twoKyrills, both of them bishops ; one Kyrill of Alexandria, and the other Kyrillof Jerusalem. The first warred against the cursed heretic, Nestorius, whotaught obscenely that Our Lady was born in original sin and therefore couldnot have given birth to God; but that she gave birth to a human being withthe name and attributes of the Messiah, the Saviour of the world, andtherefore she should be called not the God–Bearer, but the Christ–Bearer.

  Do you understand? That is called heresy! And Kyrill of Jerusalem foughtagainst the Arian heretics.”

  I was delighted with his knowledge of church history, and he, strokinghis beard with his well-cared-for, priest-like hands, boasted:

  “I am a past master in that sort of thing. When I was in Moscow, I wasengaged in a verbal debate against the poisonous doctrines of the Nikonites,with both priests and seculars. I, my little one, actually conducteddiscussions with professors, yes! To one of the priests I so drove home theverbal scourge that his nose bled infernally, that it did!”

  His cheeks were flushed ; his eyes shone.

  The bleeding of the nose of his opponent was evidently the highest pointof his success, in his opinion; the highest ruby in the golden crown of hisglory, and he told the story voluptuously.

  “A ha — a — andsome, wholesome-looking priest he was! He stood onthe platform and drip, drip, the blood came from his nose. He did not see hisshame. Ferocious was the priest as a desert lion ; his voice was like a bell. Butvery quietly I got my words in between his ribs, like saws. He was really ashot as a stove, made red-hot by heretical malice — ekh — that was abusiness!”

  Occasionally other valuers came. These were Pakhomi, a man with a fatbelly, in greasy clothes, with one crooked eye who was wrinkled and snarling;Lukian, a little old man, smooth as a mouse, kind and brisk; and with himcame a big, gloomy man looking like a coachman, black bearded, with adeathlike face, unpleasant to look upon, but handsome, and with eyes whichnever seemed to move. Almost always they brought ancient books, icons andthuribles to sell, or some kind of bowl. Sometimes they brought the vendors— an old man or woman from the Volga. When their business was finished,they sat on the counter, looking just like crows on a furrow, drank tea withrolls and lenten sugar, and told each other about the persecutions of theNikonites.

  Here a search had been made, and books of devotion had beenconfiscated; there the police had closed a place of worship, and had contrivedto bring its owner to justice under Article 103. This Article 103 wasfrequently the theme of their discussions, but they spoke of it calmly, as ofsomething unavoidable, like the frosts of winter. The words police, search,prison, justice, Siberia — these words, continually recurring in theirconversations about the persecutions for religious beliefs, fell on my heartlike hot coals, kindling sympathy and fellow feeling for these Old Believers.

  Reading had taught me to look up to people who were obstinate in pursuingtheir aims, to value spiritual steadfastness.

  I forgot all the bad which I saw in these teachers of life. I felt only theircalm stubbornness, behind which, it seemed to me, was hidden anunwavering belief in the teachings of their faith, for which they were ready tosuffer all kinds of torments.

  At length, when I had come across many specimens of these guardians ofthe old faith, both among the people and among the intellectuals, Iunderstood that this obstinacy was the oriental passivity of people who nevermoved from the place whereon they stood, and had no desire to move fromit, but were bound by strong ties to the ways of the old words, and worn-outideas. They were steeped in these words and ideas. Their wills werestationary, incapable of looking forward, and when some blow from withoutcast them out of their accustomed place, they mechanically and withoutresistance let themselves roll down, like a stone off a hill. They kept theirown fasts in the graveyards of lived-out truths, with a deadly strength ofmemory for the past, and an insane love of suffering and persecution; but ifthe possibility of suffering were taken away from them, they faded away,disappeared like a cloud on a fresh winter day.

  The faith for which they, with satisfaction and great self-complacency,were ready to suffer is incontestably a strong faith, but it resembles well-worn clothes, covered with all kinds of dirt, and for that very reason is lessvulnerable to the ravages of time. Thought and feeling become accustomedto the narrow and oppressive envelope of prejudice and dogma, and althoughwingless and mutilated, they live in ease and comfort.

  This belief founded on habits is one of the most grievous and harmfulmanifestations of our lives. Within the domains of such beliefs, as within theshadows of stone walls, anything new is born slowly, is deformed, and growsansemic. In that dark faith there are very few of the beams of love, too manycauses of offense, irritations, and petty spites which are always friendly withhatred. The flame of that faith is the phosphorescent gleam of putrescence.

  But before I was convinced of this, I had to live through many wearyyears, break up many images in my soul, and cast them out of my memory.

  But at the time when I first came across these teachers of life, in the midst oftedious and sordid realities, they appeared to me as persons of great spiritualstrength, the best people in the world. Almost every one of them had beenpersecuted, put in prison, had been banished from different towns, travelingby stages with convicts. They all lived cautious, hidden lives.

  However, I saw that while pitying the “narrow spirit” of the Nikonites,these old people willingly and with great satisfaction kept one another withinnarrow bounds.

  Crooked Pakhomie, when he had been drinking, liked to boast of hiswonderful memory with regard to matters of the faith. He had several booksat his finger-ends, as a Jew has his Talmud. He could put his finger on hisfavorite page, and from the word on which he had placed his finger,Pakhomie could go on reciting by heart in his mild, snuffling voice. Healways looked on the floor, and his solitary eye ran over the floordisquietingly, as if he were seeking some lost and very valuable article.

  The book with which he most often performed this trick was that ofPrince Muishetzki, called “The Russian Vine,” and the passage he best knewwas, “The long suffering and courageous suffering of wonderful and valiantmartyrs,” but Petr Vassilitch was always trying to catch him in a mistake.

  “That’s a lie! That did not happen to Cyprian the Mystic, but to Denis theChaste.”

  “What other Denis could it be? You are thinking of Dionysius.”

  “Don’t shuffle with words!”

  “And don’t you try to teach me!”

  In a few moments both, swollen with rage, would be looking fixedly atone another, and saying:

  “Perverter of the truth! Away, shameless one!”

  Pakhomie answered, as if he were adding up accounts :

  “As for you, you are a libertine, a goat, always hanging round thewomen.”

  The shopman, with his hands tucked into his sleeves, smiled maliciously,and, encouraging the guardians of the ancient religion, cried, just like a smallboy:

  “Th — a — at’s right! Go it!”

  One day when the old men were quarreling, Petr Vassilitch slapped hiscomrade on the face with unexpected swiftness, put him to flight, and,wiping the sweat from his face, called after the fugitive :

  “Look out; that sin lies to your account! You led my hand into sin, youaccursed one; you ought to be ashamed of yourself!”

  He was especially fond of reproaching his comrades in that they werewanting in firm faith, and predicting that they would fall away into“Protestantism.”

  “That is what troubles you, Aleksasha — the sound of the cock crowing!”

  Protestantism worried and apparently frightened him, but to thequestion, “What is the doctrine of that sect?” he answered, not veryintelligibly:

  “Protestantism is the most bitter heresy ; it acknowledges reason alone,and denies God! Look at theBible Christians, for example, who read nothing but the Bible, whichcame from a German, from Luther, of whom it was said : He was rightlycalled Luther, for if you make a verb of it, it runs : Lute bo, lubo luto! 9 Andall that comes from the west, from the heretics of that part of the world.”

  9 From Lutui which means hard, violent.

  Stamping his mutilated foot, he would say coldly and heavily:

  “Those are they whom the new Ritualists will have to drive out, whomthey will have to watch, — yes, and burn too! But not us — we are of the truefaith. Eastern, we are of the faith, the true, eastern, original Russian faith,and all the others are of the west, spoiled by free will! What good has evercome from the Germans, or the French? Look what they did in the year 12— .”

  Carried away by his feelings, he forgot that it was a boy who stood beforehim, and with his strong hands he took hold of me by the belt, now drawingme to him, now pushing me away, as he spoke beautifully, emotionally,hotly, and youthfully:

  “The mind of man wanders in the forest of its own thoughts. Like a fiercewolf it wanders, the devil’s assistant, putting the soul of man, the gift of God,on the rack! What have they imagined, these servants of the devil? TheBogomuili,10 through whom Protestantism came, taught thus: Satan, theysay, is the son of God, the elder brother of Jesus Christ, That10 Another sect of Old Believers. is what they have come to! They taughtpeople also not to obey their superiors, not to work, to abandon wife andchildren; a man needs nothing, no property whatever in his life; let him liveas he chooses, and the devil shows him how. That Aleksasha has turned uphere again.”

  At this moment the shopman set me to do some work, and I left the oldman alone in the gallery, but he went on talking to space :

  “O soul without wings! O blind-born kitten, whither shall I run to getaway from you?”

  And then, with bent head and hands resting on hi? knees, he fell into along silence, gazing, intent and motionless, up at the gray winter sky.

  He began to take more notice of me, and his manner was kinder. Whenhe found me with a book, he would glance over my shoulder, and say:

  “Read, youngster, read; it is worth your while I It may be that you areclever ; it is a pity that you think so little of your elders. You can stand up toany one, you think, but where will your sauciness land you in the end? It willlead you nowhere, youngster, but to a convict’s prison. Read by all means;but remember that books are books, and use your own brains I Danilov, thefounder of the Xlist sect, came to the conclusion that neither old nor newbooks were necessary, and he put them all in a sack, and threw them in thewater. Of course that was a stupid thing to do, but And now that cur,Aleksasha, must come disturbing us.”

  He was always talking about this Aleksasha, and one day he came intothe shop, looking preoccupied and stem, and explained to the shopman :

  “Aleksander Vassiliev is here in the town; he came yesterday. I have beenlooking for him for a long time, but he has hidden himself somewhere 1”

  The shopman answered in an unfriendly tone:

  “I don’t know anything about him!”

  Bending his head, the old man said:

  “That means that for you, people are either buyers or sellers, and nothingmore! Let us have some tea.”

  When I brought in the big copper tea-pot, there were visitors in the shop.

  There was old Lukian, smiling happily, and behind the door in a dark cornersat a stranger dressed in a dark overcoat and high felt boots, with a greenbelt, and a cap set clumsily over his brows. His face was indistinct, but heseemed to be quiet and modest, and he looked somewhat like a shopmanwho had just lost his place and was very dejected about it.

  Petr Vassilich, not glancing in his direction, said something sternly andponderously, and he pulled at his cap all the time, with a convulsivemovement of his right hand. He would raise his hand as if he were about tocross himself, and push his cap upwards, and he would do this until he hadpushed it as far back as his crown, when he would again pull it over hisbrows. That convulsive movement reminded me of the mad beggar, Igosha,“Death in his pocket.”

  “Various kinds of reptiles swim in our muddy rivers, and make the watermore turbid than ever,” said Petr Vassilich.

  The man who resembled a shopman asked quietly and gently :

  “Do you mean that for me?”

  “And suppose I do mean it for you?”

  Then the man asked again, not loudly but very frankly :

  “Well, and what have you to say about yourself, man?”

  “What I have to say about myself, I say to God — that is my business.”

  “No, man, it is mine also,” said the new-comer solemnly and firmly. “Donot turn away your face from the truth, and don’t blind yourself deliberately;that is the great sin towards God and your fellow-creatures!”

  I liked to hear him call Petr Vassilich “man,” and his quiet, solemn voicestirred me. He spoke as a good priest reads, “Lord and Master of my life,”

  and bending forward, got off his chair, spreading his hands before his face:

  “Do not judge me; my sins are not more grievous than yours.”

  The samovar boiled and hissed, the old valuer spoke contemptuously,and the other continued, refusing to be stopped by his words:

  “Only God knows who most befouls the source of the Holy Spirit. It maybe your sin, you book-learned, literary people. As for me, I am neither book-learned nor literary; I am a man of simple life.”

  “We know all about your simplicity — we have heard of it — more thanwe want to hear!”

  “It is you who confuse the people; you break up the true faith, youscribes and Pharisees. I— what shall I say? Tell me —”

  “Heresy,” said Petr Vassilich. The man held his hands before his face,just as if he were reading something written on them, and said warmly: “Doyou think that to drive people from one hole to another is to do better thanthey? But I say no! I say: Let us be free, man! What is the good of a house, awife, and all your belongings, in the sight of God? Let us free ourselves, man,from all that for the sake of which men fight and tear each other to pieces —from gold and silver and all kinds of property, which brings nothing butcorruption and uncleannessi Not on earthly fields is the soul saved, but inthe valleys of paradise! Tear yourself away from it all, I say; break all ties, allcords; break the nets of this world. They are woven by antichrist. I am goingby the straight road; I do not juggle with my soul; the dark world has no partin me.”

  “And bread, water, clothes — do you have any part in them? They areworldly, you know,” said the valuer maliciously.

  But these words had no effect on Aleksander. He talked all the moreearnestly, and although his voice was so low, it had the sound of a brasstrumpet.

  “What is dear to you, man? The one God only should be dear to you. Istand before Him, cleansed from every stain. Remove the ways of earth fromyour heart and see God; you alone — He alone! So you will draw near to God;that is the only road to Him. That is the way of salvation — to leave fatherand mother — to leave all, and even thine eye, if it tempts thee — pluck itout! For God’s sake tear yourself from things and save your soul; take refugein the spirit, and your soul shall live for ever and ever.”

  “Well, it is a case with you, of the dog returning to his vomit,” said PetrVassiliev, rising, “I should have thought that you would have grown wisersince last year, but you are worse than ever.”

  The old man went swaying from the shop onto the terrace, which actiondisturbed Aleksander. He asked amazedly and hastily:

  “Has he gone? But — why?”

  Kind Lukian, winking consolingly, said:

  “That’s all right — that’s all right!”

  Then Aleksander fell upon him :

  “And what about you, worldling? You are also sewing rubbishy words,and what do they mean? Well — a threefold alleluia — a double ”

  Lukian smiled at him and then went out on the terrace also, andAleksander, turning to the shopman, said in a tone of conviction:

  “They can’t stand up to me, they simply can’t! They disappear like smokebefore a flame.”

  The shopman looked at him from under his brows, and observed dryly :

  “I have not thought about the matter.”

  “What! Do you mean you have not thought about it? This is a businesswhich demands to be thought about.”

  He sat for a moment in silence, with drooping head. Then the old mencalled him, and they all three went away.

  This man had burst upon me like a bonfire in the night. He burnedbrightly, and when he was extinguished, left me feeling that there was truthin his refusal to live as other men.

  In the evening, choosing a good time, I spoke about him excitedly to thehead icon-painter. Quiet and kind Ivan Larionovich listened to what I had tosay, and explained :

  “He belongs to the Byegouns,11 a sort of sect; they acknowledge noauthority.”

  11 Byegouns, or wanderers, still another sect of Old Believers.

  “How do they live?”

  “Like fugitives they wander about the earth; that is why they have beengiven the name Byegoun. They say that no one ought to have land, orproperty. And the police look upon them as dangerous, and arrest them.”

  Although my life was bitter, I could not understand how any one couldrun away from everything pleasant. In the life which went on around me atthat time, there was much that was interesting and precious to me, andAleksander Vassiliev soon faded from my mind.

  But from time to time, in hours of darkness, he appeared to me. He cameby the fields, or by the gray road to the forest, pushed his cap aside with aconvulsive movement of his white hands, unsoiled by work, and muttered:

  “I am going on the straight road; I have no part in this world; I havebroken all ties.”

  In conjunction with him I remembered my father, as grandmother hadseen him in her dream, with a walnut stick in his hand, and behind him aspotted dog running, with its tongue hanging out.



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