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Chapter 13

    THE icon-painting workshop occupied two rooms in a large house partlybuilt of stone. One room had three windows overlooking the yard and oneoverlooking the garden; the other room had one window overlooking thegarden and another facing the street. These windows were small and square,and their panes, irisated by age, unwillingly admitted the pale, diffused lightof the winter days. Both rooms were closely packed with tables, and at everytable sat the bent figures of icon-painters. From the ceilings were suspendedglass balls full of water, which reflected the light from the lamps and threw itupon the square surfaces of the icons in white cold rays.

  It was hot and stifling in the workshop. Here worked about twenty men,icon-painters, from Palekh, Kholia, and Mstir. They all sat down in cottonoveralls with unfastened collars. They had drawers made of ticking, and werebarefooted, or wore sandals. Over their heads stretched, like a blue veil, thesmoke of cheap tobacco, and there was a thick smell of size, varnish, androtten eggs. The melancholy Vlandimirski song flowed slowly, like resin:

  How depraved the people have now become ;The boy ruined the girl, and cared not who knew.

  They sang other melancholy songs, but this was the one they sang mostoften. Its long-drawn-out movement did not hinder one from thinking, didnot impede the movement of the fine brush, made of weasel hair, over thesurface of the icons, as it painted in the lines of the figure, and laid upon theemaciated faces of the saints the fine lines of suffering. By the windows thechaser, Golovev, plied his small hammer. He was a drunken old man with anenormous blue nose. The lazy stream of song was punctuated by theceaseless dry tap of the hammer; it was like a worm gnawing at a tree. Someevil genius had divided the work into a long series of actions, bereft of beautyand incapable of arousing any love for the business, or interest in it. Thesquinting joiner, Panphil, ill-natured and malicious, brought the pieces ofcypress and lilac — wood of different sizes, which he had planed and glued;the consumptive lad, Davidov, laid the colors on; his comrade, Sorokin,painted in the inscription; Milyashin outlined the design from the originalwith a pencil ; old Golovev gilded it, and embossed the pattern in gold; thefinishers drew the land — scape, and the clothes of the figures; and then theywere stood with faces or hands against the wall, waiting for the work of theface-painter.

  It was very weird to see a large icon intended for an iconastasis, or thedoors of the altar, standing against the wall without face, hands, or feet, —just the sacerdotal vestments, or the armor, and the short garments ofarchangels. These variously painted tablets suggested death. That whichshould have put life into them was absent, but it seemed as if it had beenthere, and had miraculously disappeared, leaving only its heavy vestmentsbehind.

  When the features had been painted in by the face-painter, the icon washanded to the workman, who filled in the design of the chaser. A differentworkman had to do the lettering, and the varnish was put on by the headworkman himself Ivan Larionovich, a quiet man. He had a gray face; hisbeard, too, was gray, the hair fine and silky; his gray eyes were peculiarlydeep and sad. He had a pleasant smile, but one could not smile at him. Hemade one feel awkward, somehow. He looked like the image of SimonStolpnik, just as lean and emaciated, and his motionless eyes looked far awayin the same abstracted man — ner, through people and walls.

  Some days after I entered the workshop, the banner-worker, a Cossack ofthe Don, named Kapendiukhin, a handsome, mighty fellow, arrived in a stateof intoxication. With clenched teeth and his gentle, wom — anish eyesblinking, he began to smash up everything with his iron fist, without utteringa word. Of medium height and well built, he cast himself on the workroomlike a cat chasing rats in a cellar. The others lost their presence of mind, andhid themselves away in the corners, calling out to one another :

  “Knock him down!”

  The face-painter, Evgen Sitanov, was successful in stunning themaddened creature by hitting him on the head with a small stool. TheCossack subsided on the floor, and was immediately held down and tied upwith towels, which he began to bite and tear with the teeth of a wild beast.

  This infuriated Evgen. He jumped on the table, and with his hands pressedclose to his sides, prepared to jump on the Cossack. Tall and stout as he was,he would have inevitably crushed the breast-bone of Kapendiukhin by hisleap, but at that moment Larionovich appeared on the scene in cap andovercoat, shook his finger at Sitanov, and said to the workmen in a quiet andbusiness-like tone:

  “Carry him into the vestibule, and leave him there till he is sober.”

  They dragged the Cossack out of the workshop, set the chairs and tablesstraight, and once again set to work, letting fall short remarks on thestrength of their comrade, prophesying that he would one day be killed bysome one in a quarrel.

  “It would be a difficult matter to kill him,” said Sitanov very calmly, as ifhe were speaking of a business which he understood very well.

  I looked at Larionovich, wondering perplexedly why these strong,pugilistic people were so easily ruled by him. He showed every one how heought to work; even the best workmen listened willingly to his advice; hetaught Kapendiukhin more, and with more words, than the others.

  “ You, Kapendiukhin, are what is called a painter — that is, you ought topaint from life in the Italian manner. Painting in oils requires warm colors,and you have introduced too much white, and made Our Lady’s eyes as coldas winter. The cheeks are painted red, like apples, and the eyes do not seemto belong to them. And they are not put in right, either ; one is looking overthe bridge of the nose, and the other has moved to the temple; and the facehas not come out pure and holy, but crafty, wintry. You don’t think aboutyour work, Kapendiukhin.”

  The Cossack listened and made a wry face. Then smiling impudentlywith his womanish eyes, he said in his pleasant voice, which was ratherhoarse with so much drinking:

  “Ekh! I— va — a — n Larionovich, my father, that is not my trade. I wasborn to be a musician, and they put me among monks.”

  “With zeal, any business may be mastered.”

  “No; what do you take me for? I ought to have been a coachman with ateam of gray horses, eh?”

  And protruding his Adam’s apple, he drawled despairingly:

  “Eh, i-akh, if I had a leash of grayhoundsAnd dark brown horses,Och, when I am in torment on frosty nightsI would fly straight, straight to my love!”

  Ivan Larionovich, smiling mildly, set his glasses straight on his gray, sad,melancholy nose, and went away. But a dozen voices took up the song in afriendly spirit, and there flowed forth a mighty stream of song which seemedto raise the whole workshop into the air and shake it with measured blows:

  “By custom the horses know Where the little lady lives.”

  The apprentice, Pashka Odintzov, threw aside his work of pouring off theyolks of the eggs, and holding the shells in his hand, led the chorus in amasterly manner. Intoxicated by the sounds, they all forgot them — selves,they all breathed together as if they had but one bosom, and were full of thesame feelings, looking sideways at the Cossack. When he sang, the workshopacknowledged him as its master; they were all drawn to him, followed thebrief movements of his hands; he spread his arms out as if he were about tofly. I believe that if he had suddenly broken off his song and cried, “Let ussmash up everything,” even the most serious of the workmen would havesmashed the workshop to pieces in a few moments.

  He sang rarely, but the power of his tumultuous songs was alwaysirresistible and all-conquering. It was as if these people were not verystrongly made, and he could lift them up and set them on fire; as ifeverything was bent when it came within the warm influence of that mightyorgan of his.

  As for me, these songs aroused in me a hot feeling of envy of the singer,of his admirable power over people. A painful emotion flowed over my heart,making it feel as if it would burst. I wanted to weep and call out to thesingers:

  “I love you!”

  Consumptive, yellow Davidov, who was covered with tufts of hair, alsoopened his mouth, strangely resembling a young jackdaw newly burst out oftheThese happy, riotous songs were only sung when the Cossack startedthem. More often they sang the sad, drawn-out one about the depravedpeople, and another about the forests, and another about the death ofAlexander I, “How our Alexander went to review his army.” Sometimes at thesuggestion of our best face painter, Jikharev, they tried to sing some churchmelodies, but it was seldom a success. Jikharev always wanted one particularthing; he had only one idea of harmony, and he kept on stopping the song.

  He was a man of forty-five, dry, bald, with black, curly, gipsy-like hair,and large black brows which looked like mustaches. His pointed, thick beardwas very ornamental to his fine, swarthy, unRussian face, but under hisprotuberant nose stuck out ferocious-looking mustaches, superfluous whenone took his brows into consideration. His blue eyes did not match, the leftbeing noticeably larger than the right.

  “Pashka,” he cried in a tenor voice to my comrade, the apprentice, “comealong now, start off: Traise — ‘ Now people, listen!”

  Wiping his hands on his apron, Pashka led off :

  “Pr — a — a — ise — ”

  “The Name of the Lord,” several voices caught it up, but Jikharev criedfussily:

  “Lower, Evgen! Let your voice come from the very depths of the soul.”

  Sitanov, in a voice so deep that it sounded like the rattle of a drum, gaveforth:

  “R— rabi Gospoda (slaves of the Lord) — ”

  “Not like that! That part should be taken in such a way that the earthshould tremble and the doors and windows should open of themselves!”

  Jikharev was in a state of incomprehensible excitement. Hisextraordinary brows went up and down on his forehead, his voice broke, hisfingers played on an invisible dulcimer.

  “Slaves of the Lord — do you understand?” he said importantly. “Youhave got to feel that right to the kernel of your being, right through the shell.

  Slaves, praise the Lord! How is it that you — living people — do notunderstand that?”

  “We never seem to get it as you say it ought to be,” said Sitanov quietly.

  “Well, let it alone then!”

  Jikharev, offended, went on with his work. He was the best workman wehad, for he could paint faces in the Byzantine manner, and artistically, in thenew Italian style. When he took orders for iconostasis, Larionovich tookcounsel with him. He had a fine knowledge of all original image-paintings;all the costly copies of miraculous icons, Theodorovski, Kazanski, and others,passed through his hands. But when he lighted upon the originals, hegrowled loudly:

  “These originals tie us down; there is no getting away from that fact.”

  In spite of his superior position in the workshop, he was less conceitedthan the others, and was kind to the apprentices — Pavl and me. He wantedto teach us the work, since no one else ever bothered about us.

  He was difficult to understand; he was not usually cheerful, andsometimes he would work for a whole week in silence, like a dumb man. Helooked on every one as at strangers who amazed him, as if it were the firsttime he had come across such people. And although he was very fond ofsinging, at such times he did not sing, nor did he even listen to the songs. Allthe others watched him, winking at one another. He would bend over theicon which stood sideways, his tablet on his knees, the middle resting on theedge of the table, while his fine brush diligently painted the dark, foreignface. He was dark and foreign-looking himself. Suddenly he would say in aclear, offended tone :

  “Forerunner — what does that mean? Tech means in ancient language ‘togo.’ A forerunner is one who goes before, — and that is all.”

  The workshop was very quiet; every one was glancing askance atJikharev, laughing, and in the stillness rang out these strange words :

  “He ought to be painted with a sheepskin and wings.”

  “Whom are you talking to?” I asked.

  He was silent, either not hearing my question or not caring to answer it.

  Then his words again fell into the expectant silence :

  “The lives of the saints are what we ought to know! What do we know?

  We live without wings. Where is the soul? The soul — where is it? Theoriginals are there — yes — but where are the souls?”

  This thinking aloud caused even Sitanov to laugh derisively, and almostalways some one whispered with malicious joy:

  “He will get drunk on Saturday.”

  Tall, sinewy Sitanov, a youngster of twenty-two years, with a round facewithout whiskers or eye-brows, gazed sadly and seriously into the corner.

  I remember when the copy of the Theodorovski Madonna, which Ibelieve was Kungur, was finished. Jikharev placed the icon on the table andsaid loudly, excitedly :

  “It is finished, Little Mother! Bright Chalice, Thou! Thou, bottomlesscup, in which are shed the bitter tears from the hearts of the world ofcreatures!”

  And throwing an overcoat over his shoulders, he went out to the tavern.

  The young men laughed and whistled, the elder ones looked after him withenvious sighs, and Sitanov went to his work. Looking at it attentively, heexplained :

  “Of course he will go and get drunk, because he is sorry to have to handover his work. That sort of regret is not given to all.”

  Jikharev’s drinking bouts always began on Saturday, and his, you mustunderstand, was not the usual alcoholic fever of the workman. It began thus:

  In the morning he would write a note and sent Pavl somewhere with it, andbefore dinner he would say to Larionovich :

  “1 am going to the bath today.”

  “Will you be long?’

  “Well, Lord —”

  “Please don’t be gone over Tuesday!”

  Jikharev bowed his bald cranium in assent; his brows twitched. When hereturned from the baths, he attired himself fashionably in a false shirt-frontand a cravat, attached a long silver chain to his satin waistcoat, and went outwithout speaking, except to say to Pavl and me :

  “Clean up the workshop before the evening; wash the large table andscrape it.”

  Then a kind of holiday excitement showed itself in every one of them.

  They braced themselves up. cleaned themselves, ran to the bath, and hadsupper in a hurry. After supper Jikharev appeared with light refreshments,beer, and wine, and following him came a woman so exaggerated in everyrespect that she was almost a monstrosity. She was six feet five inches inheight. All our chairs and stools looked like toys when she was there, andeven tall Sitanov looked undersized beside her. She was well formed, but herbosom rose like a hillock to her chin, and her movements were slow andawkward. She was about forty years of age, but her mobile face, with its greathorse-like eyes, was fresh and smooth, and her small mouth looked as if ithad been painted on, like that of a cheap doll. She smiled, held out her broadhand to every one, and spoke unnecessary words :

  “How do you do? There is a hard frost today. What a stuffy smell there ishere! It is the smell of paint. How do you do?”

  To look at her, so calm and strong, like a large river at high tide, waspleasant, but her speech had a soporific influence, and was both superfluousand weari — some. Before she uttered a word, she used to puff, making heralmost livid cheeks rounder than ever. The young ones giggled, andwhispered among themselves :

  “She is like an engine!”

  “Like a steeple!”

  Pursing her lips and folding her hands under her bosom, she sat at thecloth-covered table by the samovar, and looked at us all in turn with a kindexpres — sion in her horse-like eyes.

  Every one treated her with great respect, and the younger ones were evenrather afraid of her. The youths looked at that great body with eager eyes, butwhen they met her all-embracing glance, they lowered their own eyes inconfusion. Jikharev was also respectful to his guest, addressed her as “you,”

  called her “little comrade,” and pressed hospitality upon her, bowing low thewhile.

  “Now don’t you put yourself out,” she drawled sweetly. “What a fuss youare making of me, really!”

  As for herself, she lived without hurry; her arms moved only from theelbow to the wrist, while the elbows themselves were pressed against hersides. From her came an ardent smell, as of hot bread. Old Golovev,stammering in his enthusiasm, praised the beauty of the woman, like adeacon chanting the divine praises; She listened, smiling affably, and whenhe had become involved in his speech, said of herself:

  “We were not a bit handsome when we were young; this has all comethrough living as a woman. By the time we were thirty, we had become soremarkable that even the nobility interested themselves in us, and onedistrict commander actually promised a carriage with a pair of horses.”

  Kapendiukhin, tipsy and dishevelled, looked at her with a glance ofhatred, and asked coarsely :

  “What did he promise you that for?”

  “In return for our love, of course,” explained the guest.

  “Love,” muttered Kapendiukhin, “what sort of love?”

  “Such a handsome young man as you are must know all about love,”

  answered the woman simply.

  The workshop shook with laughter, and Sitanov growled toKapendiukhin:

  “A fool, if no worse, she is! People only love that way through a greatpassion, as every one knows.”

  He was pale with the wine he had drunk; drops of sweat stood on histemples like pearls; his intelligent eyes burned alarmingly.

  But old Golovev, twitching his monstrous nose, wiped the tears from hiseyes with his fingers, and asked :

  “How many children did you have?”

  “Only one.”

  Over the table hung a lamp ; over the stove, another. They gave a feeblelight; thick shadows gathered in the corners of the workshop, from whichlooked half-painted headless figures. The dull, gray patches in place of handsand heads look weird and large, and, as usual, it seemed to me that thebodies of the saints had secretly disappeared from the painted garments. Theglass balls, raised right up to the ceiling, hung there on hooks in a cloud ofsmoke, and gleamed with a blue light.

  Jikharev went restlessly round the table, pressing hospitality on everyone. His broad, bald skull inclined first to one and then to another, his thinfingers always were on the rriove. He was very thin, and his nose, which waslike that of a bird of prey, seemed to have grown sharper; when he stoodsideways to the light, the shadow of his nose lay on his cheek.

  “Drink and eat, friends,” he said in his ringing tenor.

  “Why do you worry yourself, comrade? They all have hands, and everyone has his own hands and his own appetite; more than that no one can eat,however much they may want to!”

  “Rest yourself, people,” cried Jikharev in a ringing voice. “My friends, weare all the slaves of God; let us sing, Traise His Name.’ ”

  The chant was not a success; they were all enervated and stupefied byeating and vodka-drinking. In Kapendiukhin’s hands was a harmonica with adouble keyboard; young Victor Salautin, dark and serious as a young crow,took up a drum, and let his fingers wander over the tightly stretched skin,which gave forth a deep sound; the tambourines tinkled.

  “The Russian dance!” commanded Jikharev, “little comrade, please.”

  “Ach!” sighed the woman, rising, “what a worry you are!”

  She v/ent to the space which had been cleared, and stood there solidly,like a sentry. She wore a short brown skirt, a yellow batiste blouse, and a redhandkerchief on her head.

  The harmonica uttered passionate lamentations; its little bells rang; thetambourines tinkled; the skin of the drum gave forth a heavy, dull, sighingsound. This had an unpleasant effect, as if a man had gone mad and wasgroaning, sobbing, and knocking his head against the wall.

  Jikharev could not dance. He simply moved his feet about, and settingdown the heels of his brightly polished boots, jumped about like a goat, andthat not in time with the clamorous music. His feet seemed to belong to someone else; his body writhed unbeautifully; he struggled like a wasp in aspider’s web, or a fish in a net. It was not at all a cheerful sight. But all ofthem, even the tipsy ones, seemed to be impressed by his convulsions; theyall watched his face and arms in silence. The changing expressions of his facewere amazing. Now he looked kind and rather shy, suddenly he becameproud, and frowned harshly; now he seemed to be startled by something,sighed, closed his eyes for a second, and when he opened them, wore a sadexpression. Clenching his fists he stole up to the woman, and suddenlystamping his feet, fell on his knees in front of her with arms outspread andraised brows, smiling ardently. She looked down upon him with an affablesmile, and said to him calmly :

  “Stand up, comrade.”

  She tried to close her eyes, but those eyes, which were in circumferencelike a three copeck piece, would not close, and her face wrinkled andassumed an unpleasant expression.

  She could not dance either, and did nothing but move her enormousbody from side to side, noiselessly transferring it from place to place. In herleft hand was a handkerchief which she waved languidly; her right wasplaced on her hip. This gave her the appearance of a large pitcher.

  And Jikharev moved round this massive woman with so many differentchanges of expression that he seemed to be ten different men dancing,instead of one. One was quiet and humble, another proud and terrifying; inthe third movement he was afraid, sighing gently,, as if he desired to slipaway unnoticed from the large, unpleasant woman. But still another personappeared, gnashing his teeth and writhing convulsively like a wounded dog.

  This sad, ugly dance reminded me of the soldiers, the laundresses, and thecooks, and their vile behavior.

  Sitanov’s quiet words stuck in my memory :

  “In these affairs every one lies; that’s part of the business. Every one isashamed; no one loves any one — but it is simply an amusement.”

  I did not wish to believe that “every one lied in these affairs.” How aboutQueen Margot, then? And of course Jikharev was not lying. And I knew thatSitanov had loved a “street” girl, and she had deceived him. He had notbeaten her for it, as his comrades advised him to do, but had been kind toher.

  The large woman went on rocking, smiling like a corpse, waving herhandkerchief. Jikharev jumped convulsively about her, and I looked on andthought: “Could Eve, who was able to deceive God, have been anything likethis horse?” I was seized by a feeling of dislike for her.

  The faceless images looked from the dark walls; the dark night pressedagainst the window-panes. The lamps burned dimly in the stuffy workshop;if one listened, one could hear above the heavy trampling and the din ofvoices the quick dropping of water from the copper wash-basin into the tub.

  How unlike this was to the life I read of in books! It was painfully unlikeit. At length they all grew weary of this, and Kapendiukhin put theharmonica into Salautin’s hands, and cried:

  “Go on! Fire away!”

  He danced like Vanka Tzigan, just as if he was swimming in the air. ThenPavl Odintzov and Sorokhin danced passionately and lightly after him. Theconsumptive Davidov also moved his feet about the floor, and coughed fromthe dust, smoke, and the strong odor of vodka and smoked sausage, whichalways smells like tanned hide.

  They danced, and sang, and shouted, but each remembered that theywere making merry, and gave each other a sort of test — a test of agility andendurance.

  Tipsy Sitanov asked first one and then another:

  “Do you think any one could really love a woman like that?”

  He looked as if he were on the verge of tears.

  Larionovich, lifting the sharp bones of his shoulders, answered:

  “A woman is a woman — what more do you want?”

  The two of whom they spoke disappeared unnoticed. Jikharevreappeared in the workshop in two er three days, went to the bath, andworked for two weeks in his comer, without speaking, pompous andestranged from every one.

  “Have they gone?” asked Sitanov of himself, looking round the workshopwith sad blue-gray eyes. His face was not handsome, for there was somethingelderly about it, but his eyes were clear and good. Sit — anov was friendly tome — a fact which I owed to my thick note-book in which I had writtenpoetry. He did not believe in God, but it was hard to understand who in theworkshop, beside Larionovich, loved God and believed in Him. They allspoke of Him with levity, derisively, just as they liked to speak of theirmistresses. Yet when they dined, or supped, thev all crossed themselves, andwhen they went to bed, they said their prayers, and went to church onSundays and feast days.

  Sitanov did none of these things, and he was counted as an unbeliever.

  “There is no God,” he said.

  .“Where did we all come from, then?”

  “I don’t know.”

  When I asked him how God could possibly not be, he explained:

  “Don’t you see that God is height!”

  He raised his long arm above his head, then lowered it to an arshin fromthe floor, and said :

  “And man is depth! Is that true? And it is written: Man was created inthe image and likeness of God, — as you know! And what is Golovev like?”

  This defeated me. The dirty and drunken old man, in spite of his years,was given to an unmentionable sin. I remembered the Viatski soldier,Ermokhin, and grandmother’s sister. Where was God’s likeness in them?

  “Human creatures are swine — as you know,” said Sitanov, and then hetried to console me. “Never mind, Maxim, there are good people; there are!”

  He was easy to get on with; he was so simple. When he did not knowanything, he said frankly:

  “I don’t know; I never thought about it!”

  This was something unusual. Until I met him, I had only come acrosspeople who knew everything and talked about everything. It was strange tome to see in his note-book, side by side with good poetry which touched thesoul, many obscene verses which aroused no feeling but that of shame. WhenI spoke to him about Pushkin, he showed me “Gavrialad,” which had beencopied in his book.

  “What is Pushkin? Nothing but a jester, but that Benediktov — he isworth paying attention to.”

  And closing his eyes he repeated softly :

  “Look at the bewitching bosom Of a beautiful woman.”

  For some reason he was especially partial to the three lines which hequoted with joyful pride:

  “Not even the orbs of an eagle Into that warm cloister can penetrate Andread that heart.”

  “Do you understand that?”

  It was very uncomfortable to me to have to acknowledge that I did notunderstand what he was so pleased about.


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