Creatures That Once Were Men
Part 2 out of 2
"Of course! One cannot eat soup out of one's hand . . . But
though you have read and thought, and I have not done that or
anything else, we both seem to have got into pretty much the same
condition, don't we?"
"Go to the Devil!" shouted Kuvalda. His conversations with
Abyedok always ended thus. When the teacher was absent his
speeches, as a rule, fell on the empty air, and received no
attention, and he knew this, but still he could not help
speaking. And now, having quarrelled with his companion, he felt
rather deserted; but, still longing for conversation, he turned
to Simtsoff with the following question: "And you, Aleksei
Maksimovitch, where will you lay your grey head?"
The old man smiled good-humouredly, rubbed his hands, and
replied, "I do not know . . . I will see. One does not require
much, just a little drink."
"Plain but honourable fare!" the Captain said. Simtsoff was
silent, only adding that he would find a place sooner than any of
them, because women loved him. This was true. The old man had,
as a rule, two or three prostitutes, who kept him on their very
scant earnings. They very often beat him, but he took this
stoically. They somehow never beat him too much, probably
because they pitied him. He was a great lover of women, and said
they were the cause of all his misfortunes. The character of his
relations towards them was confirmed by the appearance of his
clothes, which, as a rule, were tidy, and cleaner than those of
his companions. And now, sitting at the door of the dosshouse,
he boastingly related that for a long time past Redka had been
asking him to go and live with her, but he had not gone because
he did not want to part with the company. They heard this with
jealous interest. They all knew Redka. She lived very near the
town, almost below the mountain. Not long ago, she had been in
prison for theft. She was a retired nurse; a tall, stout peasant
woman, with a face marked by smallpox, but with very pretty,
though always drunken, eyes.
"Just look at the old devil!" swore Abyedok, looking at Simtsoff,
who was smiling in a self-satisfied way.
"And do you know why they love me? Because I know how to cheer
up their souls."
"Do you?" inquired Kuvalda.
"And I can make them pity me. . . . And a woman, when she
pities! Go and weep to her, and ask her to kill you . . . she
will pity you--and she will kill you."
"I feel inclined to commit a murder," declared Martyanoff,
laughing his dull laugh.
"Upon whom?" asked Abyedok, edging away from him.
"It's all the same to me . . . Petunikoff . . . Egorka . . . or
"And why?" inquired Kuvalda.
"I want to go to Siberia . . . I have had enough of this vile
life . . . one learns how to live there!"
"Yes, they have a particularly good way of teaching in Siberia,"
agreed the Captain, sadly.
They spoke no more of Petunikoff, or of the turning out of the
inhabitants of the dosshouse. They all knew that they would have
to leave soon, therefore they did not think the matter worth
discussion. It would do no good, and besides the weather was not
very cold though the rains had begun . . . and it would be
possible to sleep on the ground anywhere outside the town. They
sat in a circle on the grass and conversed about all sorts of
things, discussing one subject after another, and listening
attentively even to the poor speakers in order to make the time
pass; keeping quiet was as dull as listening. This society of
"creatures that once were men" had one fine characteristic --no
one of them endeavoured to make out that he was better than the
others, nor compelled the others to acknowledge his superiority.
The August sun seemed to set their tatters on fire as they sat
with their backs and uncovered heads exposed to it . . . a
chaotic mixture of the vegetable, mineral, and animal kingdoms.
In the corners of the yard the tall steppe grass grew
luxuriantly. . . . Nothing else grew there but some dingy
vegetables, not even attractive to those who nearly always felt
the pangs of hunger.
* * * * *
The following was the scene that took place in Vaviloff's
Young Petunikoff entered slowly, took off his hat, looked around
him, and said to the eating-house keeper:
"Egor Terentievitch Vaviloff? Are you he?"
"I am," answered the sergeant, leaning on the bar with both arms
as if intending to jump over it.
"I have some business with you," said Petunikoff.
"Delighted. Please come this way to my private room."
They went in and sat down, the guest on the couch and his host on
the chair opposite to him. In one corner a lamp was burning
before a gigantic icon, and on the wall at the other side there
were several oil lamps. They were well kept and shone as if they
were new. The room, which contained a number of boxes and a
variety of furniture, smelt of tobacco, sour cabbage, and olive
oil. Petunikoff looked around him and made a face. Vaviloff
looked at the icon, and then they looked simultaneously at one
another, and both seemed to be favourably impressed. Petunikoff
liked Vaviloff's frankly thievish eyes, and Vaviloff was pleased
with the open, cold, determined face of Petunikoff, with its
large cheeks and white teeth.
"Of course you already know me, and I presume you guess what I am
going to say to you," began Petunikoff.
"About the lawsuit? . . . I presume?" remarked the ex-sergeant,
"Exactly! I am glad to see that you are not beating about the
bush, but going straight to the point like a business man," said
"I am a soldier," answered Vaviloff, with a modest air.
"That is easily seen, and I am sure we shall be able to finish
this job without much trouble."
"Good! You have the law on your side, and will, of course, win
your case. I want to tell you this at the very beginning."
"I thank you most humbly," said the sergeant, rubbing his eyes in
order to hide the smile in them.
"But tell me, why did you make the acquaintance of your future
neighbours like this through the law courts?"
Vaviloff shrugged his shoulders and did not answer.
"It would have been better to come straight to us and settle the
matter peacefully, eh? What do you think?"
"That would have been better, of course, but you see there is a
difficulty . . . I did not follow my own wishes, but those of
others . . . I learned afterwards that it would have been better
if . . . but it was too late."
"Oh! I suppose some lawyer taught you this?"
"Someone of that sort."
"Aha! Do you wish to settle the affair peacefully?"
"With all my heart!" cried the soldier.
Petunikoff was silent for a moment, then looked at him, and
suddenly asked, coldly and drily, "And why do you wish to do so?"
Vaviloff did not expect such a question, and therefore had no
reply ready. In his opinion the question was quite unworthy of
any attention, and so he laughed at young Petunikoff.
"That is easy to understand. Men like to live peacefully with
"But," interrupted Petunikoff, "that is not exactly the reason
why. As far as I can see, you do not distinctly understand why
you wish to be reconciled to us . . . I will tell you."
The soldier was a little surprised. This youngster, dressed in a
check suit, in which he looked ridiculous, spoke as if he were
Colonel Rakshin, who used to knock three of the unfortunate
soldier's teeth out every time he was angry.
"You want to be friends with us because we should be such useful
neighbours to you . . . because there will be not less than a
hundred and fifty workmen in our factory, and in course of time
even more. If a hundred men come and drink one glass at your
place, after receiving their weekly wages, that means that you
will sell every month four hundred glasses more than you sell at
present. This is, of course, the lowest estimate . . . and then
you have the eating-house besides. You are not a fool, and you
can understand for yourself what profitable neighbours we shall
"That is true," Vaviloff nodded, "I knew that before."
"Well, what then?" asked the merchant, loudly.
"Nothing . . . Let us be friends!"
"It is nice to see that you have decided so quickly. Look here, I
have already prepared a notification to the court of the
withdrawal of the summons against my father. Here it is; read it,
and sign it."
Vaviloff looked at his companion with his round eyes and
shivered, as if experiencing an unpleasant sensation.
"Pardon me . . . sign it? And why?"
"There is no difficulty about it . . . write your Christian name
and surname and nothing more," explained Petunikoff, pointing
obligingly with his finger to the place for the signature.
"Oh! It is not that . . . I was alluding to the compensation I
was to get for my ground."
"But then this ground is of no use to you," said Petunikoff,
"But it is mine!" exclaimed the soldier.
"Of course, and how much do you want for it?"
"Well, say the amount stated in the document," said Vaviloff,
"Six hundred!" and Petunikoff smiled softly. "You are a funny
"The law is on my side. . . I can even demand two thousand. I
can insist on your pulling down the building . . . and enforce it
too. That is why my claim is so small. I demand that you should
pull it down!"
"Very well. Probably we shall do so . . . after three years, and
after having dragged you into enormous law expenses. And then,
having paid up, we shall open our public-house and you will be
ruined . . . annihilated like the Swedes at Poltava. We shall
see that you are ruined . . . we will take good care of that. We
could have begun to arrange about a public-house now, but you see
our time is valuable, and besides we are sorry for you. Why
should we take the bread out of your mouth without any reason?"
Egor Terentievitch looked at his guest, clenching his teeth, and
felt that he was master of the situation, and held his fate in
his hands. Vaviloff was full of pity for himself at having to
deal with this calm, cruel figure in the checked suit.
"And being such a near neighbour you might have gained a good
deal by helping us, and we should have remembered it too. Even
now, for instance, I should advise you to open a small shop for
tobacco, you know, bread, cucumbers, and so on. . . All these
are sure to be in great demand."
Vaviloff listened, and being a clever man, knew that to throw
himself upon the enemy's generosity was the better plan. It was
as well to begin from the beginning, and, not knowing what else
to do to relieve his mind, the soldier began to swear at Kuvalda.
"Curses be upon your head, you drunken rascal! May the Devil
"Do you mean the lawyer who composed your petition?" asked
Petunikoff, calmly, and added, with a sigh, "I have no doubt he
would have landed you in rather an awkward fix . . . had we not
taken pity upon you."
"Ah!" And the angry soldier raised his hand. "There are two of
them . . . One of them discovered it, the other wrote the
petition, the accursed reporter!"
"Why the reporter?"
"He writes for the papers . . . He is one of your lodgers . . .
there they all are outside . . . Clear them away, for Christ's
sake! The robbers! They disturb and annoy everyone in the
street. One cannot live for them . . . And they are all
desperate fellows . . . You had better take care, or else they
will rob or burn you . . ."
"And this reporter, who is he?" asked Petunikoff, with interest.
"He? A drunkard. He was a teacher but was dismissed. He drank
everything he possessed . . . and now he writes for the papers
and composes petitions. He is a very wicked man!"
"H'm! And did he write your petition, too? I suppose it was he
who discovered the flaws in the building. The beams were not
rightly put in?"
"He did! I know it for a fact! The dog! He read it aloud in
here and boasted, 'Now I have caused Petunikoff some loss!'"
"Ye--es. . . Well, then, do you want to be reconciled?"
"To be reconciled?" The soldier lowered his head and thought.
"Ah! This is a hard life!" said he, in a querulous voice,
scratching his head.
"One must learn by experience," Petunikoff reassured him,
lighting a cigarette.
"Learn . . . It is not that, my dear sir; but don't you see
there is no freedom? Don't you see what a life I lead? I live
in fear and trembling . . . I am refused the freedom so
desirable to me in my movements, and I fear this ghost of a
teacher will write about me in the papers. Sanitary inspectors
will be called for . . . fines will have to be paid . . . or else
your lodgers will set fire to the place or rob and kill me . . .
I am powerless against them. They are not the least afraid of
the police, and they like going to prison, because they get their
food for nothing there."
"But then we will have them turned out if we come to terms with
you," promised Petunikoff.
"What shall we arrange, then?" asked Vaviloff, sadly and
"Tell me your terms."
"Well, give me the six hundred mentioned in the claim."
"Won't you take a hundred roubles?" asked the merchant, calmly,
looking attentively at his companion, and smiling softly. "I
will not give you one rouble more," . . . he added.
After this, he took out his eye-glasses, and began cleaning them
with his handkerchief. Vaviloff looked at him sadly and
respectfully. The calm face of Petunikoff, his grey eyes and
clear complexion, every line of his thickset body betokened
self-confidence and a well-balanced mind. Vaviloff also liked
Petunikoff's straightforward manner of addressing him without any
pretensions, as if he were his own brother, though Vaviloff
understood well enough that he was his superior, he being only a
soldier. Looking at him, he grew fonder and fonder of him, and,
forgetting for a moment the matter in hand, respectfully asked
"Where did you study?"
"In the technological institute. Why?" answered the other,
"Nothing. Only . . . excuse me!" The soldier lowered his head,
and then suddenly exclaimed, "What a splendid thing education is!
Science--light. My brother, I am as stupid as an owl before the
sun . . . Your honour, let us finish this job."
With an air of decision he stretched out his hand to Petunikoff
"Well, five hundred?"
"Not more than one hundred roubles, Egor Terentievitch."
Petunikoff shrugged his shoulders as if sorry at being unable to
give more, and touched the soldier's hairy hand with his long
white fingers. They soon ended the matter, for the soldier gave
in quickly and met Petunikoff's wishes. And when Vaviloff had
received the hundred roubles and signed the paper, he threw the
pen down on the table and said, bitterly:
"Now I will have a nice time! They will laugh at me, they will
cry shame on me, the devils!"
"But you tell them that I paid all your claim," suggested
Petunikoff, calmly puffing out clouds of smoke and watching them
"But do you think they will believe it? They are as clever
swindlers if not worse . . ."
Vaviloff stopped himself in time before making the intended
comparison, and looked at the merchant's son in terror. The
other smoked on, and seemed to be absorbed in that occupation.
He went away soon, promising to destroy the nest of vagabonds.
Vaviloff looked after him and sighed, feeling as if he would like
to shout some insult at the young man who was going with such
firm steps towards the steep road, encumbered with its ditches
and heaps of rubbish.
In the evening the Captain appeared in the eating-house. His
eyebrows were knit and his fist clenched. Vaviloff smiled at him
in a guilty manner.
"Well, worthy descendant of Judas and Cain, tell us . . ."
"They decided" . . . said Vaviloff, sighing and lowering his
"I don't doubt it; how many silver pieces did you receive?"
"Four hundred roubles . . ."
"Of course you are lying . . . But all the better for me.
Without any further words, Egorka, ten per cent. of it for my
discovery, four per cent. to the teacher for writing the
petition, one 'vedro' of vodki to all of us, and refreshments all
round. Give me the money now, the vodki and refreshments will do
at eight o'clock."
Vaviloff turned purple with rage, and stared at Kuvalda with
"This is humbug! This is robbery! I will do nothing of the
sort. What do you mean, Aristid Fomich? Keep your appetite for
the next feast! I am not afraid of you now . . ."
Kuvalda looked at the clock.
"I give you ten minutes, Egorka, for your idiotic talk. Finish
your nonsense by that time and give me what I demand. If you
don't I will devour you! Kanets has sold you something? Did you
read in the paper about the theft at Basoff's house? Do you
understand? You won't have time to hide anything, we will not
let you . . . and this very night . . . do you understand?"
"Why, Aristid Fomich?" sobbed the discomfited merchant.
"No more words! Did you understand or not?"
Tall, grey, and imposing, Kuvalda spoke in half whispers, and his
deep bass voice rang through the house. Vaviloff always feared
him because he was not only a retired military man, but a man who
had nothing to lose. But now Kuvalda appeared before him in a
new role. He did not speak much, and jocosely as usual, but
spoke in the tone of a commander, who was convinced of the
other's guilt. And Vaviloff felt that the Captain could and
would ruin him with the greatest pleasure. He must needs bow
before this power. But, nevertheless, the soldier thought of
trying him once more. He sighed deeply, and began with apparent
"It is truly said that a man's sin will find him out . . . I lied
to you, Aristid Fomich, . . . I tried to be cleverer than I am .
. . I only received one hundred roubles."
"Go on!" said Kuvalda.
"And not four hundred as I told you . . . That means . . ."
"It does not mean anything. It is all the same to me whether you
lied or not. You owe me sixty-five roubles. That is not much,
"Oh! my Lord! Aristid Fomich! I have always been attentive to
your honour and done my best to please you."
"Drop all that, Egorka, grandchild of Judas!"
"All right! I will give it you . . . only God will punish you
for this. . . ."
"Silence! You rotten pimple of the earth!" shouted the Captain,
rolling his eyes. "He has punished me enough already in forcing
me to have conversation with you. . . . I will kill you on the
spot like a fly!"
He shook his fist in Vaviloff's face and ground his teeth till
they nearly broke.
After he had gone Vaviloff began smiling and winking to himself.
Then two large drops rolled down his cheeks. They were greyish,
and they hid themselves in his moustache, whilst two others
followed them. Then Vaviloff went into his own room and stood
before the icon, stood there without praying, immovable, with the
salt tears running down his wrinkled brown cheeks. . . .
* * * * *
Deacon Taras, who, as a rule, loved to loiter in the woods and
fields, proposed to the "creatures that once were men" that they
should go together into the fields, and there drink Vaviloff's
vodki in the bosom of Nature. But the Captain and all the rest
swore at the Deacon, and decided to drink it in the courtyard.
"One, two, three," counted Aristid Fomich; "our full number is
thirty, the teacher is not here . . . but probably many other
outcasts will come. Let us calculate, say, twenty persons, and
to every person two-and-a-half cucumbers, a pound of bread, and a
pound of meat . . . That won't be bad! One bottle of vodki
each, and there is plenty of sour cabbage, and three watermelons.
I ask you, what the devil could you want more, my scoundrel
friends? Now, then, let us prepare to devour Egorka Vaviloff,
because all this is his blood and body!"
They spread some old clothes on the ground, setting the
delicacies and the drink on them, and sat around the feast,
solemnly and quietly, but almost unable to control the craving
for drink that shone in their eyes.
The evening began to fall, and its shadows were cast on the human
refuse of the earth in the courtyard of the dosshouse; the last
rays of the sun illumined the roof of the tumble-down building.
The night was cold and silent.
"Let us begin, brothers!" commanded the Captain. "How many cups
have we? Six . . . and there are thirty of us! Aleksei
Maksimovitch, pour it out. Is it ready? Now then, the first
toast. . . Come along!"
They drank and shouted, and began to eat.
"The teacher is not here. . . I have not seen him for three
days. Has anyone seen him?" asked Kuvalda.
"It is unlike . . . Let us drink to the health of Aristid
Kuvalda . . . the only friend who has never deserted me for one
moment of my life! Devil take him all the same! I might have had
something to wear had he left my society at least for a little
"You are bitter . . ." said Abyedok, and coughed.
The Captain, with his feeling of superiority to the others, never
talked with his mouth full.
Having drunk twice, the company began to grow merry; the food was
grateful to them.
Paltara Taras expressed his desire to hear a tale, but the Deacon
was arguing with Kubaroff over his preferring thin women to stout
ones, and paid no attention to his friend's request. He was
asserting his views on the subject to Kubaroff with all the
decision of a man who was deeply convinced in his own mind.
The foolish face of Meteor, who was lying on the ground, showed
that he was drinking in the Deacon's strong words.
Martyanoff sat, clasping his large hairy hands round his knees,
looking silently and sadly at the bottle of vodki and pulling his
moustache as if trying to bite it with his teeth, while Abyedok
was teasing Tyapa.
"I have seen you watching the place where your money is hidden!"
"That is your luck," shouted Tyapa.
"I will go halves with you, brother."
"All right, take it and welcome."
Kuvalda felt angry with these men. Among them all there was not
one worthy of hearing his oratory or of understanding him.
"I wonder where the teacher is?" he asked loudly.
Martyanoff looked at him and said, "He will come soon . . ."
"I am positive that he will come, but he won't come in a
carriage. Let us drink to your future health. If you kill any
rich man go halves with me . . . then I shall go to America,
brother. To those . . . what do you call them? Limpas? Pampas?
I will go there, and I will work my way until I become the
President of the United States, and then I will challenge the
whole of Europe to war and I will blow it up! I will buy the
army . . . in Europe that is--I will invite the French, the
Germans, the Turks, and so on, and I will kill them by the hands
of their own relatives. . . Just as Elia Marumets bought a
Tartar with a Tartar. With money it would be possible even for
Elia to destroy the whole of Europe and to take Judas Petunikoff
for his valet. He would go. . . Give him a hundred roubles a
month and he would go! But he would be a bad valet, because he
would soon begin to steal . . ."
"Now, besides that, the thin woman is better than the stout one,
because she costs one less," said the Deacon, convincingly. "My
first Deaconess used to buy twelve arshins for her clothes, but
the second one only ten. . . And so on even in the matter of
provisions and food."
Paltara Taras smiled guiltily. Turning his head towards the
Deacon and looking straight at him, he said, with conviction:
"I had a wife once, too."
"Oh! That happens to everyone," remarked Kuvalda; "but go on
with your lies."
"She was thin, but she ate a lot, and even died from
"You poisoned her, you hunchback!" said Abyedok, confidently.
"No, by God! It was from eating sturgeon," said Paltara Taras.
"But I say that you poisoned her!" declared Abyedok, decisively.
It often happened, that having said something absolutely
impossible and without proof, he kept on repeating it, beginning
in a childish, capricious tone, and gradually raising his voice
to a mad shriek.
The Deacon stood up for his friend. "No; he did not poison her.
He had no reason to do so."
"But I say that he poisoned her!" swore Abyedok.
"Silence!" shouted the Captain, threateningly, becoming still
angrier. He looked at his friends with his blinking eyes, and
not discovering anything to further provoke his rage in their
half-tipsy faces, he lowered his head, sat still for a little
while, and then turned over on his back on the ground. Meteor
was biting cucumbers. He took a cucumber in his hand without
looking at it, put nearly half of it into his mouth, and bit it
with his yellow teeth, so that the juice spurted out in all
directions and ran over his cheeks. He did not seem to want to
eat, but this process pleased him. Martyanoff sat motionless on
the ground, like a statue, and looked in a dull manner at the
half-vedro bottle, already getting empty. Abyedok lay on his
belly and coughed, shaking all over his small body. The rest of
the dark, silent figures sat and lay around in all sorts of
positions, and their tatters made them look like untidy animals,
created by some strange, uncouth deity to make a mockery of man.
"There once lived a lady in Suzdale,
A strange lady,
She fell into hysterics,
sang the Deacon in low tones embracing Aleksei Maksimovitch, who
was smiling kindly into his face.
Paltara Taras giggled voluptuously.
The night was approaching. High up in the sky the stars were
shining . . . and on the mountain and in the town the lights of
the lamps were appearing. The whistles of the steamers were
heard all over the river, and the doors of Vaviloff's
eating-house opened noisily. Two dark figures entered the
courtyard, and one of them asked in a hoarse voice:
"Are you drinking?" And the other said in a jealous aside:
"Just see what devils they are!"
Then a hand stretched over the Deacon's head and took away the
bottle, and the characteristic sound of vodki being poured into a
glass was heard. Then they all protested loudly.
"Oh this is sad!" shouted the Deacon. "Krivoi, let us remember
the ancients! Let us sing 'On the Banks of the Babylonian
"But can he?" asked Simtsoff.
"He? He was a chorister in the Bishop's choir. Now then,
Krivoi! . . . "On the r-i-v-e-r-s--" The Deacon's voice was loud
and hoarse and cracked, but his friend sang in a shrill falsetto.
The dirty building loomed large in the darkness and seemed to be
coming nearer, threatening the singers, who were arousing its
dull echoes. The heavy, pompous clouds were floating in the sky
over their heads. One of the "creatures that once were men" was
snoring; the rest, not yet so drunk, ate and drank quietly or
spoke to each other at long intervals. It was unusual for
them to be in such low spirits during such a feast, with so much
vodki. Somehow the drink tonight did not seem to have its usual
"Stop howling, you dogs!" . . . said the Captain to the singers,
raising his head from the ground to listen. "Some one is passing
. . . in a droshky. . . ."
A droshky at such a time in the main street could not but attract
general attention. Who would risk crossing the ditches between
it and the town, and why? They all raised their heads and
listened. In the silence of the night the wheels were distinctly
heard. They came gradually nearer. A voice was heard asking
"Well, where then?"
Someone answered, "It must be there, that house."
"I shall not go any further."
"They are coming here!" shouted the Captain.
"The police!" someone whispered in great alarm.
"In a droshky! Fool!" said Martyanoff, quietly.
Kuvalda got up and went to the entrance.
"Is this a lodging-house?" asked someone, in a trembling voice.
"Yes. Belonging to Aristid Kuvalda . . ." said the Captain,
"Oh! Did a reporter, one Titoff, live here?"
"Aha! Have you brought him?"
"Yes . . ."
"That means he is very drunk. Ay, teacher! Now, then, get up!"
"Wait, I will help you . . . He is very ill . . . he has been
with me for the last two days . . . Take him under the arms . .
. The doctor has seen him. He is very bad."
Tyapa got up and walked to the entrance, but Abyedok laughed, and
took another drink.
"Strike a light, there!" shouted the Captain.
Meteor went into the house and lighted the lamp. Then a thin
line of light streamed out over the courtyard, and the Captain
and another man managed to get the teacher into the dosshouse.
His head was hanging on his breast, his feet trailed on the
ground, and his arms hung limply as if broken. With Tyapa's help
they placed him on a wide board. He was shivering all over.
"We worked on the same paper . . . he is very unlucky. . . . I
said, 'Stay in my house, you are not in my way,' . . . but he
begged me to send him 'home.' He was so excited about it that I
brought him here, thinking it might do him good. . . Home! This
is it, isn't it?"
"Do you suppose he has a home anywhere else?" asked Kuvalda,
roughly, looking at his friend. "Tyapa, fetch me some cold
"I fancy I am of no more use," remarked the man in some
confusion. The Captain looked at him critically. His clothes
were rather shiny, and tightly buttoned up to his chin. His
trousers were frayed, his hat almost yellow with age and crumpled
like his lean and hungry face.
"No, you are not necessary! We have plenty like you here," said
the Captain, turning away.
"Then, good-bye!" The man went to the door, and said quietly
from there, "If anything happens . . . let me know in the
publishing office. . . My name is Rijoff. I might write a short
obituary. . . You see he was an active member of the Press."
"H'm, an obituary, you say? Twenty lines forty kopecks? I will
do more than that. When he dies I will cut off one of his legs
and send it to you. That will be much more profitable than an
obituary. It will last you for three days. . . His legs are
fat. You devoured him when he was alive. You may as well
continue to do so after he is dead . . ."
The man sniffed strangely and disappeared. The Captain sat down
on the wooden board beside the teacher, felt his forehead and
breast with his hands and called "Philip!"
The sound re-echoed from the dirty walls of the dosshouse and
"This is absurd, brother," said the Captain, quietly arranging
the teacher's untidy hair with his hand. Then the Captain
listened to his breathing, which was rapid and uneven, and looked
at his sunken grey face. He sighed and looked upon him, knitting
his eyebrows. The lamp was a bad one. . . The light was fitful,
and dark shadows flickered on the dosshouse walls. The Captain
watched them, scratching his beard. Tyapa returned bringing a
vedro of water, and placing it by the teacher's head, he took his
arm as if to raise him up.
"The water is not necessary," and the Captain shook his head.
"But we must try to revive him," said the old ragcollector.
"Nothing is needed," said the Captain, decidedly.
They sat silently looking at the teacher.
"Let us go and drink, old devil!"
"Can you do him any good?"
Tyapa turned his back on the teacher, and both went out into the
courtyard to their companions.
"What is it?" asked Abyedok, turning his sharp nose to the old
man. The snoring of those who were asleep, and the tinkling
sound of pouring vodki was heard. . . The Deacon was murmuring
something. The clouds swam low, so low that it seemed as if they
would touch the roof of the house and knock it over on the group
"Ah! One feels sad when someone near at hand is dying," faltered
the Captain, with his head down. No one answered him.
"He was the best among you . . . the cleverest, the most
respectable. . . I mourn for him."
"Re-s-t with the Saints. . . Sing, you crooked hunchback!"
roared the Deacon, digging his friend in the ribs.
"Be quiet!" shouted Abyedok, jumping vengefully to his feet.
"I will give him one on the head," proposed Martyanoff, raising
his head from the ground.
"You are not asleep?" Aristid Fomich asked him very softly.
"Have you heard about our teacher?"
Martyanoff lazily got up from the ground, looked at the line of
light coming out of the dosshouse, shook his head and silently
sat down beside the Captain.
"Nothing particular. . . The man is dying . . ." remarked the
"Have they been beating him?" asked Abyedok, with great interest.
The Captain gave no answer. He was drinking vodki at the moment.
"They must have known we had something in which to commemorate
him after his death!" continued Abyedok, lighting a cigarette.
Someone laughed, someone sighed. Generally speaking, the
conversation of Abyedok and the Captain did not interest them,
and they hated having to think at all. They had always felt the
teacher to be an uncommon man, but now many of them were drunk
and the others sad and silent. Only the Deacon suddenly drew
himself up straight and howled wildly:
"And may the righteous r--e--s--t!"
"You idiot!" hissed Abyedok. "What are you howling for?"
"Fool!" said Tyapa's hoarse voice "When a man is dying one must
be quiet . . . so that he may have peace."
Silence reigned once more. The cloudy sky threatened thunder,
and the earth was covered with the thick darkness of an autumn
"Let us go on drinking!" proposed Kuvalda, filling up the
"I will go and see if he wants anything," said Tyapa.
"He wants a coffin!" jeered the Captain.
"Don't speak about that," begged Abyedok in a low voice.
Meteor rose and followed Tyapa. The Deacon tried to get up, but
fell and swore loudly.
When Tyapa had gone the Captain touched Martyanoff's shoulder and
said in low tones:
"Well, Martyanoff . . . You must feel it more than the others.
You were . . . But let that go to the Devil . . . Don't you pity
"No," said the ex-jailer, quietly, "I do not feel things of this
sort, brother . . . I have learned better . . . this life is
disgusting after all. I speak seriously when I say that I should
like to kill someone."
"Do you?" said the Captain, indistinctly. "Well . . . let's have
another drink . . . It's not a long job ours, a little drink and
then . . ."
The others began to wake up, and Simtsoff shouted in a blissful
voice: "Brothers! One of you pour out a glass for the old man!"
They poured out a glass and gave it to him. Having drunk it he
tumbled down again, knocking against another man as he fell. Two
or three minutes' silence ensued, dark as the autumn night.
"What do you say?"
"I say that he was a good man . . . a quiet and good man,"
whispered a low voice.
"Yes, and he had money, too . . . and he never refused it to a
friend . . ." Again silence ensued.
"He is dying!" said Tyapa, hoarsely, from behind the Captain's
head. Aristid Fomich got up, and went with firm steps into the
"Don't go!" Tyapa stopped him. "Don't go! You are drunk! It
is not right." The Captain stopped and thought.
"And what is right on this earth? Go to the Devil!" And he
pushed Tyapa aside.
On the walls of the dosshouse the shadows were creeping, seeming
to chase each other. The teacher lay on the board at full length
and snored. His eyes were wide open, his naked breast rose and
fell heavily, the corners of his mouth foamed, and on his face
was an expression as if he wished to say something very
important, but found it difficult to do so. The Captain stood
with his hands behind him, and looked at him in silence. He then
began in a silly way:
"Philip! Say something to me . . . a word of comfort to a friend
. . . come. . . . I love you, brother! . . . All men are
beasts. . . . You were the only man for me . . . though you were
a drunkard. Ah! how you did drink vodki, Philip! That was the
ruin of you! You ought to have listened to me, and controlled
yourself. . . . Did I not once say to you . . . ?"
The mysterious, all-destroying reaper, called Death, made up his
mind to finish the terrible work quickly, as if insulted by the
presence of this drunken man at the dark and solemn struggle.
The teacher sighed deeply, and quivered all over, stretched
himself out, and died. The Captain stood shaking to and fro, and
continued to talk to him.
"Do you want me to bring you vodki? But it is better that you
should not drink, Philip . . . control yourself or else drink!
Why should you really control yourself? For what reason, Philip?
For what reason?"
He took him by the foot and drew him closer to himself.
"Are you dozing, Philip? Well, then, sleep. . . . Good-night. .
. . To-morrow I shall explain all this to you, and you will
understand that it is not really necessary to deny yourself
anything. . . . But go on sleeping now . . . if you are not
He went out to his friends, followed by the deep silence, and
"Whether he is sleeping or dead, I do not know. . . . I am a
Tyapa bent further forward than usual and crossed himself
respectfully. Martyanoff dropped to the ground and lay there.
Abyedok moved quietly, and said in a low and wicked tone:
"May you all go to the Devil! Dead? What of that? Why should I
care? Why should I speak about it? It will be time enough when
I come to die myself. . . . I am not worse than other people."
"That is true," said the Captain, loudly, and fell to the ground.
"The time will come when we shall all die like others. . . . Ha!
ha! How shall we live? . . . That is nothing. . . . But we
shall die like every one else, and this is the whole end of life,
take my word for it. A man lives only to die, and he dies . . .
and if this be so what does it matter how or where he died or how
he lived? Am I right, Martyanoff? Let us therefore drink . . .
whilst we still have life!"
The rain began to fall. Thick, close darkness covered the
figures that lay scattered over the ground, half drunk, half
asleep. The light in the windows of the dosshouse flickered,
paled, and suddenly disappeared. Probably the wind blew it out
or else the oil was exhausted. The drops of rain sounded
strangely on the iron roof of the dosshouse. Above the mountain
where the town lay the ringing of bells was heard, rung by the
watchers in the churches. The brazen sound coming from the
belfry rang out into the dark and died away, and before its last
indistinct note was drowned another stroke was heard and the
monotonous silence was again broken by the melancholy clang of
* * * * *
The next morning Tyapa was the first to wake up. Lying on his
back he looked up into the sky. Only in such a position did his
deformed neck permit him to see the clouds above his head.
This morning the sky was of a uniform grey. Up there hung the
damp, cold mist of dawn, almost extinguishing the sun, hiding the
unknown vastness behind and pouring despondency over the earth.
Tyapa crossed himself, and leaning on his elbow, looked round to
see whether there was any vodki left. The bottle was there, but
it was empty. Crossing over his companions he looked into the
glasses from which they had drunk, found one of them almost full,
emptied it, wiped his lips with his sleeve, and began to shake
The Captain raised his head and looked at him with sad eyes.
"We must inform the police. . . Get up!"
"Of what?" asked the Captain, sleepily and angrily.
"What, is he not dead? . . ."
"The learned one. . . ."
"Did you forget? . . . Alas!" said Tyapa, hoarsely. The Captain
rose to his feet, yawned and stretched himself till all his bones
"Well, then! Go and give information. . ."
"I will not go . . . I do not like them," said the Captain,
"Well, then, wake up the Deacon. . . I shall go, at any rate."
"All right! . . . Deacon, get up!"
The Captain entered the dosshouse, and stood at the teacher's
feet. The dead man lay at full length, his left hand on his
breast, the right hand held as if ready to strike some one.
The Captain thought that if the teacher got up now, he would be
as tall as Paltara Taras. Then he sat by the side of the dead
man and sighed, as he remembered that they had lived together for
the last three years. Tyapa entered holding his head like a goat
which is ready to butt.
He sat down quietly and seriously on the opposite side of the
teacher's body, looked into the dark, silent face, and began to
"So . . . he is dead . . . I too shall die soon. . ."
"It is quite time for that!" said the Captain, gloomily.
"It is," Tyapa agreed. "You ought to die too. . . Anything is
better than this. . . "
"But perhaps death might be worse? How do you know?"
"It could not be worse. When you die you have only God to deal
with . . . but here you have to deal with men . . . and men--what
"Enough! . . . Be quiet!" interrupted Kuvalda, angrily.
And in the dawn, which filled the dosshouse, a solemn stillness
reigned over all. Long and silently they sat at the feet of
their dead companion, seldom looking at him, and both plunged in
thought. Then Tyapa asked:
"Will you bury him?"
"I? No, let the police bury him!"
"You took money from Vaviloff for this petition . . . and I will
give you some if you have not enough." . . .
"Though I have his money . . . still I shall not bury him."
"That is not right. You are robbing the dead. I will tell them
all that you want to keep his money. . . ." Tyapa threatened
"You are a fool, you old devil!" said Kuvalda, contemptuously.
"I am not a fool . . . but it is not right nor friendly."
"Enough! Be off!"
"How much money is there?"
"Twenty-five roubles, . . ." said Kuvalda, absently.
"So! . . . You might gain a five-rouble note. . . ."
"You old scoundrel! . . ." And looking into Tyapa's face the
"Well, what? Give . . ."
"Go to the Devil! . . . I am going to spend this money in
erecting a monument to him."
"What does he want that for?"
"I will buy a stone and an anchor. I shall place the stone on
the grass, and attach the anchor to it with a very heavy chain."
"Why? You are playing tricks . . ."
"Well . . . It is no business of yours."
"Look out! I shall tell . . ." again threatened Tyapa.
Aristid Fomich looked at him sullenly and said nothing. Again
they sat there in that silence which, in the presence of the
dead, is so full of mystery.
"Listen . . . They are coming!" Tyapa got up and went out of
Then there appeared at the door the Doctor, the Police Inspector
of the district, and the examining Magistrate or Coroner. All
three came in turn, looked at the dead teacher, and then went
out, throwing suspicious glances at Kuvalda. He sat there,
without taking any notice of them, until the Police Inspector
"Of what did he die?"
"Ask him. . . I think his evil life hastened his end."
"What?" asked the Coroner.
"I say that he died of a disease to which he had not been
accustomed . . ."
"H'm, yes. Had he been ill long?"
"Bring him over here, I cannot see him properly," said the Doctor
in a melancholy tone. "Probably there are signs of . . ."
"Now, then, ask someone here to carry him out!" the Police
Inspector ordered Kuvalda.
"Go and ask them yourself! He is not in my way here . . ." the
Captain replied, indifferently.
"Well! . . ." shouted the Inspector, making a ferocious face.
"Phew!" answered Kuvalda, without moving from his place and
gnashing his teeth restlessly.
"The Devil take it!" shouted the Inspector, so madly that the
blood rushed to his face. "I'll make you pay for this! I'll--"
"Good morning, gentlemen!" said the merchant Petunikoff, with a
sweet smile, making his appearance in the doorway.
He looked round, trembled, took off his cap and crossed himself.
Then a pompous, wicked smile crossed his face, and, looking at
the Captain, he inquired respectfully:
"What has happened? Has there been a murder here?"
"Yes, something of that sort," replied the Coroner.
Petunikoff sighed deeply, crossed himself again, and spoke in an
"By God! It is just as I feared. It always ends in your having
to come here. . . Ay, ay, ay! God save everyone. Times without
number have I refused to lease this house to this man, and he has
always won me over, and I was afraid. You know. . . They are
such awful people . . . better give it them, I thought, or else .
He covered his face with his hands, tugged at his beard, and
"They are very dangerous men, and this man here is their leader .
. . the attaman of the robbers."
"But we will make him smart!" promised the Inspector, looking at
the Captain with revengeful eyes.
"Yes, brother, we are old friends of yours . . ." said Kuvalda in
a familiar tone. "How many times have I paid you to be quiet?"
"Gentlemen!" shouted the Inspector, "did you hear him? I want
you to bear witness to this. Aha, I shall make short work of
you, my friend, remember!"
"Don't count your chickens before they are hatched . . . my
friend," said Aristid Fomich.
The Doctor, a young man with eye-glasses, looked at him
curiously, the Coroner with an attention that boded him no good,
Petunikoff with triumph, while the Inspector could hardly
restrain himself from throwing himself upon him.
The dark figure of Martyanoff appeared at the door of the
dosshouse. He entered quietly, and stood behind Petunikoff, so
that his chin was on a level with the merchant's head. Behind
him stood the Deacon, opening his small, swollen, red eyes.
"Let us be doing something, gentlemen," suggested the Doctor.
Martyanoff made an awful grimace, and suddenly sneezed on
Petunikoff's head. The latter gave a yell, sat down hurriedly,
and then jumped aside, almost knocking down the Inspector, into
whose open arms he fell.
"Do you see," said the frightened merchant, pointing to
Martyanoff, "do you see what kind of men they are?"
Kuvalda burst out laughing. The Doctor and the Coroner smiled
too, and at the door of the dosshouse the group of figures was
increasing . . . sleepy figures, with swollen faces, red,
inflamed eyes, and dishevelled hair, staring rudely at the
Doctor, the Coroner, and the Inspector.
"Where are you going?" said the policeman on guard at the door,
catching hold of their tatters and pushing them aside. But he
was one against many, and, without taking any notice, they all
entered and stood there, reeking of vodki, silent and
Kuvalda glanced at them, then at the authorities, who were angry
at the intrusion of these ragamuffins, and said, smilingly,
"Gentlemen, perhaps you would like to make the acquaintance of my
lodgers and friends? Would you? But, whether you wish it or
not, you will have to make their acquaintance sooner or later in
the course of your duties."
The Doctor smiled in an embarrassed way. The Coroner pressed his
lips together, and the Inspector saw that it was time to go.
Therefore, he shouted:
"Sideroff! Whistle! Tell them to bring a cart here."
"I will go," said Petunikoff, coming forward from a corner. "You
had better take it away to-day, sir, I want to pull down this
hole. Go away! or else I shall apply to the police!"
The policeman's whistle echoed through the courtyard. At the
door of the dosshouse its inhabitants stood in a group, yawning,
and scratching themselves.
"And so you do not wish to be introduced? That is rude of you!"
laughed Aristid Fomich.
Petunikoff took his purse from his pocket, took out two
five-kopeck pieces, put them at the feet of the dead man, and
"God have mercy . . . on the burial of the sinful . . ."
"What!" yelled the Captain, "you give for the burial? Take them
away, I say, you scoundrel! How dare you give your stolen
kopecks for the burial of an honest man? I will tear you limb
"Your Honour!" cried the terrified merchant to the Inspector,
seizing him by the elbow. The Doctor and the Coroner jumped
aside. The Inspector shouted:
"Sideroff, come here!"
"The creatures that once were men" stood along the wall, looking
and listening with an interest, which put new life into their
Kuvalda, shaking his fist at Petunikoff's head, roared and rolled
his eyes like a wild beast.
"Scoundrel and thief! Take back your money! Dirty worm! Take
it back, I say . . . or else I shall cram it down your throat. .
. . Take your five-kopeck pieces!"
Petunikoff put out his trembling hand towards his mite, and
protecting his head from Kuvalda's fist with the other hand,
"You are my witnesses, Sir Inspector, and you good people!"
"We are not good people, merchant!" said the voice of Abyedok,
trembling with anger.
The Inspector whistled impatiently, with his other hand
protecting Petunikoff, who was stooping in front of him as if
trying to enter his belly.
"You dirty toad! I shall compel you to kiss the feet of the dead
man. How would you like that?" And catching Petunikoff by the
neck, Kuvalda hurled him against the door, as if he had been a
The "creatures that once were men" sprang aside quickly to let
the merchant fall. And down he fell at their feet, crying
"Murder! Help! Murder!"
Martyanoff slowly raised his foot, and brought it down heavily on
the merchant's head. Abyedok spat in his face with a grin. The
merchant, creeping on all-fours, threw himself into the
courtyard, at which everyone laughed. But by this time the two
policemen had arrived, and pointing to Kuvalda, the Inspector
"Arrest him, and bind him hand and foot!"
"You dare not! . . . I shall not run away. . . I will go
wherever you wish, . ." said Kuvalda, freeing himself from the
policemen at his side.
The "creatures that once were men" disappeared one after the
other. A cart entered the yard. Some ragged wretches brought
out the dead man's body.
"I'll teach you! You just wait!" thundered the Inspector at
"How now, attaman?" asked Petunikoff, maliciously, excited and
pleased at the sight of his enemy in bonds. "What, you fell into
the trap? Eh? You just wait . . ."
But Kuvalda was quiet now. He stood strangely straight and
silent between the two policemen, watching the teacher's body
being placed in the cart. The man who was holding the head of
the corpse was very short, and could not manage to place it on
the cart at the same time as the legs. For a moment the body
hung as if it would fall to the ground, and hide itself beneath
the earth, away from these foolish and wicked disturbers of its
"Take him away!" ordered the Inspector, pointing to the Captain.
Kuvalda silently moved forward without protestation, passing the
cart on which was the teacher's body. He bowed his head before
it without looking. Martyanoff, with his strong face, followed
him. The courtyard of the merchant Petunikoff emptied quickly.
"Now then, go on!" called the driver, striking the horses with
the whip. The cart moved off over the rough surface of the
courtyard. The teacher was covered with a heap of rags, and his
belly projected from beneath them. It seemed as if he were
laughing quietly at the prospect of leaving the dosshouse, never,
never to return. Petunikoff, who was following him with his
eyes, crossed himself, and then began to shake the dust and
rubbish off his clothes, and the more he shook himself the more
pleased and self satisfied did he feel. He saw the tall figure
of Aristid Fomich Kuvalda, in a grey cap with a red band, with
his arms bound behind his back, being led away.
Petunikoff smiled the smile of the conqueror, and went back into
the dosshouse, but suddenly he stopped and trembled. At the door
facing him stood an old man with a stick in his hand and a large
bag on his back, a horrible old man in rags and tatters, which
covered his bony figure. He bent under the weight of his burden,
and lowered his head on his breast, as if he wished to attack the
"What are you? Who are you?" shouted Petunikoff.
"A man . . ." he answered in a hoarse voice. This hoarseness
pleased and tranquillised Petunikoff, he even smiled.
"A man! And are there really men like you?" Stepping aside he
let the old man pass. He went, saying slowly:
"Men are of various kinds . . . as God wills. . . There are
worse than me . . . still worse . . . Yes . . ."
The cloudy sky hung silently over the dirty yard and over the
cleanly-dressed man with the pointed beard, who was walking about
there, measuring distances with his steps and with his sharp
eyes. On the roof of the old house a crow perched and croaked,
thrusting its head now backwards, now forwards. In the lowering
grey clouds, which hid the sky, there was something hard and
merciless, as if they had gathered together to wash all the dirt
off the face of this unfortunate, suffering, and sorrowful earth.
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