AN OLD MAN'S STORY
I will tell you my adventures with a watch. It is a curious story.
It happened at the very beginning of this century, in 1801. I had just reached my sixteenth year. I was living at Ryazan in a little wooden house not far from the bank of the river Oka with my father, my aunt and my cousin; my mother I do not remember; she died three years after her marriage; my father had no other children. His name was Porfiry Petrovitch. He was a quiet man, sickly and unattractive in appearance; he was employed in some sort of legal and--other--business. In old days such were called attorneys, sharpers, nettle-seeds; he called himself a lawyer. Our domestic life was presided over by his sister, my aunt, an old maiden lady of fifty; my father, too, had passed his fourth decade. My aunt was very pious, or, to speak bluntly, she was a canting hypocrite and a chattering magpie, who poked her nose into everything; and, indeed, she had not a kind heart like my father. We were not badly off, but had nothing to spare. My father had a brother called Yegor; but he had been sent to Siberia in the year 1797 for some "seditious acts and Jacobin tendencies" (those were the words of the accusation).
Yegor's son David, my cousin, was left on my father's hands and lived with us. He was only one year older than I; but I respected him and obeyed him as though he were quite grown up. He was a sensible fellow with character; in appearance, thick-set and broad-shouldered with a square face covered with freckles, with red hair, small grey eyes, thick lips, a short nose, and short fingers--a sturdy lad, in fact--and strong for his age! My aunt could not endure him; my father was positively afraid of him ... or perhaps he felt himself to blame towards him. There was a rumour that, if my father had not given his brother away, David's father would not have been sent to Siberia. We were both at the high school and in the same class and both fairly high up in it; I was, indeed, a little better at my lessons than David. I had a good memory but boys--as we all know!--do not think much of such superiority, and David remained my leader.
My name--you know--is Alexey. I was born on the seventh of March and my name-day is the seventeenth. In accordance with the old-fashioned custom, I was given the name of the saint whose festival fell on the tenth day after my birth. My godfather was a certain Anastasy Anastasyevitch Putchkov, or more exactly Nastasey Nastasyeitch, for that was what everyone called him. He was a terribly shifty, pettifogging knave and bribe-taker--a thoroughly bad man; he had been turned out of the provincial treasury and had had to stand his trial on more than one occasion; he was often of use to my father.... They used to "do business" together. In appearance he was a round, podgy figure; and his face was like a fox's with a nose like an owl's. His eyes were brown, bright, also like a fox's, and he was always moving them, those eyes, to right and to left, and he twitched his nose, too, as though he were sniffing the air. He wore shoes without heels, and wore powder every day, which was looked upon as very exceptional in the provinces. He used to declare that he could not go without powder as he had to associate with generals and their ladies. Well, my name-day had come. Nastasey Nastasyeitch came to the house and said:
"I have never made you a present up to now, godson, but to make up for that, look what a fine thing I have brought you to-day."
And he took out of his pocket a silver watch, a regular turnip, with a rose tree engraved on the face and a brass chain. I was overwhelmed with delight, while my aunt, Pelageya Petrovna, shouted at the top of her voice:
"Kiss his hand, kiss his hand, dirty brat!"
I proceeded to kiss my godfather's hand, while my aunt went piping on:
"Oh, Nastasey Nastasyeitch! Why do you spoil him like this? How can he take care of a watch? He will be sure to drop it, break it, or spoil it."
My father walked in, looked at the watch, thanked Nastasey Nastasyeitch--somewhat carelessly, and invited him to his study. And I heard my father say, as though to himself:
"If you think to get off with that, my man...." But I could not stay still. I put on the watch and rushed headlong to show my present to David.
David took the watch, opened it and examined it attentively. He had great mechanical ability; he liked having to do with iron, copper, and metals of all sorts; he had provided himself with various instruments, and it was nothing for him to mend or even to make a screw, a key or anything of that kind.
David turned the watch about in his hands and muttering through his teeth (he was not talkative as a rule):
"Oh ... poor ..." added, "where did you get it?"
I told him that my godfather had given it me.
David turned his little grey eyes upon me:
"Yes, Nastasey Nastasyeitch."
David laid the watch on the table and walked away without a word.
"Do you like it?" I asked.
"Well, it isn't that.... But if I were you, I would not take any sort of present from Nastasey."
"Because he is a contemptible person; and you ought not to be under an obligation to a contemptible person. And to say thank you to him, too. I suppose you kissed his hand?"
"Yes, Aunt made me."
David grinned--a peculiar grin--to himself. That was his way. He never laughed aloud; he considered laughter a sign of feebleness.
David's words, his silent grin, wounded me deeply. "So he inwardly despises me," I thought. "So I, too, am contemptible in his eyes. He would never have stooped to this himself! He would not have accepted presents from Nastasey. But what am I to do now?"
Give back the watch? Impossible!
I did try to talk to David, to ask his advice. He told me that he never gave advice to anyone and that I had better do as I thought best. As I thought best!! I remember I did not sleep all night afterwards: I was in agonies of indecision. I was sorry to lose the watch--I had laid it on the little table beside my bed; its ticking was so pleasant and amusing ... but to feel that David despised me (yes, it was useless to deceive myself, he did despise me) ... that seemed to me unbearable. Towards morning a determination had taken shape in me ... I wept, it is true--but I fell asleep upon it, and as soon as I woke up, I dressed in haste and ran out into the street. I had made up my mind to give my watch to the first poor person I met.
I had not run far from home when I hit upon what I was looking for. I came across a barelegged boy of ten, a ragged urchin, who was often hanging about near our house. I dashed up to him at once and, without giving him or myself time to recover, offered him my watch.
The boy stared at me round-eyed, put one hand before his mouth, as though he were afraid of being scalded--and held out the other.
"Take it, take it," I muttered, "it's mine, I give it you, you can sell it, and buy yourself ... something you want.... Good-bye."
I thrust the watch into his hand--and went home at a gallop. Stopping for a moment at the door of our common bedroom to recover my breath, I went up to David who had just finished dressing and was combing his hair.
"Do you know what, David?" I said in as unconcerned a tone as I could, "I have given away Nastasey's watch."
David looked at me and passed the brush over his temples.
"Yes," I added in the same businesslike voice, "I have given it away. There is a very poor boy, a beggar, you know, so I have given it to him."
David put down the brush on the washing-stand.
"He can buy something useful," I went on, "with the money he can get for it. Anyway, he will get something for it."
"Well," David said at last, "that's a good thing," and he went off to the schoolroom. I followed him.
"And if they ask you what you have done with it?" he said, turning to me.
"I shall tell them I've lost it," I answered carelessly.
No more was said about the watch between us that day; but I had the feeling that David not only approved of what I had done but ... was to some extent surprised by it. He really was!
Two days more passed. It happened that no one in the house thought of the watch. My father was taken up with a very serious unpleasantness with one of his clients; he had no attention to spare for me or my watch. I, on the other hand, thought of it without ceasing! Even the approval ... the presumed approval of David did not quite comfort me. He did not show it in any special way: the only thing he said, and that casually, was that he hadn't expected such recklessness of me. Certainly I was a loser by my sacrifice: it was not counter-balanced by the gratification afforded me by my vanity.
And what is more, as ill-luck would have it, another schoolfellow of ours, the son of the town doctor, must needs turn up and begin boasting of a new watch, a present from his grandmother, and not even a silver, but a pinch-back one....
I could not bear it, at last, and, without a word to anyone, slipped out of the house and proceeded to hunt for the beggar boy to whom I had given my watch.
I soon found him; he was playing knucklebones in the churchyard with some other boys.
I called him aside--and, breathless and stammering, told him that my family were angry with me for having given away the watch--and that if he would consent to give it back to me I would gladly pay him for it.... To be ready for any emergency, I had brought with me an old-fashioned rouble of the reign of Elizabeth, which represented the whole of my fortune.
"But I haven't got it, your watch," answered the boy in an angry and tearful voice; "my father saw it and took it away from me; and he was for thrashing me, too. 'You must have stolen it from somewhere,' he said. 'What fool is going to make you a present of a watch?'"
"And who is your father?"
"My father? Trofimitch."
"But what is he? What's his trade?"
"He is an old soldier, a sergeant. And he has no trade at all. He mends old shoes, he re-soles them. That's all his trade. That's what he lives by."
"Where do you live? Take me to him."
"To be sure I will. You tell my father that you gave me the watch. For he keeps pitching into me, and calling me a thief! And my mother, too. 'Who is it you are taking after,' she says, 'to be a thief?'"
I set off with the boy to his home. They lived in a smoky hut in the back-yard of a factory, which had long ago been burnt down and not rebuilt. We found both Trofimitch and his wife at home. The discharged sergeant was a tall old man, erect and sinewy, with yellowish grey whiskers, an unshaven chin and a perfect network of wrinkles on his cheeks and forehead. His wife looked older than he. Her red eyes, which looked buried in her unhealthily puffy face, kept blinking dejectedly. Some sort of dark rags hung about them by way of clothes.
I explained to Trofimitch what I wanted and why I had come. He listened to me in silence without once winking or moving from me his stupid and strained--typically soldierly--eyes.
"Whims and fancies!" he brought out at last in a husky, toothless bass. "Is that the way gentlemen behave? And if Petka really did not steal the watch--then I'll give him one for that! To teach him not to play the fool with little gentlemen! And if he did steal it, then I would give it to him in a very different style, whack, whack, whack! With the flat of a sword; in horseguard's fashion! No need to think twice about it! What's the meaning of it? Eh? Go for them with sabres! Here's a nice business! Tfoo!"
This last interjection Trofimitch pronounced in a falsetto. He was obviously perplexed.
"If you are willing to restore the watch to me," I explained to him--I did not dare to address him familiarly in spite of his being a soldier--"I will with pleasure pay you this rouble here. The watch is not worth more, I imagine."
"Well!" growled Trofimitch, still amazed and, from old habit, devouring me with his eyes as though I were his superior officer. "It's a queer business, eh? Well, there it is, no understanding it. Ulyana, hold your tongue!" he snapped out at his wife who was opening her mouth. "Here's the watch," he added, opening the table drawer; "if it really is yours, take it by all means; but what's the rouble for? Eh?"
"Take the rouble, Trofimitch, you senseless man," wailed his wife. "You have gone crazy in your old age! We have not a half-rouble between us, and then you stand on your dignity! It was no good their cutting off your pigtail, you are a regular old woman just the same! How can you go on like that--when you know nothing about it? ... Take the money, if you have a fancy to give back the watch!"
"Ulyana, hold your tongue, you dirty slut!" Trofimitch repeated. "Whoever heard of such a thing, talking away? Eh? The husband is the head; and yet she talks! Petka, don't budge, I'll kill you.... Here's the watch!"
Trofimitch held out the watch to me, but did not let go of it.
He pondered, looked down, then fixed the same intent, stupid stare upon me. Then all at once bawled at the top of his voice:
"Where is it? Where's your rouble?"
"Here it is, here it is," I responded hurriedly and I snatched the coin out of my pocket.
But he did not take it, he still stared at me. I laid the rouble on the table. He suddenly brushed it into the drawer, thrust the watch into my hand and wheeling to the left with a loud stamp, he hissed at his wife and his son:
"Get along, you low wretches!"
Ulyana muttered something, but I had already dashed out into the yard and into the street. Thrusting the watch to the very bottom of my pocket and clutching it tightly in my hand, I hurried home.
I had regained the possession of my watch but it afforded me no satisfaction whatever. I did not venture to wear it, it was above all necessary to conceal from David what I had done. What would he think of me, of my lack of will? I could not even lock up the luckless watch in a drawer: we had all our drawers in common. I had to hide it, sometimes on the top of the cupboard, sometimes under my mattress, sometimes behind the stove.... And yet I did not succeed in hoodwinking David.
One day I took the watch from under a plank in the floor of our room and proceeded to rub the silver case with an old chamois leather glove. David had gone off somewhere in the town; I did not at all expect him to be back quickly.... Suddenly he was in the doorway.
I was so overcome that I almost dropped the watch, and, utterly disconcerted, my face painfully flushing crimson, I fell to fumbling about my waistcoat with it, unable to find my pocket.
David looked at me and, as usual, smiled without speaking.
"What's the matter?" he brought out at last. "You imagined I didn't know you had your watch again? I saw it the very day you brought it back."
"I assure you," I began, almost on the point of tears....
David shrugged his shoulders.
"The watch is yours, you are free to do what you like with it."
Saying these cruel words, he went out.
I was overwhelmed with despair. This time there could be no doubt! David certainly despised me.
I could not leave it so.
"I will show him," I thought, clenching my teeth, and at once with a firm step I went into the passage, found our page-boy, Yushka, and presented him with the watch!
Yushka would have refused it, but I declared that if he did not take the watch from me I would smash it that very minute, trample it under foot, break it to bits and throw it in the cesspool! He thought a moment, giggled, and took the watch. I went back to our room and seeing David reading there, I told him what I had done.
David did not take his eyes off the page and, again shrugging his shoulder and smiling to himself, repeated that the watch was mine and that I was free to do what I liked with it.
But it seemed to me that he already despised me a little less.
I was fully persuaded that I should never again expose myself to the reproach of weakness of character, for the watch, the disgusting present from my disgusting godfather, had suddenly grown so distasteful to me that I was quite incapable of understanding how I could have regretted it, how I could have begged for it back from the wretched Trofimitch, who had, moreover, the right to think that he had treated me with generosity.
Several days passed.... I remember that on one of them the great news reached our town that the Emperor Paul was dead and his son Alexandr, of whose graciousness and humanity there were such favourable rumours, had ascended the throne. This news excited David intensely: the possibility of seeing--of shortly seeing--his father occurred to him at once. My father was delighted, too.
"They will bring back all the exiles from Siberia now and I expect brother Yegor will not be forgotten," he kept repeating, rubbing his hands, coughing and, at the same time, seeming rather nervous.
David and I at once gave up working and going to the high school; we did not even go for walks but sat in a corner counting and reckoning in how many months, in how many weeks, in how many days "brother Yegor" ought to come back and where to write to him and how to go to meet him and in what way we should begin to live afterwards. "Brother Yegor" was an architect: David and I decided that he ought to settle in Moscow and there build big schools for poor people and we would go to be his assistants. The watch, of course, we had completely forgotten; besides, David had new cares.... Of them I will speak later, but the watch was destined to remind us of its existence again.
One morning we had only just finished lunch--I was sitting alone by the window thinking of my uncle's release--outside there was the steam and glitter of an April thaw--when all at once my aunt, Pelageya Petrovna, walked into the room. She was at all times restless and fidgetty, she spoke in a shrill voice and was always waving her arms about; on this occasion she simply pounced on me.
"Go along, go to your father at once, sir!" she snapped out. "What pranks have you been up to, you shameless boy! You will catch it, both of you. Nastasey Nastasyeitch has shown up all your tricks! Go along, your father wants you.... Go along this very minute."
Understanding nothing, I followed my aunt, and, as I crossed the threshold of the drawing-room, I saw my father, striding up and down and ruffling up his hair, Yushka in tears by the door and, sitting on a chair in the corner, my godfather, Nastasey Nastasyeitch, with an expression of peculiar malignancy in his distended nostrils and in his fiery, slanting eyes.
My father swooped down upon me as soon as I walked in.
"Did you give your watch to Yushka? Tell me!"
I glanced at Yushka.
"Tell me," repeated my father, stamping.
"Yes," I answered, and immediately received a stinging slap in the face, which afforded my aunt great satisfaction. I heard her gulp, as though she had swallowed some hot tea. From me my father ran to Yushka.
"And you, you rascal, ought not to have dared to accept such a present," he said, pulling him by the hair: "and you sold it, too, you good-for-nothing boy!"
Yushka, as I learned later had, in the simplicity of his heart, taken my watch to a neighbouring watchmaker's. The watchmaker had displayed it in his shop-window; Nastasey Nastasyeitch had seen it, as he passed by, bought it and brought it along with him.
However, my ordeal and Yushka's did not last long: my father gasped for breath, and coughed till he choked; indeed, it was not in his character to be angry long.
"Brother, Porfiry Petrovitch," observed my aunt, as soon as she noticed not without regret that my father's anger had, so to speak, flickered out, "don't you worry yourself further: it's not worth dirtying your hands over. I tell you what I suggest: with the consent of our honoured friend, Nastasey Nastasyeitch, in consideration of the base ingratitude of your son--I will take charge of the watch; and since he has shown by his conduct that he is not worthy to wear it and does not even understand its value, I will present it in your name to a person who will be very sensible of your kindness."
"Whom do you mean?" asked my father.
"To Hrisanf Lukitch," my aunt articulated, with slight hesitation.
"To Hrisashka?" asked my father, and with a wave of his hand, he added: "It's all one to me. You can throw it in the stove, if you like."
He buttoned up his open vest and went out, writhing from his coughing.
"And you, my good friend, do you agree?" said my aunt, addressing Nastasey Nastasyeitch.
"I am quite agreeable," responded the latter. During the whole proceedings he had not stirred and only snorting stealthily and stealthily rubbing the ends of his fingers, had fixed his foxy eyes by turns on me, on my father, and on Yushka. We afforded him real gratification!
My aunt's suggestion revolted me to the depths of my soul. It was not that I regretted the watch; but the person to whom she proposed to present it was absolutely hateful to me. This Hrisanf Lukitch (his surname was Trankvillitatin), a stalwart, robust, lanky divinity student, was in the habit of coming to our house--goodness knows what for!--to help the children with their lessons, my aunt asserted; but he could not help us with our lessons because he had never learnt anything himself and was as stupid as a horse. He was rather like a horse altogether: he thudded with his feet as though they had been hoofs, did not laugh but neighed, opening his jaws till you could see right down his throat--and he had a long face, a hooked nose and big, flat jaw-bones; he wore a shaggy frieze, full-skirted coat, and smelt of raw meat. My aunt idolised him and called him a good-looking man, a cavalier and even a grenadier. He had a habit of tapping children on the forehead with the nails of his long fingers, hard as stones (he used to do it to me when I was younger), and as he tapped he would chuckle and say with surprise: "How your head resounds, it must be empty." And this lout was to possess my watch!--No, indeed, I determined in my own mind as I ran out of the drawing-room and flung myself on my bed, while my cheek glowed crimson from the slap I had received and my heart, too, was aglow with the bitterness of the insult and the thirst for revenge--no, indeed! I would not allow that cursed Hrisashka to jeer at me.... He would put on the watch, let the chain hang over his stomach, would neigh with delight; no, indeed!
"Quite so, but how was it to be done, how to prevent it?"
I determined to steal the watch from my aunt.
Luckily Trankvillitatin was away from the town at the time: he could not come to us before the next day; I must take advantage of the night! My aunt did not lock her bedroom door and, indeed, none of the keys in the house would turn in the locks; but where would she put the watch, where would she hide it? She kept it in her pocket till the evening and even took it out and looked at it more than once; but at night--where would it be at night?--Well, that was just my work to find out, I thought, shaking my fists.
I was burning with boldness and terror and joy at the thought of the approaching crime. I was continually nodding to myself; I knitted my brows. I whispered: "Wait a bit!" I threatened someone, I was wicked, I was dangerous ... and I avoided David!--no one, not even he, must have the slightest suspicion of what I meant to do....
I would act alone and alone I would answer for it!
Slowly the day lagged by, then the evening, at last the night came. I did nothing; I even tried not to move: one thought was stuck in my head like a nail. At dinner my father, who was, as I have said, naturally gentle, and who was a little ashamed of his harshness--boys of sixteen are not slapped in the face--tried to be affectionate to me; but I rejected his overtures, not from slowness to forgive, as he imagined at the time, but simply that I was afraid of my feelings getting the better of me; I wanted to preserve untouched all the heat of my vengeance, all the hardness of unalterable determination. I went to bed very early; but of course I did not sleep and did not even shut my eyes, but on the contrary opened them wide, though I did pull the quilt over my head. I did not consider beforehand how to act. I had no plan of any kind; I only waited till everything should be quiet in the house. I only took one step: I did not remove my stockings. My aunt's room was on the second floor. One had to pass through the dining-room and the hall, go up the stairs, pass along a little passage and there ... on the right was the door! I must not on any account take with me a candle or a lantern; in the corner of my aunt's room a little lamp was always burning before the ikon shrine; I knew that. So I should be able to see. I still lay with staring eyes and my mouth open and parched; the blood was throbbing in my temples, in my ears, in my throat, in my back, all over me! I waited ... but it seemed as though some demon were mocking me; time passed and passed but still silence did not reign.
Never, I thought, had David been so late getting to sleep.... David, the silent David, even began talking to me! Never had they gone on so long banging, talking, walking about the house! And what could they be talking about? I wondered; as though they had not had the whole day to talk in! Sounds outside persisted, too; first a dog barked on a shrill, obstinate note; then a drunken peasant was making an uproar somewhere and would not be pacified; then gates kept creaking; then a wretched cart on racketty wheels kept passing and passing and seeming as though it would never pass! However, these sounds did not worry me: on the contrary, I was glad of them; they seemed to distract my attention. But now at last it seemed as though all were tranquil. Only the pendulum of our old clock ticked gravely and drowsily in the dining-room and there was an even drawn-out sound like the hard breathing of people asleep. I was on the point of getting up, then again something rustled ... then suddenly sighed, something soft fell down ... and a whisper glided along the walls.
Or was there nothing of the sort--and was it only imagination mocking me?
At last all was still. It was the very heart, the very dead of night. The time had come! Chill with anticipation, I threw off the bedclothes, let my feet down to the floor, stood up ... one step; a second.... I stole along, my feet, heavy as though they did not belong to me, trod feebly and uncertainly. Stay! what was that sound? Someone sawing, somewhere, or scraping ... or sighing? I listened ... I felt my cheeks twitching and cold watery tears came into my eyes. Nothing! ... I stole on again. It was dark but I knew the way. All at once I stumbled against a chair.... What a bang and how it hurt! It hit me just on my leg.... I stood stock still. Well, did that wake them? Ah! here goes! Suddenly I felt bold and even spiteful. On! On! Now the dining-room was crossed, then the door was groped for and opened at one swing. The cursed hinge squeaked, bother it! Then I went up the stairs, one! two! one! two! A step creaked under my foot; I looked at it spitefully, just as though I could see it. Then I stretched for the handle of another door. This one made not the slightest sound! It flew open so easily, as though to say, "Pray walk in." ... And now I was in the corridor!
In the corridor there was a little window high up under the ceiling, a faint light filtered in through the dark panes. And in that glimmer of light I could see our little errand girl lying on the floor on a mat, both arms behind her tousled head; she was sound asleep, breathing rapidly and the fatal door was just behind her head. I stepped across the mat, across the girl ... who opened that door? ... I don't know, but there I was in my aunt's room. There was the little lamp in one corner and the bed in the other and my aunt in her cap and night jacket on the bed with her face towards me. She was asleep, she did not stir, I could not even hear her breathing. The flame of the little lamp softly flickered, stirred by the draught of fresh air, and shadows stirred all over the room, even over the motionless wax-like yellow face of my aunt....
And there was the watch! It was hanging on a little embroidered cushion on the wall behind the bed. What luck, only think of it! Nothing to delay me! But whose steps were those, soft and rapid behind my back? Oh! no! it was my heart beating! ... I moved my legs forward.... Good God! something round and rather large pushed against me below my knee, once and again! I was ready to scream, I was ready to drop with horror.... A striped cat, our own cat, was standing before me arching his back and wagging his tail. Then he leapt on the bed--softly and heavily--turned round and sat without purring, exactly like a judge; he sat and looked at me with his golden pupils. "Puss, puss," I whispered, hardly audibly. I bent across my aunt, I had already snatched the watch. She suddenly sat up and opened her eyelids wide.... Heavenly Father, what next? ... but her eyelids quivered and closed and with a faint murmur her head sank on the pillow.
A minute later I was back again in my own room, in my own bed and the watch was in my hands....
More lightly than a feather I flew back! I was a fine fellow, I was a thief, I was a hero, I was gasping with delight, I was hot, I was gleeful--I wanted to wake David at once to tell him all about it--and, incredible as it sounds, I fell asleep and slept like the dead! At last I opened my eyes.... It was light in the room, the sun had risen. Luckily no one was awake yet. I jumped up as though I had been scalded, woke David and told him all about it. He listened, smiled. "Do you know what?" he said to me at last, "let's bury the silly watch in the earth, so that it may never be seen again." I thought his idea best of all. In a few minutes we were both dressed; we ran out into the orchard behind our house and under an old apple tree in a deep hole, hurriedly scooped out in the soft, springy earth with David's big knife, my godfather's hated present was hidden forever, so that it never got into the hands of the disgusting Trankvillitatin after all! We stamped down the hole, strewed rubbish over it and, proud and happy, unnoticed by anyone, went home again, got into our beds and slept another hour or two--and such a light and blissful sleep!
You can imagine the uproar there was that morning, as soon as my aunt woke up and missed the watch! Her piercing shriek is ringing in my ears to this day. "Help! Robbed! Robbed!" she squealed, and alarmed the whole household. She was furious, while David and I only smiled to ourselves and sweet was our smile to us. "Everyone, everyone must be well thrashed!" bawled my aunt. "The watch has been stolen from under my head, from under my pillow!" We were prepared for anything, we expected trouble.... But contrary to our expectations we did not get into trouble at all. My father certainly did fume dreadfully at first, he even talked of the police; but I suppose he was bored with the enquiry of the day before and suddenly, to my aunt's indescribable amazement, he flew out not against us but against her.
"You sicken me worse than a bitter radish, Pelageya Petrovna," he shouted, "with your watch. I don't want to hear any more about it! It can't be lost by magic, you say, but what's it to do with me? It may be magic for all I care! Stolen from you? Well, good luck to it then! What will Nastasey Nastasyeitch say? Damnation take him, your Nastasyeitch! I get nothing but annoyances and unpleasantness from him! Don't dare to worry me again! Do you hear?"
My father slammed the door and went off to his own room. David and I did not at first understand the allusion in his last words; but afterwards we found out that my father was just then violently indignant with my godfather, who had done him out of a profitable job. So my aunt was left looking a fool. She almost burst with vexation, but there was no help for it. She had to confine herself to repeating in a sharp whisper, twisting her mouth in my direction whenever she passed me, "Thief, thief, robber, scoundrel." My aunt's reproaches were a source of real enjoyment to me. It was very agreeable, too, as I crossed the flower-garden, to let my eye with assumed indifference glide over the very spot where the watch lay at rest under the apple-tree; and if David were close at hand to exchange a meaning grimace with him....
My aunt tried setting Trankvillitatin upon me; but I appealed to David. He told the stalwart divinity student bluntly that he would rip up his belly with a knife if he did not leave me alone.... Trankvillitatin was frightened; though, according to my aunt, he was a grenadier and a cavalier he was not remarkable for valour. So passed five weeks.... But do you imagine that the story of the watch ended there? No, it did not; only to continue my story I must introduce a new character; and to introduce that new character I must go back a little.
My father had for many years been on very friendly, even intimate terms with a retired government clerk called Latkin, a lame little man in poor circumstances with queer, timid manners, one of those creatures of whom it is commonly said that they are crushed by God Himself. Like my father and Nastasey, he was engaged in the humbler class of legal work and acted as legal adviser and agent. But possessing neither a presentable appearance nor the gift of words and having little confidence in himself, he did not venture to act independently but attached himself to my father. His handwriting was "regular beadwork," he knew the law thoroughly and had mastered all the intricacies of the jargon of petitions and legal documents. He had managed various cases with my father and had shared with him gains and losses and it seemed as though nothing could shake their friendship, and yet it broke down in one day and forever. My father quarrelled with his colleague for good. If Latkin had snatched a profitable job from my father, after the fashion of Nastasey, who replaced him later on, my father would have been no more indignant with him than with Nastasey, probably less. But Latkin, under the influence of an unexplained, incomprehensible feeling, envy, greed--or perhaps even a momentary fit of honesty--"gave away" my father, betrayed him to their common client, a wealthy young merchant, opening this careless young man's eyes to a certain--well, piece of sharp practice, destined to bring my father considerable profit. It was not the money loss, however great--no--but the betrayal that wounded and infuriated my father; he could not forgive treachery.
"So he sets himself up for a saint!" he repeated, trembling all over with anger, his teeth chattering as though he were in a fever. I happened to be in the room and was a witness of this ugly scene. "Good. Amen, from today. It's all over between us. There's the ikon and there's the door! Neither you in my house nor I in yours. You are too honest for us. How can we keep company with you? But may you have no house nor home!"
It was in vain that Latkin entreated my father and bowed down before him; it was in vain that he tried to explain to him what filled his own soul with painful perplexity. "You know it was with no sort of profit to myself, Porfiry Petrovitch," he faltered: "why, I cut my own throat!" My father remained implacable. Latkin never set foot in our house again. Fate itself seemed determined to carry out my father's last cruel words. Soon after the rupture (which took place two years before the beginning of my story), Latkin's wife, who had, it is true, been ill for a long time, died; his second daughter, a child three years old, became deaf and dumb in one day from terror; a swarm of bees had settled on her head; Latkin himself had an apoplectic stroke and sank into extreme and hopeless poverty. How he struggled on, what he lived upon--it is hard to imagine. He lived in a dilapidated hovel at no great distance from our house. His elder daughter Raissa lived with him and kept house, so far as that was possible. This Raissa is the character whom I must now introduce into our story.
When her father was on friendly terms with mine, we used to see her continually. She would sit with us for hours at a time, either sewing, or spinning with her delicate, rapid, clever fingers. She was a well-made, rather thin girl, with intelligent brown eyes and a long, white, oval face. She talked little but sensibly in a soft, musical voice, barely opening her mouth and not showing her teeth. When she laughed--which happened rarely and never lasted long--they were all suddenly displayed, big and white as almonds. I remember her gait, too, light, elastic, with a little skip at each step. It always seemed to me that she was going down a flight of steps, even when she was walking on level ground. She held herself erect with her arms folded tightly over her bosom. And whatever she was doing, whatever she undertook, if she were only threading a needle or ironing a petticoat--the effect was always beautiful and somehow--you may not believe it--touching. Her Christian name was Raissa, but we used to call her Black-lip: she had on her upper lip a birthmark; a little dark-bluish spot, as though she had been eating blackberries; but that did not spoil her: on the contrary. She was just a year older than David. I cherished for her a feeling akin to respect, but we were not great friends. But between her and David a friendship had sprung up, a strange, unchildlike but good friendship. They somehow suited each other.
Sometimes they did not exchange a word for hours together, but both felt that they were happy and happy because they were together. I had never met a girl like her, really. There was something attentive and resolute about her, something honest and mournful and charming. I never heard her say anything very intelligent, but I never heard her say anything commonplace, and I have never seen more intelligent eyes. After the rupture between her family and mine I saw her less frequently: my father sternly forbade my visiting the Latkins, and she did not appear in our house again. But I met her in the street, in church and Black-lip always aroused in me the same feeling--respect and even some wonder, rather than pity. She bore her misfortunes very well indeed. "The girl is flint," even coarse-witted, Trankvillitatin said about her once, but really she ought to have been pitied: her face acquired a careworn, exhausted expression, her eyes were hollow and sunken, a burden beyond her strength lay on her young shoulders. David saw her much oftener than I did; he used to go to their house. My father gave him up in despair: he knew that David would not obey him, anyway. And from time to time Raissa would appear at the hurdle fence of our garden which looked into a lane and there have an interview with David; she did not come for the sake of conversation, but told him of some new difficulty or trouble and asked his advice. The paralysis that had attacked Latkin was of a rather peculiar kind. His arms and legs had grown feeble, but he had not lost the use of them, and his brain indeed worked perfectly; but his speech was muddled and instead of one word he would pronounce another: one had to guess what it was he wanted to say.... "Tchoo--tchoo--tchoo," he would stammer with an effort--he began every sentence with "Tchoo--tchoo--tchoo, some scissors, some scissors," ... and the word scissors meant bread.... My father, he hated with all the strength left him--he attributed all his misfortunes to my father's curse and called him alternately the butcher and the diamond-merchant. "Tchoo, tchoo, don't you dare to go to the butcher's, Vassilyevna." This was what he called his daughter though his own name was Martinyan. Every day he became more exacting; his needs increased.... And how were those needs to be satisfied? Where could the money be found? Sorrow soon makes one old: but it was horrible to hear some words on the lips of a girl of seventeen.
I remember I happened to be present at a conversation with David over the fence, on the very day of her mother's death.
"Mother died this morning at daybreak," she said, first looking round with her dark expressive eyes and then fixing them on the ground.
"Cook undertook to get a coffin cheap but she's not to be trusted; she may spend the money on drink, even. You might come and look after her, Davidushka, she's afraid of you."
"I will come," answered David. "I will see to it. And how's your father?"
"He cries; he says: 'you must spoil me, too.' Spoil must mean bury. Now he has gone to sleep." Raissa suddenly gave a deep sigh. "Oh, Davidushka, Davidushka!" She passed her half-clenched fist over her forehead and her eyebrows, and the action was so bitter ... and as sincere and beautiful as all her actions.
"You must take care of yourself, though," David observed; "you haven't slept at all, I expect.... And what's the use of crying? It doesn't help trouble."
"I have no time for crying," answered Raissa.
"That's a luxury for the rich, crying," observed David.
Raissa was going, but she turned back.
"The yellow shawl's being sold, you know; part of mother's dowry. They are giving us twelve roubles; I think that is not much."
"It certainly is not much."
"We shouldn't sell it," Raissa said after a brief pause, "but you see we must have money for the funeral."
"Of course you must. Only you mustn't spend money at random. Those priests are awful! But I say, wait a minute. I'll come. Are you going? I'll be with you soon. Goodbye, darling."
"Good-bye, Davidushka, darling."
"Mind now, don't cry!"
"As though I should cry! It's either cooking the dinner or crying. One or the other."
"What! does she cook the dinner?" I said to David, as soon as Raissa was out of hearing, "does she do the cooking herself?"
"Why, you heard that the cook has gone to buy a coffin."
"She cooks the dinner," I thought, "and her hands are always so clean and her clothes so neat.... I should like to see her there at work in the kitchen.... She is an extraordinary girl!"
I remember another conversation at the fence. That time Raissa brought with her her little deaf and dumb sister. She was a pretty child with immense, astonished-looking eyes and a perfect mass of dull, black hair on her little, head (Raissa's hair, too, was black and hers, too, was without lustre). Latkin had by then been struck down by paralysis.
"I really don't know what to do," Raissa began. "The doctor has written a prescription. We must go to the chemist's; and our peasant (Latkin had still one serf) has brought us wood from the village and a goose. And the porter has taken it away, 'you are in debt to me,' he said."
"Taken the goose?" asked David.
"No, not the goose. He says it is an old one; it is no good for anything; he says that is why our peasant brought it us, but he is taking the wood."
"But he has no right to," exclaimed David.
"He has no right to, but he has taken it. I went up to the garret, there we have got a very, very old trunk. I began rummaging in it and what do you think I found? Look!"
She took from under her kerchief a rather large field glass in a copper setting, covered with morocco, yellow with age. David, as a connoisseur of all sorts of instruments, seized upon it at once.
"It's English," he pronounced, putting it first to one eye and then to the other. "A marine glass."
"And the glasses are perfect," Raissa went on. "I showed it to father; he said, 'Take it and pawn it to the diamond-merchant'! What do you think, would they give us anything for it? What do we want a telescope for? To look at ourselves in the looking-glass and see what beauties we are? But we haven't a looking-glass, unluckily."
And Raissa suddenly laughed aloud. Her sister, of course, could not hear her. But most likely she felt the shaking of her body: she clung to Raissa's hand and her little face worked with a look of terror as she raised her big eyes to her sister and burst into tears.
"That's how she always is," said Raissa, "she doesn't like one to laugh.
"Come, I won't, Lyubotchka, I won't," she added, nimbly squatting on her heels beside the child and passing her fingers through her hair. The laughter vanished from Raissa's face and her lips, the corners of which twisted upwards in a particularly charming way, became motionless again. The child was pacified. Raissa got up.
"So you will do what you can, about the glass I mean, Davidushka. But I do regret the wood, and the goose, too, however old it may be."
"They would certainly give you ten roubles," said David, turning the telescope in all directions. "I will buy it of you, what could be better? And here, meanwhile, are fifteen kopecks for the chemist's.... Is that enough?"
"I'll borrow that from you," whispered Raissa, taking the fifteen kopecks from him.
"What next? Perhaps you would like to pay interest? But you see I have a pledge here, a very fine thing.... First-rate people, the English."
"They say we are going to war with them."
"No," answered David, "we are fighting the French now."
"Well, you know best. Take care of it, then. Good-bye, friends."
Here is another conversation that took place beside the same fence. Raissa seemed more worried than usual.
"Five kopecks for a cabbage, and a tiny little one, too," she said, propping her chin on her hand. "Isn't it dear? And I haven't had the money for my sewing yet."
"Who owes it you?" asked David.
"Why, the merchant's wife who lives beyond the rampart."
"The fat woman who goes about in a green blouse?"
"I say, she is fat! She can hardly breathe for fat. She positively steams in church, and doesn't pay her debts!"
"She will pay, only when? And do you know, Davidushka, I have fresh troubles. Father has taken it into his head to tell me his dreams--you know he cannot say what he means: if he wants to say one word, it comes out another. About food or any everyday thing we have got used to it and understand; but it is not easy to understand the dreams even of healthy people, and with him, it's awful! 'I am very happy,' he says; 'I was walking about all among white birds to-day; and the Lord God gave me a nosegay and in the nosegay was Andryusha with a little knife,' he calls our Lyubotchka, Andryusha; 'now we shall both be quite well,' he says. 'We need only one stroke with the little knife, like this!' and he points to his throat. I don't understand him, but I say, 'All right, dear, all right,' but he gets angry and tries to explain what he means. He even bursts into tears."
"But you should have said something to him," I put in; "you should have made up some lie."
"I can't tell lies," answered Raissa, and even flung up her hands.
And indeed she could not tell lies.
"There is no need to tell lies," observed David, "but there is no need to kill yourself, either. No one will say thank you for it, you know."
Raissa looked at him intently.
"I wanted to ask you something, Davidushka; how ought I to spell 'while'?"
"What sort of 'while'?"
"Why, for instance: I hope you will live a long while."
"No," I put in, "w-h-i-l-e."
"Well, it does not matter. Spell it with an h, then! What does matter is, that you should live a long while."
"I should like to write correctly," observed Raissa, and she flushed a little.
When she flushed she was amazingly pretty at once.
"It may be of use.... How father wrote in his day ... wonderfully! He taught me. Well, now he can hardly make out the letters."
"You only live, that's all I want," David repeated, dropping his voice and not taking his eyes off her. Raissa glanced quickly at him and flushed still more.
"You live and as for spelling, spell as you like.... Oh, the devil, the witch is coming!" (David called my aunt the witch.) "What ill-luck has brought her this way? You must go, darling."
Raissa glanced at David once more and ran away.
David talked to me of Raissa and her family very rarely and unwillingly, especially from the time when he began to expect his father's return. He thought of nothing but him and how we should live together afterwards. He had a vivid memory of him and used to describe him to me with particular pleasure.
"He is big and strong; he can lift three hundred-weight with one hand.... When he shouted: 'Where's the lad?' he could be heard all over the house. He's so jolly and kind ... and a brave man! Nobody can intimidate him. We lived so happily together before we were ruined. They say he has gone quite grey, and in old days his hair was as red as mine. He was a strong man."
David would never admit that we might remain in Ryazan.
"You will go away," I observed, "but I shall stay."
"Nonsense, we shall take you with us."
"And how about my father?"
"You will cast off your father. You will be ruined if you don't."
David made me no answer but merely knitted his white brows.
"So when we go away with father," he began again, "he will get a good situation and I shall marry."
"Well, that won't be just directly," I said.
"No, why not? I shall marry soon."
"Yes, I; why not?"
"You haven't fixed on your wife, I suppose."
"Of course, I have."
"Who is she?"
"What a senseless fellow you are, really? Raissa, of course."
"Raissa!" I repeated in amazement; "you are joking!"
"I am not given to joking, and don't like it."
"Why, she is a year older than you are."
"What of it? but let's drop the subject."
"Let me ask one question," I said. "Does she know that you mean to marry her?"
"But haven't you declared your feelings?"
"What is there to declare? When the time comes I shall tell her. Come, that's enough."
David got up and went out of the room. When I was alone, I pondered ... and pondered ... and came to the conclusion that David would act like a sensible and practical man; and indeed I felt flattered at the thought of being the friend of such a practical man!
And Raissa in her everlasting black woollen dress suddenly seemed to me charming and worthy of the most devoted love.
David's father still did not come and did not even send a letter. It had long been summer and June was drawing to its end. We were wearing ourselves out in suspense.
Meanwhile there began to be rumours that Latkin had suddenly become much worse, and that his family were likely to die of hunger or else the house would fall in and crush them all under the roof.
David's face even looked changed and he became so ill-tempered and surly that there was no going near him. He began to be more often absent from home, too. I did not meet Raissa at all. From time to time, I caught a glimpse of her in the distance, rapidly crossing the street with her beautiful, light step, straight as an arrow, with her arms crossed, with her dark, clever eyes under her long brows, with an anxious expression on her pale, sweet face--that was all. My aunt with the help of her Trankvillitatin pitched into me as before, and as before reproachfully whispered in my ear: "You are a thief, sir, a thief!" But I took no notice of her; and my father was very busy, and occupied with his writing and driving all over the place and did not want to hear anything.
One day, passing by the familiar apple-tree, more from habit than anything I cast a furtive glance in the direction of the little spot I knew so well, and it suddenly struck me that there was a change in the surface of the soil that concealed our treasure ... as though there were a little protuberance where there had been a hollow, and the bits of rubbish were disarranged. "What does that mean?" I wondered. "Can someone have guessed our secret and dug up the watch?"
I had to make certain with my own eyes. I felt, of course, the most complete indifference in regard to the watch that lay rusting in the bosom of the earth; but was not prepared to let anyone else make use of it! And so next day I got up before dawn again and arming myself with a knife went into the orchard, sought out the marked spot under the apple-tree, began digging--and after digging a hole a yard deep was forced to the conviction that the watch was gone, that someone had got hold of it, taken it away, stolen it!
But who could have dug it up except David?
Who else knew where it was?
I filled in the hole and went back to the house. I felt deeply injured.
"Supposing," I thought, "that David needs the watch to save his future wife or her father from dying of starvation.... Say what you like, the watch was worth something.... Why did he not come to me and say: 'Brother' (in David's place I should have certainly begun by saying brother), 'brother, I need money; you have none, I know, but let me make use of that watch which we buried together under the old apple-tree? It is of no use to anyone and I shall be so grateful to you, brother!' With what joy I should have consented. But to act secretly, treacherously, not to trust his friend.... No! No passion, no necessity would justify that!"
I repeat, I felt horribly injured. I began by a display of coldness and sulking....
But David was not one of the sort to notice this and be upset by it.
I began dropping hints.
But David appeared not to understand my hints in the least!
I said before him how base in my eyes was the man who having a friend and understanding all that was meant by that sacred sentiment "friendship," was yet so devoid of generosity as to have recourse to deception; as though it were possible to conceal anything.
As I uttered these last words I laughed scornfully.
But David did not turn a hair. At last I asked him straight out: "What did he think, had our watch gone for some time after being buried in the earth or had it stopped at once?"
He answered me: "The devil only knows! What a thing to wonder about!"
I did not know what to think! David evidently had something on his mind ... but not the abduction of the watch. An unexpected incident showed me his innocence.
One day I came home by a side lane which I usually avoided as the house in which my enemy Trankvillitatin lodged was in it; but on this occasion Fate itself led me that way. Passing the open window of an eating-house, I suddenly heard the voice of our servant, Vassily, a young man of free and easy manners, "a lazy fellow and a scamp," as my father called him, but also a great conqueror of female hearts which he charmed by his wit, his dancing and his playing on the tambourine.
"And what do you suppose they've been up to?" said Vassily, whom I could not see but heard distinctly; he was, most likely, sitting close by, near the window with a companion over the steaming tea--and as often happens with people in a closed room, spoke in a loud voice without suspecting that anyone passing in the street could hear every word: "They buried it in the ground!"
"Nonsense!" muttered another voice.
"I tell you they did, our young gentlemen are extraordinary! Especially that Davidka, he's a regular Aesop! I got up at daybreak and went to the window.... I looked out and, what do you think! Our two little dears were coming along the orchard bringing that same watch and they dug a hole under the apple-tree and there they buried it, as though it had been a baby! And they smoothed the earth over afterwards, upon my soul they did, the young rakes!"
"Ah! plague take them," Vassily's companion commented. "Too well off, I suppose. Well, did you dig up the watch?"
"To be sure I did. I have got it now. Only it won't do to show it for a time. There's been no end of a fuss over it. Davidka stole it that very night from under our old lady's back."
"I tell you, he did. He's a desperate fellow. So it won't do to show it. But when the officers come down I shall sell it or stake it at cards."
I didn't stay to hear more: I rushed headlong home and straight to David.
"Brother!" I began, "brother, forgive me! I have wronged you! I suspected you! I blamed you! You see how agitated I am! Forgive me!"
"What's the matter with you?" asked David. "Explain!"
"I suspected that you had dug up our watch under the apple-tree."
"The watch again! Why, isn't it there?"
"It's not there; I thought you had taken it, to help your friends. And it was all Vassily."
I repeated to David all that I had overheard under the window of the eating-house.
But how to describe my amazement! I had, of course, expected David to be indignant, but I had not for a moment anticipated the effect it produced on him! I had hardly finished my story when he flew into an indescribable fury! David, who had always taken up a scornful attitude to the whole "vulgar," as he called it, business of the watch; David, who had more than once declared that it wasn't worth a rotten egg, jumped up from his seat, got hot all over, ground his teeth and clenched his fists. "We can't let this pass!" he said at last; "how dare he take someone else's property? Wait a bit, I'll show him. I won't let thieves off so easily!"
I confess I don't understand to this day what can have so infuriated David. Whether he had been irritated before and Vassily's action had simply poured oil on the flames, or whether my suspicions had wounded him, I cannot say, but I had never seen him in such excitement. I stood before him with my mouth open merely wondering how it was that his breathing was so hard and laboured.
"What do you intend to do?" I asked at last.
"You shall see after dinner, when your father lies down. I'll find this scoffer, I'll talk to him."
"Well," thought I, "I should not care to be in that scoffer's shoes! What will happen? Merciful heavens?"
This is what did happen:
As soon as that drowsy, stifling stillness prevailed, which to this day lies like a feather bed on the Russian household and the Russian people in the middle of the day after dinner is eaten, David went to the servants' rooms (I followed on his heels with a sinking heart) and called Vassily out. The latter was at first unwilling to come, but ended by obeying and following us into the garden.
David stood close in front of him. Vassily was a whole head taller.
"Vassily Terentyev," my comrade began in a firm voice, "six weeks ago you took from under this very apple-tree the watch we hid there. You had no right to do so; it does not belong to you. Give it back at once!"
Vassily was taken aback, but at once recovered himself.
"What watch? What are you talking about? God bless you! I have no watch!"
"I know what I am saying and don't tell lies. You've got the watch, give it back."
"I've not got your watch."
"Then how was it that in the eating-house, you..." I began, but David stopped me.
"Vassily Terentyev!" he pronounced in a hollow, threatening voice, "we know for a fact that you have the watch. You are told honourably to give it back and if you don't..."
Vassily sniggered insolently.
"Then what will you do with me then? Eh?"
"What will we do? We will both fight with you till you beat us or we beat you."
"Fight? That's not for a gentleman! To fight with a servant!"
David suddenly caught hold of Vassily's waistcoat.
"But we are not going to fight you with our fists," he articulated, grinding his teeth. "Understand that! I'll give you a knife and take one myself.... And then we shall see who does for which? Alexey!" he began commanding me, "run for my big knife, you know the one with the bone handle--it's lying on the table and the other's in my pocket."
Vassily positively collapsed. David stood holding him by the waistcoat.
"Mercy on us! ... Mercy on us, David Yegoritch!" he muttered; tears actually came into his eyes. "What do you mean, what are you saying? Let me go."
"I won't let you go. And we shall have no mercy on you! If you get away from us today, we shall begin again to-morrow. Alyoshka, where's the knife?"
"David Yegoritch," wailed Vassily, "don't commit murder.... What are you doing! The watch ... I certainly ... I was joking. I'll give it to you this minute. What a thing, to be sure! First you are going to slit Hrisanf Lukitch's belly, then mine. Let me go, David Yegoritch.... Kindly take the watch. Only don't tell your papa."
David let go his hold of Vassily's waistcoat. I looked into his face: certainly not only Vassily might have been frightened by it. It looked so weary ... and cold ... and angry....
Vassily dashed into the house and promptly returned with the watch in his hand. He gave it to David without a word and only on going back into the house exclaimed aloud in the doorway:
"Tfoo! here's a go."
He still looked panic-stricken. David tossed his head and walked into our room. Again I followed on his heels. "A Suvorov! He's a regular Suvorov!" I thought to myself. In those days, in 1801, Suvorov was our great national hero.
David shut the door after him, put the watch on the table, folded his arms and--oh, wonder!--laughed. Looking at him I laughed, too.
"What a wonderful performance!" he began. "We can't get rid of this watch anyway. It's bewitched, really. And why was I so furious about it?"
"Yes, why?" I repeated. "You ought to have let Vassily keep it...."
"Well, no," interposed David. "That's nonsense. But what are we to do with it?"
We both stared at the watch and pondered. Adorned with a chain of pale blue beads (the luckless Vassily in his haste had not removed this chain which belonged to him) it was calmly doing its work: ticking somewhat irregularly, it is true, and slowly moving its copper minute hand.
"Shall we bury it again? Or put it in the stove," I suggested at last. "Or, I tell you what: shouldn't we take it to Latkin?"
"No," answered David. "That's not the thing. I know what: they have set up a committee at the governor's office and are collecting subscriptions for the benefit of the people of Kasimov. The town has been burnt to ashes with all its churches. And I am told they take anything, not only bread and money, but all sorts of things. Shall we send the watch there?"
"Yes! yes!" I answered. "A splendid idea. But I thought that since your friends are in want...."
"No, no; to the committee; the Latkins will manage without it. To the committee."
"Well, if it is to be the committee, let it be. Only, I imagine, we must write something to the governor."
David glanced at me. "Do you think so?"
"Yes, of course; there is no need to write much. But just a few words."
"For instance ... begin like this: 'Being' ... or better: 'Moved by' ..."
"'Moved by' ... very good."
"Then we must say: 'herewith our mite' ..."
"'Mite' ... that's good, too. Well, take your pen, sit down and write, fire away!"
"First I must make a rough copy," I observed.
"All right, a rough copy, only write, write.... And meanwhile I will clean it with some whitening."
I took a sheet of paper, mended a pen, but before I had time to write at the top of the sheet "To His Excellency, the illustrious Prince" (our governer was at that time Prince X), I stopped, struck by the extraordinary uproar ... which had suddenly arisen in the house. David noticed the hubbub, too, and he, too, stopped, holding the watch in his left hand and a rag with whitening in his right. We looked at each other. What was that shrill cry. It was my aunt shrieking ... and that? It was my father's voice, hoarse with anger. "The watch! the watch!" bawled someone, surely Trankvillitatin. We heard the thud of feet, the creak of the floor, a regular rabble running ... moving straight upon us. I was numb with terror and David was as white as chalk, but he looked proud as an eagle. "Vassily, the scoundrel, has betrayed us," he whispered through his teeth. The door was flung wide open, and my father in his dressing gown and without his cravat, my aunt in her dressing jacket, Trankvillitatin, Vassily, Yushka, another boy, and the cook, Agapit--all burst into the room.
"Scoundrels!" shouted my father, gasping for breath.... "At last we have found you out!" And seeing the watch in David's hands: "Give it here!" yelled my father, "give me the watch!"
But David, without uttering a word, dashed to the open window and leapt out of it into the yard and then off into the street.
Accustomed to imitate my paragon in everything, I jumped out, too, and ran after David....
"Catch them! Hold them!" we heard a medley of frantic shouts behind us.
But we were already racing along the street bareheaded, David in advance and I a few paces behind him, and behind us the clatter and uproar of pursuit.
Many years have passed since the date of these events; I have reflected over them more than once--and to this day I can no more understand the cause of the fury that took possession of my father (who had so lately been so sick of the watch that he had forbidden it to be mentioned in his hearing) than I can David's rage at its having been stolen by Vassily! One is tempted to imagine that there was some mysterious power connected with it. Vassily had not betrayed us as David assumed--he was not capable of it: he had been too much scared--it was simply that one of our maids had seen the watch in his hands and had promptly informed our aunt. The fat was in the fire!
And so we darted down the street, keeping to the very middle of it. The passers-by who met us stopped or stepped aside in amazement. I remember a retired major craned out of the window of his flat--and, crimson in the face, his bulky person almost overbalancing, hallooed furiously. Shouts of "Stop! hold them" still resounded behind us.
David ran flourishing the watch over his head and from time to time leaping into the air; I jumped, too, whenever he did.
"Where?" I shouted to David, seeing that he was turning into a side street--and I turned after him.
"To the Oka!" he shouted. "To throw it into the water, into the river. To the devil!"
"Stop! stop!" they shouted behind.
But we were already flying along the side street, already a whiff of cool air was meeting us--and the river lay before us, and the steep muddy descent to it, and the wooden bridge with a train of waggons stretching across it, and a garrison soldier with a pike beside the flagstaff; soldiers used to carry pikes in those days. David reached the bridge and darted by the soldier who tried to give him a blow on the legs with his pike and hit a passing calf. David instantly leaped on to the parapet; he uttered a joyful exclamation.... Something white, something blue gleamed in the air and shot into the water--it was the silver watch with Vassily's blue bead chain flying into the water.... But then something incredible happened. After the watch David's feet flew upwards--and head foremost, with his hands thrust out before him and the lapels of his jacket fluttering, he described an arc in the air (as frightened frogs jump on hot days from a high bank into a pond) and instantly vanished behind the parapet of the bridge ... and then flop! and a tremendous splash below.
What happened to me I am utterly unable to describe. I was some steps from David when he leapt off the parapet ... but I don't even remember whether I cried out; I don't think that I was even frightened: I was stunned, stupefied. I could not stir hand or foot. People were running and hustling round me; some of them seemed to be people I knew. I had a sudden glimpse of Trofimitch, the soldier with the pike dashed off somewhere, the horses and the waggons passed by quickly, tossing up their noses covered with string. Then everything was green before my eyes and someone gave me a violent shove on my head and all down my back ... I fell fainting.
I remember that I came to myself afterwards and seeing that no one was paying any attention to me went up to the parapet but not on the side that David had jumped. It seemed terrible to me to approach it, and as I began gazing into the dark blue muddy swollen river, I remember that I noticed a boat moored to the bridge not far from the bank, and several people in the boat, and one of these, who was drenched all over and sparkling in the sun, bending over the edge of the boat was pulling something out of the water, something not very big, oblong, a dark thing which at first I took to be a portmanteau or a basket; but when I looked more intently I saw that the thing was--David. Then in violent excitement I shouted at the top of my voice and ran towards the boat, pushing my way through the people, but when I had run down to it I was overcome with timidity and began looking about me. Among the people who were crowding about it I recognised Trankvillitatin, the cook Agapit with a boot in his hand, Yushka, Vassily ... the wet and shining man held David's body under the arms, drew him out of the boat and laid him on his back on the mud of the bank. Both David's hands were raised to the level of his face as though he were trying to hide himself from strange eyes; he did not stir but lay as though standing at attention, with his heels together and his stomach out. His face was greenish--his eyes were staring and water was dripping from his hair. The wet man who had pulled him out, a factory hand, judging by his clothes, began describing how he had done it, shivering with cold and continually throwing back his hair from his forehead as he talked. He told his story in a very proper and painstaking way.
"What do I see, friends? This young lad go flying from the bridge.... Well! ... I ran down at once the way of the current for I knew he had fallen into mid-stream and it would carry him under the bridge and there ... talk of the devil! ... I looked: something like a fur cap was floating and it was his head. Well, quick as thought, I was in the water and caught hold of him.... It didn't need much cleverness for that!"
Two or three words of approval were audible in the crowd.
"You ought to have something to warm you now. Come along and we will have a drink," said someone.
But at this point all at once somebody pushed forward abruptly: it was Vassily.
"What are you doing, good Christians?" he cried, tearfully. "We must bring him to by rolling him; it's our young gentleman!"
"Roll him, roll him," shouted the crowd, which was continually growing.
"Hang him up by the feet! it's the best way!"
"Lay him with his stomach on the barrel and roll him backwards and forwards.... Take him, lads."
"Don't dare to touch him," put in the soldier with the pike. "He must be taken to the police station."
"Low brute," Trofimitch's bass voice rang out.
"But he is alive," I shouted at the top of my voice and almost with horror. I had put my face near to his. "So that is what the drowned look like," I thought, with a sinking heart.... And all at once I saw David's lips stir and a little water oozed from them....
At once I was pushed back and dragged away; everyone rushed up to him.
"Roll him, roll him," voices clamoured.
"No, no, stay," shouted Vassily. "Take him home.... Take him home!"
"Take him home," Trankvillitatin himself chimed in.
"We will bring him to. We can see better there," Vassily went on.... (I have liked him from that day.) "Lads, haven't you a sack? If not we must take him by his head and his feet...."
"Stay! Here's a sack! Lay him on it! Catch hold! Start! That's fine. As though he were driving in a chaise."
A few minutes later David, borne in triumph on the sack, crossed the threshold of our house again.
He was undressed and put to bed. He began to give signs of life while in the street, moaned, moved his hands.... Indoors he came to himself completely. But as soon as all anxiety for his life was over and there was no reason to worry about him, indignation got the upper hand again: everyone shunned him, as though he were a leper.
"May God chastise him! May God chastise him!" my aunt shrieked, to be heard all over the house. "Get rid of him, somehow, Porfiry Petrovitch, or he will do some mischief beyond all bearing."
"Upon my word, he is a viper; he is possessed with a devil," Trankvillitatin chimed in.
"The wickedness, the wickedness!" cackled my aunt, going close to the door of our room so that David might be sure to hear her. "First of all he stole the watch and then flung it into the water ... as though to say, no one should get it...."
Everyone, everyone was indignant.
"David," I asked him as soon as we were left alone, "what did you do it for?"
"So you are after that, too," he answered in a voice that was still weak; his lips were blue and he looked as though he were swollen all over. "What did I do?"
"But what did you jump into the water for?"
"Jump! I lost my balance on the parapet, that was all. If I had known how to swim I should have jumped on purpose. I shall certainly learn. But the watch now--ah...."
But at that moment my father walked with a majestic step into our room.
"You, my fine fellow," he said, addressing me, "I shall certainly whip, you need have no doubt about that, though you are too big to lie on the bench now."
Then he went up to the bed on which David was lying. "In Siberia," he began in an impressive and dignified tone, "in Siberia, sir, in penal servitude, in the mines, there are people living and dying who are less guilty, less criminal than you. Are you a suicide or simply a thief or altogether a fool? Be so kind as to tell me just that!"
"I am not a suicide and I am not a thief," answered David, "but the truth's the truth: there are good men in Siberia, better than you or I ... who should know that, if not you?"
My father gave a subdued gasp, drew back a step, looked intently at David, spat on the floor and, slowly crossing himself, walked away.
"Don't you like that?" David called after him and put his tongue out. Then he tried to get up but could not.
"I must have hurt myself somehow," he said, gasping and frowning. "I remember the water dashed me against a post."
"Did you see Raissa?" he added suddenly.
"No. I did not.... Stay, stay, stay! Now I remember, wasn't it she standing on the bank by the bridge? ... Yes ... yes ... a dark dress... a yellow kerchief on her head, yes it must have been Raissa."
"Well, and afterwards.... Did you see her?"
"Afterwards ... I don't know, I had no thought to spare for her.... You jumped in ..."
David was suddenly roused. "Alyosha, darling, go to her at once, tell her I am all right, that there's nothing the matter with me. Tomorrow I shall be with them. Go as quickly as you can, brother, for my sake!"
David held out both hands to me.... His red hair, by now dry, stuck up in amusing tufts.... But the softened expression of his face seemed the more genuine for that. I took my cap and went out of the house, trying to avoid meeting my father and reminding him of his promise.
"Yes, indeed," I reflected as I walked towards the Latkins', "how was it that I did not notice Raissa? What became of her? She must have seen...."
And all at once I remembered that the very moment of David's fall, a terrible piercing shriek had rung in my ears.
"Was not that Raissa? But how was it I did not see her afterwards?"
Before the little house in which Latkin lodged there stretched a waste-ground overgrown with nettles and surrounded by a broken hurdle. I had scarcely clambered over the hurdle (there was no gate anywhere) when the following sight met my eyes: Raissa, with her elbows on her knees and her chin propped on her clasped hands, was sitting on the lowest step in front of the house; she was looking fixedly straight before her; near her stood her little dumb sister with the utmost composure brandishing a little whip, while, facing the steps with his back to me, old Latkin, in torn and shabby drawers and high felt boots, was trotting and prancing up and down, capering and jerking his elbows. Hearing my footsteps he suddenly turned round and squatted on his heels--then at once, skipping up to me, began speaking very rapidly in a trembling voice, incessantly repeating, "Tchoo--tchoo--tchoo!" I was dumbfoundered. I had not seen him for a long time and should not, of course, have known him if I had met him anywhere else. That red, wrinkled, toothless face, those lustreless round eyes and touzled grey hair, those jerks and capers, that senseless halting speech! What did it mean? What inhuman despair was torturing this unhappy creature? What dance of death was this?
"Tchoo--tchoo," he muttered, wriggling incessantly. "See Vassilyevna here came in tchoo--tchoo, just now.... Do you hear? With a trough on the roof" (he slapped himself on the head with his hand), "and there she sits like a spade, and she is cross-eyed, cross-eyed, like Andryushka; Vassilyevna is cross-eyed" (he probably meant to say dumb), "tchoo! My Vassilyevna is cross-eyed! They are both on the same cork now. You may wonder, good Christians! I have only these two little boats! Eh?"
Latkin was evidently conscious that he was not saying the right thing and made terrible efforts to explain to me what was the matter. Raissa did not seem to hear what her father was saying and the little sister went on lashing the whip.
"Good-bye, diamond-merchant, good-bye, good-bye," Latkin drawled several times in succession, making a low bow, seeming delighted at having at last got hold of an intelligible word.
My head began to go round.
"What does it all mean?" I asked of an old woman who was looking out of the window of the little house.
"Well, my good gentleman," she answered in a sing-song voice, "they say some man--the Lord only knows who--went and drowned himself and she saw it. Well, it gave her a fright or something; when she came home she seemed all right though; but when she sat down on the step--here, she has been sitting ever since like an image, it's no good talking to her. I suppose she has lost her speech, too. Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"
"Good-bye, good-bye," Latkin kept repeating, still with the same bow.
I went up to Raissa and stood directly facing her.
"Raissa, dear, what's the matter with you?"
She made no answer, she seemed not to notice me. Her face had not grown pale, had not changed--but had turned somehow stony and there was a look in it as though she were just falling asleep.
"She is cross-eyed, cross-eyed," Latkin muttered in my ear.
I took Raissa by the hand. "David is alive," I cried, more loudly than before. "Alive and well; David's alive, do you understand? He was pulled out of the water; he is at home now and told me to say that he will come to you to-morrow; he is alive!" As it were with effort Raissa turned her eyes on me; she blinked several times, opening them wider and wider, then leaned her head on one side and flushed slightly all over while her lips parted ... she slowly drew in a deep breath, winced as though in pain and with fearful effort articulated:
"Da ... Dav ... a ... alive," got up impulsively and rushed away.
"Where are you going?" I exclaimed. But with a faint laugh she ran staggering across the waste-ground....
I, of course, followed her, while behind me a wail rose up in unison from the old man and the child.... Raissa darted straight to our house.
"Here's a day!" I thought, trying not to lose sight of the black dress that was fluttering before me. "Well!"
Passing Vassily, my aunt, and even Trankvillitatin, Raissa ran into the room where David was lying and threw herself on his neck. "Oh... oh ... Da ... vidushka," her voice rang out from under her loose curls, "oh!"
Flinging wide his arms David embraced her and nestled his head against her.
"Forgive me, my heart," I heard his voice saying.
And both seemed swooning with joy.
"But why did you go home, Raissa, why didn't you stay?" I said to her.... She still kept her head bowed. "You would have seen that he was saved...."
"Ah, I don't know! Ah, I don't know. Don't ask. I don't know, I don't remember how I got home. I only remember: I saw you in the air ... something seemed to strike me... and what happened afterwards..."
"Seemed to strike you," repeated David, and we all three suddenly burst out laughing together. We were very happy.
"What may be the meaning of this, may I ask," we heard behind us a threatening voice, the voice of my father. He was standing in the doorway. "Will there ever be an end to these fooleries? Where are we living? Are we in the Russian Empire or the French Republic?"
He came into the room.
"Anyone who wants to be rebellious and immoral had better go to France! And how dare you come here?" he said, turning to Raissa, who, quietly sitting up and turning to face him, was evidently taken aback but still smiled as before, a friendly and blissful smile.
"The daughter of my sworn enemy! How dare you? And hugging him, too! Away with you at once, or ..."
"Uncle," David brought out, and he sat up in bed. "Don't insult Raissa. She is going away, only don't insult her."
"And who are you to teach me? I am not insulting her, I am not in ... sul ... ting her! I am simply turning her out of the house. I have an account to settle with you, too, presently. You have made away with other people's property, have attempted to take your own life, have put me to expense."
"To what expense?" David interrupted.
"What expense? You have ruined your clothes. Do you count that as nothing? And I had to tip the men who brought you. You have given the whole family a fright and are you going to be unruly now? And if this young woman, regardless of shame and honour itself ..."
David made a dash as though to get out of bed.
"Don't insult her, I tell you."
"Hold your tongue."
"Don't dare ..."
"Hold your tongue!"
"Don't dare to insult my betrothed," cried David at the top of his voice, "my future wife!"
"Betrothed!" repeated my father, with round eyes. "Betrothed! Wife! Ho, ho, ho! ..." ("Ha, ha, ha," my aunt echoed behind the door.) "Why, how old are you? He's been no time in the world, the milk is hardly dry on his lips, he is a mere babe and he is going to be married! But I ... but you ..."
"Let me go, let me go," whispered Raissa, and she made for the door. She looked more dead than alive.
"I am not going to ask permission of you," David went on shouting, propping himself up with his fists on the edge of the bed, "but of my own father who is bound to be here one day soon; he is a law to me, but you are not; but as for my age, if Raissa and I are not old enough ... we will bide our time whatever you may say...."
"Aië, aië, Davidka, don't forget yourself," my father interrupted. "Just look at yourself. You are not fit to be seen. You have lost all sense of decency."
David put his hand to the front of his shirt.
"Whatever you may say..." he repeated. "Oh, shut his mouth, Porfiry Petrovitch," piped my aunt from behind the door, "shut his mouth, and as for this hussy, this baggage ... this ..."
But something extraordinary must have cut short my aunt's eloquence at that moment: her voice suddenly broke off and in its place we heard another, feeble and husky with old age....
"Brother," this weak voice articulated, "Christian soul."
We all turned round.... In the same costume in which I had just seen him, thin, pitiful and wild looking, Latkin stood before us like an apparition.
"God!" he pronounced in a sort of childish way, pointing upwards with a bent and trembling finger and gazing impotently at my father, "God has chastised me, but I have come for Va ... for Ra ... yes, yes, for Raissotchka.... What ... tchoo! what is there for me? Soon underground--and what do you call it? One little stick, another ... cross-beam--that's what I ... want, but you, brother, diamond-merchant ... mind ... I'm a man, too!"
Raissa crossed the room without a word and taking his arm buttoned his vest.
"Let us go, Vassilyevna," he said; "they are all saints here, don't come to them and he lying there in his case"--he pointed to David--"is a saint, too, but you and I are sinners, brother. Come. Tchoo.... Forgive an old man with a pepper pot, gentleman! We have stolen together!" he shouted suddenly; "stolen together, stolen together!" he repeated, with evident satisfaction that his tongue had obeyed him at last.
Everyone in the room was silent. "And where is ... the ikon here," he asked, throwing back his head and turning up his eyes; "we must cleanse ourselves a bit."
He fell to praying to one of the corners, crossing himself fervently several times in succession, tapping first one shoulder and then the other with his fingers and hurriedly repeating:
"Have mercy me, oh, Lor ... me, oh, Lor ... me, oh, Lor ..." My father, who had not taken his eyes off Latkin, and had not uttered a word, suddenly started, stood beside him and began crossing himself, too. Then he turned to him, bowed very low so that he touched the floor with one hand, saying, "You forgive me, too, Martinyan Gavrilitch," kissed him on the shoulder. Latkin in response smacked his lips in the air and blinked: I doubt whether he quite knew what he was doing. Then my father turned to everyone in the room, to David, to Raissa and to me:
"Do as you like, act as you think best," he brought out in a soft and mournful voice, and he withdrew.
My aunt was running up to him, but he cried out sharply and gruffly to her. He was overwhelmed.
"Me, oh, Lor ... me, oh, Lor ... mercy!" Latkin repeated. "I am a man."
"Good-bye, Davidushka," said Raissa, and she, too, went out of the room with the old man.
"I will be with you tomorrow," David called after her, and, turning his face to the wall, he whispered: "I am very tired; it will be as well to have some sleep now," and was quiet.
It was a long while before I went out of the room. I kept in hiding. I could not forget my father's threats. But my apprehensions turned out to be unnecessary. He met me and did not utter a word. He seemed to feel awkward himself. But night soon came on and everything was quiet in the house.
Next morning David got up as though nothing were the matter and not long after, on the same day, two important events occurred: in the morning old Latkin died, and towards evening my uncle, Yegor, David's father, arrived in Ryazan. Without sending any letter in advance, without warning anyone, he descended on us like snow on our heads. My father was completely taken aback and did not know what to offer to his dear guest and where to make him sit. He rushed about as though delirious, was flustered as though he were guilty; but my uncle did not seem to be much touched by his brother's fussy solicitude; he kept repeating: "What's this for?" or "I don't want anything." His manner with my aunt was even colder; she had no great liking for him, indeed. In her eyes he was an infidel, a heretic, a Voltairian ... (he had in fact learnt French to read Voltaire in the original). I found my Uncle Yegor just as David had described him. He was a big heavy man with a broad pock-marked face, grave and serious. He always wore a hat with feathers in it, cuffs, a frilled shirt front and a snuff-coloured vest and a sword at his side. David was unspeakably delighted to see him--he actually looked brighter in the face and better looking, and his eyes looked different: merrier, keener, more shining; but he did his utmost to moderate his joy and not to show it in words: he was afraid of being too soft. The first night after Uncle Yegor's arrival, father and son shut themselves up in the room that had been assigned to my uncle and spent a long time talking together in a low voice; next morning I saw that my uncle looked particularly affectionately and trustfully at his son: he seemed very much pleased with him. David took him to the requiem service for Latkin; I went to it, too, my father did not hinder my going but remained at home himself. Raissa impressed me by her calm: she looked pale and much thinner but did not shed tears and spoke and behaved with perfect simplicity; and with all that, strange to say, I saw a certain grandeur in her; the unconscious grandeur of sorrow forgetful of itself! Uncle Yegor made her acquaintance on the spot, in the church porch; from his manner to her, it was evident that David had already spoken of her. He was as pleased with her as with his son: I could read that in David's eyes when he looked at them both. I remember how his eyes sparkled when his father said, speaking of her: "She's a clever girl; she'll make a capable woman." At the Latkins' I was told that the old man had quietly expired like a candle that has burnt out, and that until he had lost power and consciousness, he kept stroking his daughter's head and saying something unintelligible but not gloomy, and he was smiling to the end. My father went to the funeral and to the service in the church and prayed very devoutly; Trankvillitatin actually sang in the choir.
Beside the grave Raissa suddenly broke into sobs and sank forward on the ground; but she soon recovered herself. Her little deaf and dumb sister stared at everyone and everything with big, bright, rather wild-looking eyes; from time to time she huddled up to Raissa, but there was no sign of terror about her. The day after the funeral Uncle Yegor, who, judging from appearances, had not come back from Siberia with empty hands (he paid for the funeral and liberally rewarded David's rescuer) but who told us nothing of his doings there or of his plans for the future, Uncle Yegor suddenly informed my father that he did not intend to remain in Ryazan, but was going to Moscow with his son. My father, from a feeling of propriety, expressed regret and even tried--very faintly it is true--to induce my uncle to alter his decision, but at the bottom of his heart, I think he was really much relieved.
The presence of his brother with whom he had very little in common, who did not even condescend to reproach him, whose feeling for him was more one of simple disgust than disdain--oppressed him ... and parting with David could not have caused him much regret. I, of course, was utterly crushed by the separation; I was utterly desolate at first and lost all support in life and all interest in it.
And so my uncle went away and took with him not only David but, to the great astonishment and even indignation of our whole street, Raissa and her little sister, too.... When she heard of this, my aunt promptly called him a Turk, and called him a Turk to the end of her days.
And I was left alone, alone ... but this story is not about me.
So this is the end of my tale of the watch. What more have I to tell you? Five years after David was married to his Black-lip, and in 1812, as a lieutenant of artillery, he died a glorious death on the battlefield of Borodino in defence of the Shevardinsky redoubt.
Much water has flowed by since then and I have had many watches; I have even attained the dignity of a real repeater with a second hand and the days of the week on it. But in a secret drawer of my writing table there is preserved an old-fashioned silver watch with a rose on the face; I bought it from a Jewish pedlar, struck by its likeness to the watch which was once presented to me by my godfather. From time to time, when I am alone and expect no one, I take it out of the drawer and looking at it remember my young days and the companion of those days that have fled never to return.
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