Three Men

by Maxim Gorky

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Chapter III

Ilya's daily work arranged itself fairly comfortably under the friendly hand of old Jeremy. Every morning he roused the boy early, and from then till late at night both tramped round the town and collected rags, bones, old paper, old iron, scraps of leather, and anything else of a similar kind. The town was large and there were many remarkable things to be seen in it, so that at first Ilya only half helped the old man, while he gazed constantly at the people and the houses, marvelled at everything, and questioned the grandfather unceasingly.

Jeremy was glad to chatter. With head bent forward and eyes searching the ground he passed from courtyard to courtyard, tapped the pavement with the iron ferule of his stick, wiped the tears from his eyes with his torn sleeve or the point of the dirty rag bag, and told all kinds of histories to his small companion, without ceasing, in a sing-song monotonous voice.

"This house belongs to the merchant Sava Petrovitch Ptschelin—a rich man is the merchant Ptschelin ... his house is full of silver and crystal."

"Grandfather, dear," asked Ilya, "tell me, how does a man get rich?"

"He must work for it, toil for it, that's the way. They work day and night and pile gold on gold, and when they have piled up enough, then they build themselves houses and get themselves horses, and all kinds of belongings, and everything the heart can wish, bright, new things. And then they hire clerks, and servants, and people who work for them, and they rest and enjoy the day. When any one has managed like that, men say of him, he has become rich by honest work. Ah! But there are some who grow rich through sin. People say of the merchant Ptschelin, that he destroyed his soul while he was quite young. Perhaps it is only envy that makes them say it, perhaps it is true. He is a wicked man, this Ptschelin, and his eyes look so frightened, they are always wandering here and there as if they wanted to hide. But perhaps it is all lies, as I said, that they tell of Ptschelin. It happens lots of times that a man becomes rich all at once quite easily, if he just is lucky, if fortune smiles on him. Ah! only God lives in the Truth, and we men know nothing! We are only men, and men are the seed God sows—grains of corn, my dear boy! God has sown them on the earth. 'Grow! and I will see what kind of bread you will make!' That's how it is! And that house there belongs to a certain Mitri Pavlovitch Sabaneyev. He is even richer than Ptschelin, and he is really a downright swindler. I know it! I don't judge him, for judgment is for God, but I know it right enough—as a matter of fact, he was overseer in our village, and robbed us all, cheated us!—God had patience with him for a long time, but in time He began to make up His account. First Mitri Pavlov became deaf, then his son was killed by a horse, and just lately I heard that his daughter had run away."

The old man knew everything and everybody in the town and spoke of them all quite simply without malice. Everything he told seemed to have been purified, as if all his histories were cleansed in his never ceasing tears.

Ilya listened attentively while at the same time he looked at the big houses, and said now and then:

"If I could only have half a look inside!"

"You'll soon see inside, wait a bit! Learn diligently and work! Wait till you grow up, then you'll soon see what is inside there. Perhaps some day you'll be rich too. Learn first to live and to see. Yes—yes—I have lived and lived and seen and seen. That's how I have ruined my eyes. Now the tears keep flowing, and so I have grown so thin and feeble. My strength has flowed away, I think, with my tears, my blood is all dried up."

It was pleasant to Ilya to hear the old man speak of God with such conviction and love. Through hearing him speak, there grew up in his heart a strong, invigorating feeling of hope for something good and joyful awaiting him somewhere in the future. He was gayer and more of a child at this time than when first he found a resting-place in the town.

He helped the old man zealously to rummage in the dust heaps. He found it most exciting to burrow into these heaps of every kind of rubbish with a stick, and specially pleasant to see the old man's joy when he made an unusual find among the rubbish. One day, Ilya found a big silver spoon in a drain, and the old man bought him half a pound of ginger bread for it. Then once he dug out a little purse covered with green mould, with more than a rouble in money inside it. More often he found knives, forks, metal rings, broken brasswork, pretty tin boxes—formerly full of blacking or pickled fish—and once, in the valley where the refuse of the whole town was unloaded, he grubbed out a heavy brass candlestick quite uninjured. For every valuable find of this sort Ilya received some dainty or other from the old man as a reward.

Whenever Ilya found anything out of the common, he would cry out gleefully: "Grandfather! Look! See here! this is something like!"

Then the old man would look anxiously all round him and say in a warning whisper:

"But don't shout so—don't shout for any sake!"

He was always anxious if they made any unusual discovery, and would take it quickly out of Ilya's hands and conceal it in the big sack.

"Ha! Ha! I've hooked another big fish!" Ilya would cry, delighted with his success.

"Be quiet, youngster! Quiet, my boy," the old man would say in a friendly tone, while the tears ran and ran from his red swollen eyes.

"But look grandfather," Ilya would break out again, "what a tremendous big bone!"

Bones and rags did not excite the old man. He took them from the bag, wiped off the dirt with wood shavings and stuffed them quietly into the sack. He had sewed for Ilya a little sack and given him a stick with an iron point, and the youngster was not a little proud of this equipment. In his sack he collected all kinds of small boxes, broken toys, pretty potsherds, and it filled him with joy to feel all these things in the bag on his back, and to hear how they rattled and rustled. Old Jeremy made it the lad's business to collect all these trifles.

"Do you collect just these pretty things and carry them home. You can share them with the children and make them happy. God is pleased when a man makes his brothers happy. Ah! my son, all men long for happiness, and yet there is so little. So very little in all the world. So little that many a man never meets happiness all his life, never."

Ilya preferred rummaging in the town refuse heaps to pottering about courtyards. There in the open space, there was nobody except two or three old people like Jeremy who searched the rubbish as he did. In the courtyard, on the contrary, there was need of constant anxious attention, lest a house servant should come out, broom in hand, and chase them away with angry words, or even with blows. Every day Jeremy said to his companion when they had searched for about two hours:

"That's enough just now, Ilya, that's enough, laddie! We'll sit down a while and rest, and have a bit to eat."

He took a piece of bread out of his pocket, made the sign of the cross over it, and divided it. They both made a meal, and after eating, rested full half an hour, camped on the edge of the valley. The valley opened on to the river, and they could see the stream quite plainly. It swept slowly past the valley in broad, silver-shining streaks, and when Ilya followed the flow of the water, he felt in his heart a keen desire to glide away with it—somewhere, anywhere. On the further side of the river, the green, newly-mown meadows stretched away and away, haystacks rising up among them like grey towers, and far on the horizon the dark jagged line of the forest stood out against the blue sky. A sense of rest and kindliness brooded over the meadow lands, inspiring the thought that a pure, transparent, sweet-smelling air drifted over them, while here it was so suffocating with the reek of the rotting refuse; the stench of it gripped the lungs and irritated the nose, and tears ran from Ilya's eyes as well as from the old man's.

"See, Ilya, how great and wide the world is!" said Jeremy; "and everywhere in it there are men living—living and tormenting themselves—and the Lord looks down out of Heaven and He sees everything and knows everything. All that a man so much as thinks, is known to Him, wherefore He is also called by the Holy Name, Lord God of Sabaoth, Jesus Christ. He knows everything, counts everything, thinks of everything. The spots of sin upon your soul you may conceal from men, but never from Him. He sees all. He thinks of you. 'Ah! thou sinner, thou miserable sinner! Wait, I must chastise thee.' And when the time comes, then He punishes—punishes you grievously! He gave command to men, 'Love ye one another,' and He has so ordered it that he who does not love his fellow-men is loved by no one. Such men live lonely in the world and their lot is heavy, and they have no gladness."

Ilya lay on his back, and looked up into the blue sky, whose limits he could not determine. Melancholy and sleepiness fell on him, vague, confused pictures drifted before his soul. It seemed to him as if far above in the sky, there hovered a mighty being, transparently clear, gentle and comforting, at once good and powerful, and that he, the little boy, might raise himself, with the old grandfather Jeremy and the whole earth, up into the boundless space, the blue ocean of light and shining purity, and his heart was full of peaceful, quiet joy. In the evening, when they returned home, Ilya trod the courtyard with the important self-assured gait of a man who has completed a good day's work. In the well-earned desire for rest, he retained not the least pleasure in such foolish things as other little boys and girls delight in. By his serious demeanour and the sack on his back, stuffed full of rare and fascinating things, he inspired a decided respect in all the children.

The grandfather smiled in a friendly way at the youngsters and chaffed them:

"Here children, see! the Lazaruses have come home again. They have hunted through the whole town and shoved their noses in everywhere. Run along Ilya, wash your face and come into the bar for tea."

Ilya went to his corner in the cellar with important strides, and a crowd of children followed him, keenly curious as to the contents of the sack. Only Pashka stood in his path and asked him pertly:

"Hullo! Rag-picker! Show us what you've brought."

"You'll have to wait," answered Ilya with decision. "Let me have my tea, then I'll show you."

In the bar, uncle Terenti met him with a friendly smile.

"Ha! Ha! little workman, back again? Tramped yourself tired, eh, young'un?"

Ilya liked to be called a little workman, and he received the title from others besides his uncle. Once when Pashka had played some pranks, his father Savel took his head between his knees and thrashed him soundly.

"I'll teach you, you rascal! You'll play your tricks again, will you? Take that then—and that—and one more! Other children no older than you earn their own bread, and you can do nothing—nothing but stuff yourself and tear your clothes!"

Pashka screamed till the whole house rang, and kicked hard while the rope's end whistled about his back. At first Ilya heard his enemy's cries of pain with a certain sense of satisfaction, and at the same time the words of the smith, which he took to himself, filled him with a consciousness of his superiority to Pashka. Then the thought roused compassion in him for the victim.

"Uncle Savel, please stop!" he called out suddenly. "Uncle Savel!"

The smith gave his son one cut more, then looked at Ilya and said crossly:

"Shut up! You! Speak up for him, will you? Look out for yourself!"

Then he swung his son on to one side and went into the smithy. Pashka got on to his feet and tottered with wavering steps into a dark corner of the courtyard. Ilya followed him pityingly. Pashka knelt down in the corner, pressed his head against the fence and began to scream more loudly than ever, rubbing his back with his hands. Ilya felt a wish to say something friendly to his humbled enemy; presently he asked:

"Does it hurt much?"

"Get away! Get out!" screamed Pashka.

The ill-tempered tone angered Ilya, and he said in a prim way:

"You used to be always knocking the others about, and now——"

Before he could finish Pashka flung himself upon him and dragged him to the ground. Ilya was immediately filled with rage, gripped fast hold of his antagonist and both rolled on the earth in a knot. Pashka bit and scratched while Ilya, with his hand twisted firmly in his adversary's hair, bumped his head vigorously against the ground till Pashka cried:

"Let go!"

"There! you see!" said Ilya, proud of his victory, as he got on to his feet, "you see, I'm stronger than you. So don't try that game on me again, unless you want another licking!"

He walked off wiping the blood from his scratched face with his sleeve. The smith was standing in the middle of the yard with lowering brows. When Ilya saw him, he shivered and stood still, convinced that the smith would take vengeance on him for Pashka's defeat. But the smith only shrugged his shoulders and said: "Now then, what are you glowering at? Never seen me before? Get along with you!"

But the same evening as Ilya stepped through the door, he met Savel again; the smith flipped him lightly on the head with his finger and said smiling:

"Hullo! young dust-grubber, how goes business? Eh?"

Ilya giggled happily; he was delighted. The gloomy smith, the strongest man in the yard, who inspired every one with fear and respect had joked with him. The smith gripped the lad's shoulder with his iron hand, and increased his delight still further by saying:

"Eh, you're a sturdy youngster! It's not so easy to bowl you over. When you grow a bit I'll take you on in the smithy."

Ilya caught the smith round his huge thigh and pressed against him. The giant must have felt the tumultuous beating of that little heart, that his clumsy kindness had set going. He laid a heavy hand on Ilya's head, and after a moment's silence said in his deep voice:

"Ah! poor motherless lad. There! there!"

Beaming with happiness, Ilya set to at his usual evening's task, the distribution of the treasures he had collected in the day. The children had been waiting for him for ever so long. They sat in a circle on the ground about him and gazed with greedy eyes at the dirty sack. Ilya fetched out of the bag a couple of strips of calico, a wooden soldier, bleached by wind and weather, a blacking pot, a pomade box, and a teacup with a broken rim and no handle:

"That is for me!—for me—for me!" came the children's voices, and from all sides little dirty hands caught at the rare treasures.

"Wait! Wait! No grabbing!" commanded Ilya. "Do you call that playing fair if you all snatch at once? Now then, I'll open the shop. First, I'll sell this piece of calico, quite wonderful calico, the price is half a rouble. Mashka, buy it!"

"It's bought," shouted Jakov instead of the cobbler's daughter, and drew out of his pocket a potsherd he had held in readiness and pressed it into the merchant's hand. But Ilya would not take it. "What sort of a game's that? You must bargain—my goodness! You never bargain. In the market you must bargain!"

"I forgot," Jakov excused himself, and now began an obstinate haggling. Seller and buyers grew wildly excited, and while they chaffered, Pashka quickly snatched what he wanted out of the heap, and ran off, dancing and shouting in mockery:

"Ha! ha! I've got it! I've got it! You sleepyheads, you silly duffers!"

At first Pashka's thievish ways enraged all the children. The little ones cried and howled, while Jakov and Ilya chased the robber, but usually without success. By degrees they became accustomed to his knavery, looked for nothing better from him and paid him out by refusing angrily to play with him. Pashka lived for himself, and thought of nothing but how to play his evil tricks. The big-headed Jakov, on the other hand, was a kind of nursemaid for the curly-haired daughter of the cobbler. She took his care for her interest as something quite natural, and if she called him always coaxingly "Jashetschka," she also scratched and struck him fairly often. Jakov's friendship with Ilya grew from day to day and he was always telling his friend his most wonderful dreams.

"I dreamed last night that I had a heap of money—bright roubles, a whole sackful, and I carried the sack into the wood on my back. Then all at once some robbers came at me with knives—horrible! I ran away, of course, and then in a minute the sack seemed alive. I threw it away and—you'll never guess—all sorts of birds flew out of it. Whirr! Whirr! Siskins and tits and finches, oh such a tremendous lot! They lifted me up and carried me through the air—high, ever so high."

He broke off and looked at Ilya with his prominent eyes, while a sheepish look came into his face.

"Well, what next?" Ilya prompted him, eager to hear the end.

"Oh! I flew right away," Jakov ended his tale thoughtfully.

"But where?"

"Where? Oh—just—just right away."

"Oh you!" said Ilya disappointed and contemptuous. "You never remember anything."

Grandfather Jeremy came out from the bar and called, shading his eyes with his hand:

"Ilyusha! Where are you? Come to bed it's getting late."

Ilya followed the old man obediently and went to his bed, made of a sack full of hay. He slept soundly on his sack, and lived happily with the old rag-picker, but all too fast this pleasant easy life slipped away.


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