At first after Pashka's disappearance Ilya felt as though he missed something, but soon he slipped back into his unreal wonderworld. The book-reading proceeded busily and Ilya's soul fell into a pleasant half-asleep condition.
The awakening was sudden and unexpected. Ilya was just starting for school one day when his uncle said to him:
"You'll soon be done with learning now. You're fourteen years old. You'll have to look out for a place for yourself."
"Of course," added Petrusha, "that won't be difficult among all our acquaintances. There's a place ready for Jashka—another year and he goes behind the counter. And for you, Terenti, I'll open another place close by, you can run it on account, and be your own master. H'm, yes! I may well thank the Lord. He has cared for me."
Ilya heard these speeches as though they came from somewhere a great way off. They bore no relation to anything that he was busied with then, and left him completely cold. But one day his uncle waked him early in the morning and said:——
"Get up and wash yourself—but be quick."
"Why, what's the matter?" asked Ilya, sleepily.
"It's a place for you. Something has turned up, thank God! You're to go into a fishmonger's."
Ilya's heart sank with unpleasant anticipation. The wish to leave this house, where he knew everything and was used to everything, suddenly disappeared, and Terenti's room, which he had never liked, all at once seemed so clean and bright. With downcast eyes he sat on his bed and had no inclination to dress. Jakov came in, unkempt and grey in the face, his head bent towards his left shoulder. He gave a fleeting glance at his friend, and said:
"Come on! Father's waiting. You'll come here often?"
"Of course, I'll come."
"Now, go and say good-bye to Masha!"
"But I'm not going away for altogether," cried Ilya, crossly.
Masha came in herself at this point. She stood by the door, looked at Ilya, and said sorrowfully:——
Ilya tugged at his jacket, got into it somehow, and swore. Masha and Jakov both sighed deeply.
"Come and see us soon."
"All right, all right!" answered Ilya, crossly.
"See how he begins to stick it on—mister shopman!" remarked Masha.
"Oh you silly goose!" answered Ilya, softly and reproachfully.
Two minutes later he was going along the street beside Petrusha, who was dressed in his best clothes, with a long overcoat and creaking boots.
"I'm taking you to a most worthy man, that all the town respects," said Petrusha, in an impressive tone, "to Kiril Ivanitch Strogany. He has been decorated and all sorts of things for his goodness and his benevolence; he is on the Town Council, and may be chosen Burgomaster. Serve him well and properly, and he may do something for you. You're a serious lad, and not a spoiled darling, and for him to do anyone a good turn's as easy as spitting."
Ilya listened, and tried to picture the merchant Strogany. He imagined in an odd way that he must be like Jeremy, as withered up and as good-hearted and sociable. But when he reached the fish-shop, he saw behind the desk a tall man with a big belly. There was not a single hair on his head, but from his eyes to his neck, his face was covered with a thick red beard. His eyebrows too, were red and thick, and from underneath them a pair of little greenish eyes looked angrily round about.
"Bow to him," whispered Petrusha to Ilya, indicating the red-bearded man with his eyes. Disillusioned, Ilya let his head sink on his breast.
"What's his name?" a deep bass voice boomed through the shop.
"He's called Ilya," answered Petrusha.
"Well, Ilya, open your eyes and listen to me. From now, there's no one in the world for you but your employer—no relations, no friends, d'you see? I'm your father and mother—and that's all I've got to say to you."
Ilya's eyes wandered furtively about the shop. Huge sturgeons and shad were in baskets with ice, against the walls; on shelves were piled up dried perch and carp, and everywhere gleamed small tin boxes. A penetrating reek of brine filled the air, and all was stuffy and close and damp in the shop. In great tubs on the floor swam the live fish, slowly and noiselessly—sterlet, eel-pout, perch, and tench. In one a little pike dashed angrily and quickly through the water, hustling the other fish, and splashing water on to the ground with great strokes of its tail. Ilya felt sorry for the poor thing. One of the shopmen, a little fat man, with round eyes and a hooked nose, very like an owl, told Ilya to take the dead fish out of the tubs. The lad tucked up his sleeve and plunged his arm carefully into the water.
"Take 'em by the head, stupid," said the shopman, in a low voice. Sometimes by mistake Ilya caught hold of a live fish that was not moving. It would slip through his fingers, dart through the water wildly hither and thither, and strike its head against the sides of the barrel.
"Get on! get on!" commanded the shopman, but Ilya had got a fin bone stuck in his finger, and put his hand to his mouth and began to suck the place.
"Take your finger out of your mouth," resounded the bass voice of his employer. Next a big heavy hatchet was given to the boy, and he was ordered to go to the cellar and smash up ice into even-sized pieces. The ice splinters flew in his face and slipped down his neck; it was cold and dark in the cellar, and if he did not handle the axe carefully it struck the ceiling. At the end of a few minutes, Ilya, wet from head to foot, came up out of the cellar, and said to his employer, "I've broken one of the bowls somehow."
His employer looked at him attentively, then said:
"The first time I forgive you, especially as you came and told me, but next time I'll pull your ears off."
Quite mechanically Ilya adapted himself to his new surroundings, like a little screw fitting into a big noisy machine. He got up at five o'clock every morning, cleaned the boots of his master and the family and the shopman, then went into the shop, cleaned it out, and washed down the tables and the scales. As the customers came, he fetched the goods out, and carried them to the different houses, then returned to the mid-day meal. In the afternoon there was little to do, and unless he were sent anywhere on an errand, he used to stand in the shop door and look at the busy marketing, and marvel what a number of people there were in the world, and what vast quantities of fish and meat and fruit they consumed. One day he asked the shopman, who was so like an owl:——
"Well—what is it?"
"What will people eat when they've caught all the fish there are, and killed all the cattle?"
"Stupid!" answered the shopman.
Another time he took a sheet of newspaper from the table, and settled himself in the shop door to read. But the shopman tore it out of his hand, tweaked his nose, and said crossly:
"Who said you could do that, fool!"
This shopman did not please Ilya at all. When he spoke to his employer, he said every word through his teeth, with a respectful hissing sound, but behind his back he called him a liar, a hypocrite, and a red-headed devil. Every Saturday and the eve of every saint's day, when his chief had gone to evening service, the shopman had a visit from his wife or his sister, and used to give them a big parcel of fish and caviare and preserves. He thought it a great joke to banter the poor beggars, among whom many an old man would remind Ilya very strongly of Grandfather Jeremy. If such an old man came to the shop door and begged for alms, the shopman would take a little fish by the head and hold it out, and as soon as the beggar took hold of it, the back fin would stick into his palm till the blood came. The beggar would shrink with the pain, but the shopman would laugh scornfully, and cry out:——
"Don't want it, eh? Not enough? Get out of this!"
Once an old beggar-woman took a dried perch quietly and hid it among her rags. The shopman saw. He seized the old woman by the neck, took away her stolen prize, then, bending her head back, he struck her in the face with his right hand. She made no sound of pain nor said a word, but went out silently with bent head, and Ilya saw how the dark blood ran from her nostrils.
"Had enough?" the shopman called after her, and, turning to Karp, the other shopman, he said:——
"I hate these beggars, idlers! Beg? Yes, and make a good thing of it! They know how to get along. Christ's brothers they call them. And I, what am I, then? A stranger to Christ, I suppose. I twist and turn all my life, like a worm in the sun, and get no peace and no respect."
Karp, the other shopman, was a silent, pious fellow. He talked of nothing but churches, church music, and church worship, and every Saturday was greatly distressed at the thought that he would be late for evening service. For the rest, he was deeply interested in all sorts of jugglery, and whenever a magician and wonder-worker appeared in the town, off went Karp for certain to see him. He was tall and thin and very agile. When customers thronged the shop, he would wind in and out among them like a snake, with a smile for all and a word for all, and the whole time keeping an eye on the fat face of his employer, as though to show off his quickness before him. He treated Ilya with little consideration, and the boy accordingly was not at all devoted to him. But his employer Ilya liked. From morning till night he stood behind his desk, opening the till and throwing in money. Ilya observed that he did it quite indifferently, without covetousness, and it gave him a pleasant feeling to see it. He liked, too, that his master spoke to him more often and in a more friendly way than to the shopmen. In the quiet times when there were no customers, he would often talk to Ilya as he stood in the shop-door, sunk in thought.
"Now, Ilya. Asleep, eh?"
"Oh, aren't you? What are you so solemn about, then?"
"I—I don't know."
"Find it dull here, eh?"
"Well, never mind, never mind. There was a time when I found life dull, too, from nineteen to thirty-two. I found it very tedious working for strangers, and now ever since then, I see what a bore others find it," and he nodded his head, as much as to say:
"So it is and it can't be helped."
After two or three speeches of this kind the question began to busy Ilya, why this rich and respected man should stay all day in a dirty shop and breathe the sharp, unpleasant reek of salt fish, when he owned such a big, clean house. It was quite a remarkable house; in it all was quiet and austere, and everything was ordered by fixed immutable rules. And yet in its two stories, there lived no one beyond the owner, his wife and his three daughters, except a cook, who was also housemaid, and a manservant, who acted also as coachman, so there was little life in it. All who dwelt there spoke in an undertone, and if they had to cross the big, clean courtyard, they would keep to the sides as if they feared to walk across the wide open space. When Ilya compared this quiet, solid house with Petrusha's, against his expectations he had to admit that the life in the latter was more to be preferred, poor, noisy and dirty though it were. He marvelled at this conviction of his, and could hardly believe in it; but thoughts of this kind filled his brain more and more frequently and distinctly, and the fact that his employer lived so little in his own house, strengthened Ilya still more in his preference. He would have liked to ask the merchant just why he spent the whole day in the unrest, noise and clamour of the market and not in his house, where it was still and peaceful. One day when Karp had gone on some errand, and Michael was in the cellar picking out the dead fish for the almshouse, the master fell again into conversation with Ilya, and in the course of it the boy said with a sudden impulse:
"You might give up your business, sir—you're so rich—it's so lovely in your house and so—so dull here."
Strogany rested his elbows on the desk supporting his head and looked attentively at his apprentice. His red beard twitched oddly.
"Well," he asked, as Ilya stopped, "Said all you want to?"
"Ye—ss, yes," stammered Ilya, a little frightened.
Ilya went nearer to the desk. His master caught hold of his chin, turned his face up, looked him in the face with screwed-up eyes, then asked:
"Have you heard any one say that or did you think it yourself?"
"I thought of it—really and truly."
"Oh! If you thought it yourself, all right, but I'll just tell you one thing, in future have the goodness not to talk to your employer like that, you understand—your employer. Bear that in mind, and now get to your work!"
And when Karp returned, the merchant began suddenly to speak to him, for no apparent reason, constantly looking sideways at Ilya, so openly, that the boy quickly noticed it:
"A man must follow his business all his life—all—his—life! Whoever does not is an ass. How can a man live without something to do? A man who isn't absorbed in his business, is good for nothing."
"Of course, I quite agree, Kiril Ivanovitch," said the shopman, letting his glance travel round the shop as if he was seeking something more to do. Ilya looked at his employer and fell into deep thought. Life to him among these men became more and more tedious. The days dragged on one after the other like long grey threads, unrolling from some mighty unseen skein. And it seemed to him that these days would never come to an end, but that all his life long he would stand at this shop door and listen to the tumult of the market-place. But his intelligence, already awakened by early experience and by the reading of books, was not hampered by the drowsy influence of this monotonous life, and worked on without a pause, though perhaps more slowly. Every day the lad's soul received new impressions which simmered within him, and filled his head with a cloud of ideas concerning all that passed around him. He had no one to whom he could pour out his thoughts, which were therefore hidden, in his own breast. They were many, very many—they tortured him often, but they were without definite form, they melted one into the other, or contended in opposition and lay on brain and heart like a heavy load. Sometimes it was so painful to this serious silent lad to look on at the concourse of men that he would most gladly have closed his eyes or gone somewhere far, far away—farther than Pashka Gratschev had gone—never to return to this grey dulness and incomprehensible human worthlessness.
On holy days they sent him to church. He came back always with the sense that his heart had been washed clean in the sweet-smelling, warm stream that flowed through the house of God. In half a year he was only able to visit his uncle twice. There, all went on as of old. The hunchback grew thinner and Petrusha whistled louder, and his face once rosy, was now red. Jakov complained that his father treated him harshly: "He's always growling that I must begin to be reasonable, that he can't stand a book-worm: but I can't stand serving at the bar, nothing but noise and quarrels and rows, you can't hear yourself speak. I say, 'put me out as an apprentice, say in a shop where they sell eikons and things, there isn't much to do, and I like eikons.'"
Jakov's eyes blinked mournfully; the skin on his forehead looked very yellow and shone like the bald patch on his father's head.
"Do you still read books?" asked Ilya.
"Rather! It's my only comfort—as long as I can read, I feel as if I were in another place, and when I come to the end I feel as if I had pitched off a church tower."
Ilya looked at him and said:
"How old you look—and where is Mashutka?"
"She's gone to the almshouse for some things. I can't help her much now, father keeps too sharp a look out, and Perfishka is ill all the time, so she has to go to the almshouse. They give away cabbage soup there and that sort of thing. Matiza helps her a bit, but it's hard lines for her, poor Masha!"
"It's dull here—with you—too," said Ilya, thoughtfully.
"Is it dull in business?"
"Frightfully. You've got books at least, and in our whole house there's only one book, the 'Book of Newest Magic and Jugglery,' and the shopman keeps that in his box; and what d'you think, the beast won't let me have it. I hate him. Ah, my lad, it's a beastly life for both of us, isn't it?"
"Looks like it!"
They chatted a while and parted, both very sad and thoughtful.
Another fortnight passed in this same way, when suddenly there came a sharp turning in the course of Ilya's life. One morning, while business was proceeding in a lively manner, the chief suddenly began to look for something in his desk very eagerly. An angry red covered his forehead, and the veins of his neck swelled up.
"Ilya," he shouted, "come and look here on the floor, if you can't find a ten-rouble piece!"
Ilya looked at his master, then glanced quickly over the floor, and said quietly: "No, there's nothing."
"I tell you, look—look properly!" growled his employer, in his harsh bass voice.
"I have looked already."
"Ah, ah! Wait a bit, you impudent rascal!" And as soon as the customers were gone he called Ilya, seized the boy's ear in his strong fat fingers and twisted it, snarling in his harsh voice, "When you're told to look, look! When you're told to look, look!"
Ilya pressed with both hands against his master's body, released his ear from the fingers, and cried loudly and angrily, his whole frame quivering with excitement:
"Why do you bully me? Michael stole the money. Yes, he did. It's in his left waistcoat pocket."
The owl face of the shopman suddenly lengthened; he looked very disturbed, and began to tremble. Then suddenly he let out with his right arm, and struck Ilya on the ear. The boy sprang suddenly up, fell to the ground with a loud groan, and crying, crept on all fours into a corner of the shop. As one in a dream, he heard the threatening voice of his master:——
"Stay, there, give up that money!"
"It's a lie," squeaked the shopman.
"I'll throw the weight at your head!"
"Kiril Ivanitch, it's my own money, may God strike me dead if it isn't."
"Hold your tongue!"
Then silence. The chief went to his room, and from there came at once the loud rattle of the balls on the counting frame. Ilya sat on the floor, holding his head, and looking with hatred at the shopman, who stood in another corner of the shop, and on his side, cast threatening looks at the boy.
"Ah, you vagabond, shall I give you any more?" he asked in a low voice, showing his teeth.
Ilya shrugged his shoulders, and said nothing.
"Wait, my boy. I'll give you something, just in case you forget me."
The shopman strode slowly across to the boy, and looked in his face with round, malignant eyes.
Ilya got up, and with a rapid movement took a long, thin knife from the counter, and said "Come on!"
The shopman stood still, measuring with a fixed glance the strong sturdy figure, with long arms and the knife in one hand, then murmured scornfully: "Pooh, you convict's brat!"
"Just come on, come on!" repeated the boy, and advanced a step. Everything whirled before his eyes, but in his breast he felt a great strength which urged him bravely forward.
"Drop that knife!" said his master's voice.
Ilya shuddered when he saw the red beard and livid face of his master, but did not move.
"Put down that knife, I tell you," repeated the merchant quietly.
Ilya, who felt as though he were moving through a dark cloud, put the knife down on the counter, gave a loud sob, and sat down again on the floor. He felt giddy. His head and his damaged ear pained him. A heavy weight that lay on his breast hindered his breathing, pressed on his heart, and rose up slowly in his throat, choking his speech. He heard his employer's voice as though he were far away.
"Here is your salary due, Mishka."
"But let me——" the shopman tried to explain.
"Out you go, else I'll call the police."
"All right, I'll go, but keep an eye on that young cub, I advise you. He goes at people with a knife—he, he! His dear father is in Siberia, a convict—he, he!"
There was stillness again in the shop. Ilya had an unpleasant feeling, as though something were crawling over his face. He wiped off his tears with his hand, looked about him, and saw his master behind his desk, examining him with a sharp searching look. Ilya got up and went towards his place at the door, staggering uncertainly.
"Stop! Hold on a minute," called out his master. "Would you really have put that knife in him?"
"Yes, I would," answered the boy, quietly, but with assurance.
"Oh, oh! What's your father in Siberia for? Murder?"
"No. Setting fire to a house."
Karp, the other shopman, came back from an errand at this moment. He sat down on a stool near the door, and looked out at the street.
"Listen, Karpushka," began the master, with smile. "I've just sent Mishka packing."
"It's your right, Kiril Ivanovitch."
"Think! He robbed me."
"Impossible!" cried Karp, softly, but evidently frightened, "Is that true? The villain!"
The chief laughed behind his desk till he had to hold his sides and his red beard shook.
"Ho! ho! ho!" he laughed. "Ah, Karpushka, you conjuror, modest soul!"
Then he stopped laughing suddenly, gave a deep sigh, and said, sternly and thoughtfully, "Ah, men, men! All want to live, all want to eat, and every one better than his neighbour."
He shook his head and was silent.
Ilya, standing by the desk, felt hurt that his master paid no further attention to him.
"Well, Ilya," said the merchant finally, after a long, painful silence, "let's have a chat. Tell me, though, have you ever seen Michael steal before?"
"Yes, rather! He stole all the time. Fish and all the rest."
"And why didn't you tell me?"
"I—I——" stammered Ilya, after a short pause.
"Afraid of him, eh?"
"No, I wasn't afraid."
"So—then why didn't you say 'Master, you're being robbed'?"
"I don't know. I didn't want to."
"H'm! You only told me just now out of temper?"
"Yes," said Ilya, defiantly.
"There, see! What a young cub!"
The merchant stroked his red beard for a while, and looked earnestly at Ilya without speaking.
"And you, Ilya, have you ever stolen."
"I believe you—you have not stolen, but Karp now—this fellow Karp here, does he steal?"
"Yes, he steals," answered Ilya curtly.
Karp looked at him in astonishment, blinked his eyes and turned away as if the matter did not concern him in the least. The master's brows contracted darkly, and again he began to stroke his beard. Ilya felt clearly that something out of the common was impending and awaited the end, strung to the pitch of nervousness. The flies hovered about in the sharp, reeking air of the shop. The water in the tubs of live fishes splashed.
"Karpushka!" the chief addressed the shopman who was standing motionless in the door and looking attentively at the streets.
"What can I do, sir?" answered Karp, and hurried to his employer, looking at his face with submissive, friendly eyes.
"Do you hear what is said of you?"
"Yes, I heard."
"Well, what have you to say?"
"Nothing," said Karp, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Nothing! What d'you mean by that?"
"It's quite simple, Kiril Ivanovitch. I am a man that respects himself and so I don't feel that my character can be hurt by a boy. You see yourself how absolutely stupid he is, and doesn't understand anything. So I can forgive his wicked slander with a light heart."
"Stop, my friend! Let's have none of your juggling, but kindly tell me, has he spoken the truth?"
"What is truth?" answered Karp slowly, shrugging his shoulders and holding his head on one side. "Every one understands the truth in his own way—if you like, you can take his words for truth, but if you don't like, it's just as you wish."
Karp ended with a sigh, bowed to his employer, and made a gesture that indicated how deeply hurt he felt.
"H'm! so you leave it to me—you think the youngster silly?"
"Uncommonly silly," said Karp with brusque conviction.
"No, my lad, that's a lie," said Strogany, and laughed outright. "How he came out with the truth right in your face! Ho! Ho! Does Karp steal? Yes, he steals. Ho! Ho! Ho!"
Ilya had gone from the desk to the door and from there had listened to this conversation, which he felt clearly had in it something insulting to him. When he heard his master laugh, a joyful sense of revenge flooded his heart, he looked triumphantly at Karp and gratefully at his employer. Strogany screwed up his eyes and laughed heartily and Karp hearing his laugh, followed with a dry anxious "He! he! he!"
At the sound of this thin bleating, Strogany ordered sharply:
"Shut up the shop."
On the way to the merchant's house, Karp said to Ilya, shaking his head:
"A fool you are, an utter fool! starting all that rigmarole! d'you suppose that's the way to curry favour? You young ass! d'you think he doesn't know that Mishka and I, both of us, stole from him—he was a young man once—he! he! As he's sent off Mishka, I've that to thank you for to tell the truth, but for telling tales of me—I'll never forgive that, I tell you straight; it's stupid and wrong, too, to say a thing like that—in my presence too. No, I can't forget that; it showed that you don't respect me!"
Ilya listened, not understanding clearly, and said nothing. He had expected Karp to approach him very differently, probably to give him a good thrashing on the way home, and consequently he had been afraid to start. But in Karp's words sounded contempt more than anger, and for his mere threats Ilya cared nothing. It was the evening of that day before the meaning of the speech was clear to Ilya, when his employer sent for him to go upstairs.
"Ah! now you see! go on!" Karp called after him in a voice presaging evil.
Ilya went upstairs and stood at the door of a big room, with a long table under a hanging lamp, and a samovar on the table. His master sat there with his wife and three daughters, all red-haired and freckled.
When Ilya came in they crowded closer together and looked at him timidly out of their blue eyes.
"That's the boy," said his employer.
"You don't say so—such a young rascal," said the wife anxiously and looked at Ilya as if she had never seen him before.
Strogany smiled, stroked his beard, drummed on the table with his fingers, and said impressively:
"I've sent for you, Ilya, to tell you I don't need you any more, so get your things together and start off."
Ilya started and opened his mouth in astonishment, but could not get out a word, then turned and went out of the room.
"Stop!" called the merchant, stretching one arm out after him, and striking the table with his palm, "Stop!"
Then he held up one finger and went on slowly and composedly: "It's not only for that that I sent for you. No. I want to give you a lesson to take away with you. I wish to explain to you why I don't need you any more. You've done all right as far as I am concerned, you're a youngster that has had some education, you're industrious and honest and strong—yes, you've all those trump cards in your hand, and yet you won't suit me any more. I can't do with you in my business. Why? you ask—h'm—yes."
Ilya understood this much, that he seemed at the same time to be praised and dismissed. The contradiction would not come clear in his mind, but roused in him a strange double sensation and brought him to the idea that his employer himself did not know what he was doing. Strogany's face seemed to the lad to confirm this impression; on it there was an expression of tension, as though he were struggling in his mind with a thought for which he could not clearly find words. The boy stepped forward and said quietly and respectfully.
"You dismiss me because I took the knife to him?"
"Heavens!" cried his employer's wife. "Heavens! how insolent!"
"That is it," said the merchant complacently, while he smiled at Ilya, and tapped him with his forefinger, "you are insolent. That is the word—insolent. But a lad that goes out to work must be humble—humble and modest; the Scriptures teach it. He must sink himself in his master. Everything—his intelligence, his honesty, must be used for his master's advantage, and you take a stand of your own, and that won't do at all, you see, and that's why you're insolent; for instance, you tell a man to his face that he's a thief. That isn't good, it is insolent; if you are so honest yourself you might tell me what the man does, but quite privately. I would easily have settled the business, because I am the master. But you say right out—he steals. No, no, that won't do. If there's only one honest out of three that matters nothing; in these cases one must reckon according to circumstances. Suppose there's one honest and nine rascals, that's no good to anyone, generally the one goes to the wall, but if there are seven honest to three rascals, then you're right to speak out, d'you see? right goes with the majority, and one honest, what's the good of him? That's how it stands with honesty, my boy. Don't force your righteousness on people, but find out first if they want it."
Strogany wiped the sweat off his brow with his hand, sighed, and continued with an expression of compassion mingled with self-satisfaction:
"And then you take to the knife."
"O Lord!" cried his wife, and the three girls crowded closer together.
"It is written in the Scriptures, 'He who takes the sword shall perish by the sword.' H'm—yes—for this reason I can't keep you any more, that's the truth. Here take this half rouble and go—go your way, you need have no grudge against me, any more than I have against you. See, I give you half a rouble, take it, and I have spoken to you as one seldom speaks to a boy, quite seriously, that you may take it to heart, and so forth. Perhaps I'm sorry for you, but you're no good to me; if the linch pin does not fit, the wise man throws it away before he starts his journey. So, go your way!"
"Good-bye," said Ilya. He had listened with attention and explained the matter to himself quite simply; he was dismissed because the merchant could not get rid of Karp and leave himself without a shopman.
This thought cheered him and made him content, and his master seemed to him a very unusual man, simple and friendly.
"Take your money!" called Strogany.
"Good-bye," repeated Ilya, and held the little silver coin tight in his hand. "Thank you very much."
"There, he never cried a bit!" Ilya heard his master's wife say reproachfully.
When Ilya, bundle on back, came out of the heavy house door, it seemed to him as though he were leaving a grey, far-off land, that he had read of in some book, where there was nothing, no people, no villages, but only stones, and among these stones lived a good old magician, who showed the way out to wayfarers lost in the desert land.
It was the evening of a clear spring day. The sun was setting and the windows flamed red. Ilya remembered that other day when first he saw the town from the river shore. The bundle, heavy with all his worldly goods, weighed on his back and he slackened his speed. People on the pavements hurried by and struck against his load; carriages rolled noisily past him; the dust danced in the slanting sun rays, and over everything prevailed a sense of noisy, gay, lively activity. All that he had experienced during the year in the town was vivid in his memory. He felt like a grown-up man, his heart beat proudly and free, and in his ears rang the words of his master:
"You are a youngster that has had some education, you're not stupid, you're strong and not lazy; these are the trump cards in your hand."
"Well then, we'll try again," said Ilya to himself while he slackened his pace still more. A stirring feeling of joy possessed him, and involuntarily he smiled at the thought that to-morrow he would not have to go to the fish shop.